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How to Practice Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Well, I stirred up somewhat of a ruckus with my companion article titled “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” and I think I understand why. Admittedly, the hook is designed to do exactly what we teachers teach our students: Grab the readers’ attention and make them want to read more.” Back in high school, my fellow journalist, Kraig King, somehow was able to get this story headline approved by Mr. Devlin, our school newspaper teacher: “Drugs Are Great” with the first sentence following with “that’s what my friend Joe kept telling me.” Every student read that article.

In my previous article I provided evidence that the reading community of practitioners (we teachers and reading specialists) and academics (reading researchers) really don’t have a consensus as to what exactly is reading comprehension. The instructional implications seem clear to me: We shouldn’t assess or pretend to teach what we don’t know.

I also cautioned that teachers face enormous pressure to adopt a particular definition of reading comprehension from administrators and publishers of assessments and curricula. I’ll say it again, “We have to be crap detectors” in our business of teaching students.

Since “everyone and their mother” (horrible grammar) has their own definition of reading comprehension, I developed my own: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

The “when we see it” part of my working definition for reading comprehension offers some practical advice for helping students practice their reading comprehension. Most of us can spot a good reader when we see one. And, fortunately, most teachers are pretty good readers. So let’s remind ourselves about what good readers do.

Here the reading research provides helpful insight. Although causal connections (This teaching practice will effect this learning effect) can rarely be established, we do have a body of statistically significant reading research indicating positive correlations between certain learning practices and reading comprehension… admittedly we beg the question as to just what reading comprehension is; however, this is beside the point for our working definition). For example, oral reading fluency has a statistically significant correlation with reading comprehension; the practice and result share a high correlation (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, and Jenkins).

We may not know exactly “how to get it,” but Johnny has high fluency scores and everyone knows he’s a good reader, so one way to practice reading comprehension would be… let’s be like Johnny. The following is certainly not an exhaustive list of what good readers like Johnny do, but each has research studies supporting statistically significant correlations between the description or practice and reading comprehension. I’ll add on links to that research later. Please comment with relevant links and additional suggestions and I’ll add onto the list. Or, even better yet, challenge my assumptions.

Practice Doing What Good Readers Do

Practice Reading Comprehension

Students Practicing Reading Comprehension

  • Good readers are fluent in all senses of the word, both orally and silently.
  • Good readers understand why they are reading something and tend to read toward a specific purpose.
  • Good readers are smart. Sad, but true. We educators wish that every student had the aptitude or capability to be brilliant, but nature gets in the way. In one way or another, reading is a thinking activity and good thinkers have the opportunity to be good readers. Maybe someday we will understand the brain enough to even the playing field, but we are still a long way from that day.
  • Good readers bring plenty of prior knowledge to the table through experience, content learning, practice, study skills. Good for them, but not for all our students. Nurture gets in the way. Fortunately, we have some of the tools needed to somewhat level the playing field, but it takes a lot of work.
  • Good readers have a good understanding of English idioms. English-language learners do have challenges here. Let’s be honest.
  • Good readers read for meaning and monitor their own comprehension.
  • Good readers dialogue with the text and see the reading experience as interactive between reader and author and others. They question the text.
  • Good readers have high vocabularies, especially Tier 1 and Tier 2 words.
  • Good readers know how to find resources to help them understand difficult text.
  • Good readers are flexible: Good readers vary reading speed, re-read what they don’t understand, know when to skim and not to skim.
  • Good readers know what’s important and what’s not.
  • Good readers know they need to infer meaning from the text and draw conclusions.
  • Good readers relate one part of the text to others.
  • Good readers understand text structure.
  • Good readers understand the craft of writing.
  • Good readers understand how genre affects story development.
  • Good readers do a better job of answering recall and inferential reading selection questions.
  • Good readers read narrative differently than expository text.

Teaching Practices to Practice Reading Comprehension

I’ll keep the explanations in this list short and let the links broaden any topics or ideas you may wish to explore. Several of the lists include ready-to-use resources to help your students practice reading comprehension. I suggest teachers use this list as a sort of a “I do that (pat on the back affirmation),” “I used to do that (reminder that you should use that practice again),” and “I want to think about doing that or do that instead of what I’m doing” self-analysis.

1. Think-Alouds: Good readers (both teachers and students) can share how they understand and interpret text in light of their own personal and academic experiences, text-based strategies, self-questioning, and monitoring for understanding. Click HERE for suggestions as to how to use this technique. Think-Alouds will help your students understand what reading is, for example connecting parts of text, and what reading isn’t, for example, word calling.

2. Close Readings: If you haven’t heard of close readings, you’ve been asleep at the wheel. If you read my article, Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely, you may wind up with a different take on this trendy reading strategy, but it is still useful to help students practice reading comprehension and it works well in conjunction with think-alouds and external, text dependent questions.

3. External Questions: Any search of Common Core reading standards will bring up text dependent questions, the favorite subject of the Common Core authors, after the need for text complexity. The time-tested QAR Reading Strategy helps students practice comprehension through recognizing and applying the types of text-dependent questions publishers, teachers, and good readers ask themselves about text.

4. Internal Questions: Reading research indicates that self-generated reader questioning improves reading comprehension as much or even more than publisher or teacher questions. My article, How to Improve Reading Comprehension with Self-Questioning, provides a helpful overview and summary of the research. Also, I’ve developed a useful set of five internal questions which prompt active engagement with both narrative and expository text. These SCRIP Comprehension Strategies (includes posters, five worksheets, and SCRIP Bookmarks) are memorable and effective. Plus, they provide a language of instruction for literary discussions.

5. Student Monitoring of Text: Teaching students to self-monitor their reading comprehension is wonderful practice. Read my article, Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head, for a nice explanation of how to read interactively. Follow up with a think-aloud and have students pair share their own think-alouds. Now that’s reading comprehension practice!

6. Literary Discussions: When we build upon (and sometimes revise) prior knowledge with relevant content and life experience, we better comprehend text. Modeling and practicing thinking skills via Socratic Seminars, literacy circles, cooperative groups, and the like help students practice reading comprehension, which is truly a listening and speaking skill. Check out How to Lead Effective Group Discussions to fine tune your discussion experience. Also check out my Critical Thinking Openers.

