Bringing Joy into Teaching Literacy: A Worthwhile Goal for Literacy Instruction

Bringing Joy into Teaching Literacy: A Worthwhile Goal for Literacy Instruction

I’m writing this at a sad time in our history. I was just talking to Joanne Yatvin on her blog about recent events. Neither of us have an answer to the question of how things had gotten to this state in education. The building where I worked in my last year before my retirement had three lock downs for cause, incidents near the building requiring a lock down.  Things are most certainly not what they once were. These circumstances make what I’m about to say even more important.

Let’s begin this discussion about motivation vis a vis literacy instruction at an intuitive common-sense level. Mark Twain, a favorite son for my state, once said a person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t. We can teach all the skills and strategies students might need perfectly. But if students are not motivated to use them when they read, more to the point if students are not motivated to read at all, this teaching could be for naught. The writers of current content standards and curriculum too often seem oblivious to this crucial point.  We need to teach in a way that motivates students. That’s the number one item on the literacy program Bill and I proposed. Unfortunately, sometimes, the mandated standards and the way they are currently implemented tend to have the exact opposite effect.

What to do, what to do.

The first thing to do is to look at current practitioners and leaders in the field of literacy instruction who seem to have a handle on how to build that fundamental desire to want to read and write. David Harrison is a well-known author He is a favorite son in my state. He wrote a piece for the Missouri Reader entitled For the Fun of It (And the Learning Just Happens!).  When I was doing the layout for that piece I felt the need to include balloons and other such things in the supporting graphics. David wanted poetry to be fun. David has a knack for making poetry fun. Teaching poetry using David’s ways helps students want to learn poetry. Delightful! Go to the “Previous Issues” heading of this blog and see for yourself how David accomplishes this.

Dianne de Las Casas was another author who had a knack for making reading and writing fun. She was the founder of picture book day. When writing about her Glenda (my Co-Editor) said her work sparkled. Sadly, she left us prematurely shortly after that piece was published. Glenda wrote a poignant tribute to her. Happily, her love of all things literary comes through so strongly that her legacy will be with us for a very long time. Again, visit both pieces and see for yourself.

I am a member of both ILA and NCTE. I often go to conventions. I am also fortunate to be in a state where we also have state wide events carried out on a regular basis by both Willy Wood (@WillyWood2  @WritetoLearnMO) and by Mid Missouri TAWL. Going to such events is a way to recharge one’s batteries and get the support of like minded colleagues who take the notion that reading and writing ought to be fun quite seriously. At NCTE and ILA conventions, when I go to sessions by Tim Rasinski and Lori Oczkus I find two experts who know how to make what they advocate fun. Tim’s word ladders, his use of songs to teach about prosody make reading fun.  He is also a serious scholar. His works could easily fill a room (literally not figuratively).  But he knows how to reach people’s hearts as well as their minds.

Lori Oczkus is another practitioner who makes what could become deadly dull strategies come alive. She is the guru of Reciprocal Teaching. She refers to the four parts of RT as the fab four. How wonderful! She employs puppets and other hands on kind of things to bring the strategies alive for the children.   The strategies are researched based. But the teaching of the strategies is done in a way that promotes motivation. The way she teaches helps make kids want to use the strategies. This is a critical point for any teacher claiming to teach strategies to keep in mind. At the end of the day, can you really demonstrate that students are using the strategies you teach? If you can’t do that, then you’re not really teaching strategies yet.

On the writing side of things, I have to tell a tale on myself. I mentioned the four years of training in which I learned about workshop.  I failed to mention that I entered that training as a skeptical, skill and drill oriented teacher.  Those workshop trainers didn’t just teach me how to scaffold staff and students into learning the processes of reading and writing. They also transformed me into a person who now thinks of himself as a reader and a writer, who has learned how to read like a writer and when to read like a writer.  They gave me the gift of finding the wonders that can come from studying the well-crafted words of a gifted author.

There are a host of others I could cite. My goal here is not to give an inclusive list of all the folks who have learned the trick of teaching literacy in a manner that is motivational. Rather it is to give you a few exemplars. You can use them to find more of your own.

I’ve already told you in the previous blog entry about the wonderful week I had at the Missouri Write to Learn conference. Eric Litwin and Carmen Agra Deedy both tackled the issue of what we can do to stop the phenomenon of kids loving reading and writing in k-1 and hating it by the time they get to 3-4.  They both mentioned the strategy of helping the younger children find their first love- helping them to find that first book they love so much that they want to read and read and read. When they start to love reading that much they will want to use those strategies you’ve taught them to unlock the wonders of the books they are reading. Somehow, I don’t think a book about Tan Dan who ran and ran to find his big tan van will ever create such motivation.  I’m not saying to not teach the strategies, quite the opposite. I’m not saying not to use direct instruction. Come on folks, what is a well done mini lesson but an intense well thought out form of direct instruction. I’m not saying to not teach phonics. Quite the opposite, I’m saying to learn how to teach several forms of phonics and to be enough of a kid watcher to know when one approach is failing your child, so you can switch to the another. Remember it is the approach failing the child, not the other way round.

What I am saying is to be mindful of the time taken to teach such things as phonics. Time is a teachers most valuable commodity. To use it up in order to over-teach something “just to be sure”, is not the way to proceed. Revisit our remarks in the article about the NRP and the issue of how much phonics instruction is enough and which phonics instruction is likely to produce the desired results. When putting phonics into your literacy program having answers to this question of how much is enough is critical to the success of the overall program.

There are some hopeful things on the horizon. Both the major figures in the literacy world in the United States are ushering out new phonics components to their programs this year. I trust each of them enough to know that they thought long and hard about what to put in and what to leave out and how to integrate it with their meaning making components.  I have confidence that they will leave ample time to teach the students about how to think critically about what they’ve read, once they’ve broken the code.  Dare to dream- perhaps we someday soon we could have a meaning making program that includes a strong phonics component. Perhaps we already do. Looking at the research Bill and I cite in our article; such a program would fit what the research says works quite nicely.

The workshop teacher in me now feels the need to give you an off you go.  I mentioned Ralph Fletchers book, Joy Write in a previous posting. Look that over again.  Look that over with an eye toward how you can find a way to build at least SOME choice time into your daily routines. Workshop teachers/Guided Reading teachers are really rather clever people. Somehow, I think that if you can find ways to do this on the writing side of things (Fletchers book), you will also be able to do it on the reading side.

One last thing. A bit of foreshadowing. I’d love to see an evolution.  Wait- did Dr. B’s spell check just insert the wrong word? No, I really mean it. I’d love to see an evolution. Have I peeked your curiosity?  I hope so. Next week Bill is going to take a turn at the blog. You’ll have a chance to learn about him and his ideas and the research behind those ideas. The week after that I will talk about the upcoming evolution. Hmmmmmm.

See you then!

Dr. B AKA Dr. Sam Bommarito, aspiring old reading specialist.  As Evan Robb said last time- you’re never too old to blog!

P.S. a special thank you to all of those who are already following this blog on Word Press. All are welcome. Please do join us. I think we’re going to have some fun with the topic of literacy.

And So The Journey Begins- Looking at the role of motivation in reading

Before continuing the conversation about how to grow lifelong readers I need to make the disclaimers for this site and set some  ground rules. The disclaimer is quite simple, I am responsible for the views of this site. Please attribute things said to me (or Bill when he chimes in as a guest blogger). No other organization we belong to, place we work for, (you get the idea) is responsible.  The buck stops here with the author of the blog.

I’ve purposely and  actively  sought people of diverse views, sometimes diametrically opposing views, to come talk. Please play nice (that is the workshop teacher in me talking). What does playing nice look like? It’s more than just being civil. It’s recognizing that there are at least two theories about how children learn and that the people who adhere to them are sincere in their belief. So please take the tact of acknowledging the point of view/theory and then say but if one looks at this through an alternate theory  (your theory) the results are considerably different.

So- let’s begin the talk about creating life-long readers.  If you’ve read the Missouri Reader article (and please at some point try to do that, link = https://joom.ag/8cML)*,  you know that  Dr. Bill Kerns and I outlined a proposal of what a good literacy program looks like. We also explored research that supported of our recommendations.  We’ll eventually take up all the points raised by the article. We’ll also explore why most standards/curriculum today give only lip service to the issue of motivation.  Right now I want to talk to you teacher to teacher.  Let’s begin identifying aspects of a literacy program that most of us would consider important. I’ll start with motivation, so motivation becomes this week’s topic.

Last week at this time I was ready to propose  >STUDENT CHOICE =  >STUDENT MOTIVATION. A lot happened this week. I’m going to amend the formula to read  >STUDENT ENGAGEMENT + >STUDENT CHOICE =>MOTIVATION. Why the amendment?

I’ve spent most of this week at the Write to Learn Conference in Missouri. I’ve met some amazing educators and figures from the literacy world.  They helped me clarify my thinking about motivation. Eric Litwin, author of the 1st four Pete the Cat books tells the tale of what it is like to see the moment when a child finds the first book they love. From that moment forward reading becomes a passion, not a chore. Reading begets more reading. He points out that only happens when other things are attended to. Things like sight word development phonics et. al.  Carmen Agra Deedy told the particularly poignant story of how she came to love reading and what learning to read meant to her late father. Not a dry eye in the house, mine included. Both these well published authors agreed that part of what goes on is that the heroes of the story (and they were literary heroes) were helped in a variety of ways. The crucial point is that the help given was tailored to their needs. Our heroes were given some tools but were allowed freedom in how to employ them. So why aren’t there more  first love of book moments occurring?

