About reading

October 7, 2019

Teacher question:

What does it mean that something has research support? I’ve been a teacher for years and I’ve taught hundreds of children to read. Now I’m being told that in our district we are expected to teach in some new way that has research behind it. I like how I teach reading and I don’t want to change. Why should I?

Shanahan's response...

September 11, 2019

Teacher guilt is a compelling topic. Of all things the ideas captured in Emily Hanford’s At a Loss for Words, the recording of me talking about my guilt has become one of the more popular snippets. Yes, I said this:

It was clear to Goldberg after just a few months of...

August 30, 2019

The Fountas and Pinnell leveling system is designed to help teachers match students with books they can read. Period. Whether or not it actually does that will be covered in the next blog, but first…

Districts across the country use Fountas and Pinnell materials in ways contrary to the creators’ intent, which is a problem separate from the materials themselves.

“It is our belief...

August 25, 2019

The (marketing) genius of the F&P leveling system

The Fountas and Pinnell leveling system proposes that all the books written in English can be sorted into 26 categories, exactly the number of letters in the English alphabet. (In the same neighborhood as Reading Recovery’s 34 levels, one can’t help but notice. But that minus-eight makes all the difference.) The A-Z simplicity of the F&...

August 19, 2019

Last week, I posed 5 questions as the first half of the Great American Phonics Quiz. I hope you did well on those items that focused on whether students could learn to read without phonics, what kind of contribution it makes to learning, whether phonics instruction needs to be...

August 12, 2019

Schools are so tied up with testing these days, and this being the season of “monitoring assessments,” maybe a back-to-school phonics quiz would be a good way to welcome you all back.

I was having so much fun writing these test questions that I considered either putting in for a job at ETS or including a Part II next week ... I decided on the latter.

Let’s see how you do. The...

August 4, 2019

First, a little context:

I am a white literacy coach in a large urban district where half the teachers are of color. When I began my job, I believed that my focus on evidence-based reading instruction, good intentions and belief that all students can learn would make me well-equipped to bring research to our diverse staff. How naive I was! 

Entering this work, I was blind to...

July 26, 2019

Most primary-grade teachers teach phonics because we know it supports our students’ reading and spelling. And many of us also believe that if we incorporate phonics into our instruction, we are by definition not whole-language teachers; we are “balanced literacy” teachers. But whole-language beliefs are so pervasive and so entrenched in education that they continue to serve as the basis for a...

July 19, 2019

I understand why advocates, researchers, and policymakers who feel the urgency of our literacy crisis are frustrated when teachers don’t embrace reading science. But my entry into the world of reading research was difficult, and while I take pride in my determination to learn, I understand why other teachers might be deterred. If we want teachers to apply research, it may be helpful to think...

June 28, 2019

Teacher question: Dr. Shanahan, I know that you don’t support independent reading at school. However, in my graduate program we are learning that research evidence shows that kids who read the most become the best readers. I don’t get why you don’t support this research-based practice.

Shanahan's response

In grad school my statistics...

June 11, 2019

Recently, the PBS News Hour aired a report about the parents of children who suffer from dyslexia. Their kids weren’t being taught phonics and weren’t learning to read. When phonics instruction was provided, they did better, and so the moms were pressuring their state to ensure other kids wouldn’t face the same neglect. It was a classic story of public institutions (in this case schools) not...

June 3, 2019

Recently PBS News Hour broadcast a segment about dyslexia and reading instruction. In response, 57 members of the Reading Hall of Fame submitted a letter of complaint, which has since been posted publicly.

Here is a link to the PBS segment and the letter is posted in the comments section following the video segment on this site:...

May 29, 2019

Teacher question: I keep hearing that teachers don’t know the science of reading. But all the teachers that I talk to say that they teach phonics. What’s really going on?

Shanahan's response: 

I suspect that both the critics and the teachers are telling you the truth.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a national education inspectorate...

May 22, 2019

Teacher question: Although the Reading Wars might be over (somewhat), I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve entered the era of Research Wars. What’s a literacy coach to do? 

Shanahan's response:

I think you’re onto something. I’ve been seeing the same thing.

Of course, the original “reading wars” back in the 1990s were research...

May 9, 2019

Teacher question: We place children in different kindergarten (or prekindergarten) tracks based upon their performances on a readiness screener — and in consultation with parents. However, our state now has a “Read by Grade Three” law, which requires retention in third grade for students who don’t meet that standard.

We have several students who are very...

April 1, 2019

Teacher question:

There is a big argument in my new district over whether or not it is a good idea to teach children to use the three cueing systems. What do you think? Why don’t you ever write about the cueing systems?

Shanahan’s response:

I don’t write about them because I’m not a fiction writer.

Don’t get me wrong,...

February 13, 2019

Teacher question: I'm looking for help with information or resources about text types for early readers. We have decodable text, text with high-frequency words, and predictive text. It seems like a reasonable strategy to provide our fragile readers with more opportunities to read these low-complexity texts while we shore up issues with phonological awareness. 

...

January 30, 2019

Teacher question:

If you were teaching second-grade what would your schedule look like?

Shanahan's response:

This question — in various forms — came up a lot this week in response to last week’s posting. Here is my thinking on this.

I start from the premise that I want kids to get between 120-180 minutes per day of reading...

January 22, 2019

Teacher question: The National Assessment of Educational Progress says that only 37% of 4th graders are reaching reading proficiency. Why is it so low?

Shanahan's response

Why do so few American kids read well?

There seems to be plenty of blame to go around. Parents? Society? Too much screen time? Poverty? Immigration? You and me...

December 17, 2018

Teacher question: I hope and pray that you write about or repost regarding state reading assessments. I just received a call from a frantic academic coach stating that her principal has told her teachers to look at our state test’s achievement level descriptors and create test-based questions aligned to those levels to ask when immersing students in literature and...

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"I'm wondering what to read next." — Matilda, Roald Dahl