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Reading Counts! Claims and Counterclaims

Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts!

AR or RC?

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

Background

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

How Reading Counts! Works

  • A school or district pays a school start-up fee of $375.00 and is assigned a sales representative. The RC software management program is licensed for an annual fee of $4.00 per student (a lower price for 2019). The reading placement and monitoring assessment, recently re-named the¬†Reading Inventory¬†(RI), costs an additional $4.00 per student. So, if my math is correct, that’s $4,000.00 for a 500 student elementary school every year. Plus, more money…
  • The school and/or district re-allocate portions of their budgets to purchase books included within the RC program. Currently, RC has about 45,000 titles, but unlike the books in the AR program, the company makes money from each sale, because HMH publishes them! These purchases will necessarily become an every-year budget item.¬†
  • The HMS sales representative in-services school librarians, teachers, and administrators (lots of online help, as well) on how to implement the RC program. Suggestions as to how to inform and work with parents and corresponding resources are provided. The program resources are relatively easy to use, but time-consuming.
  • The classroom teacher or librarian administers the computer-adaptive Reading Inventory¬†(RI) as a reading placement test to all students participating in the RC program. This test provides a Personal Lexile¬ģ score for each student.
  • Teachers use the¬†Student Achievement Manager (SAM) data and management system¬†to generate student and class reports. The reports list the results of the RI as a Personal¬†Lexile¬ģ number (level or measure) for each student and a class Lexile average. A higher Lexile number indicates a higher reading level ability.
  • The reports also list the students’ optimal Lexile text readability levels (a numerical range). A text‚Äôs Lexile level is determined by its semantic and syntactic degree of difficulty and sentence length. Once students know their reading levels, they can select books from the Search Book Expert Online ,within these reading levels. Although the RC is a Lexile-based program, it also includes grade-level equivalency and guided reading levels in this search engine. Additional filters include grade-level interest (K‚Äď2, 3‚Äď5, 6‚Äď8, high school, and high interest/intervention), fiction and non-fiction, subject areas, genre, and curriculum-integrated books. Note that the HMS reading intervention programs, READ 180 Next Generation¬ģ and System 44¬ģ¬†include some RC titles for their independent reading rotations.
  • Teachers and students set reading goals in terms of a point system. Each book is assigned a specific point value based upon its length and text complexity. Many teachers establish a monthly points requirement.
  • Once students have finished their books, they take a corresponding quiz on the computer, or the teacher may choose to print the quiz. Although the test bank for each quiz includes 30 items, the default number of questions is 10. The RC authors and sales representatives make much ado about the larger quiz bank of questions compared to that of the AR program. They claim that is less easy for students to cheat due to the randomized 10 question default when students are sitting side-by-side. This may be true; however, a quick search indicated plenty of RC quiz “cheat sites,” as are found with the AR program. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Students are allowed to examine their incorrect responses, but there is no pay-off for doing so if the quiz re-takes use different questions.¬†
  • If the students achieve a predetermined score (mastery criteria set by the teacher), they¬†receive a “congratulations screen” and an opportunity to rate the book they read on the “Read-o-Meter.” Students can also check their own RC Student Progress Report.¬†Points are awarded based upon the percentage of quiz questions answered correctly. If the students do not achieve¬†mastery, the teacher may require them to¬†read the book again and retest or re-visit the students’ RI Lexile level range and the level and content of the book. Students are able to take the 10-question quiz 3 times, because there are 30 questions.
  • Teachers generate reports on students’ quiz scores and track the amount of reading and student test scores. They can also receive alerts when a student has not taken a quiz within a given period.
  • Once individual student point goals (usually set monthly) have been mastered, the student receives a certificate of achievement.
  • The Reading Counts! Educator’s Guide provides plenty of reproducibles to supplement the quizzes, such as reading logs, story charts, book reports, parent letters (in several languages), and guides for¬†teachers to write their own quizzes (if the school library does not have the RC book).

