Monthly Archives: May 2018

A Call to Action by Dr William Kerns

(This weeks entry is by my partner,  Dr William Kerns)

A Call to Action by Dr William Kerns

Those of us in dialogue on this blog site tend to share a common vision for literacy and education. We seek to promote wide reading and learning experiences that are constructive, engaging, even playful while academically and cognitively vigorous. Learning is social. When Tim Rasinski speaks of an approach to fluency that draws on stories, music, dialogue, and that is intended to promote a lifelong love of reading, we love it. When Mary Howard speaks of the urgency of addressing approaches to reading interventions that take the joy out of reading, we agree.

There is a crisis in the literacy field. It’s a crisis of engagement. A crisis of vision over how literacy is understood. A crisis for the very “soul” of what it means to promote strong literacy. In this blog entry, I intend to depart a bit from describing strategies for reading instruction. This blog entry is a call to action.

I love seeing the way that literacy bloggers are linking with and promoting one another. It’s also heartening to see various organizations including International Literacy Association and National Council of Teachers of English promote partnerships as well as dialogue. By no means do I intend to discount good work already being done.  I’d urge us to bring out minds together to think of how to link our resources, imaginations, and strategies together to address the crisis that is occurring in the literacy field.

There are two key steps I’d like to urge in this blog. One is to view ourselves as part of a community of learners. The next is to be the change that we wish to see in the literacy field. It is only by working together and by becoming energized that we will impact the crisis within the literacy field.

Be a Community of Learners

We can start by acknowledging that we are all continuing to learn. Our learning is a lifelong, constructive and evolving process. So, let’s establish a makeshift professional learning community together. It is vital for us to provide supportive experiences in diverse contexts for one another. We are each still growing in our own areas of expertise. The premise for my call for a community of learners is that as each of us explores concepts of literacy and literacy instructional methods through dialogue online and in different contexts, we construct a richer understanding as we participate in what Barbara Rogoff would call a community of learners.

We learn from experience and dialogue with one another in a community of learners as we move between roles of the more experienced expert and the less experienced novice. Each person reading this blog entry is at a varied stage in the process of gaining skill in the use of tools within the profession while also gaining a sense of agency in the way that we understand the rules of how we can perform our roles. Collaboration can lead to increased confidence to take a stand for what we believe. Let’s help one another to maintain a passion for our role in the literacy field.


We can help one another in key areas including: the planning of activities as well as the construction of objectives and assessments; planning for in-depth learning and critical thinking. Important strategies in planning that are essential for social-constructivist teachers include sequenced instructional design. I advocate the design, implement and evaluation of meaningful classroom activities, with each activity preparing a student for the next activity, providing guidance and assistance to students as the students explore increasingly complex concepts and tasks. Teachers should learn how to assess the current knowledge and skills of students and how to provide skilled instruction to diverse learners, adapting instruction based on an ongoing assessment of progress.

Be The Change We Wish to See

We can help one another to take increased responsibility for our own roles in shaping our careers and contributing to the field. Helping one another and helping colleagues can become a way of living as we operate in our own individual schools, universities, and professional organizations. We can in the process encourage colleagues (and ourselves) to continuously re-examine  fundamental assumptions about literacy and teaching as new evidence arises based on reflection and inquiry. This means being honest with one another if we are to encourage colleagues to be open to new ideas and understandings based on an examination of evidence. We too need to wholeheartedly be committed to the pursuit of inquiry, and take responsibly to be committed to a careful consideration of the consequences of possible actions. That’s why we need to work together. We can’t address the crisis in the literacy field in silos.

Be a Reflective Practitioner

I view a reflective approach to education as tied in with choices of morality. We can choose to act or not to act. I believe that reflection on practice is at the heart of professional growth. I also believe that reflective practice is not an act to be best engaged in within a silo. We need one another if we are going to be at our best. There are ways we can help each other on research project ideas, design ideas, and teaching ideas. Sometimes an intelligent conversation itself can be energizing. A sure way to avoid becoming “stuck in a bad habit” is through what John Dewey would call a reflective habit, by being committed to re-examining assumptions on the basis of new evidence. I urge that we together foster among one another the skills to critically examine language, stereotypes, and educational practices various contexts. Those whose lives we touch as educators are impacted by life-conditions that often include the denial of equitable opportunities in education. Let’s together build the capacity to respond in a way that can help students reach their fullest possible potential in life.

