Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Reading Wars Circa 2018: Why is the Pendulum Still Swinging and How Can We Stop It? By Dr Sam Bommarito with commentary by Dr. William Kerns

PHONICS 2

The Reading Wars Circa 2018: Why is the Pendulum Still Swinging and How Can We Stop It?

By Dr Sam Bommarito

Please see Dr. Kern’s remarks at the end of this post

Last week I explained the difference between analytic and synthetic phonics. I’ve been making the case that we need to be prepared to use both, depending on the needs of the children we are working with.  Make the program fit the child, not the other way round. One of my readers asked why, after all these years, does the question of what do about phonics still persist? Why do the various sides continue to disagree?

I’ll start by saying I have good friends on both sides of the issue that gains the most attention, analytic vs. synthetic phonics.  I find they are people who are wonderful educators and who want the best of our children. In my opinion both those sides are right and both those sides are wrong. How can that be?

I think the answer lies in part with the question of which works best, analytic or synthetic phonics?  I think the actual research-based answer is, it depends.  For most children a systematic synthetic approach seems to work best.  That means direct instruction and a carefully orchestrated phonics program.  For some children however, such a program doesn’t work.  There are long standing indicators of this. I’ve already mentioned that in England, which has a mandated nation-wide synthetic phonics program, there is a persistent percentage of children who fail to thrive in the program.  I’ve indicated that my own experience in the field has shown that such children can be helped using an analytic or an analogic approach.  We need to give teachers training and give them the ability to use such programs when needed. Why hasn’t this common-sense middle of the road position been adopted?

The answer to that question lies in the fact that there are proponents on each side of the issue who insist that all instruction (or virtually all instruction) be done using their methods and only their methods. There’s more to it than just phonics.  You see the advocates of synthetic phonics tend to have a behaviorist-based point of view with a strong belief in direct instruction.  The advocates of analytic phonics tend to have a constructivist-based point of view with a strong belief in discovery learning. When advocates of these two points of view insist that their methodology AND ONLY their methodology be used things go badly. Whichever extreme becomes the current soup de jour, there is a guarantee that it won’t work for some children. Once enough educators come to realize that the current soup de jour isn’t working for everyone, the pendulum swings the other way again and again and again!.

In order for a program of literacy instruction to work, it needs to include elements of both these educational approaches. Both approaches have been around for quite some time (think Aristotle vs Socrates). I predict that both approaches will continue to be around for a long time to come. The trick is to put together a decoding program and a concurrent meaning making component that draws on both. What might such a program look like?

  1. All literacy programs should have a phonics component. I know that some educators viewed the “Phonics vs. Whole Language” debate as the “Phonics vs. No Phonics” debate. One of my key mentors, the late Dr. Richard Burnett, Professor Emeritus of UM-St Louis viewed it differently. He saw the Great Debate as My Phonics (Analytic) vs. Your Phonics (Synthetic). For a variety of reasons, I subscribe to this point of view. I think most educators have long since concluded that some form of phonics is necessary. The battle continues to rage over which kind, how much and when.

 

  1. Phonics instruction needs to be systematic. Proponents of analytic phonics tend to take an “as needed” approach. This leaves the very real possibility that there will be holes in children’s knowledge of phonics. For those who choose to build their reading program around an analytic approach, there needs to be more than just the “as needed” component. I’m not saying an analytic approach can’t work at all, it can (see Dr. Kerns remarks at the end of this post). But to be successful it requires teachers with an in-depth knowledge of phonics and a K-1 scope and sequence in place that makes sure nothing is missed in the critical two year course of the K-1 instruction.

 

  1. When designing reading curriculum, please consider implementing a synthetic program as the base for teaching decoding with both an analytic and an analogic component to supplement it. I indicated in section 2 that I think a successful analytic program can be accomplished (in some places has been accomplished). See Dr. Kerns remarks for an explanation of analogic based phonics and for an alternate approach to setting up a phonics program i.e. using analytic phonics as the basic approach. Over the years I’ve come to conclude that a synthetic program would have the best odds of succeeding, especially if supplemented with materials and practices from the other two approaches.

