Monthly Archives: June 2018

Using Research to Jump to Confusions Part 2: Looking at How We Could Teach Students about Comprehension Strategies by Dr. Sam Bommarito

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Using Research to Jump to Confusions Part 2: Looking at How We Could Teach Students about Comprehension Strategies by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I’m back from a memorable vacation at Disney World spent with my son’s family, including my wonderful grandchild who got to celebrate her birthday at Disney. Special thanks to guest bloggers Bill Kerns, David Harrison and Mary Jo Fresch who provided the blog entries I used while I was gone.  In my last blog entry before the vacation, I talked about jumping to confusions as we apply research to teaching practice. I asserted that we sometimes jump to the very end results about research on what good readers do, without giving enough consideration to the path the good readers take to get there.  That first entry talked about word recognition. If you didn’t get to read it go to  In the next couple of weeks, I will talk about the teaching of comprehension strategies and how we can use the research around comprehension strategies to help our students become better readers, writers and thinkers, especially when reading complex texts.

My 30 plus years of classroom teaching was spent in a very different era than today.  I can remember that back in 1985 the various editions of Harris and Sipay provided a widely agreed upon, go to resource of research-based thinking for that era. In the mid-80s everyone was looking hard at Durkin’s findings that only 6/10 of one percent of our classroom time was spent teaching comprehension. We practiced comprehension much more than that, but our practice could be likened to a batting coach telling a batter to keep swinging without giving any feedback or scaffolding on how to adjust their swing to handle the myriad of pitches that might come their way.  We studied the key reading strategies carefully. We were guided by Michael Pressley and others on what those key strategies were and how to teach them. We wanted our readers to become proficient readers, able to use all the key strategies found in research. Teachers and university professors alike got very excited and created many a lesson about these various strategies. Fast forward to today and we find reading experts like Timothy Shanahan saying that they work, but we have overgeneralized from studies about teaching reading strategies. If someone finds that 6 weeks of strategy instruction is beneficial, then recommending 12 years of it seems a bit excessive. (see his May 19th 2018 blog entry).  Class time needs to be spent on something more than the direct teaching of strategies.

My point of view about the overteaching of strategy lessons is somewhat different.  I think that we jumped right into directly teaching the comprehension strategies good readers use without considering how they got to be proficient at using those strategies. This is another example of jumping to confusions about the research on what good readers do. We jumped right to the end. We tried to teach the strategies without fully considering how good readers got to the end-point of effectively using those strategies.  Doing it that way didn’t work with sight words (my previous entry, .  It would work better with comprehension strategies if we carefully consider how readers come to develop those strategies and use our classroom time accordingly.

So…, how do I think good readers get to the point of being able to develop and use all those strategies?  I propose that it happens during meaningful talk (and writing) about what they’ve read.  I’d like to use the teaching of inference as a case study of how teachers might design units to teach any of the comprehension strategies and/or teach readers about how to handle complex text. I will talk about how to deal with both teaching the strategy itself and teaching students how to handle the test questions standardized test makers use to assess their use of those strategies. I have used this teaching sequence successfully in an after-school program I teach in as a part of my current volunteer work with students.

My teaching sequence designed to help students infer begins with a writing component. Good writers often show rather than tell. So, we start with a writing unit built around that topic. I used to use one of my own design. Then Jennifer Serravallo books, Reading Strategies and Writing Strategies came along.  I found that Jennifer’s lessons were superior to the ones I had been using.  So, I started using lessons from her book Writing Strategies as part of my overall sequence of lessons surrounding inference. The lessons I used focused on how good writers often show instead of tell.

