Learning the ins and outs of defending a centrist approach by Dr. Sam Bommarito
This has been an amazing four weeks for the blog. It has had over 35,000 views in that time period. The basic message of the blog posts was that balanced literacy (I prefer the term constructivist practices) has worked and can work. The myth that Balanced Literacy has failed has been perpetrated by a slick but misleading public relations campaign. Part of that campaign is to discount or discredit the considerable evidence showing that balanced literacy has worked. My last two blogs, LINK, LINK, and other blogs before LINK LINK LINK LINK, present a case for my position that is supported with a considerable amount of what I hope is useful information.
Please don’t take my support for balanced literacy as saying it is the only possible approach. That would be as untenable a position as the one taken by the “my way or the highway” crew. Rather, my basic position is that of a centrist. Inspired by the thinking of a giant of the literacy world, P.D. Pearson, I take my stand in what he called the “Radical Middle” LINK. Let’s abandon the failed practice of constantly moving from one extreme to another. Let’s try something that has not been tried in the entire history of reading. Let’s try the middle ground. Let’s find practices from all sides and allow local districts to put together the sets of those practices that best fit their population. I say let’s Talk More and Argue Less LINK. I say let us have a Reading Evolution LINK. How does one go about defending such a position in the current situation on social media? This blog entry aims to give you ideas on how to proceed toward that end.
First, let me acknowledge that taking part in the social media surrounding the issue of teaching reading is not for the faint of heart. In one video purporting to disprove the accuracy of the data showing that BL works, a major SOR figure chose to use the words “punch you in the nose” as part of his message. Spurred on by such leadership, many SOR advocates have taken to mean-spirited sarcasm as the primary means of rebutting anyone who dares to question their message. This includes teacher-bashing or making things up to suit their position LINK. Things are so bad that many of my friends in the balanced literacy world have simply stopped posting. Attempts to find common ground/middle ground are sometimes summarily dismissed by many of the “my way or the highway” folks LINK. That is unfortunate.
The good news is that some folks in the SOR camp still recognize that such extremism is unwarranted and unproductive. That is best summarized by a quote I’ve used before. Here is that quote. It comes from Mark Seidenberg, a strong SOR advocate and author of the book At The Speed Of Sight LINK
“This narrowing of focus is prompted by a valid concern: teachers (and other educators) have to be able to understand the research to make use of it. Since most educators don’t have much background knowledge in the area, the message has to be kept simple. That is the rationale for focusing on what I called “classic rock” studies.
I think this approach is giving up too much too soon. It underutilizes the science, underestimates the teachers, and diverts attention from the need to improve professional training. The science of reading movement hasn’t even gotten to the good stuff yet. I think teachers can absorb the important findings if they are presented the right way. Good PD is clearly an important component. Improving pre-service training would have the biggest impact, but that it is not happening as yet on a broad scale.”
For those of you willing to join the fray and get involved in what should be a discussion about the issues, the first thing you should do is arm yourself with all the facts. I hope all the blogs I’ve done will help you with this. For me, the single best source for such information I’ve found is P.L. Thomas. Here is the LINK to his fact-checking guidelines and one of his many blog posts around the “Great Debate” in reading LINK. I think both are “must-reads” for anyone attempting to mount a defense of balanced literacy on social media.
Let me also share with you how I handled a recent encounter with a SOR advocate. She was not resorting to extremes; she was talking about the issues. I believe she was a parent who had completely bought into the slick public relations campaign and whose main source for ideas was that campaign. Here is a screen capture of that encounter.
Please read over my comments and see how I countered her arguments. First and foremost, NO SNARKY REMARKS OR RANCOR as I made my counters to her post. My advice- if someone says something that REALLY makes you mad, wait 24 hours before responding. In this case, that was not necessary. I was careful not to allow the conversation to shift away from the main point. The main point is that she never countered any of the many points I made in the blog she was talking about. I provided a restatement of several of those points. Take care not to allow the person to whom you’re talking to “take you down the rabbit hole.” Keep your remarks to the main point- and bring closure to that main point before embarking on anything new.
I tried to also appeal to her as a parent, pointing out that many children with reading problems do not have the problems that her child has. I may have gotten her to see at least some of my points. Her child was older and could not sound out words. I had done a blog around that point, and she acknowledged that. That means she had gone back to look at things I said. Baby steps!
A final point is this. I never counter their strawman statements with strawman statements of my own. SOR does not mean phonics only. They do also talk about comprehension. However, the key point is that too often, they overdo the time they spend on phonics and underdo or omit the time they spend on comprehension (think teaching comprehension strategies explicitly using gradual release).
I’ll end with a “dare to dream” observation. Let’s not let the extremists on any side keep those of us in the middle from talking to one another. If you find SOR folks willing to talk, for goodness sakes, talk to them. Be ready to admit that some of “your ways” have limitations. Theirs do too. My dissertation, done a couple of decades ago, was about the reading wars of that era. I found that the two sides of that time had more in common than the things that separated them. I suspect that a similar situation exists today. The only way for a common ground to be found is to talk with one another. As the opportunity presents itself, please do that. Let us find common ground. Let us empower districts to use that common ground to empower their teachers. That concludes the blogs around this topic.
Next week I will resume posting some of my interviews. I apologize to Laura Robb and Rita Wirtz for the long delay getting your ideas up. I am lining up other interviews for the summer. I may also do some posts around the nuts and bolts of what my brand of balanced literacy looks like. I hope it will be an interesting and informative summer. I’d also like to thank everyone for the well wishes about my battle with COVID. Things are much better, and I’m obviously able to resume my work on the blog. So, until next week:
HAPPY READING AND WRITING.
Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist trying to get all sides to talk with each other and find common ground.
Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.
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