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10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

Don't Use Literacy Centers

10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

Literacy Centers have been used by some teachers for years, but have become increasingly popular since the advent of Pinterest and the Teachers Pay Teachers “Culture of Cute.” Before getting into my 10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers, a huge disclaimer is in order. I love literacy centers, and as a reading specialist and author of a reading intervention program, which offers a centers-based approach to assessment-based instruction, I find them to be invaluable instructional tools. Plus, I also sell grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Academic Literacy Centers. However, I don’t love the ill-conceived and poorly implemented literacy centers I see struggling in so many elementary and middle school classrooms. Hence, the 10 Reasons Not to Use These Kinds of Literacy Centers.

So, here’s the list of reasons I’ve compiled not to use literacy centers. But don’t take my word on it, check out the teacher comments as well.

Questions about Literacy

Literacy Center Questions

1. TIME: Literacy centers take too much time to create, to set-up, and to clean up. Time management may be the most important factor in a teacher’s success or burn-

out. All time is reductive: You add this and that has got to go. Plus, centers can take an inordinate amount of class time. Some teachers have abandoned direct literacy instruction altogether and do two-hour literacy centers. As a reading specialist, I can assure you that guided reading is not the only effective form of reading instruction. Plus, those literacy center learning packets, “I Can” statements, recording sheets, etc. take way too much time to correct and record.

2. ORGANIZATON: Literacy centers are an organizational nightmare. Bins, bags, folders, cubbies? Office supply stores love literacy centers. Artsy-fartsy project-centered activities in literacy centers cost teachers money they just do not have, and the MESS. Students cleaning up? Let’s face it; it’s not their skill set. And by the way, elementary teachers… middle schoolers are worse at cleaning up by far. Custodians hate literacy centers… not only because of the chair or table positioning, but because of the continual mess, wear and tear on classroom furniture and flooring.

3. FUN: So many of the literacy centers I see selling on teacher sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers focus on creating activities, which students will like. Of course, students would rather play a literacy board game rather than practice reading fluency. Wouldn’t you? However, we teachers are not in the amusement business; we are in the learning business. Whether students enjoy the activity or not is not the end goal. Wouldn’t you rather have a former student bumping into you at a restaurant ten years later tell you, “I learned so much in your class,” rather than “I had so much fun in your glass.”? A focus on fun and a focus on learning are mutually exclusive in my experience. The productive kind of fun comes from peer and student-teacher relationships and the self-fulfillment of actually learning something.

4. CHOICE: Here I tend to blame the academics, especially the university education professors who hold such an influence over

Questions about Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Questions

teachers-in-training and teachers taking staff development for salary advancement. I have yet to read any convincing research in my field as a reading specialist that indicates that student choice in selecting learning activities has a statistically positive correlation with reading improvement. Most veteran teachers have learned that guided choice would be a much better approach to literacy center activities. For example, teachers know that allowing students some autonomy in choosing the types of books

makes sense (motivation and learning theory so affirm); however, allowing students to self-select books irrespective of reading level seems to be teacher malpractice to me. My experience in the classroom finds that some students will self-select challenging books at appropriate word recognition levels, but many will not. No research that choice presents higher gains. Literacy center choice? We are the adults, here. We know the Common Core Standards and what is best for our students. We guide them toward vegetables, not candy. And if we’re good at it, we can make them think that they do have some choice, say in when to practice that reading fluency passage, where to practice it, and how to practice it. These choices make sense, but not these kinds of literacy choices: board game or reading fluency, art station or reading fluency, etc.

5. CUTE: Other teachers and culture often unduly influence impact a teacher’s instructional decision-making. I know many teachers who have been peer-pressured into adopting and/or continuing literacy centers as their primary means of literacy instruction. The “Culture of Cute” promulgated by many teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers and influenced by Pinterest has had an enormous impact on elementary, and some middle school, literacy teachers. A teacher’s artsy-fartsy, cute-looking literacy centers may, indeed, impress the teacher next door, the walk-through principal-specialist-district personnel, and the parent community. However, cute alone never gets a student to score high on the Smarter Balanced or PAARC tests, let alone the SAT or ACT in years to come.

6. INDEPENDENCE: Literacy centers focus on independence and de-value teacher-dependence. “Gradual release of responsibility” does not mean let the blind lead the blind. Poor literacy centers allow students the independence to do what students want to do by themselves; better literacy centers involve students completing work independently without pestering the teach or being spoon-fed to do by themselves what the teacher wants them to do. The best independent work is solidly teacher-dependent.