During the writing unit, students would talk about their pieces, sharing them with fellow students. They used peer revision and honed their clues so that their fellow readers would be able to determine what the student authors were showing them. During discussions around their passages, the key test of whether the passage was effective was whether or not their peers were able to infer what they were trying to show. Their peers enjoyed giving the student authors additional ideas for clues. Since the writer is always the boss of the story, ideas from their peers were suggestions not mandates. One of the hardest things for students to understand was that they could not just blurt out what they wanted to say. For example, you can’t just say Leon is very tall and he plays basketball.  That’s telling the reader not showing the reader. You could say, “When Leon came into the room he had to duck his head as he walked in the doorway. He was just back from practice. He didn’t seem tired, he seemed excited. He’d just earned his letter for playing sports. He was so proud.”   This passage might let you know Leon was tall and that his letter was one he likely earned in basketball. There are also other “shows” and other “tells” in this passage.

AFTER the students had the background and experience developed by this writing unit, we moved into guided reading lessons. For these lessons I picked books with lots of inferences, lots of examples of the author showing not telling.  Students talked about clues they’d spotted. They talked about what clues they might add based on their experiences in the writing unit. In my after-school work there are students from multiple reading levels. Because of that my guided reading lessons are often done in an ad hoc strategy group. These groups use a text all can read. The leveled text is at the decoding level of the lowest achieving reader in the group. The group was asked to identify various passages in the book in which the writer showed rather than tells.

Some activities for the group included:

  • Sharing the show don’t tell passages they’d found in the reading.
  • Discussing whether including these passages made the book more understandable and enjoyable.
  • Discussing what new clues they might suggest the author try. In this activity they had a peer revision session. I would play the role of the author and they would suggest additions or deletions to the passage.
  • Creating a multiple question modeled on multiple choice questions used in their commercial on-line program to assess inference.

WHOA- what is that last activity all about? I’ll have much more to say about that next week. The first part of my teaching sequence was designed to scaffold readers into understanding how inferencing works.  They wrote using the strategy, talked about their writing, did a Guided Reading lesson built around spotting when the author of the GR passage used the strategy too. They talked about both the content of the passage AND the processes used to make sense of that content. This sequence of lessons set the stage for teaching readers (& writers) how to use inferencing in their literacy endeavors. Unlike the direct teaching lessons for strategies, which too often used contrived applications of the strategy (one of Shanahan’s criticisms of lessons designed to directly teaching strategies), my hope is that this overall sequence teaches students HOW to think, how to use strategies good readers use. In the process, it makes them metacognitive (self-aware) of the strategies they are applying. The last activity in my Guided Reading lesson is designed to help them know what to do when they meet questions in commercial materials and tests that try to assess  their ability to draw inferences.

Before giving my final conclusions for this blog entry, I want to make the point that teaching inferencing and teaching how to handle inferencing questions are two very different things. I’ve seen situations where the “teaching” of inference and other similar reading strategies comes in the form of endless test practice. Students learn how to handle each type of question. Those questions usually come at the end of a short passage. The thinking is if they practice practice practice the test items they will get better at test taking.  Next week I will pick up on the ramifications of this point. For the moment I will say I’ve never seen this method of practice practice practice test questions work in the long run. Learning how the question works does provide a bump in achievement. However, once students understand how to handle that kind of question, there are usually no further achievement gains. In the meantime, tons of instructional time that could be used to help scaffold them in their use of strategies is totally wasted. More about this next week.

Next time I will share with you some advice I’ve just given to a staff developer on what her staff development could look like for a PD plan she created for this fall. Her plan spans several months and is designed to teach her staff how to implement guided reading. My advice to her about her plan reflects practical applications of what I’ve had to say in this week’s blog entry. In future blog entries I also hope to address the question of how to design sequences of lessons that might help readers unpack meaning in complex text.

So, until next Friday…

Happy Reading and Writing

Doctor Sam Bommarito (aka, teacher of teaching how to think)

                                                  Copyright 2018 Sam Bommarito

Using the author as a mentor: Helping students learn strong research skills by David Harrison and Mary Jo Fresch

Austin 2018 Dave and Mary Jo


is this weekend, and you can join us from anywhere! Check out our live chat w/ authors & educator

This week David L. Harrison (children’s poet and author) and Mary Jo Fresch (Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University) are doing a guest post on this blog. THANKS SO MUCH TO BOTH OF THEM. They will both be at the ILA convention in Austin July 20-23. Be sure to catch them at their sessions in Austin (see below). Below is a picture of them at the 2017 NCTE convention in St. Louis, where they introduced their newest book. Glenda Nugent (my Missouri Reader Co-Editor) and I got to meet them face to face.  Hope you enjoy this week’s guest post and find it as informative as I did.

