Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Diagnostic Assessments

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments

Following are accurate and teachable diagnostic grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments and corresponding recording matrices to help teachers determine what students know and what they do not know. Each assessment is comprehensive, not a random sample, to enable teachers to teach to the results of each test item. The author’s grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and high school grammar, usage, and mechanics programs provide the corresonding resources for assessment-based whole class and individualized instruction.

GRAMMAR, USAGE, AND MECHANICS DIAGNOSTIC ASSESSMENTS

Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix (Printable Copy) 

Use this 45 item assessment to determine student’s knowledge of parts of speech, subjects and predicates, types of sentences, fragments and run-ons, pronoun usage, modifiers, verb tenses and verb forms.

Mechanics Assessment (Printable Copy) 

Use this 32 item assessment to test students’ ability to apply correct usage of commas, capitalization, and all other essential punctuation.

Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessment (Google Apps)

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RECOMMENDED GRAMMAR PROGRAMS APPLYING ASSESSMENT-BASED INSTRUCTION

Choose among three instructional formats:

1. The traditional grade-level programs (with printables and Google apps) Teaching Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and High School

2. Interactive Notebook for grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Interactive Notebook

3. Literacy Centers: Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center Extensive Program Samples

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center Extensive Program Samples

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FREE Sound Wall Songs

For older students who struggle with reading, many have problems making the phoneme (speech sound) to grapheme (print) connection. What’s preventing these students from making this connection? Often, it’s inaccurate or inconsistent recognition and production of the speech sounds. After all, if you can’t say ’em, you can’t read ’em and you certainly can’t spell ’em.

Many teachers who have recognized this problem assume that another dose of Heggerty, Barton, or others with phonemic awareness programs (I also have PA drills in my reading intervention programs) will do the trick, but this is not always the solution for all of your students. Practicing  phonemic isolation, segmenting, substitution, manipulation, reversals, etc., may not solve the problem if students do not know proper mouth formation and speech articulation. In the past, reading specialists and intervention teachers would refer students who lack these reading prerequisites to speech therapists, and this may indeed be necessary. But, with proper coaching, reading teachers can certainly assist most of their students who can’t recognize and produce speech sounds properly.

One  important tool that teachers are using to help students learn or re-learn the speech sounds is the instructional sound wall. Sound walls consist of the 43-45 phoneme-grapheme cards posted on the classroom wall and organized into two sections: vowels and consonants. If you are unfamiliar with what a sound wall looks like, the Louisiana Department of Education has produced a wonderful “how-to set up a sound wall” resource. Here are the digital sound walls I use in my reading intervention programs:

Vowel Valley and Consonant Sounds Sound Walls

Vowel Valley

Consonant Sounds

The different phonemes associated with vowels are arranged in a “valley” formation on the wall that looks like the opening of the mouth that happens when the vowel sounds are spoken. Vowel sounds produce unobstructed air flow through the mouth, unlike consonants.

The consonants, organized by “manners of articulation” proposed by Dr. Louisa Moats (2020) are posted as follows:

● Stops – airflow is completely obstructed by the lips
● Nasals – airflow is obstructed in the mouth, but released through the nose
● Affricates – begins as a stop, but ends as a fricative
● Fricatives – air flows, but friction is created by small separations between articulators
● Glides – no friction in the airflow, but changes in sound are produced by the placement of the tongue and lips
● Liquids – the tongue creates a partial closure in the mouth that redirects airflow

Sound-Spelling Cards

Animal Cards

Phoneme-Grapheme (Sound-Spelling) Card Components

Sounds: Sound-spelling cards include sound symbols, indicated by slanted lines. For example, /k/ and /r/. Note that the sounds are not the same as the alphabetic letters. The “c” as in card has the /k/ sound, not a /c/ sound. In my reading intervention programs, I include audio files on each digital card.

Pictures: The phoneme-grapheme cards usually feature a picture which has a name that emphasizes the focus sound. The picture acts as a mnemonic to cement the phoneme-grapheme relationship for students.

When students learn the phoneme-grapheme (sound-letter) correspondences with embedded mnemonic pictures (see the research of Ehri and Wilce), the phoneme-grapheme cards are useful tools for building phoneme awareness because the abstract sounds and symbols are now tied to concrete representations. Dr. Tim Shanahan also stresses the importance of practicing sound-picture connections.

