Blog Posts

17 July, 2021

I'm a High School Reading Resource Teacher. What Should I Do?

Teacher question: I’ve been hired as a high school reading resource teacher. The school has a lot of commercially prepared intervention programs. Which ones would you use? Any other advice for me? Shanahan response: First things first. I’d look at my data to find out how far behind my students are. High school teachers often tell me that they have beginning readers in their classes, but when we look at the kids’ data, we find that just isn’t the case (most of the time). Not that these students read well. But most high school teachers aren’t equipped to distinguish a fourth-grade from a first-grade reader. Since both ...

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10 July, 2021

Reading Stamina and Dividing Reading Texts for Classroom Discussion

Teacher question: I’m curious. What does the research say about the lengths of text segments in a guided reading lesson? How many pages should kids read prior to our discussions? I teach third grade. Shanahan response: Great question. Unfortunately, in this era of the “science of reading” there is no research-based answer. No one, as far as I can tell, has bothered to study the question though it has been an issue for at least a century. What do we know? Studies of how kids do on reading tests show that there are real differences in the reading stamina they exhibit. Some readers start ...

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12 June, 2021

A Question I Hate: Should We Use Pictures (Embedded Mnemonics) When Teaching Phonics?

Teacher question: I teach kindergarten. Our school recently purchased the XXXX program for teaching decoding. I don’t like it as much as the program we had. One of the ways our previous program was better than XXXX is that it included pictures for each of the phonemes. The new program does not have those pictures and I think that is a real problem. Is there any evidence that I’m right that I could take to my principal? The other teachers agree with me. Shanahan response: I hate that question and I wish you hadn’t asked it. Oh, sure it’s a practical question. And as ...

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05 June, 2021

My Middle School Requires Fluency Instruction: Help!

Teacher question: I am searching for what to do with repeated reading as a whole class, in every content area, in grades 6-8. Next year, we have 60% of our students at "at-risk" or "some risk" according to aReading (FastBridge). It recommends Repeated Reading for many of our students, so that will be our school-wide intervention: science, social studies, math, and ELA with grade-level text for every repeated reading we do in our classes. I'm torn on the grade-level text because we have kids who will not be able to read the text fluently at all. They will be reading with ...

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15 May, 2021

What if there is no reading research on an issue?

Teacher’s question: I agree with you about the need for basing what we do on research.  But what do you do for the things for which there is no or limited research? For example, what about Orton-Gillingham instruction, what is the best way to sequence phonemes for teaching, or how specifically should background knowledge be taught? What about research that is evolving so that we do things a certain way and then refine these (say with Ehri's & Gonzalez-Frey's recent work in SSR) -- what about all the time that we did the practice the other way? There are some topics with so ...

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08 May, 2021

My Child Will Only Read Graphic Novels. Help.

Teacher question: My 8-year-old grandson is a second grader who's been reading quite a while now. However, his reading diet comprises almost exclusively graphic novels, some of them intended for much older children, and he has little to no interest in making the transition to text-only books. We were all so pleased that he was an early reader, but now it's very hard to unstick him from the graphic novels he's so fond of. I would love to know your thinking about this and what might be done to bring him to the larger world of books. Shanahan response: You’ve raised a great question ...

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17 April, 2021

Should We Build a (Word) Wall or Not?

Teacher question: What are your thoughts about sound walls and word walls? I don't necessarily think these would replace a word you? The video and training can be found here for sounds walls: My response was this: I think for oral language, phonemic awareness and phonics the sound walls are awesome, and very helpful visually for beginning readers to unlock how sounds, symbols and words are put together. I think these types of walls would be seen more in PreK, K and maybe 1st grade in the first semester. A word wall can be a broad term that can include multiple ...

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03 April, 2021

Does Close Reading Reject the Science of Reading?

Teacher question: I recently read an article suggesting that the research findings on reading comprehension have been modified, distorted and ignored (Dewitz & Graves, 2021, What concerned me most is that close reading and the CCSS came under heavy fire. Although the article ends with suggestions for bridging the research to practice gap, it leaves practicing teachers using the CCSS wondering whether to modify their reading comprehension instruction and use of close reading. Since you have written about close reading and the CCSS in other blogs, what are your suggestions? Shanahan responds: This article claims that today’s reading comprehension instruction is not in ...

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13 March, 2021

On Eating Elephants and Teaching Syllabication

Teacher Question: What are your thoughts on teaching syllable division patterns? I recently came across some new research from Devin Kearns and it made me start thinking about if all the time programs spend teaching syllable division patterns is really justified. If teaching syllable division is not time well invested, what type of instruction would you recommend replacing it with?  Shanahan response: I was training for a 500-mile bike trip. Three of the days’ rides would be centuries (100 miles plus). The practice was making my back ache and my knees hurt, but I felt no closer to being able to accomplish those distances. They seemed absolutely impossible. I was ...

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06 March, 2021

Why Your Students May Not Be Learning to Comprehend

Teacher question: "My district is trying to shift literacy instruction to be in line with the science of reading. We are wondering where comprehension strategies fit into Scarborough’s Reading Rope? Inferences and making connections are part of Verbal Reasoning, but what about other skills my students still need to be taught, like understanding and using text structure, summarizing, visualizing, questioning? There is much research to support explicit instruction in comprehension strategies, so where do they fit?  Also, even when our teachers do a good job of scaffolding students’ comprehension of complex text, our at-risk students struggle to independently process texts on ...

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