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Archive for June, 2009

Vowel Team Spelling Games

Developing spellers often struggle in the “Within Word” stage of spelling development. The key challenge for spellers within this spelling stage involves the vowel sound-spellings. The vowel combinations are especially challenging. Both vowel digraphs (two vowel spellings producing one sound), such as “aw” as in hawk, and vowel diphthongs (two or more vowel spellings producing more than one sound, such as “ow” as in towel, are frequently called vowel teams.

The following three spelling games will help your developing spellers both recognize and practice these vowel team spellings. The games should not be played until the vowel team spelling pattern has been introduced with plenty of examples. Students should also have some practice in spelling the vowel team spelling pattern in the context of dictations and sentence writing before play because the games are designed as reinforcement and practice. The games will help your remedial readers discriminate among similar vowel sound-spelling patterns. Oh, by the way… the games are fun!

Word Jumbles

-Overview/Object of the Game

Each vowel team sound-spelling pattern has a multi-syllabic word jumble. The jumble is a word that includes the vowel sound-spelling with all the letters re-arranged. The object of the game is to make as many words as possible out of the word jumble and then to try and guess the entire word.

-Materials/Preparation

Write out the unscrambled word on one side of a 3 X 5 card and the jumbled word on the other. All students need to play is a sheet of binder paper and a pencil.

Divide your spellers up into small groups of three or four students, clustered around a desk or table. The students must be seated, in order to write.

Directions

Place the card on the desk or table, jumbled side facing up. Give a three minute time limit for students to write down as many words as they can find within the word jumble. Instruct the players to turn over the card.

Students take turns sharing their list, spelling each out loud. Award ten points for the whole unscrambled word, if spelled correctly. Additionally, add on one point for each correctly spelled word and  two points for a word that no one else in the group finds. Students total their points to see who is the winner.

For example, for the “_ay” vowel team long a spelling, the word payment has the word jumble, APETNYM. The jumble includes these words:

ape              ten            tap       yet       map     man     pay      pat       many   mane    meant  tape

Word Jumble List

Sound-Spelling   Word              Word Jumble

Long a Sound

“a__e”                         carefully          yluflarec

“ai__”                          straining          ginianrts

“__ay”                         betrayal           tylaaebr

“ei”                               freighter          hefrgiret

Long e Sound

“__ee”                         meetings          mtsgniee

“ea”                            teachers           srehcaet

“__y”                           leisurely           ylurelies

“i__e”                          tambourine      neuriboamt

“[c]ei”                          ceiling              ginclie

Long i Sound

“i__e”                          provided          dideprvo

“__igh”                        frightened       tndeehgirf

“__y”                           beautify           fyiauetb

“__ie”                          untied              teunde

Long o Sound

“o__e”                         hopeful            plefuoh

“__oe”                         mistletoe         stelimeot

“oa__”                         groaned           anodegr

“ow”                            ownership        phisernow

Long u Sound

“u”                               musical            csualim

“u__e”                         usefulness       uefessflns

“__ew”                        curfew             furcwe

“_ue”                           fueling             inufegn

oo as in food Sound

“oo”                             toothache        eooatthch

“u”                               cruising            rciuisgn

“u__e”                         attitude            tttiadeu

“__ew”                        unscrewed       dweenuscr

“_ue”                           barbecued        ecduberab

oo as in foot Sound

“oo”                             understood      ouorsdtden

“__u__”                       sugarless          ragulsses

oy Sound

“oi__”                          poisonous        oponsiuos

“__oy”                         enjoyment       nemtnojey

aw Sound

“aw”                            awesome         ewaosme

“au”                             auditorium       tduaoiumir

“al”                              almost              malsto

“all”                             smallest           lamsselt

ow Sound

“__ow”                        downtown       wnownotd

“ou__”                         doubtful          tbduoluf

ur Sound

“er”                              partnership     ntphrapresi

“ir”                              birthday           hdyabitr

“ur”                             urgency           nygceur

ar Sound

“ar”                              calendar          leacnrda

or Sound

“or”                             thunderstorm   rmostdrenuht

The next two spelling games help your students review a targetted vowel sound-spelling pattern, alongside other spelling patterns. Both The Quick Picks Game and Vowel Concentration are small group games that use the Spelling Sort Cards.

