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Should Grades 4-8 Teachers Teach Spelling?

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Grades 4-8

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

It depends. The real question is “Do your students (or some of your students) need to improve their spelling?”

The only way to find out is through assessment. The FREE Diagnostic Spelling Assessment has been designed for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. It is not a random sample spelling inventory. You could give a short inventory, which would hint at problem areas or determine a student’s spelling stage, but you would have to do further assessment to specify the specific unknown spelling patterns to remediate. But the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment does it all in one assessment. The results will indicate problem areas and specific, teachable deficits. Teachers get the data they need to minimize remedial instruction to individual needs.

Assessment Design

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


If you’ve made the decision that all or some of your students need spelling instruction, please check out the author’s grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction. Each program includes grade-level spelling tests and spelling sorts, according to age appropriate spelling patterns and 102 remedial worksheets (each with a formative assessment) to helps students master the spelling deficits indicated by the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment. Efficient and targeted spelling instruction! Plus, the spelling sorts and 102 worksheets have a fillable PDF option. Perfect for distance/virtual learning.

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , ,

Distance Learning Vocabulary Programs | Virtual Learning

Academic Words Assessment

Diagnostic Academic Language Assessments Grades 4-8

Teachers and parents who have read the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language know that explicit vocabulary instruction is key to reading ability, writing ability, and performance on standardized tests.

It is widely accepted among researchers that the difference in students’ vocabulary levels is a key factor in disparities in academic achievement (Baumann & Kameenui, 1991; Becker, 1977; Stanovich, 1986)

As cited in the Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

However, the average ELA teacher spends little instructional time on vocabulary development.

Vocabulary instruction has been neither frequent nor systematic in most schools (Biemiller, 2001; Durkin, 1978; Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2010; Scott & Nagy, 1997).

As cited in the Common Core State Standards Appendix A 

Now, reading specialist freely admit that most of the Tier I (e.g. because) every day vocabulary acquisition derives from oral language and reading. The Tier III (e.g. polyglytone) domain-specific vocabulary is learned in the context of content classes. But the Tier II (analysis) vocabulary are the academic words which appear across the academic spectrum. It’s these Tier II words that the Common Core authors and reading specialists identify as the vocabulary that teachers and parents should introduce, practice, and reinforce.

Students will come across these Tier II words while reading science and social studies textbooks, for example, but most educators would agree that explicit and isolated instruction is certainly the most efficient means for students to learn academic vocabulary.

Now, it’s not just a bucket of Tier II words that students need to learn. Indeed, the authors of the Common Core State Standards emphasize a balanced approach to vocabulary development.

My grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits each include 56 worksheets (printable PDFs for in-class and digital fillable PDFs for distance/ virtual learning), along with vocabulary study guides, and biweekly unit tests (printable PDFs for in-class and Google forms for distance/virtual learning) to help your students collaboratively practice and master these Common Core Standards:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

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Here’s how your students will master these standards in the Vocabulary Worksheets:

Multiple Meaning Words

Students practice grade-level homonyms (same spelling and sound) in context clue sentences which show the different meanings and function (part of speech) for each word.

Greek and Latin Word Parts

Three criteria were applied to choose the grade-level prefixes, roots, and suffixes:

1. Frequency research 2. Utility for grade-level Tier 2 words 3. Pairing

Each odd-numbered vocabulary worksheet pairs a Greek or Latin prefix-root or root-suffix combination to enhance memorization and to demonstrate utility of the Greek and Latin word parts. For example, pre (before) is paired with view (to see). Students use these combinations to make educated guesses about the meaning of the whole word. This word analysis is critical to teaching students how to problem-solve the meanings of unknown words.

The Diagnostic Greek and Latin Assessments (Google forms and sheets) for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 with accompanying Google sheets will serve as pre-tests and final exams. Additionally, each grade-level exam includes previous grade-level Greek and Latin word parts to enable teachers to individualize catch-up (remedial) instruction.

