Blog Posts

17 September, 2018

Is it Really Sensible to Teach Students to Read Like Historians and Scientists?

Teacher question: I don’t get the reason for trying to make students read “like historians” or read “like scientists.” Many of my students aren’t likely to even go to college and even if they did they probably won’t be historians or scientists. I understand why it makes sense to teach students how to study a history or a science textbook so they can pass the tests on those, but “read like a…”, why? Shanahan response: You are definitely correct that most students will never become literary critics or English professors, mathematicians, historians, or scientists. Some will, but most will not, and even when ...

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08 September, 2018

Is There Really a 30 Million-Word Gap?

Teacher question: I attended one of your recent presentations. You cited the Hart & Risley canard that there is a 30 million-word gap. Aren’t you aware that study has been rejected? There is no word gap. Poverty kids have as much language support as other kids. Shanahan response: Research can get things wrong. That’s why researchers—unlike practitioners and policymakers—are usually so interested in themethods of a study. Study a problem one way, you get one answer. Study it another way,perhaps a different answer emerges. Try to understand why the two studies diverged and youstart to gain a deeper understanding of the problem. That’s why I ...

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25 August, 2018

Should We Teach with Decodable Text?

Teacher question: Please share your thinking as well as research referencing the occasional use of decodable texts for small group reading instruction in grades K-2.  Shanahan response: This is not a highly researched topic. There have been only a handful of studies into the effectiveness of decodable texts since the term was first used back in the 1980s. And, truth be told, they are kind of mess; with little evident agreement about what decodable text is, what it should be compared with, and what outcomes we should expect to derive from it. Research has less solved the problem—is it helpful to use decodable texts with beginning readers—than demonstrated how complicated even simple ideas ...

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19 August, 2018

What Should Morphology Instruction Look Like?

Teacher question: Are there any resources that provide a list of morphemes to teach at each K-5 grade level? I have been looking for a definitive list of morphemes that is organized by grade level like the Fry sight word list. I often come across research about how L1 and L2 students acquire morphemes, but I am looking for a list that represents the morphemes that students will most likely see in print at each K-5 grade level. Does anything like that exist? Thank you for your time.   Shanahan response: The short answer to this question is, “No, I don’t know of such a list.” But when have I ever been satisfied ...

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04 August, 2018

Books on Buses and Book in a Bag: Book Access and Reading

Teachers' questions: Can you point us to any research regarding the practice of Book In a Bag - sending leveled readers home with students each night? What do you think of “Books on the Bus?” Shanahan response: I know of no research on either of these methods for increasing kids’ access to books. I checked both PscyInfo and Google for sources, and nada! I’m not surprised, both of these schemes were local school district ideas that captured media attention—and then spread from one district to another. I must admit I like both ideas. Generally. In both cases, kids are encouraged to read. Can’t fault that. In both, books are made available for kids to ...

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28 July, 2018

Should We Teach Letter Names?

Teacher question:  Should we teach letter names or letter sounds to beginning readers? Shanahan responds: Twice recently teachers have asked this question. In both instances they said they’d been told teaching letter names confused children and that “best practice” was to focus on the sounds rather than the letter names. As a former first-grade teacher, I vividly remember the kids who when confronted with a word like what would start sounding /d/ (duh). At first I was puzzled, but it quickly caught on that these young’uns were trying to find the sound in the letter name, double-you, and were settling for the first sound in that name. Obviously, the pronunciation of W ...

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19 July, 2018

Implementing Higher Literacy Standards or Putting on a Show?

Back in the 1930s, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney always seemed to be putting on a show. They were going to be sent to a farm to work for the summer in Babes in Arms, but they wanted to go to Broadway instead – and they did! I love that whole idea of Judy and Mickey with their teenage backs to the wall, singing and dancing their way to success (and into our hearts). Younger folks might prefer a more recent analogy—like Footloose—but then I’d have to be a younger blogger who is less than 6-degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. I’m not the only one who appreciates ...

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08 July, 2018

Synthetic Phonics or Systematic Phonics? What Does Research Really Say?

It happened again this week. Awhile back I was a member of the National Reading Panel (NRP) that reviewed instructional research on the teaching of reading at the request of the U.S. Congress. One of my roles was to serve on the “alphabetics committee” that reviewed the research on phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. Since then it has happened numerous times, like it did this week. Some self-proclaimed phonics authority attributes findings to the NRP that we didn’t actually find (usually because they didn’t actually read it). The one this week has been one of the more frequent misclaims. He claimed that the NRP found synthetic phonics instruction to be more effective than ...

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29 June, 2018

My first-graders aren’t producing much writing? Help!

Teacher question: I’ve collected some data on first-grade writing. I developed a plan for getting 6-year-olds to write arguments and I have a rubric designed to allow me to figure out how well my supports help them to write effective arguments (evaluating whether they took a clear position on the topic, and how much evidence they used). I tried it out and gave the kids plenty of time but was surprised to find that they didn’t write much; I’m having trouble evaluating the quality of this writing given how few words they produced. Any ideas on how to better evaluate the impact of what I did?  Shanahan’s response: The specifics of ...

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24 June, 2018

Who Should Teach Disciplinary Literacy and Should We Integrate the Curriculum?

Teacher question: My question is about disciplinary literacy. Should we be guiding teachers to integrate social studies or science and ELA or having our ELA teachers teaching disciplinary literacy for these subjects? Our curriculum focuses on overarching concepts and essential questions. Shanahan response: You raise two separate issues here: curriculum integration and who has responsibility for the disciplinary literacy standards. Let me take them one at a time. I don’t oppose integrating social studies or science and literature, but I’m definitely cautious about such combinations. We want our students to develop a clear appreciation of what literature is, how it’s read, what it brings to the table, and so on. We ...

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