Archive

Archive for June, 2009

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

As a teacher, I am reminded ad nauseam to “teach the Common Core State Standards.” Since I am a reading specialist, hiding inside the Trojan horse of English-language Arts in an underperforming middle school, I quietly administer reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments to my students. It won’t come as much of a surprise to most of you that the diagnostic data indicate that some students have severe reading and spelling deficits.

Here then is the crux of the issue. The underlying pre-suppositions, results, and practice of standards-based instruction can be diametrically opposed to assessment-based instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of our children. This is especially true in the field of reading instruction.

The underlying pre-suppositions of the standards-based movement accept a priori that education is solely a behavioral science. We critics of this assumption would argue that much of teaching, learning, and parenting is culturally-bound and intuitive. In other words, some of effective teaching is truly an art form. We critics are not above using the scientific method and learning theory to debunk the behavioral purists. For example, the standards-based-movement begs the vital question regarding its linear scope and sequence of grade level standards: Do we really learn that way? Many teachers in my fields of English-language Arts and reading would argue the contrary. In fact, anyone who has taught the basic parts of speech to sophomores in high school won’t be surprised to learn that excellent teachers from elementary school-to middle school-to last year’s freshman class taught the same parts of speech. In other words, some learning may be recursive, not linear. Teachers, students, and parents are the critical variables here. The Common Core writers recognize this recursive element and have included the Progressive Skills Review within the Language Strand to address this instructional issue.

As is frequently the case in education, an idea takes on a life of its own in practice. A conversation a few years back with a fellow English teacher was instructive, but chilling. In discussing the results of our informal reading assessments, he looked over the clearly demonstrated reading deficits in his testing data and then said, “I teach the grade level standards. I’m not paid to go back and teach everything that the students don’t know.” He accepted a job as an administrator in our district the next year. Now, I am not over-critical of administrators… They are held accountable to implement standards-based instruction and to increase the all-important state and/or district standards-based test scores. However, administrators have got to do better than the principal who refused to implement reading intervention programs at her under-performing school because “The elementary teachers are supposed to teach reading; that’s their job, not ours. We teach the middle school Common Core State Standards here.” Of course, the principal certainly needs to read the appendices of the Common Core Standards which recognize the need for assessment-based instruction.

It’s easy to whine at the devolution of academic freedom and the sorry state of education that has been relegated to a series of standards-based grade level scope and sequence charts, with benchmarks or task analyses tacked on to provide the pretense of specificity. It’s harder to offer solutions, but here are a few thoughts.

True educators need to teach both Standards and children.

1. Do teach the grade level Common Core State Standards. Really. However, control the time allotted to teaching these standards and insist on your academic freedom here. When challenged as to why you are teaching a lesson or skill that is not explicitly listed as a grade level Standard, cite previous or advanced grade level standards that address your remedial or advanced grade level instruction.

2. Patiently argue that some students need to “catch up, to keep up.” Justify concurrent remediation or acceleration and grade level instruction by citing diagnostic data. Let data plead your case. For example, if instructed not to teach to diagnosed deficits, ask the principal/district supervisor to write a letter to the parents of students to alleviate you of this responsibility, against your informed judgment. They won’t, but they won’t bother you for awhile.

3. Explain that that any criticism is not about really about what you teach, but rather about how you teach. You are scaffolding instruction, according to the demonstrated diagnostic needs of your students in order to teach the grade level standards. That’s why assessment-based instruction is so critical. You are making the standards comprehensible and in order to do so, you must differentiate instruction. How you teach is a matter of academic freedom.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary 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, Reading, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Effective Secondary School Reading Staff Development

“Oh no… another obligatory reading staff development. If the presenter says ‘every teacher a teacher of reading’ just one time, I will walk out.”

“What does this have to do with me? I teach math. Another district-mandated reading-across-the-curriculum in-service. Ho-hum. Glad I brought papers to grade.”

As an administrator, literacy coach, English-language Arts teacher, or staff developer, you know the challenge. How can you train and convince such a diverse group of colleagues, representing the full slate of academic disciplines, that staff development in reading is valuable at the middle or high school level?

