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.

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

  1. DeGee Brown

    Thank you!
    We need balance in everything.
    And I LOVE the Mem Fox quote.
    Thanks for always helping us with good knowledge and things to think about.


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