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r-controlled Vowels for Big Kids

r-controlled Vowels

The r-controlled Vowels

Although r, l, and do control (change from the usual) the vowel sounds, most phonics programs only include the r-controlled vowels. I agree with this approach. Try watching an l-controlled or w-controlled video lesson on YouTube and your head will start spinning. Much better to include the l-controlled vowels in the context of other sounds, such as the /aw/ diphthong for “al” and “all” and the schwa for the “_le” word parts. The w-controlled vowels are so crazy that they are most-easily learned as outlaw words (sight words). I do recommend showing two w-controlled vowels patterns via spelling sorts: the war /or/ as in warm and the wor /er/ as in word. Most speech therapists agree with this balanced approach, and they are the sounds experts.

Following is the explicit, systematic approach to phonics acquisition via small group workshops from my reading intervention program. Download the entire set of r-controlled vowel lessons and assessment at the end of the article. Plus, get the complete set of FREE diagnostic 13 reading assessments to see which of your BIG KIDS need help with which phonics elements.

How to Teach r-Controlled Vowels

The r-controlled vowels of ar, er, and ir.

The r-controlled Vowels

Introductory Definition: When an follows a vowel, the r changes the sound that the vowel makes. The vowel is called an r-controlled vowel. Sometimes teachers refer to the r as the “bossy r” because the r “bosses” the vowel to make the vowel change its sound.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: ermine, armadillo, and orca each have an which controls the vowel sounds. Examples: /er/ as in her, /ar/ as in car, and /or/ as in for. The /er/ ermine has three different spellings, which can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a syllable.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching r-controlled vowels to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the r-controlled vowel spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the diphthong cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the diphthongs through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the The r-controlled Vowels Lessons and Assessment FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards and speech articulation songs. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Assessment-based Instruction provides diagnostically-based “second chance” instructional resources. The program includes 13 comprehensive assessments and matching instructional resources to fill in the yet-to-be-mastered gaps in phonemic awareness, alphabetic awareness, phonics, fluency (with YouTube modeled readings), Heart Words and Phonics Games, spelling patterns, grammar, usage, and mechanics, syllabication and morphology, executive function shills. Second Half of the Year Program (25 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program BUNDLE  includes all 3 program components for the comprehensive, state-of-the-art (and science) grades 4-adult full-year program. Scripted, easy-to-teach, no prep, no need for time-consuming (albeit valuable) LETRS training or O-G certification… Learn as you teach and get results NOW for your students. Print to speech with plenty of speech to print instructional components.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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Consonant Blends for Big Kids

Short Vowels Sound-Spellings

Short Vowels

In most explicit, systematic phonics programs, the short vowels (our most predictable and consistent sound-spelling relationships are taught first, along with the most frequently occurring consonant sounds. This is true whether using speech to print or print to speech instruction. I start with short /a/, m, t, and s. These give us quite a few words to study: as, am, mat, sat, Sam, tam, and fat. By way of reminder, they do not give us ma, as in “ma” and “pa.” A different sound altogether!

Instructional Sequence for Consonant Blends

Consonant Blends Instructional Sequence

I will admit that these first four letter-sound correspondences don’t permit compelling reading. As much as I support connecting phonics instruction to reading, the first decodable book in my 54 Sam and Friends Reading Phonics Books is not a can’t put it down page-turner even with the two Heart Words (words with one or more non-phonetic parts) introduced with each eight-page book. But since this is a reading intervention program and the goal is get struggling readers brought up to grade-level as soon as possible, all short vowels and consonants are taught (and learned) within the first three weeks.

By that time, our Book 7 Sam and Friends story with teenage cartoon characters and complex plots is getting pretty fun to read. But hold onto your hats: the consonant blends are going to open up a whole new world for reading. Wahoo!

Now, an important disclaimer… Not all reading specialists advocate teaching consonant blends. Dr. Louisa Moats would say that there is no such phoneme as /bl/, so we should only teach the /b/ and /l/ as separate phonemes. Of course, she is right; however, once we teach the separate phonemes and reinforce them a beginning, medial, and ending sounds, most teachers believe that the consonant blends are better orthographically mapped when practiced together.

To learn how to quickly teach consonant blends to big kids and adults (those who just didn’t get it the first time around), I’ll provide a working definition and a few teaching tips.

Consonant Blends for RtI

Consonant Blends for Big Kids

How to Teach Consonant Blends

Definition: Consonant blends are two (or three) letters which make two (or three) sounds. We have both beginning and ending consonant blends. Remember that blends are not digraphs. Consonant digraphs are two (or three) letters which form one sound.

Qualification: The consonant blends are not to be memorized, nor “mushed” together as one sound. By definition, a consonant blend includes two or three phonemes (speech sounds) that are represented as graphemes (spellings). Each phoneme must retain its own sound as we teach students the consonant blends.

Diagnosis: The first step is to determine what is missing from the your students’ knowledge of the consonant blends phonics patterns. Your big kids and adults are smarter than beginning pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. In fact, I see two mistakes canned reading intervention programs make all-too-often: 1. The program doesn’t move fast enough. Believe me, your remedial readers have heard this stuff all before. They will tune you out and lull themselves into “remedial reading sleep-state” or jump into poor behavior mode if the instructional pace is not brisk and demanding. 2. All whole-class instruction and no individual or small group gap-filling. Teachers want to be thorough. They want to teach the whole thing. I agree, but the whole-class direct instruction of sound-by-sound blending and syllabication should be coupled with concurrent, assessment-based gap-filling. Having taught reading intervention courses to grades 3-6 elementary, 7-8 middle school, 9-10 high school, and community college students, I can assure you that the most successful remedial reading instruction includes A through Z whole-class teaching of the sound-spellings and gap-filling, assessment-based individualized instruction.

