Blog Posts

08 August, 2020

Distance Learning: Improving Instructional Interactions in Guided Reading Lessons

Teacher question: [Over the past two weeks, I’ve received several questions about distance learning and remote instruction. Here is just one example]:  “I may not be face to face with students for the entire year. Any help you can provide will be sincerely appreciated.” Shanahan’s response Let’s imagine that you have been asked to help improve reading achievement at a local school. You start out conducting classroom observations to see if you can figure out what could be improved that might make a difference. There are many things you can look for. I inclined towards the basics: How much reading instruction are the kids ...

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25 July, 2020

Will Challenging Text Put a Crimp in Students’ Motivation?

Teacher question: I know you advocate the idea of teaching reading with more complex text. But what about motivation? Won’t this approach discourage students? Shanahan response: I do support the idea of teaching reading with grade level texts. The theory that there is a magical way to match kids to books that will increase learning simply hasn’t panned out. Studies of the instructional level find that it at best makes no difference – that is, kids learn as much from grade level text as they do from instructional level ones. And, in the worst cases, the studies show that those easier text placements ...

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18 July, 2020

Lost Reading Instruction Blues: What's a Worried Parent to Do?

Parent question: As a parent, I’m worried about my children being out of school during the pandemic. Our district still hasn’t decided whether or how to open again this fall, so it isn’t even clear if they will be going back to school. They did their distance learning most of the time this spring, but those online meetings with the teachers and the assignments they had to do don’t seem to be enough. What should I be doing at home? Shanahan respond: Usually the questions I’m asked can be answered from research or my own experiences as a teacher or school administrator. That’s ...

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11 July, 2020

Clearing Up a Couple Important Misunderstandings about Fluency

Teacher question: Our school uses XXXXXXX [widely used commercial program] in the primary grades to teach fluency. I don’t like it because so many children can read fluently but don’t understand what they are reading. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on reading comprehension? Shanahan responds: Thanks for your question. I’ll answer it, but I suspect your premises may be wrong. I don’t buy the idea that our instructional choice is fluency or comprehension. We need to teach both. The simple view of reading emphasizes the important role each plays (Gough & Tunmer, 1987), and there is a substantial body of evidence showing the ...

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20 June, 2020

First You Have to Teach Them to be Disfluent Readers

Teacher question: You say that one-quarter or one-fifth of the reading instruction time should be spent on oral reading fluency. But I teach kindergarten and most of my kids can’t read, so fluency instruction doesn’t make any sense. What should I do instead? Shanahan responds: When we talk about oral reading fluency – or what I prefer to call text reading fluency – we’re referring to the ability to read text accurately, with automaticity, and appropriate expression or prosody. As such, text fluency is a mash up of a plethora of applied skills including decoding ability, knowledge of high frequency words, ability to multitask ...

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13 June, 2020

The Six Goals of an Ideal Vocabulary Curriculum

Teacher question: Could you recommend a strong vocabulary curriculum that my school could adopt? Shanahan responds: Because I work with various companies, I never recommend particular programs. However, while there are vocabulary programs, this is an area where teachers are often expected to go their own way. Given that, let me suggest the scope of an outstanding vocabulary curriculum. My focus here is on what needs to be taught, rather than on the instructional approaches needed to accomplish this. Overall, an ideal vocabulary curriculum would encourage the teaching of six things. First, the ideal vocabulary curriculum would aim to increase students’ knowledge of the meanings of ...

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06 June, 2020

Planning Lessons with Complex Text

Teacher question: I very much like your idea of teaching students to read with grade level books. However, I’ve always taught with guided reading groups, trying to match my students to books that they can already read reasonably well. I don’t know how to go about what you are recommending. Help! Shanahan responds: As a primary grade teacher, I, too, always taught reading like that; the same way teachers had taught me so long ago (and the same way teachers usually have taught reading for more than 100 years). It is hard to change ancient traditions on the basis of research or anything else. ...

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23 May, 2020

Literacy at Home: Advice for the Confined

I’m in Chicago in the 10th week of pandemic confinement. Even in states that are opening up, the schools are still closed, and some may remain closed in the fall. One suspects that there may be future extended school closings as well as this insidious virus works its way through our communities. There is no research literature on education and pandemics. But there is an all too extensive body of study focused on the effects of natural disasters (e.g., floods, fires, hurricanes, tsunamis). Such events differ from what we are going through… those causing greater direct loss and trauma. Children who lose ...

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16 May, 2020

What about Tracing and Other Multi-sensory Teaching Approaches?

Teacher question: I have read the work of researchers like Louisa Moats, Stanislas Dehaene, and Linnea Ehri and have an understanding of how reading works in the brain. I understand the critical role of connecting graphemes to phonemes. My question is what is the true role of the kinesthetic activities promoted in many intervention programs? In a webinar that I watched the speaker mentioned several times how critical it was to have students trace the words because this created neural pathways. What does the research say about this? Shanahan response: The idea of tracing words to improve literacy has been around for a century. You’d ...

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09 May, 2020

That Hypocrite Shanahan -- Cueing Systems vs. Context Analysis

Teacher question: I attended your recent webinar and you said that students should figure out the meanings of words from context and that they needed to be able to deal with syntax. But I’ve also read that you are against the 3-cueing systems. Isn’t that a contradiction? It seems hypocritical to criticize teachers for teaching 3-cueing and then to turn and around and recommend that they do just that. Shanahan responds: Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” What I said may seem inconsistent, but it would be foolishly so if I had ignored the fact that two ...

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