Blog Posts

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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11 March, 2018

Improving Achievement... Is It the Tests or the Teaching?

Teacher question: We are trying to figure out how to help our grade 2 students. Currently, we see a big gap in the percentage of students who are meeting standards in Grade K and 1 compared to the same student results in Grade 2 (more than 90% in Grades K and 1 but only 55% in grade 2) In our assessment. We allow students to have questions read in Grade K but not at the end of grade 1. Why might we see this trend consistently across cohorts? Would you be able to recommend 1 or 2 strategies that we could implement as a district (~74,000 students) to ...

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04 March, 2018

Dazed and Confused: The Main Idea of Main ideas

Teacher question: Can you explain the difference between central idea, main idea, and theme? There appears to be a lot of confusions with these terms.   Shanahan’s response: You’re correct. There is much confusion and disparity in use of the terms central idea, main idea, and theme. And please add topic and topic sentence to that list, too. Part of the problem here is that these are old colloquial terms. They didn’t arise from the sciences (e.g., psychology, linguistics), so, perhaps, we shouldn’t expect too precise a meaning for each. Back in the early 1980s, Jim Baumann conducted a series of studies on the “main idea” concept and the steps needed to teach students to identify main ideas. He found that professional books ...

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25 February, 2018

How to Teach Writing in Kindergarten Part II

Teacher question:  What are your thoughts about writing in Kindergarten? Is there a scientifically-researched instructional methodology that we should implement. We’ve been trying to embed writing opportunities within the literacy block related to the whole group listening comprehension text. Should students draw in relation to the prompt or question and then label, dictate, and/or write? Should teachers model phonetic spelling of words or the correct spelling? Any help would be appreciated. Shanahan response: Last week I provided a partial answer to this question. My response emphasized the importance of kindergarten writing and the value of kindergarten teachers facilitating and teaching writing. I suggested amounts of time to devote to beginning writing instruction ...

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17 February, 2018

How to Teach Writing in Kindergarten

Teacher question: What are your thoughts about writing in Kindergarten? Is there a scientifically-researched instructional methodology that we should implement. We’ve been trying to embed writing opportunities within the literacy block related to the whole group listening comprehension text. Should students draw in relation to the prompt or question and then label, dictate, and/or write? Should teachers model phonetic spelling of words or the correct spelling? Any help would be appreciated. Shanahan response: Indeed, kindergartners should be writing, and kindergarten teachers should be facilitating and teaching writing. Unfortunately, we don’t have a particularly rich scientific-research base on beginning writing instruction. There are many observational studies that give us a sense of what may be ...

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11 February, 2018

Reading Recommendations for the Five and Unders

Recently I was interviewed by Fatherly, a website that focuses on providing parenting advice to dads. They wanted some book recommendations for babies, toddlers, and kindergartners. This link will connect you to the first in their series on this topic, and below I provide elaborated answers to these timely questions. https://www.fatherly.com/play/books/best-books-for-babies/ https://www.fatherly.com/play/best-books-for-toddlers/ https://www.fatherly.com/play/books/best-books-for-your-kindergartner/    What is the ideal form of baby books? Babies very early on exhibit what is called the palmar reflex… that is if something touches or grazes their palms, their little hands lock on it. I guess that keeps them from falling out of trees or something. Try touching a finger or your hair ...

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04 February, 2018

Which is best? Analytic or synthetic phonics?

Teacher question: I’ve taught literacy and literacy courses in every grade from K-graduate school. I take the view that synthetic phonics taught directly and systematically is essential to any literacy program. However, we also propose that teachers be given the training an option to use analytic phonics when, after reasonable attempts of using direct instruction, the synthetic phonics approach fails a particular child. I recognize that currently virtually no one is doing it that way. At the moment my criticism of systematic synthetic phonics is not that is shouldn’t be done, it should. Rather it is that the way it is ...

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27 January, 2018

On Science Reading, Informational Text, and Reading Pullout Programs

Question: I came across your article Informational Text: Or How Thin Can You Slice the Salami and wanted to reach out to you. I'm analytical and I work with other analytical thinkers. But I am also surrounded by reading specialists, literacy coaches, etc. who think differently. When I visit schools, I observe students who are analytical. They're interested in facts and the world. They prefer expository books to narrative nonfiction or fiction.  I'm concerned that young analytical thinkers are being underserved by literacy educators, who are more comfortable with narrative writing.  Shanahan responds: Your letter came at a very good time. Recently, I’ve been working ...

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He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.