Singing our Way into Fluency: Exploring Other Books to use Including Books for Older Students by Dr Sam Bommarito

I wanted to thank Eric Litwin again for sharing his views on using music as part of literacy instruction.  In my view Eric is an educator who also happens to be a very talented singer, songwriter and author.  His books are entertaining. More importantly his books are educational. This is because they are being written by an educator who is consciously trying to build literacy instruction into his work. He is to be commended for his body of work. The numerous awards he has won over the years stand as evidence that I am not alone in that opinion. That said, let’s look further into the topic of singing and writing our way into literacy.

In a very real sense, songs are poetry set to music.  Music adds many things to literacy instruction, including that element of joy that so many of us seem to be looking for lately. Today I want to investigate more of my favorite books from the genre “books that are songs”.

This week let’s start with one of the all-time classics from this genre.  Baby Beluga by Rafi. How could a teacher use Baby Beluga in his/her classroom? Baby Beluga could fit in as a “read aloud” at the start or end of the day. It could also fit into any number of science lessons. It could be used to help learn the “oo” sound.   Kids love to sing along. You could even let them do that more than once (e.g. listen first, sing if you want, then for sure sing on the second time). Music for it can be downloaded on any one of the music services. As with all the books mentioned, since audios are available you need not worry about your singing voice.   The song is also readily available on u-tube.

Baby B.

This would be a good place to bring up a point that Rasinski made during his St. Louis presentation.  It pays to have the lyrics of the song in front of the children when they are singing. In the case of Baby Beluga children could sit with copies of the book in groups of two or three. The teacher can monitor whether page turning occurs at the right time.  5-8 copies of the book should be enough for this purpose.  Having those copies makes the book available for future individual or pair reads at a station or during independent reading time. What about pointing while reading?

There is a stage in the reading process where word by word pointing (making it match!)  can be very useful at least for some students.  Based on my reading workshop training et. al. I would encourage this practice early in the reading process. Students reading at Levels 1-8, especially those that tend to “invent” i.e. make up their own text instead of reading the text from the author, could benefit from instruction on “making it match”.  I have a little poem I wrote to bring home that point to the children:

“Make it match, don’t make it up, that is what to do. Make it match don’t make it up, you’ll read your story true” (copyright 2018, Sam Bommarito)

By “matching” I mean to point to each word as the reader reads. It is up to the teacher on whether to use matching with all children at this stage or just those who tend to be inventors. Somewhere between level 9 and level 16 you want to scaffold them into dropping this practice.  Another teaching tip is to use the prompt “show me which word is which…” e.g.  show me which word is baby, or show me deep, or show me sea.  For children who are not paying enough attention to visual clues (the letters!) you can also say “How did you know that was baby (or deep or sea)”?  They would respond with “because it starts with b OR because of the picture OR because of the way the story is going”.  This method could be employed after reading the text together. In addition to its use with reading along with lyrics, these teaching tricks can also help children who memorize whole books when reading those very short beginning texts. Once they realize you want them to know which word is which, they tend to drop the strategy of “learn the whole book at once”. They start using the strategies of “knowing which word is which and learning how to figure out my own words using all the clues”.

Also- I want to make a plea to music teachers out there to let the children look at the words when they sing. I respect that oftentimes choral directors want their singers to know the songs by heart (that’s 50 plus years in church choirs talking!). But if there were points during the learning of the songs that students could be looking at the words that would be very useful for developing prosody.  You can save trees by using white board projections instead of paper copies.  Classroom teachers using songs should always take advantage of developing prosody by letting students look at the words they are singing.

Now let’s talk about three additional books that are songs and that could be used with older children.  Don’t Laugh at Me by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin, There are No Mirrors in my Nana’s House (Synthia St. James & Sweet Honey in the Rock) and Be A Friend by Leotha Stanley.  What each of these books has in common is that they deal with substantive social and cultural issues.  Teachers can easily envision places they could fit into units dealing with social justice and learning about the heritage of various cultures. They would also fit into the literacy program itself. The “make it match” strategy is not recommended for use with these books since they are all well above Level 8 in decodability. However, they would all lend themselves to reading in groups of two to three.  The Be a Friend book really lends itself to meaningful performances taken from the book.