Application… Use a systematic, explicit, and hurried instructional scope and sequence for phonics and syllables instruction. (You’ll get my 16-week plan with your FREE download.) Connect the instruction with reading decodable text for authentic practice. Also administer prescriptive diagnostic phonics assessments that will allow you to teach to individual student deficits while you are teaching and students are practicing the whole thing. Teachers have used my FREE reading assessments for years to pinpoint phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words deficits. These assessments will inform your instruction. For the purposes of this article, the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment pinpoints which consonant blends sound-spellings students have not yet mastered.

The second step is to follow a research-tested instructional scope and sequence. The instructional scope and sequence should guide both your whole-class phonics and syllabication instruction and your assessment-based individualized (or in groups) instruction. For example, teach the consonant sounds before teaching consonant blends in both both your sound-by-sound blending and in assessment-based mini-lessons, guided reading, worksheets, etc.

Teachers should layer in a mix of beginning and ending consonant blends by frequency of use and by utility. Because our task is to teach reading, not to teach phonics as our end-goal, we have to connect instruction to authentic reading practice. Now by authentic, I mean narrative and expository reading practice, not just words or sentence practice. In other words, fist teach the high utility consonant blends which are connected to decodable books. Your students need targeted practice.

The third step is to group students who have demonstrated that they have not yet achieved mastery with the consonant blend sound-spellings. Grouping is just more efficient than purely individual instruction. Teachers use a variety of small group formats. Literacy centers have become a popular option to provide remedial instruction within some centers (stations), while offering grade-level and/or accelerated instruction in other centers. Mini-lessons and collaborative or individual worksheets can work well in groups. Guided reading, if focused on targeted sound-spellings, can do the job. I like and have used a combination of approaches, usually beginning a group with quick instruction, followed by individualized practice, and ending (not necessarily on the same day) with formative assessment and re-teaching as necessary. By the way, I’m a big advocate of student self-correction of their own practice. Kids do learn from their own mistakes.

The fourth step is to develop and use formative assessments to determine mastery. Big kids and adults improve reading most when the instruction is designed by comprehensive, teachable diagnostic assessments and is adjusted as needed by the results of quick, pinpoint formative assessments. In the FREE five consonant blend lessons, the fifth lesson is a one-minute formative assessment. You’ll know whether students have or have not mastered the consonant blends. Teachers need to have back-up lessons in case the student does not master the consonant blends on the formative assessment. A solid foundation will allow students to learn additional reading skills.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards and speech articulation songs. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Assessment-based Instruction provides diagnostically-based “second chance” instructional resources. The program includes 13 comprehensive assessments and matching instructional resources to fill in the yet-to-be-mastered gaps in phonemic awareness, alphabetic awareness, phonics, fluency (with YouTube modeled readings), Heart Words and Phonics Games, spelling patterns, grammar, usage, and mechanics, syllabication and morphology, executive function shills. Second Half of the Year Program (25 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program BUNDLE  includes all 3 program components for the comprehensive, state-of-the-art (and science) grades 4-adult full-year program. Scripted, easy-to-teach, no prep, no need for time-consuming (albeit valuable) LETRS training or O-G certification… Learn as you teach and get results NOW for your students. Print to speech with plenty of speech to print instructional components.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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

How to Practice Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Well, I stirred up somewhat of a ruckus with my companion article titled “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” and I think I understand why. Admittedly, the hook is designed to do exactly what we teachers teach our students: Grab the readers’ attention and make them want to read more.” Back in high school, my fellow journalist, Kraig King, somehow was able to get this story headline approved by Mr. Devlin, our school newspaper teacher: “Drugs Are Great” with the first sentence following with “that’s what my friend Joe kept telling me.” Every student read that article.

In my previous article I provided evidence that the reading community of practitioners (we teachers and reading specialists) and academics (reading researchers) really don’t have a consensus as to what exactly is reading comprehension. The instructional implications seem clear to me: We shouldn’t assess or pretend to teach what we don’t know.

I also cautioned that teachers face enormous pressure to adopt a particular definition of reading comprehension from administrators and publishers of assessments and curricula. I’ll say it again, “We have to be crap detectors” in our business of teaching students.

Since “everyone and their mother” (horrible grammar) has their own definition of reading comprehension, I developed my own: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

The “when we see it” part of my working definition for reading comprehension offers some practical advice for helping students practice their reading comprehension. Most of us can spot a good reader when we see one. And, fortunately, most teachers are pretty good readers. So let’s remind ourselves about what good readers do.

Here the reading research provides helpful insight. Although causal connections (This teaching practice will effect this learning effect) can rarely be established, we do have a body of statistically significant reading research indicating positive correlations between certain learning practices and reading comprehension… admittedly we beg the question as to just what reading comprehension is; however, this is beside the point for our working definition). For example, oral reading fluency has a statistically significant correlation with reading comprehension; the practice and result share a high correlation (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, and Jenkins).

We may not know exactly “how to get it,” but Johnny has high fluency scores and everyone knows he’s a good reader, so one way to practice reading comprehension would be… let’s be like Johnny. The following is certainly not an exhaustive list of what good readers like Johnny do, but each has research studies supporting statistically significant correlations between the description or practice and reading comprehension. I’ll add on links to that research later. Please comment with relevant links and additional suggestions and I’ll add onto the list. Or, even better yet, challenge my assumptions.