As educators have addressed the issues and suggested instructional strategies to respond to the growing “achievement gap,” many have come to the point of validating reading guru Anita Archer’s comment that “the ‘achievement gap’ is chiefly a ‘literacy gap.’” Today, there is wide consensus that secondary schools need to improve delivery of reading instruction, even at the expense of content-laden curricula.

“Oh great. Another thing to cram into my course. I don’t have the time to teach everything I am supposed to teach-not to mention what I want to teach.”

As a reading specialist/staff developer, once assigned to a high school, I know how secondary teachers, and even elementary teachers (been there-done that, too) can be a tough audience during a reading-based staff development. However, I’ve found that even the most obstinate, stuck-in-the-mud teachers do care about their students. Most will care enough to be willing to try something new, if they see the direct pay-off for their students.

In my experience, to get staff buy-in, you’ve got to accomplish three fundamental goals:

1. Ensure that all teachers feel that the strategies directly apply, in some degree, to their own academic disciplines. And let’s be honest, the matter is less relevant to some.

2. Give teachers something they can use the next day, and

3. Get the staff actively involved in the presentation.

Here are three sure-fire reading staff developments that I have presented at secondary schools and a nice resource for each:

1. Train and convince every teacher to assign reading in their academic discipline for homework on a regular basis. Here’s how.

2. Train and convince every teacher to use the same language of instruction i.e., the same terminology, for teaching and practicing reading strategies. SCRIP  is a set of self-questioning prompts that students can use to promote the author-reader dialog. Beyond the memorable mnemonic, the advantage to these strategies is that they work equally well with expository and narrative text (all academic disciplines).

By the way, if these reading strategies make sense to you, email me at mark@penningtonpublishing.com and I will send you some colorful SCRIP bookmarks that I have students use during silent reading. Offer a sign-up sheet for teachers who want class sets of these bookmarks (laminated or cardstock).

3. Train and convince every teacher to teach and have students use the same read-study method for expository reading. The PQ RAR method is a nice update on the “tried and true” SQ3R read-study method.

Using the same language of instruction is simply “user-friendly” for our students. Having similar instructional strategies lets students know that we do actually talk to teachers in other departments. More importantly, a staff that commits to using these strategies will significantly impact the reading performance of its students and help to bridge the “literacy gap.”

*****

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.

FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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

Help! My Child Won’t Read or Write

Many parents and teacher struggle with the same problem: motivating children to read and write. Both recognize the critical importance of these life-skills. Reading is the gateway to knowledge. Reading is the key to developing the ability to think critically. Reading is fun! Typical of this struggle is an email I just received this morning (name changed to protect the mom from any judgmental readers).

Hi Mark,

I have a son with mild dyslexia and mild to moderate ADD. I have tried to home school him this year but gained limited success in getting him to want to read. He says he likes to read, but rarely does without being asked. He prefers sports and playing!

He also is very hard to get him to write. He says he doesn’t know why he just sits there for minutes at  a time. He can take 60 min to produce 6 lines or if given a threat of “no recess, hockey unless…” he can do a full page in 25 minutes.

I am so exasperated, that I feel I must send him back to school to see can someone else help him where I can not!

Do you have a suggestion as to which would benefit us most?

Thanks,

Concerned in Connecticut

So here is my response. I hope that  my own personal experience and training as a reading specialist will be of help to both parents and teachers.

—– Original Message —–

From: Concerned in Connecticut

To: mark@penningtonpublishing.com

Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:02 AM

Subject: advice please

Dear Concerned in Connecticut,

Sounds like a normal boy to me. I’ve raised three boys, and all three had the same lack of motivation and initiative. Although we all want to idealistically hope that our children will read and write for the love of learning and self-expression, I’ve found this rarely to be the case. Learning is an acquired taste, I’m afraid. But, while that taste is being acquired, I think that some force-feeding is certainly appropriate.

