Blog Posts

21 September, 2019

What Do You Think of the Reading Workshop? or How Not to Teach Reading Comprehension

Teacher question: I saw you make a presentation recently, and I was surprised to hear that you did not like the conferencing that is provided in Readers Workshop. That is the method that our district requires. Isn’t it research-based? Shanahan responds: No, it definitely is not research based. I can’t find a single study that supports its use. I can’t even find any study that supports programs that include this approach. Of course, a lack of research support for a particular method doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Perhaps the technique has never been studied, or if it was investigated maybe the study had some important flaw. I don’t think that’s the ...

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14 September, 2019

Why Not Teach Reading Comprehension for a Change?

Teacher question: I saw you speak recently and in your definition of reading comprehension you used the term “affordance.” How would you define affordance as you use it concerning text?   Shanahan responds: Usually, I’d just shoot off a quick email explanation with a question like this. However, in this case, the question affords me the opportunity to explain why so much “reading comprehension instruction” is wrongheaded and why it fails to accomplish its goals of improving reading achievement. I believe that standardized reading comprehension testing has warped and distorted our conception of reading comprehension. Instead of focusing on how to enable kids to make sense of the ideas expressed in text, we’ve tended to ...

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07 September, 2019

Should We Grade Students on the Individual Reading Standards?

Teacher question: What are your thoughts on standards-based grading in ELA which is used in many districts? For example, teachers may be required to assign a number 1-4 (4 being mastery) that indicates a student’s proficiency level on each ELA standard. Teachers need to provide evidence to document how they determined the level of mastery. Oftentimes tests are created with items that address particular standards. If students get those items correct, that is evidence of mastery. What do you recommend? Shanahan response:  Oh boy… this answer is going make me popular with your district administration! The honest answer is that this kind of standards-based grading makes no sense at all. It is simply ...

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17 August, 2019

The Great American Phonics Instruction Test, Part II

Last week, I posed 5 questions as the first half of the Great American Phonics Quiz. I hope you did well on those items that focused on whether students could learn to read without phonics, what kind of contribution it makes to learning, whether phonics instruction needs to be systematic, and whether analytic or synthetic phonics was best. Here is the second half of the Great American Phonics Quiz.  Good luck. 6.    Lack of adequate phonics instruction is likely the reason why so many American students are failing to become proficient readers. True or false? Recently, I received an angry note from a gentleman concerning the dearth of phonics ...

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10 August, 2019

The Great American Phonics Instruction Test, Part I

Schools are so tied up with testing these days, and this being the season of “monitoring assessments,” maybe a back-to-school phonics quiz would be a good way to welcome you all back. I was having so much fun writing these test questions that I considered either putting in for a job at ETS or including a Part II next week... I decided on the latter. Admittedly, the length was a concern. Breaking it up into two parts seemed most politic: that way the Fair Testing people and Diane Ravitch may not come after me. Let’s see how you do. The answers are all research-based!  1.    ...

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03 August, 2019

Should We Assess Expression When Evaluating Fluency?

Teacher question: When measuring oral reading fluency by, say, having kids read a grade-level text for one minute, I take note of speed and accuracy.   1. Should I also measure expression? I certainly know expression is part of fluent reading, but isn’t a kid trying to read fast and accurate not really able to read with perfect expression? For example, they might take nice pauses and commas and question marks but slow down their words per minute score. 2. Should I also measure retell? Keep in mind my concerns in my first question. Plus, fluency and comprehension seem like they would be difficult to measure simultaneously on just a one-minute ...

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29 July, 2019

Is Round Robin Reading Really that Bad?

Teacher question: I teach fourth-grade social studies at my school and I have an ongoing argument with our reading coach. Perhaps you can help me. She says that the way I teach is bad, but it works, and I see no reason to change. My students take turns reading paragraphs aloud and when each one finishes then I ask them questions or explain what the book said. I like it because the students are attentive and when I do have them try to read the book silently, they don’t get it. Can you help me with the reading coach? Shanahan’s response: You know, when I became a teacher the ...

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20 July, 2019

How to Teach Summarizing, Part II

Last week, in response to a teacher’s question, I explained the important role summarization plays in reading comprehension. I described how, according to research, we can best teach kids to summarize paragraphs from informational texts. Voilà, I just walked the talk: I just provided a summary of last week’s blog entry. This week let’s focus on summarization with longer informational texts and stories. Being able to summarize paragraphs is a useful skill in itself (e.g., identifying the author’s point, paraphrasing, jettisoning the trivial and repetitive) and being able to summarize short portions of text contributes to longer summaries, too. But there is at least one important difference with longer summaries. That ...

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13 July, 2019

How to Teach Summarizing, Part I

Teacher question: What is the most effective way to teach summarizing to our most struggling readers? How can we teach them how to summarize both literary and informational texts? Shanahan response: Good choice. Of all of the literacy activities that you could have focused on, summarizing is the most powerful for elementary students. The National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) reviewed more than 200 studies on comprehension strategies and that analysis attributed the largest learning effects to summarizing. More recent reviews focused on kids with learning disabilities (Kim, Lina-Thompson, & Misquitta, 2012; Solis, Ciullo, Vaughn, Pyle, Hassaram, & Leroux, 2012) have been similarly positive, and studies of the payoffs from writing about ...

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29 June, 2019

Complex Text for Beginning Readers... Good Idea or Not?

Teacher question: I know you get a lot of pushback from teachers when you say that we should teach with complex text. But I agree with you. I don’t like all the testing and teaching kids in so many different books. This might surprise you, but I wonder why you don’t emphasize teaching complex text with children in kindergarten and first-grade? Shanahan responds: Many states have adopted educational standards that emphasize teaching students to read texts at particular levels of difficulty. This approach was long eschewed in fear that it would frustrate students. The claim has been that if kids were taught from texts beyond their instructional level (in other words ...

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