Monthly Archives: September 2019

In Memoriam: Linda Dorn: Her life, her legacy

reading-scrabble

In Memoriam: Linda Dorn: Her life, her legacy

The literacy world has lost a giant. Linda Dorn passed away this week. She was a great educator, teacher, and person. Two of my literacy friends have very close ties to Linda.  Glenda Nugent is my fellow co-editor for the Missouri Reader. Glenda was the Program Manager for Reading at the Arkansas Department of Education at the same time Linda Dorn developed many of her projects.  In the course of that, Glenda got to know Linda and her work very well.  She and Linda became close friends over the years.  Dr. William Kerns, my blogging partner recently joined the faculty of the School of Education of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in Linda’s Department. In the dedication that follows, he tells of how Linda reached out to him after he joined the faculty this year.  In light of the very close ties my two colleagues have with Linda Dorn I feel it is appropriate to turn the rest of this blog entry over to them. I know Linda Dorn will be sorely missed. But her legacy will live on because of the lives she touched and the people she inspired. Let’s now hear from two of those people.

 

In Memory of Linda Dorn

Glenda Nugent

There are many things I could say about my friend and colleague, Linda Dorn, but in Linda’s and Carla Soffos’  book, Shaping Literate Minds, this quote is one of my favorites: “Teachers must hold a flexible theory-one that can be reshaped and refined according to what children are showing us as they engage in the process of learning.” Linda was masterful at using research and her knowledge of children and how they learn to refine and reshape teacher practice to find what works best for each child. She will be deeply missed.

linda-dorn-

 

In Memory of Linda Dorn

William Kerns

Linda Dorn’s legacy is one of passion and dedication. Kindness. Compassion. A commitment to excellence in education.

It is difficult for me to find the words in this tribute. I never had the honor of meeting Linda. I joined the faculty of the School of Education of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock this fall semester. Linda did reach out to me. She helped me to feel welcome. I am of the belief that a person’s life isn’t to be found so much on a list of accomplishments that can be listed on a CV (and Linda does have quite the list of accomplishments), but in the goodness and kindness of that person. Everything that I have learned of Linda is the story of a truly kind, and good, person, self-sacrificing and dedicated to making the lives of others better. She made a difference.

Learning never stops. This is true for students but also for each of us. As we honor Linda’s legacy, I believe that a commitment to continue learning together is a good place to start. “Learning is meaningful, purposeful, self-directed, and generative, for it leads to new discoveries and new knowledge” (Dorn & Soffos, 2001, p. 17).

All one must do is listen to the stories that can be told by her colleagues and friends. Her former students. When I spend time at the School of Education of her beloved UA-Little Rock, I see colleagues who are striving to honor her legacy by continuing the work of delivering excellent teacher education, yet it is a struggle to contain emotions any time there is a reminder of Linda. Be it a reminder of joy, commitment, hard work, or grief at her loss. One thing is obvious, Linda was the heart of the School of Education at UA-Little Rock.

Yet another point is also clear. Linda’s legacy will live on in the commitment that she inspired. It is a commitment to carefully planned, thoughtful and caring instruction. She was a champion of a well-balanced literacy instruction with carefully structured, varying activities, differentiated according to the needs and interests of the student. “A balanced literacy curriculum consists of five interrelated components: (1) reading books to children, (2) independent reading, (3) shared reading, (4) writing about reading, and (5) guided reading” (Dorn & Jones, 2012, p. 29). Linda was also a champion of ensuring that teachers have the training, the skill, and the ongoing support structure to successfully implement a balanced literacy curriculum. “A balanced reading program includes a range of literacy activities, carefully selected materials for each activity, and a responsive teacher who knows how to structure literacy interactions that move children to higher levels of understanding” (Dorn & Jones, 2012, p. 34).

Too often, social-constructivist approaches are misunderstood as promoting a free for all, in which the teacher lets children guess and fumble with no guidance or support or even an understanding of purpose. That is far from the truth of the matter. Teachers are, in fact, actively monitoring and guiding students through careful use of assessment that informs the learning activities. “When teachers coach children to apply flexible strategies during their reading and writing activities, children learn problem-solving processes with generative value for working out new problems” (Dorn & Soffos, 2001, p. 5).