Good teaching and parenting are inherently coercive. You prove this with your carrot and stick method: “…if given a threat of ‘no recess, hockey unless…’ he can do a full page in 25 minutes.”  There is nothing wrong with being a behavioralist. I’m not saying that our children are Pavlov’s dogs or that we have to B.F. Skinner our kids to death. However, I do suggest that we use the extrinsic rewards and/or threats until the intrinsic love of learning kicks in. Spoon feed until the child can and will feed himself. Why? Reading is just too important of a life-skill to leave to the whim of an elementary, middle, or high school student. Most all would rather play video games, play sports, or text if given the freedom to choose.

But, you may be thinking… “What if I turn my child off from independent reading? He may never pick up a book to read, if he isn’t forced to read it.”

My own personal experience may be of some help. As a teacher, I gave my three sons a choice every summer: 4 hours of summer school each day at the nearby public school or 90 minutes of daily supervised instruction at home. It was not much of a choice. Each summer the boys chose the option I called Essential Study Skills. All three hated this encroachment on their summer fun and were relieved when they graduated from this chore at age 16. The primary tasks of this daily summer chore was twofold:

1. Independent reading with subsequent discussion of that reading with Dad and

2. Writing an expository paragraph with subsequent response to that writing by Dad and revision thereafter.

By the way, none of the three boys ever read or wrote anything unless required to do so by the teacher or Dad. Oh, Mom did require faithful thank-you notes for every courtesy or gift.

So, how did this coercive approach work out?

In a recent conversation with my oldest son, he admitted that he had actually never read the teacher-assigned independent readings because there was no accountability. Free choice voluntary reading just did not work for any of my boys. However, my oldest son is now a voraciously reader and has sent me so many “You’ve-got-to-read-this” books that I’ve turned to web book reviews in lieu of actually reading all of them. Reading specialists, like Yours Truly, know how to skim and fake it better than most.

My middle and youngest sons only read online. They have to! Both have online businesses and reading and writing are their bread and butter. My youngest son recently commented that he learned how to write effectively due to our summer paragraphs.

I would certainly recommend some basic study skills: including motivational techniques, procrastination prevention, and goal-setting. We do want to equip our children with the skills they need to succeed on their own someday. However, make ‘em read and write until that someday comes.

Cheers!

Mark Pennington

MA Reading Specialist

*****

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.

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

How and Why to Teach Fluency

Speed Reading

Silent Reading Fluency

First of all, let’s get on the same page about what we are trying to teach when we talk about fluency.

What Fluency Is Not

Fluency is not the ability to read fast. A fluency score does not determine grade level reading. A high fluency score is not a guarantee of good reading comprehension. Fluency practice does not consist of a read-around or popcorn reading.

What Fluency Is

Fluency is a measure of the reader’s competence at decoding and recognizing sight words with automaticity at a specified reading level. Fluency is also a measure of how well the reader attends to punctuation and the inflection of words in the manner that the author intended. Students need both oral and silent fluency instruction until mastery has been achieved.

Why Should We Teach It and How Much Time Should We Spend On It?

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

The amount of time spent on direct fluency instruction and practice should correspond to the diagnostic fluency levels of the readers. In short, students with higher fluency levels should have less fluency practice than those with lower fluency levels. I suggest three days a week of 15-20 minutes fluency practice for elementary school readers and the same amount for middle school and high school remedial readers.

A good guideline that is widely used for acceptable fluency rates by the end of the school year follows.

Grades 1-6 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 1-6

 

Grades 7-8 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 7-8 Hasbrouk and Tindal

Instructional Fluency Strategies

1. Modeled Repeated Readings- Repeated readings of high-interest passages at diagnosed student reading levels, along with modeled readings. Ideally, the modeled reading would be reading at a rate 20-30% faster than individual student’s fluency rate with 95% accuracy. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies does just that with three different reading speeds for each expository article.

Program Materials

Read Naturally® is the largest publisher of fluency passages and accompanying modeled readings. The program’s Brief Oral Reading Screening does a good job of quickly assessing student reading levels and the teacher can certainly adjust levels of difficulty with the graded reading passages. The passages do come with a few comprehension questions; however, comprehension is not the focus of these reading intervention materials. The passages are high interest and only one page in length. The program comes with fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. Gimmicky, but motivating, although the students always inflate their timings unless directly supervised.

