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Posts Tagged ‘response to intervention’

Moneyball and Reading Intervention

If you haven’t seen Moneyball, you’ve missed a good watch. For those of you unfamiliar with the story line, it’s about how Billy Beane, GM of the small-market Oakland A’s continues to produce winning teams (they’re in the wild card race as of this writing), despite having the lowest (or close to) payroll in Major League Baseball. But what’s this got to do with reading intervention and RTI? Plenty.

You see, Billy Beane works with this old-school manager, Gene Mauch, who plies his trade with intuition, experience, and comprehensive knowledge of the game. But, the A’s are losing. Billy has a different approach that baseball purists later label as Moneyball. Fair to say, Gene is a tough sell and eventually has to go, but the bottom line is that Billy’s Moneyball starts to work and the A’s start to win. So, what is Moneyball?

Billy Bean knows he can’t compete with the big spending Yankees and Red Sox, so he tries another approach. He hires a statistician to chart and analyze every aspect of the game. His data is valid, specific, and applicable. Billy uses this data to inform trades, free agent acquisitions… even determine the batting order, much to Gene Mauch’s chagrin. Often the decisions are counter-intuitive and untraditional. They sometimes fly in the face of “the way we’ve always done it.” Moneyball isolates all the variables, including the manager himself.

Now, most of you know where I’m going with this comparison. In fact, you may be that reading teacher with all the intuition, experience, and comprehensive knowledge. I’m not suggesting that we reduce reading intervention instruction to simple statistics. Teaching is an artful science. We do teach kids. However, we do need to teach to reliable data and isolate the variables just like Billy Beane did/does with the Oakland A’s. And that variable might just be us.

To mix metaphors, each student is the snowflake. Bobby does not have the same instructional needs as does Marta. We can’t use cookie cutter approaches to reading intervention if we want to make the optimal progress each student deserves. Maybe a little Moneyball in Reading Intervention would make some sense.

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, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Reading , , , , , ,

Backwards Reading Intervention

On a recent teacher ning, I clicked on this post.* Now I’ve see this post and heard the same questions hundreds of times throughout my thirty-year career as a secondary reading specialist. You may have as well.

This is my first year of teaching and I have been given a Reading class. I’m at a large urban high school and I’ve been told that the students are bright, but reluctant readers. For some of the class we will be using the Reading Plus program but for the rest of the time I have just been told to do anything that will improve their comprehension, ACT/SAT scores, high school exit exam scores, and overall reading skills. I’m not sure where to even begin with this class.

I had only one Reading instruction class in my teacher training program, but I did one semester of my student teaching program at a middle school and I taught both a literature class and a reading class. For the reading class my colleagues suggested that I do an SSR program for 30 minutes a day. I did it, but students were pretty resistant. I let students pick their own novels, magazines, comics, or newspapers to read. Some did read, but others really didn’t. I didn’t feel like I was really teaching and I doubt if their reading test scores really improved as a result of this class.

So, any advice? The Response to Intervention Coordinator was on my interview panel and said she would help me with this class, but I would like to start planning now. Should I keep doing the SSR? I have one month to plan.

It wasn’t the post that got me thinking about Backwards Reading Intervention, but the responses.

The consensus response to this frequently-posed question regarding what to teach in a reading intervention class is the advice to let students choose their own reading. This student-centered approach seems admirable, and notable authors Nancy Atwell, Donalyn Miller, and Stephen Krashen are all proponents of free voluntary reading—albeit each with a few twists of their own. However, students do not always pick what is in their best interests. Given a choice, most children will pick candy over vegetables.

I could go into quite a bit of anecdotal evidence here with respect to the drawbacks of in-class SSR/Free Voluntary Reading:** peer pressure, mismatched reading levels, trashy adolescent lit, lack of accountability, etc. But the real point I would like to make deals with the basic instructional question. How strange that a student-centered approach to learning, as advocated by many teachers and authors, does not extend to a student-centered approach to instruction. To cut to the chase, why are many reading intervention teachers so reluctant to differentiate reading instruction according to the diagnostic needs of individual students? Sit in on most elementary, middle school, high school, and community college remedial reading classes (Been there, done that), and you’ll find what I have found: We teach them the same stuff. It’s teacher-centered instruction, not student-centered instruction.

Backwards Reading Intervention

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We tend to approach remedial reading backwards. We begin with what we want to teach them and how we want to teach them, but we all-too-often ignore the them. Having taught a remedial high school reading class for four years, I eventually discovered that each student was in that class for different reasons. To achieve the progress that each student deserves, we have to begin by finding out those different reasons. The what and how of instruction should derive from diagnostic assessment.

Of course, teachers want to plan instruction; you have to teach them something. However, perhaps the best response to the teacher’s post would be one that provides the diagnostic assessments, recording matrices, instructions re: data analysis and decision-making and flexible program resources that will allow the teacher to adjust instruction according to the diagnostic needs of her students. That kind of planning makes sense. Here they are… and happy planning. You’re making a world of difference for these students. Just don’t teach backwards.

*Actually I’ve combined a few posts into this one to protect the privacy of the posting teacher.TRS

**As a disclaimer, I also let students pick their own independent reading for homework (within reasonable parameters).

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, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Reading , , , , , ,

Navigating Differentiated Instruction

Anyone with a good nav system knows its value in planning a family road trip. First, you enter your Destination. Establishing the end goal for the trip lets both driver and passengers in on the plan. Does it reduce the number of “Are we there yets?” Not completely. Second, you have to let your GPS establish the Current Location  to search the route to your destination. You may need to adjust that Starting Point. Third, you need to make use of the flexible features. A good navigation system allows the driver and passengers the flexibility to choose the best or fastest routes. It also re-routes if the driver makes a wrong turn, if there is road construction, or if the passengers want to take a side trip to see that interesting historical marker.

A quality English-language arts curriculum designed to differentiate instruction is like a good nav system. First, the program uses diagnostic assessments to establish the Destination. Assessments are based upon the Common Core State Standards. The teacher (or helpful parents) records the assessment data that indicates each student’s Current Location. Knowing what a child knows and does not know informs instructional decision-making. Should the Starting Point be adjusted? Are the learning gaps minimal, requiring brief review, or substantial, necessitating systematic instruction? Are there other students with the same deficits that would permit small group instruction? Is individualized instruction required for some curricular components? Effective instructional resources provide formative assessments that inform the teacher when to veer off course, backtrack, skip ahead, or take those educational side trips. The fastest route is not always the best. Good instructional resources allow parents and teachers to adjust instruction and re-route throughout the road trip.

Old-school English-language arts instructional resources are still using the same worn-out road maps. Everyone has to be on the same stretch of highway at the same time. Both teacher and students must adapt to a cookie cutter curriculum which assumes that every child begins with the same background knowledge, the same level of mastery, and/or the same skill set. Of course, the reality is that some students already know sections of the highway well and wind up repeating the same stretches of road. Highway hypnosis often sets in. Other students can’t even get on the same road-the curricular resources are just too-far above their ability levels.

Teachers committed to differentiated instruction need to invest in curricular resources with good nav systems rather than band-aiding outdated road maps.

Pennington Publishing provides the flexible instructional resources to adjust instruction to the individual needs of each student. Check out Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Reading Strategies, and Teaching Essay Strategies and get the help teachers need to differentiate assessment-based instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or specialized training.

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

Are You Ready for RtI?

Are you ready for RtI? Response to Intervention is the collaborative model of decision-making and curricular intervention regarding students with special instructional needs. Although RtI sprang from Special Education in the early 2000s as an alternative screening and delivery mechanism to the then-predominant “discrepancy between ability and achievement” model, the approach gained legitimacy after the revisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004. Since then, the RtI model has gained buy-in from influential educational authors and general education stakeholders as a comprehensive approach to identify students needing intervention via research-based diagnostic assessments, to provide flexibly tiered instruction to meet their instructional needs, and to monitor their progress. Students who do not show a positive response to such interventions are tested to determine if they qualify for special education services.

Of course, the RtI model presupposes collaboration from all stakeholders in a school and/or district. All-too-often, this presupposition has doomed RtI at some school sites and in some districts from the get-go. Jumping into RtI and the three-tier instructional delivery model without first addressing legitimate concerns and before gaining stakeholder consensus has given a black-eye to a promising means of delivering a truly first-class education to all children. A related article, Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration, details the most common concerns regarding RtI and its collaborative model. Following is an anonymous survey, using these ten reasons, to be administered at the opening exploration of RtI implementation to gauge RtI readiness of a teaching staff and its administration.

How Would You Rate Your Educational Modus Operandi (M.O.) on this 1-5 Likert Scale?

  1. Autonomous (I basically do my own thing)-Collaborative (I plan and implement instruction according to grade-level team or department consensus)
  2. Not Confident of Abilities (I either don’t have the requisite skills set or knowledge that my colleagues seem to have)-Confident of Abilities (I more than hold my own compared to my colleagues)
  3. Job Insecurity (I am often worried about retaining my job)-Job Security (I never worry about retaining my job)
  4. Castle-keeper (I am very protective about maintaining my program)-Open House (I am open to changing my program or courses I teach)
  5. Content focused (I exclusively teach grade-level standards and content)-Process/Skills focused (I focus instruction on process objectives and skills acquisition)
  6. Concerned about Standardized Test Results (I am often worried about the results of my students’ standardized test scores)-Unconcerned about Standardized Test Results (I am never worried about the results of my students’ standardized test scores)
  7. Lazy, Burned-out, or Checked-out (I often feel this way)-Motivated (I am extremely motivated to improve the quality of my instruction)
  8. Anti-Change (I am resistant to trying new instructional approaches)-Pro Change (I am ready to try new instructional approaches)
  9. Adverse to Differentiated Instruction (I do not differentiate, adjust, or individualize instruction)-In favor of Differentiated Instruction (I want to differentiate, adjust, or individualize instruction)
  10. Has No Support or Curricular Resources to Differentiate Instruction (I do not have the support, time, or curricular resources to modify instruction)-Has Support and Curricular Resources to Differentiate Instruction (I do have the support, time, or curricular resources to modify instruction)

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, is an MA reading specialist, middle school teacher, and author of the

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, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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

Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration

If your school and/or district is moving toward a Response to Intervention (RtI) model, knowing the ten reasons why some teachers and administrators avoid RtI collaboration will help those committed to the RtI process make fewer mistakes and get more buy-in from stakeholders.

Teachers and administrators tend to be individualists, and school structures tend to reinforce this personality trait. Collaboration is simply easier for some and harder for others. Knowing why collaboration is difficult or downright threatening for individual staff members will help an RtI team address the individual concerns of its stakeholders. Dealing head-on with these stumbling blocks in the beginning stages of the RtI process will get everything “on the table” and prevent future problems during implementation.

RtI teams that avoid this necessary step and rush into structural and curricular decision-making for the sake of efficiency or meeting imposed timetables will deal with these individual concerns down the road anyway. Once the RtI model has been implemented, it is much more difficult and less efficient to backtrack and address individual concerns. Those RtI teams which take the time to address stakeholder concerns tend to have a much better track record in moving a staff toward the collaborative culture so necessary to effectively implement RtI.

Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration
  1. Autonomy-Teachers and administrators choose education as a career because they crave some measure of control over decision-making. Educators develop their own teaching/leadership styles and philosophies to reflect their personal values. As a result, educators tend to actively or passively resist outside imposition or control. RtI collaboration certainly threatens this autonomy.
  2. Fear-All teachers and administrators share one trait in common. They know their own limitations. The fear is that others will discover these limitations and not accept them as valued professionals. No teacher or administrator wants to be recognized as incompetent. The fear is that RtI collaboration will expose individual limitations.
  3. Job Security-Finding out limitations can be perceived as potential “dings” on performance evaluations for both teachers and administrators. Additionally, the RtI model may expose overlap or redundancy and this may threaten jobs. Because sharing resources is a key ingredient in the RtI recipe, RtI collaboration may identify underutilized resource personnel.
  4. Castles-Individual fiefdoms protect job security. Our individual educational castles, created to address and protect student needs, tend to make collaboration challenging or even undesirable. Those who keep the keys of their respective castles may be loath to give these up. Sharing isn’t just a problem in kindergarten. Each school and district has its own fiefdoms and the RtI collaboration model requires open castles and transparency.
  5. Content Queens and Kings-Many teachers, especially at the secondary level, entered the teaching professional because of their genuine love of their respective disciplines. Any moves away from content-centered instruction toward process or skill-centered instruction threaten their roles. Those content-centric teachers and administrators focus on content standards, but may ignore the balanced approach of the new Common Core State Standards. Sharing responsibility for teaching content with others or taking on process or skill instruction may be their concerns regarding the RtI collaboration model.
  6. Test Madness-A disease endemic to many educators, but frankly more to administrators than teachers. And with good reason. Administrators are directly judged by standardized test results. And now, several states have made the move toward evaluating teachers by the test results of their students. Of course, those supporting such evaluations tend to beg at least two questions relevant to the RtI process: 1. Are standardized tests capable of accurately measuring RtI student achievement? and 2. Will teachers teach all non-tested content and process standards and continue to teach to diagnostic student needs when their jobs and salaries may be affected by the test results? Test-crazed-cultures may encourage educators to take short-cuts and teach to results, not to student needs. This is not to say that an effective RtI model and optimal standardized test results are necessarily mutually exclusive. However, test madness remains a reason why some avoid RtI collaboration.
  7. Lazy, Burned-out, or Checked-out Teachers and Administrators-Let’s face it. Most sites have their share, but not as many as the public may perceive. All educators go through professional cycles of interest and lack thereof. Some will own up to their feelings; others will not. Psychologists remind us that motivation is a cyclical process. Effective practice with expert coaching leads to achieving personal goals. Achieving personal goals leads to self-satisfaction. Self-satisfaction leads back around to a positive association with practice. Teacher and administrator interest can be re-kindled with the right practice, but RtI collaboration does push to the initial practice step and those lazy, burned-out, or checked-out teachers and administrators will resist until they begin the cycle.
  8. Anti-Change Agents-Many teachers and administrators gravitate toward the status-quo. “I’ve/We’ve always done it this way” or “This is how I was taught and it worked for me” or “I tried that, but it didn’t work for me/us” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “What goes around, comes around” or “This too shall pass” guide a tremendous amount of educational decision-making. We are all products of our own experiences, and change challenges our established comfort zones. Anti-change agents can be particularly adverse to RtI collaboration.
  9. Fear of Differentiation-Adjusting instruction to student needs provokes resistance. No teacher feels under-worked. Adding on the task of changing instructional delivery to meet the diagnostically-determined needs of students is overwhelming to most. No wonder that tracking and pull-out programs are key features of most educational institutions. However, ask any teacher whether it would be ideal to teach to each student as his or her levels of need and you would receive a universal Yes. Dealing with the Myths of Differentiating Instruction can be helpful, but there is just no doubt that those who avoid differentiated instruction are reticent to support RtI collaboration.
  10. No Support or Curricular Resources-Teachers and Administrators are all-too-often expected to do “more with less.” No wonder that the RtI model, which demands resources of time and student-centered curriculum leads to frustration and an unwillingness to whole-heartedly support RtI collaboration.

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, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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

Reading Intervention Programs

So your district is starting to implement a Response to Intervention (RtI) model in its elementary, middle, and high schools. Number One on the agenda is to pull together district personnel, administrators, and teachers to research and recommend adoption of a reading intervention program… You google “Reading Intervention Programs” and find this article. Welcome!

Reading Intervention Program Questions

Which program should your district choose? What criteria should be agreed upon in the selection process? How (or can you) evaluate the success or track-record of the program? Does a one-size-fits-all approach make sense for the students you plan to serve? Which students need to be served? Is your district considering a Tier I, Tiers I and II, or Tiers I, II, and III model? Does your district have the financial and support resources necessary to match the scope of its instructional plan? What levels of reading expertise does your district have at its disposal? How well-trained are the teachers who will teach the program? Will the structure of the schools and their programs accommodate the type of reading intervention needed?

But, those questions are only one-half of the equation. Your side of the equation. The other half needs to be considered, as well, to make an informed and practical decision about which reading intervention program should merit adoption. The publisher’s side of the equation.

The Reading Intervention Program Publishing Merry-Go-Round

Following is a somewhat-cynical, but valuable, description of the reading intervention publishing process. Disclaimer: the author of this article has his own reading intervention program to sell, so keep this in mind. So, how do publishers create and market a reading intervention program and get your district to buy it?

Most all of the “big-boy” publishers (and that categorization is gender-accurate, if you look at who runs these publishing houses) already have many reading intervention programs in their catalogs. However, publishers need something new to create “buzz” and sell product. They hire a few well-respected, but lowly paid university professors to “author” (repackage) the materials. Grad students and per-hour staff writers re-work and re-package in-print and out-of-print materials. The design team ramps up and creates an attractive product. Ta dah! A new reading intervention program.

Next, the publishers jump through all the hoops to get their reading intervention programs adopted by the state. With well-placed lobbyists and state department of education employees with their hands in the deep pockets of these publishers, the hoops are less challenging.

Next, the publisher plans an aggressive marketing campaign to promote their innovative “new and improved” program. The publisher secures a prominently featured row of exhibit booths at the International Reading Association conference to launch the product. Then, the publishers get to work on the school districts. I’ll stop here, because you are involved in this part of the process and will know everything you need to know once you place that call to their program (sales) representatives.

A few comments on this latter half of the reading intervention program adoption equation…

Notice that the practitioners (teachers) have very little to do with developing the latest reading intervention fad. Despite the fact that veteran teachers have years of experience in “trial and error” reading instruction, teachers are rarely consulted in the development of new reading programs. Reading programs are publisher-developed and profit-driven. Programs are delivered as “faits accompli” to districts for approval and purchase. Textbook adoption committees, which include teachers, are left to rubber-stamp programs, ostensibly following pilot teacher recommendations. Actually, districts follow the leads of other districts and the bigger the publisher, the more “resources” are brought to bear in the decision-making. The entire process is carefully guided by publisher representatives.

Here’s another approach. Consider purchasing an economical, data-driven, program developed by an MA Reading Specialist in the classroom. A reading intervention program designed by a teacher for teachers. A reading intervention program that values the expertise of teachers. A reading intervention program that truly allows the teacher to differentiate instruction according to the individual needs of students.

Teaching Reading Strategies provides teachers of remedial upper elementary, middle school, high school, and adult students all the resources they need to turn their students into fluent readers in the shortest amount of instructional time. The instructional design and resources are perfect for Tiers I, II, and III placements. English language-learners will benefit from the design of this program–especially those who have begun reading in their primary languages. Students with learning disabilities, such as auditory and visual processing problems, will get the targeted and flexible instruction they need to address these challenges.

Rather than starting each learner from “scratch” with hours of repetitive practice, like traditional remedial reading programs, the whole-class diagnostic assessments pinpoint individual reading strengths and deficiencies. Teachers simply record the assessment results and then use the prescribed resources to help students remediate their deficiencies. Students see direct benefit and pay-off in each lesson. Instead of tedious practice in a reading skill already mastered, students feel challenged each day and learn quickly in what social psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, termed their “zone of proximal development.” Students become constructive partners in the learning process because they monitor their own progress. As a by-product, students improve self-esteem, classroom behavior, and motivation to learn.

The curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Reading , , , , , , ,

Community College Remedial Reading Costs

Much has been said about the burden that our community college system has shouldered due to the economic downturn. Unemployment certainly has led to increased enrollment in our nation’s community colleges. Some have registered for course work to improve job skills, some to earn Associates of Arts degrees or certificates, some to transfer to universities, some to meet welfare to work mandates, some to avoid unaffordable university tuition, and some because they simply have nowhere else to go. Increased enrollment in our community colleges has created an economic double-whammy for both hard-pressed state budgets and for community colleges themselves. An increasingly key factor in this double-whammy has been the cost to remediate the skill set of these new students, especially in reading.

Remedial Reading Costs: Whammy #1 On State Budgets

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The financial burden of increased community college enrollment has severely impacted already-strained state budgets and much can be attributed to the cost of remedial programs. For example…

  • Community colleges are the most heavily subsidized educational institutions. In California, a similar undergraduate course in English 101 runs $108 at community college, $649 for the California State University, and $1320 for the University of California.
  • Significant numbers of these new community college students are receiving state-funded financial aid.
  • Most of the new community students double-dip by taking remedial course work, especially in reading, which repeats previously funded coursework in the K-12 system.
  • Community college remediation represents a considerable financial and opportunity cost. Recent estimates suggest a $3.7 billion annual price tag just for the remediation of recent high school graduates who attend community colleges. http://all4ed.org/files/remediation.pdf.
  • Most remedial students drop-out. Only 17% of students who enroll in a remedial reading course at a community college receive a bachelor’s degree within eight years, compared to 58% of students who take no remedial education courses. http://www.communitycollegecentral.org/Downloads/Developmental_Education_TOOLKIT.pdf The cost per community college dropout is $17,700 in federal and state financial aid and in city and state funding for the community college system. (Community College Spotlight, The Hechinger Report)
Remedial Reading Costs: Whammy #2 On Community Colleges

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Additional financial burdens due to the new wave of community college students have been placed upon the community colleges themselves. And much has been due to the remedial needs of these new students. For example…

  • States have resisted increasing student fees during the economic downturn due to public pressure and the enrollment boom has exacerbated the budgetary shortfalls of community colleges.
  • Community colleges have had to cut full-time staff and non-mandated coursework.
  • The most expensive programs happen to be the mandated remedial programs, especially remedial reading courses, which the majority of the new students must take to prepare for transfer courses, certificate program courses, or Associates of Arts courses. A few facts will suffice: Virtually all community colleges offer remedial or developmental education. Almost 60% of community college students require at least one year of developmental coursework. http://www.communitycollegecentral.org/Downloads/Developmental_Education_TOOLKIT.pdf

Remediation, especially reading remediation, has always been a tough issue for state legislators and community colleges. Some have been reluctant to accept the reality that so many of our high school graduates or drop-outs still cannot read at the levels they need to function in society. Others recognize the problem, but play the blame game by pointing fingers at the failures of K-12 education. While the costs of providing remedial reading education are high to both state and community college budgets, the costs of not providing the resources are incalculable.

This is especially true in our economic downturn. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Unemployment for 21-25 year-olds without a college degree hovers at 25%, while those with college degrees are at 8% (December 11, 2011).” Although not the job-guarantee as in years past, community colleges and university training certainly remain gateways to economic opportunities. For students seeking accelerated degree programs, there are many options beyond the traditional community college-state university route. For example, check out Averett College for great degree programs!

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, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , ,

Secondary Reading Program Placement

No matter which school-wide model of reading intervention is used at the middle or high school levels, the problem of proper reading placement is common to all. School counselors, administrators, and/or data processors making student course schedules typically have little reliable data upon which to make these placements. Using longitudinal standardized test data and input from elementary or middle school teachers can serve as initial placement criteria, but this is far from a perfect process. More on this initial screening here.

Once student schedules have been set, it is frequently a logistical nightmare to make changes. Class sizes, other course placements (such as with math levels), and parent input all are part of the decision-making process. Every set-in-stone any placement process will have exceptions. New students and student transfers throughout the year come to mind. Administrators who value the importance of reading will ensure the flexibility of the process to prioritize student needs over programmatic concerns.

Once school has started in the fall, it does make sense to have a “weeding out” and “weeding in” assessment process in place to confirm proper placement for reading intervention. This is important for already-placed and yet-to-be-placed students.

Now, an initial caveat is in order before I address this important issue of finding out what students know and don’t know. I do buy into the Response to Intervention (RTI) model that minimizes tracking and promotes differentiated instruction. Most all students should be in heterogeneously mixed Tier I classes in which well-trained teachers differentiate literacy instruction. However, some mix of push-in, pull-out instruction makes sense for Tier II and III students.

Secondary Reading Program Placement Assessments

Now as to the assessments themselves… Why waste time and money on an achievement test that purports to determine reading levels when diagnostic assessments will provide teachers with both the sorting data and the data that can be used to differentiate instruction? Killing two birds with one stone makes sense. So, which initial diagnostic assessments are needed to double-check initial placements and place new students?

I suggest whole-class diagnostic assessments in phonics (decoding) and spelling (encoding) and individual oral fluencies from brief passages found in the grade-level literature (narrative) and history or science (expository) textbooks. The phonics and spelling diagnostics will cover the word identification side of the ledger and the fluencies will measure the word recognition side. Secondary teachers shouldn’t shy away from creating their own oral fluencies which are representative of their instructional textbooks. It’s really not rocket science. After all, teachers need to know whether students can read their books or not.

How much time will these screening assessments take to administer and record?

The comprehensive phonics test linked above takes 15 minutes to administer and 1 minute per student to correct and record on an assessment matrix. The comprehensive spelling test linked above takes 25 minutes to administer and 2 minutes per student to correct and record. Both tests can be corrected and recorded by responsible student aides, paraprofessionals, or parents. I recommend 30 second fluencies for each narrative and expository passage, so 1 minute to administer and record per student. Recording matrices are provided in the above links.

Now, of course these assessments are not the only ones we should use in reading intervention (Tier II and III) classes, but they will more than suffice as a Harry Potter sorting hat.

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, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Reading , , , , , , , ,

Common Core Grammar Standards

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of  the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.

What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?

Autonomy is Maintained

The Common Core Language Strand dictates the what, but not the how of instruction. From the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the 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.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

“By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

Differentiated or Individualized Instruction is Validated

The Common Core Language Strand assumes that teachers will need to differentiate instruction to master both grade-level and previous grammatical standards. Again, from the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.”

“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.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Review is Emphasized

The Common Core Language Strand identifies specific standards and skills that are “particularly likely” to require review.

“The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*)  are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

A considerable number of skills are marked with the asterisks throughout the K-12 language strand. To me, this indicates a basic acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of grammar instruction and the necessity for review and differentiated instruction in grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

Many Language Standards are Specific or Detailed

Examples of Specific or Detailed Language Standards

  • Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt). L.7.2.
  • Form and use verbs in the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, and subjunctive mood. L.5.2.

Many Language Standards Integrate Grammar into the Writing Context

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Application to Writing

  • Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style. L.6.3.
  • Maintain consistency in style and tone. L.6.3.

I find a nice balance between focusing on the correctness of usage and application to writing. The standards go out of their way to assert that grammar, mechanics, and spelling are best taught within the context of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The Importance of Grammatical Correctness is Emphasized

“To build a foundation for college and career readiness in language, students must gain control over many conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics as well as learn other ways to use language to convey meaning effectively… The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts.” http://www.corestandards.org

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Correctness

  • Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive). L.6.1.
  • Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood. L.8.1.

Most Common Core Language Standards are Rigorous

Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Rigor

  • Produce and expand complete simple and compound declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in response to prompts. L.1.1
  • Form and use comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified. L.3.1.

What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?

Many Language Standards Lack Specificity or Details

Examples of Vague or General Language Standards

  • Spell correctly L.6.2-L.12.2.
  • Use correct capitalization. L.4.2.

Some Common Core Language Standards Lack Rigor

Examples of Language Standards De-emphasizing Rigor

  • Explain the function of phrases and clauses in general and their function in specific sentences. L7.1 (Clauses are not introduced until seventh grade.)
  • Explain the function of verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives) in general and their function in particular sentences. L8.1 (Verbals are not introduced until eighth grade.)
  • Parallel structures are not introduced until ninth grade.

Too Much of the Instructional Burden of the Common Core Language Strand is Placed Upon Elementary Teachers

Without getting lost in the specificity, the language strand clearly places the largest burden of grammar, mechanics, and spelling instruction on primary (first, second, and third) grade teachers. At the macro level (after deleting the vocabulary components from the language strand): first, second, and third has three pages of language standards; fourth and fifth has one page; sixth, seventh, and eighth has one page; and ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth has only half of a page.

The Common Core Language Strand De-emphasizes Spelling Instruction

Most notably, spelling gets short shrift in the Common Core State Standards language strand.

After third grade, here are the spelling standards:

  • Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. L.4.2. and L.5.2.
  • Spell correctly L.6.2.-L.12.2

It’s great to know that all American school children will require no spelling standards after third grade. Just wave the magic wand, I guess.

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.tls-thumb

Teaching the Language Strand also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Teaching the Language Strand “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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Common Core DI, RTI, and ELL

Writers of the new Common Core State Standards have clearly gone out of their way to assure educators that the Standards establish the what, but not the how of instruction.

From the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the 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.”

And more:

“By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

And more:

“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.” http://www.corestandards.org

In other words, despite the fact that the Standards put all of us on the same page, in terms of grade-level expectations, teachers retain the autonomy to teach how they see fit.

Cyclical Instruction

The Common Core State Standards validate the need for review, as well as the cyclical nature of instruction by identifying the skills needed to scaffold higher level instruction and practice. These directions appear throughout the document:

“The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.”

Teachers advised to skip review of previous grade-level standards and concentrate on the grade-level standards that will be tested, now have firm legs to stand upon when they say “No” to administrators only interested in achieving AYP goals.

Common Core DI (Differentiated Instruction)

 

Implicit in the mandated review is the need for effective diagnostic assessments to determine what and how much requires re-teaching to establish a solid foundation for grade-level instruction. Using data to impact instructional decisions will help teachers decide which content and skills are best reviewed whole-class and which content and skills are best addressed via small group or individualized instruction.

For example, if initial diagnostic assessments indicate that the whole class needs review of subjects and predicates, whole class instruction and guided practice will certainly be the most efficient means of review; thereafter, if the formative assessment on subjects and predicates shows that half a dozen students have not yet mastered these concepts, small group instruction or targeted individual practice makes sense. However, if initial diagnostic assessments indicate that only half a dozen students have not yet mastered subjects and predicates, it would certainly be advisable to begin with differentiated instruction, rather than waste the time of students who have already mastered these concepts.

Common Core RTI (Response to Intervention)

 

Again, from the Common Core State Standards introduction:

“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 alongthe way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.”

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Common Core ELL (English Language Learners)

 

“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.”

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Writing , , , , , , ,

Common Core State Standards Fear-mongering

Phonemic Awareness Activities

Get ready for some terrific phonemic awareness activities… But first, let’s get clear on just what phonemic awareness is all about, why it is important, and how it relates to reading. Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds. We call these speech sounds phonemes. There are about 43 common phonemes in English. See my attached list, Phonemes, which includes adjustments for the Spanish phonemes in footnotes.

Why is phonemic awareness essential?

Between 20 and 40% of the population does not naturally develop phonemic awareness. Current research indicates that there may be both medical and genetic factors that contribute to this deficiency (Grossen, 1997).

When children cannot hear and manipulate the sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, they struggle learning how to attach these sounds to letters and letter combinations. Lack of phonemic awareness is the chief causal factor of reading disabilities (Adams, 1990). Phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading success (Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977; Stanovich, 1986, 1994).

Phonemic awareness relates to reading in two ways: (1) phonemic awareness is a prerequisite of learning to read (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Yopp, 1985), and (2) phonemic awareness is a consequence of learning to read (Ehri, 1979; Read, Yun-Fei, Hong-Yin, & Bao-Qing, 1986).

Can phonemic awareness be remediated?

Yes, but the older the child, the more challenging it is to learn phonemic awareness. See my article titled Should We Teach Phonemic Awareness to Remedial Readers? on remediating phonemic awareness to check out the reading research and instructional solutions.

What about English-language Learners?

It’s true that specific speech sounds differ among languages, and this makes phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELLs). However, ELLs are certainly able to transfer their phonological awareness skills from their primary language to English, and research indicates the positive benefits of phonemic awareness training (Abbot, Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, and Berninger, 2002). Indeed, some primary languages, such as Spanish, share more phonemes with English than not.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Not all students will have mastered the same components of phonemic awareness. Thus, diagnostic assessments are a must to efficiently teach these unmastered components. After completing phonemic awareness assessments, grade and record any unmastered phonemic awareness components for each student on a progress monitoring matrix. An excellent set of six whole-class phonemic awareness assessments with recording matrix is provided free for classroom use at www.penningtonpublishing.com. These assessments have been recorded on audio CDs and are available in Teaching Reading Strategies by the author of this article.

Phonemic Awareness Instructional Sequence and Workshop Activities

Differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic data in small group reading workshops. There is an instructional order that makes sense. I suggest that you teach your phonemic awareness workshops in this order:

  1. Rhyming Awareness
  2. Alphabetic Awareness (Make sure to check out the Mp3 “New Alphabet Song” found in the phonemic awareness activities packet.)
  3. Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation
  4. Phonemic Isolation
  5. Phonemic Blending
  6. Phonemic Segmentation

So, you’ve read this far. Your wait is over! Here are the promised Phonemic Awareness Activities to differentiate instruction in your reading workshops. You may also wish to use the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics.

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, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Teach Your Child to Read

One of the true joys and responsibilities of parenthood is teaching your child to read. But wait… isn’t that the teacher’s job? Of course it is, but the best approach is always an effective and complementary home-school partnership. Whether your child is in pre-school, kindergarten, or first grade he or she can and will learn to read with your help. As an MA Reading Specialist and educational author, I’ve done all of the “prep” work necessary for parents to hold up their end of the home-school partnership in these Teach Your Child to Read tools and resources. You don’t have to be a reading expert; you’ve got back-up :)

These reading resources reflect a comprehensive and balanced approach to help you teach your child to read. Your child’s teacher will have her own instructional reading methods and they will, no doubt, be beneficial. She might be a phonics fanatic, sight words zealot, or rimes words revolutionary; however, every child is different. All three of my boys certainly were… and they required somewhat different approaches. But all three were reading first and second grade reading books by age four. I’ve found that the best approach to teaching reading at home is a balanced, flexible, but comprehensive approach, that “touches all bases” and meets the needs of the individual child. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Now, one important reminder. As you teach your child to read, don’t forget to read to your child daily. Set an expectation that daily reading is what we do in this family. Read whether your child wants to or not. Many parents make the mistake of thinking that they will “turn their child off to the love of reading” if they “force” them to read. Nonsense. Keep at it, whether they enjoy it or not.

Read a variety of books at a variety of reading levels. I highly recommend pattern and rhyming books, but don’t limit your reading to “how to read” books. Children need to work on vocabulary and comprehension development, as well.  Stop and ask questions of your child about the reading and encourage your child to ask questions as well. Keep the focus on the text and pictures, not on things outside of the book.

Teach print awareness by methodically teaching your child how to open up the book and pacing your reading with your index finger, left to right as you read. Model “talking to the text” by inserting your own comments occasionally. Children need to perceive reading as a dynamic author-reader dialog, not as a passive activity.

Phonemic Awareness

Despite all of the age-old controversy over reading readiness and when you should teach your child to read, the best indicator is when your child has developed most of the skills of phonemic awareness. These six phonemic awareness assessments will give you the best guidance. Of course, the alphabet is a critical component of getting ready to read and spell. Check out this updated alphabet song! For those areas yet un-mastered, here are phonemic awareness activities that will help your child master these pre-reading skills.

Phonics and Spelling

Recent research is clear that the most efficient way to teach reading is through a systematic, explicit approach to teach our alphabetic code: in other words decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling). If your child’s school uses sound-spelling cards for instruction, get a copy of these and use them to teach the sound-spellings. If not, use my wonderful Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and these activities to teach all of the sound-spellings. There is even a catchy song to play in the car that will help your child rehearse the card names, sounds, and spellings. Now, if your child is already reading, but has phonics and spelling gaps, it makes sense to “gap-fill,” rather than “start from scratch.” Have your child take the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment and the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment and practice those specific animal cards and consonant blend cards with the activities.

Every effective outcome in life must have a plan, and this is especially true when you teach your child to read. Here is a systematic plan for introducing  all of the sound-spellings in the order that reading research suggests. Here is how to teach your child to put together (blend) the sound-spellings into words.

Sight Words

Some teachers over-emphasize this instructional component. I was raised on the “Dick and Jane” series that used the look-say method, but I also had “Dr. Seuss,” and more decodable texts. Balance is key. However, it certainly makes sense to teach the most-often used non-phonetic sight words. These are often called Outlaw Words, because they don’t follow the phonics rules. I would avoid having your children spend oodles of time memorizing high utility, non-phonetic sight words. We don’t want our children to have to memorize every word. We want them to use the alphabetic code when at all possible and then adjust to sight words when absolutely necessary. Here is an Outlaw Word Assessment for children who are all ready reading, Outlaw Word Flashcards to begin introducing to beginning readers, and some great Outlaw Word activities.

Word Families

One terrific reading instructional method that works well with systematic and explicit phonics instruction involves teaching your child the rimes. Not nursery rhymes–rimes. These word families draw upon your child’s abilities to build upon the speech sounds (phonemes) and see analogous relationships among word parts. For example, a child who can sound-out/recognize the word me, can be taught to see the connection to be and he. Here is a Rimes Assessment for children who are all ready reading, Rimes Words Flashcards to begin introducing to beginning readers, and some great rimes word activities.

Comprehension

Reading is not pronouncing or memorizing words. Reading is meaning-making. Reading is understanding and making use of what an author says. To teach your child to read, you need to teach reading comprehension strategies that will help your child begin to self-monitor understanding of the text. The SCRIP comprehension bookmark will help you teach your child how to understand what he or she reads.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Standards and Accountability

A recent discussion on my favorite site, the English Companion Ning, made me take a critical look at just what has engendered the recent demands for increased accountability in our public schools. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing the blame game and teachers are the easiest targets. As a public school teacher, my initial response has been defensive; however, upon a bit of reflection I’m thinking that teachers may well largely be to blame–not for the “sorry state of public education” as our critics claim, but for the very accountability movement that is being used to attack us. We teachers are often our own worst enemies.

A bit of history helps put things in perspective. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s teachers felt that our norm-referenced testing, such as the ITBS, SAT, CTBS, MAT, provided data that did not measure what we are teaching. We used sophisticated psychometric criticisms such as sampling and measurement error and socio-political criticisms such as bias to largely rid ourselves from the nuisances of these exams. We teachers went wild. Authentic assessments, multiple-measure assessments, and no assessments ruled the educational landscape. I once taught a sophomore world history class for an entire year without giving any traditional tests.

However, with teacher-created assessments, testing manufacturers lost money. Educational Testing Services and others do not like to lose money. So, the test manufacturers changed tactics. They asked for and gave teachers what teachers said they wanted–tests that purport to test what we teach. In other words, criterion-referenced standards tests. And the standards-based movement was born.

Teachers were even asked to develop their own subject area standards. A seemingly bottom-up initiative. How inclusive! Each state department of education, county office of education, and most school districts funded the creation of these subject area content standards documents. I joined other colleagues in spending countless hours developing the English-language Arts Standards for my own school district.

Now the test-makers were happy. They had the basis of a new revenue stream. And, now because the tests ostensibly test what teachers teach, administrators, politicians, and even billionaire do-gooders can hold us accountable and measure teacher/school/district/state performance. The zenith? Our Common Core National Standards.

Teachers helped create this mess. We enabled the accountability movement that is choking teacher creativity, teacher autonomy, and teacher initiative. And our students are the ones who are paying the greatest price. In replacing normed-reference testing with criterion-reference testing, we replaced something bad with something worse. “Meet the new boss.” Not the same as the old boss. Apologies to Pete Townshend.

And now the standards-based movement is so endemic that any challenges to teaching to the test or resisting accountability standards are viewed with wonderment by many in our profession. The standards-based movement with its frame of accountability is fully entrenched. Newer teachers have known nothing else.

 

Sigh. More on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post site.

Response from Maja Wilson, author of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Heinemann, 2006) and the recent article, “First blame the teachers then the parents”  in the Washington Post.

Mark,

This is why I argue that trying to get and maintain a “seat at the table” is ultimately counterproductive. The meal served at the table of power is unhealthy, the conversation is stilted (actually, there isn’t much conversation–lots of orders given and followed) and those who partake leave with indigestion. That’s what happened when teachers created standards–following orders at the table–that were then used against them as the basis first for high-stakes standardized tests, and then as a springboard for national standards created by a corporation created by governors and business interests (Achieve Inc).

Instead, we should create, set, and decorate another table, then serve a tasty and healthy meal there. We could invite as many people to join as possible, and then enjoy a rich conversation and lots of laughter together as we dine.

Michael (another poster to Maja’s initial post) may be right that the problem is that we can’t agree on what to serve at that table. But hey, even a potluck would be tastier, healthier, and more socially edifying than the cardboard and nails currently on the Department of Education’s menu.

The writer of this article, 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 Strategies, and Teaching Reading Strategies help teachers differentiate instruction with little additional teacher prep and/or specialized training.

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Reading Readiness

Big topic for a small article. With big topics, such as world peace, global warming, or the problem of evil, authors usually find it expedient to narrow things down a bit. Not so with reading readiness. With few exceptions, the following big picture advice applies equally to teachers of four-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, and forty-year-olds. Of course, there are differences that need to be considered for each age group. Preschool/kinder/first grade teachers, intermediate and middle school reading intervention (RtI) teachers, and adult education teachers know how to teach to their clients’ developmental learning characteristics. Similarly, English-language development teachers and special education teachers know their student populations and are adept at how to differentiate instruction accordingly. But, my point is that the what of reading readiness instruction is much the same across the age and experience spectrum.

So in keeping with this big picture advice, let’s begin with a definition of reading. More specifically, what is reading and what is not reading.

What is Reading

Reading is making and discovering meaning from text. It involves both process skills and content. It is both caught and taught.

What is Not Reading

Reading is not just pronouncing (decoding) words.

Reading is not just recognizing a bunch of words and their meanings (memorizing and applying sight words).

Reading is not just content.

Reading is not just applying the reader’s understanding of content by means of prior knowledge and life experience.

Reading is not just a set of skills or strategies.

How Reading is Caught

Plenty of studies demonstrate a positive correlation between skilled readers and their literate home environments. However, because it would be impossible to isolate, we will never be able to determine precisely which features of a literate environment positively impact reading and which do not. From my own experience as a reading specialist and parent of three boys, I offer these observations:

Reading to and with your child or student certainly makes a difference. Yes, reading pattern books, picture books, and controlled-vocabulary books are advisable. But having your child or student read to you (and others) is more important than you reading to them. Apologies to the read-aloud-crowd, but the goal is not to build dependent listening comprehension. The goal is to build independent readers with excellent silent reading comprehension. By the way, although it is nice for children, adolescents, and adults to have warm and fuzzy feelings about reading, it is certainly not necessary. All three of my boys hated reading and being read to at points, but my wife and I still required plenty of reading. All three are now avid and skilled adult readers.

Modeling reading as a reading readiness strategy is highly overrated. Having your child see you read and discuss text will be a by-product of a literate environment. Reading a newspaper in front of your child will not create an “ah-ha” connection in your child that will turn that child into a life-long reader. Similarly, having a teacher read silently for thirty minutes in front of a group of students doing Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) will not improve student reading. The students would be better served if the teacher spent that time refining lesson plans or grading student essays. Or more importantly, shouldn’t students be doing the bulk of independent reading at home? Charles Barkley was right to this extent: Role models are overrated for some things in life, and reading is one of them.

Turning off the television is not a good idea. There is no doubt that we gain vocabulary, an understanding of proper and varied syntax, and important content by watching the tube. Now, of course, a Rick Steeves travel show or the nightly news does a better job at oral language development than does Sponge Bob, but silence teaches nothing.

Talking with your child or students is a huge plus in reading development. A ten-minute conversation exposes children and students to far more vocabulary and content than does a video game. Of course, reading is the best vocabulary development, but we are talking about reading readiness here.

Word play, such as nursery rhymes, verbal problem-solving games (Twenty Questions, Mad Libs®, I See Something You Don’t See), board games, puzzles, jokes, storytelling, and the like teach phonological awareness, print concepts, and important content.

How Reading is Taught

Preschool (home or away), but preferably with other children and a trained teacher, has no easy substitute. A tiered approach to reading intervention, based upon effective diagnostic data is essential for struggling pre-teen or adolescent readers. The social nature, structure, and accountability of a reading class for adult learners has a much higher degree of success than does independent learning or tutoring.

Phonological (Phonemic) awareness must be taught, if not caught. In my experience, most struggling readers do not have these skills. Effective assessment and teaching strategies can address these deficits and even jump-start success. The mythical notion that reading is developmental or that a child has to be cognitively or social ready to read has no research base. The earlier exposure to sounds and mapping sounds to print, the better. Children simply cannot learn to read too early.

Don’t teach according to learning styles and beware of bizarre reading therapies. There just is no conclusive evidence that adjusting instruction to how students are perceived to learn best impacts learning. Focus the instruction of what readers need to learn, less so on the how. 80% of reading process and content is stored as meaning-based memories, not in the visual or auditory modalities.

Teach according to diagnostic and formative data. Build upon strengths, but especially target weaknesses. Even beginning reader four-year-olds can benefit from effective assessment.

Teach a balance of reading approaches. Certainly sound-spelling correspondences (phonics), explicit spelling strategies (encoding), sight syllables, rimes, outlaw words (irregular sight words) are time and experience-tested. Despite what some will say, learning sight words will not adversely affect a reader’s reliance upon applying the alphabetic code. Work on repeated readings, inflection, and fluidity to develop reading fluency. Teach comprehension strategies and help your child or students practice both literal and inferential monitoring of text, even before they are reading independently.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

Most teachers believe in some form of learning styles or multiple intelligences theories. The notion that each child learns differently, so we should adjust instruction accordingly (learning styles) just seems like such good old-fashion common sense. The theory that each child has different innate abilities (multiple intelligences) just seems to be confirmed by common experience. But common sense and experience are untrustworthy and unreliable guides to good teaching. Despite what the snake oil learning styles and multiple intelligences folk tell us, they are simply wrong. Here are five reasons why.

1. We don’t know enough about how the brain works to change the way we teach. What we do know about the brain suggests that catering instruction to specific modalities can be counter-productive. Knowledge is stored in the form of memories and only 10% of those memories are visual and auditory representations. Meaning-based memories make up the 90% (Willingham on Learning Styles Don’t Exist–TeacherTube). Those impressive-looking illustrations of the brain on the Universal Design for Learning site and interesting graphic organizers on the multiple intelligences sites hopelessly simplify what we know is a far more complex subject. Daniel T. Willingham, cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Virginia advises districts, schools, and teachers to “save your money” on any brain-based instructional in-services or instructional resources. See Willingham’s excellent YouTube on the fallacy of brain-based instruction.

2. Research does not support adjusting instruction according to learning styles or multiple intelligences theories. To sum up his extensive meta-analysis of modality research, Willingham states “…we can say that the possible effects of matching instructional modality to a student’s modality strength have been extensively studied and have yielded no positive evidence. If there was an effect of any consequence, it is extremely likely that we would know it by now (American Educator 1995).” With respect to research on multiple intelligences, “The fundamental criticism of MI theory is the belief by scholars that each of the seven multiple intelligences is in fact a cognitive style rather than a stand-alone construct (Morgan, 1996). Morgan, (1996) refers to Gardner’s approach of describing the nature of each intelligence with terms such as abilities, sensitivities, skills and abilities as evidence of the fact that the “theory” is really a matter of semantics rather than new thinking on multiple constructs of intelligence (http://www.indiana.edu/~intell/mitheory.shtml),” Frankly, the essential variables of motivation, preference, teacher perception, and the learning tasks themselves probably cannot ever be isolated in an experimental design, thus prohibiting statistically significant conclusions regarding how students learn best and how teachers should teach.

3. Learning styles and multiple intelligences theories beg the question about how students learn. The assumption is that students learn best by receiving instruction in their strongest modality or intelligence. This may make sense for designated hitters in the American League. Allow me to explain. In the American League, pitchers rarely bat; instead, designated hitters bat for them. The designated hitter does not play in the field. It would make sense for the designated hitter to practice according to his modality strength. Developing kinesthetic expertise in slugging home runs will earn him his multi-millions. But exclusive kinesthetic batting practice will not help him become a better fielder. There is no learning transfer. We certainly don’t want designated hitters in our classrooms. We want students to be complete ballplayers. In fact, it makes more sense to practice our relative weaknesses. Why should kinesthetically adept Johnny continue to make project after project rather than practicing in his areas of relative weakness: oral (auditory, aural) and written (visual) communication?

4. By emphasizing the how of instruction, learning styles and multiple intelligences practitioners lose sight of the what of instruction and tend to force square blocks into round holes. For teaching input to be processed and stored in the memory, that input has to match how the information will be stored. Little of what we teach will be stored as visual or auditory representations. This does not mean that good teaching won’t use the visual or auditory domains, but the focus of most all of our instruction is meaning-based. We want our students to know stuff. We have to match the how of instruction to the what of instruction, not the reverse. “All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality (Willingham in American Educator 1995).” It should go without saying that if a child has, for example, an auditory processing disability, the how of instruction should be limited in that modality. Similarly, adapting learning tasks to perceived student intelligences is impractical for the vast majority of our teaching standards. A student with musical intelligence still needs meaning-based practice to understand the roles of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

5. Although learning Styles and multiple intelligences theories seem individual-centered and egalitarian on the surface, the converse is more likely true. The practical applications of these theories tend to pigeon-hole students and assume that nature plays a greater role in learning than does nurture. For example, teachers disproportionately tend to label African-American children, especially boys, as kinesthetic learners and Asian kids are more often classified as visual learners. Being labeled limits options and dissuades effort and exploration. Learning styles and multiple intelligences assessments particularly have this egregious effect. Our students are not stupid. Labeling them as “good at” and “has strengths in” also labels them as “bad at” and “has weaknesses in.” Students “shut down” to learning or “self-limit” their achievement with such labels. If limited to what the students know and don’t yet know, assessments data can be productive. If extended to how students learn, data can be debilitating. Additionally, who is to say that how a student learns remains a constant? Teachers certainly have an important role in nurturing motivation, risk-taking, and exploration. Teachers should be about opening doors, not closing doors.

Unfortunately, the differentiated instruction movement has largely adopted learning style and multiple intelligence theories. Check out why differentiated instruction should be more about the what and less about the how in 23 Myths of Differentiated Instruction. As we move ahead in the Response to Interventionprocess, this subject of how to best serve students with learning challenges is especially relevant. Readers may also wish to check out the author’s introductory article: Learning Styles Teaching Lacks Common Sense.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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

Learning Styles Teaching Lacks Common Sense

Different strokes for different folks. What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for me. These sayings appeal to our American ideals of individualism and equality, don’t they? And they certainly seem to apply to how we think we should teach. Our assumption is that we all learn differently so good teachers should adjust instruction to how students learn. Specifically, we assume that some students are better auditory (or aural) learners, some are better visual learners, and some are better kinesthetic learners. Or add additional modalities or intelligences to the list, if you wish. All we need to do to maximize learning is to adjust instruction to fit the modality that best matches the students’ learning styles or intelligences. It just seems like good old-fashioned common sense.

However, common sense is not always a trustworthy or reliable guide. Galileo once challenged Aristotle’s wisdom and the popular consensus of two millennia that objects fall at different rates, depending upon their bulk. Galileo climbed to the top of the leaning tower of Pisa and dropped a tiny musket ball and a huge canon ball at the same time. Defying common sense, those objects reached ground at the same time. Even today, ask most people whether a nickel or computer would hit the ground first. Most would still pick the computer.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Teachers encounter counter-intuitive examples in teaching all the time: a not-so-bright student whose parents both have master’s degrees, a student with high fluency but low comprehension, an administrator who has never taught in a classroom. These anomalies just don’t make sense, but they happen quite frequently. In fact, before recent IDEA legislation, students with demonstrated learning problems could not qualify for special education unless there was an established discrepancy between ability and performance. In other words, unless the student’s learning disability challenged our notions of common sense, the student could not qualify for special education services.

Most teachers will say that they believe in some form of learning style or multiple intelligences theory. Most will say that they attempt to adjust instruction to some degree to how they perceive students learn best. Many use modality assessments to guide their instructional decision-making. This is particularly true within the special education community. Although there probably has been some change, Arter and Jenkins (1979) found that more than 90% of special education teachers believe in modality theory. These assumptions are especially relevant as special education teachers assume lead roles in the expanded Response to Intervention models, especially with respect to the three-tiered instructional model.

But these common sense assumptions are simply wrong for the most part. To understand why, we need to define our terms a bit. When we talk about how our students learn we need to consider three components of the learning process. First, the learner accesses input, that is teaching, through sensory experiences. Next, the learner makes meaning of and connects that new input to existing knowledge and experience. Finally, that learner stores this input into the short and long term memories.

Now, this learning process is not the same as knowledge. Learning (the verb) leads to knowledge (the noun). And knowledge is not how students learn. Knowledge is what students learn. Knowledge is stored in the memory. Knowledge = memory. Memory includes everything and excludes nothing. It even includes learning how to learn. We have no separate data bases.

So how is knowledge (memory) stored in the brain? According to cognitive scientists, 90% of the memory is meaning-based. Only 10% of the memory consists of visual or auditory representations (Willingham 2009). These percentages do reflect what we teach. Most everything we teach is meaning-based. So, shouldn’t we focus our teaching energies on matching how we teach to how the knowledge is stored?

Auditory Memory

Let’s start with the 10%. If knowledge will be stored as an auditory memory, teaching should emphasize this modality. For example, if band students are learning how to tune their instruments, they need to listen to and practice hearing the sound waves, not necessarily see a spectrograph or understand the complexities of how sound is produced. Or if students are learning to read with inflection, they need to hear good models of inflection and mimic those models. Both sound waves and reading inflection knowledge are stored primarily as auditory memories. To tune their instruments, band students will access their auditory memories of wave sounds and apply this knowledge to raising or lowering the pitch of their instruments. To read with inflection, students will recall the rhythm, emphasis, and altered voices of modeled readings and apply this knowledge to reading in front of the class.

Visual Memory

And now the balance of the 10%. If knowledge will be stored as a visual memory, teaching should emphasize this modality. For example, if art students are learning the color spectrum, they need to see and practice the colors with their various hues, not just memorize ROY G BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet). Or if students are memorizing the locations of the states, they will need to see and practice their shapes, sizes, and relationships to other states on political and/or physical maps. Both colors and the locations of states are stored primarily as visual memories. To draw an apple from memory, art students will access their visually stored memories of various hues of red and/or other colors and apply this knowledge to their watercolor. To pass the map test, students will recall the images of the political and/or physical maps and correctly label the states.

Meaning-Based Memory

And finally to the 90%. These meaning-based memories are stored independent of any modality-“not in terms of whether you saw, heard, or physically interacted with the information.” (Willingham 2009). If knowledge will be stored in the memory as meaning, teaching should be designed to emphasize this outcome. For example, if history students are learning the three branches of the federal government and the system of checks and balances, they need to understand the meanings of the terms: legislative, executive, and judicial as well as the specific limitations of and checks on powers that the framers of the Constitution designed to ensure balance and prevent abuse. Good teaching would emphasize both rehearsal and application of this information to ensure understanding. This would, of course, necessitate using the auditory (or aural) modality. It would also certainly be appropriate to use the visual modality by drawing the three-branch tree with each branch representing the divisions of government. However, most of the learning process will necessitate memorizing how, what, where, when, and why facts through meaning-storage strategies and techniques (such as repetition), establishing cognitive connections to prior knowledge and experiences with plenty of appropriate examples, and practicing trial and error feedback through class discussion, reading, and writing. Whew! Complex, meaning-based stuff. On the test, students will not access memories of the teacher’s lecture voice or the teacher’s tree drawing to answer the multiple-choice questions. Students will recall meaning-based memories derived from teaching that appropriately matches the content to be learned. If 90% of what our students learn is meaning-based, why waste limited planning and instructional time fixating on the 10%? Now that’s good old-fashioned common sense.

Check out Dr. Daniel Willingham’s YouTube on this subject.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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

Free Reading Intervention Resources

Teaching remedial reading is one of the most challenging yet enriching tasks. Reading is the key to learning. With the evolving Response to Intervention (RtI) process, special education and classroom teachers are scurrying to find appropriate resources to differentiate reading instruction. What these teachers are finding is that one-size-fits-all canned reading programs are not matching the needs of all of their students. Additionally, many intervention teachers are feeling that scripted programs are ignoring teacher experience, judgment, and expertise. What is needed are resources that will allow trained professionals to differentiate reading instruction within flexible learning structures. The three-tiered RtI model looks good on paper, but quality resources are essential in these delivery models.

Most special education and classroom teachers are quite prepared to teach the reading and writing content of their courses. Their undergraduate and graduate courses reflect this preparation. However, most are less prepared to teach reading intervention. Most credential programs require only one or two reading strategy courses. Expertise is critical because the research shows that only one-in-six students reading two or more grade levels behind by middle school will ever catch up to grade level reading.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to teach remedial readers and reading intervention from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Reading Intervention

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/

Download free phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency, grammar, mechanics, and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. A true gold mine for the teacher committed to differentiated instruction!

How to Teach Reading Intervention

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-reading-intervention/

Teaching reading intervention is qualitatively different from teaching beginning reading. By definition, the initial reading instruction did not “take” to a sufficient degree, so things must be done differently this time around to improve chances for success. This article defines the key ingredients for a successful reading intervention program and provides an instructional template.

Backwards Reading Intervention

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/backwards-reading-intervention/

How strange that a student-centered approach to learning, as advocated by many teachers and authors, does not extend to a student-centered approach to instruction. To cut to the chase, why are many reading intervention teachers so reluctant to differentiate reading instruction according to the diagnostic needs of individual students?

Reading Intervention Programs

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/reading-intervention-programs/

So… you’re adopting a reading intervention program for your district or school. What questions should you be asking? Your needs (and those of your students) are only half of the equation. The other half of the equation is the needs of the program publisher. Read this article before you invest time and resources in a reading intervention program.

Remedial Reading Intervention Placement: What Does Not and What Does Make Sense

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/remedial-reading-intervention-placement-what-does-and-does-not-make-sense/

Placing students in remedial reading intervention classes is certainly a challenge. By understanding what does and does not make sense in the selection process, educators will be able to avoid many of the usual pitfalls of these types of programs and have a greater chance at success.

Secondary Reading Program Placement

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/secondary-reading-program-placement/

No matter which school-wide model of reading intervention is used at the middle or high school levels, the problem of proper reading placement is common to all. Here are some helpful suggestions as to how to place students in reading intervention classes. Placement and monitoring are the keys to successful Tier I, II, and III Response to Intervention.

The Problem with Dialectical Journals

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Dialectical journals have been teacher favorites since literature-based reading pedagogy was popularized in the 1980s. However, this reader-centered instruction creates more problems than it solves. In lieu of dialectical journals, teachers should help students learn and apply the five types of independent reading strategies that promote internal monitoring of the text.

Community College Remedial Reading Costs

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Increased enrollment in our community colleges has created an economic double-whammy for both hard-pressed state budgets and for community colleges themselves. An increasingly key factor in this double-whammy has been the cost to remediate the skill set of these new students, especially in reading. Remediation, especially reading remediation, has always been a tough issue for state legislators and community colleges. Some have been reluctant to accept the reality that so many of our high school graduates or drop-outs still cannot read at the levels they need to function in society. Others recognize the problem, but play the blame game by pointing fingers at the failures of K-12 education. While the costs of providing remedial reading education are high to both state and community college budgets, the costs of not providing the resources are incalculable.

Top Ten Reasons to Teach Phonics

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Reading is not a developmentally acquired skill. In other words, children and adults do not learn to read by simply being read to or exposed to a literate environment. Learning the sound-spelling system and applying the alphabetic code is what we call phonics instruction. Acquiring this skill will allow readers to attend to the real purpose of reading—understanding what the author says.

Phonics Games

Plenty of phonics-based programs do a fine job of providing that systematic instruction. However, some do the basic job, but will bore both students and teachers to tears. Learning to read is hard work, but it should also be fun. These phonics flashcards, phonics games, and Mp3 phonics songs/raps work with any phonics-based program and are divided into Easy, Medium, and Difficult levels to allow teachers to effectively differentiate instruction.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/phonics-games/

Should We Teach Phonics to Remedial Readers?

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Although most students learn to read in their early years of school, some students experience significant reading problems. Almost always, the cause is the same. Struggling readers have not learned the sound-spelling system we call phonics. With the right diagnostic assessments and instruction, remedial readers can make significant gains.

Good Reading Fluency, but Poor Reading Comprehension

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Teachers and parents see it more and more: good reading fluency, but poor reading comprehension. Repeated reading practice to build fluency needs to be balanced with meaningful oral expression and internal self-monitoring comprehension strategies.

Teach Your Child to Read

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One of the true joys and responsibilities of parenthood is teaching your child to read. But wait… isn’t that the teacher’s job? Of course it is, but the best approach is always an effective and complementary home-school partnership. Whether your child is in pre-school, kindergarten, or first grade he or she can and will learn to read with your help. As an MA Reading Specialist and educational author, I’ve done all of the “prep” work necessary for parents to hold up their end of the home-school partnership in these Teach Your Child to Read tools and resources. You don’t have to be a reading expert; you’ve got back-up :)

Should We Teach Phonemic Awareness to Remedial Readers?

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Phonemic awareness is the key predictor of reading success. Many students with reading problems have not acquired this ability. This article suggests that phonemic awareness should be taught, not just caught, and provides the how’s and when’s to inform remedial reading instruction.

How and When to Teach Phonemic Awareness

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Phonemic awareness is the key predictor of reading success. However, is it a pre-requisite skill or a by-product of reading? This article suggests that phonemic awareness should be taught, not caught, and provides the how’s and when’s to inform instruction.

How to Teach Sight Words

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Although not a substitute for systematic phonics instruction, memorizing key sight words does makes sense to promote reading automaticity. In fact, many of the high frequency words are not phonetically decodable and must be memorized as sight words. This article details who should learn sight words and how to best teach them.

How to Teach the Alphabet

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The alphabet is the key to reading. These twenty-six symbols combine to form a rich lexicon of 800,000 English words. The key to learning the alphabet has been the traditional “Alphabet Song.” However beneficial, this song has created significant problems for young readers and English-language learners. A few twists eliminates these issues.

How to Do Sound-by-Sound Spelling Blending

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Help your students to read in the most efficient way possible. This article gives the reading teacher or parent the exact sequence of sounds to introduce to help students learn to read. A step-by-step blending model is demonstrated with clear examples.

Reading Intervention: How to Beat the Odds

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To beat the odds indicating that only one-in-six remedial readers will ever “catch up” to grade level, we need to analyze what has not worked and what will work. As we move in the direction of affirming teacher professionalism with the evolving RtI process, we emphasize a collaborative approach to determine how to best meet student needs. Here’s hoping that we reduce the odds of failure and increase the odds of success.

Four Critical Components to Successful Reading Intervention

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According to research, only one of six remedial reading students will ever progress to grade-level reading ability. However, the odds can increase dramatically when the critical components for a successful literacy intervention are addressed. How schools plan reading intervention programs is just as important as what program they use.

What Remedial Reading Teachers Want (A Manifesto)

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Remedial reading (reading intervention) teachers of upper elementary, middle school, high school, and adult students all share the same instructional goal: help their students become fluent readers who understand what they read. Teachers want to achieve this goal in the shortest amount of instructional time. A Remedial Reading Teacher’s Manifesto will help teachers teach students, as opposed to teaching a “canned program.”

Reading Readiness

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/reading-readiness/

The following big picture advice on getting students ready to read applies equally to teachers of four-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, and forty-year-olds. Of course, there are differences that need to be considered for each age group. Preschool/kinder/first grade teachers, intermediate and middle school reading intervention (RtI) teachers, and adult education teachers know how to teach to their clients’ developmental learning characteristics. Similarly, English-language development teachers and special education teachers know their student populations and are adept at how to differentiate instruction accordingly. But, my point is that the what of reading readiness instruction is much the same across the age and experience spectrum.

How to Teach the Voiced and Unvoiced “th”

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Teaching the voiced and unvoiced consonant digraphs in the context of beginning and remedial reading instruction can be tricky. Speech therapists and ESL teachers insist that the differences are critically important; reading specialists and special education teachers tend to ignore these as “distinctions without differences.” As a reading specialist, I usually stay on the practical “whatever works” side of the ledger. However, with respect to this one issue, I think my speech therapist and ESL friends have won me over. Without getting over-technical (Please… if I see one more diagram of the vocal cords or hear the word fricative, I will not be held responsible for my actions), here are a few instructional tools that will help us all teach the voiced and unvoiced “th” consonant digraph.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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Free Response to Intervention (RtI) Resources

As the mandates of the Response to Intervention (RtI) process continue to transfer to public schools, special education and classroom teachers are hurrying to find appropriate resources to differentiate literacy instruction for their students. What these teachers find is that one-size-fits-all canned reading, writing, and math programs simply do not match the needs of all of their students. Additionally, many intervention teachers find that scripted programs tend to ignore teacher experience, judgment, and expertise. Instead, RtI teachers need the resources that will allow them  to differentiate literacy instruction without becoming robots. The three-tiered RtI model looks good in the triangle diagram, but quality resources are essential to make these delivery models address the needs of their students.

Most special education and classroom teachers are very prepared to teach the reading and writing content of their courses. They know how to teach. Their undergraduate and graduate courses have adequately prepared them for these tasks. However, most teachers are less prepared to teach reading, writing, and math intervention classes. For example, most credential programs require only one or two reading strategy courses. So, choosing appropriate instructional resources that will facilitate differentiated instruction, according to diagnostic and formative data are critically important.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to teach reading and writing intervention within the RtI process from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Bookmark and visit us often. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Response to Intervention

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/

Download free phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency, grammar, mechanics, and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. A true gold mine for the teacher committed to differentiated instruction!

Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration

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If your school and/or district is moving toward a Response to Intervention (RtI) model, knowing the ten reasons why some teachers and administrators avoid RtI collaboration will help those committed to the RtI process make fewer mistakes and get more buy-in from stakeholders.

Are You Ready for RtI?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/are-you-ready-for-rti/

The RtI model presupposes collaboration from all stakeholders in a school and/or district. All-too-often, this presupposition has doomed RtI at some school sites and in some districts from the get-go. Jumping into RtI and the three-tier instructional delivery model without first addressing legitimate concerns and before gaining stakeholder consensus has given a black-eye to a promising means of delivering a truly first-class education to all children.

Word Families (Rimes) Activities

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Learning the common word families (rimes) can help beginning or remedial readers recognize common chunks of letters within words. For example, if students learn to recognize the “ack” rime, they will be able to use that chunk to learn words with different single consonant onsets, to form “back,” “hack,” “jack,” “lack,” “rack,” “sack,” “tack,” as well as words with different consonant blend onsets, such as “black,” “crack,” and “stack.” Check out the most common rimes and some fun rimes activities to use at home or in the classroom.

Sight Word Activities

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Most every reading teacher places some value onsight wordsinstruction; however, just what teachers mean by sight words varies more than the flavors at the local ice cream parlor. Reading specialists describe two methods of “word attack”: word identification and word recognition. Sight words are the word recognition side of the coin. These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and loveare Outlaw Words because readers can’t sound them out. Unfortunately, many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable, so they need to be memorized. Here is a list of the essential Outlaw Words with some fun practice activities and an Outlaw Words reading fluency to assess mastery in the reading context.

Phonemic Awareness Activities

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Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds. We call these speech sounds phonemes. Both beginning and remedial readers may need to learn these phonemic awareness skills: rhyme, alphabet, syllable, phonemic isolation, blending, and segmenting. Check out the list of phonemes, six whole-class phonemic awareness assessments, and six corresponding activities to teach phonemic awareness in the home or in the classroom.

How to Teach Phonics

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-phonics/

Teaching phonics is an essential ingredient to effective reading instruction. Learning the phonetic code teaches the beginning or remedial reader to make efficient and automatic judgments about how words are constructed. Mastery of the basic sound-spelling correspondences will also pay significant dividends once the student begins reading multisyllabic expository text. Check out the colorful Animal Sound-Spelling Cards, the Names, Sounds, and Spelling Rap (Mp3 file), the Consonant Blend Cards, whole-class phonemic awareness and phonics diagnostic assessments, the Sound by Sound Spelling Blending Instructional Sequence with accompanying teaching script, and some great phonics games ALL FREE in this article.

What Effective and Ineffective RtI Look Like

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Response to Intervention (RtI) is a K-12 site-level decision-making process designed to facilitate and coordinate early and flexible responses to student’s learning and behavioral difficulties. RtI promotes data-based decision-making with respect to service placement and on-going progress monitoring. Following are a few indicators of what effective and ineffective RtI can look like.

Eight RtI-Reading Intervention Models

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/eight-rti-reading-intervention-models/

As administrators, special education teachers, EL coordinators, reading specialists, and teachers are scrambling to see how new Response to Intervention (RtI) guidelines will work with resources, personnel, schedules, and student populations, it may be helpful to examine eight of the many intervention models with proven track records. After all, why re-invent the wheel? Each of the following models is described and analyzed in pro-con format.

Response to Intervention: What Just Won’t Work

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/response-to-intervention-what-just-wont-work/

With the newly released RtI document and as states and districts scramble to conform to Race to the Top carrots and sticks, voices of 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, the language of the document betrays certain pedagogical presuppositions and is, at points, flat unrealistic.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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

Free Resources on Educational Issues and Teaching Trends

Even though we teachers like to think that we are “kings and queens of our own castles,” we are not immune to outside influences. As public servants, what we do in the classroom is impacted by political, economic, and social change. For better or worse, we live in a democracy.

In addition to our roles as public servants, we are also research scientists. More precisely, we are social scientists with a complex and evolving laboratory of students, parents, administration, and teaching colleagues.

As servants and scientists, educational issues and teaching trends affect who we are and how we teach more than many of us like to admit. The veteran teachers who roll their collective eyes and say “What comes around, goes around” know a thing or two. They know that sometimes the tail wags the dog-that things go on that determine what we do as professional educators. Now, change is good. But change with perspective and judgment is better.

Following are articles and practical resources regarding educational issues and teaching trends from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Educational Issues and Teaching Trends

Race to the Top Winners and Losers

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The nineteen state finalists in the Race to the Top initiative are truly winners and losers.

Don’t Rely on Rigor and Relevance

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As a precursor to the current economic crisis, the educational leadership trend was the Rigor and Relevance Movement. Popularized over the last decade by Bill Daggett and the International Center for Leadership in Education, with concurrent support from the Institute of Education Sciences (the federal research agency arm of the U.S. Department of Education), the movement has swept the nation. Largely as a result of historical timing, the Rigor and Relevance (and now, relationships) Movement has become the de facto solution to the ills of public education. A critique of this movement points out a few noteworthy deficits in philosophy and pedagogy.

Crazy Reading Fads

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As an MA reading specialist, I’ve seen some strange remedial reading fads come and go over the years. Much like new weight loss products, each new fad looks enticing and promising. Let’s face it. Everyone wants the magic reading pill that will transform poor readers into skillful readers overnight.

Strange, but True: “Stuffed Animals Increase Reading Levels”

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According to Riddering, students were given a stuffed animal as a “reading buddy” and were encouraged to read to their buddy. Because of this method, reading scores increased greatly.

“One school in particular saw their sixth grade reading levels go from just 47 percent to 93 percent,” Riddering said. “That’s huge success!”

Educational Fads: What Goes Around Comes Around

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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. Educational fads seem to come and go. Teachers need to learn to “crap detectors” to avoid some of the pitfalls of educational bandwagoning and experimentation.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Teaching Essay Strategies, and Teaching Reading Strategies and more ELA/Reading resources for the overworked teacher committed to differentiating instruction according to diagnostic and formative data. Perfect for EL/ESL and RtI instruction. For free diagnostic assessments, flashcards, and instructional materials, as well as his highly-recommended curricula, check out www.penningtonpublishing.com. Bookmark and refer back often to the Pennington Publishing Blog for insightful articles, free resources, and educational tips. Oh, and don’t forget the copy down the 10% discount code found only on this blog.

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

Free Resources on Developmental Characteristics of Learners

As an English-language arts teacher and MA reading specialist, I am firmly committed to standards-based instruction, to a point. It makes sense to have specific end goals within an established scope and sequence of instruction to which we all adhere. We are public school teachers. The public has, and should have, input into what we teach to a degree. We are not lone-rangers, nor are we completely autonomous practitioners of our private teaching craft.

However, I am also committed to teaching students as individuals. Knowing individual academic strengths via diagnostic assessments makes sense. Differentiating instruction accordingly also makes sense. Some scaffolds have to be built for some students to master rigorous academic standards.

Beyond teaching to the standards and teaching to students as individuals, we also need to teach to the culture and developmental characteristics of our learners. If we ignore this last component, standards and individual-based learning simply will not take place.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding the developmental characteristics of preteen through adult learners from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Developmental Characteristics

Characteristics of Pre-Teen Learners

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/characteristics-of-pre-teen-learners/

Knowing the developmental characteristics of pre-teen students allows teaching professionals to maximize learning. These learner characteristics enable teachers to better motivate their students and inform instructional decision-making. Knowing who you teach will help you know what to teach.

Characteristics of Middle School Learners

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/characteristics-of-middle-school-learners/

Knowing the developmental characteristics of middle school students allows teaching professionals to maximize learning. These learner characteristics enable teachers to better motivate their students and inform instructional decision-making. Knowing who you teach will help you know what to teach.

Characteristics of High School Learners

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/characteristics-of-high-school-learners/

Knowing the developmental characteristics of high school students allows teaching professionals to maximize learning. These learner characteristics enable teachers to better motivate their students and inform instructional decision-making. Knowing who you teach will help you know what to teach.

Characteristics of Adult Learners

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/characteristics-of-adult-learners/

Adult learners are qualitatively different than younger learners. You certainly can “teach an old dog new tricks” by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of adult learners. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize the learning advantages and address the learning challenges of adult learners can make all the difference in their success…

Help! My Child Won’t Read or Write

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Most children will not read or write with accountability. Providing that accountability will not ruin a child’s love of reading or writing in the long run.

How to Teach Reading to Children, Youth, and Adults

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-reading-to-children-youth-and-adults/

Should you teach reading to children, youth, and adults in the same way? The answers may surprise you in this strategy-filled article.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, and Teaching Essay Strategies, Teaching Reading Strategies, PLUS more ELA/Reading resources for the overworked teacher committed to differentiating instruction according to diagnostic and formative data. Perfect for EL/ESL and RtI instruction. For free diagnostic assessments, flashcards, and instructional materials, as well as his highly-recommended curricula, check out www.penningtonpublishing.com. Bookmark and refer back often to the Pennington Publishing Blog for insightful articles, free resources, and educational tips. 

Often, the reason why students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because they don’t try hard enough, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success. The forty lessons in Essential Study Skills will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable. Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. Ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, Advocacy/Advisory, Opportunity Program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice. 128 pages

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Free English-language Arts Instructional Resources

English-language arts teachers are a unique breed. They are decidedly schizophrenic in that they teach both content and process. Other content area teachers tend to expect ELA teachers to shoulder the burden of teaching only the minor educational necessities: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Of course most content area teachers would also expect students to have read, i.e., ELA teachers to have taught, all of the classics. Let’s add on all study skills, critical thinking, and life skills. Here’s to the overworked ELA teachers. Shouldn’t they do all of the supervision and adjunct duties, as well?

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding English-language arts instruction from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

English-language Arts Instruction

Time for the Common Core?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/time-for-the-common-core/

How much to teach, not what to teach or how to teach are the questions keeping English-language arts teachers up at night. How much to teach for each of the four Common Core State Standard ELA Strands? Is there really time to teach all of the Common Core ELA Standards? Check out this balanced approach with detailed instructional times.

Common Core Academic Language Words

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-academic-language-words/

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Grammar Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/common-core-grammar-standards/

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of  the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-common-core-vocabulary-standards/

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. So what instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? Following is a weekly instructional plan to teach the L.4, 5, and 6 Vocabulary Standards.

Teaching ELA/Reading: 10 Impediments and Solutions

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All ELA/reading teachers want to do their best for their students. But how can we give our best when so many impediments stand in our way? I’m not talking about the usual ones we discuss in the staff room: discipline problems, overbearing administrators, bothersome parents, lack of materials. I’m talking about the all of the stuff that reductively minimizes our opportunity to be our best.

How to Lead Effective Group Discussions

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Effective group discussions don’t just happen naturally. Good teachers or facilitators carefully craft the expected interaction by using the techniques provided in this article. Learn how to manage a discussion, praise and correct appropriately, and get everyone to participate.

How to Use Graded Literary Discussions

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Students need to know that their participation in class discussion is an important part of their overall grade. Otherwise, many will avoid participation or perceive the group discussion as being of minimal importance. Graded literary discussions motivate student participation.

How to Save Time Grading Essays

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Grading essays with specific comments can be very time-consuming. The answer is not to simply award a numerical rubric score. Instead, learn how to use the editing tools of Microsoft Word® to give prescriptive comments and still save time. These are comments that students will actually read.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay Strategies, and Teaching Reading Strategies plus more ELA/Reading resources for the overworked teacher committed to differentiating instruction according to diagnostic and formative data. For free diagnostic assessments, flashcards, and instructional materials, as well as his highly-recommended curricula, check out www.penningtonpublishing.com. Bookmark and refer back often to the Pennington Publishing Blog for insightful articles, free resources, and educational tips. Oh, and don’t forget the copy down the 10% discount code found only on this blog.

NEW! The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has also written 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.tls-thumb

Teaching the Language Strand also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Teaching the Language Strand “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

Free Resources to Teach English-language Arts Standards and the Common Core

Standards-based education is at an important crossroads. Having largely captured the focus of the educational reform movement over the last 20 years, standards-based instruction is now the norm in all 50 states. Currently, 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. More rigorous than previous state standards, teachers and district administrators are scrambling to align curriculum to the instructional demands of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.

Although much discussion has ensued over the Common Core Standards insistence that literacy instruction must be a shared responsibility within the school, the largest burden still falls on the shoulders of ELA teachers. Of the four Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language Strands, the Language Strand presents the greatest challenge for many teachers. Most ELA teachers simply have not had the undergraduate or graduate coursework to prepare them to teach the L.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 Standards in grammar and usage, mechanics, spelling, language application, and vocabulary.

The author of the Pennington Publishing Blog, Mark Pennington, has written a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language series to help ELA teachers teach each of the Common Core Language Standards. Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) ©2012 Pennington Publishing provides the resources teachers need to teach grade-level Standards and to differentiate instruction for their diverse learners. Previews of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available on the author’s website.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog regarding the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Bookmark and visit us often. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

English-language Arts Standards and the Common Core

Grammar and the Common Core

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/grammar-and-the-common-core/

I hear the same two comments at English-language arts conferences all the time: 1. “I’ve heard that research has proven grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary instruction doesn’t work.” 2. “I teach grammar and they seem to get it. They pass my tests and do okay on the standardized tests, but they don’t transfer the learning to their writing or speaking. And they just don’t retain what we’ve covered. Their next-year teacher always asks why I don’t teach grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling.” So, how can we respond to these comments and what instructional approaches do work to teach the Common Core Language Standards?

Time for the Common Core?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/time-for-the-common-core/

How much to teach, not what to teach or how to teach are the questions keeping English-language arts teachers up at night. How much to teach for each of the four Common Core State Standard ELA Strands? Is there really time to teach all of the Common Core ELA Standards? Check out this balanced approach with detailed instructional times.

Common Core Academic Language Words

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-academic-language-words/

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Greek and Latinates

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-greek-and-latinates/

The bulk of Vocabulary Standards are now included in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots are key components of five of the grade level Standards: Grades 4-8. Which Greek and Latin affixes and roots should we teach? How many should we teach? How should we teach them?

Teaching the Language Strand

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/teaching-the-language-strand/

Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) is part of a comprehensive Grades 4-12 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards in 60-90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year curriculum provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. The program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Appendices have extensive instructional resources, including the Pennington Manual of Style and downloadable essay-comments. A student workbook accompanies this program.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/overview-of-the-common-core-language-strand/

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (now called strands)with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language now has its own seat at the table. So who exactly is this new dinner guest? For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful.

Common Core Grammar Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/common-core-grammar-standards/

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.

Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of  the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-common-core-vocabulary-standards/

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. So what instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? Following is a weekly instructional plan to teach the L.4, 5, and 6 Vocabulary Standards.

CCSS Language Progressive Skills

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/ccss-language-progressive-skills-standards/

The Language Strand has been one of the most controversial components of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. One of these components stirring up heated debate has been the Language Progressive Skills document.

Common Core Curricular Crossover

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-curricular-crossover/

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) produces some interesting curricular crossover. The traditional English-language arts divisions of reading, writing, listening, and speaking have been replaced with four new strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. The six Standards of the Language Strand borrow a bit from each of the traditional divisions. The inclusion of the Language Strand as its own set of Standards has created some concern in the ELA community.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/spelling-word-lists-by-grade-levels/

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

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/common-core-essay-writing-terms/

I propose using the CCSS language of instruction for the key writing terms across all subject disciplines in elementary, middle school, and high school. Some of us will have to come down out of our castles and give up pet writing terms that we’ve used for years, and ones that, indeed, may be more accurate than those of the CCSS. But for the sake of collaboration and service to our students, this pedagogical sacrifice is a must.

Common Core Content Area Reading and Writing

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-content-area-reading-and-writing/

Nothing in the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has worried English-language arts teachers more than “The Great Shift.” This shift changes the emphasis of reading and writing in K-12 English-language arts (ELA) classrooms from the literature and narrative to the informational (to explain) and argumentative (to persuade) genres. Hear are some relevant tactics to assist ELA teachers in spreading the wealth (pain) of the new Standards.

Current Status of the Common Core State Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/current-status-of-the-common-core-state-standards/

As K-12 education transitions to the new Common Core State Standards, teachers have understandably been asking the “When do we start teaching the new standards?” and “Will we need new curriculum to teach the Common Core State Standards?” questions. State departments of education and school districts have been scrambling for answers. Teachers have been left in limbo. Here’s the latest, with special attention on California.

Common Core State Standards Fear-mongering

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/common-core-state-standards-fear-mongering/

Phyllis Shlaffly’s July 21 article, posted in the Eagle Forum pieces together a number of undocumented sources commenting on the prospect of a national curriculum and the Common Core State Standards. Following is her article and my responses to her concerns and comments from the perspective of a public school teacher and educational publisher.

California Common Core Language Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/california-common-core-language-standards/

Teachers in California are asking plenty of questions. For example: How much red ink was used before the state legislatures of California adopted the Common Core State Standards in the rush to qualify for the federal Race to the Top funds? In this article, I answer that question specifically with respect to the language strand of the California ELA/reading standards.

Common Core Language Standards
Here are the questions teachers are asking about the language strand of the Common Core State Standards. I’ll answer with specific reference to the document itself and then follow with a quick analysis. Teachers are naturally concerned with such a monumental change away from district and state standards to national standards. And don’t let ‘em fool you: These are national standards with minimal variations from state to state.

 

Standards and Accountability

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/standards-and-accountability/

A recent discussion on my favorite site, the English Companion Ning, made me take a critical look at just what has engendered the recent demands for increased accountability in our public schools. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing the blame game and teachers are the easiest targets. As a public school teacher, my initial response has been defensive; however, upon a bit of reflection I’m thinking that teachers may well largely be to blame–not for the “sorry state of public education” as our critics claim, but for the very accountability movement that is being used to attack us. We teachers are often our own worst enemies. Check out this article, published in the Answer Sheet of The Washington Post.

Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/turning-dependent-into-independent-readers/

The new Common Core State Standards for English-language Arts makes a compelling case for not doing business as usual in our ELA classrooms. That business consists of the traditional “sage on the stage” methodology of reading an entire novel or play out loud (or with CD) and parsing paragraphs one at a time. Our new business? Scaffolding just enough reading strategies and content as we act as “guides on the side” to facilitate independent reading. In other words, the days of  spoon-feeding have got to go.

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-and-how-to-teach-complex-text/

A growing body of research presents a challenge to current K-12 reading/English-language Arts instruction. In essence, we need to “up” the level of text complexity and provide greater opportunities for independent reading. The Common Core State English-language Arts Standards provides a convincing three-reason argument in support of these changes in instructional practice. Following this rationale, I will share ten instructional implications and address a few possible objections.

Common Core State Writing Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/common-core-state-writing-standards/

The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing.  The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards.

How to Teach the English-language Arts Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-english-language-arts-standards/

Every English-language arts teacher shares the same problem—too much to teach and not enough time to teach it. So, where are the magic beans that will allow us to teach all of the have-tos (think ELA standards) and still have a bit of time to teach the want-tos? Following are a few suggestions to help the clever ELA teacher have her cake and eat it, too.

Should We Teach Standards or Children?

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/should-we-teach-standards-or-children/

The excesses of the standards-based movement frequently run contrary to the need to differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of children.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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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.tls-thumb

Teaching the Language Strand also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Teaching the Language Strand “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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

Why and How to Teach Complex Text

A growing body of research presents a challenge to current K-12 reading/English-language Arts instruction. In essence, we need to “up” the level of text complexity and provide greater opportunities for independent reading. The Common Core State English-language Arts Standards provides a convincing three-reason argument in support of these changes in instructional practice. Following this rationale, I will share ten instructional implications and address a few possible objections.

1. Text complexity is the most important variable in reading comprehension. The level of difficulty is a more important variable in reading comprehension than is a reader’s degree of mastery of inferential reading strategies or critical thinking skills. In other words, what you read is more of an issue than how you read. Now applying reading strategies and critical thinking skills can certainly scaffold a reader’s ability to comprehend difficult text, but vocabulary, text organization, and sentence length seem to be more crucial variables.

From the Common Core State English-language Arts Standards Appendix A…

In 2006, ACT, Inc., released a report called Reading Between the Lines that showed which skills differentiated those students who equaled or exceeded the benchmark score (21 out of 36) in the reading section of the ACT college admissions test from those who did not. Prior ACT research had shown that students achieving the benchmark score or better in reading—which only about half (51 percent) of the roughly half million test takers in the 2004–2005 academic year had done—had a high probability (75 percent chance) of earning a C or better in an introductory, credit-bearing course in U.S. history or psychology (two common reading-intensive courses taken by first-year college students) and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better in such a course.

Surprisingly, what chiefly distinguished the performance of those students who had earned the benchmark score or better from those who had not was not their relative ability in making inferences while reading or answering questions related to particular cognitive processes, such as determining main ideas or determining the meaning of words and phrases in context. Instead, the clearest differentiator was students’ ability to answer questions associated with complex texts. Students scoring below benchmark performed no better than chance (25 percent correct) on four-option multiple-choice questions pertaining to passages rated as “complex” on a three-point qualitative rubric described in the report. These findings held for male and female students, students from all racial/ethnic groups, and students from families with widely varying incomes.

2. Post K-12 text complexity in college, the workplace, and in popular media has remained constant or increased in terms of levels of difficulty over the last fifty years.

From the Common Core State English-language Arts Standards Appendix A…

Research indicates that the demands that college, careers, and citizenship place on readers have either held steady or increased over roughly the last fifty years. The difficulty of college textbooks, as measured by Lexile scores, has not decreased in any block of time since 1962; it has, in fact, increased over that period (Stenner, Koons, & Swartz, in press). The word difficulty of every scientific journal and magazine from 1930 to 1990 examined by Hayes and Ward (1992) had actually increased, which is important in part because, as a 2005 College Board study (Milewski, Johnson, Glazer, & Kubota, 2005) found, college professors assign more readings from periodicals than do high school teachers. Workplace reading, measured in Lexiles, exceeds grade 12 complexity significantly, although there is considerable variation (Stenner, Koons, & Swartz, in press). The vocabulary difficulty of newspapers remained stable over the 1963–1991 period Hayes and his colleagues (Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe, 1996) studied.

3. K-12 text complexity has declined over the last fifty years.

From the Common Core State English-language Arts Standards Appendix A…

Despite steady or growing reading demands from various sources, K–12 reading texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century. Jeanne Chall and her colleagues (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977) found a thirteen year decrease from 1963 to 1975 in the difficulty of grade 1, grade 6, and (especially) grade 11 texts. Extending the period to 1991, Hayes, Wolfer, and Wolfe (1996) found precipitous declines (relative to the period from 1946 to 1962) in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades… Carrying the research closer to the present day, Gary L. Williamson (2006) found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts—a gap equivalent to 1.5 standard deviations and more than the Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

http://www.corestandards.org/

Ten Implications for K-12 Instruction

1. Higher Expectations

Clearly, we teachers need to “up” the level of difficulty of text and provide the scaffolds students need to understand that text. We need to challenge our students to struggle a bit. We can’t focus all of our instruction on the lowest common denominators.

2. Vocabulary

We need to use a systematic approach to vocabulary instruction including teaching structural analysis, context clues, and rote memorization and practice in what Isabel Beck calls “Tier Two” words that have high utility and applicability in academic language. Our students have got to master frequently used Greek and Latin affixes and roots.

3. Sentence and Text Structure

We need to not only analyze sentence and text structure, but also practice variations and complexities in our students’ writing. Good writers are better equipped to understand the complexities of how ideas are presented in academic text. The reading-writing connection is teachable.

4. Content

We need to teach the prior knowledge that students need to access difficult text independently. And we need to share and coordinate the load with our colleagues. For example, are our novels, poetry, and writing assignments aligned with what our students are learning in their history classes? We need to work smarter, not harder.

5. Reading Strategies

We need to be both content and process-driven. If we do not provide the tools and practice for our students, “reading to learn” will never work. Our elementary colleagues have largely handled the “learning to read,” but we need to apply the basic to the complex.

6. Critical Thinking

We need to teach the elements of logic and higher order thinking are prerequisites to understanding difficult reading text. Recognizing both solid and fallacious reasoning is an essential reading skill.

7. Expository Text

We need to put aside our exclusive love of literature and poetry for the sake of our students. College, workplace, and popular media texts are overwhelmingly expository in nature. We can do both.

8. Novel Selection

We may need to let go of traditional novels. Let’s take a hard look at what we are teaching to maximize content and process instruction. For example, Reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry may cover the content and standards nicely for an eighth grade ELA class, but the largely fifth grade reading level does not provide the text complexity that our students need. Additionally, shorter novels, selections, poems, articles, etc. will do the job more efficiently and with greater variety.

9. Differentiated Instruction

We need to recognize that all of students simply do not read at the same levels. Students have  different reading issues that inhibit their abilities to comprehend challenging text. We have to find out who has what issues and adjust our instruction accordingly. It does no good to play the “blame game” on previous teachers. We teach standards, but we also teach students. Diagnostic reading assessment has got to be a given for the conscientious reading/ELA teacher.

10. Independent Reading

We need to stop being co-dependents. The Common Core emphasis on CLOSE READING STRATEGIES can can be overdone. We do have to transfer the demands of accessing text over to students at some point. Plus, we need to fight the hard fight and require students to read at home. The amount of independent reading needed to increase even one grade level in terms of reading comprehension and vocabulary development necessitates reading at home.

Possible Objections and Howevers

We can certainly question the adequacy and accuracy of the tools used to measure text complexity. However, we all know that our students’ biology textbooks are more difficult than the Manga and Twilight that are students are reading.

What about the joy of reading? We want to create lifelong readers, not factory-trained automatons for the needs of academia, the workplace, and popular media. Reading trash can be entertaining. However, text complexity does not preclude reading for fun. The ability to read and understand more complex text should expand and enhance that experience.

What we teach in K-12 is in-it-of-itself valuable and relevant to the needs of our students. It may also be foundational in terms of content and process for greater text complexity. We are not just training students for future college, careers, and citizenship; we are teaching students now. However, can’t we have our cake and eat it, too? If our students need to know about chimpanzee behavior, can’t we replace Curious George with a scientific journal?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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Turning Dependent into Independent Readers

The new Common Core State Standards for English-language Arts makes a compelling case for not doing business as usual in our ELA classrooms. That business consists of the traditional “sage on the stage” methodology of reading an entire novel or play out loud (or with CD) and parsing paragraphs one at a time. Our new business? Scaffolding just enough reading strategies and content as we act as “guides on the side” to facilitate independent reading. In other words, the days of  spoon-feeding have got to go.

I can hear the excuses. But they won’t read it on their own. They won’t understand it on their own. My students have varied reading levels. We have core novels and plays to teach—that’s our job. Yes, those are valid concerns; however, there are proven means to ameliorate those concerns.

Following is the rationale for creating independent readers, then an analysis of the teacher-dependent status quo, and finally a few practical ideas to minimize scaffolding and maximize comprehension of challenging text.

Reading Independently: The Rationale

Excerpts from the Common Core State Standards for English-language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects Appendix A | 2…

Being able to read complex text independently and proficiently is essential for high achievement in college and the workplace and important in numerous life tasks. Moreover, current trends suggest that if students cannot read challenging texts with understanding—if they have not developed the skill, concentration, and stamina to read such texts—they will read less in general. In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information, they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets. These sources, while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text. As Adams (2009) puts it, “There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest. To grow, our students must read lots, and more specifically they must read lots of ‘complex’ texts—texts that offer them new language, new knowledge, and new modes of thought” (p. 182).

A turning away from complex texts is likely to lead to a general impoverishment of knowledge, which, because knowledge is intimately linked with reading comprehension ability, will accelerate the decline in the ability to comprehend complex texts and the decline in the richness of text itself. This bodes ill for the ability of Americans to meet the demands placed upon them by citizenship in a democratic republic and the challenges of a highly competitive global marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

The Teacher-Dependent Status Quo

College Preparation

There exists “a serious gap between many high school seniors’ reading ability and the reading requirements they will face after graduation. Furthermore, students in college are expected to read complex texts with substantially greater independence (i.e., much less scaffolding) than are students in typical K–12 programs. College students are held more accountable for what they read on their own than are most students in high school (Erickson & Strommer, 1991; Pritchard, Wilson, & Yamnitz, 2007).

College instructors assign readings, not necessarily explicated in class, for which students might be held accountable through exams, papers, presentations, or class discussions. Students in high school, by contrast, are rarely held accountable for what they are able to read independently (Heller & Greenleaf, 2007). This discrepancy in task demand, coupled with what we see below is a vast gap in text complexity, may help explain why only about half of the students taking the ACT Test in the 2004–2005 academic year could meet the benchmark score in reading (which also was the case in 2008–2009, the most recent year for which data are available) and why so few students in general are prepared for postsecondary reading (ACT, Inc., 2006, 2009).”

The Achievement Gap

It should be noted also that the problems with reading achievement are not “equal opportunity” in their effects: students arriving at school from less-educated families are disproportionately represented in many of these statistics (Bettinger & Long, 2009). The consequences of insufficiently high text demands and a lack of accountability for independent reading of complex texts in K–12 schooling are severe for everyone, but they are disproportionately so for those who are already most isolated from text before arriving at the schoolhouse door.

A Few Practical Ideas

It is important to recognize that scaffolding often is entirely appropriate. The expectation that scaffolding will occur with particularly challenging texts is built into the Standards’ grade-by-grade text complexity expectations, for example. The general movement, however, should be toward decreasing scaffolding and increasing independence both within and across the text complexity bands defined in the Standards.

1. Teach students to select independent reading books appropriate to their instructional reading levels.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-determine-reading-levels/

2. Hold students accountable for independent reading.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-students-to-read-at-home/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-use-graded-literary-discussions/

3. Avoid read-arounds and reading large portions of text in class.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/to-read-or-not-to-read-that-is-the-question/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-round-robin-and-popcorn-reading-are-evil/

4. Differentiate instruction according to diagnostic reading data.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-dos-and-donts-of-differentiated-instruction/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/ten-criteria-for-effective-elareading-diagnostic-assessments/

5. Don’t teach to the LCD (Lowest Common Denominator).

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/dont-teach-to-the-lcd/

6. Teach self-monitoring reading comprehension skills.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-reading-comprehension/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-increase-reading-comprehension-using-the-scrip-comprehension-strategies/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-use-think-alouds-to-teach-reading-comprehension/

7. Strike the appropriate balance between teaching students and the ELA standards.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-english-language-arts-standards/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/should-we-teach-standards-or-children/

8. Teach fluency.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-and-why-to-teach-fluency/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-differentiate-reading-fluency-practice/

9. Teach vocabulary and structural analysis.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-problem-with-most-vocabulary-instruction-part-1/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-we-learn-vocabulary-from-reading-part-ii/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-double-vocabulary-acquisition-from-reading-part-iii/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-we-learn-vocabulary-from-word-parts-part-iv/

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-most-efficient-word-parts-part-v/

10. Share the independent reading and reading strategies load.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/learning-to-read-and-reading-to-learn/

11. Maximize teaching the text, not the personal application of the text.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/into-through-but-not-beyond/

12. Teach the reading-writing connection.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/twelve-tips-to-teach-the-reading-writing-connection/

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Common Core State Writing Standards

For years, English teachers have struggled with essay terminology. Fittingly, the word essay derives from the French verb essayer which roughly means “to try” or “to attempt.” Some teachers have attempted rather precise definitions and limitations of the genre. More recently, state exams have become the tails that wag the dogs in terms of essay classification. In California, for example, the California Standards Test even refers to a multi-paragraph summary as an essay.

Now, we have a different approach to defining the essay. The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing. (The third writing classification, narrative, is acknowledged and brief mention is made of poetry and “other forms.”) The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards. The committee used the 2009 ACT national curriculum survey of postsecondary instructors of composition, freshman English, and survey of American literature courses (ACT, Inc., 2009) as reference and found that “write to argue or persuade readers” was virtually tied with “write to convey information” as the most important type of writing needed by incoming college students. Hence the two essay classifications.

Following is an executive summary of the two essay classifications, using the language of the document within my own organizational structure. The full document (Appendix A) is found here.

Argument

Definition

Arguments are used for many purposes—to change the reader’s point of view, to bring about some action on the reader’s part, or to ask the reader to accept the writer’s explanation or evaluation of a concept, issue, or problem. An argument is a reasoned, logical way of demonstrating that the writer’s position, belief, or conclusion is valid.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades 6-12

  • In English language arts, students make claims about the worth or meaning of a literary work or works. They defend their interpretations or judgments with evidence from the text(s) they are writing about.
  • In history/social studies, students analyze evidence from multiple primary and secondary sources to advance a claim that is best supported by the evidence, and they argue for a historically or empirically situated interpretation.
  • In science, students make claims in the form of statements or conclusions that answer questions or address problems. Using data in a scientifically acceptable form, students marshal evidence and draw on their understanding of scientific concepts to argue in support of their claims.

Grades K-5

Although young children are not able to produce fully developed logical arguments, they develop a variety of methods to extend and elaborate their work by providing examples, offering reasons for their assertions, and explaining cause and effect. These kinds of expository structures are steps on the road to argument. In grades K–5, the term opinion is used to refer to this developing form of argument.

 

Informational/Explanatory Writing

Definition

Informational/explanatory writing conveys information accurately. This kind of writing serves one or more closely related purposes: to increase readers’ knowledge of a subject, to help readers better understand a procedure or process, or to provide readers with an enhanced comprehension of a concept. To produce this kind of writing, students draw from what they already know and from primary and secondary sources. With practice, students become better able to develop a controlling idea and a coherent focus on a topic and more skilled at selecting and incorporating relevant examples, facts, and details into their writing. They are also able to use a variety of techniques to convey information, such as naming, defining, describing, or differentiating different types or parts; comparing or contrasting ideas or concepts; and citing an anecdote or a scenario to illustrate a point.

Application within Subject Disciplines Grades K-12

Informational/explanatory writing addresses matters such as the following:

  • Types (What are the different types of poetry?)
  • Components (What are the parts of a motor?)
  • Size, function, or behavior (How big is the United States? What is an X-ray used for? How do penguins find food?)
  • How things work (How does the legislative branch of government function?)
  • Why things happen (Why do some authors blend genres?).

Informational/explanatory writing includes a wide array of genres, including academic genres such as literary analyses, scientific and historical reports, summaries, and precis writing as well as forms of workplace and functional writing such as instructions, manuals, memos, reports, applications, and resumes. As students advance through the grades, they expand their repertoire of informational/explanatory genres and use them effectively in a variety of disciplines and domains.

Comparing and Contrasting the Essay Classifications

Although information is provided in both arguments and explanations, the two types of writing have different aims.

  • Arguments seek to make people believe that something is true or to persuade people to change their beliefs or behavior. Explanations, on the other hand, start with the assumption of truthfulness and answer questions about why or how. Their aim is to make the reader understand rather than to persuade him or her to accept a certain point of view. In short, arguments are used for persuasion and explanations for clarification.
  • Like arguments, explanations provide information about causes, contexts, and consequences of processes, phenomena, states of affairs, objects, terminology, and so on. However, in an argument, the writer not only gives information but also presents a case with the “pros” (supporting ideas) and “cons” (opposing ideas) on a debatable issue. Because an argument deals with whether the main claim is true, it demands empirical descriptive evidence, statistics, or definitions for support. When writing an argument, the writer supports his or her claim(s) with sound reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing conveys experience, either real or imaginary, and uses time as its deep structure. It can be used for many purposes, such as to inform, instruct, persuade, or entertain. In English language arts, students produce narratives that take the form of creative fictional stories, memoirs, anecdotes, and autobiographies. Over time, they learn to provide visual details of scenes, objects, or people; to depict specific actions for example, movements and gestures).

Creative Writing beyond Narrative

The narrative category does not include all of the possible forms of creative writing, such as many types of poetry. The Standards leave the inclusion and evaluation of other such forms to teacher discretion.

My Take

Although much makes sense in the Common Core State Writing Standards in terms of essay classification (I happen to use the same classifications in my Teaching Essay Strategies writing curriculum, teaching four argumentative and four informational/explanatory essays), much of the document assumes things not yet proven. A few examples should suffice.

  • Who is to say that college English professors are the experts in defining the essay? The experiences of my three sons at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. San Diego, and San Diego State would prove otherwise. With few exceptions, the writing topics and prompts assigned as papers and exams were uniformly contrived, artificial, and downright incoherent for both assignments and exams, leaving my sons, me, and my English high school and middle school colleagues shaking our collective heads. Basing the K-12 writing standards on how and what college professors teach may be a shaky foundation.
  • Who is to say whether the personal essay, narratives, and poetry are less important than argument and informational/explanatory writing?
  • Other forms of writing may be more developmentally appropriate at different grade levels and may actually serve as effective scaffolds to the two essay classifications.
  • Application of the these essay classifications may work fine within the social sciences; however, our science colleagues may find these forms constraining, and perhaps out of sync with their rigid scientific methodologies.

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.

Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Race to the Top Winners and Losers

Results are in and the winners/losers in the Race to the Top are following: Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. Each is now a finalist, competing for its share of the $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top funding. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan says he expects “10 to 15” of these finalists will receive a piece of the pie. Larger states are eligible for more. For example, California is eligible for up to $700 million. So why winners/losers? After all, shouldn’t the education establishment get its share of federal monies? With teacher furloughs, increased class sizes, budget cuts… isn’t it smart to “play ball” with Obama? Isn’t any educational reform better than no educational reform?

Perhaps no.

Teachers unions have opposed the qualification process and application components in the Race to the Top initiative. Increasing parent access/influence and charter schools. Limiting tenure rights. Devolving district and state autonomy to federal oversight, for example national standards. Inequitable teacher incentives/pay for work in lower performing schools. Hardly rank-and-file/teacher priorities.

Additionally, the carrot and stick approach of the Race to the Top competition has strained already underfunded and under-resourced districts and state departments of education. The application timelines forced a “drop everything and get to it” response at both local and state levels. Putting important long-term reform initiatives aside, these educational entities have been pressured into ignoring the buy-in of student/parent/community/teacher stakeholders to go after the money. For example, in California the latest application was written by only seven of the 967 district superintendents.

Furthermore, the Race to the Topic initiative has produced a sadly ironic twist. To increase equity, especially for lower performing schools/students, it has employed a highly inequitable process. In her July 27 article, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post provides this insight:

The “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn” released yesterday by a coalition of civil rights groups speaks directly to fundamental differences over education policy, including those over charter schools, teacher evaluation, and, perhaps most importantly, resource equity.

It said about the competitive nature of Race to the Top, the administration’s chief education initiative to date:

“If education is a civil right, children in ‘winning’ states should not be the only ones who have the opportunity to learn in high-quality environments. Such an approach reinstates the antiquated and highly politicized frame for distributing federal support to states that civil rights organizations fought to remove in 1965.”

The Education Department sent me some facts after Duncan’s speech today that speak to this issue. Here they are:

*The 19 finalists for Race to the Top Round 2 alone enroll nearly two-thirds of all African American and Hispanic students in the United States. Put another way, this 37 percent of US states (including D.C.) enroll 63 percent of our African American and Hispanic students.

*The 21 states (19 finalists plus Tennessee and Delaware, which won Race funding in the first round] have 5.4 million black students and 6.5 million Hispanic students. This represents 66 percent of black students and 64 percent of Hispanic students nationwide.

*Aggregated: 65 percent of the nation’s minority students are in these 21 states.

So if all 19 finalists actually are eventually declared winners in the second round (which is not expected), then we’ll only have to worry about the other 35 percent of minority students being left out of the funding spree. So much for equity.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/equity/duncan-being-too-modest.html

Mark Pennington is the author of the Pennington Publishing Blog and numerous ELA/Reading resources for educational professionals committed to differentiating instruction according to diagnostic and formative data. For free diagnostic assessments, flashcards, and instructional materials, as well as his highly-recommended curricula, check out www.penningtonpublishing.com. Refer back often to the Pennington Publishing Blog for insightful articles and educational tips.

Reading, Writing , , , , ,

What Effective and Ineffective RtI Look Like

Overview

Response to Intervention (RtI) is a K-12 site-level decision-making process designed to facilitate and coordinate early and flexible responses to student’s learning and behavioral difficulties. RtI promotes data-based decision-making with respect to service placement and on-going progress monitoring. RtI was introduced as special education policy in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). It is the law of the land. However, how that law is implemented at school sites will differ widely. Following are a few indicators of what effective and ineffective RtI can look like.

What Effective RtI Looks Like

An RtI team meets regularly at a school site. Composed of resource specialists (special education, reading specialist, EL coordinator), teachers, counselors, psychologists, and administration, most teams designate (or hire at large schools) an RtI coordinator. Typical responsibilities include the following:

Gatekeeping/Decision-Making- The RtI team may review recommendations of Student Study Teams (SST), or replace the SST as program gatekeepers. The team attempts to reduce unnecessary referrals to special education by ensuring that all students in the general education setting have access to appropriate curriculum and instruction at their own levels of need.

Diagnostic Assessment- The RtI team approves appropriate academic and behavioral diagnostic assessments and develops a process for efficient implementation and evaluation of the diagnostic data.

Placement- The RtI team typically follows a three-tiered approach to service placement akin to the Pyramid Model (Fox, Dunlap, Hemmeter, Joseph, & Strain, 2003): Tier 3 includes students requiring intensive instruction; Tier 2 includes at-risk students requiring strategic small group instruction; Tier 1 includes students requiring differentiated instruction within the core class.

Progress Monitoring-RtI requires specific procedures for regular documentation of progress at each assigned level of placement. The RtI team approves appropriate formative assessments and develops a process for efficient implementation and evaluation of the formative data. The RtI team applies this data to adjust tiered placement of students and recommends specific interventions and/or instructional practices to service providers.

Instructional Materials-The RtI team recommends the purchase of instructional materials suitable to the three-tiered instructional design.

Instructional Coaching-The RtI team works with site and district administration to coordinate professional development to ensure that service providers are equipped to deliver the research-based interventions appropriate to student needs.

What Ineffective RtI Looks Like

RtI can certainly look like “the same old sow with new lipstick.” New terms can substitute for old ones and the process for delivering instructional and behavioral support to students can remain essentially the same. Following are a few pitfalls to avoid in developing the RtI process:

We’re Not on the Same Page-All team members need to be thoroughly acquainted with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) and related research.

Not Everyone Is Involved-RtI will fail if it is or is perceived as a “top-down” decision-making entity. Teachers are key to RtI success. Parent buy-in is essential.

Too Much Time and Overwhelming Paperwork-RtI needs to be efficient. Ironically, many of the old, inefficient means of individual diagnostic and formative assessments and record-keeping for progress-monitoring are promoted in much of the RtI literature. To secure long-lasting support, time and paperwork have to be minimized without sacrificing accuracy.

No Professional Development-Without the investment of quality site-based in-service training and support, the RtI process will be compromised.

No Budgetary Support-The three-tiered model requires purchase of instructional materials appropriate to each intervention. Resource specialists and teachers cannot be expected to re-invent the wheel or simply “water-down” the core instructional materials for service delivery.

Following are free diagnostic reading assessments, created by a team of reading specialists, that are user-friendly, simple to score and analyze, and designed to enable resource specialists and teachers of all levels of expertise to differentiate reading instruction: http://penningtonpublishing.com/assessments.php.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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

Eight RtI-Reading Intervention Models

As administrators, special education teachers, EL coordinators, reading specialists, and teachers are scrambling to see how new Response to Intervention (RtI) guidelines will work with resources, personnel, schedules, and student populations, it may be helpful to examine eight of the many intervention models with proven track records. After all, why re-invent the wheel? Each of the following models is described and analyzed in pro-con format.

1. The Early-Late Reading/English-language Arts Model

Description

All students are grouped according to reading (or literacy) levels. The lower-middle group is scheduled to begin school, say 45 minutes before core instruction. The middle-upper group is scheduled to begin after the early group is dismissed. This traditional elementary school model has now been implemented by some middle schools. High schools and community colleges traditionally have larger student populations, which provide greater schedule flexibility with extended morning and afternoon classes at some sites.

2. The After-School Remedial Reading Model

Description

Students are flexibly grouped according to reading levels. Teachers and/or instructional assistants provide compensatory instruction beyond the instructional day.

3. The Learning Center Remedial Reading Model

Description

Students are pulled from Reading/English-language Arts instructional blocks according to diagnostically assessed reading deficits and receive reading instruction, frequently from special education specialists.

4. The Reading Elective Model

Description

Students are assigned to a remedial reading class in lieu of their elective.

5. The Replacement Model

Description

Students are assigned to a remedial reading class in lieu of their language arts, physical education, science, or social studies core classes, or combination thereof.

6. The Reading/Language Arts Block Model

 Description

The school schedules an extended period (or days) of reading/language arts with time within the block allocated to differentiated instruction in reading.

7. The Heterogeneously Grouped Differentiated Instruction Model

Description

Students are grouped heterogeneously with the expectation that teachers will teach reading skills through differentiated instruction.

8. The Homogeneously Grouped Differentiated Instruction Model

Description

Tracked instruction according to diagnostic assessments. The RtI Tier One intervention model would serve as an example of this approach.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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

Crazy Reading Fads

As an MA reading specialist, I’ve seen some strange remedial reading fads come and go over the years. Much like new weight loss products, each new fad looks enticing and promising. Let’s face it. Everyone wants the magic reading pill that will transform poor readers into skillful readers overnight.

My favorite has to be the developmental reading strategy that was quite en vogue back in the 1970s and 1980s. Advocates theorized that poor readers must have missed a key developmental stage somewhere along the way that triggered the brain’s ability to hard-wire the synapses to efficiently interpret and put together sound-symbols. After numerous studies, a positive correlation was found between those students unable to decode and those students who skipped the crawling stage, going from snake-like scooting directly to walking. The reading therapy? You guessed it; poor readers were put on all fours and made to crawl.

Two recent fads rival the crawling therapy. I stumbled upon this article from the Purdue University Calumet Chronicle, February 1, 2010, written by Andrea Drac. At first, I thought it was clever student satire, but NO… It seems that teachers at a number of elementary schools in Northwest Indiana have been requiring students to read out loud to stuffed animals and claim impressive gains in reading comprehension as a result. “One school in particular saw their sixth grade reading levels go from just 47 percent to 93 percent,” said Richard Riddering, Assistant Chancellor for Student Development & Outreach. See the whole article at Strange, but True: Stuffed Animals Increase Reading Levels) but you get the gist.

A related reading fad was detailed in a Sacramento Bee article, published March 20, 2010, titled “UC Davis study shows dogs can help youngsters read [sic].” Here are excerpts:

“Westley Kear, 11, hated reading aloud. Then he found the perfect audience.

Digory, a Labrador retriever mix from a rescue group in Walnut Creek, melted into Westley’s lap when he read to the dog from his book, Warriors into the Wild, as part of a study at CU Davis. Digory never asked Westley to speak up, slow down or repeat sentences.

It remains to be seen whether children would do just as well reading to hamsters, rabbits, cats or turtles, the researchers said, but the fact that dogs are attentive and nonjudgmental seems to make a difference.”

Read the rest, if you must, here. I love collecting these crazy reading fads, by the way… If you have any favorites, please post away.

2014 UPDATE: By the way… SINCE WRITING THIS ARTICLE OVER FOUR YEARS AGO, I’VE BEEN CITED MORE TIMES THAN I CAN COUNT AS ADVOCATING READING TO STUFFED AND REAL ANIMALS. WOW!

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. 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.

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