It’s time to fundamentally change the dialogue around the issue of how to teach beginning reading: The case for taking a centrist position by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This past Thursday night, I took part in a fascinating book club discussion around Eric Litwin’s book, The Power of Joyful Reading LINK. Eric was present for the book club, and he had many interesting things to say. What he had to say is very much pertinent to the upcoming special edition of The Missouri Reader that is scheduled to come out next weekend. That issue will focus on the question of where we are in the “great debate” on the issue of how to teach beginning reading best.  Basically, Eric said that too often, we focus on all the wrong things, e.g., analytic phonics vs. synthetic phonics and do not focus on the central question of how to best teach reading. That question is, “How can we take full advantage of the power of joyful reading?” For me, that means making sure the key goal of any reading program is to create lifelong readers (and writers). I feel that the answer to the question of how to cut through the gordian knot of best ways to teach reading can come from considering the following question:

“How can we fundamentally shift the dialogue from the current ‘us/them’ approach we seem to be taking in our current talks around the question of best approaches to teaching reading into a dialogue based on the quilt metaphor?”

The talking points I have developed for our upcoming special edition of The Missouri Reader issue will delve into the issues raised by the so-called reading wars. They are designed to shift the conversation from an adversarial one to a cooperative one.  Taken together, I hope that the following talking points make a powerful argument for taking a more cooperative, centrist approach to the issue of teaching reading. Here are the talking points:

1. Taking an us/them approach, treating the issue of teaching beginning reading as a dichotomy is counterproductive. It guarantees that the Great Debate will turn into what Frank Smith once called The Never-Ending Debate, LINK.

Using the “reading wars” metaphor guarantees that the debate around reading will endlessly swing between extreme positions about teaching reading. See the details about why I think that is the case in section three of this blog post. Because of the inadequacies of the reading wars metaphor,  I advocate for adopting the metaphor that Cambourne and Crouch are suggesting in the upcoming issue of The Missouri Reader LINK. It is the “quilt” metaphor.  There is a quilt of available reading practices. My take on this is that teachers should be allowed to take from the quilt those particular practices that are most likely to help the particular children they are working with. There is a caveat: Teachers must follow district guidelines/policies as they use these various practices.

2. Despite claims to the contrary, the issues around how to best teach beginning reading are not settled science.

I have talked about the Reading Research Quarterly Special Issue: Executive Summary Science of Reading- Supports, Critiques and Questions several times in the past few months. The summary gives us insights into what the top researchers in reading are thinking about this important topic, LINK.  Here is a brief excerpt from the summary of the document:

“In short, a key contribution of this special issue is to clarify that it is not enough to consider the collection of experimental studies conceptualized within SOR; instead, this special issue pushes a broader conceptualization.”

That push for a broader conceptualization of the SOR can be found in Pearson and Tierney’s new book A History of Literacy Education: Waves of Research and Practice.  I recently talked in detail about the content of this book in a recent blog LINK. Here is a key quote  from the book. I used this quote in the blog:

“When the editors of the Reading Research Quarterly invited scholars to submit articles to address this topic, we had envisioned more debate and adamant views. We predicted poorly. The contributors were restrained in their general characterization of the state of reading instruction, the preparation of teachers, and the state of student achievement. Our reading of the separate articles suggested that there was a general consensus that we were ‘not there yet’ relative to science being able to offer guidance to teachers about teaching and learning for diverse classrooms and learners.”

In light of the above quote and reading the considerable research around the Science of Reading issue, I stand by my conclusion that it is not yet settled science.

3. The issues around what works have been clouded by misinformation, misrepresentation and misunderstanding about what methods work (or don’t work).  That kind of thing has been carried out by folks from both sides (all sides?).

For example, using the ideas and methods of the SOR approach does not necessarily automatically produce “word callers.”  Using ideas from the SOR approach does not automatically exclude developing readers who comprehend.  Some critics of the SOR methods seem to indicate that both things are true. They do this by drawing on what I consider “strawman tactics,” looking only at those advocates of SOR who take things to the extreme or who implement the tenets of SOR poorly. Don’t get me wrong. I am a critic of those SOR advocates who take the “my way or the highway” positions. LINK, LINK.  But I do try to dialogue with folks who believe in the SOR approach or who are sure that Dyslexia is a real phenomenon.  I find that many of them have ideas that are very much worth considering. LINK, LINK. I even wrote an article for Literacy Today entitle Argue Less, Talk More (pg. 20) LINK. This article outlines how all sides could and should have productive dialogues around this important topic.

One of my earliest blogs proposed the idea of a “reading Evolution” LINK.  

In this entry, I argue that so long as we continue to treat things as a dichotomy (the reading wars), as long as both sides (all sides) take a “my way or the highway” attitude that the pendulum of instruction will continue to swing between extremes.  There is a fact of life in education that most teachers become well aware of. What works with one kid does not necessarily work with another. No one method works with all kids all the time. Accordingly, when the pendulum swings to a particular way of doing things, if folks from that method insist that their method and only their method be used, it is guaranteed that there will be some children for whom that method doesn’t work. What happens next is a call to try something better. We swing to another extreme. For most of my 5-decade career in literacy, I’ve watched the pendulum swing time and again. Isn’t it time for something new? Here is what I suggested in that blog entry:

“Effectively, it means trying something that we’ve never before tried in the history of teaching reading. That is leaving the pendulum in the middle, talking to one another, learning from one another, and putting together a system that helps as many children as possible by using the best ideas of all the approaches. P.D. Pearson expressed this kind of sentiment in the last round of the reading wars. Have a look: Life in the Radical Middle: A Personal Apology for a Balanced View of Reading.

That is what the “Reading Evolution” is all about. Having teachers who are willing and able to try to find the best methods for each individual child. My mantra has been “fit the program to the child, not the other way around.” No one side wins with the approach. But no one side loses either. The real winners of taking this approach are the students who finally get the instruction that is most likely to help them.

4. There is a real need to consider all research and all forms of research as we wrestle with the problem of how to teach reading, especially beginning reading.

