In the “Language Overview” of the Common Core State Standards Appendix A, the authors explain how the Language Standards are woven into the Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language Strands. “The Standards take a hybrid approach to matters of conventions, knowledge or language, and vocabulary” (28).
The authors share examples of how the Language Strand Standards are incorporated into the other instructional strands and stress the importance of direct instruction within all of the communicative contexts: “The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, knowledge of language, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts” (28).
This approach to grammar, usage, and mechanics instructions draws from the research of a variety of disciplines and authors (39, 40) including Dr. Mina Shaughnessy, such as in Shaughnessy, M. P. (1979). Errors and expectations: A guide for the teacher of basic writing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
How to Teach the Common Core Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Standards (L.1, 2)
The instructional resources of Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) reflect this hybrid instructional approach. Content and skills are introduced, practiced, applied, and assessed for mastery within the reading, writing, speaking, and listening contexts.
For example, each Language Conventions lesson requires students to listen to the scripted review and lesson context. Students read the lesson, take notes, and annotate the lesson text in their student workbooks. Next, students complete the practice section and the teacher leads a brief discussion about “what is right” and “what is wrong” according to the lesson content or skill. Then, students complete a sentence diagram and read a mentor text based upon the lesson. The teacher and students discuss the mentor text and students write a response to the author’s statement, applying the lesson content or skill. Lastly, the teacher dictates two sentences and students apply the mechanics and grammar/usage lessons to write the sentences correctly. The teacher reviews the sentence dictations and students self-correct and self-edit. Teachers use direct instruction to teach the grammar, usage, and mechanics Standards reading, writing, speaking, and listening‒exactly as prescribed by the Common Core authors.
In the “Development of Grammatical Knowledge” section of Appendix A, the authors explain that “The Standards account for the recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge in two ways. First, the Standards return to certain important language topics in higher grades at greater levels of sophistication” (28).
Teaching the Language Strand includes an extensive instructional scope and sequence which revisits and builds upon K‒3 grammar, usage, and mechanics content and skills with increasingly greater levels of sophistication throughout grades 4‒8. For example, let’s take a look at this instructional progression with verb tenses.
*In grade 4 students review the basic past, present, and future verb tenses in Language Conventions Lessons 29‒31 and are introduced to the progressive tenses in Lessons 39‒41.
*In grade 5 students review past, present, future, and progressive verb tenses and are introduced to verb tense and time, sequence, state of being, condition, shifts in verb tense, and perfect verb tenses in Lessons 31‒35 and 44‒46.
*In grade 6 students review all aforementioned verb tenses and are introduced to these non-standard English verb tense usages: continuous forms, was and were-leveling, misuse of third person subject-verb agreements, deletions, substitutions, additions, and the misuse of the past participle and past progressive in Lessons 48‒56.
*In grade 7 students review all verb tense usages including those in non-standard English. Students learn more sophisticated usages of verb tenses within phrases and clauses and advanced rules of noun‒verb and pronoun‒verb agreement.
*In grade 8 students review the above verb tenses and usage and are introduced to infinitives in Lesson 44 and the use of verb tense with mood and condition: the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, subjunctive, and voice in Lessons 45‒50.
In addition to building upon levels of sophistication in knowledge and use of grammar and mechanics, the authors detail the second way in which the Standards account for the recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge: “…the Standards identify with an asterisk (*) certain skills and understandings that students are to be introduced to in basic ways at lower grades but that are likely in need of being retaught and relearned in subsequent grades as students’ writing and speaking matures and grows more complex” (28). These key skills and understandings are included in the Grades 3‒10 document titled “Language Progressive Skills” at the end of the grade-level Common Core Language Strands and on page 31 of Appendix A.
Each of the previous grade-level Language Progressive Skills Standards are reviewed within the Language Conventions lessons and Language Application writing openers. Additionally, the Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4‒8 programs include the TLS Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment and the TLS Mechanics Assessment. These whole class diagnostic assessments vary in complexity to test all previous grade-level Standards and each takes less than 25 minutes to administer. Teachers grade and record the results of these assessments on recording matrices with a slash (/) for each error.
Students complete remedial Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics worksheets for each unmastered content or skill as indicated by the tests. Worksheets include definitions, examples, and explanation of how the grammar, usage, or mechanics content or skill applies to writing. Students complete a short practice section and self-correct and self-edit their answers from answer sheets to learn from their own mistakes. Finally, students complete a quick formative assessment labeled “Write” at the bottom of the worksheet to see if they can apply the content or skill within their own writing. Students mini-conference with the teacher and the teacher reviews the formative “Write” assessment. If the content or skill has been mastered, the student changes the slash (/) into an “X” on the class recording matrix. If not yet mastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches the content or skill and students try the formative assessment once again or the teacher may elect to assigned additional Language Worksheets provided in the program.
In summary, Teaching the Language Strand provides the specific resources teachers need to teach the grammar, usage, and mechanics review Standards through both direct and individualized instruction‒exactly as is suggested by the Common Core authors.
Note that the Common Core authors validate teacher autonomy as to how the Language Standards are to be met:
“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms” (Myths vs. Facts).
Furthermore, the authors address how teachers and schools share the responsibilities of remediating and differentiating instruction for students performing below grade level, English language learners, and students with special needs:
“The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations. No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety in abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom. However, the Standards do provide clear signposts along the way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.
It is also beyond the scope of the Standards to define the full range of supports appropriate for English language learners and for students with special needs. At the same time, all students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same high standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post–high school lives” (English Language Arts Standards Key Design Considerations).
Teaching the Language Strand is the only Language Strand program designed to equip teachers with the diagnostic assessments and corresponding resources to remediate and differentiate instruction to intervention students, ELL students, and Special Education students‒exactly as discussed by the Common Core authors.
The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.