Blog Posts

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?

Blast from the Past: First published on January 4, 2020. Usually my Blasts from the Past are older than this one. However, it seems worthwhile to reissue this now for two reasons. First, Schutz & Rainey, 2020 published a wonderful analysis of modeling (Reading Teacher) about the same time this blog first appeared. They emphasized showing, situating, and abstracting -- with a strong focus on the "invisible parts" of reading (what we do inside our heads). Nice piece of work. Second, and, perhaps, more urgent is the fact that with so much distance teaching going on modeling appears to be ...

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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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16 November, 2019

What about Special Fonts for Kids with Dyslexia or Other Reading Problems?

Teacher question:   Some of my ELA teachers have been talking about dyslexia fonts lately. Is there any merit to this? Shanahan response: This question takes me back to graduate school. I was fascinated with print and its impact on reading. That led me to study the work of a psychologist named Miles Tinker. He published scads of research and reviews of research on the impacts of print on reading and learning to read and on print itself (his 1963 book, Legibility of Print, is still a standard work). Tinker made me a skeptic concerning the supposed benefits of print design alterations, eye movement training, and the like. He provided several ...

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09 November, 2019

How to Analyze or Assess Reading Comprehension

Teacher question: I've attached a Student Work Analysis tool that we are using. I have read that you oppose attempts to grade students on the individual reading standards. Although this tool is not used for grading students, it is a standard-by-standard analysis of the students’ work, and I wonder what you think of it? [The form that was included provided spaces for teachers to analyze student success with each of their state’s math standards]. Shanahan response:  In the blog entry that you refer to, I spoke specifically about evaluating reading comprehension standards (not math or even the more foundational or skills-oriented decoding, vocabulary, or morphology). A common error in reading education ...

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02 November, 2019

Cool New Study on Text Difficulty and Adolescent Literacy

I don’t do this often, but occasionally a study that catches my eye is particularly pertinent to questions that teachers are asking me. National surveys suggest that middle and high school teachers are increasingly likely to place kids in texts that are relatively easy to read (Rand, 2017; Thomas Fordham Foundation, 2018); texts that are supposedly at the students’ “instructional levels.” Teachers ask me all the time how they can be expected to use high school level texts when so few kids in their classes are reading at grade level. And, yet, high school students often tell me that they hate being placed in what they refer to as the ...

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