Monthly Archives: May 2019

Revisiting three posts I’ve made about the reading wars: A synopsis of what I hope will become a reading evolution by Dr. Sam Bommarito

reading creatuve commons

Revisiting three posts I’ve made about the reading wars: A synopsis of what I hope will become a reading evolution.

 

This week began with an amazing post on twitter which included this comment from @briankissell:

USE BRIAN

The review being referred to was my post about the Tsunami in reading instruction predicted by some advocates of the “scientific view” of reading. I want to thank Brian for the kudus and use this as an opportunity to put all the ideas I’ve had over the last several months into one place. To that end, I am reposting the post Brain referred to along with links to two other posts I’ve made. Taken together, they give my views of the current state of the reading wars and my critique of the positions being taken by some of the proponents of the “scientific view” of reading. Here is my position in a nutshell.

The only way to get past the “swinging pendulum” in the reading wars about whether or how to teach phonics is to recognize that different children have different needs when it comes to phonics instruction. Some thrive on a synthetic approach (explicitly taught phonics), some thrive on an analytic approach ( phonics taught in lesson rooted in the discovery method of learning) some thrive on either approach, and some can learn to read with no phonics instruction at all (this is a VERY small group).  Remember that the NRP found that SYSTEMATIC instruction is the key to effective phonics instruction; it did not find in favor of either analytic or synthetic phonics.

I maintain that the real problems in the so-called reading wars arise when children are forced to use an approach that doesn’t work for them.  This happens when proponents of one of the two major approaches to teaching phonics (analytics and synthetic) demand their approach, and only their approach be used to teach phonics. As I’ve indicated multiple times, what happens next is that whichever extreme becomes the current soup de jour, children for whom that particular approach doesn’t work fail to thrive. Then the other side calls for throwing out the old ways and bringing in the new way.  Usually, enough time has passed for folks to forget the “new way” didn’t work for everyone either.  My commonsense solution is really quite simple. Train teachers in all the major approaches of teaching phonics. Allow them to use them within whatever program a district may choose to adopt. Those districts that choose a synthetic approach should still allow selected children to use the analytic approach when needed and vice versa.  Details of all this can be found in the reposting of my blogs around this topic. I will add that districts must be sure that whatever approach is adopted the district programs include more than just decoding instruction. At the very least, instruction in prosody, vocabulary, and comprehension are also needed.  Readers are invited to consider Shanahan’s views about how much time should be spent on the various components in a reading program. See https://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/how-much-time-should-we-spend-on-comprehension-and-phonics for details.

My posts also challenge claims by SOME of the advocates of the so-called scientific approach to reading. Details follow in the current reposting.  Overall, I call for a reading evolution (#readingevolution).  This means letting the pendulum swing to the middle and then use ideas from both approaches with the caveat that programs, especially programs in the beginning decoding process, be matched to the needs of particular students. Fit the program to the child, not the other way round.

Here is my main post about what reading programs could/should look like. I’ve also included links to posts about what happens when you try to force children to use programs that don’t work for them and what a program of teaching teachers about phonics might look like. I hope readers will consider all that follows and start the dialogues that can finally lead to what I hope will become the Reading Evolution.

 

REPOSTING:

Reading and the Dyslexic Child: About that Tsunami of Change Predicted by the Advocates of the Scientific Method of Reading By Dr. Sam Bommarito

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Reading and the Dyslexic Child: About that Tsunami of Change Predicted by the Advocates of the Scientific Method of Reading

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

According to some (not all) of the advocates of the scientific method of reading, there is a Tsunami of Literacy change coming. Bad practices in the teaching of reading are going to be replaced by good ones. The reading crisis is going to be solved. The problems caused by the evils of whole language and balanced literacy will be overcome by an unbalanced approach, an approach that uses most (all) of the literacy instructional time in the early grades (k-2) to teach using scientific-based reading practices (translation- TONS of direct systematic synthetic phonics instruction). Comprehension can wait. Comprehension will follow naturally once the decoding problems are solved.

I’ll begin by reminding my readers that a Tsunami is a form of a natural disaster. It usually results in great pain and suffering. It can take months, sometimes years to recover from a Tsunami. Perhaps it would be wise to show some caution before welcoming a Literacy Tsunami as a solution to our perceived problems in the teaching of literacy.

Let me now address the very real problem that was the impetus of the current movement to change literacy practices. That is the failure to provide adequate instruction for the Dyslexic child. I’ll skip right to the end on this one. Dyslexic children do not thrive on a program based on analytic phonics. They truly need a program that is direct, synthetic based and systematic. There is no question they should be provided such programs. My belief is that currently, the best place to do that is in a tier three program. For that to work it would require that Dyslexic children be a “minority” in the sense that most children with reading problems do not have Dyslexia. That would require taking the point of view that reading difficulties have their origins in multiple (complex) factors. The rest of this entry will present some evidence that this is the case. I will present evidence to demonstrate that we may not want to abandon practices that, in point of fact do help a significant number of children, children with very real reading difficulties but who do not fit the criteria for being Dyslexic.  Let’s see why I say this based on challenging some of the myths propagated by some of the advocates of the “scientific method” of teaching reading.

Myth one: Programs like Reading Recovery, programs that often use things like the three cueing systems and other unproven educational practices, should be ended and replaced with strong systematic synthetic phonics-based programs. There is a major problem with this point of view. It fails to explain why RR has consistently been found to be the most effective reading program in beginning reading. It is the only beginning reading program to show significant improvement in BOTH comprehension and decoding. Its synthetic-based rivals show gains in only decoding.  We’ll dive into that fact a little more deeply later in this analysis. See the following link for the newest information on this point: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/EvidenceSnapshot/420.

I was always taught that all it takes to call a scientific hypothesis into question is one contrary observation. The What Works Clearinghouse conclusions clearly show that, in spite of its critic’s complaints that it does not follow their vision of “scientific teaching”, Reading Recovery actually works better for many children than the programs advocated by the “science of reading” point of view.

In previous blogs, I’ve pointed out that SOME of the advocates of the scientific method employ the “strawman” tactic in order to make the case against Reading Recovery, along with other constructivist-based tactics. They create a “strawman”. They do this by reporting only studies critical of a method and ignoring studies (like the WWC analysis) that demonstrate that they work. These kinds of tactics may work in heated political campaigns. But if one is pursuing science, one must weigh in with all the data before drawing final conclusions. Ignoring critical data that supports “the other side” is not my idea of science.

Myth two: Whole Language and Balanced Literacy are the cause of all the current problems in literacy.  Let’s examine one case where that claim was made. California mandated that whole language be used. Shortly afterward reading achievement went down. That’s a slam dunk, right? Whole language caused a major loss in reading achievement scores. As is often the case in scientific research, the devil is in the details.

Enter on the scene Stephen Krashen. He took a closer look at the data. He asked a simple question. Were most teachers in California actually using whole language?  He found the answer was an emphatic no. Most were not. Yet the scores went down. How can that be? He reported that the actual causes of those lower scores were “a large influx of non-native speakers of English and significant decreases in educational funding (larger classes specifically negatively impacting achievement).” See this link for details.

https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2019/02/14/the-big-lie-about-the-science-of-reading/

Myth two: The source of most (all) reading problems is Dyslexia.  Having taught the analysis and correction of reading course multiple times at both the graduate and undergraduate level I’m familiar with textbooks that were used/are being used in that course. Harris and Sipay was a mainstay textbook for quite a number of years. The earliest versions of that text came out before the current round of the Great Debate. Their conclusion- there are multiple causes for reading problems. John’s is another text often used. His conclusion- multiple causes.  Readers are invited to examine other textbooks currently in use. I think they will find- multiple causes is the current conclusion of virtually all the experts in area analysis and correction. If this is true, then solving the overall problem of low achievement in literacy requires much more than solving the literacy problems of the Dyslexic child. IN NO WAY am I suggesting that working toward meeting the needs of the Dyslexic child is unimportant. It is VERY important. But meeting their needs only solves a small part of the overall literacy instruction problem. It does not address the problems of the children whose literacy problems stem from other sources. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that one of those sources is the failure to provide systematic and explicit instruction in comprehension. I predict that those who think that decoding instruction in the first few years should supplant comprehension instruction are going to be sorely disappointed.  Solving decoding problems is NECESSARY for a good literacy program. However, solving those problems IS NOT SUFFICIENT.

Myth three: SES Doesn’t Matter

It is sometimes implied by SOME advocates of the scientific method that because Dyslexic children can (and do) come from families who are what we would call high SES (Social Economic Status) that SES doesn’t matter much. On the one hand, it is absolutely true that some Dyslexic children come from high SES families. So, it is true that SES is not always a factor in reading difficulties. Does that mean that SES never a factor reading achievement? Hardly. There is a TON of data demonstrating SES is a factor. By and large areas with low SES have consistently had scores about 1 standard deviation below the expected reading achievement scores. That has been a widely accepted fact of life since I began my teaching career in 1970 right through to today.  Many of us in the reading world view that solving the poverty crisis and mitigating the effects of poverty is crucial to solving the literacy problems of many children.  I’ve mentioned before that back in the day I worked in three different Title one programs that won awards for the achievement gains in reading. By definition Title 1 programs are in low SES areas. One can find many examples of programs in low SES areas doing that. I think a careful examination of those programs will demonstrate that they accomplished their gains by doing much more than simply solving the decoding problems of their students. I’ll leave it to my friend Dr. William Kerns to provide more research around that point in future blogs.

Myth four: Applying the Methods of the “Scientific Approach to Reading” results in tremendous gains in reading achievement.

Careful examination of the data some proponents of the scientific method of reading provide does demonstrate major gains in DECODING ability, not reading achievement. Please examine the instruments used in their studies. Most of the variance measured by those instruments come from Decoding, not comprehension. Too often their comprehension data, if it is present at all, relies on vocabulary only or data based on correlations with comprehension tests instead of directly measuring comprehension. Correlational data may be satisfactory for exploratory studies, but for studies used to justify large expenditures by districts, direct measures are needed.

My next remarks are addressed to district level decision makers “shopping” for literacy programs. If you are looking to make long term investments in a program, I think it is prudent that you demand something more than the current level of proof provided by some advocates of the scientific method.  My advice is to ask for data indicating 1. Long term sustained gains (critics of the “Scientific Approach” often point out the gains they claim happen disappear once data is looked at over extended periods). 2. Studies that use actual direct measures of comprehension. In my day we used the Gates-Macginitie. It has a Vocabulary Section and a Comprehension section resulting in an overall reading score. Once again, as is often the case, the devil is in the details. It is a buyer beware kind of situation. Before you buy into a particular set of methods, please ask your local experts in testing to search programs you are considering for evidence of long-term READING ACHIEVEMENT gains based on widely accepted tests of COMPREHENSION. I’d recommend against adoption if such proof cannot be provided.

An important footnote. I’m sure you’ll hear answers like- if you take care of decoding problems then the comprehension problems will be solved as well.  The problem is, reading is not a natural process (one point on which the science of reading folks and I agree). Since it is a LEARNED process, it follows that in addition to learning the decoding strategies readers must be explicitly and systematically taught comprehension strategies (or the single comprehension strategy if some analysts are correct) as well.  Do you really want to wait until the second or third grade to do that? That is what many advocates of the scientific method are asking you to do in order to make time for all that extra decoding instruction they recommend. If you follow that advice you run the risk that the “hidden curriculum” (only decoding matters) will cause many of your readers to pay little or no attention to the ideas of the things they read.  Does that sound like the kind of learner that can survive in the 21st-century work environment? Does that sound like a learner that will provide your district with long term gains in reading achievement?  As I said, buyer beware.  Until and unless they provide comprehension instruction from the outset, I would not consider buying into implementing their programs.

