Julia B. Lindsey talks about her new book Reading Above the Fray- An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Julia B. Lindsey talks about her new book Reading Above the Fray– An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

For those of you who are looking for a professional development book that gives you research-based routines for developing decoding skills, I think you will really like Julie B. Lindsey’s new book Reading Above the Fray. It’s a nuts-and-bolts kind of a book, written by a teacher for teachers. As you can see from her bio below- Julie began as a Kg-1 teacher. Subsequently, she worked on advanced degrees. Her work cumulated in a Ph.D. Her doctoral chair was Nell Duke (who provided an excellent foreword for the book). The book is part of Scholastic’s collection of books around the topic of Science of Reading. Links to her book and additional information about Julia now follow.

LINK TO THE BOOK (Scholastic Website) LINK

ABOUT THE BOOK (taken from the Scholastic Website)

Dr. Julia B. Lindsey’s evidence-based routines help young readers decode words efficiently so they can spend more energy on comprehending-and enjoying-what they read! You’ll find:

1. Need-to-know essentials of how kids learn to read.

2. Principles of high-quality foundational skills instruction.

3. Teacher-approved instructional “swaps” to improve early reading instruction.

Dr. Lindsey addresses content learning, culturally responsive practices, and the importance of engaging readers from the start.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julia B. Lindsey, Ph.D., a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher and self-proclaimed “phonics nerd,” works with teachers, district personnel, curriculum developers, and nonprofit groups to translate foundational reading research into practice. While completing her doctoral studies at the University of Michigan, she developed a free decodables book program in collaboration with Boston Public Schools. She is the author of Reading Above the Fray: Reliable, Research-Based Routines for Developing Decoding Skills..  

Here is the YouTube podcast of the interview:

Here is the interview discussion. Topics are time stamped:

I hope you found the interview as informative as I did. Here are the book excerpts that Julia referred to in the interview:

Chart from page 40 (Question 2)

Chart from Page 133 (Question 4)

BE SURE TO CHECK OUT JULIA B. LINDSEY’S WEBSITE-

BEYOND DECODABLES

(You can download free books- rich in meaning & geared to teach specific decoding skills)

To get these free books use the link below

LINK

Dr. Sam’s Upcoming Summer Blogs- In the next few weeks, I am continuing to arrange for additional interviews with authors of some of the many professional books that have been published lately. I’m planning to talk to Tim Rasinski, among others. I hope to carry out those interviews before the new school year begins. Also, near the end of summer, I hope to talk to you about my plans for my push-ins this fall at the school where I serve as a pro bono reading consultant in grades K-3. I’ll be teaching two full days a week, doing large group, small group, and individual sessions. I hope that talking about what I’ll be doing will allow readers to see how I adapt my instruction to the many ideas I’ve gotten from my lifelong search for common ground and common sense. In the meantime:

Happy Reading and Writing.

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

Julius Anthony and the Believe project: A close look at his work in literacy- An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Julius Anthony and the Believe project: A close look at his work in literacy- An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I first met Julius at one of our St. Louis Literacy Association meetings. At the time, he had just founded the St. Louis Black Authors organization. Everyone at that ILA meeting was impressed by what he and his group of children’s authors had already accomplished. The St. Louis Black Authors shared their books with us (there were many). They also shared their passion for bringing children of color culturally relevant books, books whose authors and protagonists looked like them. Over the next several years, Julius and his group became active in the St. Louis Literacy scene. Julius became the President of the St. Louis Literacy Association and is now the President-elect of the Missouri Literacy Association (an ILA affiliate). As you will learn in the interview, under his leadership, the St. Louis Literacy association sponsored several major speakers and provided in-service for Saint Louis area teachers. At the same time, he also created and expanded his Believe Project.

The Believe project is amazing. Julius and his organization have established reading rooms in local schools and community centers. Each site is stocked with one to two thousand culturally relevant books. Look at the pictures of some of the sites found a little later in this blog. They are inviting, and they have murals created by local black artists. Listen to Julius as he talks about the impact of the murals and the wonderful atmosphere created for these sites. He already has six sites and is about to open two more. Please listen to the interview to find out the full story of the Believe project.   

Here is the YouTube podcast of the interview:

Here is the interview discussion. Topics are time stamped:

Here is a link to Julius’ website (donations to the Believe project are always welcome): LINK

HERE IS A PICTURE OF SOME OF THE BELIEVE SITES(additional pictures are available on the website):

Here is a picture of some students reading at one of the Believe sites. One of the project’s goals is to make the rooms inviting and welcoming.

For more information about the Missouri ILA & St. Louis Regional affiliates, please visit the MLA website. If you live in Missouri, remember that we always welcome new members. We are one of the fastest-growing ILA affiliates in the nation, and we would love to have you join in our continued efforts to promote literacy. Membership in MLA automatically gives you membership in one of our four local affiliates. We have lots of great things planned for next year. Here is the LINK.

Dr. Sam’s Upcoming Summer Blogs- In the next few weeks, I am continuing to arrange for additional interviews with authors of some of the many professional books that have been published lately. I’m planning to talk to Tim Rasinski, among others. I hope to carry out those interviews before the new school year begins. Also, near the end of summer, I hope to talk to you about my plans for my push-ins this fall at the school where I serve as a pro bono reading consultant in grades K-3. I’ll be teaching two full days a week, doing large group, small group, and individual sessions. I hope that talking about what I’ll be doing will allow readers to see how I adapt my instruction to the many ideas I’ve gotten from my lifelong search for common ground and common sense. In the meantime:

Happy Reading and Writing.

