Blog Posts

12 January, 2019

Should Kids Pick their Own Reading Texts?

As regular readers of this blog know, there is an entire segment of the literacy community who thinks I’m an idiot. I’ve been married for a long time, so those kinds of judgments don’t usually bother me. But let’s be honest, we all like to be liked, so another blog about why kids learn less from reading on their own is probably not in my best interest. And, that definitely is not what this is going to be about… or at least not what I wanted it to be about. You see, over the holidays a friend of mine posted chart from a presentation at this year’s Literacy Research ...

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05 January, 2019

How Important is Reading Rate?

Teacher question:  How much does reading speed matter?  And if it is important, what is the best way to develop it in our learners? I’ve heard that 100 wpm is the minimal speed for comprehension. Is that a real thing? I believe the average speed is 200 wpm.  Shanahan responds: I can find no minimal reading or listening speed for comprehension in any of the studies I can lay my hands on. I’m sure there must be a minimal reading speed, but it is certainly considerably slower than 100 wpm. Part of the problem, of course, is that everyone interested in reading rate wants to speed readers up rather than slowing them ...

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16 December, 2018

Making the Holidays Happy for Literacy

Happy holidays to all. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, Chanukah, December Solstice, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, St. Stephen’s Day, New Year’s or any of the myriad of other joyous occasions that mark this time of the calendar, I wish you joy and bounty This will be my last entry of 2018. Stay tuned. I have lots of new content about literacy instruction planned for 2019. I hope you will continue to read my blogs and to use the free publications, videos, resources, and other material at Shanahan on Literacy. Be sure to subscribe so that you never miss an entry, and please consider signing up your entire school, department, or ...

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08 December, 2018

My Principal Wants to Improve Test Scores... Is He Right?

Teacher question: I hope and pray that you write about or repost regarding state reading assessments. I just received a call from a frantic academic coach stating that her principal has told her teachers to look at our state test’s achievement level descriptors and create test-based questions aligned to those levels to ask when immersing students in literature and informational texts. Is this a good use of their time? Isn’t it really all about the text as wells as students’ knowledge of the subject matter, vocabulary, and sentence complexity? Please help! Shanahan response: You’re right. It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten up on this particular soapbox.    Many consider this “the season ...

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01 December, 2018

More Learning Time for Some Kids

Teacher question: I saw you speak recently and you mentioned a few times that schools of high needs should receive more reading instruction compared to schools of low needs. Were you basing your comments on research or your opinion?  Our buildings of high needs students receive fewer instructional reading minutes due to everyone wanting to get a piece of the student for their services (e.g., math needs, reading needs, social skills, specialty school curriculum). Shanahan response: There are no studies that reveal the amount of reading instruction that is necessary or sufficient to teach reading effectively to students at different levels of performance. However, there is an extensive body of literature showing ...

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17 November, 2018

Phonics for Second-Language Learners?

Teacher letter: 30% of our children are second-language learners—mainly from Mexico and Central America. The reason that I’m writing is that our school’s RtI program only provides tier 2 interventions that are aimed at teaching decoding. That means when our 1st and 2nd graders are having trouble in reading (and many of them are), they get more phonics teaching. What do you think of providing so much phonics to Spanish speakers? It makes no sense to me, but no one will listen.  Shanahan response: Great letter! I, too, have seen this at many schools—and many of my colleagues who specialize in bilingual education tell me that this kind of over-referral of ELLs ...

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10 November, 2018

How do I Teach Main Idea?

Teacher question: Last week, I read your blog about how to teach theme to students by having them track character changes across a story and determine what lesson the character learns to determine the overall theme. Can you offer advice on determining the main idea of an informational text? Specifically, for third grade, students must determine the main idea, recount the key details and explain how the key details support the main idea. What is the best way HOW to teach this to third graders?  Shanahan response: Teaching “main idea” might seem simple, but it’s actually kind of complicated. Not everyone even agrees on what label to use. Are we talking about main ideas, ...

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03 November, 2018

The Whys and Hows of Research and the Teaching of Reading

I talk a lot about research in this space. I argue for research-based instruction and policy. I point out a dearth of empirical evidence behind some instructional schemes, and champion others that have been validated or verified to my satisfaction. Some readers are happy to find out what is “known,” and others see me as a killjoy because the research findings don’t match well with what they claim to “know.” Members of this latter group are often horrified by my conclusions. They often are certain that I’m wrong because they read a book for teachers that had lots of impressive citations that seem contradict my claims.   What is clear from ...

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27 October, 2018

Gradual Release of Responsibility and Complex Text

Teacher question: I am working with schools who are strongly committed to the “I Do, We Do, You Do” method of teaching reading, and attempt to use this method when working with the reading of complex texts. I have noticed that this approach doesn’t often exist with “highly aligned curricula.” My questions are: What is the role of modeling as it relates to complex text? What does good modeling look like with a complex text that doesn't simplify understanding of a text down to just using one reading strategy? I would appreciate any insights you have here. Thank you!  Shanahan's response: Cool question. I don’t think that is a bad way to think ...

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13 October, 2018

Do Learning Centers and Seatwork Improve Reading Achievement?

Teacher questions: I am an elementary literacy coach. A trend I am seeing in our K-2 classrooms are center activities not aligned to measurable outcomes. My question is, in a room of 24 first graders, when the teacher is pulling a small group to deliver targeted instruction, what does research say is best for what the other students to be doing? I'm struggling to find a model that we can confidently start driving towards.   I am often asked about what the "other students" should be doing while teachers meet with small groups. I refer to What Works Clearinghouse studies to see gains for different programs and approaches. I can't find ...

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One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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