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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:

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

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.

*****

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? 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:

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

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.

*****

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.

*****

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

Instructional Phonics Order

Phonics Instructional Sequence

Instructional Phonics Order

Teachers often ask about the order of phonics instruction. Is there an instructional sequence that makes sense more than others?

First, let’s take a look at some general criteria which seems to make sense:

  1. The most common sounds are introduced prior to the least common sounds.
  2. Order of instruction separates letters that are visually similar e.g., p and b, m and n, v and w, u and n.
  3. Order of instruction separates sounds that are similar e.g., /k/ and /g/, /u/ and /o/, /t/ and /d/, /e/ and /i/.
  4. The most commonly used letters are introduced prior to the least commonly used letters.
  5. Short words with fewer phonemes are introduced prior to longer words with more phonemes.
  6. Continuous sounds e.g., /a/, /m/, are introduced prior to stop sounds e.g., /t/ because the continuous sounds are easier to blend.

Following is the instructional phonics order that is best supported by research and practice (and the order I use in my own reading intervention program):

Short vowel sounds and consonant sounds:

  • a, m, t, s
  • i, f, d, r
  • o, g[a,o,u], l, h
  • u, b, c[a,o,u], _ck
  • e (_ea), k[i,e], v, n, kn_
  • p, w, j, qu
  • y, x, z, _s, r, wr
  • Ending double consonants _ll, _ff, _ss, _zz

Ending consonant blends:

  • _nd, _st, _xt
  • _nt (n’t), _lt
  • _mp, _sk, _lp
  • _ft, _ld, _ng
  • _lk, _nch, _pt
  • _nk, _sp
  • “th” voiced* th_
  • “th” unvoiced** th_, _th
  • “sh” unvoiced** sh_
  • “sh” + _ed _sh, _shed

*The voiced consonant sound has a slight /uh/ sound. With digraphs (more than one sound) and blends (two or more sounds), the second letter pronunciation is softer than the first.

**The unvoiced consonant is made just with air.

Consonant digraphs:

  • wh, ch, _tch

Beginning consonant blends:

  • fl_, sl_, bl_, cl_, gl_, pl_
  • sm_, sn_, sp_, st_, sk_, sc_
  • br_, cr_, dr_, fr_, gr_, pr_
  • shr_, thr_, str_, spr_, scr_
  • sw_, tr_, tw_, spl_, squ_

Long vowel sounds and silent final e:

  • a, _ay, a_e, ai_
  • e, _ee, ea, [c]ei
  • _ie_, e_e, _y
  • i, _igh, i_e, _y, _ie
  • o, o_e, _oe, oa_, ow
  • u, u_e, _ew, _ue

r – controlled vowels:

  • ar
  • or
  • er
  • ir
  • ur

Diphthongs:

  • _ow, ou_
  • oo, _ue, u, u_e, _ew
  • oo, _u_
  • oi_, _oy
  • aw, au, a[l], a[ll], augh[t]

Syllable Juncture:

  • g[e,i,y], _ge, _dge
  • c[e,i,y]
  • Long i _y and Long e _y
  • _le
  • Schwa a, _ai_
  • Schwa e
  • Schwa i
  • Schwa o, _io_, ou_
  • ph, ch_ (/k/), _ci_, _si_, _ti_, gn
  • ough

Now, you have the instructional phonics order. Know how to teach these sound-spellings? My reading intervention program uses a multi-faceted approach: animal sound-spelling card games, connected decodable readers, phonics workshops, and blending. The blending procedure I use teaches both decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling). I call it Sound-by-Sound Spelling Blending. Download my FREE blending lessons with example words and built-in review after my author promo. Next, check out the quick instructional video.

*****

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 the above Instructional Phonics Order is paced in my intervention program? 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:

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

Build Vocabulary through Reading

Learning Vocabulary through Reading

Building Vocabulary through Reading

The reading research certainly supports direct vocabulary instruction: According to the National Reading Panel (2000), explicit instruction of vocabulary is highly effective in improving reading comprehension. “Students should be explicitly taught both specific words and word-learning strategies. To deepen students’ knowledge of word meanings, specific word instruction should be robust” (Beck et al., 2002). In fact, the vocabulary standards delineated in the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language mention each of these explicit areas of vocabulary instruction.

  • 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)

Teaching to these vocabulary standards will enrich your students depth of vocabulary knowledge and will teach your students how language and words help us learn. And reading research indicates that students can learn some 400 words per year in school through explicit vocabulary instruction (Beck, McKewon & Kucan, 2002).

However,

Numerous studies have estimated that students need to learn from 2,000–4,000 new words per year to make grade to grade reading growth. The most widely cited study indicates that students need to learn 3,000 new words per year (Honig 1983).

So, if the vocabulary standards help students master 400 words per year, how can we ensure that students learn the additional 2,600 words needed to make at least one grade level of reading growth in our classrooms? The Common Core authors discuss this solution in Appendix A of the CCSS document.  So, what is this key instructional strategy that will help your students meet and exceed that goal of 3,000 new words per year?

Independent reading.

Let’s do the math. When reading at independent levels (around 95% word recognition*), that means that students are exposed to 5% unknown words. Reading at an average 200 words per minute, 30 minutes per day, 4 days per week, means that students will read 864,000 words during the school year. If 5% of these words are unknown to the reader and the reader masters 10%** of those unknown words, this results in a gain of not 3,000, but 4,320 new vocabulary words! (30 minutes x 200 words = 6,000 x 4 days per week = 24,000 x 36 weeks = 864,000 words read in a year x 5% unknown words = 43,200 x 10% mastery =4,320.

Now, having been convinced regarding the efficacy of building vocabulary through independent reading, let’s not jump to the same conclusions that some advocates of the “whole language” approach to reading made during the 1980s and 1990s and the “balanced literature” adherents make today: If incidental vocabulary acquisition through wide reading produces a greater number of new words (4,320 in our example) than does explicit vocabulary instruction (400), let’s abandon explicit vocabulary instruction altogether.

This conclusion is flawed. Consider this question: What is it that allows the reader to mastery 10% of the 5% unknown words when reading text at optimal word recognition levels? It’s precisely the vocabulary strategies that readers internalize through explicit instruction and practice. For example, numerous studies suggest that using instructional strategies that teach students how to use context clues effectively can improve that 10% mastery of unknown words (Rhoder and Huerster, 2002, Greenwood and Flanigan, 2007). Additionally, explicit instruction in Greek and Latin word parts which appear in 50% of Tier 2 academic vocabulary can provide the structural clues to significantly improve that 10% number. Clearly, studying non-contextual vocabulary can improve the efficiency of readers to understand and master contextual vocabulary in reading.

Bottom line: Students need both explicit vocabulary instruction (those Common Core grade-level vocabulary standards) and enough independent reading to make at least one grade level of reading progress.

But, how can we be sure that it’s independent reading that teaches the most vocabulary? Don’t students learn vocabulary naturally through listening throughout their school day and at home? Don’t students get plenty of reading throughout the day in literature, science, and social studies texts? Way back in 1988, reading researchers Hayes and Athens published interesting research regarding this question. They counted the number of words above the 1,000 highest frequency words (usually mastered by most primary grade students) for a variety of listening venues such as adult-level conversations, court cases, and the nightly news. As an example, watching and listening to the nightly news exposes the viewer/listener to only 19 of these key words. In contrast, reading for the same amount of time provides a much higher exposure to words beyond the most frequently used 1,000 words. For example, reading a challenging comic book for the same amount of time exposes the reader to 53 of these challenging words. Reading a challenging book for the same amount of time exposes a reader to 75. Unfortunately, research indicates that the amount students read in a school day through teacher-directed reading tasks is miminal. Clearly, independent reading is the most efficient means of learning new words, when supported by explicit vocabulary instruction.

When should students complete their independent reading?

Many teachers buy into the research on the value of independent reading and provide in-class time for sustained silent reading. However, my take is that independent reading in class is largely both inefficient and reductive.

Again, taking a look at the math, few teachers (other than “The Book Whisperer”) at the elementary, middle, and high school levels would be willing or even permitted to allocate the 120 minutes per week of class time necessary to achieve optimal vocabulary growth. In a typical secondary ELA class with 200 minutes of instructional time per week (less with holidays and all-too-frequent instructional interruptions), the 120 minutes would take up more than half of available instructional time. Few principals would permit this encroachment upon teaching grade-level standards. As one of my own principals once told our middle school ELA department, “The district is not paying you to babysit students doing independent reading. Earn your paychecks!” The principal’s statements were a trifle blunt, but essentially correct that all instructional time is reductive. You can’t add something without taking away something.

Now some teachers might be tempted to compromise and facilitate independent reading for some time in class and some time at home. My response is “Why not all independent reading at home?” Independent reading is the perfect homework. I can hear the arguments about why this won’t work rolling in… “They won’t do it. Parents won’t support it. There’s no accountability. It takes too much time to grade and manage it.” I’m not convince. Clever teachers can solve those problems.

As a reading specialist, I’ve taught at the elementary, middle, high school, and community college levels. I recently retired as a middle school ELA teacher. Reading research indicates that middle schoolers read less on their own than any other age group. At a lower performing, 75% free and reduced lunch, multi-ethnic, multi-language school, I have success rates of 80–90% compliance with students reading 120 minutes per week at home. How? I train parents and students in how to do and supervise independent reading and daily 3–5 minute reading discussions. I get students and parents to buy in by requiring student-parent trainings. I meet with each and every parent, 130 or so. This investment of time pays off because I don’t have to grade student response journals, book reports, etc. Instead, I train and trust parents to grade the quality of their child’s discussion and I count it as 15% of the student’s total grade. I mix things up with other activities which ensure accountability, such as online book clubs in which students must post and discuss and parents and I (I can’t resist) pop-in to the mix. My point is that you, the teacher, know what will work for your students, and with some experimentation, you can figure how how to hold students accountable for independent reading homework.

Which books should students read? How should students select these books?

How do you get students to read books at the optimal word recognition levels? You don’t have to spend thousands on Accelerated Reader® or Reading Counts! You don’t have to look for Fountas Pinnell A–Z+ leveled books. You don’t have to look for grade-level equivalents. You don’t have to match student Lexile levels to published book lists. You don’t have to do running records and a miscue analysis for each student.

The key to matching students to the right books is to train students (and parents at lower grade levels) to do so. Students don’t have access to the above data, nor will they as lifelong readers. I do believe in Reggie Routman’s mantra: If the book is too difficult, it will lead to frustration; too little of a challenge will lead to boredom. Students can be trained to pick the “Goldilocks Level”: not too easy, not too hard, just right (Routman, 2003). You don’t even have to require all independent reading to be at optimal levels. Some will be less optimal; some, especially if you agree with the Common Core author’s notions about text complexity, should be more rigorous.

Boredom is a powerful disincentive. Teachers worry far too much that students will pick easier books over more challenging ones. My experience is that students learn from their own mistakes. Students want to read texts which match their maturity levels. Believe me, successful authors know how to match content and vocabulary levels to their target audiences. Additionally, motivation plays an important role in book selection. When Harry Potter books were hot off the press, my fourth grader read far beyond his tested reading levels in the last few JK Rowling novels, to be able to access what his older brothers were reading and talking about. Self-selected reading will almost always be perfectly acceptable if students are trained in how to avoid boredom and frustration.

Teach one of these two methods to help students (and parents) pick the right books for independent reading. And let me reiterate once again, not all independent reading needs to conform to these challenge levels to get students to meet or exceed our 3,000 words annual goal:

  1. The five and ten finger method (five for grades 3–5 chapter books and ten for grades 6–adult novels). Big print chapter books have about 100 words per page. Smaller print novels have about twice that number (200 words per page). Students read a random page from a book they want to read and count the number of unknown words as they read, using their fingers. If the number of unknown words is close to the 5 , say 3–7 for bigger print books or 10, say 7–13 for small print novels, that’s a good match.
  2. Select any complete page at random and count the number of words on that page. Read that same page, counting the number of unknown words as you read. Anything within the 3-7% range is a good match. For example, a reader counts the number of words on a page and arrives at 225. While reading, the student counts 11 unknown words. 11.00 ÷ 225 = .05, or 5%.

*Word recognition is simply the ability of the reader to accurately read and automatically understand a word (Reutzel & Cooter 2009). Vocabulary experts agree that adequate reading comprehension depends on a person already knowing between 90 and 95 percent of the words in a text (Hirsch, 2003). For second language learners, Results suggest that the 98% estimate is a more reasonable coverage target for readers of academic texts (Schmitt, Jiang, Grabe 2012). Most reading specialists support 95% as an optimal level of word recognition for vocabulary growth in which the reader’s comprehension is not adversely affected by too many unknown words, but enough unknown words are provided to enable incidental learning by knowledge of context clues.

**A commonly used figure by reading researchers with variables such as repetitions, word families, inflections, prior knowledge of content, primary language ability, and knowledge of and ability to apply context clues.

For teachers looking only for a solid one-year vocabulary program, check out the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits (grades 4-8). The 56 Vocabulary Worksheets include

Pennington Publishing's Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

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.); and Academic Language Words (L.6.0). Students learn ten Tier Two and Tier Three words (the words recommended in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects) each week. Want to check out sample lessons? Preview This Book.

Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Want five FREE lessons to teach the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies plus a FREE set of SCRIP Posters and Bookmarks sent to your email? 

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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

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

Vocabulary Review Baseball Game

Baseball vocabulary review? Of course! Easy to set up, increases motivation to practice, and gets the kids up and moving. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone.

Materials

Flashcards with terms on front and definitions on back. The teacher creates vocabulary, literary terms, poetic devices, or? flashcards with terms on front and definitions or examples on back. On the definitions or examples sides of the cards, the teacher labels each according to levels of difficulty: S for a single, D for a double, T for a triple, or H for a home run. Hint: Have many more singles cards than the others.

Build It and They Will Come

Set up your baseball diamond inside your classroom or outside if it’s a nice day. Divide your students into two teams, appoint a scorekeeper to write on the board or easel, and establish four bases. When in the field, students sit in seats; when “up,” the students stand in line waiting their turn to bat. Shuffle the cards so that your students can see you’re not stacking the deck in favor of one team or another. We don’t need any more Shoeless Joe Jackson Black Sox Scandals (100 years ago in 1919).

Play Ball!

Teacher selects a single, double, triple, or home run card. To “play ball,” the teacher announces S, D, T, or H and either the word or example. The student batter must correctly define or identify the word within 10 seconds or the batter is “out.”

Examples: Teacher says word: S “Alliteration.” Student batter says the definition: “Repetition of initial consonant sounds.” Teacher says example: H “The politician suggests that poverty remains the most important problem in the world today; however, the world has always had its share of poor people.” Student batter says the term: “A red herring argument.”

Three outs per each team per inning. Play as many innings as you want. Re-shuffle the cards if you need to work through the deck again or you wound up in a tie and have to go to extra innings.

Some form of team incentives sparks friendly (or cut-throat) competition.

Of course you want other vocabulary games as fun as this one. Get others in Pennington Publishing’s year-long comprehensive vocabulary programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8? The program includes 56 worksheets, along with vocabulary study guides, and biweekly unit tests 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)

Click HERE to check out the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits, the Vocabulary Academic Literacy Centers, or the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES. Want to test-drive the program first? Get four lessons, vocabulary flashcards, and a unit test:

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

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Phonics and Spelling Videos

3 Phonics and Spelling Videos

Phonics and Spelling Videos

Reading intervention students have different foundations in terms of their abilities to connect speech sounds (phonemes) to their spellings. Some of the foundations may be perfectly solid and need no repairs; some of the foundations may once have been solid, but have crumbled over the years due to neglect; some of the foundations may have been built without essential ingredients or with ingredients that were sub-standard; and some of the foundations were simply never planned, nor built properly.

To build a solid foundation for each of your students, play and practice the three free instructional videos from my Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam & Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE and teach in this order: Video 1: The Animal Names Chant; Video 2: The Animal Names and Sounds Chant; and Video 3: The Animal Names, Sounds, and Spellings Chant.

All three videos include the 43 Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and a catchy, rhythmic chant to practice selected components of the cards. Students chant along to learn or review basic phonics and spelling.

43 Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

About the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

Each of the 43 cards includes an animal photograph (not a juvenile cartoon), the phoneme (speech sound), and the most common spellings. Unlike many phonics programs, the beginning sound of the animal name perfectly matches the sound listed on each card. For example, the bear card represents the /b/. I’ve included the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards in your free download at the end of this article.

Directions

Before using Video 1, display the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards PDF and introduce each component on the cards to your students, saying

“Each card has the photograph of an animal and the animal’s name. The /sound/ is printed between two slanted lines at the top of the card. You will hear the sound at the beginning of the animal name. The different spellings for the sound are printed in black below the name of the card.”

Set the instructional expectations for your students, saying

“When I play the video, you will chant along with the music to learn each part of the 43 cards. Don’t shout; but don’t whisper, either. Say the name, sound, or spelling at the same time as the audio, not before or after. Use six-inch voices. By mastering what’s on these cards, you will become a much better reader and speller.”

When first playing each video, use a pointer or your finger to cue your students’ responses. Stress the importance of a unison response.

Video 1: Point underneath the animal photograph when the video prompts with “Name?”

Video 2: Point underneath the animal photograph when the video prompts with “Name?” Point underneath the /sound/ when the video prompts with “Sound?”

Video 3: Point underneath the animal photograph when the video prompts with “Name?” Point underneath the /sound/ when the video prompts with “Sound?” Point underneath each spelling when the video prompts with “Spelling?” Tell students to say “blank” as it’s part of the spelling.

Once students are responding in unison, stop pointing and walk the room to monitor individual responses.

A few tips…

Make sure most students have mastered the 43 animal names in Video 1 before playing and practicing Video 2. Note that Video 2 reviews the names, so even if a few students have not yet mastered all of them in Video 1, move on to Video 2. When most students have mastered the 43 animal names and sounds in Video 2, move on to the animal names, sounds, and spellings in Video 3; however, for any of your students who have not yet mastered all 43 animal names and sounds, print on card stock and cut a set of the 43 Animal Sound-Spelling Cards. Practice with these students until they have achieved mastery.

Play the video only once per day. I get my students up and moving while they chant along.

The /sounds/ are color coded: Red for long vowels; purple for vowel teams (digraphs and diphthongs); gold for r-controlled vowels; green for short vowels; black for consonant sounds; and blue for consonant digraphs. Note: The colors become important components when teaching each phonetic element in my reading intervention program. For example, when my Vowel Sounds Phonics Diagnostic Assessment indicates that seven of my students have not yet mastered their r-controlled vowels, I tell these students to bring their gold cards up to the table for our phonics workshop lessons. And I will tell the entire class to take out their gold cards and black cards to play the interactive card games, putting together the sounds and spellings to form words. My program adds consonant blends, rimes (word families), sight syllable spellings, non-phonetic sight words, Greek and Latin word parts, and more for a total of 644 game cards to play 60 different reading and spelling card games. Fun and great practice.

These videos and the 43 Animal Sound-Spelling Cards will enhance any phonics-based program. Perfect to use with READ 180 Next Generation, SYSTEM 44, Language!® Live, and more. Of course, my Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam & Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE integrates these videos into comprehensive program. And it’s a better (and much cheaper) program.

When introducing Video 3: The Animal Names, Sounds, and Spellings Chant say,

“The blanks in the spellings mean that another letter or letters must be placed in the blanks to form a word or syllable. A syllable is simply a word part with a vowel. A blank before letters means that the spelling ends a syllable. For example, the spelling ‘_ck’ must include other letters in the blank to form a word or syllable such as ‘neck’ or ‘necklace.'”

“A blank after a letter or letters shows that spelling begins or comes in the middle of a syllable. For example, the spelling ‘oa_’ must include other letters in the blank to form a word or syllable such as ‘oats’ or ‘boat.’”

Your struggling readers will love practicing their basic phonics and spellings with these three chant-along videos! Your FREE download of the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards follows these videos.

 

Video #1: Animal Names Chant

 

 

Video #2: Animal Names and Sounds Chant

 

 

Video #3: Animal Names, Sounds, and Spellings Chant

*****

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

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