Practice Doing What Good Readers Do

Practice Reading Comprehension

Students Practicing Reading Comprehension

  • Good readers are fluent in all senses of the word, both orally and silently.
  • Good readers understand why they are reading something and tend to read toward a specific purpose.
  • Good readers are smart. Sad, but true. We educators wish that every student had the aptitude or capability to be brilliant, but nature gets in the way. In one way or another, reading is a thinking activity and good thinkers have the opportunity to be good readers. Maybe someday we will understand the brain enough to even the playing field, but we are still a long way from that day.
  • Good readers bring plenty of prior knowledge to the table through experience, content learning, practice, study skills. Good for them, but not for all our students. Nurture gets in the way. Fortunately, we have some of the tools needed to somewhat level the playing field, but it takes a lot of work.
  • Good readers have a good understanding of English idioms. English-language learners do have challenges here. Let’s be honest.
  • Good readers read for meaning and monitor their own comprehension.
  • Good readers dialogue with the text and see the reading experience as interactive between reader and author and others. They question the text.
  • Good readers have high vocabularies, especially Tier 1 and Tier 2 words.
  • Good readers know how to find resources to help them understand difficult text.
  • Good readers are flexible: Good readers vary reading speed, re-read what they don’t understand, know when to skim and not to skim.
  • Good readers know what’s important and what’s not.
  • Good readers know they need to infer meaning from the text and draw conclusions.
  • Good readers relate one part of the text to others.
  • Good readers understand text structure.
  • Good readers understand the craft of writing.
  • Good readers understand how genre affects story development.
  • Good readers do a better job of answering recall and inferential reading selection questions.
  • Good readers read narrative differently than expository text.

Teaching Practices to Practice Reading Comprehension

I’ll keep the explanations in this list short and let the links broaden any topics or ideas you may wish to explore. Several of the lists include ready-to-use resources to help your students practice reading comprehension. I suggest teachers use this list as a sort of a “I do that (pat on the back affirmation),” “I used to do that (reminder that you should use that practice again),” and “I want to think about doing that or do that instead of what I’m doing” self-analysis.

1. Think-Alouds: Good readers (both teachers and students) can share how they understand and interpret text in light of their own personal and academic experiences, text-based strategies, self-questioning, and monitoring for understanding. Click HERE for suggestions as to how to use this technique. Think-Alouds will help your students understand what reading is, for example connecting parts of text, and what reading isn’t, for example, word calling.

2. Close Readings: If you haven’t heard of close readings, you’ve been asleep at the wheel. If you read my article, Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely, you may wind up with a different take on this trendy reading strategy, but it is still useful to help students practice reading comprehension and it works well in conjunction with think-alouds and external, text dependent questions.

3. External Questions: Any search of Common Core reading standards will bring up text dependent questions, the favorite subject of the Common Core authors, after the need for text complexity. The time-tested QAR Reading Strategy helps students practice comprehension through recognizing and applying the types of text-dependent questions publishers, teachers, and good readers ask themselves about text.

4. Internal Questions: Reading research indicates that self-generated reader questioning improves reading comprehension as much or even more than publisher or teacher questions. My article, How to Improve Reading Comprehension with Self-Questioning, provides a helpful overview and summary of the research. Also, I’ve developed a useful set of five internal questions which prompt active engagement with both narrative and expository text. These SCRIP Comprehension Strategies (includes posters, five worksheets, and SCRIP Bookmarks) are memorable and effective. Plus, they provide a language of instruction for literary discussions.

5. Student Monitoring of Text: Teaching students to self-monitor their reading comprehension is wonderful practice. Read my article, Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head, for a nice explanation of how to read interactively. Follow up with a think-aloud and have students pair share their own think-alouds. Now that’s reading comprehension practice!

6. Literary Discussions: When we build upon (and sometimes revise) prior knowledge with relevant content and life experience, we better comprehend text. Modeling and practicing thinking skills via Socratic Seminars, literacy circles, cooperative groups, and the like help students practice reading comprehension, which is truly a listening and speaking skill. Check out How to Lead Effective Group Discussions to fine tune your discussion experience. Also check out my Critical Thinking Openers.

7. Pre-teach and Re-teach: Read the king of these reading comprehension practices (Marzano). We have to level the playing field by making text accessible to all students. By the way, why not show the movie first before reading the novel upon which it is based? Just an idea, but an effective one. Give students the keys to effective reading comprehension practice; don’t withhold them.

8. Fluency Practice: Students need both oral and silent fluency practice. Check out these articles: How and Why to Teach Fluency, Differentiated Fluency Practice, and Reading Fluency Homework. The Science of Reading Intervention Program provides modeled oral reading fluency practice at three separate speeds. The expository animal fluency passages are tiered in terms of reading level: the first two paragraphs of each article at grade 3, the next two paragraphs at grade 5, and the last two at grade 7. Each article has word counts and corresponding timing sheets.

9. Syllabication Practice: The original and new editions Rewards (Archer) programs stretch decoding to the multi-syllabic academic vocabulary that we want students to practice to improve reading comprehension. My own Syllable Transformers (a nice article with lesson downloads) activity is essential practice for students at all reading levels. You’ll also want to check out these great reference lists: Syllable Rules with Examples and Accent Rules with Examples.

10. Vocabulary Practice with the Common Core Language Standards: The best section of the Common Core State Standards, and perhaps the only set of Standards that has produced universal praise and no criticism is found in the Language Strand: Standards 4, 5, and 6. Every teacher and reading researcher agrees that a growing and targeted vocabulary is a prerequisite and concurrent necessity to improving reading comprehension. The Common Core State Standards Appendix A  argument by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown that teachers should focus on Tier 2 words academic words has wide acceptance as does the teaching of Greek and Latin word parts. Check out this resource: How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes.

Furthermore, teachers should check out the research-based Academic Word List used in my Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits. Following are nice ready-to-teach samples as to how to teach these Standards: Four Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers, and Four Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers.

