Dr. Sam Bommarito interviews Bruce Howlett, author of Sparking the Reading Shift, about a plan to end the reading wars.

Dr. Sam Bommarito interviews Bruce Howlett, author of Sparking the Reading Shift, about a plan to end the reading wars.

In the spirit of bringing in voices and ideas from all sides, I recently conducted this interview with Bruce Howlett from Sparking the Reading Shift. Bruce and his co-author, Dr. Caitlin Howlett, have drawn up a rather complete and ambitious plan to end the reading wars. I find this plan intriguing because it proposes using ideas from all sides and focuses on successful strategies rather than a single one-size-fits-all plan. While I may not agree with every point, I do find that their proposal is one that should give us all hope for finding common ground in what has so far been the endless reading wars. The Howlett’s work has attracted the attention of Jan Wasowicz, founder and CEO of Learning by Design. Their plan appeared in this week’s posts on Spell-Talk. Please see a screen capture of Jan’s letter below:

Here is a link to his article: https://learningbydesign.com/professional-development/spell-links-blogue/

Here is Bruce’s Biography. It is taken from his website LINK.

These are the highlights of the interview. The interview was conducted in advance of the publication of the article. I timed the interview posting to come immediately after the article’s publication. In case you want to jump to a particular topic in the interview, the highlights are time-stamped.


Chris’ website for Sparking the Reading Shift program is readingshift.com

Follow Bruce on Facebook – www.facebook.com/bruce.howlett1 or

Twitter – @ReadingShift

Here is a link to a sharefolder containing Bruce’s slides from this interview:


Dr. Sam’s reflections & some upcoming events and posts

As I mentioned last week, I’ve interviewed several different literacy leaders from several different perspectives. This includes last week’s interview with Marnie Ginsberg, Ph.D. the Founder and CEO of Reading Simplified LINK, and an interview of Nora Chahbazi and her speech first instructional system LINK. Other interviews included Denise Ritchie and her work at the THRASS institute LINK,  Jan Richardson, and her work with Guided Reading LINK, LINK and  Penny Slater & Kathy Roe and their work at HFL Education which adapts the work of Tim Rasinski in teaching prosody LINK. That is only a partial list of literacy leaders I have talked to. What all these leaders have in common is that they have created research-based ways to help children learn the decoding skills they need and do that in a way that also promotes comprehension. What I like most about Chris’s ideas from this current interview is his statement to “exclude nothing” (16:13 on the video). Because Chris came from a background of working in a building that included both OG and RR, he had direct experience in working with ideas from all sides. Using ideas from all sides to implement reading programs has been a constant theme in my own writing on this topic. In that sense, Bruce and I are kindred spirits. I truly believe the path to ending the reading wars lies not in one side or the other declaring victory, but rather it lies in all sides showing a willingness to use the best of all worlds, regardless of whose particular world the research-based practices come from.

I have been championing the idea of avoiding the dichotomies often associated with discussions about the teaching of reading and replacing that dichotomous thinking with a search for common ground LINK, LINK, LINK. I think if you look carefully at the work of the folks I talk about in the paragraph above, there really is a great deal of common ground in what they propose. There are many things that teachers can adapt and start to use in their own teaching. I’ve long advocated having more talk and less arguing. That means that all sides must avoid using straw man versions of the other sides. I wrote an article for Literacy Today on that very point, LINK. Perhaps Bruce’s post can become the spark that marks the beginning of the end of the reading wars.

In one of my earlier blogs, I wrote about Amanda Goodwin and the insights she developed when working on the two special issues of the Reading Research Quarterly. I hope we can follow the example set by her in that article  LINK. Those two special issues included several peer-reviewed research articles and ideas from several different perspectives LINK. In her article, Amanda described how, in the process of peer review, researchers who at first viewed themselves in different camps found themselves shifting more to the center:

“Some researchers probably started out thinking they were in different camps, but during the editing process, that changed. You know, in an academic journal like RRQ, we ask experts to review each article and give the authors anonymous feedback. A lot of them pushed the authors to say more about the gap between research and practice and to consider differing perspectives. And when they revised their articles, those researchers who started out in separate camps seemed to move more to the center and acknowledge and welcome other views. So, overall, I’d say that the experts agreed that it’s valuable to conduct various kinds of scientific research that aims to better understand and meet children’s complex and varied needs — not to insist that there’s a single, “one best” way to teach reading.”

Ill end with that thought from Amanda. “… experts agreed that its valuable to conduct various kinds of scientific research that aims to better understand and meet childrens complex and varied needs — not to insist that theres a single, one best way to teach reading. Perhaps models like Bruces,  will help us operationalize how we can all use common sense to find the common ground in the reading wars. The kids deserve that!

Happy Reading and Writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2023 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely this author’s views and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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2 thoughts on “Dr. Sam Bommarito interviews Bruce Howlett, author of Sparking the Reading Shift, about a plan to end the reading wars.

  1. Julia Lewis

    A breath of fresh air. I am weary of the so-called SoR folks who believe the solution is to mandate every child be taught with “structured literacy.” My district, for example, mandates all second grade teachers use the Heggerty phonemic awareness program, which is purely auditory. This is a waste of time. The kiddoes who almost intuitively learn English orthography and who read words and spell words well should be encouraged to read and learn. We should be able to screen well enough to allow for differentiation of reading instruction.


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