Be A Friend   Don't Laugh at Me   No Mirrors

Don’t Laugh at Me by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin

COMMENTS: Peter Yarrows has turned this book into a national movement, here is a blog entry that talks about Peter and his work  There is a strong  message for tolerance in this song.  The possibilities for meaningful classroom discussions around the book are endless.

Availability and links.  The book is widely available on sites selling books. The music can be downloaded from commercial music sites.  Here is a YouTube link to the song:

No Mirrors in My Nana’s house (Synthia St. James & Sweet Honey in the Rock)

COMMENTS: I was in training for reading/writing workshop when this book first came out. My trainers were from teachers College in New York and were very excited about the book. It comes with a cd. The book is powerful and evokes strong images of the black experience in Harlem where the members of Sweet Honey Rock grew up. They sing acapella but it sounds like a full orchestra. It has a positive message. Again, the possibilities for meaningful classroom discussions are endless. Here are some YouTube links to different renditions of the book as a song and the book as a book.

Singing version (THIS ONE IS A MUST SEE!):

Read first then sung:

Be A Friend by Leotha Stanley

COMMENTS: Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print. Used copies are available on Amazon.  The original book came with a cassette, so when shopping check to see if that is included. Fortunately, the music from all the songs in the books can be downloaded from Amazon.  The book chronicles the history of black music and musicians.  Each chapter explains a genre and its impact on Black History. For instance, the chapter on Jazz talks both about the genre and famous people from the genre like Louis Armstrong.  What makes the book especially unique is that Leo wrote an original song for each chapter.  The “School Blues” is hilarious. The song “Brain Power” would really lend itself to a performance at a grade level graduation. See what I mean by reviewing these songs in the YouTube video of the book contained in first URL listed below. The possibilities of writing songs like Leo did are also endless. This book is a potential book club book with lots of opportunity to sing.

Brain Power video performed by a third-grade group with Leo accompanying them (THIS ONE IS ALSO A MUST SEE!):

School Blues audio only, Leo & the Be a Friend singers:

So…, those are some of my favorite books from this genre.  They can be used to build prosody. They can be used to promote literacy in its many forms. They can help your students explore important social issues.  They can help to bring Joy into your literacy instruction. Hope you enjoy them all as much as I have. Next week Bill Kerns will be making another guest appearance. Until then:

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. singer of literacy songs).

Singing our Way into Fluency: Exploring the Work of Eric Litwin and How He Brings Together the Art and Science of Reading By Dr Sam Bommarito

I’ve already discussed how one educational leader, Timothy Rasinski, uses songs as an important part of his fluency program. Today I have very a special guest on the blog, Eric Litwin.  Eric is a well-known children’s author and educator. His website describes him as follows:

Eric Litwin is a song singing, guitar strumming, # 1 New York Times Best Selling, award winning author who brings early literacy and music together. 

 He is the original author of the Pete the Cat series as well as the author of The Nuts and Groovy Joe. 

Eric believes early literacy is more joyful and successful when the child is fully engaged with the book. He calls this interactive reading. 

 Eric’s books have sold over 12.5 million copies, been translated into 17 languages, and won 25 literacy awards including a Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Award.”  

             Dance Party    The Nuts, Keep Rolling    Pete the Cat

Regular readers of my blog know that I first met Eric when he did an all-day presentation about music and literacy. In an earlier blog, I described how he engaged teachers, myself included, in a day long workshop at the annual Write to Learn conference in Missouri @WritetoLearnMO. It was held in February of this year.  By the end of the workshop he had us all writing our own songs- songs that were designed to help our students on the road to literacy. He also shared his wonderful books with us.  I talked with Eric after the workshop and he agreed to be interviewed by the Missouri Reader for the fall issue. Glenda Nugent, my co-editor on the Missouri Reader has completed that interview. More about that a little later.  I asked Eric if he would consider talking to the readers of this blog about the topic of Singing Your Way into Fluency. He agreed.

I asked Eric how music can help readers, especially beginning readers. Here is the core of what he had to say:

“The components of song including melody, rhyme, rhythm/cadence, and repetition facilitate prediction. Prediction is essential for an emerging reader to successfully read a book. This combined with appropriate phonetics and sight words is empowering for emerging independent readers. I really do believe early literacy is more joyful and successful when the child is fully engaged with the book. This is the heart of interactive reading. This is the what my books try to do, engage the child and at the same time teach the child things they need to know in order to become successful readers.”