Many teachers help students memorize the name of the card i.e., the picture, when introducing the sound indicated on the card. In my reading intervention programs, I teach animal chants, because all of my cards all feature non-juvenile animal photograph. A typical chant would be as follows:

Name?

newt

Sound?

/n/

Spellings: The common sound-spellings are also featured on the cards.  The spellings include blanks to indicate their location within words and to help students select appropriate spellings. For example, if a student is spelling the word, betray, the “ai_” spelling choice would be eliminated from consideration, because the blank indicates that “ai” cannot end a syllable. The “_ay” would be a more informed selection.

FREE Sound Wall Songs to Teach Proper Mouth Formation and Speech Articulation

To help students remember how to position and move the mouth, I’ve created songs which explain the mouth formations and sound production. The Vowel Valley Chant includes this music, the Animal Chants, and the Vowel Valley graphic representations for each of type of  vowel. The Consonant Sounds Chant also includes this music, the Animal Chants, and the consonant “manners of articulation” graphic representations for each of type of  consonant. 23 minutes of 12 silly, but memorable songs, along with 45 Animal Cards to practice the sounds and spellings for each card. Did I say they are FREE for classroom use. Please don’t post ’em online.

Personal Sound Walls

To add to the traditional vowel valley and consonant sounds wall cards, I would suggest adding separate graphic representations of the sound-print subsections for individual students. I provide nine Sound Wall Printables in my reading intervention programs, such as in the Fricatives graphic below.

Fricatives: Personal Sound Wall

These “personal sound walls” consist of separate short vowels, long vowels, digraphs, diphthongs, r-controlled vowels, organized in the classic Vowel Valley configuration.  Additionally, I suggest separate graphic representations of the consonant “manners of articulation” (see Dr. Moats’ organization above). My reading intervention programs include two versions of the Personal Sound Walls, which I include here for your review: Google slides (with fill-in text boxes and audio files) and printable PDFs to print and laminate. With the laminated copies, students can use dry erase markers to write word examples, erase, and practice again.

Mouth Formation and Movement: A unique feature of the posted sound wall cards and “personal sound walls” is that they also include images (photographs or graphics) of mouths articulating the different phonemes, so that students can make the connection between what a phoneme sounds like and how their mouths are formed and move when they are saying that phoneme.

Teachers may choose to have a mirror nearby so that students may see their own mouths while using the sound wall.

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Each of the above resources is included for teachers to review components of my two reading intervention programs. Click on the provided links to view video overviews and to download sample lessons.+

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

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Reading and Spelling Assessments

FREE Reading and Spelling Assessments

Following are accurate and teachable diagnostic phonemic awareness, reading, and spelling assessments with audio files, Google forms, Google sheets, and corresponding recording matrices to help teachers determine what students know and what they do not know. All but one assessment (fluency) are whole class assessments. Each assessment is comprehensive, not a random sample, to enable teachers to teach to the results of each test item. The author’s ELA/reading programs provide the resources for assessment-based whole class and individualized instruction. Click on the blue links for the assessment resources and check out the author’s programs, which provide the instructional resources to teach to each assessment.

PHONEMIC AWARENESS ASSESSMENTS

Phonemic Awareness Assessments (Printable Copies) 

Use these five phonemic awareness (syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting) to determine reading readiness. Each of the five assessments is administered whole class. The author’s half-year or 30 minutes per day Science of Reading Intervention Program (word recognition) and full-year Teaching Reading Strategies (word recognition and language comprehension) reading intervention programs include corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments.

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DIAGNOSTIC READING ASSESSMENTS

These comprehensive reading assessments are administered whole class (except for the reading fluency) and are teachable. Corresponding lessons, activities, and worksheets with formative assessments are featured in the author’s half-year or 30 minutes per day Science of Reading Intervention Program (word recognition) and full-year Teaching Reading Strategies (word recognition and language comprehension) reading intervention programs

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

(Printable Copy with Links to 10:42 Audio File, Google Forms, and Google Sheets)*

Printable and digital testing options: Use this comprehensive 52 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of short vowels, long vowels, silent final e, vowel digraphs, vowel diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any vowel sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

(Printable Copy with Links to 12:07 Audio File, Google Forms, and Google Sheets)*

Printable and digital testing options: Use this comprehensive 50 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of consonant digraphs, beginning consonant blends, and ending consonant blends. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any consonant sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Heart Words Assessment (Printable Copy)