David and Mary JO with us





Using the author as a mentor: Helping students learn strong research skills

In this Blog, David L. Harrison (children’s poet and author) and Mary Jo Fresch (Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University), share classroom ready ideas for helping students be successful researchers.

Hello readers! This summer are you dreaming about students who not only love to write, but do so with a good foundation of information about their topics? Wouldn’t it be fulfilling to read well researched and thoughtfully composed writings? We share with you some ideas to help prepare students to be better researchers. Beginning to write without carefully researching a topic often ends up with writing pieces that not only lack accuracy, but also passion.  Regardless of the genre, students need to be ready to write – whether it is a nonfiction piece connected to content studies, poetry that uncovers a particular feeling, a fiction piece in an accurate setting – all forms of writing need thought before pen and paper ever meet.

Through David’s own work as a writer, students can observe and replicate the work of getting ready to write. As a “mentor” of research, David shares with students what he does to prepare to write. And across the genres he writes! By learning authentic research skills, students “connect their academic work directly to the real world in a powerful and meaningful way.”

(Werner-Burke, 2004, p. 44). Research is what we do to get ready to write.

We know current day media presents challenges to teachers. In Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project Online Survey, 99% of middle and high school teachers responding believed that their students are conditioned to find information quickly and easily, but 83% agreed the amount of online information is overwhelming for most students. As Doug Lemov reminds us, “want to become a doctor? An economist? An engineer? You’d better be prepared to read articles, primary documents, research studies, and complex essays . . .In other words, success in scholastic and professional endeavors requires the ability to learn from the literature of a discipline (2017, p. 10).” We must show our students how to be researchers.

The remainder of this blog is an interview with David about his work and how that translates into classroom instruction.  How can he “mentor” your students to be thoughtful and thorough researchers? Keep reading! Mary Jo promises to give you lots of ideas to move from David’s experiences to providing similar student activities.

Mary Jo:

David, you’ve often said we cannot do our best writing when we begin before we’re ready to write.  How does that work for you when you have a new book idea?


Mary Jo, for me almost every new project begins with a question and a list. The question is: What is this book going to be about? What is its purpose? If I can’t answer that question, I won’t know what I’m looking for when I set out to do my research.  The list has four parts. One: What do I already know about my subject? Two: Are there things I think I know but want to double-check to be sure? Three: What do I not know about my subject that I might want to include?  Four: What do I not know I don’t know? Okay, that fourth list sounds impossible. In the beginning it is, but as I get deeper into my subject, unexpected fascinating facts always pop up. That’s why I need that fourth list! Collectively – the questioning, starting the lists – this is presearch. It’s what I do to get ready to help me get ready to write.

Mary Jo:

That sounds like a good place for teachers to start their students on the road to research. First, selecting a topic that they are interested in is key to staying engaged throughout the research and writing process. So, students should select from ideas they have to write about, then make those four columns – What they already know; What they think they know but better double-check; What they want to learn in their research that they can include in their writing; and finally, What they don’t know they don’t know (or what surprises along the way they discovered thanks to the research process).  So, teachers easily have four quick and compelling lessons just in the question posing phase of the research. Once students learn how to ask these questions they can use them forever!