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

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view 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.

Speech First Reading Instruction- A conversation with Nora Chahbazi about her powerful EBLI instructional system: An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Speech First Reading Instruction- A conversation with Nora Chahbazi about her powerful EBLI instructional system: An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I’ve interviewed Nora Chahbazi several times over the past couple of years. Nora is the founder of EBLI Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction. I first met Nora over the internet while exploring the net, looking for effective evidence-based instructional systems. Her instructional system stood out because she has demonstrated gains in both comprehension and decoding performance for elementary students. She has achieved those gains much more quickly than in other programs. In this interview, she tells us about herself, how EBLI came into being, and how EBLI uses a Speech First Approach to get the impressive results she is reporting.

On a separate note- I also want to thank Nora for arranging for me to participate in the upcoming documentary The Truth About Reading. An independent producer is creating the documentary. Nora encouraged that producer to include many different points of view about how reading should be taught, including my centrist views about reading. While Nora and I don’t agree on everything about reading, we do share an increasing common ground of ideas about what works and what is important. I’m hoping that by sharing current thinking and ideas from various perspectives, including Nora’s, readers of this blog can help enlarge the size of that common ground. Let’s now look at what Nora said about herself and her system of instruction.

Biography (provided by Nora):

Nora Chahbazi, B.S., R.N.

Founder, EBLI Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction

As a leading literacy expert, Nora has spent 20+ years revolutionizing reading instruction. She has received recognition for her lifelong work in the form of several noteworthy nominations and awards including the Editor’s Choice Award from Celebrity Press, the Quilly Award from the National Academy of Best-Selling Authors, and the Literacy Champion Award from DNA Films. She is a published author worldwide and has been featured in multiple literacy development articles and books. Nora is a featured speaker across the nation and has collaborated with universities to advance research and development of reading. She is the literacy consultant for the upcoming documentary The Truth About Reading. Nora has been featured in multiple TV and radio interviews and podcasts, including APM and Oprah Radio (where she was interviewed by Maya Angelou). Her life’s work is to teach the world to read.

Here is the YouTube podcast of the interview:

Here is the interview discussion. Topics are time stamped:

Here are the links to two of the books Nora talked about:

Why Our Children Can’t Read and What We Can Do About It: A Scientific Revolution in Reading LINK

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning LINK

SIGN UP to receive NORA’s blog and email newsletter! LINK

Here is Nora’s Website LINK

Click on these key links to go to these specific items on Nora’s Website/YouTube Channel:

Dr. Sam’s Upcoming Summer Blogs- As I indicated last week, in the next few weeks, I am continuing to arrange for additional interviews with authors of some of the many professional books that have been published lately. I’m making arrangements right now to talk to both Julia B. Lindsey and Tim Rasinski, among others. I hope to carry out those interviews before the new school year begins. Also, near the end of summer, I hope to talk to you about my plans for my push-ins this fall at the school where I serve as a pro bono reading consultant in grades K-3. I’ll be teaching two full days a week, doing large group, small group, and individual sessions. I hope that talking about what I’ll be doing will allow readers to see how I adapt my instruction to the many ideas I’ve gotten from my lifelong search for common ground and common sense. In the meantime:

Happy Reading and Writing.

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

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view 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.

Alice Faye Duncan talks about her newest children’s books about civil rights: An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Alice Faye Duncan talks about her newest children’s books about civil rights: An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Alice Faye Duncan is a prolific writer of children’s books. Her books include both fiction and nonfiction titles. As you will discover, Alice is a long-time educator/librarian. Her books are engaging. She is a teacher-friendly author. Her website not only contains links to her books it also includes links to PDFs that provide teachers with great lesson plans they can carry out using her books. Here is her biography:  

Biography:

Alice Faye Duncan is a National Board Educator who writes books for children.

She taught in the Memphis schools for 30 years. Memory is her motivation.

She writes to help young learners remember forgotten moments from American History.

Her newest titles include Opal Lee and What it Means to be Free and

Evicted—The Struggle for the Right to Vote. Her September release is Yellow Dog Blues,

a blues fable about love, loss, and good times, in the Mississippi Delta.

Here is the YouTube podcast of the interview:

These are the questions we covered:

Here is an Alices Website LINK

While you are there, use the tabs on the website to link to these various items:

Dr. Sam’s Upcoming Summer Blogs- As I indicated last week, in the next few weeks, I am continuing to arrange for additional interviews with authors of some of the many professional books that have been published lately. Near the end of summer, I hope to talk to you about my plans for my push-ins this fall at the school where I serve as a pro bono reading consultant in grades K-3. I’ll be teaching two full days a week, doing large group, small group, and individual sessions. Talking about what I’ll do will allow readers to see how I adapt my instruction to the many ideas I’ve gotten from this summer’s interviews. In the meantime:

Happy Reading and Writing.

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

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view 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.

