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Posts Tagged ‘vocabulary development’

Movie First, Book Second

Read Book before Novel

Book before Novel

Want your students to get the most out of reading a class novel?

Want more of your students to actually read the whole book?

What to build internal monitoring of the text and increase comprehension?

Show the move first; read the book second.

I know it sound like ELA teacher heresy, but before you hang me like the 19 accused witches in Salem, let me plead my case.

First of all, I am a reading specialist, as well as an ELA teacher. The reading research backs up my position. If we want to build comprehension, maximize vocabulary growth, and engage the author and text, we should front load as much as possible. Activating prior knowledge, scaffolding content vocabulary, reader response theory. Pre-teaching!

My caveats up front: I don’t always show the movie before everything we read. Not every short story or novel has a movie. And I won’t show a bad movie. No one is excited to read the book after watching a bad movie.

Why watch the movie first?

  1. Watching the movie first levels the playing field. When we read a grade-level novel aloud to the class (listening comprehension), listen to an audio book, or have students independently read, we reward good readers more than poor readers. The Matthew Effect (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer) is reinforced. Good readers understand more, retain more, and perform better on reading quizzes and tests because they are good readers. It’s not a matter of more effort; it’s about reading skills. Poor readers (those reading below grade level) cannot access the same understanding, retention, and achieve the same rewards (good quiz and test grades) because the grade-level text is at the frustration level for them. The fact is that both good and struggling readers benefit from pre-teaching by showing the movie first. The movie simply makes the book more comprehensible. Students are much more likely to be able to read a novel at instructional or independent levels after knowing the characters, plot, theme, and (of course) the visualizations. One final note… no teacher would begin teaching The Diary of Anne Frank by reading page 1. Students obviously need some historical context. The same argument applies to movies first.
  2. Motivation. We all want our students to achieve the success of reading the whole book. I hear from students (not mine 🙂 all the time that they never finished a novel in middle or high school, including some of the brightest kids making it into prestigious universities. They learned to get by without reading. Online chapter summaries, essays, chat rooms, and movies make it easy. You don’t have to read to succeed. Watching the movie in class before reading takes away the “cheating” incentive. I find, and my students say, they are much more interested in reading the book after watching the movie. The movie piques their interest much more often than it supplants their interest. And yes, kids still always say, “The book was so much better than the movie.” Bottom line? They enjoy reading, say The Outsiders,more and appreciate those literacy components we ELA teachers love, when we show the movie first. As an aside, that’s one movie that is better than the book!
  3. Improved literary discussions. Starting at a higher level of comprehension enriches class discussions. Students are able to draw from the movie experience to compare and contrast the characters, plot, setting, style, etc. Students are able to analyze the decisions both filmmakers and authors make and evaluate their choices. Because the movie is able to show things that a book can’t and because the book is able to tell things that a movie can’t, students are able to synthesize these relative strengths and gain more insight. That is higher order critical thinking! 

Objections

  1. Watching the movie prior to reading the novel ruins the joy of reader discovery. University professors always assign articles prior to lectures to improve the level of class discourse. (Although I would argue that the reverse procedure might spark more reader independence and out-of-the-box thinking.) A history professor does not cringe at the thought that assigning an article in which you the reader find out that the North won the Civil War will ruin the story for you. Some of you are thinking, ah but that’s non-fiction. I say the same is true for fiction. When the last Harry Potter novel came out (and JK Rowling had announced it was the last), everyone wanted to know whether Harry and Voldemort would die. I won’t speak for adults, but every one of my middle school readers knew the answer within the first day of the book’s release. That knowledge did not spoil the ending. It enhanced the ending. If you’ve ever watched the magicians Penn and Teller explain in advance how one of their tricks is done, and subsequently performs the illusion, you know how much more enriching and enjoyable it is to watch with a bit of inside knowledge. Watching the movie first does just that.
  2. Watching the movie after reading the book is a reward. I would argue that it’s more of a gap-filler for those who did not or could not read. Teachers who lead discussions on comparing book to movie will spend far less time doing so when the movie is an end-of-the-unit activity. Showing the movie up front provides that comparison throughout the novel.
  3. I don’t show the movie at all because it confuses students when they read the book. There is some truth to this point with some movies and their books. Elia Kazan’s movie, East of Eden,uses only about half of the plot of Steinbeck’s East of Eden and there are some discrepancies and inconsistencies. However, rather than ending in confusion, a student with the guidance of a good ELA teacher gains far more from the differences than with a novel that has a verbatim screenplay. If given a choice, most ELA teachers would much rather explain and ask students about the differences rather than solely filling in the understanding blanks when reading a novel by itself.