Language Resources

Students look up the Greek and Latin whole word in a dictionary (print or online) to compare and contrast their educated guesses to the denotative definition of the word. Students divide the vocabulary word into syl/la/bles, mark its primary áccent, list its part of speech, and write its primary definition.

Additionally, students write synonyms, antonyms, or inflected forms of the word, using either the dictionary or thesaurus (print or online). This activity helps students develop a more precise understanding of the word.

Figures of Speech

Students learn a variety of figures of speech (non-literal expression used by a certain group of people). The Standards assign specific types of figures of speech to each grade level. Students must interpret sentences which use the figures of speech on the biweekly unit tests.

Word Relationships

Students use context clue strategies to figure out the different meanings of homonyms in our Multiple Meaning Words section. In the Word Relationships section, students must apply context clues strategies to show the different meanings of word pairs. The program’s S.A.L.E. Context Clues Strategies will help students problem-solve the meanings of unknown words in their reading.

Students practice these context clue strategies by learning the categories of word relationships. For example, the vocabulary words, infection to diagnosis, indicate a problem to solution word relationship category.

Connotations: Shades of Meaning

Students learn two new grade-level vocabulary words which have similar denotative meanings, but different connotative meanings. From the provided definitions, students write these new words on a semantic spectrum to fit in with two similar words, which most of your students will already know. For example, the two new words, abundant and scarce would fit in with the already known words, plentiful and rare in this semantic order: abundant–plentiful–scarce–rare.

Academic Language

The Common Core authors state that Tier 2 words (academic vocabulary) should be the focus of vocabulary instruction. Many of these words will be discovered and learned implicitly or explicitly in the context of challenging reading, using appropriately leveled independent reading, such as grade-level class novels, and learning specific reading strategies, such as close reading with shorter, focused text.

The Academic Language section of the vocabulary worksheets provides two grade-level words from the research-based Academic Word List. Students use the Frayer model four square (definition, synonym, antonym, and example-characteristic-picture) method to learn these words. The Common Core authors and reading specialists (like me) refer to this process as learning vocabulary with depth of instruction.

The Diagnostic Academic Language Assessments (Google forms and sheets) for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 with accompanying Google sheets will serve as pre-tests and final exams. Additionally, each grade-level exam includes previous grade-level Tier II academic words to enable teachers to individualize catch-up (remedial) instruction.

Vocabulary Study Guides

Vocabulary study guides are provided for each of the weekly paired lessons for whole-class review, vocabulary games, and individual practice. Print back-to-back and have students fold to study

Vocabulary Tests

Bi-weekly Vocabulary Tests (printable PDFs and Google forms) assess both memorization and application. The first section of each test is simple matching. The second section of each test requires students to apply the vocabulary in the writing context. Answers follow.

Syllable Blending, Syllable Worksheets, and Derivatives Worksheets

Whole class syllable blending “openers” will help your students learn the rules of structural analysis, including proper pronunciation, syllable division, accent placement, and derivatives. Each “opener” includes a Syllable Worksheet and a Derivatives Worksheet for individual practice. Answers follow.

Context Clues Strategies

Students learn the FP’S BAG SALE approach to learning the meanings of unknown words through surrounding context clues. Context clue worksheets will help students master the SALE Context Clue Strategies.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use Resources

Greek and Latin word parts lists, vocabulary review games, vocabulary steps, and semantic spectrums provide additional vocabulary instructional resources.

Students who complete each of the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grades 4–8 grade-level programs will have practiced and learned much of the Academic Word Corpus and all of the skills of vocabulary acquisition. These students will have gained a comprehensive understanding of academic language and will be well-equipped to apply the skills of context clues strategies and structural analysis to read well and write with precision.

Grade 6 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4-8

Each of the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit grade-level programs is a “slice” of the comprehensive Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4–8 programs. Check out the comprehensive CCSS Grades 4−8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to see how these programs will help you coordinate seamless, Standards-based vocabulary instruction at your school.

