Monday, March 31, 2014

What makes vocabulary obscure?

The announcement of new changes to SAT vocabulary has been greeted with both relief and skepticism. While it seems like good practice to abandon the rote memorization of archaic words for, ostensibly, one-time use on an assessment test, where is the threshold for the “broad utility” of words? How specific can we ever be without the obscure words? Andy Smarick of the Fordham Institute cautions us about scrapping too many obscure words in this very valid post.

“I vividly remember a seventh-grade English teacher telling our class, with great solemnity, ‘Small minds use big words.’

For years, this guided my writing.

Until I figured out how wrong, how profoundly wrong, she had been."

To see how direct vocabulary instruction is indispensible for success both in English language arts and on the SAT or ACT, check out our proven vocabulary programs.

Friday, March 28, 2014

College-Ready Writing is an Achievable Goal

I’m sure you know how sometimes someone can say just that thing that clicks and changes the way you see and do everything. I had such an encounter early in my teaching career. We were in the beginning of a five-year curriculum revision cycle (my first), and my then-English department chair casually observed that there was a difference between giving a writing assignment and teaching writing.

Not all writing instruction is created equal, however, and I found myself nodding like a bobblehead while reading this article in Ed Week/Teacher. 

In a study just published in the School Psychology Review, researchers Gary A. Trioa and Natalie G. Olinghouse summarize these essential evidence-based practices for teaching writing, including: daily writing practice, strategy instruction, self-regulation and meta-cognitive reflection (as in the Self-Regulated Strategy Development approach), peer collaboration, and regular feedback through formative assessment. Unfortunately, the study concludes that most schools do not have sufficiently comprehensive, sustained, and focused systems [emphasis mine] for offering professional development to teachers to support such writing practices.

A “comprehensive, sustained, and focused system” of writing instruction is precisely what College and Career Readiness: Writing offers. We know that a change in method and intent is not a superficial thing, and any call for teachers and students to work differently and for different ends must come with an offer of assistance. And we are here—ready, willing, and able to help you make that challenging transition.

Photo by Amrbo Courtesy of

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Aligning Learning Objectives with Classroom Activities and Assessments

When teaching literature, one of the most important ideas teachers need to keep in mind is a balanced approach of objectives, assessments, and strategies. In a short piece in Eberly Center’s TeachingExcellence & Educational Innovation, the author puts forward the case that the three “need to be closely aligned so that they reinforce one another.”
These three questions should help inform teachers of the interconnectedness of the three:
  • Learning objectives: What do I want students to know how to do when they leave this course?
  • Assessments: What kinds of tasks will reveal whether students have achieved the learning objectives I have identified?
  • Instructional strategies: What kinds of activities in and out of class will reinforce my learning objectives and prepare students for assessments?
Prestwick House’s Activity Packs provide educational objectives, activities to achieve them, and a short multiple choice test for assessing student knowledge of the literature they have read.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Decoding Text Complexity for Short Stories & Fiction

Figuring out whether a short story is of the "correct" level based on common core is tricky. There are a number of factors that come in to play and it can be confusing for teachers. This article from the Ohio Resource Center breaks down understanding text complexity and how you can choose fiction for your classes.

"Listen in on any group of English language arts teachers preparing plans for common core implementation,and you are bound to hear the terms rigor, grade-level texts, and text complexity. Venture to conversations with groups more well versed in common core lingo, and you may even hear references to quantitative measures, qualitative measures, and reader considerations. As we work to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we know some texts that have been held as traditional in specific grade levels may have to move to other grade levels to meet complexity guidelines. If you, like so many other educators, find yourself struggling with the idea of relinquishing your Hunger Games unit to teachers well below your high school grade level, perhaps a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding text complexity will help ease your mind and aid in the process of letting go of those cherished, but not-quite-rigorous-enough, texts."

Read more in this issue of Adolescent Literacy in Perspective. 

If you're looking for ready-to-use books that have already gone through the process of vetting reading passages and have a detailed breakdown of Lexile® Levels and an analysis of qualitative and quantitative measures, check out:

Prestwick House's Reading Informational Texts

and the new Reading Literary Texts, which will be available this summer.

