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Should We Teach High Frequency Words?

Should We Teach High Frequency Words?

High Frequency Words?

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

A seller recently posted this topic:

Sight words – Fry or Dolch? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

But What about Non-phonetic Sight Words?

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

Interested in seeing how I introduce the non-phonetic “outlaw words” and my phonics instructional sequence in my reading intervention program? Want the example words to blend for each of the sound-spellings? You’ll love this FREE download:

Get the Instructional Phonics Sequence FREE Resource:

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Instructional Phonics Order

Phonics Instructional Sequence

Instructional Phonics Order

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

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

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

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

Short vowel sounds and consonant sounds:

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

Ending consonant blends:

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

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

**The unvoiced consonant is made just with air.

Consonant digraphs:

  • wh, ch, _tch

Beginning consonant blends:

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

Long vowel sounds and silent final e:

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

r – controlled vowels:

  • ar
  • or
  • er
  • ir
  • ur

Diphthongs:

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

Syllable Juncture:

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

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

*****

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

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

Interested in seeing how the above Instructional Phonics Order is paced in my intervention program? Want the example words to blend for each of the sound-spellings? You’ll love this FREE download:

Get the Instructional Phonics Sequence FREE Resource:

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Phonics and Spelling Videos

3 Phonics and Spelling Videos

Phonics and Spelling Videos

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

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

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

43 Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

About the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

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

Directions

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

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

Set the instructional expectations for your students, saying

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few tips…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Video #1: Animal Names Chant

 

 

Video #2: Animal Names and Sounds Chant

 

 

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

*****

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

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

Syllable Transformers

Every teacher and parent has heard about transformers: the movies, the action characters, etc. If you’re a parent of a younger child, you know all about Bumblebee.

Since the dawn of the Transformers in 1984, the spunky little Autobot called Bumblebee has been a fan favorite. Why? He was the underdog. He was small, and he was one of the weaker Transformers, but his heart was huge and he showed great bravery on the battlefield. As a result, he was an admired and gentle friend not only to humans, but to his peers as well. And it didn’t hurt that his alternate mode was a cute little yellow Volkswagen Beetle. He now has at least six other transformations! https://screenrant.com/bumblebee-transformers-last-knight-solo-trivia-facts/

What if we could apply that same transformer concept to beginning reading and reading intervention? We can with Syllable Transformers.

FREE Unit on Syllable Transformers

Syllable Transformers

As a reading specialist working with struggling older readers in the 1990s, I had the pleasure of learning from the late Dr. John Sheffelbine from California State University at Sacramento. John was a self-described “phonicator” and created the BPST (Basic Phonics Skills Test) in its various iterations and the Scholastic Phonics Readers. One powerful set of lessons that John developed dealt with open and closed syllables. An open syllable is one which ends in a long vowel e.g. bay; a closed syllable ends in a consonant and the vowel is short e.g. bat.

John hypothesized that the best way to learn these open and closed syllable rules was to practice them together: to see how the vowel sound transforms from one syllable pattern to another. Additionally, because educators were transitioning from the whole language philosophy to a phonics-based approach, many students over-relied on sight words and syllables, rather than upon applying sound-symbol correspondences. The instructional implications were clear that practice in real syllable patterns would not solve the problem for these “look and say” syllable guessers. The answer was to use nonsense syllables. Brilliant!

I tried John’s “Syllable Transformations” and they worked wonders. However, I could see the power of expanding John’s idea to other syllable patterns. I also tweaked his approach to make the methodology a bit more “user-friendly” and “technologically-savvy” (I typed them up and displayed them on a machine we used to call the overhead projector.)

Years later I developed my own comprehensive reading intervention program (promo below), and I included Syllable Transformers as part of the weeks 9–13 instruction in both the half-year intensive and full-year program implementation. Teachers and students love this fast-paced whole-class response activity. I’m sending all of these lessons to your email inbox with the FREE download at the end of this article.