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Distance Learning for Parents | Virtual Learning Advice

Virtual Learning Parents

Distance Learning Parents

I know you didn’t sign up for this. It’s tough teaching at home; it’s especially tough teaching your own kids at home. You don’t have the training, nor the tools. Your first go-round of in-home teaching last spring may have been an epic fail. However, before you pour that second glass of wine or click out of this article, let me give you some good news. You’ve got this!

You are reading this article because you care. You want the best for your kids and know that throwing a pity party for yourself or playing the blame game is not going to get the job done. Besides the emotional, physical, and spiritual health of your children, nothing is a greater priority than your child’s education.

So, you are right to be concerned about Covid Brain Drain. As a recently-retired teacher, I’m active on all the teacher Facebook groups, and I can tell you that the news from teachers welcoming back their students is that students have not made the traditional year to year growth. Additionally, student work ethic has taken some serious hits. Teachers will do their best to catch up their students, but this is not business as usual. They’ve never done this before, and despite their commitment and effort, they don’t have the training, nor the tools, to completely revamp what they’ve done for years. School district administrators have done the best they can, but money that could have been invested in teacher training and tools had to be diverted to Covid-proofing retrofits, cleaning, hiring of nurses, etc.

I know, first hand, that this is the case. I’m a small publisher of teaching resources, and despite the fact that I have developed a number of sure-fire digital resources, they’re not selling like hotcakes. District staff are telling me that they have no money to purchase new materials. I’m still selling to individual teachers, but many of them are looking at salary freezes and lay-offs. So, district administrators and teacher are looking for as many free distance learning resources as possible. Now, you don’t always get what you pay for, but more times than not, the free resources are not going to captivate the attention of you or your child.

So, what to do?

  1. Accept the fact that you are primarily responsible for the education of your child, not your teacher and not your child. The teacher may be amazing, but even the best have shortcomings, especially with Covid restraints and challenges. Your child is probably like 99% of the students I taught at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college level i.e., learning is not their highest priority and their parents and teachers are not the main characters in their own stories.  The 1% are rarities. I’ve “taught” some of these self-starters and high achievers, but they are simply not normal.
  2. Analyze what the teacher is and is not teaching, and supplement as needed. Face it, you’re going to have to invest some time and money in learning how to supplement the teacher’s instruction for your child.*
  3. Be extremely and overtly positive about what and how the teacher is teaching. If you are not naturally inclined to do so, fake it ’til you make it for the benefit of your child. Send complimentary emails to the teacher and cc the principal. Honey draws more flies than vinegar.
  4. Reward (bribe) your children to do their best work. Extrinsic rewards, especially short-term, task-specific rewards, work. Leave the intrinsic reward development until Covid is over.
  5. Provide the supplies your child needs to succeed, and keep other children out of their work area as much as possible.
  6. Help your child stick to a schedule. If your child’s teacher has a ZOOM meeting at nine each morning and records it, keep your routine the same and don’t use the recording as an excuse to work around your schedule.

What not to do?

  1. Don’t coddle your kid. Make your child reads and re-reads the assignment directions and does the work. Don’t make excuses for your child’s lack of effort. Don’t fill in the gaps. Don’t contact your child’s teacher when the child should be doing so.
  2. In your supplemental teaching, don’t pass out the workbook/worksheet and expect it to teach your child. Specific worksheets can provide ideal independent practice, but only after you have taught the concept, content, or skill and provided some guided practice.
  3. Although parents should have high expectations of their children, don’t ignore the debilitating effects of social distancing. Know when and when not to cut your kid some slack.

* From my experience, these four subject areas tend to be lower instructional priorities for most teachers’ distance learning/virtual learning:

  1. Grammar, usage, and mechanics
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Spelling
  4. Study skills
  5. Individual reading deficits

Pennington Publishing provides digital and printable resources for each of these subject areas. Each resource has a diagnostic assessment to determine what your child knows and does not know. Video tutorials are also provided. You don’t have to have a teaching degree to be successful with these products. Plus, my email and phone number are on my website and I love to help parents decide which programs will best supplement instruction for their children, and I also answer any questions about how to use the materials. As a reading specialist (MA Reading Specialist), I am skilled reading diagnostician. If you have need of these services, click HERE for further information.

