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Posts Tagged ‘silent reading’

High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

Quite often I get emails from both parents and teachers regarding what to do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension. As a reading specialist, I have had the opportunity to serve students and teachers in assignments at the K-6, middle school, high school, and community college levels. I, too, have struggled with students in the same predicament at each level. Following is a nice representative sample of parent comments on my blog and teacher comments on another popular blog with some solutions to the problem:

Hello, I was hoping you could give me some advice.  I have an 8 year old daughter who can read orally very well.  She also aces all her spelling tests.  When someone reads aloud to her, she can summarize what was read very well.  But when she reads silently to herself, she doesn’t seem to absorb much at all.  I will have her read a short, at or below grade level paragraph in head her, sometimes 2 or 3 times, and she often can’t answer simple questions about it.  I’ve stressed making sure that she is going slowly, and actually READING each word and not just SEEING it.  I gather this means her comprehension must be rather low, and I was wondering if you have any advice for how to support growth in this area?  Her grades are average or above average in most areas in school, but as she gets older and is transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” she is really struggling, and I would like to know how to support her.  Thank you!

Jessi

On the “A-Z Teacher Stuff” blog, the question is explored by both primary and elementary teachers:

I have a student that scored at a mid-4th grade level in reading fluency and yet her comprehension is at a high 1st grade level.
She loves to read but has a very hard time with even simple recall.
Could this be an indicator of a disability? What can I do to help her?

Not necessarily an indicator of a disability…I can fluently read a medical text or legal documents or ‘Le Petit Prince’ in French (or the more than 2000 page healthcare bill)…doesn’t mean I comprehend all of it…
Your student should be reading books that s/he can read fluently and with good comprehension…reading IS meaning…anything else is ‘word calling’…

I have a student who is very similar. He can read challenging texts fluently and with good accuracy, but when I ask him to retell or even orally answer basic questions from the story he has difficulty. Now this same child can do written comprehension tasks wonderfully when he is given the opportunity to go back to the text. He then demonstrates higher level thinking skills and a deep understanding of the books we read, just not immediately after an initial read.

In his reading group I have been spending a lot of time talking about how readers need to think about what they are reading as they read rather than JUST saying the words correctly and sounding smooth. I would suggest breaking down stories into smaller chunks, such as reading one paragraph/page at a time then checking for understanding by retelling or questioning.

Some five years ago I wrote an article about the same issue, but focused on the the over-use and over-dependence upon fluency practice in reading instruction. My related article regarding the a popular fluency program stirred up quite a fuss. I was forced to delete after a threatening letter promising legal action from that company.  However, the article did not focus attention on what parents and teachers need to do to address the problem.

First of all, a few important caveats… 

Reading is thinking. Cognitive challenges certainly limit comprehension. A student with an IQ of 85 is not going to have to same capacity for understanding text as a student with an IQ of 135. Sad, but true. English language learners have three challenges to comprehension: academic vocabulary, knowledge of American idioms, and knowledge of English grammar. Special education students may have auditory or visual processing disorders which require work-arounds to comprehension. Children with physical impairments, such as chronic inner ear infections, tend to have reading challenges. Finally, socio-enonomic status definitely can inhibit comprehension if a child has minimal access to books and limited conversations with literate adults.

Reading is a skill. We know a lot more about the connection between the alphabetic code and reading comprehension than we used to; however, we still have a long way to go. What we do know is that there is a statistically significant correlation between good decoders and good “comprehenders.” Children without phonemic awareness do not make the connection between the alphabetic code and words. Children without a sophisticated knowledge of the alphabetic code (phonics) struggle with a “sight words only” band-aid to reading approach when they transition from simple K-2 narrative to grades 3-adult multi-syllabic expository reading. By hook or by crook, every child needs to develop decoding skills. Lastly, the transition from reading out loud to silent reading does not magically occur for every child at the beginning of third grade as we have traditionally believed. Let’s spend a bit of time exploring this…

In an article published on April 21, 2016, Kristin Coyne, discusses the little-understood transition from oral to silent reading.

“Researchers at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) at Florida State University will tackle that paradox over the next four years. Funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, a team headed by FCRR researcher Young-Suk Kim will examine a poorly understood area of literacy: the relationship between oral and silent reading, and how those skills, in turn, relate to reading comprehension.”

We do know that most children seem to transition from out loud reading to silent reading by subvocalization. In other words, they say the words “in their heads.”

“’What we ultimately want is instantaneous recognition without subvocalization because that’s faster,” Kim said. “But we don’t know how that process happens.’

Until recently, measuring silent reading was difficult: After all, you can’t hear the child’s progress. But researchers can now see this progress, with the help of advanced eye-tracking technologies that follow students’ eye movements as they read text on a computer screen.