11. Independent Reading for Vocabulary Acquisition and Content Knowledge:  The best homework? Independent reading with accountability: not for reading comprehension practice, per se, but for vocabulary acquisition and content knowledge. Read a set of articles HERE regarding how to set up an effective independent reading program with accountability and how to help students select books at the optimal word recognition levels. No, you do not need Lexiles, nor Accelerated Reader. Teach your students how to maximize vocabulary acquisition by using the FP’S BAG SALE Context Clues Strategies lesson, including two practice worksheets with answers.

12. Read a Variety of Genre: True, the Common Core State Standards have renewed our focus on non-narrative genre, but the Standards do not outlaw short stories, poetry, and novels. Check our this particularly helpful resource: How to Read Textbooks with PQ RAR.

13. Write About Reading: A good writing program is excellent reading comprehension practice. See Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection.

14. Fill in the Gaps: Help students practice reading comprehension by ensuring that they have the necessary tools to do so. We know that good readers have phonemic awareness and they can apply the alphabetic code through their knowledge of how sounds connect to spellings. In other words, good readers tend to have their phonics mastered, irrespective of how they got there; they can decode. That’s simply not up for debate anymore.  We also know that good readers tend to have the “other side of the coin” mastered as well, that is they can encode (spell) the sound-spellings.

“75% of children who were poor readers in the 3rd grade remained poor readers in the 9th grade and could not read well when they became adults.” – Joseph Torgeson from Catch Them Before They Fall

Check out these FREE diagnostic reading and spelling assessments to determine exactly which gaps to fill. These assessments pinpoint specific, teachable areas that students have not yet mastered, but need to. These are comprehensive assessments, not random samples indicating a generic “problem area.” For example, the Vowel Sound Phonics Assessment will indicate that Raphael has not mastered the Long a, ai_. For example, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment does not indicate a problem with syllable juncture as a qualitative spelling inventory might; instead, the test would indicate that Frances does not understand the consonant-le spelling patterns.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments?

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards and speech articulation songs. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Assessment-based Instruction provides diagnostically-based “second chance” instructional resources. The program includes 13 comprehensive assessments and matching instructional resources to fill in the yet-to-be-mastered gaps in phonemic awareness, alphabetic awareness, phonics, fluency (with YouTube modeled readings), Heart Words and Phonics Games, spelling patterns, grammar, usage, and mechanics, syllabication and morphology, executive function shills. Second Half of the Year Program (25 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program BUNDLE  includes all 3 program components for the comprehensive, state-of-the-art (and science) grades 4-adult full-year program. Scripted, easy-to-teach, no prep, no need for time-consuming (albeit valuable) LETRS training or O-G certification… Learn as you teach and get results NOW for your students. Print to speech with plenty of speech to print instructional components.

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Okay, I’ll admit it; the article title is a bit of an attention grabber. However, as an MA reading specialist and author of plenty of reading programs over the years, I do believe that the title does point to some helpful advice. And I don’t believe I’m splitting hairs or making a distinction without a difference (pick your figure of speech) by advising “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” here while alternatively advocating “How to Practice Reading Comprehension” in my companion article. Teaching is different than practicing.

Let’s Be Honest About Teaching Reading Comprehension

Years ago I served as an elementary reading specialist, training teachers in our district-adopted reading program. I had plenty of diagnostic and instructional tools in my toolbox, ready to hand out to teachers to improve the quality of reading instruction for their classes and individual students. Fresh from my masters program, I knew stuff that the teachers did not and I felt pretty good about the level of my expertise.

At a grade level team meeting, veteran teachers were asking me about the results of their San Diego Quick Assessments, how to teach the r, l, w controlled vowels, and my take on schema theory. I was on a roll. Next, teachers tossed out their progress monitoring assessments and I suggested how to improve the fluency of Raphael, how to teach the Heart Words to Marci, and how to get Huong to practice his common Greek and Latin prefixes. Teachers were nodding their heads in a approval, and I was just about to step down from my throne and dismiss my subjects when a brand new teacher asked the question about Alberto: Even though Alberto has mastered all of his high frequency words, mastered hi Heart Words, passed the phonics tests, and has the second highest fluency rate in the class, why can’t he tell me about what he has read or answer any simple questions about the reading?

The question stopped me dead in my tracks. I faked the answer pretty well, suggesting something along the lines of confusion with his primary language (Spanish) and English, auditory problems, dietary issues, and perhaps some degree of cognitive impairment. But her follow-up question was devastating: “How can I teach reading comprehension to him?” I had no answer. We never covered that in my MA reading specialist program. I muttered something about the issue being complicated and said I’d get back to her. I never did.

Since those early years as an elementary reading specialist, I’ve also served as both a middle and high school reading intervention teacher and a reading instructor at a community college. After a few years under my belt, I’ve learned to be more like that new teacher. I ask harder questions and I’m not satisfied with simplistic or speculative answers. Today my answer to her question would be, “We don’t know how to teach reading comprehension, so don’t teach it.” However, that answer does require some explanation. First, let’s take a look at why we can’t teach reading comprehension; next, the instructional implications; and lastly in my companion article, how to help students practice reading comprehension.

Why We Can’t Teach Reading Comprehension

In the short-lived 1969-1970 television show, Then Came Bronson, a middle-aged man in a business hat pulls his family station wagon alongside the lead character, Bronson, who is riding a

Then Cam Bronson

“Wherever I wind up, I guess”

motorcycle.

The car driver asks, “Taking a trip?”

Bronson shakes his head and answers, “Yeah.”

 “Where to?”

 “I don’t know… Wherever I wind up, I guess.”

 “Man, I wish I was you…”

“Really, well hang in there.”

Great dialogue… We all want to be about the journey with no cares about the destination, but this attitude is simply not acceptable when applied to the subject of reading comprehension. We need to know where we are going before we figure out how to get there. So, just what is reading comprehension and how do we get there?

What is Reading Comprehension? We Don’t All Agree

I googled “reading comprehension definition” and found these top results from practitioners:

“Simply put, reading comprehension is the act of understanding what you are reading” (K12 Reader).

“Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read… For many years, reading instruction was based on a concept of reading as the application of a set of isolated skills such as identifying words, finding main ideas, identifying cause and effect relationships, comparing and contrasting and sequencing. Comprehension was viewed as the mastery of these skills.” (Reading Rockets).

“I’ve noticed that many books about reading, and specifically about comprehension for that matter, don’t even define what comprehension is. Perhaps it’s assumed that we all know what it is; or maybe comprehension is a slippery term that we have trouble grasping, or comprehending, if you will!” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers this definition: ‘capacity of the mind to perceive and understand.’ Reading comprehension, then, would be the capacity to perceive and understand the meanings communicated by texts. Simple, huh? Clear. Now we comprehend comprehension! (Jeff Wilhelm, Scholastic).

Next, I googled “reading comprehension scholarly definition” and found a wide variety of results from the academics:

“We define reading comprehension as the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language. We use the words extracting and constructing to emphasize both the importance and the insufficiency of the text as a determinant of reading comprehension” (Greenleaf, Murphy, Schoenbach).

“Reading comprehension is the construction of the meaning of a written or spoken communication through a reciprocal, holistic interchange of ideas between the interpreter and the message.
. . . The presumption here is that meaning resides in the intentional problem-solving, thinking processes of the interpreter, . . . that the content of the meaning is influenced by that
person’s prior knowledge and experience” (Harris and Hodges).

“From a cognitive or psycholinguistic perspective, comprehension is viewed as a process of constructing meaning in transaction with texts” (Goodman, 1996; Smith, 2004).¹

“(Reading comprehension is) a combination of decoding and oral comprehension skills” (Hoover & Gough, 1990).²

“From a post-structuralist or socio-cultural perspective, there is no meaning that simply resides in a text until a reader with the requisite knowledge and skills constructs the meaning with the signs on a page (McCormick, 1995; O’Neill,1993).³

1,2,3 from Rethinking Reading Comprehension: Definitions, Instructional Practices, and Assessment (Serafini).

One observation: I can’t tell you how many times I read the equivalent of “After years of… there is a growing consensus that…” for diametrically opposed summaries of the reading research.

I read the experts in cognitive science. Professor Daniel Willingham from the University of Virginia is quoted in the Washington Post:

Can reading comprehension be taught? In this blog post, I’ll suggest that the most straightforward answer is “no.” Reading comprehension strategies (1) don’t boost comprehension per se; (2) do indirectly help comprehension but; (3) don’t need to be practiced.

Finally, I went to the Common Core State Standards to see how the authors weighed in on reading comprehension. The Common Core Standards divides its Reading Standards into Reading Foundational Skills, Reading Literature, and Reading Informational Text. Its Appendix A focuses on text complexity, but offers no working definition of reading comprehension. The closest we get to a definition is “the ability to perform literacy tasks.”

Instructional Implications

At this point we are, at best, left with this working definition of reading comprehension: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

Now, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It does provide some helpful hints about the limitations of reading assessments and instructional strategies. At the minimum, this working definition

"Don't Follow Leaders"

(From Don’t Look Back produced by Leacock-Pennebaker (1965); Pennebaker Films)

informs our “crap detectors” and keeps us questioning authority. “Don’t follow leaders; watch your parking meters” (Dylan).

We Can’t and Shouldn’t Assess Reading Comprehension

Assessments are designed to measure stuff. If we can’t agree on what we are testing, reading comprehension assessments may actually lead us into teaching to the results of the test, rather than helping students improve comprehension. Reading comprehension tests become self-fulfilling prophesies. Additionally, publishers love comprehension assessments that test concrete skills: Think test prep materials, skill workbooks, etc.

Teachers should rightfully be cautious about making instructional decisions from the results of the Common Core Standards-based PAARC and Smarter Balanced tests. These high stakes tests drive instructional decisions which often counter reading research and teacher judgment. The pressure to make these achievement tests the arbiters of what reading comprehension is and is not is increasingly difficult for teachers to challenge. Furthermore, each of the criterion-referenced and normed assessments purporting to measure reading comprehension have their own biases: the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, Second Edition (KTEA-II), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III), Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ III ACH), The Gray Oral Reading Tests, Fifth Edition (GORT-5), Test of Reading Comprehension, Fourth Edition (TORC-4), Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests Terra Nova Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) Stanford Achievement Test, etc.

As a reading specialist for quite a few years, I also recommend not using informal reading inventories to measure comprehension. I am a huge advocate for teacher-based reading assessments, but not with comprehension. If we can’t test it (and we can’t), we can’t teach it. Make sure to avoid making reading assessments “walk on all fours.” I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve known who use the Slosson, San Diego Quick, or the Read Naturally Brief Oral Screener and predictors of reading grade level. Wrong. And for goodness sake, avoid using the Accelerated Reader STAR test for the same misguided purpose.

The results of the above tests give us nothing to reliably inform our reading instruction. Be suspect of aggregated results which purport to provide useful instructional information. And labels can lead to silly instructional decisions, for example, tracking all far below basic readers into remedial reading classes. As if each low-performing reader had the same reading issues. Sigh.

What Doesn’t Improve Reading Comprehension

Time to step on a few toes. We may not be able to define exactly what reading comprehension is and we may not know how to assess or directly teach reading comprehension, but by any of the working definitions, assessment results, and reading research detailed in the National Reading Panel Report most of us would agree that the following practices do not improve reading comprehension.

