Blog Posts

17 April, 2017

Sight Vocabulary for Preschool

Teacher question:             I am preschool teacher and I would like to know how I can implement a sight word program with 4 year old students. I have tried my best to implement at least three but I feel my strategies are not working. I am trying to do a program to help preschoolers to be ready when they go to kindergarten (Infant 1).  Shanahan responds:             My dear, many of my colleagues, would be wearily frowning at you with disdain for this question.  And, regular readers here, knowing my sharp tongue, too, may be anticipating something akin to a public flogging.             But let me play against type a bit… because, although ...

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09 April, 2017

How Complex a Text Can I Scaffold?

Teacher Question:             Is there a point at which it does not make sense to use a particular challenging text with a particular student? For instance, take an 8th grader who reads at about a 3rd grade level. The student can decode reasonably well but is dysfluent and, due to learning English, has poor comprehension resulting from low vocabulary knowledge and lots of confusion caused by complex syntax. Would you still say scaffold grade-level text to provide access for this student-- or at a certain point, the scaffolding would need to be so extensive and it would take the whole year to read a grade-level novel-- use easier text?             ...

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02 April, 2017

Our Younger Readers are Doing Better, So What's He Upset about Now?

Great report about beginning reading achievement in the most recent issue of Educational Researcher. D’Agostino & Rodgers show that, beginning literacy skills have improved annually from 2002 through 2013. Beginning first-graders have steadily improved in letter identification, phonemic awareness, concepts about print, writing vocabulary, word reading, and text reading. These gains were not just evident for the average or typical student, but for the relatively low achieving ones—though the gains for the latter have lagged those of their more advantaged peers. The researchers suggest—though do not claim to prove—that these data reflect an increased emphasis on literacy instruction in preschool and kindergarten, probably due to the reports of the ...

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25 March, 2017

What’s with Reading Workshop in high school?

            Lately, I’ve run into a lot of teachers and school administrators who are all pumped up about the Reading Workshop or Readers’ Workshop.             They tell me that they don’t want to use textbooks anymore. Don’t want to teach novels. Don't seem to really want to teach much of anything.             They believe that the trick to teaching reading is not teaching it—or at least not teaching it very much. Mini-lessons are in the saddle and independent reading is how they want students to experience the English class.             I’m skeptical. If this were a new idea, I’d probably be more accepting. However, this influential ...

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15 March, 2017

Disciplinary Literacy: The Basics

A slew of letters seeking ideas on disciplinary literacy. Teacher 1: The Common Core highlights that every teacher is a reading and writing teacher in their discipline. I think this idea is important in combination with the best practices for content area learning. My main interest in this is based on helping students who struggle to learn to read in early grade levels, and, as a result, can quickly get behind when "reading to learn" in the secondary grades. Teacher 2: What is the place of disciplinary literacy in elementary school? I am also aware of the work of Nell Duke ...

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23 February, 2017

How Should We Combine Reading and Writing?

Teacher question: So today I was conducting a workshop. I was told the teachers wanted information about reading/writing connections. Easy, right? Then I was told that they departmentalize K-6! At every grade they have a reading teacher and a different writing teacher. Any thoughts, comments, best practices, or research that would go against or support this practice? I know what I believe to be correct, but would love to have your opinions in this conversation.  Shanahan response:            Wowee! For the past several years I’ve been complaining about how schools are organizing themselves with regard to reading and writing. These days, the most ...

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12 February, 2017

How Much Reading Gain Should be Expected from Reading Interventions?

This week’s challenging question: I had a question from some schools people that I’m not sure how to answer. I wonder if anyone has data on what progress can be expected of students in the primary grades getting extra help in reading. Let’s assume that the students are getting good/appropriate instruction, and the data were showing that 44% of students (originally assessed as “far below”) across grades 1-3 were on pace to be on grade level after 2 years of this extra help. Is this expected progress for such students or less than what has been shown for effective early reading interventions? Shanahan’s ...

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07 February, 2017

The Instructional Level Concept Revisited: Teaching with Complex Text

Boy, oh, boy! The past couple weeks have brought unseasonably warm temperatures to the Midwest, and unusual flurries of questions concerning teaching children at their, so-called, “instructional levels.” Must be salesman season, or something.           One of the questions asked specifically about my colleague Dick Allington, since he has published articles and chapters saying that teaching kids with challenging text is a dumb idea. And, a couple of others queries referred to the advertising copy from Teachers College Press (TCP) about their programs. Both Dick and TCP threw the R-word (research) around quite a bit, but ...

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29 January, 2017

Who Has Authority Over Meaning? Part II

         In my last entry, I explored some ideas concerning what role authors play in our interpretation of text. As with many controversies in the garden of literary criticism, nothing is settled, but an exquisite tension has been created. It is this tension that mature readers need to learn to negotiate—and that we have to prepare them for.          My take on this controversy is this: it is respectful, responsible, and wise to try to get back to “the author’s intended meaning.” That means we need not only to think about what a text says, but what we thought the author ...

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24 January, 2017

Who Has Authority Over Meaning: Authors or Readers?

I’m often asked if the questions I publish here are “real.” That is, do teachers, really ask me these things? The questions definitely are real. Though they come to me in a variety of ways.            Not long ago a colleague contacted me for my advice on a question she’d been asked. She was surprised to see that one show up on my blog. Other times, I might be giving a talk and a question comes from the audience. I remember it later and answer it again for you.            This week’s “question” is ...

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