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Phonics in 10 Minutes

This post is for parents concerned about their child’s reading; for news and social media junkies who want to intelligently respond to current events, such as the recent dramatic improvement in Mississippi reading scores due, largely, to a re-emphasis on phonics; for elementary teachers who never had a phonics course in their teaching credential program; for secondary teachers who wonder, “Should I be teaching phonics to my frosh English students who can barely read?”; and for literacy coaches and reading specialists, like me, who want a quick start user guide to present to parents and teachers. In this 10-minute read, you’ll find out what the following terms mean and what they have to do with teaching phonics, enough to keep you from sounding stupid in any job interview or lunch conversation with other parents, principals, teachers, language coaches, and reading specialists.

Think of this as a Quick Start User Guide to Phonics. In order of appearance: phonics, phonemes, graphemes, decoding, encoding, synthetic phonics, explicit and systematic phonics, sound-spellings, decodables, sound-by-sound blending, slanted /lines/, consonant blends, consonant digraphs, analytic phonics, onsets, rimes, word families, diphthongs, embedded phonics, implicit and incidental instruction, cueing systems, MSV, guided reading, r-controlled vowels, silent final e, instructional phonics sequence, continuous sounds

Definitions

Let’s begin by defining phonics. Simply put, phonics is how we use the 26 letters of the alphabet as a code to represent our English phonemes (the fancy way of saying the 43 or 44 speech sounds). We put together these written speech sounds (called graphemes if you want to sound impressive) to read words. This is known as decoding. The Latin prefix, “de” means away from or out of, which helps us remember that decoding is making meaning out of the letter combinations. The other side of the language coin from decoding is encodingThe Latin prefix, “en” means in or into, which helps us remember that encoding is making the graphemes into words. To keep it simple: Decoding is sounding-out the words to be able to read them, and encoding is spelling the words.

Now that we have a definition of phonics, let’s take a look at the three approaches to phonics instruction. In our brief analysis, you’ll learn the key components of phonics instruction in the key instructional activities and the methods used by each phonics approach to teach them. To be clear, each approach helps students learn the phonics rules; it’s the how they are learned that differs. As an aside, these three methods of teaching phonics are the main points of contention in the never-ending Reading Wars, and the battles within each approach are just as contentious as those among the three approaches.

Types of Phonics Approaches

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

1. Synthetic Phonics: In this approach, teachers help students learn how to convert the 26 letters of the alphabet into the 43 or 44 English phonemes (speech sounds) and then blend these individual sounds to read words. The teacher introduces the graphemes (the spellings) for each of these phonemes in explicit, systematic instruction. Explicit means direct and sometimes isolated instruction that is unconnected to text. Systematic means planned, structured, and sequenced instruction.

Key Instructional Activities: The sound-spelling card (to the right) is a key instructional component of synthetic phonics. For example, students first learn the sounds and spellings listed on the three cards. (Previously, students had learned the /s/ on the seagull card and the /n/ on the newt card before the teacher introduces the sn_ on the snack card.)

Another key instructional activity is sound-by-sound blending. The teacher asks students to say the consonant blend sounds on the snack card; say the vowel sound on the iguana card; say the  consonant digraph sound on the cheetah card; and then blend the word, snitch. Students are taught the phonics rule that the _tch spelling follows short vowel sounds.

A third synthetic activity is the use of decodables. Decodables are short books, designed to practice specific sound-spellings introduced in the sound-by-sound blending activities. Decodables also review previously learned sound-spellings. Typically, a limited number of non-decodable sight words are used so that students build confidence in using their phonics skills.

*Note: The slanted /lines/ indicate sounds. The _blanks_ indicate that other letters must come before and/or after the spelling. A consonant blend is two or three consonants that frequently appear together at the start or end of syllables. A vowel, most commonly a, e, i, o, and u, appears in every syllable. A consonant digraph is two consonants which form one sound.

Rimes

Word Families

2. Analytic (Analogy) Phonics: Teaches students to look at the whole word, especially the onset (the beginning letter or letters) and rime (the sound pattern known as a word family), and to compare to similarly structured words which are already known.