‘It’s very fascinating how precisely we can measure this,’ Kim said. ‘We can even determine exactly which letter a student is focusing on.'”

Notice that our amazing brains do process at the individual letter level and not at the whole word or sentence level as some of the “whole language” advocates used to argue.

Having addressed the important caveats, we can get the crux of the issue: What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension?

1. Diagnose and eliminate subvocalization . As a parent or teacher, do give a diagnostic fluency assessment. Although I mentioned above the problem of over-dependence upon fluency practice, some fluency practice is certainly important at all grade levels. During the fluency assessment, in addition to recording miscues, words read accurately, and total number of words read in a two-minute timing, observe the child’s mouth. If the child is mumbling or moving lips, he or she is subvocalizing. THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she is doing so and that good silent readers avoid this “bad habit.” Suggest reading with a pencil between the teeth or lightly clenching teeth until the habit is broken. Most children only need a few reading sessions with this simple “therapy” to fix the problem.

2. Diagnose and eliminate multiple eye movements. During the fluency assessment notice what the child is doing with his or her eye movements. If the child is moving eyes noticeably from left to right, it may indicate a tracking problem. Good readers look at the center of the page and use their peripheral vision to attend to letter correspondences from left to right. Poor readers have multiple eye fixations per line. Again, researchers have found statistically significant correlations between readers with minimal eye fixations per line and good “comprehenders.” THE FIX: Tell the child (and parent) that he or she has too much eye movement per line and should focus on the center and “look out to the left and to the right” as he or she reads. Demonstrate how easy it is to “see things to the left and right by looking at the center” by having the child touch hands and slowly move them apart to test peripheral vision. Teach the child to place the hand (not a finger) in the center, underneath the line being read and drop down as the text is being read. *Note: Never have the child point at each individual word. If the center of the line hand tracking does not work, a referral to a certified vision trainer (optometrist or opthamologist) may be required. Be careful on this one. Vision therapy can be helpful, but should not be a “once per week for three years commitment.” Buyer beware.

3. Talk to the child about what reading means. Often, children are so focused on the skill that they don’t focus on the thinking. Simple, but true. Good decoding skills are not an end in themselves, but should make reading for meaning effortless. Automaticity is the goals of phonics instruction. THE FIX: Tell the child, “When you are reading, concentrate on what the person is saying to you.” Teach the child to pause after each sentence to ask and answer that question. Transition to the paragraph.

4. Teach students to make a movie in their heads as they read. Visualization is a powerful aid to reading comprehension for both narrative and expository text. THE FIX: Read my article: Interactive Reading: Making a Movie in Your Head.

5. Many children fail to comprehend text because they daydream as they read. In other words, they lose attention to the text. Students who use self-questioning strategies develop a greater understanding of the text than passive readers. THE FIX: Teach the child how to use the SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies. Each strategy emphasizes internal self-monitoring of text and the article has some great free bookmarks to download.

6. Poor readers often just don’t know what good readers do as they silently read. THE FIX: Show the child  what a good reader does by using Think-Alouds in which the parent or teach reads silently out loud. In other words, you read the words of the text and employ #s 3, 4, and 5 above to interrupt the text to capture its meaning. Have the child do the “think aloud” for you and other children. Emphasize how quickly the brain makes these applications so that reading continuity is not compromised.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesGet diagnostic and formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, SCRIP comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page Sam and Friends Phonics Books take-home readers are decodables and include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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Debunking Speed Reading Myths – Is Speed Reading for Real?

I don’t normally post articles by other authors. However, this informative article on speed reading is well-worth reading. And it comes with a powerful resource that teachers will want to test-pilot to measure their students’ silent reading fluency.

Primary and intermediate elementary teachers do a great job of assessing oral reading fluency and helping students improve their fluency rates and accuracy. We all know that fluency is highly correlated with reading comprehension. However, upper elementary and secondary teachers usually assume that the rate and accuracy of their students’ silent reading fluency is static. Not so. Using simple speed reading techniques, as well as other self-monitoring reading strategies, can improve both rate and comprehension. Speed reading is not hocus-pocus. Here’s some background on speed reading and the facts that will help debunk a number of speed reading myths.

Bob Watson first learned speed reading about five years ago for the purpose of teaching it to a young, eager group of sixth graders in a summer school study skills course.  He read a few books on the subject, took a weekend long seminar course, and significantly increased his reading speed.  He taught what he had learned to my students, and almost all of them saw some major improvement in their reading skills, both speed and comprehension.

Doing more and more research on this subject, however, led Bob to a skeptics website claiming that speed reading was a farce. After reading what this site, and many others like it, had to say on the subject, Bob started to see where they were coming from.

