Literacy Blogs

15 May, 2021

What if there is no reading research on an issue?

Teacher’s question: I agree with you about the need for basing what we do on research.  But what do you do for the things for which there is no or limited research? For example, what about Orton-Gillingham instruction, what is the best way to sequence phonemes for teaching, or how specifically should background knowledge be taught? What about research that is evolving so that we do things a certain way and then refine these (say with Ehri's & Gonzalez-Frey's recent work in SSR) -- what about all the time that we did the practice the other way? There are some topics with so ...

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08 May, 2021

My Child Will Only Read Graphic Novels. Help.

Teacher question: My 8-year-old grandson is a second grader who's been reading quite a while now. However, his reading diet comprises almost exclusively graphic novels, some of them intended for much older children, and he has little to no interest in making the transition to text-only books. We were all so pleased that he was an early reader, but now it's very hard to unstick him from the graphic novels he's so fond of. I would love to know your thinking about this and what might be done to bring him to the larger world of books. Shanahan response: You’ve raised a great question ...

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17 April, 2021

Should We Build a (Word) Wall or Not?

Teacher question: What are your thoughts about sound walls and word walls? I don't necessarily think these would replace a word you? The video and training can be found here for sounds walls: My response was this: I think for oral language, phonemic awareness and phonics the sound walls are awesome, and very helpful visually for beginning readers to unlock how sounds, symbols and words are put together. I think these types of walls would be seen more in PreK, K and maybe 1st grade in the first semester. A word wall can be a broad term that can include multiple ...

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03 April, 2021

Does Close Reading Reject the Science of Reading?

Teacher question: I recently read an article suggesting that the research findings on reading comprehension have been modified, distorted and ignored (Dewitz & Graves, 2021, What concerned me most is that close reading and the CCSS came under heavy fire. Although the article ends with suggestions for bridging the research to practice gap, it leaves practicing teachers using the CCSS wondering whether to modify their reading comprehension instruction and use of close reading. Since you have written about close reading and the CCSS in other blogs, what are your suggestions? Shanahan responds: This article claims that today’s reading comprehension instruction is not in ...

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13 March, 2021

On Eating Elephants and Teaching Syllabication

Teacher Question: What are your thoughts on teaching syllable division patterns? I recently came across some new research from Devin Kearns and it made me start thinking about if all the time programs spend teaching syllable division patterns is really justified. If teaching syllable division is not time well invested, what type of instruction would you recommend replacing it with?  Shanahan response: I was training for a 500-mile bike trip. Three of the days’ rides would be centuries (100 miles plus). The practice was making my back ache and my knees hurt, but I felt no closer to being able to accomplish those distances. They seemed absolutely impossible. I was ...

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06 March, 2021

Why Your Students May Not Be Learning to Comprehend

Teacher question: "My district is trying to shift literacy instruction to be in line with the science of reading. We are wondering where comprehension strategies fit into Scarborough’s Reading Rope? Inferences and making connections are part of Verbal Reasoning, but what about other skills my students still need to be taught, like understanding and using text structure, summarizing, visualizing, questioning? There is much research to support explicit instruction in comprehension strategies, so where do they fit?  Also, even when our teachers do a good job of scaffolding students’ comprehension of complex text, our at-risk students struggle to independently process texts on ...

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13 February, 2021

What does the Easter Bunny have in common with the independent reading level?

Teacher question:  I know you criticize the instructional reading level. But what about the independent reading level? Should we make sure that when children are reading on their own that they select books at their independent level or doesn’t that matter? Shanahan response: Back in the 1940s, Emmet Betts was trying to figure out how to improve reading instruction. The idea of matching books to students’ learning needs had floated around for decades in the research community. The 1910-1920s had ushered in reading tests and readability formulas, which provided clear scientific evidence that both books and children varied in difficulty (books) and ...

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06 February, 2021

Letter names or sounds first?… you might be surprised by the answer

Teacher question: I teach kindergarten. We are trying to follow the science of reading. We believe that is the best way to go. However, my colleague and I are disagreeing over one aspect of our program. Should we teach the letters first, the sounds first, or should we teach them together? Shanahan response: This is such a practical question and often research fails to answer such questions. That shouldn’t be too surprising since researchers approach reading a bit differently than the classroom teacher. A good deal of psychological study of letters and words over the past century hasn’t been so much about how ...

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16 January, 2021

Why doesn't increasing knowledge improve reading achievement?

Teacher question: Can we raise student achievement by teaching subject area content knowledge? I’m concerned about this approach because I work with struggling readers. We know a lot about how to help them learn to read, so I was wondering if there is evidence that teaching “knowledge” to such students really makes any difference. I recently came across a study of a widely touted reading program that is supposed to be better because it emphasizes knowledge building and yet the results weren’t positive at all (See, Gorard, & Siddiqui, 2017).   Shanahan responds: In February I go to my doctor for my annual health ...

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09 January, 2021

3P versus 3-cueing: Why recommend one and shun the other?

Teacher question: Can you explain the difference between 3P (Pause, Prompt, Praise) and 3 cueing? I know you encourage one and discourage the other, but they seem to be the same thing to me. Help.   Shanahan reply: At Shanahan on Literacy, we strive for consistency. Let’s see if we can get this straightened out. First, let’s make sure we understand what these two trios are about. Pause, Prompt, Praise (3P or PPP or P3) is used to guide oral reading practice (Glynn, 2002). Research has shown that having students read challenging texts aloud with support and repetition improves reading achievement (NICHD, 2000). 3P tells the ...

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