The risk of making mistakes should not curtail learning. Guidance through acts of problem-solving will enable a student to develop deeper levels of skill and understanding of concepts. “Higher-level development occurs as a result of the problem-solving attempts. Neural growth happens because of the process, not the solution” (Dorn & Jones, 2012, p. 27).

Literacy instruction as advocated by Dorn is varied, active, even fun, but also intellectually rigorous. “In a well-balanced literacy program, teachers create flexible and varied opportunities for children to work at both assisted and independent levels. In whole group assisted events, teachers will have to make compromises in their instruction, that is, teach to the instructional needs of the class majority. During small group reading and writing events, teachers can provide students with focused instruction that is aimed at the strengths and needs of a similar population. During reading and writing conferences, teachers are able to provide intensive support that is personalized for the individual student. Through these diverse instructional settings, children receive varying degrees of teacher assistance on related types of tasks.” (Dorn & Soffos, 2001, p. 9).

This is a time to grieve but also a time to celebrate. The legacy of Linda lives in all those reading this blog. It lives in her former students. It lives in teachers and in colleagues inspired by her work. It lives in her friends whose lives she so deeply touched. The torch has been passed. The rest is up to each of us.

Works Cited

Dorn, L.J. & Soffos, C. (2001). Shaping literate minds: Developing self-regulated learners. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse.

Dorn, L.J. & Jones, T. (2012). Apprenticeship in literacy: Transitions across reading and writing, K-4 (Second Edition). Portland, Maine: Stenhouse.

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Dr. Sam Bommarito – Thanks to the two guest bloggers for their insights and words of inspiration.

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito and the guest bloggers. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and the guest bloggers 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.

P.S. for regular readers of this blog starting next week I will be doing interviews of authors who have written about various literacy topics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s time to start looking at ALL the ways to teach beginning reading: There is no one size fits all solution by Dr. Sam Bommarito

reading-scrabble

It’s time to start looking at ALL the ways to teach beginning reading: There is no one size fits all solution by Doctor Sam Bommarito

I’ll begin by calling attention to a recent blog by Tim Shanahan

https://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/which-texts-for-teaching-reading-decodable-predictable-or-controlled-vocabulary

Note the three forms of text named in the title.  Here are some highlights from that entry:

“The role of text in reading instruction has always been a big instructional question for parents and teachers—but it has not drawn the same kind of research interest as many other issues.

Nevertheless, the research does provide clues and it suggests that kids are likely to be best off in classrooms that provide them with a mix of these text types rather than a steady diet of any one of them—nor do I see the progression through these as developmental, with kids graduating from one kind of simplified text to another.

He goes on to say:

Personally—based on my own experiences as a primary grade teacher—I would use all of these kinds of text. My thinking then, and my thinking now, is that the way to prevent someone from being hurt by over dependence on a crutch is to employ a variety of crutches; deriving the benefits of each, while trying to minimize potential damages.

It is very reasonable to employ decodable texts. It gives kids a chance to practice their phonics in a favorable text environment—an environment in which there aren’t likely to be many words that can’t be figured out easily.

But those “experts” who claim that kids should only read such texts for some length of time (e.g., 2-3 years) are just making that stuff up (bolding is mine). Research is not particularly supportive of such an artificial text regime (Adams, 2009; Jenkins, et al., 2004; Levin, Baum & Bostwick, 1963; Levin & Watson, 1963; Price-Mohr & Price, 2018). “Teaching children to expect one-to-one consistent mapping of letters to sounds is not an effective way to promote transfer to decoding at later stages in learning to read” (Gibson & Levin, 1975, p. 7).”

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So that is what Shanahan had to say on the topic. Overall, he makes it clear that all the forms have limits and limitations, including those based on the views of some proponents of the Science of Reading.

