Do You Have a Pet Peeve about Reading? Here Are My Top Ten (Pt. 2)

  • 16 October, 2021
  • 79 Comments

Last week, I posted five literacy education pet peeves. I whined about the lack of balance in balanced literacy; calls to end the reading wars that fail to address their root cause; the use of research to cover one’s tracks rather than to support sound decisions; the use of drive-by conferencing in place of deep discussions of text; and instructional schedules tuned to teachers’ comfort levels rather than kids’ learning needs.

As promised, here are five more.

Pet Peeve #6:  Research claims based on the wrong kinds of research.

Recently, a claim of mine was challenged on Twitter. Someone pointed out that there was research supporting an approach to literacy teaching that I had deprecated. He essentially, wrote, “You’re wrong. Research shows that this approach works.”

The right and wrong of this exchange isn’t important here (though I was right). But it reveals a basic communications problem inherent literacy discussions.

What does it mean to say that an instructional approach “works” in the teaching of reading?

The problem is that there are two different meanings.

“It works” can mean that kids (or some kids) can or will learn to read from some teaching approach. If that approach is used, many children are likely to become readers.

That’s the meaning that many practitioners think of.

Another possibility, however, is that the approach works better than another. That’s what researchers usually mean.

For instance, when we do studies evaluating the effectiveness of an instructional approach, we must show that it outperforms something else. These days studies compare the approach in question with what are referred to as “business as usual” approaches (BUA). If we can’t demonstrate that students do better than with BUA classroom practices, then the practice doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean that no one learns anything from it, just that they do no better than they would without it.  

In my Twitter argument, my antagonist referred to some observational studies which made no comparisons at all. The studies provided detailed descriptions of how reading was taught in some high achieving schools. The conclusion was that these were effective practices since the kids were learning so well.

The problem with that conclusion is that it ignores all other sources of learning.

Control groups and comparison groups are what allow us to separate out influences like maturation and out-of-school experiences.

I checked out one of those observational studies and found that the family incomes in those schools were 42% higher than the averages, and 150% more of the parents were highly educated professionals (e.g., doctors, lawyers, professors than would be typical. Do you think there is any possibility that the parents may have had something to do with their children’s remarkable success?

Observational studies have a purpose, but it is not to determine whether a teaching approach provides learning advantages.

Teachers may make the same mistake when evaluating their own efforts. They may conclude that an approach “works” solely based on personal experience. They can see that their students are learning, but their observations cannot reveal why. Without a comparison group we can’t know if kids would have done even better with some other approach.

Please don’t argue for the superiority or relative value of any kind of instruction without appropriate comparative data.

Pet Peeve #7:  Teaching reading comprehension by asking certain kinds of questions.

Here is another issue that I get a lot of mail about. Principals (and sometimes teachers) are often seeking either testing or instructional materials that will allow them to target specific reading comprehension standards or question types from their state’s reading assessment.

Those requests seem to make sense, right?

They want to know which comprehension skills their kids haven’t yet accomplished and asking questions aligned with those skills should do the job, they presume. Likewise, having kids practice answering the kinds of questions the tests will ask should improve reading comprehension performance. Again, it looks smart. It seems like a great idea to have kids practice answering those kinds of questions they’ll have to answer on the state tests.

My mama told me that just because something seems right doesn’t make it right.

She was right in this case. There is no evidence that these so-called comprehension skills even exist. There is, in fact, considerable evidence that they don’t (Shanahan, 2014; Shanahan, 2015).

Study after study (and the development of test after test) for more than 80 years have shown that we cannot even distinguish these question types one from another. Likewise, there is no evidence that we can successfully teach kids to answer the types of questions used on tests.  

If you really want your kids to excel in reading, get them challenging texts. Then engage them in discussions of those texts. Get them to write in response to the texts. Reread the texts and talk about them again. Come back to them later to compare with other texts or have them synthesize the info from multiple texts for presentations or projects.

Ask them questions that are relevant to the understanding of those texts. Don’t worry about the question types. Worry about whether they are arriving at deep interpretations of the texts and whether they can use the information. Reading comprehension is about making sense of texts, not about answering certain types of questions.

Pet Peeve #8:  Teaching reading with books that are too easy.

One problem with this peeve is that what I’m complaining about has a bit of truth behind it.

The original idea of teaching with “instructional level” texts was reasonable enough. If kids find reading too difficult, they won’t engage in it, and if they find it too easy, they won’t gain much from engaging in it. There are research studies on teaching (not necessarily the teaching of reading) that say that if there is too much difficulty, students withdraw rather than learning (difficulty and learning). Protecting against that problem makes sense.

How to ensure that learning is neither too onerous nor inconsequential? Answering that question is where things went afoul.

We got too formulaic. We set text placements mechanically, with no real justification. For years, teachers have been told to place kids in texts they could read with 95-98% accuracy and 75-89% reading comprehension. I’ve long criticized those levels as being too easy (Shanahan, 2019; Shanahan, 2020. They put kids in books that they can already read reasonably well.

There are other things we can do to ensure success without putting kids in such easy books.

How about placing kids in challenging books and then providing adequate scaffolding and support so that they are not overwhelmed?

Recently, proponents of some of these instructional level schemes have started telling their adherents that the proper book level for kids is one in which they can read 90% of the words correctly (instead of the previous 95%). That should provide a shift to harder books, but an arbitrary one at best (and one in no better alignment with research findings). Even more important, there are no studies showing that this kind of book matching is beneficial. Most important though, this arbitrary change provides no direction as to how to provide students with appropriate and adequate supports for reading these harder books successfully.

Too many kids are being taught reading today with books they can already read reasonably well. As long as that continues, it will be difficult if not impossible to raise national reading levels.

Pet Peeve #9Efforts to control the difficulty of children’s independent reading.

Just as the instructional level idea has limited kids’ opportunity to learn from reading instruction, there are efforts afoot to limit the challenges of children’s independent reading.

Personal reading should be personal.