 

  1. The phonics program needs to be EFFICIEINT and ENGAGING. If my biggest criticism of analytic phonics is that it can potentially leave holes in the student’s knowledge, my biggest criticism of synthetic phonics is that it can take up far too much instructional time and turn out to be deadly dull. This can lead readers to view reading as deadly dull. It is CRUCIAL that the decoding part of any reading program leaves enough time for the meaning making part of the program AND it is CRUCIAL that the meaning making part run concurrently with the decoding part. It should be included from the very first day of instruction.

 

  1. The decoding part of the program promote should promote prosody– see especially the works of Dr. Tim Rasinski including his book The Megabook of Fluency. Hints: prosody is much more than reading rate. Prosody means learning to read like a storyteller not a robot!.

 

  1. The meaning making part of the program needs to include regular student talk and should develop their ability to think and evaluate what they’ve read. It should include think alouds by the teacher, so students see firsthand how experienced readers deal with complex text. It needs to tie reading and writing together.  Writing should not only include writing about what is read, but also include writing that encourages the students to use the strategies good writers use. For instance, teach inference by having them learn how to write using “show don’t tell”. Writing that way themselves will help them understand what to do when they encounter such things in their reading. That’s how to teach inferencing strategies in a way that assures the strategy use will be authentic.

 

  1. The meaning making part of the program needs to include (be focused on) learning to work with complex text. Reading strategies should be taught in the manner described in section 5. More writing needs to be done around expository text, including instruction on how to write expository text.

 

  1. Teacher preparation courses should include instruction in a variety of forms of phonics instruction including analytic, synthetic and analogical phonics (yet another approach to teaching phonics that has not gained as much attention as the other two approaches). See recent ILA publications on the topic of phonics

 

https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/where-we-stand/phonics-position-statement.pdf?sfvrsn=c84ea18e_6

 

https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/where-we-stand/ila-explaining-phonics-instruction-an-educators-guide.pdf?sfvrsn=1a16a48e_6

 

and also see Zimmerman, B. S., Padak, N. D., & Rasinski, T. V. (2008).

So, there is my proposal for starting a dialogue around what to do about phonics and meaning making in a literacy program. All sides need to talk. All sides need to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each of the approaches. All sides need to make adaptions that overcome potential problems to their approach. All sides need to make sure that the approach they advocate really fits the children they propose to teach.  I’ve been teaching since 1970. I’ve watched the pendulum swing so many many many times. I’d love to see it finally stop and come to rest in the middle. I think it would be best for us and most importantly I think it would be best for the kids.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito- aka Seeker of Common Ground

 

Copyright 2018 by Sam Bommarito who is solely responsible for its content

My colleague Dr. William Kerns has a reaction to the above post. At the end of the day the only way the Great Debate in Reading can finally be ended is if it turns into The Great Dialogue about Reading. In that spirit please consider Bill’s remarks.

Teach the Child Not the Phonics Program

by Dr. William Kerns

Sam was kind enough to send me his blog in advance. I will give a short response of my own. Sam is right that the debate between analytic phonics and synthetic phonics should not be confused with a debate of “phonics or no phonics”. Such a debate would be absurd, amounting to a debate over whether children should learn letter-sound correspondence (the obvious answer is “yes”). Analytic phonics and synthetic phonics represent two different forms of explicit and systematic phonics instruction.

An Ongoing Debate

Sounding out letters and blending sounds together is stressed in synthetic phonics. Lessons tend to emphasize understanding letter-sound correspondence and letter combinations rather than emphasizing whole words. Sounds are vocalized in isolation in order to understand the letter-sound correspondence. Meanwhile, in analytic phonics (sometimes known as implicit phonics), children learn to recognize letter-sound correspondence in the context of a word or a set of words. These words at first begin with the same letter and sound (cat, can, cab) then later they would end with the same letter and sound (can, tan, ran).  Next, students have an opportunity to study letters and sounds that are in the middle of words.  Teachers emphasize whole words followed by a study of word parts.

Thus, children receiving analytic phonics instruction have an opportunity to gain familiarity with a word rather than focusing on sounding out word parts without an understanding of the word. Lessons tend to involve pictures to build visual whole word associations, and activities such as dramatic performance that build a child’s ability to use context cues to recognize and make meaning of a word. Children learn spelling patterns by drawing on prior understandings at the whole word level. Proponents of analytic phonics emphasize what Margaret Moustafa (1997) called “whole to part phonics” in which meaning is constructed as the child is guided to draw on a broad array of reading experiences and on a preferred mode of learning, rather than focusing primarily on the decoding of text.

Critics of synthetic phonics claim that it is heavy on sounding out letters but light on activities and games that emphasize whole words. According to critics, children lack a motivation to read if they also lack an understanding of the words that they are reading. Motivation to read is among the key concerns often raised about synthetic phonics. Children involved in synthetic phonics instruction tend to engage in activities focused on sounding out and blending lettings in order to pronounce a word, often divorced from even making sense of the whole word or sets of words.

Meanwhile, critics of analytic phonics counter that children receiving instruction grounded in analytic phonics are more likely to lack an understanding of the sounding out of letters and the blending of letters together.

A “balanced” approach to phonics instruction which involves both synthetic and analytic phonics is often touted as the “end of the phonics debate”. Yet, the debate continues. Sam’s approach as described in the blog represents one reading specialist’s effort to discern what it means to take a balanced approach. He does not deny the importance of synthetic or analytic phonics, rather, he posits that children benefit from both. Even in Sam’s approach, lively debates can be held regarding the extent of emphasis on synthetic phonics.

Teaching the Child and Not the Program

Each individual child will have individual needs. Assessment should guide teachers in determining the extent to which a child will benefit from synthetic phonics instruction, if at all. Sam and I said in a Missouri Reader article (Bommarito & Kerns, 2018) there is no one size fits all solution to this issue and this stance guides me in also arguing that we should teach the child, not the phonics program. The needs of a child should be systematically assessed in order to determine strategies toward differentiating instruction (Tomlinson, 2017; Watts-Taffe et al., 2012). Explicit, carefully planned phonics instruction should be adjusted according to the findings from ongoing assessments. A child who is an exceptional learner (e.g. gifted, a learning disability, a reading disability) will need accommodations as determined through assessment and monitoring. A child who is learning English as a second language may have needs that are influenced by the first language given that the graphophonemic system used in a first language can influence how a child makes sense of a second language (Goswami, 2005).

This said, I lean strongly in the direction of whole language, which means that I lean toward analytic phonics with the caveat that careful assessment of a child’s needs may show that an individual child could benefit from synthetic phonics too (emphasis is mine, Sam). For further discussion of the mixed findings in this area see Bommarito & Kerns, 2018)  https://joom.ag/8cML  pg 10. Remember, I am arguing in favor of effective differentiated instruction.

I fear the potential negative consequences to a child’s motivation for reading if a strict synthetic phonics program may involve blending letters in a manner that holds no interest to the child, lacking in the goal of comprehension. Too often, synthetic phonics programs can be restrictive.

We need to foster deep engagement in reading among children as well as a lasting motivation to read. Ellin Oliver Keene (2018) urges that engagement should be fostered through an intellectual urgency to learn, an emotional resonance with content (ideas, concepts, characters, experiences), perspective bending in which the thinking of others changes the way that a child is thinking, and the aesthetic world of forming connections. I do not see how a strict program of synthetic phonics can foster deep engagement in reading as urged by Keene or a lifelong love of reading. Let reading be fun and adventurous rather than merely a program to endure.

Let children play with words and word sounds, make use of music in the instruction of phonics and fluency (Rasinski & Smith, 2018), explore, engage in dramatic performance. Let children tell stories and participate in games. This can take the form of analogic phonics (Zimmerman, Padak & Rasinski, 2008), guiding students to gain decoding skills through reasoning by analogy. In analogic phonics, children tap into prior knowledge related to a rime within a word, phonogram word, or word family in order to engage in puzzle solving with rimes in unknown words. In short, I advocate creativity and playfulness while also teaching phonics rather than being tied to a set reading program which limits opportunities for truly deep reading engagement.