You see, speed reading is still a fairly new concept.  The first person to use the term was Evelyn Woods in the 1960s, an Australian teacher who identified a number of bad reading habits and eventually started teaching correspondence courses and holding seminars where she taught her techniques, most of which are still well accepted and taught today. However, many scam artists jumped on the speed reading bandwagon.

In the 1990 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, Howard Stephen Berg was listed as the fastest reader in the world. Berg claimed to be able to read over 80 pages of text in one minute, a reading speed of about 25,000 words per minute.  But, once you start to look into the record, you’ll see that the officials at Guinness, at the time, weren’t well known for verifying the records they posted, and this was, in fact, not a record that they checked.  They took Berg at his word, and it seems that he completely invented the number.  On a number of television programs Berg demonstrates near perfect recall and excellent reading.  In 1998, he had a lawsuit filed against him for deceptive advertising.

The lesson here is really quite simple: there is, in fact, a great deal of deception in the field of speed reading.  Also, as you might have guessed, faster isn’t always better.

So, is it really possible to increase your reading speed?  Yes. For most people, it is not outside the limits of possibility to increase their reading speed past 600 words per minute, which is more than double than what the average American can read.

Does speed reading affect comprehension?  It certainly does.  “Reading” at an outrageous pace certainly decreases understanding of the text.  However, if the techniques of speed reading are applied at a manageable speed, readers can improve their reading comprehension.  The reason is simple – they’re not only learning to read faster, but they’re also learning how to read much better.  Reading faster ties together the details of the text much better into comprehensible input, than reading slowly.

So, who is Bob? Bob Watson is a teacher who works primarily with high school and middle school students with emotional disabilities. He has written a number of well-crafted articles on speed reading. Bob also created a free speed reading test that teachers will find very useful to measure their students’ silent reading rates.

I say you’ve got to check out this computer-based test. Five short passages are provided to test silent reading fluency. I had my students take one of these tests as a diagnostic assessment in the computer lab. Took just a few minutes and the students loved it.

I will teach some of Bob’s speed reading techniques and re-test periodically with the rest of the passages to chart progress. Give it a try. You can help students improve both their silent reading speed and comprehension.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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Straight Talk with Stephen Krashen on SSR

A few weeks ago, I replied to a post on the community forum found on my favorite site, Jim Burke’s English Companion Ning. The subject? Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). After some challenging back and forth, I decided to write my own article titled “Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work.” I listed and defended eight reasons why SSR is not the best use of class time and closed the article by justifying my proposal that independent reading be assigned as homework, along with the accountability of parent-graded daily reading discussion or online peer response/book clubs.

With such a provocative title, it’s no wonder that I received a number of responses. Among the responses, Dr. Stephen Krashen responded numerous times. Dr. Krashen has always served at the foremost advocate of free voluntary reading, essentially the more scholarly tag for SSR. Read more…

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Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work

O.K. So my title is a good hook. I’m an ELA teacher, so you’d expect no less. However, I’m also an MA reading specialist, so you’d expect me to be passionate about getting students to read and read well. I do believe that independent reading is vital to reading improvement. So why am I writing an article titled Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work?

First, let’s get on the same page about what most of us mean when we talk about SSR. SSR does have a variety of pseudonyms: FVR (Free Voluntary Reading, DEAR (Drop Everything And Read); DIRT (Daily Individual Reading Time); SQUIRT (Sustained Quiet Un-Interrupted Reading Time), WEB (We Enjoy Books), and USSR (uninterrupted sustained silent reading). I’m sure there are more. Essentially, SSR is based upon these assumptions:

  • Reading is a skill which improves with practice.
  • Students should be allowed to select their own books to read.
  • SSR should not include instructional accountability.
  • SSR is best accomplished within the classroom with the teacher as a silent reading model.

Now, of course, not every teacher implements the program in the same way; however, even with teacher tweaks, SSR just is not an effective use of class time. Why so? Here are 8 reasons Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work.

1. Reading Research Does Not Support SSR

According to the Report of the National Reading Panel (2000), the experimental design studies on SSR indicate no statistically or educationally significant differences between those students who do SSR and those students who do not. Now, to be fair, the reading research does not invalidate SSR. There are just too many variables to isolate and no teacher would ever agree to participate in a study in which a control group of students was not allowed to read.

Some educational researchers have criticized the findings of the National Reading Panel, arguing that long term correlational studies do suggest that students doing SSR gain more in reading than those who do not. However, correlation does not imply causation.

My take regarding reading research is that we should prioritize our instruction to focus on the instructional strategies that both experimental design and correlational studies support. In other words, let’s teach what works for sure. To devote significant class time to an instructional strategy with a questionable research base should give educators pause, especially when there is an alternative which achieves better results than SSR advocates purport to achieve.

2. There is Not Enough Class Time for SSR

There just are not enough minutes in the day to achieve the results desired by proponents of SSR. For example, to achieve year to year vocabulary growth, elementary students need to read a minimum of one million pages; secondary students need to read a minimum of two million pages. Do the math. Many secondary teachers only have four hours of class time per week. No conscientious secondary teacher would allot half of instructional time to SSR. True that many students read in other content classes and some outside of school, but also true that with normal instructional interruptions there are many weeks with less than four hours of class time. In other words, an hour of SSR per week is just not going to make much of a dent in the amount of independent reading that students need to achieve significant reading growth. The “some is better than none” response is just not acceptable.

Additionally, all instruction is reductive: teachers cannot add on without taking away. Should elementary teachers give up teaching science or social studies to add on SSR? Of course not. Furthermore, with the increasing rigor of the language and writing strands of the ELA/Reading Common Core State Standards, both elementary and secondary teachers will be hard-pressed to teach the grade level standards and differentiate instruction as mandated.

3. Free Choice Reading in SSR Does Not Maximize Reading Development

Free choice reading is an essential tenet of SSR proponents. However motivating self-selected reading may be, there are significant downsides. Students often choose books with reading levels far below or far above own their reading levels and so do not experience optimal reading growth. Most reading experts suggest a 95-98% word recognition level as being necessary for comprehensible input and vocabulary acquisition. To be crass, allowing students to choose their own reading material, without any guidance, lets the lunatics be in charge of the asylum.

4. SSR is Not Teaching

Yes, incidental learning does take place when students are in engaged in SSR. Some SSR advocates go so far as to claim that “Free reading appears to be the source of much of our reading ability, our writing style, much of our vocabulary knowledge, our spelling ability, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions (Krashen, 1993; Elley, 1991, 1998).

However, having a credentialed teacher model silent reading while 36 students choose to read or not read independently does not avail students of that teacher’s expertise. It’s not a question of which is better: a teacher-centered or student centered classroom. It’s an issue of educational priorities, efficiency, and effectiveness. SSR devolves the responsibilities and applications of reading strategies, comprehension or vocabulary development, and literary analysis to children. I’m not saying a teacher should exclusively assume the role of “sage on the stage,” but a “guide on the side,” should guide, not merely model.

Additionally, SSR is not appropriate for all students. SSR does not magically differentiate instruction. For example, some students (even secondary learners) need oral fluency practice, not independent silent reading. Other students already read extensively at home and do not need more independent reading time.

5. SSR Does Not Hold Students Accountable for Reading

Reading researchers Von Sprecken and Krashen concluded that children were more likely to read during SSR when certain conditions were in place: When there was access to interesting reading in the classroom and students are not required to bring their own reading material, when teachers read while students are reading, and when teachers made efforts to promote and discuss certain books the researchers found that 90% of students were reading. Even in a class in which none of these conditions were met, however, Debra Von Sprecken and Stephen Krashen found that 80% of the students were reading when observed. (California Reader, 1998, 32(1): 11-13) Not many teachers I know would be satisfied with a classroom instructional strategy in which from 4 to 9 of their 36 students (10-20%) did not participate.

It is true that many teachers “band-aid” this component of SSR and both the International Reading Association and important reading researchers part ways with SSR purists with regard to accountability. For example, Fountas and Pinnell suggest keeping records on student reading (2001). Nancy Atwell’s Reading Workshop includes the following: “monitoring the type and the number of books students read; they may also administer assessments, keep reading checklists, and ask questions or encourage student discussion about books.” (Atwell, 2007; Gambrell, 2007; Reutzel, Jones, Fawson, & Smith, 2008). Manning and Manning (1984) found that coupling SSR with peer discussions or teacher conferences led to improvements in reading achievement compared to a control group.” But these “band aids” avoid the fact that SSR necessitates such tweaking to even approach meaningful reading instruction.

6. SSR Provides No Opportunity for Reader Response

SSR is designed as a solitary activity. It is true that we want to equip our students to learn the discipline and enjoyment of the author-reader interaction. However, the simplistic notion that reading makes better readers ignores the fact that better reading makes even better readers. Reader response is critically important to making students better readers.

Students can be trained to become better monitors of their silent reading. Teacher think-alouds, reading journals, and comprehension starters such as the SCRIP comprehension strategies can encourage self-monitoring of reading text. SSR ignores the reading-writing connection. Plot diagrams, character webs, and comprehension questions aren’t just for teaching class novels. Narrative and essay response the same. The social context of reading development to build vocabulary and comprehension has been well-established both in research and practice. Social engagement increases reading motivation and accountability. Classroom reading discussions, literature circles, readers theater, book clubs, book reviews, and online discussion forums can be powerful motivators to encourage wide and thoughtful reading. Now for teachers thinking, “But we can have our cake and eat it, too” with SSR and Reader Response, I kindly suggest leaving the hypothetical and engaging the practical. See #2 above.