Teaching Reading Strategies provides another affordable option for fluency practice. A diagnostic fluency assessment gives the teacher a baseline for each student. Each high-interest passage is an expository article on an animal-its habitat, description, role in the food cycle, family characteristics, and endangered species status. Uniquely, each article begins with two paragraphs at the third grade reading level, followed by two paragraphs at the fifth grade reading level, and concluding with two paragraphs at the seventh grade reading level. This organization helps readers “push through” to higher reading levels through repeated practice. Another unique feature of this program is the accompanying YouTube fluency passages. Each passage is read at 90, 120, and 150 words per minute. These levels provide optimal reading practice for the challenge rate of 20-30% higher than the baseline rates. Lastly, a comprehensive reading comprehension program for expository reading is tied into and uses the same fluency passages. Using the SCRIP comprehension strategies, students learn to internally monitor and improve reading comprehension. Three vocabulary words per passage are also featured with context clue strategy sentence practice. Three levels of fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. The price of the Teaching Reading Strategies Program is certainly more affordable to that of the Read Naturally® program.

2. Choral Reading with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students feel comfortable reading along with their peers. Led by the teacher, choral reading can be an effective means of fluency practice if student fluency rates are roughly the same. Plays, poetry, literature, and readers theater are all good sources for choral reading.

3. Fluency Groups with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students are divided into, say, four groups based upon similar fluency baselines. Along to modeled readings, each group practices within its own zone of promixal development. Timings are taken whole class and students chart their progress. See the complete article on differentiated fluency instruction for complete details and the behavioral management plan.

4. White Noise Read Alouds- John Sheffelbine, professor at California State University at Sacramento, advocates having the whole class read individually and out loud with six inch voices, each at his/her own pace. This produces a “white noise,” which permits individual concentration. Repeated readings could certainly be added to this fluency practice.

5. Silent Reading Fluency- A number of techniques to support better silent reading fluency are found at these articles: Eye Movement Read-Study Method Poor Silent Reading Habits Silent Reading Speed
Looking for a two-minute expository fluency assessment that will also help you determine optimal instructional reading levels?

Get the The Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

*****

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.

FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , ,

Free Informal Reading Assessments

I spent years as an elementary reading specialist, administering individual reading inventories to prepare for IEPs, SSTs, 504s, persnickety parents, and, occasionally, even the curious or caring teacher. Yes, I was an informal reading assessment junkie. I piloted all of the new ones coming down the pike and had loads of fun experimenting on unsuspecting elementary students. After years of sitting across from individual students at my kidney-shaped table, I began asking what is the real value of these assessments, and more generally, what is the value of individual reading diagnosis?

As I see things, the most useful informal reading assessments should meet three criteria:

1. They must be comprehensive. No more random sample spelling inventories and no more random sample phonics assessments.

2. They must be diagnostic. I don’t need to know a qualitative stage of development or a grade-level equivalency. I’ve got to know what exactly the child does and does not know so that I can plan instruction accordingly.

3. They must be easy to give, easy to grade, and easy to record.

While one-on-one time with a student is wonderful; it just isn’t a practical approach to reading assessment. I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water on this one. Individual assessments are sometimes necessary as double-checks or refinements, and an individual fluency assessment is a must for elementary, middle, and some high school students. However, my experience is that effective whole class tests can produce results that are just as reliable and prescriptive as the time-consuming individual assessments.

Reading specialists do not have to be the keepers of the keys. Devolving the responsibilities of reading assessment to teachers was the most effective professional decision that I have ever made. Whole class (multiple choice) reading assessments that are administered, graded, and analyzed by the teacher empower that teacher as the professional and encourage that teacher to differentiate instruction according to the diagnostic needs of that teacher’s students.

Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of 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, and even a grammar assessment from my website. All are multiple choice and all have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction. Grab a box of Scantrons® and make this the year you teach reading, as well as English, to your students.

