Blog Posts

19 May, 2018

Comprehension Skills or Strategies: Is there a difference and does it matter?

Teacher question: What’s the difference between comprehension skills and comprehension strategies? Are they synonyms or do we teach different things when we are teaching them? Shanahan response: I’m glad you asked. Comprehension skills and comprehension strategies are very different things. They are often confused; the terms are often used interchangeably by those who don’t understand or appreciate the distinctions they carry. And, most importantly, these concepts energize different kinds of teaching. The older of the two terms is “reading comprehension skills.” It was used occasionally throughout the Twentieth Century, but really took off in a big way in the 1950s. Professional development texts and basal readers were replete with the term and its use ...

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13 May, 2018

How to Encourage Summer Reading: A Parent's Guide

Summer is almost upon us. The days are growing longer, the sun is higher in the sky, and soon school will be over for the year. Our children’s thoughts now turn to swimming, skateboards, baseball, and bike riding. Unfortunately, for far too many of kids, summer vacation is a time for forgetting. You’ve probably heard that “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” That’s certainly true about reading. Kids who don’t read over the summer regress. Their hard-earned reading skills decline. Boys and girls who manage to keep the rust off their reading, don’t suffer a summer reading drop.  By reading and writing throughout the summer, they may ...

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05 May, 2018

What Does It Mean to Follow a Program?

Years ago, I was invited to coach some teachers. I’ve done a lot of that over the past almost 50 years. I watch a lesson, and the teacher and I sit down and discuss how it may be improved. But this was going to be a strange situation. The school had adopted a curriculum program I’d developed. They hadn’t told me that. Now I was to critique teachers who were using my lessons. Uncomfortable territory. The principal assured me it would be fine since the classes using my stuff were doing well—better test scores than in the past. I wasn’t so sure. Two teachers were using the program: one was ...

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28 April, 2018

Should Reading Be Taught Whole Class or Small Group?

Teacher question:  I was curious what your thoughts are regarding small group instruction in Elementary school during the ELA block.  I’m unaware of any definitive research on the effect size of small group instruction or the impact it has regarding student achievement in reading. There seems to be a few different schools of thought: direct whole group instruction for all components of reading, shortened whole group reading followed by differentiated small group instruction, whole group instruction followed by student work groups facilitated by teacher walking around. It seems all three could be effective depending on the students, the teacher and rigor of text or content being used.  However, I’m curious if there ...

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22 April, 2018

What text levels are appropriate for independent reading?

Teacher question: I am a reading specialist and a parent. My daughter is in first grade. Her classroom teachers have all the books in the classroom library leveled, and students are not allowed to go beyond their reading level during "Independent" reading. If the teacher assesses a child inaccurately then that child is stuck reading texts that may be too easy or too challenging. Also, every child knows what reading level they are on as well as everyone else's reading level; this Talk creates competition and negative feelings toward reading! Reading turns into a contest and inevitably some kids are going to feel bad about themselves. What if a student ...

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15 April, 2018

Knowing and Reading--What Can We Do to Make Sure Kids Know Enough to Comprehend

Last week, I was at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, helping roll out the new National Assessment scores (NAEP). I was on a panel with Marilyn Adams, Ian Rowe, Sue Pimentel, and Daniel Willingham. Yet again, our kids made few advances in reading. Dan, when asked what could be done to break out of these doldrums, explained the importance increasing what our kids know about the world. Atlantic summarized his point: “whether or not readers understand a text depends far more on how much background knowledge and vocabulary they have relating to the topic than on how much they’ve practiced comprehension skills.” Research has long shown the importance ...

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08 April, 2018

Making Decisions about Which Intervention is Best: A Case Study

Teacher question: I wonder if you could comment on your blog about this crazy idea that the reading specialists should change the program every 12 weeks if a student is not showing growth on the one-minute reading fluency measure. I have second grade student who reads 80 wcpm with 97% accuracy. She made great growth in the fall but has leveled out this winter. She is being removed her from my “program” to Wilson because an outside evaluator said that is what she needs. What do you think? Shanahan response: One thing is clear: No matter how I answer this question, somebody is going to be mad at me. That’s okay ...

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01 April, 2018

For the Love of Reading: Independent Reading at School

The last couple weeks I’ve clarified the definition of “independent reading” and explored the impact of kids doing required reading on their own at school. Independence is obviously a gradient; the independence teachers often refer to isn’t about whether kids must read or not (it is usually required in these schemes), but it is about who picks the texts and whether there is any accountability for the reading. By “independent reading,” these teachers really are talking about self-selection of the texts. Given the importance of literacy in our society it is essential that we teach students to read well. With regard to the learning impact of independent reading, the ...

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25 March, 2018

How Effective is Independent Reading in Teaching Reading?

Last week I explained the concept of “independent reading.” Reviewing various documents from across the past 150 years—research studies, government reports, encyclopedia entries, pronouncements of august organizations, teacher blogs, methods guides--revealed that we educators have been pretty sloppy in our use of that term. Of course, if everybody says independent reading, but no one means the same thing, there is a communications problem. I proposed reserving the term independent reading for situations that are truly independent: in which readers choose to read, choose what they want to read, and are accountable to no one for what they read. I said that I’d use “required self-selected reading” for those instances when teachers ...

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18 March, 2018

What is Independent Reading and Why Does He Say All Those Horrible Things About It?

Recently I posted a tweet challenging the idea that “independent reading” in the classroom was such a good idea. Not surprisingly I found myself the target of all kinds of Trumpian tweets and vilification. It got so bad that multiple major proponents of encouraging reading contacted me in embarrassment over the responses (because some of it was unprofessional, and much of it was just badly reasoned). Part of the problem is that many teachers believe their actions are deeply moral so if anyone questions their choices, they go off the deep end (there are few small disagreements about reading instruction these days). But honestly a really big part of the ...

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