The Quick Picks Game

-Overview/Object of the Game

This spelling game is designed to help your students review a targetted vowel team spelling pattern, alongside other spelling patterns. The object of the game is to pick up the most number of cards that have words that use the designated vowel team spelling.

-Materials/Preparation

Click the link to download these Spelling Sort Cards from the Pennington Publishing website. These cards are formatted to cut into individual cards for word sort games. Simply run off the pages on tag board and laminate for each group.

-Directions

Divide your spellers up into two groups, clustered around two desks or tables, and spread out some, or all, of the vowel team spelling cards that you have already introduced (the same set to each group). Have the two groups spread out their cards spelling side up and then race to pick up the cards that have words that use the designated vowel team spelling.

For example, pass out the long a and long e cards. Then, announce “Find  ‘a__e’ cards.” After picking up all of the “a__e” cards, tell students to take turns, saying each of their words and their spellings. The speller from each group with the most word cards that match the vowel team spelling that you announced is the winner.

Vowel Team Concentration

-Overview/Object of the Game

This spelling game is designed to help your students review  targetted vowel team spelling patterns. The object of the game is to pick up the most two-word matches  of the same vowel team spelling.

-Materials/Preparation

Click the link to download these Spelling Sort Cards from the Pennington Publishing website. These cards are formatted to cut into individual cards for word sort games. Simply run off the pages on tag board and laminate two sets for each group of students.

-Directions

Pass out some, or all, of the vowel team spelling cards that you have already introduced from one set of the laminated cards face up.  Pass out some, or all, of the second set of vowel team spelling cards face down. Have the students spread them out, being careful not to turn any over.

Students take turns turning over two cards at a time to find a vowel sound-spelling match. For instance, the boat card would match the oak card. If the student finds a match, he or she picks up the cards and gets another turn. The winner is the student who collects the most cards.

For individual sound-spelling worksheets that correspond with the TSV Spelling Assessment, spelling rules with memorable raps and songs on CD, spelling tests, Greek and Latin affixes/roots worksheets, syllable practice, spelling-vocabulary games, and more to differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction, please check out Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary. Also check out Differentiated Spelling Instruction, the complementary fourth through eighth grade (Levels A-E) standards-based spelling series, designed to integrate instruction in spelling, structural analysis, and vocabulary. Each level has 32 weekly spelling pattern lessons and all the resources needed to differentiate spelling instruction: spelling pattern word lists with spelling sort worksheets, formative and summative assessments with recording matrices, review games, memory songs with MP3 links, supplementary word lists, and more.

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Should We Teach Standards or Children?

This may well be professional suicide. But, it’s time to come out of the closet. I say I teach the standards, but I really teach children.

As an educational publisher and author, I sell books that address state and national standards in English-language Arts and reading. The standards-based movement has clearly taken over the publishing and educational establishment. For example, in California, a district cannot purchase programs with state-allocated district monies unless these programs are on the approved list. How does the publisher get on the list? Standards and money. Every instructional component must be explicitly tied to state standards. The review process is time-consuming and expensive.

As a presenter and staff developer, I have taught hundreds of workshops and in-services on meeting the standards. No district or school will hire a consultant or presenter who does not promise to teach these standards.

As a teacher, I am reminded ad nauseam to “teach the standards.” Since I am a reading specialist, hiding inside the Trojan horse of English-language Arts in an underperforming middle school, I quietly administer reading and spelling assessments to my students. It won’t come as much of a surprise to most of you that the diagnostic data indicate that some students have severe reading and spelling deficits.

Here then is the crux of the issue. The underlying pre-suppositions, results, and practice of standards-based instruction can be diametrically opposed to differentiated instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of our children. This is especially true in the field of reading instruction.

The underlying pre-suppositions of the standards-based movement accept a priori that education is solely a behavioral science. We critics of this assumption would argue that much of teaching, learning, and parenting is culturally-bound and intuitive. In other words, some of effective teaching is truly an art form. We critics are not above using the scientific method and learning theory to debunk the behavioral purists. For example, the standards-based-movement begs the vital question regarding its linear scope and sequence of grade level standards: Do we really learn that way? Many teachers in my fields of English-language Arts and reading would argue the contrary. In fact, anyone who has taught the basic parts of speech to sophomores in high school won’t be surprised to learn that excellent teachers from elementary school-to middle school-to last year’s freshman class taught the same parts of speech. In other words, some learning may be recursive, not linear. Teachers, students, and parents are the critical variables here.

It’s time to take a hard look at the results of the standards-based movement. Yes, there was education before this movement took center stage. Since standards-based state assessments have taken precedence, the few nationally-normed tests that we still use nationwide, such as the NAEP and SAT 1, do not support the efficacy of the standards-based movement. Last I checked, we still underperform in reading and we still haven’t solved the “achievement gap.”

As is frequently the case in education, an idea takes on a life of its own in practice. A conversation a few years back with a fellow English teacher was instructive, but chilling. In discussing the results of our informal reading assessments, he looked over the clearly demonstrated reading deficits in his testing data and then said, “I teach the grade level standards. I’m not paid to go back and teach everything that the students don’t know.” He accepted a job as an administrator in our district the next year. Now, I am not over-critical of administrators… They are held accountable to implement standards-based instruction and to increase the all-important state and/or district standards-based test scores. However, administrators have got to do better than the principal who refused to implement reading intervention programs at her under-performing school because “The elementary teachers are supposed to teach reading; that’s their job, not ours. We teach middle school standards here.”

It’s easy to whine at the devolution of academic freedom and the sorry state of education that has been relegated to a series of standards-based grade level scope and sequence charts, with benchmarks or task analyses tacked on to provide the pretense of specificity. It’s harder to offer solutions, but here are a few thoughts.

True educators need to be subversive. Hasn’t rebellion always been part and parcel of our profession? Teachers have always been on the outside, looking in. However, good teachers know how to compromise in order to maintain sanity for the benefit of their students and themselves. Educators need to smile at the principal’s insistence that every assignment must have the state standard listed. We need to post our standards for the day on our whiteboards, Smartboards®, overhead projectors, or LCDs. We shouldn’t give it a second thought. We know what we need to teach and we need to save ourselves for that task. As one principal told me in my first year of teaching… “Choose your battles, Mark. Do you want to die on this hill?”

This is not to say that educators should not fight the good fight. Here are three tips to save your scalp from parroted dictums and standards mantras, while you carry on the battle to teach children, not just the standards:

1. Do teach the grade level standards. Really. After all, they are rather innocuous. Rarely have I heard a teacher say that we shouldn’t be teaching such and such a standard. However, control the time allotted to teaching these standards and insist on your academic freedom here. When challenged as to why you are teaching a lesson or skill that is not explicitly listed as a grade level standard, cite previous or advanced grade level standards that address your remedial or advanced grade level instruction.

2. Patiently argue that some students need to “catch up, to keep up.” Justify concurrent remediation or acceleration and grade level instruction by citing diagnostic data. Let data plead your case. For example, if instructed not to teach to diagnosed deficits, ask the principal/district supervisor to write a letter to the parents of students to alleviate you of this responsibility, against your informed judgment. They won’t, but they won’t bother you for awhile.

3. Explain that that any criticism is not about really about what you teach, but rather about how you teach. You are scaffolding instruction, according to the demonstrated diagnostic needs of your students in order to teach the grade level standards. You are making the standards comprehensible and in order to do so, you must differentiate instruction. How you teach is a matter of academic freedom.

The religious adherence to the standards-based movement? This too will pass. Until such time, teach the standards, but also teach your students.

The author, Mark Pennington, is an educational author, seventh grade teacher, staff developer, and blues harmonica player. His Teaching Reading Strategies is a comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, which includes multiple choice reading assessments and many others on two CDs, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, games, and more to differentiate reading instruction. Available on the Pennington Publishing website.

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Effective Secondary School Reading Staff Development

“Oh no… another obligatory reading staff development. If the presenter says ‘every teacher a teacher of reading’ just one time, I will walk out.”

“What does this have to do with me? I teach math. Another district-mandated reading-across-the-curriculum in-service. Ho-hum. Glad I brought papers to grade.”

As an administrator, literacy coach, English-language Arts teacher, or staff developer, you know the challenge. How can you train and convince such a diverse group of colleagues, representing the full slate of academic disciplines, that staff development in reading is valuable at the middle or high school level?

As educators have addressed the issues and suggested instructional strategies to respond to the growing “achievement gap,” many have come to the point of validating reading guru Anita Archer’s comment that “the ‘achievement gap’ is chiefly a ‘literacy gap.’” Today, there is wide consensus that secondary schools need to improve delivery of reading instruction, even at the expense of content-laden curricula.

“Oh great. Another thing to cram into my course. I don’t have the time to teach everything I am supposed to teach-not to mention what I want to teach.”

As a reading specialist/staff developer, once assigned to a high school, I know how secondary teachers, and even elementary teachers (been there-done that, too) can be a tough audience during a reading-based staff development. However, I’ve found that even the most obstinate, stuck-in-the-mud teachers do care about their students. Most will care enough to be willing to try something new, if they see the direct pay-off for their students.

In my experience, to get staff buy-in, you’ve got to accomplish three fundamental goals:

1. Ensure that all teachers feel that the strategies directly apply, in some degree, to their own academic disciplines. And let’s be honest, the matter is less relevant to some.

2. Give teachers something they can use the next day, and

3. Get the staff actively involved in the presentation.

Here are three sure-fire reading staff developments that I have presented at secondary schools and a nice resource for each:

1. Train and convince every teacher to assign reading in their academic discipline for homework on a regular basis. http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-students-to-read-at-home/

2. Train and convince every teacher to use the same language of instruction i.e., the same terminology, for teaching and practicing reading strategies. SCRIP  is a set of self-questioning prompts that students can use to promote the author-reader dialog. Beyond the memorable mnemonic, the advantage to these strategies is that they work equally well with expository and narrative text (all academic disciplines). http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-increase-reading-comprehension-using-the-scrip-comprehension-strategies/

By the way, if these reading strategies make sense to you, email me at mark@penningtonpublishing.com and I will send you some colorful SCRIP bookmarks that I have students use during silent reading. Offer a sign-up sheet for teachers who want class sets of these bookmarks (laminated or cardstock).

3. Train and convince every teacher to teach and have students use the same read-study method for expository reading. The PQ RAR method is a nice update on the “tried and true” SQ3R read-study method. Pass out PQ RAR classroom posters to all teachers.  http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-read-textbooks-with-pq-rar/

Using the same language of instruction is simply “user-friendly” for our students. Having similar instructional strategies lets students know that we do actually talk to teachers in other departments. More importantly, a staff that commits to using these strategies will significantly impact the reading performance of its students and help to bridge the “literacy gap.”

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight to adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. With multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games (364 pages), even novice reading teachers and para-professionals will be able to use these user-friendly resources to effectively differentiate reading instruction with minimal preparation.

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Help! My Child Won’t Read or Write

Many parents and teacher struggle with the same problem: motivating children to read and write. Both recognize the critical importance of these life-skills. Reading is the gateway to knowledge. Reading is the key to developing the ability to think critically. Reading is fun! Typical of this struggle is an email I just received this morning (name changed to protect the mom from any judgmental readers).

Hi Mark,

I have a son with mild dyslexia and mild to moderate ADD. I have tried to home school him this year but gained limited success in getting him to want to read. He says he likes to read, but rarely does without being asked. He prefers sports and playing!

He also is very hard to get him to write. He says he doesn’t know why he just sits there for minutes at  a time. He can take 60 min to produce 6 lines or if given a threat of “no recess, hockey unless…” he can do a full page in 25 minutes.

I am so exasperated, that I feel I must send him back to school to see can someone else help him where I can not!

Do you have a suggestion as to which would benefit us most?

Thanks,

Concerned in Connecticut

So here is my response. I hope that  my own personal experience and training as a reading specialist will be of help to both parents and teachers.

—– Original Message —–

From: Concerned in Connecticut

To: mark@penningtonpublishing.com

Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:02 AM

Subject: advice please

Dear Concerned in Connecticut,

Sounds like a normal boy to me. I’ve raised three boys, and all three had the same lack of motivation and initiative. Although we all want to idealistically hope that our children will read and write for the love of learning and self-expression, I’ve found this rarely to be the case. Learning is an acquired taste, I’m afraid. But, while that taste is being acquired, I think that some force-feeding is certainly appropriate.

Good teaching is inherently coercive. You prove this with your carrot and stick method: “…if given a threat of ‘no recess, hockey unless…’ he can do a full page in 25 minutes.”  There is nothing wrong with being a behavioralist. I’m not saying that our children are Pavlov’s dogs or that we have to B.F. Skinner our kids to death. However, I do suggest that we use the extrinsic rewards and/or threats until the intrinsic love of learning kicks in. Spoon feed until the child can and will feed himself. Why? Reading is just too important of a life-skill to leave to the whim of an elementary, middle, or high school student. Most all would rather play video games or text, if given the freedom to choose.

But, you may be thinking… “What if I turn my child off from independent reading? He may never pick up a book to read, if he isn’t forced to read it.”

My own personal experience may be of some help. As a teacher, I gave my three sons a choice every summer: 4 hours of summer school each day at the nearby public school or 90 minutes of daily supervised instruction at home. It was not much of a choice. Each summer the boys chose the option I called Essential Study Skills. Each of my three boys responded the same to my Summer Daily Brainwork: they hated it and were relieved when they “graduated” from this chore at age 16. The primary tasks of this daily summer chore was twofold: 1. independent reading with subsequent discussion of that reading with Dad and 2. writing an expository paragraph with subsequent response to that writing by Dad and revision thereafter. None of the three boys ever read or wrote anything unless required to do so by the teacher or Dad. Oh, Mom did require faithful thank-you notes for every courtesy or gift.

In a recent conversation with my oldest son, now a legislative assistant for a Congressman back in Washington D.C., my son admitted that he actually never read the teacher-assigned independent readings because there was no accountability. This same son is now a voraciously reader and has sent me so many “You’ve-got-to-read-this” books that I’ve turned to Internet book reviews in lieu of actually reading all of them. Reading specialists, like Yours Truly, know how to skim and fake it better than most.

My second son, only reads technical computer manuals. However, the point is that he has the skills to read these and other books of any genre, if he needs/chooses to do so. As to my third son, a graduating senior, the jury is still out on the reading; however, he recently commented that he learned how to write effectively due to our summer paragraphs.

I would certainly recommend some basic study skills: including motivational techniques, procrastination prevention, and goal-setting. We do want to equip our children with the skills they need to succeed on their own someday. However, make ‘em read and write until that someday comes.

Cheers!

Mark Pennington                                                                                                                      MA Reading Specialist                                            http://www.penningtonpublishing.com

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. With multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games (364 pages), even novice reading teachers and para-professionals will be able to use these user-friendly resources to effectively differentiate reading instruction with minimal preparation.

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How and Why to Teach Fluency

How to Teach Fluency

First of all, let’s get on the same page about what we are trying to teach when we talk about fluency.

What Fluency Is Not

Fluency is not the ability to read fast. A fluency score does not determine grade level reading. A high fluency score is not a guarantee of good reading comprehension. Fluency practice does not consist of a read-around or popcorn reading.

What Fluency Is

Fluency is a measure of the reader’s competence at decoding and recognizing sight words with automaticity at a specified reading level. Fluency is also a measure of how well the reader attends to punctuation and the inflection of words in the manner that the author intended. Students need both oral and silent fluency instruction until mastery has been achieved.

Why Should We Teach It and How Much Time Should We Spend On It?

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

The amount of time spent on direct fluency instruction and practice should correspond to the diagnostic fluency levels of the readers. In short, students with higher fluency levels should have less fluency practice than those with lower fluency levels. I suggest three days a week of 15-20 minutes fluency practice for elementary school readers and the same amount for middle school and high school remedial readers.

A good guideline that is widely used for acceptable fluency rates by the end of the school year follows.