7. SSR Turns Recreational Reading into a School Thing

SSR advocates are keen on stressing how SSR is essential at their school because students do not have optimal environmental reading conditions at home or a lack of engaging books to choose from, or the distractions of video games-cell phones-family, et al. However, the fact that SSR in the classroom removes these distractions (highly debatable) sends a message and provides reading habits that require a structured school environment for independent reading. No teacher that I know takes the Free Voluntary Reading to mean “you can read if you want or not if you don’t want to,” whether the teacher enforces accountability procedures or not. Let’s face it. SSR is coercive and required in a contrived setting—hardly the conditions that will transfer to recreational reading out of the classroom. If our end goal is to get students to become lifelong independent readers outside of the school experience, shouldn’t we teachers work toward that end?

8. SSR Gives Up on Students, Peers, and Parents

To work toward the complementary goals of using class time to provide research-based reading instruction (#1, #4, #6) and assigning significant independent reading practice (#2, #3, #5, #7), I advocate abandoning classroom SSR and assigning independent reading as homework. “But they won’t do it. Students will not read for homework.” I have a different view and experience. Students will do independent reading as homework if a motivated teacher provides the leadership, appropriate carrots and sticks, gets parents to buy-in, and has the perseverance to ensure success.

Independent Reading Text Selection

Students choose any reading text that meets these criteria:

The motivational component of self-selection remains, but with appropriate oversight to ensure optimal reader-novel matches.

Independent Reading Accountability

But, how can teachers get students to read at home? How can teachers ensure that students really are reading? I require thirty minutes of reading and three minutes of discussion, four times per week. Student reading is monitored by reading partners, who also grade the quality of the student-led reading discussion. Parents typically serve as these partners. Of course, guardians, child care workers, grandparents, and older siblings can serve just as well. For older students, peer partners can certainly fulfill that role. Discussion partners grade the quality of each daily reading discussion, then total the points and sign the Reading-Discussion Log. I collect and record these logs bi-weekly and count this homework as 15% of the student’s overall grade. Do kids or discussion partners cheat on this? Rarely… and not as much as teachers might think.

Advantages of This Model

This reading-discussion model builds relationships, reinforces internal monitoring of comprehension, promotes reading as a dynamic process of conversation among reader, peers, and author, and motivates readers to read more. Reinforcement and feedback is immediate, not delayed as in the case other reader response assignments such as dialectical journals turned in at the end of each week or book reports completed after a novel has been finished. Students are required to apply the reading strategies we learn and practice in the classroom. For example, I pass out reading strategy bookmarks that that help students frame, but not limit, their book discussions.

What Kind of Results Can Teachers Get?

I get similar participation rates 80-90% (compared to the Von Sprecken, Krashen research) at my lower-middle, 70% free and reduced lunch, middle school, but remember that’s for homework, not for classwork. I would guess that the few students who do not do the independent reading at home would be the same ones that would not do the SSR in the Von Sprecken, Krashen study. Both parents and students love my “only homework is reading” policy. Some of my students prefer to participate in online book clubs in lieu of the parental discussion. I require a daily posting and response to other book discussion colleagues. Hunger Games was big with my students this year. Of course, I get to eavesdrop on their discussions.

My results are a bit less than Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller, achieves in terms of books read per year, but I’ve got a lot more time in class to teach other things I value because I don’t use SSR in my classroom.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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Independent Reading: The Meeting of the Minds

Years ago, Steve Allen hosted and moderated a terrific television show titled Meeting of Minds. Steve resurrected some of the greatest thinkers from different eras to discuss a wide range of ideas and issues. I thought I’d use this format to respond to recent posts on the subject of independent reading in the classroom. I’m sure I’ve managed to set up a few straw men, but here goes…

Steve: The subject of independent reading in the classroom certainly provokes passionate advocates, as well as assorted debunkers.

Plato: Yes, we can’t really see the subject as it is, but we can see it as a reflection of educators’ presuppositions regarding the purpose of education.

Yoda: Right you are. Many are they who assume that teachers should be inculcators of knowledge and skills. Others are they who assume that teachers should be provokers of unfettered thought.

Kerouac: It’s time to get out of your cave and off your planet. It’s the how, not the why that’s important.

Steve: Okay, Jack. Let’s discuss the how. Some teachers assign novels for independent reading; others insist upon free choice of reading materials. Some teachers assign written response and/or assign grades; others do not.

Sartre: Yes, only in the act of freely choosing is one’s humanness truly affirmed. Any procedure designed to produce accountability, such as response journals or grades are counterproductive and coercive.