Next comes the most important part of writing, Mary Jo. Tracking down all the information we need before we can write anything worth reading. There is no single way to do this. Of course the Internet is the easy-peasy way to get facts in a hurry. Unfortunately, you can also get wrong information just as fast. As a writer, I fear making mistakes. If I write something that is wrong, I have failed my reader. Fiction springs from nonfiction so a writer must get his information straight before setting out to write that story or poem or essay. We don’t have room here to get into every form of research that writers use, but the point is that the more students “get” the need to get it right, the better their writing will be. You simply can’t write your best if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Mary Jo:

So, what’s next?  Let’s peek into your study.  You have researched information to fill out all four questions (you might even have added information you know but forgot to include!).  Now what?  How do we use those answers in the best way?


By now I’ve chosen my topic. I’ve decided on the purpose of the project. I’ve made lists of what I know, need to double check, need to learn, and one for surprises. I’ve read books about my subject, checked the Internet, interviewed, observed, and kept good notes about everything I learned. So I’m ready to write at last! Not. I am now the proud owner of a set of notes about many aspects of my subject. Can I tell my reader about all of them? Afraid not. My writing would wander all over the place if it tried.

So now I sit down with all I’ve learned and start arranging notes, looking for an ideal place to begin, things I want to say in the main text, and a strong way to finish. I’ll set aside bits of information that aren’t likely to make the cut. And NOW I’m ready to pick up my pen or sit at the keyboard and write my first word.

Mary Jo:

So, organizing the notes is another key step. As we think about your role as a mentor to students’ research, they need to see that real authors must be organized in keeping and using their notes. Teachers could ask students to take their notes and use highlighters to mark the information they want to include in their writing. They could use one color for the introductory paragraph(s) and another color for the body of the writing. They could also take the notes, cut them apart, and arrange the ones they want to use in the “order of appearance.” They might even discover they could write more than one text from the notes if they have more information than they can use for the first writing. Has that happened to you?  Did you ever say, “Wow, I have a lot of good information here…more than I can put in one book!”?


Absolutely, Mary Jo! When my wife and I went up the Amazon River in Peru, I made eighty pages of notes and took hundreds of pictures. I used my research to write a book of poetry about the Amazon called SOUNDS OF RAIN. Years later I returned to my notes and wrote a middle grade novel called DOWNRIVER.  My extensive notes about a cave discovered in southwest Missouri resulted in a nonfiction book called CAVE DETECTIVES. The same notes produced more than one poem. Lately I’ve thought of returning to those notes to write a collection of poems for a new book. Notes from a book about mountains inspired a book about glaciers. Notes from the book about glaciers inspired a book about the first people to migrate to the North American continent. The more we learn about our subject, the more ways we discover to write about it in different genres and even start new projects!

Mary Jo:

Sharing with students what David does demonstrates the real-life purposes of research, notetaking and organization, and then choosing a way to write (and maybe more than one way!). Our dreams of students who write with accuracy and passion can be a reality when we help them build the skills they need to presearch a topic (Is my topic too big? Should I narrow it? Should I expand it?), pose good questions to research the topic (by using such resources as internet, books, video, interviews), organize the notes to help decide on the focus of the writing, and then, maybe “shelve” some notes for another writing piece or two down the road. There is a wonderful saying (Anonymous!) that sums up how David and I feel about teaching good research skills to students:

The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it and turn it inside out.

 David and Mary Jo have published a number of articles in the Missouri Reader.

Links in order of appearance: ; ;


Let’s Collaborate to Address Dilemmas in Literacy By Dr William Kerns

I am on vacation. Dr. Kerns volunteered to do this weeks post. THANKS BILL! It should provide you with some good food for thought.

Let’s Collaborate to Address Dilemmas in Literacy

 This is a difficult time to be a teacher. Pressures of high stakes testing have the impact of narrowing curriculum. Meanwhile, the use of commercially produced assessments contributes to pressure to label students according to reading levels that shape reading goals. This blog entry explores the way that teachers in the literacy field can work together to enhance instruction through the systematic examination of questions about practice.

