Blog Posts

23 February, 2019

Should We Administer Weekly Tests Linked to Standards?

Teacher’s 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 assessments will lead to skills-focused teaching that won't ...

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16 February, 2019

Early Identification: Predicting Reading Disabilities and Dyslexia

Teacher question: Prevention of dyslexia and 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 topic. 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 by this impressive array of scholars who know a lot about the early identification of reading problems. This query did not come to me directly but was posted ...

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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 ...

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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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One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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