Literacy Blogs

04 November, 2023

My state is banning instructional practices… or, how to look like you are teaching effectively…

Teacher question: I am working through my state’s “Literacy Plan.” There are several instructional practices that get the “thumbs down” here as being “not in alignment with evidence-based instruction.” The list is long and includes guided reading, leveled readers, and informal reading inventories. I’m curious what your take on those practices is?  Shanahan response: Thanks for sharing. The list you sent was long and I agree with your state on some of the items (e.g., three-cueing, miscue analysis, balanced literacy – whatever that is), but I suspect those who are calling the shots are reacting more to social media buzz words than to any ...

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30 September, 2023

Are Qualitative Assessment and Student Self-Assessment Useful in Reading Instruction?

Teacher question: Our reading program has us evaluating students on several strategies and reading skills (e.g., orienting, predicting, monitoring, story elements, identifying point of view, word solving, retelling, inferring character traits, determining theme). It provides grade level rubrics so that we can tell the difference between whether students are doing 4th grade or 5th grade work. We are also encouraged to have the students themselves self-assess their progress on these elements. The idea is that we are to use these evaluations to help students see where they are. Is this kind of thing useful or is it a waste of time? RELATED: A ...

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09 September, 2023

A Big Mistake in Reading Improvement Initiatives – Don’t Make This One

Teacher question: I know you led a successful reading initiative in Chicago. You’ve written much about the keys to your success. Did you make any mistakes? Would you change that experience in any way if you were to do it again? Shanahan responds: Ah, for the chance to live life’s unfortunate moments again… I’m suspicious of those who say they have no regrets and would change nothing if they could go back. For real for real? A major error in my Chicago Reading Initiative experience was not pulling the principals in early enough or thoroughly enough. My attentions were laser focused on hiring coaches ...

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26 August, 2023

Which Should We Use, Nonsense Word Tests or Word ID Tests?

Teacher question: I am an Assistant School Superintendent. We are moving toward explicit phonics instruction this year and are debating between using the nonsense words assessment or the decodable words assessment. Do you have thoughts about this? I have consulted with several people who I respect, and opinions are varied and passionate. RELATED: Is digital text a good idea for reading instruction? Shanahan response: I feel your pain. Recently, a colleague asked me to make a similar recommendation to help figure out something about a grandchild’s reading. I suggested the use of DIBELS Nonsense Word test, given the specific purpose and its easy availability. You’d have thought I’d recommended drowning ...

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05 August, 2023

Is digital text a good idea for reading instruction?

Teacher question: I’ve heard that having students read digital texts is a bad idea, but our school has purchased tablets for everybody and wants us to use these for much of our instruction. What say you? Good idea or bad idea?RELATED: Knowledge or Comprehension Strategies -- What Should We Teach? Shanahan responds: Generally, research has found that digital books are read with lower comprehension and more mind wandering (Clinton, 2019; Vargas, Ackerman, & Samerón, 2018). Admittedly, most evidence on this comes from studies of college students. However, even when the studies have focused on elementary age students, the results are the same. Kids ...

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22 July, 2023

Knowledge or Comprehension Strategies -- What Should We Teach?

Teacher question: Are we supposed to teach reading strategies or not? I keep coming across contradictory information. Some writers say the research supports strategy teaching and some say that we should teach background information instead. I respect your opinion. What do you think?RELATED: Can we really teach prosody and why would we want to? Shanahan response: Many studies – hundreds actually – have shown that teaching comprehension strategies can improve reading comprehension (Filderman, Austin, Boucher, O’Donnell, & Swanson, 2022; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). That’s a pretty strong argument for teaching strategies. That’s why I’ve taught them to students myself. That’s why ...

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08 July, 2023

Can we really teach prosody and why would we want to?

Teacher question: How expressive should young children’s reading be? We are told that oral reading fluency consists of accuracy, rate, and prosody, but our monitoring tests only consider accuracy and rate. Does prosody matter in first and second grade and if it does how do we measure it?RELATED: What is linguistic comprehension in the simple view of reading? Shanahan responds: Experts have long accepted the idea that oral reading fluency (ORF) or, these days, “text reading fluency”, improves simultaneously with reading development. As readers progress, they can read more words accurately, they are able to do this with less conscious effort (automaticity), and their ...

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17 June, 2023

What is linguistic comprehension in the simple view of reading?

Teacher question: I am hoping that you can clarify a question that some of us are debating. I've sought out the wisdom of Kelly Cartwright and Katie Pace Miles as well. Can you clarify the difference between language comprehension and listening comprehension? And where does linguistic comprehension fit in here? I'm asking because when we refer to the Simple View of Reading, so many people use listening comprehension (which is inaccurate) but this leads to the question of what are the nuances or subtleties of them all! Thank you!RELATED: How I Teach Students to Use Context in Vocabulary Learning Shanahan responds: Awhile back, I posted a blog that dared mention that ...

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03 June, 2023

How I Teach Students to Use Context in Vocabulary Learning

Teacher question: I recently read an interview that you did. When you talk about kids needing to recognize when they don’t know a word and how to figure it out – did you mean to leave them on their own to do that? When you mention ‘passive scaffolding’ it makes me think you do. I know a lot about vocabulary instruction and my view of passive scaffolding as a first-line technique is pretty dim. Glossaries or dictionaries are frustrating. What kids need is to be able to integrate relevant aspects of word meaning into the context to come up with an ...

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20 May, 2023

Why I Encourage Teaching Children to Read Disfluently

Teacher question Our school is trying to follow the science of reading. We are teaching phonemic awareness and phonics in Grades K-2 and assessing student progress in those skills throughout those grade levels. However, we don’t begin to assess or teach fluency until mid-first grade. Are we doing it right?RELATED: What about the new research that says phonics instruction isn’t very important? Shanahan response: I think it’s okay to neglect fluency instruction until later in first grade, at least with most students. However, I suspect that you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to teach your students to read disfluently. I hope I can ...

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