7. Pre-teach and Re-teach: Read the king of these reading comprehension practices (Marzano). We have to level the playing field by making text accessible to all students. By the way, why not show the movie first before reading the novel upon which it is based? Just an idea, but an effective one. Give students the keys to effective reading comprehension practice; don’t withhold them.

8. Fluency Practice: Students need both oral and silent fluency practice. Check out these articles: How and Why to Teach Fluency, Differentiated Fluency Practice, and Reading Fluency Homework. My Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program provides modeled oral reading fluency practice at three separate speeds. The expository animal fluency passages are tiered in terms of reading level: the first two paragraphs of each article at grade 3, the next two paragraphs at grade 5, and the last two at grade 7. Each article has word counts and corresponding timing sheets.

9. Syllabication Practice: The original and new editions Rewards (Archer) programs stretch decoding to the multi-syllabic academic vocabulary that we want students to practice to improve reading comprehension. My own Syllable Transformers (a nice article with lesson downloads) activity is essential practice for students at all reading levels. You’ll also want to check out these great reference lists: Syllable Rules with Examples and Accent Rules with Examples.

10. Vocabulary Practice with the Common Core Language Standards: The best section of the Common Core State Standards, and perhaps the only set of Standards that has produced universal praise and no criticism is found in the Language Strand: Standards 4, 5, and 6. Every teacher and reading researcher agrees that a growing and targeted vocabulary is a prerequisite and concurrent necessity to improving reading comprehension. The Common Core State Standards Appendix A  argument by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown that teachers should focus on Tier 2 words academic words has wide acceptance as does the teaching of Greek and Latin word parts. Check out this resource: How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes.

Furthermore, teachers should check out the research-based Academic Word List used in my Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits. Following are nice ready-to-teach samples as to how to teach these Standards: Four Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers, and Four Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers.

11. Independent Reading for Vocabulary Acquisition and Content Knowledge:  The best homework? Independent reading with accountability: not for reading comprehension practice, per se, but for vocabulary acquisition and content knowledge. Read a set of articles HERE regarding how to set up an effective independent reading program with accountability and how to help students select books at the optimal word recognition levels. No, you do not need Lexiles, nor Accelerated Reader. Teach your students how to maximize vocabulary acquisition by using the FP’S BAG SALE Context Clues Strategies lesson, including two practice worksheets with answers.

12. Read a Variety of Genre: True, the Common Core State Standards have renewed our focus on non-narrative genre, but the Standards do not outlaw short stories, poetry, and novels. Check our this particularly helpful resource: How to Read Textbooks with PQ RAR.

13. Write About Reading: A good writing program is excellent reading comprehension practice. See Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection.

14. Fill in the Gaps: Help students practice reading comprehension by ensuring that they have the necessary tools to do so. We know that good readers have phonemic awareness and they can apply the alphabetic code through their knowledge of how sounds connect to spellings. In other words, good readers tend to have their phonics mastered, irrespective of how they got there; they can decode. That’s simply not up for debate anymore.  We also know that good readers tend to have the “other side of the coin” mastered as well, that is they can encode (spell) the sound-spellings.

“75% of children who were poor readers in the 3rd grade remained poor readers in the 9th grade and could not read well when they became adults.” – Joseph Torgeson from Catch Them Before They Fall

Check out these FREE diagnostic reading and spelling assessments to determine exactly which gaps to fill. These assessments pinpoint specific, teachable areas that students have not yet mastered, but need to. These are comprehensive assessments, not random samples indicating a generic “problem area.” For example, the Vowel Sound Phonics Assessment will indicate that Raphael has not mastered the Long a, ai_. For example, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment does not indicate a problem with syllable juncture as a qualitative spelling inventory might; instead, the test would indicate that Frances does not understand the consonant-le spelling patterns.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments?

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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Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Okay, I’ll admit it; the article title is a bit of an attention grabber. However, as an MA reading specialist and author of plenty of reading programs over the years, I do believe that the title does point to some helpful advice. And I don’t believe I’m splitting hairs or making a distinction without a difference (pick your figure of speech) by advising “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” here while alternatively advocating “How to Practice Reading Comprehension” in my companion article. Teaching is different than practicing.

Let’s Be Honest About Teaching Reading Comprehension

Years ago I served as an elementary reading specialist, training teachers in our district-adopted reading program. I had plenty of diagnostic and instructional tools in my toolbox, ready to hand out to teachers to improve the quality of reading instruction for their classes and individual students. Fresh from my masters program, I knew stuff that the teachers did not and I felt pretty good about the level of my expertise.

At a grade level team meeting, veteran teachers were asking me about the results of their San Diego Quick Assessments, how to teach the r, l, w controlled vowels, and my take on schema theory. I was on a roll. Next, teachers tossed out their progress monitoring assessments and I suggested how to improve the fluency of Raphael, how to teach the outlaw (sight) words to Marci, and how to get Huong to practice his common Greek and Latin prefixes. Teachers were nodding their heads in a approval, and I was just about to step down from my throne and dismiss my subjects when a brand new teacher asked the question about Alberto: Even though Alberto has mastered all of his sight words, passed the phonics tests, and has the second highest fluency rate in the class, why can’t he tell me about what he has read or answer any simple questions about the reading?

The question stopped me dead in my tracks. I faked the answer pretty well, suggesting something along the lines of confusion with his primary language (Spanish) and English, not knowing that he was supposed to read for meaning, dietary issues, and perhaps some degree of cognitive impairment. But her follow-up question was devastating: “How can I teach reading comprehension to him?” I had no answer. We never covered that in my MA reading specialist program. I muttered something about the issue being complicated and said I’d get back to her. I never did.

Since those early years as an elementary reading specialist, I’ve also served as both a middle and high school reading intervention teacher and a reading instructor at a community college. After a few years under my belt, I’ve learned to be more like that new teacher. I ask harder questions and I’m not satisfied with simplistic or speculative answers. Today my answer to her question would be, “We don’t know how to teach reading comprehension, so don’t teach it.” However, that answer does require some explanation. First, let’s take a look at why we can’t teach reading comprehension; next, the instructional implications; and lastly in my companion article, how to help students practice reading comprehension

Why We Can’t Teach Reading Comprehension

In the short-lived 1969-1970 television show, Then Came Bronson, a middle-aged man in a business hat pulls his family station wagon alongside the lead character, Bronson, who is riding a

Then Cam Bronson

“Wherever I wind up, I guess”

motorcycle.