Key Instructional Activities: For example, the teacher might teach the consonant blends br, cr, dr,  and fr as onsets and the rime, own (rhymes with down). Students practice combining the onsets and rimes as br-own, cr-own, dr-own, and fr-own. In the next lesson the teacher might teach the consonant blends gr, thr, and the consonant digraph sh as onsets and the rime, own (rhymes with phone).

Analytic phonics may include explicit and systematic instruction. Teachers introduce the rimes (word families) by syllable types.

*Note: The “ow” spelling in “own” as in brown is a diphthong. A diphthong is a vowel team in which two sounds are made. However, the the “ow” spelling in “own” as in shown is a vowel digraph. A vowel digraph is a vowel team in which only one sound is made.

3. Embedded Phonics: Teaches students phonics within the context of reading as needed to cue the pronunciation of a word. In contrast to the explicit and systematic instruction of the synthetic and analytic approaches, embedded phonics utilizes an implicit, incidental methodology. Phonics skills are learned deductively from the whole to the part as one of the three cueing systems for comprehension i.e., 1. M = Meaning 2. S = Structure (sentence structure, grammar, word order) 3. V = Visual (phonics, onsets and rimes, sight words).

Key Instructional Activities: The teacher groups readers by reading levels and students chorally and individually read a book together. When students struggle with the pronunciation of a word, they apply specific strategies to logically guess the pronunciation. For example, “What’s the sound of the first letter in this word? What word would make sense withe other words in the sentence? What hint does the picture on the page provide as to how to say it?”

The r-Controlled Vowels

A typical embedded phonics lesson might be planned as a mini lesson from a guided reading lesson on a book which uses a number of r-controlled vowels. After an initial reading, the teacher might ask students to search for and create a sorted list for all words using the /ar/, /or/, and /er/ spellings found on the cards to the right. Often, teachers use running records assessments of oral readings to determine the content of the mini lessons.

Silent Final e

 

Teachers may share the silent final rule in which the final at the end of a syllable makes the preceding vowel say its name (a long vowel sound) when a single consonant is found between the vowel and the final silent final e. For example, using the cards below, teachers could ask the group for example words of the a_e, i_e, o_e, and u_e spellings to create a word wall. Students might then write a story, using as many silent final words as possible.

Instructional Phonics Sequence

Generally speaking, all three phonics approaches follow a similar instructional order.

1. The most common sounds are introduced prior to the least common sounds.

  • Short vowels and consonant sounds
  • Ending consonant blends and “sh” and “th” voiced consonant digraphs
  • Beginning consonant blends, “wh” and “tch” consonant digraphs, “sh” and “th” unvoiced consonant digraphs
  • Long vowel sounds and silent final e
  • Long vowel sounds and r-controlled vowels
  • Diphthongs

2. Order of instruction separates letters that are visually similar e.g., p and b, m and n, v and w, u and n.

3. Order of instruction separates sounds that are similar e.g., /k/ and /g/, /u/ and /o/, /t/ and /d/, /e/ and /i/.

4. The most commonly used letters are introduced prior to the least commonly used letters.

5. Short words with fewer phonemes are introduced prior to longer words with more phonemes.

6. Continuous sounds e.g., /a/, /m/, are introduced prior to stop sounds e.g., /t/ because the continuous sounds are easier to blend.Check out Pennington Publishing’s Instructional Phonics Sequence with sound-by-sound spelling blending:

Get the Instructional Phonics Sequence FREE Resource:

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

*****

My take? Synthetic phonics is the most efficient means of teaching the alphabetic code and should be taught systematically as part of any beginning reading program or reading intervention program. However, good reading and spelling programs provide additional analytic phonics activities, such as syllabication and spelling pattern word sorts. Plus, while most students learn with a synthetic approach, others respond best with an analytic approach. Good teachers also use incidental embedded phonics instruction as teachable moments to study words in depth as they use shared and guided reading. The best means of determining whether any method of reading instruction is working? Assessment. Flexible teachers use data to inform instruction and the instructional approach to meet the needs of individual students.

