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Should We Teach High Frequency Words?

Should We Teach High Frequency Words?

High Frequency Words?

As a teacher-publisher, I am a member of quite a few Facebook groups, Pinterest groups, etc. I sell my ELA and reading intervention curriculum on my Pennington Publishing site as well on the monolith: Teachers Pay Teachers. The latter provides a Seller’s Forum, which I infrequently visit.

A seller recently posted this topic:

Sight words – Fry or Dolch? 

I have always used the Dolch list, but notice many people using the Fry list in their products.  Does your school mandate a certain one?  Do you have a preference when looking for sight word materials?

This brings up an important topic. Both the Fry and Dolch lists are high frequency word lists. Each list was developed pre-computer age by groups of grad students counting the number of recurring words in basal readers.

Speaking of the English, teachers in the United Kingdom and many in international schools refer to the high frequency words as “tricky words.” American teachers have generally coined the term “sight words” to refer to high frequency words. This term has some important instructional implications.

Should We Teach Students Sight Words to Improve Reading and Spelling?

My take is that teaching (or more likely practicing and testing) long lists of high frequency reading words (the sight words or tricky words depending upon one’s side of the Atlantic) or using them in spelling instruction is counterproductive. Apologies to Rebecca Sitton, whose list of “No Excuse Spelling Words” still graces the classroom walls of thousands of American teachers’ classrooms. Why is it counterproductive? We need to teach students to rely on the code for reading and spelling. Just as in baseball, we need to teach students to “look for the fastball, but adjust for the curve.” In other words, apply the rule, but adjust for exceptions.

Memorizing lists of 200, 300, 400, 500 high frequency “sight words” treats language acquisition as a process of rote learning and viewing each and every word in isolation. This approach falsely teaches students that every reading and spelling word is an exception. The old Dick and Jane look-say method of reading and spelling instruction has been properly relegated to the instructional dumpster; however, high frequency instruction remains a hold-out to some degree. Why is this so? My take is because “Let’s teach the words students will read and write most often” seems intuitively correct. However, intuition is not science and should not guide our instructional decisions.

But What about Non-phonetic Sight Words?

Included within the lists of high frequency words are a subset of non-phonetic words. I call the 108 (plus or minus depending on list and how one counts inflections) non-phonetic words “outlaw words”; others refer to them as “rule-breakers.” Of the 100 highest frequency English words, many are non-phonetic because they derive from Old English.

Most reading specialists would agree that the “outlaw words” should be introduced concurrently with explicit, systematic phonics instruction. For example, I introduce the 108 highest frequency “outlaw words” two at a time in my 54 Sam & Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

However, teaching these “outlaw words” alongside of phonetically regular high frequency words confuses beginning and older vulnerable readers. When we teach these “rule breakers,” we need to make clear distinctions between these words which should not be sounded-out and those which should.

*Sight words assessments (also referred to as word recognition, e.g. The Slosson Oral Reading Test) shouldn’t be confused with instruction.

Before I end, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. A few important caveats! I so see value in practicing sight recognition of sight syllables (such as Greek and Latinates, which of course do not all conform to English phonetic rules). Additionally, the approach in my programs such as Teaching Reading Strategies and Differentiated Spelling Instruction includes other non-phonetic approaches, such as rimes (word families) memorization for kids who struggle with the code and high frequency spelling patterns, conventional spelling rules, and derivational influences.

*****

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

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

Interested in seeing how I introduce the non-phonetic “outlaw words” and my phonics instructional sequence in my reading intervention program? Want the example words to blend for each of the sound-spellings? You’ll love this FREE download:

Get the Instructional Phonics Sequence FREE Resource:

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Build Vocabulary through Reading

Learning Vocabulary through Reading

Building Vocabulary through Reading

The reading research certainly supports direct vocabulary instruction: According to the National Reading Panel (2000), explicit instruction of vocabulary is highly effective in improving reading comprehension. “Students should be explicitly taught both specific words and word-learning strategies. To deepen students’ knowledge of word meanings, specific word instruction should be robust” (Beck et al., 2002). In fact, the vocabulary standards delineated in the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language mention each of these explicit areas of vocabulary instruction.

