Monthly Archives: January 2019

Learning to have authentic conversations around various kinds of text: One road that can lead to improving comprehension By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Learning to have authentic conversations around various kinds of text: One road that can lead to improving comprehension

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

A lot has happened this week. I’m still trying to unpack it all and make sense of it. By and large it was a very good week. The events of the week all focused around the topic of comprehension. They’ve lead me to propose the position you find in the title of this piece. Scaffolding students into authentic conversations around text can dramatically improve the student’s comprehension. I’ve drawn this conclusion while looking advocates of what might seem on the surfaced seem to be disparate (maybe polar opposite) views of reading. But surprisingly, listening carefully to what advocates each of these positions has to say about literacy instruction can lead one to support the position I’ve proposed on comprehension. Let’s dive right in, start unpacking, and see what on earth I’m talking about.

The first of the sources I looked at was a live on-line chat between Dr. Timothy Shanahan and Larry Berger CEO of Amplify; Here is a link to a YouTube video of that chat (note the whole wait period of the chat was taped so you have to drag the play line to .28:00 or so to get to the start of the chat)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=uOlVmOXbi4E

THE TALK

The part of the chat that caught my attention was what was said around comprehension. When asked about what strategies to teach and how to teach them, Dr. Shanahan referred me to the following PDF:

WHAT WORKS PDF

Here is a link to this PDF: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED512029.pdf

I found a good explanation of the PDF on the What Works Clearinghouse website:

WHAT WORKS CLEARING HOUSE

The link to the above analysis is: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/PracticeGuide/14

The upshot of it all is this: Shanahan cites research indicating that a factor analysis of comprehension resource fails to find more than one factor. He criticizes what many teachers do. They build instruction in reading comprehension around multiple reading strategies, treating each as an isolated, distinct skill. He maintains that research is not kind to that way of doing things. There is just not much evidence of gains in comprehension scores when doing things that way Instead, he advocates what I characterize as a wholistic approach to teaching comprehension strategies. It really is just one factor so treat it that way. The pdf explains what implementing such an approach might look like. The chart from What Works Clearinghouse details the effectiveness of what is advocated based on research. My take: the five things listed above constitute the kinds of things teachers could be (should be) doing. Doing these things gets research based results, especially 1, 2 and 5 (see the evidence ratings for each). So teachers should teach students how to use reading strategies, teach them to use the texts organizational structure and establish engaging and motivation context in which to reach reading comprehension.

On the very same day I found this post on WordPress:

zblog entry by Two Teachers on IR

Rhonda and Gen are two literacy specialists who have been doing this very popular blog for quite some time. Their world view is quite different from that of Shanahan. Here is the link to their post https://literacypages.wordpress.com/2019/01/24/what-works-independent-reading-works/. Their blog entry talks about a book from the This Not That Series. That series is edited by Duke and Keene. Good credentials there. The book is by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss . My summary of the blog post content  is as follows: IR is done with maximum student choice and minimum interference from the teacher. That independent reading by the student is supported by individualized direct instruction. The idea of what support the teacher should give is detailed. It includes direct instruction, mini lessons and conferencing. They cite research claiming IR with the kind of teacher support advocated in this book has merit.

As I thought about what both Rhonda and Gen/Shanahan were talking about it hit me. I’d seen this kind of thing before. I’d seen it while watching workshop teachers and trainers scaffold children into deep conversations about books. Some of those students were as young as first graders. I’d seen those self-same teachers teaching comprehension strategies in the same manner as each of the folks from these disparate points of view about reading advocated. Dare I say that I think I’ve found some common ground here? I think I have.

Which brings us back to where I started, my proposition that learning to have authentic conversations around various kinds of text is one road that can lead to improving reading comprehension. Teachers must provide direct instruction. They must also scaffold students in to learning how to handle various texts and text structures. They must scaffold them into having deep conversations around those texts, both with their teacher and with each other. It’s not about the rote teaching of isolate comprehension strategies. It’s about the smart teaching of comprehension strategies, scaffolding students into making the strategies their own. Readers what do you think? Am I on to something here? I’d love to know.

Let’s change gears for a minute. Next week I will continue with this topic. I think I found another real gem in the handout the participants on the Amplify talk got. . However I right now I wanted to make my readers award of a new feature I will be adding to the blog from time to time. I like to do interviews of literacy leaders. I’ve been doing more of them lately. Decided to test the waters to see if there are still more literacy leaders willing to talk with me. Turns out there are. Among them are Ralph Fletcher (conferencing guru), Molly Ness (primary author of the newly released ILA position statement on Read Alouds & Independent Reading) and Willy Woods (organizer of the annual write to Read Conference, a major annual statewide conference here in Missouri). Sooooo. Expect that I will be interlacing interviews of these people in the upcoming weeks. That means from time to time I’ll be take a break from the ongoing topics I’m exploring to do those interviews.

So until next week, this is Dr. B signing off

 

Dr Sam Bommarito (aka, seeker of common ground and best practices)

@doctorsam7

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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.

Interview with Jennifer Serravallo about her new book: A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito.

A teachers guide

Interview with Jennifer Serravallo about her new book: A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences. A very special thanks to Jennifer for doing this interview.  The book should be out in about two weeks. This interview will also appear in the February issue of the Missouri Reader.

  1. What key things you would like teachers new to conferring to learn from using this book? What are the key things you would like those experienced with conferring to learn?

If you’ve never tried conferring with readers before, this book will help you get started immediately, and will introduce you to the types of conferences I use in the reading classroom. I’ve worked with many teachers new to conferring as a staff developer, so I know what questions are most common and what aspects challenge them most, and I have answered those questions and addressed those challenges in the book.  I describe various conference types clearly and offer video examples online. When I was learning to confer, I always found it important to not only read about conferring, but to see my staff developers and coaches model them for me. And now when I present about conferring I always get comments that the videos were so helpful—so they are a part of this book!

For those who have been conferring for a while, there is a lot in this book that will help elevate conferring time, making it more meaningful for you and students – strategies for being more goal-directed, ways to offer students opportunities to self reflect, progressions of skills on printable note taking forms to help teachers focus within goals but move students along, considerations for emergent bilingual students, as well as interviews with some practitioners who have been mentors to me and have wise words to offer us all.

I find there are some universal questions I get about conferring from those new to it and those experienced with it that I address in the book. For example: how to manage conferring, how to fit it in, how many children to aim to see each week in conferences, how long to spend with each conference, how to know what the perfect strategy is to teach a student, and how to keep conferences short and focused, to name a few.

  1. I was taught that conferring is the heart of workshop. How would you react to that? What might you say to convince teachers who feel there is not time for conferring to include it in their literacy program?

I say in the book that “conferring is where the magic happens” so I agree with whoever told you it’s the “heart!” I believe that every reader in your classroom is unique – the two kids reading level J books don’t have the same strengths and needs, the two kids in your class who are your strongest readers might not be strongest with the same things, the children with IEPs likely don’t have the same plan. It’s crucial then that we spend some of our time each week working with children one-on-one to set goals, support them with strategies for those goals, and monitor their progress. I also describe strategy lessons (or “group conferences”) in the book, and these are going to be important to include in your repertoire for efficiency’s sake, when kids would benefit from learning the same strategy and it makes sense to do so.

  1. As a follow up to question 2, what advice do you have for making time for conferring? What support materials do you include to help with scheduling and managing it all?

I think sometimes there’s a struggle to find the time because it’s not clear what the rest of the class is doing while the teacher is conferring. My advice? While teachers confer, students read. This does a few things: first, it helps the students have ample time to practice strategies independently that they learned during their last conference with you and give them a chance for more reading volume which will help them grow as readers, and second, it frees you up to meet with students one-on-one and in groups. In the book, I offer sample schedules and a simple process for scheduling the conferring time (while the rest of the class is reading) to help teachers get to each student a couple of times a week, as well as tips for pacing each conference so they don’t run too long.

  1. You discuss different kinds of conferences.  Could you give some examples of how and why to use a particular kind of conference and good ways to decide on the content of a particular conference.

Each conference type I discuss in A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences has its own purpose and structure. For example, a goal-setting conference is the sort of conference you’d conduct to help a student reflect on their work and set a goal, with the teacher as a coach/support. By contrast, a compliment conference is a conference where you offer a student positive feedback by naming something they are doing that will be helpful as they work on their reading goal. The goal-setting conference usually takes about 5 minutes because there is some time spent looking at a student’s work together while the teacher offers guiding questions for reflection, then once the goal is set the teacher provides a strategy and gives the student a chance to practice with some feedback. The compliment conference is really quick—usually just 90 seconds or so—because in that type the teacher spends a short amount of time checking in to see how the student has been doing with their goal, offers some feedback, and then moves on.  No new strategy, no guided practice. What I want teachers to do is to feel like they have a repertoire of ways to work with students so that they can be responsive and flexible—matching what a student needs to the strategy they choose to teach as well as the method they use to teach it.

  1. Your extensive support materials are one of the things that make all your works so popular.  What support materials will be available on line for use with this book? How do you see this book being used in conjunction with your other books e.g. The Reading Strategies Book and Understanding Texts & Readers? Where can we go to get a copy of your book?

As I mentioned earlier, there are videos featuring children in grades K-8 to show each conference type discussed in the book, as well as written transcripts of all of the conferences in case you prefer to read along or read instead of watch. I think the support material that folks will get most excited about are the note taking forms. There is one note taking form for assessment conferences that has questions and prompts that go with each of the 13 goals that form the framework for The Reading Strategies Book (i.e. Emergent Reading, Engagement, Print Work, Fluency, Plot and Setting,  Main Idea, and so on) and then thirteen note taking forms unique to each goal with a skill progression right on it. This way, once the teacher has identified a goal for a student, she can then use the corresponding note taking form and have the skill progression right in front of her as she confers. This will simplify decision-making and help keep the conferences focused. I’ve been using these forms with teachers in some of my study groups and they are absolutely loving them and finding them so helpful.

For those who have The Reading Strategies Book, they know that the book is set up by goal. I intended teachers to figure out a goal, then flip to the chapter that corresponds to the student goal. So with the note taking form that is goal-based with a progression, and the Strategies Book in their lap, they can easily identify the next step for a reader, flip to the corresponding chapter, and find a strategy.  Understanding Texts & Readers offers more detail and depth around leveled texts, and in that book I use the same goal categories in RSB. So in essence, they all work together (though they also each work individually do if you don’t have the other books you can still get everything out of each individual book I intended).

You can order a copy of A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences wherever you get your books – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your local independent bookstore. The book is out on Jan 31, and orders that are placed with HEINEMANN directly always ship first, and there is usually a 1-2 week delay with third party resellers. (Dr. B’s note: I’ve already pre-ordered this book through Heinemann, can’t wait for it to arrive. Should be here in about 2 weeks!)

Jennifer Serravallo is a literacy consultant, speaker, and the author of several popular titles including the NY Times Bestselling The Reading Strategies Book and The Writing Strategies Book. Her latest publication, Understanding Texts & Readers connects comprehension goals to text levels and readers responses. Upcoming publications include A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences (January 2019) and Complete Comprehension, which is a revised and reimagined whole book assessment and teaching resource based on the award-winning Independent Reading Assessment (due out in Spring 2019). She was a Senior Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and taught in Title I schools in NYC. Tweet her @jserravallo.

Jennifer Serrvallo’s other interview- link to Mo Reader Article On Understanding Texts and Readers (Use link then click on the article title on the cover page of the journal to go to article)

https://joom.ag/7fWY 

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A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences Copyright 2019 by Jennifer Serravallo 

Blog Copyright 2019 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. 

 

Toward a complex view of the reading process: Advantages of looking at the strengths and weaknesses of all approaches and adapting our instructional practices accordingly by Dr. Sam Bommarito

 

Breadboard_complex creative commons licenseToward a complex view of the reading process: Advantages of looking at the strengths and weaknesses of all approaches and adapting our instructional practices accordingly.

Cyberspace is currently full of posts claiming that there is a one size fits all solution to improving reading, especially early reading. This solution focuses on intense systematic phonics instruction for all children. Close examination of such instruction shows it relies mainly on teaching synthetic phonics. Reading speed is valued over reading prosody. Some of the proponents claim there is just not time for comprehension concerns at the very beginning stages of reading. Comprehension comes later, perhaps as late as 3rd grade.   The pillars of this “simple view of reading” include vocabulary both comprehension. Yet the tests used by the proponents of this view to demonstrate gains are usually heavy on decoding and vocabulary and very light on comprehension. This can and should lead to questioning the face validity of such “reading” tests. My view is that they are more properly labeled as “decoding tests”.

When taking the courses for my doctorate one of the things I learned is that establishing a theoretical construct requires many observations over a great deal of time. However, it only takes one contrary observation to potentially call the whole construct into question. In the case of this simple view of reading I have some observations that seem to challenge the validity of their current construct.

First and foremost is the fact that Reading Recovery, which has been under steady attack from the proponents of the simple view of reading, has consistently been dubbed the most successful early reading program currently available. This observation was not made by the proponents of RR, but rather the independent government agency, the What Works Clearinghouse. It is a claim that has been made multiple times over multiple years. I did an entire blog about that and readers are welcome to review the statistical facts from that blog in their entirety:

https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/08/10/why-i-like-reading-recovery-and-what-we-can-learn-from-it-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

Here is a key chart from that blog post:

BETTER IW

I’m more than aware of the studies opponents cite, finding weaknesses and flaws in Recovery. Even strong advocates of RR like myself know there are limits and limitation to the program (as there are with virtually any program one would care to examine). I personally feel there are SOME students who will not benefit from RR. However I firmly believe that the data I cite in the blog indicates that it works with enough children enough of the time to make it a viable educationally significant option. The fact remains when early reading program are analyzed RR is the only one that consistently gets results in BOTH decoding and reading achievement/comprehension. The research cited by the What Works Clearinghouse indicates that code base approaches show gains in decoding but not in comprehension/achievement. Because of this I’ve come to call RR the “bumble bee” of the reading world. You see, according to the science of some individuals, the bumble bee should not be able to fly. But it does. In the case of RR, the bumble bee not only flies but actually outperforms all its code based competitors.

In a future Blog post Dr. Kerns and I are going to explore this observation along with others. There is the matter of research indicating that while code based instruction produces gains in work attack skills, past a certain point they fail to produce gains in reading comprehension/achievement. In that upcoming entry Dr Kerns and I will also look into look into the early research around Analytic vs Synthetic phonics. The upshot is that the research clearly indicates that there are students who benefit more from an Analytic approach, leading to the conclusion that neither approach should be exclusive in its use. In an earlier blog post I indicated that my mentor, the late Dr. Richard Burnett, professor emeritus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, maintained that the great debate in reading was never about phonics vs no phonics. While there are folks who feel no phonics is the best approach, the fact is that the majority of people from the whole language/constructivist point of view favored the use of some form of phonics. I was present at the 1995 IRA (now ILA) reading hall of fame session where Ken Goodman said that there was a place for phonics in a whole language program. My interpretation of what whole language/constructivist based individuals of that time advocated was that they favored a analytic phonics approach used on an as needed basis. Too often critics of this position employ what amounts to a “straw man” approach. They pick on only the weakest points advocated by their opponents and knock those down. They ignore the strong points. While that is an effective ploy in political debates it rarely results in uncovering the full reality of what is going on.

There is also the matter of how much time is needed to carry out an effective synthetic phonics program. A careful read of the NRP will indicate that at the time of the report there was no clear answer to that question. It is an important one. Do we really need to spend most (all) of the early instructional time on teaching synthetic phonics? Should we really effectively ignore comprehension (i.e. spend little or no time teaching comprehension) in the early grades? Or is it possible to create synthetic phonics instruction that is efficient enough to leave time for comprehension instruction? A careful look at the reading world circa 1985 demonstrates that leaders in the field like Pearson and Presley called for more direct teaching of comprehension. They cited the work of Durkin to uphold their belief the teachers of that era were in fact not teaching comprehension at all. At best, they were simply practicing how to answer selected kinds of comprehension questions. Since that time the majority of folks in the reading world have come to the conclusion that the explicit teaching comprehension strategies should be an important part of every literacy program. My opinion is that explicit comprehension instruction should be a part of every literacy program from the outset. Details of all these aforementioned observations and criticisms will be included in the future blog post which will include an extensive look at the research being alluded to here. I anticipate it will be several weeks before that is ready.

My point in this is not to totally discredit the use of synthetic phonics. In earlier blogs I have said there are definitely children who need that direct, intense systematic program. I also pointed out that following an as needed analytic program runs the risk of leaving large holes in students knowledge about phonics. There are ways to fix all the problems inherent in both these major approaches to phonics. At the moment the reading world seems locked in yet another debate (war) about early reading instruction. Critics of the critics of whole language point to the fact the attacks from the simple view of reading folks are really attacks on a straw man. Only the weakest points from the whole language constructivist views are taken. The charge is also made that sometimes their views are actually being totally misrepresented. My criticisms are not limited to the simple view of reading. I hear advocates of using an as needed analytic view of the reading process indicating that only their point of view works with kids. The fact is that SOME kids need some of the things advocated by the code based folks, and SOME kids need the things advocated by the constructivist based approach and, most importantly NEITHER APPROACH WORKS WITH EVERY KID EVERY TIME.

I’ll restate something I’ve said before. Both sides of this great debate (more accurately all sides in this great debate) need to explore the weaknesses as well as the strengths their own position They need to acknowledge that there are some strengths the opponents position. Teachers need to become adept in teaching phonics using all the various ways to teach phonics and they also need to become adept at teaching comprehension strategies. They must be allowed to use a variety of approaches so they can meet the needs of the diverse population of children they serve. We need to remember that beginning with the First Grade Studies and through the works of Allenton, research has consistently demonstrated that teachers make more difference than any particular reading approach. We need to empower teachers and give them the ability to help their students using the methods that fit each particular student. Fit the program to the child, not the other way round. I’ll have more to say on this point next week.

Regular readers of this blog know that my doctoral dissertation was on the topic of common ground. I found that the opposing sides of the great debate from that era had more instructional practices in common than they had that were different. I believe that if the current debate over reading changed into a dialogue about what works more children could be helped. The issue of what works needs to be addressed by more than the simple ability to decode. Reading without comprehension is not reading at all. It is simple decoding.  I detailed my position in the following blog post about calling for a reading EVOLUTION. You are welcome to read it:

https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/03/16/a-call-for-a-reading-evolution-no-its-not-typo-i-mean-evolution-by-dr-sam-bommarito

So as we begin the new year lets shift the focus of things from debate to dialogue. Let’s recognize that reading is a complex process. Let’s start asking what will help THIS PARTICULAR CHILD, rather than try to find something that works with every child every time. The search for the latter has never been very fruitful. I maintain we are much more likely to find a workable answer if we stop debating and start dialoguing. Reading is a complex process. Different children learn in different ways. Let’s start a dialogue around that. Let’s begin the reading evolution.

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. an evolutionary leader)

 

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.

