Blog Posts

27 April, 2008

Disciplinary Literacy

There is growing interest and concern in the reading of older students (grades 4-12). There are many reasons for this, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that most thoughtful observers are convinced that most students leave high school with insufficient reading and writing skills--insufficient for college success or economic participation.   Over the past few years, we have seen growth in the numbers of reading programs aimed at a student in the upper grades (including my own AMP program. I believe that, once we get through the presidential election, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be reauthorized, for the first time ...

read more
20 March, 2008

Strategies or Skills: Does It Really Matter?

Blast from the Past: Do you ever wonder what the difference is between skills and strategies? Originally posted March 20, 2008; re-posted on September 28, 2017.    Recently Peter Afflerbach, David Pearson, and Scott Paris published a nifty article, “Clarifying differences between reading skills and reading strategies” in the Reading Teacher (February 2008, pp.364-373). They did a great job of that. Below I have summarized some of their major points, added some explanation of why you should care about the distinction, and showed the differences in assessment and instruction for strategies and skills. 1. There are no widely-accepted definitions of strategies and skills. To ...

read more
19 March, 2008

Improving Reading Achievement

Dear Dr. Shanahan: With the pressures and concerns about NCLB and working in a low socio-economic neighborhood, our school district has implemented some mandates to try to ensure the success of our students. It is sort of an interesting imbalance. First, they chose to mandate the use of the SAXON phonics program. It is required of all teachers of students in K- 2. The program teaches phonics in isolation and it takes 40 to 75 minutes to teach each day.  The second interesting situation is that we are given 4 aides that come into our rooms for an hour each day to ...

read more
18 March, 2008

What's Wrong with High-Stakes Testing?

It’s not uncommon for educators to oppose high-stakes testing. Teachers and principals have personal reasons to be against such approaches: high stakes tests are more likely to be used to pressure them than on the kids who they serve. University-based scholars also tend to be against testing, but that isn’t surprising as most university professors are politically liberal and most education accountability plans emanate from conservative governments. While professors may have a knee-jerk reaction to high-stakes tests, this in no way disparages the high-quality scholarly analyses of such tests, such as the one that carried out for the National Academy ...

read more
29 February, 2008

Reference List for Improving Reading

I often make presentations about the key elements for improving reading achievement. For those of you who want to dip into the original research that I used, I have provides some citations below. This is just a partial list -- there are many more studies available on each of these topics supporting these basic ideas. AMOUNT OF INSTRUCTION/TIME American College Testing. (2006). Reading between the lines. Iowa City: American College Testing. Carroll, J.B. (1963). A model of school learning. Teachers College Record, 723–733. Cooper, H. (2001). Summer school: Research-based recommendations for policy makers. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, ...

read more
27 January, 2008

Differentiation in the Teaching of Reading

Differentiation, a great concept, has become a buzz word these days. It seems to mean many different things to many different people. Reading supervisors and coordinators frequently tell me about their dissatisfaction with the huge amount of whole-class teaching going on. I’ve even seen principals who have tried to increase differentiation by forbidding the use of reading textbooks (you can’t follow something lock-step with all of the kids if you don’t have anything to follow).   I certainly agree that a steady diet of whole-class instruction is almost certain to lose somebody. Kids learn at different speeds; they get confused or phase ...

read more
18 January, 2008

Can Scripted Lessons Really Improve Achievement? I Support the Use of Textbooks

In the December 10 issue of the New Yorker magazine Atul Gawande published a fascinating article about the improvement of medical practice. Although he is a physician writing about medical care, I found his insights to be surprisingly relevant to instructional issues in the field of reading.   In this article, “The Checklist,” Dr. Gawande describes the incredible complexity of Intensive Care Medicine, and the brilliance and courage of the doctors who practice it. But this was not a piece about heroic doctors, but instead explained the need to standardize and regiment such practice in order to maintain quality.   I know…. I know…. the sentences in the ...

read more
08 January, 2008

In Defense of Textbooks, Core Programs, and Basal Readers

I am often asked why I support the use of textbooks for teaching reading. It has been common in my field for those at the university to denounce the use of textbooks, and I have resisted that urge. The basic assumption seems to be that good teachers don't need textbooks, and that if you use a textbook (or core program or basal reader) you must not be a good teacher or even a very nice person.   Of course, some observers try to split the difference: "new teachers need textbooks, but experienced ones do not" is often their claim.   I think overall we ...

read more
31 December, 2007

Less Reading or Less Fiction Reading?

          The National Endowment for the Arts report on reading habits in the U.S. continues to reverberate. This is a report that American journalists are fascinated by. As one reporter explained to me today, he was writing for an audience of literary writers (poets, novelists, and the like), and he indicated that the NEA report was discouraging to that audience. “They wonder if it is even worth writing a novel, if no one is going to read it.”            My skepticism about the NEA report is two-fold: first, I doubt that we are ...

read more
24 December, 2007

Fluency--Not Hurrying

         Oral reading fluency has become a hot topic in the past few years. Of all aspects of reading, it still may be the most neglected, but we seem to be doing somewhat better in providing fluency instruction than we were when the National Reading Report concluded that fluency instruction improved reading achievement. That surprised many people; the idea that practicing oral reading could do more than improve the oral reading seemed strange. Usually we get better at what we practice: so, it would make sense to have kids doing a lot of silent reading rather than ...

read more

One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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