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Word Part Monsters

Greek and Latin Word Part Monsters

Word Part Monsters

Looking for a great pre-Halloween or pre-Open House activity to scare your kids into learning high frequency Greek and Latin word parts? My Word Part Monsters will do the trick (or treat).

This three-day activity works well before Halloween and gets student artwork up on the board–oh, and it also is a fun word part review activity. Tell your students that they will create their own Word Part Monsters.

Provide the Monster Word Parts list of Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes (all morphemes) to get plenty of combinations monster part combinations (FREE download at end of article).

For example, the dreaded mono oc pyr cap kin (one-eye-fire-head-little) monster.

Directions

Day 1

  1. Quick draw, in pencil, two rough-draft monsters, using at least three prefixes, roots, or suffixes from your Monster Word Parts list.
  2. Write the name of your monsters, using the word parts, at the bottom of each drawing. Feel free to use connecting vowels to tie together the word parts.

Day 2

  1. Choose one of your quick-draw monsters and neatly draw and color it on construction paper.
  2. Write the monsters’ name on the back, using the word parts. Turn in your monster to the teacher. Don’t turn into a monster for your teacher.

Day 3

  1. The teacher has numbered all of the monsters and posted them around the room and created a list of the monster names. Number a sheet of binder paper and write down all of the monsters’ names next to the correct number.

Option A (challenging)—Choose from the monster names that the teacher has written on the board.

Option B (very challenging)—Choose from the monster names that the teacher has written on the board and use the definitions to write a sentence, describing what the monster is like.

Option C (very, very challenging)—The teacher does not write down the monster names on the board. You have to figure them out based upon the drawings alone.

  1. The winner(s) are the students who identify the most monsters correctly.

*****

Check out more vocabulary games in the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits. Each grade-level Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit includes 56 worksheets (fillable PDFs), along with vocabulary study guides, and biweekly unit tests.

Get the Word Part Monsters FREE Resource:

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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.

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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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Making Sense of Guided Reading

I’ve got to be careful on this topic. I’ve got family members who teach using guided reading, as well as plenty of colleagues, and their students are learning to read. Within the past 35 years, guided reading has become an educational given, accepted common sense, and an all-or-nothing teaching reading strategy. For Fountas & Pinnell and Teachers College, the guided reading method of teaching students with leveled books is a cash-cow. However, all-too-often educators assume and practice what has not yet been proven. Such is the case with guided reading.

Guided Reading

How to Tweak Guided Reading

Guided reading is based upon two theoretical premises: Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development theory and Bruner’s (1986) application of that research to learning theory in what he termed as scaffolding.  From these premises, Marie Clay, New Zealand’s godmother of guided reading, believed that students learn best in instructional level texts (Vygotsky’s Zone), guided by a teacher to independence (Bruner’s scaffolding), and then on to more and more challenging instructional texts in what she coined as the “ladder of progress.” Clay’s methods of determining independence (91–94%) is running records assessment.

Clay’s guided reading method sounds reasonable and practical. Simply put, it’s the Goldilocks principle: Don’t have students practice in books that are too hard (frustration level); don’t have students practice in books that are too easy (independent level). Instead, have students practice in books that are just right (instructional level) with teacher assistance.

Within the last 35 years, we have made enormous strides in determining readers’ levels of comprehension and matching them to levels of text complexity through Lexile testing or informed teacher judgment using running records. However, we have not yet proven that practicing at optimally determined reading levels produces more learning than reading text that is “too easy” or “too hard.” And we just don’t know if learning is best facilitated with Clay’s ladder of progress model. Is there such a thing as an optimal instructional reading level?

Dr. Timothy Shanahan argues, “Basically we have put way too much confidence in an unproven theory”(https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/leveled-reading-making-literacy-myth). He elaborates on the guided reading practice of using leveled texts to match optimal reading levels of instruction:

Of the studies that have directly tested the effects of teaching students to read with books at their “instructional level,” not one has found any benefit to the practice. There are several studies that have found no benefit to doing this and there are some that have found it to be harmful (that is, it reduces the students’ opportunity to learn). There is no set level at which texts need to be for students to learn from them, but if the texts are too easy (and traditional instructional level criteria are apparently too easy) learning is going to be limited. This has been found across a variety of grades from Grade 2 through high school and both with regular classroom students and learning-disabled students (https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/a-gallimaufry-of-literacy-questions-and-answers).

In fact, the authors of the Common Core State Standards would argue that students (with teacher assistance) learn more from complex i.e. frustration level text than instructional or independent text. My son read the entire Harry Potter series as a fourth-grader. While the first few books were add an accessible reading level, the last few certainly were not. My son gained two reading grade levels in a matter of months by reading text at his frustration level.

At this point, I know I’ve lost half of my readers. Teachers believe in the value of research only to a certain extent. When challenged by new or different research that is contradictory to accepted notions, teachers tend to retreat to their own experience. Generally, teachers believe in what they’ve been taught, how they were taught, and what they are now doing. Guided reading teachers see success in their students and the kids are learning to read. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Leveling Books

Guided Reading

However, for the remaining half of my readers: When they understand that the research does not prove what the majority of teachers are doing, they work through their cognitive dissonance and become more critical consumers of ideas and practice. They’re not afraid to distance themselves from the herd and try something new. A chance to add more tools to their tool belts.

My take is that we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some of guided reading is research-based and makes complete sense: the structural and instructional components of flexible ability grouping, meaningful busy work for rest of kids, reading with the teacher on a daily basis, and authentic assessment are proven and effective instructional strategies; however a few tweaks are in order. We don’t and shouldn’t abandon guided reading entirely as some Science of Reading colleagues advocate. However, I would ask teachers to try a few adaptations.

My suggestions to make sense of guided reading:

  1. Rather than trying to fine tune your guided reading groups by adding more discrete reading level groups, think of combining groups to maximize instructional minutes, minimize independent work, and improve behavior management. Especially consider doubling the size of the teacher-led guided reading group and reducing the number of total groups. Check out these 10 group rotation schedules.
  2. Look to other means of assessment to determine reading needs and group placements, in addition to running records. Teachers don’t like to hear this, but we are not completely objective evaluators. According to Dr. Louisa Moats, “The reliability of oral reading tests and running records is lower than the reliability of more structured, specific measures of component reading skills. Teacher judgment of the cause of specific oral reading errors (e.g., miscue analysis) tends to be much less reliable” (https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/reading_rocketscience_2004.pdf). (Download my FREE diagnostic assessments.)

    Sam and Friends Phonics Books

    Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

  3. In addition to leveled reading groups, use this alternative assessment data  to drive instruction within your guided reading group stations. Flexible groupings can help you teach r-controlled vowels to a group, or the soft /c/ spellings, or non-decodable sight words, etc. to needs-based groups, formed according to diagnostic assessments. My Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books are perfect examples of how to use skill-based guided reading groups. Each of the 54 decodable books includes a running record, but placement in the Sam and Friends series is determined by objective assessment.

The benefits…

  1. Fewer groups means less prep for guided reading groups and other independent learning stations.
  2. Less wasted instruction. When teachers notice reading errors during guided reading or running records which they wish to address via mini-lessons, some, but not all students will benefit.
  3. Targeted needs-based instruction is more efficient than mini-lessons.
  4. Students will progress quicker with the addition of assessment-based instruction.
  5. Less $. Those Fountas & Pinnell A to Z leveled books are expensive. Why not purchase fewer levels?
  6. Less tracking. Traditional guided reading groups stay quite similar from the start to end of the school year, with notable exceptions.
  7. Better behavior management. With fewer groups, fewer transitions are necessary. With more students in the teacher’s group, less idle hands are making mischief.
  8. More teacher-student time.

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FREE GRADES 4-8 Vocabulary Resources and Lessons

Watch the short (less than a minute) YouTube videos to see the resources and lessons. Click on the link in the YouTube product description to safely download the resource or lesson from my Pennington Publishing Blog. Subscribe to my YouTube Channel to get more FREE ELA and reading daily resources and lessons. Great for distance learning!

Videos with Vocabulary Resources and Lessons

Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Instructional Scope and Sequence

Download the free weekly word lists for full-year vocabulary instruction. Aligned to the Common Core Anchor Standards, this comprehensive instructional scope and sequence provides grade to grade instructional continuity and features the research-based Academic Words List for tier 2 vocabulary instruction.

The 25 Greek and Latin Power Words

The 25 power words are formed from the highest frequency Greek and Latin word parts and are included in over 60,000 words. Get the list, the research sources, and accompanying worksheets.

FREE Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test

Check out the Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits with FREE Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test.

FREE Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test

Check out the Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits with FREE Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test.

FREE Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test

Check out the Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits with FREE Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test.

FREE Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test

Check out the Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits with FREE Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test.

FREE Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test

Check out the Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits with FREE Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Test.

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.

If you’re just interested in the vocabulary worksheets, flashcards, and test, skip the videos. 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:

 

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Spelling Tests and Instruction

Spelling Tests

Spelling Assessments

Years ago I attended a four-day training by Dr. Shane Templeton, an author of a new program titled Words Their Way®. Dr. Templeton drove down to Elk Grove to in-service our cadre of 18 reading specialists. An entertaining presenter, he demonstrated the theory of five developmental spelling stages and introduced the Qualitative Spelling Inventory (later reworked and published as the Primary Spelling Inventory, Elementary Spelling Inventory, and Upper-level Spelling Inventory.

From Dr. Templeton’s training, I developed numerous district and site level in-services for teachers interested in word study, primarily spelling. For each training, principals provided Words Their Way® for each teacher, and our district adopted the spelling inventory as one of our elementary literacy placement assessments. Teachers dutifully engaged their students in exploratory word sorts and other activities recommended for each spelling stage. After a two-year investment in the Words Their Way® approach, here’s what our reading specialist team and teachers found:

Virtually no gains on both standardized tests and our other writing, reading, fluency, spelling, syllabication, and phonics posttests. Our elementary students’ reading scores were mired in the 40th percentiles. The inductive Words Their Way® approach to word study and other similar approaches to spelling, phonics, and vocabulary acquisition were not paying off. Teachers rightfully complained that the Words Their Way® instructional activities took up inordinate amounts of their literacy block time.

Fortunately, our district chose to change direction and adopt a direct instruction, explicit and systematic phonics program: Open Court for kinder-third grade. Within two years our scores improved to the 70th percentiles. Grades 4-6 students improved as well upon later adoption of the program and because students coming out of primary had such a solid foundation. An interesting anecdotal sidebar: In our highly transient and growing district, our reading specialist team found that new transfer students in grades 4-8 were woefully unprepared for the rigors of multisyllabic expository text. As a result, our literacy leadership team created diagnostic assessments and instructional activities for site-level literacy intervention classes.

One of these diagnostic assessments, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, was my primary contribution. The test grew out of the Words Their Way® spelling inventories, which indicated a need for different levels of spelling instruction. However, unlike the inventories, we reading specialists and our district teachers wanted teachable data, not just placement test data. Rather than discover that a fourth grader was scoring in the “Within Word” developmental spelling stage, we wanted to know precisely which spelling patterns had and had not been mastered to target instruction for our grade level and reading intervention students, rather than spend inordinate amounts of class time with exploratory word study and word games.

My reading specialist colleagues were ruthless revisers. We argued over many test items, but finally achieved consensus on a comprehensive assessment that mirrored the Open Court phonics program sound-spellings and added the conventional spelling rules which applied to the “Syllable Juncture” and “Derivational” spelling stages of Words Their Way®. We field tested the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment in grades 4-8 and teachers found that this comprehensive assessment provided much more teachable data than did the old spelling inventories.

To compare the more popular Words Their Way® spelling inventories to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, I’ve put together a four-minute video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczs81Jhcz8 to compare test items and determine which assessment provides the most teachable data. I’ve also included the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (with audio file), recording matrices, and sample spelling worksheets as a free download in case the video convinces you to do so. Just click the link in the YouTube description.

Unfortunately, the Open Court® program, which did such an admirable job with decoding and comprehension had no systematic spelling instruction. As you know, decoding (phonics) is the one side of the words coin and encoding (spelling) is the other. Our spelling scores remained far below our phonics scores. Principals, who tend to always be about test results, demanded spelling curriculum. However, publishers remained reticent to invest monies and resources in outlier states, such as California, because just a few years back at the height of the whole language movement, State Superintendent of Instruction, Bill Honig, refused to adopt spelling workbooks for the state and directed principals to squash direct spelling instruction.

I was tasked by a school principal from the highest performing elementary school (out of 33) in our district to develop curriculum to “get my spelling scores up.” For that entire school year, two days a week, I continued to refine the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and write targeted spelling pattern worksheets to correspond to each test item. Students benefited from my hyper-focus in the reading intervention class I taught after school and grade-level teachers snatched up my targeted worksheets to use in their classrooms. Yes, our spelling scores shot up through the roof on the spring standardized tests.

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

The next year I published (with district permission) my own spelling workbook for reading intervention. Over the next few years, I wrote five grade-level spelling programs (grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8), using the best of the Words Their Way® instructional components (word sorts, book searches, games, etc.), but using a much more efficient deductive approach. Each program retained the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and the corresponding spelling pattern worksheets, each with a formative assessment, that teachers found so valuable to pinpoint spelling instruction. The result? The Grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs, designed to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level spelling instruction.

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