Blog Posts

13 October, 2018

Do Learning Centers and Seatwork Improve Reading Achievement?

Teacher questions: I am an elementary literacy coach. A trend I am seeing in our K-2 classrooms are center activities not aligned to measurable outcomes. My question is, in a room of 24 first graders, when the teacher is pulling a small group to deliver targeted instruction, what does research say is best for what the other students to be doing? I'm struggling to find a model that we can confidently start driving towards.   I am often asked about what the "other students" should be doing while teachers meet with small groups. I refer to What Works Clearinghouse studies to see gains for different programs and approaches. I can't find ...

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07 October, 2018

Is Comprehension Better with Digital Text?

Teacher question: Do we read digitally as well as we read paper texts?  Shanahan response: I’ve been asked this provocative question three times in three weeks. Once I was presenting a workshop on how to teach college-bound high-schoolers to handle complex text on tests like the ACT. This group wanted to know if it mattered whether students were tested digitally or with paper (studies estimate significant differences in performance favoring paper).  Last week, I was on a panel at Reading is Fundamental’s National Reading Coalition, a meeting of literacy providers, policymakers, and business leaders. This time the question was posed by Kathleen Ryan-Mufson, Director of Global Citizenship for Pitney-Bowes, a major player ...

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28 September, 2018

What do you think of Guided Reading for secondary school?

Teacher question: I read about the "research base" for guided reading, and Fountas & Pinnell’s exposition of this research mostly contains only position papers--no empirical, peer-reviewed research. I realize that many of the guided reading strategies can be found in research that predates F & P, but what about the effectiveness of guided reading itself? The reason I’m asking is because “guided reading” is now being promoted for high school. What do you think of guided reading for adolescents? Shanahan's response: As usual, it all depends on how you define things. What do you mean by guided reading? The F & P version of guided reading is certainly the most known ...

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17 September, 2018

Is it Really Sensible to Teach Students to Read Like Historians and Scientists?

Teacher question: I don’t get the reason for trying to make students read “like historians” or read “like scientists.” Many of my students aren’t likely to even go to college and even if they did they probably won’t be historians or scientists. I understand why it makes sense to teach students how to study a history or a science textbook so they can pass the tests on those, but “read like a…”, why? Shanahan response: You are definitely correct that most students will never become literary critics or English professors, mathematicians, historians, or scientists. Some will, but most will not, and even when ...

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08 September, 2018

Is There Really a 30 Million-Word Gap?

Teacher question: I attended one of your recent presentations. You cited the Hart & Risley canard that there is a 30 million-word gap. Aren’t you aware that study has been rejected? There is no word gap. Poverty kids have as much language support as other kids. Shanahan response: Research can get things wrong. That’s why researchers—unlike practitioners and policymakers—are usually so interested in themethods of a study. Study a problem one way, you get one answer. Study it another way,perhaps a different answer emerges. Try to understand why the two studies diverged and youstart to gain a deeper understanding of the problem. That’s why I ...

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25 August, 2018

Should We Teach with Decodable Text?

Teacher question: Please share your thinking as well as research referencing the occasional use of decodable texts for small group reading instruction in grades K-2.  Shanahan response: This is not a highly researched topic. There have been only a handful of studies into the effectiveness of decodable texts since the term was first used back in the 1980s. And, truth be told, they are kind of mess; with little evident agreement about what decodable text is, what it should be compared with, and what outcomes we should expect to derive from it. Research has less solved the problem—is it helpful to use decodable texts with beginning readers—than demonstrated how complicated even simple ideas ...

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19 August, 2018

What Should Morphology Instruction Look Like?

Teacher question: Are there any resources that provide a list of morphemes to teach at each K-5 grade level? I have been looking for a definitive list of morphemes that is organized by grade level like the Fry sight word list. I often come across research about how L1 and L2 students acquire morphemes, but I am looking for a list that represents the morphemes that students will most likely see in print at each K-5 grade level. Does anything like that exist? Thank you for your time.   Shanahan response: The short answer to this question is, “No, I don’t know of such a list.” But when have I ever been satisfied ...

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04 August, 2018

Books on Buses and Book in a Bag: Book Access and Reading

Teachers' questions: Can you point us to any research regarding the practice of Book In a Bag - sending leveled readers home with students each night? What do you think of “Books on the Bus?” Shanahan response: I know of no research on either of these methods for increasing kids’ access to books. I checked both PscyInfo and Google for sources, and nada! I’m not surprised, both of these schemes were local school district ideas that captured media attention—and then spread from one district to another. I must admit I like both ideas. Generally. In both cases, kids are encouraged to read. Can’t fault that. In both, books are made available for kids to ...

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28 July, 2018

Should We Teach Letter Names?

Teacher question:  Should we teach letter names or letter sounds to beginning readers? Shanahan responds: Twice recently teachers have asked this question. In both instances they said they’d been told teaching letter names confused children and that “best practice” was to focus on the sounds rather than the letter names. As a former first-grade teacher, I vividly remember the kids who when confronted with a word like what would start sounding /d/ (duh). At first I was puzzled, but it quickly caught on that these young’uns were trying to find the sound in the letter name, double-you, and were settling for the first sound in that name. Obviously, the pronunciation of W ...

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19 July, 2018

Implementing Higher Literacy Standards or Putting on a Show?

Back in the 1930s, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney always seemed to be putting on a show. They were going to be sent to a farm to work for the summer in Babes in Arms, but they wanted to go to Broadway instead – and they did! I love that whole idea of Judy and Mickey with their teenage backs to the wall, singing and dancing their way to success (and into our hearts). Younger folks might prefer a more recent analogy—like Footloose—but then I’d have to be a younger blogger who is less than 6-degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. I’m not the only one who appreciates ...

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