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Spelling Programs for Distance (Virtual) Learning

Spelling Patterns Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are assessment-based, grade level spelling programs built upon conventional spelling rules and developmental spelling patterns. Plus, the program includes all the printable and digital resources teachers need to re-teach the previous grade level spelling patterns that your students have not yet mastered through individualized instruction. Developing an efficient weekly spelling plan that differentiates instruction for all of your students is a challenging task for even the best veteran teacher, but help has arrived! There is no better spelling program for your grade level students, GATE students, special ed, ESL/ELD, and below grade level students. Perfect for RtI.

What exactly is digital about this program? In addition to the printable PDF program, the grade-level and remedial spelling worksheets are also provided as fillable PDFs; the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment is an audio file and can be automatically graded in Google Forms; and the assessment results may be uploaded to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrix in Google Sheets to individualize instruction with the remedial spelling pattern worksheets. Ideal for in-class and distance (virtual) learning.

PREVIEW THIS BOOK HERE. BUY THE PROGRAM HERE.

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

Heidi

How to Teach the Differentiated Spelling Grade-level Program

1. Students take a weekly spelling pattern pretest and self-correct. Students create personal spelling lists from the words missed on their pretest, spelling errors identified in their writing, spelling errors from their previous spelling posttests, and from the supplemental resources provided in the appendix.

2.The teacher explains the weekly spelling pattern.

3. Students complete the spelling pattern word sort and self-correct in class (printable and fillable PDF digital versions).

4. Students study their personal spelling lists.

5. Students take the posttest (once a week or bi-weekly) in pairs, alternating dictations.

Summative: After seven weeks of instruction, students take a summative assessment of the seven previous spelling patterns.

How to Teach the Differentiated Spelling Individualized (Remediation) Program

1. Students take the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (a comprehensive spelling patterns assessment… not a random sample qualitative spelling inventory), using the audio file included in the program or the Google forms version. The teacher corrects the test (or Google forms does it for you) and records spelling pattern deficits on the progress monitoring matrix (printable and Google sheets versions).

2. Students complete targeted worksheets (printable and fillable PDF digital versions) corresponding to the spelling patterns they missed on the diagnostic assessment. Each worksheet explains the spelling pattern, provides examples, includes a spelling sort, has a word jumble, rhyme, and/or book search, and includes a short formative assessment to determine whether or not the student has mastered the spelling pattern. Students self-correct the worksheet to learn from their mistakes and mini-conference with the teacher, who corrects the formative assessment to determine mastery. If mastered, the teacher marks as such on the progress monitoring matrix.

Now that’s effective differentiated instruction! Your students can catch up, while they keep up with grade level spelling instruction.

The program is easy to teach. We even provide two quick YouTube training videos to ensure your success!

Plus, get these helpful spelling resources:

  • How to Study Spelling Words
  • Spelling Proofreading Strategies for Stories and Essays
  • Outlaw Words
  • The 450 Most Frequently Used Words
  • The 100 Most Often Misspelled Words
  • The 70 Most Commonly Confused Words
  • Eight Great Spelling Rules, Memory Songs, and Raps (with Mp3 links)
  • Spelling Review Games

Why Other Spelling Programs are Ineffective and Why Differentiated Spelling Instruction (DSI) Makes Sense

