Blog Posts

07 February, 2017

The Instructional Level Concept Revisited: Teaching with Complex Text

Boy, oh, boy! The past couple weeks have brought unseasonably warm temperatures to the Midwest, and unusual flurries of questions concerning teaching children at their, so-called, “instructional levels.” Must be salesman season, or something.           One of the questions asked specifically about my colleague Dick Allington, since he has published articles and chapters saying that teaching kids with challenging text is a dumb idea. And, a couple of others queries referred to the advertising copy from Teachers College Press (TCP) about their programs. Both Dick and TCP threw the R-word (research) around quite a bit, but ...

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29 January, 2017

Who Has Authority Over Meaning? Part II

         In my last entry, I explored some ideas concerning what role authors play in our interpretation of text. As with many controversies in the garden of literary criticism, nothing is settled, but an exquisite tension has been created. It is this tension that mature readers need to learn to negotiate—and that we have to prepare them for.          My take on this controversy is this: it is respectful, responsible, and wise to try to get back to “the author’s intended meaning.” That means we need not only to think about what a text says, but what we thought the author ...

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24 January, 2017

Who Has Authority Over Meaning: Authors or Readers?

I’m often asked if the questions I publish here are “real.” That is, do teachers, really ask me these things? The questions definitely are real. Though they come to me in a variety of ways.            Not long ago a colleague contacted me for my advice on a question she’d been asked. She was surprised to see that one show up on my blog. Other times, I might be giving a talk and a question comes from the audience. I remember it later and answer it again for you.            This week’s “question” is ...

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16 January, 2017

I get what you want us not to do, but what should we do? Getting higher test scores.

Teacher question: I truly want to help teachers strengthen their literacy instruction and students develop and strengthen their reading comprehension. I just viewed your online presentation on “How and How Not to Get Higher Test Scores” and I am intrigued. With only a few short months away from the testing frenzy as you can imagine administrators and teachers are in a panic My goal is to get my 3rd grade students to navigate and comprehend texts more independently. Would you recommend that students analyze text features (titles, headings, and photograph with caption) to make a prediction about what they will be reading ...

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08 January, 2017

Further Arguments about Too Much Testing

I hear you.            Last week I posted a blog challenging the amount of testing and test preparation in American reading classes. I got smacked, metaphorically, by friend and foe alike. Some posted their concerns, many more sent them to me directly.            The grumbles from past foes are the easiest to reply to. They often expressed—in passive aggressive tones—exasperation that I have “finally” woken up to the idea that testing companies are evil and that testing is a conspiracy against kids and teachers. They know because they follow Diane Ravitch’s “research.”       ...

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03 January, 2017

Welcome 2017: Let’s Teach, Not Test

       I believe in being upfront with my readers, so let me start with a confession:  I don’t hate testing.           I know it is a horrible thing for a so-called “educator” to admit. It’s sort of a social disease.           Perhaps someone has a 12-step program that could help me… Assessment Anonymous. Perhaps.           When I was a practicing teacher working on my Master’s degree, I loved collecting tests in a big notebook. Sight word lists, multiple-choice phonics quizzes, informal reading inventories, motivation questionnaires. 3-holes punched in their left margins. ...

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22 November, 2016

Does Homework Improve Reading Achievement?

Our school is in review which means that we have to improve reading test performance—or else. We are doing some crazy things with test preparation (that I know you disagree with), but we have also been ordered to put a big emphasis on reading homework. I’ve never been a big fan of homework because not all the kids do it and that doesn’t seem fair. What do you think about this strategy?            Studies of homework have been thoroughly analyzed by Harris Cooper. This is an area where I can provide the researcher’s well-honed answer: Does homework ...

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27 October, 2016

Oral Reading Fluency is More than Speed

Letter I received: I found these troubling quotes in the Report of the National Reading Panel: "Fluency, the ability to read a text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression..." "Fluent readers can read text with speed, accuracy, and proper expression..." My dismay is due to (a) listing rate first in both statements, and (b) using "quickly" and "with speed" rather than "rate" (or "appropriate rate" as in the CCSS fluency standard). I wonder if this wording may have encouraged folks who now embrace the notion that "faster is better" (e.g. "better readers have higher DIBELS scores--wcpm") In my own work I often refer to Stahl & Kuhn (2002) ...

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10 October, 2016

An Argument about Independent Reading Time During the School Day

Last week I answered a teacher’s question about free reading time during the school day and its relationship to reading motivation (e.g., making kids like reading). I pointed out that such reading time has a rather weak relationship with learning (various kinds of instruction exert about an 800% greater influence on learning than on having kids reading on their own during the school day) and that the connection with motivation appears to be even more tenuous. I then compared the DEAR/SSR practice unfavorably with theories and research on what motivates human beings. Not surprisingly that generated much comment. Although the following ...

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04 October, 2016

Does Independent Reading Time During the School Day Create Lifelong Readers

Teacher question: You have attacked DEAR time [Drop Everything and Read] because you say it does little to raise reading achievement. But what about having kids read on their own as a way to motivate them to be readers? As a teacher I want my kids to be lifelong readers so I provide 20 minutes of daily independent reading time. What do you think? Shanahan response:       I think you sound like a nice teacher, but perhaps an ineffective one.      As you remind me, the effects of DEAR, SSR, SQUIRT or any of the other “independent reading time” schemes are tiny when it comes to ...

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