 

References

Bonmarito, S., & Kerns, W. (2018). Effective differentiation: key to growing proficient, motivated, lifelong readers. The Missouri Reader, 41 (2), 10-21.

 

Goswami, U. (2005). Synthetic phonics and learning to read: A cross-language perspective. Educational Psychology in Practice, 21 (4), 273-282.

Keene, E.O. (2018). Engaging children: Igniting a drive for deeper learning K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Moustafa, M. (1997). Beyond traditional phonics: Research discoveries and reading instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Rasinski, T.V., & Smith, M.C. (2018). The megabook of fluency: Strategies and texts to engage

all readers. New York, NY: Scholastic.

 

Tomlinson, C. (2017). How to differentiate instruction in academically diverse classrooms

3r dEd.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

 

Watts-Taffe , S. , Laster , B.P. , Broach , L. , Marinak , B. , McDonald Connor , C. , & WalkerDalhouse, D. ( 2012 ). Differentiated instruction: Making informed teacher decisions. The Reading Teacher, 66 ( 4 ), 303 – 314 .

Zimmerman, B. S., Padak, N. D., & Rasinski, T. V. (2008). Evidence-Based Instruction in Reading: A Professional Development Guide to Phonics. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Copyright 2018 by Bill Kerns who is solely responsible for its content

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Tim Rasinski & Eric Litwin for feedback provided in advance of the publication of this blog.

 

 

 

Synthetic vs Analytic Phonics? – Pick what fits the child (not the other way round) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

PHONICS 2Synthetic vs Analytic Phonics? – Pick what fits the child (not the other way round)

In the next few weeks I’m tackling the issue of phonics, and the relationship between phonics use and meaning making.  Last week a reader asked what I meant by synthetic and analytic phonics.  That’s as good a place as any to begin, so let’s talk a little about the “big two” approaches to the teaching of phonics and how to use them.

Synthetic Phonics– The heart of synthetic phonics approach is the direct teaching of letter sounds (phonemes). Children learn that t says “t” (not Tuh!), or long a says its name, “a” or short a says “a”.  This approach lends itself to systematic programs, with clear scope and sequence.  Such approaches have the clear advantage over “as needed” approaches in that they avoid the pitfall of unintentionally skipping instruction in important sounds. One of the conclusions of the classic research piece commonly known as the First Grade Studies was that every beginning reading approach examined in the study benefited from a phonics supplement. The supplement used most often was the Speech to Print Phonics kit. This program used a form of EPR (every pupil response). This was in the pre-computer days, so the EPR was accomplished by students holding up small paper slips provided with the program.  The slips had one letter on them, with slips for each letter of the alphabet available. The teacher first saw to it that each child had a small group of slips with letters to choose from (same choices for each child).  The teacher would then say a letter sound.  The students would hold up the letter. Properly done (there are tricks about what to do when students look at other students slips before raising theirs), the teacher was given instant feedback on which students consistently knew the sounds and which needed additional instruction/practice. This is a classic example of on-going assessment.  I mention this kit because it makes clear that synthetic phonics approaches promote the learning and knowing the letter sounds in isolation. Subsequently students learn to blend the sounds into actual words.

Analytic Phonics– Analytic phonics uses discovery approach to learning sounds (indirect teaching).  For instance, to teach the t sound the teacher might say, it’s the same sound that starts toy, and Tom and team. Everyone start to say toy (t)(toy). Start to say Tom (t)(Tom). Start to say team (t)(team). Can you hear the sound they start with? Can you find that sound in other places in this reading? (please click audio file to hear the previous sentence read aloud).

 

When doing this the teacher should be mindful NOT to accept tuh as the answer. If students add the uh sound to their consonants it will cause endless confusion as they try to figure out words. Proponents of analytic phonics sometimes prefer a “teach as needed approach”. This can lead to potential holes in the students sound symbol knowledge.