The car driver asks, “Taking a trip?”

Bronson shakes his head and answers, “Yeah.”

 “Where to?”

 “I don’t know… Wherever I wind up, I guess.”

 “Man, I wish I was you…”

“Really, well hang in there.”

Great dialogue… We all want to be about the journey with no cares about the destination, but this attitude is simply not acceptable when applied to the subject of reading comprehension. We need to know where we are going before we figure out how to get there. So, just what is reading comprehension and how do we get there?

What is Reading Comprehension? We Don’t All Agree

I googled “reading comprehension definition” and found these top results from practitioners:

“Simply put, reading comprehension is the act of understanding what you are reading” (K12 Reader).

“Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read… For many years, reading instruction was based on a concept of reading as the application of a set of isolated skills such as identifying words, finding main ideas, identifying cause and effect relationships, comparing and contrasting and sequencing. Comprehension was viewed as the mastery of these skills.” (Reading Rockets).

“I’ve noticed that many books about reading, and specifically about comprehension for that matter, don’t even define what comprehension is. Perhaps it’s assumed that we all know what it is; or maybe comprehension is a slippery term that we have trouble grasping, or comprehending, if you will!” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers this definition: ‘capacity of the mind to perceive and understand.’ Reading comprehension, then, would be the capacity to perceive and understand the meanings communicated by texts. Simple, huh? Clear. Now we comprehend comprehension! (Jeff Wilhelm, Scholastic).

Next, I googled “reading comprehension scholarly definition” and found a wide variety of results from the academics:

“We define reading comprehension as the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language. We use the words extracting and constructing to emphasize both the importance and the insufficiency of the text as a determinant of reading comprehension” (Greenleaf, Murphy, Schoenbach).

“Reading comprehension is the construction of the meaning of a written or spoken communication through a reciprocal, holistic interchange of ideas between the interpreter and the message.
. . . The presumption here is that meaning resides in the intentional problem-solving, thinking processes of the interpreter, . . . that the content of the meaning is influenced by that
person’s prior knowledge and experience” (Harris and Hodges).

“From a cognitive or psycholinguistic perspective, comprehension is viewed as a process of constructing meaning in transaction with texts” (Goodman, 1996; Smith, 2004).¹

“(Reading comprehension is) a combination of decoding and oral comprehension skills” (Hoover & Gough, 1990).²

“From a post-structuralist or socio-cultural perspective, there is no meaning that simply resides in a text until a reader with the requisite knowledge and skills constructs the meaning with the signs on a page (McCormick, 1995; O’Neill,1993).³

1,2,3 from Rethinking Reading Comprehension: Definitions, Instructional Practices, and Assessment (Serafini).

One observation: I can’t tell you how many times I read the equivalent of “After years of… there is a growing consensus that…” for diametrically opposed summaries of the reading research.

I read the experts in cognitive science. Professor Daniel Willingham from the University of Virginia is quoted in the Washington Post:

Can reading comprehension be taught? In this blog post, I’ll suggest that the most straightforward answer is “no.” Reading comprehension strategies (1) don’t boost comprehension per se; (2) do indirectly help comprehension but; (3) don’t need to be practiced.

Finally, I went to the Common Core State Standards to see how the authors weighed in on reading comprehension. The Common Core Standards divides its Reading Standards into Reading Foundational Skills, Reading Literature, and Reading Informational Text. Its Appendix A focuses on text complexity, but offers no working definition of reading comprehension. The closest we get to a definition is “the ability to perform literacy tasks.”

Instructional Implications

At this point we are, at best, left with this working definition of reading comprehension: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

Now, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It does provide some helpful hints about the limitations of reading assessments and instructional strategies. At the minimum, this working definition

"Don't Follow Leaders"

(From Don’t Look Back produced by Leacock-Pennebaker (1965); Pennebaker Films)

informs our “crap detectors” and keeps us questioning authority. “Don’t follow leaders; watch your parking meters” (Dylan).

We Can’t and Shouldn’t Assess Reading Comprehension

Assessments are designed to measure stuff. If we can’t agree on what we are testing, reading comprehension assessments may actually lead us into teaching to the results of the test, rather than helping students improve comprehension. Reading comprehension tests become self-fulfilling prophesies. Additionally, publishers love comprehension assessments that test concrete skills: Think test prep materials, skill workbooks, etc.

Teachers should rightfully be cautious about making instructional decisions from the results of the Common Core Standards-based PAARC and Smarter Balanced tests. These high stakes tests drive instructional decisions which often counter reading research and teacher judgment. The pressure to make these achievement tests the arbiters of what reading comprehension is and is not is increasingly difficult for teachers to challenge. Furthermore, each of the criterion-referenced and normed assessments purporting to measure reading comprehension have their own biases: the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, Second Edition (KTEA-II), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III), Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ III ACH), The Gray Oral Reading Tests, Fifth Edition (GORT-5), Test of Reading Comprehension, Fourth Edition (TORC-4), Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests Terra Nova Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) Stanford Achievement Test, etc.

As a reading specialist for quite a few years, I also recommend not using informal reading inventories to measure comprehension. I am a huge advocate for teacher-based reading assessments, but not with comprehension. If we can’t test it (and we can’t), we can’t teach it. Make sure to avoid making reading assessments “walk on all fours.” I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve known who use the Slosson, San Diego Quick, or the Read Naturally Brief Oral Screener and predictors of reading grade level. Wrong. And for goodness sake, avoid using the Accelerated Reader STAR test for the same misguided purpose.

The results of the above tests give us nothing to reliably inform our reading instruction. Be suspect of aggregated results which purport to provide useful instructional information. And labels can lead to silly instructional decisions, for example, tracking all far below basic readers into remedial reading classes. As if each low-performing reader had the same reading issues. Sigh.

What Doesn’t Improve Reading Comprehension

Time to step on a few toes. We may not be able to define exactly what reading comprehension is and we may not know how to assess or directly teach reading comprehension, but by any of the working definitions, assessment results, and reading research detailed in the National Reading Panel Report most of us would agree that the following practices do not improve reading comprehension.