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

Teaching to these vocabulary standards will enrich your students depth of vocabulary knowledge and will teach your students how language and words help us learn. And reading research indicates that students can learn some 400 words per year in school through explicit vocabulary instruction (Beck, McKewon & Kucan, 2002).

However,

Numerous studies have estimated that students need to learn from 2,000–4,000 new words per year to make grade to grade reading growth. The most widely cited study indicates that students need to learn 3,000 new words per year (Honig 1983).

So, if the vocabulary standards help students master 400 words per year, how can we ensure that students learn the additional 2,600 words needed to make at least one grade level of reading growth in our classrooms? The Common Core authors discuss this solution in Appendix A of the CCSS document.  So, what is this key instructional strategy that will help your students meet and exceed that goal of 3,000 new words per year?

Independent reading.

Let’s do the math. When reading at independent levels (around 95% word recognition*), that means that students are exposed to 5% unknown words. Reading at an average 200 words per minute, 30 minutes per day, 4 days per week, means that students will read 864,000 words during the school year. If 5% of these words are unknown to the reader and the reader masters 10%** of those unknown words, this results in a gain of not 3,000, but 4,320 new vocabulary words! (30 minutes x 200 words = 6,000 x 4 days per week = 24,000 x 36 weeks = 864,000 words read in a year x 5% unknown words = 43,200 x 10% mastery =4,320.

Now, having been convinced regarding the efficacy of building vocabulary through independent reading, let’s not jump to the same conclusions that some advocates of the “whole language” approach to reading made during the 1980s and 1990s and the “balanced literature” adherents make today: If incidental vocabulary acquisition through wide reading produces a greater number of new words (4,320 in our example) than does explicit vocabulary instruction (400), let’s abandon explicit vocabulary instruction altogether.

This conclusion is flawed. Consider this question: What is it that allows the reader to mastery 10% of the 5% unknown words when reading text at optimal word recognition levels? It’s precisely the vocabulary strategies that readers internalize through explicit instruction and practice. For example, numerous studies suggest that using instructional strategies that teach students how to use context clues effectively can improve that 10% mastery of unknown words (Rhoder and Huerster, 2002, Greenwood and Flanigan, 2007). Additionally, explicit instruction in Greek and Latin word parts which appear in 50% of Tier 2 academic vocabulary can provide the structural clues to significantly improve that 10% number. Clearly, studying non-contextual vocabulary can improve the efficiency of readers to understand and master contextual vocabulary in reading.

Bottom line: Students need both explicit vocabulary instruction (those Common Core grade-level vocabulary standards) and enough independent reading to make at least one grade level of reading progress.

But, how can we be sure that it’s independent reading that teaches the most vocabulary? Don’t students learn vocabulary naturally through listening throughout their school day and at home? Don’t students get plenty of reading throughout the day in literature, science, and social studies texts? Way back in 1988, reading researchers Hayes and Athens published interesting research regarding this question. They counted the number of words above the 1,000 highest frequency words (usually mastered by most primary grade students) for a variety of listening venues such as adult-level conversations, court cases, and the nightly news. As an example, watching and listening to the nightly news exposes the viewer/listener to only 19 of these key words. In contrast, reading for the same amount of time provides a much higher exposure to words beyond the most frequently used 1,000 words. For example, reading a challenging comic book for the same amount of time exposes the reader to 53 of these challenging words. Reading a challenging book for the same amount of time exposes a reader to 75. Unfortunately, research indicates that the amount students read in a school day through teacher-directed reading tasks is miminal. Clearly, independent reading is the most efficient means of learning new words, when supported by explicit vocabulary instruction.

When should students complete their independent reading?

Many teachers buy into the research on the value of independent reading and provide in-class time for sustained silent reading. However, my take is that independent reading in class is largely both inefficient and reductive.

