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Comprehension

Teaching Kids to Interpret Theme: The Limits of Practice

Many years ago my daughter, Meagan, had a homework assignment. Her literature teacher assigned a short story to read and Meagan was to figure out the theme.

The theme she came up with: “People do a lot of different things.”

Needless to say, it doesn’t matter what the story was, that wasn’t the theme. (Though she was a little surprised that I could know that without even reading it.)

“Meagan how do your teachers teach you to figure out theme?”

Further Explanation of Teaching Students with Challenging Text

Last week I pointed out that from grades 2-12 it wasn’t necessary to match students to text for instruction to proceed effectively. Research has not been kind to the idea of mechanical “instructional level” criteria like 90-95% accuracy (e.g., Jorgenson, Klein, & Kumar, 1977;  Kuhn, Schwanenflugel, Morris, Morrow, et al., 2006; Morgan, Wilcox, & Eldredge, 2000; O’Connor, Swanson, & Geraghty, 2010;  Powell, & Dunkeld, 1971;  Stahl, & Heubach, 2005;  Stanley, 1986).
 
Language learning doesn’t work that way.

Free "Summer of Listening" Podcasts Help Build Background Knowledge and Comprehension

Thanks Listen Current! Great stories await learners in grades 5-12 this summer and this listening comprehension program is free.

Laying Waste to 5 Popular Myths About Reading Instruction

"Summertime and the living is easy, fish are jumping, and the cotton is high..." 
 
It is summer and not a good time for a long blog on literacy teaching. So, I took the time to write a short one. I didn't want to get worked up in the summer heat, so have provided a pithy critique of 5 popular myths about reading instruction. 

1.  The fact that you do not use a textbook to teach reading does not make you a good teacher. 

Think-Pair-Share in Reading Instruction: Is It Effective?

Teacher question:

Our reading coach has encouraged all of our teachers to use a lot of the “think-pair-share” reading strategy. I’m an upper elementary grade teacher. Is “think-pair-share” research based?

Shanahan responds:

This seems like such a straightforward question, but it has been tying me in knots for days. It all depends on what you mean by “research based.”

Vocabulary's Three-Legged Stool: The Place for Dictionary Skills in Vocabulary Instruction

Teacher question: I’m a literacy coach, and one of the teachers in one of my online classes asked the following question: “The article mentions that using a dictionary to define a word is a superficial method of vocabulary acquisition. While it may be too rash to discontinue using dictionaries, how should they be used in vocabulary instruction, and how much should teachers rely on them in the classroom?”

Shanahan's response:

How Can Reading Coaches Raise Reading Achievement?

Teacher question: I have just been hired as a reading coach in a school where I have been a third-grade teacher. My principal wants me to raise reading achievement and he says that he’ll follow my lead. I think I’m a good teacher, but what does it take to raise reading achievement in a whole school (K-5) with 24 teachers?
 
Shanahan's response:
 
It’s easy. Just do the following 9 things:

1. Improve leadership

Where Does Content Fit In Literacy Learning? Learning to Dance and Talk at the Same Time

Years ago I took ballroom dance. I used to write about those experiences in this space. It was a great opportunity for me as teacher, since with dance I struggled greatly (something there is about having your legs bound for the first year of life that makes graceful movement a challenge).

Should I Set Reading Purposes for My Students?

For nearly a century, leading educators and school textbooks have encouraged teachers to set a purpose for reading. Sometimes these purposes are called “motivation” or they might be stated as questions, “What is a population?” or “What is the major problem the main character faces?”

It makes sense. We want our kids to be purposeful and such purpose-focused reading leads to higher comprehension, right?

On Climbing the Mountain: Four Ways Not to Deal with Complex Text

Anyone who has taught reading — or really any course that requires a textbook — knows about kids who struggle to make sense of the text. Often they don’t even try. The text just looks hard and they’re ready to run. We’ve been talking a lot about complex text since the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) burst on the scene. But most of that talk has focused on how to find texts that meet the complexity requirements of CCSS. Or how to ask questions that probe that complexity.

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"When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. " — Mem Fox