Posts Tagged ‘Mark Pennington’

Decodables Criteria

Reading specialists and reading intervention teachers have long advocated the use of decodable text for struggling, vulnerable readers… especially those in upper elementary, middle or high school, ESL/ELL, special education, and adult literacy classes. Teachers of beginning reading have either favored decodables, leveled readers, or predictable text.

I’m going to present the argument and criteria for decodables. (Full disclosure, I’m the author of a set of decodable readers for older students which I will use to apply the criteria for effective decodables and will promo at the end of the article.) My take is that it seems like common sense that if we are going to teach decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling), our students should practice these skills in the context of authentic text. However, many have argued that decodable are anything but authentic, in that they are written for a contrived purpose. Additionally, we all know that common sense is often a poor substitute for evidence-based practices. Unfortunately, the reading research on decodables is quite minimal, according to noted reading researcher, Dr. Tim Shanahan. Shanahan comments:

There have been only a handful of studies into the effectiveness of decodable texts since the term was first used back in the 1980s. And, truth be told, they are kind of mess; with little evident agreement about what decodable text is, what it should be compared with, and what outcomes we should expect to derive from it (

So, in the “handful of studies” mentioned above, are decodables effective or ineffective? How so relative to other forms of text, such as leveled readers with controlled vocabulary, predictable texts etc.?

Shanahan again:

Mesmer (2005) found that kids were more likely to try to decode decodable text (duh), but leveled texts (less decodable) led to greater fluency (Mesmer, 2010). Some studies (Cheatham & Allor, 2012; Compton, 2005) concur with the first Mesmer study, but that’s okay because others support the second (Priec-Mohr & Price, 2017). And, then there are those with mixed results (Chu & Chen, 2014).

Regarding the effectiveness of decodables versus other text constructions, the Ohio Department of Education produced a helpful list and example slides of pros and cons for decodables, leveled readers, and predictable text readers. Note that the advantage of decodables seems clear to me (and them) in their presentation:

Design and Instructional Component Criteria

As mentioned above, I’ll use my own decodable series to exemplify what I consider to be appropriate criteria for decodables for older readers.

Sam and Friends Phonics Books

  • The Sam and Friends Phonics Books consist of highly decodable and systematic text to help readers learn, practice, and develop reliance upon the alphabetic code. Decodable means that a high percentage of words will be phonetically regular. Systematic means that each reader includes and reinforces only previously introduced sound-spellings to scaffold instruction.
  • Each of the 54 books introduces the focus sound-spellings and 2 Heart Words of the daily Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling activity in the author’s two reading intervention programs:
  • The books use the most widely-accepted, research-based instructional phonics sequence.
  • Each book introduces two high-utility Heart Words (high frequency words with one or more phonetically irregular sound-spellings).
  • The language de-emphasizes idiomatic expressions (ideal for English-language learners).
  • The stories use non-predictable, non-repetitious, and non-patterned language to minimize over-reliance upon context clues and knowledge of text structure.
  • The SCRIP comprehension strategies (Summary, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, Predict) are embedded within the text pages, not at the end of the book, to promote reader-author conversations and internal monitoring of text. Many require higher order thinking skills. The books include five higher level comprehension questions for each story.
  • The back page includes 30 second word fluency practice on the focus sound-spellings and sight words with a systematic review of previously introduced sound-spellings and
  • Heart Words
  • Each book consists of eight pages in 5.5 x 8.5-inch booklet form. Books are formatted to be copied back to back on two separate 8.5 x 11 pages for easy copying and collation. Just one fold creates the take-home books. Staple if desired.
  • The books are also formatted for tablet, Chromebook, and phone display.
  • The books are also available as Google slides with comment or question text boxes for interactive monitoring of the text.
  • Collections A, B, C, D, and E focus on remedial sound-spellings and sight words; whereas, Collection F: Syllable Juncture and Derivational Influences Books 45-54 is appropriate for all students reading below grade level.
  • The books have been designed with older students (grades 4 to adult) in mind. Students will enjoy reading about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also Sam’s dog, Pug.
  • The plots for each self-contained story reinforce positive values and character development and feature multi-ethnic teenage characters.
  • Each book is cleverly illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The illustrations do not explain the text. They entertain.

Your students will love these decodables for older readers: the Sam and Friends  Phonics Books, and more importantly, by using these readers, students and parents will see measurable progress in their reading skills. If interested in the characters, settings, and themes of the books, check out this sister article: Decodables for Big Kids.

The Sam and Friends Phonics Books have been designed to support systematic and explicit phonics instruction, such as is included in the author’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and The Science of Reading Intervention Program.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

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Decodables for Big Kids

The Sam and Friends Phonics Books have been designed to support systematic and explicit phonics instruction, such as is included in the author’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and The Science of Reading Intervention Program.

The Sam and Friends Phonics Books have been designed to support systematic and explicit phonics and spelling instruction. The eight-page books will help your students master all the common sound-spelling patterns and 108 high frequency Heart Words (words with one or more irregular sound-spellings), while improving their reading fluency and comprehension.