  • Others use “themed” spelling word lists, grouping words by such themes as animals, months, holidays, or colors.
  • DSI uses developmental spelling patterns for its word lists, providing sequential, research-based orthographic instruction.
  • Others use practice worksheets that focus on rote memorization, such as word searches, fill-in the-blanks, or crossword puzzles.
  • DSI provides spelling sorts/word parts worksheets to help students practice recognition and application of the spelling patterns.
  • Others de-emphasize structural analysis.
  • DSI emphasizes word study: syllables, accents, morphemes, inflections, spelling rules, pronunciation, and derivational influences.
  • Others do not integrate vocabulary instruction.
  • DSI integrates homonyms, common Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes, and other linguistic influences.
  • Others minimize the reading-spelling connection.
  • DSI reinforces the decoding-encoding connection with an instructional scope and sequence aligned with systematic explicit phonics instruction. The DSI program includes five years of seamless spelling instruction (Grades 4 through 8)—perfect for grade-level classes, combination classes, and flexible homeschool instruction.
  • Others ignore spelling irregularities.
  • DSI includes “Exceptions” throughout the program, providing problem-solving strategies that build student (and teacher) confidence in the English orthographic spelling system.
  • Others use spelling tests solely as summative assessments.
  • DSI uses spelling tests as diagnostic and formative instruments to help teachers differentiate instruction. Recording matrices enable teachers to keep track of mastered and un-mastered spelling patterns for each student—simple record-keeping and minimal paperwork.
  • Others provide one-size-fits-all instruction.
  • DSI provides the resources for true differentiated instruction from remedial to grade-level to accelerated spellers.
  • Others use visual-only spelling strategies.
  • DSI uses multi-sensory instructional practice, including songs, raps, games and phonological awareness activities—perfect for students with auditory processing deficits and a “must” for effective Response to Intervention (RtI) instruction.
  • Others have no writing-spelling connection.
  • DSI requires students to develop weekly Personal Spelling Lists that include commonly misspelled words from their own writing.
  • Others provide no review activities for unit spelling tests.
  • DSI provides ample review activities, including Word Jumbles for each sound-spelling pattern, web-based songs and raps, and entertaining games.
  • Others take either inordinate teacher preparation or require too much class time.
  • DSI is “teacher-friendly” and requires only minimal prep time. And the flexible DSI resources will not eat up excessive instructional minutes.
  • Others are overly expensive and require consumable workbooks.
  • DSI requires only one worksheet each lesson, per student—truly economical.

Check out the comprehensive CCSS Grades 4−8 Spelling Scope and Sequence to see how these programs will help you coordinate seamless, Standards-based spelling instruction at your school.

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The Science of Reading

The Science of Reading

The “Science” of Reading

Recently, the embers of the never-ending American reading wars have been stirred to flames with the buzzphrase: The Science of Reading. It’s all over teacher Facebook groups, in blogs, and in professional development PowerPoint® presentations. If you will, permit me to grapple with that phrase, as well as the attitudes and motives behind those using it. Before I begin, please notice that I have chosen not to cite any empirical reading research; I assure you that this is not an oversight.

Let’s start this analysis with the cold, hard facts. Most young, beginning readers have minimal problems learning how to read, irrespective of the instructional methodology. Explicit, systematic phonics seems to work fine, as does a “balanced literacy” approach based upon read alouds and guided reading. Much to the befuddlement and chagrin of die-hards from any instructional reading camp, this good news is validated by research and experience. And we’re not just talking about recent research and experience.

For my master’s thesis, I analyzed the impact of the 1836–1837 first editions of the McGuffey Readers. Along with future editions, these basals helped three generations of school children learn to read with instructional techniques that would raise the eyebrows of every reading specialist and reading teacher today.

In my career as an educator, I’ve taught reading and coached teachers at the elementary school, middle school, high school, and community college levels in both upper and lower socio-economic status districts. I’ve seen plenty of instructional approaches and analyzed plenty of data derived from a plethora of reading assessments. I can say, unequivocally, that a variety of approaches seem to work, and not just for young, beginning readers. Much of my career was in secondary education, working both with students reading far-below-grade-level and with the best and brightest students who knew how to read, but did not have the high levels of reading comprehension requisite for understanding challenging text. From these experiences, I’ve found the maxim that “What works for me (or some students) may not work for you (or some students)” to be validated countless times with older readers who significantly improved their reading skills with a wide variety of instructional approaches. So much for THE Science of Reading.

Reading Science

“Science” of Reading

And now for a bit of advice to fellow teachers. Parents, administrators, reading researchers, students, and anyone else may stop reading at this point, because this is “inside stuff.”