Reflective teachers engage in ongoing, self-initiated inquiry (Calderhead, 1992; Elder & Paul, 2008). Dialogue and collaboration helps teachers take responsibility for improving instruction (Day, 1999). Far too frequently, teaching practices that are grounded in a deep tradition within the research literature become misunderstood and misapplied in classrooms. One example is the facilitation of student goal setting. There are debates in the literacy field over whether these goals should include the explicit enunciation by the child of improvement according to specific reading levels. This blog will address how understanding and conducting research can help teachers to better address this issue in the classroom. I argue for an approach to teaching that continuously draws upon research and inquiry in order to inform the academic and social consequences of instructional choices.

Student Goal Setting and Reading Levels

Reading is a goal-directed activity in which a person makes meaning of a text. Setting goals helps students to become increasingly motivated readers (Kintsch, 1998). This is because goals enable students to become focused on a task that they view as relevant (McCrudden, Schraw, & Kambe, 2005) and purposeful (Locke & Gary, 2006). Goals that are specific and appropriately challenging (Kleingeld et al., 2011) are linked to improved confidence among students to be successful readers (Schunk, 2003; Smith & Wilhelm, 2002). Students self-regulate as they read a text by setting goals and monitoring progress toward accomplishing these goals (Bray & McClaskey, 2015). Importantly for social-constructivist teachers to bear in mind, goal-setting appears to be increasingly effective when teachers and students systematically work together to name the goals and monitor progress (Pincham, 2006). Also of importance for teachers of students who are identified with specific learning exceptionalities in reading, goal setting has long been linked to long-term gains among students with learning disabilities (Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins, & Herman, 1999).

Debate arises when the goals are related to Lexile style reading levels lacking in personal and social meaningfulness to the student. Lexile measures are used to track either the difficulty of a text or a student’s reading level. While Lexile levels are commonly used in schools, other commercial companies such as American Reading Company provide alternate means of identifying reading levels. In the American Reading Company’s system, levels are identified via color schemes that correspond with a reading level. One key concern is that communication of goals based on Lexile-type levels may also communicate to students a set of beliefs and assumptions about who they are as readers, and “what” they are as readers,  thus positioning students as character types in a particular storyline about those who are reading at identified levels (Harré, 2012). A Lexile level is not one that a student would naturally identify if reading a text on his or her own. So, tying goal setting to Lexile levels raises the issue of power (Lukes, 2005) if consideration is given to who is legitimate to speak (the student?) regarding goal-setting and whether the student’s voice may be getting silenced.

This debate raises an important question. What is a teacher to do in the face of administrative and curricular pressures for students to make gains as typically determined by Lexile levels? Communication of goals based on Lexile levels may be unavoidable for teachers in many school districts depending on administrative pressure. My suggestion is that it’s important to help students also set goals that are personally meaningful, rather than rely on Lexile levels as the key to goal setting. This is easier said than done. It requires an ongoing analysis of research literature related to literacy and pedagogy. Further, I recommend that teachers also engage within inquiry communities and conduct forms of classroom inquiry.

Joining Inquiry Communities and Conducting Inquiry

Inquiry communities help teachers to develop knowledge of practice through ongoing, supportive dialogue and reflection (Lytle, 2008). Dialogue in the group is based on a search for understanding and improvement of practice (Swales, 1990). Collaborating on classroom-based research opens new opportunities for communication among teachers and university faculty, while it increases awareness and reflection of issues related to learning and participation in the teaching profession (Rock & Levin, 2002).

Steps that can be taken by teachers to ensure that they benefit from participation in an inquiry community include the following:  engage in a group that fosters a supportive environment for reflective thinking and for inquiry; seek to continuously learn about the role of reflection in teaching; seek to engage in ongoing dialogue that fosters systematic reflection and inquiry. I recommend that teachers strive to join (or build) a learning community (Schwab, 1976) with dialogue that involves seeking new educational ideas and the improvement of teaching practices (Swales, 1990). Crucially, teachers need to feel safe to take risks in a supportive environment that is open to new ideas and new concepts.

