Exploring the Science and Art of Teaching Reading
By Dr. Sam Bommarito
This is a repost of a piece I did when I first decided to try out the ideas of Tim Rasinski with my students. I spend one full day a week pushing into classes. I thought reposting this piece from a year ago would be a great introduction to the how and why of what we are doing this year to scaffold our first and second graders into reading with prosody. Pay special attention to the true story of a first-grade teacher and what she did. I’ve highlighted it in red. More to come next week as I talk about how this has evolved into a complete program of prosody
Reading is both an Art and a Science. Why on earth have we all seemed to have forgotten that? I’m just coming off an amazing evening that included the installation of the board and officers of our local ILA group in St. Louis, and listening to two outstanding speakers, Amanda Doyle- the author of Standing Up for Civil Rights in St. Louis and Tim Rasinski who was there to promote his newly released book The Megabook of Reading Fluency. My regular readers know I post every Friday. For the next few Fridays, I’ll be unpacking the many wonderful ideas that came from the speakers and audience at that meeting.
Let’s start with the big gun. Tim Rasinski. I got to introduce him. Didn’t know I was going to do that until the outgoing president of our local ILA said: “Sam, why don’t you introduce our second speaker.” OMG. What to say! Actually, it wasn’t very hard. Tim is a long-time friend of literacy in St. Louis. He is a former president of the IRA (now ILA), former editor of many prestigious journals, including the ILA’s research journal. He has enough publications to fill a room. Yeah, I said it that way- I was on the spot. But you know, it’s true. Most of all I described him as a major reading guru, well known for his work in fluency.
Let’s talk about fluency for a second. Tim doesn’t view fluency as speed reading (ugh!). He views it as prosody (yeah!). He has a prosody rubric that he makes available for free on his website. He also uses it in his own 3-minute reading assessment, which is also available on his website (http://www.timrasinski.com/) That one’s not for free! His new book contains a revised version of the rubric that includes the acronym E.A.R.S. to describe the major components of prosody. I’ve supported the use of the various forms of this rubric for a long time. This is because, in my opinion, it actually measures reading. I’m not at all sure what it is those tests that measure only the speed of reading measure. I guess they might help folks who want to become auctioneers. Not sure who else really reads or talks that way. But I digress. What about this idea of reading as an art as well as science.
I’ve heard Tim speak many times in many places. But this was the first time I’d heard him pitch the idea that READING IS AN ART AS WELL AS A SCIENCE. He made a very compelling argument. He made it clear that he supports the idea that the teaching of reading is a science. Given his background and publications, I find his claim that he believes that teaching reading is a science more than credible. However, my ears perked up though, when he started talking about the teaching of reading as an art as well. The more he talked, the more I realized that he was afraid it was becoming a lost art. What does the art of reading look like in the classroom?
Tim talked about several different classroom teachers he has encountered. One of them spent about half of her literacy time doing all the traditional scientific things, and the other half of the time having her children learn to read AND PERFORM poetry. Practice all week, performances on Fridays. She was a second-year primary teacher. She was getting major push back about “wasting” instructional time. The upshot- lots less art, lots more science, please. She wrote to Tim about that. He advised her to stay the course. She did. As a result, her classes’ end of the year test performance went up dramatically. She replicated the results the next year. She also became her state’s teacher of the year.
Readers, have I got your attention yet?
By next week I’ll have my own copy of Tim’s latest book (found it on Amazon Prime) and a chance to really look and think about both the ideas he presented Wednesday night in St Louis and about the content of his new book. (UPDATE Dec. 2019: The 1st and 2nd-grade teams and I are now using this book in this year’s project) A big thanks to Scholastic for sponsoring him. Just in the brief chance, I had to look at the book he brought with him and also looking at the online previews of the book I have become convinced that this book is destined to become the go-to handbook for teachers who want to do serious teaching around the concept of fluency. It’s packed full of practical lessons and a defense for using such lessons that can only be mounted by someone with Tim’s knowledge of fluency. It is a blueprint on how to use the art (and science) of reading to help kids become more fluent readers. For me, this means readers who read with prosody. It doesn’t mean readers who aspire to read fast, faster, fastest. Instead, it means readers who aspire to read with varied speeds, speeds appropriate to the text content and meaning, speeds that demonstrate an understanding of text meaning. In short, readers who read like storytellers. I predict the use of Tim’s rubric, and his lessons will go a long way toward helping to make that happen.
(NOTE TO READERS: Please read the previous single word paragraph in a voice drawn out slowly, emphasis on the first syllable and with real enthusiasm! 😊 Writer’s workshop note I learned the writer’s trick of single-word paragraphs for the purpose of emphasis from my writing workshop teachers many years ago. At this juncture, I just tried to meld that particular piece of writing craft with the concept of reading with prosody. I hope all that just had the desired effect).
So…, there will be more to come on this topic over the next few Fridays. For right now, I’m inviting my readers to wrap their heads around the idea that reading is both an art and science. Some of you have had this idea for a long time. For some, it may be brand new. Please understand that treating the teaching of reading as art can be justified. Treating it as an art can pay off in so many ways. According to Rasinski, one of those ways happens to include the possibility of better test scores. But it also includes so much more. I think Rasinski’s newest book will help you as a teacher to get into the art of teaching reading (and writing) while still using the science of reading (and writing). Some of the things he said in St. Louis made me feel I was back in a writer’s workshop seminar. You’ll see what I mean next week. Anyway, we REALLY need to talk more about all this over the next few weeks. As always, both push back, and praise are welcome. Have a good week!
Happy Reading and Writing
Dr. Sam Bommarito (A.K.A. Dr. B., newly minted “art” teacher & wanna-be storyteller who is learning how to read with a storyteller’s voice)
Here’s a little more information about Tim and his background: