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:

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


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:

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.

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

  1. LauraRobb

    Thanks, Dr. Sam! Your book recommendations are outstanding! Thanks for all you’re doing to improve reading instruction!
    Laura Robb

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      Thanks so much. It means a lot coming from you. I really do think the recommended books would help adminstrators make good choices.


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