Limiting students’ reading choices to texts at Level H, and so on are boneheaded. There is no research supporting these prohibitions. I often hear from parents who are upset that their children aren’t allowed to read books that interest them because the books are supposedly too hard.

Some commercial programs direct teachers to curb kids’ ambitions in this regard, and others that do so through the use systems of testing, point assignments, and rewards.

Rather than limiting kids to books they can read easily, it would be better to study the research on motivation which suggests that curiosity and challenge can be real motivators.

Pet Peeve #10: Those who promote the “science of reading” but then sneak in approaches not supported by research.

I’m a big science of reading instruction guy. I’ve been chagrined as American reading scores have languished while students from other nations have progressed. It is especially upsetting given the reading proficiency gaps that divide us racially, linguistically, and economically.  

The best way to raise achievement is to adhere to the research; to provide students with the approaches found to be most effective in terms of promoting learning.  

It has been great to hear parents, school boards, and state legislatures calling for reliance on the science of reading.

However, not everyone who promotes that idea is especially serious about it. For example, they’ll insist that phonics instruction is supported by science (indeed, it is), but then sneak in stuff like sound walls, decodable text, and extra heavy doses of phonemic awareness instruction with no science in sight.

Nothing wrong with arguing for any of those practices, but there is a real “truth in advertising” problem when those are advanced under the science of reading flag.

Such promotions should carry disclaimers that separate out the science from the ideas that the promoters happen to like.

Some experts who play this game tell me that they know there isn’t evidence supporting their contentions. But they argue that it is okay to do so since “it is logical” that their nostrums work. Maybe they do and maybe they don’t, but they still should separate out their claims, rather than misleading parents, practitioners, and policymakers.

Comments

See what others have to say about this topic.

Aletha
Oct 16, 2021 04:54 PM

Dear Tim,
Can you explain what you mean by then they "sneak in stuff like sound walls, decodable text, and extra heavy doses of phonemic awareness instruction with no science in sight." I thought all of these things were exactly what the Science of Reading was about? I'm trying hard to use best practices. I've started heavily using decodables for students who aren't reading at the grade level fluency goal yet. I also thought that phonemic awareness instruction got to the heart of what many of my struggling readers were missing. Please explain more about these three things.
Aletha
2nd Grade Teacher

Dana Huber
Oct 16, 2021 05:04 PM

Hi - I am a literacy specialist in a PreK - 4 district. The district is heavily based in F&P levels and assessment and Teacher's college reading and writing curriculum. I have been studying the brain research about reading by attending courses with Melissa Orkin, and attending conferences and presentations featuring Nadine Gaab, Joanna Christodoulou and Tiffany Hogan. I am also working through LETRS training (currently on Unit 3). I thought I was moving my early readers in the right direction by having them reading in decodable texts, but Pet Peeves #9 and #10 have me second guessing. I work in a low-income inner city school with a large popular of English Language Learners. Unfortunately, we have many 2nd graders who are still learning the basics of how to read (CVC level or below). Obviously decodables at that level are nowhere near grade-level expectations. The students get exposed to grade level texts through interactive read aloud, but the decodables are what is used in small, teacher-led groups. Am I going about this all wrong?

Also, my special education teachers are giving extra heavy doses of phonemic awareness to non readers. The students still cannot blend 2 or 3 sounds in phonemic awareness activities. If more phonemic awareness practice is now recommended, is there something better we could be doing? We have access and are trained in Project Read, Wilson and Rave-O. Project read was too difficult for them once they hit the CVC level.

That was a lot. I truly appreciate any help, guidance or research.

Machelle Dahl
Oct 16, 2021 05:14 PM

Dr. Shanahan,
I echo the 2 post above me in that I have the same questions. Our state's K-3 teachers have been mandated to take LETRS. Sound walls are part of that. I have to admit I find the whole bit about how our sounds are formed, and where they fit in the "V", a bit complicated. It reminds me of my opera diction course in college! Do little kids need to know this stuff?

Bruce Howlett
Oct 16, 2021 05:40 PM

Mark Seidenberg in his recent YouTube series on phonemic awareness says to teach the PA abilities that support reading - phoneme segmentation, manipulation including deletion and substitution, and blending. These cover David Kilpatrick's phoneme proficiency. Reports that support this claim come from the WIAT substitution subtest and at least two studies that are forthcoming.

Megan
Oct 16, 2021 05:56 PM

Please elaborate further on your statement; "sneak in stuff like sound walls, decodable text, and extra heavy doses of phonemic awareness instruction.” Specifically in regards to decodable text and extra heavy doses of phonemic awareness instruction.

I’m Interested in learning more!

Jacqueline Russo
Oct 16, 2021 06:17 PM

Dr. Shannahan,

What about the Six Shifts text? I feel like you are addressing their science claims. Is that where this is coming from? Your thoughts would be valuable.

Respectfully,

J.Russo

Daniele Boholst
Oct 16, 2021 06:29 PM

Isn’t Phonemic Awareness and decoding proven time and time again to help struggling readers??? Why would we be “sneaking it in?”

Harriett
Oct 16, 2021 06:29 PM

Number 10 goes to the heart of the current discussion about the science of reading vs. the science of TEACHING reading. See Mark Seidenberg's article 'Lost in Translation? Challenges in Connecting Reading Science and Educational Practice' in Reading Research Quarterly for an excellent discussion of this issue. Those of us working with struggling readers face these challenges in connecting science to practice all day every day. I often think about Abraham Lincoln's answer when asked how long a man's legs should be: "Long enough to reach the ground". I swear by decodables because they allow me to teach systematically and explicitly: to choose a sound and its spelling patterns to teach, use the words from the decodable in word sorts and word chains (phonemic manipulation through minimal contrasts of sound) prior to reading, read the text, and finally send another decodable text home with the same spelling patterns for students to practice their fluency with a 'print partner'. Is this sequence based on science? Maybe not, but it allows me to connect phonology, orthography, and meaning (which IS based on science) to 'reach the ground' in advancing a student's reading progress. In Steven Dykstra's Reading League presentation last week, 'How Science Works: Teaching Beyond the Science We Have Without Violating that Science', he explores the decisions we must make that go 'beyond the science'. I think the current problem comes from this confusion over the science of reading vs. the science of teaching reading. And it's important that you and others keep making this distinction.

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 06:48 PM

Aletha-

None of those things has research findings showing that they benefit children. Some people believe those to be good things (and they might be right), but they are definitely not a part of the science of reading if by science of reading you mean instructional practices proven to benefit children's learning. What proponents of those practices should say is that "research is supportive of the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics -- those things benefit children. There are some other practices that I think you should use, too. They haven't yet been proven to help, but I think they will so you should use them."

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 06:53 PM

Dana--
There is no research showing that the use of decodable texts improves students' reading achievement. I don't think it is unreasonable to use some decodable text to provide kids with some concentrated practice in applying the phonics skills that you are teaching. However, I would take care not to limit children's reading (even initially) to those texts alone. I would suggest supplementing that with controlled vocabulary readers (texts that limit the vocabulary load and use a lot of word repetition) -- that way some of the possible bad effects of decodables may be prevented.

In terms of trying to teach kids phonemic awareness to levels that go beyond full segmentation and blending, I would suggest staying to the research. When research finds such teaching to benefit kids, then you should consider adopting it. There is not such evidence yet.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 06:55 PM

Machelle-
There is evidence that making sure students can see your mouth when teaching phonemic awareness, and I've seen teachers doing some pretty cool things with mirrors to allow children to see and better control their own speech actions. However, there is no evidence that those charts help at all and like you, I think they are too complicated for kids to use -- so why post them?

tim

Andy
Oct 16, 2021 06:57 PM

Dear Dr. Shanahan,
Could you elaborate on the efficacy or lack of efficacy for the use of sound walls and decodable text in teaching reading? What, if any, studies, support these practices. Sound walls are being discussed on many educational websites now. I appreciate the fact that you are always distinguishing practices that have a strong research base versus practices that require more definitive research to assess their true efficacy in teaching reading.

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 06:57 PM

Bruce--
I'll wait for the "forthcoming studies" before I buy into that. The evidence provided so far is largely correlational and selective.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 07:00 PM

Jacqueline--

I don't know the Six Shifts texts so can't comment.

thanks.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 07:00 PM

Daniele--

Read it again please, that's not what it says.

Tim

Martha Kohl
Oct 16, 2021 07:01 PM

Do you have a place where you summarize your thoughts about some of the following reading programs? Any pet peeves related specifically to these?

Wilson
F & P
Equipped for Reading Success (Kilpatrick)

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 07:05 PM

Harriet--
It is not uncommon that practitioners fall in love with particular practices that they are certain work. I know many teachers who teach the cueing systems and make the same claims (just as honestly as you embrace yours). The problem with decodables isn't that there is no evidence on them, but that there is evidence showing both a lack of benefit and some potential problems for kids in the long run. Again, I think it makes sense to have kids practice what we teach, and concentrating this practice so they get a bunch of it in a short time makes sense too... but that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be some real limits on the use of those texts (and some real cautions in their use).

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 07:06 PM

Andy--

I can't talk about the research on sound walls because there is none (which is my concern with promoting that).

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 07:09 PM

Martha--
I don't typically write about specific programs. Sorry. However, if you want to know about specific instructional practices that may be included in such programs (e.g., decodable texts, cueing systems, leveled texts, advanced phonemic awareness), you can easily search for and locate that information on my website. Good luck.

tim

Harriett
Oct 16, 2021 07:26 PM

Here's Jocelyn Seamer's recommendation in her blog, 'Decodable Texts: how do we get it right?"

"But let me be clear about something. Providing decodables does not mean that children don’t have access to any other books. In fact, I’m a huge advocate for supporting children to spend time with any old book they want to, but that doesn’t mean they have to decode them themselves. Children need to develop a sense of themselves and their relationship with books. If they want to borrow Diary of a Wimpy kid from the school library and look at the pictures, sounding out the occasional word, let them. If they want to have a go at reading Billy B Brown or a picture book, don’t interfere. If a book is too hard, the student will soon choose something else. If it’s their own free-choice time, let them have free choice and of course, continue reading to children for as long as you can. You might be thinking that I’ve gone slightly crazy here, but the thing is that what I’m describing is low stakes, no pressure personal time with books. It’s not instruction. Instruction requires decodable text intentionally and carefully matched to a student'sh current needs."

https://www.jocelynseamereducation.com/blog/57324-decodable-texts-how-do-we-get-it-right

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 07:35 PM

Harriet--
I fully agree with that advice on how to handle independent reading. However, I would go one step further... I would use some controlled vocabulary readers or some language experience stories in my instruction as well (along with the decodables)... The reason i would do this is to try to prevent kids from drawing the wrong conclusions about what it means to read text; each of these approaches to beginning text is a simplification that might mislead. The idea of using more than one is to keep kids from learning the simplification. We want kids to know what to do when a particular phonics pattern or rule doesn't work...

thanks.

tim

Harriett
Oct 16, 2021 07:47 PM

"I would go one step further... I would use some controlled vocabulary readers or some language experience stories in my instruction as well (along with the decodables)... The reason i would do this is to try to prevent kids from drawing the wrong conclusions about what it means to read text; each of these approaches to beginning text is a simplification that might mislead. The idea of using more than one is to keep kids from learning the simplification. We want kids to know what to do when a particular phonics pattern or rule doesn't work..."

Agreed!

Miss Emma
Oct 16, 2021 08:08 PM

‘Another possibility, however, is that the approach works better than another. That’s what researchers usually mean.’

Yeeeeeessssss!! This is a massive pet peeve of mine also. Because ‘what works even better, for even more kids ’ should always be the question we are chasing …what facilitates earlier reading and spelling skills, earlier independence, a desire to read for meaning and pleasure…the list is endless.

In fact if I never heard ‘what works in education’ again I’d be happy. Because it implies there is an answer. We only have comparisons, and current theories. It’s a never ending and exciting journey, and what matters, surely, is that we keep searching for ‘what’s even better, for that learner’ …

Miss Emma
Oct 16, 2021 08:53 PM

I admit I felt a sense of joy reading #10. Which might sound totally bizarre to those who know of my work as I have included ‘code level texts’ (to practise blending) and have a speech sound wall showing all graphemes that map with speech sounds (no pictures of mouths though) and I love helping kids isolate, segment, blend and manipulate phonemes while exploring spelling patterns and new vocabulary! But this is because I have a focus on learner activity - are they engaged, is every activity purposeful and meaningful, are we doing everything with the goal of reading and spelling (and giving each child what they need, when they need it?) Some kids don’t need ‘decodable readers’ and their PA is brilliant. And this is why I promote teacher knowledge over the purchase of programs. Know what your own students need, and figure out how best to help them. I ask teachers to look to the research, and to understand that there is very little that actually shows the benefits of decodable readers etc - we are using them as likely to be useful, as an aid, for many kids, but where is the research? We must recognise our work as action researchers - despite our findings often being anecdotal - and recognise it as such - I would like to see more collaboration between teachers and researchers. But we must be clear that what we’re often doing is because we are trying to interpret research. Although orthographic mapping is arguably the most current theory of how children form sight word representations the way in which achieved, from an instructional perspective as well as a learning perspective remains unclear. We can’t jump on theory and claim our practices are ‘research based’. That doesn’t mean they aren’t highly effective in many instances - but we must be more upfront about it.
About 8 years ago in Australia I was repeatedly asked ‘where’s the research’ when I first started showing why I’d created my own ‘code level texts’ and I’d say ‘there isn’t any, I’m doing this to give more meaningful blending prac’ I was attacked - for saying it was a decision made for the students I was supporting. Not commended for saying there was no ‘research’, and interest in the results for those kids. If we had access to researchers we could actually do more to bridge the gap.
There are several very large Facebook groups that promote themselves as ‘SoR’ groups, and some of the stuff shared by those moderating the groups are not supported by research at all. When challenged we are removed. They are likely useful, as indicated by the research - but research is also cherry picked. And the UK gov is doing that right now with regards to their validation of synthetic phonics programs. I’m banging my head against a brick wall questioning it though. And when powerful groups or organisations do this it also closes down discussions from those of us who challenge. Even when we cite research to support. Some research, it appears, is not welcomed.
Even if this blog post simply gets people challenging the narrative, it will be a welcome change. Joyful, even.
Thanks!

Harriett
Oct 16, 2021 10:00 PM

When there isn't solid evidence for the choices we make in how to teach reading, Steven Dykstra encourages us to ask: Based on what we know about the rock solid science, does this (approach) make sense ? Or am I getting too far out there? Am I starting to lose a connection to what we know?

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 16, 2021 10:06 PM

Harriet--

I don't think that is unreasonable as long as it is clear to you and anyone that you tell that you are making your decision on the basis of reason rather than data. We also have to understand that other people may reason differently given those same facts. My peeve about those practices is less that teachers use them and more that they are being brow-beaten into using them with the claim that they emanate from a science of reading. Even look at some of the comments above and you'll see that I'm not making it up. Two teachers could draw very different conclusions about sound walls, for example, given the dearth of evidence. Fair enough. But what should both be forced to use them under those circumstances (and why is it ever okay to lie to them that there is evidence supporting the practice?).

thanks.

tim

Kristen
Oct 16, 2021 10:44 PM

I am an SLP trained in the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing (LiPS) program. It is essentially a kid friendly phonetics class, teaching students the place and manner of articulation of each phoneme. I recognize many “sound walls” as misunderstood versions of LiPS materials.

Jasmyn
Oct 17, 2021 12:12 AM

Tim, you advocate for “controlled vocabulary readers (texts that limit the vocabulary load and use a lot of word repetition)”. The only ones on the market are typical predictable texts (eg. F & P) and beginning readers haven’t been taught the GPC to even decode the words! So what do they do? Guess the words??

Decodable text does exactly what you are suggesting, they control for GPC, limit the vocabulary load and have loads of word repetition. How is this not a win win situation then to use them? Have you recently looked at any quality decodable text publishers?

Lisa
Oct 17, 2021 12:55 AM

Tim,

I feel like the sand is always shifting beneath my feet when it comes to teaching and I kind of hate it. I never knew that decodable texts were not proven effective with research.

This is a big question, but will you give specific guidance on how difficult you think texts should be? And also some examples of how you would scaffold difficult text? I work with 3rd graders and my readers always range from very early readers to just below grade level- usually with very different skill gaps.

I have to work within the workshop model, which means a mini lesson and then two 15 minute guided reading groups. Can I effectively teach complex text in 15 minute bursts?

These might be ridiculous questions, but I seem to be asking them anyway.

Tim Shanahan
Oct 17, 2021 12:57 AM

Lisa
On my website there are articles on this, videos, powerpoints (look under publications).
Tim

Tim Shanahan
Oct 17, 2021 01:04 AM

Jasmyn
No, decodable texts are not controlled vocabulary readers (nor are predictable texts). Decodable texts provide a degree of phonological-orthographic consistency that is inconsistent with the statistical probabilities of the English language. In other words, they teach kids to expect something quite different from what they actually need to learn. An example of a controlled vocab book would be the Pete the Cat books.

Good luck.
Tim

Melissa Hostetter
Oct 17, 2021 01:14 AM

I believe that your 2/2019 post from Reading Rockets explains your reasoning a bit more. https://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/shanahan-literacy/which-texts-teaching-reading-decodable-predictable-or-controlled-vocabulary

Harriett
Oct 17, 2021 01:14 AM

"I have to work within the workshop model, which means a mini lesson and then two 15 minute guided reading groups. Can I effectively teach complex text in 15 minute bursts?"

No!

I teach a third grade class once a week. I use whole group sessions (longer than 15 minutes!) to teach grade level text. When I pull the struggling readers, I scaffold that grade level text by helping them decode and understand the multisyllabic words, which are invariably difficult for my struggling readers.

Miss Emma
Oct 17, 2021 08:49 AM

‘There is no research showing that the use of decodable texts improves students' reading achievement. I don't think it is unreasonable to use some decodable text to provide kids with some concentrated practice in applying the phonics skills that you are teaching. However, I would take care not to limit children's reading (even initially) to those texts alone. I would suggest supplementing that with controlled vocabulary readers (texts that limit the vocabulary load and use a lot of word repetition) -- that way some of the possible bad effects of decodables may be prevented.‘ (Tim to Dana)

THANK YOU!! I was removed for saying this in a very large SoR group and told to ‘go read the research’ - and as removed so I didn’t even have the opportunity to ask ‘please do direct me to the specific research you are referring to’. Even the mention of using texts with controlled vocabulary and word repetition meant I was apparently ‘going against the research’.
Many of us just get closed down when we ask questions. Thank you for starting these discussions. Just talking openly and exploring this is so important.

E Queen
Oct 17, 2021 10:55 AM

You must be confused. Sound walls and decidable text ARE supported by Science of Reading. Is this a typo? LETRS training, created by Dr. Moats has been ALL about the Science for over 20 years. Please explain.

E Queen
Oct 17, 2021 11:00 AM

I answered my own question - after reading- lol- you are saying that there hasn’t been research to support the use of these things. Wow. No wonder there are 50 states and countless districts doing a million different things when it comes to teaching reading.

Dani
Oct 17, 2021 12:25 PM

Thank you for making it acceptable to question and clarify what the research does show. I have also been removed from SoR groups for questioning. Thank you also for initiating and welcoming discussion.

Bette Posch
Oct 17, 2021 03:41 PM

Thank you, Bruce Howlett. Your comments support what I am doing in practice with struggling readers. Kilpatrick's program is supported by signficant research. My concern is providing the amount of PA necessary to effect change when we may be seeing a child only three times per week, and PA is not being done in the classroom. This is true even more so for older children who are dysfluent readers on a word and text level, and whom we see for even less time. Any ideas?

Nat
Oct 17, 2021 03:46 PM

I suspect (though I have only anecdotal evidence to prove it) that handing a kid a predictable book if they've been taught to sound words out will likely promote analysis on their part (I know this word is "coat" because I see it in the picture, so I assume that because I know that C=/k/ and T=/t/ that therefore OA = another way of writing /o/) and they're therefore not harmful so long as they're not overused and nobody's told the kid that you can read a word by looking at the picture and off you go. In fairness to decodables regarding statistical reality, patterns are introduced in roughly their order of complexity and frequency, and as they go along they become more and more representative of reality.

But I'm interested in the second part of Jasmyn's question to you: when you use non-decodables in teaching, how do you deal with the words containing patterns the students haven't yet learned? I'm not arguing against giving kids free access to all kinds of books, but I'm curious as to the logic behind the pedagogical practice of teaching a kid something and then immediately asking them to deal with a contradiction. If exposing kids only to the patterns they've been taught (and sometimes more than one is introduced at the same time in decodable series) and not to every possible correspondence for a grapheme at the same time is potentially misleading, how is teaching them that A stands for /æ/ and then immediately throwing them in front of a rare or at least less-common counterexample not completely disorienting and equally misrepresentative? I'm also not understanding (having read the Reading Rockets post someone linked to) why you couldn't work on comprehension with a decodable text, at least once you've gone beyond CVC words with a single rime and can start reading real little stories. Why would your lesson end at form and not continue into content? If logic is what we're using instead of science (which is a fair point), I'm not sure I'm following you here.

LEAH FALKOWSKI
Oct 17, 2021 04:42 PM

Hi Mr. Shanahan,
Can you please explain more about why you feel reading comprehension does not involve answering a bunch of questions?

Matt Renwick
Oct 17, 2021 04:51 PM

My #1 pet peeve is the overconfidence displayed by some educators regarding their beliefs around reading instruction. Not that they are necessarily wrong, but because their overconfidence often leads to struggle when they need to amend their beliefs as new information is presented.

LEAH FALKOWSKI
Oct 17, 2021 05:32 PM

I am also confused along with Althra about this debate as we are taught in our science of reading classes that sound walls, decodable texts and phonemic awareness are important for the science of reading for students to become successful readers. Students need to have good phonemic awareness instruction to be able to help with all the other reading components especially for the students to get to fluency. Students need to be able to decode for phonics with decodable text. I also wish Mr. Shanahan could explain how all this is sneaked in and not part of the science of reading?

LEAH FALKOWSKI
Oct 17, 2021 05:46 PM

Also what is the view on the science of reading being key in the research with the 5 components of literacy and especially about phonemic awareness being so important.

also agree with Bruce Stewart “Mark Seidenberg in his recent YouTube series on phonemic awareness says to teach the PA abilities that support reading - phoneme segmentation, manipulation including deletion and substitution, and blending. These cover David Kilpatrick's phoneme proficiency. Reports that support this claim come from the WIAT substitution subtest and at least two studies that are forthcoming. I went looking for the youtube videos and it looks like a good source about why research and phonemic awareness is important as one of the reading components Here is the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq_xA3NfO54. I am very confused about why the science of reading is being debated about why phonemic awareness is important.

LEAH FALKOWSKI
Oct 17, 2021 05:46 PM

Also what is the view on the science of reading being key in the research with the 5 components of literacy and especially about phonemic awareness being so important.

also agree with Bruce Stewart “Mark Seidenberg in his recent YouTube series on phonemic awareness says to teach the PA abilities that support reading - phoneme segmentation, manipulation including deletion and substitution, and blending. These cover David Kilpatrick's phoneme proficiency. Reports that support this claim come from the WIAT substitution subtest and at least two studies that are forthcoming. I went looking for the youtube videos and it looks like a good source about why research and phonemic awareness is important as one of the reading components Here is the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq_xA3NfO54. I am very confused about why the science of reading is being debated about why phonemic awareness is important.

Harriett
Oct 17, 2021 05:52 PM

I'm sure Tim will have a better answer, but here's mine. Reading science shows us the importance of uniting phonology, orthography and meaning in order to become a proficient reader. After a dozen years working with hundreds of struggling readers as a reading specialist, I find that decodable books help me help students secure this process. But that doesn't mean the research behind decodable books is as solid as the brain research. It's like exercise. We know that overall fitness requires strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. But there is more than one way to achieve these goals. If you prioritize predictable text over decodables in the early years, you're not helping students unite phonology and orthography, and that's why I reject them as the focus of my instruction.

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 17, 2021 09:42 PM

Harriet and others--

I'm not calling for predictable text. There are studies of that showing their shortcomings.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 17, 2021 09:46 PM

Leah--

I watched that video and Mark doesn't cite a single instructional study (nor does he make the claims that David Kilpatrick does). You may be willing to say that the science of reading is what psychologists and neurologists say it is -- but I'll stay with my definition (the same one that we used when we determined the importance of those 5 components. We had research on each of those saying that if you teach those kids make better reading progress. There isn't such research on things like advanced PA or decodable text. We're debating these things because many of our colleagues are over claiming and not being honest about the gaps in the evidence supporting their claims.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 17, 2021 09:49 PM

Leah--

One more thing... you have to start asking people when they tell you that sound walls are am important part of the science of reading if there are any studies showing that using sound walls advantages children in any way? Don't just accept something as being scientific in an applied field if they haven't applied it to demonstrate its value. Until they do that -- it is a hypothesis, not a scientific finding.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 17, 2021 09:51 PM

Leah--

I don't believe that asking kids certain categories of questions improves comprehension because there is no evidence that works (in fact, there is a considerable amount of evidence showing that it doesn't). That notion that learning to comprehend is learning to answer certain kinds of questions was made up by book companies (no, it did not come from the science) and research hasn't been especially kind to those notions.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 17, 2021 09:53 PM

Bette-
Could you please provide citations to the instructional studies that have evaluated David Kilpatrick's approach? I don't believe that exists -- nor does he claim that it does.

tim

EJ Cronin
Oct 18, 2021 12:54 PM

Pet Peeve #1: Admin/Coaches who are Special Education certified, but do not have credentials as Reading Specialists, and think that Wilson/OG training qualifies them as an expert in teaching reading.

Cherilyn
Oct 18, 2021 08:38 PM

As far as sound walls go, they are basically a substitution for “word walls” that support students considering the sound a word starts with, instead of the letter. It makes more sense for a child to look at “ship” under /sh/ then under “s”, or to look for “one” under /w/ than “o”. Sound walls reinforce the concept that our alphabetic system is a sound to print system, with different graphemes representing the sounds. It just makes sense… but as you pointed out, without research backing it up, what “makes sense” now, may not in the future.
Once kids get solidly started on the path of foundational reading, and begin to read more and more, the statistical patterns they encounter will hopefully lead to self-learning.
I am have the belief that decodable texts during instruction provide a scaffold of prevention to the guessing games that predictable text require. Practicing with them can build fluency with targeted patterns. We want to build good habits. Once students have built a solid foundation of decoding, however, at some point they will rely on self-monitoring (Did that make sense? Did that sound right?) when they run into difficulty with word patterns they have not been taught. I also believe students should be able to also choose books of their interest with which to interact, and be exposed to more complicated books via read alouds for building background knowledge and vocabulary.

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 18, 2021 09:19 PM

Cherilyn--

What you describe doesn't bother me as long as "ship" and "sure" both are included in that listing... Nothing wrong with organizing words in a particular way to make a point. It might even make sense to have one part of the wall that emphasizes the sounds and another that emphasizes the letters. (In any event, I don't think anyone should be told that there is a scientific basis for having that kind of wall in your classroom (and as a district administrator I wouldn't require such a device given that).... but definitely no problem with a teacher using one.

The sound walls I do criticize are the ones with charts for how the kids form the sounds with their mouths. (Of course, having two kinds of walls both referred to as "sound walls" is not very helpful either).

tim

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 18, 2021 09:27 PM

Cherilyn--
What research shows is that when you are teaching something, if you introduce a pattern of consistency that is much higher than that of what you want students to be able to do... then you increase the speed of their initial learning and students then struggle later when they have to transfer those skills to the actual target. That's probably one of the reasons why studies of predictable text have found that degree of predictability provides no measurable benefit to the learners.

tim

Harriett
Oct 18, 2021 10:36 PM

That's an interesting point about a pattern of consistency. Here's some anecdotal evidence for using a variety of texts even if, as in my K-1 classes, the decodables are front and center.

Just today I began working with a new group of struggling second graders. In sounding out Zainab's name by syllable (Zie-nob), I had students identify the number of syllables and the sounds in each syllable. No problem. Then when I asked them to say the sounds as I wrote the sounds on the board, they all--even Zainab--gave me /a/ rather than /o/ so that 'nab' rhymed with cab rather than job. And they were stubborn about sticking to that sound even while they laughed when I mispronounced her name based on what they gave me.

Maybe if they had been introduced somewhere along the way to a 'wad of gum' they would have begun to understand that one spelling can represent many sounds. It's facilitating this realization without inflicting cognitive overload that's the tricky part.

Cindy
Oct 19, 2021 12:42 PM

I hope you'll respond to all of these comments. I have the same questions.

Tara Boucher
Oct 20, 2021 07:03 PM

I too am curious about the "sneak in sound walls, decodable text, and phonemic awareness" comment. Can you explain that further since research supports incorporating all of these things consistently along with explicit phonics instruction. Thank you!

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 20, 2021 07:28 PM

Tara--

There is no such research. You are either making that up or somebody fibbed to you!

tim

Tara Boucher
Oct 21, 2021 12:23 PM

"Controlled vocabulary readers"...do you recommend a resource for finding a variety of these texts at different levels?

Tim Shanahan
Oct 21, 2021 12:25 PM

Tara
No, sorry, I don’t.

Tim

Peggy
Oct 22, 2021 11:12 AM

Mr. Shannan,
Thank you so much for providing discussions of this kind. I know that teachers can get “fired up” out of their passion and desire to help children! I’ve come from both sides of literacy after 25 years of working with 1st graders! Please correct me if I’m wrong, however, I think that you are not “knocking” the use of several of these instructional practices (just the stupid ones that don’t even make sense….look at the picture and guess!). Rather, you’re saying that you don’t like the fact that companies and “experts” are misleading the teachers that just want to do things “right” by saying “This IS the science of reading” rather than “This MIGHT work based on what I’ve learned from the science of reading.” It’s like putting the stamp of 9 essential vitamins on those sugar cereals! As teachers, we need to be knowledgeable, discerning consumers of articles, trainings, podcasts, journals, blogs…. We need to know our students well, know our craft well, and make good decisions based on solid research. And….too much of any one thing isn’t good!!!
I learn so much from you and the discussions that follow! Thank you!

Erin Johnson
Oct 22, 2021 02:08 PM

The Core Knowledge skills strand did generate scientific evidence that decodable stories can be a part of an effective beginning reading program (NYC pilot). Not all decodables are the same. Would you support using the CKLA decodables, given the evidence?

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 22, 2021 08:49 PM

Erin--

I've checked the Core Knowledge site, the researchers' list of research studies, and PsyInfo and can find no such study. I'd love to have a specific citation to it if it exists.

thanks.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 22, 2021 08:58 PM

Peggy--
Thanks for your note and kind words. Indeed, your interpretation of what I wrote is right on the money. The psychologists have long studied the concept of "cognitive dissonance." The more that people invest in something, the more certain they become about the strength of evidence supporting their belief -- they go out of their way to find support for their decisions and they get very resistant when they find out that there isn't evidence or that it is weak. I suspect that teachers who have invested a lot in decodable text (which they are doing to try to help kids) get very upset when they find that the evidentiary support is weak and somewhat negative. Instead of reviewing why they adopted it in the first place and examining the evidence (or re-examining it), they strike out in anger and frustration. They'd be happier, perhaps, if I lied to them and claimed that research was strongly supportive of this approach.

tim

Erin Johnson
Oct 22, 2021 09:23 PM

Hi Tim,

CK used to have the results on their website, but I haven’t seen it for a while. I have an overview of the results that I can share, but not sure how to send it.

Best, Erin

Timothy Shanahan
Oct 27, 2021 02:21 PM

Matt:

Shanahan, T. (2014). How and how not to prepare students for the new tests. Reading Teacher, 68(3), 194-198.

Shanahan, T. (2015). Let's get higher scores on these new assessments. Reading Teacher, 68(5), 459-463.

tim

Matt
Oct 27, 2021 01:12 AM

Hi Dr. Shanahan,

Can you share what article you wrote that you cite here? She was right in this case. There is no evidence that these so-called comprehension skills even exist. There is, in fact, considerable evidence that they don’t (Shanahan, 2014; Shanahan, 2015).

I'm hoping to read more to understand this point about questions.

Thanks!

ET
Nov 06, 2021 08:25 PM

"...but then sneak in stuff like sound walls, decodable text, and extra heavy doses of phonemic awareness instruction with no science in sight"

I think people who read this article will use this comment as an argument against sound walls, decodable texts and phonemic awareness instructions.

The truth is that "Business As Usual (BAU)" includes word walls in most primary classrooms (which includes high frequency word lists organized by first letter for the 26 letters of the alphabet... so the would "she" would be under the letter 's', despite that it starts with the /sh/ sound, not the /s/ sound. However, word walls ALSO don't have instructional research to support their use. Sound walls at least align with the basic research in neurological and cognitive science on how the brain processes written words better than word walls do. In the absense of having sufficient instructional research to support either approach - best practice would argue for instructional approaches that at least align with basic research.

The same can be said for decodable texts. "BAU" in most primary classes right now involves the (almost) exclusive use of levelled readers for beginning readers. A beginning reader in kindergarten who hasn't even learned all the letter-sound correspondences might be given a level A levelled reader that might have patterned sentences like, "I see a lion. I see an alligator. I see a giraffe." which leaves students with no choice but to guess at the words based on the picture cues. Decodable text, when used to provide practice that supports explicit phonics teaching with beginning readers, better aligns with the basic science on how the brain learns to read. Again - in the absence of instructional research on which is more effective - levelled readers or decodable texts. The real question playing out across most school districts - is not, "Are decodables supported by the instructional research?" (there is not sufficient instructional research yet to answer that question) but rather, do decodable texts align better with the basic research than BAU (levelled texts)? The answer is yes. But I agree that we need instructional research to confirm this; however, making the switch to at least include some decodables in classrooms is a valuable move.

I understand that you are just arguing that these approaches should come with a disclaimer that there is not instructional research yet to support their use. And I also know that you agree that absence of evidence does not mean that an approach does not work - I agree with those points, but again, detractors of the science of reading and those who wish to continue to promote current "BAU Balanced Literacy practices" use these types of comments taken out of context to support their agenda by making claims like, "Decodable texts and sound walls are not based on the science of reading, therefore we should continue to use word walls and levelled readers".

Timothy E Shanahan
Nov 06, 2021 08:42 PM

ET--
First, you don't have any idea what goes on in most classrooms. I'll bet I've been in many more classrooms (and had my agents visit many more classrooms for me) than you and I have no idea what goes in most classrooms.
Second, indeed, I resent those who try to bully teachers into particular actions by wrapping their demands in the cloak of research.
Third, there are real disagreements about what sound walls even are -- so you are arguing for one version, but there are other advocates out there arguing for other versions (versions that I like a lot less than yours).
Fourth, many of these approaches haven't been studied, but decodable texts have been and without positive outcomes (and there is related research one could reason from that should be of concern). I'd be careful with those (I'd use some but in the context of other texts that kids would be working with).

tim

Julie
Nov 06, 2021 09:21 PM

Earlier today I attended a session sponsored by The Reading League to discuss, with the authors in attendance, an article on educating teachers to teach reading. Catherine Snow mentioned, though no one really picked up the thread, that she questions whether it is appropriate be teaching all children with methodologies we use with dyslexic children. I am reading too many comments from teachers who seem to argue in favor of "structured literacy" for all. This concerns me deeply. Furthermore, I am not convinced that "structured literacy" (aka Orton Gillingham) is the only method that has been shown by research to address dyslexia successfully. There is a private practitioner in my area who is doing "dyslexia assessments," and lo and behold is finding a substantial number of dyslexic children and she is telling their parents the only effective programs are O-G. Of course, this fuels parents to approach the public school with demands. Your perspective strikes me as reasonable and informed, can you comment on the efficacy of the structured literacy approach as being the preferred, or research-based method to teach dyslexics? This whole area of IDing possible dyslexia early in schooling and delivering intervention is a hot topic these days and it is easy for practitioners to jump on a bandwagon they really don't understand under the banner of "science of reading."

Timothy Shanahan
Nov 06, 2021 10:04 PM

Julie--
Much of what research has found to be beneficial to dyslexic students is beneficial to everyone. But, of course, the devil is in the details. For instance, phonemic awareness instruction in kindergarten has been found to be beneficial both to struggling readers and to the normative population (which includes the strugglers along with everyone else). Likewise, explicit phonics in K-2 is pretty widely beneficial. But, in contradiction to what is often claimed, those boys and girls who know phonics and can decode well are not benefited by more phonics (which might be good for their less advantaged classmates). In fact, studies show a real opportunity cost; differentiation in such cases really matters.

Also, the claim that O-G is more effective than other phonics programs is not consistent with the research (whether one focuses only on dyslexic students or on the general population). I'm not saying it hasn't been found effective in some studies (it has), but it has also not been effective in others. And, methods like tracing are on very shaky ground -- for everybody.

When it comes to improving literacy, the trick isn't to teach everyone as if they were dyslexic -- but to teach all of the key elements well while paying attention to when kids have accomplished the goal and letting them move on (and, intensifying the effort for those who aren't meeting the goals).

thanks.

tim

Brian
Nov 07, 2021 05:21 AM

Hi, Tim.

Thanks for this post, and your more recent one on what is meant by 'the science of reading'. I've found your Pet Peeve #10 and the discussion it's generated very clarifying!

I'm keen to get a better handle on which commonly recommended practices are and which are not supported by research at the present time. Can you recommend a good place to start? Is there a good book or review article out there, or some kind of online resource?

If not, maybe someone will be inspired to create one, so you're not inundated anymore with messages from people saying "My reading coach says I have to do X; please tell me they're wrong!"

Cheers,
Brian

Jennifer Martin
Nov 07, 2021 01:54 PM

Could you point us to resources we could use to find out if an instructional practice is supported by research (as opposed to research-based)? I used to use the What Works Clearinghouse but that wasn't very helpful. Thank you for all of this information! My district is revamping our literacy program, and I'm worried they're jumping on the "all decodables all the time" bandwagon.

Jennifer Martin
Nov 07, 2021 01:54 PM

Could you point us to resources we could use to find out if an instructional practice is supported by research (as opposed to research-based)? I used to use the What Works Clearinghouse but that wasn't very helpful. Thank you for all of this information! My district is revamping our literacy program, and I'm worried they're jumping on the "all decodables all the time" bandwagon.

Timothy Shanahan
Nov 07, 2021 02:22 PM

Jennifer--

I get asked this question all the time and there just aren't a lot of sources available to practitioners... I do my best in this space to help (there is a lot more on this site than my blog)... and the practice guides from What Works helps. Beyond that I'm not sure where to send you. sorry.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Nov 07, 2021 02:22 PM

Jennifer--

I get asked this question all the time and there just aren't a lot of sources available to practitioners... I do my best in this space to help (there is a lot more on this site than my blog)... and the practice guides from What Works helps. Beyond that I'm not sure where to send you. sorry.

tim

Timothy Shanahan
Nov 07, 2021 02:43 PM

Brian--
A good starting place are the reports of the National Reading Panel and the National Early Literacy Panel. I would also take a look at the What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guides. Finally, the same advice I gave to Jennifer, you might want to take a close look at my site... look particularly in the Resources and Publications sections for lots of free information that is relevant to a science of reading.

thanks.

tim

Brian
Nov 08, 2021 11:13 AM

Thanks, Tim! I'll have a look around.

Laura Hopkins
Nov 19, 2021 06:52 PM

Dear Dr. Shanahan (and Aletha and Dana),

I cannot agree with you more that when those claiming to promote the science of reading mix in approaches that are not specifically supported by research, this sends a confusing and mixed message that is unhelpful to teachers. The point I believe you're making here is not that things like decodable books, sound walls, or heavy doses of phonemic awareness instruction are necessarily bad, but rather that there is not yet sufficient research evidence to support a claim that they are research-based. The fact that things like this are included in programs like LETRS that claim to follow the science of reading is part of the problem here because it creates confusion for teachers. For readers who are seeking to apply the science of reading, and who are confused or concerned about how to approach decodable books, sound walls, or phonemic awareness instruction, I'd recommend checking out the blog posts I linked below. In those posts, Dr. Shanahan speaks to those topics in a helpful way that will support your understanding of what the research does and doesn't say, as well as what a well-reasoned approach might look like:

-decodable books: http://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/should-we-teach-with-decodable-text#sthash.fpjIf2Dh.dpbs
-sound walls: http://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/should-we-build-a-word-wall-or-not#sthash.7sxHclEw.dpbs
-extra heavy doses of phonemic awareness instruction: http://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/rip-to-advanced-phonemic- awareness#sthash.JnsTKgGO.dpbs

Best wishes and happy teaching,
Laura

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

Comment *
Name*
Email*
Website
Comments

Do You Have a Pet Peeve about Reading? Here Are My Top Ten (Pt. 2)

79 comments

One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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