Very often teachers using the analytic method will also say things like, “get your mouth ready for the first sound” OR “say the first sound”.  This can lead to word guessing.  This effect of wildly guessing at words can be controlled by instead saying “say the first sound AND think of the clues”, e.g. what word starts with the sound “t” and makes sense in the sentence or goes with picture on this page or makes sense based on how the story is going. Clay called such a teaching move “crosschecking cues”.  Yep, I’m talking like knowing what cueing systems readers use might be useful. In this instance it will result in more accurate guesses, educated guesses, instead of wild guesses. Not everyone will agree with that practice, but my experience in the field has demonstrated to me that it is a very good use of instructional time.  More about that in future blogs.

There are also other approaches to teaching phonics. The ILA has an excellent PDF about this topic that covers more than just analytic and synthetic phonics https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/where-we-stand/ila-explaining-phonics-instruction-an-educators-guide.pdf

.In addition, in a recent blog entry Tim Shanahan does an excellent job of explaining the concepts of analytic and synthetic phones. http://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/synthetic-phonics-or-systematic-phonics-what-does-research-really-say#sthash.YSjKV4H8.dpbs.

Pay special attention to his take aways:

“Make sure young (bold and color added for emphasis) children receive daily, explicit, systematic decoding instruction.”

“But don’t be fanatical about synthetic or analytic approaches.”

I would add- make sure the instruction you use gets the job done but is EFFICIENT and interesting. You want there to be time for meaning making, especially meaning making around complex text. You want to find ways to include a “spoonful of sugar” i.e. teaching the sounds in a way that the students find to be engaging instead of deadly dull.  I’m certain my readers can tell us about commercial programs that do just that.

Here is the key to understanding my beliefs about the teaching of phonics. ALL THE APPROACHES HAVE STRENGTHS.  ALL THE APPROACHES HAVE WEAKNESSES, LIMITS AND LIMITATIONS. Based on both research and my own classroom experiences I’ve found that students can and will benefit from both of the “big two” approaches to teaching phonics. There is a place (and a need) for both synthetic and analytic phonics in every reading program. In several recent blog entries, I’ve advocated adopting a good, systematic, efficient synthetic phonics program as the anchor for phonics instruction.  This then needs to be supplemented with an analytic phonics teaching component for those children for whom a synthetic approach does not work well. And yes, I think the research evidence is overwhelming that such children exist. One of the key criticisms of many of the current programs using synthetic phonics is that they are deadly dull and take up too much time. Here is a link to a video that will help you understand what I mean by that.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD4IRdeR0tE&feature=youtu.be I think there are other ways to accomplish the very same things including poetry and song. Readers who know about such things please chime in. Also, this year, both Fountas and Pinnell and Calkins have added a phonics component to their widely followed programs. Readers with first hand knowledge of using these, what are they like? Do they include both analytic and synthetic phonics instruction? Are they systematic?  Are they engaging? Do they leave enough time for comprehension work e.g. learning to deal with complex text? I would love to hear from you!!!!

Conclusion So, with all that said, I hope you see why I find myself advocating what some will see as a middle approach, or balanced approach to the teaching of phonics. As I said last time, people taking such a position have historically been dismissed.  Next time I will take up the issue of why I think the views of folks from the middle should be considered and my criticism of what happens when educators from the two “far sides” of this issue mandate that their kinds of phonics AND ONLY THEIR KIND OF PHONICS, be used.

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito who is solely responsible for its content

Phonics- the Endless Debate: Another Case of Please Fit the Program to the Child, Not the Other Way Round by Dr Sam Bommarito

research creative commons Blue Diamond Galary

Phonics- the Endless Debate: Another Case of Please Fit the Program to the Child, Not the Other Way Round by Dr Sam Bommarito

Frank Smith once characterized the Great Debate in reading as the never-ending debate.  Recent posts on blogs and twitter indicate that times haven’t changed that much. Proponents of “synthetic phonics & only synthetic phonics” are once more claiming that a changeover to synthetic phonics will go a long way toward solving the reading problem once and for all.  Since my teaching career in reading began in 1977, I’ve seen the pendulum swing many times.  Currently, the pendulum has definitely swung over to the synthetic phonics will cure all position. Problem is, each time such promises are made they are never kept. I think the reason is that pesky word- “all”.

Don’t get me wrong. Phonics is necessary.  Synthetic phonics provides the best place to start, and a place that will help most children.  But look at what happened when a whole country (like England) mandated the exclusive teaching of synthetic phonics. What happened is that a small but significant number of students didn’t thrive.  It could be that this is because of lack of fidelity to the program. Trouble is I have a very hard time accepting that as the explanation. I spent 18 of my teaching career in Title 1 buildings teaching reading and in-servicing staff on reading. I’ve seen first-hand children for whom synthetic phonics simply didn’t work but analytic phonics did.  My conclusion- use the teaching techniques that fit the child. Don’t force children to use approaches that don’t work for them. Don’t ban teachers from using approaches that could work for a particular child. Some of us seem to conveniently forget that research on synthetic vs analytic phonics has never demonstrated that synthetic phonics is superior in every respect. In his June 9 blog entry Timothy Shanahan said “Analytic phonics is, in my experience—and perhaps in that small effect size difference—harder to learn, but it can avoid some of those blending problems and tends to be more consistent with what kids will need to learn about morphology. Sometimes the right solution is “and” and it is not “either/or. Adopt a good phonics program, and make sure it works for your students—which might require that you add some synthetic or analytic instruction depending on how they are doing.”

Hmmm.  Maybe this never-ending debate is never-ending in part because neither side in the Great Debate (do we even call it that anymore?) can accept the that there is merit in using both approaches DEPENDING ON THE CHILD. Also remember, there is more to reading than decoding. Meaning making is important. One of the most telling criticisms of some of the current synthetic programs is that they use up far more instructional time than is needed.  So, one of the things I I look for in a phonics program is efficiency in teaching. The phonics program needs to leave enough instructional time so that kids have time to spend unpacking the meaning of complex text, talking about, writing about that text. Another thing I wish was present, but often is missing, are alternative instruction paths.  If the synthetic part of the program isn’t working for a child, there needs to be an analytic part of the program waiting in the wings.  Teachers need to know how to do analytic phonics when the synthetic program isn’t working. Both the analytic and synthetic programs need to be taught systematically.  Historically people such as myself who have taken what amounts to the middle position in the Great Debate have tended to be ignored.  Be prepared to use both approaches- what an outrageous idea!  But still I have to wonder, what would happen if we actually fit the program to the child instead of the other way round? Dare to dream!

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka The Middle Man

 

Copyright 2018, Dr. Sam Bommarito

Curriculum Should be Adapted to Fit the Student Not the Other Way Round: My Advice to a Staff Developer Creating a Professional Development Program by Dr. Sam Bommarito

research creative commons Blue Diamond GalaryLast week I talked about the topic: “Using Research to Jump to Confusions P2: Looking at How We Could Teach Students about Comprehension Strategies.” I promised that this week I would share with my readers 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 coming fall. Her plan spans several months and is designed to teach her staff how to implement guided reading. My advice to her reflects practical applications of what I’ve had to say in last week’s blog entry. My advice is grounded in a key assumption. That is that curriculum should be adapted to fit the students and their needs, not the other way round. I will now share some of the points I shared with her.

Point one: I think you will find some useful ideas in Burkins and Yaris’s book, Who’s Doing the Work?:
How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More. Be sure to visit their website: https://www.burkinsandyaris.com/ Here is why I suggest looking into these ideas.

I was taught in reading/writing workshop that the most important planning question for a teacher is:

What work am I leaving for the students and why?

When B&Y came to speak at one of our local ILA meetings, I found what they had to say helped me scaffold teachers into answering that question in a way that leads to better lesson plans. B&Y feel we sometimes over-scaffold when doing Guided Reading lessons. Teachers should be mindful of this potential problem. They need to leave enough work for the students so that students can grow both their meaning making and decoding skills.

Point two: Make sure your teachers know where GR fits in the overall reading program. I’ve long thought that how you spend your instructional time, is highly predictive of what instructional results you get. Read what B & Y have to say about the things we tend to underdo and overdo in our overall reading program. Adjust you program accordingly.