I intend to take an in-depth look at the issue of qualitative vs. quantitative research in future blogs.  For now, I will say this- based on the coursework I’ve had in both approaches, I firmly believe that one is not “better” than the other. Many SOR advocates approach things as if quantitative research should be considered first and foremost, perhaps exclusively. They treat qualitative information as a weak sister at best. I respectfully disagree. We need both to inform our instruction. I say this because doing educational research is a messy business. There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of variables that can come into play. Random assignment can only do so much to overcome this. There are limits to what quantitative studies can tell us. Qualitative work gives us important additional information that can be hidden or lost by using only quantitative information. One of my favorite examples of action research involving both qualitative & quantitative measures can be found in the action research of one of my former professors. I wrote a blog about that LINK. That same professor told of one district that looked at which teachers had the best reading outcomes with students. They then invited those teachers to make suggestions about what practices the district might consider adopting. I thought that was an innovative qualitative-based way of doing things. Bottom line- we need to use both quantitative and qualitative information to inform our instruction.

5. There are hopeful signs that work from both sides (all sides) can lead to further research that can help inform our reading instruction.

For me, Nell Duke is the epitome of what a good researcher is all about. She follows the research where it leads, even when it leads to challenging folks’ long-cherished ideas about reading. Be sure to look at the repost and discussion of her most recent article, where she proposes an improved model of how to deal with teaching reading. It will appear in next week’s Missouri Reader. Here is a preview of that model:

6. The best hope for helping all children does not lie in adopting particular methods. Instead, I believe it lies in empowering teachers by teaching teachers about a variety of different teaching methods and allowing local districts (not state or national mandates) to determine what methods would work best with their particular population.

The International Reading Association has long advocated a policy of using a variety of methods LINK.  Here is a brief excerpt from that statement:

“There is a strong research base supporting this position. Several large-scale studies of reading methods have shown that no one method is better than any other method in all settings and situations (Adams, 1990; Bond & Dykstra, 1967; Foorman et al., 1998; Hoffman, 1994; Stallings, 1975). For every method studied, some children learned to read very well while others had great difficulty.

This is not a new finding. For example, in their report on the First-Grade Studies, Bond and Dykstra (1967) wrote the following: ‘Children learn to read by a variety of materials and methods. Pupils become successful readers in such vastly different programs as the Language Experience approach with its relative lack of structure and vocabulary control and the various Linguistic programs with their relatively high degree of structure and vocabulary control. Furthermore, pupils experienced difficulty in each of the programs utilized. No one approach is so distinctively better in all situations and respects than the others that it should be considered the best method and the one to be used exclusively. (p. 123)’ .”

Taken together, I think these six talking points make a case for adopting a centrist position around the issue of how to best teach reading. I do think it is time to replace the Reading Wars metaphor with the Quilt metaphor. It is valuable to look at the best of what each point of view has to offer rather than tear down points of view that don’t fit our favorite way of doing things. I’d very much be interested in finding out what you think. Would you please respond with comments to this blog or by tweeting out your ideas? Also- please do be on the lookout next week for The Missouri Reader, and please do visit the MLA website for information about upcoming book clubs, LINK.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Sam Bommarito began his teaching career in 1970. During his career, he has taught every grade Kg-graduate school. His educational roles have included being a Title One reading teacher, Title One staff developer, and University professor. He is currently a national reading consultant and has presented at numerous local, state and national reading conventions. He has done a considerable amount of professional development training for schools in the St. Louis region and is actively involved in a literacy initiative spearheaded by Turn The Page. This initiative is designed to improve instruction in the St. Louis region. He is also currently doing pro bono work at an elementary school, where he does individual tutoring and whole class push-ins using Zoom.  He tweets about educational issues daily (@doctorsam7) and does a weekly blog about reading (DoctorSam7, via WordPress). The blog includes informational pieces, op-eds, and video interviews of people working in the field of literacy. He advocates for a centrist approach to reading, which he defines as an approach that uses reading practices from a variety of sources.  Teachers should align those particular practices to the particular children who will benefit from them the most. He has served as a board member and officer on both state and national ILA boards, and he is currently the Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader. This journal is a peer-reviewed state reading journal. It has been publishing for over four decades.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Lots of free low prep, high impact opportunities for improving your literacy program, just in time for the end of summer/beginning of the school year. By Dr. Sam Bommarito

There are several upcoming literacy opportunities for the end of summer and the beginning of the school year.

JULY BOOK CLUB. Included is a book club this coming Thursday evening from 6:30 to 7:30 CST. Eric Litwin will be there in person to talk about a new professional book he wrote called The Power of Joyful Teaching. I promise you it will be a lively and informative event. His book includes tons of ideas for getting kids of all ages engaged in the reading process. There are lots of specific ideas in the book and lots of free resources on his website. In this second session of the book club, you’ll be hearing about all this from Eric himself.  New registrations are welcome. This is a free event open to all.  It is sponsored by The Missouri Literacy Association, an affiliate of the International Reading Association. BTW I did a blog about Eric’s new book LINK.

Here is a link to register for that book club:

https://mla31.wildapricot.org/event-4301466

August Book Club. Here is the promo for the Missouri Literacy Association’s August book club event:

Notice we are promoting this as a “Little to NO-PREP Book Club”. It features two different books by Trudy Ludwig. It is free and open to all.

This is a one-session book club. She will be at this session via Zoom to talk about both books.  Again, you will come away from this session with great ideas about how to use picture books. It also provides you the perfect chance to learn more about both of these wonderful books Trudy has written.

Special Edition of The Missouri Reader. The last weekend in July, the Missouri Literacy Association will be releasing the latest issue of The Missouri ReaderThe Missouri Reader is a peer-reviewed professional journal that has been publishing for over four decades.  Glenda Nugent and I are the co-editors of this journal.  This special summer edition will look at the many sides of the question of how to best teach reading, especially beginning reading.  This issue includes an article by Brian Cambourne and Debra Crouch that proposes replacing the “Reading Wars” metaphor with a “Reading Quilt” metaphor. I wrote a blog about that idea LINK.  BTW- we are in the process of lining up a book club around Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne’s new book Made for Learning. I’ll let you know when we have a date for that.

We will also discuss Nell Duke’s new literacy model and P.D. Pearson’s new book, The History of Literacy Education. I will give a link to the journal. It will be in the blog I’ll be writing about this special issue. That will also come out the last weekend in July.  In the meantime, here is a sample to give you an idea of what special editions of our reading journal look like.  It is a link to a previous special edition that was about how to use poetry in literacy instruction. It includes powerful ideas for using poetry with both younger and older students. Have a look while you are waiting for the new journal to come out.

https://joom.ag/o1ta

I hope all the preceding gives you some low prep, high impact ideas that will help you make the transition from the end of summer to the start of the school year. I hope to see you at some (or all) of the book club sessions, and I hope you will enjoy the many resources that The Missouri Reader will be providing you.

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

An “extra extra extra” post- Book Club about Eric Litwin’s New Book- Please register!

My Twitter Post

Book Club about @ericlitwinbooks ‘s bk The Joy of Reading. This one is a “must read”. Sponsored by Mo. Lit. Assoc, an ILA affiliate. #ILAchat @ILAToday @ssvincent @VSRAToday @lsrsig Eric will be at the second session! LINK = https://mla31.wildapricot.org/event-4301466

Here is a link to a recent interview I did with Eric: https://doctorsam7.blog/2021/04/02/the-eric-litwin-interview-eric-discusses-his-newest-books-the-power-of-joyful-reading-and-a-childrens-book-entitled-the-poop-song-yes-a-book-about-poop-by-doctor-sam-bommarito/

HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL AT THE BOOK CLUB

Dr. Sam!

It’s Not Settled Science: A look at Pearson and Tierney’s new book & my musing about best reading practices by Dr. Sam Bommarito

It’s Not Settled Science: A look at Pearson and Tierney’s new book & my musing about best reading practices by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I’ll begin by saying that this is not a review of Tierney and Pearson’s new book, A History of Literacy Education: Waves of Research and Practice. I am saving that for another time. Rather it is a discussion of the state of the dialogue around the best ways to teach reading.  Several things from the new book helped me expand and clarify my thinking around that issue. Despite numerous claims to the contrary, the key takeaway is this, the issue of how to teach reading is not a settled science.

I’ve written many times about the limits and limitations of the so-called Science of Reading movement, LINK1, LINK 2, LINK 3. I have talked about my position, which is essentially centrist. I advocate looking at the issue of how to teach reading using tools like Cambourne and Crouch’s quilt metaphor. Cambourne and Crouch argue that rather than looking at the issue of reading instructional practices as a dichotomy (the reading wars), it is more useful to view it as a quilt of varied instructional practices.  I think it makes sense to look at and use things from all the many resources on that quilt. This means rather than forcing a one size fits all solution on all children, we should instead find the part of the “quilt of instructional practices” that fits each particular child. Here are some key excerpts from Tierney and Pearson’s book that I believe reinforce taking that kind of centrist stance. 

On the question of, is there a Science of Reading?

“When the editors of the Reading Research Quarterly invited scholars to submit articles to address this topic, we had envisioned more debate and adamant views. We predicted poorly. The contributors were restrained in their general characterization of the state of reading instruction, the preparation of teachers, and the state of student achievement. Our reading of the separate articles suggested that there was a general consensus that we were ‘not there yet’ relative to science being able to offer guidance to teachers about teaching and learning for diverse classrooms and learners.”

The book goes on to quote Yaden, Reinking and Smagorinsky (in press), who argue that the narrow focus on reading is misguiding and misdirected…  they suggest that SOR:

     “Relies on a limited conception of science; ignores relevant environmental factors and …uncritically accepts experimentation as the only valid approach to social science inquiry in literacy … leading to the oversimplification of understanding the nature of the reading process, of teaching reading and of conducting research into effective reading pedagogies. The conception of science embedded in SOR research reduces reading to a technical exercise that eliminates critical variables that follow from how the vicissitudes of living in a complex physical and social world contribute to how people read, why they read and how they experience reading instruction.”

The book then turns to what Tim Shanahan had to say in his recent RRQ article.

“Yet no matter how good the ideas of basic research they must be tried out instructionally and shown to be beneficial in improving reading ability or its dispersion in some way before they should be recommended to educators and policymakers (Shanahan 2020, p. 241).”

My take on the preceding ideas: 

Most important is the fact that the claim that SOR is settled is debunked. A reading of the recent RRQ articles shows, as the book states, that “we are not there yet.” I talked about and gave links to the content of those articles in a recent blog post LINK. Readers are invited to review the summaries of those articles provided by that link to see if the assessment that “we are not there yet” is justified. I anticipate that most readers will concur with that view.  My mantra over the past few years has been to consider ALL the research.  This means including qualitative and quantitative research. Too often, in their public relations campaign to promote their particular methods, SOME (not all) SOR advocates treat qualitative research as weak. My research training taught me that in terms of quantitative vs. qualitative research, one form of research is not inherently better or worse than the other. They both have a place and a role to play in helping to inform our decisions. Purely quantitative approaches run the risk of leaving out critical factors. Some SOR advocates focus on a select few cherry-picked quantitative research papers while ignoring or debunking other quantitative and qualitative research findings that fail to support their preferred methods. So, one of the things I will continue to advocate for is to consider ALL the research when making decisions about what literacy practices to use.

What about the politicization of reading and literacy that has occurred? On page 219, Tierney and Pearson have the following to say:

“The politicization of reading and literacy is particularly evident in the ways in which some educators marked ideas and suggestions for reform as ‘best practice’. For example, in Australia, Jennifer Buckingham has been hugely influential positioning her own reading program (multlit.com/about/our-expertise/Jennifer-buckingham/). In the United States, Emily Hanford uses blogs and tweets to selectively represent her position on dyslexia as well as what she deems essential reading pedagogy (e.g., Hanford, 2018; Loewus, 2019). The politicization of their position is most apparent in their efforts to introduce legislation in several states mandating certain emphases to the exclusion of eclecticism and restrictions on the role of teacher decision making.”

They then elaborate on this chilling turn of events in the current dialogue around the best ways to teach reading on page 222. In what they call a compelling critique of the attacks on the quality of teachers and their preparation, they quote Hoffman et al.:

“The SOR is being used to silence the literacy teacher preparation community through its unfounded claims regarding what matters, what is known and what must be done. To question these claims or inquire into their scientific base (as many have done) is met with charges of ignorance, incompetence and/or ideological bias….”

