What Doesn’t Work: Literacy Practices We Should Abandon

JUNE 3, 2016

The number one concern that I hear from educators is lack of time, particularly lack of instructional time with students. It’s not surprising that we feel a press for time. Our expectations for students have increased dramatically, but our actual class time with students has not. Although we can’t entirely solve the time problem, we can mitigate it by carefully analyzing our use of class time, looking for what Beth Brinkerhoff and Alysia Roehrig (2014) call “time wasters.”

Consider the example of calendar time. In many U.S. early elementary classrooms, this practice eats up 15-20 minutes daily, often in a coveted early-morning slot when students are fresh and attentive. Some calendar time activities may be worthwhile. For example, teachers might use this time for important teaching around grouping and place value. But other activities are questionable at best. For example, is the following routine still effective if it’s already February and your students still don’t know:

Yesterday was _______.
Today is _______.
Tomorrow will be _______,

Does dressing a teddy bear for the weather each day make optimal use of instructional time? Some teachers respond, “But we love our teddy bear, and it only takes a few minutes!” But three minutes a day for 180 days adds up to nine hours. Children would also love engineering design projects, deep discussions of texts they’ve read, or math games.

5 Less-Than-Optimal Practices

To help us analyze and maximize use of instructional time, here are five common literacy practices in U.S. schools that research suggests are not optimal use of instructional time:

1. “Look Up the List” Vocabulary Instruction

Students are given a list of words to look up in the dictionary. They write the definition and perhaps a sentence that uses the word. What’s the problem?

We have long known that this practice doesn’t build vocabulary as well as techniques that actively engage students in discussing and relating new words to known words, for example through semantic mapping (Bos & Anders, 1990). As Charlene Cobb and Camille Blachowicz (2014) document, research has revealed so many effective techniques for teaching vocabulary that a big challenge now is deciding among them.

2. Giving Students Prizes for Reading

From March is Reading Month to year-long reading incentive programs, it’s common practice in the U.S. to give students prizes (such as stickers, bracelets, and fast food coupons) for reading. What’s the problem?

Unless these prizes are directly related to reading (e.g., books), this practice actually makes students less likely to choose reading as an activity in the future (Marinak & Gambrell, 2008). It actually undermines reading motivation. Opportunities to interact with peers around books, teacher “book blessings,” special places to read, and many other strategies are much more likely to foster long-term reading motivation (Marinak & Gambrell, 2016).

3. Weekly Spelling Tests

Generally, all students in a class receive a single list of words on Monday and are expected to study the words for a test on Friday. Distribution of the words, in-class study time, and the test itself use class time. What’s the problem?

You’ve all seen it — students who got the words right on Friday misspell those same words in their writing the following Monday! Research suggests that the whole-class weekly spelling test is much less effective than an approach in which different students have different sets of words depending on their stage of spelling development, and emphasis is placed on analyzing and using the words rather than taking a test on them (see Palmer & Invernizzi, 2015 for a review).

4. Unsupported Independent Reading

DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), and similar approaches provide a block of time in which the teacher and students read books of their choice independently. Sounds like a great idea, right?

Studies have found that this doesn’t actually foster reading achievement. To make independent reading worthy of class time, it must include instruction and coaching from the teacher on text selection and reading strategies, feedback to students on their reading, and text discussion or other post-reading response activities (for example, Kamil, 2008; Reutzel, Fawson, & Smith, 2008; see Miller & Moss, 2013 for extensive guidance on supporting independent reading).

5. Taking Away Recess as Punishment

What is this doing on a list of literacy practices unworthy of instructional time? Well, taking away recess as a punishment likely reduces students’ ability to benefit from literacy instruction. How?

There is a considerable body of research linking physical activity to academic learning. For example, one action research study found that recess breaks before or after academic lessons led to students being more on task (Fagerstrom & Mahoney, 2006). Students with ADHD experience reduced symptoms when they engage in physical exercise (Pontifex et al., 2012) — ironic given that students with ADHD are probably among the most likely to have their recess taken away. There are alternatives to taking away recess that are much more effective and don’t run the risk of reducing students’ attention to important literacy instruction (Cassetta & Sawyer, 2013).

Measure of Success

Whether or not you engage in these specific activities, they provide a sense that there are opportunities to make better use of instructional time in U.S. schools. I encourage you to scrutinize your use of instructional time minute by minute. If a practice is used because we’ve always done it that way or because parents expect it, it’s especially worthy of a hard look. At the same time, if a practice consistently gets results in an efficient and engaging way, protect it at all costs. Together we can rid U.S. classrooms of what does notwork.


  • Bos, C.S. & Anders, P.L. (1990). “Effects of interactive vocabulary instruction on the vocabulary learning and reading comprehension of junior-high learning-disabled students.” Learning Disability Quarterly, 13, pp.31-42.
  • Brinkerhoff, E.H. & Roehrig, A.D. (2014). No more sharpening pencils during work time and other time wasters. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Cassetta, G. & Sawyer, B. (2013). No more taking away recess and other problematic discipline practices. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Cobb, C. & Blachowicz, C. (2014). No more “look up the list” vocabulary instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Fagerstrom, T. & Mahoney, K. (2006). “Give me a break! Can strategic recess scheduling increase on-task behaviour for first graders?” Ontario Action Researcher, 9(2).
  • Kamil, M.L. (2008). “How to get recreational reading to increase reading achievement.” In 57th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference, pp.31-40. Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference.
  • Marinak, B.A. & Gambrell, L. (2016). No more reading for junk: Best practices for motivating readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Miller, D. & Moss, B. (2013). No more independent reading without support. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Palmer, J.L. & Invernizzi, M. (2015). No more spelling and phonics worksheets. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Pontifex, M.B., Saliba, B.J., Raine, L.B., Picchietti, D.L., & Hillman, C.H. (2012). “Exercise improves behavioral, neurocognitive, and scholastic performance in children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” The Journal of Pediatrics, 162(3), pp.543-551.
  • Reutzel, D.R., Fawson, P., & Smith, J. (2008). “Reconsidering silent sustained reading: An exploratory study of scaffolded silent reading.”Journal of Educational Research, 102, pp.37–50.

Source: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/literacy-practices-we-should-abandon-nell-k-duke

NY Times: Vocabulary Contest Winners

A Way With Words: Winners of Our 2016 Vocabulary Video Contest

link: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/16/a-way-with-words-winners-of-our-2016-vocabulary-video-contest/?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ln_20160317&nl=learning-network&nl_art=0&nlid=72940163&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0

One of the Top 10 videos sent in for our contest, this one, by Erika Kluge, defines killjoy.

Nearly 800 witty entries from around the world made judging this year’s Vocabulary Video Contest harder than ever. We and ourVocabulary.com colleagues struggled mightily to choose from among the many creative killjoys, curmudgeons and comeuppancesto crown just 10.

Below you’ll find our top choices, as well as a long list of runners-up and honorable mentions. As always, we chose based chiefly on how well or originally each video showed an understanding of the word and its use in a specific context, and, as always, we were sticklers for the rules. (However, this year, as you’ll see, we’ve also created a special category because two videos missed winning only by failing to follow every rule to the letter.)

Thank you to everyone who participated, and, especially, to the teachers who devoted class time to the project. If you’re interested in writing for our Reader Idea column about how you wove the contest into your curriculum, please fill out this form.

Enjoy. We certainly did.

Top 10 Winners

Killjoy by Erika

Curmudgeon by Reese Dekker and Ellie Sullivan

Finesse by Eric, Jose and Parker

Monotony by Masa Kawasaki

Equinox by Caroline Knight

Comeuppance by Cassie and Jason

Guffaw by Meghan O.

Pry by Mark C.

Disheartened by Ella Stack, Henry Stack, Josie Robins and George Stack (dog)

Iridescent by Hanna and Millie


Hallucination by David WARNING: has inappropriate content

Coincidence by Anna

Quack by Kyle

Buffoonery by Emily Willett, Serahn Berman, Hana Dolan and Diya Mehta (Kelly)

Mimicry by Priya and Ananya

Braggadocio by Jeremiah Taylor

Ominous by Janelle Mendoza

Disembark by Jessica

Disembark by Madeline Conger, Abby Hughes, Madison Carr, Brittany Banner, Mckenzie Fretwell and Emily Menesses

Tessellation by Vasista Vovveti

Dapper by Ty Kennedy

Pugnacity by Campfield Heinrich

Honorable Mentions

Crescendo by Taylor W.