1. Free Voluntary Reading (Sustained Silent Reading)

According to noted reading researcher, Doctor Timothy Shanahan in his August 13, 2017 article:

NRP did conclude that there was no convincing evidence that giving kids free reading time during the school day improved achievement — or did so very much. There has been a lot of work on that since NRP but with pretty much the same findings: either no benefits to that practice or really small benefits (a .05 effect size — which is tiny). Today, NRP would likely conclude that practice is not beneficial rather than that there is insufficient data. But that’s arguable, of course.

Remember that this is regarding reading comprehension, not vocabulary acquisition.

2. Teaching according to learning styles and multiple intelligences. Click HERE for the a complete debunking of these misguided approaches.

3. Visual (graphophonic) reading strategies. Over-reliance on letter shapes, pictures, and context clues to practice reading comprehension is, indeed, a “psycholinguistic guessing game” (Goodman) and the results of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s strongly suggest that whatever reading comprehension is, it isn’t something that ignores the alphabetic code.

4. Leveling books for guided reading by “comprehension grade level” (whatever that means). Also, use Lexiles only as flexible guidelines for independent reading or for selecting class novels.

5. Reading ability groups by reading comprehension levels. Whatever reading comprehension is, it’s not a skill which can be taught to a flexible ability group, such as a group of students who don’t know their basic sight words.

6. Reading strategy worksheets. It’s not that worksheets don’t have a place… they do, but teaching main idea, inferencing, drawing conclusions, visualizing, and text

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

Don’t Teach Reading Strategies???

structure are important tools for skillful readers to acquire, but passing out skill worksheets on each and excessive practice does not teach reading comprehension. Read this article, “Should We Teach Reading Strategies?” for more reasons.

7. Reading techniques, such as close reading, the QAR strategy, reciprocal teaching, and even the KWL may be helpful, but in them of themselves they don’t teach reading comprehension and even too much of a good thing can be counterproductive.

So, if you agree with my advice: Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension, you may be interested in the specifics on How to Practice Reading Comprehension. The article goes into detail about practicing reading comprehension that way good readers do and has a wealth of article and ready-to-teach FREE resources and lessons. How about a great FREEBIE now? Here you go…

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies 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.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

Literacy Centers, Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading Screening and Placement Assessments

Reading Screening and Placement Assessments for Grades 3-Adult

Reading Screening and Placement Assessments

Good teachers are interested in seeing measurable reading progress for their class or classes, as well as for individual students. Teachers don’t just want to think that they are achieving results; they want to know that they are doing so. So that brings up assessment.

Now, assessment has become a dirty word in some teaching circles because it’s been associated with mind-numbing paperwork, excessive amounts of class time, accountability, and even embarrassment. More often than not, teachers view top-down assessments as unteachable and a waste of effort and time. Teachers are, by nature, independent thinkers. If they don’t see the immediate and long term benefit of a teaching practice, resource, or assessment, they won’t keep “kicking the dead horse.” Teachers are all about “Show me the money!” when it comes to what they do with their students. This is especially true with reading screening and placement assessments.

Generally, most teachers find these universal screening assessments to be either a necessary evil for placement: We have to have our early and late groups for elementary school or We have to split up our students into remedial, grade level, and accelerated/honors groups for middle school. Or these common entry level assessments are mandated by the principal, reading coach, or Response to Intervention (RtI) coordinator for progress monitoring. Think Big Brother.

What if things were different? What if reading screening and placement assessments were designed as part of YOUR instruction. What each of the assessment items informed the teacher about what did and did not need to be taught? What if the screening assessments gave the teacher the instructional game plan for the class and for individual students? That’s what you’re hoping to find in this article, isn’t it? I won’t disappoint you.

Here’s what I’ve found that teachers want for their reading screening and placement assessments:

Eight Assessment Criteria for Reading Screening and Placement Assessments

  1. Teachers want reading assessments that will screen students for reading problems and provide realistic and flexible placement options.
  2. Teachers want reading assessments that won’t take much class time to administer and are not teacher-dependent for make-ups and new students.
  3. Teachers want reading assessments that are easy to administer.
  4. Teachers want to minimize individual assessment and maximize whole class assessment.
  5. Teachers want reading assessments that are easy to grade and record results.
  6. Teachers want reading assessments that others could administer (counselors, administrators, parents, para-educators) and receive the same results.
  7. Teachers want reading assessments that are teachable. If an assessment indicates a general problem area, but doesn’t provide the discrete causal issue, either further assessment will be required (a waste of more precious class time) or all the teacher will be able to do is group students by general problem areas. For example, teachers want an assessment that would indicate that a student or students could not read the letter “a” schwa sound (a/bout). Teachers don’t want a reading assessment which indicates that a student has a problem with schwa sound-spellings through a random sample test item or items (Why teach all of these sound-spellings if only one is an issue?). Teachers especially don’t want a reading assessment that would indicate a vowel sounds problem or even worse, a phonics problem. If the test is not prescriptive, if the test does not indicate specific deficits, if the test is simply a random sample of reading skills, why bother? Why give a test that provides nothing to teach to?
  8. Teachers want reading assessments that have a simple, one-page recording matrix for record-keeping and progress monitoring. LESS PAPERWORK AND LESS CLERICAL TIME MEANS MORE TIME FOR TEACHING. 

The Big 3 Assessments FREE Downloads with MP3 Audio Files and Recording Matrices

These assessments are primarily designed to determine reading intervention needs for grades 3-adult learners; however, many teachers find many of the assessments to be applicable as instructional level assessments for K-2 learners. Only three assessments are needed for universal screening and placement: The whole class vowel sound-spellings (10:42) and consonants (12:07) phonics tests (teacher copy, student copy, audio file, and recording matrix), a whole class spelling patterns test (teacher copy, student copy, 22:38 audio file, and recording matrix), and an individual fluency assessment (teacher copy, student copy, and recording matrix). 

