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Middle School Spelling

Diagnostic Spelling Patterns Assessment

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

In the Whole Language Movement and concurrent National Writing Project popularity of the 1980s and 1990s, spelling was relegated to the editing stage of the writing process. Teachers were instructed to throw away their spelling workbooks and some states, including California, prohibited state funding for the purchase of spelling programs.

I, like other ELA teachers, cheerfully relegated spelling to the dumpster. After all, one less subject to teach! And, to be honest, the only spelling teaching I ever did was to pre-test on Monday, throw out a word search or crossword puzzle of the spelling words, tell students to study the list, and post-test on Friday. Hardly teaching at all.

During that period of time I was earning my masters degree as a reading specialist. The buzzword(s) of our program was balanced literacy. Upon reflection, I have no idea of what opposite ideologies were being placed in proper balance. We had no phonics (decoding) training, nor any spelling (encoding) training.

For my masters thesis I was able to convince my supervisor to approve a qualitative historical analysis, not the usual experimental design. I chose the reading instruction included in the McGuffey Readers. For 85 years, these readers were the primary instructional tool for American teachers. The readers were not just for primary students: intermediate and middle school tweeners also received instruction in this series.

The readers consisted of morally-based character education stories, vocabulary, phonics, spelling, and a few comprehension questions. As I pored over the editions from 1836 up to the 1920s, I found certain pedagogical refinements, but the instructional methodology was remarkably consistent. As a publisher, I understand the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy; however, consumers have always been suckered by the “New and Improved” marketing strategy, as well. The readers were largely unchanged, in terms of how reading and spelling were taught.

As you might imagine, the juxtaposition of my masters program reading philosophy and that of the McGuffey Readers caused quite a bit of consternation for me. I had just completed six years of middle school teaching and was now at the high school level. Every professional development class that I took and taught ignored the skills of reading and writing and focused solely on the content of literacy. If I mentioned that spelling had been an integral instructional component for most of our country’s history (including the New England Primer and others prior to the McGuffey Readers), it was only in the context of see what outdated forms of instruction those ill-informed educators used to teach.

However, subsequent to the Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read in 2000, I, like so many other ELA teachers who practiced their skills as reading specialists, was confronted with new, consistent reading research findings  that have made me backtrack and see the value of teaching the reading skills found in the McGuffey Readers. In reading terms, structural (or word) analysis is essential for above grade level, at grade level, and below grade level readers. Computer detection of eye-movement and the correlation of good readers look at the sound-symbol relationships within words was convincing. In other words, phonics and spelling (two sides of the same coin) matter.

I took a job as a district elementary reading specialist in Elk Grove Unified School District (the third largest district in California) and, along with a cadre of other bright program specialists, we were able to help improve elementary student reading proficiency percentiles from 45 to 72% within only a few years Elk Grove Unified School District. However, the same growth was not achieved by middle and high school students. Middle school reading proficiency continued to under-perform in the mid 40 percentiles. Our brilliant District Reading Coordinator and Associate Superintendent for Elementary knew why this was so, but the Associate Superintendent of Secondary Education refused to move entrenched secondary teachers toward reading skills instruction.

The false dichotomy of elementary teachers teaching students to learn to read and secondary teachers teaching students to read to learn continues to contribute to the widely recognized middle school slump in reading ability. Only one-in-six of below grade level readers by grade 6 ever improve to at grade level reading. “In the simplest terms, these studies ask: Do struggling readers catch up? The data from the studies are clear: Late bloomers are rare; skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers” (American Federation of Teachers, as published by Reading Rockets).

Middle Schoolers Need Spelling

Middle School Spelling

As a reading intervention specialist, the Response to Intervention movement of the last decade has largely focused on early primary reading intervention. Few middle schools have adopted comprehensive reading intervention programs, and even fewer high schools. Interestingly enough, I have found more remedial reading and writing programs at the community college level than at the high school level, here in California.

So what can middle school ELA teachers do? Advocate for your students, especially those one-in-six students, to develop effective Response to Intervention reading programs in your school and district. Take the plunge and differentiate reading instruction within your classroom. Risk the behavior management challenges and multi-level lesson plans for the good of your kids.

However, if the above seems un-do-able for now, or if you’re in the been there and done thaphase, what small (yet, significant) step can you take to make a difference for your middle school students? Teach spelling. Not the useless pre-test, word search or crossword puzzle, study, and post-test method I used to employ; not the useless pass out and memorize the list of all “No Excuse” spelling words; not the silly requirement to spell correctly your list of hard SAT, ACT, or Academic Word List vocabulary words, but a comprehensive spelling patterns program for grade-level spelling patterns instruction and remedial spelling patterns instruction. Teaching spelling for a small amount of time per week will give your middle school students the biggest bang for the buck, in terms of reading skills development.

Do your middle school students need spelling instruction? Absolutely? Still unconvinced? I challenge you to administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Recording Matrix. It has 102 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment FREE Resource:

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Phonemic Awareness Activities

Response to Intervention

Reading Intervention

Get ready for some terrific phonemic awareness activities… But first, let’s get clear on just what phonemic awareness is all about, why it is important, and how it relates to reading. Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds. We call these speech sounds phonemes. There are about 43 common phonemes in English. See my attached list, Phonemes, which includes adjustments for the Spanish phonemes in footnotes.

Why is phonemic awareness essential?

Between 20 and 40% of the population does not naturally develop phonemic awareness. Research indicates that there may be both medical and genetic factors that contribute to this deficiency (Grossen, 1997).

When children cannot hear and manipulate the sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, they struggle learning how to attach these sounds to letters and letter combinations. Lack of phonemic awareness is the chief causal factor of reading disabilities (Adams, 1990). In fact, phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading success (Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977; Stanovich, 1986, 1994).

Phonemic awareness relates to reading in two ways: (1) phonemic awareness is a prerequisite of learning to read (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Yopp, 1985), and (2) phonemic awareness is a consequence of learning to read (Ehri, 1979; Read, Yun-Fei, Hong-Yin, & Bao-Qing, 1986).

Can phonemic awareness be remediated?

Yes, but the older the child, the more challenging it is to learn phonemic awareness. See my article titled Should We Teach Phonemic Awareness to Remedial Readers? on remediating phonemic awareness to check out the reading research and instructional solutions.

What about English-language Learners?

It’s true that specific speech sounds differ among languages, and this makes phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELs). However, EL students and English-language Development (ELD) students are certainly able to transfer their phonological awareness skills from their primary language to English, and research indicates the positive benefits of phonemic awareness training (Abbot, Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, and Berninger, 2002). Indeed, some primary languages, such as Spanish, share more phonemes with English than not.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Not all students will have mastered the same components of phonemic awareness. Thus, diagnostic assessments are a must to efficiently teach these unmastered components. After completing phonemic awareness assessments, grade and record any unmastered phonemic awareness components for each student on a progress monitoring matrix. An excellent set of six whole-class phonemic awareness assessments with recording matrix is provided free for classroom use at www.penningtonpublishing.com. These assessments are available in Teaching Reading Strategies by the author of this article.

Phonemic Awareness Instructional Sequence and Workshop Activities

Differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic data in small group reading workshops. There is an instructional order that makes sense. I suggest that you teach your phonemic awareness workshops in this order:

  1. Rhyming Awareness
  2. Alphabetic Awareness (Make sure to check out the Mp3 “New Alphabet Song” found in the phonemic awareness activities packet.)
  3. Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation
  4. Phonemic Isolation
  5. Phonemic Blending
  6. Phonemic Segmentation

So, you’ve read this far. Your wait is over! Here are the promised Phonemic Awareness Activities to differentiate instruction in your reading workshops. You may also wish to use the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

without paraprofessional assistance.

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How to Teach Phonics

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards for Phonics

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

Teaching phonics is an essential ingredient to effective reading instruction. Learning the phonetic code teaches the beginning or remedial reader to make efficient and automatic judgments about how words are constructed. Mastery of the basic sound-spelling correspondences will also pay significant dividends once the student begins reading multisyllabic expository text.

A prerequisite (some would argue a byproduct) of learning the phonetic code is phonemic awareness. Before beginning phonics instruction, it is necessary to diagnose students’ phonemic awareness. If the following six whole-class assessments indicate mastery of only one, two, or three components, it would be advisable to delay phonics instruction until at least three components have been mastered. A terrific batch of phonemic awareness activities is listed here. If four, five, or six of the components has been mastered, it would be advisable to begin phonics instruction and concurrently “backfill” any unmastered phonemic awareness.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Give the Phonemic Awareness Assessments and record these results on the progress-monitoring matrix. Teach the phonemic awareness activities concurrently with the following phonics instruction. Have your students practice along with the “New Alphabet Song” to solidify their mastery of the alphabet.

Phonics Cards Introduction and Practice

Introduce and practice the animal names on each Animal Sound-Spelling Card (Get the FREE Download Below). Practice the names until students can rapidly identify each animal on the cards. Unlike many phonics programs, the beginning sound of the animal name perfectly matches the sound listed on each card. For example, the bear card represents the /b/.

Once the animal card names have been mastered, introduce and practice the sounds represented by the cards. Point to each card and say, “Name? Sound?”

After the animal card names and sounds have been mastered, introduce and practice the spellings listed on the cards. Point to each card and say, “Name? Sound? Spellings?” Practice along with the Names, Sounds, and Spelling Chant audio and the Names, Sounds, and Spelling YouTube video to develop automaticity.

Phonics Cards Games

Copy and cut the Animal Sound-Spelling and Consonant Blend Cards for each student. As the following sound-spellings are introduced, select the corresponding sets of cards to play these Phonics Games.

