Blog Posts

22 June, 2019

Isn't Independent Reading a Research-Based Practice?

Teacher question: Dr. Shanahan, I know that you don’t support independent reading at school. However, in my graduate program we are learning that research evidence shows that kids who read the most become the best readers. I don’t get why you don’t support this research-based practice. Shanahan responds: In grad school my statistics professor had us analyze some research data. It revealed a close connection between the number of school library books and kids’ reading achievement. Makes sense, right? The greater the availability of books, the better the students would read. Unfortunately, what the data showed was that the more books available, the lower the kids’ reading ability. There’s a rousing headline ...

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15 June, 2019

How to Monitor Vocabulary Learning

Teacher question: I'm a curriculum and instruction supervisor for a smaller district. We feel like we have a pretty firm grasp on assessing and diagnosing when it comes to phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, and comprehension. However, we're struggling with vocabulary. Is there any assessment you would recommend that would give us a feel if a student is approaching standard or at standard for that area? Shanahan responds: In recent years, I’ve become concerned about the amount of school testing. My complaint isn’t with the annual accountability tests (though, those are on overdose, too). No, my grievance is with the many screening and monitoring tests at epidemic levels in our schools. ...

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08 June, 2019

More on the PBS News Hour Dyslexia Segment

Recently, the PBS News Hour aired a report about the parents of children who suffer from dyslexia. Their kids weren’t being taught phonics and weren’t learning to read. When phonics instruction was provided, they did better, and so the moms were pressuring their state to ensure other kids wouldn’t face the same neglect. It was a classic story of public institutions (in this case schools) not adequately serving and the public rebelling against the bureaucratic neglect. The report was rebuked by a group of reading professors. The fact, that I hadn’t signed on to that protest, provoked comment in this space and on Twitter. Readers wanted to know why ...

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01 June, 2019

What about that PBS News Hour Report on Dyslexia and the Controversy it Set Off?

Recently PBS News Hour broadcast a segment about dyslexia and reading instruction. In response, 57 members of the Reading Hall of Fame submitted a letter of complaint, which has since been posted publicly. Here is a link to the PBS segment and the letter is posted in the comments section following the video segment on this site: I also have provided a link from a response to this letter by Steve Dykstra: These postings have prompted several inquiries this week as to why I didn’t sign the group letter. I usually don’t sign such letters. I prefer to speak for myself. Groupthink requires too many compromises: ...

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25 May, 2019

What is the science of reading?

Teacher question:  I keep hearing that teachers don’t know the science of reading. But all the teachers that I talk to say that they teach phonics. What’s really going on?   Shanahan response:  I suspect that both the critics and the teachers are telling you the truth. Unfortunately, we don’t have a national education inspectorate that monitors classroom trends in the U.S. We all guess what may be happening based on our own narrow experiences. That means you could visit classrooms in your community, and I could in mine, and we might see very different patterns of teaching But there is more to it than that kind of variation. However, before we go there, ...

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19 May, 2019

Have the Reading Wars Become Research Wars?

Teacher question: Although the Reading Wars might be over (somewhat), I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve entered the era of Research Wars. What’s a literacy coach to do?  Shanahan response: I think you’re onto something. I’ve been seeing the same thing. Of course, the original “reading wars” back in the 1990s were research wars, too. In those days, one side argued kids would learn to read best with the least amount of explicit teaching. According to them, kids could learn decoding and how to make sense of text—and pretty much anything else that might be needed—if student motivation were sufficiently high and the tasks and texts were sufficiently authentic. The way to ...

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04 May, 2019

How to Make Reading Workshop More Effective

Teacher question: In an effort to streamline the workshop model in our district, I am looking for your stance on focused independent reading and/or any articles that you have written that support the importance of students reading at school with a specific focus in mind rather than "reading just to read"?   Shanahan response:  Unfortunately, there aren’t studies of this. People who are claiming that “focused independent reading” works better than having kids just reading on their own are theorizing. I can tell you that the pattern of studies that I’ve reviewed over the years suggests that efforts to teach reading through kids’ reading practice tend to be most effective when they look ...

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27 April, 2019

Red Shirting Kindergarten Kids, Good Idea or Bad

Teacher question: We place children in different kindergarten (or prekindergarten) tracks based upon their performances on a readiness screener—and in consultation with parents. However, our state now has a “Read by Grade Three” law, which requires retention in third grade for students who don’t meet that standard.  We have several students who are very young, meaning they are barely 5, who scored rather high on our placement test. We also have a group of students that are older and scored low on the same test. We are concerned about both groups. We would really like to know the research behind kindergarten placement and what the best practice is to help us ...

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20 April, 2019

My Two-Handed Opinion on Teaching with Novels

Teacher question: I've been thinking a lot about a response to teachers who only want to teach whole-class novels. When I say whole-class novels, what I see most often is the traditional approach most high school teachers take. Reading at home, lectures, comparative reading (but with very little instructional support). Also, what do you offer as a suggestion for teachers who are willing to rethink their novel practice (so long as they still get to teach novels)? Shanahan response: Lyndon Johnson used to talk about “two-handed economists.” He’d ask economists for their advice, and their responses were always, “Well on the one hand… but on the other hand….” Your question makes me feel ...

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06 April, 2019

How Not to Respond to a Lack of Responsiveness to Intervention

Teacher question: Here is my dilemma.  My administration has decided that if a student has 3 or 4 points of data on an ORF (Oral Reading Fluency) graph that shows they are not making progress then the entire reading intervention program must be changed.  It doesn't matter to them if the student had been making progress for months before in the same program.  I was told by my principal that our school district is being sued because of RTI.  When a student is not making progress as evidenced by the ORF and the reading specialist doesn't change the program then the school district is at risk of being sued.   The ...

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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.
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