Literacy Blogs

17 February, 2024

Small Group Phonics in the Classroom – Good Idea or Not?

Teacher Question 1: Our district adopted a systematic phonics program and instruction is delivered whole class for each grade level for about 30 minutes per day. We have a wide range of learners in each class, so my question is, is whole class instruction an effective use of instructional time since some students are being exposed to phonics instruction beyond their level? For example, a second grader who still hasn’t mastered CVC words, but is focused on whole class instruction focused on CVCe words. Is there any research to substantiate that exposure to explicit phonics instruction beyond their current level of mastery is going to be ...

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10 February, 2024

Should we grade students on the individual reading standards?

  Blast from the Past: This entry first posted on September 7, 2019, and reappeared on February 10, 2024. It seems to be that time of the year again. Principals are being encouraged by central administrations to put on the full court press for higher test scores this year. I know that, not because of Mardi Gras or Groundhog Day, but because I'm starting to get those questions from teachers. Here is one that just came in: "Dr. Shanahan, you have stated that STANDARDIZED reading test items analysis is a 'fool's errand.' My district requires me to complete an items analysis ...

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03 February, 2024

I want my students to comprehend, am I teaching the wrong kind of strategies?

I’m reading a book about Herman Melville and Lewis Mumford (one of Melville’s autobiographers). Last night, before sleep, I read about 20 pages. The author alternates chapters – one on Melville, then one on Mumford. I didn’t get the organization immediately, but whatever is revealed about one author will be implicated in what will be divulged about the other, though the connection isn’t always explicit. Last night’s pair was about how these very despondent men each managed to find someone who would connect deeply with them emotionally and intellectually, despite the depths of their negativity. That sounds like I was comprehending what ...

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20 January, 2024

Blast from the Past: How Can We Take Advantage of the Reading-Writing Relationship?

This blog first appeared on February 22, 2020. It has been a while since I have written about how writing instruction can boost reading achievement. When I first started writing about that (almost 50 years ago), it was virtually an unknown topic. These days, most teachers tell me that they agree that writing can improve reading, though they don’t seem to have much understanding of the concept and quite often they skip the writing because of pressures to get higher reading scores. So it goes. Given recent experiences with such conversations, I thought it would be a good time to ...

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13 January, 2024

What Does Brain Science Have To Say About Teaching Reading? Does It Matter?

Teacher question: I am the principal of a small primary grade school (350 students). I want to hire a consultant/ professional development specialist who could school my faculty in brain science so they will be able to teach reading more effectively. We all earned our credentials in colleges of education so none of us knows these new brain-based methods of teaching reading. Could you please provide some guidance?RELATED: Does the science of reading include middle school? Shanahan responds: It may be hard to believe given news media reports and the numerous books that now purport to translate neuroscience into pedagogy, but there are not ...

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06 January, 2024

Does the science of reading include middle school?

Teacher Question: We have been working on strengthening and refining our early literacy instruction to be in line with the science. This has me wondering about the middle level. What does the science prioritize for middle level ELA instruction? Is there a point when teaching into a phonics gap for students does not have a payoff? With limited time in a middle school classroom, I am thinking about what needs to be prioritized. Some parents are wondering if phonics instruction should continue into middle school. This may need to happen for some students, but I imagine that Tier 1 instruction would focus on higher levels ...

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16 December, 2023

Putting on Your Underwear First: Why Instructional Sequence Doesn’t Always Matter

Blast from the Past: This entry first posted on March 14, 2016, and was reposted on December 16, 2023. The original entry had 5 comments which you can see if you click on this link. This question about what would be the best instructional sequence continues to come up regarding teaching the alphabet or teaching phonics. As this blog makes clear (I hope), sequences of these skills are more determined by some rather general, commonsensical guidelines that have emerged from empirical study, but there is no “science of reading” approved sequence that is most beneficial for learning. Teacher’s Question:   Is there ...

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09 December, 2023

Literacy Charities for 2024

Annually, Shanahan on Literacy recommends literacy charities for your consideration. I know that, like me, you have deep concerns about reading education, so it makes sense to give to charities that distribute books to children or provide reading instruction to those especially in need or that extend literacy learning in other ways. Each 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 providing books and literacy instruction to populations ...

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02 December, 2023

Why Main Idea is Not the Main Idea – Or, How Best to Teach Reading Comprehension

Teacher question: You say that we cannot successfully teach comprehension skills like main idea. But our standards require that we teach main idea, and our state tests ask main idea questions to assess whether our students are accomplishing that goal. I don’t get it, your advice on this is not helpful.RELATED: Should We Still Teach Sight Vocabulary? Shanahan response: For years, comprehension skills like “main idea” were taught by having kids read texts and answer main idea questions. The idea is that question-answering practice will improve the ability to answer the kinds of questions the students are practicing with. Often the question types themselves ...

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11 November, 2023

Should We Still Teach Sight Vocabulary?

Teacher question: Our local school district still teaches "sight words." I know that people mean various things when they call words "sight words"-- words that kids don't have the phonics principles for yet, words that are high frequency, and words that "are not decodable." I also understand that brain research says memorizing whole words is a poor practice, and I know that "sight words" is a term that is being phased out in order to communicate that 80% of words are decodable, and emphasizing helping kids flexibly solve words using the parts that do follow predictable phonics rules. Will you please weigh in?RELATED: My state is banning instructional practices… or, how to look like you are teaching effectively… Shanahan responds: I know of no ...

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