My take on the preceding

I have, on several occasions, raised the question of whether the SOR advocates have met the “gold standard” of research. That would mean providing evidence that the practices being advocated were tried out over an extended period of time, IN ACTUAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS, and that the measures of success for those practices include using tests of reading that measure both decoding and comprehension.  Careful examination of the evidence they give to support their position has never produced anything close to meeting that requirement. Yet, they are insisting that their recommended practices be exclusively adopted at the state level.

The effect of this stance is that they take away the right of the local school districts to decide what is best. While it may be true that some districts make bad choices or fail to implement their good choices, it is equally true that there are many districts that do find things that work well for their children. It makes sense to me that such decisions properly belong at the district level. The districts are in a position to know the students they serve the best. A state-level or national-level decision runs the risk of making decisions that are a good fit for some but a really bad fit for others. As a practicing teacher for over 50 years, I have found that the fact is what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another. That fact helps to explain why the pendulum of reading instruction seems to swing from one extreme to the other. As I said in my original post entitled The Reading Evolution: Finding a Path to End the Reading Wars:

“The swinging pendulum has become the defining feature about what has become known as the reading wars. The problem is that after each and every swing, the folks who call for replacing the old way of doing things are quite confident, they have finally found THE WAY to solve things.  They insist that all old practices be dropped and replaced by the newest soup de jour. Invariably what happens is that the new way helps many, but not all. Eventually, this new way becomes the old way and is replaced yet again. The pendulum continues to swing. My proposed solution to this conundrum is simple.  Instead of insisting on throwing away everything that’s come before and starting over, we should instead tweak what we have. This would require both sides (all sides) to admit that their particular way of doing things is not THE SOLUTION. It also means that their particular way has limits and limitations. It would follow that all sides might have things to learn from what folks in different positions are saying. Effectively it means trying something that we’ve never before tried in the history of teaching reading. That is leaving the pendulum in the middle, talking to one another, learning from one another, and putting together a system that helps as many children as possible by using the best ideas of all the approaches.”

LINK to the blog

In conclusion

I think the information from Pearson and Tierney’s new book provides further support for taking a centrist view toward the issue of best practices in reading. At the end of the chapter entitled The Era of Reform Contestation and Debate, they cite the International Literacy Association views about “evidence-based” practices. They note that the IRA’s position paper states that “Time and again research has confirmed that regardless of the quality of a program resource or strategy it is the teacher and learning situation that make the difference (Bond & Dyskstra, 1967/1997).” In my view, the best path to good literacy practices lies in empowering teachers by helping them become adept in the teaching of many practices. That is the best way to ensure that each child will get the reading instruction that best suits them. Let districts decide what programs fit their particular children. Thanks to my readers for considering these remarks.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Here is a link for ordering the Tierney & Pearson’s book:

https://www.tcpress.com/literacy-education-9780807764633

(Coming soon- a special summer edition of the Missouri Reader, which deals with the issues surrounding the current dialogue around best practices in reading)

Dr. Sam is taking a break from the blog in order to spend the Fourth with family and friends.

Happy Fourth of July!

Dr. Sam is taking a break from the blog in order to spend the Fourth with family and friends.

I thought my readers might enjoy seeing some pics I posted two years ago after visiting Pearl Harbor. I got to see the “Bookends,” the two ships representing the beginning and the end of World War II.  The ships are the Arizona and the Missouri.

I am also sharing a picture of the gift I received during that visit. It came from the folks at the Mighty Mo’s gift shop. The gift was given to me because I served in the U.S. Army as a Sgt E-5 (never saw combat).  The gift shop did that for all veterans who visited the ship. Getting that gift meant a lot.

Overall, the visit to Pearl Harbor was a moving and memorable experience.

As we celebrate July 4th, let us remember that freedom is never free. Let’s especially remember those who served and are now serving to keep us all safe. Let us especially remember those who gave their all for their country. Happy 4th of July.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the centrist)

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization

If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Putting my money where my mouth is: how I am using the quilting metaphor to guide my instruction this summer by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Putting my money where my mouth is: how I am using the quilting metaphor to guide my instruction this summer

Introduction: It’s been an eventful week. I have engaged in extensive conversations on both Twitter and Facebook. These conversations were with individuals who are convinced that the only answer to all reading problems is their brand of the science of reading. As my readers know, I take a centrist approach. For various reasons, I respectfully disagree with those who claim they have the one and only true path to success in teaching reading. I have blogged extensively around the point LINK 1, LINK 2, LINK3.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I totally discount some of the practices recommended by the science of reading approach. For instance, I do teach synthetic phonics. As a matter of fact, for many kids this summer, I am telling them to try to sound it out first. I also use a form of analytic phonics. That means from time to time, I might go back and help them figure out words. When appropriate, I make use of Tim Rasinski’s wonderful resources on affixes, suffixes and roots. Those resources not only help readers decode words they also help them figure out the words’ meanings.  I also use Rasinski’s extensive materials and research on fluency, including his ideas on repeated reading and performance reading. I do use decodable books. The ones I use are found in thelearning A-to-Z program Headsprout. In this blog entry, I will talk about how I am trying to implement my summer program informed by all of the practices found on the “Reading Quilt” (see my blog on that topic LINK).

Some background about my students and me. My teaching career began in 1970. Except for the two years I spent in the U.S. Army (drafted in 1971, honorably discharged as a Sgt E-5), I have been teaching ever since. I’ve taught all grades K through graduate school. I was a reading specialist, staff developer, and university instructor teaching reading courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. I retired from full-time teaching in 2016 but continue to do consultant work and over the years, I’ve done a lot of pro bono work in reading. Presently, this work is being done at a private school. I conduct Zoom lessons, push into classrooms and also work with individuals K-3. This summer, I am doing one on one work with five students from Pre-K through third grade.  The weekly sessions are held on Zoom. Here are some highlights about the instruction.

Using Decodables. I have used Learning A-Z products for several years now. I recognize that they are not the only programs out there. But, they happen to be the ones I use. Their Headsprout program (LINK) includes a series of 100 interrelated lessons. Each lesson teaches the student selected phonemes. This is done using a series of animated games. The phonemes are eventually used to build words  and the words then used in decodable books that the students read. Here is a sample of one of the earliest books.

Some things to notice here. The characters are engaging and interesting. Frequently their names are based on one of the phonemes being taught. When working with the students, I call these phonemes “chunks.”  By the later lessons, the books are much longer but still completely decodable.