He went on to say:

“When I’m writing, a critical issue for me is to clarify my book’s message. The main message of a book can be incorporated into the song increasing the success of the message. One example of this can be found in The Nut Family, Keep Rolling.The song says, “Keep Rolling”. This reinforces and communicates the essence of that book’s message.”

Eric has certainly written books that do all the things he talks about and more. Here is an example:

Groovey Joe Colorado

Groovey Joe Dance Party Countdown! was the winner of this year’s One Book 4 Colorado program. That’s the governor of Colorado reading the book aloud to a group of children.  This book is a perfect example of what Eric was talking about. I can guarantee it is engaging. It is definitely predictable. Got a copy for my grandchild. She loved it! She just finished preschool. This book, and others like it, really do lay the foundation for so many things. That includes building the background that children need to effectively use phonics. Just as important it gives the children experience in how to make meaning from the words they see, hear and sing.  Visit Eric’s website to see for yourself. When you do be sure to scroll down the page and click on the audio link for the song Disco Party Bow Wow which is pictured below.  We got to see him perform it live at our conference, and the teachers in the room all loved it. More importantly, so did my granddaughter. I predict that your beginning readers will also love it and learn from it.

Website Play

This song uses a form of “call and response”.  Sing it with your children. It helps when children look at the lyrics of a song when they sing. Use the book. You’ll be amazed at how much they pick up when you use that strategy.   You don’t need to be able to sing yourself. Eric’s audio does that for you. I’ve spent lots of time already exploring this site- the downloads, the newest books. It is a treasure trove of materials that can help you help your beginning readers.  I think Eric’s work is an example of reading instruction that is both art and science. He is serious about both.  His musical books are unique because they bring narrative and music together. Want to read more about Eric and his thoughts about literacy?  Check out the fall issue of Missouri Reader.  It’s free.  To subscribe go to the current issue and click on the subscribe bar on the left side of the reading page. Once you are subscribed, you’ll receive future journals, including Glenda’s interview with Eric in the upcoming fall issue.

Here are some additional links to Eric’s materials:

The Nut Family:

Groovy Joe: (can download Groovy Joe music for free at this site)

Additional Free Music From Eric:!songs-and-activities/c129x

Next week I will expand the blog topic. It will become “Singing and Writing Your Way into Fluency”. I’ll tell you about some of my other favorite children’s books that include the use of music. Not all of them are just for beginning readers, some are for older readers and deal with topics that are important to them. I’ll talk about how to look for writing craft in these books and teach your students to use that craft in their own writing. That way they can also write their way into fluency!  As always- I value your comments and suggestions about the blog and its content.

Happy Reading and Writing


Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a., fan of Eric, friend of Groovy Joe)

Blog content Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Content from Eric Litwin’s website is copyrighted & used with permission

The Teaching of Reading as Both Science and Art: A Report & Evaluation of Rasinki’s Recent Presentation In St. Louis by Dr. Sam Bommarito


The above quote from Diane Ravitch is taken from the Rasinski’s presentation in St. Louis at our local ILA’s spring banquet. Last week I promised to tell you more about it.  Here goes! As I proceed I will try to make it clear which part of what is said is Rasinski’s and which parts are my reactions or comments on what he said. As you could tell from my remarks last week I found his presentation to be enlightening, empowering and encouraging.

During his presentation, Rasinski made it clear that the teaching of reading is, and should be, a science.  He gave many details about this. However, he also feels the teaching of reading is also an art and that there are many benefits to treating it as an art as well as a science. Let’s talk about why he feels that way.

Great Minds

As illustrated by his slide about Albert Einstein, he talked about the many great minds over the years who recognized the importance of art. Others he mentioned included the Dalai Lama and Steve Jobs

Rasinski maintains that treating the teaching of reading as art can raise the level of performance of students. Look at his take on Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Blooms Tax

My take on this rendition of Blooms is that when you use an approach to the teaching of reading that is based on both art and science you raise the level of student performance.  When students are allowed the time to create things of their own, they are going beyond what they already know (Rasinski’s words).  They are adding new things to the base of human knowledge. In short, they are performing at a higher level than before.

