Monthly Archives: October 2020

Willy Wood Gives an In-Depth Look at the Upcoming Speakers for the Write to Learn Conference

Willy Wood Gives an in Depth Look at the Upcoming Speakers for The Write to Learn Conference

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Here is a link to a video interview of Willy Wood, organizer of this year’s Write to Learn Conference.

In the video Willy talks about how the conference, which has been a fixture on the Missouri Literacy Scene for the past four decades, has adapted to the new normal.  The folks who were to be the keynotes/major presenters for the face to face conference are instead each going to present a three-part series on their chosen topics. Here is are the speakers, and the dates they will be speaking:

In addition to giving many insights about each of the speakers, Willy also talked of some things that are still in the works. Included are the addition of a set of Book Club sessions and a possible free open mike session which will bring this extremely popular feature of the face to face conference into the current cyber conference.

To find out more be sure to follow Write to Learn on twitter, @WritetoLearnMO, #WTLMO and visit the conference website which will allow you to register for the various speakers. The website includes a blog where you can get the latest on how the book club and open mike events are coming along.

Here is the link to the Write to Learn page.


See you there!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- Write to Learn Conference groupie!)

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 will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

It’s been a good week for Dr. Sam’s professional development: Here are some key takeaways

It’s been a good week for Dr. Sam’s professional development: Here are some key takeaways

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

This week has been an exceptional week for me in terms of P.D. and my growth in professional learning. Even after over 50 years as a teacher, staff developer and college professor, I am still learning new things. Let’s start with an unexpected but wonderful turn of events that happened because of one of my posts.

I usually start the day checking for good things out there in Cyberland.  I look at the Missouri Literacy Association Facebook page, which always has inspiring comments and great information.  I came across a great  post this week.

When I find a good post like this, I usually repost it on Twitter and my professional Facebook page.  The response was overwhelming. People have been responding all week. Even my non-teacher friends are chiming in. And the responding isn’t over yet- as I did my final revision/edit of this post this morning, I checked, and there was yet another new post.  Of all the responses to this post, the one by Melissa Thurlwell, a 9th grade English teacher and dept. chair, caught my attention. I want to thank Mellissa for permitting me to use a screen capture of her tweet in this blog. And I’d also like to thank her for reminding me that sometimes students can learn more than the teacher teaches. They can take the learning to the next level. Melissa and her class certainly did. Kudos to them. Have a look.

Amid the tremendous negativity that seems to characterize things today, it’s nice to see that there is still room for positive thoughts. It’s also nice to see my belief that writing can be a powerful teaching tool reaffirmed. Again- Kudos to Melissa Thurlwell and her class.

Speaking of writing, the Missouri Literacy Association (full disclosure, I am the president) has many great P.D. events going on. Visit their website to see them all: One of them is a series of workshops by Matt Glover, part of several threads for the Missouri Write To Learn Cyber Conference fd/summary. I am attending the series being carried out by Matt Glover, and once again, the old dog is learning some very new tricks. Here is a little something about Matt and what he’s had to say so far.

Matt knows how to teach about the nuts and bolts of implementing a writing workshop (see my previous post about him, LINK). I first learned about writing workshop over 20 years ago when my district brought in folks like Katie Wood Ray and Isoke Nia to help us learn about workshop teaching. Over the four years they came, they managed to transform this skill and drill empiricist into a workshop teacher. (I am still an empiricist, though). Matt covered many of the things that Katie and Isoke taught me all those years ago and gave me two new and important takeaways.  First, teachers should create AND USE, a conferencing toolkit. He introduced that thought in the last session and promised to show us more about how it is done in the next session. The other is the thought of what teaching should look like in a conference or a class.  Explaining, critiquing and evaluating are not teaching (my take, they are precursors to teaching). To really teach, you must help the student do. This tracks perfectly with Nell Duke’s findings that teaching strategies through gradual release is the best way to teach strategies.  From now on, as I do conferences, I will be much more careful about making sure the student is talking about, using and applying the strategy I am modeling in my teaching point. Thanks, Matt!

MLA is also sponsoring a series of webinars by Dr. Tim Rasinski, a long-time friend of literacy in our state. I’ve written about Tim and his ideas before LINK1, LINK2.  He makes a compelling case for treating the teaching of reading as both art and science.  My regular readers know that I am a centrist, one who says we can and should use ideas from all sides. Tim’s work shows us how there is more to research than just carrying out random assignment-based research. He does do such random assignment research, often called quantitative studies, but he is also a master of qualitative research. For details, check out the two links I just gave you.