Week 9: Open and Closed Syllables

A vowel at the end of a syllable (CV) usually has a long vowel sound. This pattern is called an open syllable. The syllable following begins with a consonant. Example: below.

A vowel before a syllable-ending consonant (VC) is usually short. This pattern is called a closed syllable. The syllable following begins with a consonant. Example: bas-ket.

Weeks 10–11: Silent Final e Syllable Rule

The silent final e makes the vowel before a long sound, if only one consonant sound is between the two (VCe). For example, lately.

Weeks 12–13: Vowel Teams Syllable Rule

Usually keep vowel teams together in the same syllable. For example, beau-ty.

Syllable Worksheets and Derivative Worksheets: Following the Syllable Transformers, we continue learning the more complicated syllable patterns with real word blending.

Check out this quick video on how to teach Syllable Transformers: Syllable Transformers

*****

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Get the Vowel Transformers FREE Resource:

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading is Like Driving

Good Drivers Multi-task

Driving is Like Reading

Reading is a lot like driving. Let’s stick with a car for the purposes of our comparison.

Everyone knows that driving a car is a complicated process. No one jumps into the driver’s seat and begins driving without some sort of instruction. Driving is especially challenging because it involves multi-tasking. To be able to drive, the driver must understand how the car works, know how to use the machine, remember and apply the traffic rules, and interact safely with their driving environment all at the same time!

Good drivers understand each of these four components and remember to apply each of these tasks simultaneously and automatically. Bad drivers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. However, the good news is that even bad drivers can learn the concepts and skills to improve their driving with good teaching and practice.

Unfortunately, good drivers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the most frequent bad habit involves how drivers interact with their

Distracted Driving with Phones

Distracted Driving

environment. Let’s face it, sometimes we choose to add a multitude of distractions to our driving environment, even though we know we shouldn’t. Other times, we unintentionally fail to interact with our surroundings.

For example, most of us who have been driving for years have had a similar experience: We get on a familiar road to a familiar destination and our minds begin to wander. We arrive with the realization that we have absolutely no memory of driving to that place. We were truly on autopilot.

Of course, we must have had some degree of environmental awareness in order to arrive safely at our destination; however, most of us would agree that the interaction with our environment must have been less than optimal and the lack of any driving memory is certainly troubling.

So, let’s see how the driving process compares to the reading process.

Like driving, reading is a complicated process—more so than many of us realize. Decades of reading research have refuted the popular notion that reading is a natural, developmental process akin to oral language development (Gough & Hillinger, 1980; Lyon, 1998; Wren, 2002; Moats, L, & Tolman, C 2009). Simply put, children do not learn to read as they learn to speak, through natural exposure to a literate environment.

We now know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that reading is taught, not caught. No child, nor adult picks up a book, article, newspaper, or poem and reads without having had some form of instruction. Now, of course the quantity and quality of instruction varies, and many adults will not remember how they first learned to read, but they certainly were taught to do so.

Now, let’s return to our two-fold definition of reading, which we developed in our first two lectures: Reading is reading comprehension and reading comprehension is understanding and remembering what we read.

Good Readers are like Good Drivers.

Reading is Like Driving

To be able to understand and remember what is read, the reader must know how reading works, apply the phonetic tools, understand the meaning and order of words, and monitor the reader-author relationship. And, yes, like good drivers, they can multi-task.

Good readers apply these four components simultaneously and automatically. Struggling readers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. The good news is that both weak and strong readers can learn and practice the concepts and skills to improve their reading comprehension and retention.

However, like good drivers, good readers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the usual culprit is how readers interact with their reading environment and author’s text.

For example, most of us, like the distracted driver I spoke of, have had this experience infrequently or frequently while reading: We turn the page in a book or scroll down on our phones and our minds begin to wander as we read. We finish reading and come to the realization that we haven’t the foggiest idea about what we just read. We did read the words, but we did not understand them, nor remember any of the information or ideas. Some of us would swear to having read, say Beowulf, in the same manner when we were high school seniors.

Now you may have noticed that I used italics for the words reading and read, because although we pronounced the words, we really didn’t read them, using our definition of reading comprehension. If we don’t understand or retain what we have read, we really haven’t read.

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

 

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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Middle School Spelling

Diagnostic Spelling Patterns Assessment

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

In the Whole Language Movement and concurrent National Writing Project popularity of the 1980s and 1990s, spelling was relegated to the editing stage of the writing process. Teachers were instructed to throw away their spelling workbooks and some states, including California, prohibited state funding for the purchase of spelling programs.

I, like other ELA teachers, cheerfully relegated spelling to the dumpster. After all, one less subject to teach! And, to be honest, the only spelling teaching I ever did was to pre-test on Monday, throw out a word search or crossword puzzle of the spelling words, tell students to study the list, and post-test on Friday. Hardly teaching at all.

During that period of time I was earning my masters degree as a reading specialist. The buzzword(s) of our program was balanced literacy. Upon reflection, I have no idea of what opposite ideologies were being placed in proper balance. We had no phonics (decoding) training, nor any spelling (encoding) training.

For my masters thesis I was able to convince my supervisor to approve a qualitative historical analysis, not the usual experimental design. I chose the reading instruction included in the McGuffey Readers. For 85 years, these readers were the primary instructional tool for American teachers. The readers were not just for primary students: intermediate and middle school tweeners also received instruction in this series.

The readers consisted of morally-based character education stories, vocabulary, phonics, spelling, and a few comprehension questions. As I pored over the editions from 1836 up to the 1920s, I found certain pedagogical refinements, but the instructional methodology was remarkably consistent. As a publisher, I understand the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy; however, consumers have always been suckered by the “New and Improved” marketing strategy, as well. The readers were largely unchanged, in terms of how reading and spelling were taught.

As you might imagine, the juxtaposition of my masters program reading philosophy and that of the McGuffey Readers caused quite a bit of consternation for me. I had just completed six years of middle school teaching and was now at the high school level. Every professional development class that I took and taught ignored the skills of reading and writing and focused solely on the content of literacy. If I mentioned that spelling had been an integral instructional component for most of our country’s history (including the New England Primer and others prior to the McGuffey Readers), it was only in the context of see what outdated forms of instruction those ill-informed educators used to teach.

However, subsequent to the Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read in 2000, I, like so many other ELA teachers who practiced their skills as reading specialists, was confronted with new, consistent reading research findings  that have made me backtrack and see the value of teaching the reading skills found in the McGuffey Readers. In reading terms, structural (or word) analysis is essential for above grade level, at grade level, and below grade level readers. Computer detection of eye-movement and the correlation of good readers look at the sound-symbol relationships within words was convincing. In other words, phonics and spelling (two sides of the same coin) matter.

I took a job as a district elementary reading specialist in Elk Grove Unified School District (the third largest district in California) and, along with a cadre of other bright program specialists, we were able to help improve elementary student reading proficiency percentiles from 45 to 72% within only a few years Elk Grove Unified School District. However, the same growth was not achieved by middle and high school students. Middle school reading proficiency continued to under-perform in the mid 40 percentiles. Our brilliant District Reading Coordinator and Associate Superintendent for Elementary knew why this was so, but the Associate Superintendent of Secondary Education refused to move entrenched secondary teachers toward reading skills instruction.

The false dichotomy of elementary teachers teaching students to learn to read and secondary teachers teaching students to read to learn continues to contribute to the widely recognized middle school slump in reading ability. Only one-in-six of below grade level readers by grade 6 ever improve to at grade level reading. “In the simplest terms, these studies ask: Do struggling readers catch up? The data from the studies are clear: Late bloomers are rare; skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers” (American Federation of Teachers, as published by Reading Rockets).

Middle Schoolers Need Spelling

Middle School Spelling

As a reading intervention specialist, the Response to Intervention movement of the last decade has largely focused on early primary reading intervention. Few middle schools have adopted comprehensive reading intervention programs, and even fewer high schools. Interestingly enough, I have found more remedial reading and writing programs at the community college level than at the high school level, here in California.

