P. David Pearson talks about various literacy issues, including Reading as a Meaning-Making Process and the educational implications of that view- An Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

P. David Pearson talks about various literacy issues, including Reading as a Meaning-Making Process and the educational implications of that view- An Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Because of the length of the interview, it is being posted in two parts- the first part today and the second part a week from today.  

When P.D. Pearson agreed to this interview, it was a career moment for me. Pearson is credited with the creation of the gradual release of teaching model LINK. That model transformed the world of teaching. In addition, his ideas around the concept of “The Radical Middle” LINK, shaped my thinking around the whole topic of what it means to be a centrist. What follows is Pearson taking an in-depth, research-based look at the issues surrounding the question of how to best teach literacy in the 21st century.


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:


  • David Pearson and Rob Tierney’s presentation on The Science of Reading: What it Means for Classroom Practices

A chapter by David Pearson, Christina Madda, and Taffy Raphael dealing with the question of balance in the days of the Science of Reading.

  • P. David Pearson & Rob Tierney Webinar LINK



My three-blog series about the presentation at the 2019 ILA convention entitled What Research Really Says About Teaching Reading- and Why That Still Matters  

P.D. Pearson, Nell K. Duke, Sonia Cabell, and Gwendolyn Thompson McMillon made that presentation.

  • The first blog was entirely about what P.D. Pearson has to say about the topic and included screen captures of slides from his presentation.LINK.
  • The second blog includes a link to the summary of the presentation done by ILA LINK. It includes my reflections on what was said about early literacy. A discussion of a project being carried out in St. Louis (where I live) and Molly Ness’s ILA position paper on Read Alouds included. Here is the link to the blog: LINK.
  • The third blog talks about what was said during the session about comprehension. LINK This quote about what the ILA summary reported Nell Duke said during the session is of special interest:

“It’s as though because we think content knowledge building is so important, we’re just going to ignore three decades of research on comprehensive strategy instruction,” said Duke. “This isn’t a zero-sum game saying, ‘if you can’t attend to content, then you can’t teach comprehension strategies’ or ‘if you teach comprehension strategies, you must not be paying enough attention to vocabulary or morphology.”

I believe what was reported in this session supports a position that calls for the direct, explicit, systematic teaching of comprehension strategies, using a gradual release model.


Link to P.D. Pearson’s website LINK.

Links to the two special issues of Reading Research Quarterly LINK.  

Final Thoughts & a preview of next week’s blog

Here’s what Pearson said in the interview about SOR and their definition of reading:

 “So, what have they done? They have defined all this other stuff out of reading that’s part of literacy, that’s part of learning, but it’s not part of reading. And what that does is it makes the reading curriculum a much narrower swab that I think most of us think is involved in reading. It means, if you look at the teaching of reading today, it includes a lot of this other stuff, and it certainly includes a focus on comprehension, motivation, purpose for reading and the like. “

So, I just think that what the folks in the science of reading are doing is they’re just picking off one little piece of reading, and they’re saying that THAT’S what matters most, and THAT’S what we should pay attention to. We’ll get to the other stuff, but we don’t have to get to it in the reading curriculum. You can do that in social studies or science or this sort of broad nothing of literacy for everyday life – but it’s not part of reading. So, I think the definition matters a whole lot.”

39:39 to 40:44 on the interview video

Bolding is mine

As my colleague Mary Howard pointed out to me when discussing her notes from previewing the video of this interview, By the way, Mary has created a very complete set of notes about the first half of this interview and made them available online LINK.  Thanks, Mary!

Pearson’s explanation of the impact of how one defines reading helps to explain the origins of many of the current battles around SOR and Balanced Literacy. The definition chosen by the SOR folks oversimplifies things in a way that divorces the decoding aspects of reading from the meaning-making aspects. I think it is a major source of criticisms made about some SOR advocates’ views. Those advocates are often seen as taking a decode first, comprehend later view of reading. This narrow definition of the reading process also helps to explain why many SOR advocates prefer using tests like the Dibels to measure reading progress. When I talk to administrators about the issue of Dibels vs. the content of reading tests used in most states, I give a buyer beware warning. I asked administrators to compare the items on the two tests. The items are not the same.

Duke describes the typical content of state reading tests in this chart from page 7 of her article entitled Reading by Third Grade: How Policymakers Can Foster Early Literacy. LINK.

One quickly finds that the Dibels test does not directly measure many of the things measured by state reading tests. Many critics have written extensively about the “miracle gains” reported by some SOR folks and said those gains are illusionary or overstated LINK, LINK, LINK

Another concern about what some SOR folks say about comprehension instruction is that many call for much less direct instruction in comprehension strategies. They base this on the work of Daniel Willingham. They count on background knowledge to provide most of what students need in order to comprehend, minimizing the need for instruction in comprehension strategies. In addition to Pearson, two other prominent researchers differ from them on that point. The first is Dr. Tim Shanahan. He wrote a blog entitled The Spirit is Willingham, but the Flesh is Weak. Shanahan concludes that blog by saying, “There definitely can be too much strategy teaching, but in most places, any dosage, not overdosage, is the problem.” Clearly, he thinks Willingham has underestimated the need for strategy instruction. I already mentioned Nell Duke’s take on this issue earlier in the blog. She expressed the fear that some folks were ignoring three decades of research on comprehensive strategy instruction and are overemphasizing the importance of background knowledge. I would add that research has indicated that teaching comprehension strategies using the gradual release model has been shown to raise test scores significantly.

So, does that mean we must fall to the use of dichotomies (BL vs. SOR) once again? I’ve often said that dichotomies have consistently led to pendulum swings, not progress. We need something else. Next week, I will talk about that “something else.” It is my belief that taking a centrist approach, an approach that draws the best research from both sides (all sides), is a possible way to cut through the Gordian knot of the reading wars. P.D. Pearson’s ideas are at the heart of that centrist approach LINK. I’ll pick up on this idea next week as we examine the interview’s second half. Stay tuned!

So, until next week:

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. 

Register: pioneervalleybooks.com/webinars\

1 thought on “P. David Pearson talks about various literacy issues, including Reading as a Meaning-Making Process and the educational implications of that view- An Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

  1. Pingback: P. David Pearson talks about various literacy issues, including Reading as a Meaning-Making Process and the educational implications of that view, PART TWO.  An Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito | doctorsam7

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