Blog Posts

20 May, 2008

Heterogeneous or Homogeneous for Middle School Disabled Readers?

Dr. Shanahan, I am a mother of a child with a reading disability (as well as processing and short term memory) who will be entering middle school in the fall. Our middle school is planning on heterogeneously grouping the students in reading/language arts classes. As I'm sure you know this would be the lowest level readers blended with college level readers. Also, reading interventions will be cut from every day to every other day. I am a little concerned about the implications this may have on the students. Do you happen to know what research says about this concept? What are ...

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02 May, 2008

Excellent Websites for Teachers, Parents, and Kids

One thing I learned when I was director of reading for the Chicago Public Schools was that teachers’ appetites for resources, support, and professional development in reading were insatiable. No matter how much we tried to provide for them, they always seemed to want more. That is not a criticism of teachers, but praise. The men and women who were teaching in Chicago wanted to do a good job, so their eyes were always open for new resources.   Since then, I’ve tried to keep my eyes out for stuff that would help them and their counterparts elsewhere. Especially free stuff. I’ve ...

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27 April, 2008

Disciplinary Literacy

There is growing interest and concern in the reading of older students (grades 4-12). There are many reasons for this, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that most thoughtful observers are convinced that most students leave high school with insufficient reading and writing skills--insufficient for college success or economic participation.   Over the past few years, we have seen growth in the numbers of reading programs aimed at a student in the upper grades (including my own AMP program. I believe that, once we get through the presidential election, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be reauthorized, for the first time ...

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20 March, 2008

Strategies or Skills: Does It Really Matter?

Blast from the Past: Do you ever wonder what the difference is between skills and strategies? Originally posted March 20, 2008; re-posted on September 28, 2017.    Recently Peter Afflerbach, David Pearson, and Scott Paris published a nifty article, “Clarifying differences between reading skills and reading strategies” in the Reading Teacher (February 2008, pp.364-373). They did a great job of that. Below I have summarized some of their major points, added some explanation of why you should care about the distinction, and showed the differences in assessment and instruction for strategies and skills. 1. There are no widely-accepted definitions of strategies and skills. To ...

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19 March, 2008

Improving Reading Achievement

Dear Dr. Shanahan: With the pressures and concerns about NCLB and working in a low socio-economic neighborhood, our school district has implemented some mandates to try to ensure the success of our students. It is sort of an interesting imbalance. First, they chose to mandate the use of the SAXON phonics program. It is required of all teachers of students in K- 2. The program teaches phonics in isolation and it takes 40 to 75 minutes to teach each day.  The second interesting situation is that we are given 4 aides that come into our rooms for an hour each day to ...

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18 March, 2008

What's Wrong with High-Stakes Testing?

It’s not uncommon for educators to oppose high-stakes testing. Teachers and principals have personal reasons to be against such approaches: high stakes tests are more likely to be used to pressure them than on the kids who they serve. University-based scholars also tend to be against testing, but that isn’t surprising as most university professors are politically liberal and most education accountability plans emanate from conservative governments. While professors may have a knee-jerk reaction to high-stakes tests, this in no way disparages the high-quality scholarly analyses of such tests, such as the one that carried out for the National Academy ...

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29 February, 2008

Reference List for Improving Reading

I often make presentations about the key elements for improving reading achievement. For those of you who want to dip into the original research that I used, I have provides some citations below. This is just a partial list -- there are many more studies available on each of these topics supporting these basic ideas. AMOUNT OF INSTRUCTION/TIME American College Testing. (2006). Reading between the lines. Iowa City: American College Testing. Carroll, J.B. (1963). A model of school learning. Teachers College Record, 723–733. Cooper, H. (2001). Summer school: Research-based recommendations for policy makers. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, ...

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27 January, 2008

Differentiation in the Teaching of Reading

Differentiation, a great concept, has become a buzz word these days. It seems to mean many different things to many different people. Reading supervisors and coordinators frequently tell me about their dissatisfaction with the huge amount of whole-class teaching going on. I’ve even seen principals who have tried to increase differentiation by forbidding the use of reading textbooks (you can’t follow something lock-step with all of the kids if you don’t have anything to follow).   I certainly agree that a steady diet of whole-class instruction is almost certain to lose somebody. Kids learn at different speeds; they get confused or phase ...

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18 January, 2008

Can Scripted Lessons Really Improve Achievement? I Support the Use of Textbooks

In the December 10 issue of the New Yorker magazine Atul Gawande published a fascinating article about the improvement of medical practice. Although he is a physician writing about medical care, I found his insights to be surprisingly relevant to instructional issues in the field of reading.   In this article, “The Checklist,” Dr. Gawande describes the incredible complexity of Intensive Care Medicine, and the brilliance and courage of the doctors who practice it. But this was not a piece about heroic doctors, but instead explained the need to standardize and regiment such practice in order to maintain quality.   I know…. I know…. the sentences in the ...

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08 January, 2008

In Defense of Textbooks, Core Programs, and Basal Readers

I am often asked why I support the use of textbooks for teaching reading. It has been common in my field for those at the university to denounce the use of textbooks, and I have resisted that urge. The basic assumption seems to be that good teachers don't need textbooks, and that if you use a textbook (or core program or basal reader) you must not be a good teacher or even a very nice person.   Of course, some observers try to split the difference: "new teachers need textbooks, but experienced ones do not" is often their claim.   I think overall we ...

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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.