Again, taking a look at the math, few teachers (other than “The Book Whisperer”) at the elementary, middle, and high school levels would be willing or even permitted to allocate the 120 minutes per week of class time necessary to achieve optimal vocabulary growth. In a typical secondary ELA class with 200 minutes of instructional time per week (less with holidays and all-too-frequent instructional interruptions), the 120 minutes would take up more than half of available instructional time. Few principals would permit this encroachment upon teaching grade-level standards. As one of my own principals once told our middle school ELA department, “The district is not paying you to babysit students doing independent reading. Earn your paychecks!” The principal’s statements were a trifle blunt, but essentially correct that all instructional time is reductive. You can’t add something without taking away something.

Now some teachers might be tempted to compromise and facilitate independent reading for some time in class and some time at home. My response is “Why not all independent reading at home?” Independent reading is the perfect homework. I can hear the arguments about why this won’t work rolling in… “They won’t do it. Parents won’t support it. There’s no accountability. It takes too much time to grade and manage it.” I’m not convince. Clever teachers can solve those problems.

As a reading specialist, I’ve taught at the elementary, middle, high school, and community college levels. I recently retired as a middle school ELA teacher. Reading research indicates that middle schoolers read less on their own than any other age group. At a lower performing, 75% free and reduced lunch, multi-ethnic, multi-language school, I have success rates of 80–90% compliance with students reading 120 minutes per week at home. How? I train parents and students in how to do and supervise independent reading and daily 3–5 minute reading discussions. I get students and parents to buy in by requiring student-parent trainings. I meet with each and every parent, 130 or so. This investment of time pays off because I don’t have to grade student response journals, book reports, etc. Instead, I train and trust parents to grade the quality of their child’s discussion and I count it as 15% of the student’s total grade. I mix things up with other activities which ensure accountability, such as online book clubs in which students must post and discuss and parents and I (I can’t resist) pop-in to the mix. My point is that you, the teacher, know what will work for your students, and with some experimentation, you can figure how how to hold students accountable for independent reading homework.

Which books should students read? How should students select these books?

How do you get students to read books at the optimal word recognition levels? You don’t have to spend thousands on Accelerated Reader® or Reading Counts! You don’t have to look for Fountas Pinnell A–Z+ leveled books. You don’t have to look for grade-level equivalents. You don’t have to match student Lexile levels to published book lists. You don’t have to do running records and a miscue analysis for each student.

The key to matching students to the right books is to train students (and parents at lower grade levels) to do so. Students don’t have access to the above data, nor will they as lifelong readers. I do believe in Reggie Routman’s mantra: If the book is too difficult, it will lead to frustration; too little of a challenge will lead to boredom. Students can be trained to pick the “Goldilocks Level”: not too easy, not too hard, just right (Routman, 2003). You don’t even have to require all independent reading to be at optimal levels. Some will be less optimal; some, especially if you agree with the Common Core author’s notions about text complexity, should be more rigorous.

Boredom is a powerful disincentive. Teachers worry far too much that students will pick easier books over more challenging ones. My experience is that students learn from their own mistakes. Students want to read texts which match their maturity levels. Believe me, successful authors know how to match content and vocabulary levels to their target audiences. Additionally, motivation plays an important role in book selection. When Harry Potter books were hot off the press, my fourth grader read far beyond his tested reading levels in the last few JK Rowling novels, to be able to access what his older brothers were reading and talking about. Self-selected reading will almost always be perfectly acceptable if students are trained in how to avoid boredom and frustration.

Teach one of these two methods to help students (and parents) pick the right books for independent reading. And let me reiterate once again, not all independent reading needs to conform to these challenge levels to get students to meet or exceed our 3,000 words annual goal:

  1. The five and ten finger method (five for grades 3–5 chapter books and ten for grades 6–adult novels). Big print chapter books have about 100 words per page. Smaller print novels have about twice that number (200 words per page). Students read a random page from a book they want to read and count the number of unknown words as they read, using their fingers. If the number of unknown words is close to the 5 , say 3–7 for bigger print books or 10, say 7–13 for small print novels, that’s a good match.
  2. Select any complete page at random and count the number of words on that page. Read that same page, counting the number of unknown words as you read. Anything within the 3-7% range is a good match. For example, a reader counts the number of words on a page and arrives at 225. While reading, the student counts 11 unknown words. 11.00 ÷ 225 = .05, or 5%.

*Word recognition is simply the ability of the reader to accurately read and automatically understand a word (Reutzel & Cooter 2009). Vocabulary experts agree that adequate reading comprehension depends on a person already knowing between 90 and 95 percent of the words in a text (Hirsch, 2003). For second language learners, Results suggest that the 98% estimate is a more reasonable coverage target for readers of academic texts (Schmitt, Jiang, Grabe 2012). Most reading specialists support 95% as an optimal level of word recognition for vocabulary growth in which the reader’s comprehension is not adversely affected by too many unknown words, but enough unknown words are provided to enable incidental learning by knowledge of context clues.

**A commonly used figure by reading researchers with variables such as repetitions, word families, inflections, prior knowledge of content, primary language ability, and knowledge of and ability to apply context clues.

For teachers looking only for a solid one-year vocabulary program, check out the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits (grades 4-8). The 56 Vocabulary Worksheets include

Pennington Publishing's Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit

Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.); Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.); Language Resources (L.4.c.d.); Figures of Speech (L.5.a.); Word Relationships (L.5.b.); Connotations (L.5.c.); and Academic Language Words (L.6.0). Students learn ten Tier Two and Tier Three words (the words recommended in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects) each week. Want to check out sample lessons? Preview This Book.

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:

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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

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

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Syllable Transformers

Every teacher and parent has heard about transformers: the movies, the action characters, etc. If you’re a parent of a younger child, you know all about Bumblebee.

Since the dawn of the Transformers in 1984, the spunky little Autobot called Bumblebee has been a fan favorite. Why? He was the underdog. He was small, and he was one of the weaker Transformers, but his heart was huge and he showed great bravery on the battlefield. As a result, he was an admired and gentle friend not only to humans, but to his peers as well. And it didn’t hurt that his alternate mode was a cute little yellow Volkswagen Beetle. He now has at least six other transformations! https://screenrant.com/bumblebee-transformers-last-knight-solo-trivia-facts/

What if we could apply that same transformer concept to beginning reading and reading intervention? We can with Syllable Transformers.

FREE Unit on Syllable Transformers

Syllable Transformers

As a reading specialist working with struggling older readers in the 1990s, I had the pleasure of learning from the late Dr. John Sheffelbine from California State University at Sacramento. John was a self-described “phonicator” and created the BPST (Basic Phonics Skills Test) in its various iterations and the Scholastic Phonics Readers. One powerful set of lessons that John developed dealt with open and closed syllables. An open syllable is one which ends in a long vowel e.g. bay; a closed syllable ends in a consonant and the vowel is short e.g. bat.

John hypothesized that the best way to learn these open and closed syllable rules was to practice them together: to see how the vowel sound transforms from one syllable pattern to another. Additionally, because educators were transitioning from the whole language philosophy to a phonics-based approach, many students over-relied on sight words and syllables, rather than upon applying sound-symbol correspondences. The instructional implications were clear that practice in real syllable patterns would not solve the problem for these “look and say” syllable guessers. The answer was to use nonsense syllables. Brilliant!

I tried John’s “Syllable Transformations” and they worked wonders. However, I could see the power of expanding John’s idea to other syllable patterns. I also tweaked his approach to make the methodology a bit more “user-friendly” and “technologically-savvy” (I typed them up and displayed them on a machine we used to call the overhead projector.)

Years later I developed my own comprehensive reading intervention program (promo below), and I included Syllable Transformers as part of the weeks 9–13 instruction in both the half-year intensive and full-year program implementation. Teachers and students love this fast-paced whole-class response activity. I’m sending all of these lessons to your email inbox with the FREE download at the end of this article.

