About reading

To Lexile or Not to Lexile, That Is the Question

Teacher question:

Our school district is going wild over Lexiles because they are in the Common Core standards. I think they are overdoing it and don’t feel comfortable with some of the decisions that we are making. What are the weaknesses of Lexiles?

First, Lexiles is only one of several readability measures included in the CCSS. They started with that one, but as studies were completed they added ATOS, SourceRater, and several others.

Response to the Joyful Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland

Reader Question:

The Atlantic just published an article about the mistake American educators make by teaching reading in kindergarten. Shouldn’t we do what the Finns do: let kids learn to read when they want to and end up with high achievement?

Shanahan Response:

Of Carts and Horses: Where Fluency Teaching Fits in Learning to Read Process

Question from a teacher:

Our preK-5 school has a number of struggling readers, and we were told yesterday that we should focus only on fluency and accuracy, not comprehension or vocabulary. We were also told that we really shouldn't be using our grade level reading materials or complex texts in the classroom until students are fluent and accurate. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what we do when we have large numbers of struggling readers.

Does Formative Assessment Improve Reading Achievement?

Today I was talking to a group of educators from several states. The focus was on adolescent literacy. We were discussing the fact that various programs, initiatives, and documents — all supposedly research-based efforts — were promoting the idea that teachers should collect formative assessment data.

I pointed out that there wasn’t any evidence that it actually works at improving reading achievement with older students.

Why Research-Based Reading Programs Alone Are Not Enough

From a reader:

Every teacher has experienced this. While the majority of the class is thriving with your carefully planned, research supported instructional methods, there is often one kid that is significantly less successful. We work with them individually in class, help them after school, sometimes change things up to see what will work, bring them to the attention of the RtI team that is also using the research supported instructional methods. But what if the methods research support for the majority of kids don't work for this kid?

Is Rhyming Ability Important in Reading?

Our district is wrestling with how much emphasis to give rhyming as an early literacy skill. We had previously downplayed rhyming as a necessary focus but the new CA ELA/ELD Framework and CCSS where rhyming is specifically called out has resurfaced old questions.

Response to Complaint About What Works Clearinghouse

I have recently encountered some severe criticism leveled at reviews and reviewers from What Works Clearinghouse (for example, this from the National Institute for Direct Instruction). I am concerned about recommending this site to teachers as a resource for program evaluations. I'm wondering if you agree with the criticisms, and if yes, where you would recommend teachers go for evidence-based program reviews.

What Is the Proper Sequence to Teach Reading Skills?

Years ago, when the National Reading Panel (NRP) report came out, Congress tried to impose a national literacy sequence on American schools. Their plan only allowed phonemic awareness instruction until kids could fully segment words. Then the law would let us teach phonics… but no fluency until the word sounding was completed. Eventually we’d even get to comprehension — at least for the most stalwart boys and girls who hung in there long enough.

A very ambitious plan; one that suggests a clear developmental sequence in how reading abilities unfold.

Does a Listening Deficit Predict a Reading Deficit?

In a recent workshop I attended, the following comment was made:

"A child cannot read and comprehend at a level higher than they can listen and comprehend. A deficit in listening comprehension predicts a deficit in reading comprehension." Could you explain this correlation further or refer me to professional reading material that would expound on this topic?

Unbalanced Comments on Balanced Literacy

Want to win an argument about literacy? Just claim your approach is “balanced.”

Balanced is a affirmative term. That’s why Fox-News claims to be “fair and balanced.” It not only makes your position sound reasonable, but implies your opponents may be a bit off, you know, imbalanced.

So it is not too surprising that school principals and district literacy leaders often tout their reading programs as balanced. “Balanced literacy” sounds great, but what does it mean? What is being balanced?


"Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks." — Dr. Seuss