So what can middle school ELA teachers do? Advocate for your students, especially those one-in-six students, to develop effective Response to Intervention reading programs in your school and district. Take the plunge and differentiate reading instruction within your classroom. Risk the behavior management challenges and multi-level lesson plans for the good of your kids.

However, if the above seems un-do-able for now, or if you’re in the been there and done thaphase, what small (yet, significant) step can you take to make a difference for your middle school students? Teach spelling. Not the useless pre-test, word search or crossword puzzle, study, and post-test method I used to employ; not the useless pass out and memorize the list of all “No Excuse” spelling words; not the silly requirement to spell correctly your list of hard SAT, ACT, or Academic Word List vocabulary words, but a comprehensive spelling patterns program for grade-level spelling patterns instruction and remedial spelling patterns instruction. Teaching spelling for a small amount of time per week will give your middle school students the biggest bang for the buck, in terms of reading skills development.

Do your middle school students need spelling instruction? Absolutely? Still unconvinced? I challenge you to administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment 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 FREE Resource:

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Phonetic Dyslexia

Treat Reading Problem Symptoms

Treat the Symptoms of Reading Problems

Let’s get straight to the point on this one: Phonetic Dyslexia? Phony Bologna. Oh, by the way… Don’t buy ocean front property in Kansas, either. Just a public service announcement.

As an M.A. reading specialist, diagnostician, reading intervention teacher, and educational author, my Pennington Publishing Blog reaches quite a diverse audience. My target audience is teachers, because I use the blog to market my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources to my colleagues. However, I often get article comments and questions from parents (and even students). I try to respond to those which pertain to an educational trend, which I find baffling; to those which have a dubious research base; to those which I consider to be educational malpractice; and to those which defy common sense. The following question posted by a parent on my “Teaching Your Child to Read Well” article hit the quadfecta… all four criteria for my response.

Following are the parent’s questions and my response:June 30th, 2018 at 05:42

My son was diagnosed with a phonetic dyslexia? I have no experience with dyslexia of any kind. Can you suggest some reading exercises that we can use at home to help children with this issue? The school system was ill-equipped to teach on a case by case basis. Is this something that will follow him into his adult years? Are there any tools you know of available to help him?

Melania (I couldn’t resist),

I’m sure you are doing everything possible to help your child learn to read well. When children have reading difficulties which do not seem to be addressed by their teachers and site specialists, parents often seek outside help by so-called experts. A bit of advice for you, your son, and for other parents in the same general boat:

  1. Always take advantage of public school resources. Even those of you who have placed your kids in charter or private schools. Your tax dollars support public schools, and you and your children should benefit from their expertise. Start with your local school.
  2. Don’t fully trust experts (even me!). Reading is complicated stuff; we know some practical matters about reading instruction, such as how and what to teach, but we really don’t yet understand why students haven’t learned it. Maybe someday we will understand, but brain research is in its infancy. Think you’ll be interested in my article, “Dyslexia Is Not Real.” I would certainly be interested in the qualifications and experience of the diagnostician.
  3. Don’t ditch your common sense. If a reading therapy (there are plenty out there) sounds weird or counter-intuitive, don’t explore the approach. I liken some reading approaches to fad diets. If your child’s educational psychologist is treating your son’s reading problems by having him practice crawling on the floor, because he never learned to crawl as a baby, and because a statistical correlation exists in the literature between children who never crawled and children who experience reading problems, this reading therapy is akin to a grapefruit only diet. Yes, both were real approaches to reading and weight problems back in the early 1970s.
  4. Be practical: Treat the symptoms, not the cause. While it may be to your long-term advantage to understand what is causing your stress headaches, it is always in your short-term advantage to take a pain reliever. Again, we don’t fully understand the causes of your son’s reading challenges, but we can certainly identify and treat the symptoms. Following are user-friendly reading assessments to identify the symptoms. Free to use!
  5. The problem with the term, dyslexia, is that the International Dyslexia Association defines the symptoms (phonics deficits, perhaps) as a learning disability. From the IDA website:

The International Dyslexia Association offers a variety of definitions regarding dyslexia (bolded terms mine):

“Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a different wiring of the brain. There is no cure for dyslexia and individuals with this condition must learn coping strategies” (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-at-a-glance/).

In other words, your son’s reading problems would be a lifelong challenge “that will follow him into his adult years.” Don’t buy into that way of thinking. Treat the problems; don’t add on a label to your child.

Now, I’m guessing that your diagnostician is probably right about your son’s phonetic deficits. Phonics challenges are usually the culprits (or phonological awareness) when students are reading significantly below grade level. However, this diagnosis offers no cure. To find the proper course of treatment, properly identify the patient’s specific symptoms (the individual phonics deficits) and target your treatment (teaching and practice) accordingly.

Make sense? Take care, Mark

Yes, you’ll need resources to teach to these diagnostic deficits. For your child’s “Phonetic Dyslexia,” the corresponding teaching resources are found in my Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Books.

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. My own snake oil to sell 🙂 Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops (explicit, systematic phonics instruction) with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , ,

ESL Reading Assessments

ELL Reading Assessments

ESL Reading Assessments

Let’s get the alphabet soup out of the way up front. By ESL (English as a Second Language), I’m lumping in ELL (English Language-Learners),  ELD (English Language Development), SDAIE (Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English), and EFL (English as  a Foreign Language) programs. If you want 5 more acronyms, check out my favorite ESL forum: Matt Errey’s English Club.

Now, I’m not saying that these categorizations are irrelevant, nor am I claiming that all instructional strategies and resources are appropriate for each group of learners. Nevertheless, I am advocating one common approach.

Yes, I have my California CLAD (Crosscultural Language and Academic Development) credential, but I am also an M.A. reading specialist in a very diverse school district with over 50 spoken languages. Many of these kids wind up in my seventh grade reading intervention classes or in the grades 4, 5, and 6 classes which I used to serve as a district elementary reading specialist. Crazy, fun, and challenging!

The common approach to teach each of these learning groups? Assessment-based instruction.

As everyone knows, ESL students are diverse learners, just as are all students. For example, from a reading perspective a P1 Spanish-speaker from Mexico may have a solid phonics background while a P1 Mandarin-speaker from China may not because of the logographic (non-alphabetic) writing system. As is the case where I teach (Elk Grove, CA), these two kids (plus plenty of others) wind up in the same reading intervention class.

My point is that the best ESL resources are ones which are assessment-based, not program-based. Clearly, one-size-fits-all ESL resources would not work equally as well for the two aforementioned students. Catering resources to the needs of the learner makes sense and reliable assessments can pinpoint relative strengths and specific deficits. With targeted assessments, If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t. I think I made that up years ago. If I didn’t, please correct me 🙂

My Pennington Publishing store provides both the diagnostic assessments (in reading, spelling, grammar, and mechanics) and the corresponding resources to teach to assessed individual needs.

However, these are compensatory resources, i.e. they are designed to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. I think that one’s mine as well, but I’ve said it so often over the years that, again, I might be wrong. Hopefully I won’t start claiming “To be or not to be; that is the question” as I start aging.

In other words, my resources include both remedial and grade-level, CCSS-aligned lessons. To this end, all my resources include classroom management tips to help teachers manage the diverse needs in their classrooms. Teaching to heterogeneous groups is definitely more challenging than teaching to homogeneous (if there is such a thing) classes.

The best ESL resources both remediate (according to assessed needs) and challenge with rigorous grade-level Standards. Ah, but I’m probably “preaching to the choir” in this post.

Over the years I’ve developed and field-tested these comprehensive phonemic awareness, phonics, rimes, spelling, and sight words assessments. Most of the assessments have audio files for easy whole-class (or small group) administration. Recording matrices are included.


Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , ,