Literacy Blogs

18 September, 2021

Should We Departmentalize Our Primary Grades?

Teacher question: My school district has recently departmentalized first and second grades. The students seem very young to have two teachers and move classes mid-day. It also seems that early literacy should stretch across the school and not only be taught during an ELA block. I’m interested to know your thoughts. Shanahan responds: This strikes me as a singularly bad idea. In fairness, I know of no studies on the effectiveness of the practice (in terms of kids’ learning) at these early grade levels, but this appears to be the result of no researcher thinking this to be even a remotely good idea worth ...

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11 September, 2021

Do You See Visualization as an Effective Reading Comprehension Strategy? And, for Whom?

Teacher Question: I’m a second-grade teacher. Our school has purchased a reading comprehension program that emphasizes visualization. Is that such a good idea? Shanahan Response: Great question. This is one that I can answer with a “yes” or “no.” I’m not answering like a politician, it just sounds like it. My affirmative and negative isn’t an attempt to be on all sides of an issue. It’s just a recognition that visualization has been a successful instructional strategy… at some grade levels; and not so much at others. That means that program might be a good purchase for some of the teachers, but maybe not for ...

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14 August, 2021

Disciplinary Literacy Goes to Elementary School

Teacher question: I am an elementary school principal. I've heard a lot recently about disciplinary literacy. Our school isn't doing enough with that in my opinion. What do you think? What should I have my teachers doing with disciplinary literacy? Shanahan responds: Over the past three decades research has shown that people read differently in the different disciplines. Historians, for instance, read different kinds of texts, for different purposes, and they weigh evidence differently, and focus on different kind of information in the texts that they read than do literary critics or scientists. Reading starts out pretty generalizable. The skills we use to ...

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07 August, 2021

What Does It Take to Teach Inferencing?

Teacher question: I am reaching out to see if you can clarify for me and possibly point me in the direction of a resource(s) where I can read more about the differences between predicting, inferring, and drawing conclusions. Our curriculum was developed in house and is very skill/strategy based. In Virginia, our state tests operationalize reading in the following way: predicting is making an informed guess about what happens next using text evidence and schema  inferring is reading "between the lines" to a given point in text using text and schema to understand what is happening in the text  drawing conclusions is projecting forward using text ...

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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

Blast from the Past: This entry first appeared on July 10, 2021, and it was re-issued on July 15, 2023. Questions about this issue come up from time to time, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to re-release this blog entry. I know of no new research on this matter, though there are some dissertation studies that suggest kids aren't getting enough reading opportunity in class. Their solution seems to be that stamina is best built by having kids read self-selected books independently with a minimum of teacher guidance. They report that kids like this more than having ...

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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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