Phonics and decoding

March 10, 2020

Teachers can speak a lot of things into existence (a quiet line in the hallway, students sitting “criss, cross, applesauce”) but a love of reading isn’t one of them. Enthusiasm is a part of good teaching, but communicating a love of books isn’t the same thing as teaching reading. I learned that the hard way.

When reading comes easily, it’s easy to love it

Reading courses in my...

February 17, 2020

Recently, The Washington Post published an article about the latest hostilities in the “reading wars.” I noticed it because the columnist, Jay Matthews, quoted from this blog....

January 27, 2020

Interesting question.

Before I answer, let me ask one: What keeps Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, up at night?

You know Amazon, the trillion-dollar corporation that delivers something like a 5 billion packages a year.

I’m at a professional meeting. The chair asks what “levers” we have for improving reading achievement in the U.S.

It’s an easy question. There are...

January 23, 2020

As the foundations of Balanced Literacy begin to crumble, the proponents of Balanced Literacy are  presenting a new theory of reading, which they call the Complex View.  In this reincarnation of the reading wars, the Complex View seeks to counter a well-researched...

January 21, 2020

Teacher Question: I’m a big phonics promoter. Recently, someone challenged me saying that the fact that Reading First didn’t work shows that emphasizing phonics is a bad idea. Can you help?

Shanahan's response:

In 2001, the President and the U.S. Congress agreed on the creation of a $5 billion program to enhance reading instruction K-3...

January 13, 2020

Teacher question: I read your recent article on teaching with complex text in Perspectives in Language and Literacy and I agree with you. But I also read the IES Practice Guide that said that we should make sure kids are reading texts at instructional and independent levels (on page 33). Who’s right?

Shanahan's response:

Uh oh, don’t...

January 5, 2020

Teacher question: What do you think about “modeling” in literacy instruction?

Shanahan’s reply:

Tyler’s mom sent me a video. It was riveting.

Like many 21st century parents, she had a camera going in the nursery at naptime. And, the camera revealed something pretty cool during an afternoon nap.

Tyler was a toddler. He had...

December 18, 2019

Planning with the creative and hard-working teachers on my fourth-grade team was rewarding (and occasionally hilarious), but our enthusiasm sometimes produced overly-complicated plans. If a plan was becoming unwieldy, one of us would interrupt the process and say to the team:

If it’s this complicated, it’s probably not right.

We’d then pause, rearticulate our goals,...

December 8, 2019

It’s been a bad week for fluency instruction.

I started getting emails questioning me on whether I supported the fluency ideas that my friend Tim Rasinski was advocating. These messages seemed to fall into two categories: those who were honestly horrified that Tim would offer something beyond what they believed to be part of the “science of reading” and those who hoped to bait me into...

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...

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

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...

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 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...

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"If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book." —

J.K. Rowling