Literacy Blogs

03 April, 2021

Does Close Reading Reject the Science of Reading?

Teacher question: I recently read an article suggesting that the research findings on reading comprehension have been modified, distorted and ignored (Dewitz & Graves, 2021, What concerned me most is that close reading and the CCSS came under heavy fire. Although the article ends with suggestions for bridging the research to practice gap, it leaves practicing teachers using the CCSS wondering whether to modify their reading comprehension instruction and use of close reading. Since you have written about close reading and the CCSS in other blogs, what are your suggestions? Shanahan responds: This article claims that today’s reading comprehension instruction is not in ...

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13 March, 2021

On Eating Elephants and Teaching Syllabication

Teacher Question: What are your thoughts on teaching syllable division patterns? I recently came across some new research from Devin Kearns and it made me start thinking about if all the time programs spend teaching syllable division patterns is really justified. If teaching syllable division is not time well invested, what type of instruction would you recommend replacing it with?  Shanahan response: I was training for a 500-mile bike trip. Three of the days’ rides would be centuries (100 miles plus). The practice was making my back ache and my knees hurt, but I felt no closer to being able to accomplish those distances. They seemed absolutely impossible. I was ...

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06 March, 2021

Why Your Students May Not Be Learning to Comprehend

Teacher question: "My district is trying to shift literacy instruction to be in line with the science of reading. We are wondering where comprehension strategies fit into Scarborough’s Reading Rope? Inferences and making connections are part of Verbal Reasoning, but what about other skills my students still need to be taught, like understanding and using text structure, summarizing, visualizing, questioning? There is much research to support explicit instruction in comprehension strategies, so where do they fit?  Also, even when our teachers do a good job of scaffolding students’ comprehension of complex text, our at-risk students struggle to independently process texts on ...

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13 February, 2021

What does the Easter Bunny have in common with the independent reading level?

Teacher question:  I know you criticize the instructional reading level. But what about the independent reading level? Should we make sure that when children are reading on their own that they select books at their independent level or doesn’t that matter? Shanahan response: Back in the 1940s, Emmet Betts was trying to figure out how to improve reading instruction. The idea of matching books to students’ learning needs had floated around for decades in the research community. The 1910-1920s had ushered in reading tests and readability formulas, which provided clear scientific evidence that both books and children varied in difficulty (books) and ...

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06 February, 2021

Letter names or sounds first?… you might be surprised by the answer

Teacher question: I teach kindergarten. We are trying to follow the science of reading. We believe that is the best way to go. However, my colleague and I are disagreeing over one aspect of our program. Should we teach the letters first, the sounds first, or should we teach them together? Shanahan response: This is such a practical question and often research fails to answer such questions. That shouldn’t be too surprising since researchers approach reading a bit differently than the classroom teacher. A good deal of psychological study of letters and words over the past century hasn’t been so much about how ...

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16 January, 2021

Why doesn't increasing knowledge improve reading achievement?

Teacher question: Can we raise student achievement by teaching subject area content knowledge? I’m concerned about this approach because I work with struggling readers. We know a lot about how to help them learn to read, so I was wondering if there is evidence that teaching “knowledge” to such students really makes any difference. I recently came across a study of a widely touted reading program that is supposed to be better because it emphasizes knowledge building and yet the results weren’t positive at all (See, Gorard, & Siddiqui, 2017).   Shanahan responds: In February I go to my doctor for my annual health ...

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09 January, 2021

3P versus 3-cueing: Why recommend one and shun the other?

Teacher question: Can you explain the difference between 3P (Pause, Prompt, Praise) and 3 cueing? I know you encourage one and discourage the other, but they seem to be the same thing to me. Help.   Shanahan reply: At Shanahan on Literacy, we strive for consistency. Let’s see if we can get this straightened out. First, let’s make sure we understand what these two trios are about. Pause, Prompt, Praise (3P or PPP or P3) is used to guide oral reading practice (Glynn, 2002). Research has shown that having students read challenging texts aloud with support and repetition improves reading achievement (NICHD, 2000). 3P tells the ...

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12 December, 2020

Lets' Be Charitable to Literacy

Each year, Shanahan on Literacy identifies the highest ranked charities that support book distribution and other literacy-oriented initiatives. These are all 4-star rated programs that are national or multi-regional in scope. The high ratings mean they are transparent in their reporting and spend all or most of the money on their mission rather than overhead. That means if you donate to these organization good literacy things happen for lots of kids. I have no connection to any of these organizations, and please remember your local literacy charities, too (I’m not in a position to consider those).  We’ll soon be back to ...

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05 December, 2020

Should we use narrative texts to teach science, math, and social studies?

Teacher question: In graduate school, we are being taught that we should use “hybrid texts” to teach content subjects. As a middle school math teacher, I think this is a horrible idea given our scant resources. Where do you stand on the use of hybrid text? Shanahan response: I share your concerns. I think hybrid text or mixed-genre text is an instructional idea that misses the point and leaves kids ill prepared for the future. Hybrid text is an expository text that includes narrative elements. A widely known example would be the Magic School Bus books. Those books present various social studies or science ...

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14 November, 2020

What Kind of Early Reading Intervention Should We Provide?

Teacher question: It seems there is currently a focus on intervention solely for the word recognition side in the early grades. The explanation is that most students who struggle, struggle with decoding, and I of course agree. However, I would add that many of those also struggle with language comprehension, with language development deficits that are measurable and observationally apparent in conversation with them as preschoolers, kindergartners, and first graders. The district’s current assessment model pretty much excludes them any assessment of language comprehension. I was told that one of the main reasons that children struggle later with reading comprehension is from ...

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