Sound-by-Sound Spelling Blending

Students can learn all of the common sound-spellings in just 15 weeks of instruction. Each day, blend 2 or 3 words from the previous day’s blending activity. Then, introduce the 3–6 new words listed in the Sound by Sound Spelling Blending Instructional Sequence. Although some students may already have mastered the sound-spellings, this reinforcement will transfer to unmastered sound-spellings and boost reader confidence. Using a dry-erase whiteboard or display projector, write consonant sounds in black marker and vowel sounds in red. Make sure to clip, and not elongate, the consonant sounds. For example, don’t say “bah” for /b/. Follow this script for effective whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending:

Sound-by-Sound Spelling Blending Script

Teacher: Today, I want you to take out the following animal cards from your Animal Sound-Spelling Card decks [Say animal names–not letter names, sounds, or spellings]: “You say and blend the sounds I write to make words. First, I write the spelling; then you say the sound. For example, if I write m [Do so], I will ask, ‘Sound?’ and you will answer ‘/m/.’ Let’s add on to that sound. [Write a on the board after m.] ‘Sound?’” [If students say long a, ask “Short sound?”

Students: “/a/”

Teacher: [Make a left-to-right blending motion under the ma.] “Blend.”

Teacher and Students: /m/ /a/ [Blend the two sounds]

Teacher: [Write t on the blank.] “Sound?”

Students: /t/

Teacher: [Make a left-to-right blending motion under the mat.] “Blend.”

Teacher and Students: /m/ /a/ /t/ [Blend the three sounds]

Teacher: “Word?”

Students: “mat”

About the Sound-by-Sound Spelling Blending Instructional Sequence

This instructional sequence has been carefully designed to reflect years of reading research and teaching experience. This is the most effective sequence to introduce the phonics and spelling components. Here are some rather technical notes that make this instructional sequence superior to other instructional designs.

1. The most common sounds are introduced prior to the least common sounds.

  • Weeks 1-3: Short vowels and consonant sounds
  • Weeks 4-5: Ending consonant blends and “sh” and “th” voiced consonant digraphs
  • Weeks 6-7: Beginning consonant blends, “wh” and “tch” consonant digraphs, “sh” and “th” unvoiced consonant digraphs
  • Weeks 8-9: Long vowel sounds and silent final e
  • Weeks 10-11: Long vowel sounds and r-controlled vowels
  • Weeks 12-13: Diphthongs
  • Weeks 14-15: Vowel-influenced and irregular spellings

2. Order of instruction separates letters that are visually similar e.g., p and b, m and n, v and w, u and n.

3. Order of instruction separates sounds that are similar e.g., /k/ and /g/, /u/ and /o/, /t/ and /d/, /e/ and /i/.

4. The most commonly used letters are introduced prior to the least commonly used letters.

5. Short words with fewer phonemes are introduced prior to longer words with more phonemes.

6. Continuous sounds e.g., /a/, /m/, are introduced prior to stop sounds e.g., /t/ because the continuous sounds are easier to blend.

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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Phonics Games

Learning phonics is the key to reading automaticity (fluency) for beginning and remedial readers alike. The research is clear that teaching the alphabetic code explicitly and systematically is an essential component of effective reading instruction. Now, this is not to say that there isn’t a place for some sight word and word family (onset and rime) instruction, but the primary means of reading instruction must be the sound-spelling system.

Plenty of phonics-based programs do a fine job of providing that systematic instruction. However, some do the basic job, but will bore both students and teachers to tears. Learning to read is hard work, but it should also be fun. Reading instruction that is interactive and enjoyable will teach positive associations with reading to both beginning and remedial readers. Simple drill and kill exercises simply will not.

These phonics games use the free Pennington Publishing Animal Sound-Spelling Cards. Of course, other phonics game cards such as the S.R.A. Open Court® or Breaking the Code® ones will do nicely. You will also need the set of free Consonant Blend Sound-Spelling Cards once the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards have been mastered. The phonics games are divided into Easy, Medium, and Difficult levels to allow teachers to effectively differentiate instruction. Using effective whole class diagnostic assessments such as the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment and the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment will inform the teacher’s choice as to which levels of games will be appropriate for each of their students.

Teachers may also wish to purchase the Reading and Spelling Game Cards from the publisher. Printed on heavy duty cardstock in business card size, these game cards will help your students master phonics, spelling, and sight words.

Each game card set includes the following:

  • 43 animal sound-spelling vowel, vowel team, and consonant cards
  • 45 consonant blend cards
  • 60 alphabet cards (including upper and lower case with font variations)
  • 90 rimes cards with example words
  • 108 sight-spelling “outlaw” word cards
  • 60 high frequency Greek and Latin prefix and suffix cards with definitions and example words
  • 60 vowel and vowel team spelling cards
  • 90 consonant and consonant blend spelling cards
  • 30 commonly confused homonyms with context clue sentences
  • 60 most-often misspelled challenge word cards

Download and Print: Phonics Cards (Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and Consonant Blend Cards) Phonics Games (Easy, Medium, and Difficult Level Phonics Games) NSS (The Names, Sounds, and Spelling Rap)

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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