Author Archives: doctorsam7

About doctorsam7

Working with Dr. Kerns from Harris Stowe on several writing and action research projects. Love workshop teaching and teaching about workshop teaching. I have a blog https://doctorsam7.blog, all about Keys to Growing Proficient Lifelong Readers. I am President of the STLILA and Vice President of the MoILA.

An Interview of Nora Chahbazi, founder of EBLI: An evidenced-based reading program that uses linguistic phonics. – Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

An Interview of Nora Chahbazi, founder of EBLI: An evidenced-based reading program that uses linguistic phonics. – Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

In the past year, I have tried to examine a variety of perspectives on reading, especially beginning reading. I’ve interviewed many literacy leaders such as Tim Rasinski, Narelle Lynch and Rachael Gabriel LINK, LINK,  LINK. Check this blog’s sidebar under the interview category to find all the others I’ve interviewed. This week I’m talking to Nora Chahbazi, founder of Evidence Based Literacy Instruction. Hers is an amazing story. She began by working with her daughter, but she also wanted to help others. That desire led to the creation of EBLI. 

Here is Nora’s biography taken from the EBLI website:

Nora is a believer in the Science of Reading. She and I don’t agree on everything. But from the time I first visited with her, she has always been willing to talk and share ideas LINK. At the start of the interview, I alluded to the fact that of all the SOR sites I’ve looked at, hers is one of the very few that can demonstrate that their methods improve BOTH decoding and comprehension. She measures her results with tests of the full reading process rather than tests that measure mainly decoding. In addition, she gets phonics taught very quickly and very efficiently. To do that, she takes a road less traveled. She makes use of linguistic phonics instead of focusing on more traditional approaches e.g. OG. There is a link about linguistic phonics later in this blog.

Here is the interview:

Here are the questions we discussed in the interview. They are time-stamped, so you can easily find them on the YouTube Video: 

Set One What do you think the term Science of Reading means? How has the science or research on reading/literacy informed your teaching with EBLI? Tell me about your explicit instruction and how you gradually release students to independent reading and writing.  03:23
Set Two Is this instruction done in whole class, small group, or intervention?
Is it used for intervention/remediation? How much intervention is necessary for students to be able to read independently in trade books? To write and spell accurately and adequately?
 
05:00
Set Three How is it possible for the instruction to move so quickly? How is speech first decoding instruction different from traditional phonics?  07:00
Set Four The DocumentaryHow do you incorporate comprehension and higher-level thinking in your instruction? What recipe or ingredients do you think are critical to ensuring high-level literacy for all?  16:56
Final Thoughts  19:00

Here are links that go along with the topics covered in the interview:

  • Speech to Print vs. Print to Speech webinar: more effective, efficient decoding and encoding instruction LINK
  • Why Our Children Can’t Read and What We Can Do About It by Diane McGuinness LINK
  • Reading Reflex for parents to teach their children, what I used to teach my daughter in 1997 LINK
  • The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read by John Corcoran LINK
  • The Reading Gap by John Corcoran LINK
  • EBLI Webinars LINK
  • What is Linguistic Phonics? LINK

Here is a link to EBLI’s overall website. The website is worth exploring LINK. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how large her project has grown and the wide range of resources she provides for educators, parents, and students. Notice she has just been interviewed by the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her desire to help folks with literacy is being noticed in a very positive way.  

Dr. Sam’s thoughts about this interview & a peek at future topics. As I mentioned initially, I have been talking to or writing about folks from all across the reading spectrum during the past two years. I am a centrist. I am making the case that we need to listen to ideas and findings from all sides of the reading issue. The way Nora carries out and promotes her program at EBLI represents a way of proceeding with Science of Reading that holds hope for eventually finding common sense and common ground. She demonstrates that there are ways to teach phonics effectively that don’t fit the mold some are trying to force on us all. Nora is not trying to force her views on anyone. Everyone would benefit from learning more about the “flagship of her fleet,” linguistic phonics.

I’ll continue to explore what other literacy leaders have to say in the coming weeks. Next week someone else will do all the talking. I’ll be posting a guest blog from Laura Robb’s site (THANKS SO MUCH, LAURA). You’ll want to read that blog for sure! So- until next time, Happy Reading and Writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who talks to folks from all sides in order to inform his teaching

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

PS If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

An interview with Rachel Gabriel: Her views on key literacy issues, including the efficacy of Reading Recovery: Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

An interview with Rachel Gabriel: Her views on key literacy issues, including the efficacy of Reading Recovery: Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This week I had the privilege of interviewing Rachel Gabriel. Here is a screen capture of her biography:

In this interview, Rachael began by telling us a little about her background. She did her doctoral work as a student of Richard Allington. Rachael is well-published, including articles for the Reading Research Quarterly. After telling us about her background, she strongly endorsed the work done by Reading Recovery. Rachael indicated that she is on the board of Reading Recovery of North America. She said that Reading Recovery supports teachers. It doesn’t leave them alone when they are stuck. She also noted that children served by Reading Recovery benefit from how the community of Reading Recovery teachers supports teachers as they help the children. I especially liked her insight that because of the huge supporting network of Reading Recovery teachers, when you are a six- or seven-year-old sitting across from a Reading Recovery teacher, you are not just sitting across from that teacher. You are also sitting across from all the teachers in her network and all the teachers that came before them in all the previous networks.

After talking about the extensive support Reading Recovery teachers give to each other and their students, she turned her attention to the statistics around the strength of the one recent study claiming that the impact was not sustained over time. The study claimed that Reading Recovery had a negative impact. She pointed out that that conclusion was based on a .2 standard deviation difference. She indicated that that is not a meaningful difference. (My take- it is a statistically significant difference, but it is so small that it is not educationally significant). She also pointed out that many other studies indicate that RR does have sustained effects. She then explained her ideas about the weaponization of research. Those ideas were explored in detail in my blog last week LINK. Finally, she talked about teacher evaluation and how to do that in a way that supports and develops teachers. Links to books she has written around this topic are provided later in this blog.

Here is the YouTube Video:

Here are the time-stamped topics/questions covered in the interview:

Rachael’s Background01:30
Tell us about your opinion of the Reading Recovery program02:06
Talk about what you mean by the “Weaponization of Research”09:54
Talk about teacher evaluation and the best ways to carry out teacher evaluation.15:34
Final Thoughts20:49
  

Link to Rachael’s books: LINK

I think my readers will find Rachael’s ASCD article about The Sciences of Reading Instruction informative. Here is a LINK to the article and a highlight from the article.

Overall, in my quest to find common ground and common sense in all the issues around the question of how to teach literacy, I find reassurance and guidance from folks like Rachael. She is adept at explaining research so that all of us can understand it. Her ideas and insights can help us all become better teachers who can help the kids grow into the lifetime readers and writers we want them to be. I am so grateful that she took the time to talk to all of us about the whole issue of how to teach reading.

I have several interviews with other literacy leaders coming up in the next few weeks. They will include folks from all sides. So, until next week,

Happy Reading and Writing!

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

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization

If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

The Weaponization of Research and its Implications for Reports on the Efficacy of Reading Recovery & other Constructivist-based programs- by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Weaponization of Research and its Implications for Reports on the Efficacy of Reading Recovery & other Constructivist-based programs- by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I have written many times about the group I have dubbed the “my way or the highway” advocates of the science of reading. First and foremost, this group claims that the issues around the teaching of reading are settled, and they have the one and only true science of reading. PL Thomas has written criticisms of this point of view LINK. So have I: LINK, LINK, LINK.   Even well-known science of reading advocates like Mark Seidenberg (author of the book Language at the Speed of Sight) finds major problems with some claims made in the name of SOR LINK. Especially look at what he has to say from paragraph 10 on. That paragraph begins with “I do know something about reading research…”. I’ll have more to say about Seidenberg’s views later in the blog.

Many well-credentialed researchers say “we aren’t there yet” in terms of creating an agreed-upon Science of Reading.           

One thing I have noticed most about the “my way or the highway” group is that one can accept their conclusions about reading if and only if you are willing to accept their very narrow view of the reading process, their rather unique way of verifying their research LINK (they often use circular self-references) and their limited review of the research that they use to “prove” their position. Many of us find their defacto approach to science which is that science is about proving final answers, is the antithesis of what most folks view as science. Science isn’t about proving the one and only final answer. Science is about discovering new things by building on what we already know to create new knowledge and understanding. That is why I find the approach taken by folks like Duke and Cartwright much more scientific. In their RRQ paper, The Science of Reading Progresses Communicating Advances Beyond the Simple View of Reading, they propose building on the old (Scarborough’s Rope) to create the new (The Interactive View of Reading). Their approach involves looking at what has come before and building on it. I am not claiming that their approach is the only approach. Neither are they. I am claiming that their approach is much more scientific than the approach being used by the “my way or the highway” Science of Reading crew. In my opinion, Duke & Cartwright’s approach does a much better job of explaining the role that comprehension plays in the whole reading process. 

Here are some examples of important research that the “my way or the highway” SOR folks have ignored or discounted:

  • Research by Nell Duke, P.D. Pearson and Michael Pressley demonstrates that teaching comprehension strategies positively impact reading scores. Duke’s studies focused on teaching those strategies using a gradual release model. See my blog about the issues surrounding this LINK.
  • Research around early childhood indicates the current push to move direct reading instruction into Kg and preschool is developmentally inappropriate.  Early childhood experts and others see play as more important than direct instruction in these early settings. LINK LINK LINK. This doesn’t mean I am against direct instruction; it means I am for using direct instruction in an age-appropriate manner. We are in danger of robbing a whole generation of younger children of their childhood.
  • Research around the long-term negative impact of retention, especially on children of color. See PL Thomas on this topic LINK, LINK and also Valerie Straus LINK. Despite such findings, SOR advocates continue to laude the benefits of the Florida model. In a bizarre twist, they also provide data that the “reading” gains of the Florida model are not a result of the retentions. If that is the case- why do they continue to support retaining students as part of the intervention models used in that state?
  • Research around best practices in teaching phonics. My dissertation, written in 2005, studied the last iteration of the reading wars. When I did that work, some folks said we really don’t need phonics, or they pushed for analytic phonics over synthetic phonics. The days of substantial numbers of educators saying “no phonics” are over. Today, most educators do see the need for phonics. The issues are now what kinds or how much. The ILA position paper on phonics indicates that research supports the use of more than one kind of phonics LINK. The “my way or the highway” folks ignore or discount that substantial body of research and promote the nearly exclusive use of synthetic phonics. Systematic instruction in synthetic phonics is far from a cure-all. Recent data from Australia indicates some children fail to progress even after several years of such instruction LINK. As Helen Amass reports, “Another concern is around the children for whom SSP simply doesn’t work. This is something that Al-Jayoosi finds particularly troubling, given that current government guidance for children who do not make good early progress in phonics is for them to receive more tuition in phonics – what she calls the “absolutely demoralizing approach of repeating phonics with them until they get it.” This is a huge red flag for adopting policies that call for the exclusive use of synthetic phonics.
  • Research continued. When advising districts, I suggest that they consider making systematic synthetic phonics an important part of their literacy program. I even have my recommended resources for PD, I would use materials from Mesmer and Duke LINK. I make it clear that there are also other potential resources. This is in stark contrast to the “my way or the highway” group operates. They sometimes pass laws mandating their materials and only their materials be used. They go so far as to name specific products. In some states, teachers are pushing back against the situations this creates. LINK.
  • Research continued, I spent three-plus decades working in Title 1 schools, both rural and urban, helping the kids for whom the mainstream program didn’t work. Those kids need something more, something different. Those kids need teachers who have a toolbox full of things to help them. Their teachers need training in more than just synthetic phonics. In addition to PD, they also need to have the freedom to carry out instruction that follows the child. That,  of course, should be done within the boundaries of district policies. For now, I’ll just say that there are many RR teachers who are taking training like OG training, and I’ve heard from many many teachers who are trained in a variety of ways to teach phonics. They are using that training to good effect and they don’t use one thing exclusively. I’ll have much more to say about this in future blogs.
  • Research demonstrates that there are districts using balanced literacy (I prefer the term constructivist practices) that do have success. Districts making such claims are met with a barrage of criticism that I call “discount and discredit.” Folks like Hanford and Vaites are making their living convincing parents that balanced literacy is a total and complete failure and calling for the replacement of any program that isn’t their brand of SOR. They often discount and discredit the successes of programs like RR. Those successes are listed elsewhere in this post.  I’ve offered an alternate explanation of why things aren’t as we want them to be. It maintains that some districts are using SOR with success, and some districts are using other practices with success. But there are many districts that are not implementing any program with success or have no real program at all or fail to implement the program they are using with fidelity. These are the districts that are causing the current lack of success. See the details of this argument in this blog post LINK.
  • Research around word callers shows that the word caller problem is not what SOR folks say. SOR advocates pretend that there are only a small number of word callers and that this is essentially a pre-existing condition. Nell Duke found that word callers account for a significant percentage of the students scoring low on state tests. Also, please have a look at this book:  Word Callers Small-Group and One-to-One Interventions for Children Who “Read” but Don’t Comprehend by Kelly B Cartwright, Edited by Nell K Duke LINK. I think you will conclude that there’s more to the issues around word callers than SOR folks are telling us. You’ll also find some great interventions to use with word callers.

Today I am adding two more things to the list of problems with the position that “my way or the highway” SOR folks take. One is that they base their claims on research with fundamentally flawed designs. The other is that too often; they use research based on weak instrumentation. Their instrumentation does not provide adequate measurements of comprehension.

I’ve written many times about the issues surrounding how many of their studies measure “reading.” They give students lists of words to read, then make inferences about comprehension using correlation statistics. Or they use the Dibels, a test of decoding, not comprehension. While this may be a sufficient design for preliminary research, when it comes time to spend millions (billions?) of dollars on materials, they need much stronger proof than they usually provide. See my blog entitled “Show me the Beef” LINK. Here link to a PDF by Nell Duke. Check out Box one on page seven for a look of all the things state reading tests include LINK. Compare that to the information one gets from the tests used in much of SOR research, and you’ll see that SOR instrumentation is often woefully inadequate. In fairness, there are a few (very few) SOR projects that use tests of comprehension as opposed to tests of decoding or word list tests. I’ll be interviewing the head of one of those projects very soon. By the way, the head of that project does not take a “my way or the highway stance.”

The other development is a phenomenon that Rachel Gabriel has called the “weaponization” of research. This is the worst possible way to use research. My take on this is that it presents research in a way designed to “PROVE” a particular way of doing things and force folks into taking what the proponents claim as the ONE AND ONLY path to literacy.