Teachers conducting classroom inquiry engage in systematic, intentional study of professional practice through a planning process of gathering and recording information, documenting experiences inside and possibly outside of classrooms, and creating a written record. Typically, the methods include journal entries that are coded to identify the themes and patterns (Guwaldi, 2009). The goal is generally to address questions and make sense of experiences through a reflective stance toward classroom instruction and classroom learning. Prior to embarking on classroom inquiry, I strongly recommend seeking dialogue in an inquiry community and studying material related to reflective teaching (Hatch & Shulman, 2005; McCann et al., 2005; Zeichner & Liston, 2014) and methods of conducting teacher research (Chiseri-Strater & Sunstein, 2006; Falk & Blumenreich, 2005; Freidrich et al., 2005; Hopkins, 2008; Hubbard & Power, 2003; Lytle, 2008; McBee, 2004).

Taking a Pragmatic Approach

This blog is grounded in a pragmatic approach to the reading of research to inform the act of being a reflective practitioner.  Dewey identified attitudes that are involved in the development of a habit of inquiry. I believe that these attitudes are important when it comes to how teachers approach research. Open-mindedness involves willingness to rethink fundamental ideas through ongoing reflection and inquiry. Reflective thinking in a moment of doubt is then “occasioned by an unsettlement and it aims at overcoming a disturbance” (Dewey, 1916/1980, p. 336). To solve the problem, according to Dewey (1933/1986a), a teacher should exhibit wholeheartedness, or an in-depth commitment with full devotion to personal and emotional resources. Dewey viewed the development of a habit of pursuing inquiry in the face of doubt as an essential aspect of reflective thinking. However, commitment should also involve responsibility. A sense of responsibility entails taking seriously the moral choices faced in life and in the classroom setting by habitually evaluating, through inquiry, how actions may bring about desired or undesired consequences. The reading of research then  fosters an ethical sense of responsibility among teachers. Finally, Dewey (1916/1980) urged an attitude of directness, or faith that actions grounded in in the attitudes of open-mindedness, wholeheartedness, and responsibility in the conduct of inquiry are worth taking for the benefit of a democratic and just society.

Schön (1991) differentiated between reflective thinking performed while a professional is engaged in an activity, reflection-in-action, and reflection-on-action involving the review and examination of past action. Schön stressed the value of reflection in the context of practice. Ongoing reflection is informed by what the teacher learns from the inquiry by weighing the merits of redirecting activity against time constraints and need for curriculum coverage. A reflective practitioner gains self-knowledge while engaged in theorizing by taking control and responsibility for knowledge.




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Using Research to Jump to Confusions: (Nope, it is not another typo- Sometimes We Unintentionally Jump to Confusions) By Dr. Sam Bommarito


research creative commons Blue Diamond Galary

I’ll start by stating my position about using research. We absolutely should use research to inform our decisions about teaching. That would include both qualitative and quantitative research.  However, especially when looking at the research around what good readers do, we need to be careful. Sometimes in our haste to get our readers to the desired end results, we fail to pay careful attention to the path that the good readers took to get there. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring what I mean by this, beginning with one a classic misreading of the research.  This has to do with the research around high-frequency words. Early in the 20th-century pioneering work was done around high-frequency words.  Dolch and Fry both discovered that relatively few words (Dolch 220, Fry 300) make up most of the words we read (up to 70%).  That means as you read this piece approximately seven out of every ten words are likely to be words found on the Dolch or Fry list. This fact led educators to think that it would pay off handsomely to include as many of these words as possible when instructing beginning readers. It spawned what came to be known as the sight say method.  Folks thought they had found an approach that would solve the problems of teaching beginning reading. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the 1st Grade Studies concluded that sight say was not the best beginning reading approach. Where did things go wrong?

Let’s start by looking at why educators thought teaching the high-frequency words early, and by rote, would pay off big.  The typical reader needs to know 20,000 plus words by the time they reach high school.  By teaching the high-frequency words early we would assure our young readers would know 7 out of 10 of every word they would ever need to know. They would know them very early in the reading process. Wow! That’s a great payoff. It greatly reduces the work beginning readers have to do when reading text. Once they know the high-frequency words, only 3 out of every 10 words are unknown when reading running text.  I want to be clear that I think that this is a payoff we want to have.  Where the sight-say folks went wrong in implementing this was that they tried to skip right to the end without paying attention to the middle. What do I mean by that?

