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Silent Reading Fluency

Speed Reading

Silent Reading Fluency

A bad habit is hard to break, especially when it’s a bad reading habit. However, replacing bad reading habits with good ones can significantly improve silent reading fluency. In other words, you’ll read faster and with better understanding. Check out these four tips to build comprehension.

  1. Improve your reading posture. Your body position affects how well you understand what you read. For good reading posture, sit up straight in a straight-backed chair at a desk or table with good lighting and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place two hands on the reading. Keep the distance from eyes to book about the same distance as that of your forearm. Don’t angle the book too much so that you can keep your head straight.
  2. Improve your concentration. When reading at home, put away your phone, get away from the television and computer, and find a quiet room. Anything competing with full concentration reduces reading reading comprehension. Good reading cannot include multi-tasking. Stop taking mental vacations during your reading. For example, never allow yourself a pause at the end of a page or chapter–read on!
  3. When reading silently, don’t pronounce the words quietly or in your head, and don’t move your lips. These sub-vocalizations interfere with your understanding of the text. Focus on the meaning of the text, not on saying and hearing the words. Some students find that clenching their teeth or reading with a clean pencil in their mouths helps break the lip movement habit.
  4. Establish a rhythm in your silent reading. The reading pace should be hurried, but at a consistent pace. To pace your reading, place your left hand on the left page and the right hand on the right page. Put three fingers together and place your hand under the first line on the page. If right-handed, place your index finger under the first letter of the line. If you are left-handed, place your ring finger under the first letter of the line. Now, slide your hand underneath the first line at a comfortable, but hurried pace while reading the words on the line. When the index (or ring) finger reaches the last letter of the first line, quickly slide the hand back to the first letter of the line and drop down to the second line. Continue to read in the same manner, but slow down your pace when you sense that your comprehension has decreased because of difficult text.

Using the pacing hand prevents re-reading, skipping lines, and daydreaming. Shortening the stroke of the hand across the page, after practice, will also help expand your peripheral vision across the page. This is important because reading research tells us that good readers have fewer eye fixations per line. When the eyes move from fixation to fixation, there is little reading comprehension. So, focus on the center of the page and use your peripheral vision to view words to the left and right as you are reading.

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: 

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

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.

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Movie First, Book Second

Read Book before Novel

Book before Novel

Want your students to get the most out of reading a class novel?

Want more of your students to actually read the whole book?

What to build internal monitoring of the text and increase comprehension?

Show the move first; read the book second.

I know it sound like ELA teacher heresy, but before you hang me like the 19 accused witches in Salem, let me plead my case.

First of all, I am a reading specialist, as well as an ELA teacher. The reading research backs up my position. If we want to build comprehension, maximize vocabulary growth, and engage the author and text, we should front load as much as possible. Activating prior knowledge, scaffolding content vocabulary, reader response theory. Pre-teaching!

My caveats up front: I don’t always show the movie before everything we read. Not every short story or novel has a movie. And I won’t show a bad movie. No one is excited to read the book after watching a bad movie.

Why watch the movie first?

  1. Watching the movie first levels the playing field. When we read a grade-level novel aloud to the class (listening comprehension), listen to an audio book, or have students independently read, we reward good readers more than poor readers. The Matthew Effect (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer) is reinforced. Good readers understand more, retain more, and perform better on reading quizzes and tests because they are good readers. It’s not a matter of more effort; it’s about reading skills. Poor readers (those reading below grade level) cannot access the same understanding, retention, and achieve the same rewards (good quiz and test grades) because the grade-level text is at the frustration level for them. The fact is that both good and struggling readers benefit from pre-teaching by showing the movie first. The movie simply makes the book more comprehensible. Students are much more likely to be able to read a novel at instructional or independent levels after knowing the characters, plot, theme, and (of course) the visualizations. One final note… no teacher would begin teaching The Diary of Anne Frank by reading page 1. Students obviously need some historical context. The same argument applies to movies first.
  2. Motivation. We all want our students to achieve the success of reading the whole book. I hear from students (not mine 🙂 all the time that they never finished a novel in middle or high school, including some of the brightest kids making it into prestigious universities. They learned to get by without reading. Online chapter summaries, essays, chat rooms, and movies make it easy. You don’t have to read to succeed. Watching the movie in class before reading takes away the “cheating” incentive. I find, and my students say, they are much more interested in reading the book after watching the movie. The movie piques their interest much more often than it supplants their interest. And yes, kids still always say, “The book was so much better than the movie.” Bottom line? They enjoy reading, say The Outsiders,more and appreciate those literacy components we ELA teachers love, when we show the movie first. As an aside, that’s one movie that is better than the book!
  3. Improved literary discussions. Starting at a higher level of comprehension enriches class discussions. Students are able to draw from the movie experience to compare and contrast the characters, plot, setting, style, etc. Students are able to analyze the decisions both filmmakers and authors make and evaluate their choices. Because the movie is able to show things that a book can’t and because the book is able to tell things that a movie can’t, students are able to synthesize these relative strengths and gain more insight. That is higher order critical thinking! 

Objections

  1. Watching the movie prior to reading the novel ruins the joy of reader discovery. University professors always assign articles prior to lectures to improve the level of class discourse. (Although I would argue that the reverse procedure might spark more reader independence and out-of-the-box thinking.) A history professor does not cringe at the thought that assigning an article in which you the reader find out that the North won the Civil War will ruin the story for you. Some of you are thinking, ah but that’s non-fiction. I say the same is true for fiction. When the last Harry Potter novel came out (and JK Rowling had announced it was the last), everyone wanted to know whether Harry and Voldemort would die. I won’t speak for adults, but every one of my middle school readers knew the answer within the first day of the book’s release. That knowledge did not spoil the ending. It enhanced the ending. If you’ve ever watched the magicians Penn and Teller explain in advance how one of their tricks is done, and subsequently performs the illusion, you know how much more enriching and enjoyable it is to watch with a bit of inside knowledge. Watching the movie first does just that.
  2. Watching the movie after reading the book is a reward. I would argue that it’s more of a gap-filler for those who did not or could not read. Teachers who lead discussions on comparing book to movie will spend far less time doing so when the movie is an end-of-the-unit activity. Showing the movie up front provides that comparison throughout the novel.
  3. I don’t show the movie at all because it confuses students when they read the book. There is some truth to this point with some movies and their books. Elia Kazan’s movie, East of Eden,uses only about half of the plot of Steinbeck’s East of Eden and there are some discrepancies and inconsistencies. However, rather than ending in confusion, a student with the guidance of a good ELA teacher gains far more from the differences than with a novel that has a verbatim screenplay. If given a choice, most ELA teachers would much rather explain and ask students about the differences rather than solely filling in the understanding blanks when reading a novel by itself.