What follows are MY reactions to and reflections on what he said.  The “radical middle” point of view I used in earlier blogs has relevance here. I’ve talked about this before. P.D. Pearson, who is credited with creating the gradual release model, coined the term. Here is what he says:

“Even though I find both debates interesting and professionally useful, I fear the ultimate outcome of both, if they continue unbridled by saner heads, will be a victory for one side or another.  That, in my view, would be a disastrous outcome, either for reading pedagogy or educational research. A more flattering way to express this same position is to say that I have always aspired to the Greek ideal of moderation in all things or to the oriental notion that every idea entails its opposite. Neither statement would be untrue, but either would fail to capture the enchantment I experience in embracing contradiction.

A second reason for living in the radical middle is the research base supporting it. I read the research implicating authentic reading and writing and find it compelling.  I read the research supporting explicit skill instruction and find it equally as compelling.  What occurs to me, then, is that there must be a higher order level of analysis in which both of these lines of inquiry can be reconciled. (bolding is mine)

 

My take is that since no one approach has all the answers since no one approach works with every kid every time, you must draw from and learn from each of the approaches. For instance, you should use all three kinds of books in your lessons. You should get people from each approach to talk with one another, learn from one another. That is the essence of my idea of a reading evolution #readingevolution1. https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/03/16/a-call-for-a-reading-evolution-no-its-not-typo-i-mean-evolution-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

 

There is a problem in that SOME advocates of Science of Reading are acting as if they have a method that works with every kid every time. They post information touting the power of systematic synthetic phonics.  They criticize anyone not using this method. An exemplary example of such a post is the famous Tsunami of Change post. It indicates what we currently do is ineffective and must go and be replaced. No one would argue with the thought that what is currently happening is ineffective. However, I must respectfully point out that SoL advocates taking this point of view have ignored one of the key tenets of scientific methodology. Simply put, if you are going to attempt to demonstrate a particular method doesn’t work, then you must take a scientific sample of folks using the method WITH FIDELITY.  Then report the results. Have they done that?  NO. They base their argument for change on everything going on currently. That includes districts that say they are using balanced literacy but actually don’t ( I prefer to talk about balanced literacy practices, more easily defined). It also includes districts using no effective methods at all. It even includes districts using SoL methods. When I make this last point, SoL advocates are quick to point out that to properly evaluate SoL, one must look at a sample of districts using SoL with fidelity. No argument there. BUT- that means we must do the same for balanced literacy (because BL is an umbrella term, hard to define, I recommend looking at selected constructivist-based methods). Until and unless that is done the current argument to get rid of everything is simply not justified.

 

Is there evidence that there are things out there, other than intense systematic synthetic phonics that are working? I always point out I had three different Title 1 projects I participated in in the mid-80s that won awards for being in the top 1/10 of one percent in achievement gains for projects of that era. Also, there is abundant research that demonstrates analytic phonics is the equal of synthetic phonics. Have the intense synthetic projects folks given us data that demonstrates their way works with almost every kid every time?  I issued a challenge about that.

 

https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/06/20/research-demonstrating-the-effectiveness-of-differentiated-instruction-one-size-does-not-fit-all-and-never-has-part-one-alternate-title-show-me-the-beef-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

 

No one has sent a link to research demonstrating that intense synthetic phonics works with almost every kid almost every time. Some SoL folks said I was being unreasonable because everyone knows such research doesn’t exist. My point exactly.

Am I saying there isn’t a place for intense systematic phonics? No, quite the contrary. I recommend trying synthetic phonics first (my blogging partner disagrees).  What I am saying is exactly what folks in the radical middle have been saying for a couple of decades. No one method works for every kid every time. That is most definitely a research-based statement.

For my thinking about what to do about this, please see the blog entry listed below. Be sure to check out all the blog entries cited at the end of this entry. They include my counter to the Tsunami of Change post https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/09/06/a-look-at-the-science-of-reading-movement-through-the-eyes-of-the-radical-middle-a-term-coined-by-pd-pearson-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

In the meantime, what should district-level decision-makers do? First and foremost, ask that any program being considered demonstrates reading comprehension gains (note I did not say decoding gains). Ask that it demonstrates those gains over several years. It’s a buyer beware situation when looking at programs that can only demonstrate decoding gains. Beginning with the NRP, we’ve known that the jump from decoding gains to comprehension gains is not automatic.

 

One of the more unique hats I’ve worn over the years is that of alderman in a small town. The mayor of that town was a colorful character, and he had a folksy down to earth way of saying things. One of the things he used to say is “If it aint’ broke, don’t fix it”.  Let’s not throw out methods that work and trade them for methods that work for some and not all. Let’s do learn from all the methods. It really is time for the #readingevolution1.

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle still taking flak from all sides)

 

P.S. for regular readers of this blog starting next week I will be doing interviews of authors who have written about various literacy topics. This entry closes out my entries around the reading wars, at least for a while.

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.

A look at the science of reading movement through the eyes of the radical middle (a term coined by PD. Pearson) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

reading-scrabble

A look at the science of reading movement through the eyes of the radical middle (a term coined by PD. Pearson) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

 

For readers unfamiliar with the term radical middle it was created by P David Pearson, who is best known as the creator of the idea of the gradual release of responsibility. To see exactly what Dr. Pearson has to say about the radical middle use this link http://twrctank.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Pearson-Radical-Middle.2001.pdf.  Part of what he has to say is this “I read the research implicating authentic reading and writing and find it compelling.  I read the research supporting explicit skill instruction and find it equally as compelling.  What occurs to me, then, is that there must be a higher order level of analysis in which both of these lines of inquiry can be reconciled.”  This idea dovetails nicely with an analysis I did of why the reading wars persist, see my blog from a year ago on the call for a reading evolution. So, in spite of proclamations that they could/should be over they clearly are not.

I want to speak directly to points currently being made by some advocates of the Science of Reading (SoR) claiming that since balanced reading his failed, and since the science of reading techniques have been proven so effective that it is time for advocates of balanced literacy to acknowledge that their day has passed, that their methods are ineffective, and they need to move on to a new and better way of teaching reading. There is a fundamental problem to that assertation. The logic goes like this. Current practices are not successful. Since balanced literacy is the most prevalent form of those practices, it follows that balanced literacy has not succeeded. For the purposes of this blog entry, I am taking the point of view that since balanced literacy is based on constructivist practices, and since there is no real consensus on what constitutes a well-done program of balanced literacy, that I will instead focus on effective constructivist practices.

There is considerable evidence that there are successful programs that use constructivist practices. SoR advocates say that because some children can and do learn regardless of what method is used that the success of constructivist practices (including balanced literacy programs) can be explained using this phenomenon. Nonsense. There are too many instances in which constructivist practices work for this to be the actual explanation.  Some constructivists may be lucky, but not that lucky! The actual explanation lies in the fact that the science of learning advocates failed to follow one of the time-honored practices of scientific research. That is, when evaluating a practice, one must draw a scientific sample of programs using practices with fidelity and then seeing what the results from that sample demonstrate. Otherwise what you’re looking at is a sample of programs not using constructivist practices at all, or using them poorly, or even some programs that are using SoR techniques. Normally when I make that last point, I get immediate response for SoR advocates saying that you have to look at the success of those SoR programs, you have to draw a sample. Exactly. Until and unless you do that same thing for constructivist practices from programs using constructivist practices with fidelity, the claim that constructivist practices have failed is unsubstantiated. I can begin by adding three different Title I programs I was involved in in the mid-1980s won national awards because the reading achievement improvement in each of those three was better than 99.8% of all program gains for Title 1 programs nationally. I call the results from programs like this the bumblebee effect.  According to some theories, the bumblebee cannot possibly fly. Yet it does. Likewise, the three programs I just cited should not have yielded exceptionally positive results. Yet they did. This really calls into question the degree to which the postings around how wrong these constructivist based practices are, really has any merit.

There has been an attempt to rewrite the history of reading. The scenario goes like this- constructivists were not doing enough phonics. When faced with that fact they gradually added analytic phonics to their programs, and this was too little too late. Interesting that when one looks at the history of literacy instruction written by individuals with strong credentials in reading no such event is recorded. See An Essential History of Current Reading Practices by Mary Jo Fresch.

In the SoR scenario Analytic phonics, which is often favored by constructivists, is touted as a weaker ineffective form of phonics instruction. The problem is a meta-analysis of the two methods show them to be equally effective. There are also attempts to prove that strong code-based approaches produce almost miraculous gains in reading achievement. The problem is the studies making those claims do not use a measure of reading comprehension. Instead, they use a test of decoding called the Dibels. Indeed, many of the studies do show a significant gain in decoding skills. Advocates act as if such gains automatically result in comprehension gains. Yet beginning with the National Reading Panel results, there is clear evidence indicating that gains in decoding ability do not automatically translate into gains in comprehension. It is a buyer beware situation. District decision-makers are cautioned to demand evidence of comprehension gains using instruments designed to specifically check for comprehension before adopting programs whether they be SoR or constructivist.

Where does that leave us? Here are some points to ponder.

Point to ponder one– I need to acknowledge that some of the things the SoR advocates are saying are actually quite accurate. For instance, the state of training preservice teachers in the teaching of decoding skills is not anywhere near where we want it. It does need to be improved and I blogged around this point before. Word of caution, I’m advocating including knowledge and providing materials around all ways of decoding, including both synthetic and analytic phonics.

Point to ponder two- a point made by Timothy Shanahan is that we are not doing enough teaching of decoding skills. This is a charge that needs to be taken quite seriously. In the past year, there’ve been some important developments in some of the constructivist-based approaches. Both Calkins and Fountas and Pinnell have added a phonics program to their programs. I had a chance to look over the Fountas and Pinnell program when I did in-servicing in Houston. It is a robust program and includes a strong orthographic component

Point to ponder three– The needs of students with a diagnosis of dyslexia are not being properly addressed. I have acknowledged any number of times that analytic phonics, which is often favored by constructivists, is not only ineffective for dyslexic children but has actually been shown to be harmful. A lesser-known fact is that the same thing can be said for some children when it comes to the use of the intense synthetic phonics programs. The social media abounds with anecdotal evidence to this effect. Since a single observation is enough to call a theory into question, this anecdotal evidence is sufficient for the moment to call into question the practice of using systematic synthetic phonics with every single child. My blogging partner, Dr. Kerns is currently researching the literature around this point.

Point to ponder four is that it is hard to understand how some of the current claims around the nature and prevalence of Dyslexia can be made.  This is from Shanahan’s blog

“But NRP found no statistically significant difference between synthetic phonics (teaching each orthographic/phonemic element and how to blend these together) and analytic phonics (teaching larger spelling units including syllables and rimes, or word analogies). Proponents of each get pretty heated, despite the fact that there is no evidence that their way is the only way or the best way to help kids to become readers.

The PBS report showed some video of kids being taught phonics by a multisensory approach (involving tactile-kinesthetic responses). Again, such approaches have fervent proponents, but not research evidence that has shown them to be better than any other approaches (nor any worse, I might add).

The best statement about quality phonics instruction that I’ve found is from the International Dyslexia Association. They don’t endorse any particular phonics product, but their instructional principles concerning structured phonics instruction are impeccable and sensible and, until we gain more empirical evidence, I think they should be the standard:

https://app.box.com/s/21gdk2k1p3bnagdfz1xy0v98j5ytl1wk

A look at that document yields the following statements:

  • Different kinds of reading and writing difficulties require different approaches to instruction. One program or approach will not meet the needs of all students.

 

  • Researchers are finding that those individuals with a reading specialist and special education licenses often know no more about research‐based, effective practices than those individuals with a general education teaching license. The majority of practitioners at all levels have not been prepared in sufficient depth to recognize the early signs of risk, to prevent reading problems, or to teach students with dyslexia and related learning difficulties successfully.

In addition, the problem around a proper screen for dyslexia is a large one.

In his Feb. 15th blog Shanahan has this to say:

“Meanwhile, if I were a kindergarten teacher I’d screen my students early in the year to see what they knew about reading…particularly examining their knowledge of letter names and sounds, their phonological awareness, and awareness of print features (the kinds of skills that Kilpatrick describes). My focus would be on knowledge of literacy rather than on underlying causes or correlates. Although Ozernov-Palchik and Gabrieli and Catts and Petscher’s insights are exciting and hopeful, they are not yet user-ready.”

My take on this- current screens for Dyslexia are “not yet ready for prime time”. It is hard to understand how pronouncements about the prevalence of Dyslexia can be taken seriously until a widely accepted screening device is developed.

 

A final look at things from the “Radical Middle”

Let’s revisit Dr. Pearson’s statement about the radical middle. “I read the research implicating authentic reading and writing and find it compelling.  I read the research supporting explicit skill instruction and find it equally as compelling.  What occurs to me, then, is that there must be a higher order level of analysis in which both of these lines of inquiry can be reconciled.”

I’ve made the point on multiple occasions that when asked to provide the “near 100%” study (a study demonstrating that science of learning approaches work with nearly 100% of all children) the SoR advocates have never been able to provide such a study. Several of them have admitted that it doesn’t work with everyone. In fairness, the very same point can be made for constructivist-based instruction. This brings us to the root of the quandary. It is a very simple proposition. Not all children learn the same. What works with one does not necessarily work with another. Even the statement from the Dyslexia organization agrees with that.

What I suggested in my reading evolution post was that we look into each of the approaches to learn what works when. At the end of the day armed with this information, it might very well be possible to put together a program at the district level that meets the needs of almost all the children. In the meantime, it makes no sense to abandon constructivist processes that are working. It does make sense to include intensive systematic synthetic phonics as A solution, not THE solution.

Part of my reason for getting involved in this current iteration of the great debate was because at a prominent social media site where very large numbers of practicing teachers gather, some of them were complaining that they were forced to actually throw away materials that worked for them and take on a boxed intense phonics program which they were not sure would actually raise reading comprehension scores. That is wrong on so many levels.

A final thought: Finding the ultimate roots of the great debate

Some folks writing around this topic have traced the roots of the great debate back several centuries. I want to submit that the roots go back even further than that. The roots are- Direct instruction (Science of Reading) vs Inquiry-based methods (Constructivism).  Ultimately it goes back to Aristotle (direct instruction) vs Socrates (inquiry).  I’ll add to this a firm reminder that in the current global economy we need students who can thrive using inquiry-based approaches. I seriously question whether that can be provided in a teaching environment that is exclusively direct instruction.

These two approaches have been around for a couple of millenniums. Neither has ever been supplanted by the other. Like Dr. Pearson, I speculate that there must be a higher order level of analysis in which both of these points of views can be reconciled. Until and unless that reconciliation occurs, we are effectively stuck in the middle. We need to pay attention to what all sides are saying and learn from what all sides are doing. It is time for a reading evolution. https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/03/16/a-call-for-a-reading-evolution-no-its-not-typo-i-mean-evolution-by-dr-sam-bommarito/ #readingevolution1

Let’s stop debating and let’s start dialoguing.

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle still taking flak from all sides)

My blogs around the reading wars:

https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/05/17/revisiting-three-posts-ive-made-about-the-reading-wars-a-synopsis-of-what-i-hope-will-become-a-reading-evolution-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/07/11/one-size-still-doesnt-fit-all-finding-the-middle-ground-in-the-reading-wars-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/08/23/musings-of-a-workshop-teacher-advice-i-just-gave-to-some-1st-grade-teachers-in-houston-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

Also see Mary Howard:

https://readingrecovery.org/taking-a-professional-stand-in-an-age-of-confusion/?fbclid=IwAR0F94nI9yc524W1uoihBsUdJNZCux8ZC8wqoho7JCzCvNZNWcEJccthy6o

 

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.