So…, it’s been an exceptionally good week professionally.  And I predict next week is going to be equally as good. I just did my first video interview for the blog. So, I am expanding into a whole new genre, a hybrid genre. I’ve taped an interview with Ann Kay, founder of the Rock and Read project. She’ll talk about her project and explain how brain research inspired her to use music in order to help teach reading. This one’s a must-read, and now it’s also must-see.  Next week, tune in to find out about what this new form of blogging looks like. You’ll also find out about a different point of view about what brain research says about how we could/should teach reading.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, an old dog who is still learning some very new tricks).

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.

Planning My Distance Learning Lessons- Who’s Doing the Work? by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Planning my Distance Learning Lessons- Who’s Doing the Work?

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The building I am working in has both in-person and distance learning for its students. Last week I described what I am now doing for classroom teachers to carry out my distance learning. I push into large groups once a week via Zoom.  I also carry out virtual guided reading groups for selected distance learning children, helping to reduce the classroom teachers’ workload. I continue to provide individual tutoring to selected children using Zoom. Now that I have the first month’s experience under my belt, I’d like to share key takeaways about the resources and ideas I’m using to support my distance learning implementation.

The three books I’m making the most use of are these:

I found module 6 of The Distance Learning Playbook especially useful. That module deals with engaging tasks. It includes a planning sheet that helps you think about how you can draw on your own expertise to find tasks that include behavioral engagement, cognitive engagement, and emotional engagement. The sheet is available for download at the resources site, which is accessible to all book owners. So is the sheet designed to help you find tools to use in both distance learning and face to face learning.  You can find tools to be used to help students find information, use information, create information, and share information.  Read the World has a similar set of online planning tools, including a lesson planning page, a digital feature think sheet and a learn-wonder think sheet. As one example of how these planning tools helped me think about using online programs, let’s talk about the distance learning program that is the granddaddy of them all- Zoom.

One way to use Zoom is to have the teacher mainly be a talking head.  The teacher creates a PowerPoint or Slide Deck and then spends most of the time presenting that. Let’s look at using this resource this way through my go-to book’s lens for implementing guided reading instruction. My go-to book is Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less so Readers Can Do More. It is clear that this way of teaching results in mostly teacher talk with very little student engagement. Not exactly what we’re after.

Let’s look at a different way to use Zoom, a way that follows the fundamental advice from Who’s Doing the Work. To do this we have to ask how we can implement the lesson so that the teacher says less, and the reader can do more. The Zoom feature that lends itself to this kind of implementation is the breakout room. In this case, I begin my small group by doing a BRIEF review of the reading strategy we are currently focusing on. We try to stay on the same strategy for at least three weeks. The main part of the strategy’s teaching is done in large group, in advance of the small group. That teaching is done using a gradual release model:  I do, we do, you do.  Teaching reading strategies through gradual release is a research-based method- see Nell Dukes extensive research in that area. In this example, the small group is mainly used for the “you do” part of the gradual release process.

After I do a brief (2-3 slides, 1-2 minutes) reminder of what the current strategy involves, I ask the students to think about how they used it with their current book. I then send the students into the breakout rooms in groups of 2 or 3 to talk about this.  I tell them that each student will get a chance to report on what was said in the room. However, they are not to report on what they said. They are to report on what their partner or what other group members said. This encourages active listening during the breakout groups. As the session’s moderator, I can (and do) drop in on each of the breakout groups. My function is mainly to observe and listen, though I sometimes help clarify things or gently nudge them into carrying out the assigned task.

When everyone returns from the breakout room, they each talk about what the others said. My role in that part of the lesson is to facilitate. If I notice that one or more students are unsure or reluctant, I note it and then spend a little extra time in their breakout group the next week.  Over the past month, all the students have become active participants in this process.

So, that is one example of how I use the ideas found in various professional books to inform my distance learning. When I talk to the classroom teachers about their teaching, I remind them of the importance of designing all their lessons, including their distance learning lessons, to maximize student participation.

I would love to hear how some of my readers are implementing distance learning lessons in ways where students do most of the work. Back when I did my reading workshop training (and my trainers included folks like Katie Ray Wood and Isoke Nia), my most important take away from that training was that you should know what work you are leaving for your students and why. The book Who’s Doing the Work reinforced that idea for me. It is a powerful lesson planning idea that can be used on all your lessons, including your distance learning lessons. So, until next week, this is Dr. Sam signing off.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- a teacher who tries to talk less so the kids can do more)

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.