*****

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.FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Reading , , , , , , , , , ,

Ten Tips to Improving Writing Coherency

Using Coherence and Word Choice e-Comments

Coherence and Word Choice e-Comments

Ten Tips to Improving Writing Coherency

Writing coherency refers to how well sentences and paragraphs are organized into an understandable whole. Good writing coherency is reader-centered. From the reader’s point of view, the train of thought must be connected, easy to follow, and make sense. Incoherent writing is inconsiderate to the reader. If the writing lacks coherency, the reader’s comprehension and enjoyment of that writing will decrease. A reader may have to re-read, be forced to use too many context clues to understand what is being said, or make an undue amount of inferences.

To improve coherency, writers need to ensure that their writing has these characteristics:

1. Predictable Paragraph Organization To maintain optimal coherency, organize paragraphs in the way that readers are accustomed. For example, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, place the topic sentence in the first position of the paragraph. The topic sentence appears in the first position of the paragraph 80% of the time in expository writing. Because of this high percentage, readers expect the main idea of the paragraph to be in this position. Similarly, the thesis statement appears 50% of the time as the last sentence in an essay introduction, so follow this practice as well.

Additionally, the Ancient Greeks developed the rhetorical rules for our writing, and these rules dictate that the most important idea in any communication needs to be stated first. Organize paragraphs with customary and traditional structures to be considerate to your reader.

2. Comprehensible Sentence Structure- Again, toe the line with those Ancient Greeks. English follows suit by placing the most important words at the beginning of the sentence. In the sentence: “You need to mail that letter today,” the emphasis is on the action. In the sentence: “Today, you need to mail that letter,” the emphasis is on the time. English grammar is very flexible in its forms and so can emphasize words with many different grammatical constructions. See How to Improve Sentence Variety with Grammatical Sentence Openers for examples.

Vary the length of sentences. Charles Dickens can be difficult to read because of his notoriously long-winded sentences. A good rule of thumb is to never place two long sentences next to each other. Of course, short staccato sentences can get irritating, as well. Strive for balance in sentence length to increase reader understanding and concentration.

3. Repetition- Repeat key words, phrases, or clauses to build coherency. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the “I have a dream” clause nine different times in his short speech. Also, write with parallel grammatical structures such as in Abraham Lincoln’s “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Notice the repeated “_ed” past participles, each followed by prepositional phrases.

4. Effective Sentence Transitions- Use, but don’t over use, transition words and phrases at the beginnings of sentences to connect to previous thoughts. Remember that most transitions at the beginning of sentences are followed by a comma, except in  short sentences. A helpful list follows.

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE provides 11 Transition Worksheets, one for each purpose. Each worksheet requires students to identify, select, and apply the transition words in the context of sentences and paragraphs. Great practice! Check out the free samples below.

Get the Transition Worksheets FREE Resource:

5. Clear Pronouns- A pronoun takes the place of a proper (named) or common (unnamed) noun. Using clear pronoun references will improve reader understanding of your writing. Always place pronoun references close to the nouns which they represent. If in doubt, simply repeat the noun. For example, in the sentence: “The dog traveled over the hill, chased a bunny, drank from a stream, terrorized a stray cat, and than it returned home,” the it pronoun does not clearly describe the antecedent dog. The sentence would be more coherent as “The dog enjoyed many adventures before it returned home: traveling over a hill, chasing a bunny, drinking from a stream, and terrorizing a cat.”

6. Clear Modifiers- A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that acts as an adjective or adverb to define or limit the meaning of another word or phrase. For example, in the sentence: “Thrown in the air, the dog fetched the Frisbee®,” the phrase “Thrown in the air” is a classic dangling modifier. The reader may be confused into thinking that the dog, not the disc, was the one thrown into the air. To prevent dangling modifiers, always place modifiers close to the nouns or verbs that they intend to modify. The above sentence would better be written as “Thrown in the air, the Frisbee® was fetched by the dog” (albeit in passive voice).