1. Free Voluntary Reading (Sustained Silent Reading)

According to noted reading researcher, Doctor Timothy Shanahan in his August 13, 2017 article:

NRP did conclude that there was no convincing evidence that giving kids free reading time during the school day improved achievement — or did so very much. There has been a lot of work on that since NRP but with pretty much the same findings: either no benefits to that practice or really small benefits (a .05 effect size — which is tiny). Today, NRP would likely conclude that practice is not beneficial rather than that there is insufficient data. But that’s arguable, of course.

Remember that this is regarding reading comprehension, not vocabulary acquisition.

2. Teaching according to learning styles and multiple intelligences. Click HERE for the a complete debunking of these misguided approaches.

3. Visual (graphophonic) reading strategies. Over-reliance on letter shapes, pictures, and context clues to practice reading comprehension is, indeed, a “psycholinguistic guessing game” (Goodman) and the results of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s strongly suggest that whatever reading comprehension is, it isn’t something that ignores the alphabetic code.

4. Leveling books for guided reading by “comprehension grade level” (whatever that means). Also, use Lexiles only as flexible guidelines for independent reading or for selecting class novels.

5. Reading ability groups by reading comprehension levels. Whatever reading comprehension is, it’s not a skill which can be taught to a flexible ability group, such as a group of students who don’t know their basic sight words.

6. Reading strategy worksheets. It’s not that worksheets don’t have a place… they do, but teaching main idea, inferencing, drawing conclusions, visualizing, and text

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

Don’t Teach Reading Strategies???

structure are important tools for skillful readers to acquire, but passing out skill worksheets on each and excessive practice does not teach reading comprehension. Read this article, “Should We Teach Reading Strategies?” for more reasons.

7. Reading techniques, such as close reading, the QAR strategy, reciprocal teaching, and even the KWL may be helpful, but in them of themselves they don’t teach reading comprehension and even too much of a good thing can be counterproductive.

So, if you agree with my advice: Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension, you may be interested in the specifics on How to Practice Reading Comprehension. The article goes into detail about practicing reading comprehension that way good readers do and has a wealth of article and ready-to-teach FREE resources and lessons. How about a great FREEBIE now? Here you go…

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards and speech articulation songs. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Assessment-based Instruction provides diagnostically-based “second chance” instructional resources. The program includes 13 comprehensive assessments and matching instructional resources to fill in the yet-to-be-mastered gaps in phonemic awareness, alphabetic awareness, phonics, fluency (with YouTube modeled readings), Heart Words and Phonics Games, spelling patterns, grammar, usage, and mechanics, syllabication and morphology, executive function shills. Second Half of the Year Program (25 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program BUNDLE  includes all 3 program components for the comprehensive, state-of-the-art (and science) grades 4-adult full-year program. Scripted, easy-to-teach, no prep, no need for time-consuming (albeit valuable) LETRS training or O-G certification… Learn as you teach and get results NOW for your students. Print to speech with plenty of speech to print instructional components.

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Assessment-based Individualized Learning

First Steps toward Assessment-based Individualize Learning

Assessment-based Individualize Learning

Every educational movement needs a catchy new acronym. ABIL will have to do for mine: Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Simply put, it’s the supplemental instruction students need to help them catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. It’s a realistic approach, developed by a teacher without miraculous class management skills and without perfectly behaved students.

What It’s Not

  • ABIL is nothing new. Teachers have been doing it forever.
  • It’s not about creating individual educational plans for every student.
  • It’s not a replacement for rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • It’s not funky differentiated instruction.
  • It’s not one teaching methodology: small groups, lit circles, writers workshop, learning centers, literacy centers (stations), etc.
  • Impossible or unmanageable.

What It Is

  • Foundational content, concepts, and skills that every student needs to access rigorous Standards-based, grade-level instruction.
  • Reliable and valid diagnostic assessments to determine individual student mastery and deficits in those prerequisites. Assessments which are comprehensive and teachable−not random samples.
  • Curriculum which directly corresponds to each assessment item with progress monitoring matrices to ensure student mastery and is conducive to concurrent instruction in grade-level Standards.
  • The key ingredient of RtI (Response to Intervention) besides quality, accessible grade-level instruction.
  • What SPED, ELL, and ELD students need most.
  • How you would want your own child taught with rigorous grade-level instruction and individualized learning to remediate any relative weaknesses.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, is a teacher-publisher of English-language arts and reading intervention programs. Mark provides ELA and reading assessments and curricular resources to implement Assessment-based Individualized Learning. Want to check out the curriculum, designed to help all learners with rigorous, standards-aligned grade-level instruction and concurrent remedial learning? Click here. to view these grammar, mechanics, reading, spelling, writing, and vocabulary resources. Want to download the assessments, answers, and recording matrices described above for your students? Feel free to download each and thanks for checking out my ABIL instructional resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the The Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

Get the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment with Audio File and Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Audio File, and Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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Research-Based Vocabulary Worksheets

The two most often-used methods of vocabulary instruction include passing out a vocabulary list to be memorized for the Friday quiz and pre-teaching a few vocabulary words prior to reading. Each method has its limitations. Retention of rote memorization without reinforced, deliberate practice is minimal. Exposure to a key word in a reading selection without context provides minimal understanding.

