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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 ūüôā

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‚ĄĘ 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¬ģ 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¬ģ 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‚Äôs 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‚Äď2, 3‚Äď5, 6‚Äď8, 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¬ģ and System 44¬ģ¬†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 ‚ÄstWiesel (570)
  • 3rd Grade:¬†The Sun Also Rises¬†‚Äď Hemingway (610);¬†Twisted¬†‚Äď Anderson (680);¬†Incarceron¬†‚Äď Fisher (600)
  • 4th Grade:¬†Grapes of¬†Wrath¬†‚Äď Steinbeck (680);¬†The Color¬†Purple¬†‚Äď Walker (670)
  • 5th Grade:¬†For¬†Whom the Bell¬†Tolls ‚ÄstHemingway (840);¬†Kite Runner¬†‚Äď Hosseini (840);¬†A Farewell to¬†Arms¬†‚Äď Hemingway (730);¬†Cat‚Äôs Cradle¬†‚Äď Vonnegut (790)
  • 6th¬†Grade:¬†As I Lay Dying¬†‚Äď Faulkner (870);¬†The Sound and the Fury¬†‚Äď Faulkner (870);¬†To Kill a Mockingbird¬†‚Äď Lee (870);¬†Fahrenheit¬†451¬†‚Äď 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‚Äôs of all studies are available as well. These references were provided by Shanahan in ‚ÄúBuilding Up To FrustrationLevel Text‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúfrustration level‚ÄĚ 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, ‚ÄúOh, I think these are too hard for you. You need to choose ones more at your level.‚ÄĚ She didn‚Äôt know that I was a teacher, and I didn‚Äôt tell her. I almost hit her, but I didn‚Äôt 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 ‚Äúfit‚ÄĚ 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‚Äď90% 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¬ģ 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‚Äď90%, 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 teach.¬†So 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‚ĄĘ and Reading Counts! programs.

Both the Accelerated Reader‚ĄĘ 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 BUNDLE. 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. 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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English-language Arts Standards

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

Standards-based education is now the norm in public and most parochial schools. Having largely captured the focus of the educational reform movement over the last 25 years, standards-based instruction is now the instructional mandate in all 50 states. Although some states have rescinded their adoption of the Common Core State Standards and some, like Texas, never did adopt the Standards, each state has adopted its own set of standards and some have developed their own state assessment systems. Teachers and district administrators continue to align curriculum to the instructional demands of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.

Although the authors of the Common Core State Standards assert that literacy instruction must be a shared responsibility within the school, the largest burden still falls on the shoulders of ELA teachers. Of the four Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language Strands, the Language Strand presents the greatest challenge for many teachers. Most ELA teachers simply have not had the undergraduate or graduate coursework to prepare them to teach the L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 Standards in grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary.

This author, Mark Pennington, has written articles and developed free teaching resources on the Common Core ELA Standards and included these in his Pennington Publishing Blog to support fellow ELA teachers and reading intervention specialists. Mark’s assessment-based teaching resources are available at Pennington Publishing.

This article and resource compilation is jam-packed with FREE resources, lesson plans, and samples from grades 4‚Äďhigh school ELA and reading intervention programs, developed by teacher and author, Mark Pennington. Each of the following 25+ articles has multiple links to research, related articles, and free or paid resources:

Common Core Literalism

The Common Core State Standards were never written to be the Bible for ELA and reading intervention teachers. Read what the Common Core authors have to say and see how a common sense approach to teaching to the Standards can benefit both students and teachers.

FREE Instructional Resources: Syllable Awareness Assessment, 20 Advanced Syllable Rules, 10 English Accent Rules

Response to Intervention and the Common Core

Many teachers have never read the entire Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Sure, they’ve read their own district or state summaries of the Standards, but not the documents themselves. To understand the instructional role of the Standards, teachers must read the  appendices, which discuss important reflections and research regarding, for instance, reading intervention.

Grammar and the Common Core

More than any other Strand within the Common Core State Standards, the Language Strand with its focus on direct grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary instruction has been whole-heartedly embraced or intentionally ignored by teachers.

Common Core Instructional Minutes

With all the CCSS mandates, how can an ELA teacher allocate instructional time to be faithful to the Standards, while maintaining some sense of one’s own priorities? This article gets down to the minute-by-minute.

Common Core Academic Language Words

Of course, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Greek and Latinates

The bulk of Vocabulary Standards are included in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots are key components of five of the grade level Standards: Grades 4‚ąí8. Which Greek and Latin affixes and roots should we teach? How many should we teach? How should we teach them?

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)¬†is part of a comprehensive Grades 4‚ąí12 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards in 60‚ąí90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year curriculum provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. The program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Appendices have extensive instructional resources, including the¬†Pennington Manual of Style¬†and downloadable essay-comments. A student workbook accompanies this program.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our ‚Äúcontent‚ÄĚ area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (called¬†strands) with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language has its own seat at the table.

Common Core Grammar Standards

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of  the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. So what instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? Following is a weekly instructional plan to teach the L.4, 5, and 6 Vocabulary Standards.

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

The Language Strand has been one of the most controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. The Language Progressive Skills document emphasizes the essential grammar, usage, and mechanics skills, which need to be reviewed and reinforced year after year..

Common Core Curricular Crossover

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) produces some interesting curricular crossover. The traditional English-language arts divisions of reading, writing, listening, and speaking have been replaced with four new strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. The six Standards of the Language Strand borrow a bit from each of the traditional divisions. The inclusion of the Language Strand as its own set of Standards has created some concern in the ELA community.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As an MA Reading Specialist and author of quite a few spelling curricula (eight at last count), I’m often asked about spelling word lists by grade levels. Which words are right for which grade levels? Is blank (substitute any word) a third or fourth grade word? Which spelling words are the most important ones to practice? The short answer is…

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

I propose using the CCSS language of instruction for the key writing terms across all subject disciplines in elementary, middle school, and high school. Some of us will have to come down out of our castles and give up pet writing terms that we’ve used for years, and ones that, indeed, may be more accurate than those of the CCSS. But for the sake of collaboration and service to our students, this pedagogical sacrifice is a must.

Common Core Content Area Reading and Writing

Nothing in the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has worried English-language arts teachers more than ‚ÄúThe Great Shift.‚ÄĚ This shift changes the emphasis of reading and writing in K-12 English-language arts (ELA) classrooms from the literature and narrative to the informational (to explain) and argumentative (to persuade) genres.

Common Core Language Standards

Teachers are generally quite familiar with the CCSS Reading and Writing Standards, not so with the Language Strand Standards. The Language Strand includes the grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary Standards.

Standards and Accountability

Sometimes we teachers can be our own worst enemies. Check out this article, published in the Answer Sheet of The Washington Post.

Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

The Common Core State Standards for English-language Arts makes a compelling case for not doing business as usual in our ELA classrooms. That business consists of the traditional ‚Äúsage on the stage‚ÄĚ methodology of reading an entire novel or play out loud and parsing paragraphs one at a time. Our new business? Scaffolding just enough reading strategies and content as we act as ‚Äúguides on the side‚ÄĚ to facilitate independent reading. In other words, the days of¬† spoon-feeding have got to go.

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

A growing body of research presents a challenge to current K-12 reading/English-language Arts instruction. In essence, we need to ‚Äúup‚ÄĚ the level of text complexity and provide greater opportunities for independent reading. The Common Core State English-language Arts Standards provides a convincing three-reason argument in support of these changes in instructional practice. Following this rationale, I will share ten instructional implications and address a few possible objections.

Common Core State Writing Standards

The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing.  The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards.

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

Every English-language arts teacher shares the same problem‚ÄĒtoo much to teach and not enough time to teach it. So, where are the magic beans that will allow us to teach all of the have-to‚Äôs (think ELA Standards) and still have a bit of time to teach the want-tos? Following are a few suggestions to help the clever ELA teacher have her cake and eat it, too.

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

The excesses of the standards-based movement frequently run contrary to the need to differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of children.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand). Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading Comprehension Strategies

The International Literacy Association (ILA) was kind enough to post my article, “Should We Teach Reading Comprehension Strategies,” so I thought I would share on my own Pennington Publishing Blog. The take-away is that some minimal instruction and practice using the classic reading comprehension strategies: activation of prior knowledge, cause and effect, compare and contrast, fact and opinion, author‚Äôs purpose, classify and categorize, drawing conclusions, figurative language, elements of plot, story structure, theme, context clues, point of view, inferences, text structure, characterization, and others is helpful, but not to teach reading comprehension. Teaching these reading strategies has value only in that they serve to help developing readers self-monitor their own comprehension by closely examining the text and developing the author-reader dialog. However, the predominant reading instruction (what teachers should spend most of their time doing) should be teaching the skills that develop¬† improved reading comprehension. In my mind, the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies (See FREE download below) serve both purposes. The ILA article follows for those interested in the details and the relevant research:

Reading Comprehension Strategies?

Should We Teach Reading Comprehension Strategies?

Reading teachers like to teach. For most of us, that means that we need to have something to share with our students: some concept, some skill, some strategy. To teach content, teachers must be able to define what the content is and is not. Teachers also need to be able to determine how the content is to be taught, practiced, and ultimately mastered. The latter requirement necessitates some form of assessment.

However, teachers do recognize that reading involves things that we can’t teach: in other words, the process of reading. Thinking comes to mind; so does the reader’s self-monitoring of text; and the reader’s connection to personal prior knowledge.

But what about reading comprehension? Is it content or process? Can we teach it, practice it, and master it? Is reading comprehension the result or goal of reading?

Those who hope that comprehension is the result look to fill developing readers with the concepts needed to be learned, such as phonological (phonemic) awareness; the alphabetic principle; reading from left to right; understanding punctuation; and spacing. Teachers also introduce, practice, and assess student mastery of the requisite reading skills, including phonics, syllabication, analogizing, and recognizing whole words by sight. These concepts and skills have a solid research base and a positive correlation with proficient reading comprehension.

Furthermore, these concepts or skills can be clearly defined, taught as discrete components, and assessed to determine mastery.

The same cannot be said for reading comprehension strategies, such as activation of prior knowledge, cause and effect, compare and contrast, fact and opinion, author’s purpose, classify and categorize, drawing conclusions, figurative language, elements of plot, story structure, theme, context clues, point of view, inference categories, text structure, and characterization.

Note that the list does not include summarizing the main idea, making connections, rethinking, interpreting, and predicting. These seem more akin to reader response actions than strategies, per se.

None of the specific reading comprehension strategies has demonstrated statistically significant effects on reading comprehension on its own as a discrete skill. Although plenty of lessons, activities, bookmarks, and worksheets provide some means of how to learn practice, none of these strategies can be taught to mastery, nor accurately assessed.

So, if individual reading comprehension strategies fail to meet the criteria for research-based concepts and skills to improve reading comprehension, should we teach any of them and require our students to practice them?

Yes, but minimally‚ÄĒas process, not content. We need to teach these strategies as being what good readers do as they read. The¬†think-aloud¬†provides an effective means of modeling each reading comprehension strategy. Some practice, such as a¬†read-think-pair-share, makes sense to reinforce what the strategy entails. A brief writing activity, requiring students to apply the strategy, could also be helpful. But minimal instructional¬† time is key.

Daniel Willingham, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia, suggests that reading comprehension strategies are better thought of as tricks, rather than as skill-builders. They work because they make plain to readers that it’s a good idea to monitor whether they understand as they read.

In other words, teaching a reading comprehension strategy, such as cause and effect, is not a transferable reading skill, which once learned and practiced can be applied to another reading passage by a developing reader. However, when teachers model paying attention to the author’s use of cause and effect in a story or article and have students practice key cause and effect transition words in their own context clue sentences, it’s the analysis of the text and the author’s writing that’s valuable, not the strategy in and of itself.

In fact, a 2014 study by Gail Lovette and Daniel Willingham found three quantitative reviews of reading comprehension strategies instruction in typically developing children and five reviews of studies of at-risk children or those with reading disabilities. All eight reviews reported that reading comprehension strategies instruction boosted reading comprehension, but none reported that practice of such instruction yielded further benefit. The outcome of 10 sessions was the same as the outcome of 50.

So, should we teach reading comprehension strategies? Yes, but as part of the reading process, not as isolated skills with extensive practice. Reading comprehension strategies have their place in beginning reading, content reading, and reading intervention classes, but not as substitutes for reading concepts and skills.

*****

Do teach the reading comprehension strategy “tricks,” but limit instructional time and practice. 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 Strategies.¬†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‚Äďa 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 activities,¬†phonics¬†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

Grammar/Mechanics , , , , , , ,

Orton-Gillingham Review

One Size Does Not Fit All Reading Instruction

One Size Does Not Fit All

I don’t usually spend much time critiquing reading intervention programs other than my own¬†Teaching Reading Strategies. Obviously, as a publisher I have built-in bias, and I will end up this article with a convincing case as to why teachers should purchase my own products.

I did review the READ 180 Next Generation, System 44, and Language Live! programs because each program was piloted in local schools last year. However, recently I’ve been getting a number of inquiries regarding the Orton-Gillingham Approach, so I thought I’d offer my thoughts and cite relevant research studies regarding this program. Many of the same comments could be applied to similar approaches to reading instruction: the Spalding Method, Wilson Reading System, and Lindamood Bell.

Orton-Gillingham Quick Overview

Orton-Gillingham (O-G) has long been a favorite program of special education and home school teachers. Some parochial schools also favor the program, and recently more and more public schools have embraced parts of or the whole O-G  resources for response to intervention classes. Response to intervention programs use a multi-tiered approach to remedial reading both in and out of mainstream classes to meet the needs of older, struggling readers.

The program is chiefly selected for developmental and remedial readers because of two instructional characteristics: explicit, systematic phonics and a multi-sensory approach to sight words acquisition and spelling instruction. The program features movement and color to make learning memorable. The Wikipedia article provides a concise and balanced overview of the O-G history and instructional philosophy.

Orton-Gillingham Review: the Good, the Bad, and the Weird

The Good

Any teacher with some experience teaching reading will be able to teach the O-G program without extensive training. You don’t need the Orton-Gillingham certification to use its program resources. It’s not rocket science.

The highlight of the program is the instructional scope and sequence. Its phonics sequence makes sense and is similar to that of Open Court, READ 180, Language Live!, and my own program. Its systematic instructional approach is consistent and explicit. No synthetic, analytic, or analogous crossovers.

Good teachers can separate the wheat from the chaff. There is much value to the O-G program and many teachers swear by its results.

The Bad

The full program is not easy to implement and takes a significant amount of teacher prep for daily use. Additionally, new teachers will need the full O-G training. Because the program is so step-by-step, it takes an inordinate amount of time to achieve results for some beginning and remedial readers. Realistically, this is problematic for two reasons:

1. Teachers do not have unlimited time to prep, re-teach, re-teach, and re-teach until all students get it. Sometimes, skipping an unmastered skill, such as consonant digraphs, makes sense and students later master that skill in the midst of learning, say, consonant blends. This is not the O-G Approach. Furthermore, teachers, administrators, parents, and most importantly, students, want to see results quickly. This is especially true for older, struggling readers.

2. The program claims to be flexible, and it is in part; however, it does not yield on its systematic, explicit phonics methodology. The new position paper of the International Literacy Association correctly summarizes the reading research that explicit phonics instruction works, but that systematic instruction did not achieve better results than other approaches, despite claims to the contrary by the International Dyslexia Association (which does not advocate any one explicit, systematic phonics approach, but clearly favors that of Orton-Gillingham). In fact, the International Literacy Association specifically cites the lack of results with  the O-G Approach:

In their report on the effects of specific programs, the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) program had the lowest average effect size (0.23). The remainder of the programs ranged from 0.35 to 0.68 (p. 2-160). Looking further, only two of the O-G studies assessed comprehension, and the average effect size on comprehension was -0.03. Only one study reported a delayed assessment of comprehension, and the effect size was -0.81 (six months after
the completion of the intervention). That is minus 0.81‚ÄĒthus participation in an O-G program appears to have had a large negative impact on reading achievement in comparison with other intervention methods evaluated in the study.

Ouch! While I affirm the value of explicit, systematic phonics instruction and help teachers implement this approach with my 16 week sound-spelling blending and phonics workshops, I’ve taught enough beginning and remedial reading to know that¬†every student does not learn in the same way. One size does not fit all.¬†Sometimes, an onset-rime approach with rimes (word families), a syllable-by-syllable approach, or more word fluency will do the trick. My¬†Teaching Reading Strategies program offers each of these alternative or both-and resources. Whatever it takes to get quickly to the end result: fluent readers with excellent reading comprehension. Begin with explicit, systematic phonics instruction for struggling readers; adjust as needed.

The Weird

Every reading program has its idiosyncrasies, mine included. For example, my 54¬†Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, which support the comprehensive¬†Teaching Reading Strategies program, are purely decodable with the exception of only two high frequency sight words per book. While every other collection of decodable guided reading or take-home books¬†cheats a bit by adding in a few extra sight words to improve reading coherency and fluent reading, mine do not. It’s one of the¬†weird¬†features of my resources… butI think a good one that is less confusing to struggling readers.

Orton-Gillingham has its share of idiosyncrasies. As teachers are trained in the O-G Approach, most will shake their heads at some of program practices, deemed essential to O-G purists. Two philosophical tenets of the program are simply unfounded and influence some instructional components:

1. Dyslexia is championed as the root cause of reading problems. In fact, Samuel Orton coined the term back in the 1920s. Recently, the influential International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association) published a position paper which debunks dyslexia. The International Dyslexia Association, which affirms the Orton-Gillingham Approach, weighed in on the position paper. The International Literacy Association refuted point-by-point each of the O-G assertions. Read about the controversy in my article, Dyslexia Is Not Real. The gist of my position is that reading difficulties are not learning disabilities which cannot be cured, but only treated with coping mechanisms:

‚ÄúDyslexia 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‚ÄĚ (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-at-a-glance/).

Instead, I’ve found that quality assessment-based instruction can, indeed,¬†cure what needs to be cured for struggling readers.

2.¬†Orton-Gillingham’s multi-sensory approach does not have a solid research base. Following is the gist of this methodology:

Orton-Gillingham teaching sessions are action-oriented and involve constant interaction between the teacher and the student and the simultaneous use of multiple sensory input channels reinforcing each other for optimal learning. Using auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements, all language skills taught are reinforced by having the student listen, speak, read and write. For example, a dyslexic learner is taught to see the letter A, say its name and sound and write it in the air‚Äďall at the same time. The approach requires intense instruction with ample practice. The use of multiple input channels is thought to enhance memory storage and retrieval by providing multiple “triggers” for memory (https://wiki2.org/en/Orton-Gillingham).

Although all good teaching involves the learners’ variety of sensory experiences, the zealous focus on multi-sensory practice in the O-G Approach is extraneous or a waste of time, at best, and counterproductive, at worst. For example, writing spellings in the air reinforce the long-discredited notion that spelling is a visual skill. Most teachers stopped tracing letters and memorizing letter shapes decades ago. Spelling is primarily an auditory skill, which is ironically reinforced throughout the phonemic awareness and phonics instructional components of the O-G program.

For more regarding the research on multi-sensory approaches, learning styles, and multiple intelligences, check out my article, Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences.

Comparing the Teaching Reading Strategies Program to the Orton-Gillingham Approach

The Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE follow nearly the same instructional phonics sequence as Orton-Gillingham and both programs provide explicit, systematic phonics instruction. However, Teaching Reading Strategies includes all the other resources teachers need to teach to each unique learner with assessment-based instruction. My program is designed exclusively for reading intervention. Resources are catered to older, struggling readers who have not yet mastered the basics of reading.

Unlike Orton-Gillingham, the Teaching Reading Strategies program helps teachers isolate and teach to the specific needs of struggling readers with targeted instruction.

Unlike Orton-Gillingham, the Teaching Reading Strategies program is much more flexible and cheaper!

Unlike Orton-Gillingham, my training program is free and included. Step-by-step videos introduce the instructional strategies. This program is user-friendly and requires only minimal prep and correction. Here’s an overview of the program:

Teaching Reading Strategies provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activities, phonics 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 value-priced BUNDLE includes 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

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 , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Summer School Reading Intervention

Summer School Reading Intervention Program

Summer School Reading Intervention

More and more schools are seeing the value of summer school as an option for intensive reading intervention. Whether students are assigned to the program or elect to do so, the summer school teacher needs the most effective, assessment-based program to get results in the shortest amount of time. Time is always a factor in reading intervention. I‚Äôve never heard a teacher complain that ‚ÄúWe just have too much time for reading instruction.‚ÄĚ

This program includes condensed resources from my full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies (description below). This comprehensive program has been designed for upper elementary, middle school, high school, and adult non-readers and below grade level readers with low fluency, poor comprehension, and lack of decoding skills. However, this comprehensive program is not always conducive to the wide variety of school schedules and variables of program funding. Since Teaching Reading Strategies is an un-canned, flexible program, the resources are ideal for less amount of instructional time. This is not to say that fewer instructional hours will produce the same results as a longer, more comprehensive program, but some is considerably better than none.

Due to many requests from time-pressed teachers, I’ve scaled down my comprehensive program to a fast-paced summer school program of 45 hours. For some schools, the summer school reading intervention schedule consists of 3 weeks of 3 hours per day; others allot 6 weeks of 90 minutes per day instruction; some provide 9 weeks of 1 hour per day. No matter the schedule, I’m confident that you, your students, administrators, and parents will make significant, measurable progress in those 45 total instructional hours.

Since teachers can’t accomplish all that most struggling readers need in the limited amount of instructional time, certain priorities will have to be established. Trying to cover everything in a comprehensive reading intervention program within 45 hours will yield poor results. Instead, let’s focus on the BIG 3: phonics, reading fluency, and reading comprehension.

The Summer School Reading Intervention program consists of diagnostic assessments, direct instruction, small group workshops, and individualized practice. Four helpful training videos are included to help teachers at all levels of experience do a fantastic job with these reading resources:

INSTRUCTIONAL COMPONENTS

Diagnostic Assessments

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (with audio file)
Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment (with audio file)
‚ÄúPets‚ÄĚ Fluency Assessment
Phonics and Fluency Mastery Matrix

Direct Instruction

Animal Sound-Spelling Card Chants (three audio files)
Animal Sound-Spelling and Consonant Blend Cards
Sound‚ąíby‚ąíSound Spelling Blending
Vowel Transformers (Syllabication)

Small Group (Literacy Center) Instruction

Phonics Workshops with Formative Assessments
Ôāß Short Vowels
Ôāß Silent Final e
Ôāß Consonant Digraphs
Ôāß Consonant Blends
Ôāß Long Vowels
Ôāß Diphthongs
Ôāß r and l‚ąícontrolled Vowels

Individualized Instruction

43 Animal Fluency Articles (3 YouTube Modeled Readings Each—129 Videos) and Timing Charts
43 SCRIP Comprehension Worksheets

Fun!

Phonics Card Games

Want to check out this program? See Summer School Reading Intervention on¬†Teachers Pay Teachers.¬†Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum,¬†Teaching Reading Strategies.¬†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‚Äďa 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 activities,¬†phonics¬†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 , , , , , , , , ,

Flexible Phonics Instruction

I’ve been spending time on the International Literacy Association (ILA) website. Notice the name change. As I suggested in a related article, “There appears to be a new sheriff in town.”

As a reading specialist, I once was quite involved with the affiliate California Reading Association of the International Reading Association (the old name for the ILA). I dutifully attended both organization’s conferences, was involved in my local council, and even served on the secondary board for the California Reading Association. However, I eventually decided to drop my membership and involvement in the late 1980s. Others did as well. The California Reading Association conference used to draw 20,000 to its annual northern and southern state conferences, but attendance dwindled to less than 3,000. My take is that the organizations’ advocacy of “balanced literacy” (an updated branding of “whole language”) was simply out of step with the findings of the National Reading Panel and the back-to-phonics movement.

Fast forward 30 years. Reading specialists, reading intervention teachers, and parents may be surprised to learn that new¬†position papers published on the ILA website uphold the last thirty years of reading research and validate the findings of the National Reading Panel. The venerable institution now supports direct instruction of phonological awareness (phonemic awareness) and phonics.¬†Plus, the organization’s position paper on reading fluency properly re-focuses fluency instruction on¬†accuracy¬†and warns against too-much attention to reading speed. Check out my article titled “Reading Fluency ILA Position” for more.

Now to the phonics issue…

The ILA website also includes a position paper with addendum regarding dyslexia. In¬†“Dyslexia: Response to the International Dyslexia Association,” the ILA questions

Dyslexia Does Not Exist

Dyslexia Is Not Real

whether dyslexia¬†is, indeed, a diagnosable condition and advocates abandoning the term, dyslexia, altogether.Wow. At last I can come out of the shadows on this issue. Check out my summary of the debate and my own position in”Dyslexia Is Not Real.”

Additionally, the ILA challenges the dyslexia organization’s interpretations of the research-base on explicit, systematic phonics instruction. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) claims that “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/). The key coping mechanism, according to the IDA, is¬†explicit, systematic phonics instruction. The IDA does not advocate a specific phonics program, but the Orton-Gillingham Approach is clearly a favorite. After all, Orton coined the term,¬†dyslexia, as early as 1925.

International Literacy Association’s Critique on Explicit, Systematic Phonics (See¬†Research Advisory Addendum)

The writers of the ILA addendum agree with the the authors of the National Reading Panel (2000) that “The conclusion supported by these findings is that various types of systematic phonics approaches are significantly more effective than non-phonics¬†approaches in promoting substantial growth in reading” (2-93).

Interpretation: The ILA supports systematic phonics instruction for developing and struggling (remedial) readers.

However, the ILA addendum states, “The (National Reading) Panel compared three different approaches to phonics instruction (synthetic, larger unit phonics, and miscellaneous phonics approaches) and found no difference between them‚ÄĒthus the approach advocated by IDA (explicit, systematic phonics) cannot be claimed to be preferable: There is no certifiable best method for teaching children who experience reading difficulty.

Interpretation: The reading research does not support only one approach to phonics instruction as the dyslexia association claims.

The addendum continues, “In their report on the effects of specific programs, the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) program had the lowest average effect size (0.23). The remainder of the programs ranged from 0.35 to 0.68 (2-160). Looking further, only two of the O-G studies assessed comprehension, and the average effect size on comprehension was -0.03. Only one study reported a delayed assessment of comprehension, and the effect size was -0.81 (six months after the completion of the intervention). That is minus 0.81‚ÄĒthus participation in an O-G program appears to have had a large negative impact on reading achievement in comparison with other intervention methods evaluated in the study”

Magic Elixir for Reading Problems

Snake Oil Cure-All for Reading Problems

Interpretation: The pet program of many dyslexia advocates, Orton-Gillingham, is ineffective when used as the only component of reading instruction. However, the National Reading Panel Report, itself, adds an important caveat:

As with any instructional program, there is always the question: ‚ÄúDoes one size fit all?‚ÄĚ Teachers may be expected to use a particular phonics program with their class, yet it quickly becomes apparent that the program suits some students better than others. In the early grades, children are known to vary greatly in the skills they bring to school. There will be some children who already know most letter-sound correspondences, some children who can even decode words, and others who have little or no letter knowledge. Should teachers proceed through the program and ignore these students? Or should they assess their students‚Äô needs and select the types and amounts of phonics suited to those needs? Although the latter is clearly preferable, this requires phonics programs that provide guidance in how to place students into flexible instructional groups and how to pace instruction. However, it is common for many phonics programs to present a fixed sequence of lessons scheduled from the beginning to the end of the school year. Finally, it is important to emphasize that systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program. Phonics instruction is never a total reading program.

Interpretation: The Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, Slingerland, Open Court, etc. explicit, systematic phonics programs may be ideal instructional components as part of a total reading program to some, but not all students in a class, but not as the only solution to all reading problems and to all readers.

Evaluation: The Need for Flexible, Assessment-based Phonics Instruction and More

There is no doubt that explicit, systematic phonics instruction has its place in reading instruction. As a reading specialist and reading intervention teacher, I have found much greater instructional continuity and success with an A to Z scope and sequence of comprehensive phonics instruction than with hodge-podge synthetic, analytic, embedded, or onset-rime approaches. However, explicit, systematic phonics instruction has to be quick and to the point with both developing and older remedial readers.

Additionally, good phonics instruction is assessment-based and flexible. As the National Reading Panel Report Conclusion points out, learners have different skill-sets. How does individualized instruction mesh with a comprehensive phonics program? In my¬†Teaching Reading Strategies¬†reading intervention program, the teacher begins each class with 5-minute sound-spelling blending practice in a 16-week instructional sequence to learn all the sounds and spellings of the alphabetic code. Students continue in 15-minute assessment-based phonics workshops. Some students need practice in diphthongs; some don’t. Diagnostic and formative assessments drive instruction.

Other students need phonemic awareness activities; most need work on syllabication, conventional spelling patterns, and fluency practice.

All students need reading comprehension practice. My expository comprehension articles and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books provide the means.

In other words, the teacher is front and center in my program and should be in whatever amalgamation of reading resources a good teacher uses to meet the needs of her students. Phonics instruction? Absolutely. Flexible phonics instruction? Even better.

Want a FREE treasure-trove of reading assessments, including audio files and recording matrices, for struggling readers? Click this article on reading assessment. Once you check out these comprehensive assessments, you’ll want the assessment-based resources to make a difference for your struggling readers.

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum,¬†Teaching Reading Strategies.¬†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‚Äďa 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 activities,¬†phonics¬†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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading Fluency ILA Position

Not too long ago, the venerable bastion of “balanced literacy,” the International Reading Association, changed its name to the International Literacy Association.

“Uh… oh,” I thought. Here comes more of the same anti-skills, anti-phonological awareness, anti-systematic phonics, pro-readers workshop, pro-Reading Recovery, pro-guided reading, pro-reading mini-lessons, re-hash of the 1980s whole language movement from this tired, old organization that has seen membership plummet over the years.

Reading Fluency International Literacy Association

International Literacy Association on Reading Fluency

Not so! There’s a new sheriff in town.

Reading specialists and response to intervention teachers will be pleasantly surprised that a whole new group of position papers published on International Literacy Association website upholds the last thirty years of reading research and now embraces early, direct instruction of phonological awareness (phonemic awareness) and systematic phonics (albeit a variety of phonics approaches). Wahoo! I might just have to re-up my membership and attend the July 20-23 conference in Austin.

International Literacy Association Position Paper on Reading Fluency 2018

The position paper begins by defining reading fluency.

Fluency may be defined as ‚Äúreasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable expression, that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read‚ÄĚ (Hasbrouck & Glaser, 2012, p. 13).

The key word in the citation is Hasbrouck. Yes, Jan Hasbrouck is now on the ILS board. Her new fluency norms are discussed and can be downloaded in my related article, Reading Fluency Norms.

The position paper can be summarized as following:

Students do not need to read as fast as possible to become good readers. Students who read in the average range of ORF norms are on target to become effective readers; they are doing just fine.

and

Rate is often used mistakenly as a synonym for fluency. However, rate technically refers only to the speed with which students read text. Fluency is far more complex than rate alone. Another common fallacy about rate is that ‚Äúfaster is better,‚ÄĚ although most teachers likely know from experience that this is not true. Most teachers have had experiences with students who read quickly but still may not have good comprehension. Speed alone does not facilitate comprehension, and a fast reader is not necessarily a fluent reader.

The ILS suggests the following action plan for improving student reading fluency:

  • Set reasonable expectations for students‚Äô reading accuracy, rate, and expression, taking reading level, words correct per minute, and type of text (e.g., expository, narrative, poetry) into consideration.
  • Aim for students to read grade-level text aloud at around the 50th‚Äď75th percentiles, with accuracy and expression. ‚ÄĘ Move toward having students be able to read aloud in a manner that mirrors spoken language.
  • Practice reading text‚ÄĒcarefully selected for at least 95% accuracy‚ÄĒthrough multiple reads. Pose a specific comprehension-focused purpose for each reading.
  • Preview vocabulary through explicit decoding and discuss meaning. Model the reading of several sentences that use the vocabulary terms as a preview for the text, then have students practice reading the same sentences.
  • Use partner reading or teacher-monitored oral reading in small groups

Sensible and effective instructional practice to improve student reading fluency! I love the emphasis on accuracy and the emphasis on decoding mastery.

Want an effective two-minute diagnostic fluency assessment? FREE!

The ‚ÄúPets‚ÄĚ fluency passage is an expository article leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second-grade level; the third paragraph is at the third-grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level that builds confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language through successive approximation. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity.

<p style=”text-align: center;”>Get the <strong>Pets Fluency Assessment</strong> FREE Resource:
<a class=”modalopener” href=”https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/downloads/get.php/Pets-Fluency-Assessment”><img class=”aligncenter” src=”https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/downloads/img/download-resource.png” width=”414″ height=”40″ /></a></p>

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum,¬†Teaching Reading Strategies.¬†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‚Äďa 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 activities,¬†phonics¬†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 , , , , , , ,

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

As an educational publisher, I’ve made a few mistakes over the years… especially with titles. My grades 4-8¬†Differentiated Spelling

Spelling Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Instruction¬†is a case in point: a terrific program series, which helps students¬†catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction. I chose the word,¬†Differentiated, to indicate individualized, assessment-based instruction. However, to others in the¬†Differentiated Instruction¬†movement, this term meant student-choice, multi-modality learning styles. Not what I meant at all, but I’m stuck with the title.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Another colossal title failure was my grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand series. Shortly after the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, I assumed that everyone would begin referring to Common Core organizational  verbiage, including the key terms: strands. Wrong assumption. I had to rename my program as Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand). Obviously, a horrifically long title (even for a BUNDLED program).

However, by far, my greatest title failure has been for my flagship product, Teaching Reading Strategies. I thought that

Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies Comprehensive Reading Intervention Program

this program, designed for reading intervention was aptly named for the assessment-based skill-building¬†strategies to help students acquire phonemic awareness, phonics, syllabication, fluency, and comprehension. Wrong again. Teachers assumed that the¬†strategies¬†referred to the other types of¬†reading¬†strategies, and I still get questions such as “Where are the lessons on identifying elements of plot or differentiating between fact and opinion?”

I’ve spent time discussing the meanings we pour into educational terminology (in this case my own program titles), because we teachers often¬†assume that we are all talking about the same instructional approaches and their applications when we really are not. This is especially true with reading strategies.

Let’s prove the point with an example: Word identification reading strategies are qualitatively different than, say, identification of main idea reading strategies. Let’s see why these differences matter.

Word identification is the process of determining the pronunciation and
some meaning of a word encountered in print (Gentry, 2006; Harris & Hodges,
1995). Readers employ a variety of strategies to accomplish this. Ehri (2004,
2005) identified four of them: decoding, analogizing, predicting, and recognizing
whole words by sight (https://us.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/40373_3.pdf).

Thus, word identification strategies (I would differentiate a bit between identification and recognition, but that is beside the point) are the skills of reading, not reading as a meaning-making thinking activity.

Main idea is the gist of a passage; central thought; the chief topic of a passage expressed or implied in a word or phrase; the topic sentence of a paragraph; a statement that gives the explicit or implied major topic of a passage and the specific way in which the passage is limited in content or reference (csmpx.ucop.edu/crlp/resources/glossary.html).

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

Don’t Teach Reading Strategies???

Thus, main idea is not a reading strategy, such as “decoding, analogizing, predicting, and recognizing whole words by sight”; instead, identifying main idea strategies are meaning-making thinking activities that assist reader comprehension.

Reading research over the last 30 years has confirmed the former reading strategy (word identification) as a statistically significant positive correlate to good reading comprehension; however, the research has not established the same level of correlation for the latter specific reading strategy (identifying main idea) or the other meaning-making thinking activities. These latter types of instructional strategies are often referred to as reading comprehension strategies:

activation of prior knowledge, cause and effect, compare and contrast, fact and opinion, author’s purpose, classify and categorize, drawing conclusions, figurative language, elements of plot, story structure, theme, context clues, point of view, inferences, text structure, characterization, and others.

So Should We Teach Reading Strategies?¬†Daniel Willingham, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Virginia, stirred up quite a pot in reading circles with his¬†Washington Post¬†article,¬†in which he labels these reading strategies as “tricks,” and not “skill-builders” to improve reading comprehension. The¬†Post¬†published five successive articles in the “Answer Sheet” from Willingham’s¬†¬†book, ‚ÄúRaising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do.‚ÄĚ

According to the professor,

Can reading comprehension be taught? In this blog post, I‚Äôll suggest that the most straightforward answer is ‚Äúno.‚ÄĚ Reading comprehension strategies (1) don‚Äôt boost comprehension per se; (2) do indirectly help comprehension but; (3) don‚Äôt need to be practiced.

Essentially, Willingham acknowledges that

… children who receive instruction in …reading comprehension strategies (RCSs)… are better able to understand texts than they were before the instruction (e.g., Suggate, 2010). Why?

I suggest that RCSs are better thought of as tricks than as skill-builders. They work because they make plain to readers that it’s a good idea to monitor whether you understand.

In other words, teaching how to identify the main idea of a reading passage is not a transferable reading skill which once learned and practiced can be applied to another reading passage by a developing reader. However, the analysis of the text does teach the reader that understanding the meaning of the text is what reading is all about i.e., comprehension.

So, should we teach these reading comprehension strategies?

Gail Lovette and I (2014) found three quantitative reviews of RCS instruction in typically developing children and five reviews of studies of at-risk children or those with reading disabilities. All eight reviews reported that RCS instruction boosted reading comprehension, but NONE reported that practice of such instruction yielded further benefit. The outcome of 10 sessions was the same as the outcome of 50.

How much instructional time is devoted to RCSs in American schools? It‚Äôs hard to say, but research indicates that more than ‚Äújust a little‚ÄĚ is time that could be better spent on other things, especially (as noted yesterday) to building content knowledge.

My take-away? With beginning and struggling readers, spend more time on the reading strategies, such as word identification, that are truly¬†skill-builders and worthy of ample instructional time and practice. My Teaching Reading Strategies¬†reading intervention program focuses on these reading skills. In a related article I discuss why we shouldn’t teach reading comprehension. With all these “don’ts,” what should we “do?”

With all readers, spend more time on content knowledge, vocabulary, and independent reading. Do teach the reading comprehension “tricks,” but limit instructional time and practice. 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 Strategies.¬†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‚Äďa 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 activities,¬†phonics¬†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 , , , , , ,