Julia Armstrong, a long-time teacher/educator, talks about her journey as an author and her creation of decodable texts- An Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito
I’m always happy to spread the good news about what effective practicing teachers are up to. Julia’s 28 years of teaching includes a wide range of experience. Among other things, she was a successful Reading Recovery teacher. She does not fit the “us/them” picture that some of the more extreme SOR advocates try to paint when talking about RR. In my experience, RR teachers try to learn a variety of methods and are adept at finding methods that fit the particular child they are working with. They are always open to exploring and learning about the latest methods. Follow the child, find what they need and provide it to them. That is the core of what RR is all about.
When Julia first learned about decodable books, she didn’t reject the use of them out of hand because they were being promoted by the “other side.” Instead, she chose to take the path outlined by P.D. Pearson- take positions, not sides. She took the position that decodables could be a useful tool but she thought the decodables of her day lacked meaning and authentic storylines. What did she do? She wrote her own decodables and began sharing them with fellow teachers. She also created other resources that I think my readers will find helpful. So, let’s learn more about Julia and see what she had to say about the materials she has created.
Julia (Julie) Armstrong has 28 years of experience teaching in Title 1 public schools in Howard County, Maryland. She has a wide range of experience as a Pre-K, K/1 classroom teacher, a Reading Recovery teacher, and a Reading Specialist for grades K – 5. Mrs. Armstrong has a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with additional certifications as a Reading Recovery teacher and a Reading Specialist. Julia integrates her love of music and knowledge of curriculum to design puppet skits and create sight word songs, and she has created fiction and non-fiction stories and passages that reinforce foundational skills.
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:
Julia and her husband create puppet skits incorporating songs or raps to reinforce phonics skills. If you like these skits, be sure to subscribe to their channel.
The puppet skits also align with decodable texts. These texts are located on Amazon:
Julia also created passages for the “Words Their Way” series and she created multisyllabic passages which align with the SIPPS Challenge program. These stories are located at:
I taught reading courses for decades. I often began those courses with a very special slide. I introduced the slide by saying here are all the methods that work with every single child every single time. As technology improved, I was able to add a drum roll just before the slide came up. The class waited in anticipation.
The slide was blank.
I paused momentarily to let the class wrap their heads around the message. The message was quite clear. There is no one method. There is no one magic bullet. I’ve challenged those who think otherwise to provide studies showing their “one and only” methods work with most students most of the time. Remember that the idea of “works” includes proof that their methods have an educationally significant impact on direct measures of comprehension. To date, none of them have provided studies meeting those criteria.
HOWEVER- there are things we can and should be doing. We should lead with systematic phonics instruction and encourage children to try synthetic phonics-based decoding first. We should have other methods waiting in the wings for times when that fails. The folks from HFL Education I talked to last week are masterful at that LINK. We should teach decoding and comprehension concurrently. From day one, students should understand that reading is much more than just saying sounds or reading single words or short phrases. First and foremost, reading is a meaning-making process.
Engaging and meaningful decodable texts like those Julia has written help teachers help students to do just that. Even the shortest/easiest of them contain meaningful content. The books encourage students to use their decoding skills on running text, text with a message to be found. These books can (and should) be used to help students find the bridge between decoding and comprehension that Dr. Rasinski talked about in last week’s Pioneer Valley webinar. Information on how to view that webinar can be found at the end of this blog.
At the end of this interview, Julia talked about her ideas about using music and repeated readings as part of what teachers can do to promote prosody. That is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve written about my own ideas about that LINK, about Eric Litwin and his work LINK, LINK, about Ann Kay’s work LINK, Nina Kraus’s brain research LINK, LINK. Geoff Barnes work around music therapy with preschool children LINK and, of course, Rasinski’s ideas LINK, including the idea of artfully teaching the science of reading LINK. There’s lots of room in all that for using common sense to help find some common ground LINK. Julia is definitely on track for talking about including music in teaching literacy skills and does a masterful job of doing that LINK.
I hope you find the materials and ideas from this interview useful. I hope there are things you can “use on Monday.” 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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Transformative Teaching Strategies Webinar with panelists.
Dr. Tim Rasinski, Kathy Roe, and Penny Slater
Moderated by Dr. Sam Bommarito
Link to the webinar: https://vimeo.com/883297794
Use the link above to view the webinar. For the link to work, you must be logged into Vimeo. If you have a Vimeo account, you’re good to go. If not, you can set up a FREE account at https://vimeo.com/. BTW, there are TONS of great videos on Vimeo, including many about literacy. I hope you enjoy the webinar and find it useful. The heart of the webinar deals with Tim Rasinski’s idea that Fluency Instruction is the bridge between Word Study and Comprehension. The webinar details how the teachers from HFL in England help their students build those bridges. Here is a model of Tim’s idea about fluency instruction being a bridge.