Monthly Archives: March 2020

Advice to teachers: Effective ways to promote literacy: Part two of the new normal series by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Advice to teachers: Effective ways to promote literacy: Part two of the new normal series by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Last week I talked about the new normal. This week I’d like to share some ideas and resources I’ve come across as I dived into distance learning this week and also talk about some of the things I’m doing with the kids I tutor individually. Regular readers know I am an advocate of balanced literacy (click here for my views).  Reading ought to be fun and engaging. It ought to be all about meaning-making. Our instruction should be done in a way that helps to create students who are lifelong readers- readers who want to read. I always think of what Mem Fox, one of my favorite children’s authors, had to say : ‘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’s excellent advice for everyone. I always try to teach reading in a way that keeps that in mind. Look at what I found on my sidewalk this week:

I LOVE He started out this year as a 1st-grade non-reader, who knew his letters but could not read. He is now reading on the second-grade level, has a favorite author- Eric Litwin, and recently read through one of Eric’s books for me reading like a storyteller. Here are some key things I did with him from the get-go and for the last two weeks, I was able to still do all these things while using Go To Meeting:

CHOICE- For the purposes of this discussion, I will call him Jake (a pseudonym). Every week Jake dictated a book to me, and I made a copy of the book for him to take home to read. This was always about something he wanted to talk about. Every week Jake got to pick Keep Books to take home. He now has a huge shoebox library full of books. Jake has read and reread these books many many many times!  I always start each session by asking him to pick his favorite keep book to read, and then his favorite book from those he wrote.  In this time of distance learning, I simply ask him to read his copy from the shoebox library while I follow along in my office with my copy of the same book.

DAILY READING- From the outset, he would read daily. At first, it was with level A (level 1) Keep Books and short phrases that he wrote down. At first, the sentences he wrote down were inspired by the Keep Books he was reading. Later his stories became more complex and we turned them into actual books.  Once again- I was still able to write down what he said and make new books. I’ll be writing about how I did that next week.

Keep Books

One of the dangers of using short texts like these is that what often happens is the child simply memorizes the whole book. I let Jake know from the outset that when he read the book back to me, I expected him to know which word was which. “Make it match, don’t make it up, that is what to do. Make it match don’t make it up, you’ll read your story true!”.  Matching meant that he had to point to each word as he read. “If you see three words, say three words, if you see five words, say five words.”  Matching also means say the word that is there not some other word that might make sense. For instance, if he said I see the ball instead of I see the balloon, I would prompt by saying, “Ball makes sense, but are those the right letters for ball?  Looks like there are extra letters “loon,” say all the sounds. OR I could also prompt- ball makes sense, but those are not the right letters for ball. What other word starts with <b> and goes with the picture? Jake knew that once he could read the book to me, it was his to keep. He could write his name in the back. He could color the pictures in the book. The book became part of his shoebox library.  On some of the miscued words, I would have him make and break the word using magnetic letters.  Keep Book sets of various sizes are available at

SIMPLE COMPREHENSION CHECK- The danger with doing comprehension checks is that if you overdo asking literal level questions, you can send the wrong message about what reading is all about. My first questions are always, did you like the book? What was your favorite part? Unfortunately, these are often questions that never get asked.  Making it a habit to always ask these questions first, makes it more likely the students will be willing to get engaged in other kinds of questions you need to ask them, What are some of those other kinds of questions?

For storybook stories, I taught Jake these little rhymes “You may have said it, but you haven’t read it until you tell me the characters, the problem, the solution.” For informational books, I would say, “If it’s true, tell what’s new.” The point of that rhyme is that if you are reading a book with lots of facts- which facts are the facts you didn’t know before you read the book? One of my other students taught me a lesson about this. I didn’t realize there were ugly sharks and blobfishes. He did. Here are two pages from his book he called “Strange Things.”  When we download pictures to use in the books, I always set the filter to creative commons license.

Strange things




READ ALOUDS – I’m encouraging all the students I work with to listen to and think about some of the many read alouds that are coming online now. Listening to Read Alouds followed up by a simple comprehension check can be a powerful combination. Here are some of my favorite sites:

David Harrison




Mrlibraryman is a private Facebook group. Kevin Boozer does an excellent job of providing daily read alouds. Here is what he said about how to join the group:

Please use this link to access the group. You will need to agree to join the group and then wait for an admin to confirm you. Thank you for doing your best to be kind and help the rest (of us) and do your best to follow publisher guidelines.

 For the love of learning and books, Kevin Boozer, media specialist AKA @MrlibrarymanSC


Eric Litwin is a talented author and song composer. He writes many books that are also sung. His website has many videos, including videos based on singing his books. You can reach his site using this link:


Also, Eric has a link about how to share his books during social distancing. He gives details on what each of his three major publishers ask for when teachers make read-aloud videos to share:


I am the president of the Missouri Literacy Association, an affiliate of the International Literacy Association. It has new posts daily from educators giving inspirational messages, tips, and resources. There have been several posts lately about various authors, famous people doing read alouds. Please do have a look at our Facebook page each day! @mscira


A little bit of fun. A very long time ago I was a Title 1 teacher/staff developer and the parent liaison for my building. During that time I wrote several songs to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s’ reading. This week I posted one of those songs to YouTube. Have a listen- hope you enjoy it!