FAQs

  1. Why do the phonics tests use nonsense words? Shouldn’t there be real words, too? Students know their sight words and so the nonsense words are better at testing the discrete sound-spelling combinations. Plus, each of these sound-spelling components, plus rimes, sight words, syllables, and phonemic awareness better serve as assessments following reading screening and placement. You don’t have to eat the whole meal when a taste (or three) will determine if you need the whole full-course dinner. By the way, all of the rest of these assessments with audio files and recording matrices are provided FREE at the end of the article.
  2. Why a spelling test? Spelling (encoding) is the other side of the coin of phonics (decoding). Both involve sound-spellings derived from the alphabetic code.
  3. Why two minutes on the fluency test? Some fluency tests time the whole passage. Yes, but it’s really not necessary, nor efficient to do so. Most fluency assessments are only one-minute; however, teachers know that these tests were normed under controlled experimental design. Not like your classroom, on the first few days of school when students are nervous and Bobby and Cheyenne are talking and the bell rings and… Trust me. You need two minutes to hear each child read, check accuracy, and get an informed feel for reading ability. My reading fluency assessment is expository, does not rely upon prior knowledge, and is leveled in this manner: the first paragraph is first grade reading level; the second is second grade reading level; etc. This affords the teacher much more data than those reading fluency assessments listed above. Like the other fluency assessments, the teacher gets words per minute, level of accuracy, level of prosody (the music of oral language; the expression of voice; the attention to syntax and punctuation), attention to punctuation, insertions, deletions, substitutions, decoding ability, and sight words. But with this Individual Reading Fluency Assessment, the teacher gets data about reading grade levels: independent, instructional, and frustrational. Easy to place the students in guided reading groups. Easy to help assign independent reading articles and chapter books. So efficient. And no, you don’t have to do time-consuming running records.
  4. But shouldn’t we have students complete a writing sample? Very helpful to diagnose levels of cognition, knowledge of paragraph structure, use of vocabulary… but not for reading.
  5. But shouldn’t we have students complete a comprehension test? Isn’t reading all about comprehension? Yes, but reading comprehension is not about a whole bunch of discrete sub-skills that can be reliably measured in any fashion so as to affect instructional decisions. As a reading specialist, I’ve given and scored all of the normed and criterion referenced reading comprehension tests. The only data derived from these time-consuming, expensive tests, is a grade level equivalent or even less useful, a generalization such as weak in inferential, strong in knowledge of figurative language, grade level in vocabulary, etc. How does that help you teach that child or class differently than if you did not give the test? Trust me. The two minute reading fluency test with the leveled paragraphs gives you much more useful data.
  6. But shouldn’t we have a vocabulary assessment? No, you can’t teach to it. But shouldn’t we have a word recognition test like the San Diego Quick Assessment or the Slosson Oral Reading Inventory? No, you can’t teach to it. But shouldn’t we have baseline data? I know it looks great on paper and re-assessing later may show growth, but the phonics, spelling, and fluency assessments are baseline data and can also be re-assessed.
  7. But shouldn’t we give a random sample assessment like a qualitative spelling inventory as a screening and placement assessment? Why bother giving part of the whole, which because of its design is non-comprehensive, when we can give comprehensive assessments that are teachable. Teachers like using assessment data to drive instruction.
  8. But what about other reading assessments, other than the BIG 3 Reading Screening and Placement Assessments, that teachers will need for assessment-based teaching? Syllable Awareness, Syllable Rhyming, Phonemic Isolation, Phonemic Blending, Phonemic Segmenting, Alphabetic Upper and Lower Case Letter Match and Alphabetic Sequencing, Outlaw Words Assessment,Rimes Assessment, and a Sight Syllables Assessment? Okay, I’ve added o each of these assessments, plus a diagnostic grammar, and a diagnostic mechanics assessment for good measure. Now, all you need are the instructional resources which perfectly correspond to each item on each assessment.

Get the 13 FREE Reading Assessments, including teacher copies, student copies, MP3 audio files, and recording matrices HERE but… Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments?

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Six Simple Steps to Teaching Spelling

Grades 4-8 spelling instruction was once relegated to editing stage of the writing process by some Writers Workshop purists. The Common Core authors would seem to concur. From grade 5 on up, the only Spelling Standards read as follows: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.2e Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.2b ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.2b Spell correctly.

However, many veteran grades 4-8 teachers still teach spelling, especially in terms of spelling patterns, conventional spelling rules, derivational and etymological influences, accent placements and vowel shifts because they know how structural word analysis facilitates proper use of our language, better reading comprehension, and improved writing.

Plus, when you know your students still can’t spell the there, their, and they’re words, someone’s gotta teach ’em!

So, what’s the most efficient, research-based methodology to teach spelling in the fewest number of instructional minutes per week?

Six Simple Steps to Teaching Spelling:

Monday

1. Administer a weekly diagnostic pretest of 20 words based upon a focus spelling pattern: not a silly holidays, colors, or “ed” word themed list. Check out my grades 4-8 spelling patterns instructional scope and sequence for guidance. Briefly explain the weekly spelling pattern with examples. Display the spelling words and direct students to self-correct their spelling errors by circling the misspelled sound-spellings.

Tuesday

2. Have students create their own Personal Spelling List of 10 unknown words. Students complete the Personal Spelling List in this priority order:

  • Pretest Errors: Have students write the spelling words they missed on the diagnostic pretest.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students write the words they missed on the last posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on teacher-corrected spelling errors found in their own writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students add on unknown words from non-phonetic outlaw words, commonly confused homonyms, spelling demons, and high frequency lists. I provide these in my spelling programs or teachers can simply do a web search to find appropriate lists for your students.

Wednesday

3. Create or purchase (Yes, my program has them) a spelling sort based upon the spelling pattern. Students complete the sort and self-correct to learn from their own mistakes.

Thursday

4. Individualize Spelling Instruction

  • Administer a spelling patterns diagnostic assessment, not a random sample spelling inventory. Feel free to use my 102 word Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and recording matrix for each student, post the matrix and print the number of Spelling Pattern Worksheets according to the results and amount of students in your class. Here’s an audio version to make you really love this assessment 🙂
  • Print the answers to these worksheets in a half-dozen Answer Booklets.
  • Students complete a worksheet, self-correct and edit the practice section, and then complete the formative assessment at the bottom of each worksheet. Want to see some samples? Download the following six Spelling Pattern Worksheets including short schwa, long schwa, “_able,” “_ible,” “_ant-ance-ancy,” and “_ent-ence-ency”  spelling patterns (with answers).

Get the Spelling Pattern Worksheets FREE Resource:

  • Students mini-conference about the spelling pattern focus of the worksheet. If the student has mastered the spelling pattern in the formative assessment, direct the student to X-out the slash on the matrix and assign points. If the formative assessment indicates that the student has not yet mastered the spelling pattern, re-teach the pattern and tell the student to re-do the formative assessment.

