Blog Posts

21 December, 2017

Have a Happy and Literate Holiday

No blog today, just holiday greetings. Wishing you and yours a wonderful and literate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and New Years. Thank you for following my blog. I look forward to our continued relationship in the coming year.

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17 December, 2017

What's the Difference Between Close Reading and Teaching Complex Text?

Teacher question: Aren’t “teaching with complex text” and “teaching close reading” really the same idea, just in different words? Some of my teachers are confused by these terms. Some of them, like me, think they are the same idea, while others think they are really two different standards. How can I clarify this for them?  Shanahan response: I must admit that the first time this confusion presented itself to me, I was pretty darned surprised. I was supposed to make two presentations to some California teachers—an AM and a PM talk, and the reading supervisor wanted to know the two titles. I suggested one ...

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09 December, 2017

What Does Listening Capacity Tell Us about Reading?

Teacher question: I was wondering if you are able to provide me with a clearer understanding of what a “silent Reading and Listening Capacity Test” is all about.  Shanahan responds: The whole idea of administering silent reading and listening capacity tests is two-fold. A silent reading test would be used to determine how well a student can comprehend text when reading silently. Typically, such a test would be administered using graded or leveled passages. Thus, if the student could read the fourth-grade passages with 75% or higher comprehension, but could only read the fifth-grade passages with 50% comprehension, we might say something like, ...

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02 December, 2017

Time for Literacy Charity

It is that time of the year again. For the past five years, I have devoted one blog posting to encouraging readers to support literacy charities. I know many of you do so much to teach and promote reading and writing, and I applaud your good works. It only seems fitting that your charitable giving be aligned with your admirable personal and professional efforts on behalf of literacy. Each year, I have provided a list of international and national (or at least multi-regional charities) that support literacy teaching or provide books to needy populations. I lack the resources to vet all the ...

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26 November, 2017

Time to Tell Parents the Truth about Helping their Kids with Reading

Teacher question: Our schools have recently sent the home reports and parent-teacher meetings have recently taken place. I have heard from quite a few concerned parents that teachers have told them their child is 'struggling with reading' and have recommended reading to the child at least 20 minutes a day. These are parents of children k-2. The recommendation to read to the children frustrates the parents, and me as well, since all of them are already doing this. They are looking for more specifics on what to do. Do you have any insight? Shanahan response: Let's face it: As much as teachers complain ...

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19 November, 2017

Are read-alongs (round robin, popcorn) a good idea?

Teacher question:   I'm a UK teacher; we use read-along here a lot (the teacher or pupils read a text to the whole class while the other pupils follow in their own text). There is a growing concern that this is ineffective for several reasons. Chief at the moment is that reading and listening simultaneously has a higher cognitive load than either independent reading or listening alone. What do you recommend? Shanahan response: The practice of having students read-along as you describe is often referred to with what is now a pejorative term, “round robin.” That term originally comes from the UK, so perhaps ...

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12 November, 2017

Does Oral Language Instruction Improve Literacy?

Teacher question: I’ve looked at your framework and am surprised that it doesn’t include oral language. I’m a kindergarten teacher and can’t imagine leaving that out. Am I misunderstanding something? Shanahan answer: I feel your pain.   Yes, you’re correct that my framework focuses on the teaching of phonological awareness, decoding/spelling, vocabulary, oral reading fluency, reading comprehension, and writing. But not oral language.   And, like you, I agonize over that omission (if it is one).   I emphasize PA, phonics, and the rest of those literacy components as the focus of teaching because research shows that teaching those things leads to improvements in literacy. You teach kids to ...

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05 November, 2017

If You Really Want Higher Test Scores: Rethink Reading Comprehension Instruction

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) began testing fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders in 1970 to find out how well American kids could read. NAEP was to evaluate national reading performance twice a decade. The idea wasn’t to provide an estimate of how well each child could read, but simply to index the level of American literacy. In fact, back then NAEP wasn’t even allowed to describe how the individual states were doing; and, at that time no states were evaluating reading. Boy, have things changed. In the early 1990s, NAEP expanded to permit state comparisons—meaning that more students had to be ...

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29 October, 2017

Are E-Books a Good Idea for the Science Class?

Teacher question:  A colleague asked me about using e-books in high school science classes instead of textbooks. I like the idea that e-books might be more current and kids would likely read outside of class if they didn’t have to lug a huge book home. However, I remember reading something about the brain processing the reading of e-books differently than traditional texts. Do you know of any sound research on that? Shanahan response: I knew this question was coming.   Back about 25 years ago or so, I just knew someone would ask me about such reading. So I conducted a small study.   No, I didn’t ...

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22 October, 2017

Does Reader's Workshop Promote Close Reading Adequately?

Teacher question: I’m a regular reader and it seems to me that you undervalue activities like Reader’s Workshop and what it can do for children. Letting them pick their own books is great for their motivation and this isn’t like free reading, independent reading, or SSR because I meet with them regularly, one-on-one, to talk about what they are reading. There is more to teaching reading than phonics lessons or fluency practice.  Shanahan response: Thanks for being a regular reader and I hope that you’ll continue to be after you read my answer. Your inference is right on the button. I’m not a big ...

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