If you’ve been teaching a few years with different age levels, my take is that you’ve probably noticed that there’s more than one way to skin an instructional cat. My apologies to the two felines in the room as I write, as well as to my vegan daughter-in-law. Although you have success with a particular instructional reading method (or any curricular skill), you know colleagues who have quite different approaches, yet these approaches seem to work for them and their students by any measure. Of course, you see your approach as better informed by reading research, brain research, experience, or… than that of your colleagues’ instructional methods, but your colleagues probably feel the same about your teaching approach, as well.

If my observations make sense in light of your own professional teaching experience, you may concur with these conclusions:

  1. We need to respect each other’s different instructional approaches and be open to learning something from our colleagues.
  2. We need to avoid the absolute statements, claiming one or the other approaches has exclusive claims to the science of reading. Remember the old test-taking tip: “Absolute words, such as always, never, all, or none tend to be part of wrong answers.”
  3. We do value research; however, what we don’t know far outweighs what we do know regarding reading instruction (and what we do know certainly varies), so let’s maintain a bit of humility as we learn and teach.
  4. Be “street-wise” regarding those who claim to know The Science of Reading. Education is a business. Selling something new and improved is as old as the hills. Unfortunately, many reading researchers have published books which tend to skew the research in favor of their particular instructional reading approach. Disclaimer: I’m selling, too. See my author promo below.
  5. For newer teachers, follow Hans Solo’s advice to young Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: “Don’t get cocky, kid.” Hold your deeply-held theoretical and pedagogical convictions loosely in you hands. You might just change them. I have.
  6. For older coaches and teachers, don’t be stuck in the mud and so entrenched in your own beliefs and ways of doing things that you stop learning and experimenting. Don’t undervalue newer teachers.
  7. The chief variable to my mind, in terms of reading improvement, seems to be the passion, work ethic, and skill of the teacher, not The Science of Reading.

Mark Pennington is the author of a decidedly eclectic reading intervention program.

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive assessment-based reading intervention curriculum, the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLEIdeal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program. Phonological awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, fluency (with 128 YouTube modeled readings), spelling, vocabulary and comprehension. The 54 accompanying guided reading phonics books each have comprehension questions, a focus sound-spelling pattern, controlled sight words, a 30-second word fluency, a running record, and cleverly illustrated cartoons by David Rickert to match each entertaining story. These resources provide the best reading intervention program at a price every teacher can afford.

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

Want to teach the most efficient Greek and Latin word parts, based upon the latest high frequency research?

Get the 25 Greek and Latin Power Words FREE Resource:

Who says you can use diagnostic phonics assessments to inform guided reading instruction? Want to have the best of both worlds to pinpoint instruction? Check out the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, Diagnostic Assessments, and Running Records. Get both vowel and consonant comprehensive whole-class phonics assessments with audio files AND 3 guided reading phonics books with focused phonics patterns, comprehension questions, 2 new sight words, 30-second word fluencies, and running records.

Get the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, Diagnostic Assessments, and Running Records FREE Resource:

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Should We Teach High Frequency Words?

Should We Teach High Frequency Words?

High Frequency Words?

As a teacher-publisher, I am a member of quite a few Facebook groups, Pinterest groups, etc. I sell my ELA and reading intervention curriculum on my Pennington Publishing site as well on the monolith: Teachers Pay Teachers. The latter provides a Seller’s Forum, which I infrequently visit.

A seller recently posted this topic:

Sight words – Fry or Dolch? 

I have always used the Dolch list, but notice many people using the Fry list in their products.  Does your school mandate a certain one?  Do you have a preference when looking for sight word materials?

This brings up an important topic. Both the Fry and Dolch lists are high frequency word lists. Each list was developed pre-computer age by groups of grad students counting the number of recurring words in basal readers.

Speaking of the English, teachers in the United Kingdom and many in international schools refer to the high frequency words as “tricky words.” American teachers have generally coined the term “sight words” to refer to high frequency words. This term has some important instructional implications.

Should We Teach Students Sight Words to Improve Reading and Spelling?

My take is that teaching (or more likely practicing and testing) long lists of high frequency reading words (the sight words or tricky words depending upon one’s side of the Atlantic) or using them in spelling instruction is counterproductive. Apologies to Rebecca Sitton, whose list of “No Excuse Spelling Words” still graces the classroom walls of thousands of American teachers’ classrooms. Why is it counterproductive? We need to teach students to rely on the code for reading and spelling. Just as in baseball, we need to teach students to “look for the fastball, but adjust for the curve.” In other words, apply the rule, but adjust for exceptions.

Memorizing lists of 200, 300, 400, 500 high frequency “sight words” treats language acquisition as a process of rote learning and viewing each and every word in isolation. This approach falsely teaches students that every reading and spelling word is an exception. The old Dick and Jane look-say method of reading and spelling instruction has been properly relegated to the instructional dumpster; however, high frequency instruction remains a hold-out to some degree. Why is this so? My take is because “Let’s teach the words students will read and write most often” seems intuitively correct. However, intuition is not science and should not guide our instructional decisions.

But What about Non-phonetic Sight Words?

Included within the lists of high frequency words are a subset of non-phonetic words. I call the 108 (plus or minus depending on list and how one counts inflections) non-phonetic words “outlaw words”; others refer to them as “rule-breakers.” Of the 100 highest frequency English words, many are non-phonetic because they derive from Old English.

Most reading specialists would agree that the “outlaw words” should be introduced concurrently with explicit, systematic phonics instruction. For example, I introduce the 108 highest frequency “outlaw words” two at a time in my 54 Sam & Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

However, teaching these “outlaw words” alongside of phonetically regular high frequency words confuses beginning and older vulnerable readers. When we teach these “rule breakers,” we need to make clear distinctions between these words which should not be sounded-out and those which should.

*Sight words assessments (also referred to as word recognition, e.g. The Slosson Oral Reading Test) shouldn’t be confused with instruction.

Before I end, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. A few important caveats! I so see value in practicing sight recognition of sight syllables (such as Greek and Latinates, which of course do not all conform to English phonetic rules). Additionally, the approach in my programs such as Teaching Reading Strategies and Differentiated Spelling Instruction includes other non-phonetic approaches, such as rimes (word families) memorization for kids who struggle with the code and high frequency spelling patterns, conventional spelling rules, and derivational influences.

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Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive assessment-based reading intervention curriculum, the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLEIdeal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program. Phonological awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, fluency (with 128 YouTube modeled readings), spelling, vocabulary and comprehension. The 54 accompanying guided reading phonics books each have comprehension questions, a focus sound-spelling pattern, controlled sight words, a 30-second word fluency, a running record, and cleverly illustrated cartoons by David Rickert to match each entertaining story. These resources provide the best reading intervention program at a price every teacher can afford.

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

Interested in seeing how I introduce the non-phonetic “outlaw words” and my phonics instructional sequence in my reading intervention program? First, get the FREE Outlaw Words Assessment download. Not every student needs to memorize the same words.

Get the Outlaw Words Assessment FREE Resource:

Second, want the example words to blend for each of the sound-spellings? You’ll love this FREE download:

Get the Instructional Phonics Sequence FREE Resource:

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Meaningless Sentence Starters

Avoid There and Here

There and Here

“Why do we have to avoid using too many There and Here words at the beginning of sentences?” Peja asked.

There are reasons for that. Here they are,” Chiang said.

“I’m waiting. What’s the problem with using those sentence starters?”

“Avoid using meaningless words as sentence starters.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I did. I told you why and showed you how.”

Definition and Examples

Using There or Here + a “helping verb” (has been, had been, will be, shall be, should be, would be, can be, could be, may be, might be, must be) or a “linking verb” (is, are, was, were) is rarely necessary and provides no additional meaning to a sentence. Example: There are the three students waiting over there. This sentence can be changed to… The three students wait over there. Example: Here is the blue pen to use to write your grandmother. This sentence can be changed to… Use the blue pen to write your grandmother.