Read Me a story jpg

In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking more about distance learning and I hope to add some permanent resource pages to this blog. Until next week- happy reading and writing.


Dr. Sam Bommarito aka the new distance learning guy

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.

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




Adapting to the new reality in literacy, using technology to promote a blended approach to literacy education by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Adapting to the new reality in literacy, using technology to promote a blended approach to literacy education by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Words and phrases like coronavirus, COVID-19, the new normal, self-quarantine, social-distancing, and cancelation of all school classes are quickly reshaping the landscape of the world, including the world of literacy education. As a leader of both a local and state-level literacy organization, I found myself having to announce the canceling of end of the year events and advising members to take all the precautions necessary to slow the advance of the pandemic. There is a groundswell of people caring about others and trying to figure out ways they can best help. I have friends whose children are in the medical field, working in E.R.’s, the de facto front line of the current situation.  My friends are rightly concerned, but quite proud of what their children are doing.

My wife and I are both in education- she works in the Parents as Teacher program at a local district, and I continue to do a variety of literacy work, including spending one full day a week at an elementary school. Both of us are at an age where we are considered part of the high-risk group who should be strictly limiting their contact with others. Where does that leave us as educators?  What viable options are there for us? Both of us are about to join other educators who are using technology to try to reach our students. Next week I will be doing virtual lessons with the students I tutor individually using Go to Meeting, and I will also be continuing to help the 1st through 3rd-grade students I work with using the Raz-Kids program.  I want to talk a little about what I’m going to try to do to carry out this cyberlearning. I want to be sure it is done in a way that maximizes the development of lifelong readers and writers (as per the title for this blog).

I’ll start with the reminder that technology is a tool, and like all tools, its impact depends on how it is used.  Seymour Papert, a pioneer in the use of technology in education, viewed computers as “tools of the mind.”  His book Mindstorms is still worth reading even today.  Some of my colleagues fear that doing cyberbooks will not result in authentic reading. Today I’ll make the case that cyberbooks can and should be part of the “new normal” that is beginning to develop in the world of literacy. Let’s talk a bit about what the new normal is starting to look like at the Bommaritos.

The past two days in the Bommarito household have been spent learning the ins and outs of getting in contact with people using Zoom and/or Go to Meeting. We’ve both done practice runs, contacting each other, and some of our educator friends who are in the same boat. We are learning to set the screen image up, learning how to have a face to face conversation using the new tools and gadgets. Still learning. It has been a “keep the faith,” do what you can do kind of endeavor. At the moment, we can contact folks using e-mail, they open the e-mail on their device of choice. The device has the Zoom or Go to Meeting already downloaded. They click on the link, and voila, we are now face-to-face and talking.  This morning we learned that it might be possible to skip the e-mail part and do a direct phone contact. Stay tuned on that- and BTW, if any of my techi friends out there already know whether or not that is possible and how to do it, please do chime in with a comment. After all, this has evolved into a learn by doing situation.

So, we can now have face to face conversations with folks in real-time. What to do, what to say. I’ll tell you about my plans for next week. I’ll be contacting the parents and kids I work with individually.  They will be there along with their child. I’ll be trying out doing my lesson face to face with them. In my case, I’ve gotten a license for Go To Meeting, and I will be contacting them with that software. I will be talking to my kids about what they are reading. So, what are they reading (and why)?

They all have Keep Books. I’ve given them a whole collection of Keep Books. You’ll remember that Keep Books are the brainchild of Fountas and Pinnell and can be ordered on-line in sets from Ohio State University.


Keep Books are predictable texts. As you can see from the picture, they are small and inexpensive. They are rich in high-frequency sight words, the kind of words found on the Dolch List or Fry List. Every week since we started, each child has gotten to pick a Keep Book to read for the week. They get to put their name in the book. They add it to their shoebox library. They bring that library to their sessions, and the session always begins by asking them to pick the favorite keep book so far and read it to me, reading like a storyteller.  They know when they read that I will always be checking to see that they know which word is which. For each of the three children I’m working with, one critical problem they had at the start was that they had no real concept of what a word was. Before I started working with them, they were memorizing their little books and/or making up stories using the pictures from the book. They now know which word is which they pay attention to the letters in each word and they know how to figure out their own words. They are proud of the fact they can do that.  When they miscue (and they sometimes do!), my typical prompt is to say, “does that look like xxxx? Are those the right letters for xxxx?. That prompt usually results in an immediate self-correction. Keep Books are not the only books they are reading and rereading.

A second significant set of books they are reading and rereading are books from the Raz Kids program. This is what the kids see when they log on:


The “LEVEL UP” room contains books at their current decoding level. I ask them to read at least two of these each week. The reading room includes books at various decoding levels. Once they’ve done at least two books from the level up room- I let them know they can choose any texts they want from the reading room. Starting this week, I’ll be asking them to record themselves reading one favorite Raz Kid book. The program allows me to review those recordings while looking at the actual text they read from. I’ll be talking to each of them about their favorite Raz Kids book so far

Then there is their collection of books they made using Language Experience (I write down what they say. Together we find creative commons pictures on-line to add to their book. Here is one sample:


Finally, I ask students about their favorite trade book.  Recently one of the boys I’ve been working with since the start of the year was able to read the entire Eric Litwin book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes.


The bottom line to all this is that the students I work with individually have a very large collection of books that they read and reread. They have a choice about which ones to reread. They know that when they read, they should “make it match, don’t make it up.” They know they should be reading like storytellers. Most of all, they are learning the importance of having favorites. They are reading from a variety of different kinds of books, including cyberbooks.   In the next few weeks, I’ll be trying to replicate the lessons I’ve been doing with them in person using my face to face on-line program.  BYW, yes, there is a systematic phonics component, using analytic phonics lessons based on their rereading of favorite books.  I will let you know how all this goes.


Doctor Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy learning to teach again, using the “new normal”)

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.

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.



Taking the middle ground in the reading wars: Reactions to last week’s post and presentation By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the Blog

Taking the middle ground in the reading wars: Reactions to last week’s post and presentation

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The reaction to last week’s blog post and presentation about taking the middle ground in the reading wars was overwhelmingly positive. The blog post had over 1000 views. Here a couple of the many comments made around the post:

Judi said “Thanks, Dr. Sam! A voice of reason in the war zone…. a war of words and a swinging pendulum doesn’t get the job done. Too many children are losing out as we waste precious energy fighting our corner. Teach child children to read the way it works for you and for them. Learn from others, share what works and most importantly celebrate success! Grow and nurture children who will read for pleasure for the rest of their lives.”

Christina said “Yes!!! I agree completely! Thank you for posting this.”

Abagail took issue with the success I credited to some SOR folks who have helped some Dyslexic children. She gave additional facts and information that clearly demonstrate that the methods advocated by some of the SoR proponents are not even close to the cure-all they are sometimes made out to be.

“There is no data showing the structured, sequential phonics approach to be more effective for dyslexic learners than other approaches.  For a summary of research status for various school-based interventions, see: 

University researchers who have focused on developing programs for dyslexia have taken other directions, such as Rave-O program developed at Tufts University by Dr. Maryanne Wolf, which is based on comprehensive, meaning-focused word study.

Given that most dyslexic children would benefit from ANY extra help, it is probable that most dyslexic children given specialized tutoring of any kind would show some level of improvement, but dyslexic children in particular also need strong focus on reading comprehension, fluency, and sight word recognition — otherwise they get stuck in a pattern of slow, effortful decoding rather than developing the strengths that characterize older dyslexics who later become capable readers. See  “

Now I want to encourage all educators who believe there are many paths not just one, and especially those who know how well-balanced literacy has worked in many settings to push for a combination of using Common Sense and Common Practices.  We’ve never ever tried letting the pendulum stop in the middle. Let’s do try and see what happens. I predict that what will happen is that many students will be helped and educators from all points of view will learn from each other. Please do share your ideas along these lines, #readingevolution1.

NEW ADDITION TO THIS BLOG- My response to the question of what to do about states that have already adopted the SoR methods advocated by some SoR folks:

“Read the information in last week’s post. Plenty of counters to the public relations campaign. Should be using them in states that have not adopted. In those that have- monitor results CAREFULLY. Make sure they are not allowed to use tests of decoding as proof of success. Their methods of doing things are likely to create at least some word callers. Make sure all state legislators are aware of the fact that word callers are a significant source of low test scores. As these problems are discussed ask that any analysis of BL to use a scientific sample of BL districts using the best of BL practices with fidelity.

On more additional response based on what DeGee said- “You really summed up things nicely when you said “What is truly needed is dedicated, educated, well-trained teachers who have on-going professional learning backed up with on-going support. These teachers need to be free to use all the resources at their disposal and all their learning to make decisions about what is best for the students in their classrooms. These teachers are the professionals and as such should be given the freedom to design lessons and interventions for their students because they know their students best.”

The push-back to their cherry-picked views has begun. They’re writing checks that I predict they won’t be able to cash. The key is that ANYONE advocating for any method must show that the method can produce improved REAL comp results. Hold ALL to that standard and I think in the long run the situation will improve. Push for methods that help comprehension as measured by state tests (see Nell K. Duke‘s work that I cited last week). an actually measure comp and do so over several years. Hope this helps.”

Next week I will start talking about some of the wonderful things I learned at the Write to Learn conference in Missouri, beginning with my thoughts about the writing ideas of Nic Stone, who I got to meet and talk with at the conference.

Until then- Happy Reading and Happy Writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, still the one in the middle willing to take flak from all sides)

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.

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.