How to Organize Daily Instruction, Part II

  • Daily 5
  • 24 May, 2014


Last week I explained that it makes sense to organize instruction in ways that allots time to learning goals—rather than to instructional activities. It is not that teachers don’t need activities, just that activities don’t have a one-to-one relationship with instructional outcomes. That's why approaches like Daily 5 and CAFE are simplistic and don't have an especially powerful relationship with learning. Those approaches get teachers aimed at particular classroom activities, without sufficient attention to the outcomes.

  How should teachers determine which activities to use towards these essential ends? Research.

  For example, imagine you required 30 minutes per day for paired reading (an activity). Research indicates that paired reading can be an effective way of teaching fluency so that sounds pretty good. But it is not the only way to teach it: radio reading, echo reading, reading while listening, and repeated reading are all good, too. As are related activities that can help with some aspects of fluency such as sight vocabulary review or reading parsed text (helps with prosody). Wouldn’t it be better to devote the time to developing oral reading fluency and leave the activity choices to the teacher?

  I indicated that I would devote slices of time to word learning (not word study—that’s an activity), oral reading fluency, reading comprehension, and writing. Why those? Because for every one of those there is research showing that such instruction can improve overall reading achievement. There is also research showing that at least some struggling readers may have a specific learning problem in one of those areas (but not the others). Later, I'll be more specific about these categories as goals, but for now the categories are enough. 

  Increasingly, research is suggesting that oral language development is implicated in reading development. Not yet any studies showing that oral language instruction improves overall reading achievement—but getting closer. Some educators might want to divide classroom literacy instruction by 5, to accommodate that additional goal.

  Another possibility: many of my colleagues believe it is essential for teachers to motivate; to teach kids to love reading. Again, no research showing much of an impact on overall reading achievement but if you are committed to that outcome, building it into the time structure would be appropriate.

  I wouldn’t add either of those goals at this time, as I’d wait for the research to make the case. However, whether I stayed to the goals already mentioned or added these, I would still structure the time around the goals and not the activities. It doesn’t make sense to set a self-selected reading time, because this alone is not a very robust response to the motivation goal.

  I would also stress that this approach calls for set amounts of time devoted to particular goals—not set periods of time. What I mean by that is that it would be okay for a teacher to spend 30 minutes per day teaching vocabulary, but that it wouldn’t have to be done from 9:00-9:30. The point isn’t to fit instruction into boxes, but to ensure students get sufficient amounts of teaching. Thus, a teacher might include a 5-minute vocabulary review at the beginning of the day, a 10-minute vocabulary discussion focusing on connotation during close reading, and a 15-minute direct instruction period with new words in the afternoon. Not as simplistic as CAFÉ or the Daily 5, but sensible in terms of what it takes to successfully teach students to read.

  My next entry will explain how this time-based approach can work with a core reading program or with Common Core. Until then, keep your eyes on the prize; emphasize learning goals, not instructional activities, and use research to set those goals and to identify activities worth spending time on (in other words activities found to accomplish particular goals).


  My next entry will explain how this time-based approach can work with a core reading program or with Common Core. Until then, keep your eyes on the prize; emphasize learning goals, not instructional activities, and use research to set those goals and to identify activities worth spending time on (in other words activities found to accomplish particular goals).






See what others have to say about this topic.

Mrs. King Apr 01, 2017 12:57 AM

I feel like you may be missing the effectiveness of the Daily 5. I teach Kindergarten and long periods of direct instruction just is not effective. The students have very short attention spans and the value of play is well documented. Daily 5 "activities" are purposeful learning opportunities to practice in a manner that appears to be "play" to the child. The materials for these activities are introduced through purposeful instruction and students are taught how to use the materials to help them work towards a specific learning goal. As with anything, some teachers are better at this than others and it takes practice to really do this type of instruction well. I teach my students that the best way to become a good reader is to practice skills they learn in reading group and whole group instruction on their own. They need extended periods of time to practice and "play" with these new skills.
The Daily 5 grew from a need to help manage student independent work time, teacher mini lessons, and small group instruction. Your terminology of calling the Daily 5 a "scheme" is misleading. Some of the more effective ideas you offer are exactly some of the activities my students are engaged in during the Daily 5. The Daily 5 for me is way to manage my time and fit everything in each day. Teachers have to be creative to manage the increasing curriculum demands and still remain developmentally appropriate.