Use this 108 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common English words with one or more “parts to learn by heart.” The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies structured literacy intervention program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program includes 3,000+ Google slides with two Heart Words in each of the 54 lessons, plus special interactive practice with these tricky words. The program also provides heart Words game card masters and individual sets of business card size game cards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

Rimes Assessment (Printable Copy) 

Use this comprehensive 79 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common English rimes. Memorization and practice of these word families such as ack, eck, ick, ock, and uck can supplement an explicit and systematic phonics program, such as found in the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies structured literacy intervention program to help students orthographically map these key word parts. Experienced reading teachers know that different students respond differently to reading instruction and some remedial students especially benefit from learning onsets (such as consonant blends) and rimes. The program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program also provides rimes game card masters and individual sets of business card size game cards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

The Pets Fluency Assessment (Printable Copy) *

The “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage permits the teacher to assess two-minute reading fluencies (a much better measurement than a one-minute timing).

* Placement Assessments

DIAGNOSTIC SPELLING ASSESSMENT

The 102 item assessment includes the most common previous grade-level spelling patterns.

  • Grade 4: K-3 spelling patterns (#s 1-64)
  • Grade 5: K-4 spelling patterns (#s 1-79)
  • Grade 6: K-5 spelling patterns (#s 1-89)
  • Grade 7: K-6 spelling patterns(#s 1-98)
  • Grade 8: K-7 spelling patterns (#s 1-102)

The test items are grouped by spelling patterns e.g., the four long /i/ spellings, to make posttest analysis simple. All spelling words are multi-syllabic to prevent students from identifying the words by “sight spellings” and to require recognition of the sound-spelling patterns within the context of syllables.

Assessment Formats

Choose the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment format which best suits your needs:

1. Printable Only: Teacher dictates the number of test items assigned to the grade levels, following the written administrative protocol. Students take the test on binder paper. Teacher corrects assessments according to directions and records spelling deficits on the Spelling Patterns Assessment Mastery Matrix.

Resources: Diagnostic Spelling Assessment teacher administration form; Spelling Patterns Assessment Mastery Matrix.

2. Audio and Printable: Teacher plays the 22:32 “slow speed” Diagnostic Spelling Assessment audio file for grades 4, 5, and 6 students or the 17:26 “fast speed” Diagnostic Spelling Assessment audio file for grades 7 and 8 students. The audio file includes all administrative directions. Students take the test on binder paper. Teacher corrects assessments according to directions and records spelling deficits on the Spelling Patterns Assessment Mastery Matrix.

Resources: Diagnostic Spelling Assessment 22:38 audio file; Diagnostic Spelling Assessment 17:26 audio file; Spelling Patterns Assessment Matrix.

3. Google Forms: Teacher shares either the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Google Form with the 22:32 “slow speed” for grades 4, 5, and 6 students or the form with the “fast speed” for grades 7 and 8 students. Note that incorrect spellings with be accompanied by the Google red squiggly line indicating a spelling error. Students may be tempted to right click the word and select the correct spelling; however, if the teacher tells the students the purpose of the test and directs them not to self-correct, students will generally follow instructions. Telling students that they will receive the same amount of credit whether the spelling is accurate or not, and using the “fast speed” audio also helps students avoid the temptation of cheating. Teacher uploads the students’ Google Forms into the Spelling Patterns Assessment Mastery Matrix Google Sheets.

Resources: Resources: Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Google Forms with the 22:32 “slow speed” audio file for grades 4, 5, and 6 students or the the 17:26 “fast speed” audio file for grades 7 and 8 students; Spelling Patterns Assessment Mastery Matrix Google Sheets.

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RECOMMENDED SPELLING PROGRAMS APPLYING ASSESSMENT-BASED INSTRUCTION

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Programs

Canadian Versions

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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Corrective Writing Feedback

Not every English teacher believes in corrective writing feedback. Some devolve responsibility to the student writer or peer editors. Others feel that identifying grammar, usage, and mechanics errors may inhibit writing. Still others insist that writers learn these language conventions inductively through extensive writing and reading practice. For a thorough, research-based critique of these conclusions, read my related article, Writing Feedback Research.

However, most English teachers tend to buy in to the necessity of corrective writing feedback at some point in the writing process. For those teachers who do use corrective writing feedback, the following story may provide a bit of insight from the student’s point of view:

I got back my graded essay from Ms. Peters, and she had written the word FRAG three times.

I figured it must be something important, so I Googled FRAG before writing my next essay. The first search result was an ad for the FRAG first person shxxter video game. I scrolled down and Wikipedia and dictionary. com said, “FRAG means to attack an unpopular or overzealous superior.”

Now, Ms. Peters was not the most popular English teacher, and I guess you could say she was a bit zealous about FRAGs. But I personally had no ill feelings toward her and wanted to clear the air, so the next day I approached her after class and began, “About your FRAG comments on my essay-“

“FRAG means fragment,” she interrupted. “Intentional fragments are permissible in narrative dialogue, but never in formal essays.”

I said, “Ms. Peters, I would never FRAG intentionally or otherwise.”

As I turned to walk away, I muttered, “if I knew what it was.”

“I heard that!” she said. “Good example.”

What we can learn about corrective writing feedback from the student’s FRAG experience…

1. Simply circling errors or using diacritical marks produces ineffective revision. Writers do not know what they don’t know. Simply writing FRAG does not explain why the sentence is incomplete or how to fix it. Other than typos, writers rarely make mistakes when they know better. When errors are simply marked without explanation, students will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

2. When writing feedback is postponed, little is acquired, retained, and transferred to the next writing assignment. Accordingly, summative feedback is of little value. Relying solely upon rubric scoring for writing feedback produces no statistically significant correlation with improved writing skills.

3. Error marking and/or taking off points on final drafts produces minimal transfer to future writing. Students won’t get scared into capitalizing on next month’s essay because you dinged their grade for not doing so on last month’s essay. However, if you make them self-correct on a revised rough draft, they will more likely capitalize the next time (if they understand the rules) to avoid the work.
As Ferris (2004) summarizes, “Students who receive feedback on their written errors will be more likely to self-correct them during revision than those who receive no feedback—and this demonstrated uptake may be a necessary step in developing longer term linguistic competence.”

4. Far from inhibiting writing, focused corrective feedback on a regular basis can build student writing confidence.

Students are likely to attend to and appreciate feedback on their errors, and this may motivate them both to make corrections and to work harder on improving their writing. The lack of such feedback may lead to anxiety or resentment, which could decrease motivation and lower confidence in their teachers” (Ferris, D. R. 2004).

5. Teachers need to identify language convention errors, sure. But teachers also need to define terms, explain why something is an error with examples, and provide options for correction and/or revision.

“Focused corrective feedback was more useful and effective than unfocused corrective feedback” (Sheen, Wright, and Moldawa 2009).

How to Provide Effective Corrective Writing Feedback

In the student FRAG example, consider using the following writing feedback to identify, define and exemplify, explain, and suggest correction and/or revision in the student’s revised rough draft:

𝗥𝗲𝘃𝗶𝘀𝗲 𝗦𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲 𝗙𝗿𝗮𝗴𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁:
This sentence fragment is only part of a complete sentence. To fix a sentence fragment, try these ideas:
▪ Change the fragment into a complete thought by adding a subject or predicate. The subject of a sentence is the “do-er.” The predicate is what the “do-er” does.
𝗙𝗿𝗮𝗴𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗘𝘅𝗮𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲: Solved a problem with her quick thinking.
𝗥𝗲𝘃𝗶𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻: 𝘚𝘩𝘦 (subject) solved a problem with her quick thinking.
𝗙𝗿𝗮𝗴𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗘𝘅𝗮𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲: Mainly the lack of time.
𝗥𝗲𝘃𝗶𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻: Mainly, they 𝘯𝘦𝘦𝘥𝘦𝘥 (predicate) more time.
▪ Connect the fragment to the sentence before or after.
𝗙𝗿𝗮𝗴𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗘𝘅𝗮𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲: Because of the ice. The roads were hazardous.
𝗥𝗲𝘃𝗶𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻: The roads were a hazardous because of the ice.
▪ Read the sentence out loud. Unless it is a question, the voice naturally drops down at the end of a complete sentence.

But, how can I provide that kind of writing feedback when I have 130 essays to correct?