Week 9: Open and Closed Syllables

A vowel at the end of a syllable (CV) usually has a long vowel sound. This pattern is called an open syllable. The syllable following begins with a consonant. Example: below.

A vowel before a syllable-ending consonant (VC) is usually short. This pattern is called a closed syllable. The syllable following begins with a consonant. Example: bas-ket.

Weeks 10–11: Silent Final e Syllable Rule

The silent final e makes the vowel before a long sound, if only one consonant sound is between the two (VCe). For example, lately.

Weeks 12–13: Vowel Teams Syllable Rule

Usually keep vowel teams together in the same syllable. For example, beau-ty.

Syllable Worksheets and Derivative Worksheets: Following the Syllable Transformers, we continue learning the more complicated syllable patterns with real word blending.

Check out this quick video on how to teach Syllable Transformers: Syllable Transformers

*****

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Get the Vowel Transformers FREE Resource:

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

Reading Counts! Claims and Counterclaims

Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts!

AR or RC?

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

Background

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

How Reading Counts! Works

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

Claims and Counterclaims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unshelved

Used with permission www.unshelved.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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Level Books with Word Recognition

Match Books to Readers

How to Select Books

As a teacher-publisher, I write articles such as this to inform, advocate, cajole, and sell my English-language arts and reading intervention programs to teachers. I’ve been doing so for quite awhile and have written over 700 articles. Of these articles, one is near the top in popularity and is certainly the most controversial: The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader. When I wrote the article, I had recently transitioned back into the classroom (middle school ELA) from my position as a district reading specialist.

The site level reading specialist provided a pre-service day staff development in which she mentioned AR as our schoolwide reading program. She stressed the importance of using leveled books to match the reading levels of our students. She demonstrated how the AR program did just that. I chose to ignore the remark and put off scheduling my classes for their AR testing in the computer lab. When I got the final “you have to” mandate, I decided to provide a list of reasons why I would not be using Accelerated Reader as my reading program. So much for being a team-player. To her credit, the site level reading specialist did not snitch on me to the principal, or if she did I never knew it.

I decided to post what I had written on my blog.

Wow. The reader response was immediate and contentious. Teachers, parents, and students contributed to the discussion. Parents and students provided cogent comments and examples of “AR abuse” from their own experiences. But, it has been the teacher-response that has both baffled and informed my subsequent writing.

As a publisher, my audience is primarily teachers. Parents and students are not huge markets for my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program 🙂 Teachers have taken this article criticizing AR quite personally. Although many have been supportive of the points I made in the article; other teachers have perceived my comments as being negative judgments upon their professional expertise. The only comments I have trashed have been those filled with expletives or those which would embarrass teachers the next day after posting a response following one too many glasses of wine.

One such response came this morning regarding book levels. The teacher claimed that in my article I advocate dumping all means of matching the levels of books to the reading levels of students. What? 

In re-reading my article, I don’t see that at all. Secondly, I want to be clear that I do support a common sense approach to leveling books to match the reading levels of readers.

Two approaches to how to level books and match them to readers are in general practice today:

  1. Quantitative Measures: Lexiles, the DRA, F&P/GRL, and even the ATOS (AR testing). My Take? The quantitative measurements are cumbersome to apply to books and developing readers. So many factors go into the levels of books. Although authors certainly consider these factors (their publishers require them to do so) in writing and editing their books, the variables are endless: subject matter, prior knowledge, cultural context, etc. Additionally, the reader’s Lexile range (or other measures) is quite a limited measure (syllables, sentence length, syntax, etc.) and does not factor in maturity, prior knowledge, motivation, etc.
  2. Qualitative Measures: On the other side of the reading philosophical spectrum, I would argue that a Lucy Calkin or guided reading re-tell is subject to just as many arbitrary judgments as the quantitative measures and is time-consuming, to say the least.

The first problem with both approaches is that they are teacher-dependent. They essentially leave parents and the readers themselves (the students) out of the book selection process. The second problem is that both methods over-reach. Selecting a book to match the reading level of a reader is just as much art as it is science. And, it’s not that big of a deal which level a reader reads (with some common sense limitations). Thirdly, the pre-determined levels of books should not be straitjackets for readers.

A Quick and Simple Approach to Book Selection

Much better to affirm parental judgment in terms of which books are challenging for their own children. Even much better to equip students with self-selection of books with simple word recognition techniques. As a reading specialist, I still buy in to the useful categorizations of independent (98%), instructional (90–97%), and frustrational (less than 90%) levels of word recognition. Call me simplistic, but it’s the words they know and the ones they don’t which should be the primary means of book selection.

The old “five finger” for primary and intermediate elementary and “ten finger” for upper elementary and secondary readers works much better and is far more simple to use as a book selection guide than the tests and re-tells levels. Each finger represents a word on the page which the student could not adequately define by meaning, example, etc. Too few fingers, too easy; too many fingers, too hard. Simple, but effective. Parents can easily assess and train their children to apply the same guidelines to selecting their own books. My own experience using this technique is that the finger counting is equivalent to about 5% unknown words. Perfect for independent reading with just a bit of instructional level vocabulary thrown in to help grow a reader’s word knowledge. Additionally, I’ve found that this method highly correlates with the quantitative level assessments and weeds out some of the inaccuracies of those tests. The difference in terms of selecting books is minimal.

Plus, let’s not forget a dose of good old-fashioned common sense and the role of motivation for a developing reader. If the kid is interested (as long as the book has some challenging vocabulary), even though a random page is 17 fingers for the reader, let the child select it. A personal anecdote may help: My slightly above grade-level fourth grader, Kenny, was dying to read the last Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when it first came out. Clearly, the quantitative measures ATOS 6.9 (34 AR points), Lexile 880, DRA, F&P/GRL Z, GLE 7.4 should have prevented his MA reading specialist father (me) from purchasing this “frustration level” book. However, I ignored the quantitative data and waited in line for the midnight release of this treasured book. Kenny plowed through the book and enjoyed it immensely. By the end of fourth grade, Kenny was significantly above grade level and a confident reader. Thanks to his teacher and J.K. Rowling. Conversely, if the book is only five fingers for a middle school student, let her read it if she wants to, with a promise to read a more challenging book the next time. The easier word recognition book will provide its own benefits.

*****

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

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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

Reading is Like Driving

Good Drivers Multi-task

Driving is Like Reading

Reading is a lot like driving. Let’s stick with a car for the purposes of our comparison.

Everyone knows that driving a car is a complicated process. No one jumps into the driver’s seat and begins driving without some sort of instruction. Driving is especially challenging because it involves multi-tasking. To be able to drive, the driver must understand how the car works, know how to use the machine, remember and apply the traffic rules, and interact safely with their driving environment all at the same time!

Good drivers understand each of these four components and remember to apply each of these tasks simultaneously and automatically. Bad drivers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. However, the good news is that even bad drivers can learn the concepts and skills to improve their driving with good teaching and practice.

Unfortunately, good drivers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the most frequent bad habit involves how drivers interact with their

Distracted Driving with Phones

Distracted Driving

environment. Let’s face it, sometimes we choose to add a multitude of distractions to our driving environment, even though we know we shouldn’t. Other times, we unintentionally fail to interact with our surroundings.

For example, most of us who have been driving for years have had a similar experience: We get on a familiar road to a familiar destination and our minds begin to wander. We arrive with the realization that we have absolutely no memory of driving to that place. We were truly on autopilot.

Of course, we must have had some degree of environmental awareness in order to arrive safely at our destination; however, most of us would agree that the interaction with our environment must have been less than optimal and the lack of any driving memory is certainly troubling.

So, let’s see how the driving process compares to the reading process.

Like driving, reading is a complicated process—more so than many of us realize. Decades of reading research have refuted the popular notion that reading is a natural, developmental process akin to oral language development (Gough & Hillinger, 1980; Lyon, 1998; Wren, 2002; Moats, L, & Tolman, C 2009). Simply put, children do not learn to read as they learn to speak, through natural exposure to a literate environment.

We now know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that reading is taught, not caught. No child, nor adult picks up a book, article, newspaper, or poem and reads without having had some form of instruction. Now, of course the quantity and quality of instruction varies, and many adults will not remember how they first learned to read, but they certainly were taught to do so.

Now, let’s return to our two-fold definition of reading, which we developed in our first two lectures: Reading is reading comprehension and reading comprehension is understanding and remembering what we read.

Good Readers are like Good Drivers.

Reading is Like Driving

To be able to understand and remember what is read, the reader must know how reading works, apply the phonetic tools, understand the meaning and order of words, and monitor the reader-author relationship. And, yes, like good drivers, they can multi-task.

Good readers apply these four components simultaneously and automatically. Struggling readers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. The good news is that both weak and strong readers can learn and practice the concepts and skills to improve their reading comprehension and retention.

However, like good drivers, good readers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the usual culprit is how readers interact with their reading environment and author’s text.

For example, most of us, like the distracted driver I spoke of, have had this experience infrequently or frequently while reading: We turn the page in a book or scroll down on our phones and our minds begin to wander as we read. We finish reading and come to the realization that we haven’t the foggiest idea about what we just read. We did read the words, but we did not understand them, nor remember any of the information or ideas. Some of us would swear to having read, say Beowulf, in the same manner when we were high school seniors.

Now you may have noticed that I used italics for the words reading and read, because although we pronounced the words, we really didn’t read them, using our definition of reading comprehension. If we don’t understand or retain what we have read, we really haven’t read.

*****

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

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

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

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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

How to Teach Multiple Meaning Words Vocabulary

Multiple Meaning Words

How to Teach Multiple Meaning Words

From an old vaudeville act:

“You drove me to drink!” her husband shouted.

“No, you walked there yourself every night,” his wife responded.

This mildly humorous exchange is built upon word play. Word play is a basic tool for many writing and speaking genre. The word play in the short vaudevillian dialog involves the double-meaning of the verb, drove. It also involves different uses of the parts of speech: The husband uses to drink as an infinitive (an unconjugated verb). The wife interprets her husband’s word, drink, as a common noun place (say a bar) and the object of the prepositional phrase to drink (where). Finally, the husband uses the verb phrase, drove me toas an idiom, meaning forced me or caused me, whereas the wife uses drove me as a colloquialism meaning he used the car to drive (no one drives a person).

Enough already! English-language arts teachers certainly can take the fun out of anything. My point is that multiple meaning words are important components of any language. English has plenty of them.

The Common Core authors include multiple meaning words in the Language Strand as Standard L.4.a., but word play is also included in word relationships Standard L.5.b. and figures of speech Standard L.5.a. By the way, I love the fact that the Standards include puns (my boldface):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.A
Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.

See how multiple meaning words fit into the breadth of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards in the Language Strand:

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

What is the instructional focus of multiple meaning words?

Our instructional focus with multiple meaning words is centered on homonyms. A brief reminder: Homonyms represents a general category, literally meaning same names, that is used to indicate similar words which have different meanings. Homographs (words spelled the same, but pronounced differently, such as bass (a deep tone or voice) and bass (a type of fish), and homophones (words pronounced the same but spelled differently, such as reed and read) are subsets of homonyms. So, yes, bass, reed, and read are all examples of homonyms.

How do context clues fit in… the Standard does not mention these.

True, however words are always used in context. Without context clues, we wouldn’t understand homonyms. For example, saying “I like a lot of bass” is meaningless unless we surround the homograph with context clues, such as “I like a lot of bass on my speakers” or “I like a lot of bass, but not a lot of trout.”

As an aside, the Common Core Standards are quite explicit in some sections as exemplars for instruction; however, they are not a detailed instructional scope and sequence (see below for a helpful example). The Common Core authors expect teachers to use their brains to fill in the blanks. As an educational author, I always list applicable Standards; however, I also include a good measure of common sense. For example, the Language Strand Language Conventions Standards (L.2) include plenty of specific Standards regarding the use of different verb forms; however, the Standards nowhere mention “Thou shalt teach thine students what a verb is.”

