Monthly Archives: February 2021

The Sciences of Reading (and yes I mean Sciences, not Science) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Sciences of Reading (and yes I mean Sciences, not Science) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

There has been a lot of push back lately about the Science of Reading folks and the claims that they are making about the best ways to teach reading. I have long taken a centrist position on the “Great Debate”, maintaining that no one “side” has all the answers and that the sensible approach is for all sides to listen to one another and learn from one another. LINK I call this approach the “Reading Evolution”. LINK

Who are these Science of Reading folks and why the current backlash to the ideas they promote?  SOR in its current iteration is the product of a group of educators influenced by the ideas of Louisa Moats. Moats claims that our current problems in the teaching of reading are caused by the failure to adopt practices like the ones described in the PDF, Reading Is a Rocket Science LINK or in this description of the Science of Reading by Holly Lane, University of Florida. LINK As we will see, critics of Moat’s approach charge that she and her supporters are a small minority of educators trying to force their views on everyone. Paul Thomas is among those critics, saying that this action of forbidding all practices except those advocated by the “Science of Reading” group  is both  hurtful and counterproductive LINK.  More about that in a minute.

Readers are invited to consider three of the major push back pieces that have emerged in the past year.

The first is the National Education Policy Center’s statement as described in Diane Ravitch’s March 2020 blog.   LINK  The upshot is that there is no “science of reading.” NEPC states that “It’s time for the media and political distortions to end, and for the literacy community and policymakers to fully support the literacy needs of all children.”

Another push back came from a December 2020 You Tube video created by George Hruby from the Collaborative Center of Literacy Development- University of Kentucky

Some key points made in his video:

  • Hruby maintains SOR advocates are wrong in saying the science is settled. Science is never settled.
  • He thinks it is more accurate to talk about the Sciences of Reading.
  • He views the Science of Reading as a branding designed to sell curriculum.
  • He described a number of programs in the past that used similar methods to the ones found in the SOR and maintained that in the end these programs were no more effective than what a good teacher could accomplish using methods that are far less costly than SOR methods.
  • He outlined the limits and limitations of other SOR claims


The most recent push back came in the form of a piece written by Valerie Strauss, a reporter for the Washington Post. In it she details the views of David Reinking, professor emeritus at Clemson University and a former president of the Literacy Research Association; Victoria J. Risko, professor emerita at Vanderbilt University and a former president of the International Literacy Association; and George G. Hruby, an associate research professor of literacy and executive director of the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development at the University of Kentucky. The link to the full article requires a subscription to the Washington Post. LINK.  

The article is entitled Is there really a ‘science of reading’ that tells us exactly how to teach kids to read? The short answer to the question raised by the article is no, there is not. Here are some highlights from that article:

  • More worrisome, a majority of states have enacted, or are considering, new laws mandating how reading must be taught and setting narrow criteria for labeling students as reading disabled.
  • These themes make for a compelling journalistic narrative and they can benefit for-profit interests outside mainstream education, particularly during a pandemic when many parents are seeking help teaching reading at home. But, they also obscure established evidence that teaching reading is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor (bolding is mine). Overlooked is the common ground shared by those who draw different conclusions on the finer points of available research.
  • Instead, reasonable differences exist along a continuum. On one end are those who see phonics as the foundation of learning to read for all students. To them, phonics — lots of it — is the essential ingredient that ensures success for all students learning to read, and it must be mastered before other dimensions of reading are taught.
  • On the other end are those who see phonics as only one among many dimensions of learning to read — one that gains potency when integrated with meaningfully engaged reading and writing, with vocabulary and language development, with instruction aimed at increasing comprehension and fluency, and so forth.
  • One example is a critical review of several meta-analyses (comprehensive statistical analyses of effects across hundreds of studies), which was published recently in a highly regarded, peer-reviewed journal. It found no clear advantage for programs with a strong emphasis on phonics compared to those foregrounding other approaches (click on this).

Taken together I think these recent developments strongly support a centrist position. The limited and limiting point of view of the so-called Science of Reading advocates are not scientific at all. I have on a number of occasions called for using all the evidence from all the forms of research. Some important figures in the research world seem to have drawn similar conclusions. In a September 2020  U Tube interview called Unpacking the Science of Reading: A Conversation with Editors of Reading Research Quarterly, Amanda P. Goodwin, Co-Editor of the Reading Research Quarterly has this to say about research (1:18 on the video) :  

“In terms of the broad piece there is no one science that matters, it’s not just experimental research, not just qualitative research, it’s not just quantitative research we are using all and every methodology to figure out this multifaceted thing called reading….” LINK

So, I’m in favor of exploring the Sciences of Reading. I favor tweaking programs and finding common ground. LINK.  I favor finding out all we can from successful practitioners using the science of reading. LINK. I favor looking at the teaching of reading as both art and science and to fully explore the issues of of fluency and prosody. LINK. I favor exploring all the research around brain research LINK. I think it is time to empower teachers by providing in-service in all the ways to teach decoding LINK . I also think it is time to provide them the in-service needed to learn the skills and strategies measured by state tests of reading instruction (as opposed to tests of decoding).  These skills and strategies include those like the ones presented by Nell Duke and others at the 2019 ILA convention. LINK.  I think the time is long overdue for folks to start listening to the teachers of reading so that we can have a Reading Evolution. Maybe a Reading Evolution will finally bring that famous (infamous) swinging pendulum to a stop in the middle so we can learn from each other the teaching skills needed to become effective teachers of reading.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2021 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.