Get the Diagnostic Reading  and Spelling Assessments FREE Resource:

I’m Mark Pennington, author of  the Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program). This program provides all the resources teachers need for flexible, student-centered reading instruction. The program is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

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The Phonics Wars

Phonics Wars

The Phonics Wars

The Reading Wars have largely centered on one key issue of contention: How to Teach Phonics. More aptly named, the Phonics Wars have been going on since the 1950s. Different sides will occasionally declare victory when new research comes out or when new test results are released, such as the recent Mississippi NAEP improvement, and claim that the wars are over. Locally, among your district, county, or state colleagues, there may be a ceasefire; however, nationally and internationally the wars continue to rage on. The best evidence to support this fact? Facebook reading instruction groups. Believe me, the battle lines are still drawn. Even within the same type of phonics, some of the toughest battles are being waged e.g., the current International Dyslexic Association v. International Literacy Association accusations and name-calling.

This post is designed to get you up to speed about the three approaches to phonics, the key instructional activities, the programs and supporters, and the lingo used by advocates. My instructional goal is help you classify reading strategies, lessons, and activities according to the three approaches to phonics.

Three Approaches to Phonics

1. Synthetic Phonics: Teaches students to convert the 26 letters of the alphabet into the 43 or 44 English phonemes (speech sounds e.g., /sh/) and then blend these sounds to read syllables and words. This is known as decoding. Students also learn to use the graphemes (the letters or groups of letters which represent the common phoneme spellings, also known as sound-spellings) to spell the syllables and words. This is known as encoding. Both decoding and encoding are taught together in synthetic phonics.

Example: Individual sounds: sh-ow-n Blended sounds: shown

*Note: The slanted /lines/ indicate sounds. The _blanks_ indicate that other letters must come before and/or after the spelling.

Key Instructional Activities: Sound-by-Sound Blending, Sound-Spelling Cards, Decodable Book Practice, direct spelling pattern instruction

Programs and Supporters: Read 180®, Open Court, SRA, LETRS, Success for All, LiPS®, Wilson Reading System® and Fundations, Orton-Gillingham, Language! Live®, Hooked on Phonics®, Saxon Phonics®, Fundations, SRA Corrective Reading, International Dyslexic Association, International Literacy Association

Lingo: The Science of Reading, structured, explicit, systematic, sound-out, alphabetic code, , word identification, word attack

2. Analytic (Analogy) Phonics: Teaches students to look at the whole word, especially the onset (the beginning letter or letters) and rime (the sound pattern known as a word family), and to compare to similarly structured words which are already known.

Example: sh-ock like the words st-ock and kn-ock

Key Instructional Activities: Word sorts, word family flashcards, rhyming books, spelling patterns

Programs and Supporters: Words Their Way®, Making Words, International Literacy Association, Dr. Seuss

Lingo: Word families, onsets and rimes, word sorts. “Get your mouth ready…”, word recognition, high frequency words, whole to part

3. Embedded Phonics: Teaches students phonics within the context of reading as needed to cue the pronunciation of a word. Phonics skills are learned deductively from the whole to the part as one of the three cueing strategies for comprehension i.e., 1. M = Meaning 2. S = Structure (sentence structure, grammar, word order) 3. V = Visual (phonics, onsets and rimes, sight words)

Example: “What’s the sound of the first letter in this word?” From the other words in the sentence, what would be your best guess as to how to say it?

Key Instructional Activities: Mini lessons, predictable texts, picture walks, guided reading, shared reading

Programs and Supporters: Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention, Reading Recovery, HMH Journeys , HMH Into Reading, Units of Study for Teaching Reading Series

Lingo: Whole Language, Balanced Literacy, Structured Literacy, guided reading, shared reading, leveled books, authentic reading, word walls, high frequency sight words, strategic guessing

*****

My take? Synthetic phonics is the most efficient means of teaching the alphabetic code and should be taught systematically as part of any beginning reading program or reading intervention program. However, good reading and spelling programs provide additional analytic phonics activities, such as syllabication and spelling pattern word sorts. Plus, while most students learn with a synthetic approach, others respond best with an analytic approach. Good teachers also use incidental embedded phonics instruction as teachable moments to study words in depth as they use shared and guided reading. The best means of determining whether any method of reading instruction is working? Assessment. Flexible teachers use data to inform instruction and the instructional approach to meet the needs of individual students.

Get the Diagnostic Reading  and Spelling Assessments FREE Resource:

I’m Mark Pennington, author of  the Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program). This program provides all the resources teachers need for flexible, student-centered reading instruction. The program is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar/Mechanics , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading Intervention Programs

When teachers and administrators are looking for a reading intervention program, they will find no shortage of expensive, “research-based,” high tech options. Countless districts and school sites have invested huge slices of their annual general funds to purchase big publisher programs that have produced minimal gains in reading achievement. Perhaps the “You get what you pay for” truism doesn’t always deliver with regards to effective reading intervention programs.

The Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes comparable or superior resources to reading intervention programs costing thousands per student per year. What’s the difference, other than price?

  • Less computer-based instruction and fewer bells and whistles, but more teacher-student interactive instruction and learning. The Teaching Reading Strategies program uses pencil and paper diagnostic and formative assessments, rather than computer adaptive assessments, to guide instruction and monitor progress. The teacher makes the instructional decisions, not the software.
  • Other than the YouTube modeled reading fluency passages, the digital display Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, and the digital display game cards, the instructional resources are designed for classroom display or print. Not every teacher has a PC, tablet, or Chromebook for each student. Plus, not every teacher wants the computer to be the primary teacher of reading to their students.
  • No huge teacher edition to have to reference constantly to plan lessons.
  • No need for multiple training days with publisher sales reps/trainers to learn the program.
  • Finally, this 1283 page program has been written by and field tested by a teacher just like you, Mark Pennington MA reading specialist.

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) featuring the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students.

This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, vocabulary worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each books includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Detailed Teaching Reading Strategies Product Description

Simple Program Placement

The Teaching Reading Strategies program includes four assessments to help teachers properly place students in the program: the *Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, the *Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessments, the *Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, and the Individual Fluency Assessment.

*Audio Files

Sound-by-Sound Spelling Blending

he scripted sound-spelling blending instructional sequence will help students learn to read all of the common sound-spellings in just 18 weeks of synthetic phonics instruction.

Syllable Transformers and Syllabication

Students practice sound-spelling syllable transformations and syllable patterns with whole class interactive practice and syllable worksheets.

Reading Fluency Practice 

Students practice reading fluency (modeled readings, repeated practice, cold and hot timings recorded on timing charts) with 43 expository articles, each written about a common or uncommon animal.

Each of the engaging articles is composed in a leveled format—the first two paragraphs are at third grade reading level, the next two are at the fifth grade reading level, and the last two are at the seventh grade reading level. Slower readers get practice on controlled vocabulary and are pushed to read at the higher reading levels, once the contextual content has been established. Faster readers are challenged by the increasingly difficult multi-syllabic vocabulary.

The Teaching Reading Strategies program provides two options for fluency practice: 1. Small group choral readings (no technology required) and 2. YouTube videos with modeled readings at three different speeds for each of the 43 articles.

Comprehension Worksheets

The SCRIP Comprehension Worksheets help students learn and practice comprehension cues (summarize, connect, re-think, interpret, and predict) to independently access the meaning of texts. The 43 expository articles are the same as those used in the reading fluency practice. Each worksheet includes five text-dependent comprehension questions and three context clues vocabulary words.

Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Game Cards

The 644 Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary Game Cards are used in instructional activities and games. Three formats are provided: 1. Print and Cut 2. Phone Display 3. Tablet and Chromebook Display. You and your students will love the card games. Who says we can’t learn and have fun at the same time?

Reading Comprehension Strategies

Teacher lessons, guided reading practice, and Reading Strategy Worksheets will help your students learn to self-monitor their reading and improve comprehension. Examples: How to Identify Main Idea and Determine Importance, How to Identify Fact and Opinion, Read-Study Method, How to Summarize, Authors and Readers’ Purpose, Close Reading, How to Infer, How to Visualize Text, Cause and Effect, and more.

Diagnostic Assessments

With canned reading intervention programs, teachers wind up spending too much time teaching what many of their remedial readers already know and too little time helping students practice what they do not know.

The 13 whole-class diagnostic reading assessments pinpoint the specific reading deficits for each of your students. Everything you need to teach (or not teach) is assessed and instructional resources match every assessment item.

The 13 program assessments include…

Syllable Awareness, Syllable Rhyming, Phonemic Isolation, Phonemic Blending, Phonemic Segmenting, Alphabetic Upper and Lower Case Letter Match and Alphabetic Sequencing, Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment, Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Outlaw Words Assessment, Rimes Assessment, Sight Syllables Assessment, Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, and an Individual Fluency Assessment

All assessment data is recorded on two comprehensive reading recording matrices for simple progress monitoring and placement in flexible small group workshops. Each workshop activity has a brief formative assessment to determine whether students have mastered the skill or need more practice.

Phonemic Awareness Workshops 

The Teaching Reading Strategies program includes extensive phonemic awareness activities which perfectly correspond with the phonemic awareness assessments. Students fill in the gaps to ensure a solid foundation for learning the phonetic code by learning to hear, identify, and manipulate the phonemes.

Workshops include alphabetic awareness, rhyming, syllable awareness and manipulation, phonemic isolation, blending, and segmentation.

Phonics Workshops 

Teaching Reading Strategies provides 35 phonics workshops, targeted to the vowel and consonant sounds phonics assessments.

Spelling Pattern Workshops

The 102 Spelling Pattern Worksheets correspond to each test item on the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment. Students complete spelling sorts, rhymes, word jumbles, and brief book searches.

Guided Reading: The Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Phonics Books Hi-Lo Readers

Sam and Friends Phonics Books

The Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books features 54 eight-page decodable stories with teenage characters, high-interest plots, and non-juvenile cartoons. Each book has embedded reading comprehension questions, word fluency timings, and accompanying running records. The books are formatted as booklets for printing and digital display on phones, tablets, and Chromebooks.

Each book has focus sound-spellings (the same ones as in the Sound-Spelling Blending activity) and sight words. Students learn the blends and practice them in the decodable Sam and Friends books. The 5 comprehension questions per story are ideal for guided reading instruction and parent-supervised homework.

Additionally, all 54 books provide a 30-second word fluency practice on the focus sound-spellings and sight words with a systematic review of previously introduced sound-spellings and sight words. Your students will improve reading fluency as they develop automaticity with the common sound-spellings and high utility sight words.

Each story has a custom-designed running record assessment with 200 words. Teachers may choose to complete running records on unpracticed or practiced books and may decide to assess with every book, once a week, or at the end of the phonics collection.  

Writing Strategy Workshops

The Writing Strategy Worksheets will help your students learn how both narrative and expository texts are structured and composed at the sentence, paragraph, and chapter levels. Great practice for understanding textbooks! Understanding the reading-writing connection will improve both reading comprehension and writing.

Vocabulary Workshops

The 56 Vocabulary Worksheets used in this workshop focus on the CCSS Vocabulary Standards:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

You can help turn struggling and vulnerable students into confident and skilled readers with the Teaching Reading Strategies program.

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

 

 

 

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

 

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Reading Counts! Claims and Counterclaims

Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts!

AR or RC?

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

Background

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

How Reading Counts! Works

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

Claims and Counterclaims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unshelved

Used with permission www.unshelved.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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Reading 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’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 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—as 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:


The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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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—thus 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—thus 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: “Does one size fit all?” 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’ 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.

*****

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

 

 

 

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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

Dyslexia Is Not Real

Dyslexia Does Not Exist

Dyslexia Is Not Real

The International Literacy Association (ILA) recently (2016) released a position paper on dyslexia. The paper is mildly critical of those who tend to attribute reading difficulties to dyslexia. The paper, like many organizational position statements, pitches a few softballs at the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).

The IDA fired back with its own critique of the ILA’s position paper. In its response, the IDA criticizes what it perceives as misinterpretations of the research studies regarding dyslexia.The game quickly changed from softball to hardball.

The ILA had its ducks in a row (Was the organization anticipating a response from the IDA?) and tore into the ILA’s critique with an addendum to its original position paper: “Dyslexia: Response to the International Dyslexia Association.” In the addendum the ILA questions whether dyslexia is, indeed, a diagnosable condition, disputes the IDA’s advocacy of a one-size-fits-all solution to reading problems, i.e., systematic, explicit phonics instruction, and advocates abandoning the term, dyslexia, altogether. Quite a strong position paper from such a venerable reading institution!

As a reading specialist, I whole-heartedly agree with the International Literacy Association, even though I provide a strand of systematic, explicit phonics instruction in my own reading intervention program (among other approaches to reading remediation).

Why dyslexia is not real and why educators should stop using the term.

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

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

“Dyslexia is, above all, a condition that impedes reading acquisition” (https://dyslexiaida.org/ida-urges-ila-to-review-and-clarify-key-points-in-dyslexia-research-advisory/).

Essentially, in these two definitions the IDA uses condition as if dyslexia is an identifiable, measurable reality. It is not. When advocates of dyslexia trot out brain scans of struggling readers purportedly with this condition and compare to different-looking scans of good readers, they beg the question. In other words, they assume what has not yet been proven. We know so little about the brain and to attribute brain abnormalities to dyslexia is simply poor science.

And such a strange use of the term, condition! By way of contrast, sunburn is a good example of a real, identifiable, and measurable condition. It can be diagnosed with reliable and valid measures. It is positively correlated with overexposure to ultra violet rays. It has predictable effects: pain, increased body temperature, and sometimes chills. It can be treated with aloe vera (some claim) and heals over time. It can be prevented by using sunscreen. Sunburn has all the qualities of a real, identifiable, measurable condition; dyslexia does not.

Following is another more detailed definition of dyslexia, adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002 (bolded terms mine):

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge (https://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/).

Notice the multiplicity of reading problems purportedly attributed to dyslexia. Any first year grad student knows the unlikelihood of establishing a statistically significant correlation between a single cause and more than one effect. Just as any savvy consumer knows how to spot an invented condition by its wide variety of effects (effects which just so happen to be shared by many of us).

For example,

In 1990, E. Denis Wilson, a medical doctor in Florida invented what he modestly called “Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome” –a new condition he claimed was widespread, and causing a huge array of symptoms: fatigue, headaches, irritability, fatigue, dry skin, asthma, allergies and more. Wilson claimed his condition could be diagnosed by measuring body temperature. A lower than normal temperature confirms the diagnosis. According to Wilson, it was the slight reduction in body temperature that apparently causes the body’s metabolic pathways to function-sub-optimally, causing the vague symptoms reported. Your medical doctor doesn’t diagnose Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome because it’s a fake disease (https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/naturopathy-vs-science-fake-diseases).

To popularize invented conditions, proponents frequently promote simplistic diagnostic tests. Of course, I tested positive (as will most people) on the “Wilson Temperature Syndrome” test. By the way, I also tested border-line positive on the International Dyslexia Association’s “Dyslexia Self-Assessment for Adults” (Fran Levin Bowman, M.Ed. & Vincent Culotta, Ph.D., Copyright, 2010, All Rights Reserved).

Such tests lend credence to the notion that the condition is more prevalent than many would believe. The “you are not in this alone” assurance tends to be a key marketing strategy. The International Dyslexia Association claims that “Dyslexia affects 1 in 10 individuals, many of whom remain undiagnosed and receive little or no intervention services” (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-test).

Wilson recommended the use of thyroid hormone (T3) to treat his syndrome. Note that an invented condition always seems to have a snake-oil cure-all.

Magic Elixir for Reading Problems

Snake Oil Cure-All for Reading Problems

The International Dyslexia Association has systematic, explicit phonics instruction as its treatment and plenty of resources in its website’s bookstore.

But why not simply agree to use the term, dyslexia, as a catch-all word for reading problems? Indeed, many reading teachers and reading specialists have chosen to adopt this definition to make peace with their special education colleagues (who tend to view dyslexia as a learning disability). As an aside, many in the homeschooling movement have also bought into the dyslexic diagnosis as a key reason why some students have not achieved reading or math success in the public schools.

It would be tempting to do so; however, continuing to use this term, dyslexia, is counterproductive. The IDA’s classification of dyslexia as an incurable learning disability precludes using the term as a convenient synonym for reading problems. Although many struggling readers are certainly well-served with the explicit, systematic phonics approach advocated by those in the dyslexic camp, this instructional remedy and others should not be promoted as mere coping mechanisms. Reading specialists and reading intervention teachers know that targeted, assessment-based instruction can cure reading problems, not just provide simple band-aids.

To close, I agree with the conclusion of the International Literacy Association in its position paper addendum responding to the criticisms of the International Dyslexia Association:

“In other words, there is no empirical basis for the use of the term dyslexic to distinguish a group of children who are different from others experiencing difficulty acquiring literacy (“Dyslexia: Response to the International Dyslexia Association“).

Reading is a complex and multi-faceted process. Let’s abandon the use of dyslexia–an artificial and counterproductive construct with no research base.

*****

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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

RtI Reading Tests and Resources

Response to Intervention Reading Assessments

FREE Response to Intervention Reading Assessments

Teachers like to teach, not test. After years of required testing, many teachers develop a healthy dose of test aversion. This condition exists because teachers perceive that testing takes away time from teaching, which is their first priority and first love. I’ve yet to meet a teacher when asked, “Why did you get into teaching?” who answered, “Because I love testing.”

Test aversion is accentuated by assessments which provide no teachable data. Of course, the PARCC and SBAC tests come to mind; however, many other assessments, such as random sample normed assessments, contribute to this progressive disease. This is particularly the case within programs designed to meet individual student needs, such as reading intervention. Response to Intervention (RtI) reading assessments are widely perceived as top-down requirements which are time-consuming exercises in test administration, grading, recording, and monitoring: all of which take away teaching time, add countless hours of paperwork, and subject teachers to unfair administrative or peer scrutiny. Think awkward group meetings.

In fact, RtI reading tests can be counterproductive. Years ago I served as a site-level reading specialist at an elementary school. The principal had reached out to district program specialists to develop an RtI-style assessment package for administration to second and third-graders, as well as to fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade students who scored poorly on the standardized tests. Part of the assessment package was the SORT (Slosson Oral Reading Test). The SORT is an individually administered assessment, which takes from 2-4 minutes to administer and score. Merits of this test aside (I’ve always found the test useful as a predictor of reading comprehension grade level), the principal and teachers decided to teach-to-the-test. Teachers, instructional aids, and parents spent countless hours quizzing students with Slosson word flashcards memorizing this random sample test. Time is reductive. Teaching to this test was counterproductive.

So, does assessment have its place? Will teachers buy-in to the value of RtI reading tests? Absolutely. The cure to test aversion? Assessment-based instruction. Following are the criteria for assessment-based instruction:

Seven Assessment-based Criteria

  1. Comprehensive: Each assessment is comprehensive, not a normed random sample. For example, teachers don’t want a 20-question qualitative spelling inventory indicating that students haven’t mastered some or all of their short and long vowels. Teachers want to know exactly which short and long vowels have and have not been mastered. Hence the 102 item Diagnostic Spelling Assessment.
  2. Accurate (internally valid) and Reliable (externally valid)
  3. Quick and Easy Administration: All but one assessment (fluency) are whole class assessments.
  4. Easy to Grade and Record:  have audio files for easy test administration.
  5. Easy-to-Monitor
  6. Teachable: teach to the results of each test item.
  7. Designed for Response to Intervention

Response to Intervention Reading Tests

So which RtI reading tests meet those criteria? The comprehensive alphabetic, phonological (phonemic awareness), phonics, sight words, sight syllables, reading fluency, and spelling assessments for site-level Response to Intervention teams and individual teachers help teachers quickly and accurately diagnose what students know and what they do not know. Each assessment has been developed by Mark Pennington, M.A. Reading Specialist, and revised from extensive teacher feedback. The assessments are offered absolutely FREE for classroom use. Why FREE?

As the author of these assessments, I care about creating assessments that teachers value as reliable diagnostic tools for their students. I also know that once teachers determine what students know and don’t know, they will want the corresponding resources to teach to the diagnosed reading deficits. Of course, teachers can use their own resources, but I hope that they’ll purchase mine. Each program resource corresponds to the FREE reading assessments, test item by test item.

The author’s assessment-based phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency and comprehension, syllabication, vocabulary, and spelling programs provide the resources for assessment-based whole class and individualized instruction. Click on the links to FREE reading assessments and the corresponding curricular resources.

Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Awareness (Paper Copies) 

Use these five phonemic awareness (syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting) and two alphabetic awareness assessments (upper and lower case identification and application) to determine reading readiness. Each of the seven assessments is administered whole class. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (Paper Copy) *

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.

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment (Paper Copy) *

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 Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any consonant 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.

Sight Words (Outlaw Words) Assessment (Paper Copy)

Use this 99 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common non-phonetic English words. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program includes an Outlaw Words fluency article which uses all assessment sight words. The program also provides sight word game card masters and individual sets of business card size Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

Rimes (Word Families) Assessment (Paper Copy) 

Use this comprehensive 79 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common English rimes. Memorization and practice of these word families such as ack, eck, ick, ock, and uck can supplement an explicit and systematic phonics program, such as found in the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. Experienced reading teachers know that different students respond differently to reading instruction and some remedial students especially benefit from learning onsets (such as consonant blends) and rimes. The program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program also provides rimes game card masters and individual sets of business card size game cards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

Sight Syllables Assessment (Paper Copy)

Use this 49 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes. Memorization and practice of these high utility affixes will assist with syllabication, spelling, and vocabulary development. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program provides Greek and Latin prefix and suffix game card masters and individual sets of business card size game cards in the accompanying reading and spelling game cards.

The Pets Fluency Assessment (Paper Copy) *

The “Pets” expository fluency passage is 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 to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. 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. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage permits the teacher to assess two-minute reading fluencies (a much better measurement than a one-minute timing).

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes 43 expository animal fluency articles, each marked with words per line and timing charts to help students monitor their own fluency progress. Plus, each of the 43 fluency articles has been recorded at three different reading speeds to provide the appropriate challenge level for each of your students. This toolkit provides the YouTube links to these 129 modeled readings.

Each of the 43 articles is composed in a leveled format: the first two paragraphs are at third grade reading level, the next two are at the fifth grade reading level, and the last two are at the seventh grade reading level. Slower readers get practice on controlled vocabulary and are pushed to read at the higher reading levels, once the contextual content has been established. Faster readers are challenged by the increasingly difficult multi-syllabic vocabulary.

Teaching Reading Strategies also provides 43 corresponding animal comprehension worksheets with content-specific comprehension questions listed in the margins next to the relevant text. These low-higher order thinking questions ask readers to summarize, connect, re-think, interpret, and predict (the SCRIP comprehension strategy) to promote reader dialog with the text. Students practice self-monitoring their own reading comprehension as they read. This “talking to the text” transfers to better independent reading comprehension and retention.

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Paper Copy) *

Use this comprehensive diagnostic assessment to pinpoint all sound-spelling patterns learned from kindergarten through eighth grade. This 102 item eighth grade test pinpoints spelling deficits and allow the teacher to individualize instruction according to the assessment-data. The author’s Grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs and the comprehensive Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs provide the appropriate test items according to grade level and targeted worksheets to remediate each unknown assessment sound-spelling. Each worksheet includes a spelling sort and formative assessment.

* Placement Assessments

Spelling Patterns Assessment Matrix

Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

 

 

 

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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