Which Multiple Meaning Words to Use and How to Team Them

Students should practice grade-level homonyms (same spelling homographs and sound homophones) in context clue sentences which show the different meanings and function (part of speech) for each word.

Examples

In my three vocabulary programs (see below), I use vocabulary worksheets to help students learn grade-level multiple meaning words and context clue strategies to explain their use. Check out my S.A.L.E. Context Clue Strategies with free lessons HERE.

Homonyms

Multiple Meaning Words

The author provides three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

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, Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Figures of Speech and Idiomatic Expressions

How to Teach Figures of Speech Vocabulary

How to Teach Figures of Speech

ELA teachers do a great job of teaching the traditional figures of speech, metaphors and similes and many or the poetic devices, such as alliteration and personification in the context of literature and poetry. Check out a nice list with examples of the “Top 20” figures of speech with examples. 

However, most of us give short shrift to the colloquial forms of language which actually fill more literature and poetry than the venerable figures of speech. For example, in Shakespeare’s Richard III:

GLOUCESTER
Off with his head! Now, by Saint Paul I swear,
I will not dine until I see the same.

RATCLIFF:
Dispatch, my lord [Hastings]; the duke would be at dinner:
Make a short shrift; he longs to see your head.

https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/short-shrift.html

The authors of the Common Core State Standards recognize the essential roles that colloquial expressions play in our English language. See the varied examples detailed in the Language Strand (L.5.a.). Did you know that the eighth grade standards include puns? I love that.

I especially appreciate the authors’ emphasis on teaching idiomatic expressions. Idiomatic expressions are more than just the archaic “A stitch in time saves nine” examples that I used to teach, one per day, and have my students illustrate for Open House.

In fact, our non-literal language fills what we read, say, and speak. For example, I love that idiom of ours: through the door. It always gets some head-shaking in my EL, SDAIE, ELD, ESL, etc. classes. But all languages are filled with colloquial language.

For example, when I arrived in Mexico City to really learn the language some years back, I already had six years of middle school and high school Spanish, one college conversational Spanish class and one Spanish-only literature class. I felt pretty confident with the language.

Upon my arrival I found that my new friends understood me just fine. However, I only understood about 50% of what was being said to me. My Spanish instruction was failing me. I knew the formal, but not the informal language.

My Mexican roommate asked me if I had a chamarca. It was 90 degrees out and humid, as well. Why was he asking if I had a jacket? I looked at him strangely, and he explained that he had substituted the slang, charmarca, for his novia. You see, chamarca is slang for girlfriend; while novia was the formal word for girlfriend I learned in Spanish classes back in the U.S.

Learning to really learn the language was all about learning the idiomatic expressions. Spanish uses a lot.

The Common Core State Standards emphasize a balanced approach to vocabulary development. Unlike some of the other ELA Standards, the vocabulary Standards are quite specific and especially so with figures of speech. Although much of our Tier 2 (academic language) vocabulary is acquired through reading challenging text, other methods of vocabulary acquisition are best taught through explicit, direct instruction. Take a moment to skim the vocabulary standards and see how you’re doing in your class or classes this year.

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

How to Teach Figures of Speech and Idiomatic Expressions

In my three vocabulary programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (details follow), I use the wide variety of figures of speech (stated and suggested by the Language Standards) to teach students what the figure of speech is, what it means, and how to use it properly. My vocabulary worksheets require students to practice the figure of speech in the writing context, using surrounding context clues to show the meaning of the figure of speech.

Using Figures of Speech

Figures of Speech

Students love learning these figures of speech and practicing them in class conversations. This language play is essential to developing the utility and flexibility of our language. Students learn quite a bit about the etymologies of words and expresses with figures of speech.

As I mentioned, I provide three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Would you like to see a list of all 140 figures of speech used in my grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs? Sure. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not show this list to your colleagues and purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

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:

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