Blog Posts

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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08 July, 2018

Synthetic Phonics or Systematic Phonics? What Does Research Really Say?

It happened again this week. Awhile back I was a member of the National Reading Panel (NRP) that reviewed instructional research on the teaching of reading at the request of the U.S. Congress. One of my roles was to serve on the “alphabetics committee” that reviewed the research on phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. Since then it has happened numerous times, like it did this week. Some self-proclaimed phonics authority attributes findings to the NRP that we didn’t actually find (usually because they didn’t actually read it). The one this week has been one of the more frequent misclaims. He claimed that the NRP found synthetic phonics instruction to be more effective than ...

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29 June, 2018

My first-graders aren’t producing much writing? Help!

Teacher question: I’ve collected some data on first-grade writing. I developed a plan for getting 6-year-olds to write arguments and I have a rubric designed to allow me to figure out how well my supports help them to write effective arguments (evaluating whether they took a clear position on the topic, and how much evidence they used). I tried it out and gave the kids plenty of time but was surprised to find that they didn’t write much; I’m having trouble evaluating the quality of this writing given how few words they produced. Any ideas on how to better evaluate the impact of what I did?  Shanahan’s response: The specifics of ...

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24 June, 2018

Who Should Teach Disciplinary Literacy and Should We Integrate the Curriculum?

Teacher question: My question is about disciplinary literacy. Should we be guiding teachers to integrate social studies or science and ELA or having our ELA teachers teaching disciplinary literacy for these subjects? Our curriculum focuses on overarching concepts and essential questions. Shanahan response: You raise two separate issues here: curriculum integration and who has responsibility for the disciplinary literacy standards. Let me take them one at a time. I don’t oppose integrating social studies or science and literature, but I’m definitely cautious about such combinations. We want our students to develop a clear appreciation of what literature is, how it’s read, what it brings to the table, and so on. We ...

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09 June, 2018

Should We "Platoon" Reading Instruction

Teacher question: We are trying to raise our third-grade reading scores. What do you think of “platooning” to help us meet that goal? Shanahan response: Platooning, or what in my time was called “departmentalization,” is apparently on the rise in America’s primary grades. Schools like yours are hungry to raise reading and math achievement, and this looks like an inexpensive way to do it. It costs nothing to have classrooms departmentalized rather than self-contained: it requires no additional teachers; there are no added professional development costs; there are no added textbook, computer, or other instructional materials costs; and many teachers love the idea of no longer being responsible for subjects that ...

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02 June, 2018

What Should Small Group Reading Instruction Look Like?

Teacher question: I've been bringing my shared reading teaching into my small groups. The students read a text during shared reading and we spend time analyzing the text and really digging in—nuances of the language, comprehension of the text, vocabulary, and so on. From there we move into small groups where students answer standards-based questions about the text.   My concern at this point is this: I find myself doing pretty much the same lesson in small groups for all the groups. Should I be doing this (answering standards-based questions) in the whole group instruction? Then what about small groups? What do they look like? Part of the difficulty I experience ...

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28 May, 2018

Where Questioning Fits in Comprehension Instruction: Skills and Strategies Part II

It seems to me that asking a series of good questions about what an author appears to be telling us allows students (all of us) to build our knowledge, learn how to question conclusions, and overall just better understand the text at hand. Do you agree or am I still missing something?  Last week, I posted an explanation of the difference between comprehension strategies and comprehension skills. Before answering your thoughtful question about comprehension teaching, let’s quickly review what I said previously. Basically, comprehension skills have been conceptualized as the ability to answer certain kinds of questions.  Accordingly, there is a main idea skill and a comparison skill ...

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19 May, 2018

Comprehension Skills or Strategies: Is there a difference and does it matter?

Teacher question: What’s the difference between comprehension skills and comprehension strategies? Are they synonyms or do we teach different things when we are teaching them? Shanahan response: I’m glad you asked. Comprehension skills and comprehension strategies are very different things. They are often confused; the terms are often used interchangeably by those who don’t understand or appreciate the distinctions they carry. And, most importantly, these concepts energize different kinds of teaching. The older of the two terms is “reading comprehension skills.” It was used occasionally throughout the Twentieth Century, but really took off in a big way in the 1950s. Professional development texts and basal readers were replete with the term and its use ...

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13 May, 2018

How to Encourage Summer Reading: A Parent's Guide

Summer is almost upon us. The days are growing longer, the sun is higher in the sky, and soon school will be over for the year. Our children’s thoughts now turn to swimming, skateboards, baseball, and bike riding. Unfortunately, for far too many of kids, summer vacation is a time for forgetting. You’ve probably heard that “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” That’s certainly true about reading. Kids who don’t read over the summer regress. Their hard-earned reading skills decline. Boys and girls who manage to keep the rust off their reading, don’t suffer a summer reading drop.  By reading and writing throughout the summer, they may ...

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05 May, 2018

What Does It Mean to Follow a Program?

Years ago, I was invited to coach some teachers. I’ve done a lot of that over the past almost 50 years. I watch a lesson, and the teacher and I sit down and discuss how it may be improved. But this was going to be a strange situation. The school had adopted a curriculum program I’d developed. They hadn’t told me that. Now I was to critique teachers who were using my lessons. Uncomfortable territory. The principal assured me it would be fine since the classes using my stuff were doing well—better test scores than in the past. I wasn’t so sure. Two teachers were using the program: one was ...

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One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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