Pushing back on the social media version of the Science of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito
My regular readers know that I am a centrist. As we deal with the issues of teaching reading, I believe we should use the best of what all sides have to offer as we figure out what we should be doing for our kids. I also believe that decisions about that need to be made at the local level. Local school boards know their population best. They are in the best position to implement policies that fit local populations. I truly believe that one size does not fit all. See last week’s blog for details LINK.
I have a 50-plus-year career as a teacher and a teacher of teachers. I’ve taught every grade from kindergarten through graduate school. I’ve watched the pendulum swing back and forth many times during the past five decades. What has been happening is that we keep going from one extreme to the other, never stopping in the middle. Inspired by the writings of P.D. Pearson LINK, I have become convinced that we need to try something that’s never been tried before. We need to try Pearson’s Radical Middle LINK. Here is a brief excerpt from that document (the underlining is mine).
“In this ecological approach, balance is not a matter of evening the score; instead, it is a matter of assembling an array of skills, strategies, processes, and practices that are sufficiently rich and synergistic to guarantee a full and rich curriculum for all students (one that, incidentally, would honor tenets 4- 7 in my list of tenets).”
In the latest iteration of the reading wars things have become especially antagonistic and combative. A group has emerged claiming they have the one and only solution to reading problems. They ignore decades of research around the origins of reading problems, and instead, they lay those problems at the feet of the folks promoting balanced literacy. They oversimplify and misdirect. Their followers have taken to attacking teachers who fail to follow their version of SOR. These attacks are mean-spirited and have the effect of quelling any dialogue about best practices in reading. This group seeks to replace all that has come before with its brand of the science of reading. Some of their key leaders are experts at public relations and have been creating a one-sided public relations campaign designed to sell their product and discredit all others. In effect, they are creating a one-sided monologue where only their views are considered. Many researchers have been pushing back on the views of this group and their leaders LINK, LINK, LINK. These researchers have found that following the social media version of the Science of Reading does more harm than good LINK. If this group is allowed to ban all but their methods successfully, the result will be yet another swing of the pendulum, a very costly swing. That is because the methods they are pushing have been tried in the past and did not work for everyone. Consider the information from this video created by George Hruby, the University of Kentucky LINK. As he indicates, science is a process of discovery. I encourage the readers of this blog to take that point to heart as they think about the information I am about to present.
I thought it important for teachers and other educators to have information that helps push back against the disinformation spread through this one-sided public relations campaign. Accordingly, with the help of several colleagues, I have put together a pdf. A screen capture of that pdf can be found below. The links on the screen capture do not work. To get the full document with working links, please download the pdf found in this sharefolder LINK.
Please use this document in the spirit in which it is presented. It is not saying that balanced literacy (or any other approach) is without limitations. Many things do need to be addressed in the current circumstances. Most important is the need to get the right kind of phonics to each student (most need synthetic, but some do need analytic- more on this point in future blogs). We need to consider things like the science of reading comprehension LINK, LINK, Scanlon’s work around using context as a part of problem-solving unknown words LINK, and Duke & Cartwright’s active view of reading LINK. However, dialogue around such things is impossible when one group forces its views on everyone else through ill-advised legislation. Good teachers are being attacked even when their methods are successful. Good programs are being banned, even when they are getting good results. That situation needs to be remedied. I hope getting the information in this handout out to educators and legislators can help do that. I’ll end with a thought from my Literacy Today article- lets Talk More, Argue Less LINK. Consider ALL the research. Let’s be ready to admit that all methods (including our favorite ones) have limits and limitations. Have a great weekend, everyone!
Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who, uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching.
Copyright 2023 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s views and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.
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PPS- Feedback on possible corrections or additions to the Talking Points document is welcome. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and include the word “Feedback” in the subject. I hope to create a version 2.0 by the end of this summer.