5. Students study their Personal Spelling List(s) for the spelling formative posttest for homework.

Friday

6. Administer a weekly or bi-weekly posttest. Many teachers elect to give the spelling posttest at the end of the week; others choose to combine two spelling patterns lessons and include these as part of the bi-weekly unit test. I give a bi-weekly test of two Personal Spelling Lists to save class time. There is no law, nor research, saying that you have to test each Friday.To administer the weekly or bi-weekly posttest, direct students to take out a piece of binder paper, find a partner, and exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List(s) words (10‒20 Minutes weekly or bi-weekly). Students then turn in their posttests for the teacher to grade. I know… you think they’ll cheat. In my experience, very few do. Also… this works with second graders (I’ve done it) on up.

The author’s Differentiated Spelling Instruction provides quality spelling programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Following are the program components:

Pennington Publishing's Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

  • Diagnostic Spelling Assessment: a comprehensive test of each previous grade level spelling pattern to determine what students know and what they don’t know with Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrix
  • 102 Remedial Sound-Spelling Worksheets Corresponding to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Grade 8… other grade levels have fewer to correspond with grade-level spellings. All grade levels use the same diagnostic assessment.)
  • Weekly Diagnostic Spelling Tests
  • Weekly Spelling Sort Worksheets for Each Spelling Pattern (with answers) formatted for classroom display. Students self-correct to learn from their own mistakes.
  • Syllable Transformers and Syllable Blending formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction
  • Syllable Worksheets (with answers) formatted for classroom display
  • Four Formative Assessments (given after 7 weeks of instruction)
  • Summative Assessment
  • Spelling Teaching Resources: How to Study Spelling Words, Spelling Proofreading Strategies for Stories and Essays, Syllable and Accent Rules, Outlaw Words, 450 Most Frequently Used Words, 100 Most Often Misspelled Words, 70 Most Commonly Confused Words, Eight Great Spelling Rules, Memory Songs and Raps (with Mp3 links), and Spelling Review Games

Read one of our customer testimonials: “I work with a large ELL population at my school and was not happy with the weekly spelling tests, etc. Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important at this age group. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. We have just adopted RtI at my school and your spelling matrix is a great tool for documentation. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students.”

Heidi

Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , ,

How to Use the Spelling Pretest

The Monday spelling pretest: it’s as American as apple pie. Each of my three sons routinely scored 20/20 on the Monday spelling pretest. They were required to “study” and “practice” these words with an obligatory worksheet, crossword puzzle, or write-the-word-ten-times assignment. They were then tested on these same words on Friday. They learned zilch about spelling from this instructional practice.

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

The first task of an informed teacher is to determine what students already know and don’t know. The second task of an

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

informed teacher is to make use of the diagnostic data to differentiate and individualize instruction.

Here’s how to make sense of the spelling pretest and teach according to the results: Simply follow these five steps:

How to Use the Spelling Pretest

1. Prepare
Create Supplemental Spelling Lists for each student.
A. First, administer a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment to determine individual mastery and gaps. (Avoid qualitative inventories which do not clearly identify spelling patterns.) Grade the assessment and print grade-level resource words for each of the spelling pattern gaps.
B. Second, find and print these resources: For remedial spellers−Outlaw Words, Most Often Misspelled Words, Commonly Confused Words. And these: For grade level and accelerated spellers−Greek and Latinate spellings, Tier 2 words used in your current instructional unit. Of course, my curriculum referenced at the end of the article includes these resources.
C. Third, have your students set up spelling notebooks to record the spelling words which they, their parents, or you have corrected in their daily writing.
Now you’re ready to teach.

2. Pretest
Dictate the 15—20 words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students on Monday. Of course, the words do matter. Rather than selecting unrelated theme words such as colors, holidays, or the like, choose a spelling program which organizes instruction by specific spelling patterns. Here’s a nice  CCSS L.2 Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence for spelling.

Have students self-correct from teacher dictation of letters in syllable chunks, marking dots below the correct letters, and marking an “X” through the numbers of any spelling errors. This is an instructional activity that can be performed by second graders. Don’t rob your students of this learning activity by correcting the pretest yourself.

3. Personalize
Students complete their own 15−20 word Personal Spelling List in the following order of priority:
• Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors onto a Personal Spelling List. Ten words are certainly enough to practice the grade-level spelling pattern.
• Last Week’s Posttest Errors: Have students add up to three spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
• Writing Errors: Have students add up to three student, parent, or teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing.
• Spelling Pattern Errors: Have students add on up to three words from one spelling pattern deficit as indicated by the comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment. Of course, my curriculum referenced at the end of the article includes these resources: Spelling Pattern Worksheets with the spelling pattern/rule clearly explained, example words, spelling sorts, rhymes, word jumbles, writing application, and a short formative assessment.
• Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select words from these resources to complete the list.

4. Practice
Have students practice their own Personal Spelling Words list.
A. Use direct instruction and example words to demonstrate the weekly spelling pattern.
B. Have students create their own spelling sorts from their Personal Spelling List.
C. Provide class time for paired practice. Spelling is primarily an auditory process.

5. Posttest
On Friday (or why not test every two weeks for older students?) tell students to take out a piece of binder paper and find a partner to exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List words. Now, this makes instructional sense—actually using the posttest to measure what students have learned! But, you may be thinking…what if they cheat? For the few who cheat…It would be a shame to not differentiate instruction for the many to cater to a few. Truly, they are only cheating themselves.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year Differentiated Spelling Instruction for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Programs

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Contact mark@penningtonpublishing.com for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. I’m teaching all of the grade-level standards and remediating previous grade-level standards. The no-prep and minimal correction design of this program really respects a teacher’s time. At last, I’m teaching an integrated program–not a hodge-podge collection of DOL grammar, spelling and vocabulary lists, and assorted worksheets. I see measurable progress with both my grade-level and intervention students. BTW… I love the scripted lessons!

─Julie Villenueve

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , ,

Spelling Assessment Questions and Answers

I love spelling instruction. Not the give the pretest on Monday; give ’em a crossword puzzle of the words on Tuesday; give ’em a word search on Wednesday; tell ’em to study on Thursday; and test ’em on the same words Friday kind of spelling instruction.