Also, check out the new -- we've added the Lexile® Measures to hundreds of different paperbacks to make it easier for you to find the perfect book.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Preparing a New Course or Novel -- Three Steps to Disaster

We're 75% of the way through the year, but I just ran across this article from some college professors at North Carolina State University, and I thought it had a lot of value for new teachers--many of whom are getting ready to graduate and begin the search for a job teaching.

"Three Steps to Disaster, or How Not to Approach a New Course Preparation

1. Go It Alone
Colleagues may have taught the course in the past and done it very well, but it would be embarrassing to ask them if you can use their materials (syllabi, learning objectives, lecture notes, demonstrations, assignments, tests, etc.), so instead create everything yourself from scratch."

Read More here.

If you need to teach a new novel, Prestwick House has the biggest selection of ready-to-use teaching guides that get the prep work out of the way and let you get to your favorite parts of teaching.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The changes in SAT driven by the same goals as common core

David Coleman, President of College Board.
On top of all of the changes in your classroom caused by the shifting requirements of the  Common Core, now the SAT is changing, too?

The good news for teachers is that the goals of the SAT are coming into alignment with the goals of the Common Core.This article from The Atlantic discusses how the two organizations share the same goals-- college and career readiness.

"When Coleman became president of the College Board back in 2012, after his work developing the Common Core, he stated his goal for moving the SAT to better reflect those standards. On Wednesday, Education Week described in detail how the new changes to the SAT align with the Common Core—and presented an excellent side-by-side comparison of the SAT and Common Core that illustrates how Coleman’s goal will become a reality. (Education Week, largely focused on K-12 education news, has expertly covered the role of the Common Core in driving changes to the SAT.)"

This year, Prestwick House announced Vocabulary Power Plus for College and Career Readiness- a revision of our best-selling Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT.

The books are entering their final stages of layout and we'll be sending them to the printer soon. If you'd like to request your free sample copy, click here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Vocabulary instruction ideas for middle and elementary schools

Using Latin and Greek roots for vocabulary instruction isn't a new idea, but implementation can be hard. This great article from is full of justifications and great ideas for practical instruction that would work not only in elementary and middle schools but also in high schools.

"The study of word origins and derivatives helps students grasp an essential linguistic principle: English words have a discernible logic because their meanings are historically grounded. This knowledge, used in conjunction with word analysis skills, empowers them as learners. Although no single approach to vocabulary development has conclusively been found more successful than another, researchers agree that a focus on Greek and Latin derivatives offers a powerful tool for  teachers to nurture students’ vocabulary development."

For more on using Latin and Greek Roots to teach vocabulary, check out our two roots-based vocabulary programs.

Vocabulary from Latin and Greek Roots - for grades 7-12
Growing Your Vocabulary: Learning from Latin and Greek Roots - for grades 4-6

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why Your Students Should be Reading Informational Texts

Recent studies show that what kids read is nearly as important as how much they read.  There is a broad consensus among educators that students should begin reading informational texts in a broad range of subjects from the earliest grades.  

"The clearest differentiator in reading between students who are college ready and students who are not is the ability to comprehend complex texts," ACT researchers concluded.
The global economy has also been cited as a reason to emphasize non-fiction. “Research shows that workplace reading has become more complex in recent years," says Lisa Cebelak of the Leadership and Learning Center, a consulting division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. "Jobs that demand low reading and writing skills are being sent overseas, so even entry level workplace jobs now demand higher level reading skills."
Some experts argue that non-fiction reading teaches kids how to develop more complex thinking. In his article “Too Dumb for Complex Texts,”  Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein explains why this type of reading is so demanding — particularly for kids growing up in an age of distractions: “Complex texts require a slower labor. Readers can’t proceed to the next paragraph without grasping the previous one, they can’t glide over unfamiliar words and phrases, and they can’t forget what they read four pages earlier…Complex texts force readers to acquire the knack of slow linear reading.…”  
Read more at:
Find out more about Prestwick House's approach to introducing more nonfiction to your classes with Reading Informational Texts.