What the sight-say folks did was create stories designed to teach high-frequency words by rote.  The “by rote” part is what took their train off the tracks.  Look at the exemplar of such stories- the stories from the Dick and Jane series. The text might look something like this. “Look, look, look. See, see, see. See Spot. See Spot run. Run, Spot run!” The writers of these stories knew that multiple exposures to a word results in that word moving into the child’s sight word.  No sounding out or problem-solving here. Read the word over and over and over and you will come to know the word. By the end of the first year the child would know most of the high-frequency words by heart.

Now would be a good time to remind the reader that sight words and high-frequency words are not synonymous terms. Sight words are those words readers know by heart.  Adult readers know most of their words by heart. By contrast, high-frequency words are those 220 to 300 words that appear the most often in the English language.  Yes, it is important that children learn those words early.  However, counting on the strategy of learning them by rote resulted in children who learned the strategy of “memorize the words you need to know” as their main word strategy. They learned no other ways of figuring out their words.  Given controlled text with lots of high-frequency word in them, they read just fine.  When they made the move to normal text many of them fell apart. They knew the 220-330 but hadn’t a clue of what to do with the other 19,700 or so words left to learn.  Do the math. If readers try to memorize those words they would have to memorize hundreds of words per week every week between first grade and the start of high school. It is self-evident readers need additional word strategies beyond memorization. This includes the use of synthetic phonics, analytic phonics and orthographic information.

There is a lesson to be learned from the failed attempt of the sight say movement.  Their goals were reasonable. Teach the high-frequency words early. Make sure beginning readers become like adult readers, i.e. they know most of their words by sight. Their mistake came in how they tried to teach those high-frequency words. They taught them directly and efficiently by repetition and rote. They skipped the middle stage good readers go through. Good readers learn to problem solve their own words. In the course of doing their wide reading, after problem-solving the same unknown word several times that previously unknown word becomes part of their sight vocabulary. This is how they built their sight vocabulary to the levels usually associated with older readers. Failing to include that problem-solving steps left sight-say advocates in an untenable position. Once the beginning readers got out of the tightly controlled beginning texts, they didn’t have the necessary strategies needed to build the rest of their sight vocabulary.

Next week I am taking a break and going on a summer vacation. The week after next I’ll talk about how to teach high-frequency words in a way that helps students to develop strategies that lead them to become fluent, lifelong readers. In the weeks that follow I will explore how the same phenomena of “trying to skip to the end without paying attention to the middle” has derailed some of our work in teaching comprehension strategies as well.


Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (Natural born problem solver!)

This Summer Operation Food Search in St. Louis Will be Offering Families Books as Well as Food By Doctor Sam Bommarito

childrensbookscollage creative commons

St. Louis is blessed with many non-profit organizations whose goal is to help families and individuals with the most need. Among those organizations is Operation Food Search.  According to their website they distribute more than 35 million dollars’ worth of food and necessities to 330 community partners in 31 Missouri and Illinois counties. They feed 8,500 school age children in the St. Louis region. Our local and state ILA groups first found out about this organization through local media and from our friends at Ready To Learn One thing led to another and we contacted Operation Food Search to see if they would be interested in distributing books for children. We thought that food trucks going into neighborhood in North St. Louis could bring along books for the kids as well as food for the families.  Staff at Operation Food Search agreed this would be an innovative idea. This month our state and local ILA groups donated two full pallets of gently used children’s books to OFS. Volunteers from OFS learned the tricks of becoming “book doctors”. As a result, this summer those books will be in the hands of children in North St. Louis.

