Blog Posts

19 September, 2020

What about Personalized Learning in Reading?

Teacher question: I would love to know what you think about the movement in personalized learning in K-8 schools. A few schools in my district have been moving to this approach for math instruction and I'd be interested in hearing your ideas of how this would look in reading and writing instruction. Thanks! Shanahan responds: Your question reminds me of the first time I tried to cook chicken. I was in a hurry so I figured if I turned up the heat, I could cook it faster… and that works – but only on the outside of the chicken. The inside, I discovered, was ...

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12 September, 2020

Seatwork that Makes Sense for Reading

Teacher question: I work with students in small groups daily and need the rest of the students to be engaged in meaningful practice of their new literacy skills. What types of activities would be best for this practice? Shanahan response: The benefits of small group instruction are obvious. Teachers can make the learning experience more apt and intense – the small numbers allow for more responsiveness, more vigilant monitoring, and fine tuning of the teaching. The downside of small group instruction should be equally evident. While the teacher is working with one small group, the rest of the kids are on their own. Much ...

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22 August, 2020

Teaching with Complex Text: Haven't You Ever Heard of the ZPD?

Teacher question: I’ve read what you’ve written about the instructional level. You claim that there is no such thing. Haven’t you ever heard of the “zone of proximal development (ZPD)?” Shanahan responds: I’ve heard of it, but if you think what I’ve written is contradictory to it, then I suspect you don’t really understand the ZPD construct or its relationship to this aspect of reading. Let’s start with the “instructional level” idea first. A century ago, it was common practice for reading teachers to place children in different reading books based on their abilities. For instance, one Wisconsin survey from 1918 shows that the majority ...

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15 August, 2020

Silent Reading Comprehension is Worth Teaching – Even at a Distance

Reading instruction is a faddish thing. We reading teachers can be as passionate and fickle as a gaggle of teens cooing over Billy Eilesh or TikTok. We go through periods of using textbooks or avoiding them; embracing phonics or eschewing it. The educational pendulum swings to and fro. A new reading program or approach is discovered, seems to be everywhere, then one wonders whatever happened to it…. Wisconsin Design, SRA cards, Whole Language, learning styles… the beat goes on.   One thing that never seems to change, however, is the ubiquity of “round robin reading.” This is the practice of having one child ...

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08 August, 2020

Distance Learning: Improving Instructional Interactions in Guided Reading Lessons

Teacher question: [Over the past two weeks, I’ve received several questions about distance learning and remote instruction. Here is just one example]:  “I may not be face to face with students for the entire year. Any help you can provide will be sincerely appreciated.” Shanahan’s response Let’s imagine that you have been asked to help improve reading achievement at a local school. You start out conducting classroom observations to see if you can figure out what could be improved that might make a difference. There are many things you can look for. I inclined towards the basics: How much reading instruction are the kids ...

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25 July, 2020

Will Challenging Text Put a Crimp in Students’ Motivation?

Teacher question: I know you advocate the idea of teaching reading with more complex text. But what about motivation? Won’t this approach discourage students? Shanahan response: I do support the idea of teaching reading with grade level texts. The theory that there is a magical way to match kids to books that will increase learning simply hasn’t panned out. Studies of the instructional level find that it at best makes no difference – that is, kids learn as much from grade level text as they do from instructional level ones. And, in the worst cases, the studies show that those easier text placements ...

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18 July, 2020

Lost Reading Instruction Blues: What's a Worried Parent to Do?

Parent question: As a parent, I’m worried about my children being out of school during the pandemic. Our district still hasn’t decided whether or how to open again this fall, so it isn’t even clear if they will be going back to school. They did their distance learning most of the time this spring, but those online meetings with the teachers and the assignments they had to do don’t seem to be enough. What should I be doing at home? Shanahan respond: Usually the questions I’m asked can be answered from research or my own experiences as a teacher or school administrator. That’s ...

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11 July, 2020

Clearing Up a Couple Important Misunderstandings about Fluency

Teacher question: Our school uses XXXXXXX [widely used commercial program] in the primary grades to teach fluency. I don’t like it because so many children can read fluently but don’t understand what they are reading. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on reading comprehension? Shanahan responds: Thanks for your question. I’ll answer it, but I suspect your premises may be wrong. I don’t buy the idea that our instructional choice is fluency or comprehension. We need to teach both. The simple view of reading emphasizes the important role each plays (Gough & Tunmer, 1987), and there is a substantial body of evidence showing the ...

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20 June, 2020

First You Have to Teach Them to be Disfluent Readers

Teacher question: You say that one-quarter or one-fifth of the reading instruction time should be spent on oral reading fluency. But I teach kindergarten and most of my kids can’t read, so fluency instruction doesn’t make any sense. What should I do instead? Shanahan responds: When we talk about oral reading fluency – or what I prefer to call text reading fluency – we’re referring to the ability to read text accurately, with automaticity, and appropriate expression or prosody. As such, text fluency is a mash up of a plethora of applied skills including decoding ability, knowledge of high frequency words, ability to multitask ...

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13 June, 2020

The Six Goals of an Ideal Vocabulary Curriculum

Teacher question: Could you recommend a strong vocabulary curriculum that my school could adopt? Shanahan responds: Because I work with various companies, I never recommend particular programs. However, while there are vocabulary programs, this is an area where teachers are often expected to go their own way. Given that, let me suggest the scope of an outstanding vocabulary curriculum. My focus here is on what needs to be taught, rather than on the instructional approaches needed to accomplish this. Overall, an ideal vocabulary curriculum would encourage the teaching of six things. First, the ideal vocabulary curriculum would aim to increase students’ knowledge of the meanings of ...

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One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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