More About Dr. Tim Rasinski and the Art and Science of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

More about Rasinski and the Art and Science of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The response to last week’s interview of Dr. Tim Rasinski was overwhelming. Almost 1,200 views during the week and many positive comments. This week I have a birthday coming up (the day after Valentine’s Day) and I plan to spend time with my family. I am also doing a fundraiser for St. Louis Black Authors on my Facebook page as part of my birthday celebration.

I thought this would be a good time to repost links to my “best of Rasinski” blogs. I include the one where he came to St. Louis and his views about the Art and Science of reading. There are lots of additional insights into his ideas in that post.

Enjoy the reposts! In the coming weeks I will continue to talk to literacy leaders from many different positions and I will be doing a post about The Sciences of Reading (and yes the “s” belongs in there!). Until then Happy Reading and Writing!

An earlier interview with Tim when he came to St. Louis

What Tim had to say when he came to look at what we were doing at my school:

Activities I do based on the work of Rasinski and Mellissa Cheesman Smith:

My first post about Tim his work made when he came to present to our local ILA group in St. Louis:

Go to https://mla31.wildapricot.org/ to register for the final FREE session of Tim’s Webinar on Feb 23!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2021 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.

Dr. Timothy Rasinski: His views on fluency & the art and science of the teaching of reading- An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Dr. Timothy Rasinski: His views on fluency & the art and science of the teaching of reading- An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Here are a few facts about Tim taken from his biography on his website

  • Timothy Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University
  • He is the director of its award-winning reading clinic. He has written over 200 articles and has authored, co-authored or edited over 50 books on curriculum programs in reading education.
  • His research on reading has been cited by the National Reading Panel and has been published in many professional journals.
  • He was the first author of the fluency chapter for the Handbook of Reading Research.
  • He was the co-editor of The Reading Teacher & Journal of Literacy Research.
  • In 2010, Dr. Rasinski was elected into the International Reading Hall of Fame.

I was very excited when Dr. Tim Rasinski agreed to this interview. He answers the five questions listed below. What I like most about Tim’s ideas is that they are both research-based and involve engaging authentic ways to teach.  His word ladders are a fun way to do word work that gives children a good handle on orthographic information.  His activities to teach prefixes, suffixes and roots are engaging and informative. They also build the background children need to develop a large vocabulary. The time-stamped questions below allow you to jump to whatever question you care to study.  Tim views the teaching of reading as both art and science. I must agree.

At the end of the blog, there are links to Tim’s sites.  There is also a link to the Missouri Literacy webpage.  MLA is hosting a webinar by Tim on February 23. His topic is Comprehension. The webinar is free to all.  Once you are on the MLA site, follow the links to register.  See you there.

The time-stamped questions are below. A link to the video interview follows them.  (BTW- I experienced a bit of technical difficulty that resulted in the questions being a little hard to hear. I’m sorry for that inconvenience; please bear with that very small part of the video)

  1.  Why does fluency seem to be such a difficult to understand reading competency? 05:00
  1. Is there one instructional strategy you would recommend for teaching/promoting fluency? 10:42
  1. You’re also big into word study, especially word roots.  Can you tell more about that? 19:25
  1. What about your word ladders – It’s a word game, but do they really help kids learn about how words work? 26:06
  1. You’ve recently written about the art of teaching reading. What do you mean by that and why is it important?  31:06

Link to Tim’s Website: http://www.timrasinski.com/

Be sure to check out the resources section- it includes commercial resources, e.g., The Megabook of Fluency. He also provides a lot of free educational material to download.

Follow Tim on Twitter- @TimRasinski1

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Tim provides free samples of his various commercial materials.  These posts have become immensely popular on Twitter!

For more helpful information you can also follow Tim’s Megabook of Fluency co-author Melissa Cheesman Smith on Twitter- @MCheesmanSmith

BE SURE TO VISIT THE MISSOURI LITERACY ASSOCIATION WEBSITE TO SIGN UP FOR TIM’S COMPREHENSION WEBINAR ON FEBRUARY 23! WHILE THERE YOU CAN ALSO LISTEN TO 3 PREVIOUS WEBINARS TIM HAS DONE FOR MLA.

https://mla31.wildapricot.org/

Interview copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view and do not necessarily reflect any other person or organization’s views.

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.