Are “Just Right” Books Too Easy?

In this article in Reading Today, Timothy Shanahan (University of Illinois/Chicago) examines the long-standing belief that children learn best when they’re taught at their current instructional reading level, using materials that are not too hard, not too easy – “just right.” This seems like common sense, as anyone who has watched a frustrated student struggling with a frustration-level book can understand. 

“But what if that doesn’t actually work?” asks Shanahan. “If low-performing fourth-graders are to be taught from second-grade books, when do they catch up?” The Common Core standards take a different approach, requiring teachers to push their students to read more-challenging texts. 

So what should teachers do? “This is exactly the kind of dilemma that should lead educators to turn to research evidence,” says Shanahan. He examined the relevant studies and found no credible support for on-level reading instruction. The basic concept turns out to be wrong. “The point shouldn’t be to place students in books easy enough to ensure good reading,” he says, “but to provide enough scaffolding [for example, pre-teaching vocabulary and oral reading prior to reading for comprehension] to allow them to read harder books successfully… Such scaffolding allows students to read these frustration-level texts as if they were at their instructional levels. Instructional level is not where lessons should begin, but where they need to end.” 

To see the studies that convinced Shanahan, see www.reading.org/scaffolding-studies

“Should We Teach Students at Their Reading Levels?” by Timothy Shanahan in Reading Today, September/October 2014 (Vol. 32, #2, p. 14-15), www.reading.org; Shanahan can be reached at shanahan@uic.edu

From the Marshall Memo #553

 

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