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Response to Intervention: What Just Won’t Work

Having served as a reading specialist at elementary, middle, and high school levels (and even part-timed at the community college level), I have taught numerous reading and writing intervention courses and trained teachers in doing so. With the newly released Response to Intervention (RtI) document and with states and districts scrambling to conform to Race to the Top carrots and sticks, voices of real-world teaching experience need to begin shouting quickly and boldly to be heard. Although I commend the International Reading Association (IRA) for assigning reading assessment a prominent role in their Response to Intervention (RtI) document ©2010 International Reading Association, the language of the document betrays certain pedagogical presuppositions and is, at points, flat unrealistic. For reference, the document is found at http://www.reading.org/Libraries/Resources/RTI_brochure_web.sflb.ashx. Let’s take a look at one section of this document to see if my analyses ring true.

On page two, the IRA Commission lists these guiding principles under the subheading of “Assessment”:

“Assessments, tools, and techniques should provide useful and timely information about desired language and literacy goals. They should reflect authentic language and literacy activities as opposed to contrived texts or tasks generated specifically for assessment purposes. The quality of assessment information should not be sacrificed for the efficiency of an assessment procedure.”

Clearly, the commission has in mind the content, form, and delivery of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments, particularly reading assessments.

Presupposition #1 Authentic Text is Better than Contrived Text for Assessment Purposes

Since when did reading assessments have to use authentic language? As a writer of numerous reading and writing assessments, contrived text is often essential to produce an effective assessment. In fact, it is nigh on to impossible to create assessments with internal validity that don’t use contrived text. Good assessments isolate variables to ensure that we really do test what we are supposed to be testing.

One example should suffice to demonstrate how unworkable and unreliable authentic language can be when used for reading assessments. At random, I opened up to the middle (pp. 679-680) of one of my favorite novels: Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (free ebooks at www.planetebook.com). I skimmed to find the beginning of a start-to-finish passage of typical length for a one-minute fluency assessment and copied such below.  Feel free to time your reading out loud, keeping track of word attack accuracy, unknown vocabulary, and comprehension as you read.

‘Glory be to God in Heaven,

(6) Glory be to God in me…

(12) ‘That verse came from my heart once, it’s not a verse, but

(24) a tear…. I made it myself… not while I was pulling the captain’s

(37) beard, though..’

(39) ‘Why do you bring him in all of a sudden?’

(49) ‘Why do I bring him in? Foolery! All things come to an

(61) end; all things are made equal. That’s the long and short of

(73) it.’

(74) ‘You know, I keep thinking of your pistols.’

(82) ‘That’s all foolery, too! Drink, and don’t be fanciful. I love

(93) life. I’ve loved life too much, shamefully much. Enough!

(102) Let’s drink to life, dear boy, I propose the toast. Why am

(114) I pleased with myself? I’m a scoundrel, but I’m satisfied

(124) with myself. And yet I’m tortured by the thought that I’m a

(136) scoundrel, but satisfied with myself. I bless the creation. I’m

(146) ready to bless God and His creation directly, but… I must

(157) kill one noxious insect for fear it should crawl and spoil life

(169) for others…. Let us drink to life, dear brother. What can be

(181) more precious than life? Nothing! To life, and to one queen

(192) of queens!’

(194) ‘Let’s drink to life and to your queen, too, if you like.’

(206) They drank a glass each. Although Mitya was excited

(215) and expansive, yet he was melancholy, too. It was as though

(226) some heavy, overwhelming anxiety were weighing upon

(233) him.

(234) ‘Misha… here’s your Misha come! Misha, come here, my

(243) boy, drink this glass to Phoebus the golden-haired, of tomorrow

(254) morn..’

(255) ‘What are you giving it him for?’ cried Pyotr Ilyitch, irritably.

(266) ‘Yes, yes, yes, let me! I want to!’

(274) ‘E — ech!’

(275) Misha emptied the glass, bowed, and ran out.

(283)

Words Read in One Minute ____ – Miscues = ____ Net Fluency Score

How did you do? Difficult passage? Not so, according to the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores: Reading Level 1.1  Reading Ease 94.6. Average Word Length 4.0.

As illustrated above, using authentic language is far from an accurate means of assessing one’s fluency. Would you use this 1.1 grade level passage as a diagnostic assessment and follow with a Dr. Seuss 1.1 grade level passage to formatively assess progress two months later? Of course not. Most real-text reading passages of a length suitable for fluency assessments have similar variables as in the Dostoyevsky passage above: They are necessarily out of context and they include unfamiliar language, including names, idiomatic expressions, vocabulary, and culturally-based word choice.

Authentic text does not meet the standards of reliability we need to measure baseline ability or growth. The results cannot be generalized in any meaningful way. Even using the same source for subsequent fluency assessments provides no guaranteed compatibility. Most importantly, authentic language does not give the reading diagnostician the information needed to differentiate instruction. We need to isolate variables with contrived text to insure that we are using accurate reading assessments to inform our instruction. And this is true with all forms of reading assessments, including reading comprehension and phonics (mysteriously not even mentioned in the RtI document) diagnostic instruments. How could a comprehension test effectively measure how much a third-grader understands without using a controlled vocabulary? How could a phonics test measure a sixth-grader’s ability to decode without using nonsense words to isolate the variable of sight word knowledge?

Presupposition #2 Quality Assessments Must be Inefficient

On page two, the IRA Commission lists these guiding principles under the subheading of “Assessment”:

“Assessments, tools, and techniques should provide useful and timely information about desired language and literacy goals. They should reflect authentic language and literacy activities as opposed to contrived texts or tasks generated specifically for assessment purposes. The quality of assessment information should not be sacrificed for the efficiency of an assessment procedure.”

Now, the commission does not say that quality assessments must be inefficient, but by their own criteria they effectively preclude efficient assessment design, form, and delivery. See their referenced document: Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing developed jointly by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English (2010) a a case in point.

It would seem that the IRA Commission wants to have its cake and eat it, too. The commission equates assessment quality with authentic language testing. Authentic language testing involves long in-context reading passages, whole-to-part (e.g. miscue analyses), no nonsense words, multiple measures, etc. and necessitates individual administration. Ever done a complete Individual Reading Inventory?  Pretty time-consuming—hours for an individual student. Individualized assessments require significant training to both correctly administer and accurately interpret results. Inefficient and flat unrealistic. Job protection for reading specialists, special education teachers, and reading coaches?

Although using inclusive language to encourage teachers to be responsible for diagnostic assessments and progress monitoring, the real-world application of the above RtI principles would be to maintain the status quo:

1. Reading specialists, special education teachers, and reading coaches as the “keeper of the keys” and 2. Intervention instruction based upon canned-all-students-start-on-page-one programs, rather than upon diagnostic assessments that will enable teachers to differentiate instruction.

In the real world, there is not enough time to assess students, according to the IRA principles. Teachers do not have the requisite training to assess, interpret data, and accurately inform their instructional decision-making, using the inefficient authentic language assessments. In fact, many of the teachers assigned to reading intervention classes are not the most experienced teachers.

My suggestions? Let’s leave our presuppositions behind and live in the real world. Let’s get off our high horses and train teachers to use simple whole-class, multiple-choice diagnostic reading assessments, so that they can effectively differentiate reading instruction for their intervention students. Sacrifice authentic language? Have a negligible impact on accuracy (debatable) by assessing whole-class? Oh, well… well worth the sacrifices, if teachers will be able to use assessments to inform and differentiate instruction for their intervention students.

Here are some free diagnostic assessments, created by a team of reading specialists, that are user-friendly, simple to score and analyze, and designed to enable teachers of all levels of expertise to differentiate reading instruction: http://penningtonpublishing.com/assessments.php. Now, that’s RtI that does work.

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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Teacher Professional Organizations

Teachers have an opportunity to join key professional organizations to collaborate, advocate, and increase their levels of professional expertise.

Professional Organizations for Teachers

Founded in 1977, the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) is a professional organization of scholars who are interested in and actively contribute to the multi-disciplinary field of applied linguistics. AAAL members promote principled approaches to language-related concerns, including language education, acquisition and loss, bilingualism, discourse analysis, literacy, rhetoric and stylistics, language for special purposes, psycholinguistics, second and foreign language pedagogy, language assessment, and language policy and planning.

ACT is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides more than a hundred assessment, research, information, and program management services in the broad areas of education and workforce development.

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is concerned with improving the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education and by promoting the dissemination and practical application of research results. Its 20,000 members are educators; administrators; directors of research, testing or evaluation in federal, state and local agencies; counselors; evaluators; graduate students; and behavioral scientists.

The American Evaluation Association (AEA) is an international professional association of evaluators devoted to the application and exploration of program evaluation, personnel evaluation, technology, and many other forms of evaluation. Evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products, and organizations to improve their effectiveness.

The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 64,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. ALA offers professional services and publications to members and nonmembers, including online news stories.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the professional, scientific, and credentialing association for over 110,000 audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists. ASHA’s mission is to ensure that all people with speech, language, and hearing disorders have access to quality services to help them communicate more effectively.

The mission of the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) is to promote excellence in research, teaching, and service for library and information science education.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) is an international, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represents 160,000 educators from more than 135 countries and 66 affiliates. Our members span the entire profession of educators—superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. We address all aspects of effective teaching and learning—such as professional development, educational leadership, and capacity building. ASCD offers broad, multiple perspectives—across all education professions—in reporting key policies and practices.

The California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (CATESOL) mission is to promote excellence in education for English language learners and a high quality professional environment for their teachers. CATESOL represents teachers of English language learners throughout California and Nevada, at all levels and in all learning environments. CATESOL strives to: improve teacher preparation and provide opportunities which further professional expertise, promote sound, research-based education policy and practices, increase awareness of the strengths and needs of English language learners, and promote appreciation of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

The California League of High Schools (CLHS) supports delivering relevant, standards-based instruction, meeting rigorous testing goals and proving once again that our high schools are exceptional places for students to learn and prepare for college and careers.

The California League of Middle Schools (CLMS) is committed to supporting middle grades educators and their students. A non-profit membership association, CLMS is dedicated to improving the professional knowledge of middle level educators so that early adolescents may experience academic success and personal well-being.

The California Library Association (CLA) provides leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library services, librarianship, and the library community. We help members excel in a fast-changing job market. We’re a resource for learning about new ideas and technology, and we actively work to influence legislation affecting libraries and librarians.

The California Literacy Inc. is the nation’s oldest and largest statewide adult volunteer literacy organization. Its purpose is to establish literacy programs and to support them through tutor training, consulting, and ongoing education.

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals with dyslexia, their families and the communities that support them. IDA is the oldest learning disabilities organization in the nation.

The International Reading Association (IRA) is a professional membership organization dedicated to promoting high levels of literacy for all by improving the quality of reading instruction, disseminating research and information about reading, and encouraging the lifetime reading habit. Our members include classroom teachers, reading specialists, consultants, administrators, supervisors, university faculty, researchers, psychologists, librarians, media specialists, and parents. With members and affiliates in 99 countries, our network extends to more than 300,000 people worldwide.

California Reading Association The professional membership organization of California reading and content teachers. Dedicated to improving literacy in California, this organization sponsors a wonderful annual conference.

The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) works on behalf of linguists and the discipline of linguistics, often cooperating with other scholarly societies and alerting members to issues that may concern them in their own universities or other workplaces. At the same time, LSA also addresses a wider public, offering news on linguistic findings, answering queries about language, and supporting different efforts to disseminate linguistic perspectives on language issues.

Promoting educational excellence and equity through bilingual education, the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) is the only national organization exclusively concerned with the education of language-minority students in American schools.

(CABE) The wonderful California membership organization for bilingual education.

The National Council for the Teachers of English (NCTE) works to advance teaching, research, and student achievement in English language arts at all scholastic levels.

(CATE)

The Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL) has approximately 14,000 members in over 120 countries, and is recognized as a non-governmental organization (NGO) of the United Nations Department of Public Information. Its mission is to ensure excellence in English language teaching to speakers of other languages. TESOL values professionalism in language education; individual language rights; accessible, high quality education; collaboration in a global community; interaction of research and reflective practice for educational improvement; and respect for diversity and multiculturalism.

The College Board is a national nonprofit membership association whose mission is to prepare, inspire, and connect students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the association is composed of more than 4,500 schools, colleges, universities, and other educational organizations. Among its best-known programs are the SAT®, the PSAT/NMSQT®, and the Advanced Placement Program® (AP®). The College Board is committed to the principles of excellence and equity, and that commitment is embodied in all of its programs, services, activities, and concerns.

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. His comprehensive curricula: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay StrategiesTeaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary help teachers differentiate instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or training.

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How to Teach Thesis Statements

The most important part of the multi-paragraph essay is a well-worded thesis statement. The thesis statement should state the author’s purpose for writing or the point to be proved. The topic sentences of each succeeding body paragraph all “talk about” the thesis statement.

  • When the essay is designed to inform the reader, the thesis statement states the author’s purpose for writing and serves as the controlling idea or topic throughout the essay.
  • When the essay is designed to convince the reader, the thesis statement states the point to be proved and serves as the argument or claim throughout the essay.

A good thesis statement will accomplish the following:

1. It will state the subject of the writing prompt.

2. It will repeat the key words of the writing prompt.

3. It will directly respond to each part of the writing prompt with a specific purpose (for informational essays) or point of view (for persuasive essays).

4. It will justify discussion and exploration; it won’t just list a topic to talk about. For example, “Elephants are really big mammals” would not justify discussion or exploration.

5. It must be arguable, if the thesis introduces a persuasive essay. For example, “Terrorism is really bad and must be stopped” is not an arguable point of view.

For short essays, a good thesis statement is characterized by the following:

1. It is one or two declarative sentences (no questions).

2. It is placed at the end of the introduction. This is not a hard and fast rule; however, the thesis statement does appear in this position in fifty percent of expository writing and the typical organization of an introductory paragraph is from general to specific.

3. It does not split the purpose or point of view of the essay into two or more points to prove. It has a single purpose or point of view that multiple topic sentences will address.

4. It may or may not include a preview of the topic sentences.

Helpful Hints

1. Spend time helping students to dissect writing prompts, showing different forms and examples.

2. Teach the key Writing Direction Words (see attached) most often used in writing prompts.

3. Teach students to “borrow” as many of the words as possible from the writing prompt and include these in the thesis statement. Doing this assures the writer and reader that the essay is directly responding to the writing prompt. Additionally, using the same words flatters the writer of the prompt. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

4. Practice thesis turn-arounds in which you provide writing prompts in the form of questions that students must convert into declarative thesis statements.

5. Teach and have students practice a variety of introduction strategies to use for both informational and persuasive essays.

6. Teach transition words and help students practice these throughout the introductory paragraph.

7. Help students re-word their thesis statements, using different grammatical sentence openers, for their thesis re-statements at the beginning of conclusion paragraphs.

8. Constantly remind students that a thesis statement is part of exposition–not the narrative form. No “hooks” or “leads” as part of thesis statements, please.

See the three attached lessons on Thesis Statement Practice at Thesis Statement Practice.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies, at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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Ten Tips to Teach On-Demand Writing

It’s not a perfect world. In a perfect world, there would be no direct writing assessments. Elementary and middle school students would not compose to the tune of the ticking clock. High school students would not write fearfully, knowing that the on-demand writing task on the high school exit exam could be the difference between walking the stage with grandparents, aunts, cousins, and siblings cheering or sitting at home with completion certificate in hand. College students would not spill their all-nighter, coffee-laden, infusion of knowledge into blue books under watchful grad student eyes. Prospective employees would not be forced to produce a timed writing sample in the Human Resources office as part of their interview process. Life could be better. All writing tasks could make sense, but they don’t. Students don’t care about our friendly debate regarding process vs. on-demand writing. However, until the revolution comes, teachers do a disservice to their students by not preparing them for the on-demand writing tasks of an imperfect world.

Here are ten tips to teach on-demand writing as part of a thriving writing curriculum:

1. Teachers need to assign the types of writing tasks that the on-demand writing task will be assessing. For example, seventh grade students in California are potentially assessed on these writing applications: narrative, response to literature essay, summary, and persuasive essay. Students need to write both full process papers in these domains (genres or applications) and practice on-demand writing for each of these tasks.

2. Teachers need to develop a common language of instruction for Writing Direction Words, especially writing direction terms that will appear in on-demand writing tasks. Checking out on-demand release questions, commonly referred to as the writing prompts, is a must to ensure that the language of the direct writing assessment will be familiar to your students.

3. Students need to practice composing thesis statements. Since the preponderance of on-demand writing tasks from the fourth grade through college involve informational or persuasive essays, the focus of both process papers and on-demand writing should be the essay form. The key to an effective essay is the thesis statement. Learning to dissect the writing prompt, to use the language from the writing prompt, and to formulate a specific thesis statement that concisely states the purpose or point of view of the ensuing essay is critically important.

4. Learning the structure of an informational or persuasive essay is essential. The foundational structure should be a flexible model that students can use to adjust to the form demanded by the writing prompt. For example, a response to literature essay can use the same essay structure as a persuasive essay with a few “tweaks” such as including paraphrased quotations for the former and a counterpoint argument for the latter. Here is a step-by-step method that teaches students to memorize the essay structural components in order of the overall task.

5. Practice each stage of the on-demand writing process on its own, in sequenced clusters, and as a whole: writing prompt analysis, reading an excerpt—if provided, formulating a thesis statement, completing a brief pre-write of the body paragraphs, composing the essay, revising the essay, and proofreading the essay. Teaching these components will build writing flexibility and develop writing fluency.

6. Practice on-demand writing under loosely timed (with instructional interruptions) and strictly timed (no teacher interruptions) conditions. Time management is key to success. Students need to learn how to gauge time and allot time to each component of the writing process based upon the amount of time that they will have with the direct writing assessment.

  • Gauging time is not common sense; it must be practiced. In fact, many students have a completely unrealistic sense of time. Try this exercise: Students close their eyes and raise silent hands when they believe two minutes has passed. Stop the exercise after all hands have been raised. Keep track of their times with the aid of a few open-eyed students. Repeat this practice weekly and see how students will improve their recognition of time.
  • Allotting time to each component and practicing under simulated testing conditions will give students confidence in the process. Teachers who skip this instructional practice are in for trouble on exam day. For example, all teachers tell their students (as do the writing assessment directions) to pre-write, but students know that this stage of the writing process earns them no points. So many students routinely skip this step and jump into the essay itself. Or worse yet, students will pre-write way too much and not have time for composing.

7. Tell students to write a lot. Although we like to believe that brevity and concise wording gets points, this is not the case on direct writing assessments. Teach students to focus on their audience. Graders are trained to read the thesis statement carefully, skim for main points or arguments, search for evidence to back each up, and quickly read conclusions. Tell students to use all of their allotted time and reward them for doing so.

8. Model and have students practice writing specificity. Specific descriptions (show-me diction) for narratives and evidence (a variety needed) for informational and persuasive essays get students points. Transitions are keys to writing coherence and unity. Have a transitions poster clearly displayed and frequently reference the categories and examples of transitions at the beginning, end, and within sentences. Give students practice in revising unspecific writing and writing without transitions.

9. Teach students to vary their sentence structure. The best way to do so is to teach the “50-50 Rule.” 50% of the writing should be concise subject-verb-complement sentences. The other 50% should be expanded sentences with different grammatical sentence openers. Teach the most useful grammatical sentence openers that are appropriate to the students’ grade levels.

10. Manage the stress levels and motivate your students for success. Test anxiety inhibits this success. Students know that direct writing assessments are high-stakes tests—either for the school or themselves. Keep the instructional focus positive when working with on-demand writing. Work with student attitudes toward the assessment itself. For example, teaching students that excitement and anxiety have the same physiological response, so they can choose to be excited, not anxious about the challenge. Let them know that you have high expectations, but they are capable of achieving your standards. Build their self-confidence through successive approximation. In other words, success with each component of the on-demand writing process will lead to success with the assessment. Teach students that their voices are valid ones and that they will each have a unique perspective to impart in their essay. Knowing your students helps ensure their success at all developmental levels: pre-teen, middle school, high school, and college.

See attached sample of an On-Demand Timing Guide, Reading Passage, Graphic Organizer and Writing Prompt from Pennington Publishing’s Teaching Essay Strategies.

On-Demand Timing Guide, Reading Passage, Graphic Organizer and Writing Prompt

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies, at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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How to Teach Logic

A basic understanding of logic is necessary to be able to read critically and write with coherence. Good critical thinking follow rules of logic to observe, interpret, apply, and revise ideas or problems. These rules of logic are not new. In fact, five key forms of logic were developed by the Ancient Greeks. We still use these patterns of thinking, known as reasoning, to solve problems today. Students need to be trained to recognize these patterns of logical organization and follow these patterns in their own writing and problem-solving.

1. Deductive Logic

In deductive reasoning, the pattern of thinking is whole to part. Specific applications (or conclusions) are made from general statements or accepted ideas.

Example: Bees sting. Bee stings hurt. Be careful of bees.

2. Inductive Logic

In inductive reasoning, the pattern of thinking is part to whole. Specific applications (or conclusions) lead to more general applications.

Example: (Repeated Addition) 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = (Multiplication) 4 x 2 = (sum) 8

3. Syllogistic Logic

In syllogistic reasoning, an application (or conclusion) about a category that is drawn from two forms of evidence that each make sense as separate categories and relate to each other.

Example: All Golden Retrievers are dogs; Calico Kelley is a Golden Retriever; therefore, Calico Kelley is a dog.

4. Comparative Logic

In comparative logic, an application (or conclusion) is drawn about a situation based on how one idea or problem is similar to previous ideas or problems. The similarities are based upon logical, historical, or statistical probability.

Example: Ian is always absent from school when it rains. It is raining today. Ian will most likely be absent today.

5. If, ____; then ____ Logic

In if-then logic, an “if” state proposes a condition or hypothesis, and the “then” provides a logical answer or solution.

Example: If A = B, and B = C; then A = C.

Unfortunately, not all writing follows these rules of logic. Teaching students to recognize errors in reasoning will promote analytical reading and improve their writing coherency.

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. His comprehensive curricula: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay StrategiesTeaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary help teachers differentiate instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or training.


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How to Teach Critical Thinking

Students, today, are bombarded with content. Knowledge increases exponentially, and the entire storehouse of human knowledge gained over the last six thousand years is now doubled every five years, or less. The old educational philosophy of filling empty heads with the cumulative wisdom of the ages is yielding to a new pedagogy. Knowledge as a product is now being replaced with knowledge as a process.

This is not to say that our accumulated knowledge is irrelevant. Quite to the contrary, it is essential. Without the inductive and deductive reasoning developed by the Ancient Greeks, and without the scientific method, refined by the Enlightenment thinkers, we would have no foundation upon which to build a new process-centered design, commonly referred to as critical thinking.

However, we must begin to practice what we preach. If we are to equip Twenty-First-Century students with the tools they need to add to our “knowledge pool,” we need to re-evaluate how we spend our time in the classroom. The standards-based movement, prevalent in many American schools today, is primarily product-driven. Despite much talk about differentiating instruction, according to the needs of students as indicated by diagnostic assessments, the primary delivery of knowledge in most classrooms remains product-centered. And all students learn the same product, the same way, and on the same timetable to perform (hopefully) the same way on standards-based assessments.  The pressures on teachers to conform to this antiquated model of knowledge acquisition are formidable.

Change Their Way of Thinking

One way to implement change is incremental. A small, but effective way to start introducing critical thinking into the classroom is with the traditional “opener” activities. These “bell-ringer” activities can establish an important framework for learning and a mind-set for the day’s activities, even if they are product-centered.

To accomplish their process-centered mission, critical thinking openers can help a teacher teach a schema for thinking that students can learn, practice, and apply with the coaching assistance of their teachers.

The word schema comes from the Greek word “σχήμα” (skēma), which means a mental planning process. The schema that I propose is not original, by any means. It involves four simple steps: Observation, Interpretation, Application, and Revision. Observation is What do you see? Interpretation is What does it mean? Application is How can it be used? Revision is How can it be changed?

Teaching Procedures

To provoke process-thinking, students need a context from which to explore the schema described above. One great way to stimulate young minds is with famous literary quotations from the greatest thinkers and writers of all time, including contemporary minds from all knowledge disciplines. The web is filled with great quotes (as are some of your students). Simply post the quote and explain the context and/or vocabulary as is necessary. Introduce the critical thinking schema one at a time.  Then, have students take time to think, write, and interactively discuss the components of the critical thinking schema in response to the literary quotation.

Explore individual responses, paired responses, cooperative group responses, whole class responses, and your own responses as teacher-coach. Combine instructional methods. For example, starting off with a teacher “think aloud” on the Observation will stimulate paired written responses on the Interpretation, which will provoke terrific whole class discussions on the Application, which will engender creative and original individual ideas on the Revisions.

Teacher Think Alouds

To learn the four critical thinking schemata, teacher modeling is essential.  Creative thinking and problem-solving is certainly not exclusively a natural process. Developing thinkers do not have a priori understanding about how to effectively observe, interpret, apply, and revise. Thus, teachers play a crucial role in helping to develop good thinkers.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog while they think is vitally important. As “talking to the reader” significantly increases writing coherency and “talking to the author” significantly increases reading comprehension, so does internal dialog significantly increase effective thinking. In fact, good thinkers are adept at practicing internal metacognitive strategies.  Students who consciously practice these self-monitoring strategies develop better problem-solving skills than those who do not. Students need to learn how to flexibly adapt these strategies by observing teacher modeling and then practicing what has been demonstrated.

Think Aloud Sample Lesson

1. Select a short, high interest literary quotation from a story familiar to all students. Post the quotation on the board, LCD, Smartboard®, or overhead projector.

2. Tell students that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, as you read the quotation and that they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during your reading. Read the quotation out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about the vocabulary, word choice, syntax, and historical context. Re-read difficult parts and make comments about the ideas that are presented. Ask questions of the author, especially about parts of the quotation that you do not fully understand. Some teachers like to use other voices for the internal dialogue and their normal voices for the reading.

3. After reading and thinking out loud, ask students if they think they understood the quotation better because of your verbalized thoughts rather than just by passively reading without active thoughts. Their answer will be “Yes,” if you have read and thought out loud effectively.

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. His comprehensive curricula: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay StrategiesTeaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary help teachers differentiate instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or training.

Reading, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why We Don’t Teach Grammar

First of all, grammar is a lot like Kleenex®. This brand name has been associated with many other similar products. If I ask my wife to “Please pass a Kleenex®, I would probably get irritated if she responded, “Is a generic tissue okay?” After all, I just want to blow my nose.

So, let’s agree on what we mean by teaching grammar. Grammar has come to mean a catch-all term that refers to everything English teachers would prefer to avoid teaching. This includes the part of a sentence, the function of these parts (such as the parts of speech), the arrangement of words with the sentence, word choice, punctuation, and capitalization, and assorted oddities that we think students should know, but wish they learned elsewhere. But, why do most English-language arts teachers detest teaching this collection of instructional essentials that we label as grammar?

1. We fear the unknown. ELA teachers live in the day-to-day fear that one of our colleagues might ask us how we incorporate teaching past perfect participles in our persuasive essays. Teachers naturally tend to avoid teaching things that they do not understand. Most ELA teachers were trained to love literature, poetry, and writing (or at least one of the three). Few were trained in teaching grammar. Some of us have picked up a few tidbits here and there over the years or were educated in Catholic schools.

2. There is not enough time. Teachers have their comprehensive lists of standards and courses of study on their “to-do” lists. There are pressures from administrators, the omnipresent district or state testing, and our own colleagues to check off items on these lists. Of course, we have our  favorite novels and projects. Grammar instruction does not even make our Letterman’s Top Ten. “If I had unlimited time… then, maybe. But to be honest… Socratic Seminars, readers theater, and that Steinbeck novel would probably shove their way into my lesson plans first.”

3. The “research” says not to teach grammar. We trot out a “sound bites” from a study or two as convenient excuses to avoid teaching grammar. We gloss over the real language of the research conclusions, i.e., “teaching grammar in isolation outside of the meaningful context of writing is ineffective.” Some teachers do parrot these research conclusions accurately, but few actively address the variables of the research and actually teach grammar in the meaningful context of writing.

4. The fact that students are grammatically-challenged is someone else’s fault. “Students should know this stuff by now. The grade-level standards emphasize review of grammar, not introduction of grammar. I can only teach what I am supposed to teach. I can’t be responsible for other  teachers’ shortcomings. I have my grade-level standards to teach. If I spent all my efforts on what they already should know, students would never learn anything new. Hopefully, they’ll pick it up later, somehow.”

5. Students don’t like grammar and they don’t remember what they are taught. “Grammar is boring. I want to be a fun and interesting teacher. I’m angling for Teacher-of-the-Year and I’m not about to let grammar get in the way. Besides, the pay-offs from teaching grammar seem minimal, anyway. The students have learned the parts of speech every year and they couldn’t define or identify an adverb, if their lives depended on it. An adverbial clause? You’ve got to be kidding. I won’t drill and kill my students.”

6. We don’t know what we don’t know. Teachers teach from personal experience , as much as from professional development. Most teachers in their twenties, thirties, and forties had little grammatical instruction in their school years and few university professors have trained these teachers in grammar for the reasons already discussed. The pervasive “whole language” philosophy of the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s de-emphasized grammatical instruction and relegated it to the editing step within the writing process. “I didn’t learn grammar, and I turned out alright” is an often-thought, if not spoken, rationale for ditching grammar instruction.

My response? We need to teach grammar and make time for grammatical instruction and practice. Anything students need to know has to be “taught, not caught.” Students are whom we teach, not ever-changing standards, courses of study, fads, personal preferences, or personal agendas. Therefore, if students don’t know how to define, identify, and use adverbs, we need to teach them (an intentionally ambiguous pronoun reference that indicates both subjects—students and adverbs). We don’t need any more student casualties as a result of any “Great Grammar Debate.” Our ignorance is no excuse. We need to learn how to teach grammar in a meaningful writing context.

Why not make sense of grammar instruction with a curriculum that will help you efficiently integrate grammar into writing instruction? Throw away your ineffective D.O.L. openers and last-minute grammar test-prep practice, and teach all the grammar, mechanics, and spelling that most students need in 75 minutes per week. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, provides a coherent scope and sequence of 64 no-prep Sentence Lifting lessons with Teacher Tips and Hints for the grammatically-challenged. The mechanics and grammar skills complement those found in the 72 TGM Worksheets and target the diagnostic needs indicated by the multiple-choice TGM Grammar and Mechanics Diagnostic Assessments.

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Context Clues Vocabulary Review Game

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

For individual sound-spelling worksheets that correspond with the comprehensive TSV Spelling Assessmentspelling rules with memorable raps and songs on CD, spelling tests, Greek and Latin affixes/roots worksheets, syllable practice, spelling gamesvocabulary games, and more to differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction, please check out Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary.

S.A.L.E.S. Clues Pictionary®

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

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

S.A.L.E.S. Context Clues Category and Pictionary® Words

Syllables

re (again)

pre (before)

vis (to see)

struct (to build)

er (one who)

Antonyms

desert

dark (darkness)

comedy (comedian, comic)

baby

life

Logic

box

429

language

pyramids

snow

Examples

Santa Claus

Disneyland (Disneyworld)

music

red

water

Synonyms

movie

painting

wood

pair

happy (happiness)

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

Eliminating the Trust Factor with Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

As teachers, we pride ourselves on our intuitive judgments. Elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers learn the developmental characteristics and behaviors of our students through professional development and experience. As much as we preach not to “judge the book by its cover,” we do so on a daily basis in our classrooms. We have to. Teaching is informed decision-making and we face a myriad of decisions each day. We think “on our feet” all day long and learn to make quick decisions: When to be a “hard-nose” and when to show mercy; when to challenge and when to coddle; when to “tighten up” and when to “lighten up.”

The subjective decision-making described above is certainly a refined skill. We teachers do make mistakes. But, over time, we learn to trust our judgments and decision-making regarding the behavioral/affective management of the class and the interpersonal relationships and dynamics of the individuals in our classes. We learn to trust ourselves in the art of teaching.

Don’t Trust Yourself

However, we should be wary about being tempted to similarly trust ourselves regarding the science of teaching ELA and reading content and skills. Making instructional decisions based upon “what the students know and what they don’t know” requires objective data to inform our judgments. There are just too many variables to trust even the best teacher intuition: family situations, language, culture, school experience, just to name a few factors that limit our abilities to “go with our guts.” If we are honest, even veteran teachers are often fooled by sophisticated student coping mechanisms and cultural stereotypes. A gregarious boy with excellent oral language skills may be compensating for poor reading skills. A quiet Asian girl with good organizational skills who pays attention well may struggle with the academic vocabulary of the teacher. Only diagnostic ELA/reading assessments can eliminate subjectivity and objectively inform the science of teaching.

Don’t Trust Your Colleagues

Teaching is an independent practice. No matter how many years we have eaten lunch with our teacher peers, no matter how many conferences, department or grade-level meetings we have attended together, no matter how many of the same teaching resources we share, and no matter how specific our scope and sequences of instruction align, we cannot assume that the students of our colleagues have mastered the skills we are to build upon. Whether you are a fifth grade teacher, inheriting Ms. Nathan’s fourth grade class (along with all of her summative assessment data), or you are a high school English teacher picking up where a colleague left off at the end of the semester (with comprehensive writing portfolios), there is no substitute for doing your own diagnostic ELA/reading assessments.

Don’t Trust the Standardized Test Data

The content of the standardized ELA/reading test just can’t be trusted to help the teacher make  informed instructional decisions. The results of standardized tests provide “macro” data that can assess program quality or overall level of a student by using random sample questions to assess student proficiency or achievement. The data does not pinpoint the “micro” data of student strengths and weaknesses in the skills and content that teachers need to assess. Standardized tests are not designed for this purpose.

For example, the standards-based ELA/reading assessment in California lumps together data to classify individual students as Proficient, Advanced, Basic, Below Basic, or Far Below Basic. These classifications do little to inform teacher instruction. Even using  item analyses of the data can only identify percentiles in such areas of “vocabulary in context.” Hardly helpful to specifically address individual student needs… Standardized tests do not provide  ELA/reading teachers with the data that they need to affect instructional change or differentiation. Diagnostic ELA/Reading assessments are designed for those tasks.

In summary, trust the science of comprehensive, diagnostic ELA/reading assessments to inform your instruction. Using this objective data will eliminate the “trust factor” and guess work and enable ELA and reading teachers to effectively differentiate instruction.

Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of ELA/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, a grammar assessment, and a mechanics assessment free of charge from my website. Most of these assessments are multiple choice and are administered “whole class.” All have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction. Once, teachers administer these assessments and analyze the data, many will wish to purchase my teaching resources Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay StrategiesTeaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary to differentiate instruction precisely according to the data of these diagnostic assessments. Why re-invent the wheel?

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Study Skills , , , , ,

Ten Criteria for Effective ELA/Reading Diagnostic Assessments

Diagnostic assessments are essential instructional tools for effective English-language Arts and reading teachers. However, many teachers resist using these tools because they can be time-consuming to administer, grade, record, and analyze. Some  teachers avoid diagnostic assessments because these teachers exclusively focus on grade-level standards-based instruction or believe that remediation is (or was) the job of some other teacher. To be honest, some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because the data might induce them to differentiate instruction—a daunting task for any teacher. And some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because they fear that the data will be used by administrators to hold them accountable for individual student progress.

To ameliorate these concerns, let’s agree to the ten criteria for effective ELA/reading diagnostic assessments:

1. Diagnostic assessments should be designed to be administered “whole class.” While one-on-one time with a student is wonderful; it just isn’t a practical approach for teachers with class sizes pushing forty in many schools. 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 diagnostic assessments can produce results that are just as reliable and prescriptive as the time-consuming individual assessments.

2. Diagnostic assessments should be brief. Despite the oft-repeated dictum, assessment is not really instruction.

3. Diagnostic assessments should be designed to  measure only what they purport to measure. For example, a diagnostic fluency assessment that produces  inaccurate  results because it uses unfamiliar terminology or difficult names is useless. A grammar assessment that pretends to measure correct  usage by having students match a past perfect participle to its definition does not accomplish its purpose.

4. Diagnostic assessments should measure important ELA/reading concepts or skills. Although we may disagree on a few of the details, few teachers would argue that assessing a student’s reading level is not as important as assessing a student’s ability to correctly name the four classifications of sentences.

5. Diagnostic assessments should help the teacher determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of the individual student, and not just those of the class. A teacher needs more information than simply what to emphasize in instruction or what to re-teach to “most” of the class.

6. Diagnostic assessments should be quantitative. Although qualitative assessment, such as a class discussion, is useful to inform direct instruction, internally and externally valid and reliable assessments that produce hard numbers  provide objective baselines for instruction, and guide later formative and summative assessments.

7. Diagnostic assessments should be designed to measure academic skills and abilities within our control. Although cognitive ability, family background, culture, socio-economic status, and language certainly impact what students know, these important variables are beyond the scope of useful diagnostic assessments. We need diagnostic assessments that won’t  isolate these variables. For example, a diagnostic assessment  that measures only the phonetic regularities common to English and Spanish, ignores those sound-spellings exclusive to English that all students need to master. Or as a further example, knowing that there is a racial/ethnic achievement gap in ELA/reading is of less value than knowing the specific components of a literacy gap that teachers can effectively address.

8. Diagnostic assessments should be easy to grade and record. Teachers need to spend their prep times using data to inform their instruction, and less time on correction and paperwork. Well-designed assessments can be multiple choice or matching. Recording matrices need to be designed so that they are simple to use, analyze, and plan for differentiated instruction.

9. Diagnostic assessments should be designed to help teachers inform their instruction. Teachers need specificity. If a teacher cannot teach to the data gained from the assessment, of what use is the assessment? For example, complicated and time-consuming normed reading comprehension assessments provide little instructional practicality. Other than individual reading levels, which can be gained from simple word recognition tests, fluencies, or even the self-administered “five finger method,” knowing the degree to which a student can “draw conclusions” does little to impact instruction. Of course, we need to teach those skills measured by reading comprehension tests or the annual standardized test, but we waste time using diagnostic assessments to glean this data, when we will teach these skills to all of our students anyway.

10. Diagnostic assessments should be comprehensive and not random samples. Qualitative spelling inventories, reading tests, phonics tests, grammar tests, mechanics tests, and vocabulary tests that are based on random samples of skills can only help teachers identify an approximate ability/developmental level or that a student has problems in that instructional area. By their very nature, random sample tests are “missing” something. Good diagnostic assessments are designed to quantify everything that needs to be learned in the particular area of focus.

Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of ELA/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, a grammar assessment, and a mechanics assessment free of charge from my website. Most of these assessments are multiple choice and are administered “whole class.” All have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction. Once, teachers administer these assessments and analyze the data, many will wish to purchase my teaching resources Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay StrategiesTeaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary to differentiate instruction precisely according to the data of these diagnostic assessments. Why re-invent the wheel?

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

Educational Fads: What Goes Around Comes Around

Teaching is, by its very nature, experimental. We teachers are just as susceptible to snake-oil sales pitches, fads, and cultural pressures as any professionals. And many of the teaching strategies, movements, and philosophies appear years later dressed up in different clothes. Talk to any veteran teacher of a dozen years or more and the teacher will eventually comment on the dynamic nature of education with statements such as “Been there, done that,” “There’s nothing new under the sun,” What Goes Around Comes Around,” “We tried that back in…”

Teachers are also victims of the bandwagon effect. What’s new is questioned, until certain key players buy in. At that point, many teachers become no-holds-barred converts. We teachers are especially vulnerable to new ideas labeled as “research-based,” “best practices,” or “standards-based.” We could all do with an occasional reminder that one of our primary duties as teachers should be to act as informed “crap detectors” (Postman, Neil, and Weingartner, Charles (1969), Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Dell, New York, NY.).

Following is a list of the educational fads that have come and gone (and sometimes come again) over the last thirty years of my teaching. I’ve bought into quite a few of them and still believe that some of them have merit. The list reminds me to hold on loosely to some things that I currently practice and to be open to change. Cringe, laugh, and be a bit offended as you read over the list. Oh, and please add on to the list, which is in no particular order.

1. Writing Across the Curriculum No one really ever believed that math, art, or music teachers should be spending oodles of time teaching writing.

2. Timers Timers used to keep students on task, pace themselves, track their reading speed.

3. Left-right Brain Strategies Some teachers used to have students place bracelets on their left or right wrists to cue brain hemispheres.

4. Self-esteem Teachers developed lessons to promote the self-esteem of students to increase their abilities to learn.

5. Cultural Literacy E. D. Hirsch, Jr. popularized this movement of shared content knowledge in his influential 1987 book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Teachers abandoned free-choice novels and chose core novels that inculcated American values.

6. Multi-culturalism This much maligned approach to education influenced many publishers and teachers to include multi-cultural literature.

7.  Relevance The practice of choosing curriculum and instructional strategies designed to  relate to the lives and interests of students.

8. Clickers Used to track student discussion responses, equitable teacher questioning, and even attendance.

9. Re-learning Early Childhood Behaviors One reading strategy for struggling readers in the 1970s involved re-teaching those remedial readers who never learned to crawl to crawl.

10. Learning Styles I can’t tell you how many learning styles assessments I designed over the years.

11. Experiential Learning Role play, simulations, mock trial.

12. Alternative or Authentic Assessments I once taught an entire year-long sophomore level World History class without giving one traditional paper and pencil test. Think museum exhibits, video productions, interviews, etc.

13. Cooperative Groups Touted as a primary means of heterogeneous instruction in the 1980s.

14. Values Clarification and Moral Dilemmas Two forms of values education that emphasized decision-making and informed moral choices.

15. Gongs Used to focus students’ attention and signal instructional transitions.

16. Critical Thinking Skills Bloom’s Taxonomy, Costa’s Levels of Questioning, et al.

17. Behavioral Objectives and the Madeline Hunter’s Lesson Design Teaching to measurable objectives with connection to prior instruction, guided practice, closure, and independent practice.

18. Standards-based Instruction A movement to identify content standards across grade levels and focus instruction on these expectations. Many state tests were aligned with these standards.

19. Language Experience A reading strategy which used oral language ability to help students read. Teachers copied down student stories and had students practice reading them.

20. Bilingual Education A movement to teach native literacy and celebrate bilingualism in the belief that literacy skills are easily transferred to English.

21. Learn by Doing John Dewey revisited. Gardening and keeping classroom pets were popular recreations of the theme.

22. Cornell Notes Popularized by the A.V.I.D. (Advancement Via Individual Determination), this columnar notetaking strategy originated in the 1950s at Cornell University.

23. Inventive Spelling The practice of guessing sound-spelling relationships to encourage writing fluency. Instruction followed from spelling analysis.

24. Achievement Gap The gap in reading and math achievement between racial subgroups. Later expanded to language and ethnic subgroups.

25. Thematic Instruction Teaching broad-based themes across the curriculum, such as teaching a unit on cooking in which recipes are composed and read, mathematic measurements involving recipe quantities are practiced, the final meal is sketched, using artistic perspective, and the meal is eaten.

26. Time on Task A movement that tried to minimize wasted time, class interruptions, and outside activities (such as assemblies) and maximize minutes of classroom instruction, such as with classroom openers.

27. Whole Language The movement popularized in the 1970s and 1980s that de-emphasized phonics, spelling, and grammar instruction and emphasized reading and writing for meaning.

28. Reading Across the Curriculum No one really ever believed that math, art, or music teachers should be spending oodles of time teaching reading or that “Every Teacher, a Teacher of Reading.”

29. Phonemic Awareness Better described as phonological awareness, teachers played patterns of sounds, emphasized rhythm, and used nursery rhymes to prepare students to match speech sounds to print.

30. ADD, ADHD, Epstein Bar, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Autism, and Others Difficult to diagnose, these conditions introduced educators to Parent Advocates and mandated classroom interventions.

31. Auditory Processing Deficit Disorders and Visual Processing Deficit Disorders New brain research has validated these learning disabilities, but instructional strategies to address these challenges have a questionable track record.

32. Dyslexia Reading difficulties have produced a plethora of remedial strategies, many such as colored transparencies have been dubious, at best.

33. Career Education Students were tracked according to career interests.

34. Community Service Students were required to perform hours of community service as part of course or graduation requirements.

35. Tracing Letters in the Sand Those who believe that spelling is a visual process had students memorize the shapes of letters within words by drawing the outline of the letters.

36. Inquiry Education Instruction based upon student questions and interests.

37. Sustained Silent Reading, Drop Everything and Read, et al In class or school-wide, this practice of silent reading is usually based upon student choice of reading materials without accountability and is designed to foster life-long reading.

38. TRIBES, et al Groups of students, mentored by adults, that build relational and supportive bonds within the school setting.

39. Peer Tutoring A practice in which a smarter student is paired with one less smart to teach the latter.

40. Writers Workshop and Six Traits Movements based upon the writing research of Donald Graves and others that emphasize the process of writing, revision, and publication.

41. Problem-Solving Strategies developed to solve difficult problems in collaborative groups.

42. Rubrics Here a rubric; there a rubric. Holistic and analytic scoring guides that purport to de-mystify and objectify the grading process of complicated tasks, such as essays.

43. Manipulatives Learning mathematical concepts through visual models that students manipulate to understand mathematical processes.

44. Metacognition Thinking about thinking. Strategies that teach reflection on the learning process.

45. Prior Knowledge Usually referred to as a pre-reading or pre-writing strategy in which the student “accesses” his or her background or personal experiences to connect to the reading or writing task.

46. Hands-on Learning Project-based instruction that emphasizes concrete learning making or doing.

47. Realia Using “real” objects to scaffold into abstract learning. For example, bringing in a silver necklace to teach what silver and a necklass mean.

48. Tracking and Ability Grouping Permanent or temporary grouped instruction based upon student grades, test scores, or skill levels.

49. Differentiated Instruction and Individualized Instruction Instruction designed according to the diagnostic needs of individual students, frequently involving group work.

50. Multiple Intelligences Popularized by Howard Gardner, this movement described intelligence aptitudes such as interpersonal intelligence.

51. Powerpoint®, Blackboard, Web 2.0, computer literacy skills, SmartBoards, Video Conferencing and more to come.

52. Color Mood Design Teachers draped soothing colored butcher paper (blue or green) over the teacher’s desk to reduce stress. Teachers stopped using red pens to correct papers.

53. Back to Basics A movement to focus more on the three R’s and less on electives.

54. The Five-Paragraph Essay The model essay, consisting of one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and one conclusion paragraph.

55. Multi-sensory Education Using the five senses to teach a concept or skill.

56. Learning Centers Resources placed around the classroom that allowed students to explore learning on their own.

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. His comprehensive curricula: Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay StrategiesTeaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary help teachers differentiate instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or training.

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

12 Reasons Why Teachers Resist Differentiated Instruction

Every ship’s captain knows how to turn a ship around to rescue a “man overboard.” The “Williamson Turn” involves turning the helm hard to starboard until the heading of the ship reaches a 60 degree course change and then it’s thrown hard to port to complete a net 180 degree course change with the ship going back in it’s own wake. Compensation is made for each ship’s propulsion characteristics, the winds, and tides at that point on the sea. Nowadays that maneuver can be computer-assisted. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anderson_turn#The_Williams…

In a recent tragedy, a ship failed to rescue a “man overboard” in time because it took the ship so long to reverse course. Education faces a similar crisis today. The “man overboard” consists of  millions of students who are failing to acquire the education that they deserve. Standardized assessments continue to show that this achievement gap between the haves and have-nots is widening. Indeed, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.

The problem is not that educators can’t identify the “man overboard”; assessment data certainly does that job. The problem is motivational and has consequences. Turning the ship around for one lost soul disrupts the cruise for the many. Turning the ship around means acknowledging that mistakes have been made and that the old ways of doing things may not work anymore (if they ever did work). Turning the ship around requires much more work, a willingness to try new things, and a degree of discomfort among all stakeholders in the educational establishment. In particular, turning the ship around for teachers means differentiating instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of their students.

Following are 12 reasons why teachers resist differentiated instruction.

1. We tend to teach the way that we were taught. Teachers tend to value familiar instruction. “If it worked for me, it should work for my students” is a consistent rationale for choosing instructional materials and teaching strategies. However, most teachers tend to be the ones who caught on to traditional, undifferentiated instruction. What worked for us may not work for today’s culturally diverse students.

2. We tend to use the instructional materials that are prescribed (district adopted). We use these resources not because we have carefully examined all available resources to match them to the needs of our students, according to diagnostic data. We use these because there is pressure to do so from administrators, peers, or “the district.” Then, we cut and paste with add-on materials. We wind up diluting the impact of the original materials, especially in canned reading or math programs. For example, in the widely used “Open Court” reading program, many  teachers teach the kernel of the program, but ignore the “workshop” component that differentiates instruction and, instead, paste in supplemental direct instruction.

3. Newton’s First Law of Physics: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. Teachers continue to use what they have used before. Comfortable with the familiar materials and strategies, teachers rarely re-invent the wheel. Teachers tend to resist external forces, such as reading coaches, administrator mandates, and new teaching innovations because these forces take teachers out of their comfort zones. Differentiated instruction brings up a host of uncomfortable issues: classroom management issues, additional teacher preparation, additional grading and record keeping-just to scratch the surface.

4. Newton’s First Law of Physics: The converse of the law is that every object in a state of rest tends to remain at rest unless an external force is applied to it. Every teacher has issues of laziness. Teaching is an energy-zapping profession. Relationships with students, parents, administrators, and other teachers drain the reserves of any professional educator. Professional learning “opportunities” in differentiated instruction, added on to the end of a teaching day in a staff meeting or university course work for salary advancement crowded into an already-busy-life can become the straws that break the backs of the best camels. Anyone think teacher burn-out?

5. Although teachers prize their independence and academic freedom to teach how we want, we are generally conformists. Being part of the “team” means accepting instructional compromises. We all agree to teach this novel, we all agree to do test preparation, we all agree to use Cornell Notes, we all agree to use these assessments, we all agree… not to disagree too much. There is no “I” in team. Teachers who differentiate instruction necessarily minimize their time commitment to the agreed-to scope and sequence of instruction or the unit-ending common assessment. There is tremendous peer pressure to teach like everyone else and avoid differentiation.

6. Lack of preparation time direct impacts teacher inability to treat students as individuals. Differentiated instruction requires more planning time, more analysis time, and more re-teaching time. Teaching colleagues rarely have sufficient time to plan together and learn from each other-not to mention time to break down the counter-productive peer pressure toward conformity to the status quo.

7. The influence of university professors in teacher training programs and continuing education programs can inculcate a bias toward one instructional philosophy. Far from teaching teachers to weigh all options to effectively differentiate instruction, often times individual professors or institutions use their platforms to promote their own agendas.  These overt biases inflicted upon the captive audiences of teachers, who need units of instruction to teach and advance on the salary scale, cause teachers to be wary of change and reticent to try new teaching strategies. Furthermore, professors tend to focus on the theory, not the practice, and so teachers are not equipped to differentiate instruction within their classrooms.

8. Administrator-teacher relationships are optimally viewed as professional and collegial with differences simply being ones of roles and tasks. Practically, administrator-teacher are management and worker relationships. The fact that administrators wield the one-sided powers of evaluation and teacher grade-subject-or schedule assignment make teachers conform to some degree to the wishes and tone of the administration in any school. Teachers who don’t play the game to a certain degree may find their input marginalized or their services outsourced to another site.

Administrators tend to see the “big picture” and offer macro-management solutions such as curricular standards, intervention programs, and schedule options that track students according to ability. They don’t see the micro-management issues within the classroom, for example, that Johnny can’t read well and won’t learn to read well because the teacher can’t or won’t differentiate instruction.

9. Teachers of all age levels are pressured to cover the content, cover the standards, and cover the material that will appear on the standardized test. Teachers are evaluated on what and how they teach and cover the content, not on what the students learn. Differentiated instruction adjusts the focus from teaching to learning. Teachers’ mapping guides and instructional scopes and sequences are all about direct instruction of new content or group review of old content. Differentiated instruction requires re-learning content not-yet-mastered by students.

10. Teachers view the process of teaching as a matter of one’s own taste and relegated to secondary status compared to the teaching content. Differentiated instruction puts process and content on the same level playing field. How a student is taught becomes just as important as what is taught because the degree of success is measured by what is learned.

11. The emphasis on rigor with high standards has led  many teachers to abandon differentiated instruction. Teachers need to help students “catch up” through scaffolded instruction, while the students concurrently “keep up” with rigorous grade-level instruction. However, teachers often feel the pressure to do the latter at the expense of the former.

12. Standards-based instruction has made many teachers abandon differentiated instruction. Comprehensive standards and emphasis on teaching to standards-based tests has re-focused many teachers on the what of teaching at the expense of the how and why of teaching. For many teachers, teaching the “power standards,” that is the standards most often tested on the yearly test, are more important than teaching to the needs of individual students. As one colleague once told me, “My job is to teach the grade-level standards, if students have not yet mastered the previous years’ standards, that is the fault of their teachers. I have to do my job, not theirs.”

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. His comprehensive curricula: Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Essay Strategies, Teaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary help teachers differentiate instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or training.

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How to Select Books for Independent Reading

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

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

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

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

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

How to Select Books that Have the Appropriate Reading Levels

The goal is to match individual readers to text that has about 5% unknown words. A much higher percentage is too hard for the reader; a much lower percentage is too easy for the reader.

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

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

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

How Much Independent Reading is Appropriate?

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

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

Determining Individual Silent Reading Speed

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

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

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

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

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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How to Memorize Vocabulary

There is just no doubt about it. Society judges us by the words we use. Vocabulary is the key linguistic measure of intelligence on IQ tests. It is the most statistically significant correlation on the SAT 1 sentence completions and passage-based reading components. It identifies a well-educated man or woman perhaps more that any other characteristic.

Many people want to improve their vocabularies, but memorization and retention are the key roadblocks. Not everyone has a natural ability to memorize. However, memorization is a skill that can be learned and improved upon with commitment and practice.

Let’s begin by understanding how we learn vocabulary. We learn most of our first 10,000 survival words through oral language. Beyond this number, most words are learned through reading, by using surrounding context clues to figure out the meanings of unknown words. Readers who read challenging text with academic language and unfamiliar words learn much more vocabulary than readers who stick with the T.V. Guide and People magazines. Good readers have good vocabularies. It’s as simple as that.

We also learn vocabulary through the structural components of our words. Many teachers do a wonderful job of teaching the building bocks of our academic words. Memorizing the common Greek and Latin word parts significantly increases word recognition.

Finally, we do learn vocabulary by making a conscious effort to learn and retain the meanings of new words. Becoming a word sleuth works. However, detectives have to investigate; they can’t just wait for the evidence to show up on their doorsteps. Those who want to learn new vocabulary have to intentionally expose themselves to new words. How? Read more challenging text, improve your ability to use context clues, learn the common Greek and Latinates, and use resources to practice “word play,” such as crosswords.

Practical Tips to Memorize Vocabulary

1. People start forgetting immediately after learning, so make a conscious effort to practice new words when you are exposed to them. Don’t wait. Information that is practiced immediately is retained. After the first few hours, the “forgetting cycle” kicks in.
2. People remember events or information that is rehearsed frequently. Frequent recitation improves retention. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Practice. Practice. Practice. Then repeat. Short study periods and small amounts of information divided by periods of rest produces better retention than cramming. Periodic practice of new vocabulary will keep the words stored in the long term memory. Use the words in your everyday speech. Talk to yourself and you won’t sound pretentious.
3. People remember information best when that information is organized in a structured manner.
Key a simple vocabulary journal or use index cards to keep track of new words. Write down the word, the definition (in your own words), and a context clue sentence that shows the meaning of the word.
4. People remember information that has clear multi-sensory connections. Practice new words out loud and in writing. Make a conscious effort to visualize a connection between new words and their meanings through concrete images. For example, precocious means someone who is ahead of his or her time. Picture a toddler you know, dressing up in a tuxedo, saying “I am precocious.”
5. Use vivid imagery. Make the effort to associate a new word with something else that produces memorable imagery. For example, a stunning rainbow connected with the new word spectrum is much more memorable than a simple definition. Use brief illustrations in your vocabulary journal or on your index cards to reinforce the images.
6. Connect what we naturally remember to newly acquired vocabulary. People remember events and information that are made exciting, interesting, or even embarrassing. Connect the discovery of a piece of spinach between your teeth to a new word, such as mortifying.
7. People remember information best that is personalized. Place yourself front and center into your memory association to better retain word meanings.
8. Learn it right the first time. The better a word is originally learned, the better is the retention. Define new words with precision. If possible, write down antonyms and synonyms in your vocabulary journal or on your index cards.
9. Key words prompt recall of larger amounts of information. Learn the base words well and commonly added inflections will be simple to add to your memory bank. For example, the base word parse (to figure out or analyze), if learned well, leads to understanding a whole host of related words, such as parsing or parsimonious.
10. Practice your vocabulary by visualizing the word, looking up and left. Hemispheric brain research has led to some interesting correlations. Good memorizers tend to recall images by shifting their eyes up and left. Poor memorizers tend to recall images by shifting their eyes downward.
For Greek and Latin affixes/roots worksheets, spelling-vocabulary games, vocabulary lists, vocabulary flashcards, spelling rules with memorable raps and songs on CD, spelling tests, syllable practice, and more to differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction, please check out Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary.

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Vocabulary Review Games

Memorizing vocabulary words can present a problem for many students. Spending class time practicing vocabulary memorization may seem, on the surface, a waste of valuable time. After all, doesn’t memorization all come down to study and practice? True, but  most of us did not leap out of the womb already knowing how to study and practice. In fact, many students have never learned how to study effectively, and many do not have home environments that are conducive to sufficient practice.

Good teachers know that we have to teach both content and process. The goal may be to get students to learn their vocabulary words (the content), but teaching a variety of study techniques to learn those vocabulary words helps students learn valuable critical thinking skills (the process). As a bonus, taking the time to model practice routines in the classroom will help instill habits that will carry over to homework.

Students are more likely to use study and practice procedures that are “game-like” and less boring than simple rote memorization. Here are some fun and effective vocabulary review games for groups and individuals in and out of the classroom. Check out Vocabulary Word Part Games for more.

Group Review Games

The Quick Picks Game

Divide your students into two groups and select one student as the host. Give the list of vocabulary words and definitions to the host for reference. Then, tell your students to take out their Vocabulary Study Cards for study and practice. Have the students spread out their cards on their desks word side up. The host announces the definition of one of the words and the students race to pick up the word that matches that definition. It is certainly fair for group members to help each other out. The first group with all students holding up the correct word part wins a point. Tell students to place each card word side down after it has been announced.. Once all words have been announced, reverse the procedure and announce definitions and students pick up the definition side up cards.

Vocabulary Millionaire

Divide your students into two groups and select one student as the host. Give the list of vocabulary words and definitions to the host for reference. Then, tell your students to take out their Vocabulary Study Cards for study and practice. Students stand next to their desks. The host flips a coin to determine which group goes first. The host announces a vocabulary word and the first student in the row must provide the definition. If the student is unsure of the definition, he or she may use a “lifeline” to ask another group member for assistance, but only once per game. If the student gets the definition correct, he or she remains standing; if incorrect, the student takes a seat and the next word goes to the opposing team. The team with the last student standing wins.

Concentration

 

Divide your students into groups of four and tell students to select two students whose printed Vocabulary Study Cards look very different from each other, so they can be easily separated. Have one of these students lay out the cards vocabulary word side up and the other student lay out the cards definition side up. Students choose cards to pair the vocabulary word with its definition. If a student selects a correct match, that student chooses again; if not, the next student selects, etc. The winner has the most matches.

Baseball

 

The teacher needs to assign each vocabulary word according to difficulty, from easy to hard, as a single, double, triple, or home run. Hint: Have many more singles cards than the others. Divide your students into two teams and establish four bases. When in the field, students sit in seats; when “up,” the students stand in line waiting their turn to bat. Teacher selects a single, double, triple, or home run card. Then, the teacher announces the vocabulary word and the batter must give the definition within five seconds or the batter is out. Mix it up by giving definitions and having students come up with the matching vocabulary words. Three outs per each team per inning. Select a student to serve as scorekeeper, and have that student keep the team scores on the board.

Individual Review Games

 

Knock-Out

 

Have all students stand and quiz each student with a vocabulary word or definition. If the student gets it right within five seconds, the student remains standing; if not, the student sits. Last one standing wins the game.

Vocabulary Puzzles

Pass out light color construction paper, rulers, and scissors to each student. Tell your students that they will use their Vocabulary Study Cards to make a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces matching words with their definitions. Depending upon the shape of the jigsaw puzzle piece, that piece may have multiple words and/or definitions.

Directions

1. Draw jigsaw puzzle lines on one side of light color construction paper so that you can fit the word parts and their definitions. Avoid small puzzle pieces.

2. Print the word part in dark pen or pencil at the edge of one puzzle piece and its matching definition at the edge of another puzzle piece that touches it, just like the model shows. Finish labeling the puzzle.

3. Cut out the puzzle pieces and place the word parts and their matching definitions face down on your desk. Put together the puzzle.

4. Label other  word parts and their definitions on the blank side of the puzzle. You now have created two separate Vocabulary Puzzles.

5. Have students place their puzzles in zip-lock baggies to store. The baggies can be hole-punched to place in three-ring binders.

To Play

 

Have students race along with the clock to set their own world puzzle completion records. Students can also exchange puzzles and race each other.

For affixes/roots worksheets, spelling-vocabulary games, vocabulary lists, vocabulary flashcards, spelling rules with memorable raps and songs on CD, spelling tests, syllable practice, and more to differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction, please check out Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary at www.penningtonpublishing.com. 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.

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

Vocabulary Word Part Games

Memorizing vocabulary word parts are essential to academic vocabulary acquisition. However, memorization can present a problem for many students. Spending class time practicing vocabulary memorization may seem, on the surface, a waste of valuable time. After all, doesn’t memorization all come down to study and practice? True, but  most of us were not born already  knowing how to study and practice. In fact, many students have never learned how to study effectively, and many do not have home environments that are conducive to sufficient practice.

Good teachers know that we have to teach both content and process. The goal may be to get students to learn their vocabulary word parts (the content), but teaching a variety of study techniques to learn those word parts helps students learn valuable critical thinking skills (the process). As a bonus, taking the time to model practice routines in the classroom will help instill habits that will carry over to homework.

Students are more likely to use study and practice procedures that are “game-like” and less boring than simple rote memorization. Here are some fun and effective vocabulary word part review games. Also, check out Vocabulary Review Games for more.

Word Part Brainstorming

After introducing the week’s word parts and their definitions, ask students to brainstorm words that they already know that use each of the word parts. Give students two minutes to quick-write all of these words that use the selected prefix, root, or suffix. Then, ask students to share their words in class discussion. On the board or overhead projector, write down student examples that clearly use the definition that you have provided. Require students to write down each word that you have written in a vocabulary journal. Award points for all student contributions.

Inventive Vocabulary Writing

After introducing the week’s word parts and their definitions, ask students to invent words that use each word part in a sentence that uses context clues to show the meaning of each nonsense word. Encourage students to use “real” word parts to combine with each targeted word part to form multi-syllabic words. Award extra points for words used from prior week’s words.

For variety, require students to write in different genre. Examples: brief narratives, classified ads, game directions, how-to paragraphs, dialogs, journals, advice columns.

Put-Togethers

This game can be played once the teacher has introduced a sufficient number of word parts and the students have created Vocabulary Study Cards. Students spread out their cards into prefix, root, and suffix groups. The object of the game is to put together these word parts into real words within a given time period. Students can use connecting vowels. Students are awarded points as follows:

1 point for each prefix—root combination

1 point for each root—suffix combination

2 points for a prefix—root combination that no one else in the group has

2 points for a root—suffix combination that no one else in the group has

3 points for each prefix—root—suffix combination

5 points for a prefix—root—suffix combination that no one else has.

Word Part Monsters

This three-day activity works well before Halloween or Open House to get student art work up on the board—oh, and it also is a fun word part review activity. Tell your students that they will create their own Word Part Monsters from their Vocabulary Study Cards. Make a transparency copy of the following directions and models.

Directions

Day 1

1. Quick draw, in pencil, two rough-draft monsters, using at least three prefixes, roots, or suffixes from your Vocabulary Study Cards.

2. Write the name of your monsters, using the word parts, at the bottom of each drawing. Feel free to use connecting vowels to tie together the word parts.

Day 2

3. Choose one of your quick-draw monsters and neatly draw and color it on construction paper.

4. Write the monsters’ name on the back, using the word parts. Turn in your monster to the teacher. Don’t turn into a monster for your teacher.

Day 3

5. The teacher has numbered all of the monsters and posted them around the room. Number a sheet of binder paper and write down all of the monster’s names next to the correct number.

Option A (challenging)—Choose from the monster names that the teacher has written on the board.

Option B (very challenging)— Choose from the monster names that the teacher has written on the board and use the definitions to write a sentence, describing what the monster is like.

Option C (very, very challenging)—The teacher does not write down the monster names on the board. You have to figure them out based upon the drawings alone.

6. The winner(s) are the students who identify the most monsters correctly.

For Greek and Latin affixes/roots worksheets, spelling-vocabulary games, vocabulary lists, vocabulary flashcards, spelling rules with memorable raps and songs on CD, spelling tests, syllable practice, and more to differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction, please check out Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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

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.

Reading, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , ,

Essential Study Skills

From a child’s point of view, there are advantages and disadvantages to having a teacher as a parent. The time off over holidays and summer vacations certainly provides plenty of options for family activities. However, that additional time at home also means plenty of opportunities for learning and character development.

In our household, Dad was the teacher, and he had three sons. So this meant plenty of sports and outdoor adventures. This also meant that we were given 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 we chose the option that Dad affectionately labeled as Essential Study Skills.

Despite our relief at finally graduating from Essential Study Skills once we got summer jobs or took community college classes during our high school years, we have to admit that we learned quite a few useful skills each summer. The study skills were especially helpful, and to this day, we don’t understand why these skills are not taught and re-taught to mastery during the regular school year by “regular” teachers.

Maybe these study skills are not introduced because teachers assume that most are simply common sense and do not require  instruction. Or, maybe each teacher thinks that “some other teacher” should or has already taught them. From our personal experiences, study skills need to be taught, not just caught.

In 90 minutes a day, you can cover the study skills lessons designed to teach your child everything that his or her regular teachers “did not have the time” to teach during the school year. Here’s how to develop your own 90 minutes of Essential Study Skills.

-Find out what your child’s relative weaknesses are by giving a brief diagnostic test: Pennington Publishing offers free diagnostic tests in phonics, spelling, grammar, and mechanics, just to name a few. Design short lessons to address those weaknesses.

-Have your child read for 30 minutes a day in a book at his or her challenge level. Not sure how to help your child pick a book that will best develop the vocabulary and comprehension skills that your child needs to achieve optimal growth? Check out these helpful articles: How We Learn Vocabulary from Reading Part II and Interactive Reading: Making a Movie in Your Head.

-Have your child study Greek and Latin vocabulary flashcards. Which word parts should they memorize? Check out this article with the most common prefixes, roots, and suffixes titled How We Learn Vocabulary from Word Parts Part IV.

-Have your child develop his or her writing style and build writing fluency by spending 30 minutes a day writing journals, thank-you notes, blogs, emails, stories, or essays, while using the techniques taught in this article: How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of Essential Study Skills. He is also 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. Get 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. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages

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Daily School and Work Review

Review Daily Class Work and Workplace Tasks

Every day after school or work, complete a ten-minute review of any notes, worksheets, reports, memos,and assignments that you worked on in that day. This review interrupts the “forgetting cycle” and will help you prepare in advance for tests, meetings, or discussion.

Memory research tells us that people remember up to 70% of new information if that information is practiced and placed into the long-term memory within the first 24 hours after first learning that information. The level of retention drops to only 10% after one week. So, build in to your daily routine a review time soon after school or at the end of work every day. A little bit of review, rehersal, and study with a Daily Review will actually save you time studying or preparing for the night before the test or business presentation.

Review Daily Class Work and Workplace Tasks

Purchase a spiral-bound notebook for each of your school or work subjects or classes. Label each notebook, according to the subject. Write the date of your Daily Review at the top of page and list the key areas of focus for that subject or class on that day. Write possible test questions, discussion points, questions for further research,  and memory tricks to remember key ideas and details for the most important content learned that day on small sticky notes and arrange them on the Daily Review page. A few nights before an upcoming test or business meeting, you can transfer the sticky notes to a study sheet and use them to create a practice test or presentation. Also, don’t forget sticky notes that you used to take marginal annotations on worksheets, articles, and from your textbook, articles, memos, or reports.

A Few Tips for Writing Memorable Sticky Notes

1. People remember information best when that information is organized in a structured manner.

Tip: Organize your sticky notes into distinctly memorable patterns. Try general to specific, alphabetical, and chronological patterns. Color code categories with different color stickies. For example, if you are studying the explorers you could use blue for people, yellow for their countries, green for their areas of exploration, and pink for their accomplishments.

2.  People remember information that is connected to visual imagery.

Tip: Draw out quick graphic or picture representations of key ideas on your stickies.

3. People remember events and information that are made exciting, interesting, or even embarrassing.

Tip: Personalize what you are trying to remember to keep things more memorable on your stickies. Relate the information that you want to remember to events and people in your own life.

To increase writing, reading, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary skills, check out the resources at Pennington Publishing .

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Interactive Reading-Making a Movie in Your Head

Everyone knows that effective communication between two friends or family members is a two-way, active process. One-sided communication does not help people understand each other. People best understand one another when they pay attention to each other, see things from the other person’s point of view, and ask questions when they don’t understand each other.

Reading is different form of communication, but the process should be the same. Reading really is about communication between the reader and the author. Now, it’s true that the author is not speaking directly to the reader; however, we read best when we pretend that this is so. Reading specialists estimate that reading comprehension is a 50-50 interaction. In other words, about half of our understanding of the text is what the reader puts into the reading.

So, how can you learn to read interactively to improve your reading comprehension? The way we watch movies can provide some helpful techniques. Most people will say that they understand movies better than they understand books. Why is this so?

First of all, the light of the movie or television screen and the sound draws your complete attention and focus. Distractions are limited, so you concentrate well.

Secondly, you actually do a lot more than “watch” a movie in the movie theater or at home. It is true that movies are a visual experience, but they are also a listening experience. The audio system and quality of the movie soundtrack make a huge difference in how well you understand a movie. Anyone who has seen a foreign movie with subtitles will admit that it is harder to understand the movie without sound. Movies are multi-sensory.

Thirdly, you involve yourself in the movie that you watch. Everyone imagines themselves shooting up the bad guys, looking into the eyes of the beautiful actress or handsome actor, or running away from the evil alien-monster-robot. You may even “talk” to the characters during crucial scenes, such as “I know what’s behind that door. Don’t open it!” You predict what will happen and probably even compare the plot to other movies of that genre as you watch. You act as a movie critic as well, thinking of how boring or exciting a scene may be.

So, let’s apply what you do as a movie watcher to what you should do as an interactive reader.

First of all, limit any distractions to improve reading concentration. In the classroom, it may be asking the teacher to move your seat away from a friend who talks too much. At home, it may be reading away from the distractions of the television, phone, music, or bothersome little brother.

Secondly, apply all of your senses to the reading. Listen to what the author is saying to you, try to feel what the characters feel, see the changing settings how the author describes them.

Thirdly, involve yourself in the reading by “talking to the text.” This internal dialog improves concentration and helps you better interact with the author. Summarize, compare, re-read, interpret, and predict frequently as you read. Make your reading a two-way active process, not a one-way passive activity.

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. Get 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. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages

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How to Get Rid of Bad Reading Habits

Many people do not read well because of poor silent reading habits. Correcting these poor reading practices and replacing them with good reading practices will improve reading comprehension. You can become a better reader by practicing these tips.

1. Improve your reading posture. Reading difficult text is not a relaxed activity. Your body position has much to do with how well you understand the text. Reading in bed is wonderful for putting you to sleep, but not for studying. Instead, sit up straight in a straight-backed chair at a desk or table with good lighting and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place two hands on the reading. Keep the distance from eyes to book about the same distance as that of your forearm. Don’t angle the book too much so that you can keep your head straight. Not perfectly comfortable? Good! Reading is not supposed to be relaxing; it is supposed to be stimulating.

2. Adjust your reading attitude. Reading may not be your favorite mental activity, but it is a crucially important study skill. As a child, you learned to read. Now, you read to learn. Good readers learn more in school and succeed to a greater degree in the workplace. Be realistic and honest with yourself. Are you reading just to tell yourself or others that you did so? Are you reading for in-depth understanding?

3. Establish a purpose for your reading and adjust your level of comprehension. Not everything should be read for the same reading purpose. Reading an article about a favorite movie star does not require the level of comprehension that reading a computer manual does.

4. Improve your concentration. First of all, turn off the iPod®, put away your phone, get away from the television and computer, and find a quiet room. Anything competing with full concentration reduces reading speed and reading comprehension. Good reading can not include multi-tasking. Stop taking mental vacations during your reading. For example, never allow yourself a pause at the end of a page or chapter-read on! Minimize daydreaming by forcing yourself to make personal connections with what is going on in the reading. Prompt yourself to quickly return to the text when your mind first begins wandering.

5. Improve your reading attention span. Begin with short, uninterrupted reading sessions with 100% concentration and gradually increase the length of your sessions until you can read for, say 30 minutes. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your reading attention span will take time to improve. Take a short, pre-planned break away from your reading area after a reading session. Don’t read something else during your break.

6. When reading silently, don’t pronounce the words in your head and don’t move your lips while reading. These are called sub-vocalizations and they interfere with your understanding of the text. Focus on what the author is trying to say. After all, the purpose of reading is not to say the words; the purpose of reading is to understand the meaning of the text.

For a comprehensive reading curriculum, with multiple choice reading assessments 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, check out Teaching Reading Strategies.

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The Sweet Sixteen Strategies for SAT® Success

These sixteen general strategies will make a significant difference on both the SAT® and ACT® test. Practice these on school tests and with SAT® and ACT® practice questions to score more points on the exams.

1. Be familiar with directions for each type of SAT® and ACT® question. Don’t waste precious time reading the directions.

2. Don’t waste too much time on any one test problem. The test problems are all roughly worth the same amount of points. Calculate how much time you will have at the beginning of each section of test problems. Then write down the projected ending time in the test margins. Use a digital watch to gauge your testing pace.

3. Don’t rush through the test problems. These reading sections are not light reading. Be careful not to read into the test problem more than what is really there. Accuracy is more important than speed.

4. Read each question stem (not the answer choices) twice before looking at the answers. It is easy to miss a key word if you only read the test problem stem only once.

5. Read all answer choices before selecting one. The first answer may look right, but another may be better. The questions can be intentionally very tricky in this regard.

6. Review only those answers of which you were unsure when first working through the questions. Don’t change already marked answers. More often than not, your first selection was best.

7. Look for the wrong answers first, not the right one. Use the process of elimination. It is easier to make a decision among fewer choices than many. Your guessing odds are substantially bettered with each wrong answer eliminated. Cross out all eliminated answers as you go.

8. Make sure to guess. Even if you have no idea how to answer a test problem, and even though you are penalized a slight amount (one-fourth-point deduction for a five-choice question and one-third point deduction for a four-choice question), it is best to not leave the answer blank. Of course, don’t guess on math grid-in questions.

9. Remember that each group of test problems generally begins with the easiest and ends with the most difficult. Be careful… the easiest may take more time than the harder ones, especially in the math sections. Since each test problem is worth the same amount of points, it makes sense to invest your time and effort on the questions that will be both easier and quicker to answer.

10. The test is designed so that most everyone gets THE EASY THIRD, some get THE MEDIUM THIRD, and few get THE HARD THIRD questions correct. Take advantage of this design with strategic guessing. If you must guess, select a simple answer for THE EASY THIRD and a difficult answer for THE HARD THIRD. The wrong answer choices are more obvious and less tricky with THE EASY THIRD and less obvious and trickier with THE HARD THIRD.

11. If the answer choice looks too good to be true, it just may be. Watch out for the tricks of the SAT, especially in THE MEDIUM THIRD and THE HARD THIRD sections.

12. Write in your test booklet. Write your answer choices next to the test problem numbers. Cross out eliminated answer choices and circle the numbers of the test problems that you want to review before answering. Circle important words in the reading and writing sections. In the math sections, make drawings to help you figure out word problems. Add information to graphs, drawings, and diagrams as you figure.

13. In the reading and writing test problems, match negative to negative or positive to positive regarding tone or vocabulary.

14. Transfer all of your answers when finished with each test sub-section. In other words, don’t go back and forth from the test booklet to the answer sheet, marking one at a time. This strategy will save you time and help you avoid mis-marking answer choices.

15. Absolute words, such as always or never, are usually part of incorrect answer choices. Exception words, such as frequently or mostly, are usually part of correct answer choices.

16. Think positively, stay focused on the test problem at hand, avoid distractions, and keep things in perspective. Remember that you can take the exams again.

For other practical teaching strategies to differentiate instruction, check out Mark’s books and free teaching resources, including Greek and Latin flashcards at penningtonpublishing.com.

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Five Tips To Increase Silent Reading Speed and Improve Reading Comprehension

Many people do not read well because of poor silent reading habits. Correcting these poor reading practices and replacing them with good reading practices will improve both reading speed and reading comprehension. You can become a better reader by practicing these tips.

1. Improve your reading posture and adjust your attitude. Reading is not a passive activity. Your body position has much to do with your level of engagement with the text. Reading in bed is wonderful for putting you to sleep, but the prone position is not conducive to engaging your mind with a textbook or article. Sit up straight in a straight-backed chair at a desk or table with good lighting and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place two hands on the reading. Not perfectly comfortable? Good! Reading is not supposed to be relaxing; it is supposed to be stimulating. Establish a purpose for your reading, and be realistic and honest with yourself. Not everything should be read with the same reading mindset. Are you reading the article just to tell yourself or others that you did so? Are you reading it to pass a test, to be able to talk at a surface level about the subject, or for in-depth understanding?

2. Improve your concentration. First of all, turn of the iPod® and find a quiet room. Anything competing with full concentration reduces reading speed and reading comprehension. Consciously divest yourself from the thousand other things that you need to or would rather be doing. Good reading does not involve multi-tasking. Stop taking mental vacations during your reading. For example, never allow yourself a pause at the end of a page or chapter—read on! Minimize daydreaming by keeping personal connections to the text centered on the content. Cue yourself you quickly return to the text when your mind first begins wandering. Begin with short, uninterrupted reading sessions with 100% concentration and gradually increase the length of your sessions until you can read for, say 30 minutes. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your reading attention span will take time to improve. Take a short, pre-planned break away from your reading area after a reading session. Don’t read something else during your break.

3. Improve your reading rhythm. The reading pace should be hurried, but consistent. This does not preclude the need to vary your reading speed, according to the demands of the text, or the need to re-read certain sections. But, do not read in a herky-jerky fashion. Use your dominant hand to pace your reading. Keep three fingers together and pace your reading underneath each line. Move your hand at a consistent, but hurried rate. Intentionally, but only briefly, slow down when reading comprehension decreases. Using the hand prevents re-reading or skipping lines and also improves comprehension. Shortening the stroke of the hand across the page, after practice, will also help expand peripheral vision and improve eye movement.

4. Improve your eye movement. Reading research tells us that good readers have fewer eye fixations per line. When the eyes move from fixation to fixation, there is little reading comprehension. So, focus on the center of the page and use your peripheral vision to view words to the left and right when you are reading columnar text, such as newspapers, articles, etc. Focus one-third of the way into the text line, then two-thirds of the way, for book text. Again, you may need to work up to these guidelines by adding on an additional fixation point, until you can read comfortably.

5. Improve your interactivity. Good silent reading comprehension is always a two-way conversation between author and reader. The text was written by a person—so personalize your reading by treating the reading as a dialogue. This mental conversation improves concentration and comprehension. Prompt yourself to converse by challenging the author with How? and Why? questions. Ask What Do You Mean? Make predictions as to where the plot (if narrative), or argument (if persuasive), or sequence (if expository) will lead. Make connections to other parts of the text or outside of the text.

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. Get multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages

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How to Increase Reading Comprehension Using the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

Readers fail to understand text because they lack cueing strategies to prompt effective interaction with what the text says. Reading research is clear that readers who internally monitor their own reading with self-questioning strategies understand and retain textual information far better than readers who simply passively read text. These cueing strategies to increase reading comprehension are more efficiently “taught,” rather than just “caught.”

The five SCRIP reading comprehension strategies teach readers how to independently interact with and understand both narrative and expository text to improve reading comprehension. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Here are the SCRIPBookmarks for you to download.

Take the time to explicitly teach and model the five strategies. Emphasize one strategy at a time on a given text. Use both narrative and expository texts to demonstrate how the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies can be applied to any reading. Have students practice verbalizing and writing down the SCRIP strategy responses. Post a SCRIP chart or make SCRIP bookmarks for student reference.

Summarize means to put together the main ideas and important details of a reading into a short-version of what the author has said. A summary can be of an entire reading, but it is more useful to summarize more than once at key transition points in the author’s train of thought. It frequently requires the reader to skim that part of the reading once more.

Connect means to notice the relationship between one part of the text with another part of the text. The parts may compare (be similar) or contrast (be different). The parts may be a sequence (an order) of events or ideas. The parts may respond to other parts of the text, such as to provide reasons for or effects of what came before in the reading. Next, Connect also means to examine the relationship between one part of the text with something outside of the text. It could be something from another book, movie, television show, or historical event. Finally, Connect also means to see the relationship between one part of the text with your own personal experience. You may have had a similar experience in your own life to that described in the text.

Re-think means to re-read the text when you are confused or have lost the author’s train of thought. Reviewing what has just been read will improve understanding. You may even understand what the author has said in a different way than how you understood that section the first time reading it.

Interpret means to focus on what the author means. Authors may directly say what they mean right in the lines of the text. They also may suggest what they mean with hints to allow readers to draw their own conclusions. These hints can be found in the tone (feeling/attitude) of the writing, the word choice, or in other parts of the writing that may be more directly stated.

Predict means to make an educated guess about what will happen or be said next in the text. A good prediction uses the clues presented in the reading to make a logical guess that makes sense. Good readers check their predictions with what actually happens or is said next.

Using the SCRIP reading comprehension strategies will make a difference in the reading abilities of 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 through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. Get multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages

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How to Read Textbooks with PQ RAR

Many of us remember the old stand-by: the SQ3R reading-study method. Designed to improve reading comprehension of textbooks, the SQ3R method did help the reader to read expository text differently than narrative text. However, this method sorely needs an update to connect with recent reading research regarding what techniques best improve comprehension and retention of expository-based textbooks.

Try the PQ RAR reading-study method as you read or teach your next textbook chapter.

P-First of all, preview the reading selection. Try to limit the reading selection to a manageable size. Overly long chapters, say over six pages for elementary students, eight for middle school students, twelve for high school students, and sixteen for college students should be “chunked” into manageable reading sections.

1. Preview the first and last paragraphs of the chapter and the chapter review, if one is provided.

2. Preview all subtitles and any book study helps at the beginning of the chapter.

3. Preview all graphics such as photographs, charts, maps, etc. and their captions.

Q-Secondly, make use of text-based questions to read textbooks effectively.  Good questions produce good answers and significantly increase expository comprehension. Determining questions before reading provides a purpose for reading, that is-to find the answers as you read.

1. Develop questions from the subtitles and write these down on binder paper or on your computer, skipping lines between each question. Try “What,” “How,” and “Why” question-starters. Avoid the “Who” and “When” questions, as these tend to focus attention on the minor details of expository text.

