Doug Lemov Interviews Tim Shanahan

  • 23 September, 2016

Usually these blog entries are replies to educators questions. Recently Doug Lemov interviewed me about reading instruction and posted it on his blog. We got into issues like reading strategy instruction, vocabulary assessment, close reading, and guided reading. Many of you know Doug's books, Teach Like a Champion and Reading Revisited. I was honored to talk to him and this will serve as a good introduction to Doug and his site as well as to useful info about these hot literacy topics.

Teach Like A Champion


See what others have to say about this topic.

Jennifer Apr 06, 2017 12:25 AM

I recently viewed a video with your take on setting a purpose for reading in intermediate grades. However, as you were speaking you were telling about your observations in K/1 classes where you undermined teachers conducting a picture walk with students (if you had to see a picture walk "one more time..,"). Being an elementary teacher for 18 years and then a 6th grade reading teacher I am not only offended about your flippant comment, but would never undermine your minuscule opinion on "picture walks" with students. It's called building schema, expanding vocabulary, and not to mention learning how to have accountable talk. It's amazing how much you can learn about students just by a "picture walk"! You should watch your own videos. I can't believe they are wanting teachers to watch those to help implement best practices! When was the last time you were actually in a classroom teaching? No wonder kids hate reading. Shame on you! 11/17/16

Timothy Shanahan Apr 06, 2017 12:25 AM


First, I appreciate that you took the time to post your hysterical rant.

Second, it is helpful that your note reveals the reason why you, with so much experience, would defend such a weak and potentially debilitating instructional practice.

You indicate that you believe that picture walks “build schema.” That statement suggests that you have little understanding of schema or what role schemata play in the reading process. Schemata are general and abstract knowledge structures that are quite distinct from the specifics of a single story or event. Thus, if children are going to read a story about a school of fish, it might be useful to prime their understanding of how fish live prior to reading the story, as that could help the students to use this knowledge to interpret the new information or to store it in memory more efficiently.

However, that isn’t what a picture walk does. It reviews the information from a particular story before the children even have a chance to try to read the story. With young children the technique is used so that young readers will not have to rely on their decoding skills when they read (since the pictures can tell the story so well). Better to teach kids to decode than to make reading an act of guessing words based on the pictures.

Finally, you seem to think that one wins arguments based on who they are rather than on their use of reason and evidence. Thus, you tout your 16 years of experience in classrooms as how you know picture walks to be a good idea. If I had never been in a classroom in my life, it still wouldn’t be a good idea to tell kids what the text says before giving them any chance to do the reading. You’d be amazed what you can learn about kids’ reading if you allow them to read a text and then talk to them about it.

Oh, and by your logic, since I have spent more than 40 years in classrooms (much more than your 16), then I must be a genius and you must be an idiot. Fortunately, that isn’t how we argue on this site.Shame on you.



Martha S. lLyon May 06, 2019 04:38 PM

Hi Tim: As part of my research on K-12 education, I've been searching for an explanation of "guided reading," as every reference to it I've seen thus far is rather vague. After reading your answer to Doug Lemov's question about "guided reading" and its specific parameters, I'm hoping you can clarify something for me.

The term's original meaning --- textbook lessons in which students would read stories or chapters under teacher supervision with the goal of fostering successful reading comprehension," as in "communal reading" --- I was reminded of how we were taught reading in the 1950s in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI. I don't remember specifics, only that I think we were divided into those groups based on skill level. I know I was always a good reader (found 2nd grade report card wherein the teacher praised my ability to read with rhythm), but I don't remember whether we received "pre-teaching of vocabulary" or "background information review" or whether we stopped periodically for discussions about what had been read.

But, then, today's use of the term was described as "small group reading instruction" usually "delivered at students' reading levels."

Since our 1950s reading instruction was done in small groups, is the only significant difference between the original application of the term and today's application of it the fact that today there's an erroneous focus on each student's reading level? That is, "guided reading" has always been conducted in small groups with students in the early years presumably challenged to read above their level while today's students aren't similarly challenged. Is that a correct statement that represents an accurate understanding of the facts?

Thanks for your anticipated assistance.

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

Comment *

Doug Lemov Interviews Tim Shanahan


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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