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Don’t judge a book by its cover: 21st century implications of this age-old bit of wisdom by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Grandmas Kindle

Don’t judge a book by its cover: 21st century implications of this age-old bit of wisdom by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Something interesting happened at our house at Christmas time. My two grown sons decided it was time for my wife to join the 21st century with her reading habits. My wife is an avid reader. Sometimes she even reads in the tub. Occasionally that can have some undesired effects on the books she reads. So, wouldn’t it be nice if there were such a thing as a waterproof book. Turns out there is. It’s called the Kindle and that’s just what the boys got her Christmas.  Those who know me well know that I’ve been a longtime advocate of making use technology. This includes making use of technology in the teaching of literacy. So, this newest event in the Bommarito household provides me with an opportunity to reflect on just where technology might fit into a literacy program.

I have some fairly well-developed ideas around using technology in literacy. My very first presentation on this topic was at a national conference. It was the IRA (now ILA) conference held in 1985. My topic was Using Microcomputers in Reading.  My foundational ideas around the topic were really quite simple. Computers and the host of things they have spawned are fundamentally tools. Like any tool, they can be put to good use or bad.  My thinking around such how to use such technology was heavily influenced by Seymour Papert and his book Mindstorms.  Papert saw computers as tools of the mind.  When used as thinking tools (as opposed to electronic flashcards) they can actually help us think in new ways we could not think in before and do things we could never do before.  Think of the movie Hidden Figures. Think of the many wonderful things projects children have done using computers beginning with the lego-logo projects Papert helped to make famous. And yes I’ve read the research on overdoing screen time. So as is the case with all human endeavors, moderation is in order.

Mindstorms

I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues in the reading world and several of them have been expressing doubts and misgivings about using some of the technology available.  Some have even said they would never read a book using a Kindle.  E-books are suspect, and perhaps even substandard. I must respectfully disagree.

When I talk about the role (and potential role) e-books in literacy I usually begin by saying I don’t care whether a book has been published using the calligraphy of monks in the middle ages, the first printing presses, more recent computerized versions of the printing press or published as an e-book. My first judgement of any book is not based on the method of publication but rather on the books content and on the writing craft employed by its author. It is completely possible to create a really awful e-book. It is also possible to create a really awful paper book. But it is equally possible to create well written books using any of the methods of publication. As more people employ the technology, the number of good e-books available has increased. The most important takeaway here is that there is such a thing as a good e-book.

But, you may say, I just can’t curl up and read a good book on a Kindle (or similar device). Doesn’t seem right.  I respect that. However, many in the younger generation (and a few in the older generation) find it wonderful that they can bring their entire library with them on trips and such. The writing on my wife’s new Kindle has the look of paper, so it seems a bit less techi than some of its earlier versions. She can also vary the print size, something very handy for those of us at certain ages and stages.  I assure you she will continue to also read paper versions of many many books. But she has already conceded that there are some real advantages to the Kindle, including the fact it is water resistant (not entirely water proof).  My grandchildren have taken to it instantly. Grandma’s Kindle is a good thing and even has some of Grandpa’s Kindle versions of his favorite children’s books (grandma and I quickly learned how to share each other’s e-book libraries). Grandpa has been convinced of the utility of e-books for quite some time.

Using Kindle readers is certainly not the only way technology can be used in literacy. But it is one way.  Like all things, it should be used to fit the reader not the other way round. Those who don’t find it useful should opt not to use it. Those who find it useful some of the time should make use of it, in the tub and on the beach!!!  You need never worry about forgetting to take your favorite books with you when you’re off on vacation. Kindle readers are not the only technology to consider for use in a literacy program. I will have more to say about that point next week. In the meantime, excuse me.  I think I’m about to borrow grandma’s Kindle and read my copy of Pete the Cat, I Love My White Shoes. I’ve owned the kindle version of that book for a very long time! And today I’m supposed to be watching some of the Grandkids. As many of my readers know, they really love that particular book and they just love Grandma’s new Kindle soooooo… LG LG!

Doctor Sam Bommarito (aka long time techi, long time reader & very happy Grandpa!)

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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.