Blog Posts

15 July, 2016

The Spirit is Willingham, but the Flesch is Weak

Teacher’s Question: I have read a few articles and books by Daniel Willingham in the past, and I wonder if you are familiar with his work. I recently read an article (attached) about reading comprehension strategies and am curious to know what you think of his ideas. He says that focusing heavily on reading strategies isn’t really necessary. (I often question the need for so many reading strategies, particularly when they take away from reading being a pleasurable activity. I can understand the importance of visualizing, using prior knowledge, and maintaining focus, but teaching the other “strategies”, in my opinion, is confusing ...

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10 July, 2016

Teaching Kids to Interpret Theme: The Limits of Practice

  Many years ago my daughter, Meagan, had a homework assignment. Her literature teacher assigned a short story to read and Meagan was to figure out the theme.                 The theme she came up with: “People do a lot of different things.”                 Needless to say, it doesn’t matter what the story was, that wasn’t the theme. (Though she was a little surprised that I could know that without even reading it.)                 “Meagan how do your teachers teach you to figure out theme?”                 “That’s just it, Dad. They don’t. They tell you what a theme is and I know what  a theme is,  and then when you get ...

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02 July, 2016

The Slow Path Forward: We Can--And Do--Learn from Reading Research

We in education tend to have very strong beliefs. And, those beliefs can overwhelm our knowledge—or even our willingness to gain knowledge. Last week’s entry here focused on teaching kids with more challenging texts than we’ve been told to use in the past. The reason for the change wasn’t some brilliant insight on my part, but a gradual accumulation of direct research evidence. Evidence that shows beyond beginning reading there is no benefit to controlling the difficulty of texts in the way that we have done—matching kids to books with various accuracy criteria. I certainly understand the suspicions of those who have ...

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26 June, 2016

Further Explanation of Teaching Students with Challenging Text

Last week I pointed out that from grades 2-12 it wasn’t necessary to match students to text for instruction to proceed effectively. Research has not been kind to the idea of mechanical “instructional level” criteria like 90-95% accuracy (e.g., Jorgenson, Klein, & Kumar, 1977;  Kuhn, Schwanenflugel, Morris, Morrow, et al., 2006; Morgan, Wilcox, & Eldredge, 2000; O’Connor, Swanson, & Geraghty, 2010;  Powell, & Dunkeld, 1971; Stahl, & Heubach, 2005;  Stanley, 1986).            Language learning doesn’t work that way.            That got lots of response, online and off. Some of it quite angry, too. Although ...

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19 June, 2016

Laying Waste to 5 Popular Myths about Reading Instruction

"Summertime and the living is easy, fish are jumping, and the cotton is high..." It is summer and not a good time for a long blog on literacy teaching. So, I took the time to write a short one. I didn't want to get worked up in the summer heat, so have provided a pithy critique of 5 popular myths about reading instruction. 1.  No, the fact that you do not use a textbook to teach reading does not make you a good teacher. The idea that good teachers don’t follow a program and weak ones do has been around since ...

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11 June, 2016

Think-Pair-Share in Reading Instruction: Is it Effective?

Think-Pair-Share in Reading Instruction: Is it Effective?   Teacher Question: Our reading coach has encouraged all of our teachers to use a lot of the “think-pair-share” reading strategy. I’m an upper elementary grade teacher. Is “think-pair-share” research based? Shanahan responds:            This seems like such a straightforward question, but it has been tying me in knots for days. It all depends on what you mean by “research based.”            You might be asking me whether there is there any empirical evidence showing that if you use “think-pair-share” in your classroom your kids will end up with higher reading achievement by the end of the year. If that ...

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04 June, 2016

How can you support basal readers when we know it's teachers that matter?

Why do you support the use of basal readers for teaching reading? Isn’t it the teachers that make the difference, not the textbooks?           What an peculiar—but all-too-common—question.            What has led to this weird belief that schools can have either textbooks or good teachers? That investments in teacher development and textbook adoption are opposites? Or, that the good teachers will run screaming from the room upon textbook purchases?            The real issue isn’t whether teachers or programs matter, but whether students are best served by a corps of good teachers ...

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25 May, 2016

Vocabulary's Three-Legged Stool: The Place for Dictionary Skills in Vocabulary Instruction

  I’m a literacy coach, and one of the teachers in one of my online classes asked the following question: “The article mentions that using a dictionary to define a word is a superficial method of vocabulary acquisition. While it may be too rash to discontinue using dictionaries, how should they be used in vocabulary instruction, and how much should teachers rely on them in the classroom?”   Vocabulary teaching is currently in vogue; there are lots of good books and articles out there on how to teach word meanings. That’s good, as far is it goes.         Steve Stahl used to ...

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22 May, 2016

How Can Reading Coaches Raise Reading Achievement?

Teachers question: I have just been hired as a reading coach in a school where I have been a third-grade teacher. My principal wants me to raise reading achievement and he says that he’ll follow my lead. I think I’m a good teacher, but what does it take to raise reading achievement in a whole school (K-5) with 24 teachers? Shanahan's answer:             It’s easy J. Just do the following 9 things: 1.    Improve leadership.                                 Literacy leadership matters. You and your principal will need to be a team. The more the two of you know and agree upon the ...

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15 May, 2016

Can We Prevent the "Summer Slide" in Reading?

Question: Is there any research on how to prevent the summer slide?  I ask both as the parent of a 1st grader and as a teacher. I teach in a small, rural school with many struggling readers and English language learners, and every year we have kids who work their way up to grade level by the end of the school year but are behind grade level again when school starts the next fall. I volunteer with our public library's summer reading program, so I  have the opportunity to work with some of our kids who struggle. How much reading do they ...

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