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The Role of Early Oral Language in Reading Comprehension

When I was 18 years old, I was a volunteer tutor in an inner-city school. I wasn’t an education major — that came later — but I was intent on saving the world. I was excited about the idea of going into the city and working with elementary school kids who were growing up in poverty.

But I was also nervous about it. I didn’t know a damn thing about working with kids, the inner city, or reading. A trifecta of ignorance.

Why an Overemphasis on Foundational Reading Skills Isn't Healthy for Kids

Principal's question:

District leadership has advised primary teachers to focus on the Foundational Skills Strand, and de-emphasize the other strands. The belief is that if students go into Grade 3 having mastered foundational skills, they will be prepared to master the rigor of the other strands.

The Slow Path Forward: We Can — and Do — Learn from Reading Research

We in education tend to have very strong beliefs. And, those beliefs can overwhelm our knowledge — or even our willingness to gain knowledge.
 

How Can Reading Coaches Raise Reading Achievement?

Teacher question: I have just been hired as a reading coach in a school where I have been a third-grade teacher. My principal wants me to raise reading achievement and he says that he’ll follow my lead. I think I’m a good teacher, but what does it take to raise reading achievement in a whole school (K-5) with 24 teachers?
 
Shanahan's response:
 
It’s easy. Just do the following 9 things:

1. Improve leadership

Why I'm Not Impressed with Effective Teachers

I was making a presentation about how to raise reading achievement. I was taking my audience through research on what needed to be taught and how it needed to be taught if kids were to do as well as possible. I was telling about my experiences as director of reading of the Chicago Public Schools at a time when my teachers raised reading achievement.

When I finished, a teacher approached me. “What do you think is the most important variable in higher reading achievement?”

My answer was, “The amount of teaching — academic experience — that we provide to our children.”

Kids Need to Read Within Instruction

If you have ever had surgery, you probably have had the weird experience of signing off on a bunch of medical paperwork. The oddest form is the one that gives the surgeon permission to assault you. Think about it. Usually we don’t want people poking at us with knives. Doctors can’t do that either, unless we give our permission. Otherwise, every tonsillectomy would lead to a 911 call.

That means context matters. Stick a knife in someone in an OR and that is cool, do the same thing down at the local tap and you'll do 5-7 in the state penitentiary.

To Lexile or Not to Lexile, That Is the Question

Teacher question:

Our school district is going wild over Lexiles because they are in the Common Core standards. I think they are overdoing it and don’t feel comfortable with some of the decisions that we are making. What are the weaknesses of Lexiles?

First, Lexiles is only one of several readability measures included in the CCSS. They started with that one, but as studies were completed they added ATOS, SourceRater, and several others.

Response to the Joyful Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland

Reader Question:

The Atlantic just published an article about the mistake American educators make by teaching reading in kindergarten. Shouldn’t we do what the Finns do: let kids learn to read when they want to and end up with high achievement?

Shanahan Response:

Of Carts and Horses: Where Fluency Teaching Fits in Learning to Read Process

Question from a teacher:

Our preK-5 school has a number of struggling readers, and we were told yesterday that we should focus only on fluency and accuracy, not comprehension or vocabulary. We were also told that we really shouldn't be using our grade level reading materials or complex texts in the classroom until students are fluent and accurate. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what we do when we have large numbers of struggling readers.

Does Formative Assessment Improve Reading Achievement?

Today I was talking to a group of educators from several states. The focus was on adolescent literacy. We were discussing the fact that various programs, initiatives, and documents — all supposedly research-based efforts — were promoting the idea that teachers should collect formative assessment data.

I pointed out that there wasn’t any evidence that it actually works at improving reading achievement with older students.

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"A book is like a garden, carried in the pocket." — Chinese Proverb