Phonics and decoding

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 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...

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 5, 2019

Teacher question: I know you get a lot of pushback from teachers when you say that we should teach with complex text. But I agree with you. I don’t like all the testing and teaching kids in so many different books. This might surprise you, but I wonder why you don’t emphasize teaching complex text with children in kindergarten and first-grade?

Shanahan'...

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...

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 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 3, 2018

Teacher letter: 30% of our children are second-language learners — mainly from Mexico and Central America. The reason that I’m writing is that our school’s RtI program only provides Tier 2 interventions that are aimed at teaching decoding. That means when our 1st and 2nd graders are having trouble in reading (and many of them are), they get more phonics teaching. ...

November 15, 2018

I talk a lot about research in this space.

I argue for research-based instruction and policy.

I point out a dearth of empirical evidence behind some instructional schemes, and champion others that have been validated or verified to my satisfaction.

Some readers are happy to find out what is “known,” and others see me as a killjoy because the research findings don’t...

August 27, 2018

Teacher question

Please share your thinking as well as research referencing the occasional use of decodable texts for small group reading instruction in grades K-2. 

Shanahan's response

This is not a highly researched topic. There have been only a handful of studies into the effectiveness of decodable texts since the term was...

August 20, 2018

Teacher question:

Are there any resources that provide a list of morphemes to teach at each K-5 grade level? I have been looking for a definitive list of morphemes that is organized by grade level like the Fry sight word list. I often come across research about how L1 and L2 students acquire morphemes, but I am looking for a list that represents the morphemes that students will most...

August 8, 2018

It happened again this week.

Awhile back I was a member of the National Reading Panel (NRP) that reviewed instructional research on the teaching of reading at the request of the U.S. Congress. One of my roles was to serve on the “alphabetics committee” that reviewed the research on phonemic awareness and phonics instruction.

Since then it has happened numerous times, like it did...

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