P. David Pearson speaks out about Hanford’s portrayal of Marie Clay: My take- Hanford has gotten things wrong (again). A blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito

P. David Pearson speaks out about Hanford’s portrayal of Marie Clay: My take- Hanford has gotten things wrong (again).

(Note to readers- I usually post every Saturday morning. But this Facebook post from Dr. Pearson certainly merits a special edition. My regularly scheduled Saturday post will come tomorrow)


Let me remind readers first of who P.D. Pearson is. He revolutionized the reading field with his 1983 introduction of the gradual release model LINK. Pearson also began the revolution in how we teach comprehension. He has written scores of articles published in top peer-reviewed journals and published numerous books, including one about the history of reading LINK, LINK. I noticed that book was absent from Hanford’s recently published “Top Twenty” books in literacy. More about that in future blogs. Right now, let’s look at what Dr. Pearson had to say.


I highly recommend that readers download the pdf and read it. To pique your interest, here are a few highlights from that document. I have bolded and italicized some things that I thought were particularly important.

Again, Marie was ahead of her time—doing design-based research before we had a name for it.”

Emergent literacy. Marie coined the term emergent literacy in her PhD thesis; more importantly, she enhanced our understanding of it enormously, both in Reading Recovery and her assessment work. When we utter the term, we usually mean to emphasize the idea that no matter how young, inexperienced, or novice you are as a reader and writer, there is a level at which, there is a task in which, you can demonstrate your emerging literacy competence. But I also like, as did Marie, the other end of the continuum—the idea that no matter how old, experienced, and expert you are as a reader or writer, there is always something more for you to learn—another book to read, another practice to master, another paper to write, or another word to learn. We are all emergent readers.”

“In teacher education, we began, in the late1970s and 80s, to champion the idea of the teacher as a reflective practitioner. Marie, in her famous “behind the glass” sessions—where a teacher in training and a teacher leader comment, in real-time, on the lesson enacted by a second teacher in training—figured out how to operationalize moment-by-moment real-time reflection about practice long before researchers in teacher education got there. This did not go unnoticed by colleagues. During my tenure at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), Dick Anderson, Bonnie Armbruster, and Jan Gaffney developed adaptations of that model for our pre-service teacher education program. We see models of professional development come and go, that model in Reading Recovery stands the test of time. It endures because it is effective. …”

I sincerely hope the above highlights convince my readers that this document is a “must-read” and that they download and read the rest of it.

Pearson is certainly not alone in criticizing Hanford’s position.

Consider a recent edition of the Hechinger report:

Here is a link to the full report LINK.

Here is a key excerpt from that report (bolding is mine):

“But two recent academic papers, synthesizing dozens of reading studies, are raising questions about the effectiveness of these expensive education policies. A review of 24 studies on the Orton-Gillingham method, published in the July 2021 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Exceptional Children, found no statistically significant benefit for children with dyslexia. Instead, suggesting a way forward, a review of 53 reading studies, led by University of Virginia researcher Colby Hall and published online in September 2022 in Reading Research Quarterly, found that much cheaper reading interventions for children with a variety of reading difficulties were also quite effective for children with dyslexia.”

Hanford accuses some educators of selling a story. Yet, it seems she is selling a story herself. It is a story of how the methods she promotes are better than all that has come before. She claims it is time to replace the ineffective methods of the past. The only problem with her story is that, as P. David Pearson points out in his post, and as the Hechinger report indicates, she is simply wrong. Her story is only believable if you are willing to take the limited and limiting point of view about what reading is and if your review of the research is limited. In addition to the study just mentioned, a good place to get a complete overview is in this RRQ summary of the research LINK. Readers are also invited to consider the ideas of P.L. Thomas (that’s another book she omitted) LINK and the pushback from the Reading Recovery Community on what Hanford said about Clay LINK.

Hanford and others take the position that it’s all settled science and that they have the one and only true understanding of what the Science of reading is. I’ve pointed out before that not all researchers agree LINK. She also maintains that the current situation is all the fault of the failed practices of the past. Unfortunately, too often, the practices are labeled as failed because the evidence supporting them (and there is evidence supporting them LINK, LINK, LINK) is discounted and disregarded. That is a public relations ploy, not a serious discussion of research.  

Please consider my alternate explanation of why things aren’t what they should be:

As a centrist LINK, I take the position both sides (all sides) have gotten some things right and that both sides (all sides) have gotten some things wrong. I’ve suggested that instead of talking about what we disagree on and letting dichotomies dominate the discussion, we should, instead, turn our attention to what works based on ALL the available research. We shouldn’t be using research to prove our way is right and that it is the one and only way. Rather we should be following the research to see where it leads. That last idea is one I got from Nell Duke. That kind of thinking guided Marie Clay. That’s the kind of thinking that guides P.D. Pearson. At the end of the day, I’m all for using research to inform our instruction, but I also favor looking at all the research and applying the same criteria for evaluating that research LINK. In his essay, David calls upon us to honor Clay’s memory and Clay’s legacy. The best way to do that is to follow ALL the research and see where it leads to next. I think Dame Marie would like that very much.


As I promised earlier this week, I will be posting the interview of Yvonna Grahm and Alta E. Graham about their new book Dyslexia Tool Kit: What to do when phonics isn’t enough.

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

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.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following it to ensure you won’t miss future posts. Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

16 thoughts on “P. David Pearson speaks out about Hanford’s portrayal of Marie Clay: My take- Hanford has gotten things wrong (again). A blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito

  1. Ellen A Thompson

    Thanks, Dr, Sam for bringing together this information. We need to understand the context of the reading work done as well as the paths it provides us as we move forward. I found P.David Pearson’s essay on Marie Clay thought provoking and explicit as to the multiple ways she helped the field of reading science move forward. The Hechinger report made clear to me (again) the need to look at each child’s reading difficulties with a practiced eye. Not all reading difficulties are the same. Not all children will need the same response from us, their teachers. Children are unique individuals and should be treated that way. Ahhh…now for me to get back to my own emergent literacy practices…there is always another book, another poem, and yes, even another research article to read and savor!

  2. Betty Porter Walls

    P. David Pearson is one of my favorite researchers and authorities in reading. Thanks for including his remarks, Dr. Sam.

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      Thanks, Betty! Can’t wait to do BTAP again and Write to Learn too! Thanks for all you do on the St. Louis science

  3. Yvonna Graham

    It’s such a delight to read the common sense approach of Dr. Sam Bommarito. Reading is so much more than sounding out words! Thanks, Dr. Sam, for being willing to stand up for kids’ right to read, and being willing to call out those whose bottom line is selling curriculum rather than teaching kids. Most of all, thanks for saying again and again that we need to use ALL the research! Yvonna Graham, M.Ed. Author of Dyslexia Tool Kit.

  4. Laurel Dickey

    Thanks for sharing the writing of David Pearson. So glad to see such a thorough and positive reporting on Marie Clay’s important work.

  5. Diane Bidgood

    I am a Reading tutor. Before I taught First Grade at a private school that used a structured reading approach. Now I find myself dealing with students who started their reading journey in public school where the 3 cueing approach was used. They cannot make the jump from guessing words where there are pictures to figuring out more complex text. They guess explain for example, complain for complete, discuss and disgust. The list goes on. They look at the first letter or letters and then guess a word. Even going back and leading them through a a structured program, they guess. Harm was done to these children. They have low self-esteem in many areas of school because they can’t read like everyone else. I have seen my self that some children just figure out how words sound and then they read, but the 3 cueing system has left lives in shambles. Marie Clay may have brought some insight to children and reading, but her leap to how kids learn to read was just wrong.

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      If they were guessing at words, they did not learn to read using what is taught/should be taught in balanced literacy.

    2. Lisa G

      Same. I was an ESL pull out teacher for years, and probably half my students were taught using 3 cueing. Their guessing habits and lack of comprehension affected their interpretive scores on proficiency assessments. But all of the tenured professors’ strawmen and appeals to authority for their “pioneering” work must mean they have the better explanations and not the thousands of people who have been relieved to hear someone like Hanford report on these issues.. people actually teaching in classrooms with no patented curriculum to sell to anyone.

      Interestingly, the results of that meta-analysis show that the OG aligned programs outperformed basal programs. I’ve argued against the multisensory component and use of letter tiles instead of just having them writing. This is likely the problem with OG, but all the research that went into the NRP, and the neuroscience highlighting the emergence of the visual word form area (particularly the latest on bilingual readers), and the research on split attention and cognitive load all validates actual teachers’ experiences and suggests that the cueing system is bad practice. Marie Clay has failed us no matter how close any of these insiders were to her or how beautiful their stories are.

      I’m personally happy that Hanford has created this podcast series. Yes, it only highlights a few variables, but that is the whole point. Phonics has been the missing component that has teachers like me pulling our hair out when no one with a cushy job will listen to us.

      1. doctorsam7 Post author

        Will agree to disagree. Taught properly, there should be no guessing habits; Handford’s reporting on the longitudinal results from the May study was misleading and wrong (did a blog around that) and most recently, she has been called out for bad reporting by the Literacy Research Society https://literacyresearchassociation.org/stories/the-science-of-reading-and-the-media-is-reporting-biased/. I think her podcasts are much more propaganda than reporting.

    3. Beverly Akers

      I would certainly think that is the previous teacher’s fault, not the cueing system. The intention should be that Guided Reading is a small part of teaching reading. Obviously the phonics teaching was neglected in the child’s classroom. Making words, teaching word families, rhyming activities, letter boxes, to name just a few, are all ways to teach phonics, patterns, etc apart from a 10 minute guided reading lesson. You can’t reasonably blame a child’s failure to read on the cueing alone. 

  6. Amber Cavanagh

    I am a primary school teacher in New Zealand. I came out of my teacher training having no idea how to teach reading. I learnt that there is more to reading than ‘sounding-out’. Therefore, I never learnt a single thing about phonics. In fact, I had never even heard of the word when I graduated as a teacher. There are millions of teachers like me. Thankfully, I did further study through Massey University in New Zealand and I learnt all about the science of reading. When you learn about the science, it makes so much sense and you realise that now you actually know how to teach children to read. Due to this, I teach my own children to read before they begin school, as the likelihood that my child’s first reading teacher understands the science is very low. I read that article you linked by the Literacy Research Society. The reason that the Science of Reading, including Emily Hanford’s podcast, focuses mostly on phonics, and not other areas of Literacy, is because all other areas have not been taught poorly. Teachers have always been good at ensuring children understand what they are reading, getting them to think critically about text etc. The thing that has not been taught well is how we actually get children decoding the words. Even if teachers have not been teaching children to guess words, many teachers, including myself, have learnt the following strategies to teach the children to decode words (look at the picture, look at the first sound, skip the word, think of what would make sense, does it look right). All of these strategies are the strategies that science has proved poor readers use. The science is saying we need to stop teaching children to decode words using the strategies that poor readers use. The science is not saying that all the other areas of Literacy are not important. It is saying that decoding is the area where we have been getting it wrong.

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      “strategies that science has proved poor readers use” hmm. You seem to forget the initial study was done on normal readers, and these are things normal readers try when stuck. There is no question that synthetic phonics needs to be increased for some children. I’ve been teaching teachers for over 50 years, and there have been times when phonics was ignored. By the way, I still taught phonics to all the teachers taking my courses. So I do agree more time should be spent on phonics When a group like the Literacy Research Association brings the Hanford METHOD of reporting into question. You read it, and you are still okay with her reporting method?. I am not, and many are not. In addition to the CONSIDERABLE problems with her reporting methods, IMO Duke’s model of reading does a much better job of explaining the process of reading than the limited views expressed by Hanford. Here is the link to the Literacy Associations article https://literacyresearchassociation.org/stories/the-science-of-reading-and-the-media-is-reporting-biased/

      1. Amber Cavanagh

        Readers only need to try other strategies when they are stuck because they have come across a word that contains letter-sound patterns that they do not know yet. The texts that are commonly used for beginning readers have not been controlled for beginning reader’s ability to decode words using their phonetic knowledge. Therefore, even normal readers will use other strategies to compensate. We may have been teaching phonics, but we were not using decodable text in order for children to practise their phonics skills. Instead we were using levelled readers that encourage children to use other strategies that take children’s focus off the letters. My daughter is 4 years old. She doesn’t sound out words. She blends the sounds from left to right in her head so proficiently that it seems she is reading them by sight. She has been taught to do this. The first skill I taught her was to blend 2 sounds together, then 3 sounds, then I taught her to do it in her head until she had mastered it. Then I introduced meaningful decodable books where she could practise what she had already mastered. Because she was so good at decoding, I could focus on vocabulary and comprehension during reading. Every now and again I introduce a new group of graphemes to add to her stored collection. She practises blending them to read words, then she reads them in meaningful text. She has very rarely got stuck on a word in a book I have given her to read because I know what words she can decode phonetically. She has an excellent memory and I have taught her graphemes instead of whole words. This means when she learns one grapheme, she can then use her skill of blending to read a whole collection of unfamiliar words that contain that grapheme. I understand there is upset about Emily Hanford’s reporting methods, but the fact that her podcast is bringing attention to a better way to teach beginning readers is really important in my opinion.

Let's talk! What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.