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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Reading Counts! Claims and Counterclaims

Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts!

AR or RC?

The purpose of this article on Reading Counts! is threefold: 1. To briefly summarize the basics of the Reading Counts! (RC) independent reading management program 2. To analyze three key claims made by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMS) regarding the efficacy of the RC (formerly Scholastic Reading Counts!) program and provide counterclaims by reading researchers, librarians, students, teachers, and Yours Truly. 3. To promote my own reading intervention program at the end of the article with free teaching resources 🙂

Background

I previously ventured into the deep waters of independent reading management programs a number of years ago with my article, The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader. Accelerated Reader™ is the most popular independent reading management program with 180,000 book titles (January 2019) assigned a Reading Practice Quiz. RC is the second place challenger with 45,000. Teacher comments on my article tend to focus more on the abuses of the program, and less so on the program itself. Many teachers are quite defensive about their use of the AR program. Understandably so. We teachers view our instructional choices as reflections of our professionalism. Curriculum is personal. In anticipation of similar comments to this article on Reading Counts!, I would like to preemptively respond by saying, “I’m sure that you are doing your part to adapt the Reading Counts! program to the needs of your kids, and I respect your professional judgment that you know your students best.” Please don’t shoot the messenger! However, as I re-read “The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader” in preparation for this article, I would have to say that most of the problems in the AR program are applicable to the RC program, as well. I won’t cover the same ground in this article. However, I will analyze three of the claims made in the RC program, which I see as being more exclusive to this program. But first, a brief overview of how the RC program works.

How Reading Counts! Works

  • A school or district pays a school start-up fee of $375.00 and is assigned a sales representative. The RC software management program is licensed for an annual fee of $4.00 per student (a lower price for 2019). The reading placement and monitoring assessment, recently re-named the Reading Inventory (RI), costs an additional $4.00 per student. So, if my math is correct, that’s $4,000.00 for a 500 student elementary school every year. Plus, more money…
  • The school and/or district re-allocate portions of their budgets to purchase books included within the RC program. Currently, RC has about 45,000 titles, but unlike the books in the AR program, the company makes money from each sale, because HMH publishes them! These purchases will necessarily become an every-year budget item. 
  • The HMS sales representative in-services school librarians, teachers, and administrators (lots of online help, as well) on how to implement the RC program. Suggestions as to how to inform and work with parents and corresponding resources are provided. The program resources are relatively easy to use, but time-consuming.
  • The classroom teacher or librarian administers the computer-adaptive Reading Inventory (RI) as a reading placement test to all students participating in the RC program. This test provides a Personal Lexile® score for each student.
  • Teachers use the Student Achievement Manager (SAM) data and management system to generate student and class reports. The reports list the results of the RI as a Personal Lexile® number (level or measure) for each student and a class Lexile average. A higher Lexile number indicates a higher reading level ability.
  • The reports also list the students’ optimal Lexile text readability levels (a numerical range). A text’s Lexile level is determined by its semantic and syntactic degree of difficulty and sentence length. Once students know their reading levels, they can select books from the Search Book Expert Online ,within these reading levels. Although the RC is a Lexile-based program, it also includes grade-level equivalency and guided reading levels in this search engine. Additional filters include grade-level interest (K–2, 3–5, 6–8, high school, and high interest/intervention), fiction and non-fiction, subject areas, genre, and curriculum-integrated books. Note that the HMS reading intervention programs, READ 180 Next Generation® and System 44® include some RC titles for their independent reading rotations.
  • Teachers and students set reading goals in terms of a point system. Each book is assigned a specific point value based upon its length and text complexity. Many teachers establish a monthly points requirement.
  • Once students have finished their books, they take a corresponding quiz on the computer, or the teacher may choose to print the quiz. Although the test bank for each quiz includes 30 items, the default number of questions is 10. The RC authors and sales representatives make much ado about the larger quiz bank of questions compared to that of the AR program. They claim that is less easy for students to cheat due to the randomized 10 question default when students are sitting side-by-side. This may be true; however, a quick search indicated plenty of RC quiz “cheat sites,” as are found with the AR program. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Students are allowed to examine their incorrect responses, but there is no pay-off for doing so if the quiz re-takes use different questions. 
  • If the students achieve a predetermined score (mastery criteria set by the teacher), they receive a “congratulations screen” and an opportunity to rate the book they read on the “Read-o-Meter.” Students can also check their own RC Student Progress Report. Points are awarded based upon the percentage of quiz questions answered correctly. If the students do not achieve mastery, the teacher may require them to read the book again and retest or re-visit the students’ RI Lexile level range and the level and content of the book. Students are able to take the 10-question quiz 3 times, because there are 30 questions.
  • Teachers generate reports on students’ quiz scores and track the amount of reading and student test scores. They can also receive alerts when a student has not taken a quiz within a given period.
  • Once individual student point goals (usually set monthly) have been mastered, the student receives a certificate of achievement.
  • The Reading Counts! Educator’s Guide provides plenty of reproducibles to supplement the quizzes, such as reading logs, story charts, book reports, parent letters (in several languages), and guides for teachers to write their own quizzes (if the school library does not have the RC book).

Claims and Counterclaims

Claim 1: Students improve their reading more when the complexity of the text they read matches their reading ability. The best test to measure that optimal match or zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978)? The HMH Reading Inventory. Why? The RI is a criterion (compared to a fixed goal, such as a Common Core Standard) and norm-referenced (compared to other students) test. This is important because the test design allows teachers to administer the RI twice more within the school year to monitor progress. The Lexiles, which RI uses, have improved readability assessments (standard errors of measurement have been minimized and the amount of comprehension variance that can be explained by text difficulty has been improved. Accelerated Reader’s STAR test doesn’t have those advantages.