An interview with Peter Afflerbach about his new book Teaching Readers Not Reading conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

An interview with Peter Afflerbach about his new book Teaching Readers Not Reading conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

When I first saw the title of Peter’s new book, Teaching Readers Not Reading, I was intrigued. I anticipated that the book would fit nicely into centrist’s views about reading- and I was not disappointed. Follow the child, not the program, check! Look at all the research, check! Empower teachers by teaching them about the keys to a successful reading program using a variety of teaching methods, check. I could go on and on. I think my readers will find this book to be a treasure trove of ideas about how to teach reading in a way that will promote the creation of lifelong readers (and writers!). Those will be lifelong readers who learn to read with understanding and to think about and evaluate what they’ve read. In my opinion, Peter’s book can help teachers to teach kids not just what to think (content) but also how to think (process). Metacognition and self-regulation are at the heart of what he promotes. Before listening to what Peter had to say about his book and its ideas, let’s look briefly at his biography, taken from the Guildford Press website.

The things that jumped out at me were that he was elected to the International Reading Association’s Hall of fame and is a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. In addition to being one of the nation’s top researchers, he also has run reading clinics and has teaching experience as a Chapter 1 (Title 1) remedial reading and writing teacher. What a solid set of credentials he has for writing this book! Let’s now look at the interview and what was discussed.

Introduction00:00
Questions 1 & 2 What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?   You write about the need for a shift from “science” of reading to “sciences” of reading. Can you explain this idea—why the plural “sciences”?  02:00
Question 3   You focus on the sciences of reading that include metacognition, motivation and engagement, and self-efficacy. Can you describe how these operate and why they are central to reading development and reading achievement?   Thoughts about the Reading Rope- includes necessary components, but it needs a wrap around.  06:55  
Questions 4 & 5   Do you believe that current reading instruction reflects the breadth and depth of our knowledge of how students’ reading develops? What explains the phenomenon of understanding reading development broadly, but teaching reading narrowly?   From a developmental perspective, what else matters for student reading success besides strategies and skills?  19:16
Final Thoughts27:00  

Here is a link to Peter’s book LINK

Peter will be doing keynotes at two major conventions. These will happen in January of next year. Both keynotes will focus on his book. Here are links to each of those events.

LITCON, January 2023, Columbus, Ohio LINK

Florida Reading Association January 2023 (BTW- Nell Duke is doing the opening Keynote at this conference) LINK

Dr. Sam’s Upcoming Summer Blogs- Over the next few weeks, I am continuing to arrange for additional interviews with authors of some of the many professional books that have been published lately. Near the end of summer, I hope to talk to you about my plans for my push-ins this fall at the school where I serve as a pro bono reading consultant in grades K-3. I’ll be going in for two full days a week doing large group, small group, and individual sessions. Talking about what I’ll be doing will allow readers to see how I adapt my instruction to the many ideas I’ve gotten from this summer’s interviews. In the meantime:

Happy Reading and Writing.

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

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view 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.

A repost of the Jill Speering interview about her newest book-Rubies in the Rubble, An Educator’s Transformation from Pain to Prominence, From Abuse to Absolution, conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The past two months have been eventful ones for the blog. There have been over 40,000 views in that time frame. I think the interest is rising because I am making the case that constructivist methods get results with BOTH decoding and comprehension. Unlike some SOR folks who “prove” their methods are better using tests that only require reading word lists to measure comprehension  LINK (see pg. 2), constructivists use reading tests that ask students to read meaningful passages and then answer comprehension questions about those passages. In my opinion, comprehension is really the  Achilles heel of the folks taking a narrow view of the science reading. I’m not saying they don’t “teach” comprehension. I am saying that they “teach and assess” comprehension very badly using methods/strategies the rest of the reading world abandoned after Durkin’s research AND after several decades of work demonstrating that teaching comprehension strategies using gradual release REALLY raises reading achievement test scores. For more details about this, see these blogs LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK  

This week I am returning to doing interviews. Recently Jill Speering has been on the road spreading the good word about her new book. I thought I would help that effort by reposting this interview. Here it is:

A report of the Jill Speering interview about her newest book-Rubies in the Rubble, An Educator’s Transformation from Pain to Prominence, From Abuse to Absolution, conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

As an educator who has a long-standing interest in the best ways to teach beginning reading, I was very happy when I heard that Jill Speering had written her first book. Jill has many years of experience as a teacher and a teacher of teachers. Also, as you can see from her biography, Jill is a longtime advocate and supporter of Reading Recovery. She believes in creating programs that fit the child rather than forcing the children into one size fits all programs. Her book is an autobiography, and that autobiography goes well beyond the issues surrounding the best ways to teach beginning reading. It is the story of her whole life, a story of how she overcomes adversity. Here is what one reviewer had to say about this wonderful book (taken from the back cover of the book):

I have to concur. Jill’s story does show hope and promise for us all. It is a story that provides a rigorous defense of Reading Recovery. Before it does that, it also provides us with her story, which gives the reader a roadmap of how to overcome adversity. As Jill points out, overcoming adversity is something that many of the students we serve also must do if they are ever to become readers and writers. Here is a screen capture of the book’s cover and a link to the book:

LINK

Here is a link to the interview:

Here are the questions we covered. They are timestamped.

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. 01:19
  2. Why did you write this book? 02:35
  3. Talk to us as an author. Tell us how your background in learning about writing helped you as you wrote this book. 4:28
  4. Is the book more of a memoir or a biography? 09:33
  5. What do you feel is the most important takeaway for readers of this book? 15:06
  6. In just a few weeks, I will be presenting at LitCon, talking about why RR is a viable approach and why children deserve access to RR (that is a strong position my friend Paul Thomas has taken). Any thoughts about that? Do you agree with Paul and I on the need for children to have access to RR when needed? 15:06 (5 & 6 were covered jointly)

By the way, Jill was the keynote speaker at the Delta Kappa Gamma Educational sorority on June 2, 2022, at the University of the South at Sewanee to discuss her book (LINK). As you can tell, the book is becoming quite popular, and I again encourage you to get your copy to find out why.

