Blog Posts

09 July, 2017

Language at the Speed of Sight—On Cueing Systems, Phonemes, Speed Reading, and Sequences of Learning

                  A few months ago, I read Mark Seidenberg’s “Language at the Speed of Sight.” Seidenberg is a psychologist who studies reading, and his book is remarkably intelligent, frank, and witty. I think there is an occasional mistake or ambiguity here and there, but overall I was mesmerized.                   Typically, I don’t do reviews here and don’t intend to today. Instead, I have pulled several incisive quotes from the text that captured my attention (there were many more, I assure you), and I have added comments of my own. I hope you and your colleagues ...

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25 June, 2017

Is Kindergarten Tracking on the Wrong Track?

 Dear Dr. Shanahan,     Currently, I am a Kindergarten Reading Interventionist at our K-2 school. My team is struggling with some philosophical differences about how students are placed in classrooms. Most of the kindergarten teachers feel we should be looking at the whole child (academic, emotional, social…) and find the best match for each individual child. But our school places students by guided reading level. Each class would have a certain range of guided reading levels in their class. The idea is to lessen the range of levels in each classroom so there is not a huge spread, making instruction more ...

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18 June, 2017

Is Building Knowledge the Best Way to Increase Literacy Achievement?

Teacher question:         E.D. Hirsch makes a compelling argument for the systematic teaching of essential knowledge in elementary school as the best way to close the achievement gap. Daisy Daidalou in her book, Seven Myths of Education, makes a similar argument for building a broad, but not necessarily deep, knowledge base in assumed knowledge to improve reading comprehension. First, is there a solid research base for their claims? Second, what are the implications for a middle school, especially one with many students who are lacking strong background knowledge? Thank you.  Shanahan response:       Research over the past 40 years ...

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11 June, 2017

Reading Aloud to Kids and Why Lessons Need Purposes

Teacher’s question: Teachers in grades 3, 4 and 5 spend weeks and weeks (like 5-6) reading aloud chapter books to their students. In some classrooms, students have a copy of the book. Is there research that speaks to the effectiveness of a read-aloud over a period of time? Does student interest wane after 2 weeks or so? Are there ways to think strategically about read aloud time ... to incorporate instruction? What do we want students to know and be able to do as a result of a read aloud in this context? How can we structure close reading of passages for struggling ...

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04 June, 2017

What about those weekly tests that come with our core reading program?

Teacher question:   Our core reading program includes weekly assessments. We are all supposed to give those tests every week, but to tell the truth, it is kind of hit or miss. The tests don’t seem to be linked to our accountability test, but our reading coordinator says that we have to do weekly testing if we are going to use the program “with fidelity.” What do you think? Shanahan response:      We are testing too much. Weighing the pig more frequently don’t make him no fatter! And there are no such thing as "insta-tests" (tests that could be given in an instant ...

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28 May, 2017

Teaching Reading in a Noisy Environment

Teacher question: Our district is exploring and embracing Personalized Learning. We have a committee that has been going to professional development all year and a small group that is trying this out in their classrooms. Next year another group of teachers will be brought on to implement personalized learning and mentor under those trying it this year.   Coinciding with this, our elementary building will be undergoing renovation and a committee has been working on plans. Construction is to begin next school year. We have not seen the final plans. They will not show them to the staff yet. The guidelines for their ...

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21 May, 2017

How Do You Make a Good Reader? Just the Basics

Teacher question:             What makes good readers? What are kids lacking making them not so good readers?  Shanahan response:             I love this question because it cuts to the heart of everything we do. If teachers don’t have clear purchase on what it takes to become a good reader, and what some kids might be missing, then their instructional successes will be fortunate accidents. The same can be said for the professors who prepare teachers and for the principals and coaches who supervise them.             So what is the answer?             Let’s start with something pretty self-evident, but that is worth mentioning… the only thing ...

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14 May, 2017

New Evidence on Teaching Reading at Frustration Levels

            For generations, reading experts have told teachers that they had to teach students to read at their instructional levels. Teachers were admonished that if they taught children with books that were too easy, there would be nothing for the kids to learn. If they taught with books that were too hard, then the reading instruction would frustrate rather than improve.             In general, that kind of advice makes sense. Spend all the time you want teaching me my ABCs and it won’t likely improve my reading ability at my advanced level of performance.             And, the idea of teaching someone something that ...

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07 May, 2017

The Role of Motivation in Teaching with Complex Text

I’m vacationing in Aix-en-Provence. I’ve written before about teaching myself to read French, and now I’m enrolled in a spoken French class. Très hard!!!   Maybe not much of a vacation, and, yet, I’m gaining valuable insights into what we must do to teach successfully with complex text.   Our tour includes about a dozen people; some are studying French, and some are not. Because our group is petite, they could only provide two French options. One for absolute beginners, and the other a mid-level French course attended by immigrants to France.   My self-taught reading lessons—and sporadic forays with Duolingo and Rosetta Stone—placed me well beyond the beginner class. The advanced class is ...

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30 April, 2017

More on Reading Novels to Teens

            Recently, I received a letter from a middle school teacher who was being pressured to read novels to his students. He questioned the appropriateness of the practice given the great amount of time that takes and the learning needs of his students. He wanted to get my opinion or to find out what research had to say about the practice.             In response, I explained that there were definitely some benefits to be derived from reading to kids; though in fairness almost all of that research has been done with preschoolers (with a handful of additional studies conducted in the primary grades). That means ...

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