Blog Posts

14 May, 2017

New Evidence on Teaching Reading at Frustration Levels

            For generations, reading experts have told teachers that they had to teach students to read at their instructional levels. Teachers were admonished that if they taught children with books that were too easy, there would be nothing for the kids to learn. If they taught with books that were too hard, then the reading instruction would frustrate rather than improve.             In general, that kind of advice makes sense. Spend all the time you want teaching me my ABCs and it won’t likely improve my reading ability at my advanced level of performance.             And, the idea of teaching someone something that ...

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07 May, 2017

The Role of Motivation in Teaching with Complex Text

I’m vacationing in Aix-en-Provence. I’ve written before about teaching myself to read French, and now I’m enrolled in a spoken French class. Très hard!!!   Maybe not much of a vacation, and, yet, I’m gaining valuable insights into what we must do to teach successfully with complex text.   Our tour includes about a dozen people; some are studying French, and some are not. Because our group is petite, they could only provide two French options. One for absolute beginners, and the other a mid-level French course attended by immigrants to France.   My self-taught reading lessons—and sporadic forays with Duolingo and Rosetta Stone—placed me well beyond the beginner class. The advanced class is ...

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30 April, 2017

More on Reading Novels to Teens

            Recently, I received a letter from a middle school teacher who was being pressured to read novels to his students. He questioned the appropriateness of the practice given the great amount of time that takes and the learning needs of his students. He wanted to get my opinion or to find out what research had to say about the practice.             In response, I explained that there were definitely some benefits to be derived from reading to kids; though in fairness almost all of that research has been done with preschoolers (with a handful of additional studies conducted in the primary grades). That means ...

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23 April, 2017

How Much Reading to Kids in Middle School?

Teacher question: I need your help in teasing out reading instruction in middle school. When we are modeling and reading aloud with a mentor text, do we use shorter texts rather than longer novels? If we read aloud a novel, I worry that approach takes so much time away from students actually reading. Thank you in advance for your insight.   Shanahan responds:          Let’s consider why a teacher might read to students.          First, reading to infants is a powerful way of bonding. Studies show that when parents/caretakers read often to their children during their first year of life, they end up closer emotionally. The children, for example, are more likely ...

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17 April, 2017

Sight Vocabulary for Preschool

Teacher question:             I am preschool teacher and I would like to know how I can implement a sight word program with 4 year old students. I have tried my best to implement at least three but I feel my strategies are not working. I am trying to do a program to help preschoolers to be ready when they go to kindergarten (Infant 1).  Shanahan responds:             My dear, many of my colleagues, would be wearily frowning at you with disdain for this question.  And, regular readers here, knowing my sharp tongue, too, may be anticipating something akin to a public flogging.             But let me play against type a bit… because, although ...

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09 April, 2017

How Complex a Text Can I Scaffold?

Teacher Question:             Is there a point at which it does not make sense to use a particular challenging text with a particular student? For instance, take an 8th grader who reads at about a 3rd grade level. The student can decode reasonably well but is dysfluent and, due to learning English, has poor comprehension resulting from low vocabulary knowledge and lots of confusion caused by complex syntax. Would you still say scaffold grade-level text to provide access for this student-- or at a certain point, the scaffolding would need to be so extensive and it would take the whole year to read a grade-level novel-- use easier text?             ...

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02 April, 2017

Our Younger Readers are Doing Better, So What's He Upset about Now?

Great report about beginning reading achievement in the most recent issue of Educational Researcher. D’Agostino & Rodgers show that, beginning literacy skills have improved annually from 2002 through 2013. Beginning first-graders have steadily improved in letter identification, phonemic awareness, concepts about print, writing vocabulary, word reading, and text reading. These gains were not just evident for the average or typical student, but for the relatively low achieving ones—though the gains for the latter have lagged those of their more advantaged peers. The researchers suggest—though do not claim to prove—that these data reflect an increased emphasis on literacy instruction in preschool and kindergarten, probably due to the reports of the ...

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25 March, 2017

What’s with Reading Workshop in high school?

            Lately, I’ve run into a lot of teachers and school administrators who are all pumped up about the Reading Workshop or Readers’ Workshop.             They tell me that they don’t want to use textbooks anymore. Don’t want to teach novels. Don't seem to really want to teach much of anything.             They believe that the trick to teaching reading is not teaching it—or at least not teaching it very much. Mini-lessons are in the saddle and independent reading is how they want students to experience the English class.             I’m skeptical. If this were a new idea, I’d probably be more accepting. However, this influential ...

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15 March, 2017

Disciplinary Literacy: The Basics

A slew of letters seeking ideas on disciplinary literacy. Teacher 1: The Common Core highlights that every teacher is a reading and writing teacher in their discipline. I think this idea is important in combination with the best practices for content area learning. My main interest in this is based on helping students who struggle to learn to read in early grade levels, and, as a result, can quickly get behind when "reading to learn" in the secondary grades. Teacher 2: What is the place of disciplinary literacy in elementary school? I am also aware of the work of Nell Duke ...

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23 February, 2017

How Should We Combine Reading and Writing?

Teacher question: So today I was conducting a workshop. I was told the teachers wanted information about reading/writing connections. Easy, right? Then I was told that they departmentalize K-6! At every grade they have a reading teacher and a different writing teacher. Any thoughts, comments, best practices, or research that would go against or support this practice? I know what I believe to be correct, but would love to have your opinions in this conversation.  Shanahan response:            Wowee! For the past several years I’ve been complaining about how schools are organizing themselves with regard to reading and writing. These days, the most ...

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