Monthly Archives: December 2018

A happy and joyous new year to all my readers! Thoughts on where we’ve been & where we’re going with the blog by Dr. Sam Bommarito

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A happy and joyous new year to all my readers! Thoughts on where we’ve been & where we’re going with the blog by Dr. Sam Bommarito

A Happy and Joyous New Year to all my readers! Since this blog started last February there have been 11,500 views from readers in 85 different countries.  That’s quite encouraging and I want to thank you all for your interest and support.

I’ve added a “most read posts” category to the sidebar and put the top five posts for readership there. I will update the top five from time to time during the course of next year.  Right now the most read post this year was . . There were over 2,500 views of this post.

I’m trying to stay true to the stated goal for the blog- finding ways to create motivated lifelong readers and writers.

In terms of things to come- I want to continue to explore the topic of code based vs. meaning-based approaches to reading. I want to look at both the strengths and limitations of each approach. Regular readers know that I posit that the reason the reading wars continue to rage is that neither side has all the answers. Too often folks from all sides report only the strengths of their positions and the weaknesses of the other sides position. To move from debate to discussion we must be willing to explore BOTH the strengths and the limitations of all approaches (including the ones we personally support!). I have been on a lifelong quest for common ground, practices that both sides might be willing to support. My dissertation was on that very topic. In that dissertation I found that the two sides to the debate in that era actually had more practices that they used in common than practices that separated them.  Is that still true today?  We’ll be looking to find out.

My personal favorite blog post for the year was the one entitled “A call for a reading evolution”. Have a look at it:

It envisions a change from debate to dialogue. For that to happen all sides need to admit that there are limitations to their approach (as well as the strengths we are so fond of pointing out).  Once that happens, once we admit to how complex an issue learning to reading really is, it might be possible to turn the great debate into the great discussion.  Dare to dream!

One new thing for the new year is that I will be pushing into a 4th grade classroom and helping the teacher of that classroom implement a writing workshop program.  I’ll be getting to see writing workshop through some fresh eyes. I’ll be sharing insights gained through this process.

Also, I am the Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader. I’m EXTREMELY excited about the upcoming issue, due out in February. David Harrison, a well published author and poet laureate for the state Missouri, suggested we devote an entire issue to the power of poetry. That is exactly what we did. The theme for the issue is “Poetry- a Path to Literacy”.  David has written an article especially for this issue. Many other folks will also weigh in on the power of poetry. These includes Tim Rasinski, Eric Litwin, Melissa Chessman Smith and Mary Jo Fresch just to name a few. When the issue comes out, I will devote a full blog post to it. I will also provide a link to this free cyber journal.

Missouri Reader is a professional journal sponsored by Missouri ILA.  It has been publishing 2 issues  a year for the last 42 years (so yes it was a paper journal before it become a cyber journal). It is peer reviewed (we’re always looking for review board members) and encourages articles from both university professors AND classroom teachers (we’re always looking for submissions, see the last page of each journal for information on how to submit).  Here is a link to the current issue It contains interviews with Jennifer Serravallo and Eric Litwin and a wonderful article by Dr. Molly Ness about Think Alouds.  I hope you will continue to follow the blog so that you’ll get a front row seat when the new poetry issue comes out in February.

So…, have a joyous New Year. Help make literacy become something joyous for you and your students. Remember our goal is to find ways of teaching that fit the child. Fit the program to the child, not the other way round! That’s my final thought for this year and my first thought for next year.

All the best to you and yours and I HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL NEXT YEAR!!!!!

P.S. If you are a visitor from the internet and liked this blog please consider following it.  Just type in your e-mail address on the sidebar of this blog post. THANKS

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

Why we do what we do in the after-school program- highlights for parents to consider by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Why we do what we do in the after-school program- highlights for parents to consider by Dr. Sam Bommarito

atwell quote from Molly Ness

Screen capture from the website

We are about to go on Christmas Break and I want to let the parents in the after-school program (The Reading Club!) know some of the key things we are doing in my part of the reading club activities and why we are doing them.  Members of the Club are in 1st and 2nd grade.  I think the readers of my blog will find what we are doing in the Reading Club quite interesting and informative.

  1. We start each session with a BRIEF read aloud by Dr. B.. Dr. B. tries to use his story telling voice and even talks about how to read like a story teller. Dr. B also notices tricky words. Some of the tricky words are not spelled the way they sound, so they can’t be sounded out (e.g. said, of). We are getting together a list of tricky words that we are learning by heart. THESE ARE THE ONLY WORDS WE MEMORIZE. For most words we try to figure out our own words (sound it out OR say the first sound and think of the clues). Dr. B. has been reading a lot of Eric Litwin books to them and all these books go into the choice library that they pick from for the start up of the reading session.


(WHY DO WE DO THIS). I am trying to model for them how to read like a story teller. Reading this way (instead of reading like a robot), results in much better development of meaning making skills and strategies. I am guided in how to teach them to read like story tellers (prosody) by the work of Tim Rasinski. The key thing I learned from Dr. Rasinski is that in order for a reader to read like a story teller they must REALLY understand the story. When they really understand the story they know how those characters should sound as they speak (e.g. villain, hero, etc.).  They know when they are at an exciting part of the story (so sound excited) or scary part of the story (so sound scared!). Reading like a storyteller promotes reading with understanding. Dr. Rasinski calls reading with prosody (reading like a story teller) the gateway to comprehension.   You can find out more about what I learned from Dr. Rasinski by reading my blog post about his presentation in St. Louis. ( Also be sure to visit his website.(


  1. Each student gets to choose a book to read at the start of the Reading Club. They then share their book with a partner, they choral read i.e. they both read aloud together. They read each of the books  using a story telling voice. In that way they can help each other with tricky words. Many of these books are by Eric Litwin (Pete the Cat, Groovy Joe, et. al.!). As they finish each book they talk about their favorite parts before moving on to the next book. They know it is ok to read a book they’ve already read before if that book is a real favorite.


(WHY DO WE DO THIS). Teachers would call what we do at the start of book club self selected wide reading.  This is a powerful educational technique. I often tell the children that if I were their track coach I’d ask them to run. I’m actually one of their reading coaches, so I ask them to read.  BTW- that is also why I send home KEEP BOOKS each week ( This gives them books they can go home and read (and reread and reread). By the end of the year each child will have a large collections of books that belong to them. For readers not familiar with keep books, they are short predictable books, published by Fountas and Pinnell. They are inexpensive and designed to be taken home and keep (hence the name!). Each student gets to pick one book each week to take home and keep.

I am using Eric Litwin’s books for the in class weekly read aloud activity because they fit what research suggests good children’s books should do. Early level children’s books should include rhythm, repetition and rhyme. Reading such books actually help to lay down the neural networks children need for reading.  Brain researchers have found that over time, wide reading actually rewires the brain in a way that helps the child understand how to read. Eric’s books are exceptional in the area of having all three of these features. I’ve found the children love them. By now most of your children have a favorite Eric Litwin book. Ask them about it. Maybe visit the library over the break and check out that book for them (or better yet, make that book one of their Christmas gifts!). The important lesson the children have learned is that all readers should find favorite authors and read lots of book by them. After the upcoming break for the holidays we’ll be looking at some other authors and encouraging children to find a favorite author of their own. Visits to the library would help with that.

  1. Children are encouraged to have conversations about books after they read them. So far, we’ve kept these initial conversations simple, what is your favorite part? What do you think might happen next? THESE CONVERSATIONS ARE NOT TREATED AS TESTS. Here is a look at conversation starters we use and conversation starters that will be adding after the break.


Conversation starters

Why are we encouraging meaningful talk after completing the story? Children need to learn that reading is more than just saying all the words right. Reading includes making sense of what was said. Having conversations with their reading partners after finishing each book helps them understand that reading is all about understanding the message of the author.  At the very end of the whole session we try to have a whole group share time where they get to talk about their books with people other than their partners.  Try talking with your child about some of the stories they’ve read using some of these conversation starters. 

The preceding description of what we do in reading club and why we do it does not include all the activities done each week. Instead I focused on the activities we do that promote wide reading and conversations around books. Experts in the reading field say such activities are crucial. To find out more of what they say you might want to download this pdf from the International Literacy Association that came out just this week:


So, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday break. I hope you encourage your child to READ FOR FUN as part of that holiday break.  I hope you will have some wonderful conversations with them about what they are reading (and what you read to them). I promise you if they apply the idea of reading like a story teller it really helps make reading fun and something they really want to do. I will leave you with a quote from another of my favorite children’s authors. Here is what Mem Fox said about reading aloud: ““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.”

So…, be sure to share some “chocolate” with your child over the upcoming break!


Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, book lover & chocolate lover)


P.S. If you are a visitor from the internet and liked this blog please consider following it.  Just type in your e-mail address on the sidebar of this blog post. THANKS

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.


Things I’ve Learned from Our Very Youngest Readers: Thoughts on My Recent Talk with Parent Educators by Dr. Sam Bommarito


Things I’ve Learned from Our Very Youngest Readers: Thoughts on My Recent Talk with Parent Educators by Dr. Sam Bommarito

It’s said that the very best way to learn something is to teach it. That point was reinforced for me this week as I carried out my Inservice for parent educators in a local district. A very special thanks to the folks at Rockwood Schools for giving me that opportunity. So, what did I learn?

First of all, I learned just how important the idea that reading programs should be made to fit the child not the other way round really is. Nowhere is it more critical than with our very youngest readers, our kiddos who are age birth through three. Readers? Dr. Sam really?  Kiddos that young are really readers? The answer is yes, they are. But they can’t read Dr. Sam, can they? Well if you take the very narrow view that reading is decoding, then no they can’t.  But that’s not how I learned about what reading is.

As part of my doctoral studies (this was a very long time ago) I ran the reading clinic at my university for a year.  I did this under the supervision of one of my committee members. Back then when we tested a child in reading, we tested for listening comprehension, oral reading, and silent reading.  The composite of the three resulted in an overall estimate of their ability to read. So back then we viewed the overall ability to listen to and learn from a passage as part and parcel of the reading process. I still do. Reading is so much more than just decoding the message.

The recent post from the Read Aloud 15 Minutes site referenced at the start of this article makes that point crystal clear. For the youngest readers, it is critical that they have the experience of hearing the story and hearing talk about the story.


It is part of their larger experience of learning all about their world and exploring that world.  The key to this stage in the process of learning to read being successful is that the “students” gain the background knowledge Marie Clay called the Concepts About Print. Clay was a pioneer in this respect. She was among the first to realize that there is a necessary step in the reading process that comes before learning the letters and before decoding the message.  It is the step in which the reader learns how print works. In our culture, print moves from left to right. Print carries the message. You know the drill.  As I talked to the parent educators, I knew I was preaching to the choir on all those points. They knew that brain research shows the brain of a child in this age group is not ready to learn letters and sounds. See my previous blog post for details. Going through this stage lays down the neural pathways that are needed to be successful later on when the stage for more direct instruction comes, usually at age 4 or 5. That is why I cringe when I see some of the advocates of direct instruction telling parents to teach their preschooler the entire system of sounding words.  The book of one such advocate reads like a graduate level text. For toddlers? Seriously? Doing what he suggests flies in the face of current brain research and of common sense. The fact remains children need this discovery oriented, constructivist-oriented stage if they are to succeed when the time does come for direct instruction. I did remember to say “laying down the needed neural pathways” didn’t I?!?

One surprise for me is that some of the parent educators were finding that even at this stage there are sometimes “reluctant readers”.  Toddlers who don’t seem to stay interested in listening to the story for very long. Interestingly enough, one of the parent educators seemed to have provided the answer to the question of what to do.  It seems that on one of her visits, at the very moment a parent asked her about a baby not seeming interested in books that very same child picked up the board book she’d brought for the session and started playing with it. Hmmmm.  Ages and stages.  It would seem that we must be careful not to project onto children of this age the expectation that they will sit and listen to long and involved stories.  Rather we must focus on providing the experience of dealing with print and all that involves. Listen to the written word, talk about the written word. Learn to appreciate the wonders humankind created when they learned to lay down the written word so that wisdom could be passed on from generation to generation.

So for me, the biggest takeaway from this session was the realization of just how smart a teaching move Marie Clay made all those years ago.  Long before brain research further validated the practice, she recognized the need to take the time to create a print-rich environment and a constellation of print experiences. She laid the groundwork for giving the advice we now give to all parents of young children (birth to three).  Read to them. Talk to them about what is read. Make the reading experience positive by learning to read like a storyteller. Reread those favorite books. Just as the book I referenced at the start says “I love your voice and all that you say…”


Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a., storyteller)


P.S. If you are a visitor from the internet and liked this blog please consider following it.  Just type in your e-mail address on the sidebar of this blog post. THANKS

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

Tips for Parents on How to Grow Motivated Lifelong Readers by Dr. Sam Bommarito

TIps for Parent @DoctorSam7 copyright 2017


The following is based on a presentation I’m scheduled to give next week to a group of parent educators in St. Louis.  Here are some of the key ideas from that presentation.

Key Take Aways From My Presentation

  • About those reading wars: The past 50 years has seen a spirited debate on how to best teach beginning readers. This presentation is based on a balanced, middle of the road approach.  For most children phonics needs to be taught. However, there are several ways to teach phonics (see my blog posts under the categories Decoding & Phonics and Ending The Reading Wars). I argue that since research supports the position that no one beginning reading method works with every child, that the key to successful reading instruction in early reading is to match the child up with a method that works for them. Fit the program to the child not the other way round. Starting with the First Grade Studies and through the work of Dick Allington research has consistently demonstrated that teachers make more difference than any one method. This means that in-servicing teachers in a variety of methods is critical to creating successful early reading programs. Participants are cautioned to examine the claims of some successful one size fits all “reading” programs. Too often these programs based their claims on measures of decoding skills only. The proponents seem to argue that reading achievement and comprehension automatically follow once decoding skills are established. Extensive work with comprehension is delayed, often until third grade.  Teachers like myself who have worked with children who are the product of such approaches are skeptical. Too often such an approach produces “word callers”, children who decode well but don’t remember or understand what is read. These children can be mistaken for children who have learning disabilities. This presenter takes issue with any approach that fails to include meaning making as part of the reading process. I recommend an approach that teaches decoding strategies and comprehension strategies concurrently from the very beginning stages of reading instruction.
  • Ages and stages When should formal instruction on letters sounds and letter names begin, how should that be done? We will review research like that presented in The conclusion is that for the early years (birth through three), it is counterproductive to try to directly teacher letter sounds and names. The brain literally isn’t ready for that yet.  The key is to use a discovery approach to learning. Parents need to create a print rich environment in which children learn all the various Concepts About Print (print carries the message, in English writing goes from left to right, et. al). At this stage it is vital that children have things read to them, talk about things that are read, hear the various sounds that make up our English language.  This work in ages birth through three lays the foundation (creates the schema) for the formal instruction about how words work, letter sounds and letter names et. al. That instruction can (and should) begin starting no sooner than age 4.  Many children will leave the early stage (birth through 3) already knowing letter sounds and names. For those who don’t, instruction in those things can be provided using method(s) that best fit each particular child.


  •  Supporting the emergent reader- Helping them Work for WordsWORK FOR OWN WORDS

While your child is reading to you, if they are stuck on a word don’t just give them the word. Instead try to help them work it out using the tips above. If they still don’t get it, then give it to them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many words they’ll get on their own if you just give them that first sound to start with.

Also, everyone can make mistakes on their first cold read of a passage. If the child is in the habit of noticing their mistakes and correcting them THAT IS HUGE. Encourage it whenever it happens.

  •  Supporting the emergent reader- Reading to Remember/Talking About Books

Talk to them about books

You can ask about any one of these three things (not all three at once!). Use any of these three as a starting point to talk about the book. You can also ask them about favorite characters or favorite parts or new things they learned. THIS IS NOT AN EXAM. The idea is to get them to talk about their story. Knowing that you want to talk about their book encourages them to READ TO REMEMBER!

  • Supporting the emergent reader- Learning to Book Shop/Visiting the LibraryShop for books

Shop for books by interests not by level. Help them find that series or author that they want and they may “binge read”. Binge reading beats binge watching Netflix all to pieces! If the book they want is to hard for them to decode, still check it out and read it to them. Read it more than once. Share the reading with them. Make it a goal to visit the library periodically and check out books for them, books about things they are interested in!!!


The MegaBook of Fluency

  • Reading Like a Story Teller

 Rasinski & Smith Have a wonderful book called The Megabook of Fluency. Use the EARS rubric from that book to guide you into better fluency.  Read with Expression, Automatic Word Recognition, Rhythm and Phrasing, Smoothness.  The rubric is on page 316 of the book. Also check out their help sheet about reading with expression found on page 309.  In addition to these two resources, the book has tons of other activities parents can do to help their child read with fluency (PROSODY!).

  •  Supporting the emergent reader- Parents Should Act Like Books are Important & Wonderful (Because they are!)

xmas-presents creative commons

 Books can be (and should be) presents. With Christmas coming up look over some of these suggestions for books for preschoolers and emergent readers.

Most of these suggestions come from the website

I’ve found it to be an excellent site for getting literacy ideas to use with younger children.

Parents should think hard about making a book one of this year’s Christmas presents. It can be the start of a great family tradition.


So…, that’s the advice I’ll be giving to parent educators about what to say to parents.  It’s advice that can set the child down the path of becoming a lifelong reader. It’s advice that’s grounded in a solid research base.  It’s advice that can give their child a world of wonderful new experiences.


Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, book shopper, advice giver, lifelong learner)

P.S. If you are a visitor from the internet and liked this blog please consider following it.  Just type in your e-mail address on the sidebar of this blog post. THANKS

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.