Blog Posts

24 April, 2016

Should I Set Reading Purposes for My Students?

            For nearly a century, leading educators and school textbooks have encouraged teachers to set a purpose for reading. Sometimes these purposes are called “motivation” or they might be stated as questions, “What is a population?” or “What is the major problem the main character faces?”             It makes sense. We want our kids to be purposeful and such purpose-focused reading leads to higher comprehension, right?             Not exactly. Researchers (e.g., Richard Mayer, John Guthrie) have shown that, indeed, if you set a specific purpose for reading, students will do a better job of accomplishing that purpose. So far ...

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17 April, 2016

What Do Primary Grade Children Need to Know about Informational Text?

  Question:          I am currently teaching workshops and courses on reading and the Common Core and have approached these with regard to disciplinary literacy.  So many of the teachers involved are seeing the value of creating discipline-specific reading experiences in their classrooms. This is especially true of secondary teachers but upper elementary as well.            Where we are having a question is how can this apply to kindergarten classrooms. We discussed using texts that focus on science and social studies topics, how the authors might get their information, and focusing on a text structure if one is ...

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10 April, 2016

Why Letter of the Week May Not Be Such a Good Idea

Teacher question: Our district is trying to determine the proper pacing for introducing letter names/sounds in kindergarten. One letter per week seems too slow; 2 seems a bit fast. Most teachers are frustrated by 2 per week. We are thinking about going with 1 for the first 9 weeks, then doubling up. This would have all letter names/sounds introduce by February. Can you offer some advise? How much is too much? Shanahan response:         This seems like a reasonable straightforward, simple question. And, it is, if you are a teacher, principal, or curriculum designer trying to plan a year of instruction. However, ...

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03 April, 2016

On Climbing the Mountain: Four Ways Not to Deal with Complex Text

    Anyone who has taught reading—or really any course that requires a textbook—knows about kids who struggle to make sense of the text. Often they don’t even try. The text just looks hard and they’re ready to run.     We’ve been talking a lot about complex text since the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) burst on the scene. But most of that talk has focused on how to find texts that meet the complexity requirements of CCSS. Or how to ask questions that probe that complexity.       I’d suggest thinking about complex text the same way that your students ...

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28 March, 2016

What Phonological Awareness Skill Should We Be Screening?

Teacher question: I read a research study (Kilpatrick, 2014) that questions the value of segmentation tests for measuring phonemic awareness, because such tests did not correlate well with first- and second-grade reading achievement. At our school we have used DIBELS in Kindergarten and Grade 1 to identify children at risk for reading difficulties. Is this really useful or are we identifying kids as needing help when they do not? Should we be using measures of blending and manipulation instead? Shanahan's response:  This question seems so straightforward, but it actually has a lot of moving parts. The two tests being compared, DIBELS and CTOPP, have different purposes, there are things you need ...

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20 March, 2016

Six Pieces of Advice on Teaching with Complex Text

Question: I’m confused. Our standards say that we have to teach kids to read at 820 Lexiles, but my third-graders aren’t even close to that. They are instructional at Level N on the Fountas & Pinnell gradient that my school uses. This makes no sense. How can I get my kids to such a high level in the time that we have? Shanahan response:             I receive few letters on this, but when visiting schools this confusion is often apparent. Teachers either ignore the level specifications of the standards or assume that teaching kids at "level N", as they have been doing, must be ...

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14 March, 2016

Putting on One's Underwear First: Why Sequence is Not Always So Important

 Teacher Question:  Is there a particular order in which teachers should teach the letter sounds?  Shanahan responds:   It makes sense to put your underwear on before you put on a skirt, shirt, blouse, or pant.   Unless you’re Madonna.   Then the usual ordering of things doesn’t necessarily get the job done. She changed the sequence from bra/blouse to blouse/bra and became a star. (It helped that she was wildly talented)   Many teachers, principals, parents, and policymakers expect the proper ordering of letters and letter sounds in a curriculum to be more than a matter of convention or style, however. This question comes up often.   It is hard explaining to them that there is no research-proven ...

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06 March, 2016

How Many Times Should They Copy the Spelling Words?

Two Teacher Asked Questions:  I have a question that was posed to me be an elementary principal. Her question was, "How many times does a student need to write a high frequency word before they feel secure with it?"  I must admit, I have never been asked this question before, and I cannot find research that addresses this specific question.    The teachers in my school have kids copying missed spelling words 15 times. Is this a good idea?  Shanahan response:             Everyone knows that, in order to accomplish great proficiency, musicians and athletes must engage in a great deal of repetitive practice. It would ...

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28 February, 2016

Why I'm Not Impressed with Effective Teachers

  I was making a presentation about how to raise reading achievement. I was taking my audience through research on what needed to be taught and how it needed to be taught if kids were to do as well as possible. I was telling about my experiences as director of reading of the Chicago Public Schools at a time when my teachers raised reading achievement. When I finished, a teacher approached me. “What do you think is the most important variable in higher reading achievement?”         My answer was, “The amount of teaching—academic experience—that we provide to our children.”       ...

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22 February, 2016

Heidi or Giselle? Writing as a Response to Reading

Teacher question:“My students talk about the stories through collaborative conversations and class discussions, but I hardly allow time for students to write written responses.  How often should I have students write a written response and should students be taking notes on the story?"              Shanahan response: Writing about text or talking about text… I used to consider that to be an impossible choice (like deciding whether to ask Heidi Klum or Giselle Bündchen out on a date).       Then I read the research on it. Conversation and discussion about what students read is certainly valuable, and, yet, if your goal is to raise ...

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