Read the rule.

Avoid beginning sentences with There or Here + a “helping verb” or a “linking verb.” Revise to eliminate these words. To delete the unnecessary There or Here word, place the subject of the sentence at the beginning with or without its article (a, an, or the) and change the verb form as needed.

Re-write these sentences and [bracket] the meaningless words used as sentence starters.

  1. Here are plenty of samples to try.
  2. There is evidence to suggest that the owner knew that the painting was worthless.
  3. There were reasons for his actions, but we were never told what they were.
  4. Here is the envelope you were looking for in my desk.
  5. There will be consequences to your failures to act on his advice.

Eliminate the meaningless sentence starter in this sentence.

There are good reasons to avoid starting sentences with There and Here.

Answers

  1. [Here are] plenty of samples to try.
  2. [There is] evidence to suggest that the owner knew that the painting was worthless.
  3. [There were] reasons for his actions, but we were never told what they were.
  4. [Here is] the envelope you were looking for in my desk.
  5. [There will be] consequences to your failures to act on his advice.

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For more essay rules and practice, check out the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies. This curriculum includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” writing posters, and helpful editing resources. Differentiate your essay instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum with remedial writing worksheets, including sentence structure, grammar, thesis statements, errors in reasoning, and transitions.Plus, get an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading (works great with Google Docs),

Download the following 24 FREE Writing Style Posters to help your students learn the essay rules. Each has a funny or ironic statement (akin to “Let’s eat Grandma) to teach the memorable rule.

Get the Writing Style Posters FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wordiness

Revising Wordiness

Wordiness

“Mr. Parkins, I don’t understand your comment on my essay. It says, ‘Wordy.’”

Wordiness means using too many words to say too little, Elton.”

“Mr. Parkins, you said our essay had to be 700 words. I’ve got 702. How can it be ‘wordy’ when it only has two extra?”

“Elton, this essay has more padding than my overstuffed pillows. You turned a 500-word essay into 702 words. Better to be too short than too long.”

Definition and Examples

Learning how to write concisely (briefly) and efficiently is important. When wording is added which does not contribute meaning, teachers call this padding. Padding includes needless or repetitive information included in order to fill up a page. When too many words are used to communicate that which could be said more concisely, teachers call this wordiness. Often, a wordy writer uses noun constructions, rather than simple verbs. Examples: Instead of for the production of, the writer might say produce.

Read the rule.

Avoid using useless noun phrases, especially ones which begin with prepositions. Instead, use specific nouns and verbs to write concisely (briefly).

Read the following sentences and [bracket] the wordiness.

  1. For the purposes of this writing, I will share these very interesting documents.
  2. The majority of most of my friends urged me not to speak at this point in time.
  3. I told them of each and every circumstance with the exception of five instances.
  4. During the course of the investigation, in an effort to tell the truth, he did an interview.
  5. The audience could not hear at all what the speaker said.

Revise the sentence to eliminate wordiness.

Cease, desist, and stop wordiness.

Answers

  1. For [the purposes of] this writing, I will share these [very interesting] documents.
  2. [The majority of] most of my friends urged me not to speak at this point [in time].
  3. I told them of [each and] every circumstance [with the] excep[tion of] five instances.
  4. During [the course of] the investigation, [in an effort to] tell the truth, he did an interview.
  5. The audience could not hear [at all] what the speaker said.

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For more essay rules and practice, check out the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies. This curriculum includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” writing posters, and helpful editing resources. Differentiate your essay instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum with remedial writing worksheets, including sentence structure, grammar, thesis statements, errors in reasoning, and transitions.Plus, get an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading (works great with Google Docs),

Download the following 24 FREE Writing Style Posters to help your students learn the essay rules. Each has a funny or ironic statement (akin to “Let’s eat Grandma) to teach the memorable rule. 

Get the Writing Style Posters FREE Resource:

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , ,