Blog Posts

11 March, 2018

Improving Achievement... Is It the Tests or the Teaching?

Teacher question: We are trying to figure out how to help our grade 2 students. Currently, we see a big gap in the percentage of students who are meeting standards in Grade K and 1 compared to the same student results in Grade 2 (more than 90% in Grades K and 1 but only 55% in grade 2) In our assessment. We allow students to have questions read in Grade K but not at the end of grade 1. Why might we see this trend consistently across cohorts? Would you be able to recommend 1 or 2 strategies that we could implement as a district (~74,000 students) to ...

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04 March, 2018

Dazed and Confused: The Main Idea of Main ideas

Teacher question: Can you explain the difference between central idea, main idea, and theme? There appears to be a lot of confusions with these terms.   Shanahan’s response: You’re correct. There is much confusion and disparity in use of the terms central idea, main idea, and theme. And please add topic and topic sentence to that list, too. Part of the problem here is that these are old colloquial terms. They didn’t arise from the sciences (e.g., psychology, linguistics), so, perhaps, we shouldn’t expect too precise a meaning for each. Back in the early 1980s, Jim Baumann conducted a series of studies on the “main idea” concept and the steps needed to teach students to identify main ideas. He found that professional books ...

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25 February, 2018

How to Teach Writing in Kindergarten Part II

Teacher question:  What are your thoughts about writing in Kindergarten? Is there a scientifically-researched instructional methodology that we should implement. We’ve been trying to embed writing opportunities within the literacy block related to the whole group listening comprehension text. Should students draw in relation to the prompt or question and then label, dictate, and/or write? Should teachers model phonetic spelling of words or the correct spelling? Any help would be appreciated. Shanahan response: Last week I provided a partial answer to this question. My response emphasized the importance of kindergarten writing and the value of kindergarten teachers facilitating and teaching writing. I suggested amounts of time to devote to beginning writing instruction ...

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17 February, 2018

How to Teach Writing in Kindergarten

Teacher question: What are your thoughts about writing in Kindergarten? Is there a scientifically-researched instructional methodology that we should implement. We’ve been trying to embed writing opportunities within the literacy block related to the whole group listening comprehension text. Should students draw in relation to the prompt or question and then label, dictate, and/or write? Should teachers model phonetic spelling of words or the correct spelling? Any help would be appreciated. Shanahan response: Indeed, kindergartners should be writing, and kindergarten teachers should be facilitating and teaching writing. Unfortunately, we don’t have a particularly rich scientific-research base on beginning writing instruction. There are many observational studies that give us a sense of what may be ...

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11 February, 2018

Reading Recommendations for the Five and Unders

Recently I was interviewed by Fatherly, a website that focuses on providing parenting advice to dads. They wanted some book recommendations for babies, toddlers, and kindergartners. This link will connect you to the first in their series on this topic, and below I provide elaborated answers to these timely questions. https://www.fatherly.com/play/books/best-books-for-babies/ https://www.fatherly.com/play/best-books-for-toddlers/ https://www.fatherly.com/play/books/best-books-for-your-kindergartner/    What is the ideal form of baby books? Babies very early on exhibit what is called the palmar reflex… that is if something touches or grazes their palms, their little hands lock on it. I guess that keeps them from falling out of trees or something. Try touching a finger or your hair ...

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04 February, 2018

Which is best? Analytic or synthetic phonics?

Teacher question: I’ve taught literacy and literacy courses in every grade from K-graduate school. I take the view that synthetic phonics taught directly and systematically is essential to any literacy program. However, we also propose that teachers be given the training an option to use analytic phonics when, after reasonable attempts of using direct instruction, the synthetic phonics approach fails a particular child. I recognize that currently virtually no one is doing it that way. At the moment my criticism of systematic synthetic phonics is not that is shouldn’t be done, it should. Rather it is that the way it is ...

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27 January, 2018

On Science Reading, Informational Text, and Reading Pullout Programs

Question: I came across your article Informational Text: Or How Thin Can You Slice the Salami and wanted to reach out to you. I'm analytical and I work with other analytical thinkers. But I am also surrounded by reading specialists, literacy coaches, etc. who think differently. When I visit schools, I observe students who are analytical. They're interested in facts and the world. They prefer expository books to narrative nonfiction or fiction.  I'm concerned that young analytical thinkers are being underserved by literacy educators, who are more comfortable with narrative writing.  Shanahan responds: Your letter came at a very good time. Recently, I’ve been working ...

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21 January, 2018

Should We Test Reading or DIBELS?

Teacher question: I teach first-grade and this year I switched schools. In my previous school, we tested our students with DIBELS three times a year. The idea was to figure if the students were having trouble with decoding so that we could help them. That isn’t how my new principal does it. He has us giving kids a reading comprehension test with leveled books. I asked him about it and he said that the district didn’t care about DIBELS and he didn’t care about DIBELS (he only cares about how kids do on the ____ test). I’m confused. I thought the ...

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14 January, 2018

The New Reading Program Implementation Blues

Teacher question: I am a reading coordinator. We are in our first year of implementing a new reading program. As we have rolled out the new curriculum, we've been explicit about the reading instructional practices and routines that we expect to see used each day. We’ve had lots of PD. How else are we going to know the impact that the series has on our achievement data if we don't have fidelity our first year? That's the direction that we've taken. I'm sure that you appreciate the “change” process. We've changed a lot of behaviors but I'm afraid that we haven't changed a lot of beliefs of teachers about reading instruction. Our mid-year reading performance data ...

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07 January, 2018

More Bad Ideas about Why We Should Avoid Complex Text Reading Instruction

Welcome to 2018.   During the interim, several intriguing questions have been submitted and soon I’ll be taking those on. This posting responds not to your questions, but to some public comments made by various colleagues concerning complex text and its use in instruction. My comments are responses to their handwringing over the requirement that we teach kids to read complex text.  We should be concerned about the use of complex text for instruction because text complexity has a negative correlation with reading comprehension and reading fluency.   The premise here is correct, but the conclusion is false. This is what logicians refer to as the ...

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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.