I view the recent pronouncements by Hanford and Peak as a case study in weaponizing research LINK. They cite research that claims Reading Recovery eventually has a negative impact on children. The clear goal is to get rid of Reading Recovery once and for all because, in their view, it doesn’t work. There is tons of research showing RR works in the short term, but Hanfork and Peak failed to mention that. They also ignore the fact of just how weak the statistics are “proving” this long-term negative effect. Rachel Gabriel will be talking about that in a future interview. RR is meant to bring students up to a level where they can benefit from the district program, and RR does a very good job of that. P.L. Thomas wrote an excellent post around the topic of how the media reports on the whole issue of beginning literacy. LINK

For instance, Bowers immediately replied to their attack on Reading Recovery. He said:

 “There is an obvious flaw in the study for assessing long-term effects. I hope critics of RR don’t ignore this. Can’t rule out a Mathew Effect. And can you point your readers to a long-term positive effect for phonics?”.

In my most recent blog about the positive effects of Reading Recovery, I point to the fact that the issue of the nature of the programs to which the students return has an important impact on student performance. When they return to classrooms where students are making progress overall, they match or exceed that progress. When they return to classes where students make little or no progress, they match that lack of progress. LINK Studies that fail to factor that in are fundamentally flawed.

Wait a minute, Dr. Sam, are you saying the RR is not a cure-all. That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m saying it is an intense short-term intervention designed to move students up to a level where they can benefit from the mainstream program in their building. For most students, it does that beautifully. I’ve written several blogs outlining the research demonstrating the efficacy of Reading Recovery LINK, LINK, LINK. RR improves comprehension and decoding for those beginning readers, so says the research found on ERIC. That is something its competition has never been able to do. By the way, The Reading Recovery Community provided well-reasoned, well-research documentation that counters the claims made by Hanford’s review of the research LINK. Also, have a look at what Rachel Gabriel says next week about just how weak the statistics were “proving” this point.

Let’s be clear that when I’m talking about this “my way or the highway crowd,” I am not talking about all SOR advocates. I’ve interviewed many SOR folks over time and found that they are open to dialogue about the issues. Instead, I’m talking about that group that includes folks like Karen Vaites. Karen has strong ties to parent groups and gets important parts of her income from work they do that involves lobbying for/lobbying to these groups. She and others like her have been quite successful in getting many parents to buy into their narrow, restrictive point. They use some rather sophisticated, effective public relations tactics to do so. She fails to fact check, I’ve fallen victim to some of her pronouncements and so have some of my friends LINK. She makes no attempt to correct her mistakes and she has a tendency to just make things up to suit her arguments. One of my friends from England likened this “my way or the highway” group to the mockingbird. When a mockingbird’s egg is left in another nest, and the hatchling comes out, the hatchling proceeds to kill all the other birds in the nest. These folks are out to end all that has come before and replace it with their brand of science.

The most telling criticism of what I’ve dubbed this “my way or the highway approach” is one I cited earlier. It comes from a long-time advocate of SOR, Mark Seidenberg. Here is the LINK and a quote that gives what I think is the heart of his criticism:

“This narrowing of focus is prompted by a valid concern: teachers (and other educators) have to be able to understand the research in order to make use of it. Since most educators don’t have much background knowledge in the area, the message has to be kept simple. That is the rationale for focusing on what I called “classic rock” studies.

I think this approach is giving up too much too soon. It underutilizes the science, underestimates the teachers, and diverts attention from the need to improve professional training. The science of reading movement hasn’t even gotten to the good stuff yet. I think teachers can absorb the important findings if they are presented the right way. Good PD is clearly an important component. Improving pre-service training would have the biggest impact, but that it is not happening as yet on a broad scale.”

(bolding and underlining are mine)

In my dissertation about the reading wars that I did all those years ago, I found that teachers from the two sides had more common practices than those that separated them. That raised my hope that we might be able to find common ground at some point. I still think that is possible. It will require all sides to admit that their preferred practices have limits and limitations. Nothing works with every child. Instead of weaponizing research to prove points and promote narrow agendas, we should be looking at ALL the research and be ready to use things from all points of view, even if they aren’t the ones we think should always work. It’s time for evolution, not revolution. LINK. There is nothing that always works for every kid. Maybe it is time we should argue less, talk more LINK and make that talk about common ground and effective practices. Then we could figure out how to use that common ground to help the kids LINK LINK. Dare to dream!

May 4th addition: Please see “Making Sense of Reading’s Forever Wars” by Leah Duran & Michiko Hikida. Thanks to @RacheGabriel & Mary Howard for calling this article to our attention. This one is now on my “must-read” list. https://kappanonline.org/readings-forever-wars-duran-hikida/

In the meantime- Happy Reading and Happy Writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist using ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Posting the blog “The Weaponization of Research and its Implications for Reports on the Efficacy of Reading Recovery” will be delayed until next Saturday

Posting the blog “The Weaponization of Research and its Implications for Reports on the Efficacy of Reading Recovery” will be delayed until next Saturday. In the meantime, please have another look at my video post about the Sciences of Reading (Science with an s!). https://doctorsam7.blog/2022/04/23/video-of-my-presentation-to-beginning-teachers-in-st-louis-about-the-sciences-of-reading-sciences-with-an-s-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

Why I Still Like Reading Recovery and More Things We Can Learn From It (REPOST) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Why I Still Like Reading Recovery and More Things We Can Learn From It (REPOST) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

NOTE: The link to the original Feb. 2022 post was broken. I am reposting this on 4/28/022 in order to let people access this post.

I’m coming off one of the most exciting weeks of my professional life. Last Sunday, I was a featured speaker at LitCon, a national-level reading conference. Then on Thursday, I did a joint Q&A session with Paul Thomas. Immediately afterword, I attended Paul’s session entitled The State of the Reading Wars: Not Simple, Not Settled. Here is a link to the blog he wrote about that session (LINK). Paul’s session was loaded with terrific information and resources around the whole history of the so-called reading wars. I’ll also mention that Paul has an excellent book on that same topic. Here is a link: (LINK). Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing a series of blogs designed to make a case for taking advantage of what Reading Recovery can do for students.

Research Demonstrates Reading Recovery Really Works.

Here is a link to a PDF entitled Overview of Reading Recovery. The PDF is a product of readingrecoveryworks.org (LINK). A screen capture of the last page of that document now follows:

The screen capture is of the last page of a four-page document. It contains three very important research search-based pieces of information.

  1. In one of the largest controlled studies ever conducted in the field of education, the growth rate for students who participated in reading recovery was 131% of the national average rate for first-grade students.
  2. 72% of reading recovery students read at grade level after a full series of lessons
  3. 99% percent of students who successfully completed reading recovery lessons don’t need to be referred to special education for reading at the end of Grade 1.

Let’s talk about the significance and implications of each of these in turn. Statement one demonstrates reading recovery does what it’s designed to do. When Marie Clay first created the term Reading Recovery, she talked about recovery in the nautical sense. Recovery means getting back on course. It is clear that given one and two, students completing the full course of study provided by reading recovery get back on course; they are ready to benefit from the district’s mainstream literacy program.

The crucial point is that they can start progressing like all the other kids in the district’s mainstream program. In districts with a working mainstream program, the gains from RR stick long term. In conversations on Twitter and my interview with her (LINK), Susan Vincent reported that data from her district showed the learning stuck over long periods. I’m well aware that some naysayers claim Reading Recovery gains don’t stick. They provide studies to prove that. As in all research, the devil’s in the details. Their studies failed to control for those districts that don’t have a mainstream program where students don’t make average to above-average progress. In those districts, the RR students can be expected to progress at a much slower rate. That is misinterpreted to mean the RR learning didn’t stick. When asked how the studies they cite account for this factor, not one of the naysayers has responded to date. The upshot is that the RR gains can and do stick.

This PDF is not the only source demonstrating that Reading Recovery works. What Works Clearinghouse has for years found RR works, and RR helps both decoding and comprehension. Here is a blog containing information about what WWC has said. (LINK) In next week’s blog, I’ll also provide some additional links.

COMPREHENSION

Comprehension is the Achilles heel of the current SOR movement. I’m not going to use the strawman tactic of claiming SOR doesn’t teach comprehension. They do, sort of. If asked, they will remind you that their collection of practices includes the five pillars. Those were gleaned from the National Reading Panel report. One of those pillars is comprehension. In his book, Paul reminds us of the limits and limitations of that report (a topic for another day!). That point aside, there are additional problems. One of them has to do with accepting Willingham’s work around comprehension at face value.

This is what Willingham had to say:

Building on Willingham’s research Karen Vaites wrote a blog entry about comprehension:

(LINK) Here is a screen capture giving the key to her entry:

Notice that the key conclusion here is that “background knowledge is key to reading comprehension.” On the one hand, I could not agree more with the concept that background knowledge is incredibly important to comprehension. Virtually all folks schooled in literacy instruction would agree to that. On the other hand, the issue becomes is it “THE KEY” or “A KEY”? I subscribe to the latter point of view. So do many experts in the reading field. Based on Willingham’s limited look at the research, some questionable practices are beginning to emerge. I say his look is limited because he does not give proper consideration to or explanation of the findings of Pressley, Pearson, Duke and others. What has happened is that folks like Vaites are using Willingham’s work to say teachers need to change how they teach. Teachers should spend lots less time teaching reading strategies and lots more time simply building background. Implied in that is that building background is all of (most of) what it takes to “teach” comprehension. This results in calling on teachers to spend much less time teaching comprehension strategies. All this is based on Willingham’s views, including his contention that these strategies are quickly and easily learned.

Unfortunately, this “new way” of teaching comprehension flies in the face of several decades of research by folks like Pressley, Pearson and most recently Duke. In a nutshell, those aforementioned researchers have found that teaching reading strategies using a gradual release model raises reading test scores significantly. On the one hand, I agree with Willingham that too much of the time teachers spend on reading strategies is not well spent. That is because the time is often spent on the wrong things. Time spent naming strategies or practicing test questions that ostensibly test for the use of reading strategies is not what the research has indicated should be done. Rather GETTING THE STUDENTS TO INTERNALIZE AND USE THE COMPREHENSION STRATEGIES AND ASSESSING WHETHER OR NOT THEY ACTUALLY USE THEM is what “teaching reading strategies using gradual release” entails. Teaching the strategies in that way is critical to building students’ ability to make meaning out of text. I find nothing in any of the three-plus decades of work that the aforementioned researchers completed indicates that those strategies are quickly and easily learned. Teaching in a gradual release model takes time. However, I do find study after study after study that shows that teaching these strategies does raise test scores significantly.

This is one of many examples that demonstrate that SOR advocates’ advice goes off the tracks too often because they fail to look at all the research before handing out their advice. Other examples of this abound. These include failure to consider research about retentions before implementing things like the Florida “miracle” model or ignoring research by early childhood experts about what and how to teach our youngest students. Next week I will continue this discussion and further discuss the whole issue of assessing reading. I’m going to suggest that many of the “miracle studies” cited by SOR are very heavy on assessing decoding and very light (or simply don’t) assess comprehension. We’ll be looking at Duke’s work on how reading is measured by gold-standard reading tests. Those are tests like you find on state-wide reading assessments. BTW those tests involve much more than simply reading a word list, a testing method that is used in many SOR studies.  

In the meantime, I will leave you with this thought.

What Works Clearing House found Reading recovery helps BOTH decoding and comprehension.

That is a huge advantage and an important reason to consider the use of Reading Recovery. Here is the blog where I explore what WWCH had to say LINK.

Next week we will explore why reading recovery does such a good job of teaching comprehension. We’ll also further explore the problems that arise because the approaches of some  SOR folks often leave out key elements needed for successful reading comprehension. Reading comprehension strategies need to be taught directly and explicitly. We’ll also take a long hard look at the issues of phonics and how phonics is an integral part of Reading Recovery.

I’ll be suggesting that one semester of RR in first grade is one of the best moves a district can make to help get control of its reading problems, especially in light of the current state of things in the Dyslexia community. They lack a widely agreed-upon definition of Dyslexia. They do not have a reliable screen. Instead, they are now recommending legislation that requires testing everyone for Dyslexia. Given the current state of their screening instruments, this practice is guaranteed to glut programs with false positives. See the most recent issues of Reading Research Quarterly and check out the information in Paul’s book to verify that the Dyslexia community has a long way to go in both these areas. Please don’t misinterpret my position. I think there should be services provided to those kids who need extra help. I spent over 40 years working in Title 1 buildings giving help to students of greatest need. Giving expensive specialized services to children who don’t need them is a huge waste of resources. Those resources could be used to help other children. I am seriously suggesting that giving a semester of RR to struggling children might be the most effective screening possible. Until the Dyslexia community develops better screenings and better definitions, that might very well be the way to go. Remember that Reading Recovery is NOT an ongoing program. It is an intense short-term intervention that gives the kind of positive results listed at the start of this blog.

In anticipation of the naysayers using the public relations ploy of discount and discredit concerning the data on the efficacy of Reading Recovery- I would point out that I could use information like that found in Paul’s book to counter many of the things SOR folks advocate. If we go down that road, the pendulum will swing indefinitely. This is a centrist saying, let’s try using things from both sides. Let’s start acting like we are all on the same side, the side that wants to help kids. I’d be very interested in hearing from districts using RR first, then testing for Dyslexia. I’m betting that such districts will not have as large a problem of overidentifying children needing a program based on the practices suggested by the  Dyslexia community. I’ll bet that would go a long way toward assuring that the resources will be there for the children who really need them.   

Until next week then- Happy Reading and Happy Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

PS If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Video of my presentation to beginning teachers in St. Louis about the Sciences of Reading (Sciences with an s!) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Video of my presentation to beginning teachers in St. Louis about the Sciences of Reading (Sciences with an s!) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Today’s blog is a bit different from most. I am providing readers with a video of the highlights of what I said to beginning teachers in St. Louis about the Sciences of Reading. Here is an abridged version of my presentation.

The pdfs of the PowerPoints used in this presentation are in this share folder.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1H-SmOZReCqHL5tkiRHvyUgkbExHs6CUR

You can download the pdfs and click on all the various links I provided while discussing the topic. LOTS of information! ENJOY

I’ve got some interesting and informative blogs/interviews lined up for the next few weeks, be on the lookout for a guest blog post from Laura Robb and an interview with Rachael Gabriel.  

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist, uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Happy News for the Missouri Literacy Association by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Happy News for the Missouri Literacy Association: The ILA has recognized MLA for its outstanding work.

During the past few decades, I’ve been active in my state’s ILA chapter and the local ILA chapter in St. Louis. I am happy to announce that this year, both the state organization and the St. Louis chapter have been recognized by the ILA for their outstanding work in the literacy field.

I will say that it truly does take the whole village to raise the child, and there have been several wonderful things going on in our state. This includes a remarkable growth in membership, book giveaways of thousands of books to children living in book deserts, establishing community cooperation with several local literacy advocacy groups, providing daily PD & inspiration on Facebook, along with book clubs and webinars done by national experts in literacy, and of course, the peer-reviewed state journal, The Missouri Reader. The many activities that served as the basis for the award would not have been possible without the contributions of many MLA members. Kudos to all the members of MLA- Well Done! Special thanks to ILA for all that it does to promote literacy. Here is a screen capture of the announcement for the MLA award:

This is a message from ILA: “We want to celebrate and acknowledge the great work the chapter has accomplished.  Please join us for a one-hour Zoom event to celebrate ILA Chapter Awards. We encourage you to share this invitation to all your local leaders, chapter members, friends, and supporters. Register in advance for this meeting:

LINK

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.”

I hope that many of the readers of this blog will consider coming to our celebration using the link above. Debbie Lambeth, the current MLA chair will accept MLA’s award. Julius B Anthony, current chair of the St. Louis group and future chair of MLA will accept St. Louis Regional’s award. BTW, Julius’s work was critical in creating our membership growth in the past few years. It’s looking like MLA is going to have a bright and productive future ahead of it.

Here are some links that you might find useful in taking advantage of the many resources that both MLA and St. Louis Regional provide.

  • Facebook Page LINK. Daily information and inspiration from our FB team.
  • Web Page LINK Information on our upcoming webinars and book studies including our upcoming two-part book study with Stephanie Affinito.
  • The Missouri Reader, newest issue LINK and our most read issue of all time- the special edition about using poetry as a vehicle for teaching reading LINK
  • Here are some links to blogs about some of the local partnerships we’ve developed within our state and region, including our partnerships with St. Louis Black Authors, LINK, Turn the Page LINK,  and Village of Moms LINK. There was also a Missouri Reader article about The Africa Project LINK pg 10. Lots going on! Please consider joining MLA or donating to support its work. Do that at the website. LINK

In the coming weeks, I’ll be continuing my exploration of the issues surrounding the teaching of reading. I will also carry out a number of author interviews I think you will find interesting. Until next week- HAPPY READING & WRITING.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka proud citizen of the village of literacy in Missouri (and beyond!).

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

PS If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Views from the Center: There’s much more to comprehension instruction than just building background knowledge by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Views from the Center: There’s much more to comprehension instruction than just building background knowledge by Dr. Sam Bommarito

There is a growing movement of teachers who have come to believe that the main thing you need to do to help your students understand what they are reading is to provide the students with background knowledge before reading. They feel the time spent teaching comprehension should be drastically reduced. A few seem to think it should be eliminated altogether. That idea is simply not supported if you look at ALL the relevant research.

I’ll begin by saying background knowledge is critical for understanding. That is something folks in the reading field have known for decades. So having background knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for reading comprehension to occur. By the way, I can’t help but point out that one way to develop background knowledge is for teachers to include read alouds in their daily routines to encourage wide reading and encourage deep conversations LINK as students share ideas they have gleaned from new materials they have read. But that is a topic for a different blog.

Let’s turn next to the work of Willingham. In his widely read article about teaching comprehension LINK, he makes a case for using brief instruction in reading comprehension. Here is a screen capture from page 45 of that article; it summarizes his overall conclusions:

Please note that he did not say to abandon the teaching of reading strategies (though some folks on social media seem to be taking such a position). He called for teaching less of it. My chief criticism of his position is quite simple. It has to do with the research he left out of his analysis (ignored), especially the three decades of research by Pearson, Duke and Pressley that demonstrated that teaching reading strategies using a gradual release model consistently results in significantly higher reading scores. It is not at all transparent that representative sample articles from those bodies of research were included, nor is it transparent that strategy teaching from the articles cited used gradual release in the teaching of the strategies. Teaching a gradual release model means doing much more than naming or talking about strategies. Too often, that is what is passing for strategy instruction in some classrooms. What should be involved is students INTERNALIZING strategies and using them as they are reading. A strong clue to where things might be going off the track is the “strategy” of teacher preparation, which was found to be inconclusive based on six studies considered (see his chart from the NRP on page 43). First, I find it difficult to understand how this is a reading strategy (it would be best classified as teaching about reading strategies). Second, the fact that the results were inclusive should be a red flag. That means that during the era studied; teachers were not taught very well what reading strategies are and how to help students internalize and use them. The absence of any mention of teaching students about inferences and how to make inferences is also a major omission in this analysis.

My take on this now follows.

The key to teaching comprehension strategies is that the teaching must be done in a way that results in the students internalizing and using the strategies, so says the research by Pressley, Pearson, Duke and others.

I want first to remind readers of the observational studies done by Durkin in the 1980s. Overall, they showed that less than one percent of the instructional time spent on reading instruction in classrooms was spent on teaching comprehension during that era. Here is a screen capture of the first page of her 1982 article in Educational Leadership:

LINK to the article.

Durkin’s research sparked a great deal of interest in the area of teaching reading comprehension. This led to a renaissance of research around how to effectively teach reading. It provided the impetus for the subsequent work of  Pressley, Pearson, Duke and others that clearly established that teaching selected reading strategies does have a significant positive impact on children’s reading scores. There are now over three decades of research to back up those claims.

Unfortunately, today we seem bound and determined to forget those important lessons learned during the 1980s and beyond. Today we now have some people saying not to teach comprehension strategies at all. In addition,  too often, what happens in “strategy” instruction is that the instruction focuses on naming the strategy or describing the strategy or “practicing” the strategy rather than learning how to internalize and use the strategy.  This is a step backward. My final important point is that teaching strategies using the gradual release model is not something that can be done in five or six lessons. It’s time to revisit the whole notion of what constitutes teaching students to internalize and use reading strategies when needed. A key to this is having an empirical measure of how students have internalized the strategies. Another key is to do some new research on what teachers today are actually doing with their instructional time.

A final thought on the Willingham article is this. He only considers the NRP data and definitions. He is using a sample of convenience to prove his point. He did not control for the existence of the definitions/data from Pressley, Pearson and Duke on the importance of teaching strategies through gradual release. Given the fact, that the NRP chart he references called Teacher preparation, a reading strategy, in terms of reading strategies we seem to be talking about apples and oranges. It is not transparent from the chart whether all the strategies taught were taught using the gradual release model. That is important because the research from all three of the previously mentioned researchers demonstrate that teaching reading strategies using the gradual release model produces the most dramatic effects on reading scores. HE IS SIMPLY NOT CONSIDERING ALL THE EVIDENCE. Yet we are making state and national policies based on this incomplete evidence.

I will be visiting the issue of how to best test comprehension from time to time in future blogs. In the meantime, I’ll be doing another in-service with teachers in the St. Louis region, showing them how to help students internalize the strategy of making inferences and, more importantly, how to evaluate whether the students have begun to apply that strategy. Also, I just attended a webinar given by Rachael Gabriel. She is another advocate for the Sciences of Reading LINK (that’s sciences with an s!). I am hoping to arrange an interview with her to discuss this issue (among others). In the meantime, I will continue to advocate for the direct explicit teaching of reading strategies using gradual release. As I said at the outset, building students’ background knowledge is a necessary but not sufficient condition for students to develop an in-depth and complete understanding of the things they read.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Dr. Sam is on Spring Break This Week

Dr. Sam is on Spring Break This Week

Flowers are bloomed in the spring season; as shown here. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

I’m taking the week off for spring break. Doing family things. I even had lunch with teachers from my Title 1 building in Jennings where I worked for over two decades.  HAPPY SPRING!

Here are links to some of my most popular blogs:

The Sciences of Reading (and yes, I mean Sciences, not Science) LINK

A new look at brain research part two: Additional information about the impact of music on reading fluency/prosody LINK

An alternate explanation as to why reading achievement isn’t where we want it to be LINK

NEXT WEEK I’ll be posting the following blog: Views from the Center: There’s much more to comprehension instruction than just building background knowledge. Hope to see you then!

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

An interview with Mark Pennington about his Teaching Reading Intervention Program (Part Two). Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito.

This week I am completing the two-part interview with Mark Pennington about his reading program. I do this in the spirit of presenting ideas from all sides. Mark’s program is aimed at the older reader. Its foundations lie in the ideas of Science of Reading and Scarborough’s Rope. It includes direct phonics instruction for middle school/high school students. As I indicated last week, I recognize that some research indicates that such instruction does not usually pay large dividends. However, in a recent blog, Timothy Shanahan pointed out that newer studies indicate that some students could benefit from such instruction LINK. Could Mark’s program benefit some of the students you serve? Check out the links to the free materials he has provided and see what you think.

The regular readers of this blog know I am a centrist and believe that if we are to cut through the gordian knot that is reading instruction, it will take using ideas from all approaches. In the second part of this interview, we will look at such topics as vocabulary, Scarborough’s rope, and comprehension related to Mark’s program. The video starts as Mark changes from talking about decoding to talking about these other topics.

About the author (taken from the Mark Pennington Blog)

Mark Pennington is an educational author, publisher, reading specialist, and teacher. Mark’s English-language arts/reading resources help teachers apply assessment-based instruction to teach grade-level Common Core State Standards and also individualize instruction for the diverse needs of their students.

Mark has taught in the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college settings. He has also served as a district reading specialist. His MA Education (Reading Specialist) is from California State University at Sacramento. Mark received his teaching credential at the University of California at Los Angeles after graduating Magna cum Laude from the University of Southern California. Go Trojans!

Teachers refer to his books as “user friendly,” “written by a teacher for teachers and their students,” “comprehensive,” “minimal prep and correcting/grading,” “easy to individualize instruction,” and “efficient and effective balanced instruction.”

Mark and his family live in the beautiful Sierra Foothills of Northern California. In his spare time, Mark is a blues musician and avid day hiker.

Here is the link to the second half of the interview:

Scarborough’s Rope00:00
Background Mentor Text & Response03:28
Vocabulary6:56  
Language Structures10:36
Verbal Reasoning18:01  
Literacy Knowledge31:45
Closing Thoughts34:08
Time Stamps for the Interview

Important Links from Mark (includes link to his Teaching Reading Intervention Program):

Mark Pennington BLOG LINK

Teaching Reading Intervention full-year word recognition and language comprehension program for students ages 8-adult.

Free ELA and Reading Assessments from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Over 700 ELA and Reading Articles with FREE lessons, activities, and resources from the Pennington Publishing Blog

I hope you got many good teaching ideas from Mark’s interview. Next week, I will review some additional ideas about teaching comprehension.

Soooo- until next, Happy Reading and Writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.