7. Precise Word Choice Use specific, rather than vague, meaningless words. For example, instead of “Many things caused the recession,” replace with “Decreasing consumer confidence and high gas prices caused the recession.” Use words that fit your audience. Avoid technical or academic language when simple words will suffice, unless your readers are well-acquainted with the terminology. Be courteous to your reader and define unfamiliar words to improve coherence.

8. Appropriate Conjunctions- The common coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so (F.A.N.B.O.Y.S.) each have precise meanings and need to be used correctly to maintain coherency. For example, the sentence: “He needed money for paying expenses,” does not correctly use the conjunction for. The sentence suggests that money is the medium of exchange for paying expenses, rather than a necessary prerequisite for paying expenses. Using the conjunction so would create better sentence coherency as in “He needed money so he could pay expenses.”

9. Limited Passive Voice- In passive voice, the subject receives the action with the use of a passive verb. A passive verb combines a “to-be” verb with a past participle (_d, _ed, or _en ending). For example, is practiced, was doubted, had been eaten. Instead, use the active voice in which the subject does the action. For example, “John ran to the post office.” Passive voice can be used intentionally to emphasize objectivity, such as in “It has been shown in educational research that more women than men….” Otherwise, avoid the passive voice.

10. Brevity- Using concise language builds reader understanding. Readers lose focus, if the writing is verbose. Rather than “It would certainly be very nice if you would please consider it in your heart to take out the trash,” replace with the simple and to the point “Please take out the trash.”

Following are examples of an incoherent paragraph and a coherent revision of that same paragraph. Try revising the incoherent model, using the Ten Tips to Improve Writing Coherency before looking at the revision to see if you can apply these tips.

Incoherent Writing Model

Snow creates problems. Streets need shoveling. Snowplows cannot always access streets. Driveways are hard to clear. Many communities leave the expense of clearing snow up to the homeowner. Building up dangerously high on a roof, it can break roof framing. Snow may seem harmless. It can damage houses. Snow is always potentially hazardous. It can endanger people.

Coherent Revision

Snow creates two problems for homeowners. First, it requires shoveling to keep driveways and streets clear, but snowplows cannot always access them. Furthermore, many communities leave the expense of clearing snow up to the homeowner; thus some homeowners cannot afford the expense of hiring a snowplow. Second, snow may seem harmless, yet it is not. Snow can build up dangerously high on a roof and break roof framing. Always potentially hazardous, snow can damage houses and endanger those who live in them.

Also, check out Mark Pennington’s articles on writing unity and parallelism.

*****

Teaching Essays

TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs in Writing

Every English teacher has a sure-fire revision tip that makes developing writers dig down deep and revise initial drafts. One of my favorites involves reducing the number of “to be verbs”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

At this point, even before I begin to plead my case, I hear the grumbling of the contrarians. One of them mutters a snide, rhetorical question: Didn’t Shakespeare say “To be, or not to be: that is the question:”? He used three “to be” verbs right there! If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. True, but Will used only six more “to be” verbs in Hamlet’s next 34 lines. My goals are to convince teachers to help their students reduce, not eliminate the “to be” verbs, and so write with greater precision and purpose. There. I just used a “to be” verb. Feeling better?

Eliminate To Be Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

What’s So Wrong with “To Be” Verbs?

  1. The “to be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been are state of being verbs, which means that they unduly claim a degree of permanence. For example, “I am hungry.” For most Americans, hunger is only a temporary condition.
  2. The “to be” verbs claim absolute truth and exclude other views. “Classical music is very sophisticated.” Few would agree that all classical compositions are always sophisticated.
  3. The “to be” verbs are general and lack specificity. A mother may tell her child, “Be good at school today.” The more specific “Don’t talk when the teacher talks today” would probably work better.
  4. The “to be” verbs are vague. For example, “That school is great.” Clarify the sentence as “That school has wonderful teachers, terrific students, and supportive parents.”
  5. The “to be” verbs often confuse the reader about the subject of the sentence. For example, “It was nice of you to visit.” Who or what is the “It?”

Adapted from Ken Ward’s E-Prime article at http://www.trans4mind.com/personal_development/GeneralSemantics/KensEPrime.htm

When Can We Use “To Be” Verbs?

It’s not that “to be” verbs are always bad; sometimes writers must use “to be” verbs to communicate exactly what the writer wants to say. In fact, these verb forms can be difficult to replace. When the verb links to the subject (the do-er) of the sentence as a state of being, it performs one of these five functions:

  1. Exists−Is there any trouble? Yes, I am he (predicate nominative).
  2. Happens−The meetings are over.
  3. Locates−He was at the birthday party.
  4. Identifies−Those children were friendly (predicate adjective).
  5. Describes−That could be scary (helping verb)! He is being helpful (progressive tense). Those girls have been so mean (perfect tense).

Generally, writers should minimize the use of “to be” verbs in essays. “To be” verbs should appear more frequently in narrative writing, especially in dialogue. Authentic-sounding dialogue mimics our informal speech, which often uses the “to be” verbs.

However, when writers can replace a “to be” verb with a vivid, “show me” verb in any writing genre, it certainly makes sense to do so. With a good “show me” verb, the reader (or listener) can picture the physical or mental action of the verb. The verb engages the interest of the reader and specifically communicates the nature of the action. But, not all non-“to be” verbs are vivid, “show me” verbs. For example, the physical and mental action verbs in this sentence do not use vivid, “show me” verbs: The boy sits down on the bench and thinks what to do next. In contrast, the physical and mental action verbs in this sentence do use vivid, “show me” verbs: The boy slouches down on the bench and studies what to do next.

So, how can we get our students to reduce or eliminate “to be” verbs in their essays to create precision of meaning, specificity, clarity, and just good old sentence variety? How do we get our students to use these vivid “show me” verbs instead? Try these five strategies:

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

  1. IdentifyStudents need to memorize the “to be” verbs to avoid using them and to revise those that they have used in essays: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Teach students to self-edit by circling “to be” verbs in the revision stage of writing. Teach students how to problem-solve whether a “to be” verb is necessary or not. Teach students to identify and revise Non-standard English forms of the “to be” verb (Common Core State Standards L.2,3). For example, “They be watching cartoons” or “She been taking her time” You can also identify, explain, and suggest revisions of both “to be” verbs and nonstandard English with one click from my e-Comments app.
  2. SubstituteSometimes a good replacement of a “to be” verb just pops into the brain. For example, instead of “That cherry pie is delicious,” substitute the “to be” verb is with tastes as in “That cherry pie tastes delicious.” If a strong, vivid verb does not pop into the brain, HERE is a great list of action verbs, specifically designed for persuasive/argumentative essays, informational/explanatory essays, literary analysis, and narratives (W1.0, 2.0, 3.0 of the Common Core Writing Standards) with useful categories for your students. Thanks to Mary Beth Foster, University of Arizona Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center for compiling this list. Also, substitute the “there,” “here,” and “it” + “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “There is the cake, and here are the pies for dessert, and it is served by Mom,” replace with “Mom serves the cake and pies for dessert.” Let’s also add on the “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” + “to be” verbs. Finally, strong linking verbs can replace “to be” verbs. For example, instead of “That was still the best choice,” substitute the “to be” verb was with the linking verb remained as in “That remained the best choice.”
  3. ConvertStudents can start  the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip,” convert the common noun creator to the verb created as in “Charles Schulz created the Peanuts cartoon strip.” 
  4. Change−To eliminate a “to be” verb, students can change the subject of the sentence to another noun or pronoun found in the sentence and rearrange the order of the sentence. For example, instead of “The car was stopped by a police officer,” change the complete subject, the car, to a police officer to write “A police officer stopped the car.” Also, students can add in a different sentence subject to eliminate a “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The books were written in Latin,” add in a different sentence subject, such as “authors” to change the passive voice to the active voice and write “Authors wrote the books in Latin. Lastly, starting the sentence with a different word or part of speech will help eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The monster was in the dark tunnel creeping,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel crept the monster.”
  5. CombineLook at the sentences before and after the one with the “to be” verb to see if combining the sentences will eliminate the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “The child was sad. The sensitive child was feeling that way because of the news story,” combine as “The news story saddened the sensitive child.”

A Teaching Plan to Eliminate the “To Be” Verb

  1. Post a list of the “to be” verbs and the problem-solving strategies listed above for student reference. Download the three “To Be” Posters at the end of this article. Great tools to teach!
  2. Why not create a Dead Verbs Cemetery bulletin board? (What a great idea for Halloween!)
  3. Share the five strategies one at a time, so as not to overwhelm students. Teach, practice, and master only one strategy  before moving on to another strategy.
  4. Use teacher think-alouds to model the “to be” verb revision process.
  5. Then, turn the revision chore on over to the whole class with one student writing sample. Correct whole class and commend the variety of effective revisions. Compare sentence revisions and discuss which strategies worked and did not work to eliminate the “to be” verbs.
  6. Next, collect student writing samples from the whole class and have students individually revise their peers’ “to be” verbs. Peer editing focused on one target issue makes sense.
  7. Next, have students revise their own sentences from their own writing samples, using the five strategies.

After teaching and practicing all five strategies, set the “rule” that from now on only one “to-be” verb is allowed in any paragraph (excluding direct quotes). Use peer editing to help identify the “to-be” verbs and peer tutors to help struggling students.

Teaching the strategies and practicing them in the context of student writing samples will help students recognize and avoid these “writing crutches” in their own writing. The end result? More precise and purposeful student writing with vivid, “show me” verbs.

Check out the quality program materials found in these teacher-created and classroom-tested resources:

*****

Teaching Essays

TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

Also, check out the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Get the Eliminate To Be Verbs Poster and Worksheets FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Grade Literary Discussions

Graded Literary Discussions

How to Grade Literary Discussions

The longer I teach, the more I become a capitalist in my ELA classroom. Although I would love to have students participate in rich literary discussions out of their love for reading and passion for truth, it’s a rare student who speaks up out of such pure motives. Over the years, I admit it. I have succumbed to incentives and with good results. Life is compromise.

Students need to know that their participation in class discussion is an important part of their overall grade. Otherwise, many will avoid participation or perceive the group discussion as being of minimal importance. In the school setting, rewards such as grades, extra credit, treats, stickers, privileges are all weapons which the creative teacher can employ to motivate class participation in discussions. Short term, explicit rewards tend to work better than long term ones.

Here is how I organize a graded literary discussion. I select a student to record the points that classmates will earn. The recorder writes tally marks for positive discussion contributions on my class seating chart. The recorder gets two points for this task, but he or she gives up the opportunity to participate in the discussion. I have no problems finding student recorders for this task.  Having a student recorder frees me up to lead the discussion without worrying about properly crediting responses. After a correct student response, I signal the recorder with my index finger and the recorder places a tally mark next to the name of the student. If the response is particularly insightful or directly responds to the response of another student, I may signal two fingers, for two tally marks. The latter must, of course, be accompanied by a resonating class “oooh!”

A good feature of this graded discussion technique is that it tracks student responses. During class discussion, I can survey the tally marks to determine who is failing to contribute or who is contributing excessively. I let students know that I will call on them, whether they raise their hands or not. I can also ensure that I am “calling on” male and female, ethnic sub-groups, etc. fairly. For the next graded class discussion, I have the recorder use a different color pen to differentiate the separate discussion grades.

Students perceive graded discussions as being fair and objective. Try announcing that the class will have a graded literary discussions the next day and students might just “cheat” by reading the assigned text and anticipating/preparing for your questions at home. What a shame! Of course, you could provide your discussion questions in advance and level them according to Costa’s Levels of Questioning, Depth of Knowledge, or Bloom’s Taxonomy, but the students might wind up teaching themselves. What a shame!

But, how can a teacher design a group discussion and lead the discussion to help students help themselves learn? Check out How to Lead Effective Group Discussions.

*****

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.

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