Literacy Blogs

03 December, 2022

Literacy Charities for 2022

’Tis the time of the year, that Shanahan on Literacy recommends literacy charities for your consideration. Users of this site have deep concerns about literacy education, so it makes sense to donate to charities that distribute books to children or provide reading instruction to those in need. Every year, I consult Charity Navigator (U.S.) and Charity Intelligence (Canada) to identify the top-rated literacy charities (4-star in U.S., and 5-star in Canada). You can be sure that the charities listed here: Are international, national, or multi-regional in scope, Focus entirely or mainly on charitable action devoted to providing books and literacy instruction to populations ...

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12 November, 2022

Shared Reading in the Structured Literacy Era

Teacher question: Can you provide clarification on how to promote shared reading in the structured literacy era and how that differs from shared reading in the balanced literacy era. I would think a teacher could certainly initially read the text aloud to students to model fluency and expression, but then must ensure students can get the words off the page and reread by decoding the words, rather than parroting the teacher or memorizing the shared reading text that may be a rhyme/song that is catchy. Shanahan response: There are many reasons to read to children. Most of them are pretty sensible. Some are more ...

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05 November, 2022

Comprehension Instruction That Really Helps – Teaching Cohesion

Teacher question: One of my colleagues told us that we should not be teaching guided reading lessons or comprehension skills or strategies. We’re using a core reading program that includes those kinds of things. He says that the science of reading proves that we would get higher reading achievement by teaching more social studies and science (he’s our science teacher) and dropping the comprehension instruction that we are providing. He’s really vocal about this. Can you help us shut him up? Shanahan response: Your colleague is partly right. Knowledge about the world is a valuable commodity in reading comprehension. Education should both nurture ...

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15 October, 2022

Teaching Students to Use Context

I’m writing this blog because of the disarray I see over the topic of context instruction and the poor instructional practice that it seems to manifest. One confusion is already well recognized, but merits some mention here. The other befuddlement usually goes without remark, and yet it, too, has unfortunate consequences for young readers. Let’s dispatch the first problem forthwith. This one I’ll refer to as the three-cueing problem. Research found that when students err in reading a word, they often try to use various kinds of information to resolve the difficulty. Essentially, when something goes wrong, readers try to make things ...

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08 October, 2022

Won’t Student Motivation Be Damaged If We Teach with Complex Text?

Teacher question: I understand your claims that teaching students with grade level texts instead of instructional level texts increases children’s opportunities to learn. However, what about children’s emotional needs, self-esteem, motivation, and self-starting skills when text is challenging. Children who struggle with sight words or sounding out words who are given a hard piece of text will shut down and refuse to try or will act out in the classroom. I always thought that the purpose of avoiding frustration level texts was to avoid frustrating children who were trying to learn to read. What am I missing? Shanahan response: You’re not alone in ...

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17 September, 2022

Phonics and Flexibility

Phonics and Flexibility - Can They Really Go Together? Teacher question: I am surprised that you are such a staunch advocate of phonics. English is a very complex language and teaching young children the sounds and letters won’t change that. Most letters and spelling patterns in English are not regular (not only the Dolch words, but lots of other words, too). It is just discouraging having to spend so much time teaching skills that can’t possibly work. I’ve taught for a long time, and I feel so sorry for these children given what I am required to teach now. I am so ...

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10 September, 2022

What do you think of “phonics first” or “phonics only” in the primary grades?

Teacher question: At my school, the district inservice has made a big deal out of Scarborough’s rope. Nevertheless, when it comes to daily instruction, we (the primary grade teachers) have been told that decoding is the most important thing and that we are to emphasize that. They’ve sent us to LETRS training, purchased instructional programs on phonics, and require testing students’ “nonsense word fluency” frequently. At what grade levels is it appropriate to teach the “language comprehension” portions of the rope? Shanahan responds: In 1915, near where I’m writing this, a passenger ship, the SS Eastland sank, drowning 844 passengers – many of ...

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13 August, 2022

Trying Again -- What Teachers Need to Know about Sentence Comprehension

Awhile back, I posted an opinion piece calling for the explicit teaching of sentence comprehension. With schools aiming to expose kids to complex text, it would seem that such instruction would be de rigueur. Texts are often complex because they include complicated sentences and experience tells me that students often fail to grasp the meaning of individual sentences – undermining their ability to identify main ideas, make inferences, draw conclusions, or answer any of the other question types.   Given that comprehension lessons tend to focus on “prior knowledge,” vocabulary, text reading with follow-up questions, comprehension strategies, the lowly sentence gets ...

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06 August, 2022

Do you like jigsaw approaches to teaching?

Teacher question: What do you think of the jigsaw method for organizing the reading in a science or social studies class? I teach 5th grade in a suburban school. Shanahan response: Jigsaw is a cooperative learning activity developed in the 1970s (Aronson, et al., 1978). Basically, the approach is to divide the curricular topic (e.g., dinosaurs, Morocco, amphibians) into subtopics, to divide these portions among individuals/partners/small groups. Each student/group is to become the “expert” on that subtopic. These newly minted experts then put their knowledge to work, perhaps by contributing to a class project (e.g., designing a diorama) or by bringing their classmates ...

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16 July, 2022

Can Reading Instruction Improve Math Learning in the Primary Grades?

Teacher question: My question is regarding comprehension as it relates to solving math word problems. I have observed almost all word problems begin with presenting the data first (We ate five apples…) then asking the question (How many apples…?) I have noticed when I ask the question first, it seems to narrow their working memory on the relevant detail (s) and I am noting marked improvement in 1) understanding what it is they need to do, 2) extracting the relevant details and 3) employing the correct operations. Your thoughts on the order in which questions are posed. Part 2) Are there ...

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