As you can see, the later books include a considerable amount of text, and they resemble trade books in overall format and content. As students progress through the lessons, they can access all the books they have read so far in their Book Room which is their own personal online library.

As part of my course of instruction with the students, I often do making and breaking activities with them. These reinforce their knowledge of the phonemes being taught in Headsprout. These activities are done using Zoom. I do a cloud recording of this part of the lesson and send it to the students to review during the week. I have written about my use of Zoom in distant learning lessons before (LINK). Here is a picture of the actual board I am currently using with students (a post-it covers over names):

Predictable books/Language Experience Books I’ve also written before about using predictable books and language experience books (LINK1). For my predictable books, I make use of Keep Books. Fountas and Pinnell publish them. They are available in RR levels 1-16 (LINK).  Notice that the back of each book contains a word count and reading levels from Guided Reading and Reading Recovery.

Predictable books lend themselves to having students write their own books using Language Experience.  In a nutshell, the teacher takes down what the student dictates and then uses those stories as ongoing material for the students to reread. Here is a sample Language Experience story:

Trade Books and Talking about Books Normally, parents sit in on the Zoom lessons. I ask the parents to be sure to check out trade books for the kids. Some are for the parents to read to the kids. I encourage them to find a favorite author to start with, e.g. Eric Litwin, Mo Williams, or Mem Fox.  Sometimes they ask about checking out books that the kids can read themselves. I teach them a simple trick for getting books at the correct level, the instructional level. It involves simply looking at the amount of text and the text to picture ratios of the books the kids can already read.  Pick books for the kids that look similar to the books they can already read.

I anticipate getting pushback about using leveled materials with students. After all, research does seem to indicate that practice may not always be best.

HOWEVER

Literacy experts like Shanahan indicate that some form of leveling can be useful for readers at the very beginning levels. He notes that reading history includes many attempts to simplify things at the very outset of instruction. Leveled materials, predictable books, decodable books, controlled vocabulary books and trade books all have a role in this. His thinking on this matter influenced my practices and I now routinely include all forms of books in my ongoing instruction.  That is one of my attempts to use many parts of the reading quilt.

I also take the advice of P.D. Pearson to include a strong comprehension component from the very outset of instruction. My students know that whatever kind of book they read, I expect them to know who did what (narrative books) or what interesting facts they learned (expository books).  I also encourage parents to have similar conversations about books with their children. As the summer progresses, my students will have an ever-expanding personal library of books they can read. This includes Keep Books, Language Experience books and trade books that they get from the library. Daily self-selected reading becomes part of their literacy routine. I talk to them about the importance of having favorite books and favorite authors. They are immersed in a diverse and varied amount of reading material, material that they can decode and understand.

In conclusion, I am trying to put my money where my mouth is in terms of using all parts of the reading quilt to inform and guide my instruction this summer. Now, let us briefly talk about upcoming summer events.  Currently, I am trying to arrange some new interviews with literacy leaders. Glenda and I are working on the special edition of the Missouri Reader. Just yesterday I ordered P.D. Pearson’s new book about the history of reading. I anticipate there will be a lot to unpack from that book LINK. So, it looks to be a busy and productive summer. Until next time this is Dr. Sam (Dr. B) signing off!

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization

If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Using the quilt of reading instruction practices: Thoughts about effective ways to teach reading comprehension by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Using the quilt of reading instruction practices: Thoughts about effective ways to teach reading comprehension by Dr. Sam Bommarito

We suggest a metaphor of quilting might more aptly describe the realities of most learning experiences. Cambourne and Crouch

The response to last week’s blog was overwhelming. Over 1500 reads in the first 72 hours. People especially liked the idea of replacing the Great Debate/Reading wars metaphor with the metaphor of quilting. Cambourne and Crouch developed that metaphor. See this link for details LINK.  In this blog entry, I will discuss an important piece that needs to be present in any kind of reading instruction. That is the comprehension piece. Lately, there has been talk of teaching fewer comprehension strategies and replacing the time spent with building background instead. For some, this translates into not teaching comprehension strategies at all. That latter position is one that I think is a fundamental misunderstanding of the implications of the work of Willingham, the work that rekindled this focus on background knowledge. BTW I agree with Shanahan that Willingham is kind of right LINK (but only kind of right!).

In this post, I will make a case for making the teaching of reading strategies an important piece in the overall quilt of reading instruction. In the mid-1980s, Pressley, Pearson and others began exploring the issue of teaching reading comprehension. They were inspired by the work of Durkin. Through extensive systematic classroom observations, Durkin found that while teachers spent up to 20% of their time on comprehension, only 6/10 of 1% of that time was actually spent teaching comprehension. The remainder of the time was spent practicing comprehension. That would be something like a baseball hitting coach asking hitters to practice hitting without giving them any advice on adjusting their swing et al. The predictable result of such an approach would be that good hitters would get even better. Hitters that need instructions about effective swinging methods would further cement their use of ineffective practices. This is obviously not the desired approach.

Pressley, Pearson, and other researchers in the 80’s looked at what successful readers were doing to develop their comprehension. The findings of those studies about comprehension turned into what usually constitutes the reading strategies we try to teach today. Duke has done research over a couple of decades on the circumstances for the teaching of those reading strategies to be effective. The key to her findings is this: the strategies need to be taught using a gradual release model. When that happens, significant reading gains are made. Simply put- teaching students about comprehension strategies is not sufficient. Teaching reading strategies so that students internalize them and use them is.

That is why I am a strong advocate of spending time teaching reading strategies making sure that the instruction is done using a gradual release model. Having students name strategies or practice strategies with no instruction on how to use them is not effective. I know that Willingham has posited that the key to comprehension is making sure readers have the background knowledge needed. This has led to some of his followers forwarding the notion that all that is needed for teaching comprehension is developing reading background.  They say that comprehension instruction should focus mainly on building background knowledge.

On the one hand, I have to agree that developing background knowledge is crucial. That’s one of the reasons I advocate for allowing readers to do wide reading LINK. Wide reading in self-selected texts is an excellent way for readers to develop background knowledge.  On the other hand, as decades of research by folks like Pressley, Pearson, and Duke demonstrate, teaching comprehension strategies using a gradual release method will create handsome payoffs in terms of student reading performance.  Let me restate that teachers should teach the strategies in a way that allows the students to actually internalize and use them. Once again, I find myself saying, look at ALL the research. That means looking at both the research of Pressley, Pearson and Duke and the research of Willingham before deciding what the best course of action is around the issue of teaching comprehension strategies. By the way, I found Serravallo’s book about teaching reading strategies a particularly useful resource for creating effective lessons that actually teach students how to USE reading strategies. In some of those lessons, she even has students talk about how they use the strategies as part of the overall lesson. In addition, Burkins and Yaris’s book Who’s Doing the Work, is a great resource on how to organize overall reading instruction. I think following the ideas outlined in that book does result in strategies being taught in a way that students learn to use them. I mention using resources like these because I strongly feel that some folks are finding weak results for teaching reading strategies because they only have students name them, describe them, and practice them. That is not sufficient. I’ll make the point one last time, teaching so the students actually internalize and use the comprehension strategies is the key to the effective teaching of comprehension strategies. Teaching comprehension strategies without using gradual release is not a good use of teaching time.

In addition to making contributions to the rather large body of research around teaching comprehension, Duke has lately developed what I think is a more complete view of the reading process.  Readers are invited to read more about that model in my previous blog, LINK.  They should also be on the lookout for the special edition of The Missouri Reader, which is taking a deep dive into the topic of how to best teach reading. That issue should be released the last weekend in June.

In the upcoming blog posts, I’ll be talking about other things that I think should be present on the quilt of reading instruction. As I indicated in my previous blog, I think the best level to make decisions about which pieces of the quilt to use with children is at a district level. Districts ought to be free to make the choices.

So, until next week, this is Doctor Sam signing off

Happy Reading and Writing!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle, happily taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization

If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Finding Common Ground and Common Sense: More Thoughts About the Current Dialogue Around the Teaching of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Finding Common Ground and Common Sense: More Thoughts About the Current Dialogue Around the Teaching of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I taught several courses in how to teach reading for a number of decades. I often began those courses by promising my teachers a list of all the methods that work with every single child every single time. I would then project a transparency (that was a really long time ago), or a power point (more recently) onto the screen.  The resulting picture was always blank.  The point was made. There is no one size fits all answer when it comes to teaching reading. What works with one child/group of children, does not always work with another. If all sides in the dialogue about how to best teach reading would be willing to admit that their favorite method(s) have limits and limitations and that they could sometimes use a little help from methods they usually don’t use, I think the current dialogue around how to teach reading could become more productive.. There are a number of things we can and should do to end the bickering (as opposed to dialogue) that has all too often dominated our conversations about reading.

1. The first thing to do is to change our view of what the dialogue is about. In a soon to be published article in the Missouri Reader Metaphors Matter: Changing the Metaphor Brian Cambourne and Debra Crouch suggest the following:

“Instead of a pendulum metaphor or a war metaphor, both of which imply sides, stances, and diametrically opposed viewpoints, the profession needs a metaphor which honors each learner’s construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of meaning. This is true for the whole range of learners found in learning settings. Everyone—young children, classroom teachers, leaders of schools, parents, and beyond—is learning together.

We suggest a metaphor of quilting might more aptly describe the realities of most learning experiences. Quilting invokes a purposeful process of selecting and creatively reshaping existing pieces of fabric in new and interesting ways, reflecting the definition of creativity offered by Jacob Getzel and Philip Jackson (1962). We believe this way of thinking more accurately describes the reality of most classrooms. Whatever metaphor is held and used, it is crucial for educators to become consciously aware of how these metaphors influence their instructional language and behaviors. Educators need to ask themselves this question: Are the embedded metaphors in the language I use and my behaviors aligned with my values and beliefs about learning and learners? The way we answer this question should ultimately determine how we approach professional discussions and go about teaching children to read and write. As cited in Rothman’s original piece on the ‘reading wars (1990),’ Steven Stahl, professor of education at the University of Illinois, suggested “the real hope for a consensus in reading is with teachers…[Teachers] are inherently reasonable…[They] get the best things out of whatever’s out there…[If] there is a synthesis, it’s going on in the classroom.”

2. The second is to include ALL the relevant research in the dialogue. That means including both qualitative and quantitative research. Let’s remember that both qualitative and quantitative research are both able to answer the crucial question- how likely is it that the results of the study are simply from chance? One of the most comprehensive looks at recent research can be found in the Reading Research Quarterly’s Executive Summary. I’ve written about this document before. Here is a link to the Summary:

https://literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/resource-documents/rrq-sor-executive-summary.pdf?sfvrsn=2561bc8e_6

Of special interest are these titles:

1. “Using Context as an Assist in Word Solving: The Contributions of 25 Years of Research on the Interactive Strategies Approach” by Donna M. Scanlon and Kimberly L. Anderson pp

4. “It’s Time to Be Scientific About Dyslexia” by Julian G. Elliott pp

12. “How the Reading for Understanding Initiative’s Research Complicates the Simple View of Reading Invoked in the Science of Reading” by Gina N. Cervetti, P. David Pearson, Annemarie S. Palincsar, Peter Afflerbach, Panayiota Kendeou, Gina Biancarosa, Jennifer Higgs, Miranda S. Fitzgerald, and Amy I. Berman pp

14. “A Confluence of Complexity: Intersections Among Reading Theory, Neuroscience, and Observations of Young Readers” by Catherine F. Compton-Lilly, Ayan Mitra, Mary Guay, and Lucy K. Spence e

17. “What Constitutes a Science of Reading Instruction?” by Timothy Shanahan

Overall, this document clearly demonstrates there is not yet a consensus among reading researchers on what constitutes the science of reading and best practices in reading. The views of researchers are best described as a continuum. This excerpt from a Washington Post Article written by Valerie Strauss, details the work of several prominent literacy figures: David Reinking, Victoria J. Risko and George G. Hruby. It sums up the position that the current state of the art can be best represented by a continuum not a consensus:

“Instead, reasonable differences exist along a continuum. On one end are those who see phonics as the foundation of learning to read for all students. To them, phonics — lots of it — is the essential ingredient that ensures success for all students learning to read, and it must be mastered before other dimensions of reading are taught.

On the other end are those who see phonics as only one among many dimensions of learning to read — one that gains potency when integrated with meaningfully engaged reading and writing, with vocabulary and language development, with instruction aimed at increasing comprehension and fluency, and so forth. (For an extended discussion, click on this.)”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/01/26/readingwars-scienceofreading-teaching/?fbclid=IwAR2W1f15WjXiZ7ymdGldr9KLwl0MVpHLoB7kDkVpBA-a2dtb5ESHV5l8M-

The third thought is that all of us must be willing to adapt and change our ideas. In some cases this means considering ideas from the “other side”.  Jennifer Seravallo’s new chapter for her best selling book, Reading Strategies does exactly that. In my view she builds upon word recognition strategies from her original book, and then adds new strategies that use recent research on decoding. Assuming you already own the book, you can access the new chapter at the Heinemann website.  Use the directions you will find there. Here is a brief sample of some of the things she has to say in the new chapter:

Blevins (2016) warns, ‘If they are given texts in which they have to rely on [high-frequency] words, context, and picture clues to figure out or even guess words, that’s what they will think reading is. This might work for them for a while, especially through about mid-Grade 1 when texts are short and simple and there is a close picture-text match. However, as soon as these supports are taken away the students’ reading falls apart From Seravallo’s New Chapter Three.’

While some folks are making this out to be a major break from past thinking- a quick check of her original chapter includes things like to read left to right: Gl-a-d or asking “do I know any parts” e.g.  Sw – ing (see page 85). As you consider all this be sure to use Cambourne and Debra Crouch’s Quilting metaphor. What is happening here is not one side winning over another. What is happening is simply new pieces being added to the quilt. The only winners here are the kids that benefit from using a variety of methods.  

My fourth thought is there are a number of models about the reading process/thinking process that all educators should become familiar with. I recently wrote a blog post about that:

If you visit this post be sure to especially notice Nell Duke’s new model. I think discussion around her ideas would help to move the dialogue around the teaching of reading to a less contentious place, a place where more common ground could be found.

My final thought is that the current move to mandate selected practices and to outlaw others is counterproductive and is the antithesis of how a free society should operate.  In my opinion, decisions about program adoptions should be made at the district level, not mandated at a state or national level. As noted in section 2 of this blog entry, despite claims to the contrary, there is not yet a consensus among reading researchers on what constitutes the science of reading/best practices in reading. So, there is no body of research that clearly mandates one set of practices over another. As noted previously, “reasonable differences exist along a continuum”.   Districts should be allowed to choose from practices along that continuum. I cannot ever remember a time when the materials of some publishers are effectively banned, or when the materials of some publishers are mandated by law. Yet that is happening today.  Doing this effectively usurps the power of local districts.  In sum, I think educators should consider ALL the data and empower districts to act on that data based on what they know about the particular population they serve.

Last year, I wrote an article for Literacy Today entitled Argue less, talk more. I hope this blog entry and the upcoming issue of The Missouri Reader can provide the impetus to do just that. Let’s all get together and make that quilt. The kids need it!

Happy Reading and Writing!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization

If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Book Club Opportunities Provided by Missouri Reading Association this Summer by Dr. Sam Bommmarito

Book Club Opportunities Provided by Missouri Reading Association this Summer

by Dr. Sam Bommmarito

The Missouri Literacy Assocation has some exciting book club opportinities this summer. Two of the three events are completely free and open to all.  The only cost is getting your book for the book club. The June  event , which features Dr. Tim Rasinski is free to all MLA members or $20 for non-members. So if you join MLA before you register for that book club, the book club is free. Registration for the MLA summer book clubs will begin May 7, at 7 am CDT.   This link let’s you register and also gives you links to purchase the books for each of the book clubs:

https://mla31.wildapricot.org/

Here is an overview of the summer’s events taken from the MLA webpage:

BTW- the last session of the first two books will include a question and answer session with the author. The final book club will be a single session covering two books and the authors of those books will be present. So overall, this is an opportunity to meet and talk with all four authors if you attend all of the MLA summer book clubs.

I have already done blogs about two of the  authors who will be doing our summer book clubs. Here is the one about Tim Rasinski:

Here is the one about Eric Litwin. It includes a link to a video interview I did as part of the blog. Eric talks about his book, the Joy of Reading on that video and also provides a preview of one of his newest songs! Do have a look and a listen:

By way of full disclosure I am the current president of MLA. My term will be up later this month. I plan to attend all four book clubs this summer and hope to  see you there!

Happy Reading and Writing!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization

If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Common Sense and Common Practices: The Case for Taking a more Centrist Position in the Ongoing Dialogue About the Teaching of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This blog entry previews the content of the upcoming special issue of The Missouri Reader. The Missouri Reader is a peer-reviewed professional journal.  It has been published for over four decades.  In the way of full disclosure, I am the Co-Editor of The Missouri Reader.

I began my teaching career in 1970. Over the years I have taught every grade from Kindergarten to Graduate School. I retired from full time teaching in 2015 and have since become a national reading consultant. I also push into selected primary grade classes to help students with reading and writing.  A little over three years ago I began a weekly blog about literacy issues. In this blog entry I would like to summarize what I have been saying over the past three years. In a nutshell the position I have taken is this: There are no one size fits all solutions. What works with one student/group of students does not always work with another. Accordingly, the most sensible course of action in choosing literacy programs is a centrist approach. Foundational to that centrist approach is that programs should be adopted based on how well they fit the needs of the particular student(s) being served. My mantra has been “Fit the program to the child, not the other way around”.

But wait! What about the recent assertions of folks claiming to represent THE Science of Reading? That group seems to think they have the answer(s), they have the solution(s) that work for all. They further stipulate that these solutions should be adopted by all districts nationally. I’ve looked in depth at the implications of the claims of this group, LINK1, LINK2, LINK3. What I’ve found is that not everyone agrees that they do represent THE science of reading, nor does everyone agree that they have presented sufficient evidence to prove what they do works for almost every child, almost every time. They have shown things that work with some children some of the time. They in fact represent one of many points of view that have lately been dubbed the sciences of reading.  LINK4.

In a soon to be published article in The Missouri Reader, Dr. William Kerns examined the recent issues of the Reading Research Quarterly and made the following observations:

“Alexander (2020) pointed out that a focus on debates between phonics-centric approaches and approaches that emphasize whole word recognition run the risk of belying the complexity of the reading process. Instead, Alexander proposes that research and teaching in the field needs to carefully consider the lifelong process of developing literacy skills, and the influenced by social and cultural factors in addition to the importance of building skill in reading digital texts.”

Kerns goes on to say that the importance of factors beyond decoding debates was echoed by multiple articles in recent issues of the Reading Research Quarterly. These articles included calls for discourse on literacy to include reading of digital texts, the connection between reading and writing and the importance of drawing on context in the reading process. Kerns maintains that the debates over the science of reading can be critiqued on the ground of being too narrowly focused on traditional forms of reading skills, while ignoring constructs such as the role of social justice and critical literacy in the curriculum and the differing needs of bilingual or multilingual readers compared with students whose only language is English.

There have been a number of articles in the national press indicating that the narrow view that some supporters of the Science of Reading have taken has not produced a consensus on the part of reading experts on what the best way(s) to teach reading is. Here is an excerpt from one of those articles. It was written by Valerie Strauss, a reporter for the Washington Post  and features the views of  David Reinking, professor emeritus at Clemson University and a former president of the Literacy Research Association; Victoria J. Risko, professor emerita at Vanderbilt University and a former president of the International Literacy Association; and George G. Hruby, an associate research professor of literacy and executive director of the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development at the University of Kentucky.  LINK5

  • More worrisome, a majority of states have enacted, or are considering, new laws mandating how reading must be taught and setting narrow criteria for labeling students as reading disabled.
  • These themes make for a compelling journalistic narrative and they can benefit for-profit interests outside mainstream education, particularly during a pandemic when many parents are seeking help teaching reading at home. But, they also obscure established evidence that teaching reading is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor (underlining is mine). Overlooked is the common ground shared by those who draw different conclusions on the finer points of available research.
  • Instead, reasonable differences exist along a continuum. On one end are those who see phonics as the foundation of learning to read for all students. To them, phonics — lots of it — is the essential ingredient that ensures success for all students learning to read, and it must be mastered before other dimensions of reading are taught.
  • On the other end are those who see phonics as only one among many dimensions of learning to read — one that gains potency when integrated with meaningfully engaged reading and writing, with vocabulary and language development, with instruction aimed at increasing comprehension and fluency, and so forth.
  • One example is a critical review of several meta-analyses (comprehensive statistical analyses of effects across hundreds of studies), which was published recently in a highly regarded, peer-reviewed journal. It found no clear advantage for programs with a strong emphasis on phonics compared to those foregrounding other approaches (click on this).

It is time for all teachers and educators to stop insisting that all educators use methods that support their particular theory about how reading should be taught regardless of whether those particular practices work for a particular child and regardless of whether most experts in the reading field think those practices work at all.  Instead, educators should consider using practices from all the various approaches to reading- using the practices that work best for the student(s) they serve.  

There are several important models to consider. Here are some of the most prominent models.

Cambourne’s Model of Learning

Scarborough’s Rope (The Simple View of Reading)

The Active View of Reading- This figure is taken from the article by Nell K. Duke University of Michigan & Kelly B. Cartwright Christopher Newport The Science of Reading Progresses: Communicating Advances Beyond the Simple View of Reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 0(0) pp. 1–20 | doi:10.1002/rrq.411 © 2021 Reading Research Quarterly published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of International Literacy Association. A link to the article as well as an article overview with additional tables from the article will appear in the June issue of The Missouri Reader.

Readers should know my dissertation, done in 2004, was about the reading wars of that era. My conclusions may surprise some. I found that the teachers using whole language vs teachers using traditional approaches, the polar opposites of those days, had more reading practices in common than practices that separated them. That makes me hopeful there is more common ground and more room for common practices than one might assume based on some of the bitter and divisive dialogue that surrounds this topic today.  Instead of building our conversations around false dichotomies and questions that divide us, perhaps it is time to drop the use of the term “reading wars” and move on to a different way to frame the dialogue around reading instruction.  In the upcoming issue of The Missouri Reader, Cambourne and Crouch have a proposal that does exactly that. Here are some excerpts/observations about their idea:

“Another widely accepted conceptual metaphor is that of a ‘reading war.’ The metaphor of the ‘reading wars’ has positioned classroom instruction as a battlefield and teachers as the soldiers who must choose sides. The war, presented as competing pedagogies, resurfaces within the professional bodies representing reading education regularly, many times fueled by the media’s tendency to polarize the debate.”

After detailing the origins of the “reading wars” metaphor, Cambourne and Crouch explain how the adoption of that metaphor has had negative effects on the whole issue of how we deal with and talk about literacy issues. They suggest adopting a new metaphor:

“We suggest a metaphor of quilting might more aptly describe the realities of most learning experiences. Quilting invokes a purposeful process of selecting and creatively reshaping existing pieces of fabric in new and interesting ways, reflecting the definition of creativity offered by Jacob Getzel and Philip Jackson (1962). We believe this way of thinking more accurately describes the reality of most classrooms. Whatever metaphor is held and used, it is crucial for educators to become consciously aware of how these metaphors influence their instructional language and behaviors. Educators need to ask themselves this question: Are the embedded metaphors in the language I use and my behaviors aligned with my values and beliefs about learning and learners?”

My own take on all this is simple. Let’s accept that that no one methodology has shown itself to work with almost every child almost every time, in spite of claims to the contrary. Every approach has limits and limitations. There are important things to be learned from every approach (and yes I include SOR in that observation). There is much more to be said around these ideas. I invite readers to have a careful look at the upcoming issue of The Missouri Reader. It will deal with the topic of how we should teach reading.  It will deal with the topic of the “The Reading Wars” and will include the full article by Camborne and Couch about how to change the metaphor for the dialogue around the issue of how to teach reading.  We also hope to detail the ideas of Tim Rasinski with his proposition that the teaching of reading is both art and science, and the ideas of Eric Litwin about the importance of the joy of reading and the role that motivation plays in the reading process. In June, I will write a blog post about the special issue. That blog post will contain a link to the journal and include further thoughts around the issues raised in this current post.   

For now, I will say, perhaps it is possible to “talk more and bicker less”.  It is time to take a serious look at the common ground and common practices that exist in today dialogue around the process of how to teach reading. I think if we did that everyone would benefit, especially the children we serve. Thanks for considering these thoughts. I hope you will come back in June to have a look at our special edition.

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization

If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.