It’s Time to Bring Teacher’s Voices into the Dialogue Around Best Ways to Teach Literacy by Dr. Sam Bommarito
The past few weeks have been amazing in terms of my professional career. I was a featured speaker at LITCON and presented a case for why Reading Recovery is a viable intervention LINK. Remember that RR is a one semester intense intervention designed for use in the first semester of first grade. It is not meant to be an ongoing program. If that first semester intervention doesn’t work, and in a small number of cases it doesn’t, then we should move on to other things. To be crystal clear, that could mean moving on to some SOR interventions. If that sounds like Doctor Sam is saying that one semester of RR could serve as a screening, that is exactly what I am proposing. That idea is a trial balloon. We’ll see how all sides receive it.
The past few weeks, I’ve also had a lot of time to think about where I began in this quest to make sense of the current iteration of the reading wars LINK. Just last week I posted a summary of my current thinking. The upshot of that thinking is that the group I have dubbed the “my way or the highway” branch of The Science of Reading says they have all the answers. They don’t. Check out my last week’s blog, and you’ll see there is plenty of evidence that major folks in the research field do not believe that it is settled science LINK, LINK. By the way, in my view, the definition of science is never settled LINK, Science is an ongoing inquiry. Science should be an ongoing quest to discover what else we can learn. It’s a bit difficult for me to see how the “my way or the highway group” branch of SOR can be so ready to say they have the final answer and so ready to force that answer on all of us. Frankly, I don’t see such a position as being very scientific at all.
I don’t view myself as having any final answers. I do think I have some important questions to ask. For instance, in this current iteration of the reading wars, what can each side learn from the other? Is there a path for using common sense to find common ground? I think that there is. There are signs there are advocates of the Science of Reading who are willing to talk. This past week, someone from DNA Films (see thetruthaboutreading.com) Interviewed me for a documentary they are doing about the reading. I think that they wanted to hear what a centrist might have to say. By the way, they are interviewing folks from various points of view. I can’t wait for that to come out because that is the kind of thing that is needed to start a dialogue about how to best help the children.
For such a dialogue to occur, all sides must be willing to admit that there are limits and limitations to all points of view. What works with one child, or one group of children doesn’t always work with another. When your particular point of view’s methods fail to work for a particular child, you must be willing to try methods from the other side(s). You must be willing to look at both qualitative and quantitative information to decide whether the methods are working. You can and should add to Cambourne’s quilt (p. 18) https://joom.ag/rXuI . But remember, no addition can be made without some research supporting it. Again, the research can be either qualitative or quantitative. Given the complexities involved in any school setting, I recommend that you provide both kinds of data whenever possible.
My regular followers know my doctorate was done around the last iteration of the reading wars. It found that teachers from the two sides had more practices in common than practices they differed on. Unfortunately, back at that time, some of the constructivist advocates were dead set against the use of phonics. Fortunately, times have changed. MOST educators now believe phonics is needed. The question is now more around how much and what kind of phonics. Because we went through a time when teachers weren’t taught phonics at all, there is a real need to rectify that situation. This ILA document outlines nicely the kind of things that all teachers should learn LINK.
I’m writing this today as I finished up the Write to Learn conference in Missouri. There is a certain symmetry to that. Four years ago, my very first blog post was made from that conference. There is always much to be learned at the conference, and this year was no exception LINK, LINK, LINK. I presented a last breakout session on the last day. I want to thank the teachers who stayed for that session (it would have been so much easier to get an early start for home). I’d especially like to thank @TeacherMommyMO and @zachary_hamby shout-outs on Twitter. I hope I gave the teachers something they could use on Monday (e.g., Rasinski’s Word Ladders, his materials on Prefixes/Suffixes/Roots and most especially his Megabook of Fluency). At the end of the session, I made a mental note to myself that I needed to flesh out the idea of how to use “reading to perform” & repeated readings- expect a blog post about that soon.
I want to end this post with the same thought I left with those teachers. Over five decades ago, the First Grade Studies demonstrated that good teachers account for more of the variance in reading scores LINK. Good teachers tend to get good results. Isn’t it time for us to stop focusing on the perfect program (we’ve never yet found one) and start focusing on the thing that can have the biggest impact of all? That something is empowered, informed teachers operating within each district’s best plans for their particular district. Dare to dream!
Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching and who thinks teachers, not programs, matter most.
Copyright 2022 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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