Myth number Five- All districts are using balanced literacy/whole language and that is why the current reading scores are so low.

I will begin with the obvious.  Some advocates of the scientific theory seem to assume that all (almost all) of the district programs currently in place are “whole language” or “balanced literacy”. They treat the two terms as synonymous. They are not. They attribute things to the programs that are simply not accurate or true. For instance, they often say whole language means no phonics. Sorry, I was at the 1995 ILA convention in Anaheim and heard Ken Goodman speak at the Reading Hall of Fame session. During that session, he directly stated that there is a place for phonics in a whole language program. In addition, there is the same issue raised by the whole California fiasco.  What is it that different district programs are ACTUALLY doing? Are there some programs that are more successful than others? If the science of reading folks were to try to present their findings to a doctoral committee, they would quickly find themselves being told to nail down which programs are failing and the characteristics of those programs. They would be required to provide evidence of where those programs are being done or not being done.  They might even be required to see if differences in implementation results in differences in achievement results. For instance, how do Guided Reading programs that follow the advice of Burkins and Yaris on time allotment fair compared to programs that don’t? They are currently painting with far too broad a brush to meet anyone’s definition of scientific research.  If they are going to claim the title of the scientific method, then they need to tighten up their research methods considerably, especially when making such broad statements about what districts are currently doing.

I’ve said before that my analysis of the Great Debate and why the pendulum continues to swing is based on something I learned from one of my mentors, the late Dr. Richard Burnett, professor emeritus from the University of Missouri St. Louis. A very long time ago he told me “Sam- the great debate has never been about phonics vs. no phonics. It has always been about my phonics vs your phonics.” My take on this is that the debate is really about analytic phonics (preferred by those of a constructivist bent) vs. synthetic phonics (preferred by those of an empiricist bent). My next statement will please almost no one but does have the potential to help everyone. There are SOME children who thrive on analytic phonics, SOME children who thrive on synthetic phonics, some children who can thrive on either and SOME children who can get by with almost not phonics at all.

Evidence supporting the above position is as follows: “According to Torgerson et al., ‘There is currently no strong randomized controlled trial evidence that any one form of systematic phonics is more effective than any other’ (2006: 49). Research evidence which is available is insufficient to allow for reliable judgments to be made about the efficiency of different approaches to systematic phonics instruction (Stuart, 2006). “

Go to this link for details

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eie.12125

Conclusion

I’ve attributed the ever-swinging pendulum to the fact that when people at the two extremes (in the sense they take the positions of ONLY synthetic or ONLY analytic) start saying only their way works and only their way will be allowed things start to go badly.  When that happens, we find ourselves in a situation where it is guaranteed some children will not thrive.  What happens next is a call for “out with the old, in with the new”. Usually, enough time has passed so that most folks have forgotten that the “new” didn’t work the last time around. As a result, the cycle has become never-ending. My suggestion has already been made. Let’s for once try stopping in the middle. Let’s talk to each other about what works for PARTICULAR kids. Let’s stop debating and start dialoguing. Let’s learn from the ideas of all sides and ask the question of what works best for THIS PARTICULAR CHILD. In the course of that, we can start a reading evolution.

 

LINK TO BLOG ABOUT THE PROBLEMS INHERENT IN PUTTING A CHILD IN A PROGRAM THAT DOESN’T FIT THEIR NEEDS IN DECODING: https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/03/28/a-tale-of-two-readers-a-close-up-look-at-two-actual-victims-of-the-reading-wars-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

 

LINK TO BLOG ABOUT TEACHERS NEED TO LEARN ABOUT PHONICS. https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/04/26/cutting-through-the-gordian-knot-of-beginning-phonics-instruction-my-advice-to-beginning-teachers-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

 

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So…, I hope all this gives readers things to consider. Let’s do try empowering teachers. Let’s do listen to each other and find things that work for particular children. Let’s stop jumping back and forth between extremes. Instead, let’s move to the middle and try to begin a Reading Evolution (#readingevolution).

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the #readingevolution guy

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.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Books to help you get off to a good start in your literacy program part two: Readers chime in by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the BlogBooks to help you get off to a good start in your literacy program part two: Readers chime in

One of my twitter followers asked the following question:

Dr. Sam, do you have any books you’d recommend to administrators working in elementary schools on reading instruction? Current ‘reading wars’ have polarized the discussions. Would appreciate any recommendation.

Last week I answered that question with a list of 6 books I thought would make a good starter set. The reader response was overwhelming. Over 1000 educators read last week’s blog. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to do that. That’s not all you did. A number of you also suggested things to read beyond this starter set of books. This week I’m going to share some of those suggestions with you. Perhaps today’s entry could be the start of a summer reading list (or rereading list).

Two books by Ellin Oliver Keene were mentioned. These include:

Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning

Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop

Susan Zimmermann was her co-author on Mosaic. I had the privilege of hearing Ellin speak at the NCTE conference in St. Louis. If you want to bring joy back into your reading and writing, if you want your workshop teaching to really matter then these books should be on your must-read list. My guess is many of you already have read them

Disrupting Thinking

Another book mentioned by readers was Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst.  Ideas from this book can go a long way toward helping teachers create lifelong learners.

Book Whisper

Also included was Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child21`. Richard Allington called this book powerful and practical. I must concur. Also, be aware that Miller helped to establish a blog called The Nerdy Book Club. It is a great source for reviews of the latest children’s books and new ideas about the teaching of reading.

RTI from all Sides

Mary Howard came to St. Louis this past year, and my blogging partner Bill Kerns and I got to meet her. She is an amazing educator. Readers mentioned her book RTI From All Sides as another “must read” book.

Two books by Mary Jo Fresh made the list.  They were Strategies for Effective Balanced Literacy and 7 Keys to Research for Writing Success, a book co-authored by David Harrison. I had the privilege of hearing them both talk about that book at the NCTE conference in St. Louis. I was so impressed with the book I used it as a resource for the push in work I’m doing with a local 4th-grade teacher.

Equipped for Reading Success

And finally, one reader highly recommended books and materials by David Kilpatrick. One example is the book Reading Success: A comprehensive, step-by-step program for developing phonemic awareness and fluent word recognition.

Those are the books readers brought up as ones that would be worth reading. By the way, I also found out that two of my readers have written books of their own. Those two books are going on my must-read book list this summer. The first book is They are Smart Kids, Struggling Readers: The Overlooked Factors and Novel Solutions by Nickie Simonetti and Creating Capable Kids, 12 researched based reading programs by Bruce Howlett.

I want to thank all the readers who gave feedback about my “basics” list and to invite all my readers to select a couple of books from this reader created list to add to their own reading list this summer.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- lifelong reader, lifelong learner)

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.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Six books that will help you get your literacy program off to a good start by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the Blog

One of my twitter followers asked the following question:

Dr. Sam, do you have any books you’d recommend to administrators working in elementary schools on reading instruction? Current ‘reading wars’ have polarized the discussions. Would appreciate any recommendation.

I’m sorry it took so long to get the response back to you, but I really wanted to give this one careful thought. Here goes:

What Matters Most for Struggling Readers

Book one- What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs by Richard L. Allington.  My colleagues and I have found Allington to be the “go to person” on so many things. I chose this book because it lays the foundations for a sensible approach to teaching literacy. Key ideas include that kids need to read a lot, need books they can read, need to learn to read fluently and to develop thoughtful literacy.  He also includes a chapter on instruction for the struggling reader. To get a sense of the research base behind Allington’s work see: https://diywithrti.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/what-ive-learned-about-effective-reading-instruction.pdf

Whos doing the work

Book Two- Who’s Doing the Work: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. For anyone wishing to improve the impact of their guided reading program this book is a must-read. The basic premise is that too often we over scaffold within our guided reading groups and that is a direct result of failing to do the work needed in other parts of the overall guided reading model and trying to fit all that work that should be done elsewhere into the small group setting. See the figure that accompanies the Fountas and Pinnell book- book 4 to get a sense of all the components that should be included in guided reading instruction.

THe Reading Strategies Book

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Book Three- The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. This book is part of a constellation of books Serravallo has put together. Again, for anyone wishing to improve the guided reading or reading workshop program these books are essential. The online support provided for each book is amazing. For anyone wanting to know the nuts and bolts of how to teach guided reading and reading workshop, Serravallo’s books are an excellent source.

 

Book Four- Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency: Thinking, Talking, and Writing About Reading K-8. This book gives the blueprint for setting up an effective guided reading program. The processing systems for reading found on the inside of the front cover and the collecting evidence of literacy processing found on the back cover provide excellent visuals of what guided reading should look like. Notice how the small group in the Collecting Evidence of Literacy Processing figure is only one part of a much larger array of components that make up Guided Reading instruction.

Teaching Phonics Today

Book Five Teaching Phonics Today: A Primer for Educators by Dorothy Strickland

My readers are familiar with the fact that I advocate using both synthetic and analytic phonics in phonics instruction. Whether a teacher elects to use analytic or synthetic phonics, the teacher still needs a working knowledge of sound-symbol relations. Over the years this has been my go-to book to recommend to teachers in order to get the basics of what they need to know in order to teach phonics. I remember a number of years ago a colleague was applying for a reading position. She knew the search committee wanted candidates to have a firm knowledge of phonics. I recommended the first edition of this book to her as a study guide to that end. She got the position and continues to teach in it even today. A newer edition of this book is also available. One of the things I like the most about it is a self-test of basic phonics knowledge is included. Readers could use that as a pre/post test for themselves.

The Megabook of Fluency

Book Six The Megabook of Fluency by Tim Rasinski and Mellissa Chatman Smith. Rasinski has taken the concept of fluency well beyond the focus on reading speed that characterizes some approaches to the teaching of fluency. Tim calls prosody the gateway to comprehension. He has developed a rubric for measuring prosody that includes the components of Expression, Automatic word recognition, Rhythm & phrasing, and Smoothness. He uses the acronym EARS to describe his fluency rubric. In this book, he and Mellissa give many practical examples of how to build prosody. Using the activities from this book teachers can scaffold readers into sounding like storytellers instead of robots.  The bonus is the readers will also understand what they read much better than before.

Taken together these six books can be used to create a viable system for reading instruction. It is a balanced system. That is not the bad thing that some critics try to make it out to be. I have detailed my criticisms of the opinions and practices of some of the proponents of the simple view of reading. Here is a link to my latest summary of that criticism: https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/04/26/cutting-through-the-gordian-knot-of-beginning-phonics-instruction-my-advice-to-beginning-teachers-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

A final thought, whether one agrees with all of what I am advocating or not, I do want to strongly recommend one rule for all administrators considering adoption of a reading program to follow. Make certain that whatever program you are adopting has evidence that it improves reading comprehension. That means you must make sure the instruments used to measure reading comprehension are widely accepted instruments that are up to the task. Also, make sure that the evidence for improving reading comprehension establishes a pattern of doing so over several years. Taking this stance around the issue of comprehension, in my opinion, provides the gold standard by which to judge literacy programs.  I think the six books listed in this entry will help any group of administrators find ways to implement a successful literacy program. They constitute a basic starter set, not a complete list of all possible books to use. For instance, once administrators are ready to make the leap to reading and writing workshop teaching I would have additional books to recommend.  I hope this answers your question and hope that your administrators find these six books helpful.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the advocate of a common sense approach to literacy instruction)

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.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.