Anonymous Apr 01, 2017 12:57 AM

Part 1 -

I appreciate your opinion on Daily 5 and CAFE, and if anything I feel it is a good representation of the belief of someone who does not fully understand it. I would not expect you, an author to a reading program, to support a system that believes reading instruction cannot be packaged. These conversations are good, however, because when educators reach disequilibrium in their beliefs they discuss, collaborate, research, and work to find whats best for students. This blog post encourages just this. I am in hopes that those reading this post will fully listen to your opinion, and think for themselves before making any decisions.

In your post you state you are "not a fan" of Daily 5 and CAFE because they focus on the activities and not the learning. This couldn't be further from the truth. If you are in a classroom that misrepresents Daily 5, you may see this, but in a classroom true to the foundational elements of Daily 5, you will see that the learning is the entire focus. This is one of the main reasons why Daily 5 was created. It was created as a means to reduce "activity work" and truly engage learners in authentic literacy work. The Daily 5 are not "stations" or "centers," but instead they are five research based tasks children can choose from. The five tasks include: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Work on Writing, Listen to Reading, and Word Work. No one can argue that children need to read to become better readers and write to become better writers... that is what the authentic work of Daily 5 entails. You even state, "children should spend 2-3 hours per day dealing with literacy." Daily 5 promotes this same belief.

Another idea you present in your post is that you focus on the outcome versus the methods. Again, I believe this comes from your misunderstanding of Daily 5 and CAFE. Anyone who has read and understands this structure, knows a Daily 5/CAFE classroom is extremely focused on learning outcomes, and these structures provide teachers and students methods to achieve these outcomes. In a Daily 5/CAFE classroom, both teachers and students are focused on outcomes as they goal set and work together throughout the year. Methods cannot be overlooked as they are an essential component to the learning process.

Finally, you state we, "have multiple goals in literacy and they all compete for instructional time." You go on to say, "I believe that it makes sense to divide the available instructional time among these different goals." You go on to discuss the goals and subgoals, and finish by saying, "Teachers should provide students with explicit instruction and lots of practice time in each of these four learning areas on a daily basis." You encourage teachers to base instruction on the learning goals in each of these areas. This belief only supports Daily 5 and CAFE, it does not clash with it in any way. CAFE highlights the major goals of literacy and the brain research behind Daily 5 reinforces the need for brief, explicit instruction to enhance student understanding.

I have taught many years and have went from using my packaged reading program in isolation in the beginning (my poor students) to furthering my education and growing in my practice to truly use best practices in literacy instruction. Packaged programs, such as the one you author, can be an excellent resource. But you and I, along with everyone reading this post, all know that any program/ structure/system can fail if not used with fidelity.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 12:58 AM

Thanks for this. I appreciate it. However, I do not agree with your position on programs or packaged curriculum generally. Although I have no doubt that you may be able to develop instructional lessons that are as effective as those in a commercial program (the research says that teachers are capable of doing so), but I don't believe that every teacher needs to start every lesson from scratch (too much duplicative work to be truly productive) and I don't believe that it is possible to systematically improve instruction if every teacher is doing her own thing (even if those things aren't bad in themselves). I appreciate your position.

Anonymous Apr 01, 2017 12:59 AM

Part 2 -

As someone who has followed your blog for years, I encourage you to truly learn more about Daily 5 and CAFE before you bash it. A large majority of what you speak about on this site supports the beliefs of Daily 5 and CAFE, and posts like this one only highlight your inexperience of seeing it used properly in the classroom. Any teacher who has used it with fidelity and has seen the impact on student achievement would attest to this.

When is the last time you taught in an elementary classroom, Dr. Shanahan? Have you even read the books, Daily 5 and CAFE? Have you attempted to further your learning in this area before making such bold statements about both systems? You have many teachers that count on your knowledgebase when making decisions in their classroom and when you misrepresent Daily 5 and CAFE, this is not happening.

I am not asking you to support it. I wouldn't expect the author of a reading series to support a system that says there is no "one size fits all" program. I just wish you would learn more before turning teachers away from a system that can make such a profound impact on student achievement. The disservice you are doing is really to the children.

Michele Tuvell Apr 01, 2017 01:00 AM

Can you explain in more detail what you mean by learning goal vs. activity? I think you mean that during word work time their are several different activites that can help students get better at learning about words. And word study is just one of those ways. Is this right?

Anonymous Apr 01, 2017 01:00 AM

Hi Tim,
My head is still spinning from encountering at the IRA convention all the literacy experts whose work I cite in the lit review for my doc dissertation. I only wish there were more sessions, workshops, roundtables etc. devoted to postsecondary developmental reading and writing.
I have used some of the Kentucky modules you recommended last year along with EngageNY and California's ERWC. Now I want to add a more directed word study component, as many of my students are non-native speakers of English and would benefit from explicit focus on words - I always tell them that learning one prefix or suffix gives them more bang for the buck! That's a concept they appreciate!!
Any recommendations? My time with them is limited to one semester and their needs are great: Fluency, reading comprehension, summarizing, etc. etc. So much to do, so little time.
Any ideas would be much appreciated. I have no one looking over my shoulder (ah the life of a "contingent"!) so am at liberty to use the time as I see fit. And there's no time to waste.
T. Kafka

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 01:01 AM

Mrs. King:
You are concerned that I am "missing the effectiveness of the Daily 5." What effectiveness are you referring to? There is no research on Daily 5 suggesting any kind of effectiveness, nor are there public data from any states or large districts suggesting that adoption of this approach is associated with improved reading achievement for anyone. No teacher can evaluate effectiveness of a method, because there is no way a teacher could measure the opportunity cost (what would have happened had they done it otherwise). Your effectiveness argument is basically that you like the approach. I hear you, but that isn't convincing.

You say direct instruction is not effective with Kindergartners. Hundreds of studies would say you should get out more (NELP, 2008). Such instruction has benefits--including benefits more than 10 years out. There is actually evidence on the effectiveness of such approaches--unlike Daily 5.

I have argued in this space for the role of play within direct instruction, so I agree that play can be a useful tool in this regard--but so are lots of features of effective instruction that aren't included in Daily 5.

The argument also isn't about bad versions of Daily 5 versus good versions. It is just that after hundreds of studies we find a lot more pay off from explicit teaching of fluency, phonics, phonological awareness, etc. than "reading to oneself."

Research would suggest that you are write about the value of small group instruction. It tends to be more effective than whole class teaching. However, no one is quite sure why that is (I suspect it is due to attention, but there are plausible alternative arguments). What is clear, however, is that whatever benefits are gained when students are taught in small group, they are squandered during independent time. Every added achievement point gained in small group instruction is given back when the amount of actual instruction is reduced. I would love it if the activities being emphasized in Daily 5 had been researched or were drawn from the research. Unfortunately, that isn't the case.

The problem with the trade described above is that it works that way overall, but when one looks closer approaches with lots of independent learning time tend to slant the field against the economically disadvantaged kids. That means your overall achievement levels don't change, but who achieves is shifted in a way that advantages the wealthier, whiter, etc. and add increasing disadvantage to the poorer kids. I would love to see evidence that Daily 5 overcomes this, but without that it seems like a dangerous recommendation for the most fragile kids we have.

Oh, and by the way, my dictionary's first definition of scheme is "a large-scale systematic plan." I think the term is very appropriate.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 01:01 AM


Read to self is an activity. Unfortunately, it is an activity with a real small payoff in terms of kids learning (at best, across large numbers of studies, it affects only about 5% of the variance in reading performance--much less than is obtained with studies that make sense). Reading to someone else is another activity--and a poorly specified one at that. Another is activity is "listen to reading," but there is no goal stated or implied. I love reading to kids and I would read to them everyday in my classroom, but I wouldn't make it a core part of my reading program given that after all these years there still isn't a single study showing that reading to kids has a positive impact on their reading ability.

A goal is something that we want students to be able to do: I want second-graders to be able to read second-grade text with 90 wcpm. I want kindergartners to be able to fully segment orally presented multi-syllable words. I want first graders to be able to pronounce CVC words or nonsense words with a high degree of accuracy. I want them also to recognize on sight the 100 most frequent English words. I want them to be able to read a grade-level story and retell the plot (story map). Those are goals-- word work or working on writing are activities.

The whole idea of CAFE, as I understand it, was to try to shift teachers from the Daily 5 activities, to some attention to valued outcomes. It is an add on, not a central premise to the scheme. Focus on learning outcomes, not activities that will allow you to fill the time

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 01:03 AM

What constitutes evidence that a teaching approach confers a learning advantage? Is it the opinions of those who use it? Usually not... there are psychological reasons (cognitive dissonance theory) for doubting the judgment of those who have made an investment in a particular approach. I am not teaching in the elementary school right now, and you must be because you see that as evidence. My questions to you would be: (1) Have you read the research on Daily 5? The answer to that would have to be "no" because there is no research on Daily 5. (2) Have you read the research that led to the formulation of Daily 5? And, again, the answer would have to be no because for the most part it was based on various "experts" opinions. (3) You purport to know something about how it is used in classrooms--besides your own I assume. So, the question is how many classrooms have you visited, observed, or examined observational date from over the past 2-3 years? I haven't spent a lot of time teaching primary grade kids during that period, but I have examined approximately 1000 such preschool and primary grade classes and I'd definitely put my grasp of what is going on in schools up against anyone who spends all their time in a single classroom. I'm glad your family doctor is not operating the same way that you are teaching children--evidence is not an issue of what you like doing.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 01:03 AM


Good question. A learning goal might be something like: I want all first-graders to be able to quickly, easily, and accurately recognize the 100 most frequent words in English. Or I want kindergartners to be able to fully segment multi-syllable words (Sha-na-han). Or I want second-graders to be able to decode single syllable words/nonsense words with a silent e.

An activity would that I want kids to work with words... I want them to play concentration with their sight word cards... I want them to receive a direct instruction lesson in which I teach them to recognize words that end with e... I want them to fill out a story map.

The goals--or standards--are what you are trying to accomplish and the activities are the actions that you and the children are going to engage in within the classroom.

Yes, there are always many routes to accomplishing a particular goal, though research sometimes suggests that particular approaches are more reliable or more efficient or have a bigger pay off. For example, one could have kids reading self-selected materials on their own to improve reading fluency or one could engage the kids in repeated reading (reading a challenging text repeatedly aloud with feedback). They both probably work, but the latter has a bigger or faster payoff.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 01:04 AM

Actually, we have used this scheme of focusing on learning outcomes in our adult education programs here in Chicago for several years, and with good results. Time is limited with our adult education populations, but ultimately you have five basic goals that are organized into four time categories. They have to learn words (to decode them quickly and accurately, and to know their meanings); they have to become fluent readers (reading text with high degrees of accuracy, reasonable speeds--the speed of oral language, and with prosody--make it sound like English); they need to be able to read texts with comprehension; and they need to compose their own texts. I would devote time to each of those, allowing the students' reading levels and skills patterns to determine how I apportion the time. In regular elementary classrooms, I assume the mix of kids will need everything. In remedial situations, including adult education, I assume that the patterns might be uneven (this student recognizes words well, but does not comprehend, etc.). In a regular classroom situation, I try to balance the instruction; in remedial situations, I try to balance the student.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 01:04 AM

How does the structure of Reading Wonders align to this approach to literacy instruction? Does it devote much time to some of the goals that aren't well supported by research at this time?

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 01:05 AM

I will reply to this query in my next post. In that one I want to explore the relationship of CCSS with my outcome-based planning scheme, and to consider the use of core reading programs like Wonders.


Mary Yetter Apr 01, 2017 01:05 AM

Dr. Shanahan,

I have been following your blog for about a year. I've found it very interesting and thought-provoking. In your post, you mention that there is little research to support the hypothesis that motivating a love for reading in children impacts overall reading achievement. You indicate that your premise is that "students are going to have to spend a lot of time with literacy to become literate." If your premise is true, then it makes sense to me that nurturing a love for reading in children is at least indirectly connected to overall reading achievement. A child who loves reading will spend more time with literacy than a child who is a reluctant reader.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 01:06 AM

That's logical. But logic isn't how motivation necessarily works. But even if it does in this case (and it certainly might), many of the things that teachers are told to do to make kids love reading don't seem to have that effect.

Mary Yetter Apr 01, 2017 01:06 AM

Dr. Shanahan,

That's a great point. We need research-based methods to ensure we are getting the desired effect!


Anonymous Apr 01, 2017 01:07 AM

If research suggests that guided reading and small group instruction is beneficial then what alternative do you suggest for instruction while working with a small group? I use Daily 5 but am also only a third year teacher so am open to more informed, research based options. As Kindergarten goes this time is also very valuable when all assessments are done orally, one-on-one...which can be very time consuming.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 01, 2017 01:08 AM

I think you need to focus on what it is that you are trying to teach and then figure out the most effective ways to accomplish that (from research or from trial and error when there is none). Instead of making the use of small groups a goal, decide when small groups are likely to accomplish something that couldn't be in a larger setting. Sometimes small groups confer advantages because they increase student attention and amount of interaction, and yet, learning is lost when they then have to work alone because the teacher is with another small group. So, how could you keep attention and interaction high in larger groupings. My point is that you shouldn't be trying to implement particular activities (guided reading) or particular organizational plans (small groups, flexible groups); your focus should be on teaching particular things--and choosing the activities that are likely to accomplish those best. You are at a great stage in your own development to make that shift. Good luck.

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How to Organize Daily Instruction, Part II


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