I love the kind of grade-level spelling instruction that sticks with kids (and adults). The kind that makes use of our alphabetic code; the kind that uses spelling patterns and values “spelling rules” (which do work most of the time); the kind that uses a problem-solving approach to word analysis (yes… spelling sorts); the kind that does hold students accountable for spelling errors in their own writing; and the kind that makes use of the Monday pretest as a diagnostic instrument and the Friday posttest as a formative assessment.

That said, as an author of numerous spelling programs and an often-used Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, I get two questions quite frequently: 1. Does a diagnostic spelling assessment make sense? and 2. How can we use the weekly pretest as a diagnostic assessment? But I’ll let teachers ask those questions in their own words…

1. How can teachers address spelling needs for students who are spelling at a grade 1/2 level and are in grade 5/6? How would you give the diagnostic test to these low level students who cannot even spell “rag” or “top?”

August 11, 2013 

RESPONSE: Great question! An effective diagnostic spelling assessment has to isolate and test specific sound-spellings. The trick is to do so with words which assess specific student knowledge about that spelling pattern and nothing else.

With most remedial spellers, such as your hypothetical 5/6 student, these students have had to develop a quite sophisticated set of coping mechanisms and survival skills to be able to read and/or spell anything at all. These students have become sight-word dependent, using word recognition skills, rather than word identification skills to memorize individual spelling words. In all likelihood the student has learned to read via “Dick and Jane” look-say methods or onset-rhyme techniques, rather than through explicit and systematic phonics instruction. But not necessarily. An effective diagnostic spelling assessment has to isolate that variable to really assess what needs to be assessed.

In your question you refer to the short a, as in “rag,” and the short o as in “top.” Rather than use these words as test items (which most 5/6 students would know), a good assessment uses multisyllabic words to isolate and assess those sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight-spelling knowledge. That’s good internal and external validity in assessment-speak.

The author of this article has such a comprehensive diagnostic assessment (See author tag below for links) to address this issue. For example, the first spelling word on the assessment is “bumper.” The word “bumper” is used, rather than “bump” or “bun” to assess the short u because most remedial spellers, such as your 5/6 student will not know this word as a sight-spelling.

In correcting that item, the teacher is instructed only to correct the short vowel u. So if the student spells “bumpr,” than it is correct. Another spelling test item will catch the “er” spelling deficit.

2. What’s the use of giving a spelling pretest if the posttest is the same list of words?

June 3, 2012

RESPONSE: I agree with your sentiments. The pretest is a waste of time, unless we make use of it as a diagnostic assessment. Furthermore (I’ve always wanted to use that transition), giving a posttest of the same words is just silly. Why should students have to practice and study, then be re-tested on words they already know? Here’s how to make sense of both the spelling pretest and spelling posttest:

1. Administer the weekly pretest.

2. After completing this diagnostic pretest, display the spelling words and direct students to self-correct their spelling errors by circling the misspelled sound-spellings.

3. Have students create their own Personal Spelling List of 15 words and have a parent sign the list. Students complete the Personal Spelling List in this priority order:

  • Pretest Errors: Have students write the spelling words they missed on the pretest.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students write the words they missed on the last posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on teacher-corrected spelling errors found in their own writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students add on unknown words from non-phonetic outlaw words, commonly confused homonyms, spelling demons, and high frequency lists.

4. On the next class day briefly explain the spelling pattern focus of the pretest. My bias (and that of the Common Core authors in the appendices) is that we should be teaching grade-level spelling patterns, not silly themed word lists. If using a spelling patterns pretest, help students learn and problem-solve the patterns through a spelling sort. Avoid useless crossword puzzles, word searches, and write each word ten times approaches. Please.

5. Students study their Personal Spelling List(s) for the spelling formative posttest. Many teachers elect to give the spelling posttest at the end of the week; others choose to combine two spelling patterns lessons and include these as part of the bi-weekly unit test. I give a bi-weekly test of two Personal Spelling Lists to save class time. There is no law saying that you have to test each Friday.

6. To administer the weekly or bi-weekly posttest, direct students to take out a piece of binder paper, find a partner, and exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List(s) words (10‒20 Minutes weekly or bi-weekly). Students then turn in their posttests for the teacher to grade. I know… you think they’ll cheat. In my experience, very few do. Also… this works with second graders (I’ve done it) on up.

Those teachers who want to take spelling instruction beyond just grade-level instruction and begin individualizing instruction based upon a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment (not a simple qualitative spelling inventory) will appreciate the author’s Remedial Spelling Patterns Instruction training video.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the
Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , ,

Free ELA and Reading Assessments

As an MA reading specialist and English-language Arts teacher, I know the value of diagnostic assessments. No two students are exactly alike. Each has different instructional needs. Each student deserves instruction adjusted to those needs. But how can elementary, middle, and high school teachers assess and teach to a class or classes full of individuals? Simple. With whole-class assessments. These assessments must be quick and easy to administer, grade, and record. Less time assessing leads to more time teaching.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding ELA/Reading Assessments from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

ELA/Reading Assessments

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/

Download free phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency, grammar, mechanics, and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. A true gold mine for the teacher committed to individualized instruction! Go to the QUICK LINKS resources at the bottom of our homepage to select the assessments you want. Absolutely free and all include recording matrices.

Eliminating the Trust Factor with Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/eliminating-the-trust-factor-with-diagnostic-elareading-assessments/

In summary, trust the science of comprehensive, diagnostic ELA/reading assessments to inform your instruction. Using this objective data will eliminate the “trust factor” and guess work and enable effective ELA and reading teachers to differentiate instruction.

Re-teach the Standards

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/re-teach-the-standards/

In traditional calendar schools across the U.S. and Canada, spring-itis is now setting in. The weather is changing. The clock has sprung forward. The standardized tests are over. Only Open House remains and the summer countdown begins. I have a cure for stable horses and spring-itis: re-teach the Standards. Not a repetitive re-hash of what has already been mastered, but an assessment-based, targeted triage of what was taught, not not caught.

Ten Criteria for Effective ELA/Reading Diagnostic Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/ten-criteria-for-effective-elareading-diagnostic-assessments/

Diagnostic assessments are essential instructional tools for effective English-language Arts and reading teachers. However, many teachers resist using these tools because they can be time-consuming to administer, grade, record, and analyze. Here are the criteria for effective diagnostic assessments.

