Let’s use common sense to guide the way to common practices: A centrist’s advice on traversing the current social media debate about best practices in reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Let’s use common sense to guide the way to common practices: A centrist’s advice on traversing the current social media debate about best practices in reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

In the past few weeks, the current debate on social media has heated up to the boiling point. If one is to believe some social media posts, all that has come before in reading has failed. Publishers of the old ways of doing things continue to publish only because of the money made on those products. The products themselves are complete failures. There is a knight in shining armor on the horizon. That would be the new ways being advocated by some vocal proponents who claim they have found the answers we need to solve our nation’s reading problems. The answer lies in throwing out all the old and replacing it with their methods and products. In this week’s blog, I will again push back on this social media version of the Science of Reading and offer ideas about a different way to proceed. Here are some points to consider:

  1. When looking at the claims of some SOR advocates on social media, it is a buyer-beware market. With her permission, I am presenting a Twitter thread posted by Jordan Page. The thread illustrates the point that it is a buyer-beware market:

Jordan’s experience is typical of many educators who go looking for new programs. Publishers use labels like Science of Reading or Research-Based to sell products, whether the labels really fit or not. Research has become weaponized LINK. Rachel Gabriel warns that not all research is created equal. Here is a screen capture from her RRQ article LINK.

As part of the “buyer beware” way to approach the acquisition of materials and programs, educators would do well to ensure the research used to prove the value of such programs is examined carefully. Ensure the research comes from peer-reviewed sources and the measures used in the studies are appropriate.

  • Some of the reporting on social media uses slanted misleading evidence. This is especially true of research claiming to prove that the most used publishers are selling flawed products despite the evidence that shows the methods are flawed. I respectfully disagree with what many of these folks are saying. As I discussed last week, they sometimes use “discount and discredit” tactics designed to “prove” the alternate methods don’t work LINK. For this reason, I have labeled this group the social media branch of SOR to set them apart from other SOR advocates.

One clear example of misdirection and selective reporting can be found in the recent media postings about May’s study about the long-term effect of Reading Recovery. That study was reported as showing that over time Reading Recovery students got worse, i.e., not only did they fail to keep the gains made in recovery, but they actually moved backward. Let’s look at a screen capture of what Dr. Billy Molasso, Ph.D., in a Nov 14th advocacy alert for the Reading Recovery Community.

Links from the screen capture

Hurry, Fridkin and Holliman’s study LINK

Multiple longitudinal studies. LINK

The study had a 75% attrition rate (a major red flag), and as the last two bullet points indicate, the author of the May study still favored the use of Reading Recovery. Omitting that demonstrates reporting designed to prove a point rather than reporting that rises to the standard of good journalism. I advise taking a buyer-beware approach when dealing with these social media versions of the Science of Reading. This is just one of many examples of the incomplete, slanted, and misleading reporting done by many of the folks in the social media branch of SOR.

  • Another social media branch of the SOR is made of individuals providing services to Dyslexic children. Frequently they have very narrow views of what constitutes good instruction in reading. They focus mainly on teaching phonics and use only synthetic phonics to do that. I question whether their approach reflects the best practices indicated by this comprehensive review of the research around dyslexia reported in the RRQ LINK, to the review.

Part of my reason for that concern is that these individuals are often evasive about how much time they spend on comprehension. A few have admitted they leave comprehension to others. Often, when they do check for comprehension, it is at a word or sentence level, not a passage level. There is virtually no evidence that they teach comprehension strategies at a passage level. This precludes any extensive use of what Duke has called the Science of Reading Comprehension. LINK

When considering this manner of delivering reading instruction, a method I characterize as Phonics First, Comprehension Later, district leaders should consider whether such a course will result in improved comprehension. Consider the slide from P.D. Pearson from his YouTube presentation on the Science of Reading Comprehension. LINK

Pearson’s information (which includes 86 studies) certainly calls into question the Phonics First, Comprehension later approach. The information that 1/3 of the students not passing the 3rd-grade test were fluent also should give one pause about an approach that relies almost exclusively on improving decoding. Frequently the Phonics First, Comprehension later, folks report their results using tests focused mainly on decoding. Please consider what students will be required to do on the end-of-the-year state reading tests to see if that is a sufficient test of the worth of the Phonics First, Comprehension Later programs. See Box 1 below. It lists what is required on state reading tests. It is taken from an article by Nell Duke LINK.

  • The centrist point of view- what is it?

What is a centrist? (taken from my 10/22/2022 blog LINK. Those who follow this blog know that for the past four years, I have explored the issues surrounding the so-called reading wars LINKLINKLINK. One of my followers, Judy Boksner, described a centrist this way:

(Be sure to visit Judy’s YouTube Channel LINK)

This slide gives the key to why I am a centrist:

  • Here is one explanation of why students are not learning to read. It is an excerpt from my 09/18/22 blog LINK:


I’m back to my mantra. “Let’s use common sense to find common ground.” Let’s recognize that what works with one child doesn’t always work with another. Let’s put a moratorium on talking about what’s wrong with “the other side(s) methods and instead ask- is there anything from the other side(s) ideas that I can use to help my kids when my preferred methods don’t work? In my original post about this four years ago, I called this creating a reading evolution LINK.

Please note that this final analysis includes the scenario of districts using ideas from balanced reading and SOR. That is what I hope the centrist point of view will lead to—finding common ground by using ideas from both sides.

Dr. Sam’s Blog in the Coming Weeks.

Starting next week, I will continue doing blogs about various literacy leaders. The first will be about P.L. Thomas, with information on his upcoming appearance at LitCon.

So, until next week,

Happy Reading and Writing

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.

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