Counterclaim: Given that the RI is state of the art, in terms of Lexile levels and matching students to texts, and given that the ability to administer the test three times per year does provide a valid measure to monitor progress. But, the entire design of the RC programs begs the question. It assumes what has yet to be proven. As noted reading researcher, Dr. Tim Shanahan asserts,

…Lexiles have greatly improved readability assessment … and yet we are in no better shape than before since there are no studies indicating that if you teach students at particular Lexile levels more learning will accrue. http://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/shanahan-on-literacy/teaching-books-students-reading-levels

…we have put way too much confidence in an unproven theory. The model of learning underlying that theory is too simplistic. Learning to read is an interaction between a learner, a text, and a teacher. Instructional level theory posits that the text difficulty level relative to the student reading level is the important factor in learning. But that ignores the guidance, support, and scaffolding provided by the teacher. [In doing so, educators] have striven to get kids to levels where they will likely learn best with minimal teacher support. https://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/rejecting-instructional-level-theory

Matching the right books to readers is simply more complex than the quantitative Lexile approach RC uses. Content, theme, and sophistication of thought matter, as well as the age and maturity of the reader are critically important factors to consider when students select books for independent reading. Most would find the following strictly quantitative Lexile measurements, listed in parentheses, to be inappropriate criteria for these grade levels.

  • 2nd Grade: Night – Wiesel (570)
  • 3rd Grade: The Sun Also Rises – Hemingway (610); Twisted – Anderson (680); Incarceron – Fisher (600)
  • 4th Grade: Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck (680); The Color Purple – Walker (670)
  • 5th Grade: For Whom the Bell Tolls – Hemingway (840); Kite Runner – Hosseini (840); A Farewell to Arms – Hemingway (730); Cat’s Cradle – Vonnegut (790)
  • 6th Grade: As I Lay Dying – Faulkner (870); The Sound and the Fury – Faulkner (870); To Kill a Mockingbird – Lee (870); Fahrenheit 451 – Bradbury (890)

http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=8891

Additionally, the authors of the Common Core State Standards, with their emphases on text complexity, specifically challenge the notion that reading instruction should focus solely on texts at student ability levels. The authors cite research suggesting that with such scaffolds as close reading, even struggling readers can access significantly more complex text than that to which they have been traditionally given access. https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Implementation%20-%20Issues%20With%20a%20Leveled-Only%20Text%20Approach[1].pdf

“Below are bibliographic citations for the 26 studies referenced in Shanahan (2014) regarding students making gains with more complex text when given appropriate scaffolding. In addition abstracts and full-text PDF’s of all studies are available as well. These references were provided by Shanahan in “Building Up To FrustrationLevel Text” in Reading Today Online available here:”

https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2014/09/02/building-up-to-frustration-level-text

Furthermore, reading research has repeatedly demonstrated the important variable of prior knowledge with respect to reading comprehension. When readers have significant prior knowledge on a topic, familiarity with the genre, or experience with the author’s writing style, even high Lexile level texts can be accessible. Prior knowledge and scaffolding relevant content and context can often trump the quantitative challenges of complex semantic and syntactic text for students.

Motivation is another significant variable in matching readers to text that can override the limitations of the RC Lexile levels. My youngest son was in 4th grade when the last Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out. Clearly, the quantitative Lexile level of 880 should have prevented his MA reading specialist father (me) from purchasing this “frustration level” book. Instead, I dutifully ignored the quantitative data and waited in line with my fourth grader for the midnight release of this treasured book. My son plowed through the book with a high level of comprehension. By the end of fourth grade, my son was reading significantly above grade level. Thanks to motivational influence of J.K. Rowling and the dozens of peers who were concurrently reading and discussion that book during recess.

Others would agree that reader motivation is far more important than instructional reading levels in book selection. From Ricki Ginsberg’s article, “This is my Anti-Lexile, Anti-Reading Level Post” (Ginsberg is Assistant Professor of English Education at Colorado State University):

I’m a 6th grader and when I took a Lexile test for my grade, I got stuck with books I hate so much. We had to search for books in my Lexile. I am so bored of those books. I want to read whatever I want to.

I took my grandson (a few years ago) to his book fair to purchase some books with him. He chose a few, and then we went back to his classroom to get his things, where I met his teacher. She took a look at the books he had chosen, and was excited about, and said, “Oh, I think these are too hard for you. You need to choose ones more at your level.” She didn’t know that I was a teacher, and I didn’t tell her. I almost hit her, but I didn’t do that either. She was the one who pretty much stopped his excitement about reading…

As a librarian, I have fought for years against leveling books. I was supported my district years ago against AR, but my job as a librarian was shifted to support classroom curriculum instead of supporting reading enjoyment, reference process, and library skills. Now a new deputy superintendent, whose old District used a Lexile based reading program, is spending money on a program that is Lexile leveled. While library books are hardly given any budget money, tens of thousands are being spent… The skills that teachers built by learning how to “fit” a book to a student and teaching students to self-select challenging and interesting reading material is being prostituted to paying publishers for poorly written formulaic books dressed up with attractive level numbers. It is a disservice to our students that ultimately destroys their confidence in becoming independent readers.

Unshelved

Used with permission www.unshelved.com

Claim 2: RC provides the accountability to ensure that students are reading independently.

At the heart of this powerful program is the practice provided by its quizzes. Unlike other reading assessment programs, no two quizzes in Reading Counts! are the same, struggling readers have the opportunity to retake quizzes, and quiz settings can be customized based on individual students’ needs for extra support or challenge. This quiz quality leads to more accurate and actionable data to keep students on track for success.

[Reading Counts!] automatically generates a quiz that meets each student’s reading needs. Because every quiz provides a true formative, curriculum-based assessment, As a computer-based program, RC provides immediate feedback and unique opportunities for mastery. Students can review questions that were incorrectly answered. Because each quiz is drawn from a database of up to 30 questions, students not showing an expected level of mastery can retake quizzes with a different set of questions. Research shows that when students are provided with immediate feedback, they are able to self-correct and make academic progress (Branford, Goldman & Vye 1991). https://www.hmhco.com/programs/reading-counts

Counterclaim: While the reading research is clear that students who read independently are significantly more likely to outperform peers who do not read on their own (Anderson, Wilson & Fielding 1998), and those who read more independently score higher on reading tests compared to those who read less (Juel, 1988; Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Stanovich, 1986), the research does not support the claim of the RC authors and editorial board that the type of accountability that the program uses (quizzes) is necessary to achieve optimal reading gains.