What’s the Value of Individual Reading Assessments?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/whats-the-value-of-individual-reading-assessments/

Individual reading assessments are time-consuming and inefficient. Effective reading assessments are 1. comprehensive 2. diagnostic and 3. They must be easy to give, easy to grade, and easy to record. Essentially, effective reading assessments can be delivered whole class as accurate screening tools.

Quick Reading Assessments

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/quick-reading-assessments/

At the start of the school year or when they get the inevitable transfer students, veteran teachers realize that they can’t depend solely upon previous teacher or counselor placements with regard to student reading levels. Teachers don’t want to find out in the middle of a grade-level novel that some students are reading two or more years below grade level and can’t hope to understand the book without significant assistance. The best quick initial reading assessment? Reading. Specifically, a short reading fluency passage, but one that gives you not just a reading fluency number, but one that also gives you a good ballpark of what grade level the students can independently access. You’ve never seen anything like this before.

Assessment-based Re-teaching

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/assessment-based-re-teaching/

  1. It just hit me. I cared more about the quality of what I taught and how I taught it, than what the students needed to learn and if the students learned it. The focus isn’t a distinction without a difference. It’s a game-changer. If you are willing to re-teach what you’ve already taught (and not yet taught) this year, check out my 14 FREE diagnostic ELA and reading assessments with recording matrices. These quick, comprehensive, whole-class tests will give you teachable data to re-teach students what they need.

Mastery Learning in RtI

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/mastery-learning-in-rti/

What if a shaky foundation is what we’re dealing with now? We can’t do anything about the past. Teachers can start playing the blame game and complain that we’re stuck teaching reading to students who missed key foundational components, such as phonics. All-too-often, response to intervention teachers are ignoring shaky foundations and are trying to layer on survival skills without fixing the real problems. Instead, teachers should re-build the foundation. Teachers can figure out what is missing in the individual student skill-sets and fill the gaps… this time with mastery learning. Get Pennington Publishing’s set of diagnostic reading assessments absolutely FREE with the link in this article.

Pre-teach before Assessment

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/pre-teach-before-assessment/

Call it what you wish: summer brain-drain, poor retention, a learning disability, problem with learning styles, developmental delay, or lack of motivation or practice… some students just seem to forget what they have learned before. Good assessments catch students at their best. That’s why it makes sense to pre-teach before teachers assess to help students retrieve prior knowledge and get the assessment results that will help us design efficient instruction.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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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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Eliminating the Trust Factor with Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

As teachers, we pride ourselves on our intuitive judgments. Elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers learn the developmental characteristics and behaviors of our students through professional development and experience. As much as we preach not to “judge the book by its cover,” we do so on a daily basis in our classrooms. We have to. Teaching is informed decision-making and we face a myriad of decisions each day. We think “on our feet” all day long and learn to make quick decisions: When to be a “hard-nose” and when to show mercy; when to challenge and when to coddle; when to “tighten up” and when to “lighten up.”

The subjective decision-making described above is certainly a refined skill. We teachers do make mistakes. But, over time, we learn to trust our judgments and decision-making regarding the behavioral/affective management of the class and the interpersonal relationships and dynamics of the individuals in our classes. We learn to trust ourselves in the art of teaching.

Don’t Trust Yourself

However, we should be wary about being tempted to similarly trust ourselves regarding the science of teaching ELA and reading content and skills. Making instructional decisions based upon “what the students know and what they don’t know” requires objective data to inform our judgments. There are just too many variables to trust even the best teacher intuition: family situations, language, culture, school experience, just to name a few factors that limit our abilities to “go with our guts.” If we are honest, even veteran teachers are often fooled by sophisticated student coping mechanisms and cultural stereotypes. A gregarious boy with excellent oral language skills may be compensating for poor reading skills. A quiet Asian girl with good organizational skills who pays attention well may struggle with the academic vocabulary of the teacher. Only diagnostic ELA/reading assessments can eliminate subjectivity and objectively inform the science of teaching.

Don’t Trust Your Colleagues

Teaching is an independent practice. No matter how many years we have eaten lunch with our teacher peers, no matter how many conferences, department or grade-level meetings we have attended together, no matter how many of the same teaching resources we share, and no matter how specific our scope and sequences of instruction align, we cannot assume that the students of our colleagues have mastered the skills we are to build upon. Whether you are a fifth grade teacher, inheriting Ms. Nathan’s fourth grade class (along with all of her summative assessment data), or you are a high school English teacher picking up where a colleague left off at the end of the semester (with comprehensive writing portfolios), there is no substitute for doing your own diagnostic ELA/reading assessments.

Don’t Trust the Standardized Test Data

The content of the standardized ELA/reading test just can’t be trusted to help the teacher make  informed instructional decisions. The results of standardized tests provide “macro” data that can assess program quality or overall level of a student by using random sample questions to assess student proficiency or achievement. The data does not pinpoint the “micro” data of student strengths and weaknesses in the skills and content that teachers need to assess. Standardized tests are not designed for this purpose.

For example, the standards-based ELA/reading assessment in California lumps together data to classify individual students as Proficient, Advanced, Basic, Below Basic, or Far Below Basic. These classifications do little to inform teacher instruction. Even using  item analyses of the data can only identify percentiles in such areas of “vocabulary in context.” Hardly helpful to specifically address individual student needs… Standardized tests do not provide  ELA/reading teachers with the data that they need to affect instructional change or differentiation. Diagnostic ELA/Reading assessments are designed for those tasks.

In summary, trust the science of comprehensive, diagnostic ELA/reading assessments to inform your instruction. Using this objective data will eliminate the “trust factor” and guess work and enable ELA and reading teachers to effectively differentiate instruction. Check out these free diagnostic ELA and reading assessments.

Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of ELA/reading assessments that meet the criteria described above. You are welcome to download a comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessment, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, a grammar assessment, and a mechanics assessment free of charge from my website. Most of these assessments are multiple choice and are administered “whole class.” All have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction. Once, teachers administer these assessments and analyze the data, many will wish to purchase my teaching resources Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay Strategies, and Teaching Reading Strategies to differentiate instruction precisely according to the data of these diagnostic assessments. Why re-invent the wheel?

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