Claims and Counterclaims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took my grandson (a few years ago) to his book fair to purchase some books with him. He chose a few, and then we went back to his classroom to get his things, where I met his teacher. She took a look at the books he had chosen, and was excited about, and said, ‚ÄúOh, I think these are too hard for you. You need to choose ones more at your level.‚ÄĚ She didn‚Äôt know that I was a teacher, and I didn‚Äôt tell her. I almost hit her, but I didn‚Äôt do that either. She was the one who pretty much stopped his excitement about reading…

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

Unshelved

Used with permission www.unshelved.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

My take is that we teachers have much better methods to hold students accountable for independent reading that also reinforce effective reading practice. For example, as a middle school teacher, I use online peer book clubs and student-parent discussions for my middle school students. I’ve also taught high school ELA and supervised elementary teachers doing the same. Plenty of accountability and practice, using the motivating social nature of reading. And no in-class independent reading. It’s all homework. I’m no guru, but I’m persistent, and I get between 80‚Äď90% participation (more the first semester than the last).

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

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

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

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

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

For example, let’s say the students in your class take the RI during the first week of school. One of your bright students, Amanda, scores an above grade-level Personal Lexile score of 700, while¬† your class average is 550. With the SAM management software, you are able to use that data to match readers to books. However, other than that use (which we’ve already shown to be of questionable value), those initial RI Lexile scores provide no data to inform our reading instruction. On the RI given 3 months later, Amanda improves to a 750 and her average quiz scores from 80‚Äď90%, but your class averages the same 550 Lexile level and has not improved its 70% quiz average.

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

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

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

*****

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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Flexible Phonics Instruction

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

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

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

Now to the phonics issue…

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

Dyslexia Does Not Exist

Dyslexia Is Not Real

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

Additionally, the ILA challenges the dyslexia organization’s interpretations of the research-base on explicit, systematic phonics instruction. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) claims that “Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a different wiring of the brain.¬†There is no cure for dyslexia and individuals with this condition must learn coping strategies (https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-at-a-glance/). The key coping mechanism, according to the IDA, is¬†explicit, systematic phonics instruction. The IDA does not advocate a specific phonics program, but the Orton-Gillingham Approach is clearly a favorite. After all, Orton coined the term,¬†dyslexia, as early as 1925.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Elixir for Reading Problems

Snake Oil Cure-All for Reading Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

What do teachers have to say about the program?

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

Cathy Ford

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

Joseph Curd

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

Heidi

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

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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄúWilson‚Äôs Temperature Syndrome‚ÄĚ –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‚Äôs metabolic pathways to function-sub-optimally, causing the vague symptoms reported.¬†Your medical doctor doesn‚Äôt diagnose Wilson‚Äôs Temperature Syndrome because it‚Äôs 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‚Äôs abandon the use of dyslexia–an artificial and counterproductive construct with no research base.

*****

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

What do teachers have to say about the program?

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

Cathy Ford

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

Joseph Curd

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

Heidi

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 blue hyperlinks for the FREE reading assessments and the maroon hyperlinks to check out 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 ‚ÄúPets‚ÄĚ 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


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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

What do teachers have to say about the program?

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

Cathy Ford

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

Joseph Curd

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

Heidi

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

Assessment-based Re-teaching

Re-teach with Assessment-based Curriculum

There’s Still Time to Re-teach

Sometimes the simplest things stop teachers in their tracks. A number of years ago a conference speaker (can’t remember whom) said,

Good teachers care more about learning than teaching.

I heard more than one audible gulp from the audience and, although mine was silent, it was just as loud for me. It just hit me. I cared more about the quality of¬†what¬†I taught and¬†how¬†I taught it, than¬†what the students needed to learn and¬†if¬†the students learned it.¬†The focus isn’t a distinction without a difference. It’s a game-changer.

I was in the middle of a reading specialist masters degree program, and the conference insight really changed my perspective as an educator.

At the time, I was teaching high school ELA for three periods and two periods of freshman reading intervention classes. I started thinking about my unit tests in both classes and my pride at achieving perfect bell curve scores from these summative assessments. Maybe 20% failing to achieve my objectives and 60% achieving at a below mastery rate of 80% was not as good as I thought.

I decided to experiment (probably to complete a project for one of my masters classes) and I re-taught the unit. Not to the students who had achieved mastery (80% or better); they did independent projects over the next two weeks. I analyzed my test data and found I didn’t need to re-teach everything… just¬†some¬†things. So I re-taught the¬†some things, trying different instructional methodologies and did quick formative assessments to see if they were achieving mastery. That worked… for the mid 60%, but not for the bottom scoring 20%. I pulled this group aside in class and even worked out deals with them (full credit on the test re-take) if they would come in at a few lunches for extra remediation. Finally, that worked… I’d like to say all 80% achieved 80% mastery on the test re-take, but I would be lying. The results were, however, impressive.

I learned that if I really cared more about student learning than my own teaching, I would have to commit to assessment-based re-teaching. Over the years I got more efficient, pre-testing with diagnostic assessments, and using embedded formative assessments as I taught the first time around. However, I will have to admit that I’ve never¬†covered the same amount of Common Core content standards as my colleagues. I don’t feel too bad about that by now.

If you are willing to re-teach what you’ve already taught (and not yet taught) this year, check out my 14 FREE diagnostic ELA and reading assessments with recording matrices. These quick, comprehensive, whole-class tests will give you teachable data to re-teach students what they need.

If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.

Why do I provide these assessments free of charge? First of all, I care about teachers focusing on student learning. Secondly, my Pennington Publishing products just so happen to provide the assessment-based resources to help teachers help their students catch up while they keep up with grade-level standards.

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , ,

Reading Intervention Program Politics 101

All Politics Is Local in Education

All Politics Is Local: Especially in Schools

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

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

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

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

The End Results

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

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

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

The Political Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phonics Review Unite

Phonics Boot Camp

political teacher’s answer is “No, but.” Let’s see what is possible with measurable results. Hmmm… Multiplication is out, because this is reading-only funding. Comprehension is out because we don’t have the testing tools to measure results. Reading fluency can be measured, but three weeks is not enough time to impact fluency deficits. How about phonics? We do have a three-week phonics review unit which can produce measurable results. Bingo.¬†The point is to cater your available resources and your instructional constraints to the student testing data. Things have to match. You can’t fit square pegs into round holes.

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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FREE Phonics Practice!

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards for Phonics

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

FREE Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and Practice Video for Beginning Reading Instruction and RtI

Introduce and practice the animal names on each Animal Sound-Spelling Card (Get the FREE Download Below). Practice the names until students can rapidly identify each animal on the cards. Unlike many phonics programs, the beginning sound of the animal name perfectly matches the sound listed on each card. For example, the bear card represents the /b/.

Once the animal card names have been mastered, introduce and practice the sounds represented by the cards. Point to each card and say, ‚ÄúName? Sound?‚ÄĚ

After the animal card names and sounds have been mastered, introduce and practice the spellings listed on the cards. Point to each card and say, ‚ÄúName? Sound? Spellings?‚ÄĚ Practice along with the Names, Sounds, and Spelling Chant¬†to develop automaticity.

Also practice along with the Names, Sounds, and Spelling YouTube video.

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!”¬†Rating: 4.0

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Pre-teach before Assessment

Teachers Pre-teach before Assessment

Pre-teach before Assessment

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

The Forgetting Problem

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

The Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, is an M.A. reading specialist and author of Phonics Boot Camp | Phonics Review Unit (a slice of the

Phonics Review Unite

Phonics Boot Camp

comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

This three-week phonics boot camp proves a worthwhile expenditure of class time in third and fourth grades. The intensive phonics review also works at the beginning of a reading intervention class to weed out those students who need only the quick review and not a half or full-year class. The quick re-teach is a perfect fit for short elective classes or as a summer school session. Special education and English-language development teachers find this program helpful. In addition to the instructional resources, the program provides three culminating reading placement tests. These whole-class tests provide the diagnostic data to inform reading intervention instruction.

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