Blog Posts

19 August, 2018

What Should Morphology Instruction Look Like?

Teacher question: Are there any resources that provide a list of morphemes to teach at each K-5 grade level? I have been looking for a definitive list of morphemes that is organized by grade level like the Fry sight word list. I often come across research about how L1 and L2 students acquire morphemes, but I am looking for a list that represents the morphemes that students will most likely see in print at each K-5 grade level. Does anything like that exist? Thank you for your time.   Shanahan response: The short answer to this question is, “No, I don’t know of such a list.” But when have I ever been satisfied ...

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04 August, 2018

Books on Buses and Book in a Bag: Book Access and Reading

Teachers' questions: Can you point us to any research regarding the practice of Book In a Bag - sending leveled readers home with students each night? What do you think of “Books on the Bus?” Shanahan response: I know of no research on either of these methods for increasing kids’ access to books. I checked both PscyInfo and Google for sources, and nada! I’m not surprised, both of these schemes were local school district ideas that captured media attention—and then spread from one district to another. I must admit I like both ideas. Generally. In both cases, kids are encouraged to read. Can’t fault that. In both, books are made available for kids to ...

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28 July, 2018

Should We Teach Letter Names?

Teacher question:  Should we teach letter names or letter sounds to beginning readers? Shanahan responds: Twice recently teachers have asked this question. In both instances they said they’d been told teaching letter names confused children and that “best practice” was to focus on the sounds rather than the letter names. As a former first-grade teacher, I vividly remember the kids who when confronted with a word like what would start sounding /d/ (duh). At first I was puzzled, but it quickly caught on that these young’uns were trying to find the sound in the letter name, double-you, and were settling for the first sound in that name. Obviously, the pronunciation of W ...

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19 July, 2018

Implementing Higher Literacy Standards or Putting on a Show?

Back in the 1930s, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney always seemed to be putting on a show. They were going to be sent to a farm to work for the summer in Babes in Arms, but they wanted to go to Broadway instead – and they did! I love that whole idea of Judy and Mickey with their teenage backs to the wall, singing and dancing their way to success (and into our hearts). Younger folks might prefer a more recent analogy—like Footloose—but then I’d have to be a younger blogger who is less than 6-degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. I’m not the only one who appreciates ...

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08 July, 2018

Synthetic Phonics or Systematic Phonics? What Does Research Really Say?

It happened again this week. Awhile back I was a member of the National Reading Panel (NRP) that reviewed instructional research on the teaching of reading at the request of the U.S. Congress. One of my roles was to serve on the “alphabetics committee” that reviewed the research on phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. Since then it has happened numerous times, like it did this week. Some self-proclaimed phonics authority attributes findings to the NRP that we didn’t actually find (usually because they didn’t actually read it). The one this week has been one of the more frequent misclaims. He claimed that the NRP found synthetic phonics instruction to be more effective than ...

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29 June, 2018

My first-graders aren’t producing much writing? Help!

Teacher question: I’ve collected some data on first-grade writing. I developed a plan for getting 6-year-olds to write arguments and I have a rubric designed to allow me to figure out how well my supports help them to write effective arguments (evaluating whether they took a clear position on the topic, and how much evidence they used). I tried it out and gave the kids plenty of time but was surprised to find that they didn’t write much; I’m having trouble evaluating the quality of this writing given how few words they produced. Any ideas on how to better evaluate the impact of what I did?  Shanahan’s response: The specifics of ...

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24 June, 2018

Who Should Teach Disciplinary Literacy and Should We Integrate the Curriculum?

Teacher question: My question is about disciplinary literacy. Should we be guiding teachers to integrate social studies or science and ELA or having our ELA teachers teaching disciplinary literacy for these subjects? Our curriculum focuses on overarching concepts and essential questions. Shanahan response: You raise two separate issues here: curriculum integration and who has responsibility for the disciplinary literacy standards. Let me take them one at a time. I don’t oppose integrating social studies or science and literature, but I’m definitely cautious about such combinations. We want our students to develop a clear appreciation of what literature is, how it’s read, what it brings to the table, and so on. We ...

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09 June, 2018

Should We "Platoon" Reading Instruction

Teacher question: We are trying to raise our third-grade reading scores. What do you think of “platooning” to help us meet that goal? Shanahan response: Platooning, or what in my time was called “departmentalization,” is apparently on the rise in America’s primary grades. Schools like yours are hungry to raise reading and math achievement, and this looks like an inexpensive way to do it. It costs nothing to have classrooms departmentalized rather than self-contained: it requires no additional teachers; there are no added professional development costs; there are no added textbook, computer, or other instructional materials costs; and many teachers love the idea of no longer being responsible for subjects that ...

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02 June, 2018

What Should Small Group Reading Instruction Look Like?

Teacher question: I've been bringing my shared reading teaching into my small groups. The students read a text during shared reading and we spend time analyzing the text and really digging in—nuances of the language, comprehension of the text, vocabulary, and so on. From there we move into small groups where students answer standards-based questions about the text.   My concern at this point is this: I find myself doing pretty much the same lesson in small groups for all the groups. Should I be doing this (answering standards-based questions) in the whole group instruction? Then what about small groups? What do they look like? Part of the difficulty I experience ...

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28 May, 2018

Where Questioning Fits in Comprehension Instruction: Skills and Strategies Part II

It seems to me that asking a series of good questions about what an author appears to be telling us allows students (all of us) to build our knowledge, learn how to question conclusions, and overall just better understand the text at hand. Do you agree or am I still missing something?  Last week, I posted an explanation of the difference between comprehension strategies and comprehension skills. Before answering your thoughtful question about comprehension teaching, let’s quickly review what I said previously. Basically, comprehension skills have been conceptualized as the ability to answer certain kinds of questions.  Accordingly, there is a main idea skill and a comparison skill ...

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