What makes these decodables ideal for older students?

For years I served as an upper elementary reading specialist and middle-high school reading intervention teacher. I, like others who teach older, vulnerable/struggling readers, simply could not find decodable stories which specifically helped students practice the sound-spellings I was teaching.

Using the “Bob” books, Dr. Seuss, or the ilk was out of the question. Nothing de-motivates an older student more than primary age-appropriate illustrations and/or story themes in books or in reading curriculum.

Yes, many of these older readers do need to know how to sound out “c-aa-t,” but “there must be better ways to practice the /k/, short /a/, and /t/ sounds and c-a-t spellings,” I thought. I searched high and low, and no… High/Low readers were not the answer. I searched the Reading Rockets decodable links in vain. I wanted targeted, pure (as much as possible) decodables with focused sound-spellings and minimal Heart Words that respected my students ages and maturity levels. There simply are no other decodables I could find that met my personal criteria.

I had to write them.

Of course, I can’t draw an engaging illustration to save my life. But David Rickert, the comic artist, certainly can. A true partnership developed. I wrote the stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also Sam’s dog, Pug. The plots for each self-contained story reinforce positive values and character development and feature multi-ethnic teenage characters. David illustrated each of the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books.

Now, David is a high school ELA teacher, in addition to being an illustrator. He found it interesting that I insisted on illustrations which did not add meaning to the stories, but only entertained the readers. If you are knowledgeable about S0R (the science of reading), you will understand why we don’t want developing readers to be overly-dependent upon pictures to explain what the text means.

What are the characters like and what are some of the themes in these books?

The four characters and dog interact in and out of the high school setting. Two of them, Sam and Kit, develop a semi-romantic relationship throughout the 54 books. The multi-ethnic characters run counter to many cultural stereotypes. For example, both Tom and Kit are the athletes. Deb, an African-American, is the smart debate club champion with math and science as her strong suits. Sam’s dog, Pug, is a trouble-making, but lovable, pooch.

The story themes take place in a variety of settings: in school, at the lake, at the ocean, in the forest, at the coffee shop.

In one story, Tom and Sam create a snow tubing business; in another, Deb and Kit run a race; in a story featuring Pug, the dog chases the ice cream truck. In each story, positive values are emphasized. There is nothing overly controversial in these stories… they teach the values of friendship, respect to parents and teachers, loyalty, honesty, etc. However, these aren’t preachy stories, although in one story all four friends visit Deb’s church. The stories won’t elicit any parent or student complaints… they teach your students to read and even enjoy the practice.

Also included in these stories are the focus sound-spellings, Heart Words, 30-second word fluencies, 5 higher level comprehension questions, and comment or question text boxes. Each of the 54 stories connects to the sounds and spellings instructional sequence from my two reading intervention programs. No, I don’t sell the Sam and Friends Phonics Books separately. They are completely integrated into my two programs listed below. Yes, the books are formatted for interactive reading in Google slides, but also may be printed as eight-page booklets or viewed on tablets, Chromebooks, and phones. So many ways to read these stories and practice what you teach!

These phonics books are ideal for guided reading and independent practice in all reading intervention instructional settings. Check out this quick video, featuring one of the Sam and Friends Phonics Books:  Now, once you’ve watched the video… if you are a reading nerd like me, you’ll want more technical reading stuff about just how decodable these books are, and just how aligned the series is to the science of reading. Check out Decodables Criteria and nerd out!

Intervention Program Science of Reading

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


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The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Intervention Program Science of ReadingDownload 2 FREE lessons (178 slides and a 15 min video) to check out The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Effective. Evidence-based. Accelerated program. Easy-to-teach. Affordable.

This evidence-based, SoR-aligned, accelerated program has been designed for struggling readers ages 8-adult. The 54 lessons each include 5 Daily Google Slide Activities:

5 Daily Google Slide Activities (55 minute lessons, 3 days per week, 18 weeks)

    1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology: Advanced phonemic awareness drills and Greek and Latin Anchor Words to help students learn the high frequency prefixes, roots, and suffixes (5 Minutes).
  1.  Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling: Continuous blending of 4-8 words to learn phonetically regular focus sound-spellings and 2 Heart Words per lesson, plus syllable and spelling rules (10 Minutes). Includes audio and video files.
  2. Sounds and Spellings Practice: Independent practice with text box typing and drag and drop activities for the focus sound-spellings (10 Minutes).
  3. Heart Words Practice: Independent practice with text box typing and drag and drop activities for the 2 words with phonetically irregular sound-spellings (5 Minutes).
  4.  Sam and Friends Phonics Books: Decodable stories with teenage characters and plots for each daily lesson with comprehension questions, margin annotations, and word fluency practice. Beautifully illustrated by noted comic artist, David Rickert. (Slides with text box typing and PDFs in Tablet, Chromebook, and Phone Formats) 25 Minutes

Written for teachers by a teacher. Completely aligned to the science of reading.

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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.


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

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)


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.


“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.” 


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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