Blog Posts

16 April, 2019

We're Bloodied, But Unbowed

Dear Readers I wanted to let you know what has been going on at Shanahan On Literacy this week. On Wednesday, April 10, the site was hacked, and vandals essentially wiped out all the files. By Thursday, much of the site was back online—but everything posted since early November 2018 was gone. Unfortunately, the bad guys took us down again on Thursday night and from Friday night through Monday. For those reasons, I was unable to post a new newsletter last weekend but will do so in the coming week. The site is up now, though we haven’t finished all of our security adjustments aimed at staying online ...

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06 April, 2019

How Not to Respond to a Lack of Responsiveness to Intervention

Teacher question: Here is my dilemma.  My administration has decided that if a student has 3 or 4 points of data on an ORF (Oral Reading Fluency) graph that shows they are not making progress then the entire reading intervention program must be changed.  It doesn't matter to them if the student had been making progress for months before in the same program.  I was told by my principal that our school district is being sued because of RTI.  When a student is not making progress as evidenced by the ORF and the reading specialist doesn't change the program then the school district is at risk of being sued.   The ...

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23 March, 2019

Is it a good idea to teach the three cueing systems in reading?

Teacher question: There is a big argument in my new district over whether or not it is a good idea to teach children to use the three cueing systems. What do you think?  Why don’t you ever write about the cueing systems? Shanahan’s response: I don’t write about them because I’m not a fiction writer. Don’t get me wrong, cueing systems exist, but their value in reading instruction is a magnificent work of the imagination. How do we read words? Perhaps we just guess dumbly when we see a word. For example, guess what this word is: Þßàm¤. Obviously, that can’t be what readers do. There are far too many words for that ...

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17 March, 2019

Does instruction in text structure improve reading comprehension?

Teacher question: I was wondering what the research says (or if you could point me in the right direction to find it) about explicit instruction for nonfiction text structure. Specifically, English Language Learners. Shanahan response: Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I’ve been waiting for this question for almost three years. That’s because there have been several fascinating studies on this topic. This question focuses attention on an important current controversy: My colleagues Dan Willingham and E.D. Hirsch have made a strong case for focusing heavily on content to support reading comprehension—rather than teaching comprehension. How much should we focus on reading comprehension instruction? Should we aim to increase kids’ knowledge of the world alone ...

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09 March, 2019

Which Is Best, Pull-Out or Push-In Interventions?

Teacher question: My district is looking to improve our current intervention model. Currently, our reading interventionists operate on a pull-out model. However, we have heard that a push-in model can be be more effective so are interested in moving in that direction. What does the research say about the effectiveness of pull-out versus push-in for reading intervention? If one is more effective than the other, what would that entail?   Shanahan response: When people tell you that you should adopt a model or approach that ...

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23 February, 2019

Should We Administer Weekly Tests Linked to Standards?

Teacher question: My district instituted a weekly "checkpoint" (a short passage and multiple-choice assessment aligned to our standardized test). Teachers are required to give this, and then break it down by standard in a meeting with a coach. I've argued that these tests are likely not measuring what they think they are. They believe that these can tell teachers whether students are mastering certain standards and questions. We have a large proportion of students below grade level. I'm concerned that valuable teaching time, focusing on working with complex texts, is going to be spent on testing, and that the nature of the ...

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15 February, 2019

Early Identification: Predicting Reading Disabilities and Dyslexia

Teacher question: Prevention of dyslexia an other reading problems should be everyone’s number one priority. Why isn’t their more emphasis on the early identification of reading problems, before they have a chance to ruin children’s lives? Shanahan response: In 2018. I was asked to edit an issue of Perspectives of Language and Literacy devoted to this issue. Below is the introduction to that issue and at the end I have included a link so you can follow up on any of the other articles in this issue by an impressive array of scholars who know a lot about the early identification of reading problems. When I was a young teacher, I taught children ...

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09 February, 2019

Which Texts for Teaching Reading: Decodable, Predictable, or Controlled Vocabulary?

Teacher question: I'm looking for help with information or resources about text types for early readers. We have decodable text, text with high-frequency words, and predictive text. It seems like a reasonable strategy to provide our fragile readers with more opportunities to read these low-complexity texts while we shore up issues with phonological awareness. Many teachers over the years have complained to me, an instructional coach, about a lack of available texts to meet the need of students as they proceed through the year and the text complexity increases. Even with popular curriculum programs, teachers usually have very limited options with beginning reader texts, and it isn't clear how the different types are ...

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26 January, 2019

How Would You Schedule the Reading Instruction?

Teacher question: If you were teaching second-grade what would your schedule look like? Shanahan response: This question—in various forms—came up a lot this week in response to last week’s posting. Here is my thinking on this. I start from the premise that I want kids to get between 120-180 minutes per day of reading/writing instruction. The more challenged the kids are, or the greater the learning gains we are seeking, the more time I will devote to literacy. Given the ambitious learning goals that we are striving for, I see no way of accomplishing them with fewer than 2 hours per day (or 360 hours per year). And, no matter how great ...

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19 January, 2019

Why Aren't American Reading Scores Higher?

Teacher question: The National Assessment of Educational Progress says that only 37% of 4th graders are reaching reading proficiency. Why is it so low? Shanahan response: Why do so few American kids read well? There seems to be plenty of blame to go around. Parents? Society? Too much screen time? Poverty? Immigration? You and me? Lots of possibilities; some truth to each of these explanations. We’re all responsible, none of us are responsible. Yada, yada. Poverty is a big problem, of course. The correlations between test performance and family income (or family security) are high. Childhood poverty can affect the brain—making it less able to learn (Noble, 2017)—and, SES includes not just income but ...

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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.