Blog Posts

02 May, 2020

Should We Be Using Words Correct Per Minute?

Teacher question: When providing fluency instruction, should time, such as the number of words per minute, be an element? Our school has been doing that, but elsewhere I’m hearing that we shouldn’t be doing that. Shanahan response: Fluency is a bit of a mash up and not a pure skill. In fluency, it is important that students read the words correctly. That’s the “accuracy” part of fluency. That obviously depends heavily on decoding skills (and decoding instruction). Unfortunately, many kids can read words accurately but still aren’t fluent readers. (In fact, that’s what got people teaching fluency in the first place—boys and girls who were ...

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18 April, 2020

How can I teach RAN to improve my students' reading?

Teacher’s question: Our school psychologist tests all of our boy and girls for RAN. He says it is the best predictor of reading ability. How can I improve my students’ RAN performance? Shanahan’s response: If someone tells you that you can teach RAN, run! RAN refers to “rapid automatized naming.” Back in the 1970s, researchers wanted to measure cognitive processing speed, so they came up with a variety of RAN measures. Typically, students are asked to name known colors, objects, letters or words, and their performance is timed. The studies showed that rapid naming was a good predictor of reading ability and was an ...

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11 April, 2020

How to Improve Text Fluency in the Middle Schools and High Schools

How to Improve Text Fluency in the Middle Schools and High Schools   Teacher question: I teach high school students with reading disabilities, and I use your blog regularly as a source and inspiration. How can I help high school students develop oral fluency? Can you give me specific ways in my classroom to do this with reluctant readers?  Shanahan responds: This is an important question. Too few teachers ask it. Many teachers think fluency teaching is just for the primary or the elementary grades. Of course, most state standards talk about fluency in those grades, but that’s a mistake that even the authors of many of ...

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04 April, 2020

A Gallimaufry of Literacy Questions and Answers

A Gallimaufry of Literacy Questions and Answers Hello, Reading World! As with most of you, I’m sheltering in place… biding my time until the Great Pandemic Pandemonium subsides. Although despite being at what is currently an awkward (and apparently dangerous) age, I feel pretty safe locked down here in Chicago. Nevertheless, like all of you, I'm worried about family members who are on the front line in this fight, my students and colleagues, and all the people who are taking care of us.  I’ve been traveling less but spending more time on Zoom and other telecommunications outlets. Talking to teachers I can’t ...

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21 March, 2020

Which Text Levels Should We Teach With?

Teacher question:  I’m confused. I’ve worked with Lexiles for years and my district provided us with a chart showing the levels of books to use for each grade level. Then Common Core came along with a different chart that put different book levels with each grade level. I don’t live in a Common Core state, but I’m still not sure which chart to use. Can you help me? Shanahan response:  It’s funny, but no one has ever asked me that before. What makes it funny is that you’re not alone. Most educators have no idea of the reason for those two charts. Let’s start with the ...

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14 March, 2020

Prior Knowledge, Or He Isn't Going to Pick on the Baseball Study

Teacher question: You wrote recently that it was a good idea to teach comprehension skills, but our school district says we shouldn’t, that it’s prior knowledge that matters. Do you know the baseball study? Have you read Natalie Wexler’s research? It is really difficult to trust research when everyone tells us something different. Shanahan response:  I feel your pain. There are research results and there are interpretations of research results. What research has been done, what these studies have found, and whether these studies were any good shouldn’t be points of disagreement. But interpretations of what a study means or what actions you should ...

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07 March, 2020

Why Following the Simple View May Not Be Such a Good Idea

Teacher question: I am an instructional coach for a reading intervention program.  We are a pull-out program for K-8 LD students.  We are implementing an evidence-based approach in our word level reading instruction, but we are struggling to lock down a framework to address reading comprehension.  As we pull students out of the core curriculum (1-3 hours daily for 2 years), we want to make sure that we are building skills that will transfer to any academic setting.  Do you think it is worthwhile to spend time addressing comprehension? Or should we just be chipping away at our students' word level reading issues since ...

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22 February, 2020

How Can We Take Advantage of Reading-Writing Relationships?

Teacher question: Everyone says reading and writing are connected. But our school focuses on only reading. We have a reading program (we don’t have a writing program). We test the students three times a year in reading, but never in writing. Writing isn’t even on our report card, though I guess it is part of Language Arts. What should we be doing with writing? Shanahan response: You came to the right place. I think your school is making a big mistake not giving sufficient attention to writing. When I was a teacher my primary grade kids wrote every day. When I became a researcher, I ...

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15 February, 2020

How to Knock Down Five Strawman Arguments Against Phonics

Recently, the Washington Post published an article about the latest hostilities in the “reading wars.” Washington Post Article. I noticed it because the columnist, Jay Matthews, quoted from this blog. The column did a good job of surfacing the disagreements, but what really caught my eye was the comments section. More than 50 readers had weighed in – defending phonics or trying to clothesline it. As a longtime phonics advocate, I was especially sensitive to the illogical arguments against decoding instruction. They were mostly the same arguments I’ve heard for the last 50 years of my career. I might think these to be illogical arguments, but they appear to be persuasive ...

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01 February, 2020

If Students Meet a Standard with Below Grade Level Texts, Are They Meeting the Standard?

Teacher question: When working with state educational standards are the expectations for the student to be able to accomplish each of the standards with grade level text. Some of us believe that if a fourth-grade student can determine the main idea in a second-grade text that the student has mastered that standard. Please help us settle this argument. Shanahan response: Actions like identifying a main idea or summarizing a text or comparing characters’ traits are considered to be skills. Text levels (like fourth-grade text or Level L or 950Lexiles) are degrees of text difficulty or complexity. Readers have to implement their reading skills within texts of varying levels of complexity. If a ...

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