Part One of the Educational Practices Series: A Look at EBLI, a Science of Reading Approach by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Part one of the Educational Practices Series: A Look at EBLI, a Science of Reading Approach to Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

As my regular readers know, in this blog I try to take a centrist point of view, looking at all the evidence and all the practices coming from that evidence. Today I am talking to Nora Chahbzi, founder of EBLI (Evidence Based Literacy Instruction). She tells a fascinating story and includes many free resources. I hope my readers find useful ideas and information as she talks about her literacy project which is based on using what she’s learned from the Science of Reading to empower teachers so they can help their kids.  

1. Give a brief history of EBLI, how it evolved, the successes it has had and its current scope and size.

            EBLI: Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction is a system of research-backed reading, spelling, and writing instruction intended to help students of all ages and ability levels effectively and efficiently reach their highest literacy potential.

            EBLI was born out of the reading struggles of founder Nora Chahbazi’s middle daughter. Nora had been a Neonatal ICU nurse for a decade before her daughter’s experience changed the course of her life.            Nora researched whole language and phonics approaches extensively; her daughter had been taught both but was still a year below grade level in reading in 2nd grade on the Iowa test, though she was in the 98th%ile in math. A former professor of education from Michigan State University recommended the book Why Our Children Can’t Read and What You Can Do About It. This book, focused on research-based, systematic instruction of speech to print instruction for both reading and spelling then immediately applying it in text – instead of the print to speech or whole language approach- was the key to the instruction she needed.

            After teaching her daughter to read in 3 hours, Nora opened Ounce of Prevention Reading Center in 1999 and began teaching learners of all ages and ability levels and training teachers. She continuously searched and researched how to be even more effective and efficient with delivery of instruction. Remediation instruction, one hour once a week for an average of 12 total hours, is provided for everyone from complete non-readers to students wanting to improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as doctors, lawyers, and successful  business owners.

Thousands of K-12 classroom and remediation teachers, as well as adult educators, tutors, and volunteers from around the world have been trained in EBLI and teach it to their students. Some schools train remediation teachers, others train a certain grade level of classroom teachers, and some train their entire staff of classroom and remediation teachers. We also have ‘lone wolf’ teachers who have paid for their own training because their school is committed to a different program or instructional practice but the teacher isn’t satisfied with their students’ literacy progress.

Learners from around the country flock to Ounce of Prevention Reading Center to receive in-person instruction and others get online from the EBLI team. Tens of thousands of students are taught in-person or online by educators and others trained in EBLI.

To date, the vast majority of EBLI educators we train as well as students we teach have come from word of mouth advertising. EBLI has no sales team and does minimal marketing. The results speak for themselves and drive people to EBLI when they are ready. The instruction is significantly different from how educators have taught previously, and is a paradigm shift, whether the instructor has a background in a balanced literacy approach or a traditional phonics approach.  

Gains with EBLI are astounding, whether on ACT tests, state assessments, running records, DIBELS assessments, or any other assessments that measure reading or the components of reading. For students (or whole classes) who receive our 2 hours ACT prep instruction, composite scores increase an average of 2-4 points and double digit gains on the reading sub-test are common. State proficiency scores have increased up to 30 points in a year and running record scores for K and 1st graders are typically a year or more above grade level goals for most of the students. 

In this video from 2018, Nora shares her story and her wishes for EBLI and literacy in a very authentic and vulnerable manner.

2. Free resources from EBLI and paid resources from EBLI. What are the possibilities/procedures for family signing up

Free resources from EBLI:

  • EBLI (Level 1) free lessons (live lessons now available as recording)
    • 16 EBLI lessons, each 45 minutes long, for K, 1st, and 2nd and older
    • For parents to use for their children or for teachers to assign to their students
    • Lessons to be done sequentially, 1-3 per week
    • Created when children were sent home for Covid so intended for learners mid/late year,
      • Would be too rigorous for most beginning Kindergarteners
      • For older students, can back down to the younger grade level
  • EBLI Webinars for parents and teachers (include video examples with students and strategies plus how to do the process, if applicable)
    • Roadmap to 95-100% Reading Proficiency: Webinar panel with educators from the classroom to state level, sharing how they got to or are on their way to 95-100% reading proficiency on state tests in their classroom, school, district, or state. It was one of the most profound literacy events I’ve ever experienced!
    • Blending: Accelerate blending for new readers and those who struggle
    • Sight Words by Sound: the do’s and don’t of sight word instruction so students accurately read them in context and spell them in writing, plus a parent’s perspective and experience
  • Read Alouds – 7 (1) hour sessions, include Vocabulary instruction, discussion, and a small amount of code instruction – these were a BIG hit

Paid Resources from EBLI

EBLI Teacher Trainings (all online, includes student lessons, done over time)

  • ETSL: EBLI Teacher Training and Student Lessons for K-3 classroom teachers (yearly subscription)
    • For K-3rd classroom teachers
    • Training videos, example videos of instruction in classroom by EBLI founder, Student lessons, Materials, Student Lesson Videos (shown to students as teacher facilitates), gradually release to teacher teaching
    • Training price for 1st year, deeply discounted for renewal
    • Transferable if teacher leaves
  • ETSL: EBLI Teacher Training and Student Lessons for K-12 Remediation Teachers
    • Pilot fall 2020
    • For those who teach small group or 1:1 remediation (any age)
    • Training videos, example videos of instruction in classroom by EBLI founder, Student lessons, Materials, Student Lesson Videos (shown to students as teacher facilitates), gradually release to teacher teaching
    • Training price for 1st year, deeply discounted for renewal
    • Transferable if teacher leaves
  • EBLI 8 week online training
    • For remediation teachers (students 2nd grade and older)
    • For classroom teachers 4th-8th grade

Student Instruction

  • EBLI Apps
    • Description of each app
      • EBLI Island Lite (free)
      • EBLI Island ($4.99)
      • EBLI Space ($4.99)
      • EBLI Sight Words Made Easy ($4.99)
  • EBLI Online Lessons Level 2
    • K, 1st, and 2nd and up
    • June 17th – Aug 26th  (Live lessons or recordings)
      • (10) 45 min lessons for each lesson
    • Around the World theme
      • Articles on animals and other interesting information students choose
      • Showing locations on the globe
        • Where what we are studying is located
        • Where students participating in the class live in the country/world
      • EBLI instruction including vocabulary, spelling, and summarizing instruction based on the theme covered
  • High Level Vocabulary Instruction
    • 100 minute high level lesson
      • Not intended for remediation
    • 4th – adult
    • Improve fluency (up to 150 wpm) and comprehension
    • Increase ACT composite score an average of 2-4 points
    • Cost $20
      • 14 day access

3. Is EBLI phonics, whole language, or balanced literacy? What does and doesn’t EBLI teach and why?  What advice or resources do you have for teachers to teach in a holistic manner?

EBLI would not be categorized as phonics, balanced literacy, or whole language (though there are some research-backed elements from each of the 3 included in the EBLI framework).

What EBLI does: teaches by sound, teaches all components of literacy systematically and explicitly, asks student to apply what they have learned immediately through supported reading and writing, teaches basic and advanced phonemic awareness skills explicitly and also embedded in EBLI activities starting at the sound level, teaches vocabulary within all activities as well as in explicit vocabulary lessons, trains fluency from the beginning of instruction, teaches and reinforces proper handwriting, focuses first on sound as opposed to letter names, quickly moves students (in K) from decodable to authentic text but avoids predictable text that requires looking at the picture, moves to multi-syllable word level instruction at all grade/ability levels, teaches and reinforces correct conventions and accurate spelling in writing, provides significant support with error correction of misread and misspelled words, differentiates instruction, gradually releases responsibility to the student in all areas of literacy, and promotes read a louds of higher level text at all grade levels.   

What EBLI does not teach: to memorize sight words (or any words), to learn and memorize spelling or syllable rules, to look at pictures to figure out the text, to learn sounds in isolation, to visually memorize spelling words, to guess words, that reading and spelling need to be learned with different processes, to use drill, or to have them insert a word they think makes sense instead of accurately reading the words on the page. 

EBLI is a system of literacy skills, concepts, strategies, and activities to effectively and efficiently assist all students in reaching their highest literacy potential. Explicit, systematic instruction with scaffolding is provided in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, spelling, handwriting, and writing.

The speed of student progress with EBLI is a result of having many components of literacy taught simultaneously in each activity, immediate error correction, multi-sensory instruction, focus on speech to print for reading and spelling words, and quickly and constantly building on what was learned previously. The same system of logic is utilized throughout instruction and what was learned is immediately applied through supported then gradually released reading and writing.

With EBLI the process of learning to read words, reading accurately and understanding text, learning to spell accurately, and applying that to writing is effective and streamlined. It is not complicated with rules, drill, excessive information or cognitive overload nor with asking students to learn to read and write by chance or by teaching themselves or classmates. EBLI instruction is purposeful. Every step of every activity has the purpose of efficiently leading students – through instruction, support, and scaffolding – to the end goal of reading and writing accurately, understanding what they are reading, and communicating to others through great writing.  

EBLI utilizes the best of what is backed by research along with what is easily and efficiently replicated through application with student instruction and leaves the rest out. EBLI is a system. The foundational components remain the same but the application with students is constantly refined as new information on effective teaching of literacy is learned and instructional practices are honed.

Instruction that is explicit and systematic while at the same time holistic is not only possible, it is realized with EBLI. EBLI’s main focus is on instruction that is engaging, efficient, and effective. It is proficient at moving students to their highest literacy potential as quickly as possible. Teachers are provided with the tools they need to accomplish this goal while also increasing the joy of teaching and decreasing the amount of time, energy, and effort it takes to get all their students reading, writing, and spelling at or above grade level. 

Teachers are the experts! My advice to them is what I practice myself: if any students they teach are not proficient readers, writers, and spellers, then search the world over to find out what they might need to do differently to move students to their highest potential. I have found that student weaknesses are, without exception, able to be strengthened. However, I may not yet know how to strengthen that particular weakness (yet). I ask questions, search the internet, pay attention to those whose students or children have made measurable and obvious improvement in the area, stay open minded, and realize that I do and always will have more to learn! Keeping the perspective that the student can learn regardless of their circumstances, and that we can teach them, is imperative.  Accepting and acknowledging that I was wrong or was on a path that wasn’t the most beneficial for the student in some situations is challenging and humbling but it is always rewarding in the end.  

4. EVERYONE is having to learn about distance learning on the job so to speak. Any insights, advice, or tricks of the trade for classroom teachers?

We have been doing online teacher trainings for years but just since schools closed in March have done online instruction for groups of children.  There has been much trial and error but it has been wildly successful with groups of over 125 students. My greatest advice: stay flexible and open minded, be open to creative, unique solutions, and allow the students to be active participants in the planning and learning process.

For example, in our summer lessons the students share what animals they want to study or what parts of the world they’d like to learn about and this guides my lesson planning. I utilize words and vocabulary from the articles we read to drive the EBLI word work we do. When there are any challenges, I ask for input from the children on how to solve them. It is amazing how creative they are! Using the student’s names often and providing more-than-typical positive feedback (catching those often off-task when they are on-task and pointing it out, quick compliments on their work, behavior, and answers to questions, etc) is very beneficial. I use a t-chart point game and give student points liberally!   

Another common issue has been the desire of the parents to answer the questions and do the work for the children. I have found it is helpful to be clear from the outset that I will give the child feedback and guidance and will let the parent know, if they’re sitting with the child, if and when we need any assistance from them. I also let the child know to look at and listen to me, not their parent, during the lessons. I do let the parents know how they can best be supportive.

5. What are parents and teachers saying about EBLI?

Parent feedback about EBLI lessons

Teacher feedback about EBLI training

6. Is their flexibility with implementation of EBLI?

EBLI is a system of skills, concepts, strategies, and activities as opposed to a program. Because of this, it is flexible and adaptable to any situation requiring reading, writing, and spelling. If you ask EBLI trained teachers when they teach EBLI, they will tell you, “All day long, wherever students read, write, and spell”.

EBLI has explicit, systematic, supported, and accelerated instruction of the English code so students are able to effectively, efficiently, and accurately read words in text and spell correctly in writing. The purpose of EBLI is to ensure that students can immediately APPLY what they have learned so they are able to accurately read with understanding and write adeptly.

Thanks so much to Nora for sharing this wonderful information. In the coming weeks I will be continuing this series on educational practices, interviewing two educators from Australia about their literacy programs. This will include exploring the practices of the THRASS institute literacy program.  I will also be talking to two of the upcoming speakers at the Write to Learn conference. I also hope to interview Matt Glover about writing.  It’s going to be an interesting and informational packed month or two for the blog!

In the meantime- be safe, be well and Happy Reading and Writing

Here’s a link to the Write to Learn speakers:

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the guy in the middle taking 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.

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