Point Three: READING IN LEVELED TEXT IS NOT THE ONLY READING STUDENTS SHOULD BE DOING. If you adjust your overall instruction as advised above, you will find that students will do a great deal more reading more than just leveled texts. Fountas & Pinnell, Lucy Calkins and others say that classroom libraries should be organized by interests not by levels. I especially like Calkins idea about leveling classroom libraries. She maintains that teachers should have a portion of books that are leveled. However, most of the classroom library should be organized by interest. When I taught my teachers how to make use of this way of organizing classroom libraries, I recommended they use the leveled portion of the library with selected students who needed additional work in book shopping. These texts could be used to provide examples for these students that could scaffold them into making better book choices over time. Teaching student to book shop is critical. Consistently picking only books that are well above their ability to decode can lead to students abandoning far too many books. They need to be able to pick text that fit their interests, that they can make sense of and that they won’t abandon. Otherwise they can fall into a cycle of not reading at all or of abandoning so many books that they never start the cycle of wide reading that characterizes students who become lifelong readers.

Point Four: Remember that a child is not a level. Why use leveled text in our GR groups? I believe that using leveled text for the GR portion of reading instruction makes it more likely that the text will be in the child’s ZPD (zone of proximal development). HOWEVER, TEACHERS NEED TO PICK THE TEXT FOR MORE THAN JUST IT’S LEVEL. Text features are CRITICAL, especially if you want them to read complex text in both fiction and nonfiction. This brings us back to the question of what work are you leaving for the student and why? For instance, if you are doing the heavy lifting for decoding (by providing text they can decode relatively easily), that can leave you more time to scaffold them into learning how to handle other complexities of interacting with that text. There are many such possibilities. If you want students to learn how authors of non-fiction scaffold readers into learning the meaning of specialized language in their content area, then use text that is rich in this feature. Whatever your teaching point might be for the lesson, ask yourself does is this text you picked provide a target rich environment for that particular point? In that way you assure that there will be many potential teachable moments during your lesson. Be sure to give your students chances to talk about the text and how they are making meaning from that text. Also give them opportunities to write similar kinds of text for themselves (as I did in my inference lesson). Doing all this will give them authentic chances to employ the strategies they need to unpack the meaning of the text and to become self-aware of the strategies they employ.

Point Five: Teaching students comprehension strategies is a different animal from teaching them testing strategies. When teaching students testing strategies you goal is have them learn how to handle questions designed to test their reading. On the one hand, I believe it is necessary to help students learn how the various test questions work. This is especially true of the multiple-choice questions that seem to dominate many reading achievement tests. However, teaching students how such questions work is not to be confused with teaching them to use reading strategies. I recommend just enough test practice to get students used to the nuances of handing the test questions. Such test practice usually results in a bump in achievement test scores. Unfortunately, I seen situations where most, if not all the school year is spent in test taking practice. “Comprehension instruction” becomes an endless cycle of answering various questions about short passages in hopes that the scores will continue to rise. My experience has been that after the initial bump in achievement scores that comes from the students learning how to handle particular kinds of testing questions there then comes a long, long plateau of no further growth. In order for students to make growth in reading there needs to be new instruction. Teachers need to provide time for students to think about, talk about and write the text they are making meaning from. Are we trying to create a nation of test takers or a nation of thinkers? The only path to creating the latter is one that includes time for rich and varied conversations about what they read and chances to write about what they read using some of the various crafts good authors use. My remarks about how to teach inferences in my last blog entry should give you some ideas about how that might play out for other reading and writing strategies. It is critical that we stop overdoing the teaching of how to handle test question and start using the instructional time we save to provide students time to carry out meaningful text interactions

In conclusion, I think you created a solid well thought out PD plan to implement guided reading. I hope the points I’ve made will help you carry out your plan in a way that will reflect some of the newest ideas on what a good literacy program can and should look like. Remind your teachers constantly that how they spend their time is highly predictive of what their results will be. Make sure that they learn to be purposeful in the work they leave for their students. Help them learn how make sure that work is meaningful. Make sure they allow students ample time for meaningful conversations around complex text. I think these are the keys to helping your PD plan to be successfully implemented.

Dr. Sam Bommarito