Have the Reading Wars Become Research Wars?

  • 19 May, 2019

Teacher question:

Although the Reading Wars might be over (somewhat), I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve entered the era of Research Wars. What’s a literacy coach to do? 

Shanahan response:

I think you’re onto something. I’ve been seeing the same thing.

Of course, the original “reading wars” back in the 1990s were research wars, too.

In those days, one side argued kids would learn to read best with the least amount of explicit teaching. According to them, kids could learn decoding and how to make sense of text—and pretty much anything else that might be needed—if student motivation were sufficiently high and the tasks and texts were sufficiently authentic. The way to accomplish those suffciencies, according to them, was by exposing kids to high quality literature through big books, little books, independent reading, and writing opportunities. The role of “teaching” in this model was one of observing and responding, following kids’ leads, and providing “just in time” guidance. In other words, the less teaching the better.

The other side argued back that more learning would result from explicit teaching that followed a planned sequence. They supported textbooks, lesson plans, spelling, and phonics instruction. They weren’t exactly against motivation, but then motivation was not particularly manifest in any of their prescriptions either.

Very different views of the world.

But as different as they were, both groups used the same metaphorical (and rhetorical) baseball bat with which to thrash their opponents. The “r” word and “research says” were and have been the lingua franca of both sides in those “wars”.

That was why the federal government stepped into the fray back in the 1990s. Congress asked that a panel be appointed, not to make recommendations on how to teach reading, but to determine just what it was that the research actually had to say about the teaching of reading.

That’s what the National Reading Panel (NRP) was all about. By law the panel could only make determinations of fact.

Basically, the result of their analyses was the conclusion that explicit teaching of phonemic awareness, phonics, oral reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension offered learning advantages to kids.

The reason the panel could determine those particular facts—and not some others—was the decision-making rules that the panel set for themselves.

The panel decided it would only conclude that an instructional approach worked if it were tried out and, as a result, kids did better in some way.

That’s why the panel limited its review to experimental studies; that is, studies that test the effectiveness of particular interventions or instructional efforts in real instructional situations.

Of course, that meant ignoring lots of studies. 

For example, there are many studies that show that better readers read more than poorer readers. Those data are often used as the supporting evidence for schemes that set aside classroom time for kids to read on their own. 

The problem with that evidence, of course, is that it can honestly be interpreted in either direction (a fundamental problem with all correlational studies). Is it that free reading practice leads to better reading or that the best readers simply choose to read more than the poor readers do?

The panel approached this issue by asking the practical instructional question: Do kids read better if they have independent reading time during the school day?

We looked at studies that had provided such support for some kids and not for others and determined that, no matter how valuable reading practice might be, that way of encouraging practice was not particularly effective. 

The NRP report settled things down for a while. The field quieted.

But as you point out, the reading wars seem to be upon us again, with everybody using the “r” word.

In recent days, I’ve been told that

  • phonics instruction, though necessary, hasn’t improved reading achievement;
  • it’s a bad idea to teach reading in preschool or kindergarten;
  • kids learn more reading on their own than working with teachers;
  • we need to provide more phonemic awareness instruction than the NRP concluded;
  • decodable text is essential;
  • morphology instruction can profitably replace phonics instruction in K-1;
  • teachers must have extensive training in linguistics if they are to successfully teach phonics;
  • comprehension strategy instruction is hurtful;
  • synthetic phonics is more effective than analytic phonics;
  • kids, if they are to learn to spell, need instruction in etymology;
  • reading success requires lots of free reading time during the school day;
  • particular “Tier 2 intervention” couldn’t possibly work, despite What Works Clearinghouse conclusions to the contrary… and on and on and on.

Claim after claim after claim, all under the apparent guise (or more accurately, the imaginative or hopeful guise) of science.

Some of these claims seem highly unlikely to me, because existing research has already demonstrated them not to be true. Some of these claims could be right, but we won’t really know until studies are done. Ideas can’t be rejected out-of-hand just because of an absence of determining evidence. Perhaps, someday those claims will be transformed into the kind of research-based ideas that should be incorporated in our teaching.

What can a literacy coach (or the rest of us) do?

Ask a lot of questions.

When someone says, “We will never raise reading achievement until we     (fill in the blank).”You need to ask, “Is there any evidence showing that doing that results in more learning for kids?” If they tell you that some reading guru said it (so it must be true), or about a personal observation of theirs or of some Heinemann author, or of a research study that didn’t actually try it out, then grab your wallet and run.

Even official reports with lots of research input need such scrutiny. Such documents often start out with research-supported assertions but devolve into more questionable claims. It is hard for readers who don’t already know the literature to separate wheat from chaff. Each of the contentions is supported by impressive looking references and citations; only those in the know or who have the time and resources to check it out can tell the difference between those cites of relevant empirical studies and those that are no more than opinion pieces or research only tangentially related to the claim.

As serious—and intense—as these literacy arguments may be, the governance issues may be even more important.

Educators must have ways of adjudicating curricular disputes without setting everyone’s hair on fire. And, school administrators, who too often buy into the shiniest new object, have to be able to protect themselves from bad choices.

When people make claims about what works in reading, they shouldn’t be allowed to win the argument without convincing evidence that their scheme has worked. That means that two measurably-equivalent groups of kids should have been taught—one with the usual approach and one with the “great new idea.” At the end of the day, the great-new-idea group should be successful before we decide that it really is a great idea.

And, because of the diversity of learners and instructional circumstances, more such studies are better than fewer and studies with kids who are like the ones we teach are particularly valuable. Often, something can be made to work in one situation or with a particular group of learners, but the results can’t be replicated anywhere else. If someone tells me third-graders need a particular regime of instruction, I’d be a lot less skeptical if the support study hadn’t been carried out with the Ed Psych subject pool at the local university.

Remember that the kind of research evidence that I’m calling for only guarantees that an approach can be effective; not that it necessarily will be in your hands. Educational research reveals what’s possible, not what will always succeed. Positive research results point us in what should be the most promising directions, but instructional diligence, effort, and wisdom will still be needed if kids are going to be 21st century literate.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Harriett May 19, 2019 07:17 PM

Tim, this is so important. Thank you! Of the claims you list, this one--morphology instruction can profitably replace phonics instruction in K-1--is the one I've been investigating ever since your blog about morphology 18 months ago. Recently, I discovered researcher Kathleen Rastle, who has done considerable work in this area, and I found a wonderful article, “The Place of Morphology in Learning to Read English.” In it she discusses the K-1 instruction controversy and ends with the same appeal to empirical research that you advocate:

"Thus, morphological regularities are not relevant to the overwhelming proportion of tokens experienced in the first year of reading instruction. Of those words that comprise more than one morpheme, 86% contain the suffixes ‘-ed’ or ‘-s’ that attach to stems (Masterson et al., 2010). Thus, Masterson et al. (2010) argued that instruction on this limited set of suffixes may be appropriate during this period. This recommendation is broadly consistent with the approach to reading instruction in England, where the National Curriculum specifies that alongside systematic phonics, simple suffixes such as ‘-s’, ‘-er’, ‘-ing’, ‘-ed’ should be taught as part of the reading and spelling curriculum by the conclusion of 1st grade (when children are 5 or 6). The English National Curriculum then advances during the later years of primary school to higher-level morphological regularities that include a wide range of prefixes and suffixes, their functions or meanings, and any relevant spelling rules pertaining to their use (Department for Education, 2014). Further corpus analyses would be needed to assess how well this approach to morphological instruction supports the texts that children of different ages are reading and using to practice their reading skills; and ultimately, the evaluation of any reading method should be subject to empirical evidence."

Timothy Shanahan May 19, 2019 09:26 PM

Thanks for this, Harriet. I always appreciate that kind of confirmation. There are a couple of nice studies showing that adding morphology study to phonics early on is helpful to kids and I think that is valuable and worth doing. But there are no studies showing that with morphology study you won't need phonics despite the claim. If someone did a study replacing phonics with morphology and compared with a control group that only did phonics... then I might change my mind about this... but not without such evidence. It's an additive, not a replacement--until we know better.

Jo-Anne Gross May 19, 2019 09:58 PM

Does Letrs training by Louisa Moats show districts are improving their literacy results?

Timothy Shanahan May 19, 2019 11:44 PM

In some it does, in many it doesn’t and as important as phonics instruction is there are no studies showing that LETRS increases the chances of phonics instruction working.

Anna Gill May 19, 2019 11:46 PM

The fact that research can disprove the current practices of the teaching of reading means that these practices can not be established as the 'best practice.' That is how scientific research works. Let's look at it a different way. Let's start with the physiological science and the neuroscience and build a theory of language. Then we can establish that theory. Once the language theory is established, then we can look at the best practice of teaching of reading. I propose that we should look at the theory of language circuitry to start.

Sandie Barrie Blackley May 20, 2019 12:29 AM

QUESTION: What's a literacy coach to do? ANSWER: Find a way to provide research-back intervention with as much fidelity as possible, to as many students as possible. Governance battles will drone on, but kids can't wait. Plus, governance battles are frustrating and stressful for professionals. We need to keep working toward the best use of tax dollars (government-supported) for teaching literacy, but -meanwhile-- parents will beat a pathway to effective (research-backed) approaches.

Elizabeth Robins May 20, 2019 01:34 AM

Once again I see you as sitting on the fence, loquaciously discussing the big picture rather than helping the respondent with informed concrete advice about current research.
You are the a professor emeritus, you were the head of the NRP, you have thought long and hard through subsequent years about the best beginning reading approach for the youngest students.
At this late stage, nigh on 20 years after the NRP report, can you not reply with step by step information about evidence-based research showing how to prevent nigh on 50 percent of American children continuing to fail to read proficiently, including around 30 percent treading water at basic and, sadly, another 20 percent hovering around basic level or worse? As you must realize, children’s future well-being is at stake. It is past time to leap off that fence.

Lori May 20, 2019 02:38 AM

I have collected data through out this past school year that show what balances literacy can do for a group of 21 Kindergarten students. I used a lot of Cunningham’s 4 Block recommendations, Lucy’s reading and Writing workshop, and a little Orton in the literacy framework every day! I’d love to discuss my results!

Michael Pye May 20, 2019 07:23 AM

I thought systemic phonics was shown to be more effective than analytical. Would you mind expanding on this in the future? Namely the difference between the two and a summary of the research.

Maria May 20, 2019 12:03 PM

I have recently been thinking about the "r" word in my profession as a literacy specialist. Everyone is throwing around the idea of research-based strategies, methods, and techniques, but no one is asking a fundamental question. Whose research is valid? Our district supports the reading gurus from a specific company, but I have found some of their ideas to be at odds with the results of the reading panel report. It is frustrating for me as a literacy coach, and I have decided to only read articles and books from trusted researchers who are clearly "in the know" about what is true research and false research. However, even that is difficult because there are many reports that sound legitimate, but they are not. My quest for better scholarly literature began when I realized no one in our district responded to my question about having a copy of the reading panel report. I obtained the report myself and began reading it and following up on recommendations by the authors of the report and people they are affiliated with.

The other problem for me is that the educational beliefs of many educators outweigh their knowledge of the science of reading. As we have so many students who are struggling readers, it is important for me to find solutions that work for various groups of students. And it's not always the one-size fits all leveled books used in guided reading. However, it is difficult to sell that to educators when they have so much "research" that supports their ideas. We are truly in a renewed research war, and I'm determined to learn more so I can separate the "wheat from the chaff" in the literature.

Lisa May 20, 2019 01:26 PM

My school district is investigating using LETRS training to strengthen phonics instruction grades K - 2. I believe our district is in need of some type of training to ensure teachers are approaching phonics instruction in the same way and are up-to-date on successful teaching techniques and strategies. We are open to other training programs but haven't found many that are as popular as LETRS. Are there others anyone could recommend that we are missing?

Scott Baird May 20, 2019 01:48 PM

I agree, correlation studies does not mean the idea or strategy has been truly tested. For instance, the idea of advance phonemic awareness has been an idea pushed with cor relational studies that support it, but no direct studies with control groups involved.

Louisa Moats May 20, 2019 03:58 PM

Tim, more clarification is warranted about the impact of LETRS PD on student learning . First, we state emphatically that knowledge of scientifically sound information about reading development, reading differences, and reading/spelling instruction across all components is only one aspect of what must be done to improve outcomes. We are the first to say that teachers need good instructional materials, supportive administrators, and ongoing coaching to apply what they are learning, and often we have no control over those factors. So if LETRS has no observable impact on outcomes, a lot of other questions need to be asked about what is and is not being done. Furthermore, teachers need time (more than one year) to learn a lot of information and concepts that, we find, are virtually unknown by most teachers at the outset

It is generally agreed, and common sense, that teachers cannot teach well what they do not understand themselves. For example, Catherine Snow described the requisite knowledge base simply by analyzing what reading instruction should include: Snow, C. E., Griffin, P., & Burns, S. M. (Eds.) (2005). Knowledge to support the teaching of reading: Preparing teachers for a changing world. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Aaron, Joshi, Quatroche, (2008) made similar arguments in Becoming a Professional Reading Teacher.