FUTURE BLOGS BY DR SAM: I’m in the process of setting up more interviews of authors who are publishing new books about the teaching of reading. In the coming weeks expect more interviews about the newest books on the topic of teaching reading.

In the meantime- Happy Reading and Writing!

Copyright 2022 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.

PS 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.

A Centrist Perspective on The Teaching of Reading: Highlights & Analysis from my presentation at the Millersville University’s Summer Institute by Dr. Sam Bommarito

A Centrist Perspective on The Teaching of Reading: Highlights & Analysis from my presentation at the Millersville University’s Summer Institute by Dr. Sam Bommarito

First, I’d like to thank Dr. Aileen Hower and the Department of Early and Exceptional Education for the opportunity to speak at their Summer Institute. Dr. Hower is the Masters in Language and Literacy Program Coordinator at Millersville. She is an Assistant Professor of Literacy at Millersville University. Millersville is a state university located in Millersville, Pennsylvania LINK. During the two-hour Keynote session, I discussed “Strategies to teach to enhance fluency and comprehension.” I also did interactive activities with the graduate students attending this session. The session was done on Zoom. I want to talk about what we did in that session and give some session highlights. I’d also like to provide additional information about questions raised by participants during and after the session.

Question one: Dr. Sam, what is a centrist perspective, and why do you advocate for it?

Those who follow this blog know that for the past four years, I have explored the issues surrounding the so-called reading wars LINK, LINK, LINK. One of my followers, Judy Boksner,  described a centrist this way:

(Be sure to visit Judy’s YouTube Channel LINK)

This slide gives the key to why I am a centrist:

The only way to stop moving from one extreme to another is to finally stop in the middle and use the best research-based ideas from all sides.That idea is best summarized in what I call the “Reading Evolution.” LINK.

Question two: There was no time in the session to explore your ideas about the best way to teach decoding. Would you briefly explain your views on that question?

Teaching decoding should include the direct, explicit teaching of synthetic phonics. Where I think some SOR proponents have gone off the tracks is that they use synthetic phonics exclusively. They ignore other forms of phonics, including analytic phonics. They have no answer about what to do if selected students fail to learn using synthetic phonics. Such children exist, as demonstrated by this recent article about teaching reading in Australia LINK. Look under the heading The Context is The KEY in that article.

Accordingly, I believe in giving in-service to teachers around ALL the ways to teach phonics. My recommended sources for such information are books by Heidi Mesmer. Her books do a good job of discussing what is needed at the very earliest stages of the reading process and what is needed later on. Here is a link to a blog where I interviewed Dr.  Mesmer LINK. Links to her book and other materials can be found in the blog entry.

Question three: What are your views around comprehension, and why do you advocate the direct, explicit teaching of comprehension strategies?

The answer to why I advocate for the direct, explicit teaching of comprehension strategies is pretty straightforward. There are decades of research by Duke, Pressley, Pearson and others indicating that teaching comprehension strategies using a gradual release model significantly improves reading scores. Some SOR folks have gone off the tracks because they ignore that research and its implications. The work of Willingham influences them. Listen to what Dr. Tim Shanahan says about Willingham and his work LINK.

“Willingham is trying to reduce the amount of comprehension strategy instruction so that kids will like school better. I doubt that he spends much time in schools. He hasn’t been a teacher of principal or even a teacher educator and his own research hasn’t focused on practical educational applications. I’ve been conducting an observational study of nearly 1000 classrooms for the past few years, and we aren’t seeing much strategy instruction at all. There definitely can be too much strategy teaching, but in most places any dosage, not overdosage, is the problem.”

I would add that the sample that Willingham used in his original research fails to adequately reflect the extensive work of Duke, Pressley, Pearson and others. Here is a blog that I wrote about why it takes more than just background knowledge to teach comprehension LINK.

For an overall model of reading, I use Duke’s Active View of Reading Model LINK. Duke is first and foremost a researcher. Based on a personal conversation with her, she goes where the research leads. She does not take sides and doesn’t like to be labeled. I think she does what a good researcher should do. She takes the current state of things and then makes additions that will advance the field further. In this case, she took the rope and added ideas that would bring comprehension more to the forefront. Here are two slides about Duke and her work.

This first slide shows her This Not That Series  LINK and Kelly Cartwright’s book about Word Callers LINK. Duke was the editor. Overall, these books provide many useful resources for classroom teachers and reading specialists. More information about Duke’s work can be found on her website LINK.

The second slide shows important excerpts from her article Reading by Third Grade: How

Policymakers Can Foster Early Literacy. LINK.

When I talked to the participants at the Summer Institute, I stressed how important Duke’s ideas around comprehension are. It takes more than simply reading a list of words to establish comprehension. In my opinion, too often, the tests used by some SOR advocates to demonstrate their miracle growth in reading do nothing more than that. They are mainly a test of decoding. Reading tests must directly measure all the things found in Duke’s Box 1. Her box one explains the “range of knowledge and skills and dispositions one needs to perform well on state tests.” If one teaches strategies using the gradual release model, the student learns to internalize and use that strategy. I demonstrated to them how they could assess that using one comprehension strategy. That was a hands-on activity. I argued that teaching key strategies is a viable and useful path to improving all students’ reading.

Question 4: What are your views about fluency, and what activities do you recommend to promote fluency?  

In my opinion, the single best person to look to about how to improve fluency is Dr. Tim Rasinski. I’ve written about him several times LINK, LINK, LINK. Here is a link to his website, where you will find many resources to help you improve your students’ reading fluency LINK. I also pointed out to participants that if they follow Tim on Twitter (@TimRasinski1), he gives away free resources every MWF. These include Word Ladders, vocabulary activities, activities around teaching prefixes and suffixes and many other things. I’ve noticed that Tim attracts followers from both the SOR camp and the balanced literacy camp.

The key to Tim’s approach to teaching fluency is using repeated readings in order to practice to perform. He has an excellent book called Fluency Through Practice and Performance. Here is a link to the book LINK.

I provided the Summer Institute’s participants with examples of how I do that with students. It only takes 5-7 minutes a day of practice reads (repeated readings), and I do my performance event once every two weeks. Another great source for ideas and resources to implement this kind of program is The Megabook of Fluency. Tim and Melissa Cheesman Smith wrote it. Here is a LINK.

I pointed out that this book contains potential read-aloud passages for both younger and older readers. I highly recommend the reading to perform activities for students of all ages to promote fluency and comprehension. Because research shows that the direct teaching of phonics often fails to provide dividends for older readers, I also presented using this kind of activity for older readers with decoding problems. Some participants were concerned that doing this might not be enough.

In researching this further, I found this recent blog entry from Timothy Shanahan about decoding in the middle school LINK. He ended that blog by saying, “The simple answer is that fluency practice can be beneficial for your students. It will help those who have fluency problems. But what’s going to be done with the kids with other reading needs?”.

I think the answer to that question can be found in his earlier analysis of the overall situation. It seems that most of the struggling readers he talked about would benefit from the fluency work but that a small number of the students with exceptionally weak decoding skills would probably require explicit decoding instruction. Further testing would be needed to determine who they were. Thanks to the post-seminar discussion that is a topic that I will be looking into further.

In Conclusion: I hope the blog readers will find some new takeaways about the best ways to teach reading. One of the things I like best about teaching (especially about teaching teachers) is that usually, you learn as much from your students as they do from you. I want to thank the session participants for their attention and thoughtful insights into this topic. Next week I will resume with interviews. Until then- Happy Reading and Writing.

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

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view 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.

An interview with Rita Wirtz: Rita gives fresh ideas on the best ways of teaching reading. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

An interview with Rita Wirtz: Rita gives fresh ideas on the best ways of teaching reading. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

As many of you know, for the past few weeks, I’ve taken a break from doing interviews. I’ve been writing blogs defending Balanced Literacy (I still prefer the term Constructivist Practices), and those blogs have had over 35,000 views in the past month. In case you missed them, here are the links LINK, LINK, LINK

This week I am resuming my interviews. The first I’m posting is from Rita Wirtz. It was done several weeks ago. I want to thank her for her patience and understanding about the delays. Now let’s talk about Rita and her wonderful ideas. Here is an excerpt about Rita taken from her website LINK:

As you can see, Rita has an extensive background in teaching. Her teaching career spans over forty years. A visit to her website will show she has put those forty years to good use LINK.

Now let’s see what Rita had to say during her interview:

Here are the topics we covered (they are time-stamped):

Rita Introduces Herself01:00
Revisit NRP (National Reading Panel) for relevance.Brief History of “Reading Wars,” back to Adams, Chall, Goodman, Veatch (Rita’s mentor, ASU Reading Clinic, Whole Language guru) “Reading the Great Debate.” Finding Common Ground. SOR/Balanced Literacy. NAEP  03:44
Retaining kids is not a recommended practice06:00
Redefine five areas of reading instruction and why they matter. (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension). (Writing, Speaking, listening).  07:09
Balanced Literacy11:05
Cueing, Sight words, Why all the fuss?, Leveled readers, Readability, Fluency testing (yuk),.
Hot topics.  
12:50
Final Thoughts20:19

Here are some additional links and resources from Rita. Note her two guest articles. One of those articles is scheduled to be reprinted in the summer issue of The Missouri Reader.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ReadingChamps/

Instagram: @ritamwirtz

Twitter: @RitaWirtz

Books: Reading Champions! Teaching Reading Made EasyStories From a Teacher’s

HeartReading Champs

Recent podcasts:

Rethinking Learning with Barbara BrayThe Transformed Teacher, with Meredith Newlin

“Let’s Get Real” Bam Podcast

EdChat: Teachers Know Best

EdChat: Our Commitment To Teaching History Accurately

EdChat Radio on Learning Loss

EdChat Radio on Learning Recovery

Forest of the Rain interview 

Tackling Tech Podcast

Lesson Impossible Podcast

The Literacy Advocate with Timmy Bauer and Shalonda Archibald

Videocast:

The Transformed Teacher, with Meredith Newlin

Helping Students Read Better and Faster!

Everyone Academy (Vocabulary)

Everyone Academy (Comprehension) 

Unlock The Middle with Principals Dean and Chris

Interviews:

Centre for Optimism

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Protocol Education

The Robb Review, March ’22

Rita would like to thank BAM Internet Radio for supporting her writing.

She would also like to thank editor Tyler Trostrud.

Next week I will be continuing my interviews and guest blogs. Sometime over the summer, I will also share some of the nuts and bolts of my own teaching and my plans for teaching next year. Hoping everyone is having a great summer. I am looking forward to sharing literacy ideas with everyone this summer!

Happy Reading and Writing!

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

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view 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.

Learning the ins and outs of defending a centrist approach by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Learning the ins and outs of defending a centrist approach by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This has been an amazing four weeks for the blog. It has had over 35,000 views in that time period. The basic message of the blog posts was that balanced literacy (I prefer the term constructivist practices) has worked and can work. The myth that Balanced Literacy has failed has been perpetrated by a slick but misleading public relations campaign. Part of that campaign is to discount or discredit the considerable evidence showing that balanced literacy has worked. My last two blogs, LINK, LINK, and other blogs before LINK LINK LINK LINK, present a case for my position that is supported with a considerable amount of what I hope is useful information.

Please don’t take my support for balanced literacy as saying it is the only possible approach. That would be as untenable a position as the one taken by the “my way or the highway” crew. Rather, my basic position is that of a centrist. Inspired by the thinking of a giant of the literacy world, P.D. Pearson, I take my stand in what he called the “Radical Middle” LINK. Let’s abandon the failed practice of constantly moving from one extreme to another. Let’s try something that has not been tried in the entire history of reading. Let’s try the middle ground. Let’s find practices from all sides and allow local districts to put together the sets of those practices that best fit their population. I say let’s Talk More and Argue Less LINK. I say let us have a Reading Evolution LINK. How does one go about defending such a position in the current situation on social media? This blog entry aims to give you ideas on how to proceed toward that end.

First, let me acknowledge that taking part in the social media surrounding the issue of teaching reading is not for the faint of heart. In one video purporting to disprove the accuracy of the data showing that BL works, a major SOR figure chose to use the words “punch you in the nose” as part of his message. Spurred on by such leadership, many SOR advocates have taken to mean-spirited sarcasm as the primary means of rebutting anyone who dares to question their message. This includes teacher-bashing or making things up to suit their position LINK. Things are so bad that many of my friends in the balanced literacy world have simply stopped posting. Attempts to find common ground/middle ground are sometimes summarily dismissed by many of the “my way or the highway” folks LINK. That is unfortunate.

The good news is that some folks in the SOR camp still recognize that such extremism is unwarranted and unproductive. That is best summarized by a quote I’ve used before. Here is that quote. It comes from Mark Seidenberg, a strong SOR advocate and author of the book At The Speed Of Sight LINK 

“This narrowing of focus is prompted by a valid concern: teachers (and other educators) have to be able to understand the research to make use of it. Since most educators don’t have much background knowledge in the area, the message has to be kept simple. That is the rationale for focusing on what I called “classic rock” studies.

I think this approach is giving up too much too soon. It underutilizes the science, underestimates the teachers, and diverts attention from the need to improve professional training. The science of reading movement hasn’t even gotten to the good stuff yet. I think teachers can absorb the important findings if they are presented the right way. Good PD is clearly an important component. Improving pre-service training would have the biggest impact, but that it is not happening as yet on a broad scale.”

For those of you willing to join the fray and get involved in what should be a discussion about the issues, the first thing you should do is arm yourself with all the facts. I hope all the blogs I’ve done will help you with this. For me, the single best source for such information I’ve found is P.L. Thomas. Here is the LINK to his fact-checking guidelines and one of his many blog posts around the “Great Debate” in reading LINK. I think both are “must-reads” for anyone attempting to mount a defense of balanced literacy on social media.  

Let me also share with you how I handled a recent encounter with a SOR advocate. She was not resorting to extremes; she was talking about the issues. I believe she was a parent who had completely bought into the slick public relations campaign and whose main source for ideas was that campaign. Here is a screen capture of that encounter.

Please read over my comments and see how I countered her arguments. First and foremost, NO SNARKY REMARKS OR RANCOR as I made my counters to her post. My advice- if someone says something that REALLY makes you mad, wait 24 hours before responding. In this case, that was not necessary. I was careful not to allow the conversation to shift away from the main point. The main point is that she never countered any of the many points I made in the blog she was talking about. I provided a restatement of several of those points. Take care not to allow the person to whom you’re talking to “take you down the rabbit hole.” Keep your remarks to the main point- and bring closure to that main point before embarking on anything new.

I tried to also appeal to her as a parent, pointing out that many children with reading problems do not have the problems that her child has. I may have gotten her to see at least some of my points. Her child was older and could not sound out words. I had done a blog around that point, and she acknowledged that. That means she had gone back to look at things I said. Baby steps!

A final point is this. I never counter their strawman statements with strawman statements of my own. SOR does not mean phonics only. They do also talk about comprehension. However, the key point is that too often, they overdo the time they spend on phonics and underdo or omit the time they spend on comprehension (think teaching comprehension strategies explicitly using gradual release).

I’ll end with a “dare to dream” observation. Let’s not let the extremists on any side keep those of us in the middle from talking to one another. If you find SOR folks willing to talk, for goodness sakes, talk to them. Be ready to admit that some of “your ways” have limitations. Theirs do too. My dissertation, done a couple of decades ago, was about the reading wars of that era. I found that the two sides of that time had more in common than the things that separated them. I suspect that a similar situation exists today. The only way for a common ground to be found is to talk with one another. As the opportunity presents itself, please do that. Let us find common ground. Let us empower districts to use that common ground to empower their teachers. That concludes the blogs around this topic.

