Literacy Blogs

02 December, 2023

Why Main Idea is Not the Main Idea – Or, How Best to Teach Reading Comprehension

Teacher question: You say that we cannot successfully teach comprehension skills like main idea. But our standards require that we teach main idea, and our state tests ask main idea questions to assess whether our students are accomplishing that goal. I don’t get it, your advice on this is not helpful. Shanahan response: For years, comprehension skills like “main idea” were taught by having kids read texts and answer main idea questions. The idea is that question-answering practice will improve the ability to answer the kinds of questions the students are practicing with. Often the question types themselves have been labeled as comprehension ...

read more
11 November, 2023

Should We Still Teach Sight Vocabulary?

Teacher question: Our local school district still teaches "sight words." I know that people mean various things when they call words "sight words"-- words that kids don't have the phonics principles for yet, words that are high frequency, and words that "are not decodable." I also understand that brain research says memorizing whole words is a poor practice, and I know that "sight words" is a term that is being phased out in order to communicate that 80% of words are decodable, and emphasizing helping kids flexibly solve words using the parts that do follow predictable phonics rules. Will you please weigh in? Shanahan responds: I know of no brain research that shows memorizing words to be a bad practice. In fact, we don’t know ...

read more
04 November, 2023

My state is banning instructional practices… or, how to look like you are teaching effectively…

Teacher question: I am working through my state’s “Literacy Plan.” There are several instructional practices that get the “thumbs down” here as being “not in alignment with evidence-based instruction.” The list is long and includes guided reading, leveled readers, and informal reading inventories. I’m curious what your take on those practices is?  Shanahan response: Thanks for sharing. The list you sent was long and I agree with your state on some of the items (e.g., three-cueing, miscue analysis, balanced literacy – whatever that is), but I suspect those who are calling the shots are reacting more to social media buzz words than to any ...

read more
30 September, 2023

Are Qualitative Assessment and Student Self-Assessment Useful in Reading Instruction?

Teacher question: Our reading program has us evaluating students on several strategies and reading skills (e.g., orienting, predicting, monitoring, story elements, identifying point of view, word solving, retelling, inferring character traits, determining theme). It provides grade level rubrics so that we can tell the difference between whether students are doing 4th grade or 5th grade work. We are also encouraged to have the students themselves self-assess their progress on these elements. The idea is that we are to use these evaluations to help students see where they are. Is this kind of thing useful or is it a waste of time? RELATED: A ...

read more
09 September, 2023

A Big Mistake in Reading Improvement Initiatives – Don’t Make This One

Teacher question: I know you led a successful reading initiative in Chicago. You’ve written much about the keys to your success. Did you make any mistakes? Would you change that experience in any way if you were to do it again? Shanahan responds: Ah, for the chance to live life’s unfortunate moments again… I’m suspicious of those who say they have no regrets and would change nothing if they could go back. For real for real? A major error in my Chicago Reading Initiative experience was not pulling the principals in early enough or thoroughly enough. My attentions were laser focused on hiring coaches ...

read more
26 August, 2023

Which Should We Use, Nonsense Word Tests or Word ID Tests?

Teacher question: I am an Assistant School Superintendent. We are moving toward explicit phonics instruction this year and are debating between using the nonsense words assessment or the decodable words assessment. Do you have thoughts about this? I have consulted with several people who I respect, and opinions are varied and passionate. RELATED: Is digital text a good idea for reading instruction? Shanahan response: I feel your pain. Recently, a colleague asked me to make a similar recommendation to help figure out something about a grandchild’s reading. I suggested the use of DIBELS Nonsense Word test, given the specific purpose and its easy availability. You’d have thought I’d recommended drowning ...

read more
05 August, 2023

Is digital text a good idea for reading instruction?

Teacher question: I’ve heard that having students read digital texts is a bad idea, but our school has purchased tablets for everybody and wants us to use these for much of our instruction. What say you? Good idea or bad idea?RELATED: Knowledge or Comprehension Strategies -- What Should We Teach? Shanahan responds: Generally, research has found that digital books are read with lower comprehension and more mind wandering (Clinton, 2019; Vargas, Ackerman, & Samerón, 2018). Admittedly, most evidence on this comes from studies of college students. However, even when the studies have focused on elementary age students, the results are the same. Kids ...

read more
22 July, 2023

Knowledge or Comprehension Strategies -- What Should We Teach?

Teacher question: Are we supposed to teach reading strategies or not? I keep coming across contradictory information. Some writers say the research supports strategy teaching and some say that we should teach background information instead. I respect your opinion. What do you think?RELATED: Can we really teach prosody and why would we want to? Shanahan response: Many studies – hundreds actually – have shown that teaching comprehension strategies can improve reading comprehension (Filderman, Austin, Boucher, O’Donnell, & Swanson, 2022; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). That’s a pretty strong argument for teaching strategies. That’s why I’ve taught them to students myself. That’s why ...

read more
08 July, 2023

Can we really teach prosody and why would we want to?

Teacher question: How expressive should young children’s reading be? We are told that oral reading fluency consists of accuracy, rate, and prosody, but our monitoring tests only consider accuracy and rate. Does prosody matter in first and second grade and if it does how do we measure it?RELATED: What is linguistic comprehension in the simple view of reading? Shanahan responds: Experts have long accepted the idea that oral reading fluency (ORF) or, these days, “text reading fluency”, improves simultaneously with reading development. As readers progress, they can read more words accurately, they are able to do this with less conscious effort (automaticity), and their ...

read more
17 June, 2023

What is linguistic comprehension in the simple view of reading?

Teacher question: I am hoping that you can clarify a question that some of us are debating. I've sought out the wisdom of Kelly Cartwright and Katie Pace Miles as well. Can you clarify the difference between language comprehension and listening comprehension? And where does linguistic comprehension fit in here? I'm asking because when we refer to the Simple View of Reading, so many people use listening comprehension (which is inaccurate) but this leads to the question of what are the nuances or subtleties of them all! Thank you!RELATED: How I Teach Students to Use Context in Vocabulary Learning Shanahan responds: Awhile back, I posted a blog that dared mention that ...

read more
Sorry! No articles found. Please select another topic or category.

One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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