7. BEHAVIOR: Literacy centers create behavioral management problems. Even the best classroom management training won’t

Questions about Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Questions

overcome poorly designed centers or deal with Jonathan or Amanda, who can’t be left alone for more than 10 seconds. Students cannot learn in a learning structure which promotes constant behavioral issues. Plus, fair to say that all teachers are not wired the same way. For example, some can tolerate more noise than others. That doesn’t mean that the less tolerant teacher is less kid-centered, or needs additional classroom management staff development, or is misplaced at a particular grade level.

8. COLLABORATION: Most literacy centers don’t accomplish their purported purpose: using cooperative collaboration to learn. Much of the 1980s research on cooperative groups has been discarded in the literacy center movement. Groups are treated as merely collections of students working individually to complete self-choice learning tasks. Groups are primarily a necessary evil for a teacher “to put up with” in order to “free up” the teacher to do, say guided reading, with a small group (where the only real learning takes place). Floating around most literacy centers, observers would see minimal collaboration, no shared leadership or defined leadership roles, and a whole lot of Bella, the smart or responsible student, doing the work for her wanna-be-best-friend Samantha, the lazy or manipulative student. No accountability. No benefit of working together.

9. TRACKING: Literacy centers promote tracking. Because guided reading has become such a dominant feature of literacy groups, and most all guided reading groups involve homogeneous compositions, say by reading levels, the rest of the literacy groups tends to be cemented into same ability groups. Heterogeneous groupings can be incorporated into literacy centers, but most teachers chose not to follow this organization and management challenge. I, personally, favor a mixed approach of flexible homogeneous and heterogeneous groups, but literacy centers rarely reflect this mix.

10. DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION: Literacy centers have been used to prop up many of the discredited features of differentiated instruction–an instructional approach of the late 1990s and early 2000s which tended to feature student choice based upon multiple intelligences, brain theory, and learning styles. Although I constantly tried to co-opt the movement to suit my own views that we should teach different stuff to different students based upon the results of diagnostic assessments, teachers and popular authors favored the idea that we should teach different ways to different students based upon a myriad of other factors. For example, I see many literacy centers on sale on Teachers Pay Teachers which favor learning styles as determinants for independent student choices of learning activities. This, despite the fact that there is no empirical evidence to prove the existence or efficacious impact using learning styles to promote academic achievement. Truly, old theories take a generation to die out. Click HERE to learn more.

Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLES

Academic Literacy Centers Grades 4-8 BUNDLES

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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

Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Collaborative Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers are separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs, designed to teach the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards in writing, reading, and language. The literacy centers maximize learning through collaborative tasks, each taking from 15–20 minutes to complete. These six independent centers free-up the teacher to conduct mini-conferences with individual students, teach a guided reading group, or walk the classroom to supervise. A variety of rotation options provides flexibility and the addition of other centers as the teacher sees fit.

I chose to include academic in the program title to reflect the rigorous lessons included in the Academic Literacy Centers. Unlike other literacy centers, which focus on hands-on activities, games, art, exploration, and creativity (all good things), these centers focus on learning the Standards. Students take biweekly unit tests (included) to measure their mastery of the key Standards.

Now, this is not to say that students won’t enjoy any of the activities (they will), but I would rather have students learn content and skills than just have fun. If you were expecting a carnival of cute games and manipulatives, select another product. This is solid grade-level work and you, your parents, your principal, and most importantly, your students, will see measurable progress in mastering the grade-level ELA Standards.

These six Academic Literacy Centers have been designed to minimize or eliminate preparation, correction, behavioral problems, and clean-up time and to maximize flexible, on-task learning:

Academic Literacy Centers

Reading: Eight expository reading fluencies and corresponding comprehension worksheets

Writing: Eight sentence revisions lessons, which include revising sentence structure, grammar application, and writing style and eight literary response activities, which include literary quotation mentor texts and writer response tasks with different rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form)

Language Conventions: Eight grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons including online links for both grammar and mechanics content and/or skills

Vocabulary: Eight vocabulary worksheets including Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues; Greek and Latin Word Parts; Language Resources; Figures of Speech; Word Relationships; Connotations; and Academic Language Words

Spelling and Syllabication: Four spelling sorts based upon conventional spelling rules and four syllable worksheets

Study Skills: Eight reading and writing, listening, test-taking, memorization, and goal-setting lessons

 FAQs

Can I set up, tear down, and move these centers quickly? Yes. Set up and tear down only take a few minutes. Perfect if you share a classroom or move to another classroom.

Are there directions for each lesson and activity? Yes. There are longer teacher directions and shorter student directions on the literacy center task cards (provided in both color and black and white).

Do the literacy centers have the same instructional procedures for each lesson and activity? Yes. Read the directions and model the first activity or lesson for each literacy center once and your students will be able to work independently thereafter.

How much correction is there? Plenty, but your students will do all the correcting. Answers are provided with each task. Students learn from their own mistakes.

Are there unit tests? Yes, biweekly tests are provided on the grammar, usage, mechanics, vocabulary, and spelling content and skills. Answers, of course.

Academic Literacy Centers BUNDLES

Academic Literacy Centers Grades 4-8 BUNDLES

What exactly is Common Core State Standard grade-level specific and what is not? The sentence revisions (Writing Center), vocabulary worksheets (Vocabulary Center), spelling sorts (Spelling Sorts and Syllabication Center) each have separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 lessons and activities. Other lessons and activities cover the breadth of the grades 4–8 Standards. The reading fluencies and comprehension worksheets are leveled at third, fifth, and seventh grade levels.

Can I add my own centers? Yes, and I have six additional remedial literacy centers (sold separately) each include diagnostic assessments and focus on assessment-based instruction: Reading Fluency with Modeled Readings, Phonics and Sound-Spelling Card Games, Phonemic Awareness and Sight Words, Vowel Transformers and Spelling

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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

How to Practice Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Well, I stirred up somewhat of a ruckus with my companion article titled “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” and I think I understand why. Admittedly, the hook is designed to do exactly what we teachers teach our students: Grab the readers’ attention and make them want to read more.” Back in high school, my fellow journalist, Kraig King, somehow was able to get this story headline approved by Mr. Devlin, our school newspaper teacher: “Drugs Are Great” with the first sentence following with “that’s what my friend Joe kept telling me.” Every student read that article.

In my previous article I provided evidence that the reading community of practitioners (we teachers and reading specialists) and academics (reading researchers) really don’t have a consensus as to what exactly is reading comprehension. The instructional implications seem clear to me: We shouldn’t assess or pretend to teach what we don’t know.

I also cautioned that teachers face enormous pressure to adopt a particular definition of reading comprehension from administrators and publishers of assessments and curricula. I’ll say it again, “We have to be crap detectors” in our business of teaching students.

Since “everyone and their mother” (horrible grammar) has their own definition of reading comprehension, I developed my own: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

The “when we see it” part of my working definition for reading comprehension offers some practical advice for helping students practice their reading comprehension. Most of us can spot a good reader when we see one. And, fortunately, most teachers are pretty good readers. So let’s remind ourselves about what good readers do.

Here the reading research provides helpful insight. Although causal connections (This teaching practice will effect this learning effect) can rarely be established, we do have a body of statistically significant reading research indicating positive correlations between certain learning practices and reading comprehension… admittedly we beg the question as to just what reading comprehension is; however, this is beside the point for our working definition). For example, oral reading fluency has a statistically significant correlation with reading comprehension; the practice and result share a high correlation (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, and Jenkins).

We may not know exactly “how to get it,” but Johnny has high fluency scores and everyone knows he’s a good reader, so one way to practice reading comprehension would be… let’s be like Johnny. The following is certainly not an exhaustive list of what good readers like Johnny do, but each has research studies supporting statistically significant correlations between the description or practice and reading comprehension. I’ll add on links to that research later. Please comment with relevant links and additional suggestions and I’ll add onto the list. Or, even better yet, challenge my assumptions.

Practice Doing What Good Readers Do

Practice Reading Comprehension

Students Practicing Reading Comprehension

  • Good readers are fluent in all senses of the word, both orally and silently.
  • Good readers understand why they are reading something and tend to read toward a specific purpose.
  • Good readers are smart. Sad, but true. We educators wish that every student had the aptitude or capability to be brilliant, but nature gets in the way. In one way or another, reading is a thinking activity and good thinkers have the opportunity to be good readers. Maybe someday we will understand the brain enough to even the playing field, but we are still a long way from that day.
  • Good readers bring plenty of prior knowledge to the table through experience, content learning, practice, study skills. Good for them, but not for all our students. Nurture gets in the way. Fortunately, we have some of the tools needed to somewhat level the playing field, but it takes a lot of work.
  • Good readers have a good understanding of English idioms. English-language learners do have challenges here. Let’s be honest.
  • Good readers read for meaning and monitor their own comprehension.
  • Good readers dialogue with the text and see the reading experience as interactive between reader and author and others. They question the text.
  • Good readers have high vocabularies, especially Tier 1 and Tier 2 words.
  • Good readers know how to find resources to help them understand difficult text.
  • Good readers are flexible: Good readers vary reading speed, re-read what they don’t understand, know when to skim and not to skim.
  • Good readers know what’s important and what’s not.
  • Good readers know they need to infer meaning from the text and draw conclusions.
  • Good readers relate one part of the text to others.
  • Good readers understand text structure.
  • Good readers understand the craft of writing.
  • Good readers understand how genre affects story development.
  • Good readers do a better job of answering recall and inferential reading selection questions.
  • Good readers read narrative differently than expository text.

Teaching Practices to Practice Reading Comprehension

I’ll keep the explanations in this list short and let the links broaden any topics or ideas you may wish to explore. Several of the lists include ready-to-use resources to help your students practice reading comprehension. I suggest teachers use this list as a sort of a “I do that (pat on the back affirmation),” “I used to do that (reminder that you should use that practice again),” and “I want to think about doing that or do that instead of what I’m doing” self-analysis.

1. Think-Alouds: Good readers (both teachers and students) can share how they understand and interpret text in light of their own personal and academic experiences, text-based strategies, self-questioning, and monitoring for understanding. Click HERE for suggestions as to how to use this technique. Think-Alouds will help your students understand what reading is, for example connecting parts of text, and what reading isn’t, for example, word calling.

2. Close Readings: If you haven’t heard of close readings, you’ve been asleep at the wheel. If you read my article, Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely, you may wind up with a different take on this trendy reading strategy, but it is still useful to help students practice reading comprehension and it works well in conjunction with think-alouds and external, text dependent questions.

3. External Questions: Any search of Common Core reading standards will bring up text dependent questions, the favorite subject of the Common Core authors, after the need for text complexity. The time-tested QAR Reading Strategy helps students practice comprehension through recognizing and applying the types of text-dependent questions publishers, teachers, and good readers ask themselves about text.

4. Internal Questions: Reading research indicates that self-generated reader questioning improves reading comprehension as much or even more than publisher or teacher questions. My article, How to Improve Reading Comprehension with Self-Questioning, provides a helpful overview and summary of the research. Also, I’ve developed a useful set of five internal questions which prompt active engagement with both narrative and expository text. These SCRIP Comprehension Strategies (includes posters, five worksheets, and SCRIP Bookmarks) are memorable and effective. Plus, they provide a language of instruction for literary discussions.

5. Student Monitoring of Text: Teaching students to self-monitor their reading comprehension is wonderful practice. Read my article, Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head, for a nice explanation of how to read interactively. Follow up with a think-aloud and have students pair share their own think-alouds. Now that’s reading comprehension practice!

6. Literary Discussions: When we build upon (and sometimes revise) prior knowledge with relevant content and life experience, we better comprehend text. Modeling and practicing thinking skills via Socratic Seminars, literacy circles, cooperative groups, and the like help students practice reading comprehension, which is truly a listening and speaking skill. Check out How to Lead Effective Group Discussions to fine tune your discussion experience. Also check out my Critical Thinking Openers.

7. Pre-teach and Re-teach: Read the king of these reading comprehension practices (Marzano). We have to level the playing field by making text accessible to all students. By the way, why not show the movie first before reading the novel upon which it is based? Just an idea, but an effective one. Give students the keys to effective reading comprehension practice; don’t withhold them.

8. Fluency Practice: Students need both oral and silent fluency practice. Check out these articles: How and Why to Teach Fluency, Differentiated Fluency Practice, and Reading Fluency Homework. My Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program provides modeled oral reading fluency practice at three separate speeds. The expository animal fluency passages are tiered in terms of reading level: the first two paragraphs of each article at grade 3, the next two paragraphs at grade 5, and the last two at grade 7. Each article has word counts and corresponding timing sheets.

9. Syllabication Practice: The original and new editions Rewards (Archer) programs stretch decoding to the multi-syllabic academic vocabulary that we want students to practice to improve reading comprehension. My own Syllable Transformers (a nice article with lesson downloads) activity is essential practice for students at all reading levels. You’ll also want to check out these great reference lists: Syllable Rules with Examples and Accent Rules with Examples.

10. Vocabulary Practice with the Common Core Language Standards: The best section of the Common Core State Standards, and perhaps the only set of Standards that has produced universal praise and no criticism is found in the Language Strand: Standards 4, 5, and 6. Every teacher and reading researcher agrees that a growing and targeted vocabulary is a prerequisite and concurrent necessity to improving reading comprehension. The Common Core State Standards Appendix A  argument by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown that teachers should focus on Tier 2 words academic words has wide acceptance as does the teaching of Greek and Latin word parts. Check out this resource: How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes.

Furthermore, teachers should check out the research-based Academic Word List used in my Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits. Following are nice ready-to-teach samples as to how to teach these Standards: Four Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with AnswersFour Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers, and Four Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets, Flashcards, and Unit Test with Answers.

11. Independent Reading for Vocabulary Acquisition and Content Knowledge:  The best homework? Independent reading with accountability: not for reading comprehension practice, per se, but for vocabulary acquisition and content knowledge. Read a set of articles HERE regarding how to set up an effective independent reading program with accountability and how to help students select books at the optimal word recognition levels. No, you do not need Lexiles, nor Accelerated Reader. Teach your students how to maximize vocabulary acquisition by using the FP’S BAG SALE Context Clues Strategies lesson, including two practice worksheets with answers.