Next week I will resume posting some of my interviews. I apologize to Laura Robb and Rita Wirtz for the long delay getting your ideas up. I am lining up other interviews for the summer. I may also do some posts around the nuts and bolts of what my brand of balanced literacy looks like. I hope it will be an interesting and informative summer. I’d also like to thank everyone for the well wishes about my battle with COVID. Things are much better, and I’m obviously able to resume my work on the blog. So, until next week:

HAPPY READING AND WRITING.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist trying to get all sides to talk with each other and find common ground.

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

PS 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.

Are we to become a nation of word callers or a nation of thinkers and problem solvers? One teacher’s perspective on the Reading Wars. By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Are we to become a nation of word callers or a nation of thinkers and problem solvers? One teacher’s perspective on the Reading Wars. By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Last week’s blog essentially went viral. It had over seventeen thousand views in just one week. This is a strong indication that many educators see the centrist point of view I am promoting as a strong and viable option for those wondering about what to do in this current iteration of the Reading Wars. This week’s entry provides a quick summary of my criticisms of how some are interpreting the Science of Reading. It also gives my list of suggestions about things we can do if we adopt a centrist view about literacy. Thank you in advance for considering these remarks.

At my age and stage, I find myself pondering life’s many lessons. One of those lessons has been the idea of moderation. Too much of a good thing is never really a good thing. That concept has direct application in the current exchange in the literacy world that is often called the Reading Wars. I’ve written about this topic extensively. LINK LINK LINK LINK I’ve made the case that one group of SOR proponents that  I have dubbed my way or the highway group has created a successful public relations campaign that is convincing folks this particular SOR group has all the answers and knows the one and only true path to teaching reading. The problem is that they don’t. I want to clarify from the outset that not all SOR folks fit into this branch of SOR. Here is an abridged set of bullet points demonstrating that the “my way or the highway” crew really doesn’t have the one true path. For a more complete list, see last week’s blog LINK

  • Despite claims by some SOR advocates that it’s all settled science, many well-credentialed  researchers feel that the whole issue of how to teach beginning reading is actually not settled  LINK
  • As indicated in last week’s blog, recent research findings have demonstrated that OG, the flagship of the SOR fleet, is not the cure-all that some make it out to be. These research findings suggest that “Orton-Gillingham reading interventions do not statistically significantly improve foundational skill outcomes” LINK. My take on this is not that OG is necessarily a bad thing. Rather it is the point that OG alone cannot produce good results in comprehension. In addition, I have also interviewed several folks who have developed alternate ways of teaching phonics that are actually quite effective LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK.  
  • The views about comprehension promoted by the “my way or the highway” group are limited and limiting. As I’ve reported before, they fail to properly consider the extensive research by Nell Duke, P.D. Pearson, and others about how to improve comprehension. LINK
  • In one form or another, the “my way or the highway” folks assume that teachers should take care of phonics first. Comprehension will then take care of itself through listening comprehension. That position was discredited many years ago by the National Read Panel, the very folks from whom the SOR folks get their five pillars. Many top literacy folks from both sides do not subscribe to this particular model of the relationship between decoding and comprehension. LINK
  • The “my way or the highway” crew has no plan of what to do for students for whom two or three years of intensive phonics shows no results. Such children exist LINK. We need a plan to help them too.  
  • Too often, SOR extremists attack and teacher bash whenever a teacher has the audacity to post information that runs counter to their very narrow beliefs. I suffered such an attack just last week. I have friends who have simply stopped posting because of being swarmed by these folks. There is some of this kind of unprofessional behavior from all sides, but my screen capture collection has many more SOR folks being mean, spiteful, and rude than any other group. Teacher bashing by anyone is completely unacceptable and unprofessional.
  • Too often research is being treated as something to be weaponized by the “my way or the highway” advocates rather than as an ongoing search for new insights building on the foundations of what we already know. LINK They are using the research to convince folks to use their products and no other. The laws that effectively ban certain publishers and promote others are good examples of this. I find the naming of certain products to be used exclusively is particularly onerous and ill-advised.

Talking about my criticisms is not enough This week, I want to tell you more about what I am for. So here is a short bullet point list of my key recommendations for the future.

  • First, change the behavior of social media interchange so teachers can talk, not argue LINK.   As I just said, let’s everyone stop the teacher bashing. The experts interviewed in the Washington Post said there is room for reasonable differences on this issue:

LINK

“There are also reasonable professional differences about what phonics instruction should look like, how much of it is necessary, for whom, under what circumstances, and how it connects with other aspects of reading. But there is no justification for characterizing these differences as a “reading war” between those who believe in phonics and those who don’t.”

  • Look at all the research, including both quantitative and qualitative research. Here is one of my favorite blog entries from my early blog posts. Its main focus is on reading comprehension. However, the action research the author carried out also demonstrates the value of including both qualitative and quantitative methods in research. This was a guest blog by one of my former university professors, LINK. In a later conversation with this same professor/mentor, he told me about a review he did of Juel and Minden-Cupp ( 2000). That study provided descriptive research in four first-grade classrooms. He said it was still a classic in his mind. They found that the two teachers who were most successful in improving students’ word analysis and comprehension skills were those teachers who provided the most differentiated instruction throughout the first grade. This conversation led me to wonder what would happen if districts did more of their own action research around what was working best in their particular local setting. I hope to do at least one blog post in the future talking about the things qualitative research can do to help school districts in their decisions about creating a curriculum that really fits the needs of the populations they serve.
  • Let’s also look at all the brain research. This interview gives a fresh perspective on some of that research LINK. I am also currently looking into brain researchers who draw a different conclusion than the researcher the SOR folks are quoting. More about that in future posts.
  • In addition to giving teachers the respect they deserve, let’s also give them ALL the tools they need and the freedom to use those tools. Their PD needs to include synthetic phonics, no question. But it also needs to include the other research-based forms of phonics that they might need to use to meet the needs of students when synthetic phonics doesn’t work. There are times when it doesn’t LINK. It also needs to include making them aware of the many decades of research showing that teaching comprehension through gradual release positively affects reading scores. Naming strategies is not enough. Internalizing strategies is the actual goal. They also need the freedom to use all the available approaches as they carry out their district’s curriculum. See this ILA brief on research-based practice in the teaching of decoding. LINK
  • Districts need to stop looking for magic pills. Adopting a program (even programs that you or I might like better than others) should not be the first step. The first step should be developing a curriculum based on the needs of the district’s population. After that is done, THEN search for programs and materials. But the boss of things needs to remain the district curriculum. The program(s) need to be adapted to the district, not the other way around. I prefer programs that build collaboration among teachers, parents, and administrators as an important part of how the program is implemented.
  • Let’s undo some of the laws that preempt the local district’s right to develop curriculum. One size fits all solutions mandated at the state or national levels ignore the fact that it is the district, not the state or the nation, that is the level that knows the kids the best. It is the level that is duly elected to do the job of deciding what fits their particular population the best. Most especially, we must rewrite the laws that hurt children through the incredibly ineffective policy of retaining them. As PL Thomas and others have documented, the research around the harm of using retention has been around for decades LINK. Yet this new legislation ignores that research.
  • Let’s consider the needs of all the children, not just the ones with problems in decoding. For instance, Nell Duke reported that word callers constitute a significant number of children doing poorly on state reading tests. There are many other sources of causes for problems in literacy. Look at what P.L. Thomas had to say in Diane Ravitch’s blog to get a quick overview of the reading war’s history LINK. Let’s remember that research demonstrates there are multiple causes for reading problems LINK. Let’s acknowledge that as we create district curriculum. Lack of decoding skills is just one of the causes of reading difficulty, not the sole or the main cause.
  • Let’s measure reading progress with tests that include a full check of comprehension modeled after state reading tests (see Duke’s reference chart in this blog) LINK. We really do need truth in testing. With truth in testing, most of the claims of miracle growth would evaporate.

Before I was a reading teacher, I was a history teacher for five years. Folks in that field often warn that those who study the past are condemned to relive it. Let’s not ignore decades of research around comprehension or decades of research showing the efficacy of using multiple approaches for teaching decoding.

Another important insight I gained as a history teacher is that social systems tend to say in stasis. It takes a lot to create a shift in ideas. Unfortunately, many of those shifts come only when one goes from one extreme to the other. Moves to middle ground seldom happen. The middle ground lacks the sizzle of the extremes.

Let’s take the middle ground more seriously. I urge all of you to revisit the works of P.D. Pearson. He has been a giant in the field of literacy for many decades. He created the widely used gradual release model. He has consistently been a centrist, saying to draw ideas from all sides. An important work of his to consider is Life in the Radical Middle LINK. It was written during the last iteration of the reading wars. Here is an excerpt from that document:

A second reason for living in the radical middle is the research base supporting it. I read the research implicating authentic reading and writing and find it compelling. I read the research supporting explicit skill instruction and find it equally as compelling. What occurs to me, then, is that there must be a higher order level of analysis in which both of these lines of inquiry can be reconciled. That would be a level in which authentic activity and ambitious instruction were viewed as complements rather than alternatives to one another. The radical middle, with its (or rather my) fascination with apparent contradiction, allows me to work comfortably at that level.”

I wish we had found that higher-order level of analysis in which both these lines of inquiry could be reconciled during the last round of the reading wars. We didn’t. In my 50-plus years in education, I’ve noticed that during each new round of the reading wars, it eventually becomes apparent that because different kids learn differently, we need research-based ideas from BOTH sides (all sides) in order to help all the children. One of the things that most teachers learn when they start teaching real kids in real classrooms is that what works with one child does not always work with another. What I am suggesting during this round of the reading wars is that folks from all sides finally realize that sometimes we must admit our ways aren’t working for all children. That means we must consider ideas from those sides that we don’t necessarily agree with.

In sum, let’s abandon the current rush to push for “one size fits” all approaches. Let’s demand that any test that calls itself a reading test must include a substantial comprehension component modeled after how state tests measure comprehension. Let’s restore the rights of districts to create curricula. Let’s embrace the methods and programs that encourage problem-solving, thinking and collaboration. Let’s invite teachers back to the table of curriculum creation and curriculum implementation. The insights they bring would be invaluable. Finally, and most importantly, let’s give teachers ALL the tools and training they need to carry out their district’s curriculum in an effective manner. That means training in ALL the ways to teach phonics and in ALL the ways to teach comprehension. Let us give each and every child what they need. Let’s have a READING EVOLUTION LINK.

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

Copyright 2022 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.