History in the Making Part Two: Reflections about What Research Really Says About Teaching Reading- and Why That Still Matters by Dr. Bommarito

History in the Making Part Two: Reflections about What Research Really Says About Teaching Reading- and Why That Still Matters by Dr. Bommarito

Last week I gave highlights from what P.D. Pearson had to say. I shared some of the key slides from that presentation. This week I’ll talk about what Pearson and the rest of the panel had to say in the open discussion. No slides to fall back on this time, but I highly recommend a thorough summary of the whole program found on the ILA website.


In the description that follows, I’ll be using these highlights, my personal notes from the session, and my review of the session watching the archive feed that is currently still active on the ILA website. (I used my ILA membership’s credentials to log in to the website and then found the archive page. These archives will not be available indefinitely, so take advantage while they still are!).

The ILA recap reports the following:

According to Cabell, children start developing the skills they need for later literacy success from birth. Preschool teachers can help facilitate this at a young age by drawing children’s attention to print while they’re reading out loud, playing phonological games, and practicing writing in settings that inspire curiosity.

“Children must develop their language skills as early as possible,” said Cabell, “By the end of kindergarten children’s language skills start to stabilize. They grow in their skills, but really they are in the same place as their peers.”

MY REFLECTIONS: My wife is a parent educator, so I am very familiar with the importance of language development in the early years. I’ve presented it to her parent educator group. When I did, I promoted the idea of “Read to them, talk with them, act as if books are important-they are!”. The question came up during that session.  Can a really young child really interact with a book? One of the parent educators said “One time a Mom was wondering about that when the baby picked up the book, played with it, put it in her mouth (it was one of those you can)  and stayed engaged with it for several minutes. Guess she was meeting that book on her own terms and enjoying it!” Everyone had a good laugh about that. But the point is, if from the earliest encounters, books are treated as important to the parent then the child will usually also treat them as important. I asked them to be sure to make that point with the parents. One of Mem Fox’s famous sayings is “When I say to a parent, ‘read to a child,’ I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.” That is from her book about how reading to a child changes lives (and it can). Parents, parent educators, and preschool teachers can all have a hand in making sure all children get their fair share of that chocolate!

I spent over three decades in Title 1 programs working with children from both rural and urban areas. These were not always children who are read to or had books in the home. The first thing to do is really very simple. Read to them, help them discover the joy and wonder books can bring. In the process, make sure they get the background they need to understand the Concepts of Print. (print carries the message, moves left to right et al.)  My Reading Recovery training was invaluable in helping me to do that as a teacher. Later on, as a staff developer, I tried to help my teachers develop that selfsame skill set. Moving on to teaching reading without first establishing the concepts about print is an exceptionally bad idea. The child needs the schema the Concepts of Print provides before moving into print instruction.

What if the parent can’t read? Linda Mitchell, a member of our local ILA group has an innovative answer to that. She tells of her own mom, who couldn’t read. Even though she couldn’t read every day, she pretended to read the paper to Linda. This taught Linda the importance of print. Linda reports that in the process of imitating, she became a reader. This led to forming the Imitation Read Metro Reach Literacy Project a project that encourages parents to read to their children. Part of what she does is to give the parents books to take home for themselves. Read all about it using these links:  https://metroeastliteracyproject.blogspot.com/p/the-imreading-initiative.html?m=1 https://vencafstl.org/event/harnessing-imitation-to-boost-reading-achievement-metro-east-literacy-project-2/

I would be remiss if I did not talk about the problem of book deserts. Book deserts are zip codes where most children don’t have books at home. There are several projects aimed at ending book deserts.

Molly Ness, the primary author of the ILA position paper on Read Alouds, has a wonderful podcast that tells of many ways that folks are currently getting books into the hands of children in the book deserts. The podcasts are more than just a report about book give away programs. They are designed to encourage the growth of even more such programs. She already has 14 podcasts online,  https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/end-book-deserts/id1471803313. Have a listen to one of them, please!

Our state ILA got involved in book giveaways when the ILA Convention came to St. Louis a few years back. ILA arranged for vendors to donate the books they didn’t take home to the state ILA. We rented warehouse space with help from national. Eventually, more than 20,000 books got into the hands of children in book deserts. That figure is higher than the number of books donated by vendors. The reason is we learned the tricks of how to get even more books out from a St Louis organization known as Ready to Learn, which used the same warehouse space we did to store and process books for giveaways.

Ready to Learn has gotten over a quarter of a million books into the hands of children in book deserts, mainly those attending Title 1 schools in the Northern part of the St. Louis region. Find them on Facebook at @readytolearnstl.

St. Louis Black Authors, headed by St Louis ILA board member Julius Anthony, is also into the business of getting books into the hands of children. Read all about their Believe project using this link http://stlblackauthors.com/.  They now have five different well-stocked bookrooms designed to be a place where children can come and read books written by St. Louis Black Authors members and other culturally relevant books. One of them is at the Ferguson Community Center. They are amazing, inviting places complete with comfortable chairs et al. and meaningful murals on the wall done by local black artists.


I wrote a blog about Ready to Learn and St. Louis Black Authors a little over a year ago (before the Believe project). Here is the link https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/04/06/getting-books-into-the-hands-of-children-part-two-of-three-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

All the preceding projects speak to the issue of creating a culture of literacy inside the areas known as book deserts. I was the parent liaison for my Title 1 program (extra duty on top of teaching) for ten years. I found parents in urban areas are more than willing to get involved. We started out with 2 or 3 parents coming to our events. We ended up with 200-300 people coming. The trick was finding parent leadership and following their lead. We had ice cream socials, flashlight reads in the gym, and book exchange nights. The common thread in all this is creating a culture of literacy with the help of parents. It includes helping to make sure that children get the talk and reading experiences that build the skills Cabell talks about. It means bringing Kindergarten back to its original purpose, a Children’s Garden, where children come to learn through play. There are strong movements within the Early Childhood Community to do exactly that.  See this link to get started into exploring those movements https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/05/why-young-kids-learn-through-movement/483408/

That covers what I have to say about the early childhood part of the discussion. I focused on the need to build a culture of literacy as an important part of any literacy program. This culture of literacy helps to create the situations needed for students to get the early print experiences that are crucial for literacy development.  Next time, in part three, I will pick up the rest of the session’s discussion, especially what was said about comprehension.

Until then Happy Reading and Writing

Please remember the 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/

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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