Literacy Blogs

14 January, 2023

Teaching Reading to Students Who Experience Trauma

Teacher question: I’m interested in whether personal grief trauma and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) effect reading comprehension or learning to read. Over the years, I have had students who have lost parents or siblings, and some who are witnesses to (or victims of violence). What does research say about these students’ reading ability and what should we be doing to make sure they learn to read as well as possible? Shanahan response: You’re not the only one who has wondered about this. Researchers, educators, researchers, and lawyers have all taken a swing at it – conducting correlational studies, crafting potentially valuable instructional responses, and ...

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07 January, 2023

Is Emily Hanford right?

Teacher question: Our school district is all abuzz about “Sold a Story,” a documentary about reading instruction, and the response it is getting from some reading experts. We’ve been surprised that you haven’t written about this. We’re sure you have an opinion. Would you be willing to share it? RELATED: Monitoring the Reading Comprehension of Older Students Shanahan responds: I admire Emily Hanford and her work. I’ve been interviewed several times by her over the years. She always has treated me respectfully. She asks probing questions and relies on relevant research for the most part. In my experience, her quotes are accurate and fitting. That doesn’t ...

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09 December, 2022

Monitoring the Reading Comprehension of Older Students

Teacher question: I’m writing to you about high school progress monitoring for reading comprehension. Our school has learning goals for Reading Comprehension. Every two weeks, students read an on-grade level passage and answer 5 multiple-choice questions that assess literal comprehension and main idea. Our data are not matching well with other data that we have (such as course passing rates and state assessments). What might be a more effective progress monitoring process, that go beyond the literal level, and that would provide information the teachers could use to improve instruction. RELATED: Shared Reading in the Structured Literacy Era Shanahan response: I’m not surprised that approach ...

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03 December, 2022

Best Literacy Charities 2023

’Tis the time of the year, that Shanahan on Literacy recommends literacy charities for your consideration. Users of this site have deep concerns about literacy education, so it makes sense to donate to charities that distribute books to children or provide reading instruction to those in need. Every year, I consult Charity Navigator (U.S.) and Charity Intelligence (Canada) to identify the top-rated literacy charities (4-star in U.S., and 5-star in Canada). You can be sure that the charities listed here: Are international, national, or multi-regional in scope, Focus entirely or mainly on charitable action devoted to providing books and literacy instruction to populations ...

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12 November, 2022

Shared Reading in the Structured Literacy Era

Teacher question: Can you provide clarification on how to promote shared reading in the structured literacy era and how that differs from shared reading in the balanced literacy era. I would think a teacher could certainly initially read the text aloud to students to model fluency and expression, but then must ensure students can get the words off the page and reread by decoding the words, rather than parroting the teacher or memorizing the shared reading text that may be a rhyme/song that is catchy. Shanahan response: There are many reasons to read to children. Most of them are pretty sensible. Some are more ...

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05 November, 2022

Comprehension Instruction That Really Helps – Teaching Cohesion

Teacher question: One of my colleagues told us that we should not be teaching guided reading lessons or comprehension skills or strategies. We’re using a core reading program that includes those kinds of things. He says that the science of reading proves that we would get higher reading achievement by teaching more social studies and science (he’s our science teacher) and dropping the comprehension instruction that we are providing. He’s really vocal about this. Can you help us shut him up? RELATED: Shared Reading in the Structured Literacy Era Shanahan response: Your colleague is partly right. Knowledge about the world is a valuable commodity in ...

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15 October, 2022

Teaching Students to Use Context

I’m writing this blog because of the disarray I see over the topic of context instruction and the poor instructional practice that it seems to manifest. One confusion is already well recognized, but merits some mention here. The other befuddlement usually goes without remark, and yet it, too, has unfortunate consequences for young readers. Let’s dispatch the first problem forthwith. This one I’ll refer to as the three-cueing problem. Research found that when students err in reading a word, they often try to use various kinds of information to resolve the difficulty. Essentially, when something goes wrong, readers try to make things ...

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08 October, 2022

Won’t Student Motivation Be Damaged If We Teach with Complex Text?

Teacher question: I understand your claims that teaching students with grade level texts instead of instructional level texts increases children’s opportunities to learn. However, what about children’s emotional needs, self-esteem, motivation, and self-starting skills when text is challenging. Children who struggle with sight words or sounding out words who are given a hard piece of text will shut down and refuse to try or will act out in the classroom. I always thought that the purpose of avoiding frustration level texts was to avoid frustrating children who were trying to learn to read. What am I missing? RELATED: Teaching Students to Use Context Shanahan ...

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17 September, 2022

Phonics and Flexibility

Phonics and Flexibility - Can They Really Go Together? Teacher question: I am surprised that you are such a staunch advocate of phonics. English is a very complex language and teaching young children the sounds and letters won’t change that. Most letters and spelling patterns in English are not regular (not only the Dolch words, but lots of other words, too). It is just discouraging having to spend so much time teaching skills that can’t possibly work. I’ve taught for a long time, and I feel so sorry for these children given what I am required to teach now. I am so ...

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10 September, 2022

What do you think of “phonics first” or “phonics only” in the primary grades?

Teacher question: At my school, the district inservice has made a big deal out of Scarborough’s rope. Nevertheless, when it comes to daily instruction, we (the primary grade teachers) have been told that decoding is the most important thing and that we are to emphasize that. They’ve sent us to LETRS training, purchased instructional programs on phonics, and require testing students’ “nonsense word fluency” frequently. At what grade levels is it appropriate to teach the “language comprehension” portions of the rope? Shanahan responds: In 1915, near where I’m writing this, a passenger ship, the SS Eastland sank, drowning 844 passengers – many of ...

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