Blog Posts

07 December, 2019

Wake Up Reading Wars Combatants: Fluency Instruction is Part of the Science of Reading

It’s been a bad week for fluency instruction. I started getting emails questioning me on whether I supported the fluency ideas that my friend Tim Rasinski was advocating. These messages seemed to fall into two categories: those who were honestly horrified that Tim would offer something beyond what they believed to be part of the “science of reading” and those who hoped to bait me into publicly taking a rhetorical swing at Tim’s claims. I found out Tim had been on Amplify’s Science of Reading podcast (probably why I was being contacted so much), and that he had argued for using techniques like “assisted reading” and “repeated reading” to ...

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16 November, 2019

What about Special Fonts for Kids with Dyslexia or Other Reading Problems?

Teacher question:   Some of my ELA teachers have been talking about dyslexia fonts lately. Is there any merit to this? Shanahan response: This question takes me back to graduate school. I was fascinated with print and its impact on reading. That led me to study the work of a psychologist named Miles Tinker. He published scads of research and reviews of research on the impacts of print on reading and learning to read and on print itself (his 1963 book, Legibility of Print, is still a standard work). Tinker made me a skeptic concerning the supposed benefits of print design alterations, eye movement training, and the like. He provided several ...

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09 November, 2019

How to Analyze or Assess Reading Comprehension

Teacher question: I've attached a Student Work Analysis tool that we are using. I have read that you oppose attempts to grade students on the individual reading standards. Although this tool is not used for grading students, it is a standard-by-standard analysis of the students’ work, and I wonder what you think of it? [The form that was included provided spaces for teachers to analyze student success with each of their state’s math standards]. Shanahan response:  In the blog entry that you refer to, I spoke specifically about evaluating reading comprehension standards (not math or even the more foundational or skills-oriented decoding, vocabulary, or morphology). A common error in reading education ...

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02 November, 2019

Cool New Study on Text Difficulty and Adolescent Literacy

I don’t do this often, but occasionally a study that catches my eye is particularly pertinent to questions that teachers are asking me. National surveys suggest that middle and high school teachers are increasingly likely to place kids in texts that are relatively easy to read (Rand, 2017; Thomas Fordham Foundation, 2018); texts that are supposedly at the students’ “instructional levels.” Teachers ask me all the time how they can be expected to use high school level texts when so few kids in their classes are reading at grade level. And, yet, high school students often tell me that they hate being placed in what they refer to as the ...

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26 October, 2019

When should reading instruction begin?

Teacher question: What does research say about early literacy and when to begin? I am aware that kids may reach the stage of development where they're ready for reading at different times. What does the research say about the "window" for when a kid can learn to read? What are the consequences if they haven't started reading past that time?  Shanahan response: Oh, fun. The kind of question that generates strong scholarly (sounding) opinion, with no real data to go on. The advocates on both sides will bloviate about windows of opportunity, developmentally-appropriate practice, potential harms of early or later starts, and how kids in Finland are doing. Despite the impressive citations that show ...

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19 October, 2019

How Decodable Do Decodable Texts Need to Be?: What We Teach When We Teach Phonics

Teacher question: I know phonics should be taught explicitly and we have looked through several sources to determine the patterns to teach in first grade. I have been pouring through leveled texts and have found a high concentration of blends, digraphs, long vowel/silent 'e', and predictable vowel teams in text as low as levels 4 and 6. We are not teaching these patterns until well into the year, but expect our incoming first graders to read Level 3/4.  We are usually about 10 weeks into the year before even starting blends. At that point the text level expectation is around an 8. So, we keep flagging kids for more ...

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05 October, 2019

I'm a Terrific Reading Teacher, Why Should I Follow the Research?

Teacher question: What does it mean that something has research support? I’ve been a teacher for years and I’ve taught hundreds of children to read. Now I’m being told that in our district we are expected to teach in some new way that has research behind it. I like how I teach reading and I don’t want to change. Why should I? Shanahan response: I suspect that there are a lot of teachers who agree with you. Someone like me claims that a particular approach is essential, but they see learning proceeding well without this supposedly indispensable element. Why trust some researcher who doesn’t even know your kids, when you can trust your own ...

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28 September, 2019

Five Things Every Teacher Should Know about Vocabulary Instruction

Teacher question: What’s the best way to teach and have students master vocabulary? Shanahan response: My original reaction to this question was not exactly what I’d label a model of helpfulness. The question was asked by someone new to my blog and I started to send him a note telling him I’d written about that several times already and if he searched my website, he’d find an answer to his question. But I had second thoughts and decided to be a bit more accommodating. I still didn’t intend to write a blog entry. I figured it would be generous to identify some specific links from the site, so he wouldn’t ...

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21 September, 2019

What Do You Think of the Reading Workshop? or How Not to Teach Reading Comprehension

Teacher question: I saw you make a presentation recently, and I was surprised to hear that you did not like the conferencing that is provided in Readers Workshop. That is the method that our district requires. Isn’t it research-based? Shanahan responds: No, it definitely is not research based. I can’t find a single study that supports its use. I can’t even find any study that supports programs that include this approach. Of course, a lack of research support for a particular method doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Perhaps the technique has never been studied, or if it was investigated maybe the study had some important flaw. I don’t think that’s the ...

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14 September, 2019

Why Not Teach Reading Comprehension for a Change?

Teacher question: I saw you speak recently and in your definition of reading comprehension you used the term “affordance.” How would you define affordance as you use it concerning text?   Shanahan responds: Usually, I’d just shoot off a quick email explanation with a question like this. However, in this case, the question affords me the opportunity to explain why so much “reading comprehension instruction” is wrongheaded and why it fails to accomplish its goals of improving reading achievement. I believe that standardized reading comprehension testing has warped and distorted our conception of reading comprehension. Instead of focusing on how to enable kids to make sense of the ideas expressed in text, we’ve tended to ...

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