Monthly Archives: May 2020

Finding Meaning: The Best Path to Find Joy in Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Finding Meaning: The Best Path to Find Joy in Reading


Dr. Sam Bommarito



Before moving on to the topic of the Three Cueing Systems (we’ll do that next week), I’d like to deal with a comment made by one of my readers in the last blog post. The comment was as follows:

“I’m very interested in this series of articles. I wonder if my brother was taught with the decoding and then comprehending philosophy. He is VERY intelligent but doesn’t like to read. He does not “make pictures in his head” when reading. It’s like he can tell you what he read, but there’s no depth or soul to it.”

I’ll first note that some, not all of the advocates of the science of reading, have moved to what I consider a rather extreme view of the reading process. That view is that reading and decoding are completely separate. First, the reader must learn to decode. That means an intense program of synthetic phonics. Once the reader can decode the message, the reader can then use their listening comprehension skills to understand the message. The texts used by teachers in this scheme of reading instruction are decodable texts. The emphasis of the instruction in this initial phase is on decoding, not on comprehension. This view does include comprehension as one of the five pillars of reading instruction, but comprehension is not possible until decoding is mastered completely. At the extreme, the decodable text used in this kind of instruction borders on nonsense writing.  To be fair, as more decodable texts have been published, some of those texts do have meaningful elements.  However, when Dr. Tim Rasinski presented in St. Louis two years ago LINK TO BLOG, he read an example using such a decodable text. He made the point that with this text, readers could only interact at the lowest level of comprehension. By contrast, the beginning text he used, in this case, a poem, did allow readers to interact at the higher levels of comprehension. He advocated teaching readers to read with prosody. Fluency involved more than the reading rate (speed).  He saw prosody as the gateway to comprehension.  My take is that he views reading as a complex process that focuses on meaning-making.

Not all advocates of the science of reading agree with this extreme position, decode first, then use listening comprehension to understand what you have decoded. For instance, Dr. Tim Shanahan, in a recent blog, cited considerable research to show there is more to reading comprehension than just listening comprehension. However, when teachers use the decode first, comprehend later philosophy as their base, there is a very real danger that they will create students who fit the profile of my follower’s brother “he can tell you what he read, but there’s no depth or soul to it.” My take- he can interact with text at the literal level, but does not want to, or perhaps doesn’t know how to interact with text at the higher levels of comprehension.

If you want to create lifelong readers, it is critical that from the very beginning, the text read by children is meaningful. That is step one in making reading joyful for your students. I recently blogged about using Language Experience- the teacher writes down what the student says, then uses that text for future readings  LINK TO BLOG. Early in my teaching career, I began asking my youngest students to “talk big about little books.” In order to do this I made sure that even at the very beginning levels, books, and poems I used allowed the reader to do more than simply recall what is said. For instance, how did this poem make you feel (happy, sad, mad), what kind of person is Mrs. Wishy Washy (kind, mean, silly), what kind of voice should I use when reading the part of the big bad wolf (deep, mean, high pitched, nice).  The whole point of reading is getting the message. The message directly impacts how you should decode the word and what you should sound like as you do. Bill Kerns’s blog last week about dual coding brought that idea home forcefully.

I’ll end with two ways to go about things. One way is to take your medicine (lots and lots of skill and drill). Then let a spoon full of sugar help the medicine go down, i.e., try to make the skill and drill a little bit fun and engaging. The other way is the way Mem Fox suggested.

“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.”

I highly recommend the latter approach. When you are working with younger children, use readings that have real meaning for the child, readings that allow you to let them “talk big about their little books.” If you do, you will have taken the important first step in bringing joy into their reading lives.

Next week I will take up the issue of the Three Cueing Systems. Until then, happy reading and writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. the joyful reading 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.

Dual Coding and the Importance of Imagery for Reading Comprehension  by Dr. William Kerns

This week my blogging partner Bill Kerns sets the stage for discussing models of reading that are contrary to the simple view of reading. Lately, some advocates of the simple view of reading have proposed models where decoding and reading are completely separate processes. First the reader decodes, then the readers use their listening comprehension skills to make sense of the message.  Obviously, not all researchers concur. This entry is the first in a series of entries that will explore research-based alternatives to the proposition that decoding and reading are completely separate processes.

Dual Coding and the Importance of Imagery for Reading Comprehension 

by Dr. William Kerns

            Reading is a complex process that involves social and cultural influences, background knowledge, emotional and cognitive as well as physiological factors, and the processing of sensory detail. This blog will address strategies for building literacy skills through big books and graphic novels. In this COVID-19 era with instruction increasingly online, discussion of ways that technology and imagery influence literacy and meaning-making is timely. Grounding the blog is research from dual coding theory.

Dual coding theory (Paivio, 2007) gives equal weight to verbal and non-verbal processing. According to dual coding theory, any understanding of the how students read, or best practices for literacy instruction, which fails to adequately account for both verbal and non-verbal processing is incomplete. The theory proposes that there are two cognitive subsystems at work when we read. One specializes in representation and processing of nonverbal objects and events (i.e., imagery). The other specializes in representation and processing of language. Thus, by implication, when a reader makes sense of words printed on a page and related imagery, this comination helps them understand the text in a more nuanced way. Dual coding theory is widely used in the research into ways of delivering information through both verbal and non-verbal means to increase memory in areas such as vocabulary and comprehension of texts (Mayer,1997). A key advantage offered by combining the use of imagery with words in text is that students will increase their level of attention they use to examine both (Boers et al., 2017).

Three types of processing should be accounted for by teachers when instruction is informed by dual coding theory. First is representational processing, which involves the direct activation of verbal or non-verbal representations. Secondly, referential processing is the activation of the verbal system by the nonverbal system or vice-versa. Finally, in associative processing, the reader activates representations within the same verbal or nonverbal system.  Any given literacy task may require any one of the subsystems, or a combination of the processing subsystems. The implication for teachers is that literacy instruction should involve planning, implementing, and evaluating the effectiveness of how to foster the increasingly skillful use of each of these three processing, involving both verbal and non-verbal means. Dual coding theory holds that images on a page are an important aspect of processing a text and teachers should plan ways of including images within literacy instruction.

A word of caution is needed here prior to proceeding. Sensory memory has a limited storage capacity and readers can be easily distracted from a text by imagery. Readers are more likely to pay attention to information if it has an interesting feature. They also are more likely to pay attention if the information activates a known pattern or calls to mind relevant prior learning. Thus, readers only possess a limited capacity for attention. As a reader attends to information, the information enters short term memory. Only a limited amount of inform can be held in short term memory at once. When using imagery with text, bear in mind that the amount of information that can be processed without reaching a point of overload is constrained. If the imagery is too distracting, causing for example a student to pay attention to the imagery instead of the words in the text, it can inhibit comprehension of text, so be careful here. Skilled readers are selective and strategic in what they pay attention to and why, but it is also important for teachers to guide students in the use of these strategies and the monitoring of the reading strategies. This spells out why it is so vital to teachers to point out details, and help developing or struggling readers to be strategic and well-focused, minimizing potential distractions from comprehension of a text.

Picture books and graphic novels become a vital aspect of literacy instruction from a dual coding framework, and during this pandemic many teachers share the reading of these books online. The picture book should contain the same elements found in any good children’s literature if used with children (importantly, some picture books are aimed at adolescents and adults) while a graphic novel shared with adolescents should include elements present in good Young Adult literature. Both picture books and graphic novels should have strong visual appeal with good quality illustrations. Print should well-spaced for readability. Picture books contribute to visual literacy development which is the ability to understand, interpret and appreciate the meaning of visual messages, as well as effectively communicate and produce visual messages. Picture books and graphic novels can be used in the literacy and English language arts classroom to help students make gains in understanding concepts about print, the parts of a book, and different genres.

Repeated reading techniques along with choral reading of a picture book can improve fluency. The study – and better yet, lively discussion – of words within a picture book can improve a student’s phonics and phonemic awareness, understanding of grammar and conventions, vocabulary, and comprehension. Importantly, by varying the way that words are studied, teachers help students develop the following four types of vocabulary: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Students can also use these books as anchors in writing workshops while they develop their own writing skills. Make sure that you are integrating the six language arts (listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and visually representing) in meaningful ways that are linked together rather than isolating the six language arts from one another.


Boers, F., Warren, P., Grimshaw, G., & Siyanova-Chanturia, A. (2017). On the benefits of multimodal annotations for vocabulary uptake from reading. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 30(7), 709–725


Mayer, R. E. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking the right questions? Educational Psychologist, 32(1), 1–19


Paivio, A. (2007). Mind and its evolution: A dual coding theoretical approach. Erlbaum.


Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito and Dr. William Kerns. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of the 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

Practicing Love for Students and Love for Yourself by Dr. William Kerns

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Special thanks to Dr. William Kerns for this insightful blog entry. For me personally, this entry could not have come at a better time. This week my wife’s mom passed away. Her mom was in her 90’s and had a rich and full life. Still, that kind of thing is never easy and was made worse by the realities of a new normal as they impacted both the wake and funeral. On the brighter side, the family was able to make up for some of the restrictions by selected use of Zoom meetings and by having the services streamed to friends and family. Bill knew all this was happening and wrote this entry so that writing for my blog was off my plate this week. So- Bill definitely practices what he preaches.  I want to thank him again for this thoughtful and timely entry.  I’m getting by with a little help from my friends. So, all of you, take care of yourselves so you can do a better job of taking care of your kids. Be Safe and Be Well. See you next week- Dr. Sam   

Practicing Love for Students and Love for Yourself by Dr. William Kerns 

 Time to take a deep breath. And exhale. I have no doubt at all that every teacher reading this blog is deserving of gratitude. And the best dessert that you want. Maybe chocolate cheesecake or blueberry pie. If you are reading this on a Saturday morning, the least you deserve is a strong cup of rich coffee and some pancakes. Time to destress. In this blog entry, I will address self-care and trauma-informed instruction in the context of literacy instruction. An ethic of care (see Katz et al., 1999) frames this blog, one which promotes meaningful connections between teacher and student, between student and family, and among students.

We cannot bury or ignore that we are each going through a trauma, defined by the American Psychiatric Association (2013) as experiencing, witnessing, or being confronted with actual or threatened death or serious injury, or threatened physical integrity of self or others. Trauma is experienced when an event exceeds normal coping skills. The pandemic is an adverse childhood experience for students. For all we know, students may be living in conditions aggravated by such additional adversity as maltreatment, the experience of or witnessing of violence, or the loss of a loved one. So, at the core of trauma informed instruction is an emphasis on responding to what has happened to a child instead of focusing on what is wrong with the child.

Each of us are also coping with trauma-induced stress. Children can be ill-equipped to handle responses to trauma that may include fear, horror, helplessness, disorganization, and agitation. In fact, it would not at all surprise me if many of the teachers reading this blog have likewise recently experienced some combination of these responses. It is, therefore, crucial that we practice trauma informed instruction and self-care. Trauma informed instruction involves understanding the impact of trauma on cognitive development and learning, understanding the impact of trauma on socio-emotional development, and understanding the impact on behavior. Meanwhile, self-care involves developing the practices of maintaining mental, emotional, and physical health even during times of adversity.

We need to face the distinct possibility that many students and teachers are trying to cope with toxic stress, a “strong, frequent, or prolonged activation of the body’s stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection of a supportive, adult relationship” (Shonkoff et al., 2012). The pandemic appears to be far from over, and some students may have unstable homes. This poses a challenge, because repeated traumatic experiences lead to an over-release of stress hormones and to an over-reactive stress system.

Not only are each of your students going through trauma with the pandemic, but marginalized groups often do share a history of trauma from which we can learn. Making connections with students is important. May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, so you might consider incorporating themes to honor Asians and Asian-Pacific Americans within the curriculum. English Language Arts and Literacy classrooms, even online, can provide a lens through which victims of trauma can explore topics through material that is emotional and relevant (Dutro 2019). You could also incorporate themes of African Americans, or of Latinx peoples. The key here is to be honest. Open. Dialogue about shared pain, about common experiences, but also about experiences in life that are quite different. We can learn so much by listening.

The process of truly listening to another opens the door for empathy. As we strive to be there for students, we must also be there for ourselves, practicing self-care. Like me (in all honesty) many of you may be experiencing symptoms of trauma. The lack of sleep, restlessness which can also become a type of hyperactivity, heightened sense of emotional arousal that can be exhibited in feelings of highs (joy, exhilaration) that are too high, and lows (sadness, anger) that are way too low. The cravings for foods and in my case for chia banana smoothies is also part of stress. Focus can be a struggle. If we are going to exercise self-care, I recommend that we start by being trauma-sensitive through recognizing what has happened to us rather than feeling guilty about what may be wrong with us.

I find myself highly focused for stretches at a time, but also taking long walks to regain focus. I might also pace around trying to regain focus. I find myself avoiding topics that distract me from work. All of this is a normal response to trauma, many of you might be able to relate. It is forgivable if you may have made mistakes – a lost temper with a loved one, a wasted day dealing with anxiety or sadness that later seems overblown, but such things can also cause damage.