12. Read a Variety of Genre: True, the Common Core State Standards have renewed our focus on non-narrative genre, but the Standards do not outlaw short stories, poetry, and novels. Check our this particularly helpful resource: How to Read Textbooks with PQ RAR.

13. Write About Reading: A good writing program is excellent reading comprehension practice. See Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection.

14. Fill in the Gaps: Help students practice reading comprehension by ensuring that they have the necessary tools to do so. We know that good readers have phonemic awareness and they can apply the alphabetic code through their knowledge of how sounds connect to spellings. In other words, good readers tend to have their phonics mastered, irrespective of how they got there; they can decode. That’s simply not up for debate anymore.  We also know that good readers tend to have the “other side of the coin” mastered as well, that is they can encode (spell) the sound-spellings.

“75% of children who were poor readers in the 3rd grade remained poor readers in the 9th grade and could not read well when they became adults.” – Joseph Torgeson from Catch Them Before They Fall

Check out these FREE diagnostic reading and spelling assessments to determine exactly which gaps to fill. These assessments pinpoint specific, teachable areas that students have not yet mastered, but need to. These are comprehensive assessments, not random samples indicating a generic “problem area.” For example, the Vowel Sound Phonics Assessment will indicate that Raphael has not mastered the Long a, ai_. For example, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment does not indicate a problem with syllable juncture as a qualitative spelling inventory might; instead, the test would indicate that Frances does not understand the consonant-le spelling patterns.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments?

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

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Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Don't Teach Reading Comprehension: Practice It!

Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension

Okay, I’ll admit it; the article title is a bit of an attention grabber. However, as an MA reading specialist and author of plenty of reading programs over the years, I do believe that the title does point to some helpful advice. And I don’t believe I’m splitting hairs or making a distinction without a difference (pick your figure of speech) by advising “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension” here while alternatively advocating “How to Practice Reading Comprehension” in my companion article. Teaching is different than practicing.

Let’s Be Honest About Teaching Reading Comprehension

Years ago I served as an elementary reading specialist, training teachers in our district-adopted reading program. I had plenty of diagnostic and instructional tools in my toolbox, ready to hand out to teachers to improve the quality of reading instruction for their classes and individual students. Fresh from my masters program, I knew stuff that the teachers did not and I felt pretty good about the level of my expertise.

At a grade level team meeting, veteran teachers were asking me about the results of their San Diego Quick Assessments, how to teach the r, l, w controlled vowels, and my take on schema theory. I was on a roll. Next, teachers tossed out their progress monitoring assessments and I suggested how to improve the fluency of Raphael, how to teach the outlaw (sight) words to Marci, and how to get Huong to practice his common Greek and Latin prefixes. Teachers were nodding their heads in a approval, and I was just about to step down from my throne and dismiss my subjects when a brand new teacher asked the question about Alberto: Even though Alberto has mastered all of his sight words, passed the phonics tests, and has the second highest fluency rate in the class, why can’t he tell me about what he has read or answer any simple questions about the reading?

The question stopped me dead in my tracks. I faked the answer pretty well, suggesting something along the lines of confusion with his primary language (Spanish) and English, not knowing that he was supposed to read for meaning, dietary issues, and perhaps some degree of cognitive impairment. But her follow-up question was devastating: “How can I teach reading comprehension to him?” I had no answer. We never covered that in my MA reading specialist program. I muttered something about the issue being complicated and said I’d get back to her. I never did.

Since those early years as an elementary reading specialist, I’ve also served as both a middle and high school reading intervention teacher and a reading instructor at a community college. After a few years under my belt, I’ve learned to be more like that new teacher. I ask harder questions and I’m not satisfied with simplistic or speculative answers. Today my answer to her question would be, “We don’t know how to teach reading comprehension, so don’t teach it.” However, that answer does require some explanation. First, let’s take a look at why we can’t teach reading comprehension; next, the instructional implications; and lastly in my companion article, how to help students practice reading comprehension

Why We Can’t Teach Reading Comprehension

In the short-lived 1969-1970 television show, Then Came Bronson, a middle-aged man in a business hat pulls his family station wagon alongside the lead character, Bronson, who is riding a

Then Cam Bronson

“Wherever I wind up, I guess”

motorcycle.

The car driver asks, “Taking a trip?”

Bronson shakes his head and answers, “Yeah.”

 “Where to?”

 “I don’t know… Wherever I wind up, I guess.”

 “Man, I wish I was you…”

“Really, well hang in there.”

Great dialogue… We all want to be about the journey with no cares about the destination, but this attitude is simply not acceptable when applied to the subject of reading comprehension. We need to know where we are going before we figure out how to get there. So, just what is reading comprehension and how do we get there?

What is Reading Comprehension? We Don’t All Agree

I googled “reading comprehension definition” and found these top results from practitioners:

“Simply put, reading comprehension is the act of understanding what you are reading” (K12 Reader).

“Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read… For many years, reading instruction was based on a concept of reading as the application of a set of isolated skills such as identifying words, finding main ideas, identifying cause and effect relationships, comparing and contrasting and sequencing. Comprehension was viewed as the mastery of these skills.” (Reading Rockets).

“I’ve noticed that many books about reading, and specifically about comprehension for that matter, don’t even define what comprehension is. Perhaps it’s assumed that we all know what it is; or maybe comprehension is a slippery term that we have trouble grasping, or comprehending, if you will!” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers this definition: ‘capacity of the mind to perceive and understand.’ Reading comprehension, then, would be the capacity to perceive and understand the meanings communicated by texts. Simple, huh? Clear. Now we comprehend comprehension! (Jeff Wilhelm, Scholastic).

Next, I googled “reading comprehension scholarly definition” and found a wide variety of results from the academics:

“We define reading comprehension as the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language. We use the words extracting and constructing to emphasize both the importance and the insufficiency of the text as a determinant of reading comprehension” (Greenleaf, Murphy, Schoenbach).

“Reading comprehension is the construction of the meaning of a written or spoken communication through a reciprocal, holistic interchange of ideas between the interpreter and the message.
. . . The presumption here is that meaning resides in the intentional problem-solving, thinking processes of the interpreter, . . . that the content of the meaning is influenced by that
person’s prior knowledge and experience” (Harris and Hodges).

“From a cognitive or psycholinguistic perspective, comprehension is viewed as a process of constructing meaning in transaction with texts” (Goodman, 1996; Smith, 2004).¹

“(Reading comprehension is) a combination of decoding and oral comprehension skills” (Hoover & Gough, 1990).²

“From a post-structuralist or socio-cultural perspective, there is no meaning that simply resides in a text until a reader with the requisite knowledge and skills constructs the meaning with the signs on a page (McCormick, 1995; O’Neill,1993).³

1,2,3 from Rethinking Reading Comprehension: Definitions, Instructional Practices, and Assessment (Serafini).

One observation: I can’t tell you how many times I read the equivalent of “After years of… there is a growing consensus that…” for diametrically opposed summaries of the reading research.

I read the experts in cognitive science. Professor Daniel Willingham from the University of Virginia is quoted in the Washington Post:

Can reading comprehension be taught? In this blog post, I’ll suggest that the most straightforward answer is “no.” Reading comprehension strategies (1) don’t boost comprehension per se; (2) do indirectly help comprehension but; (3) don’t need to be practiced.

Finally, I went to the Common Core State Standards to see how the authors weighed in on reading comprehension. The Common Core Standards divides its Reading Standards into Reading Foundational Skills, Reading Literature, and Reading Informational Text. Its Appendix A focuses on text complexity, but offers no working definition of reading comprehension. The closest we get to a definition is “the ability to perform literacy tasks.”

Instructional Implications

At this point we are, at best, left with this working definition of reading comprehension: We sort of know it when we see it, but we all don’t agree on exactly what it is and how to get it. 

Now, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It does provide some helpful hints about the limitations of reading assessments and instructional strategies. At the minimum, this working definition

"Don't Follow Leaders"

(From Don’t Look Back produced by Leacock-Pennebaker (1965); Pennebaker Films)

informs our “crap detectors” and keeps us questioning authority. “Don’t follow leaders; watch your parking meters” (Dylan).

We Can’t and Shouldn’t Assess Reading Comprehension

Assessments are designed to measure stuff. If we can’t agree on what we are testing, reading comprehension assessments may actually lead us into teaching to the results of the test, rather than helping students improve comprehension. Reading comprehension tests become self-fulfilling prophesies. Additionally, publishers love comprehension assessments that test concrete skills: Think test prep materials, skill workbooks, etc.

Teachers should rightfully be cautious about making instructional decisions from the results of the Common Core Standards-based PAARC and Smarter Balanced tests. These high stakes tests drive instructional decisions which often counter reading research and teacher judgment. The pressure to make these achievement tests the arbiters of what reading comprehension is and is not is increasingly difficult for teachers to challenge. Furthermore, each of the criterion-referenced and normed assessments purporting to measure reading comprehension have their own biases: the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, Second Edition (KTEA-II), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III), Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ III ACH), The Gray Oral Reading Tests, Fifth Edition (GORT-5), Test of Reading Comprehension, Fourth Edition (TORC-4), Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests Terra Nova Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) Stanford Achievement Test, etc.

As a reading specialist for quite a few years, I also recommend not using informal reading inventories to measure comprehension. I am a huge advocate for teacher-based reading assessments, but not with comprehension. If we can’t test it (and we can’t), we can’t teach it. Make sure to avoid making reading assessments “walk on all fours.” I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve known who use the Slosson, San Diego Quick, or the Read Naturally Brief Oral Screener and predictors of reading grade level. Wrong. And for goodness sake, avoid using the Accelerated Reader STAR test for the same misguided purpose.

The results of the above tests give us nothing to reliably inform our reading instruction. Be suspect of aggregated results which purport to provide useful instructional information. And labels can lead to silly instructional decisions, for example, tracking all far below basic readers into remedial reading classes. As if each low-performing reader had the same reading issues. Sigh.

What Doesn’t Improve Reading Comprehension

Time to step on a few toes. We may not be able to define exactly what reading comprehension is and we may not know how to assess or directly teach reading comprehension, but by any of the working definitions, assessment results, and reading research detailed in the National Reading Panel Report most of us would agree that the following practices do not improve reading comprehension.

1. Free Voluntary Reading (Sustained Silent Reading)

According to noted reading researcher, Doctor Timothy Shanahan in his August 13, 2017 article:

NRP did conclude that there was no convincing evidence that giving kids free reading time during the school day improved achievement — or did so very much. There has been a lot of work on that since NRP but with pretty much the same findings: either no benefits to that practice or really small benefits (a .05 effect size — which is tiny). Today, NRP would likely conclude that practice is not beneficial rather than that there is insufficient data. But that’s arguable, of course.

Remember that this is regarding reading comprehension, not vocabulary acquisition.

2. Teaching according to learning styles and multiple intelligences. Click HERE for the a complete debunking of these misguided approaches.

3. Visual (graphophonic) reading strategies. Over-reliance on letter shapes, pictures, and context clues to practice reading comprehension is, indeed, a “psycholinguistic guessing game” (Goodman) and the results of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s strongly suggest that whatever reading comprehension is, it isn’t something that ignores the alphabetic code.

4. Leveling books for guided reading by “comprehension grade level” (whatever that means). Also, use Lexiles only as flexible guidelines for independent reading or for selecting class novels.

5. Reading ability groups by reading comprehension levels. Whatever reading comprehension is, it’s not a skill which can be taught to a flexible ability group, such as a group of students who don’t know their basic sight words.

6. Reading strategy worksheets. It’s not that worksheets don’t have a place… they do, but teaching main idea, inferencing, drawing conclusions, visualizing, and text

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

Don’t Teach Reading Strategies???

structure are important tools for skillful readers to acquire, but passing out skill worksheets on each and excessive practice does not teach reading comprehension. Read this article, “Should We Teach Reading Strategies?” for more reasons.

7. Reading techniques, such as close reading, the QAR strategy, reciprocal teaching, and even the KWL may be helpful, but in them of themselves they don’t teach reading comprehension and even too much of a good thing can be counterproductive.

So, if you agree with my advice: Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension, you may be interested in the specifics on How to Practice Reading Comprehension. The article goes into detail about practicing reading comprehension that way good readers do and has a wealth of article and ready-to-teach FREE resources and lessons. How about a great FREEBIE now? Here you go…

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:


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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

What do teachers have to say about the program?

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

Cathy Ford

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

Joseph Curd

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

Heidi

Literacy Centers, Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach English Accent Rules

There no doubt will be yuge and bigly changes in Ginah under President Trump. And let’s just say that Alec Baldwin will have job security impersonating him if he so chooses. Of course, Donald is not the only one who mispronounces words. In fact, I gathered a list of them for my article titled Top 40 Pronunciation Peeves. You no doubt have your own mispronunciations. I, myself, know it’s “pro-bab-ly,” but I can’t stop saying “prob-ly.”

Teaching students the syllable and accent rules through effective practice will noticeably improve their word attack and spelling skills. The accent rules and teaching procedure work well for both primary English speakers and English language-learners at all grade levels.

How to Teach English Accent Rules

  1. Teach students that every syllable has one vowel sound.
  2. Teach students the syllable patterns. Teaching inductively from examples to rules works much better than the converse strategy. My nonsense syllable transformers are ideal for teaching the basic syllable patterns. Check out Teaching Reading Strategies.
  3. Show students how accented syllables are louder than others in the same word. Stand in front of students with one hand at your side. State your title (Mr. Miss, Ms. or Mrs.) or your first name as a verbal cue and then snap and clap the syllables of your last name slowly. A snap indicates the unaccented syllable and a clap indicates the accented syllable. Don’t clap more than once in your last name even if there is a secondary accent. Save this instruction for high school. Note: For primary students, you may wish to substitute a thigh tap for the snap. Tell older students to fake the snap if they can’t do it. If your last name is only one syllable, e.g. Smith, adopt a pseudonym.

Ask students do the same, cueing them with your title. Repeat a bit faster and then once more quite quickly so that students are blending your last name. Ask for a few student volunteers to demonstrate with their last names. The teacher should cue with their first names.

    1. Show students how accented syllables are higher than others in the same word. Stand in front of students with one hand at your side. State your title (Mr. Miss, Ms. or Mrs.) or your first name as a verbal cue and then swipe and hold your hand away from your body to indicate the pitch of each syllable as you pronounce your last name. For example, Say, “Mister…” (hand at side) “Pen” (high pitch; hand swiping to and held at a ninety degree angle) “ning” (low pitch; hand swiping lower and held at forty-five degree angle) “ton” (low pitch; hand swiping again and held at same forty-five degree angle). “Pen-ning-ton. Pennington.” Ask students to stand and do the same, cueing them with your title. Repeat a bit faster and then once more quite quickly so that students are blending your last name. Ask for a few student volunteers to demonstrate with their last names. The teacher should cue with their first names.
    2. Practice the louder and higher syllable accenting with the 10 Accent Rules. Download this great resource!

Get the Accent Rules FREE Resource:

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

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

New Teacher Resources: 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets

Veteran ELA and reading teachers learn to expect the unexpected. After all, things don’t always go as planned in the classroom. But, if you’re new to the profession, it may be helpful to remember the Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared.”

For example, a seventh grade ELA colleague ran into our staff workroom a few months back, screaming “Oh s___! They’re done.” Believe me. It will happen to you.

Students do finish early or take more time than planned. Sometimes students need more practice, while others do not.

Also, stuff happens. The projector bulb burned out and no one ordered any. It wasn’t supposed to rain today. I just can’t teach with this headache, and there’s no one to cover for me. “Ring, ring. Sorry to interrupt, but Johnny’s mother called and he will be on vacation for two weeks. She wants to pick up his work in an hour.” “Yvette needs more challenging work. Do you have something we could do to support her at home?”

All teachers need back-up. Wouldn’t it be great to have something ready to go just in case? And something good−not drill and kill like “Circle the 400 nouns in this story”; not lame busy work like a word search or crossword.

1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets for Grades 4-8 Teachers

Every teacher needs back-up!

How about 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets? Independent content and skill worksheets for grades 4−8 with easy to follow directions, clear definitions and examples, concise practice sections, writing applications, and answers for students to self-correct. Plus a short formative assessment for you to evaluate whether the student has mastered the content or skill in a mini-conference when things get back to normal. Standards-based, quality instruction in grammar, usage, mechanics, reading skills, spelling patterns, writing skills, study skills, and critical thinking. No prep and no correction. Perfect for both veteran and new teachers. Use the free assessments on our website and assign these worksheets to individualize assessment-based instruction.

Also, new teachers need answers to their questions. And you will have questions! However, at this point, you may not know what you don’t know. Student teaching helps, but every class and teaching situation is new. Talk to any veteran teacher. We all have butterflies about the first day of school. Many of us have a few nightmares as well. Here are a few things you might think of… Don’t get overwhelmed, but it’s good to know new teachers and veteran teachers are in the same boat. Just don’t be up a creek without a paddle. Get those worksheetsJ.

Matt Davis has put together a great set of new teacher resources on Edutopia:
New (Middle School) Teacher 911 From MiddleWeb
: Great for middle school teachers. I’m one of them!
National Education Association’s New Teacher Resources: Great collection from our collective teacher voice.
Scholastic’s New Teacher Survival Guides: Something new teachers need for every month of your first year, Check outand the The New Teacher’s Guide to Creating Lesson Plans.
Teaching Channel’s New Teacher Survival Guide: Plenty of advice and discussion here for new teachers.

What makes these 1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets so special? Each worksheet has been designed for individualized instruction with formative assessments and most include answers for students to self-correct in order to learn from their own mistakes. Each worksheet has been field-tested in grades 4−8 teacher classrooms as part of the author’s comprehensive programs: Teaching the Language Strand, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Essay Strategies, Teaching Reading Strategies, Essential Study Skills, and Critical Thinking Openers Toolkit. But don’t my word for it. Check out the previews for yourself and what other teachers have to say.

Written by a teacher for teachers and their students. It shows. You write like I teach.

Jeanne Alread

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. The worksheets are fantastic. I’m teaching each Standard in the Language Strand and remediating previous grade level Standards.

Julie Villenueve

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