Monthly Archives: January 2022

An alternate explanation as to why reading achievement isn’t where we want it to be.

An alternate explanation as to why reading achievement isn’t where we want it to be

by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The following is from one of my handouts for the LitCon 2022 conference. It asserts that some SOR advocates claims that balanced literacy has failed are ill-founded. They fail to follow the basics of scientific study- that any conclusions about balanced literacy/constructivist practices need to be drawn using a proper sample of districts using those practices with fidelity. More details will follow at my LitCon presentation.

On the one hand, everyone agrees that the current state of reading instruction is not acceptable. SOR advocates claim Balanced Literacy is the root cause of the problems in reading. They view Balanced Literacy as lacking instruction in phonics and the use of orthographic information. Let’s use the two diagrams above to understand why their conclusions are ill-founded and incorrect.

 Diagram one shows “the rocket.” The rocket represents districts actively employing the constellation of instructional practices known as the science of reading. I’ve placed several rockets diagram 2, which represent those districts using SOR with some success. The stars in that same district represent those districts using balanced reading with some success.

 Wait a minute, Dr. Sam. Are you saying there are places where Balanced Literacy (or similar constructivist-based practices) are working? I have blogged extensively on the point that such districts do exist. Today’s constructivist-based balanced literacy programs include phonics instruction and developing students’ ability to use orthographic information. In addition, the extensive data showing the efficacy of these programs relies on more than simply demonstrating improved decoding skills. It also includes demonstrating improved comprehension with direct measurements of comprehension. Too often, some SOR advocates’ exaggerated claims of success are rooted in data that only demonstrates improved decoding skills. Improved decoding skills do not automatically lead to improved comprehension. We’ve known that at least since the NPR report. More details will be provided during the presentation.

So what we have is a situation where some districts are using Balanced Literacy or SOR with some success. HOWEVER, there are many other districts whose programs are not successful. It could be these districts are not doing the programs with fidelity. It could be that they really don’t have coherent programs. The bottom line is that those districts are doing things that just aren’t working. That is the main source of the current literacy problem.

 Let’s look at this issue another way. I can safely say that despite the fact many districts have adopted SOR, things have still not improved satisfactorily. If I said things like that– SOR advocates would immediately say that to get a true picture of what is going on, I have to look at just those districts doing SOR with fidelity. I absolutely agree. HOWEVER, if I do that for SOR, I must also do that for all the districts carrying out some form of balanced literacy practices with fidelity. THOSE DISTRICTS ARE ALSO SUCCESSFUL. Currently, critics of Balanced Literacy are not doing that. Instead of drawing a scientific sample of districts using Balanced Literacy/Constructivists practices with fidelity and then talking about the efficacy of Balanced Reading, they instead include all districts everywhere when they talk about problems in literacy. While this makes for sensational public relations, it makes for very bad science. I think it’s time to call for the SOR folks to use scientific samples of districts using programs with fidelity when talking about the situation in today’s literacy world. Let’s have less PR and more science, please!!!   

Remember that I’m advocating for a centrist position that says we need to look at ALL sides and draw from all sides. My doctoral work, done during the last round of the reading wars, found that when looking at whole language-based teachers vs. phonics emphasis teachers, the two groups of teachers had more practices in common than those that set them apart. Instead of treating this as a winner take all dichotomy, we need all sides to examine all the research. We need to work to find common ground. We need to use common sense to do so.

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.

I’ll be a featured speaker at LitCon in January. LitCon has changed to a virtual format this year. I hope you can come to my session. You can also come for the session I’m doing in collaboration with Paul Thomas. Both have to do with the efficacy of Reading Recovery and the issues surrounding the teaching of beginning reading.

LINK TO LITCON

Link to the tweet about my LitCon Presentation. Once on Twitter, click on the picture to listen to the promotional video. The video takes less than one minute.

LINK

An interview of Jill Speering about her newest book-Rubies in the Rubble, An Educator’s Transformation from Pain to Prominence, From Abuse to Absolution, conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

An interview of Jill Speering about her newest book-Rubies in the Rubble, An Educator’s Transformation from Pain to Prominence, From Abuse to Absolution, conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

As an educator who has a long-standing interest in the best ways to teach beginning reading, I was very happy when I heard that Jill Speering had written her first book. Jill has many years of experience as a teacher and a teacher of teachers. Also, as you can see from her biography, Jill is a longtime advocate and supporter of Reading Recovery. She believes in creating programs that fit the child rather than forcing the children into one size fits all programs. Her book is an autobiography, and that autobiography goes well beyond the issues surrounding best ways to teach beginning reading. It is the story of her whole life, a story of how she overcomes adversity. Here is what one reviewer had to say about this wonderful book (taken from the back cover of the book):

I have to concur. Jill’s story does show hope and promise for us all. It is a story that provides a rigorous defense of Reading Recovery. Before it does that, it also provides us with her story, which gives the reader a roadmap of how to overcome adversity. As Jill points out, overcoming adversity is something that many of the students we serve also must do if they are ever to become readers and writers. Here is a screen capture of the book’s cover and a link to the book:

LINK

Here is a link to the interview:

LINK

Here are the questions we covered. They are timestamped.

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. 01:19
  2. Why did you write this book? 02:35
  3. Talk to us as an author. Tell us how your background in learning about writing helped you as you wrote this book. 4:28
  4. Is the book more of a memoir or a biography? 09:33
  5. What do you feel is the most important takeaway for readers of this book? 15:06
  6. In just a few weeks, I will be presenting at LitCon, talking about why RR is a viable approach and why children deserve access to RR (that is a strong position my friend Paul Thomas has taken). Any thoughts about that? Do you agree with Paul and I on the need for children to have access to RR when needed? 15:06 (5 & 6 were covered jointly)

Clarification of things said in the interview:  After Reading Recovery was dismantled by then-Director of Schools Dr. Joseph, all five teacher leaders and administrators left the district or retired. The majority of trained RR teachers left the district! Many were recruited by surrounding districts. 

By the way, Jill will be the keynote speaker at the Delta Kappa Gamma Educational sorority on June 2, 2022, at the University of the South at Sewanee to discuss her book (LINK). As you can tell, the book is becoming quite popular, and I again encourage you to get your copy to find out why.

NEXT WEEK’S BLOG:

Next week I’ll be interviewing Molly Ness. She will be a keynote speaker at the Write to Learn Conference. I am doing a breakout session at that live conference, which is being held in Columbia, Missouri. Information about the conference can be found at the end of the blog. I am also in the process of lining up interviews of other major literacy figures.

I also want to remind you that I will be presenting a session at LitCon on the topic of why Reading Recovery is a viable approach to early reading instruction. Immediately after that session, Paul Thomas will join me for a summary of our respective LitCon presentations, followed by an extended Q & A session. Information about Lit Con can be found at the end of the blog entry. Remember that this year LitCon is a virtual event.

In the meantime- Happy Reading and Writing!

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.

PS 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.

I’ll be a featured speaker at LitCon in January. LitCon has changed to a virtual format this year. I hope you can come to my session. You can also come for the session I’m doing in collaboration with Paul Thomas. Both have to do with the efficacy of Reading Recovery and the issues surrounding the teaching of beginning reading.

Link to LitCon

I’m also presenting in March at the Write to Learn Conference in my home state of Missouri. My session at that Conference is “Helping All Readers (Especially Older Readers) Improve Both Their Decoding and Comprehension Skills.”

In this session, I will share highlights about what makes for effective instruction in decoding and comprehension. I will address what to do for older students who missed out on such effective instruction. Below you will find information about this in-person conference and a link to the conference.

Link to Write to learn