Narcissist by Jennifer Mula and Katie Shell

Waffle by Kellsie Giras

Wanderlust by Jordan

Killjoy by Adelaide Tornyenu

Sloth by Riley, Gretchen and Barbara

Unison by Nicole Lough

Corrosive by Nathan Campbell

Touchy by Ariel

Dismember by Cayla and Melinda

Strut by Charlotte Smith

Dislodge by Sarah S., Henry S.

Clamor by Alexis, Ashley, and Lilly

Ominous by Katie Williams

Knell by Shelby, Anna, Tatum and McKenna

And Two We Loved That Would Have Won if Only They Had Obeyed Our Rule to Pronounce the Word…

Elixir by Emma

Tessellate by Eliza Robinso



SAT Reading: Sentence Completions

SAT/ACT Blog – Knowsys Educational Services info@ktprep.com

SAT Reading: Sentence Completions

Posted: 07 Jan 2014 02:00 AM PST

Sentence Completions

Select the word(s) that best fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

The salesman offered the woman a lower interest rate to ——- her to purchase the car, but the woman remained ——-, waffling over whether she could commit to such a large purchase without talking to her family first.

A. extol . . vicarious
B. incline . . ineffable
C. induce . . irresolute
D. discern . . prolific
E. baffle . . dubious

Knowsys Method

Start by covering up the answer choices so that they do not distract or bias you.  Then read the sentence and use context clues to determine what the answer should be.  In two-blank sentence completions, start with the easier blank first.  In this case, the second blank is easier because you have more contextual clues to use.  If this woman is waffling (unable to make a decision), then you would describe her as “uncertain.”  Using that as our prediction, we will look at all of the second blanks first.

A. “Vicarious” comes from the Latin “‘vicarius,” which means “substitute.”  The word “vicarious” is used today to indicate that you are experiencing something through someone else.  For instance, if your friend is going on a tour of Europe, you might ask him or her to take lots of pictures so that you can experience the trip vicariously.  This word does not match our prediction, so eliminate this choice.

B. “Ineffable” comes from the Latin “ineffabilis,” which means “unutterable.”  Something “ineffable” is impossible to put into words.  This word does not match our prediction, so eliminate this choice.

C. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year?  If so, you are probably “resolute” about achieving them.  “Resolute” means “determined or certain,” so “irresolute” means the opposite, “uncertain.”  This choice matches our prediction, so keep it for now.

D. “Prolific” comes from the Latin word for “offspring,” and it means “fertile or highly productive.”  Think PROlific = PROductive.  This choice does not match our prediction, so eliminate it.

E. “Dubious” is easy to remember because it sounds like what it means.  If you are feeling “dubious,” then you are feeling doubtful.  If something is “dubious,” then it is suspicious and not to be trusted.  This choice matches our prediction fairly well, so keep it for now.

Now look back at the sentence and predict what should belong in the first blank.  A salesman would want his customer to make a purchase, so he is probably offering the lower interest rate to persuade the customer.  Using “persuade” as our prediction, let’s look at the choices we have not yet eliminated.

C. “Induce” comes from the Latin “inducere,” which means “lead in or persuade.”  “Induce” means much the same thing today; it means “to persuade, influence, or cause.”  This choice matches our prediction, so C is most likely the correct answer, but we need to check E to be sure.

E. To “baffle” is “to confuse or to frustrate.”  This is the opposite of what the salesman in the question would want to do, so eliminate this choice.

The correct answer is C.

Words used in this SC:

extol: to praise highly
vicarious: learned, understood, or realized through second-hand experience
incline: 1) to persuade, or 2) to bow or bend
ineffable: indescribable or unspeakable
induce: to persuade, influence, or cause
irresolute: uncertain
discern: 1) to understand,2) to see, or 3) to recognize as different
prolific: fertile or highly productive
baffle: to confuse or to frustrate
dubious: doubtful or uncertain


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