2nd Grade Text            80 words per minute with 95% accuracy

3rd Grade Text            95 words per minute with 95% accuracy

4th Grade Text            110 words per minute with 95% accuracy

5th Grade Text             125 words per minute with 95% accuracy

6th Grade Text            140 words per minute with 95% accuracy

Instructional Fluency Strategies

1. Modeled Repeated Readings- Repeated readings of high-interest passages at diagnosed student reading levels, along with modeled readings. Ideally, the modeled reading would be a teacher or instructional assistant, reading at a rate 20-30% faster than the students’ fluency rate with 95% accuracy. A second choice, and usually more practical alternative, would be modeled readings on tapes or CDs.

Program Materials

Read Naturally® is the largest publisher of fluency passages and accompanying modeled readings. The program’s Brief Oral Reading Screening does a good job of quickly assessing student reading levels and the teacher can certainly adjust levels of difficulty with the graded reading passages. The passages do come with a few comprehension questions; however, comprehension is not the focus of these reading intervention materials. The passages are high interest and only one page in length. The program comes with fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. Gimmicky, but motivating, although the students always inflate their timings unless directly supervised.

Teaching Reading Strategies provides another affordable option for fluency practice. A diagnostic fluency assessment gives the teacher a baseline for each student. Each high-interest passage is an expository article on an animal-its habitat, description, role in the food cycle, family characteristics, and endangered species status. Uniquely, each article begins with two paragraphs at the third grade reading level, followed by two paragraphs at the fifth grade reading level, and concluding with two paragraphs at the seventh grade reading level. This organization helps readers “push through” to higher reading levels through repeated practice. Another unique feature of this program is the accompanying CDs. Each passage is read at 90, 120, and 150 words per minute. These levels provide optimal reading practice for the challenge rate of 20-30% higher than the baseline rates. Lastly, a comprehensive reading comprehension program for expository reading is tied into and uses the same fluency passages. Using the SCRIP comprehension strategies, students learn to internally monitor and improve reading comprehension. Three vocabulary words per passage are also featured with context clue strategy sentence practice. Three levels of fluency timing charts to help students measure improvement of “cold”(unpracticed) and “hot” (practiced) timings. The price of the Teaching Reading Strategies Program is certainly more affordable to that of the Read Naturally® program.

2. Choral Reading with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students feel comfortable reading along with their peers. Led by the teacher, choral reading can be an effective means of fluency practice if student fluency rates are roughly the same. Plays, poetry, literature, and readers theater are all good sources for choral reading.

3. Fluency Groups with Modeled Repeated Readings- Students are divided into, say, four groups based upon similar fluency baselines. Along to tapes or CDs, the teacher, parent, instruction aide, tutor, or fluent peer leads repeated readings. Timings are taken whole class and students chart their progress. See the complete article on differentiated fluency instruction for complete details and the behavioral management plan.

4. White Noise Read Alouds- John Sheffelbine, professor at California State University at Sacramento, advocates having the whole class read individually and out loud with six inch voices, each at his/her own pace. This produces a “white noise,” which permits individual concentration. Repeated readings could certainly be added to this fluency practice.

5. Silent Reading Fluency- A number of techniques to support better silent reading fluency are found at these articles: Eye Movement Read-Study Method Poor Silent Reading Habits Silent Reading Speed

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight to adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. With multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games (364 pages), even novice reading teachers and para-professionals will be able to use these user-friendly resources to effectively differentiate reading instruction with minimal preparation.

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What’s the Value of Individual Reading Assessments?

I spent years as an elementary reading specialist, administering individual reading inventories to prepare for IEPs, SSTs, 504s, persnickety parents, and, occasionally, even the curious or caring teacher. Yes, I was an informal reading assessment junkie. I piloted all of the new ones coming down the pike and had loads of fun experimenting on unsuspecting elementary students. After years of sitting across from individual students at my kidney-shaped table, I began asking what is the real value of these assessments, and more generally, what is the value of individual reading diagnosis?

As I see things, the most useful informal reading assessments should meet three criteria:

1. They must be comprehensive. No more random sample spelling inventories and no more random sample phonics assessments.

2. They must be diagnostic. I don’t need to know a qualitative stage of development or a grade-level equivalency. I’ve got to know what exactly the child does and does not know so that I can plan instruction accordingly.

3. They must be easy to give, easy to grade, and easy to record.

While one-on-one time with a student is wonderful; it just isn’t a practical approach to reading assessment. I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water on this one. Individual assessments are sometimes necessary as double-checks or refinements, and an individual fluency assessment is a must for elementary, middle, and some high school students. However, my experience is that effective whole class tests can produce results that are just as reliable and prescriptive as the time-consuming individual assessments.

Reading specialists do not have to be the keepers of the keys. Devolving the responsibilities of reading assessment to teachers was the most effective professional decision that I have ever made. Whole class (multiple choice) reading assessments that are administered, graded, and analyzed by the teacher empower that teacher as the professional and encourage that teacher to differentiate instruction according to the diagnostic needs of that teacher’s students.

Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of reading assessments that meet the criteria described above. You are welcome to download a comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessment, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, and even a grammar assessment from my website. All are multiple choice and all have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction. Grab a box of Scantrons® and make 2009-2010 the year you teach reading, as well as English, to your students.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight to adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. With multiple choice reading assessments, formative assessments, blendingand syllabication activitiesphonemic awarenessand phonicsworkshops,comprehensionworksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games (364 pages), even novice reading teachers and para-professionals will be able to use these user-friendly resources to effectively differentiate reading instruction with minimal preparation.

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Ten Tips to Improving Writing Coherency

Ten Tips to Improving Writing Coherency

Writing coherency refers to how well sentences and paragraphs are organized into an understandable whole. Good writing coherency is reader-centered. From the reader’s point of view, the train of thought must be connected, easy to follow, and make sense. Incoherent writing is inconsiderate to the reader. If the writing lacks coherency, the reader’s comprehension and enjoyment of that writing will decrease. A reader may have to re-read, be forced to use too many context clues to understand what is being said, or make an undue amount of inferences.

To improve coherency, writers need to ensure that their writing has these characteristics:

1. Predictable Paragraph Organization- To maintain optimal coherency, organize paragraphs in the way that readers are accustomed. For example, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, place the topic sentence in the first position of the paragraph. The topic sentence appears in the first position of the paragraph 80% of the time in expository writing. Because of this high percentage, readers expect the main idea of the paragraph to be in this position. Similarly, the thesis statement appears 50% of the time as the last sentence in an essay introduction, so follow this practice as well.

Additionally, the Ancient Greeks developed the rhetorical rules for our writing, and these rules dictate that the most important idea in any communication needs to be stated first. Organize paragraphs with customary and traditional structures to be considerate to your reader.

2. Comprehensible Sentence Structure- Again, toe the line with those Ancient Greeks. English follows suit by placing the most important words at the beginning of the sentence. In the sentence: “You need to mail that letter today,” the emphasis is on the action. In the sentence: “Today, you need to mail that letter,” the emphasis is on the time. English grammar is very flexible in its forms and so can emphasize words with many different grammatical constructions. See How to Improve Sentence Variety with Grammatical Sentence Openers for examples.

Vary the length of sentences. Charles Dickens can be difficult to read because of his notoriously long-winded sentences. A good rule of thumb is to never place two long sentences next to each other. Of course, short staccato sentences can get irritating, as well. Strive for balance in sentence length to increase reader understanding and concentration.

3. Repetition- Repeat key words, phrases, or clauses to build coherency. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the “I have a dream” clause nine different times in his short speech. Also, write with parallel grammatical structures such as in Abraham Lincoln’s “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Notice the repeated “_ed” past participles, each followed by prepositional phrases.

4. Effective Sentence Transitions- Use, but don’t over use, transition words and phrases at the beginnings of sentences to connect to previous thoughts. Remember that most transitions at the beginning of sentences are followed by a comma, except in  short sentences. A helpful list follows.

What You Need to Signal                 Transitions

definition

  • refers to, in other words, consists of, is equal to, means

example

  • for example, for instance, such as, is like, including, to illustrate

addition

  • also, another, in addition, furthermore, moreover

sequence

  • first, second, later, next, before, for one, for another, previously, then, finally, following, since, now

analysis

  • consider, this means, examine, look at

comparison

  • similarly, in the same way, just like, likewise, in comparison

contrast

  • in contrast, on the other hand, however, whereas, but, yet, nevertheless, instead, as opposed to, otherwise, on the contrary, regardless

cause-effect

  • because, for, therefore, hence, as a result, consequently, due to, thus, so, this led to

conclusion

  • in conclusion, to conclude, as one can see, as a result, in summary, for these reasons

5. Clear Pronouns- A pronoun takes the place of a proper (named) or common (unnamed) noun. Using clear pronoun references will improve reader understanding of your writing. Always place pronoun references close to the nouns which they represent. If in doubt, simply repeat the noun. For example, in the sentence: “The dog traveled over the hill, chased a bunny, drank from a stream, terrorized a stray cat, and than it returned home,” the it pronoun does not clearly describe the antecedent dog. The sentence would be more coherent as “The dog enjoyed many adventures before it returned home: traveling over a hill, chasing a bunny, drinking from a stream, and terrorizing a cat.”

6. Clear Modifiers- A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that acts as an adjective or adverb to define or limit the meaning of another word or phrase. For example, in the sentence: “Thrown in the air, the dog fetched the Frisbee®,” the phrase “Thrown in the air” is a classic dangling modifier. The reader may be confused into thinking that the dog, not the disc, was the one thrown into the air. To prevent dangling modifiers, always place modifiers close to the nouns or verbs that they intend to modify. The above sentence would better be written as “Thrown in the air, the Frisbee® was fetched by the dog” (albeit in passive voice).

7. Precise Word Choice- Use specific, rather than vague, meaningless words. For example, instead of “Many things caused the recession,” replace with “Decreasing consumer confidence and high gas prices caused the recession.” Use words that fit your audience. Avoid technical or academic language when simple words will suffice, unless your readers are well-acquainted with the terminology. Be courteous to your reader and define unfamiliar words to improve coherence.

8. Appropriate Conjunctions- The common coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so (F.A.N.B.O.Y.S.) each have precise meanings and need to be used correctly to maintain coherency. For example, the sentence: “He needed money for paying expenses,” does not correctly use the conjunction for. The sentence suggests that money is the medium of exchange for paying expenses, rather than a necessary prerequisite for paying expenses. Using the conjunction so would create better sentence coherency as in “He needed money so he could pay expenses.”

9. Limited Passive Voice- In passive voice, the subject receives the action with the use of a passive verb. A passive verb combines a “to-be” verb with a past participle (_d, _ed, or _en ending). For example, is practiced, was doubted, had been eaten. Instead, use the active voice in which the subject does the action. For example, “John ran to the post office.” Passive voice can be used intentionally to emphasize objectivity, such as in “It has been shown in educational research that more women than men….” Otherwise, avoid the passive voice.

10. Brevity- Using concise language builds reader understanding. Readers lose focus, if the writing is verbose. Rather than “It would certainly be very nice if you would please consider it in your heart to take out the trash,” replace with the simple and to the point “Please take out the trash.”

Following are examples of an incoherent paragraph and a coherent revision of that same paragraph. Try revising the incoherent model, using the Ten Tips to Improve Writing Coherency before looking at the revision to see if you can apply these tips.

Incoherent Writing Model

Snow creates problems. Streets need shoveling. Snowplows cannot always access streets. Driveways are hard to clear. Many communities leave the expense of clearing snow up to the homeowner. Building up dangerously high on a roof, it can break roof framing. Snow may seem harmless. It can damage houses. Snow is always potentially hazardous. It can endanger people.

Coherent Revision

Snow creates two problems for homeowners. First, it requires shoveling to keep driveways and streets clear, but snowplows cannot always access them. Furthermore, many communities leave the expense of clearing snow up to the homeowner; thus some homeowners cannot afford the expense of hiring a snowplow. Second, snow may seem harmless, yet it is not. Snow can build up dangerously high on a roof and break roof framing. Always potentially hazardous, snow can damage houses and endanger those who live in them.

If you find these tips helpful, check out Mark Pennington’s comprehensive grammar curriculum: Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. This curriculum provides whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments with 72 targeted worksheets to differentiate instruction and a full year of 15-minute sentence lifting lessons with standards-based mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills. Teachers who are grammatically-challenged will appreciate this user-friendly book and the easy, no-prep design.

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