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e-Comments

The e-Comments Chrome Extension

Here’s a resource that just might make life a bit easier for teachers committed to providing quality writing feedback for their students… You can both save time and improve the quality of your writing feedback with the e-Comments Chrome Extension. Insert hundreds of customizable Common Core-aligned instructional comments, which identify, explain, and show how to revise writing issues with just one click from the e-Comments menu. So much easier to use and organize than the Google Classroom Comment Bank. Add your own comments to the menu, including audio, video, and speech-to-text. Record the screen and develop your own comment sets. Works in Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology, Blackboard, etc. Check out the introductory video and add this extension to your Chrome toolbar: e-Comments Chrome Extension. Includes separate comment banks for grades 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and AP/College. FREE trial!

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SSR Reading Research

As a secondary ELA teacher and reading specialist, I get some interesting reactions when asked why I don’t allot time for SSR sustained silent reading in my classes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as passionate about getting my students to read and read well as any of my colleagues. However, I just can’t spend precious instructional time on an activity, i.e. SSR, that produces negligible benefits according to reading research when I could be teaching something that is evidence-based. After all, instructional time is reductive. If you add this, you are taking away that.

I’m using the most common term, SSR (sustained silent reading), but we have plenty of similar acronym-based programs: FVR (Free Voluntary Reading, DEAR (Drop Everything And Read); DIRT (Daily Individual Reading Time); SQUIRT (Sustained Quiet Un-Interrupted Reading Time), WEB (We Enjoy Books), and USSR (uninterrupted sustained silent reading). The latter was probably popularized after the fall of the Soviet Union (USSR). I’m sure there are more.

SSR is based upon these assumptions:

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

If a reading researcher designed a research study to test the efficacy of SSR based upon one or more of these assumptions, any number of controlled studies using experimental designs might produce statistically significant results if SSR positively correlated with reading gains. But this is simply not the case.

Reading Research Does Not Support SSR

According to the Report of the National Reading Panel (2000), the experimental design studies on SSR indicate no statistically or educationally significant differences between those students who do SSR and those students who do not.

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.

Some educational researchers have criticized the findings of the National Reading Panel, arguing that long term correlational studies do suggest that students doing SSR gain more in reading than those who do not. However, correlation does not imply causation. And my chief concern is teachers replacing what they know is beneficial with an unproven activity.

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

One such alternative is independent reading homework. Teachers who insist upon providing independent reading time in the classroom, because “my kids just won’t read at home” might benefit from some of the suggestions in this related article: Independent Reading Homework.

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

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Heart Word Flash Cards

Call it false advertising, but the title of this article, Heart Word Flash Cards, is misleading. The resource I’m providing is Heart Word Game Cards. A distinction without a difference, you ask? No, quite the contrary is true. I’ll also provide a free Heart Words Assessment toward the end of this article.

Why the Heart Word Game Cards Are Not Heart Word Flash Cards

We’ve learned a considerable amount over the last few decades of reading research about how we learn to read. We’ve also learned just as much about what does not work and why.

We do know that the more we focus our reading instruction on mapping the phonemes (speech sounds) to their graphemes (spellings), the better for all beginning and older, struggling readers. However, we also know that memorizing whole words does not provide readers with the transferrable mental skill set that is needed to apply to unknown words. Our alphabetic code provides the means to make that transfer. In other words, phonics.

The Heart Word Game Cards, when used properly, can provide an important assist to an explicit, systematic, synthetic approach to phonics instruction.

A Heart Word is usually defined as a word with one or more irregular sound-spellings or an unusual sound-spelling pattern that has not yet been taught. In Heart Words, the whole word is not phonetically irregular; only a part or parts is irregular. In other words, “the parts to learn by heart.”

Far from being phonetically irregular words, Heart Words are largely regular in their sound-spellings with usually only one irregular part.
Noted reading researcher, David Kilpatrick (2015), comments that “the vast majority of irregular words have only a single irregular letter-sound relationship.”

For example, students might be taught that the Heart Word, into, is “not all irregular.” In other words, the short /i/ “i” follows the rules, as does the /n/ “n” and /t/ “t”; it’s only the long /oo/, as in rooster, “o” that does not. The long /oo/ “o” is  “the part to learn by heart” in the word, into.  https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/should-we-teach-high-frequency-words/  

Students need to learn that that most of the sound-spellings in Heart Words have perfectly regular sound-spellings. Reinforcing that which we know works, i.e. decoding, builds confidence in readers.
Noted reading researcher, David Kilpatrick (2015), comments that “the vast majority of irregular words have only a single irregular letter-sound relationship.”
Teaching students that following a rule and adjusting to exceptions is sound advice in academics and in life. For example, stopping at a stop sign is a rule; however, when a police officer tells you not to stop, that is an exception. Using my Heart Word Game Cards as flashcards would ignore the rules and treat every word as an exception.
Now, although we don’t want to emphasize whole word memorization, we don’t want to build automaticity. We want the word, into, to become a word that is processed by sight. We don’t want readers to sound out every component of every word forever. Phonics is a means to an end, not the end itself. Teachers may wish to read my related article, “How to Teach Heart Words” to learn how proper Heart Words instruction can help students map words to their orthographic memory as sight words. In orthographic mapping, students are wiring the brain to remember all of the sound-spellings of a word in order as a unified whole. Using the Heart Word Game Cards can help build this orthographic memory if used as I will describe.

Heart Word Flash CardsHow to Use the Heart Word Game Cards

The Heart Word Game Cards consist of 108 Heart Words. As the picture to the left indicates, each card features “the part to learn by heart” in red. Next, a rhyme with all regular sound-spellings is provided to assist pronunciation (some words have no rhymes). The regular sound-spellings of these rhymes reinforce the code and show students how the “part to learn by heart” should be pronounced. At the bottom of each card a sentence, using the Heart Word, is provided.

I suggest teaching the Heart Words in the context of other focus sound-spellings in a coherent instructional scope and sequence, rather than relying on parents to “drill and kill” their children with the whole list at once. However, we teachers all know how much parents love lists. Parents may be unwilling to read with their child, but they will get word lists or multiplication cards memorized:) 

However, once the Heart Words have been introduced and practiced in the context of the teacher’s instructional scope and sequence, or if the parent demands for the word list cannot be delayed any longer, I suggest administering a Heart Words Assessment to weed out the words already known and to concentrate on those not-yet-mastered. Parents can certainly administer this assessment. It tests word recognition (multiple choice with an audio file) and works especially well if students are instructed to identify the “parts to know by heart” by drawing hearts over the non-phonetic sound-spellings. With the results of this assessment, students practice what they do not yet know, not what they already do know.

Heart Word Card Games

Make ‘em Legal

For this game, students pair up and each places one of their unknown Heart Words Game Cards on the desk or table. Each student uses their own set of Animal Cards, which feature the regular sound-spellings, to build a word around the Heart Word. For example, one of the students might select the into Heart Word Game Card. The “o” is printed in red because it is the irregular sound-spelling. That student might build the word, undo, around this Heart Word Game Card and lay out these cards left to right: Buffalo /short u/ – Newt /n/ – Dog /d/ – Heart Word Game Card into to form the word, undo.

The partner needs to find the phonetically regular sound-spelling on their Animal Cards to Make ‘em Legal, or correct, the phonetically irregular sound-spelling of the Heart Word Game Card, into. If the partner displays the rooster card, the partner wins a point, because rooster includes the legal sound-spelling of the long /oo/ sound. If the other partner can’t find the card to Make ‘em Legal, no point is awarded. Partners trade off, each using their own sets of Heart Words they need to master. Perfect differentiated, assessment-based instruction and… fun!

Circle the Spellings

Students select unknown Heart Word Game Cards from their Heart Word Assessment and circle the non-phonetic spellings in pencil. The teacher checks and students correct if necessary. Then students use a crayon or colored pencil to shade in the non-phonetic spelling.

Match the Sound

The teacher writes a phonetically-regular word and highlights a vowel sound-spelling. Students draw cards from the Heart Word Game Cards to match the vowel sound.

Sort the Hearts

Sort unknown Heart Word Game Cards from the Heart Word Assessment by their vowel sound-spellings.

Write on the Cards

The object of this game is to help students understand why each Heart Word breaks one or more of the phonics rules. Identifying why the Heart Words have irregular parts helps students focus on the code-breaking portion of the word. To identify the troublesome letters, students draw hearts over the irregular sound-spellings on the cards and write how the Heart Word should be spelled, according to the spellings on the Animal Cards, below the word rhymes on the cards. For example, the Heart Word, should, has a short /u/ sound and a silent “l.” The word should be spelled “shud” or “shood.”

Note: I provide more Heart Word Card Games in my two reading intervention programs. The Heart Word cards combine with short vowel, long vowel, diphthongs, r-controlled, and consonant blend cards. Plenty of other spelling and vocabulary cards, as well.

*****

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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Sound Wall Resources

For older students who struggle with reading, many have problems making the phoneme (speech sound) to grapheme (print) connection. What’s preventing these students from making this connection? Often, it’s inaccurate or inconsistent recognition and production of the speech sounds. After all, if you can’t say ’em, you can’t read ’em and you certainly can’t spell ’em.

Many teachers who have recognized this problem assume that another dose of Heggerty, Barton, or others with phonemic awareness programs (I also have PA drills in my reading intervention programs) will do the trick, but this is not always the solution for all of your students. Practicing  phonemic isolation, segmenting, substitution, manipulation, reversals, etc., may not solve the problem if students do not know proper mouth formation and speech articulation. In the past, reading specialists and intervention teachers would refer students who lack these reading prerequisites to speech therapists, and this may indeed be necessary. But, with proper coaching, reading teachers can certainly assist most of their students who can’t recognize and produce speech sounds properly.

One  important tool that teachers are using to help students learn or re-learn the speech sounds is the instructional sound wall. Sound walls consist of the 43-45 phoneme-grapheme cards posted on the classroom wall and organized into two sections: vowels and consonants. If you are unfamiliar with what a sound wall looks like, the Louisiana Department of Education has produced a wonderful “how-to set up a sound wall” resource.

Vowel Valley and Consonant Sounds Sound Walls

Vowel Valley

Consonant Sounds

The different phonemes associated with vowels are arranged in a “valley” formation on the wall that looks like the opening of the mouth that happens when the vowel sounds are spoken. Vowel sounds produce unobstructed air flow through the mouth, unlike consonants.

The consonants, organized by “manners of articulation” proposed by Dr. Louisa Moats (2020) are posted as follows:

● Stops – airflow is completely obstructed by the lips
● Nasals – airflow is obstructed in the mouth, but released through the nose
● Affricates – begins as a stop, but ends as a fricative
● Fricatives – air flows, but friction is created by small separations between articulators
● Glides – no friction in the airflow, but changes in sound are produced by the placement of the tongue and lips
● Liquids – the tongue creates a partial closure in the mouth that redirects airflow

Sound-Spelling Cards

Animal Cards

Phoneme-Grapheme (Sound-Spelling) Card Components

Sounds: Sound-spelling cards include sound symbols, indicated by slanted lines. For example, /k/ and /r/. Note that the sounds are not the same as the alphabetic letters. The “c” as in card has the /k/ sound, not a /c/ sound. In my reading intervention programs, I include audio files on each digital card.

Pictures: The phoneme-grapheme cards usually feature a picture which has a name that emphasizes the focus sound. The picture acts as a mnemonic to cement the phoneme-grapheme relationship for students.

When students learn the phoneme-grapheme (sound-letter) correspondences with embedded mnemonic pictures (see the research of Ehri and Wilce), the phoneme-grapheme cards are useful tools for building phoneme awareness because the abstract sounds and symbols are now tied to concrete representations. Dr. Tim Shanahan also stresses the importance of practicing sound-picture connections.

Many teachers help students memorize the name of the card i.e., the picture, when introducing the sound indicated on the card. In my reading intervention programs, I teach animal chants, because all of my Animal Cards consist of animals. A typical chant would be as follows:

Name?

newt

Sound?

/n/

Spellings: The common sound-spellings are also featured on the cards.  For example, in my reading intervention programs, I use animal cards with photographs that are suitable for older readers. The spellings include blanks to indicate their location within words and to help students select appropriate spellings. For example, if a student is spelling the word, betray, the “ai_” spelling choice would be eliminated from consideration, because the blank indicates that “ai” cannot end a syllable. The “_ay” would be a more informed selection. Here is a set of the Animal Card PDFs for your review.

Sound Wall Songs

To help students remember how to position and move the mouth, I’ve created songs which explain the mouth formations and sound production. The Vowel Valley Chant includes this music, the Animal Chants, and the Vowel Valley graphic representations for each of type of  vowel. The Consonant Sounds Chant also includes this music, the Animal Chants, and the consonant “manners of articulation” graphic representations for each of type of  consonant. Each is provided for your review.

Personal Sound Walls

To add to the traditional vowel valley and consonant sounds wall cards, I would suggest adding separate graphic representations of the sound-print subsections for individual students.