The statistics comparing availability of books in the poorest urban areas are grim. In earlier blog posts I pointed out that the website for Ready To Learn reported a huge disparity between the number of books in the homes of children in the poorest area and those in more affluent areas. They said:

“In many low-income households, the priorities are feeding the children and heating the home. Buying books for children is a luxury that few can afford. In the average middle-income neighborhood there are thirteen books for every child. In the average low-income neighborhood there is one book for every 300 children.”

I also reported that several organizations in St. Louis are working on this problem. The St. Louis Black Authors Initiative  has the goal of distributing 1000 book boxes to families in the St. Louis region. Over the past few years Ready to Learn has distributed over 200,000 books to children in St. Louis. Our local and state ILA groups have distributed thousands more to children in Title One schools throughout the region.  The recent donation to Operation Food Search is the latest chapter in that saga.

This coming Monday Glenda Nugent co-editor of the Missouri Reader and myself are attending the OFS Summer Launch. Glenda will talk briefly about the importance of reading and how to help families make literacy a part of their everyday lives.  Here is the current draft of what she will have to say. She begins with a quote from the world-renowned children’s author Mem Fox. She then talks about the benefits of wide reading and gives some tips on how to help parents support their child’s literacy efforts.


“When I say to a parent, “read to a child”, I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.”

 Mem Fox


Mem Fox is a world-renowned children’s author, who has written books for children of all ages.  Her advice about reading is well worth considering. Why is reading so important for our children? How can we help to make reading something children want to do rather than something they have to do?  How can we encourage our children to become life-long readers and learners?  Let’s talk briefly about the answers to these questions

There are many experts in the field of reading who extol the benefits of wide reading.  Mary Howard, Laura Robb, Evan Robb and Dr. Molly Ness are among them.  All of them indicate that these benefits are most likely to come when we provide children a variety of books and give them the choice of the books they select. Citing current research, Beers and Probst in their book Disrupting Thinking outline what some of these benefits are. They found students:

  • Build Knowledge
  • Improve Achievement
  • Increase Motivation
  • Increase Writing
  • Develop Empathy
  • Develop Personal Identity


How much reading is enough to make a difference? Burkins and Yaris found as little as 10 minutes more reading a day can make significant differences.  See the details about all this in the informational handouts we are providing for this gathering.


What can we do to help parents help their children become better readers?   We are providing you with some handouts with tips for parents. These include:

  • Have regular reading times (the bedtime story!)
  • Talk to your children about books they read.
  • Encourage them to shop authors and shop topics. Let them choose books based on their interests.
  • Provide books for them and bring them to their local libraries. Take advantage of the summer reading programs at local libraries
  • Don’t be afraid to read aloud to them, and to share reading aloud with them.

When it comes to caring, parents from urban areas are no different from any other parents. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the work of the Village of Moms.  Village of Moms is a new organization in St. Louis. It focuses on literacy empowerment and educational success in our African American community in the Saint Louis region. They established The Reading Village. The Reading Village will provide a safe place to learn and grow.  It will make a variety of books available to our St. Louis children.  Members of our state & local ILA will be attending their kickoff event in June. We will provide almost 1000 gently used books for their project.

It truly does take the whole village to raise the child. St. Louis is so fortunate to have organizations like our International Literacy Association groups, the St. Louis Black Authors Initiative, Ready to Learn and Village of Moms. All of them are serious about getting books into the hands of our children. We are so excited the Operation Food Search has decided to join in that effort as well.  I hope this brief presentation helps you to see why reading is so important.


Last week in this blog Dr. Kerns talked about the importance of collaboration.  The various organizations in St. Louis are learning about the importance and benefits of collaboration every day. I know the St. Louis region in not alone in such work.  I would love to hear about other places and about how other regions are promoting literacy and getting more books into the hands of children. Until next time this is Dr. Sam signing off!


Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. literacy supporter who gets by with a little help from his friends)

Link to handouts mentioned in this presentation:

The graphic by Trish Hutchings is used with permission. I gratefully acknowledge her willingness to share her graphic.