Monthly Archives: July 2021

It’s time to fundamentally change the dialogue around the issue of how to teach beginning reading: The case for taking a centrist position by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This past Thursday night, I took part in a fascinating book club discussion around Eric Litwin’s book, The Power of Joyful Reading LINK. Eric was present for the book club, and he had many interesting things to say. What he had to say is very much pertinent to the upcoming special edition of The Missouri Reader that is scheduled to come out next weekend. That issue will focus on the question of where we are in the “great debate” on the issue of how to teach beginning reading best.  Basically, Eric said that too often, we focus on all the wrong things, e.g., analytic phonics vs. synthetic phonics and do not focus on the central question of how to best teach reading. That question is, “How can we take full advantage of the power of joyful reading?” For me, that means making sure the key goal of any reading program is to create lifelong readers (and writers). I feel that the answer to the question of how to cut through the gordian knot of best ways to teach reading can come from considering the following question:

“How can we fundamentally shift the dialogue from the current ‘us/them’ approach we seem to be taking in our current talks around the question of best approaches to teaching reading into a dialogue based on the quilt metaphor?”

The talking points I have developed for our upcoming special edition of The Missouri Reader issue will delve into the issues raised by the so-called reading wars. They are designed to shift the conversation from an adversarial one to a cooperative one.  Taken together, I hope that the following talking points make a powerful argument for taking a more cooperative, centrist approach to the issue of teaching reading. Here are the talking points:

1. Taking an us/them approach, treating the issue of teaching beginning reading as a dichotomy is counterproductive. It guarantees that the Great Debate will turn into what Frank Smith once called The Never-Ending Debate, LINK.

Using the “reading wars” metaphor guarantees that the debate around reading will endlessly swing between extreme positions about teaching reading. See the details about why I think that is the case in section three of this blog post. Because of the inadequacies of the reading wars metaphor,  I advocate for adopting the metaphor that Cambourne and Crouch are suggesting in the upcoming issue of The Missouri Reader LINK. It is the “quilt” metaphor.  There is a quilt of available reading practices. My take on this is that teachers should be allowed to take from the quilt those particular practices that are most likely to help the particular children they are working with. There is a caveat: Teachers must follow district guidelines/policies as they use these various practices.

2. Despite claims to the contrary, the issues around how to best teach beginning reading are not settled science.

I have talked about the Reading Research Quarterly Special Issue: Executive Summary Science of Reading- Supports, Critiques and Questions several times in the past few months. The summary gives us insights into what the top researchers in reading are thinking about this important topic, LINK.  Here is a brief excerpt from the summary of the document:

“In short, a key contribution of this special issue is to clarify that it is not enough to consider the collection of experimental studies conceptualized within SOR; instead, this special issue pushes a broader conceptualization.”

That push for a broader conceptualization of the SOR can be found in Pearson and Tierney’s new book A History of Literacy Education: Waves of Research and Practice.  I recently talked in detail about the content of this book in a recent blog LINK. Here is a key quote  from the book. I used this quote in the blog:

“When the editors of the Reading Research Quarterly invited scholars to submit articles to address this topic, we had envisioned more debate and adamant views. We predicted poorly. The contributors were restrained in their general characterization of the state of reading instruction, the preparation of teachers, and the state of student achievement. Our reading of the separate articles suggested that there was a general consensus that we were ‘not there yet’ relative to science being able to offer guidance to teachers about teaching and learning for diverse classrooms and learners.”

In light of the above quote and reading the considerable research around the Science of Reading issue, I stand by my conclusion that it is not yet settled science.

3. The issues around what works have been clouded by misinformation, misrepresentation and misunderstanding about what methods work (or don’t work).  That kind of thing has been carried out by folks from both sides (all sides?).

For example, using the ideas and methods of the SOR approach does not necessarily automatically produce “word callers.”  Using ideas from the SOR approach does not automatically exclude developing readers who comprehend.  Some critics of the SOR methods seem to indicate that both things are true. They do this by drawing on what I consider “strawman tactics,” looking only at those advocates of SOR who take things to the extreme or who implement the tenets of SOR poorly. Don’t get me wrong. I am a critic of those SOR advocates who take the “my way or the highway” positions. LINK, LINK.  But I do try to dialogue with folks who believe in the SOR approach or who are sure that Dyslexia is a real phenomenon.  I find that many of them have ideas that are very much worth considering. LINK, LINK. I even wrote an article for Literacy Today entitle Argue Less, Talk More (pg. 20) LINK. This article outlines how all sides could and should have productive dialogues around this important topic.

One of my earliest blogs proposed the idea of a “reading Evolution” LINK.  

In this entry, I argue that so long as we continue to treat things as a dichotomy (the reading wars), as long as both sides (all sides) take a “my way or the highway” attitude that the pendulum of instruction will continue to swing between extremes.  There is a fact of life in education that most teachers become well aware of. What works with one kid does not necessarily work with another. No one method works with all kids all the time. Accordingly, when the pendulum swings to a particular way of doing things, if folks from that method insist that their method and only their method be used, it is guaranteed that there will be some children for whom that method doesn’t work. What happens next is a call to try something better. We swing to another extreme. For most of my 5-decade career in literacy, I’ve watched the pendulum swing time and again. Isn’t it time for something new? Here is what I suggested in that blog entry:

“Effectively, it means trying something that we’ve never before tried in the history of teaching reading. That is leaving the pendulum in the middle, talking to one another, learning from one another, and putting together a system that helps as many children as possible by using the best ideas of all the approaches. P.D. Pearson expressed this kind of sentiment in the last round of the reading wars. Have a look: Life in the Radical Middle: A Personal Apology for a Balanced View of Reading.

That is what the “Reading Evolution” is all about. Having teachers who are willing and able to try to find the best methods for each individual child. My mantra has been “fit the program to the child, not the other way around.” No one side wins with the approach. But no one side loses either. The real winners of taking this approach are the students who finally get the instruction that is most likely to help them.

4. There is a real need to consider all research and all forms of research as we wrestle with the problem of how to teach reading, especially beginning reading.

I intend to take an in-depth look at the issue of qualitative vs. quantitative research in future blogs.  For now, I will say this- based on the coursework I’ve had in both approaches, I firmly believe that one is not “better” than the other. Many SOR advocates approach things as if quantitative research should be considered first and foremost, perhaps exclusively. They treat qualitative information as a weak sister at best. I respectfully disagree. We need both to inform our instruction. I say this because doing educational research is a messy business. There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of variables that can come into play. Random assignment can only do so much to overcome this. There are limits to what quantitative studies can tell us. Qualitative work gives us important additional information that can be hidden or lost by using only quantitative information. One of my favorite examples of action research involving both qualitative & quantitative measures can be found in the action research of one of my former professors. I wrote a blog about that LINK. That same professor told of one district that looked at which teachers had the best reading outcomes with students. They then invited those teachers to make suggestions about what practices the district might consider adopting. I thought that was an innovative qualitative-based way of doing things. Bottom line- we need to use both quantitative and qualitative information to inform our instruction.

5. There are hopeful signs that work from both sides (all sides) can lead to further research that can help inform our reading instruction.

For me, Nell Duke is the epitome of what a good researcher is all about. She follows the research where it leads, even when it leads to challenging folks’ long-cherished ideas about reading. Be sure to look at the repost and discussion of her most recent article, where she proposes an improved model of how to deal with teaching reading. It will appear in next week’s Missouri Reader. Here is a preview of that model:

6. The best hope for helping all children does not lie in adopting particular methods. Instead, I believe it lies in empowering teachers by teaching teachers about a variety of different teaching methods and allowing local districts (not state or national mandates) to determine what methods would work best with their particular population.

The International Reading Association has long advocated a policy of using a variety of methods LINK.  Here is a brief excerpt from that statement:

“There is a strong research base supporting this position. Several large-scale studies of reading methods have shown that no one method is better than any other method in all settings and situations (Adams, 1990; Bond & Dykstra, 1967; Foorman et al., 1998; Hoffman, 1994; Stallings, 1975). For every method studied, some children learned to read very well while others had great difficulty.

This is not a new finding. For example, in their report on the First-Grade Studies, Bond and Dykstra (1967) wrote the following: ‘Children learn to read by a variety of materials and methods. Pupils become successful readers in such vastly different programs as the Language Experience approach with its relative lack of structure and vocabulary control and the various Linguistic programs with their relatively high degree of structure and vocabulary control. Furthermore, pupils experienced difficulty in each of the programs utilized. No one approach is so distinctively better in all situations and respects than the others that it should be considered the best method and the one to be used exclusively. (p. 123)’ .”

Taken together, I think these six talking points make a case for adopting a centrist position around the issue of how to best teach reading. I do think it is time to replace the Reading Wars metaphor with the Quilt metaphor. It is valuable to look at the best of what each point of view has to offer rather than tear down points of view that don’t fit our favorite way of doing things. I’d very much be interested in finding out what you think. Would you please respond with comments to this blog or by tweeting out your ideas? Also- please do be on the lookout next week for The Missouri Reader, and please do visit the MLA website for information about upcoming book clubs, LINK.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Sam Bommarito began his teaching career in 1970. During his career, he has taught every grade Kg-graduate school. His educational roles have included being a Title One reading teacher, Title One staff developer, and University professor. He is currently a national reading consultant and has presented at numerous local, state and national reading conventions. He has done a considerable amount of professional development training for schools in the St. Louis region and is actively involved in a literacy initiative spearheaded by Turn The Page. This initiative is designed to improve instruction in the St. Louis region. He is also currently doing pro bono work at an elementary school, where he does individual tutoring and whole class push-ins using Zoom.  He tweets about educational issues daily (@doctorsam7) and does a weekly blog about reading (DoctorSam7, via WordPress). The blog includes informational pieces, op-eds, and video interviews of people working in the field of literacy. He advocates for a centrist approach to reading, which he defines as an approach that uses reading practices from a variety of sources.  Teachers should align those particular practices to the particular children who will benefit from them the most. He has served as a board member and officer on both state and national ILA boards, and he is currently the Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader. This journal is a peer-reviewed state reading journal. It has been publishing for over four decades.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

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 won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Lots of free low prep, high impact opportunities for improving your literacy program, just in time for the end of summer/beginning of the school year. By Dr. Sam Bommarito

There are several upcoming literacy opportunities for the end of summer and the beginning of the school year.

JULY BOOK CLUB. Included is a book club this coming Thursday evening from 6:30 to 7:30 CST. Eric Litwin will be there in person to talk about a new professional book he wrote called The Power of Joyful Teaching. I promise you it will be a lively and informative event. His book includes tons of ideas for getting kids of all ages engaged in the reading process. There are lots of specific ideas in the book and lots of free resources on his website. In this second session of the book club, you’ll be hearing about all this from Eric himself.  New registrations are welcome. This is a free event open to all.  It is sponsored by The Missouri Literacy Association, an affiliate of the International Reading Association. BTW I did a blog about Eric’s new book LINK.

Here is a link to register for that book club:

https://mla31.wildapricot.org/event-4301466

August Book Club. Here is the promo for the Missouri Literacy Association’s August book club event:

Notice we are promoting this as a “Little to NO-PREP Book Club”. It features two different books by Trudy Ludwig. It is free and open to all.

This is a one-session book club. She will be at this session via Zoom to talk about both books.  Again, you will come away from this session with great ideas about how to use picture books. It also provides you the perfect chance to learn more about both of these wonderful books Trudy has written.

Special Edition of The Missouri Reader. The last weekend in July, the Missouri Literacy Association will be releasing the latest issue of The Missouri ReaderThe Missouri Reader is a peer-reviewed professional journal that has been publishing for over four decades.  Glenda Nugent and I are the co-editors of this journal.  This special summer edition will look at the many sides of the question of how to best teach reading, especially beginning reading.  This issue includes an article by Brian Cambourne and Debra Crouch that proposes replacing the “Reading Wars” metaphor with a “Reading Quilt” metaphor. I wrote a blog about that idea LINK.  BTW- we are in the process of lining up a book club around Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne’s new book Made for Learning. I’ll let you know when we have a date for that.

We will also discuss Nell Duke’s new literacy model and P.D. Pearson’s new book, The History of Literacy Education. I will give a link to the journal. It will be in the blog I’ll be writing about this special issue. That will also come out the last weekend in July.  In the meantime, here is a sample to give you an idea of what special editions of our reading journal look like.  It is a link to a previous special edition that was about how to use poetry in literacy instruction. It includes powerful ideas for using poetry with both younger and older students. Have a look while you are waiting for the new journal to come out.

https://joom.ag/o1ta

I hope all the preceding gives you some low prep, high impact ideas that will help you make the transition from the end of summer to the start of the school year. I hope to see you at some (or all) of the book club sessions, and I hope you will enjoy the many resources that The Missouri Reader will be providing you.

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

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.

An “extra extra extra” post- Book Club about Eric Litwin’s New Book- Please register!

My Twitter Post

Book Club about @ericlitwinbooks ‘s bk The Joy of Reading. This one is a “must read”. Sponsored by Mo. Lit. Assoc, an ILA affiliate. #ILAchat @ILAToday @ssvincent @VSRAToday @lsrsig Eric will be at the second session! LINK = https://mla31.wildapricot.org/event-4301466

Here is a link to a recent interview I did with Eric: https://doctorsam7.blog/2021/04/02/the-eric-litwin-interview-eric-discusses-his-newest-books-the-power-of-joyful-reading-and-a-childrens-book-entitled-the-poop-song-yes-a-book-about-poop-by-doctor-sam-bommarito/

HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL AT THE BOOK CLUB

Dr. Sam!

It’s Not Settled Science: A look at Pearson and Tierney’s new book & my musing about best reading practices by Dr. Sam Bommarito

It’s Not Settled Science: A look at Pearson and Tierney’s new book & my musing about best reading practices by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I’ll begin by saying that this is not a review of Tierney and Pearson’s new book, A History of Literacy Education: Waves of Research and Practice. I am saving that for another time. Rather it is a discussion of the state of the dialogue around the best ways to teach reading.  Several things from the new book helped me expand and clarify my thinking around that issue. Despite numerous claims to the contrary, the key takeaway is this, the issue of how to teach reading is not a settled science.

I’ve written many times about the limits and limitations of the so-called Science of Reading movement, LINK1, LINK 2, LINK 3. I have talked about my position, which is essentially centrist. I advocate looking at the issue of how to teach reading using tools like Cambourne and Crouch’s quilt metaphor. Cambourne and Crouch argue that rather than looking at the issue of reading instructional practices as a dichotomy (the reading wars), it is more useful to view it as a quilt of varied instructional practices.  I think it makes sense to look at and use things from all the many resources on that quilt. This means rather than forcing a one size fits all solution on all children, we should instead find the part of the “quilt of instructional practices” that fits each particular child. Here are some key excerpts from Tierney and Pearson’s book that I believe reinforce taking that kind of centrist stance. 

On the question of, is there a Science of Reading?

“When the editors of the Reading Research Quarterly invited scholars to submit articles to address this topic, we had envisioned more debate and adamant views. We predicted poorly. The contributors were restrained in their general characterization of the state of reading instruction, the preparation of teachers, and the state of student achievement. Our reading of the separate articles suggested that there was a general consensus that we were ‘not there yet’ relative to science being able to offer guidance to teachers about teaching and learning for diverse classrooms and learners.”

The book goes on to quote Yaden, Reinking and Smagorinsky (in press), who argue that the narrow focus on reading is misguiding and misdirected…  they suggest that SOR:

     “Relies on a limited conception of science; ignores relevant environmental factors and …uncritically accepts experimentation as the only valid approach to social science inquiry in literacy … leading to the oversimplification of understanding the nature of the reading process, of teaching reading and of conducting research into effective reading pedagogies. The conception of science embedded in SOR research reduces reading to a technical exercise that eliminates critical variables that follow from how the vicissitudes of living in a complex physical and social world contribute to how people read, why they read and how they experience reading instruction.”

The book then turns to what Tim Shanahan had to say in his recent RRQ article.

“Yet no matter how good the ideas of basic research they must be tried out instructionally and shown to be beneficial in improving reading ability or its dispersion in some way before they should be recommended to educators and policymakers (Shanahan 2020, p. 241).”

My take on the preceding ideas: 

Most important is the fact that the claim that SOR is settled is debunked. A reading of the recent RRQ articles shows, as the book states, that “we are not there yet.” I talked about and gave links to the content of those articles in a recent blog post LINK. Readers are invited to review the summaries of those articles provided by that link to see if the assessment that “we are not there yet” is justified. I anticipate that most readers will concur with that view.  My mantra over the past few years has been to consider ALL the research.  This means including qualitative and quantitative research. Too often, in their public relations campaign to promote their particular methods, SOME (not all) SOR advocates treat qualitative research as weak. My research training taught me that in terms of quantitative vs. qualitative research, one form of research is not inherently better or worse than the other. They both have a place and a role to play in helping to inform our decisions. Purely quantitative approaches run the risk of leaving out critical factors. Some SOR advocates focus on a select few cherry-picked quantitative research papers while ignoring or debunking other quantitative and qualitative research findings that fail to support their preferred methods. So, one of the things I will continue to advocate for is to consider ALL the research when making decisions about what literacy practices to use.

What about the politicization of reading and literacy that has occurred? On page 219, Tierney and Pearson have the following to say:

“The politicization of reading and literacy is particularly evident in the ways in which some educators marked ideas and suggestions for reform as ‘best practice’. For example, in Australia, Jennifer Buckingham has been hugely influential positioning her own reading program (multlit.com/about/our-expertise/Jennifer-buckingham/). In the United States, Emily Hanford uses blogs and tweets to selectively represent her position on dyslexia as well as what she deems essential reading pedagogy (e.g., Hanford, 2018; Loewus, 2019). The politicization of their position is most apparent in their efforts to introduce legislation in several states mandating certain emphases to the exclusion of eclecticism and restrictions on the role of teacher decision making.”

They then elaborate on this chilling turn of events in the current dialogue around the best ways to teach reading on page 222. In what they call a compelling critique of the attacks on the quality of teachers and their preparation, they quote Hoffman et al.:

“The SOR is being used to silence the literacy teacher preparation community through its unfounded claims regarding what matters, what is known and what must be done. To question these claims or inquire into their scientific base (as many have done) is met with charges of ignorance, incompetence and/or ideological bias….”

My take on the preceding

I have, on several occasions, raised the question of whether the SOR advocates have met the “gold standard” of research. That would mean providing evidence that the practices being advocated were tried out over an extended period of time, IN ACTUAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS, and that the measures of success for those practices include using tests of reading that measure both decoding and comprehension.  Careful examination of the evidence they give to support their position has never produced anything close to meeting that requirement. Yet, they are insisting that their recommended practices be exclusively adopted at the state level.

The effect of this stance is that they take away the right of the local school districts to decide what is best. While it may be true that some districts make bad choices or fail to implement their good choices, it is equally true that there are many districts that do find things that work well for their children. It makes sense to me that such decisions properly belong at the district level. The districts are in a position to know the students they serve the best. A state-level or national-level decision runs the risk of making decisions that are a good fit for some but a really bad fit for others. As a practicing teacher for over 50 years, I have found that the fact is what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another. That fact helps to explain why the pendulum of reading instruction seems to swing from one extreme to the other. As I said in my original post entitled The Reading Evolution: Finding a Path to End the Reading Wars:

“The swinging pendulum has become the defining feature about what has become known as the reading wars. The problem is that after each and every swing, the folks who call for replacing the old way of doing things are quite confident, they have finally found THE WAY to solve things.  They insist that all old practices be dropped and replaced by the newest soup de jour. Invariably what happens is that the new way helps many, but not all. Eventually, this new way becomes the old way and is replaced yet again. The pendulum continues to swing. My proposed solution to this conundrum is simple.  Instead of insisting on throwing away everything that’s come before and starting over, we should instead tweak what we have. This would require both sides (all sides) to admit that their particular way of doing things is not THE SOLUTION. It also means that their particular way has limits and limitations. It would follow that all sides might have things to learn from what folks in different positions are saying. Effectively it means trying something that we’ve never before tried in the history of teaching reading. That is leaving the pendulum in the middle, talking to one another, learning from one another, and putting together a system that helps as many children as possible by using the best ideas of all the approaches.”

LINK to the blog

In conclusion

I think the information from Pearson and Tierney’s new book provides further support for taking a centrist view toward the issue of best practices in reading. At the end of the chapter entitled The Era of Reform Contestation and Debate, they cite the International Literacy Association views about “evidence-based” practices. They note that the IRA’s position paper states that “Time and again research has confirmed that regardless of the quality of a program resource or strategy it is the teacher and learning situation that make the difference (Bond & Dyskstra, 1967/1997).” In my view, the best path to good literacy practices lies in empowering teachers by helping them become adept in the teaching of many practices. That is the best way to ensure that each child will get the reading instruction that best suits them. Let districts decide what programs fit their particular children. Thanks to my readers for considering these remarks.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

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 won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Here is a link for ordering the Tierney & Pearson’s book:

https://www.tcpress.com/literacy-education-9780807764633

(Coming soon- a special summer edition of the Missouri Reader, which deals with the issues surrounding the current dialogue around best practices in reading)

Dr. Sam is taking a break from the blog in order to spend the Fourth with family and friends.

Happy Fourth of July!

Dr. Sam is taking a break from the blog in order to spend the Fourth with family and friends.

I thought my readers might enjoy seeing some pics I posted two years ago after visiting Pearl Harbor. I got to see the “Bookends,” the two ships representing the beginning and the end of World War II.  The ships are the Arizona and the Missouri.

I am also sharing a picture of the gift I received during that visit. It came from the folks at the Mighty Mo’s gift shop. The gift was given to me because I served in the U.S. Army as a Sgt E-5 (never saw combat).  The gift shop did that for all veterans who visited the ship. Getting that gift meant a lot.

Overall, the visit to Pearl Harbor was a moving and memorable experience.

As we celebrate July 4th, let us remember that freedom is never free. Let’s especially remember those who served and are now serving to keep us all safe. Let us especially remember those who gave their all for their country. Happy 4th of July.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the centrist)

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

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.