Want five FREE lessons to teach the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies plus a FREE set of SCRIP Posters and Bookmarks sent to your email? 

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

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

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

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

We Americans are fixated with lists.  Lists influence big money. For example, universities invest millions of dollars to adjust staffing, course offerings, and campus improvements to better their annual U.S. News and World Report rankings.

We American are also fixated with grades. We sort and categorize anything of value by grade. From diamonds to education, we esteem these divisions even when the placement criteria overlap or have dubious or arbitrary merit. In education, we divide our new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into grade levels, although many standards are simply repeated in each grade level. See the CCSS spelling standards in the Language Strand as a prime example.

Of course, educational publishers promote and encourage our list and grade fixations. Lists and grade levels, such as with spelling instruction, sell more books. For example, no publishers in their right minds would offer a one-volume comprehensive spelling program, when separate grade level programs with separate spelling lists would sell more. Publishers of spelling curricula have been doing the latter for years. A brief history is illuminating:

American English Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As early as 1783, Noah Webster published his first edition of what became widely known as The Blue-backed Speller. He began “with the alphabet and moving systematically through the different sounds of vowels and consonants, then syllables, then simple words, then more complex words, then sentences.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_Webster His grade level lists were used by teachers in multi-grade, one-room school houses and these divisions were further solidified with spelling bees. Webster’s 1806 dictionary sold poorly but served as the foundation for subsequent dictionaries bearing the Webster name.

By the 1840s, Webster had lost market share to the works of William Holmes McGuffey. McGuffey’s 1836 publication of his Eclectic Reader became wildly popular and McGuffey spun off his success with his 1846 Eclectic Spelling Book. McGuffey set out to standardize American spellings along the lines of Noah Webster’s 1806 dictionary and used Webster’s diacritical marks, as well as his “orthography, pronunciation, and syllabication (Preface).” Interestingly, McGuffey keyed his early spelling lists to the alphabet and not to the sound-spelling system. For example, his alphabet card for W has a picture of a wren and the spelling wren. Of course, the wr_ has the /r/, not the /w/. His lists are organized along the same lines.  Lesson 16 is titled “The Various Sounds of U” and has 44 words which include short /u/, long /u/, r-controlled /ur/, and others.

So, grade level spelling programs and word lists have been around for all of U.S. history. Educational movements to the contrary have proven to be short-lived. California removed grade level spelling books from its state adoption lists at the height of the whole-language movement in the 1980s. Principals were instructed by school district personnel to direct teachers not to use grade level spelling workbooks, and in some documented cases principals were even told to confiscate grade level spelling programs. More eclectic approaches such as Rebecca Sitton’s No Excuse Spelling Words program (more lists) replaced the grade level spelling programs. However, with the return to phonics-based instruction in the 1990s, grade level spelling programs and word lists returned.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels: What Makes Sense

Ideally, spelling instruction would be tailored to individual student needs. However, our “factory system” of American education, which divides students into grade level instruction by age with accompanying grade-level standards is not likely to change.

Accepting this reality, it does make sense to establish a scope and sequence based upon research-based spelling patterns. Although there are no “set in stone” fourth grade words or fourth grade spelling patterns, there are spelling patterns that build upon previously mastered spelling patterns. The developmental nature of spelling has been well-established in orthographic research. Additionally, there is simply no doubt that good spelling instruction dovetails with good vocabulary instruction. As the reading-spelling connection is well-established for the primary grades, so is the vocabulary-spelling connection thereafter.

Of course, most grade level spelling programs and word lists are predicated upon the specious notion that spelling instruction equals spelling learning. Teach it and move on. Or add on a simplistic review before moving on. No attention is paid to whether the spelling patterns have actually been mastered or not. However, a spelling-vocabulary program for intermediate and upper elementary, as well as middle school students based upon diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments is certainly possible. A spelling-vocabulary program of “grade-level” spelling patterns and word lists organized in a meaningful instructional scope and sequence combined with individualized remediation of previous foundational spelling patterns is certainly possible.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. The lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the grades 4−high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics.

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Context Clues Vocabulary Review Game

Frequent readers of my blog know that I value context clues instruction and practice to enable students to problem-solve the meanings of unknown words and to increase their vocabularies. Readers also understand my view that over-reliance on context clues for word attack (pronunciation) can hamstring developmental readers. This being said, by way of introduction, here is a great game that reinforces practice in applying the five main context clue strategies and while refining and reviewing vocabulary. Great review for upcoming vocabulary tests! Want more vocabulary review games? But wait; there’s still more?

S.A.L.E.S. Clues Pictionary®

Directions: Divide students into small groups (four or five works well) and have each group select an illustrator, who is assigned the first word to guess. Use the following words to teach the game; then add on your own vocabulary words thereafter. Announce the first SALES category to the class; then say “Draw!” to begin. Using picture clues that fit each SALES category, the illustrator quietly draws out clues until one of the group members guesses the word(s). The illustrator may not use hand motions, mouthing, or letters (except for the syllables category). The correct guesser becomes the new illustrator. The group that first correctly guesses all words within the category is the winner.

Hints: Group members should whisper to prevent other groups from hearing their guesses. Feel free to “give the answer” to a group that is stuck. Suggest that illustrators may wish to draw blanks before or after their word part clues in the syllables category, e.g. ___cycle for bicycle. Probably one category per day is plenty.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  program.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the grades 4−high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics.

Pictionary Word Parts

Syllables

  • re (again)
  • pre (before)
  • vis (to see)
  • struct (to build)
  • er (one who)

Antonyms

  • desert
  • dark (darkness)
  • comedy (comedian, comic)
  • baby
  • life

Logic

  • box
  • 429
  • language
  • pyramids
  • snow

Examples

  • Santa Claus
  • Disneyland (Disneyworld)
  • music
  • red
  • water

Synonyms

  • movie
  • painting
  • wood
  • pair
  • happy (happiness)


Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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How Not to Teach Context Clues

Context Clues Worksheets

Context Clues

To most intermediate, middle, high school, and college teachers, teaching context clues means helping students consciously identify and apply strategies to figure out the meaning of unknown words through hints in the surrounding text. These hints include pictures, syntax, text format, grammatical constructions, mood or tone, mechanics, and surrounding words that provide synonym, antonym, logic, or example clues

Many of these teachers would also label the structural analysis of the unknown word itself as a context clue. Using morphemes (meaningful word parts, such as Greek and Latinates), syllabication strategies, grammatical inflections, and parts of speech also can help students figure of the meaning of unknown words. Some teachers would also include using hints outside of the text, such as prior knowledge or story schema in their definition and application of context clue strategies.

Teaching context clues for the purpose of contextual vocabulary development is widely accepted and practiced. However, there is another application of context clues that is not as widely accepted and practiced. This use of context clues is highly controversial and stirs up intense debate about how to teach reading.

Because the initial task of teaching students to read largely falls upon the shoulders of primary teachers, these teachers tend to be more familiar with this debate than their colleagues who teach older students. However, the underlying issues of this debate are just as relevant to intermediate, middle, high school, and college teachers who teach “reading to learn.”

The issues of this debate involve whether context clues should be used as the primary strategy for word identification. Word identification generally means the process of pronouncing words by applying reading strategies. Word identification should be distinguished from word recognition, which generally means the ability to recognize and pronounce “sight words” automatically, without applying reading strategies. The role of  context clues in word identification is the crucial issue behind the Reading Wars.

On one side of the battle are the “Phonic-ators.” These “defenders of the faith” believe that teaching phonemic awareness and phonics should be the primary means of teaching word identification. Fair to say, these teachers place more emphasis on the graphic cueing components of reading, that is the alphabetic code, syllabication, and spelling, than do those on the other side of the battle. The “Phonicators” de-emphasize the use of context clues to “guess” the meanings of words and teach students to decode words in and out of context. These graphic cueing folks are easily identified by their sound-spelling wall posters, their phonics and spelling worksheets, their assessment data matrices, their spelling workbooks, and their decodable paper-book stories. Their file drawers are filled with Jeanne Chall, Marilyn Adams, and Keith Stanovich article summaries and anything with the phrase science of reading. Note that at the end of the article, I describe my new science of reading intervention program, so you get the idea as to which side I’m on here.

On the other side are the “Whole Language Junkies.” These 1980s and 1990s “holdouts” believe that extensive shared, guided, and independent reading teaches students to read as the readers gradually acquire the reading strategies (with a heavy emphasis on context clues) to identify words in the context of reading. Fair to say, these teachers place more emphasis on the semantic (meaning-making) cueing components of reading, such as the use of context clues, than on the graphophonic (visual and phonemic) components of reading. These folks are nowadays less easily identified, because their side is currently re-trenching in today’s phonics-centered Common Core State Standards environment. But, you usually can tell who they are by their CLOZE procedure worksheets, their vast collection of miscue analyses, their personal class library of over 1,000 books (crowding out the spaces set aside for spelling and grammar workbooks), and their signed wall posters of Ken Goodman and Stephen Krashen.

Is there any common ground between these two groups? Although the generals argue over tactics, the strategic goals of both sides have much in common. Both believe that their tactics should lead to independent meaning-making, that is, reading comprehension should be the objective. Both agree that reading automaticity (fluency) is important and that their teaching methodologies, that is, the sound-spelling connections for the “Phonic-ators,” and the  “psycholinguistic guessing games (Goodman)” for the “Whole Language Junkies,” will best lead to efficient, accurate, and “unconscious” word recognition. Both believe that reading is a complex and interactive process, in which prior knowledge and cognitive ability are important variables to actively address.

Some have tried to achieve middle ground by adopting the term Balanced Literacy. However, most science of reading advocates would argue that any program which levels books via guided reading and teaches inductively via running records and the three cueing system is not the balance they would accept. So for all intents and purposes, we still have two camps in the reading wars, albeit with new names.

So, having identified the two camps and their respective uses of context clues… here’s my take on using context clues for word identification:  My view is that we shouldn’t teach students to use context clues strategies as their primary strategy for identifying words. I personally tend to lean on the research that proficient readers rely more on the graphophonic (visual and phonemic clues) as their primary strategies for word identification, while struggling readers tend to rely on context clues as their primary strategy for word identification.  Kylene Beers, in her book When Kids Can’t Read, summarizes the problem of using context clues strategies for word identification: “. . . Discerning the meaning of unknown words using context clues requires a sophisticated interaction with the text that dependent readers have not yet achieved.” The proof is in the pudding: if good readers do A, and bad readers do B, then teachers should teach A more than B.

It does makes sense that readers need to learn a variety of strategies for word identification so that when one method fails, they have other back-up methods to assist. Explicit graphophonic instructional strategies should serve as the first line of attack and semantic instructional strategies, using context clues, should serve as back-ups. Teaching a limited number of sight words, the common rimes, and syllabication skills certainly makes sense.

Download this strategy and two accompanying worksheets with answers.

Get the Context Clues Worksheets FREE Resource:

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

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How to Select Books for Independent Reading

Teachers, students, and parents recognize the importance of independent reading. No thinking activity better builds content knowledge, improves vocabulary, or exposes the learner to the world and its ideas. The practical question is which reading materials most efficiently help readers access this world of knowledge? Because reading is an interactive process, the abilities and interests of the readers must also be considered to maximize the learning process.

A variety of readability measurements and comprehension assessments have been developed over the years to help match the reading level of texts to the reading level of readers. The Fry’s Readability Graph, Reading Recovery® Levels, Lexile® Levels, and the Fleish-Kincaid Reading Ease® (popularized in Microsoft Word® are just some of readability measurements. These measure all use formula based upon word frequency, syllable counts, and lengths of sentences (among other factors) to determine a numerical reading level equivalent. Reading comprehension assessments include normed tests, such as the Stanford Achievement Test, the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests, the Metropolitan Achievement Test, and the SAT I. Criterion referenced tests, such as the plethora of “state standards” reading tests and the DRA generally produce a spectrum of reading achievement relative to the tested standards. Finally, individual reading inventories, such as the John’s Basic Reading Inventory and the Qualitative Reading Inventory are leveled assessments that measure inter-related reading skills and establish reading grade levels.

However, each assessment has its limitations. The variables of reading texts and readers preclude hard and fast diagnoses and limit the practical application of the data. Additionally, the assessments are time-consuming and hard teachers, students, and parents to properly interpret. In fact, trained reading specialists have difficulty making appropriate use of the data.

What reading specialists do know, however, is that word recognition is a quick, easy, and painless way to determine approximate reading level. Word recognition is not to be confused with word identification, which involves phonemic awareness and decoding (phonics). The Slosson Oral Reading Test and the San Diego Quick Assessment have been used for years to match students to grade-level reading through word recognition levels. In these assessments, a reading grade level is assigned, according to the number of correctly read single and multi-syllabic words, i.e., words read with automaticity. However, these assessments still require the other side of the coin, i.e., the reading level of the text, to match texts to readers.

A much more direct approach that applies word recognition to the specific text to determine if the text-reader match is appropriate for the individual learner’s optimal “zone of proximal development” follows. It’s reader-centered and easy to train teachers, students, and parents to use.

How to Select Books that Have the Appropriate Reading Levels

The goal is to match individual readers to text that has about 5% unknown words. A much higher percentage is too hard for the reader; a much lower percentage is too easy for the reader. Note that we are discussing independent reading, not instructional level reading in which the teacher should guide reading of more complex text.

How can you pick a book to read that has 5% unknown words? Choose a book of any genre and count the number of words on any complete page found near the beginning of the book and multiply that number by 3. Read a page toward the beginning of the book, counting the number of unknown words. A good guideline would be “if you can’t define it with a synonym, antonym, or example,” it is unknown. Then, read a page near the middle of the book and continue the count. Finally, read a page near the end of the book and finish the count. Divide the total number of unknown words by the total number of words found on the three pages. The result will be the percentage of unknown words. Anything within the 4-6% range is acceptable. For example, a reader counts the number of words on a page and arrives at 225. 225 x 3 = 750. After reading the three pages, the amount of unknown words totals 30. 30.00 divided by 750 = .05, or 5%.

A word about reading content and genre… Reading to learn suggests that reading in the school context should help improve a student’s independent access to and ability to understand text. Reading to learn also suggests that the reader should be exposed to a variety of reading genre. These being said, motivation is also a key factor in reading to learn. Reader interest plays an important role in increasing reading comprehension. Providing a balance between assigned texts and “reader’s choice” makes sense.

Additionally, practice does make perfect when the practice is done correctly. Besides appropriately matching the text to the reader, teachers and parents can students become better independent readers by teaching good silent reading habits, self-questioning reading strategies, context clue strategies, vocabulary, inference strategies, etc. Furthermore, discussion of the reading is essential to reading comprehension. See Reading Homework for an easy-to-follow independent reading program.

How Much Independent Reading is Appropriate?

The English-Language Arts Content Standards for K-12 Public Schools has established the standards of 500,000 words for primary students, 1,000,000 words for middle school students, and 2,000,000 words to be read annually by high school students in order to ensure grade to grade reading growth. This breaks down to 2,400 words per day for primary students, 4,800 words per day for middle school students, and 9,600 words per day for high school students (reading year-round, four days per week, assuming that only a minimal amount of reading is accomplished in school, which unfortunately is the norm). With the average page in a middle school novel consisting of 30 lines of 8 words per line, this means that reading only 20 pages of 240 words per page would meet that standard.

Because each student reads at different reading speeds, each child must be assessed to determine the number of words per minute that the child does read. Like oral fluency timings, silent reading speed is measured as follows.

Determining Individual Silent Reading Speed

  1. Have the students count the number of words on three consecutive full lines of print, for example, 24 words on 3 lines.
  2. Divide this amount (24) by 3, to give average words per line (8).
  3. Have the student read, beginning at the top of page of the text for one minute.
  4. Have the student count the number of lines (not sentences) read during that timing. Tell the student not to count any lines with 3 words or less. Say the student read 25 lines.
  5. Have the student multiply the number of lines read (25) x the number of words per line (8).
  6. The product (200) is the number of words that the student has read in one minute.
  7. Repeat the entire process once more and average the final total to determine the student’s silent reading fluency number.

How Many Minutes Do Students Need to Read Each Day? Or?

If the student reads at a rate of 200 words per minute, as in our example, the student would need to read for 24 minutes to achieve the goal of 4800 daily words (4 days per week, year round) for middle school students. This amount of time assumes a summer reading program or a daily commitment to independent reading during the school day.

However, because students have an amazing ability to daydream or stare at the same page in a text for minutes on end… a better approach is to require pages read per day. Based upon the number of words per page of the text and the student’s reading speed, it would be simple to require our example student to read 24 pages per day. Teachers can thus differentiate instruction and have students read a different amount of pages per day, based upon their silent fluency numbers. Of course, frequent assessment is suggested to adjust to different texts and student improvement.

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

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

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How to Get Students to Read at Home

Skills v. Content Reading

Skills v. Content

Teachers and parents recognize the important role of independent reading in developing reading comprehension, vocabulary, and a lifelong love of books. Research is clear that independent reading does help students achieve these desired reading benchmarks.

