Blog Posts

22 February, 2020

How Can We Take Advantage of Reading-Writing Relationships?

Teacher question: Everyone says reading and writing are connected. But our school focuses on only reading. We have a reading program (we don’t have a writing program). We test the students three times a year in reading, but never in writing. Writing isn’t even on our report card, though I guess it is part of Language Arts. What should we be doing with writing? Shanahan response: You came to the right place. I think your school is making a big mistake not giving sufficient attention to writing. When I was a teacher my primary grade kids wrote every day. When I became a researcher, I ...

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15 February, 2020

How to Knock Down Five Strawman Arguments Against Phonics

Recently, the Washington Post published an article about the latest hostilities in the “reading wars.” Washington Post Article. I noticed it because the columnist, Jay Matthews, quoted from this blog. The column did a good job of surfacing the disagreements, but what really caught my eye was the comments section. More than 50 readers had weighed in – defending phonics or trying to clothesline it. As a longtime phonics advocate, I was especially sensitive to the illogical arguments against decoding instruction. They were mostly the same arguments I’ve heard for the last 50 years of my career. I might think these to be illogical arguments, but they appear to be persuasive ...

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01 February, 2020

If Students Meet a Standard with Below Grade Level Texts, Are They Meeting the Standard?

Teacher question: When working with state educational standards are the expectations for the student to be able to accomplish each of the standards with grade level text. Some of us believe that if a fourth-grade student can determine the main idea in a second-grade text that the student has mastered that standard. Please help us settle this argument. Shanahan response: Actions like identifying a main idea or summarizing a text or comparing characters’ traits are considered to be skills. Text levels (like fourth-grade text or Level L or 950Lexiles) are degrees of text difficulty or complexity. Readers have to implement their reading skills within texts of varying levels of complexity. If a ...

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25 January, 2020

Why Is It So Hard to Improve Reading Achievement?

Interesting question. Before I answer, let me ask one:  What keeps Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, up at night? You know Amazon, the trillion-dollar corporation that delivers something like a 5 billion packages a year. I’m at a professional meeting. The chair asks what “levers” we have for improving reading achievement in the U.S. It’s an easy question. There are so many possibilities. The first one most folks think of is, the teacher. If teachers did better kids would do better. There are a lot of alternative levers: school administrators, politicians, bureaucrats, publishers, universities, assessments, standards, curricula, media, screens, mom and dad… As these discussions go, this one isn’t bad. Lots of ...

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18 January, 2020

Did Reading First Reveal Phonics Instruction to be Futile?

Teacher Question: I’m a big phonics promoter. Recently, someone challenged me saying that the fact that Reading First didn’t work shows that emphasizing phonics is a bad idea. Can you help? Shanahan replies:  In 2001, the President and the U.S. Congress agreed on the creation of a $5 billion program to enhance reading instruction K-3 in especially low performing Title I schools. That program was called Reading First. Every state got a portion of the funds based on their poverty statistics and there was a list of schools and school districts that were eligible for this money based on reading performance on their state tests (3rd grade scores). The grants were sizeable, ...

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11 January, 2020

Who’s Right about Text Complexity, You or the Institute of Education Sciences?

Teacher question: I read your recent article on teaching with complex text in Perspectives in Language and Literacy and I agree with you. But I also read the IES Practice Guide that said that we should make sure kids are reading texts at instructional and independent levels (on page 33). Who’s right? Shanahan responds: Uh oh, don’t want to get into a food fight with those guys. Fortunately, I don’t think there is any real disagreement here at all, but I can see why you might think so – the IES guide emphasized one issue and I another, and neither of us coordinated that information in any way that ...

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04 January, 2020

Does "Modeling" Have a Place in High Quality Literacy Teaching?

Teacher question: What do you think about “modeling” in literacy instruction? Shanahan’s reply: Tyler’s mom sent me the video. It was riveting. Like many 21st century parents she had a camera going in the nursery at naptime. And, the camera revealed something pretty cool during an afternoon nap. Tyler was a toddler. He had started day care recently, the youngest kid there. Now he was in his crib and supposed to be sleeping. But Tyler had his book and was jabbering away. He wasn’t pretending to read so much as he was pretending to read to a group of kids. He’d hold up the book with the pictures facing out and, unmistakably, ...

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20 December, 2019

Have a Happy and Literate Holiday

I hope you, your families, and communities have a happy holiday season.  May you all have a more literate New Year!  

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13 December, 2019

The Top Literacy Charities for 2020

This is the time of year when thoughts turn to compassion, and when Shanahan on Literacy encourages generosity towards literacy-oriented charities. Each year I identify all of Charity Navigator's 4-starred national charities that support book distribution and other literacy initiatives. I have no connection to any of these organizations, and please remember your local literacy charities, too.  We’ll soon be back to providing the best research-based literacy information possible, but for now, let’s remember all the ways that we can contribute to promoting literacy. Be generous and have a wondrous and literate holiday. Links to these 6 worthy charities are on my website year round: Books for Africa.  Founded in 1988, ...

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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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