There are unintended consequences to the “All Science” approach to reading.  Rasinski shared the example of what it’s like to read a decodable text about the “ag” family.  He used the decodable book, Mr. Zag. Rasinski asked is this science?  His answer was yes. Is it art? His answer was no. Is it engaging? My answer is no. As I thought about this example, it become apparent there while the text was read, it’s content was at the very lowest levels of blooms (e.g. Mr. Zag saw a bag with a tag). The text did not require the student to perform at a high level.  It did not require students to think except at the very lowest levels of Blooms.  I anticipated that his next few slides would show us examples of ways to accomplish the very same task (teach the ag family) but do it in an artful way- a way that would engage students and require them to perform at a high level of thinking.  That is exactly what he did. Poetry was involved.

This brings us to the centerpiece of his presentation, his new book, which is entitled the Megabook of Fluency. The book is exactly that. It is organized around his prosody factors (EARS). E is for Expression, A is for Automatic Word Recognition, R is for Rhythm and Phrasing and S is for smoothness, fixing mistakes. Rubrics based on these factors are available in the book and are written on a variety of levels including one for 6-8.  So, this book isn’t just for the primary grades, it’s content and suggestions include ideas and activities for all grade levels PP-8.  For a list of all the strategies in the book organized by EARS skills the reader can go to:

This link is for people who own the book. You can use information from the book to get the password for this link.

It was in this part of the presentation that Rasinski told the story I mentioned last week. It was the story of a new primary teacher who used the strategy of having children practice reading poetry for four days of the week in preparation for performing those poems on Friday.  Despite push back about “wasting” instructional time, she continued to do that. By the end of the year her first grades were performing significantly higher on reading tests. She replicated those results the next year and became the teacher of the year for her state. The book gave several more examples of other teachers in other grade levels having similar success.

By now my readers can guess the book contains a treasure trove of ideas and resources. There are many activities that take advantage of original sources, including a variety of songs like It’s a Grand Old Flag, primary source texts like Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, poems like Paul Revere’s Ride and of course children’s nursery rhymes.  I mentioned those nursery rhymes last on purpose. That is because I want to emphasize that this book is not just for primary students.  Students in the middle grades can also benefit from instruction in prosody. Rasinski asked what would happen if we had students practice and then perform such historic and artful texts? I think part of what would happen is that through use of primary sources teachers would include both science and social studies content within their literacy block. This in turn would enhance both their literacy scores and their science and social studies scores.  The book also includes materials on how to teach comprehension artfully.  Based on the examples Tim gave during the presentation, this is done with materials that students would find engaging.  It would be done in a way that allows students to perform at the highest levels of Blooms.

As I just indicated, the activities in his book are not just about helping students get better at decoding. Remember last week when I said that during parts of the presentation I felt like I was in a seminar on writing workshop? That is because Rasinski talked about how students used some of the poems and primary source pieces as a source of inspiration for writing their own works. He showed examples of student writing. Hmm. Students writing their own poetry, scaffolded by reading poems from this book or other sources.  What a great idea for poetry month! Might I ask on what performance level students would be working? That would be the level that comes after Blooms evaluation level, creating! Ideas for poetry lessons based on Tim’s book can be found at POETRY LESSON PDF

Ok, is all this real science? Rasinski makes a case that it is. Look at his example summarizing the impact of deep repeated reading:

Deep Repeated Reading

Example A demonstrates that performance improved over several rereads. Notice the big red arrows when doing the next set of rereads (B) and yet another set of rereads (C). They are there to call your attention to the fact that the improved performance with the first set (A), results in the reader starting on the second set at a higher level, and this phenomenon is repeated on the third set. That means the skills gained in the first performance carried over to future performances. Rasinski says that’s science! I concur.

Rasinski also says that repeated reading is more effective when done for authentic purposes.  His book gives you many pieces of authentic reading materials and many authentic reasons for rereading (e.g. rereading to prepare for a performance). My experience with his materials over the years is that his materials work and they are engaging to the students.

That concludes what I have to say about Rasinski’s presentation. Stay tuned. Next week there will be a blog post over the next part of this topic. I’m using the title “Singing Our Way into Fluency”.  Eric Litwin: Best-selling author of the original four Pete the Cat books, The Nuts and Groovy Joe. will share his views on using music with beginning readers. So please come back next week as we continue our discussion.

For more information about Tim and his various visit his website  BTW- the blog on his website includes free versions of his famous Word Ladders.


Also check out his articles in professional journals:


Reading Teacher


Article Copyright 2018 by Sam Bommarito

Includes the use of the title “Singing Our Way into Fluency