Literacy Blogs

09 July, 2022

Should We Still Teach Dictionary?

Teacher question: I hope you can help me as I have learned, and continue to learn, new things from your blog. Is there any benefit to using dictionaries in middle school? Is there any research you can share that discusses the pros/cons of using a dictionary in middle school? The students are native speakers, but there are some ELLs. Shanahan replies: The value of the dictionary depends upon your purpose. If the idea is to teach word meanings or to facilitate reading comprehension, then provide the definitions directly Wright & Cervetti, 2017). All the looking-things-up and choosing among definitions increases “cognitive load.” That is, the ...

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11 June, 2022

Explicit Spelling Instruction or Invented Spelling?

Teacher question: I teach kindergarten. We’ve been arguing over whether we should teach spelling or developmental spelling. Which is best? Shanahan response: You’re asking if learning to spell comes more surely from “transmission” (teaching by telling or demonstrating) or from “construction” (learning through discovery or operating on the world). Arguments in educational psychology have raged over this for decades. I think the dispute – at least with regards to spelling – is misleading. The two approaches are posed as contradictory, that teachers must choose one way or the other. I don’t see it that way. Explicit spelling versus invented spelling is a false dichotomy. I encourage ...

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04 June, 2022

Print-to-speech or Speech-to-Print? That is the question

Teacher question: I know you typically don’t talk about specific programs, but I really would like to know your thoughts. I had always wanted more training in a structured literacy program/approach. I always thought Wilson, and specifically OG approaches, were the gold standards. More recently, I began reading about programs labeled as speech to print. Proponents of speech to print methods claim it is much faster to teach kids to read (and spell) than OG based approaches. Is there research to support this? Are these studies comparing programs based on OG (that mainly follow a more print to speech approach) and ...

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14 May, 2022

Me and Reading Recovery

Teacher question: Would you do an article about your thoughts on recent report about Reading Recovery?   Shanahan response: The first time I heard of Reading Recovery (RR) was in 1987. The editor of the Journal of Reading Behavior asked me to review Marie Clay’s book, Early Detection of Reading Disabilities. I knew of the book – even had a copy – but was only aware of the innovative assessment that it presented. I hesitated to take on the task since the book was already in its third edition and had attracted a reasonable number of reviews already. "That's the point," she told me. The ...

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07 May, 2022

Don't Confuse Reading Comprehension and Learning to Read -- Rereading

Teacher question: You say that we should teach students to read with grade level texts. But my professor (I’m working on a master’s degree in reading) says that would be a big mistake since harder texts have been found to lower students’ fluency and comprehension (Amendum, Conradi, & Hiebert, 2017). Your research says one thing and his says something else. How can I sort this out? I kind of think that he is right since my students don’t read as well when I put them in the grade level books. Shanahan response: This is an easy question to answer: I’m right and your ...

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09 April, 2022

Integrating Literacy Instruction with Science and Social Studies

Teacher question: I wonder why you never write about curriculum integration. This year my district is all about including social studies in all of our lessons and my sister (a teacher in another state) is doing something like that with science in the upper grades. Do you have any advice for teachers like us? Shanahan response: As a teacher I was a strong advocate of integrating reading and writing instruction at a time when that kind of thing wasn’t common. Later, when I became an academic, I studied reading-writing relationships and that blossomed into an interest in the combination of other curricula as ...

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02 April, 2022

Should I teach students to memorize sight words and monitor their progress?

Teacher question: I would love to see a blog post on whether to teach sight words/high frequency words, and if there is any useful reason to track whether a student is learning them. My teachers are still teaching them in K and 1st, but more through reading and spelling them, decoding, and encoding them, in and out of text, and not by memorizing their shape. Yet, they are unsure of whether it is worth it to track which words they've learned and how much intervention to provide based on that data. Shanahan responds: The short answer to both of your questions is, “yes,” ...

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12 March, 2022

Decoding or Fluency Instruction in Middle School?

Teacher question At our middle school, two-thirds of our students are not proficient readers (55% of them read below the 30th percentile). Our staff decided that to help address this problem all our students would engage in repeated reading in each core content class once a week. This would be done with grade-level text. Teachers read the passage, students choral read with teacher, and then students read with a partner. That's it. We have been told that this way of repeated reading will help our students improve their phonics and fluency. I'm not in full agreement with this, but we have ...

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05 March, 2022

Do Screening and Monitoring Tests Really Help?

Teacher Question: I’m surprised that you don’t write about screening and monitoring tests. I’ve been a teacher for 24 years (first-grade) and I’m considering an early retirement. It seems like I’m supposed to test my students more than teach them. We just test and get ready for tests. I feel so sorry for the boys and girls. I want to teach reading, not FSF, ISF, PSF. NWF, WRF, ORF, LNF. Help me, Dr. Shanahan. Is this what’s best? Is this really a part of the “science of reading”? Shanahan response: I feel your pain. When I was a first-grade teacher, we didn’t have ...

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12 February, 2022

Why Don't You Encourage Reading Practice?

Teacher question: Why don’t you like independent reading? It only makes sense for students to practice reading if they’re going to get good at it. My students live in poverty. They won’t read at home, so I provide 20 minutes a day for them to just read. Practice makes perfect, you know. Shanahan responds: You’re right about the importance of practice. Practice has value in the development of any skilled activity. I have no doubt that reading practice plays a role in making kids better readers. I don’t oppose encouraging students to practice their reading. However, as a but I do believe in making instructional ...

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