2. Write down any chapter review questions not covered by your subtitle questions, skipping lines between each question.

R-Read the chapter and “talk to the text” by taking notes in the textbook margins. Use yellow stickies and paste them in the textbook margins, if you can’t write in the textbook. Write down comments, questions, predictions, and connections to other parts of the reading and your own life experiences. List examples, key details, and important terms with their definitions. Internal monitoring of the author’s train of thought and the connection to your own knowledge and experience increases comprehension as you read textbooks.

A-Answer both the subtitle questions and the book questions as you read. Write down your answers underneath your questions. Don’t be concerned if the textbook did not answer some of your reader-generated questions.

R-Review the questions and answers within the next 24 hours to minimize the effects of the “forgetting cycle.” Generate possible test questions and develop memory tricks for key concepts and details.

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. Get multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages

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How to Skim for Main Ideas

Skimming is a speed reading strategy used as either a pre-reading technique to familiarize yourself with expository reading text before you read in depth or as an end in itself to quickly comprehend the essentials of a reading passage.

As a pre-reading technique, skimming helps to connect the text with any prior knowledge of the reader. Skimming also helps the reader to access the story schema so as to provide a referential context for the reading. In other words, skimming helps the reader to learn in advance what the gist of the reading passage is, while reminding the reader of any background information and knowledge of how the writing is organized that will assist the reader in understanding the text. Used as a pre-reading technique, skimming helps prepare the reader for scanning (reading at 50% comprehension) or further in-depth reading.

As an end in itself, skimming is a very practical and useful skill. As a speed reading technique, it saves time and allows the reader to get the flavor of a reading passage without all of the details. Skimming also permits broader reading, if time is a factor. For example, a reader can certainly skim many articles in the daily newspaper in the time that it might take to fully read a few. Many books can be skimmed for enjoyment or information now and then read later at a more leisurely rate.

To skim, readers should first search for the expository text clues and signposts for key ideas of the reading passage. Textbooks usually provide important study helps that can build comprehension. The unit and chapter titles give information as to the overall focus of the reading passage. Many times, key chapter ideas are listed in bulleted form or as key questions. In social studies texts, timelines are often helpful.

Next, read the first paragraph of the text. The first paragraph  frequently provide an introduction of the chapter main ideas.

Then, read the subtitles and bold print of key terms throughout the reading selection. These act as newspaper headlines to tell the “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” and “Why” of the reading. Graphics, such as pictures, photographs, charts and drawings are particularly important to examine. Indeed, “a picture can be worth a thousand words.”

Finally, read the concluding paragraph(s) or summary. This paragraph(s) will emphasize the key concepts.

Use these expository text clues or signposts for effective skimming. This speed reading technique is well worth practicing to perfection.

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. Get multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages

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How to Scan for Main Ideas

Scanning is an important speed reading technique that all good readers should have in their reading repertoire and works with all modes of writing. Scanning is used to locate specific information for a clearly defined purpose. For example, if a reader needs to know the performance of a particular baseball player in the World Series, it is not necessary to read an entire book on that World Series to find out everything that the one player did in that series. The reader could simply look for the player’s name and read the surrounding sentences or paragraphs that pertain to that player.

Although this sounds like “common sense,” it is actually a learned reading skill. Effective teaching can significantly improve scanning accuracy. Print awareness, knowledge of expository structure, and directed eye movement are the keys to this instruction.

First, readers need to select the key word(s) and possible synonyms to search before they begin to scan. Next, readers must carefully examine what these search items look like. Are they long or short words? Is there a capital? Are there quotation marks or hyphens? Are there noticeable prefixes or suffixes? Readers should then impress the key word(s) into their memories by tracing the letters with their fingers or writing them down. After this, readers should close their eyes and visualize the word(s).

Second, readers should examine the mode of writing and adjust their key word(s) search according to the particular organization of that writing mode. Is it narrative? If so, the organization of the reading passage will normally be chronological and will follow story schema. Chapter titles can also be useful. Is it expository? If so, the organization of the reading passage might be by concept, comparison, cause-effect, or order of importance. The graphics of the text such as subtitles, charts and pictures can narrow the search. Book study helps, including the index, study questions, and the summary, can help pinpoint where information is developed.

Third, readers should run their index finger down the center of each page, using their peripheral vision to search for key word(s) on the left and right sides of each page. How comprehensive the search must be will determine how fast the finger moves. Readers should read the sentence in which the key word(s) appears.

The quality and effectiveness of scanning can be improved with the appropriate use of this speed reading strategy and a good amount of practice. Combined with skimming, scanning can reduce a heavy reading load and still help the reader achieve about 50% reading comprehension.

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. Get multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages

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How to Take Notes

Taking effective notes can certainly improve comprehension of the information presented in class or found in textbooks. Note-taking can also help organize for test study. However, many students have never learned how to take notes effectively. Indeed, many teachers seem to think that note-taking is a skill learned only by osmosis, and not by direct instruction. A few effective note-taking strategies will help remedy this misconception and enable teachers to teach how to take notes to their students.

Notes are summaries of the main ideas and key details that the teacher wants you to understand and remember. Effective note-taking organizes these summaries so that they can easily be reviewed and practiced. Here are a few key ingredients to effective note-taking:

1. Listen to or read the complete thought. Don’t write something down until you understand it.

2. Learn the signals that your teacher and textbook use to stress main ideas and key details. Some of these signals may be the following:

  • repeating key points
  • raising the voice to emphasize key points
  • spelling key terms
  • speaking slowly
  • writing key points down
  • using phrases such as “key to” “most importantly” “main idea” “in conclusion”
  • using transition words such as “first” “next” “finally”

3. Don’t write down everything that the teacher or textbook says. Be selective. If you already know it, don’t write it down.

4. Use your own “shorthand” symbols and abbreviations. Think text messaging!

5. Ask questions about main ideas and key details that you don’t understand.

6. Use a note-taking organizational pattern that fits with the information being presented. A one-size-fits-all note-taking format is not the best approach. Use different formats for different organizational patterns and purposes.

Note-taking Formats

All note-taking formats order information summaries into main ideas, major details, and support details. Each format has advantages and disadvantages depending upon its application and organizational pattern. It is important to know how to use all three of the formats and when each is appropriate. The three most common note-taking formats include formal outline, webbing, and Cornell notes.

Formal Outline notes use Roman numerals for main ideas, capital letters for major details, Arabic numerals (1,2,3) for minor details, and even lower case letters for examples. This style of note-taking is well-organized for test study and works well with linear organizational patterns such as chronological, cause-effect, and reasons-for presentations. This style does not fit spatial organizational patterns such as comparison-contrast, relational hierarchies, or recursive (cyclical) patterns.

Webbing is a note-taking style that uses labeled geometric shapes to show relationships between main ideas, major details, and minor details. Usually, the main idea begins the webbing process as a geometric shape in the middle of the notepaper and webs off into different directions for different ideas. Different ideas in outlying webs can be connected to other webs to show relationships. This style of note-taking is not conducive to study because it is messy. However, it does show spatial relationships such as comparison-contrast, relational hierarchies, or recursive (cyclical) patterns that the Formal Outline method can not. Webbing is a wonderful form of brainstorming for essays and narratives.

Cornell Notes is a linear note-taking style that avoids some of the hierarchical organization of the Formal Outline method. It does not use the symbols, but relies on categorization to organize main ideas and supporting details. The notepaper is divided into two columns. The left side serves to list main ideas or ask questions. The right side provides the support details or answers to the questions posed. At the bottom of the notepaper is a horizontal row reserved for personal comments, questions, and analysis.

For more practical teaching strategy tips and free teaching resources, please visit penningtonpublishing.com

Find other reading strategies, including fluency assessments and multi-level  fluency passages on seven CDs with corresponding comprehension worksheets, as well as complete diagnostic reading assessments on two CDs, blending and syllabication activities,  phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,  390 flashcards, posters, games, and more to differentiate reading instruction in Teaching Reading Strategies. Also, check out the expository writing lessons and worksheets in Teaching Essay Strategies.

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Characteristics of Pre-Teen Learners

Pre-teen learners are qualitatively different than younger learners. Teachers and parents can significantly enhance the learning of students this age by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of pre-teen learners. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize the learning advantages and address the learning challenges of pre-teen learners can make all the difference in their success.

Pre-Teen Cognitive Development

By ages 9, 10, and 11, most students are able to analytically process information and think for themselves. Piaget classified students of these ages as being in the “concrete operational stage.” Thinking in concrete terms, these students have difficulty with abstract concepts. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Willing to try new things
  2. Curious and willing to explore new ideas
  3. Want immediate gratification
  4. Desire recognition and praise for achievement
  5. Like hands-on learn-by-doing activities
  6. Perform well with many brief learning experiences
  7. Have quickly changing interests

Pre-Teen Social Development

At these ages, most students are rapidly developing a social awareness and are exploring how they fit into relationships. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Prefer interacting with members of own sex
  2. Feel comfortable in a structured learning environment
  3. Seek role models in older children or in media idols
  4. Demand a system of fairness in the home, in games, and in the classroom
  5. Want to be liked by friends
  6. Desire increasing independence–but want and need adult help

Pre-Teen Instructional Strategies

Although less concerned than older students about the labeling that takes place, when a pre-teen is identified as a remedial reader, the teacher still needs to be mindful of student self-perceptions and those of their peers. A few talking points to address with these young learners may prove helpful:

  • “All students need help in some areas.”
  • “Some students are good at ___________, while others are good at ___________.”
  • “This class is not for dumb kids; it’s for kids who just missed out on some reading skills.”
  • “You aren’t in this class forever. As soon as you master your missing skills, you are out.”
  • “You will learn in this class. I promise.”

Find comprehensive remedial reading resources appropriate for pre-teen learners, fluency assessments and multi-level expository fluency passages on eight CDs, as well as many other reading assessments on two CDs, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, 390 flashcards, posters, games, and more to differentiate reading instruction in the comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies.

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Characteristics of Middle School Learners

Middle school learners are qualitatively different than younger learners. Teachers and parents can significantly enhance the learning of students this age by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of middle school learners. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize the learning advantages and address the learning challenges of middle school learners can make all the difference in their success.

Middle School Cognitive Development

By ages 12, 13, and 14, most students have begun developing the ability to understand symbolic ideas and abstract concepts. According to Piaget’s classifications, students will range in development from the concrete operational stage of development to the ability to the formal operational stage. In fact, studies show that brain growth slows down during these years, so cognitive skills of learners may expand at a slower rate; however, refinement of these skills can certainly be reinforced. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Curious and willing to learn things they consider useful  
  2. Enjoy solving “real-life” problems
  3. Focused on themselves and how they are perceived by their peers
  4. Resists adult authority and asserts independence
  5. Beginning to think critically

Middle School Social Development

Most middle schoolers experience conflicting values due to their changing roles within their family structure and the increasing influence of peers. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics: 

  1. Need to feel part of a peer group, consisting of boys and girls, and are influenced by peer pressure and conformity to their group
  2. Prefer active over passive learning activities that involve working with their peers 
  3. Need frequent physical activity and movement 
  4. Need adult support, guidance, and calm direction 

Middle School Instructional Strategies

Middle school students are very concerned about the labeling that takes place, when one is identified as a remedial reader. Labels and stereotypes are both externally imposed (by other students and, sometimes their parents) and internally imposed (by the students themselves). Lack of reading ability causes more self-defeating damage to students’ self-esteem as students grow older and the academic gap between themselves and good readers widens. Middle school teachers need to be extremely mindful of student self-perceptions and those of their peers. A few talking points to address with middle schoolers may prove helpful:

  • “All students need help in some areas.”
  • “This class is not for dumb students; it’s for students who just missed out on some reading skills.”
  • “Unfortunately, some of your past reading instruction was poor; it’s not your fault that you have some skills to work on.” a.k.a. “blame someone else”
  • “You will learn in this class. If you come to class willing to try everyday, you will significantly improve your reading, I promise.”
  • “You will be able to chart your own progress and see what you are learning in this class.”
  • “You aren’t in this class forever. As soon as you master your missing skills, you are out.”

Find comprehensive remedial reading resources appropriate for middle school learners, fluency assessments and multi-level expository fluency passages on eight CDs, as well as many other reading assessments on two CDs, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, 390 flashcards, posters, games, and more to differentiate reading instruction in the comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies.

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