Whereas the Common Core State Standards have been widely criticized in some academic areas, I’ve never heard a parent, student, or teacher criticize the vocabulary Standards detailed in the Language Strand. Whether states re-write, re-name, or simply re-number the Common Core State Standards, the essential components of vocabulary instruction are retained. As an MA reading specialist, both vocabulary acquisition and retention are the keys to the kingdom. But minds are not simply empty vessels to be filled with ACT/SAT vocabulary; minds are also to be trained to acquire and retain words on their own. The latter is not the natural process that some describe (or hope for). Surely the process of vocabulary growth can be made more efficient and accurate with training. That’s where good teaching comes in… and one important instructional strategy is the research-based vocabulary worksheet.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a vocabulary worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

Most of the Tier II academic (not content-specific) language is gained through widespread reading of challenging text, Reading lots of words matters, but reading at a word recognition level of about 5% unknown words, coupled with context clues instruction and practice maximizes the amount of vocabulary acquisition and retention. According the writers of the Common Core, text complexity really matters. Research-based vocabulary worksheets can help provide deliberate practice in how to independently grow vocabulary.

The second key to vocabulary development is deep instruction in the words themselves. Passing out the vocabulary list to memorize is not “deep instruction.” Let’s take a look at the Common Core Vocabulary Standards to understand. Following are the eighth grade Standards. Highlights are my own to facilitate skimming and to provide your own vocabulary check-list of “Do that,” “Don’t do that, but need to” self-evaluation. After the Standards follows research-based vocabulary worksheets from my grades 4-8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  programs and the grades 4-8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit (slices of the aforementioned programs) to see how each of the Language Strand Vocabulary Standards L.4, 5, and 6 are incorporated into weekly classroom practice. The examples are from the fifth grade program. Yes, flashcards and tests are included in each program. Each program follows a grades 4-8 instructional scope and sequence and includes the Tier II Academic Words List.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4
Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.A
Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.B
Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., precede, recede, secede).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.C
Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4.D
Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.A
Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.B
Use the relationship between particular words to better understand each of the words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.C
Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., bullheaded, willful, firm, persistent, resolute).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
 [pdf-embedder url=”https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Vocabulary-Worksheets.pdf”]

Check out the research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheet and the research-based spelling patterns worksheets.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary   programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

 
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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Research-Based Spelling Worksheets

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4-8

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Years ago at the height of the whole language movement in California, a fourth grade teacher began his first year of teaching. Committed to teaching to the individual needs of his students, he consulted his mom for advice. Mom had recently retired after teaching 35 years as an intermediate and upper elementary teacher. She also had waded into the middle school environment for a few years before settling down in fifth grade for the last ten years of her career. Mom suggested that he assess his students and then assign targeted worksheets to address specific deficits indicated by the assessments. Her son had never heard this in his experiential learning teacher training program. He knew how to do role plays and simulations, but not much about teaching (even in his methods classes).

Mom climbed up into the attic and brought down her neatly packed boxes of teaching files. She dug out hundreds of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and reading worksheets for her son to check out.

The rookie teacher was overwhelmed at the treasure trove of resources. Most of the worksheets fit the fourth grade age level and were quite good. As a veteran teacher, mom had carefully weeded out the “drill and kill” worksheets and had saved the ones that students learned from best. Every worksheet had been field tested and had Mom’s seal of approval. Some of the worksheets were from educational publishers long out of business or bought up by huge educational syndicates, but most of the worksheets were Mom’s own–no doubt revisions of store-bought products. Half of these worksheets were on old mimeograph (ditto) paper (Remember the smell?) Half of them were word processed documents after the advent of cheaper school copiers and duplo machines.

Mom warned her son not to share the worksheets with colleagues. No, she wasn’t worried about the copyright infringements; she was worried that her untenured son would be accused of not solely teaching the district adopted curriculum. She had heard that State Superintendent of Schools, Bill Honig, had removed workbooks from the approved supplemental resource list and was even reported as telling principals to confiscate any spelling workbooks at school sites. Those were the early days of the National Writing Project in which spelling (and punctuation, grammar, and word choice) were relegated to the editing-only stage of the writing process. Teachers regularly told students not to worry about spelling (or anything smacking of language conventions) during the rough draft stage of their writing because they could “clean up” the language for their final draft. If they chose to complete final drafts.

What Happened to Spelling Test Scores?

Of course spelling, grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary scores plummeted during the late 1980s and early 1990s, sparking yet another “Back to Basics” movement. Mom had warned her son about the cyclical nature of educational movements and philosophies. “Been there; done that,” said Mom. “Remember that your first priority is to your students. You will learn what works best. But don’t be dumb. Wait until you’re tenured to share any of these worksheets with your colleagues. They’ll want them… even the ones that have said otherwise.”

In his fourth grade classroom the new teacher faithfully taught the district adopted curriculum, but he found time to “sneak in” worksheets targeted to individual assessment-based skills and concepts deficits. Students completed assigned worksheets, self-corrected and self-edited any errors from the Answer Book, and brought up the graded worksheet to their teacher for review. Each worksheet had a short test (a formative assessment) to see if the student had mastered the focus skill or concept. The test was a short written application to see if the student understood and could use what was learned correctly. Most of the time the student successfully masted the skill. Students loved completing the worksheets and placing the gold star next to their name on the wall poster.

The spring test results came in shortly after school started back up in September. The principal called in the now second-year teacher and asked him why his test scores were so much higher than those of his grade level team. “I just followed the district-adopted curriculum and I had great kids,” he replied.

That night he took Mom out to dinner.

Poor Spellers Are Not Born That Way

Spelling is Not Genetic

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a spelling worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

As publisher of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction (slices of the aforementioned programs), our company has applied the following research suggestions to create research-based spelling worksheets. Following will state the research suggestions listed as “Dos” in the above article and the specific worksheet applications of the research will follow with the worksheets from the programs listed above. A sample Spelling Patterns Worksheet is provided thereafter.

  1. Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. The Spelling Pattern Worksheets are assigned according to the results of the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (the link connects to the eight grade assessment). Each of the grades 4-8 assessments includes an audio file to make administration simple (great for make-ups as well). Here’s a link to the eighth grade audio file and to the recording matrix for progress monitoring. These whole class assessments perfectly correspond with the targeted worksheets so that students complete only those grade level spelling patterns which students have not yet mastered. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems. Students are motivated to practice by mastering each unmastered concept or skill, marked with an “/” on the data matrix. Once a student has mastered a worksheet, points are assigned and the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. Yes, gold stars work, too!
  2. Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently. Directions are concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets independently. Each worksheet has been field tested in grades 4-8 classrooms and revised to ensure student success. The applicable spelling rules and examples are provided before the practice section on every worksheet.
  3. Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. The Spelling Pattern Worksheets provide samples (examples) of each focus spelling pattern.
  4. Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it. Students complete a spelling sort to apply the focus spelling pattern. The practice section also includes rhyme, word search, and word jumble activities.
  5. Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedbackStudents complete the spelling sort and practice section and self-correct and self-edit from the Answers Booklet to gain immediate feedback and learn from their own mistakes.
  6. Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. Next, students complete a short formative assessment (a brief written application of the focused spelling patterns) at the bottom of each worksheet and bring up the completed worksheet to the teacher for a mini-conference. The teacher evaluates the formative assessment to determine mastery and quickly checks the practice section to make sure that the student has completed and self-corrected. If mastered, the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. If unmastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches and the student completes the formative assessment once more.
  7. Distribute practice over extended periods of time. Students work at their own pace, completing the Spelling Pattern Worksheets. The teacher provides points for each mastered worksheet.

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING SPELLING RESOURCES. Administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with audio file and recording matrix. It has 102 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has compiled the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary   BUNDLES to teach each of the Common Core Language Strand Standards. The full-year grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs provide 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

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Research-Based Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets

GRAMMAR PROGRAMS from Pennington Publishing

Pennington Publishing GRAMMAR PROGRAMS

Not all worksheets are created alike. Worksheets need not “drill and kill” students to boredom or busy-work. Good teachers can spot a good worksheet when they see one.

Research-based worksheets serve any number of important instructional objectives:

  • Worksheets can target practice in a specific skill or help students learn a new concept.
  • Worksheets can serve as excellent independent practice.
  • Teachers can use worksheets to individualize instruction according to the results of diagnostic assessments.
  • Worksheets can also provide purposeful work while the teacher works one-on-one with a student or with a small group of students.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

As publisher of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook, our company has applied the following research suggestions to create research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets. Following will state the research suggestions listed as “Dos” in the above article and the specific worksheet applications of the research will follow with the worksheets from the programs listed above. A sample Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheet is provided thereafter.

  1. Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. The Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets are assigned according to the results of the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment and the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment. These whole class assessments perfectly correspond with the targeted worksheets so that students complete only those concepts and skills which students have not yet mastered. The teacher monitors progress on a data matrix. The publisher’s worksheet do not teach concepts or skills in isolation. Each is properly contextualized to build upon prior knowledge. Each is taught in the context of writing. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems. Students are motivated to practice by mastering each unmastered concept or skill, marked with an “/” on the data matrix. Once a student has mastered a worksheet, points are assigned and the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix.
  2. Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently. Directions are concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets independently. Each worksheet has been field tested in grades 4-8 classrooms and revised to ensure student success. Definitions of key academic language (and grammar lingo) are provided.
  3. Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. The Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets provide samples (examples) of each instructional application of the focus concept or skill.
  4. Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it. Students complete a practice section that is not too long, and not too short. The practice sections have been carefully designed to be comprehensive, yet not repetitious. Every instructional component of the focus concept or skill has at least one deliberate practice opportunity.
  5. Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedbackStudents complete the practice section and self-correct and self-edit from the Answers Booklet to gain immediate feedback and learn from their own mistakes.
  6. Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. Next, students complete a short formative assessment (a brief written application of the concept or skill) at the bottom of each worksheet and bring up the completed worksheet to the teacher for a mini-conference. The teacher evaluates the formative assessment to determine mastery and quickly checks the practice section to make sure that the student has completed and self-corrected. If mastered, the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. If unmastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches and the student completes the formative assessment once more.
  7. Distribute practice over extended periods of time. Students work at their own pace, completing the Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets. The teacher provides points for each mastered worksheet.

Check out the research-based spelling patterns worksheets and the research-based vocabulary worksheets.

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Syntax Programs

Pennington Publishing Grammar Programs

Teaching Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School) are full-year, traditional, grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics programs with plenty of remedial practice to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level standards. Twice-per-week, 30-minute, no prep lessons in print or interactive Google slides with a fun secret agent theme. Simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts, video lessons, sentence dictations. Plenty of practice in the writing context. Includes biweekly tests and a final exam.

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Interactive Notebook (Grades 4‒8) is a full-year, no prep interactive notebook without all the mess. Twice-per-week, 30-minute, no prep grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons, formatted in Cornell Notes with cartoon response, writing application, 3D graphic organizers (easy cut and paste foldables), and great resource links. No need to create a teacher INB for student make-up work—it’s done for you! Plus, get remedial worksheets, biweekly tests, and a final exam.

Syntax in Reading and Writing is a function-based, sentence level syntax program, designed to build reading comprehension and increase writing sophistication. The 18 parts of speech, phrases, and clauses lessons are each leveled from basic (elementary) to advanced (middle and high school) and feature 5 lesson components (10–15 minutes each): 1. Learn It!  2. Identify It!  3. Explain It! (analysis of challenging sentences) 4. Revise It! (kernel sentences, sentence expansion, syntactic manipulation) 5. Create It! (Short writing application with the syntactic focus in different genre).

Get the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments, Matrix, and Final Exam FREE Resource:

Get the Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 Instructional Scope and Sequence FREE Resource:

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