We can each choose to act with love toward our students even when we are emotionally burned out and physically exhausted. Love as both an emotion and a moral choice (Bransen, 2006). We can feel love. We can also make the choice to act with love toward one another. This choice can carry us through times with the experience of trauma negatively impacts mastery of the teaching craft, confidence to perform instructional duties, and even a sense of professional identity. Don’t be surprised if at some point you and your students alike may find yourselves distancing from social connections (friends, colleagues, even loved ones) or lacking confidence to maintain control over emotions, this too is a natural aspect of coping with trauma (Brock et al., 2006).

Forgive yourself please and forgive students (or friends, loved ones) who may have made mistakes. Be honest with yourself and be honest with students. You are only human. This can lead to shared stories of pain and vulnerability. It can also lead to shared stories of strength. Love for students as people, and faith in your abilities to perform instructional tasks skillfully, can help to overcome the deleterious effects of this traumatic time. In the process, students benefit from the example. So, you can model for students how you find the strength to carry on during hard times.  This can lead into reading literature with characters who likewise face difficulties and find strength to overcome trauma.

The importance of social support at the time of a traumatic event is well established. It is also OK to be there for yourself. Take a break. Be healthy and find an opportunity to laugh. Even if all you do is imagine me composing this blog while wearing a T-Rex dinosaur outfit that is good enough. Now, dear reader, go find an excuse to play for a little while. Work will still be there later. The play time will help you to have the energy it takes to be there for your students with all your heart.


American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th Ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association (APA)

Bransen, J. (2006). Selfless self-love. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 9, 3-25.

Brock, K., Pearlman, L., & Varra, E. (2006). Child maltreatment, self-capacities, and trauma symptoms: Psychometric properties of the inner experience questionnaire. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 6, 103–125.

Dutro, E. (2019). The Vulnerable Heart of Literacy: Centering Trauma as Powerful Pedagogy. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Katz, M.S., Noddings, N., & Strike, K.A. (1999). Justice and caring: The search for common ground in education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Shonkoff et al. (2012). Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. Key concepts: toxic stress.

 Tedeschi, R., & Calhoun, L. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 1–18.

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito and Dr. William Kerns. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of the 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


 Addressing Racism in the Reading and Language Arts Classroom by Dr. William Kerns

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Today my blogging partner Dr. Bill Kerns gives a thought-provoking essay. Special thanks to Bill for giving us all things to think about as we address the issue of racism in the reading and language arts classroom.  

 Addressing Racism in the Reading and Language Arts Classroom by Dr. William Kerns

Silence about human suffering and injustice is not a moral option. A global pandemic is ongoing, with impact that is disproportionate by race and socioeconomic status because of a long legacy of inequities. Many students you may teach are likely struggling to keep up with the demands of online courses because of gaps in access to technology. In my last guest blog on this site, I discussed ideas for learning about Chinese cultural traditions in literature and language arts activities during writing workshops as a means of countering stereotypes. In this blog, I urge you to consider how issues raised by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery can inform your curriculum. It is my belief that this tragedy is not merely a reminder of past horrors. It is a reminder of the past, present and a warning of the future. The realities of brutal injustices and blinding racism never went away with the passing of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, they evolved. It is my stance that as an educator it is insufficient to be merely non-racist while claiming a type of political neutrality.

I view it as a moral imperative to create literacy and language arts activities that intentionally are anti-racist. This can be done while honoring the needs of instruction in language arts and literacy. A good first step for each of us as educators is to examine our own classroom (online or eventually face-to-face) and school climate. Is it empowering or disempowering for students from cultural, ethnic, and racial minority groups? Does it include issues and topics related to the students’ background and culture? Be supportive and nurturing with students, because a key criterion for culturally relevant teaching is nurturing and supporting competence in both home and school cultures (Gay, 2018). So, use the students’ home cultural experiences as a foundation upon which to develop knowledge and skills. Content learned in this way is more significant to the students and facilitates the transfer of what is learned in school to real-life situations. By engaging in in-depth literature study and inquiry projects around difficult themes related to social inequities and racism, students develop new skills and knowledge, teachers make meaningful connections between school and real-life situations, and there is meaningful discussion about how the inequities of society can be improved.

It is possible to plan literature circles, literature discussions, writing workshops, and digital storytelling that incorporate these areas into topics that are anti-racist by countering stereotypes, raising attention to the damaging impact of bigotry, and the horrors of systemic injustices. Incorporate the language arts (reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and visually representing) in creative ways. Literary studies in the classroom should not merely focus on the skills and content that are determined to be important in order to pass standards and high stakes testing.

Being anti-racist as a teacher includes lessons that encourage the exploration of what it means to participate in society, with an awareness of injustices in society in the context of race and ethnicity. Help prepare students to become change agents in society as you also help students in their personal growth and ethical development. Seek out literature that can be useful in communicating moral and ethical themes, communicating life stories and life lessons related to the human condition and the psychology of characters. More than this, you can also seek out literature that communicates themes and trends in society and that explores power structures, ideologies, communicates trends in history and forms of conflict. In the process, lessons can focus on both the information in a text and the evoked experiences.

You can then explore diverse ways that students are impacted by life-conditions in society, including ways that many students are denied equitable education opportunities. Critique how forms of social injustices are either supported or resisted through pedagogical practice. Students can engage in in-depth examination of the ethical and moral context of who is empowered and who is disempowered, who is given voice and who is silenced. They can examine the moral implications of ways that conceptions of race can contribute to privileges and disadvantages in society.

The approach to literacy and language arts instruction that I encourage is grounded in not only skill development but a goal of using literacy and literature lessons to change lives. The curriculum should recognize the importance of including students’ cultural references in varied aspects of the learning. Stories and dialogue make a difference, so make sure that the conversations are genuine even if difficult. Create an environment in which there is a consistent set of high academic expectations and a real respect for students as well as a belief in their capability. Admittedly, I realize that any teacher reading this blog is likely under pressure to enact curriculum that is efficient in its techniques and processes that address basic skills, standards and high stakes tests. Behavioral objectives drive the design of instructional processes. But it is possible to address these skills and objectives while promoting critical inquiry into racism and social injustices. Schools should not be factories. Students are not merely products. They are people. Precious. Beautiful. Fragile. They deserve the opportunity to contribute to a world that is more equitable, a world in which finally racism is addressed and not just swept under a rug with the pretense that if ignored, it is a thing of the past. This week’s headlines are a tragic reminder that the deadly consequences of racism are not in the past.


References and Resources


Gay, G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Kendi, I.X. (2017 ). Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America. New York, NY: Nation Books.


Kendi, I.X. (2019). How to be an anti-racist. New York, NY: Random House.


Motha, S. (2014). Race, empire, and English language teaching: Creating responsible and ethical anti-racist practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito & Dr. Williams Kerns. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of the 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.


Have a look at the new issue of The Missouri Reader: You’ll be happy you did! by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Have a look at the new issue of The Missouri Reader: You’ll be happy you did!

by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The newest issue of The Missouri Reader is out. In it, we celebrate our own Missouri author, David Harrison, on 50 years of publishing and writing over 90 books for children. In addition, Carla McLafferty shares how she researched her newest book, Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Joan Boulware and Eula Monroe give an introduction to The Magical Kingdom of Mathical Books and William Kerns & Amanda McCaleb talk about how to refine your writing workshop. You’ll find these and many other useful articles and resources in this current issue. By the way- this issue contains links to Read Alouds of several of David’s books. He is making those available for use by teachers and parents as they work their way through the new normal that has emerged in response to the current pandemic.

As some of you may already know, I am the Co-Editor of this journal along with Glenda Nugent. The Missouri Reader has been around for over 40 years. It started out as a “paper journal”.  Now we publish digitally. We have two issues each year. We are peer-reviewed, and our editorial board has many highly qualified people (see the sidebar on the Table of Contents). We publish many articles by well-known experts in the reading field. However, we also encourage teachers to publish, especially action research, book reviews, and app reviews. The last page of each issue explains how to submit an article for review. We are an official publication of the Missouri Literacy Association. Missouri Literacy Association is an ILA affiliate. Anyone with the following link can read the current issue for free:

Spring 2020 Missouri Reader

I want to also call your attention to another issue for you to explore. It is the poetry issue. It is our most-read issue of all time. It contains TONS of innovative ideas about how to use poetry in the classroom. It was the brainchild of David Harrison. He approached Glenda Nugent (my Co-Editor).and me about the idea of a special issue dedicated especially to poetry. We are so glad he did. Here is the link to that issue. Feel free to share it with other interested educators.


Part of our way of distributing The Missouri Reader is the use of what we call “word of cyberspace.” We ask our readers to share the links to the magazine with other readers. As a result, we are now read all around the world. So, if you like what you see in one or both of the issues, please share the links. They’re both free. THANKS!

You can help to support The Missouri Reader by joining the Missouri Literacy Association- membership is open to all. Here is a link where you can join:

Until next week-

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (Co-Editor of an authentic teacher’s journal)


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: