Blog Posts

03 October, 2012

Informational Text: Or How Thin Can You Slice the Salami

As most of you know, the common core state standards (CCSS) make a big deal about informational text. Unlike typical state standards, CCSS treats the reading of informational text as being as important as reading literary text. That is a wonderful shift and one that could bear real benefits for children.   Of course, this is not a new issue. When I was in graduate school (a long time ago), one of my advisors, Richard Venezky, published a wonderful article entitled, Crossing a Chasm in Two Leaps. In it, he detailed how children were confronted by the problem of literacy. They first had to ...

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03 October, 2012

Informational Text: Or How Thin Can You Slice the Salami

As most of you know, the common core state standards (CCSS) make a big deal about informational text. Unlike typical state standards, CCSS treats the reading of informational text as being as important as reading literary text. That is a wonderful shift and one that could bear real benefits for children.   Of course, this is not a new issue. When I was in graduate school (a long time ago), one of my advisors, Richard Venezky, published a wonderful article entitled, Crossing a Chasm in Two Leaps. In it, he detailed how children were confronted by the problem of literacy. They first had to ...

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10 September, 2012

Common Core Allows More than Lexiles

When I was working on my doctorate, I had to conduct a historical study for one of my classes. I went to the Library of Congress and calculated readabilities for books that had been used to teach reading in the U.S. (or in the colonies that became the U.S.). I started with the Protestant Tutor and the New England Primer, the first books used for reading instruction here. From there I examined Webster’s Blue-Backed Speller and its related volumes and the early editions of McGuffey’s Readers. Though the authors of those have left no record of how those books were created, it is evident that they had ...

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22 August, 2012

Thank Goodness the Writing Scores are Going to Drop

Okay, so you’re thinking: “This guy is even more nuts than I thought. How can he root for kids to write poorly?"   I hope I’m not nuts, but one of the major new tests to be used to monitor student performance against the common core state standards is well designed (truth in advertising: I serve on the English Language Arts Technical Work Groups for that test). However, those new designs are almost certain to lower student writing scores, which I hope will be good for kids—at least in the long run.   PARCC is a 23 state consortium that is designing new English ...

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31 July, 2012

Text Difficulty and Adolescents

I recently received the following letter and thought you might be interested in my responses:   "I found your August 21, 2011 blog post on "Rejecting Instructional Level Theory" eye-opening and helpful.  I'm a high school English teacher and instructional coach specializing in adolescent literacy remediation, so I've worked with leveled text a lot.  If you have a moment, I'd love to hear your thoughts on a couple of follow-up questions:" Are the implications of your findings different for adolescents needing remediation? It depends on how low the students are and how much scaffolding is available. If you stick a 9th grader who reads at ...

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13 July, 2012

Common Core or Guided Reading

Recently, I've been fielding questions about guided reading (à la Fountas and Pinnell) and the common core; mainly about the differences in how they place students in texts. Before going there, let me point out that there is a lot of common ground between guided reading and common core, including high quality text, the connections between reading and writing, the emphasis on high level questions and discussion, the idea that students learn from reading, and so on. Nary a hint of conflict between the two approaches on any of those issues.   Not so with student-book placements; on that there is a substantial ...

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22 June, 2012

We Zigged When We Should Have Zagged

I’ve been fielding a lot of complaints recently about the lack of comprehension strategies in the common core state standards. And, in fact, no reading comprehension strategies are included in the common core. I’m asked how that can be if comprehension strategies are research-based? If the common core is aimed at making students better readers, how can they leave out instructional approaches proven to advantage students?   The fact is the National Reading Panel concluded that teaching reading comprehension strategies was beneficial. Later, the What Works Clearinghouse allowed a group that I chaired to recommend the teaching of reading comprehension strategies to K-3 ...

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19 June, 2012

Organizing Middle School ELA for Common Core

Teacher question: What do you feel is "best practice" for middle school ELA instruction? Our district has a 6/7 middle school, and the subjects of reading and language arts are taught separately. The middle school principal will speak to how this is "best practice".   With the reciprocity of reading and writing, and the expectations of the CCSS, the current schedule seems counterintuitive to me. Shouldn't students be grouped for, say, a 90 minute ELA block that encompasses reading and language arts? Or am I off base on this? Shanahan reply: How schools are organized in terms of this kind of scheduling does not matter very ...

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18 June, 2012

What is Close Reading?

The common core standards are encouraging teachers to engage students in close reading. Much of the focus of discussions of close reading have emphasized what teachers should not do (in terms of pre-reading, or types of questions). I am being asked with increasing frequency what close reading is.  Close reading requires a substantial emphasis on readers figuring out a high quality text. This "figuring out" is accomplished primarily by reading and discussing the text (as opposed to being told about the text by a teacher or being informed about it through some textbook commentary). Because challenging texts do not give up ...

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11 June, 2012

Reading Comprehension Question

Teacher Question 1:  For students who struggle with comprehension, and do not seem to grow in ability to think abstractly despite HUGE amounts of scaffolding, knowledge building, etc. what course of action could you recommend?  I had a 4th grade student who could not get past text written on a 2nd grade level, despite the fact that he could decode  and read with fluency on a lower 4th grade level.  I worked with him 1-1 several times a week.  We set background, acted out information, discussed vocabulary, etc….it just seemed beyond his grasp. Shanahan response: This is a knotty one... and one I'm not entirely sure ...

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