According to the chapter: “Reading and Writing Habits of Students” in The Condition of Education 1997 (National Center for Education Statistics), “Research has shown that reading ability is positively correlated with the extent to which students read recreationally.”

In fact, students need to “grow” their vocabularies by 2,000-3,000 words each year, just to make grade-level reading progress. And the most efficient method of vocabulary acquisition is via independent reading. By applying context clues, readers who read text at the appropriate reading levels can maximize the amount of new words added to their personal lexicons.

What are the appropriate reading levels for independent reading?

Primary teachers have used the “five-finger method” for years.  Readers select appropriate reading levels by using the fingers of one hand to count down the number of unknown words on a single page. Any more than five unknown words means that the text is at their frustrational level and another book should be selected. To update and refine this technique for older students, reading text that has about 5% of the words that are unknown to the reader is the appropriate independent reading level. Reading this level of text will expose most readers to about 300 unknown words in 30 minutes of reading. Learning 5% of these words from the surrounding context clues of the text is realistic. This means that students will learn about 15 new words during a typical reading session.

How can you pick a book to read that has 5% unknown words?

-Choose a book and count the number of words on any complete page found near the beginning of the book and multiply that number by 3.

-Read a page toward the beginning of the book, counting the number of unknown words. A good guideline would be “if you can’t define it with a synonym, antonym, or example,” it is unknown. Then, read a page near the middle of the book and continue the count. Finally, read a page near the end of the book and finish the count.

-Divide the total number of unknown words by the total number of words found on the three pages. The result will be the percentage of unknown words. Anything within the 4-6% range is acceptable. For example, a reader counts the number of words on a page and arrives at 225. 225 x 3 = 750. After reading the three pages, the amount of unknown words totals 30. 30.00 divided by 750 = .05, or 5%.

When and where should independent reading take place?

Many educators advocate in-school independent reading time. This school-wide or classroom activity may be called Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), Recreational Reading (RR), Daily Independent Reading Time (DIRT), or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR). Usually, advocates of in-school reading time insist on free-choice reading.

However, too much in-school independent reading time can take away from important instructional time. Also, the ten to twenty minutes per day, usually allocated to independent reading in a crowded classroom is hardly enough time, nor is it the best of environments to achieve the gains desired from independent reading. Additionally, students do not always make wise choices about their free-choice reading materials. Many bright middle-schoolers would prefer reading comic books over challenging novels. So I advocate leaving most of independent reading to homework, with teacher and parent approved novels serving as the sources of that reading. Students can still choose any reading text within the clearly defined parameters described above.

But, what about accountability? How can teachers ensure that students really are reading at home?

The catch to my independent reading homework is that students are graded on their discussion of the daily reading by their reading partners-typically, but not exclusively, parents. This builds relationships, reinforces internal monitoring of comprehension, promotes reading as a dynamic process of conversation between reader and author, and increases motivation. I require thirty minutes of reading and three minutes of discussion, four times per week. I pass out reading strategy bookmarks that that help students frame, but not limit, their book discussions. Check out these discussion starters . Teachers love these SCRIP reading strategies, reinforce them in their classes, and students really do use them. I have the discussion partner, usually a parent, guardian, or grandparent, grade the quality of the daily discussion and sign off on a Reading-Discussion Log each week. I count this homework as about 15% of the student’s overall grade. Do kids or discussion partners cheat on this? Of course. However, not as much as you’d think. Students and parents much prefer this type of homework to grinding out an essay or filling out a few grammar worksheets-tasks that most parents are ill-equipped (and loathe) to supervise.

But, what if the students don’t understand all of the literary nuances of the text? You’re not advocating independent reading of class novels, are you?

As Kelly Gallagher states in his new book, Readicide (How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It), “teachers are drowning books by over-teaching them.” This resonates with my view, as a reading specialist, that students should be accessing independent-level-text independently. I typically offer free-choice reading; however, if we are reading a novel that is comprehensible to the vast majority of my students, I will assign “on your own” chapters. I assign and provide the audio book for students who have independent reading levels below that of the novels. Of course, we follow up in class. I do teach the “literary nuances” and standards. We also re-read portions of the novel that I deem to be “teaching necessities.” And no, I don’t have students read Shakespeare independently. Check out these other articles on independent reading.

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Want to teach the most efficient Greek and Latin word parts, based upon the latest high frequency research?

Get the 25 Greek and Latin Power Words FREE Resource:

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