Blog Posts

20 June, 2020

First You Have to Teach Them to be Disfluent Readers

Teacher question: You say that one-quarter or one-fifth of the reading instruction time should be spent on oral reading fluency. But I teach kindergarten and most of my kids can’t read, so fluency instruction doesn’t make any sense. What should I do instead? Shanahan responds: When we talk about oral reading fluency – or what I prefer to call text reading fluency – we’re referring to the ability to read text accurately, with automaticity, and appropriate expression or prosody. As such, text fluency is a mash up of a plethora of applied skills including decoding ability, knowledge of high frequency words, ability to multitask ...

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13 June, 2020

The Six Goals of an Ideal Vocabulary Curriculum

Teacher question: Could you recommend a strong vocabulary curriculum that my school could adopt? Shanahan responds: Because I work with various companies, I never recommend particular programs. However, while there are vocabulary programs, this is an area where teachers are often expected to go their own way. Given that, let me suggest the scope of an outstanding vocabulary curriculum. My focus here is on what needs to be taught, rather than on the instructional approaches needed to accomplish this. Overall, an ideal vocabulary curriculum would encourage the teaching of six things. First, the ideal vocabulary curriculum would aim to increase students’ knowledge of the meanings of ...

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06 June, 2020

Planning Lessons with Complex Text

Teacher question: I very much like your idea of teaching students to read with grade level books. However, I’ve always taught with guided reading groups, trying to match my students to books that they can already read reasonably well. I don’t know how to go about what you are recommending. Help! Shanahan responds: As a primary grade teacher, I, too, always taught reading like that; the same way teachers had taught me so long ago (and the same way teachers usually have taught reading for more than 100 years). It is hard to change ancient traditions on the basis of research or anything else. ...

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23 May, 2020

Literacy at Home: Advice for the Confined

I’m in Chicago in the 10th week of pandemic confinement. Even in states that are opening up, the schools are still closed, and some may remain closed in the fall. One suspects that there may be future extended school closings as well as this insidious virus works its way through our communities. There is no research literature on education and pandemics. But there is an all too extensive body of study focused on the effects of natural disasters (e.g., floods, fires, hurricanes, tsunamis). Such events differ from what we are going through… those causing greater direct loss and trauma. Children who lose ...

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16 May, 2020

What about Tracing and Other Multi-sensory Teaching Approaches?

Teacher question: I have read the work of researchers like Louisa Moats, Stanislas Dehaene, and Linnea Ehri and have an understanding of how reading works in the brain. I understand the critical role of connecting graphemes to phonemes. My question is what is the true role of the kinesthetic activities promoted in many intervention programs? In a webinar that I watched the speaker mentioned several times how critical it was to have students trace the words because this created neural pathways. What does the research say about this? Shanahan response: The idea of tracing words to improve literacy has been around for a century. You’d ...

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09 May, 2020

That Hypocrite Shanahan -- Cueing Systems vs. Context Analysis

Teacher question: I attended your recent webinar and you said that students should figure out the meanings of words from context and that they needed to be able to deal with syntax. But I’ve also read that you are against the 3-cueing systems. Isn’t that a contradiction? It seems hypocritical to criticize teachers for teaching 3-cueing and then to turn and around and recommend that they do just that. Shanahan responds: Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” What I said may seem inconsistent, but it would be foolishly so if I had ignored the fact that two ...

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02 May, 2020

Should We Be Using Words Correct Per Minute?

Teacher question: When providing fluency instruction, should time, such as the number of words per minute, be an element? Our school has been doing that, but elsewhere I’m hearing that we shouldn’t be doing that. Shanahan response: Fluency is a bit of a mash up and not a pure skill. In fluency, it is important that students read the words correctly. That’s the “accuracy” part of fluency. That obviously depends heavily on decoding skills (and decoding instruction). Unfortunately, many kids can read words accurately but still aren’t fluent readers. (In fact, that’s what got people teaching fluency in the first place—boys and girls who were ...

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18 April, 2020

How can I teach RAN to improve my students' reading?

Teacher’s question: Our school psychologist tests all of our boy and girls for RAN. He says it is the best predictor of reading ability. How can I improve my students’ RAN performance? Shanahan’s response: If someone tells you that you can teach RAN, run! RAN refers to “rapid automatized naming.” Back in the 1970s, researchers wanted to measure cognitive processing speed, so they came up with a variety of RAN measures. Typically, students are asked to name known colors, objects, letters or words, and their performance is timed. The studies showed that rapid naming was a good predictor of reading ability and was an ...

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11 April, 2020

How to Improve Text Fluency in the Middle Schools and High Schools

How to Improve Text Fluency in the Middle Schools and High Schools   Teacher question: I teach high school students with reading disabilities, and I use your blog regularly as a source and inspiration. How can I help high school students develop oral fluency? Can you give me specific ways in my classroom to do this with reluctant readers?  Shanahan responds: This is an important question. Too few teachers ask it. Many teachers think fluency teaching is just for the primary or the elementary grades. Of course, most state standards talk about fluency in those grades, but that’s a mistake that even the authors of many of ...

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04 April, 2020

A Gallimaufry of Literacy Questions and Answers

A Gallimaufry of Literacy Questions and Answers Hello, Reading World! As with most of you, I’m sheltering in place… biding my time until the Great Pandemic Pandemonium subsides. Although despite being at what is currently an awkward (and apparently dangerous) age, I feel pretty safe locked down here in Chicago. Nevertheless, like all of you, I'm worried about family members who are on the front line in this fight, my students and colleagues, and all the people who are taking care of us.  I’ve been traveling less but spending more time on Zoom and other telecommunications outlets. Talking to teachers I can’t ...

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