We do have evidence that teachers whose understanding of language structure and phonics is very weak are not effective, even when they are given a program with decent scripting and materials for instruction (Piasta, S. B., Connor McDonald, C., Fishman, B. J., & Morrison, F. J. (2009). Teachers’ knowledge of literacy concepts, classroom practices, and student reading growth. Scientific Studies of Reading, 13, 224–248.)

LETRS addresses far more than foundational reading skills instruction. Where sufficient time has been devoted, where supports are in place, and the learning of teachers has been chronicled, students have improved significantly. For example, our NICHD project involved 4 years in DC and Houston with high-risk, low performing students who entered kindergarten in the lowest quartile on average, and finished in the middle of the average range nationally. The research team concluded that professional development (which was the precursor for LETRS) was very effective in producing this growth. A detailed report of the results and the complex interactions of teacher quality, time on task, and component of instruction is here: Foorman, B.R., Schatschneider, C., Eakin, M.N., Fletcher, J.M., & Moats, L.C., & Francis, D.J. (2006). The impact of instructional practices in grades 1 and 2 on reading and spelling achievement in high poverty schools. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 31, 1-29.

Joanne Carlisle studied the impact of a truncated version of LETRS 1st edition on some Reading First schools' achievement, verifying the importance of coaching for implementation: Carlisle, J., & Berebitsky, D. (2011). Literacy coaching as a component of professional development. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 24, 773–800. Carlisle, J., Correnti, R., Phelps, G., & Zeng, J. (2009). Exploration of the contribution of teachers’ knowledge about reading to their students’ improvement in reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 22, 457–486.

And Deb McCutchen did a couple of studies showing the positive impact of teacher knowledge on students' acquisition of foundational reading skills and reading comprehension. I helped to design the 2-week training given to the teachers and the content was very similar to what is now in LETRS: McCutchen, D.; Green, L., Abbott, R. D., & Sanders, E.A. (2009) Further evidence for teacher knowledge: supporting struggling readers in grades three through five. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 22, 401–423.
McCutchen, D., Abbott, R. D., Green, L. B., Beretvas, S. N., Cox, S., Potter, N. S., et al. (2002). Beginning literacy: Links among teacher knowledge, teacher practice, and student learning. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 69–86.

So I think the right question to ask is, "Under what circumstances, with what level and type of content knowledge, with what implementation supports, and for what duration of time, will teachers obtain optimal results with all students?"

Donna Scherr May 20, 2019 07:29 PM

Thank you Dr. Shanahan. Could you tackle the necessity of the decoding text debate and the assertion that students need more phonemic awareness in future blogs?
Thank you!

Dona May 20, 2019 11:20 PM

Tim, This is my first visit to your blog and as a reading specialist, I have tried to "balance" my approach to teaching literacy. You said, "Remember that the kind of research evidence that I’m calling for only guarantees that an approach can be effective; not that it necessarily will be in your hands. " This captures all too well what I see day-to-day. We educators need to try to be effective even when we don't succeed. That old cliche of, don't throw the baby out with the bath water, still comes into play. If you have a method that is tried-and-true in theory and research...fail if you will but don't stop using it. Hone it. Respond to your learners. Perfect it. Just because someone has something shinier or bigger or prettier... doesn't make it better. Don't abort the ship. Keep consistent balance ... kids are relying on you.

Jillian Zocher May 21, 2019 10:40 AM

Dear Shanahan

Thank you for this amazing blog. Please may I have your permission to include it in this year's Australian Dyslexia Learning Difference Handbook. It is a breathe of fresh air to read this. I face so much animosity from what I call 'literacy purists' /bullies regarding my conventions and a different approach.

Tory Callahan May 21, 2019 11:57 AM

The "research" or "reading" wars go back before the 1990's. These are interminable, intractable issues. I recommend for summer reading "Learning to Read: The Great Debate," an education best-seller, by Harvard's Dr. Jeanne Chall (1921-1999). First published in 1967 when "the debate on beginning reading was especially heated," it was updated in 1983 when things were quieter and then in 1996 when, as Tim writes, things heated up again.

The NRP Report was Congress saying to us: get your act together! We haven't yet managed to do that, have we? Still, sadly, the single most powerful predictor of student success is what a child comes to school already knowing.

I was there when the NPR report was released here in Indianapolis (2000) to intense opposition. It flamed the fires here rather than settling things down. "War" is the right word for sure. If it seemed quieter, it was due to subterfuge at least in my state.

Tory Callahan May 21, 2019 12:21 PM

I just took out my very fat folder of "Moats Notes" as I long-ago labeled them. They go back to the 1990's and span the development of Louisa's work that eventually was commercialized as LETRS. My last LETRS manual is copyright 2006. Louisa's work, as I learned it, sought to provide the foundational knowledge teachers needed because as Tim well puts it "Educators must have ways of adjudicating curricular disputes." How can you evaluate literacy curriculum without thorough knowledge about language? Louisa filled in critical knowledge gaps. Teachers were thirsty for this basic knowledge which they had not been taught in their university training.

Maybe LETRS is a "program" now but it didn't originate as such and I didn't learn it that way. It was critical knowledge teachers needed to discern what a child needed instructionally.

This is important because we can't devolve our practice to "programs." We need to be more careful about the nature of evidence collecting. I love what Tim wrote: "Ideas can't be rejected out-of-hand just because of an absence of determining evidence. Perhaps, someday, those claims will be transformed into the kind of research-based ideas that should be incorporated in our teaching." This idea generation is propelled by knowledge. The nature of science, based on prior discovery, is the ongoing study of new but well-conceived questions.

What I learned from Louisa over those many years helped equip me to now see where conventional practices are problematic and what we can do about it.

Sam Bommarito May 21, 2019 12:50 PM

I agree that it is essential that literacy practices be research based/informed by research. An observation and a question. The observation is that it is critical to review things like the research design and the testing instruments used while evaluating the worth of studies. A specific issue centers on claims of enormous gains in "reading" made by those whose studies use tests of decoding like the DIbels. Such studies may be useful as a first step, but solid conclusions require the use of actual tests of comprehension. I've taken to the habit of recommending that before adopting programs districts look for evidence of long term gains in reading achievement as measured by widely accepted test of reading comp. My question is this- where does qualitative research,/fit into the picture. Such research can give insight into things that strict empirical studies cannot. Is there a place for such work to be considered real research. Looking forward to you answer. BTW- using while looking for answers around how it is best to allocate instructional time in literacy found your posts on that subject you did a while back. They are incredibly useful- thanks for those!

Adrian May 21, 2019 02:30 PM

Thank you for addressing the "elephant in the room" in regards to approaching science-based reading and literacy instruction.
The responses also are warranted for reflection.
I look forward to further thoughts...Thank you again!

Maureen Felix, EdD May 21, 2019 08:00 PM

Literacy improvement in students depends on the quality of instruction and the depth of knowledge of those providing the instruction. Both require informed supervision, on-going attention to literacy/literacy coaching, and the like. It is not productive to cast any training or approach as positive or negative unless you have insights into implementation.

Jennifer Botello May 22, 2019 07:46 PM

I’m interested in the research about independent reading- specifically that the research cited is not the same as independent reading with teacher prompting during conferring. Doesn’t Hattie’s research support that feedback is effective? Especially when a teacher provides feedback at the point of difficulty , over time. I’m wondering aloud if we should look into this aspect of independent reading. Principals have taken the “ independent reading doesn’t work” and have tried to apply it to independent reading in balanced literacy. It’s not the same animal. Prompting during conferring is more individualized feedback and help. I’m thinking of conducting a small study on teacher prompting ( should I say that aloud?)

When we think of research - we think of groups of children over time. Why not think of this one individual, then this one, then this one? It is ART because it changes based on the child and Teachers have to figure out the puzzle. Yes Ive been a practitioner for over 27 years with reading specialist certification. I think the Reading Recovery training I had makes me focus on working with each individual child. Some small group instruction may include phonological approaches if prescribed for particular children. My view is that teaching reading is BOTH an ART and a science. This is why “science of reading” thrown out to practitioners can be misleading . They may believe it because it says “science.”

Also is the reading research based on whole group classroom instruction, on Tier 2 intervention instruction or Tier 3 more intensive specialized approaches- like those for children diagnosed with dyslexia? There is a lot of Reading Recovery research that is proven. It might be interesting to research the different types of instruction provided. The discussion in the 1990s ( when I first graduated) was a one size is better for all approach.( the Reading wars) Maybe now as Dr. Sam Bommarito noted recently in his blog, we need to evolve.
Try not to beat me up too much! (smile) I’m new to higher ed as I spent most of my career working with children and leading schools in literacy. I’m spending my summer reading.

Timothy Shanahan May 23, 2019 10:01 PM

Ms. Robbins--

I don't think it's fair to say that I sit on the fence on these issues or that I've sat on my duff for years thinking about these things (also, I wasn't head of NRP). After NRP, I led the reading programs in the nation's third largest school district where I imposed mandates concerning the amounts of instruction and the content of instruction required for student success and provided huge amounts of professional development. I also helped write the Common Core State Standards and have taken a huge role in working with states and school districts providing direction. Read my blog if you want to know what to do about the reading levels of American kids. I'm very specific.


Timothy Shanahan May 23, 2019 10:08 PM


Your results might seem wonderful but we can't evaluate the "opportunity cost" like that. That's where research comes in. You might have gotten great results with your kids in your situation, but what if you had done it differently? It might have been even better, That's why scientists will compare equivalent groups of kids to see what different approaches provide. Generally, across large numbers of such studies more explicit approaches than what you are using tend to be marginally more effective (something that even Lucy Calkins seems to have conceded--look at her new phonics program).


Timothy Shanahan May 23, 2019 10:19 PM


Synthetic phonics teaches students to sound each letter and to blend these sounds together. Analytic phonics focuses on larger units of sound (such as onsets and rimes-- /r/-/ake/ and using words as analogies for each other (if I can read lake, then I should be able to read rake, too). They both have been found to be effective in research studies... comparisons of their effects across sets of studies says that synthetic phonics is associated with slightly higher amounts of learning, but the differences aren't statistically significant (in other words, just chance differences). That means either approach can work. I have written previous blog entries about this--just search for synthetic phonics on my site and you can get more information.


Timothy Shanahan May 23, 2019 10:22 PM


A lot of the gurus are stating opinions, and the citations they use are just cites of the opinions of other people who agree with them. Research requires the collection and analysis of data in rules-based ways. I fear that much of what teachers think is research is just the opinions of some nice people who have no real idea of what works best.

Timothy Shanahan May 23, 2019 10:26 PM


I'm not saying not to use LETRS, just that I know of no research saying that it is effective. Louisa Moats has suggested some studies here among these comments (thank you, Louisa) and I will be taking a look to see what I think. The studies that found phonics instruction to be effective, often provided some kind of PD to the teachers concerning the instruction of those programs, but typically the PD was not as ambitious as LETRS (that doesn't make LETRS bad--I'll never be against people knowing stuff--but it may be overkill.


Timothy Shanahan May 23, 2019 10:28 PM


Thanks for this information. I'll check it out and respond soon and, of course, readers with access to research libraries can check these out themselves.


Timothy Shanahan May 23, 2019 10:45 PM


I've written about this PA issue before, but may revisit because of your question. Research has found that it is beneficial to get kids to a level at which they can easily/fluently fully segment. It has been claimed that kids would benefit from even more advanced PA--and that might be right, but it is a claim that lack empirical test. I personally would not increase PA training beyond what the research has identified, but would encourage researchers to test these as yet untested hypotheses.


Timothy Shanahan May 24, 2019 05:06 PM

Jennifer-- There is absolutely no evidence supporting the use of "independent reading" within balanced literacy. There is no evidence showing that 1-minute conferences build reading comprehension abilities. Those are popular, but that doesn't mean they are effective. I've written extensively on this site about the research on independent reading and suggest that you take a look at that.


Timothy Shanahan May 24, 2019 05:14 PM


Actually, "it is not productive to cast any training or approach as positive or negative" unless you have evidence of whether it has been successful in teaching kids to read. There is no question that program effectiveness depends on a lot of things (who is being taught, how well the teachers are prepared to teach them, etc.), but that should be as true of control or comparison groups as it is of the interventions being proposed. I'm convinced that phonics and phonemic awareness instruction are generally beneficial for young readers, because there are so many independent studies in which such instruction has shown an advantage to the learners. I'm not willing to give the same acknowledgement to approaches found not to work or whose claims are based on logic alone (this must work because...).

Timothy Shanahan May 24, 2019 05:26 PM


Thanks for your thoughtful comments. There is certainly a difference between increasing teacher knowledge about language (or anything else) and claiming research support for a program of instruction.


What Are your thoughts?

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

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Have the Reading Wars Become Research Wars?


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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