Blog Posts

11 December, 2021

Support Literacy Charities 2021

Most readers of Shanahan on Literacy are professionals in the field or parents with concerns about their children’s reading. They care deeply about literacy education. Another way to express your commitment to literacy is to support literacy charities. Several years ago, I started to recommend literacy charities. Since then, each year, I comb through the Charity Navigator ratings to identify 4-star rated programs that are national or multi-regional in scope. The charities listed here (and that will continue to be listed on my site for the next 12 months provide books and other literacy services, are transparent in their reporting, and ...

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04 December, 2021

Teaching Oral Reading Fluency to Older Students

Oh goodness, everybody’s least favorite topic (except maybe Tim Rasinski). What I’m talking about is fluency instruction/practice for older students… grades 4 and up, let’s say. No one gets too bent out of shape if I talk about little kids working on their oral reading, but when those young’uns reach 9- or 10-years-old that presumably is baby stuff. I get why that is. First, the research on fluency instruction has focused heavily on two groups: kids in grades 1-4 and remedial readers in grades 1-12 (NICHD, 2001). I can’t tell a 6th grade teacher that there is research showing that if she devotes ...

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13 November, 2021

RIP to Advanced Phonemic Awareness

Not long ago, I dared question the evidence supporting the teaching of “advanced phonemic awareness.” That elicited negative reactions from some educators who found my assertions threatening. Their notion was that if I raised doubts about this, then balanced literacy, whole language, cueing systems and the fall of the Republic would be manifest upon the land. I’m not saying that there aren’t balanced literacy fanatics who cheer when I tell the truth about something like that (I wish they were as happy when I explain why it’s a bad idea to teach kids to guess words from context in place of ...

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06 November, 2021

What is the Science of Reading?

Lots of questions about the “science of reading” this week. What is the “science of reading?” That depends on who you talk to. There is no agreed upon definition. Nor is there any official body like the Académie française that can dictate a meaning by fiat. Last year, Reading Research Quarterly published a science of reading issue (it blossomed into two with more than 50 articles). There weren’t 50 definitions, but it was close. The disagreements turned on two points: the role of instructional research and the scope of reading covered. Some use the term in reference to neurological and cognitive science studies of ...

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16 October, 2021

Do You Have a Pet Peeve about Reading? Here Are My Top Ten (Pt. 2)

Last week, I posted five literacy education pet peeves. I whined about the lack of balance in balanced literacy; calls to end the reading wars that fail to address their root cause; the use of research to cover one’s tracks rather than to support sound decisions; the use of drive-by conferencing in place of deep discussions of text; and instructional schedules tuned to teachers’ comfort levels rather than kids’ learning needs. As promised, here are five more. Pet Peeve #6:  Research claims based on the wrong kinds of research. Recently, a claim of mine was challenged on Twitter. Someone pointed out that there ...

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09 October, 2021

Do You Have Any Pet Peeves about Reading? Here Are My Top Ten (Pt. 1)

First, here is my favorite joke about pet peeves: What’s your biggest pet peeve? People who ask a question just so they can answer it. Yep, I’m the punchline. I’m asking this question only so I can answer it. Though I hope this stimulates you to add your own. Pet peeves are, by their very nature, complaints. Of course, no one wants to hear a lot of whining these days. If they did, they’d be on Twitter or the U.S. Senate. Given that, I’ve split this rant into two parts. Yep, I’ll provide 5 pet peeves about reading education this week, and the remainder next ...

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18 September, 2021

Should We Departmentalize Our Primary Grades?

Teacher question: My school district has recently departmentalized first and second grades. The students seem very young to have two teachers and move classes mid-day. It also seems that early literacy should stretch across the school and not only be taught during an ELA block. I’m interested to know your thoughts. Shanahan responds: This strikes me as a singularly bad idea. In fairness, I know of no studies on the effectiveness of the practice (in terms of kids’ learning) at these early grade levels, but this appears to be the result of no researcher thinking this to be even a remotely good idea worth ...

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11 September, 2021

Do You See Visualization as an Effective Reading Comprehension Strategy? And, for Whom?

Teacher Question: I’m a second-grade teacher. Our school has purchased a reading comprehension program that emphasizes visualization. Is that such a good idea? Shanahan Response: Great question. This is one that I can answer with a “yes” or “no.” I’m not answering like a politician, it just sounds like it. My affirmative and negative isn’t an attempt to be on all sides of an issue. It’s just a recognition that visualization has been a successful instructional strategy… at some grade levels; and not so much at others. That means that program might be a good purchase for some of the teachers, but maybe not for ...

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14 August, 2021

Disciplinary Literacy Goes to Elementary School

Teacher question: I am an elementary school principal. I've heard a lot recently about disciplinary literacy. Our school isn't doing enough with that in my opinion. What do you think? What should I have my teachers doing with disciplinary literacy? Shanahan responds: Over the past three decades research has shown that people read differently in the different disciplines. Historians, for instance, read different kinds of texts, for different purposes, and they weigh evidence differently, and focus on different kind of information in the texts that they read than do literary critics or scientists. Reading starts out pretty generalizable. The skills we use to ...

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07 August, 2021

What Does It Take to Teach Inferencing?

Teacher question: I am reaching out to see if you can clarify for me and possibly point me in the direction of a resource(s) where I can read more about the differences between predicting, inferring, and drawing conclusions. Our curriculum was developed in house and is very skill/strategy based. In Virginia, our state tests operationalize reading in the following way: predicting is making an informed guess about what happens next using text evidence and schema  inferring is reading "between the lines" to a given point in text using text and schema to understand what is happening in the text  drawing conclusions is projecting forward using text ...

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One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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