Fricatives: Personal Sound Wall

These “personal sound walls” might consist of separate short vowels, long vowels, digraphs, diphthongs, r-controlled vowels, organized in the classic Vowel Valley configuration.  Additionally, I suggest separate graphic representations of the consonant “manners of articulation” (see Dr. Moats’ organization above). My reading intervention programs include two versions of the Personal Sound Walls, which I include here for your review: Interactive Google Slides (with fill-in text boxes and audio files) and printable PDFs: Sound Wall Printables to print and laminate. With the laminated copies, students can use dry erase markers to write word examples, erase, and practice again.

Mouth Formation and Movement: A unique feature of the posted sound wall cards and “personal sound walls” is that they also include images (photographs or graphics) of mouths articulating the different phonemes, so that students can make the connection between what a phoneme sounds like and how their mouths are formed and move when they are saying that phoneme.

Teachers may choose to have a mirror nearby so that students may see their own mouths while using the sound wall.

*****

Each of the above resources is included for teachers to review components of my two reading intervention programs. Click on the provided links to view video overviews and to download sample lessons.+

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

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Reading Assessments for Middle and High School

Reading and Spelling Diagnostic AssessmentsYes, these assessments are free: Phonemic Awareness, Vowel Sounds Phonics, Consonant Sound Phonics, Heart Words, Rimes, Spelling, Fluency. All but the fluency assessment are designed for whole class administration for students ages 8-adult. https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/…/diagnostic…/

Why are these comprehensive reading assessments free? Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Altruism and Capitalism

As a recently retired reading specialist, I remain passionate about helping older students who struggle with reading. It’s why I went back for my masters degree years ago. I was teaching high school history and English and many kids struggled with the textbook and anthology. I want teachers to have the tools that I have developed to specifically diagnose what students need to learn to become successful readers, irrespective of whether teachers purchase my programs or not.

Some 15 years ago I began this blog to promote my fledgling publishing business. I posted a free download for my Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, which was already being used by quite a few school districts in Northern California. I got quite a few sales of my related reading curriculum as a result. It got me thinking. Since I had (and still have) an advertising budget of $0.00, perhaps I should offer all my diagnostic assessments free of charge. My rationale was (and is) if teachers find the assessments to be reliable and valid measurements of their students specific strengths and weaknesses, they will want to buy programs which are perfectly matched to the assessments.

Why are these diagnostic reading assessments labeled in the title of this article, “Reading Assessments for Middle and High School”?

These assessments are actually tailored to students in grades 3-12 and adults, but are ideal for middle and high school. Here’s why. This morning I responded in a Facebook group to an eighth grade reading intervention teacher, looking for a phonemic awareness screener for her classes. (Name changed, of course.)
Josie: Have you all used the PAST with 8th graders?
How long did it take per student? I have like 100 students

After 20 or so responses, arguing the benefits and drawbacks of the PAST phonemic awareness screener, Josie responded to the thread once again:

Josie: But, how long does the PAST take per student? I have like 100 students to test.

I responded,

Josie, no one will answer your question; I will. The PAST is terrific, but takes about 5 minutes per student with transitions. Fine for a group of 15 kids in an early-late elementary intervention, but not fine for middle school, high school reading intervention classes of 30 plus each. You would be spending over 8 hours giving the PAST, and your eighth graders would be climbing the walls or destroying them by then.
Let’s get to the real world. As a secondary reading specialist, I developed whole class diagnostic assessments that are quick and easy to give, score, and record and will pinpoint specific areas that need to be mastered. Most include audio files for easy administration; some have Google forms and fil
These free assessments are widely used in Northern CA and were developed and revised by a cadre of 23 reading specialists, then field-tested in classrooms. We decided to create our own assessments for two purposes:
1. Even the best teachers could not/would not devote the hours upon hours of class time that individual assessments require. Thus, we developed whole class administration for each test. We compared results to the individual assessments and found no statistically significant differences. For example, we had used the BPST for years, but found that our own whole class assessments produced the same data and saved hours of instructional time per teacher.
2. We wanted the tests to be “teachable.” In other words, we wanted comprehensive, not random sample, assessments to pinpoint mastery and non-mastery. For example, rather than the Qualitative Spelling Inventory assigning a spelling stage for each student, the 102-word Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (23 minutes audio administration) includes all common spelling patterns within each stage to permit teaching to the assessment data.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable, easy-to- teach, and science of reading-based, featuring the Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables designed for older students. The word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

Middle and High School ELA Teachers: Get the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with Final Exam FREE Resource:

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