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Books for Struggling Readers

Phonics Books for Struggling Readers

Books for Struggling Readers

As a reading specialist, I’ve had the opportunity to work with students at the full spectrum of age groups from preK to adult ed. My passion has always been to help struggling readers, especially older readers. You find these students in reading intervention classes, ESL/ELD/ELL programs, special education classes, and learning centers.

Ask any reading teacher, who’s been there and done that, what is the key correlate to reading improvement for older struggling readers and you’ll hear the word, motivation, more often than not.

Long ago I learned the power of motivation upon student achievement. It took me awhile. In my sixth year of teaching I made a study of two teachers teaching my same subject, who were getting better results than I. I sat in their classes during my prep. Initially, I was confused.

“I’m at least as good as Mr. S,” I thought, “and I’m much better than Mr. B.”

I’ve never been diagnosed as “self-esteem deficient.”

However, I cornered some of Mr. S’s and Mr. B’s kids during passing periods and asked them, “What makes you succeed in his class?”

It was motivation. Mr. S loved kids and they knew it. He had the relationships in and out of class that made his students want to learn. Mr. B had a different approach: the behavioral approach of carrot and stick. Rewards and fear made his students have to learn.

I couldn’t be either teacher; Lame as it sounds: I had to be me. It took me years of experimenting and quite a few humbling make-overs to begin motivating some of my students.

My secret? What works for me is a constant self-reminder that I am teaching students, not reading. To really teach struggling readers how to improve their reading, teachers need to know what makes them tick and adapt instruction and teaching resources accordingly. For your struggling readers, you need the books that will motivate these older kids to read.

Even though I mentioned that I am not “self-esteem deficient,” my struggling readers certainly are. Despite the apathetic “I don’t care” self-defense mechanisms of most struggling readers, they really do care that they aren’t like the rest of their peers. No one want to stand out as a poor reader. I’ve never heard the most unreachable fourth grader, middle schooler, high schooler, or community college adult (and I’ve taught them all) say, “I’m a poor reader and proud of it.”

My main point in this article is to get reading teachers to be hypersensitive to the effects of motivation on learning to read. Specifically, we have got to stop unintentionally tearing away at the self-esteem of our struggling readers.

Take a moment to look at your teaching resources. Do they match the age of your students?

I just finished a comment on a teacher’s post asking for feedback on her self-authored ESL teaching resources and chapter books. I was struck by the beautiful cover illustrations. I previewed the book internal pages and the graphics and pictures were so professional. However, the images were perfectly appropriate for beginning readers, not her target grades 4‒8 age group. Struggling readers certainly do judge a book by its cover. Hopefully, my comments maintained a complimentary/constructive balance. Her self-esteem matters, as well!

ESL/ELD/ELL, special education, reading intervention, and adult ed learners need reading resources and books that motivate them to learn, not humiliate them into shutting down or acting out in the classroom.

Yes, these materials are hard to find.

Sam and Friends Phonics Books

So, I had to create my own. My Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books are the featured decodables in the Teaching Reading Strategies comprehensive reading intervention program and have been designed to motivate struggling readers.

The Sam and Frends Books (54 eight-page booklets) use teenage (non big-head) cartoons and plots. The illustrator, David Rickert, is a high school ELA teacher and we were both sensitive to ensuring that our visuals matched the maturity of our focus age group.

The latter product includes sound-spelling cards like most other reading programs. However, I selected animals as an ageless theme and photographs, not illustrations, to appeal to older kids.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, featuring the Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

 

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Reading Intervention Program Politics 101

All Politics Is Local in Education

All Politics Is Local: Especially in Schools

Let’s face it. Education is politics. More specifically, “All politics is [sic] local,” said Tip O’Neill, the longtime Speaker of the House of Representatives. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can realize our collective calling as teachers: to make a difference in the lives of our students. 

We teachers love to whine. It’s a staff room staple and a good coping mechanism. However, when we turn simple whining into a political action plan it becomes productive whining. 

I’m a secondary ELA and reading intervention teacher turned publisher. I have also served as a district reading specialist in Elk Grove Unified School District in the Central Valley of California. Over the years I was assigned to quite a few elementary schools and learned a fair amount about leadership skills. Through plenty of failures and a few successes, I learned that to have an impact in and beyond the classroom, I had to learn a political skill-set.

My passion has been to serve the needs of struggling readers: in particular, those grades 4 through community college. I’ve been fortunate to be able to implement that passion in elementary, middle, high school, and freshman college settings. I’ve had a hand in creating plenty of reading intervention programs. None has been perfect, but I’ve learned to get more of what my students and/or teachers need by learning Reading Intervention Program Politics 101.

The End Results

I’ve learned to take a friendly, but assertive stance with administrators regarding reading intervention: No collaboration or prep time? Can’t teach it. Not enough consistent instructional time? Won’t teach it. No money for resources, printing materials? Nothing to teach. No training in teaching resources/programs? Don’t know how to teach it. Excessive paperwork, documentation, meetings, completing assessments that won’t inform instruction? Not going to happen. Assigning reading intervention to new, inexperienced teachers because they can’t say, “No?” Not if I can’t help it.

Now that’s some tough talk, and many teachers would say, “I couldn’t say that to my principal or district curriculum specialist.” Or “You clearly do not know my supervising admin!” Or “The my way or the highway approach won’t work in my district. I’d be out on the highway.”

Fair enough. But I do believe we teachers need to be more assertive on behalf of our neediest kids. We have to learn to work smarter, not harder. Following are three (of many) ideas as to how to take a friendly, but tough stance with administrators to meet the needs of struggling readers. Would love to hear more ideas!

The Political Process

1. Let the data argue your case. Distance yourself from your demands. Teachers learn early on in their careers to answer this parent question: “Why did YOU give my son a D grade?” with “Your SON earned the D grade” or “The ASSIGNMENTS AND TESTS gave him that grade.” We need to do the same when advocating for our struggling readers. It’s hard for some administrators and teachers to put the horse (the students) before the cart (the program); they always want to put the cart before the horse. However, starting with program design, funding, resource and personnel allocations will always produce untenable and frustrating results.

My political advice? Start with the needs of the students and design instructional structures to address some of those needs.

A caveat is in order… Successful reading intervention depends upon the specificity of diagnostic assessments. You can certainly pre-screen with the BIG tests and teacher recommendations, but these can’t be used for reading intervention design. Ideally, you want to use diagnostic assessments that will design the program, place students, and provide teachable data. As a publisher, I can’t resist failing to mention the 13 whole-class reading assessments that will do these jobs. Download them for FREE after the article.

2. Be a political animal. Your administrators and district personnel certainly are, and you need to grow into one for the sake of your students. Of course, this comes much more naturally to some teachers, than to others.

Learn the pressure points and how to apply them without damaging relationships. You can learn to be assertive and nice at the same time. For example, when data has been secured which indicate unmastered reading skills for students, the students and their parents have a right to know what those deficits are and what it will take to meet those needs. Students and their parents can be your squeaky wheels to advocate for the resources and program structures that will make sense.

And to expand just a bit… Politicians and administrators learn how to isolate special interests and divide in order to conquer. Teachers need to employ political countermeasures to these political techniques. To our point: The test data and identified learning needs are perfect commonalities to bind together a student and parent advocacy (let’s call it support) group. Why share the test data individually with students or with parents via email or phone, when a group meeting would be more efficient and supportive. Both struggling readers and parents prefer to know that they are not in this alone. Confidentialilty and privacy concerns can often lead to isolation and the divide and conquer results and prevent concerted action. Clever teachers can share data communally while protecting individuals.

Teachers who want to improve their effectiveness in “education politics” should study those parents, teachers, and administrators who influence decision-making. You don’t have to be just like so-and-so, but you can certainly learn secrets to their successes and apply them to your own comfort level. Don’t forget the power of the group. Find allies for the sake of your students.

3. Choose your battles. Although my opening The End Results seem rigid, they really aren’t. The criteria still allow the creation of imperfect structures for teaching reading intervention along with maintaining student access to the core curriculum. Be assured that teachers who hold out for the optimal instructional situation will never have an opportunity to impact the lives of kids who desperately need their help. After all, some is better than none; but only if the some is really, really good and has the prioritized support of the whole school and/or district. Politics is the art of compromise.

For example, let’s say that your diagnostic assessments given to a screened set of sixth-graders indicate that 28 of these students have not mastered the alphabetic code (phonics). Additionally, their teachers report that these same students have comprehension deficits (no wonder), low and inaccurate reading fluency, poor vocabulary, and they don’t know their multiplication tables!x%#0@. You, your principal, students, parents, and teacher allies agree that something must be done.

The principal only has funding for one teacher to teach a three-week summer session. The principal and parents want the teacher to fix all of these problems. The

political teacher’s answer is “No, but.” Let’s see what is possible with measurable results. 

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, featuring the Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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Pre-teach before Assessment

Teachers Pre-teach before Assessment

Pre-teach before Assessment

For whatever reason or reasons, some children who learned how to ride a bike last summer may have forgotten how to ride by the first day of spring. A wise parent would not  strap back on the training wheels, or worse yet, take out the old balance bike (no pedals). Instead, the parent would do a quick review with her child about what the child had already learned, hold the bike’s handle bars for a quick confidence-builder (I prefer holding the child’s collar… my free tip :), and get the child re-acclimated with intense, quick practice. Somehow prior knowledge, muscle memory, or something kicks in, and most kids are riding their bikes just as well as they did last summer by the end of the day.

The Forgetting Problem

Call it what you wish: summer brain-drain, poor retention, a learning disability, problem with learning styles, developmental delay, or lack of motivation or practice… some students just seem to forget what they have learned before.

The Solution

Quick re-teach. Connecting to students’ prior knowledge can short-circuit the forgetting cycle and produce more reliable assessment results. Before leaping into a battery of diagnostic assessments, it makes sense to pre-teach before we assess. If teachers plan on using assessment-based instruction (a good thing!), the assessment data must be externally valid, that is reliable.

I often share my maxim regarding the efficacy of well-designed assessments: “If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.” However, the caveat is that students may actually know the content, concepts, or skills, but not be able to retrieve that knowledge on assessments.

Good assessments catch students at their best. That’s why it makes sense to pre-teach before teachers assess to help students retrieve prior knowledge and get the assessment results that will help us design efficient instruction.

When we don’t catch students at their best, we get inaccurate assessment data. Teachers who assign assessment-based individualized (or differentiated) instruction often wind up methodically re-teaching what individual students have already learned. Students can’t move ahead, because they are constantly rehearsing what is behind. Or teachers look at class data and sigh, “I have to re-teach everything to this class from start to finish. They don’t know anything. What was Ms. McGuire teaching last year, anyways?”

Despite decades of research studies which demonstrate the effectiveness of pre-teaching students with instructional deficits prior to intensive instruction, little has been examined regarding the effects of pre-teaching upon assessment results.

Intuitively, the popularity of test prep classes for the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, and MCAT would suggest a positive impact of pre-teaching on high-stakes test scores. Or the often-repeated admonition, “Don’t teach to the test” (except the month before the test administration or all-year if your salary is test-score-incentivized).

A cautionary note: Pre-teaching before assessment should be hurried instruction. Don’t set out the yellow cones and require a week’s worth of drill and review before you let your kids ride their bikes on their own (even if they fall once or twice). Quick and intensive review will produce the most accurate assessment results.

*****

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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Which High Frequency Words?

Most teachers and reading specialists advocate some teaching of high frequency words: the question is which ones make sense to teach and which ones don’t make sense to teach?

First, let’s dispel a few notions about how we learn to read. It’s not a which came first, the chicken or the egg? question some still suggest. In other words, the end result is not all that matters. Witness the plethora of reading intervention classes in upper elementary and middle schools to see how many of our students can “read,” but not understand what they are “word calling.” How we get to the end result does matter. Reading does not teach phonemic awareness, nor does reading teach phonics and multi-syllabic decoding. These are prerequisite skills which students need in order to to read well.

We have plenty of reading research to positively assert that explicit, systematic phonics instruction is the most efficient approach to teaching beginning and remedial readers. The Look-Say Method of the Dick and Jane readers (sight words only instruction) and the Onset-Rime Method (b-ack, h-ack, j-ack, l-ack, p-ack, r-ack, s-ack, t-ack) have largely been placed on the dustbin of instructional approaches.

However…

We can certainly take things too far. We know some things, but we don’t know a lot of things about reading. We are only at the beginning stages of brain research.

So…

A prudent approach to both beginning and remedial reading instruction is to focus on decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) instruction and practice, but to also “throw in” a healthy dose of fluency practice with high frequency words.

Which High Frequency Words Not to Teach and Why

Don’t pass out flashcards or lists of high frequency reading or spelling words for students to memorize. Intuitively, it would seem to make sense to have students memorize the words that they are going to read or spell most often. However, our gut-level instincts lead us astray here.

  • The Dolch and Fry word lists of the most commonly used words in basal readers were never designed to provide a list of words to study. Countless U.S. classrooms still, unfortunately, have these reading goals (and assign parents the task of teaching): 10 words by the end of kindergarten; 100 words by the end of first grade; 200 words by the end of second grade; and 300 words by the end of third grade. As a reading specialist, I’ve worked with hundreds of elementary, middle school, high school, and even community college students who can word call each of these lists, but not read with comprehension. Now, there is some sense to pre-teaching a limited number of high frequency words before beginning systematic phonics instruction.
  • Similarly, the Slosson Oral Word Reading Test and San Diego Quick Assessment were only designed to test word recognition and they do provide correlations to reading comprehension, but authors Richard L. Slosson and Charles L. Nicholson, as well as Margaret La Pray and Ramon Ross respectively, never advocated using their random sample assessments as instructional tools.
  • The “No Excuse” spelling word lists, floating around since Rebecca Sitton popularized this band aid approach to spelling mastery during the height of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s still, unfortunately, serves as the entire spelling program for countless U.S. classrooms with absolutely no research validating its instructional validity.

Which High Frequency Words to Teach and Why

The first group of high frequency words are, indeed, words; the second and third groups are word parts.

  • Heart Words: These words include one or more non-phonetic parts, also known as “the parts to learn by heart.” Or Heart Words may also designated as those sound-spelling patterns not yet taught, such as the “_ve” pattern with words such as live, love, and have. Check out how to teach Heart Words.

Get the Heart Words Assessment FREE Resource:

  • Word Families (Rimes): A rime is a vowel and the final consonants in one syllable, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an first consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “tr,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “track.” Students apply these to other starting consonants (called onsets) to recognize or say new words. By the end of second grade, students should know every one of these 79 word families with automaticity through explicit, systematic phonics instruction. If they don’t, gap fill with flashcard practice and activities to help students master the rimes. I have found plenty of success teaching the word families that students do not know with sound-spelling blending. Again, the focus is remedial, not instructional, with the rimes.
  • High Frequency Greek and Latin Prefixes and Roots: Greek and Latin word parts make up over 50% of the words in the dictionary. Some are decodable in English, and some are not. Because of the strong reading-vocabulary connection, it does make sense to have students teach and practice the Greek and Latin high frequency prefixes and suffixes which they do not know. Like with rimes, the analogous relationships formed by morphological (meaning-based) word parts make this a sound sight words instructional focus. For example,  bi means two in bicycle, just as it means two in bicameral or biped.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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Reading Fluency Assessment

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

It’s back to school and good teachers want to know if their students can read the class novel, assigned articles, or their textbooks. Teachers also want to know what level reading is appropriate for each of their students. Teachers need a reading fluency assessment that matches their curriculum. With the move to more and more informational/expository reading, it makes sense to assess students’ reading fluency accordingly. Wouldn’t it be great if you found a two-minute, numbered reading fluency that was leveled, at say first through seventh grade reading levels, did not require prior knowledge, was interesting, and was expository text, and was FREE? Here you go!

This “Pets” expository fluency article is leveled in a special pyramid design: Using the Fleish-Kincaid formula, the first paragraph is at the first grade 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.

With this design, the reader begins at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language, longer sentences, and multi-syllabic words. As the student reads the article, the teacher notes  the reading levels at which the student has a comfortable degree of accuracy and automaticity. Accuracy at the 95% or better decoding and automaticity with relatively effortless reading. The 383 word “Pets” expository fluency article is a two-minute expository reading fluency, which is a much superior measurement than a one-minute narrative reading fluency at only one grade level.

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

Following are end-of-year expected reading fluency rates (Hasbrouk, Tindal):

Grades 1-6 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 1-6

 

 

Grades 7-8 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 7-8

The Pets Fluency Assessment is my gift to you and your students. But, how do I best remediate reading fluency deficits? Pennington Publishing’s Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit (a slice of the comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program) includes 43 animal fluency articles with vocabulary to pre-teach. Word counts are provided in the left margin for fluency timings. The YouTube videos of each article are recorded at three different reading speeds (Level A at 95-115 words per minute; Level B at 115-135 words; and Level C at 135-155 words) to provide modeled readings at each of your students’ challenge levels.

Why not get this assessment plus 12 other reading assessments AND all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments?

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Phonemic Awareness Tests

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

“There is considerable evidence that the primary difference between good and poor readers lies in the good reader’s phonological processing ability” (University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning). We all know the importance of phonemic awareness as both a predictor (Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977; Stanovich, 1986, 1994) and causal factor (Adams, 1990) in reading readiness. Students need to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds of the language before (or while) learning to read. Although some researchers still posit the notion that complete phonemic awareness is a by-product of reading, most reading researchers and teachers now see phonemic awareness as a teachable prerequisite to reading (Smith, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998).

If phonemic awareness is critically important to reading and it can be taught, we should do so both as pre-school to second grade beginning reading instruction and as third grade to adult reading remediation.

Some encouraging research indicates that remedial readers can learn phonemic awareness with the right teaching strategies. Bhat, Griffin, and Sindelar (2003) reported that middle school remedial readers do benefit from phonemic awareness training, although, unfortunately, not as much as do younger learners.

Additionally, although specific speech sounds (phonemes) do differ among languages, making phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELs), these students are certainly able to transfer their phonemic awareness skills from their primary languages to English, and research supports the benefits of phonemic awareness training for second language learners (Abbot, Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, and Berninger, 2002). In fact, some primary languages, such as Spanish, share more phonemes with English than not.

Moreover, because phonemic awareness is an auditory skill, speech therapists will emphasize the importance of teaching and practicing phoneme manipulation to special education students, many of whom are diagnosed with auditory learning challenges.

So how should we teach phonemic awareness to beginning, remedial, EL/ELD, and special education students? Assessment-based instruction.

1. Efficient, comprehensive, and accurate whole class (or at least small group) phonemic awareness assessments to determine what beginning and remedial readers know and don’t know. With these tests, teachers can feel confident that “if they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.” Not all students will have mastered the same components of phonemic awareness. No more time-consuming individual phonemic awareness assessments? Yeah! Download the six assessments below for free.

2. Assessment-based phonemic awareness activities designed to teach the phonemic awareness deficits indicated by the assessments. Why teach the same phonemic awareness activity whole class to, say a kindergarten or an intermediate or middle school reading intervention class, when not all students need to remediate the same phonemic awareness skill? Instead, use the assessment-data to determine instructional decisions. Perfect for whole class (if the assessments so indicate the need), small ability groups (think learning stations and cooperative groups), and individualized instruction. Download the sample phonemic awareness activities below for free.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Here are the six phonemic awareness assessments. By the way, reading specialists suggest remediating these skills in the order listed here:

  • Rhyming Awareness
  • Alphabetic Awareness (Make sure to check out the Mp3 “New Alphabet Song” found in the phonemic awareness activities packet.)
  • Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation
  • Phonemic Isolation
  • Phonemic Blending
  • Phonemic Segmentation

Each of the assessments has a teacher and student page (for recording… remember that phonemic awareness is an auditory skill).

Get the Phonemic Awareness Assessments FREE Resource:

Plus, five of the six (not the alphabetic awareness assessment) include audio files. Woohoo!

Phonemic Awareness Audio Files

Syllable Awareness Assessment (5:48)

Syllable Awareness Assessment

Syllable Rhyming Assessment (5:38)

Syllable Rhyming Assessment

Phonemic Isolation Assessment (5:54)

Phonemic Isolation Assessment

Phonemic Blending Assessment (5:53)

Phonemic Blending Assessment

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment (5:21)

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment

Reading Assessment Matrix

You’ll love this one-page assessment matrix for student data and simple progress monitoring: Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

But what about the resources to teach what the phonemic awareness assessments indicate to be unmastered skills? Got you covered! Check out some of the phonemic awareness activities used in the author’s reading intervention program linked at the end of this related article

Each of the above resources is included for teachers to review components of my two reading intervention programs. Click on the provided links to view video overviews and to download sample lessons.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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Reading Assessment Issues

As an elementary, middle school, and high school reading specialist (Yes, I’ve also taught remedial reading courses at the community college level), I’ve found more and more teachers feeling that obligatory reading assessments were a waste of time… Things that had to be done because the district, principal, site reading specialist, Response to Intervention Coordinator, or grade level team members said to do so. This article discusses reading assessment issues.

I have a bit of advice: Don’t assess what your won’t teach. Only administer, correct, record, and monitor reading assessments if they are quick, comprehensive and teachable and if you, the teacher, are given the instructional resources and training to teach to the specific assessment data. These are reasonable requests/demands/expectations. Let’s explore these conditions just a bit and get you the FREE phonics test that you googled.

Why Teachers Don’t Value Reading Assessments

1. We are here to teach and not spend all of our time testing. Test administration, correction, recording, progress monitoring, re-testing takes away from instructional time. Why, for example, should we administer a two-minute reading fluency assessment if last year’s teacher already tested the child at above grade level? Why should we give a decoding test again and again (with most RtI models) when the diagnostic phonics test indicated complete mastery of all vowel and consonant sound-spellings?

31 Flavor Ice Cream

Students are 31 flavors.

2. Reading Assessments are random samples. If you had limited experience in eating ice cream, and you were taken to Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors to see if you liked ice cream, tasting a half-dozen random flavor samples would probably let you answer “Yes” or “No.” However, there are 25 other flavors that you did not taste. You could hate every one, love every one, or more probably prefer some more than others. You don’t really know until you try all 31 flavors. The same is true with, say a phonics test.

The DIBELS Next, Aimsweb, and K12 Reading Placement Tests (some of the most widely used phonics tests) all provide interesting data; however, their phonics tests do not assess all 31 flavors. Now the test creators would be quick to ask if I’ve had an educational statistics class (Yes, got an A) and understand experimental design. They might argue that if you tasted chocolate and liked it, you would not have to taste mocha almond fudge, rocky road, etc. to predict that you would also like these similar flavors. Similarly, they would suggest that if your phonics assessment tests the “au_” sound-spelling, it would not be necessary to assess the “aw,” “ou_,” “augh,” “a(l),” and “a(ll)” sound-spellings. I disagree; I love chocolate, but can’t stand mocha almond fudge and rocky road. Poor Raphael may know that “au_” sound-spelling on the phonics test, but not know any of those other sound-spellings unless each is tested.

3. Reading Assessments often provide non-teachable data. Knowing that a child is below reading grade level doesn’t tell us why, nor show us what to do to address the deficit.

For example, an individual reading inventory (I’ve done hundreds) might indicate the following for Amy, a sixth grade Vietnamese child, who came to the United States three years ago:

Amy was tested on the Insert Normed Reading Comprehension Test of Your Choice at 2.5 grade level. She had frequent ear infections as a child. Amy has mastered some, but not all, of her phonemic awareness and phonics skills. She scored at grade level 3.1 on the San Diego Quick Assessment. Her fluency on the grade 6 passage was 65 with 82% accuracy. She scored below the syllable juncture stage on the qualitative spelling inventory. She knew 182 of 300 on the Dolch list. She does not like to read.

That data might be enough to ship Amy off to an ELD class or get her tested for special education; but the data provide nothing that is concrete, specific, and teachable.

What Types of Reading Assessments Teachers Would Like to Use

1. Whole class assessments that are quick and easy to administer (How about audio files? Google forms? Google Sheets?), simple to correct and record, with easy-entry progress monitoring charts.

2. Comprehensive reading assessments that assess everything the student does and does not know. No random sampling.

3. Teachable data with student test errors which indicate specific reading deficits that are discrete and generalizable. Tests that inform the teacher exactly what needs teaching and what does not need teaching for the individual student, flexible ability groups, and the class as a whole.

Like most teachers, you would be excited to use vowel and consonant phonics tests that are quick, comprehensive and teachable. Diagnostics that don’t have reading assessment problems. Here are two phonics assessments (vowels and consonants) with answers and audio files, Google forms, and a simple one-page recording matrix for progress monitoring: 

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 52 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of short vowels, long vowels, silent final e, vowel digraphs, vowel diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any vowel sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (10:42) *

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 50 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of consonant digraphs, beginning consonant blends, and ending consonant blends. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Consonant Sounds Phonics A Read more…

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Reading Program Placement

One Size Does Not Fit All Reading Instruction

One Size Does Not Fit All

Far too often grades 4-12 students are placed in reading intervention classes where they don’t belong. Far too often students are not placed in reading intervention programs where they do belong. In the following article I will discuss a common sense criteria for reading program placement and a few pitfalls to avoid. I will also provide three complete reading program placement assessments with audio files and recording matrices.

First of all, a caveat. No criteria for reading program placement are perfect. Students meeting reading program placement criteria will be placed in reading intervention classes only to be filtered out, once subsequent diagnostic assessments have been evaluated. Some students may miraculously master reading program placement tests who do need to be placed into reading assessment classes upon further observation by classroom teachers or specialists. We are dealing with human beings here, and although our assessments may be reliable, kids most certainly are not.

Secondly, a disclaimer. I am the publisher of Teaching Reading Strategies, a reading intervention program which I will promote at the end of the article.

Common Sense Criteria and Pitfalls to Avoid with Reading Program Placement

  1. The program placement criteria must match the class. A reading intervention class with curriculum and delivery designed to teach explicit and systematic phonics, structural analysis, and fluency to increase vocabulary, improve reading comprehension, and improve spelling must have placement assessments which match what the program teaches. Using PAARC or SBAC “Standard Not Met” overall English-language arts/literacy scores to place students into reading intervention programs makes zero sense. Using a qualitative spelling inventory because “poor spellers tend to be poor readers” when spelling is not a key instructional component makes less than zero sense.
  2. Use teachable tests. Assessments take time to administer and correct. If instructional time is allocated to assessment, the assessments need to provide data that teachers will be able to use. A common sense guideline should be “If you can’t teach to it, don’t test it.” For students who do qualify for reading program placement, the program placement assessments should provide comprehensive data that teachers can “teach to.” What use is a random sample test or spelling/phonics inventory that cannot be used beyond program placement? Far too often, expensive reading intervention programs use separate random sample tests for program placement and then require more instructional time for additional diagnostic tests (and correction/recording/analysis) once program placement is made. For students who do not qualify for reading program placement, the program placement assessments should still provide teachable data to help teachers differentiate instruction. For example, if a student demonstrates mastery of all phonics elements other than the and w-controlled vowels, is at or above grade level fluency norms but fails to pause at commas, and has mastered 90% of spelling patterns, that student will not meet criteria for reading program placement; however, the regular classroom teacher will still derive teachable data from each of those three assessments.
  3. (Most) All students need to be assessed. Using teacher recommendations, past grades, past program placements, and cum file reviews are notoriously unreliable program placement indicators. Teachers and schools have divergent views as to what does and does not constitute reading proficiency. If the program placement assessments provide usable data for all students, using a “first-sort” or “multi-tiered” batch of assessments (which all too often weed out students who need to be placed in reading intervention) is unnecessary. Now let’s use some common sense here. Gifted and talented students, honor course students, etc. can “take a pass”; however, having taught at elementary, middle, high school, and community college levels I have often found interesting anomalies. When in doubt, always assess.
  4. Use common sense data analysis. Students are snowflakes. Each reading intervention candidate will have certain strengths and weaknesses, and as a side note: the reading intervention program can’t be a cookie-cutter, lock-step, A-Z curriculum which treats all students the same. Most reading specialists recommend 80% mastery criteria on multiple measure assessments. Using the three reading program placement assessments which I recommend (and are provided below), two of the three assessments not mastered at the 80% criteria would place a student in a Tier II instructional setting; all three of the assessments not mastered at that level would place a student in a Tier I instructional setting. As another aside, the Teaching Reading Strategies program incorporates both Tier I and II instructional delivery within the same reading intervention class.
  5. Include behavioral criteria for reading program placement. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) need to be in place alongside of Response to Intervention (RtI) to form a cohesive (MTSS) Multi-Tiered System of Supports for these students. Once reading program placements have been administered and a student meets the criteria for reading intervention placement, site level decision-making regarding proper placement is key. One or two behaviorally-challenged students can disrupt the instructional delivery and prevent success in any reading intervention class.

Three Effective Reading Program Placement Assessments (for a reading intervention class with curriculum and delivery designed to teach explicit and systematic phonics, structural analysis, and fluency to increase vocabulary, improve reading comprehension, and improve spelling)

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42 audio file, print copy and consonants: 12:07 audio fileprint copy)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38 audio file, print copy)
  3. Individual Fluency Assessment (2 minute individual assessment print copy).

Note that these placement tests provide assessment-based instructional data to inform the teacher’s selection of Tier 2 (small group of 5−8 students) and Tier 3 (individualized) instruction for each student. A built-in management system provides the instructional resources which allow the teacher to simultaneously supervise small group and individualized instruction. Nine additional diagnostic assessments (audio files) are administered during the first two weeks of instruction: syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting, outlaw words, rimes, and sight syllables. Flexible Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction is assigned according to the assessment data. All reading diagnostic data are recorded on a one page recording matrix. All spelling patterns diagnostic data are recorded on a multi-page recording matrix. The matrix facilitates assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrix also serves as the progress monitoring source.Check out this whole-class, 12-minute, comprehensive phonics assessment with audio file and recording matrix. Not a random sample, but something you can teach to in order to remediate phonics deficits for your vulnerable readers.

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

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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