Each of the 45,000 RC quizzes includes a test bank of 30 questions. They are primarily recall questions with some vocabulary and a minimum number of inferential questions. Few of the questions are relevant to the big ideas or themes of the corresponding books. In essence, the quizzes are designed to hold students accountable for reading their books.

Some researchers such as Dr. Stephen Krashen, argue that free voluntary reading, without accountability, produces greater reading gains than independent reading programs with accountability, as with the quizzes in the RC program. You may wish to check out my dialogue with Dr. Krashen on in-class independent reading and accountability. I disagree with Dr. Krashen and support independent reading with accountability.

My take is that we teachers have much better methods to hold students accountable for independent reading that also reinforce effective reading practice. For example, as a middle school teacher, I use online peer book clubs and student-parent discussions for my middle school students. I’ve also taught high school ELA and supervised elementary teachers doing the same. Plenty of accountability and practice, using the motivating social nature of reading. And no in-class independent reading. It’s all homework. I’m no guru, but I’m persistent, and I get between 80–90% participation (more the first semester than the last).

I teach students and their parents how to self-select reading, informed, but not limited by word recognition measures. However, challenging books need not be the only books students read. Reading at multiple levels has clear advantages and reflects real-world reading. I also train students how to discuss their reading in their online book clubs with their peers (one daily post and two comments required using the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks… download follows… to prompt), and I pop in to add my 2 cents. At Back-to-School Night (I require at least one family member to attend, and arrange infinite make-up sessions until I meet with every parent or guardian), I train adults how to hold 3-minute student-led reading discussions and parents assign points for their kid’s 5-days-per-week independent reading and discussion. I’m in a lower, poverty-challenged school with 75% free and reduced lunch, multi-ethnic, multi-languages, etc. If you have tricks up your sleeves to hold students accountable for reading that don’t require additional teacher correction or huge amounts of time, please add to the comments section of this post. At the end of this article, I link to a nicely organized list of articles and free resources for ELA and reading intervention teachers with quite a few more ideas on independent reading.

In the RC program, the SAM management system tracks individual and class quiz scores and also the number of words students have read in each book. If a student doesn’t pass the quiz after three attempts, she or he loses credit for having read the book. This means that the number of words the student has read is not tallied, and the student doesn’t receive a reward certificate as quickly. If it’s the independent reading that reinforces comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, and fluency, why doesn’t the student receive credit for doing so? The bottom line is that students receive positive reinforcement for mastering quizzes, not for reading. Reading is not rewarded; passing the quizzes is.

Claim 3: RC EMPOWERS educators with reports and actionable data at the student, school and district level. As a supplementary reading program, RC REINFORCES comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency skills. 

Counterclaims: The reports do provide information to the teacher regarding who read what, at what Lexile levels, how many pages read, what quiz scores were achieved, who hasn’t taken a quiz for awhile (alerts), and more. Plenty of information about what your students are and are not doing with respect to their independent reading. All interesting information, but information which takes time to input, analyze, and report (whoever says that technology is a time-saver is crazy); and information which RI administrators (like your principal) can access and compare to that of your colleagues. Although not advocated by the authors of the RC program, most teachers do use this data in various ways to provide incentives for participation in terms of rewards and/or grades. Of course, the incentives can become problematic. See my article, The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader for examples. In short, the SAM reports do provide data collection and management functions (ones which could be done by paper and pencil or a simple Excel® spreadsheet in less time at no cost); however, none of these data informs reading instruction.

Next, let’s take a look at the claim about empowering educators with actionable data. Remember, the two assessments of the RC program are the three-times per year, Lexile-based HMH Reading Inventory (used for initial placement and subsequent progress monitoring) and the 45,000 quizzes. To my mind, actionable data should mean teachable data derived from prescriptive assessments that are reliable and valid. Let’s examine whether these two assessments provide information which is teachable.

For example, let’s say the students in your class take the RI during the first week of school. One of your bright students, Amanda, scores an above grade-level Personal Lexile score of 700, while  your class average is 550. With the SAM management software, you are able to use that data to match readers to books. However, other than that use (which we’ve already shown to be of questionable value), those initial RI Lexile scores provide no data to inform our reading instruction. On the RI given 3 months later, Amanda improves to a 750 and her average quiz scores from 80–90%, but your class averages the same 550 Lexile level and has not improved its 70% quiz average.

What does that data indicate? Something appears to be helping Amanda improve her reading, but we have no idea what it is. It could be the RC program; it could be the independent reading, itself; it could be the reading instruction you are doing in class, though you may not know exactly what instruction is helping; it could be what her parents are doing at home. Regarding your class, average Lexile and quiz scores, something appears not to be working. But what is the something so we can do something about it? We don’t know. You could look at subgroups and find out that your girls have improved more than your boys, or one ethnic group over the other, etc. But how does the Lexile and quiz data inform our instruction? The short answer? It doesn’t. The RI and quizzes provide no information about which reading skills have not yet been mastered and which have been mastered by Amanda or class as a whole. Neither assessment offers the teacher any specific data regarding what to teach and what not to teachSo why test if it does not provide actionable data?

A good question. Of course, teachers have been creating diagnostic and formative assessments for years that do inform their reading instruction in specific sub-skills. Good teachers are more than willing to test when the data pinpoints what needs to be taught and practiced and what does not require repeated instruction. Like many teachers, I’ve developed my own assessments to inform my instruction. I’ve written and field tested 13 diagnostic reading assessments with recording matrices and audio files, which provide teachable data. I provide them free of charge to help your students, and because some teachers would prefer not to re-invent the wheel by creating their teaching resources to correspond to each assessment item. Yes, you can buy those instructional resources from Pennington Publishing. Simply click the link and look in the header to download and print the free assessments. Additionally, skim the Articles and Resources to find over 700 articles of interest to the ELA and reading teacher, including a slew of articles on how to create your own no-cost independent reading program that I think does a better job for students than either the Accelerated Reader™ and Reading Counts! programs.

Both the Accelerated Reader™ and Reading Counts! program authors are careful to label their independent reading management programs as supplementary programs, as they should. However, as every teacher knows, instructional time is reductive: if you add on this, you have to take away that. Because both programs are designed for in-class and home practice, AR and RC supplant other instruction, most always reading instruction. Accepting at face value the RC claim that RC REINFORCES comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency skills, my question to teachers would be… Which would help your students improve their reading more? REINFORCING or TEACHING? Feel free to download my SCRIP Comprehension Strategies TEACHING resource at the end of this article as a reward for slogging through this rather long diatribe. I look forward to your comments.

*****

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

Check out the quality of these programs with a resource which works for both grade-level and struggling readers to improve internal monitoring of reading: 

These five FREE lessons will help you teach the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies for both grade-level and struggling readers. This FREE download is sent safe and secure to your email, and includes a set of SCRIP Posters and Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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Reading Incentive Ideas

Programs for Reading Incentive

Reading Incentive Programs

I’m not active on Facebook, but my wife passed along this post, “This Barbershop is Getting Kids to Read.” Kids are encouraged to read out loud during their haircuts at this Pennsylvania barbershop “to help boost confidence and conquer fears of public speaking.” The incentive? Kids who read a line, page, or chapter (presumably based upon age and the discretion of the barber) are awarded $3.00 for their efforts.

As kids you don’t realize that fear can carry on as an adult. I want people to feel like they have a voice and they need to use it.

Jon Escueta, Owner City Cuts Barbershop as told to NOW THIS NEWS.

A smart marketing ploy? Undoubtedly. But also a terrific business partnership to develop with local schools. Escueta says he serves roughly 500 kids in his community.

As an M.A. reading specialist, I have served in elementary, middle school, high school, and community college settings. Getting kids and adults to put down their phones and video controllers and to pick up a book is a challenge at any age. I’ve helped implement both schoolwide and classroom-based reading incentive programs. While we all want the extrinsic rewards to be replaced with the intrinsic motivation to enjoy and learn from reading, raw behaviorism does have its place. A few guidelines I’ve found to be helpful follow:

Reading incentives should be connected to literacy. Avoid such crazy ideas such as “If students in the school read 30,000 pages, the principal will spend the night in a tent on top of the multi-purpose room.”

  • Keep reading incentives fresh. Vary the incentives and don’t keep them going on too long.
  • Kids do like competitions. Class v. class, grade v. grade, school v. school
  • Establish business partnerships, such as the barbershop idea above.
  • Get parents on board, reading along with their children.
  • The teachers need to read and share what they’ve been reading with their students.
  • Providing time for kids to share about the books they’ve been reading is motivating.
  • Reading incentives can also become confused with reading accountability. I see them as separate programmatic and instructional issues.

Independent reading programs (check out this great collection of articles) need not include reading incentives; however, most teachers and parents would agree that an effective independent reading program does require a workable system of accountability. The downside of confusing incentive and accountability has been shared by parents, students, and teachers in the hundreds of comments I’ve received on my article, “The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader.” One comment regarding this confusion will suffice:

As an elementary school student, I loved AR. I still have my first ever AR t-shirt, and I remember my first ever AR book (Stone Soup). The program was used 100% as an incentive. There were no requirements, no class-wide rewards or “only the top ## of scorers get this prize” prizes. Everything was t-shirts, treasure chests, and pizza parties. No teacher pushed you to do AR, and you weren’t required to read at a specific level–the higher point values of books were incentive enough. Some of us took part in friendly rivalry, but there was no real pressure on the student to participate in the program or else let down their teachers/peers. I went back to work at the elementary school I attended for a few years, and that is still how the program works. Students read for fun and take the tests for fun. No requirements, no peer pressure.

However, when I went to middle school, AR became my worst enemy. The school implemented a program that required students to take the STAR test each year, then grouped you into classes with students who performed similarly on the STAR test. We were expected to sit and read something “on or above reading level” (12.9+ for me) in silence for 40 minutes. We were also expected to get a certain number of points each nine weeks, or we would fail the class. That’s right, the WHOLE CLASS was nothing but taking AR tests. I hated it, and learned to hate reading. I RAILED against it, protested it, wrote angry articles in the school paper, and was eventually granted (along with my fellow 12.9+ers) the opportunity to take an extra elective class–2 years later.

My experiences with AR were truly at the opposite ends of the spectrum, and that was entirely due to how the program was used/implemented.

*****

The author, Mark Pennington, provides assessment-based ELA and reading intervention programs and resources at Pennington Publishing. Check out the following FREE download to help your students and children improve reading comprehension.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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

Level Books with Word Recognition

Match Books to Readers

How to Select Books

As a teacher-publisher, I write articles such as this to inform, advocate, cajole, and sell my English-language arts and reading intervention programs to teachers. I’ve been doing so for quite awhile and have written over 700 articles. Of these articles, one is near the top in popularity and is certainly the most controversial: The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader. When I wrote the article, I had recently transitioned back into the classroom (middle school ELA) from my position as a district reading specialist.

The site level reading specialist provided a pre-service day staff development in which she mentioned AR as our schoolwide reading program. She stressed the importance of using leveled books to match the reading levels of our students. She demonstrated how the AR program did just that. I chose to ignore the remark and put off scheduling my classes for their AR testing in the computer lab. When I got the final “you have to” mandate, I decided to provide a list of reasons why I would not be using Accelerated Reader as my reading program. So much for being a team-player. To her credit, the site level reading specialist did not snitch on me to the principal, or if she did I never knew it.

I decided to post what I had written on my blog.

Wow. The reader response was immediate and contentious. Teachers, parents, and students contributed to the discussion. Parents and students provided cogent comments and examples of “AR abuse” from their own experiences. But, it has been the teacher-response that has both baffled and informed my subsequent writing.

As a publisher, my audience is primarily teachers. Parents and students are not huge markets for my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program 🙂 Teachers have taken this article criticizing AR quite personally. Although many have been supportive of the points I made in the article; other teachers have perceived my comments as being negative judgments upon their professional expertise. The only comments I have trashed have been those filled with expletives or those which would embarrass teachers the next day after posting a response following one too many glasses of wine.

One such response came this morning regarding book levels. The teacher claimed that in my article I advocate dumping all means of matching the levels of books to the reading levels of students. What? 

In re-reading my article, I don’t see that at all. Secondly, I want to be clear that I do support a common sense approach to leveling books to match the reading levels of readers.

Two approaches to how to level books and match them to readers are in general practice today:

  1. Quantitative Measures: Lexiles, the DRA, F&P/GRL, and even the ATOS (AR testing). My Take? The quantitative measurements are cumbersome to apply to books and developing readers. So many factors go into the levels of books. Although authors certainly consider these factors (their publishers require them to do so) in writing and editing their books, the variables are endless: subject matter, prior knowledge, cultural context, etc. Additionally, the reader’s Lexile range (or other measures) is quite a limited measure (syllables, sentence length, syntax, etc.) and does not factor in maturity, prior knowledge, motivation, etc.
  2. Qualitative Measures: On the other side of the reading philosophical spectrum, I would argue that a Lucy Calkin or guided reading re-tell is subject to just as many arbitrary judgments as the quantitative measures and is time-consuming, to say the least.

The first problem with both approaches is that they are teacher-dependent. They essentially leave parents and the readers themselves (the students) out of the book selection process. The second problem is that both methods over-reach. Selecting a book to match the reading level of a reader is just as much art as it is science. And, it’s not that big of a deal which level a reader reads (with some common sense limitations). Thirdly, the pre-determined levels of books should not be straitjackets for readers.

A Quick and Simple Approach to Book Selection

Much better to affirm parental judgment in terms of which books are challenging for their own children. Even much better to equip students with self-selection of books with simple word recognition techniques. As a reading specialist, I still buy in to the useful categorizations of independent (98%), instructional (90–97%), and frustrational (less than 90%) levels of word recognition. Call me simplistic, but it’s the words they know and the ones they don’t which should be the primary means of book selection.

The old “five finger” for primary and intermediate elementary and “ten finger” for upper elementary and secondary readers works much better and is far more simple to use as a book selection guide than the tests and re-tells levels. Each finger represents a word on the page which the student could not adequately define by meaning, example, etc. Too few fingers, too easy; too many fingers, too hard. Simple, but effective. Parents can easily assess and train their children to apply the same guidelines to selecting their own books. My own experience using this technique is that the finger counting is equivalent to about 5% unknown words. Perfect for independent reading with just a bit of instructional level vocabulary thrown in to help grow a reader’s word knowledge. Additionally, I’ve found that this method highly correlates with the quantitative level assessments and weeds out some of the inaccuracies of those tests. The difference in terms of selecting books is minimal.

Plus, let’s not forget a dose of good old-fashioned common sense and the role of motivation for a developing reader. If the kid is interested (as long as the book has some challenging vocabulary), even though a random page is 17 fingers for the reader, let the child select it. A personal anecdote may help: My slightly above grade-level fourth grader, Kenny, was dying to read the last Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when it first came out. Clearly, the quantitative measures ATOS 6.9 (34 AR points), Lexile 880, DRA, F&P/GRL Z, GLE 7.4 should have prevented his MA reading specialist father (me) from purchasing this “frustration level” book. However, I ignored the quantitative data and waited in line for the midnight release of this treasured book. Kenny plowed through the book and enjoyed it immensely. By the end of fourth grade, Kenny was significantly above grade level and a confident reader. Thanks to his teacher and J.K. Rowling. Conversely, if the book is only five fingers for a middle school student, let her read it if she wants to, with a promise to read a more challenging book the next time. The easier word recognition book will provide its own benefits.


 

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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 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.

The accompanying 54 decodable Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books (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.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

 

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

Forget Sans Forgetica

Sans Forgetica

Sans Forgetica: The Font Which Improves Reading Comprehension?

As I copy and pasted the title of this article into the title frame of my wordpress blog, I was curious about how my computer would process this new font (typeface), developed by psychology and design researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne. As used in the Pinterest pin in the margin of this article, the letters are slanted and gapped. As you can see, the computer unslanted the letters and filled in the gaps to create the easily readable title, “Forget Sans Forgetica.”

Two Fill-In-The-Gap Theories

The computer did what psychologists have been telling us for years. The theory of “closure,” first popularized by Gestalt researchers at the University of Berlin in the early Twentieth Century, suggested that “the whole is something else than the sum of its parts.” In other words, our brain tends to create whole forms from partial visual input in a fill-in-the-blanks process. In fact, recent research seems to suggest that our brains not only process, but also actively create whole images and much more. We’ve all seen illustrations of this theory in optical illusions and fill-in-the-blank numbers.

braiden.com

A second related theory is that of “desirable difficulty.” The term was coined by Dr. Robert Bjork, professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. In a Jeff Bye’s article in Psychology Today, the author sums up the theory of “desirable difficulty” as  “introducing certain difficulties into the learning process can greatly improve long-term retention of the learned material. In psychology [sic] studies thus far, these difficulties have generally been modifications to commonly used methods that add some sort of additional hurdle during the learning or studying process.”

Whenever I read of new research in a field outside of education, which has possible relevance to my own teaching and writing (I’m a reading specialist and author), my interest is piqued. When I read that researchers suggest application of their research findings to teaching reading comprehension, my reading antennae begin to rise out of my head and my crap detector alarm goes off.

As a reading specialist, teaching in public schools for 36 years, I’ve seen quite a bit of application and misapplication of theory to practice. I’ve been there and done that through numerous latest and greatest reading innovations, including specific instructional practices related to both the psychological theories of “closure” and “desirable difficulty” detailed above.

The most recent misapplication of theory to practice to my mind involves the development of the Sans Forgetica font by a group of Australian researchers. I found out about it in Taylor Telford’s October 5, 2018 article in the business section of the Washington Post, titled “Researchers create new font designed to boost your memory.”

Telford concisely sums up the theory guiding this new reading intervention:

Psychology and design researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne created a font called Sans Forgetica, which was designed to boost information retention for readers. It’s based on a theory called “desirable difficulty,” which suggests that people remember things better when their brains have to overcome minor obstacles while processing information. Sans Forgetica is sleek and back-slanted with intermittent gaps in each letter, which serve as a “simple puzzle” for the reader, according to Stephen Banham, a designer and RMIT lecturer who helped create the font.

Professors in the RMIT’s Behavioural Business Lab conducted a research study with their own students in which students read texts in a variety of fonts and took assessments to determine the impact of the different fonts upon reading comprehension. According to researchers on the RMIT site, “the research group performed ‘far better on assignments.’” That research group being those students using the Sans Forgetica font.

In Post article, one of RMIT’s principal researchers, Dr. Blijlevens commented, “We believe it is best used to emphasize key sections, like a definition, in texts rather than converting entire texts or books”and …”the benefits of using Sans Forgetica will be lost if the font is used too often, because readers’ brains will become accustomed to reading the font as they would other common fonts.”

In a video on the RMIT’s Behavioural Business Lab webpage, another researcher from the study suggests that the Sans Forgetica font can be used “to aid all students in their study during the leadup to the stressful exam period.” The font is included in the suggested “study hacks” on the same web page.

My take? “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” Although the theories of “closure” and “desirable difficulty” certainly make sense and are generally applicable to many teaching strategies, this Sans Forgetica strategy to improve reading comprehension is nothing more than a gimmick, at best, to get readers to pay better attention to text. As noted above by one of the researchers, the pay-off of using this font is reduced “if used too often.”

I could suggest standing on one’s head, using colored transparencies layered over text, or reading to stuffed animals as similar gimmicks to trick readers into better concentrating on and engaging with text, but thankfully, these have all been tried and cast off onto the dustbin of misapplied reading instructional practices.

I have no doubt that the research group performed better in the RMIT Behavioural Business Lab’s study. However, researchers claim that it’s the “sweet spot” of this particular font as compared to other fonts which produced the statistically positive correlation to better comprehension. I disagree. I say that it’s the reader engagement with the text, not the font, which produces increased comprehension. The researchers should have included another control group in which their subjects would have received prior instruction and practice in any one of many reader engagement strategies, which use external stimuli to promote internal monitoring of text.

Bottom Line? Teachers and their students don’t need more reading fads. Instead of gimmicks to increase reader interaction with text, shouldn’t we look to external prompts which move readers to greater self-monitoring of text? For example, self-questioning strategies. See my FREE download of the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies self-questioning prompts below. The research is long-standing and clear that these reader-reminders can have significant and permanent impacts on improving reading comprehension by engaging the author-reader relationship.

Sans Forgetica? Fuh-get-about-it!

Focus practice more on the internal monitoring of text, such as with my five SCRIP reading comprehension strategies that teach readers how to independently interact with and understand both narrative and expository text to improve reading comprehension. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:


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

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

The Reader, The Text, The Poem

Louise Rosenblatt developed the Reader-Response Theory, which posits that the reader’s personal feelings, knowledge, and experience contributes to the author’s text to create the meaning for the individual reader. Dr. Rosenblatt termed this creation of meaning “the poem.”

As theorists continued to work with her theory, they added the influence of the reader’s environment and social community as contributor’s to meaning.

In the New Criticism Movement of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, critics of Rosenblatt asserted the independence of the text as the source of meaning. They argued that only the text should be the arbiter of itself. According to these critics and their cousins, the Formalists, devolving meaning-making to the reader was akin to admitting that the meaning of the text is anything that the reader makes of it.

I, personally, see a melding of the opposing theories as an important impetus to improving reading comprehension. If reading comprehension is the understanding and retention of text, then both the author’s text and the reader have shared responsibility for meaning-making. That meaning-making is not in the exclusive control of the text. After all, there is an author behind the text. It is also not in the exclusive control of the individual reader. The reader is part of a larger community.

To better explain the relationship of the author’s text and the reader in the creation of meaning, this illustration may be helpful.

Reader-Response Theory

Reader-Response

Imagine sitting in your living room, looking at a garden through a window.

In our illustration, the garden is the author’s text; you, in the living room, are the reader; and the window is the meaning of the reading text. If the garden is closer to the window than you are, the author’s text has more control of or influence upon the meaning. If you are closer in the living room to the window than is the garden, you, the reader, have more control of or influence upon the meaning.

With author-centered texts, designed to inform, explain, and analyze, such as news articles, non-fiction, technical writing, legal text, and instruction manuals, the window is closer to the garden, because the reader’s comprehension is primarily text-dependent.

For example, with respect to the news article on the school shooting, we rely upon the expertise and accuracy of the news reporter to help us understand what happened. To put together a toy on Christmas Eve, we depend upon concise, step-by-step directions and a good picture on the box.

With reader-centered texts, designed to describe, entertain, or persuade, such as fiction, poems, editorials, social media posts, and songs, the window is closer to you, the reader in your living room. The input and filter of your personal feelings, knowledge, and experience are significant contributions to understanding the text.

For example, if you are listening to and reading the lyrics of Lennon and McCartney’s “With a Little Help from My Friends,” you, the audience, are intended to contribute meaning to the song. Some of the lyrics are intentionally ambiguous.

As the official Beatle biographer, Hunter Davies, explains, Lennon and McCartney struggled to come up with a lyric to answer their question: “What do you see when you turn out the light?” Lennon suggested “I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine.” It fit the required number of syllables and rhyme scheme, and McCartney loved it because it could mean different things to different people.

So the type of text and the author’s purpose should have considerable impact upon how readers should understand and interpret the text. Good readers are flexible readers. They monitor their levels of comprehension while reading, according to their own purposes and the dictates of the text. When crucial facts or plot events are being delivered, they move the window close to the author; when less important description or tone are being read to evoke a certain mood, they move the window closer to themselves as readers.

And one last comment about applying the author-reader relationship theories: For those of you accustomed to reading on automatic pilot, you may be looking at the garden for far too long without thinking of the window. For many of you, the window is in fine shape, but it may need a bit of Windex to make the garden more visible. We often become accustomed to dirty windows and don’t notice until someone scribbles “Wash me!” However, our attention needs to be drawn to the window before we can notice. How do we start paying attention? Check out Talking with the Author.

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:

*****

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, Study Skills , , , , , , , , ,

Talking with the Author

Have you ever noticed how your English teachers and professors insist on discussing a novel or an article and its author in the present tense? For example, when analyzing Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, your teacher might say, “In Chapter 7, Hemingway builds suspense in the conversation between Pilar and Robert Jordan. The two walk into the cave and discover that one packet of explosives is missing.”

And most of you remember that we also write a literary analysis in the present tense, unless you want a considerable number of red ink written on your essay.

Now, last I checked, Ernest Hemingway died in 1961. But we still discuss him and his writing as if he were alive, because the author and his ideas remain relevant.

Not only should we discuss authors and text as if they are alive, we should also read as if the author and text are alive. It does take a bit of imagination, but if we treat the author and story as living, it’s much easier to have a conversational rapport with the writer and characters within the story.

You see, reading to a corpse would be a one-way conversation, unless zombies come into play. Reading with living, breathing authors and their characters can become engaging two-way conversations.

The point is… if you tend to understand reading as a one-way street in which you passively retrieve meaning from the text, this two-way street in which you, the reader, are actively interacting with the author, is quite different. To demonstrate this difference, let’s read a passage together from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities as passive readers. Since Dickens was, or… is British, I’ll try to read with an English accent. I know… it’s horrible, but it will serve a purpose:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.

Reader Response

Talking to the Author

Talking with the Author

Now, let’s read the same passage, and I will model how an active reader carries on a conversation with the author in red.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, Dickens clearly means to describe a universal theme with this general language. So often we tend to see good times as being the norm. Other times we look back at some eras as “the good old days” when they really weren’t that good. Hindsight is never 20-20 vision.

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, I see Dicken’s paradoxical patterns of the good to its bad opposite, but his extremes make me think that he is writing somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Nothing is life is that clear, especially when we are in the midst of experiencing it. His parallel structures of “It was the” use the absolute factual use of the “to be” verb and the definite article, “the,” to describe a time of no gray areas. It was one way or the other.

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, I know that some of the setting of this novel takes place during the French Revolution and that the two cities are Paris and London. My guess is that Dickens, an Englishman, is going to favor the ideals of his own London, and disparage those of Paris. The traditions of the Church were being challenged by the thinking of the Enlightenment. Faith versus reason. Dickens unfairly places the Enlightenment thinkers in the evil position. I, personally don’t see faith and reason as a necessary paradox, either.

it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, These polar opposites have everything to do with one’s perspective. For some the changes during this period of history were positive and the outlook was bright; for others, the events challenged everything they had ever known to be true and good. I would wager that for a whole lot of people, what was taking place was a mixed bag of good and bad.

Why doesn’t Dickens include the haves and have nots in his opening? If class differences are a key part of the historical setting as in the musical, Les Miserables, why did the author leave out these paired extremes?

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, Not sure what this means, unless Dicken’s is commenting on “hope” and “despair.”

we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—Think this was meant to be humorous. Interesting how Hell is an unmentionable. Perhaps a curse word.

in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. The language is tough to dissect here. “… the period was so far like the present period…” The “so far” could mean that it closely resembled the time of Dicken’s writing. The “noisiest authorities” might be the most popular voices of those times. This paragraph is all one long sentence. It seems that these contradictions of the past went on forever without resolution. What is Dickens up to here? Is he using this novel to criticize the present state of affairs in England?

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In other words, there wasn’t much difference between rulers. Perhaps due to intermarriage, or more likely in their beliefs about the divine right to rule. Some things never seem to change. I notice Dickens doesn’t allude to the present queen at the current time, Queen Victoria.

In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever. The loaves and fishes allusion of miraculously making something great out of very little, such as the expansion of citizens’ freedoms and rights or democracy were not realistic, nor likely during those times. Is Dickens saying the same about his current times and knocking the English monarchy?

If the reader-response strategy, which I call Talking with the Author, worked as planned, you would notice that your understanding and retention of the reading passage were significantly better with the second reading, as compared to the first reading. Notice that the window of meaning seemed to shift more toward the reader because of the universal themes and application to present times.

You may have noticed that my comments in the conversation were of different types. I focused on what the author said and how the author said it; I also commented on what the author did not say and what the author may have meant. Additionally, I criticized and questioned. I repeated the author’s words and re-read in order to clarify. I speculated about the author’s motive and where he was coming from. I also through in my own two cents as I might in a real one-on-one conversation. However, I tried to focus on the author’s meaning and ideas, and not only my personal experience.

Now, the Talking with the Author strategy takes practice to perfect. You can use this strategy with every genre and amount of reading. Practice doing so with texts and Facebook posts, emails, novels, articles, and technical documents.

Of course you noticed that I was making my comments out loud. My suggestion is to read the author’s text silently, but to subvocalize your comments as you begin to use this Talking with the Author strategy. I describe subvocalization as using a six-inch voice to talk to the author. Don’t worry, your author isn’t hard of hearing.

Some of you may have reservations about implementing this strategy. Interrupting the flow of your reading by talking to the author may seem stilted or unnatural. I certainly make used more reader-response in my example than I normally would to demonstrate the different types and breadth of comments. Not every sentence requires a comment. Instead of chunking the text into interrupted parts, you will begin to see a greater flow of ideas and you insert your comments.

At first, you may find it difficult to keep up your share of the author-reader conversation. This new way of reading, in which you, the reader, have a role in the conversation takes some getting used to. Make sure to develop a balance in the types of comments you make, so that you aren’t solely making comments, say, about word usage.

Using the Talking with the Author  will also temporarily slow down your reading. You may be tempted to use the strategy only with text which isn’t required and undesirable reading, perhaps for school or work. Resist this temptation and allot a bit more time for the subvocalizations for a while. If you practice reading the old way for some things and the new way for others, you will never develop the automaticity that is necessary for effective reading-response.

I do want to assure you that your decreased reading speed will only be a temporary issue. As the reader-response becomes second nature to you, you will naturally begin to replace the oral comments with silent ones. Gradually, the fully developed comments will become thought snippets. Much like milli-second dreams, these snippets can contain significant data. Our brains are simply amazing!

To doubters, I will add that I’ve replicated an informal reading-research study countless times which consistently demonstrates that readers using the Talking with the Author strategy not only score higher on reading comprehension tests, but also on reading speed. The better we process information, the faster we do so.

I would like to close our lecture with a reminder of the “no pain, no gain” truism. Replacing old habits with new habits is always challenging, especially when you have been practicing the old habit for years. Yes, young and old, alike, we all get set in our ways. However, be encouraged that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The rewards of better comprehension and more enjoyment of what you read will outweigh the discomfort of replacing an old habit with a new habit.

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:

*****

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, Study Skills , , , , ,