Tom Cruise: Scientology is the answer.

Plato: Um, okay… We are talking about empty vessels here. Students do not know what they do not know. It is the teacher’s job to manipulate what and how students should read. For example, The Republic stimulates the mind far better than that trashy Twilight or that manga pulp. Most of our students are not philosopher-kings. They will simply stare at pages and live within their dreams, if the teacher does not demand accountability and guide them in their choices.

Dr. Phil: Accountability in class takes time away from exploration. If independent reading is the purpose, what better method is there than free-choice reading itself?

Yoda: Balance is the answer. Of the force, two sides there are. Freedom and responsibility students must learn. Happy and motivated must they be.

Kerouac: It’s the have-to that turns students off to reading. If teachers were really being consistent in their educational philosophies, they would let students choose to read or choose not to read.

Plato: That would be anarchy-mob rule. We need good readers to maintain freedom and democracy. Force-feeding serves a utilitarian purpose. We are a connected community, not individual islands. If students practice reading the classics, they will learn to appreciate their value and be motivated to become life-long readers. Reading has intrinsic worth and attractiveness.

Sartre: Certainly true from the perspective of an English teacher. However, many children and adults are happy without reading.

Tom Cruise: I’m happy without reading. Happiness is Scientology.

Dr. Phil: Happiness is highly overrated. Who has a better life perspective, here—the teacher or the student? Even though most children hate vegetables, they should still eat them. Vegetables are important for future development. Students don’t have to like books to benefit from them. It’s the doing that is important. The present attitudes of children are largely irrelevant in the developmental scheme of things. Most children choose to eat the same vegetables as adults that they were forced to eat as children. Attitudes can and do change; impoverished reading skills rarely do so. Only one in six below-grade-level readers in middle school ever catch up to grade-level reading.

Yoda: Books they don’t like and books they do like, students must read. Very important is teacher judgment, I see.

Sartre: So, less than complete freedom now could produce more freedom later. The more reading skills that are mastered now, even at the expense of student choice, the more options will be available to free-choosing adults.

Steve: What about the issue of teacher modeling? If the teacher spends class time doing independent reading, some would argue that this time commitment teaches students that reading is a priority. Also, some would insist that teachers must read along with their students for proper modeling.

Yoda: A master a servant must have. A model a painter must have. A—

Kerouac: Stop with the direct objects you post-pubescent puppet! Why is conformity so highly prized in our schools? Modeling is overrated. Students will not develop reading skills or learn to love reading because the teacher stops grading papers and reads silently for fifteen minutes a day. There is no causal connection. In fact, rebellious teenagers may be more turned off to reading because they will never identify with some old guy sitting at his desk reading On the Road. Worse yet, some adult reading one of their teenage books… Bob Dylan said, “Don’t follow leaders; watch your parking meters.”

Sartre: And no student would ever think or say, “Ms. Jones, I would really enjoy reading more and realize its true value, if you stopped emailing during SSR.”

Plato: If amount of class time signals educational priorities, why wouldn’t a teacher spend fifteen minutes a day, three times a week, on say morals and ethics? Surely developing kindness and compassion should be equally as important for the good of our society as developing life-long readers. And if teachers must do as the students, to show that they truly value the activity, then why stop at reading along with the students? Should we not study vocabulary when students study vocabulary, do grammar worksheets when students do grammar worksheets, practice our own sentence combining when students do sentence combining, take the standardized test when students are forced to do so, eat a nutritious meal in the cafeteria alongside students?

Tom Cruise: I feel like jumping on your couch, Steve.

Steve: Try to refrain, Tom. I’d like to bring up one more issue for debate: why not read independently at home and save class time for other instructional priorities? After all, students cannot learn how to write an essay at home, but they can read at home.

Tom Cruise: No problem, Steve. I get so excited when Katie lets me out on my own.

Dr. Phil: It seems to me that although students may spend their independent reading time in school just staring at pages, with or without accountability, it is more likely that more students will actually read in school then at home. Countless studies have shown that students, by and large, read very little at home. They are conditioned to read in the school environment. You don’t need Doctor Oz to help you figure that one out.

Sartre: Ah, a logical fallacy. Teachers frequently assume to be true what has not yet been proven to be true. Just because most students do not now read at home, does not mean that they can’t read at home. Those studies that you refer to reflect how things are, not how things could be.

Yoda: Wise you are my philosopher friend. But, all is not light in our homes. Much darkness I see: few books at home, single parents with no time to read to children, illiterate parents, language issues.

Plato: This is especially true with the brass and iron of our state; these students just don’t have the home support that the gold and silver of our state enjoy. Schools have to accept this reality.

Dr. Phil: Yes. The Matthew Effect… Good readers from literate homes tend to become better readers, while poor readers from less literate environments tend to improve less. Teachers want to be released from guilt by blaming illiteracy on parents and the culture.

Yoda: Blame they may be misplacing, I feel.

Sartre: Teachers can become the radical change-agents, not the reinforcers of the status quo. Teachers give up on students and parents too easily. Instead of micro-managing, teachers should be macro-managing. Teachers could be creating literate families. What has happened to Family Literacy Nights? Home visits? Book Give-Aways? Family Reading Incentives? Parent Reading Seminars?

Kerouac: It seems to me that independent reading at home would go further in creating life-long readers than reading that is solely dependent upon teacher control within the class. Since when has dependence ever fostered more independence? If we are, indeed, talking about creating the habit of independent life-long reading, we need to encourage students to read on their own, apart from the teacher’s watchful eyes.

Yoda: Truly. A wise master a servant must become.

Sartre: And the master must become the wise servant. Teachers have an important role in teaching reading skills. Students don’t learn these skills exclusively through independent reading.

Plato: More reading skill instruction in the classroom and required independent reading at home = more reading practice. A perfect tautology.

Yoda: Integral to reading success are both sides of the force.

Tom Cruise: Scientology has all the answers. Trust me on this one.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , ,

How to Select Books for Independent Reading

Teachers, students, and parents recognize the importance of independent reading. No thinking activity better builds content knowledge, improves vocabulary, or exposes the learner to the world and its ideas. The practical question is which reading materials most efficiently help readers access this world of knowledge? Because reading is an interactive process, the abilities and interests of the readers must also be considered to maximize the learning process.

A variety of readability measurements and comprehension assessments have been developed over the years to help match the reading level of texts to the reading level of readers. The Fry’s Readability Graph, Reading Recovery® Levels, Lexile® Levels, and the Fleish-Kincaid Reading Ease® (popularized in Microsoft Word® are just some of readability measurements. These measure all use formula based upon word frequency, syllable counts, and lengths of sentences (among other factors) to determine a numerical reading level equivalent. Reading comprehension assessments include normed tests, such as the Stanford Achievement Test, the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests, the Metropolitan Achievement Test, and the SAT I. Criterion referenced tests, such as the plethora of “state standards” reading tests and the DRA generally produce a spectrum of reading achievement relative to the tested standards. Finally, individual reading inventories, such as the John’s Basic Reading Inventory and the Qualitative Reading Inventory are leveled assessments that measure inter-related reading skills and establish reading grade levels.

However, each assessment has its limitations. The variables of reading texts and readers preclude hard and fast diagnoses and limit the practical application of the data. Additionally, the assessments are time-consuming and hard teachers, students, and parents to properly interpret. In fact, trained reading specialists have difficulty making appropriate use of the data.

What reading specialists do know, however, is that word recognition is a quick, easy, and painless way to determine approximate reading level. Word recognition is not to be confused with word identification, which involves phonemic awareness and decoding (phonics). The Slosson Oral Reading Test and the San Diego Quick Assessment have been used for years to match students to grade-level reading through word recognition levels. In these assessments, a reading grade level is assigned, according to the number of correctly read single and multi-syllabic words, i.e., words read with automaticity. However, these assessments still require the other side of the coin, i.e., the reading level of the text, to match texts to readers.

A much more direct approach that applies word recognition to the specific text to determine if the text-reader match is appropriate for the individual learner’s optimal “zone of proximal development” follows. It’s reader-centered and easy to train teachers, students, and parents to use.

How to Select Books that Have the Appropriate Reading Levels

The goal is to match individual readers to text that has about 5% unknown words. A much higher percentage is too hard for the reader; a much lower percentage is too easy for the reader.

How can you pick a book to read that has 5% unknown words? Choose a book of any genre and count the number of words on any complete page found near the beginning of the book and multiply that number by 3. Read a page toward the beginning of the book, counting the number of unknown words. A good guideline would be “if you can’t define it with a synonym, antonym, or example,” it is unknown. Then, read a page near the middle of the book and continue the count. Finally, read a page near the end of the book and finish the count. Divide the total number of unknown words by the total number of words found on the three pages. The result will be the percentage of unknown words. Anything within the 4-6% range is acceptable. For example, a reader counts the number of words on a page and arrives at 225. 225 x 3 = 750. After reading the three pages, the amount of unknown words totals 30. 30.00 divided by 750 = .05, or 5%.

A word about reading content and genre… Reading to learn suggests that reading in the school context should help improve a student’s independent access to and ability to understand text. Reading to learn also suggests that the reader should be exposed to a variety of reading genre. These being said, motivation is also a key factor in reading to learn. Reader interest plays an important role in increasing reading comprehension. Providing a balance between assigned texts and “reader’s choice” makes sense.

Additionally, practice does make perfect when the practice is done correctly. Besides appropriately matching the text to the reader, teachers and parents can students become better independent readers by teaching good silent reading habits, self-questioning reading strategies, context clue strategies, vocabulary, inference strategies, etc. Furthermore, discussion of the reading is essential to reading comprehension. See Reading Homework for an easy-to-follow independent reading program.

How Much Independent Reading is Appropriate?

The English-Language Arts Content Standards for K-12 Public Schools has established the standards of 500,000 words for primary students, 1,000,000 words for middle school students, and 2,000,000 words to be read annually by high school students in order to ensure grade to grade reading growth. This breaks down to 2,400 words per day for primary students, 4,800 words per day for middle school students, and 9,600 words per day for high school students (reading year-round, four days per week, assuming that only a minimal amount of reading is accomplished in school, which unfortunately is the norm). With the average page in a middle school novel consisting of 30 lines of 8 words per line, this means that reading only 20 pages of 240 words per page would meet that standard.

Because each student reads at different reading speeds, each child must be assessed to determine the number of words per minute that the child does read. Like oral fluency timings, silent reading speed is measured as follows.

Determining Individual Silent Reading Speed

  1. Have the students count the number of words on three consecutive full lines of print, for example, 24 words on 3 lines.
  2. Divide this amount (24) by 3, to give average words per line (8).
  3. Have the student read, beginning at the top of page of the text for one minute.
  4. Have the student count the number of lines (not sentences) read during that timing. Tell the student not to count any lines with 3 words or less. Say the student read 25 lines.
  5. Have the student multiply the number of lines read (25) x the number of words per line (8).
  6. The product (200) is the number of words that the student has read in one minute.
  7. Repeat the entire process once more and average the final total to determine the student’s silent reading fluency number.

How Many Minutes Do Students Need to Read Each Day? Or?

If the student reads at a rate of 200 words per minute, as in our example, the student would need to read for 24 minutes to achieve the goal of 4800 daily words (4 days per week, year round) for middle school students. This amount of time assumes a summer reading program or a daily commitment to independent reading during the school day.

However, because students have an amazing ability to daydream or stare at the same page in a text for minutes on end… a better approach is to require pages read per day. Based upon the number of words per page of the text and the student’s reading speed, it would be simple to require our example student to read 24 pages per day. Teachers can thus differentiate instruction and have students read a different amount of pages per day, based upon their silent fluency numbers. Of course, frequent assessment is suggested to adjust to different texts and student improvement.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Break Bad Reading Habits

Many people do not read well because of poor silent reading habits. Correcting these poor reading practices and replacing them with good reading practices will improve reading comprehension. You can become a better reader by practicing these tips.

1. Improve your reading posture. Reading difficult text is not a relaxed activity. Your body position has much to do with how well you understand the text. Reading in bed is wonderful for putting you to sleep, but not for studying. Instead, sit up straight in a straight-backed chair at a desk or table with good lighting and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place two hands on the reading. Keep the distance from eyes to book about the same distance as that of your forearm. Don’t angle the book too much so that you can keep your head straight. Not perfectly comfortable? Good! Reading is not supposed to be relaxing; it is supposed to be stimulating.

2. Adjust your reading attitude. Reading may not be your favorite mental activity, but it is a crucially important study skill. As a child, you learned to read. Now, you read to learn. Good readers learn more in school and succeed to a greater degree in the workplace. Be realistic and honest with yourself. Are you reading just to tell yourself or others that you did so? Are you reading for in-depth understanding?

3. Establish a purpose for your reading and adjust your level of comprehension. Not everything should be read for the same reading purpose. Reading an article about a favorite movie star does not require the level of comprehension that reading a computer manual does.

4. Improve your concentration. First of all, turn off the music, put away your phone, get away from the television and computer, and find a quiet room. Anything competing with full concentration reduces reading speed and reading comprehension. Good reading can not include multi-tasking. Stop taking mental vacations during your reading. For example, never allow yourself a pause at the end of a page or chapter-read on! Minimize daydreaming by forcing yourself to make personal connections with what is going on in the reading. Prompt yourself to quickly return to the text when your mind first begins wandering.

5. Improve your reading attention span. Begin with short, uninterrupted reading sessions with 100% concentration and gradually increase the length of your sessions until you can read for, say 30 minutes. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your reading attention span will take time to improve. Take a short, pre-planned break away from your reading area after a reading session. Don’t read something else during your break.

6. When reading silently, don’t pronounce the words in your head and don’t move your lips while reading. These are called sub-vocalizations and they interfere with your understanding of the text. Focus on what the author is trying to say. After all, the purpose of reading is not to say the words; the purpose of reading is to understand the meaning of the text.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , ,