Phonemic awareness

April 14, 2020

This month’s school closures have forced families to become teachers at home overnight. 

What we know about beginning readers

Children progress as readers at different rates, but they pass through predictable stages of development. For typically-developing readers, the stages of reading can be ...

March 31, 2020

Previously, I described how I taught my daughters about print, sight vocabulary,...

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...

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...

August 1, 2018

Teacher question:  Should we teach letter names or letter sounds to beginning readers?

Shanahan's response:

Twice recently teachers have asked this question. In both instances they said they’d been told teaching letter names confused children and that “best practice” was to focus on the sounds rather than the letter names.

As a...

September 14, 2017

Man, sometimes when you publish a blog entry you’d wish you stayed in bed.

You hope to write something that someone will find useful. But the responses might make you feel more like you’ve been dropped onto the set of Fox News or MSNBC.

Recently, I’ve experienced some interesting responses.

For example:

Studies show that phonemic awareness (PA) training helps young...

August 22, 2017

Teacher question:

I coordinate reading interventions for my district. I have been told to stop referring to the National Reading Panel, as it is old and no longer relevant. Our universal screener is based on the 5 components of reading, and our basal interventions are also aligned to the "big 5". I don't think there is any way for me to stop referencing the NRP....

July 24, 2017

Teacher question: I am interested in understanding how phonemic awareness and phonics can support students who do not have a structure for learning the English language. For example, English Language Learners who have no structure for language in their home language or in English. If you can suggest resources that address this matter I would be so grateful.  


July 10, 2017

A few months ago, I read Mark Seidenberg’s Language at the Speed of Sight. Seidenberg is a psychologist who studies reading, and his book is remarkably intelligent, frank, and witty. I think there is an occasional mistake or ambiguity here and there, but overall I was...

May 28, 2017

Teacher question:

What makes good readers? What are kids lacking making them not so good readers?

Shanahan's response:

I love this question because it cuts to the heart of everything we do. If teachers don’t have clear purchase on what it takes to become a good reader, and what some kids might be...

April 2, 2017

Great report about beginning reading achievement in the most recent issue of Educational Researcher (Literacy Achievement Trends at Entry to First Grade). D’Agostino and Rodgers show that, beginning literacy skills have improved annually from 2002 through 2013....

April 11, 2016

Teacher question: Our district is trying to determine the proper pacing for introducing letter names/sounds in kindergarten. One letter per week seems too slow; 2 seems a bit fast. Most teachers are frustrated by 2 per week. We are thinking about going with 1 for the first 9 weeks, then doubling up. This would have all letter names/sounds introduce by February. Can you offer some...

March 28, 2016

Teacher question: I read a research study (Kilpatrick, 2014) that questions the value of segmentation tests for measuring phonemic awareness, because such tests did not correlate well with first- and second-grade reading achievement. At our school we have used DIBELS in Kindergarten and Grade 1 to identify children at risk for reading difficulties. Is this really useful or are we...

December 8, 2015

Teacher question:   You are confusing me. You have said that we should “never do in small group what could have been done as well as whole class,” but you also say that phonological awareness and phonics instruction are more effective when they are taught in small group. What should be taught in small group and what can be taught in whole class? Shanahan's...

November 3, 2015

Teacher question: Our kindergarten is using a reading program that has some wonderful lessons. However, we also feel that the pacing doesn't match current expectations for kindergarten students. For example, the program doesn't introduce high frequency words until December and it only teaches 25 words for the entire year. The first lesson for teaching letter names doesn't...

October 6, 2015

Here we go again.

Last week, Dale Farran and a team of researchers at the University of Tennessee concluded that preschool education gets kids off to a great academic start, but by the end of kindergarten the results start to wear off. And, by the end of second grade you can’t even tell that the kids had attended preschool or not.

That suggests that preschool education is a lousy...

September 9, 2015

Parents often ask how they can help their children learn to read; and it’s no wonder that they’re interested in this essential skill. Reading plays an important role in later school success. One study even demonstrates that how well 7-year-olds read predicts their income 35 years later!...

April 16, 2015

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.

Our struggle is this .... with our very high (87%) English Learner population, rhyming is one of the later...

December 1, 2014

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...


"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person ..." —

Carl Sagan