Fluency Part Two: Finding ways to use wide reading to scaffold young struggling readers into becoming lifelong readers by Dr. Sam Bommarito

(As previously indicated, I am now posting on Saturday mornings instead of Friday mornings)

Last week I talked about how Susan (pseudonym) wrote her very first book and talked about the success I had in getting her to begin doing a wide reading regimen. Remember, I am talking about a 1st-grade reader who, until now, was a virtual nonreader. Here is a recap of what was said last time:

Susan writes her very first book

The next step I used with Susan may come as a bit of a surprise. I began sending home Keep Books with her. These are leveled readers produced by Fountas and Pinnell. They are sold in bulk. They are very low cost (as low as .25 cents a book when bought in quantity). They are available from Ohio State University https://keepbooks.osu.edu/. I started her with some RR Level 1 and 2 books. Next week I will have a lot more to say about this teaching move.  After reading a couple of these books, with my help, Susan began publishing books (with my help). Here is what her latest one looks like:

Susan Sees One

Susan Sees THREE

Wide Reading for the Very Beginning Reader

This brings us to the most important point of this blog entry. It is possible for even the youngest readers to do wide reading. By giving them a beginning level (RR 1 & 2) to take home and read and by helping them write their own books, students like Ned and Susan quickly develop a large library of books. The books are rich in high-frequency words. The books they write themselves have many words from their listening vocabulary.  Last semester I worked with Ned (pseudonym). I took him through this very same sequence. Ned went from non-reader to reading on level and above this semester. His shoebox library (that’s where we keep all these books) now has over 50 titles. Ned and I had conversations around his favorite books in that library. In the course of that, I let Ned know that good readers often develop favorite books and favorite authors. I told him one of my very favorite authors is Eric Litwin.  Over the holidays, he asked his parents to by him a book by Eric. In our last session, Ned read that entire book to me on his own. That’s quite an accomplishment for one semester’s work.


This week I want to talk about the whys of doing what I’m doing with each of the three students who started out being struggling readers and are now making real progress.

 I am including goals for them that are often forgotten or ignored by some current approaches to helping struggling readers. One key goal is to take steps to ensure they will become lifetime readers. Not a surprise, given the title of my blog! What am I doing toward this end?

 Each of the readers has a shoebox library. They keep it at home and bring it to each session. It consists of copies of the books they made using Language Experience (they dictate the book; I write down what they say) and copies of Keep Books (Each session, I try to give them one or two books to take home and keep, https://keepbooks.osu.edu/).  They do daily rereads of these books. From the outset, when they come for their session, the first thing I do is ask them to pick their favorite book from this library and read it to me.  Sometimes they choose one of the Keep Books, which are predictable books published by F&P that are rich in high-frequency words. Other times it is one of their own books. The result is that students like Susan and Ned are not just learning all their high-frequency words. They are also learning that good readers have favorite books and favorite authors.  The fact that Ned brought the different Eric Litwin books he had purchased at a local library (they periodically sell their used books) to the session to show me he could now read them, indicates that the habits he developed using the controlled vocabulary books quickly transferred over to trade books. I would mention that both Eric Litwin’s books he bought are well above 1st-grade readability. Yet Ned is reading them fluently.  The fact that he wanted to buy them to keep forever speaks volumes about his progress as a lifelong reader. BTW I just read excerpts from one of the Pigeon books by Mo Willem to Ned as the first step in scaffolding Ned into learning that good readers often have more than one favorite author.

The lessons I am doing for all three children also contain a strong analogical phonics component.  See https://www.readingrockets.org/article/phonics-instruction for a quick overview of various ways to teach phonics. In the case of my kids, we make and break selected words from the story, teach sound-symbol relations, and use Elkonin boxes to help them learn about how the words work.  I use their word dictionary, where we write down the words they own, to track which sounds have been covered.

The reaction to last week’s blog was overwhelmingly positive. Many teachers told me of their success is using Language Experience and similar activities. However, it was also sad, because some of the teachers are reporting they are no longer allowed to use such methods and are being forced to use one size fits all scripted programs. It seems that in some places, we are forgetting the fundamental lesson taught by the First Grade Studies and subsequent work by Allington and others demonstrating that teachers make more difference than methods. I’ll have a lot more to say about this as we get closer to the Write to Learn conference at Lake of the Ozarks, Mo, where I will be presenting about the various aspects of the current round of the reading wars. If you are in the Midwest region, do consider coming to the conference. It is always a good one and includes speakers like Penny Kittle and Michael Bonner. Here are links to registration  https://web.cvent.com/event/bf32ad3e-cd74-4eaf-87b3-ca33a66b00fd/summary and to a blog describing all that is happening at the conference https://web.cvent.com/event/bf32ad3e-cd74-4eaf-87b3-ca33a66b00fd/websitePage:32e1f4f7-cf5d-45d7-8739-8861f69b4245. Hope to see some of you there!

Next time I will take up what the fluency component of our 1st and 2nd-grade program looks like. Until then- Happy Reading and Writing!

Dr. Sam Bommarito aka, a skillful scaffolder in search of creating lifetime readers

Copyright 2020 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 “Fluency Part Two: Finding ways to use wide reading to scaffold young struggling readers into becoming lifelong readers by Dr. Sam Bommarito

  1. DeGee Brown

    Thank you for this series of blogs. I really do find it frustrating that “the powers that be” are trying to replace good teaching (and/or teachers) with scripts. In my experience, the kids haven’t read those scripts so they don’t follow it.
    We need students who don’t just learn the mechanics but also the fun, excitement and joy found in reading and that’s only found in a variety of books of interest to the reader.

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      I completely agree! There is nothing better for students than a teacher who has learned a variety of methods and the freedom to carry those out within the boundaries of their district’s curriculum. Thanks for the comment!!!


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