Curriculum and instruction

November 26, 2019

Thank you for writing No One Gets to Own the Term “The Science of Reading”. I am so relieved that discussion of reading science has made its way into the balanced literacy community and that you’ve added your own voice to the conversation. You’re making it safe for experienced educators to...

November 20, 2019

I was determined to undo the bad reading habits my students had developed during guided reading. I exchanged a leveled reading program for one with decodables and used a diagnostic phonics assessment to regroup my students.

For some students, cracking the code was easy

Students with strong phonemic...

November 11, 2019

Teacher question: I've attached a Student Work Analysis tool that we are using. I have read that you oppose attempts to grade students on the individual reading standards. Although this tool is not used for grading students, it is a standard-by-standard analysis of the students’ work, and I wonder what you think of it? [The form that was included provided spaces for...

October 29, 2019

When I became a reading interventionist, my first graders taught me that Guided Reading isn’t as effective as I had once believed. Initially, my attention was on my readers’ “strengths.” Mistakes in reading were not problems but rather “miscues,” windows into my students’ minds and reassurance that they needed me for guidance as they read.

But as I observed my students, I noticed them...

October 21, 2019

There’s new momentum behind teaching reading more directly and explicitly, but many of us are wondering: is this just another swing of a pendulum? It’s hard to believe that investing in new reading practices is worthwhile if the new practices will fall out of favor in a few years. But for district leaders who want to make a lasting impact, there is no better focus than reading...

October 21, 2019

Teacher question: I know phonics should be taught explicitly and we have looked through several sources to determine the patterns to teach in first grade. I have been pouring through leveled texts and have found a high concentration of blends, digraphs, long vowel/silent 'e', and predictable vowel teams in text as low as levels 4 and 6. We are not teaching these patterns...

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 30, 2019

Teacher question: What’s the best way to teach and have students master vocabulary?

Shanahan's response:

My original reaction to this question was not exactly what I’d label a model of helpfulness.

The question was asked by someone new to my blog and I started to send him a note telling him I’d written about that several times...

September 23, 2019

My district, like so many others, uses Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System (BAS) as the primary measure of student reading progress. But if you’ve had doubts about the assessment and the ways BAS data is often used, you’re on to something…

Limited materials

An F&P Benchmark Assessment System kit provides us with only two books (one fiction...

September 23, 2019

Teacher question: I saw you make a presentation recently, and I was surprised to hear that you did not like the conferencing that is provided in Readers Workshop. That is the method that our district requires. Isn’t it research-based?

Shanahan's response:

No, it definitely is not research based.

I can’t find a single study that...

September 17, 2019

Teacher question: I saw you speak recently and in your definition of reading comprehension you used the term “affordance.” How would you define affordance as you use it concerning text?  

Shanahan's response:

Usually, I’d just shoot off a quick email explanation with a question like this.

However, in this case, the question...

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...

September 10, 2019

Teacher question: What are your thoughts on standards-based grading in ELA which is used in many districts? For example, teachers may be required to assign a number 1-4 (4 being "mastery") that indicates a student’s proficiency level on each ELA standard. Teachers need to provide evidence to document how they determined the level of mastery. Oftentimes tests are...

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 10, 2019

Teacher (in a panic): “It can’t be wrong.

Me (softly): “Why not?

Teacher:Because if it’s wrong and I’ve been doing it for years, then what does that mean for the kids?

Me: “I know, but another teacher said to me, ‘What about the kids we haven’t had yet?’

To...

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 30, 2019

Teacher question: I teach fourth-grade social studies at my school and I have an ongoing argument with our reading coach. Perhaps you can help me. She says that the way I teach is bad, but it works, and I see no reason to change. My students take turns reading paragraphs aloud and when each one finishes then I ask them questions or explain what the book said. I like it...

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 23, 2019

Last week, in response to a teacher’s question, I explained the important role summarization plays in reading comprehension. I described how, according to research, we can best teach kids to summarize paragraphs from informational texts.

Voilà, I just walked the talk: I just...

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"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo