Monthly Archives: October 2021

It’s not settled science part two: My way of teaching, empowering teachers, and using the reading quilt by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Those of you who read my blog regularly know I am a centrist. Life in the center is not always easy. However, nothing worthwhile ever is. At the heart of things, I believe in empowering teachers. It’s been over five decades since the First Grade Studies demonstrated that teachers made more difference than particular programs LINK. Simple takeaway- good teachers get good results. Does this mean good teachers can do whatever they please? Hardly. Teachers must operate within the boundaries of the curriculum their district chooses to adopt. Districts are in the best position to decide what that curriculum should be. That is why I am highly critical of recent attempts (some of them successful) to effectively ban certain practices by codifying those bans in state and national law. Doing it that way takes away the district’s right to choose. Doing it that way assumes the districts are incapable of making good choices themselves. But Dr. Sam, aren’t things really bad? Aren’t there too many children not learning to read? The simple answer is yes- but as in all things related to research, the devil is in the details. Have a look at these diagrams  taken from my blog It’s Not Settled Science LINK:

Diagram one shows The Rocket a takeoff on Moat’s latest work about SOR, and the other diagram represents all the practices in districts around the US. There is no question that overall, the “all the practices” model is not working.  Moats says we should get rid of all that and replace it exclusively with her practices. She promises great results if we do.

I’ve written extensively, talking about the limits and limitations of the so-called Science of Reading LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK. The upshot is that SOR’s “miracle results” are often based on testing instruments that mainly test decoding. This is not the only problem. In my opinion, the Florida and Louisiana models that include student retention should be discontinued. Retention is a harmful practice. NCTE cited studies that demonstrate that is so. My new friend Paul Thomas is the real expert on this issue. Please visit his blog and search for his writings about retention LINK.   

Let’s now talk a little more about the SOR blogs contained in the series of links I just gave. It is clear from the many citations in the various blogs that there is NOT a consensus among researchers on what to do about reading instruction. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay close attention to what Moats and her followers have to say. As a matter of fact, many of the things I am recommending to teachers next week come from some of the things she and her followers have to say. However, at the end of the day, the current brand of SOR is over-dependent on what I call “wind tunnel test” data and sorely lacking in what I call “flight test data.” Translation- they are attempting to use preliminary testing, e.g., the testing in brain research that some researchers have labeled speculative. Moats and her followers treat that research as gospel and ready to implement and use. They want to skip the part where they do what I call the “flight test data,” which is data from actually flying the plane. In the case of education, the gold standard for such testing would be several years of district-wide use with results measured by tests of reading (not decoding). Those tests of reading should resemble the kind of testing used in many states- tests that include direct measurements of comprehension. Regardless of whose materials districts choose to adopt (assuming they are given any choices at all), they should ensure that the product will deliver in BOTH decoding and comprehension. That means they must use gold standard data to make the decisions. I’ll restate one more time for emphasis that such decisions properly belong at the district level. Districts know the particulars of their populations. But Dr. Sam- haven’t districts been making decidedly bad choices? Isn’t that the problem?

No, it’s not.

Here is my interpretation of the current situation:

The rockets represent districts adopting SOR successfully. The stars represent districts using balanced reading practices such as workshop or reading recovery successfully (I am presenting RR at LitCon in January with lots of data showing successful RR programs exist). The circles represent successful programs not using things that readily fall into the first two categories. There is even a “dare to dream” entry representing districts using elements of both. The gray represents the real problem- districts not employing any effective practices at all. That is the source of the lack of progress in reading. But wait, Dr. Sam, are you saying that there is such a thing as districts using Balanced Literacy successfully? Yes. Look at Lucy Calkin’s latest research results LINK. By the way, the ink doesn’t get dry on reporting such results before the naysayers swarm and find a thousand things wrong with how they were done. Balanced Literacy folks could return fire and do the same for successful SOR sites (and yes, there are a few reporting real comprehension results instead of the bogus decoding results). Going down the dichotomy path is guaranteed to produce a stalemate dead end. My point is this. It’s time to abandon the reading wars as an ill-advised metaphor and consider adopting what Camborne has called the Quilt Metaphor. Let’s stop asking what’s wrong with reading instruction for a while and instead turn our attention to what’s right. Let’s consider using Camborne’s quilt metaphor to guide our talk around best practices. Here is an excerpt from an article he wrote for a state reading journal (and yes, I am the journal’s co-editor). The full article can be accessed here LINK.

Simply put, there is a quilt of reading practices. There can be many additions to the quilt. To remain on the quilt, the practices must prove that they work consistently. Working means they help students decode and comprehend.  We must be open to the fact that some of our favorite practices may, in the end, not prove worthy. There was a time when I taught about learning styles. In light of things that Nell Duke and others have found I no longer promote teaching about learning styles. However, there are some practices that really do work but are falling victim to a public relations campaign designed to replace them with the so-called Science of Reading. Remember that some researchers have criticized SOR as having a narrow and limited view of the reading process. I predicted three years ago that if that that SOR campaign succeeded, the result would ultimately be another swing of the pendulum LINK. This is because, like all its predecessors, the “Rocket” (SOR) works for some but not for all. The “not for all” folks will sooner or later call for new changes. There have been many such swings in the past, some of them quite costly. If current SOR practices replace everything else, I predict that the swing will come again. Let’s get out of the dead-end dichotomy approach. Let’s instead look at what’s working. Let’s let districts have the choice to pick from what’s working. It’s time for us to use the reading quilt as our new metaphor and replace the great debate with the great reading dialogue.

Next week’s blog title is It’s not settled science part three: Empowering teachers, using the reading quilt, practices I suggested to beginning teachers. Included will be such things as using both decodables and predictables, how to avoid younger students just memorizing little books, good resources for teaching beginning reading, good resources for older students who did not get sufficient work in decoding, good resources for students who did not get sufficient work in comprehension, and writing our way into reading- how Language Experience works. After that blog entry, I will return to my interviews, and I am excited to announce that I will interview Tim Rasinski and Lori Ozkus about the books they have published together.

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.

Cambourne’s Model of Learning gives students what they deserve: Informed, empowered teachers who provide them with literacy instruction that fits their needs by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Over the past three years, I’ve written a great deal about the issues surrounding the so-called reading wars. One of my mantras during that time has been that we should fit the program to the child, not the other way around. My new friend Paul Thomas gave me the idea for another goal. That goal is to give the student what they need LINK. We’ll both have more to say about that at our upcoming sessions at LitCon LINK.

At the end of the day, what students need most are informed, empowered teachers who are given the freedom to carry out literacy instruction that best fits each particular child. This is especially critical in Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction. There is long-standing research supporting this approach. One example is the First Grade Studies. It has been over 50 years since the First Grade Studies established the fact that teachers matter more than programs. Good teachers tend to get good results. See page 5 of the ILA position paper on Reading Difficulties for more details. LINK. That same position paper details what appropriate literacy instruction looks like: Here is a screen capture from pages 4 and 5 of that document.

This week, I attended a webinar given by Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne about Cambourne’s model of learning. Cambourne created the model based on years of structured observations designed to uncover what makes for effective teaching. I interviewed Debra and Brian when their new book came out LINK. The book’s title was Made For Learning.  It gives the eight conditions of learning and explains how to apply Cambourne’s model to everyday teaching. If the information in the preceding section about appropriate instruction gives us an idea of what the literacy instruction should be, Cambourne’s model gives us ideas on how to carry out that instruction in the most effective ways possible.  Here is the model:

During the webinar, Brian explained the workings of the model while Debra provided several videos of her applying the model in actual classroom settings. Among the more compelling pieces was the one where she scaffolded a group of 1st graders into an in-depth discussion of a book entitled Animals in Danger: Orangutans. She did not lead the discussion. She facilitated the discussion. The students were deeply engaged in the task. The expressions on their faces were priceless. They were smiling, and all were actively engaged. This was not at all an accidental outcome. It took careful planning, and Debra was a masterful coach. She shared her secrets of how she was able to help this group carry out the discussion. The book Brian and Debra co-authored gives many such examples of how to teach in a way that uses the eight conditions of learning. It is a perfect example of how theory can and should guide practice, practice which supports change for the better. Here is information about their book.

Here is a link to the website where you can purchase the book LINK.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing other literacy leaders. I’ll also be talking about some of the free P.D. that the Missouri Literacy Association and the St. Louis Literacy association will be providing. Be sure to visit the MLA website LINK and the MLA Facebook LINK page for the latest information on what is going on and what free P.D. opportunities are available to you.

So, until next week: Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the empowered, informed teacher trying to give his students the instruction they need.

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.

Spotlight on the Village of Moms and the wonderful literacy work they are doing- by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Spotlight on the Village of Moms and the wonderful literacy work they are doing- by Dr. Sam Bommarito

There are many wonderful literacy initiatives and literacy organizations around the St. Louis region. In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing individuals from the St Louis area who help make these projects possible. I’ll also be doing some interviews with literacy leaders from around the country. My interview today is the first in this series. I’m talking to Mia and Alisha the cofounders of the Village of Moms. Here’s a little bit of information about the Village of Moms.

More details about how Mia and Alisha established this amazing organization can be found in the video interview. Both women are concerned parents who live in a high-poverty area. They are community activists. They wanted to do something to help the families living in their area that includes more than just help with literacy. Their help includes giving the families support in everyday living. Notice how they gave away over 4,000 diapers at their most recent literacy event and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what families received (see the pics of the event at the end of the blog). In the way of full disclosure- I have long been a supporter of VOM and I’ve been to several of their community events over the years. Our ILA members helped to distribute books and other materials from both the state and the national ILA organizations. In addition to the state and national ILA organizations, many other different organizations help. These include Turn the Page, several regional libraries, Parents as First Teachers and the list goes on and on. Village of Moms does more than just the annual events. Listen to the interview and review the pictures and links that come after the interview. Those links include ways you can support their efforts if you want.

Now it is time to have a look at the interview. Here are the topics we discussed. They are time stamped.

1. Please introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about your personal background. 00:40

2. Give us a quick overview of Village of Moms and explain how it came to be. 07:05

What is its purpose? – see the after-interview pics

Include talking about your partners (St. Louis Black Authors, Turn the Page, etc.)- see the after-interview links

Explain how the Village of Moms helps the cause of literacy in the St. Louis area. 15:42

3. Tell us about your latest event. 18:29

4. Tell us about what you hope to do in the schools in the coming years. 28:45

Wasn’t that an amazing story!?!  One small pebble in a pond can cause ripples in the whole pond. These two women and their organization have done so much for the community they live in. It is a community they understand well. They understand the importance of children having access to books, books that are relevant to them, books that reflect their heritage and culture. They understand the needs of the whole village. Their work helps the whole village. What follows now are pictures and links that highlight their work. As indicated some of the links will allow you to support their good work.

Link to Village of Mom’s Facebook Page LINK

Link to Village of Mom’s Store- LINK

Link to Village of Mom’s Go Fund Me Page- LINK

Links to some of the St. Louis Area Organizations that support Village of Moms

  • St. Louis Black Authors LINK
  • Turn the Page- St. Louis LINK
  • Ready to Learn- St. Louis LINK

Thanks for listening. It really does take the whole village to raise the child. Be on the lookout in the coming weeks for more information on what some of the organizations in the St. Louis Region are doing to promote literacy in our area. In addition, I also hope to interview some other literacy leaders from around the country. If you know of organizations or individuals who are making a difference in your area please let me know.

Until next time- Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka proud member of the “village” of St. Louis

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.

Free Professional Development and a free book for every registrant- Have a look at upcoming events from ILA-MO and ILA-STL by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Missouri Literacy Association and The St. Louis Regional Literacy Association have a couple of FREE professional development opportunities coming up. One of them is not only free, but it also offers a free copy of a book to each of the first 500 registrants. Here are the details about the two events.

The first event is this Tuesday night, October 12th, 5-6 pm CST. It is being sponsored by several agencies from the St. Louis region, including the MLA and STLRA. Not only have the agencies arranged for a great speaker, but they were also able to get funding to buy 500 copies of the book from the series. Those copies will be free and go to the first five hundred Zoom registrants (see details in the flyer below). There are still copies of the book left- but if you want one, don’t delay. Register today!

The speaker for the event is Dr. Stephen G. Peters, the immediate past president of the International Reading Association. The host for the event is Julius B. Anthony, President of St. Louis Regional and Vice President of the Missouri Literacy Association. Dr. Gates will be talking about his book Do You Know Enough About Me to Teach Me? Here is a link to register and a screen capture of the flyer for the event.


The Missouri Literacy Association sponsors the other free P.D. As the registration link indicates, Cambourne & Crouch will do an in-depth investigation of the nuances of Cambourne’s model, The Conditions of Learning. When I interviewed Cambourne and Couch last month, LINK, my friends’ and colleagues’ feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers loved the model and said it helped to make them better teachers. Several of my friends currently teach literacy courses and they indicated that they would include the model as part of their coursework. The key to it all is that the model “illustrates teacher decisions that nourish a discourse of ‘meaning-making.'” Please join us for this FREE session!


So, it is going to be a busy month this month. I’m proud to say I am the past president of both the St. Louis and Missouri ILA organizations, and in the way of full disclosure, I still serve on both boards. I’m proud that the ILA affiliates in our state have been able to arrange for this free professional development. That is something many of you have been asking for, and now it is available. I hope to see all of you there for both of these amazing upcoming events.

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

An interview with Dr. Heidi Anne Mesmer: Her books and upcoming webinar by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This week I had a chance to interview Dr. Heide Anne Mesmer. We talked briefly about two of her books and her upcoming webinar for the International Literacy Association LINK. This session is being sponsored by Curriculum Associates, please do drop by their website LINK. I will be the host for the webinar, which is being held online on October 13th, 5-6 pm E.T. Here is Heidi’s bio.


As you can see, Heidi is a classroom teacher turned professor and researcher. As a researcher, she has published in many prestigious peer-reviewed journals, including the Reading Research Quarterly. Her background gives her a unique perspective on things. She sees things as a classroom teacher, reading professor and reading researcher. Nell Duke is the editor of one of her books. Like Dr. Duke, she is a researcher who goes where the research takes her, even if that means challenging some long-held favorite beliefs.  In the upcoming webinar, she will give us ideas on how to make our instruction in decoding stronger. What I like most is that she is talking to us both as researcher and as a classroom teacher during the interview. As a former classroom teacher, she promises her webinar will give us specifics on things we can “use next Monday morning.”  That is something I always look for when picking PD sessions. More importantly, what she suggests is well-grounded in current research. 

What follows next is a link to the YouTube version of the video, a time-stamped list of the questions asked during the interview and a link to two of her books about teaching decoding, one of which is literally “hot off the press.” I also included a link to Phonics Faux Pas, an article Heidi co-authored with Nell K. Duke. That article talks gives a good overview of missteps to avoid when teaching phonics. The two books are a treasure trove of resources and ideas. They include links to videos that demonstrate the teaching methods she discusses being carried out in actual classroom settings. Here are the questions we covered in the interview:

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? (1:12)
  2. Why do you want to talk about Accelerating? (2.55)
  3. Tell us aboutDecoding and Letter Instruction? (3:00)
  4. What do you mean by “Accelerate?” (6.24)
  5. What can teachers expect to get from your session? (11.23)
  6. What do you think needs more focus?in this area? (14.32)





I’ll end by saying I’ve been working with some Kg and 1st-grade teachers and their students this year. Heidi’s book Letter Lessons and First Words has been an invaluable resource for me. I can’t wait for my copy of her newest book Alphabetics for Emerging Readers, to arrive. I also can’t wait for Heidi’s webinar. Since I am hosting that event (I’m sooooooooo excited about that!), I’ll have a front-row seat. Hope to see all of you there on October 13th, 5-6 pm E.T. Until next time:

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (the guy who just got to add “webinar host” to his resume!)

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.