Dr. Jan Wasowicz talks about the SPELLtalk discussion group, the Language Literacy Network &issues around the teaching of beginning reading: An Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito
“Informed, empowered teachers are the best solution to our current literacy problems.” Dr. Jan Wasowicz (quote from her Oct. 2nd e-mail)
My regular readers know that I have been on a quest trying to find common ground in the often-contentious world of literacy. My doctorate was completed in the last iteration of the so-called reading wars. In my dissertation, I found that the two sides of that era had more practices in common than those on which they differed. At that time, I joined P.D. Pearson in what he called The Radical Middle LINK. His ideas became the core of my centrist approach – i.e., using the research-based ideas of all sides and steadfastly working toward the day when we finally recognize there really are no sides.
Recently, some developments have given me some hope for finding that common ground. Amanda Goodwin, the Reading Research Quarterly Co-Editor, had much to say about this topic in a recent interview in the KAPPAN– LINK. She 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.”
I wrote an entire blog around Amanda’s article LINK.
A few months after reading Amanda’s article, I met Bruce Howlett on social media. He told me about his plan for ending the reading wars. I had a chance to interview him about his model to achieve that end, I wrote a blog about that LINK. If you haven’t seen Bill’s model yet, please do take a look. He has some very interesting insights into things like LTRS and Reading Recovery. Bruce told me Dr. Jan Wasowicz had invited him to post his work on SPELLtalk. That has happened. He thought it would be a good idea for me to talk to Jan and perhaps interview her.
That brings us up to the present. I did talk to Jan. As part of that conversation, I posited to her the idea of the importance of informed, empowered teachers. One of the results of the conversation around that is the quote from the beginning of this blog. The solution to the reading wars (a term many folks think should be abandoned) and our reading problems lies in fostering the creation of informed, empowered teachers. We’ve known since the First Grade Studies were published more than 50 years ago that in terms of improving reading scores, teachers make more difference than programs LINK, LINK,,
In the current interview, Jan talks about her background, the Language Literacy Network and her extensive work in the reading field, work which spans several decades. Although I may not agree with every single thing she says, I do see an enormous amount of common ground in our literacy views. What now follows is her biography, the details of the interview and a list of resources Jan has shared. Let’s take a look at all that now.
Here are the timed stamped talking points for the interview (so, you can go to the sections that interest you the most first)
Here is a link to the U-Tube Interview:
RESOURCES FROM JAN– Listed in the order they are mentioned in the interview:
- Connect with researchers and practitioners via SPELLTalk™, the FREE online multi-disciplinary professional discussion group dedicated to improving literacy through discussion of research and evidence-based best practices. Be Informed. Be Empowered. Make a Difference. (Dr. Sam note- please consider commenting to this group about Bruce’s model to end the reading wars)
- The Language Literacy Network: The many language components that unify during skilled reading and writing. PDF can be downloaded from this sharefolder https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1Orfr0-0pJd_sKzYf3FuTPSjAbKiKLOKU?usp=sharing
- A speech-to-print approach to teaching reading. Wasowicz (2021) in the LDA Bulletin.
(the publisher requires that readers download directly from their website.)
- Download 17 FREE activities for speech-to-print reading and writing instruction at www.spell-links.com
(Teachers must download this directly from the home page of our website.)
Final Thoughts & a peek at upcoming blogs:
At the start of this blog entry, I said that discussing how to teach reading can be contentious. This is especially true today. Today, there are some advocates of SOR who fail to tell the whole story and who push what I view as a narrow and limited view of the reading process. They claim it’s all settled science and attack anything that doesn’t fit their narrow views exactly. I have pushed back many times on such views LINK LINK, LINK. These particular advocates of the SOR, whom I have dubbed the social media version of SOR, often use public relations tactics like misinformation and misdirection to push their agenda. The result has been some questionable legislation around reading, legislation that in some states has resulted in some publishers getting a state-enforced monopoly on the sale of reading materials LINK. Just this week, I dealt with one such advocate who was condescending, used brutal sarcasm and ignored several calls to end the conversation with an agreed to disagree statement. He took what I characterize as a my way or the highway stance. By the way, there are also advocates from the opposite end of the spectrum who are prone to use strawman versions of SOR in order to counter such arguments. I wrote an article around this phenomenon of folks with extreme views arguing about reading instruction, with each side using strawman versions of the other. In the article I talk about how to handle that kind of situation. It appeared in Literacy Today, in 2020 LINK. The name of the article was Talk More Argue Less. In it, I called for all sides to stop using strawman versions of each other, start recognizing that every side has limits and limitations and, most importantly, that we talk more about common ground.
I’ll be explicitly clear in saying that both Jan and Bruce have sincere views about SOR and are willing to consider all the information and research. Jan’s story is one of seeking better understanding through research, and her story isn’t finished. Her reaction to new ideas about how to teach reading was the reaction of a scientist (see the video 29:27). In his own teaching, Bruce reported he does use ideas from all sides. Asking folks to use research-based ideas from all sides has become my mantra. We are at a crossroads in discussing the best ways to teach reading. We can choose to let the folks at the extremes remain in control of the discussion. Historically, when that has happened, the result has been another swing of the pendulum. Or we can choose to refrain from using strawmen, to admit all sides have limits and limitations, and most importantly, to admit there is common ground in what we all believe. I sincerely hope we choose that path.
I’m meeting tomorrow with P.D. Pearson. Dr. Pearson is a well-published reading researcher best known for creating the gradual release model. I’m sure there will be a lot to unpack from that interview. I’ll also be doing a blog about my upcoming webinar. Pioneer Valley Books sponsors it. The name of it is Transformative Reading Strategies. Details can be found at the end of this blog. So, as we get started in this new school year, there’s lots going on. Until next week, this is Dr. Sam signing off.
Happy Reading and Writing.
Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the center 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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Join us on November 9 at 4 pm EST for a free webinar! Register today for Transformative Teaching Strategies, moderated by Dr. Sam Bommarito with panelists Tim Rasinski, Kathy Roe, and Penny Slater.
In this special session, Dr. Sam Bommarito will bring together an exciting panel of literacy experts to discuss strategies for improving student reading comprehension, fluency, accuracy, and reading stamina. Bestselling author and fluency scholar Tim Rasinski will share some important research on fluency. Penny Slater and Kathy Roe will show how they have used Tim’s research to develop a Reading Fluency Project in the UK that has led to struggling readers achieving more than 1.5 years of growth in comprehension/fluency in just eight weeks of small-group instruction.