Literacy Blogs

13 August, 2022

Trying Again -- What Teachers Need to Know about Sentence Comprehension

Awhile back, I posted an opinion piece calling for the explicit teaching of sentence comprehension. With schools aiming to expose kids to complex text, it would seem that such instruction would be de rigueur. Texts are often complex because they include complicated sentences and experience tells me that students often fail to grasp the meaning of individual sentences – undermining their ability to identify main ideas, make inferences, draw conclusions, or answer any of the other question types.   Given that comprehension lessons tend to focus on “prior knowledge,” vocabulary, text reading with follow-up questions, comprehension strategies, the lowly sentence gets ...

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06 August, 2022

Do you like jigsaw approaches to teaching?

Teacher question: What do you think of the jigsaw method for organizing the reading in a science or social studies class? I teach 5th grade in a suburban school. Shanahan response: Jigsaw is a cooperative learning activity developed in the 1970s (Aronson, et al., 1978). Basically, the approach is to divide the curricular topic (e.g., dinosaurs, Morocco, amphibians) into subtopics, to divide these portions among individuals/partners/small groups. Each student/group is to become the “expert” on that subtopic. These newly minted experts then put their knowledge to work, perhaps by contributing to a class project (e.g., designing a diorama) or by bringing their classmates ...

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16 July, 2022

Can Reading Instruction Improve Math Learning in the Primary Grades?

Teacher question: My question is regarding comprehension as it relates to solving math word problems. I have observed almost all word problems begin with presenting the data first (We ate five apples…) then asking the question (How many apples…?) I have noticed when I ask the question first, it seems to narrow their working memory on the relevant detail (s) and I am noting marked improvement in 1) understanding what it is they need to do, 2) extracting the relevant details and 3) employing the correct operations. Your thoughts on the order in which questions are posed. Part 2) Are there ...

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09 July, 2022

Should We Still Teach Dictionary?

Teacher question: I hope you can help me as I have learned, and continue to learn, new things from your blog. Is there any benefit to using dictionaries in middle school? Is there any research you can share that discusses the pros/cons of using a dictionary in middle school? The students are native speakers, but there are some ELLs. Shanahan replies: The value of the dictionary depends upon your purpose. If the idea is to teach word meanings or to facilitate reading comprehension, then provide the definitions directly Wright & Cervetti, 2017). All the looking-things-up and choosing among definitions increases “cognitive load.” That is, the ...

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11 June, 2022

Explicit Spelling Instruction or Invented Spelling?

Teacher question: I teach kindergarten. We’ve been arguing over whether we should teach spelling or developmental spelling. Which is best? Shanahan response: You’re asking if learning to spell comes more surely from “transmission” (teaching by telling or demonstrating) or from “construction” (learning through discovery or operating on the world). Arguments in educational psychology have raged over this for decades. I think the dispute – at least with regards to spelling – is misleading. The two approaches are posed as contradictory, that teachers must choose one way or the other. I don’t see it that way. Explicit spelling versus invented spelling is a false dichotomy. I encourage ...

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04 June, 2022

Print-to-speech or Speech-to-Print? That is the question

Teacher question: I know you typically don’t talk about specific programs, but I really would like to know your thoughts. I had always wanted more training in a structured literacy program/approach. I always thought Wilson, and specifically OG approaches, were the gold standards. More recently, I began reading about programs labeled as speech to print. Proponents of speech to print methods claim it is much faster to teach kids to read (and spell) than OG based approaches. Is there research to support this? Are these studies comparing programs based on OG (that mainly follow a more print to speech approach) and ...

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14 May, 2022

Me and Reading Recovery

Teacher question: Would you do an article about your thoughts on recent report about Reading Recovery?   Shanahan response: The first time I heard of Reading Recovery (RR) was in 1987. The editor of the Journal of Reading Behavior asked me to review Marie Clay’s book, Early Detection of Reading Disabilities. I knew of the book – even had a copy – but was only aware of the innovative assessment that it presented. I hesitated to take on the task since the book was already in its third edition and had attracted a reasonable number of reviews already. "That's the point," she told me. The ...

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07 May, 2022

Don't Confuse Reading Comprehension and Learning to Read -- Rereading

Teacher question: You say that we should teach students to read with grade level texts. But my professor (I’m working on a master’s degree in reading) says that would be a big mistake since harder texts have been found to lower students’ fluency and comprehension (Amendum, Conradi, & Hiebert, 2017). Your research says one thing and his says something else. How can I sort this out? I kind of think that he is right since my students don’t read as well when I put them in the grade level books. Shanahan response: This is an easy question to answer: I’m right and your ...

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09 April, 2022

Integrating Literacy Instruction with Science and Social Studies

Teacher question: I wonder why you never write about curriculum integration. This year my district is all about including social studies in all of our lessons and my sister (a teacher in another state) is doing something like that with science in the upper grades. Do you have any advice for teachers like us? Shanahan response: As a teacher I was a strong advocate of integrating reading and writing instruction at a time when that kind of thing wasn’t common. Later, when I became an academic, I studied reading-writing relationships and that blossomed into an interest in the combination of other curricula as ...

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02 April, 2022

Should I teach students to memorize sight words and monitor their progress?

Teacher question: I would love to see a blog post on whether to teach sight words/high frequency words, and if there is any useful reason to track whether a student is learning them. My teachers are still teaching them in K and 1st, but more through reading and spelling them, decoding, and encoding them, in and out of text, and not by memorizing their shape. Yet, they are unsure of whether it is worth it to track which words they've learned and how much intervention to provide based on that data. Shanahan responds: The short answer to both of your questions is, “yes,” ...

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