We come to the infamous swinging pendulum. Lately some claimed it has finally swung back to synthetic/direct instruction and there is no need for further change.  However there is long standing evidence that no one method words for every child (see the article).  So we are seeing push back by some to revert to analytic phonics/indirect instruction.  That leads to what I see as a pointless, never ending cycle. The problem does not lie with the fact that either of the approaches are ineffective or evil. Each of them work very well with SOME children. The problem lies with the fact there are some proponents on each side who wish to mandate that their way and only their way should be used. As a reading practitioner I must respectfully object. It’s almost like telling a doctor you can use this medicine but not that one.  Over my decades of experience I’ve met children who really need one or really need the other. The question then becomes why should we limit the tools teachers are allowed to use (and trained to use) to the soup de jour that is most popular/mandated today?   Let teachers teach. Give them all the tools they need. Give the children the freedom to use what helps them. As a reading specialist I want access to every reasonable tool available to help the children I work with. Fortunately there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. Timothy Shannon, a well credentialed, well respected proponent of the synthetic phonics/direct instruction approach recently had a blog post where a teacher asked whether or not it was ok to use both. If one didn’t work try the other. Timothy said yes. Could there be some light at the end of this tunnel. Dare to dream.

There’s much more to unpack here but this is a good stopping place. Want to read more about student choice? Read Ralph Fletchers Joy Writing. Want find a whole set of tools that some of us had never thought of, using music to teach reading? Visit Eric Litwin’s website. For next week please do look over the article.  Next week I want to give some kudus to educators who are out there teaching literacy in a way that motivates readers. If you know of some, tell us about what they do and how they do it.

Leave thoughts/comments/concerns as remarks on Word Press  OR tweet out comments on #DrBBLOGUSA. You can follow me on twitter @DoctorSam7 or Facebook.  There are lots of Sam Bommaritos on Facebook so pick the Sam Bommarito whose picture is identical to the picture in this blog.

Happy Reading & Writing!

Dr. B.

PROFILE PIC- Bommarito

*Note: Joomag is using a new way navigate pages. On mobile devices hold down on the opening screen and then sweep left. That will let you navigate pages.

 

My Very First Post

Seeking Ways to Grow Proficient, Motivated, Lifelong Readers & Writers

My very first post.

Where to begin? Let’s start by telling you a bit about myself. My LinkedIn summary says this:

During his 44 year career in education Dr. Bommarito taught every grade K through graduate school. The majority of his teaching time was in Title 1 buildings both as a reading specialist and staff developer. Dr Bommarito took part in a 4-year program where the Jennings school district trained its teachers in Reading and Writing Workshop. Trainers were cadre and former cadre of Teachers College, and included Isoke Nia and Katie Wood Ray. Dr. Bommarito retired from full time teaching in 2015 but continues to be active in the literacy world. He is Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader, serves on various International Literacy Association boards/committees, does volunteer work in literacy and continues to do presentations and write articles about various literacy issues.

How very academic.

My twitter account (@DoctorSam7) says I am a “senior intern”. Had just seen the movie when I said that, thought- that’s me! I am actually about to turn 70 just like the character in the movie.  I still do volunteer literacy work in an after-school program.  I love to teach. I’ll teach anything. When I got my lifeguard certification I taught swimming lessons, when I was drafted into the service and became a company clerk, the battalion sergeant-major used me to break in the new clerks (knew I liked to do it), and of course there’s those 44 years of teaching all those grades. So, when I retired (sort of) I just had to find a way to keep teaching.

It’s not all academics

My wife of 46 years and I love to have the family over, 4 grown kids, 6 grand kids. Our house could pass for a day care center. Sometimes it is! I’m blessed in that all the kids and grandkids are close by. We’re doing trips with each of my kid’s families, the next one will be in the spring to Disneyworld with my oldest boy and his family. LG LG LG

So, what’s this blog all about?

Of all the professional hats I’ve worn over the years, the one that fits me best is that of reading teacher. I’m in the twilight of my career as a reading teacher (yeah, I just won’t quit teaching) and that is a time when folks tend to get quite reflective. I’m no exception. I want to pass on to future educators some of my experiences. Most importantly I want to find ways to encourage students to become lifelong readers. Reading can open doors to many things and the sad fact is that most of the current generation is simply not walking through any of those doors because they are not reading. What to do, what to do?

Stay tuned for the next posting. It will come right after my forthcoming article in Missouri Reader goes live next week. (Really mine and Dr. Kerns, more on that next time). So next week we’ll dive into the question, how can one grow lifelong readers? Talk to you then!

Happy Reading & Happy Writing

Dr. B.

A.K.A. Dr. Sam

A.K.A. Dr. Sam Bommarito

Semi-retired reading teacher

At the time this was written the article hadn’t been published. Now it has. The rest of the posts to date can be found in the top right column of this page. Please have a look. Please comment. Please follow the blog. Push back is ok (so is praise 🙂 ) THANKS- Dr. B.