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 Lois Letchford: Lois tells the story of how she and her husband helped her son, who has dyslexia, become a Ph.D. graduate of Oxford. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This week I had the privilege of interviewing Lois Letchford.  In the interview, she tells us about the amazing story behind her book, Reversed: A Memoir. This book shares her story about how she and her husband helped her son, who has dyslexia, become an Oxford graduate. The story of the path they took is a treasure trove of information about how to teach effectively.  As a result of these experiences, Lois has become a “literacy problem solver.” Her life’s work has now involves sharing all the information she gained about effective teaching with others.  Here is an excerpt about Lois taken from her website:

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. (:20)

2. Website tour (07:08)

3. Video about “Reversed: A Memoir from “Low IQ to Ph.D. Oxford. (11:49)”

4. It takes more than teaching decoding: Building foundations. (13:54)

5. Final thoughts (21:43)

Here is the YouTube interview:

Be sure to visit Lois’s website.

Here is the link:

https://www.loisletchford.com/

The website contains several useful resources. Use the tabs at the top of the website page to explore them. I want to call your attention to a couple of them right now.

The “When Learning is Trauma” Series

The series consists of links to 10 YouTube videos. The guests on the videos include many experts from around the world. Included is Dr. Steve Dykstra.

Her RESOURCES tab

This tab includes links to poems she has written along with other resources. My readers know that I use poetry with my own students. I do this as part of my implementation of Dr. Tim Rasinski’s repeated readings model. I do plan to use some of Lois’s poems with my students. I also found useful ideas in her section on Readers Theatre. Lois’s interest in these kinds of teaching methods is not surprising. She is friends with Tim and recently wrote an article with him.

Overall, I have found Lois to be open-minded and willing to share. I first met her through her comments on Twitter. Those comments were insightful. They were based on years of successful work. And she is now sharing ideas with folks from around the world. I want to thank her for taking the time to do this interview.

Next week I write about my interview with Nickie Simonetti, another expert on dyslexia, about her two books on that topic. I have also arranged two other interviews in the weeks after that. One of them is with Debra Couch and Brian Cambourne. They will talk about their new book, Made for Learning: How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions.  The other is with Lori Oczkus. She will talk about her extensive work with Reciprocal Teaching, the “Fab Four,” and more!    

So, until next week,

Happy Reading and Writing!

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

Copyright 2021 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.

Susan Vincent: A former reading recovery teacher, teacher leader and current university professor talks about reading recovery. An interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

My readers know I was trained as a reading recovery teacher. It has been a couple of decades since I have worked as one. However, in my current role pushing into K-3 classes via Zoom, I still use many of the effective teaching strategies I learned as a recovery teacher. I have blogged several times about RR. Here are links to some of those blogs.

Reading Recovery works: https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/08/10/why-i-like-reading-recovery-and-what-we-can-learn-from-it-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

Reading Recovery practices can help inform classroom practices: https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/08/24/what-i-learned-from-reading-recovery-and-how-it-helped-to-inform-my-classroom-practices-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

Once a Reading Recovery teacher, always a Recovery Teacher. RR teachers talk about RR: https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/08/16/a-message-to-reading-recovery-teachers-everywhere-well-done-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

The response to this series of posts was overwhelming and positive. Overall, they had thousands of views and there were well over 6000 responses on Twitter. As a result, I got to discuss RR with several different folks that I met online. One of them was Susan Vincent. Susan is an expert on Reading Recovery. She has been both a reading recovery teacher and a reading recovery trainer. Susan currently teaches at Miami University. 

I learned a lot of new things about Reading Recovery from Susan. One of the things I found out was that when Susan’s district looked at the long-term effects of RR, they found that the RR teaching stuck. When I asked her about the studies that showed otherwise, she pointed out that RR is a short-term intervention designed to catch students up.  My thought about this is that Reading Recovery sets students up to make normal progress when they return to their district’s mainstream program. However, if RR students return to districts where most students are making little or no progress, one would expect their progress to match that of those students, i.e., little, or no progress. Please note, that when RR students return to districts like Susan’s, where most students are making normal or above-average progress, then the progress of the returning RR students matches that of those students. In those districts, the RR teaching sticks. I now always ask the RR opponents who claim that RR  doesn’t stick if the studies they cite control for this very important factor.

Now it is time to have a look at the interview. Here are the topics we discussed. They are time stamped.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. (:20)

2. How have Reading Recovery & Marie Clay’s ideas impacted you as a teacher? (1:47)

3. Is Reading Recovery for all kids? (6:35)

4. Do Reading Recovery Teachers teach phonics? (8:49)

5. Final thoughts (19:55)

Here is the YouTube interview:

Next week I write about my interview with Lois Letchford as she shares her story about how she and her husband helped her son, who is Dyslexic, become a graduate of Oxford. After that, I will talk to Nickie Simonetti, an expert on Dyslexia, about her books on that topic. I also have begun arranging several other interviews that I will share in the coming months.  

So, until next week,

Happy Reading and Writing!

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

Copyright 2021 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 Eric Litwin Interview: Eric discusses his newest books: The Power of Joyful Reading and a children’s book entitled The Poop Song (yes, a book about poop!) by Doctor Sam Bommarito.

The Eric Litwin Interview: Eric discusses his newest books: The Power of Joyful Reading and a children’s book entitled The Poop Song (yes, a book about poop!) by Doctor Sam Bommarito. 

This week I had the privilege of talking to my good friend Eric Litwin about his two newest books and his views on the teaching of reading. Everyone knows Eric as the author of the original four Pete the Cat books and a myriad of other children’s books. Eric began his career as a teacher and he has a teacher’s eye for things. In the interview, Eric will talk about how Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes  came to be written and the new career path that launched for him. Let’s now talk briefly about his two newest books.

I’m sure you wonder why Eric would choose to write a children’s book entitled “The Poop Song.” First, know that Eric became a father this past year. His son is one year old and he and his wife face all the challenges of raising their firstborn in the midst of the Covid epidemic. They are wonderful and caring parents. It turns out Eric’s wife is a pediatric gastroenterologist. During the interview, Eric will tell you how he and his wife decided that a book about poop was really needed. Think potty training. Think first-time parents. Think of thousands of daycare centers needing children to be potty trained. Eric and his wife saw the need for the right information to get out to parents and caretakers. His wife provided the expertise in the best things to do when potty training.  Eric has the gift of making anything engaging and entertaining.  It is actually a book that will fill a real need for our very youngest children’s parents and caretakers. The book Is available for preorder. During the interview, Eric will be doing a musical share of the song from the book.

Eric’s other book is entitled The Power of Joyful Reading. It is a professional development book for teachers and parents. In the interview, he makes a compelling, research-based case for parents and teachers to encourage students to want to read and want to be lifelong readers. As only he can, he shows us ways to do that through songs and chants. Lots of takeaways for teachers in this part of the interview. I’ll mention here that Eric is doing a book club for the Missouri Literacy Association. It’s part of our summer series. The book clubs are free. Eric’s turn will come on July 15 & 22nd. He will be attending the July 22nd session. Links for registering will be posted soon.  Here is a link to our site so you can see all the wonderful activities MLA is sponsoring:

https://mla31.wildapricot.org/

These are the questions from the interview. In case you want to jump to a particular topic, the questions are time-stamped.

1. Tell us about yourself (01:25)

2. Tell us about getting kids involved- Eric sings! (8:07)

3. Tell us about turning early childhood classrooms into a reading playground and about joyful reading (14:16)

4. Tell us about things in literacy/literacy instruction you consider urgent and explain why they are urgent. (15:55)

5. Final remarks & then Eric Sings The Poop Song! (22:36)

HERE IS A LINK TO THE VIDEO:

Here are links to the two books mentioned in this interview


The Poop Song: https://thepoopsong.chroniclebooks.com 

The Power of Joyful Reading: https://shop.scholastic.com/teachers-ecommerce/teacher/books/the-power-of-joyful-reading-help-your-young-readers-soar-to-success-9781338692280.html 

You’ll also want to visit Eric’s website. There are free downloads, links to videos of him singing some of his favorite songs, or buying one of his many books and, of course, a link to preorder The Poop Song. Use this to go to the website:

https://www.ericlitwin.com/

So that’s it for this week. In the coming weeks, I will have several interviews. The next one will be an interview with Susan Vincent. She is currently a university professor and formerly a Reading Recovery teacher and trainer. You won’t want to miss that one. See you next week

Happy Reading and Writing.

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

Copyright 2021 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 overview of the newly released issue of The Missouri Reader: 55 Ideas for Celebrating National Poetry Month by Dr. Sam Bommarito

An overview of the newly released issue of The Missouri Reader: 55 Ideas for Celebrating National Poetry Month by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The newest issue of The Missouri Reader is out. In it, Missouri author/poet David Harrison gets together with friends like Nikki Grimes, Ruth Culham, Jane Yolen, Janet Wong, Nile Stanley and others to give us 55 great ideas for celebrating the upcoming national poetry month. The issue also includes articles on hot topics like Engaging Middle Readers, Literacy Stations, and Things Reading Teachers Should Know.

As some of you may already know, I am the Co-Editor of this journal along with Glenda Nugent. The Missouri Reader has been around for over 40 years. It started as a “paper journal.”  Now we publish digitally. We have two issues each year. We are peer-reviewed, and our editorial board has many highly qualified people (see the sidebar on the Table of Contents page of the journal). We publish many articles by well-known experts in the reading field. However, we also encourage teachers to publish, especially action research, book reviews, and app reviews. The last page of each issue explains how to submit an article for review. We are an official publication of the Missouri Literacy Association. Missouri Literacy Association is an ILA affiliate. Anyone with the following link can read the current issue for free:

https://joom.ag/zGzI

I want to also call your attention to another issue for you to explore. It is another poetry issue which was published in 2019. It is our most-read issue of all time. It contains TONS of innovative ideas about how to use poetry in the classroom. It was the brainchild of David Harrison. He approached Glenda Nugent (my Co-Editor).and I about the idea of a special issue dedicated especially to poetry. We are so glad he did. Here is the link to that issue. Feel free to share it with other interested educators.

https://joom.ag/o1ta

Part of our way of distributing The Missouri Reader is using what we call “word of cyberspace.” We ask our readers to share the links to the magazine with other readers. As a result, we are now read all around the world. So, if you like what you see in one or both of the issues, please share the links. They’re both free. THANKS!

You can help support The Missouri Reader by joining the Missouri Literacy Association- membership is open to all. Here is a link where you can join:

https://mla31.wildapricot.org/

Until next week,

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (Co-Editor of a peer-reviewed teacher’s journal)

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect any other person or organization’s views.

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.

Trusting Readers: Powerful Practices for Independent Reading: Interview with Scoggin & Schneewind about their upcoming book

I was excited to interview Jennifer Scoggin and Hannah Schneewind about their upcoming book, Trusting Readers: Powerful Practices for Independent Reading. The book is available for pre-order now. It is expected the first copies should be arriving in May. Here is a little bit about the two authors.

I first met Jennifer and Hannah at the 2017 NCTE conference held in my hometown of St. Louis. I had the honor of being the chair for their session and introducing them and their innovative ideas. At that presentation, they laid the framework for what became the foundational ideas for this about-to-be-released book. In their collaboration over the past three years, they honed their ideas about how to effectively conference within the workshop setting and then expanded their inquiry into identifying effective ways to promote independent reading. Their work is research-based. Their work is also imminently practical. As you can tell from their bios, both authors have spent considerable time successfully teaching in urban settings. As indicated in her biography, Hannah’s classroom was used as a model classroom for teachers around the city and country.  Both these authors have now moved into consulting. They work directly with classroom teachers around the country to help those teachers develop their craft. I predict this book will become a go-to resource for classroom teachers. What follows are the questions I asked them during the YouTube interview. The questions are time-stamped so my readers can easily locate the information from the interview that interests them the most.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourselves. (:48)

2. As consultants who go to a number of different schools, tell us about the current situation you’re finding in those schools. (5:36)

3. Tell us about your other key take-aways teachers will find in your book. Include comments about the cycle of conferring (9:14)

4. Tell us your definition of balanced literacy and the role of phonics instruction in a balanced literacy approach. I understand a whole chapter in your upcoming book will talk about that topic. Also talk about your views on a strength-based approach (18:06)

5. Your Final thoughts- ALSO, how soon will the book be available- how to order it. (21:42)

Here is the YouTube interview:

Here is the link to the Heinemann website where you can pre-order this bookhttps://www.heinemann.com/products/e12047.aspx

Next week I hope to feature the upcoming Missouri Reader spring volume. Among other things, you’ll find hundreds of ideas on how to use poetry to foster literacy instruction at all grade levels. In the weeks after that, I hope to interview more authors about their new or upcoming books. Included will be an interview with my good friend, Eric Litwin, who has a new professional book out along with another new children’s book. So until then:

Happy Reading and Writing!

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

Copyright 2021 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.

Decodable Books, Predictable Books or Trade Books? – Why I Now Use All Three by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Decodable Books, Predictable Books or Trade Books? – Why I Now Use All Three by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The debate around whether and how to control text in beginning reading is as old as the Great Debate in Reading itself. Over the years, there have been many different schemes on what to do. Recently the idea of using Decodable texts has come to the forefront.  Some SoR proponents say that use of decodable texts should be mandatory and exclusive. A while back, I was surprised when I read a blog post by Timothy Shanahan, a researcher who very much is committed to following science. I was surprised because he criticized what some of these SoR people have said about using decodable texts. I wrote a blog about it. LINK Shanahan was pretty blunt about what he had to say:

But those ‘experts’ who claim that kids should only read such texts for some length of time (e.g., 2-3 years) are just making that stuff up (bolding is mine). Research is not particularly supportive of such an artificial text regime (Adams, 2009; Jenkins, et al., 2004; Levin, Baum & Bostwick, 1963; Levin & Watson, 1963; Price-Mohr & Price, 2018). ‘Teaching children to expect one-to-one consistent mapping of letters to sounds is not an effective way to promote transfer to decoding at later stages in learning to read’ (Gibson & Levin, 1975, p. 7).’ “

In that same post LINK,  he said something that changed the way I go about my teaching:

“Personally—based on my own experiences as a primary grade teacher—I would use all of these kinds of text. My thinking then, and my thinking now, is that the way to prevent someone from being hurt by over-dependence on a crutch is to employ a variety of crutches; deriving the benefits of each, while trying to minimize potential damages.”

What follows now is my response to those things Shanahan said in that post. For those who are new to this blog, I have a fairly extensive background in the teaching of reading. I’ve taught every grade K-graduate school, I’ve taught as a Title 1 reading teacher, Title 1 staff developer, and university professor. I’ve taught all of the reading courses usually taken by preservice teachers. Currently, I am pushing into two 2nd grade classrooms using Zoom, and I am doing individual tutoring for some children in grades K-3. Included are children who are struggling at the very beginning reading levels. For many years, I used predictable books and trade books with those children.

For the Level 1-8 books, I use both Keep Books and Raz-Kids books. Keep Books are a resource available through F&P. Ohio State University publishes them. They are low cost, and available online. Go to this link to find out more about them https://keepbooks.osu.edu/ Here is a screen capture of the Keep Book that I often use as an exemplar when I talk about Keep Books during professional development and conferences. Notice that the back of the books include both Guided Reading and Reading Recovery information and a word count. There are Keep Books available for Levels RR 1-16. Here is what you’ll find inside my example of an exemplar Keep Book.

Keep Books are clearly predictable books. When using them, I encourage the students to crosscheck (say the first sound think of the clues). For instance, what if a student was stuck on the word pear on this page?  I might say the first sound “p.” Look at the new piece of fruit in the picture. What word should this be? Usually, that is enough for them to figure out the word.   For readers who are skeptical of using context clues, review my last weeks’ blog. LINK It talks about the Reading Research Quarterly  Executive Summary on the Science of Reading. Section one of that document indicates that results from six experimental studies suggest that there is value in teaching students to use both alphabetic and contextual information in word solving in interactive and confirmatory ways.

I also use other predictable text with the children, including Raz-Kids books and books from their basal series. The teachers I work with use trade-books for read alouds. So, students also have experience with that kind of text, even at the very beginning of their instruction.

What is new in my teaching practice is that I now use decodable books as well. I use books from a program made by the same company that publishes Raz Kids. That company is Learning A-Z. Here is a link to the Headsprout site: LINK.  While there are many programs and options out there, over the years, I’ve gravitated to using the Learning A-Z materials because they are created based on an extensive examination of the research and they have incredibly useful tracking and management systems. Let’s look at a typical decodable book from Headsprout.

There are several things I want you to know about the program. It is essentially designed to be a turn-key program. The program teaches sound/symbol relations explicitly using clever computer characters and games. For instance, before reading this book, they would learn about the “ee” and the “an” sounds. By using the sounds in characters’ names, the authors are able to create less contrived stories, with less need to use words that are in the story mainly to provide right sounds/decodable words. I especially like the program because as students read progressively longer and more complex books, the books are added to a personal library they can access online at any time. I encourage students to go back to reread these books, and include the rereading of these familiar books in most of my lessons with them.  Here is a picture of one student’s library. This student is about half-way through the overall program:

Using these decodable texts in addition to the predictable text means that,  as I work with these students individually, I can use a variety of teaching strategies. I think this allows me to carry out the earlier advice from Dr. Shanahan “the way to prevent someone from being hurt by over-dependence on a crutch is to employ a variety of crutches; deriving the benefits of each, while trying to minimize potential damages.”

I know there are many other decodable books and other predictable texts to choose from. The point of this post is not to convince you to use these particular books. It is to convince you that using both predictable and decodable books together is a viable option. I’ve tweaked what I used to do and so I’ve improved my individual tutoring program. This fits perfectly into a centrist approach. Don’t replace one thing that works for some but not all with another thing that works for some but not all. Instead, use elements of both. Taking that kind of path is the best chance we have to eventually resolve the reading wars.

Over the next few weeks, I am lining up interviews with literacy experts from various points of view. Let’s do find out what folks from different perspectives are saying. I hope you will join me. Until then, Happy Reading and Happy Writing.

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

Copyright 2021 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.

The Sciences of Reading Part 3- The Reading Research Quarterly Executive Summary/Thoughts About Comments Concerning Last Week’s Post by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Sciences of Reading Part 3- The Reading Research Quarterly Executive Summary/Thoughts About Comments Concerning Last Week’s Post

This week I’m wrapping up the topic of the Sciences of Reading and dealing with a couple of issues raised by critics of my first two posts. By the way, collectively, those posts have gotten almost 10,000 views, and their response has been overwhelmingly positive.

First, Let’s see what The Reading Research Quarterly Executive Summary has to say about the Science of Reading.   Here is the link.

These are taken directly from the summary:

“As coeditors of RRQ, a leading global journal that provides the latest research and scholarship on literacy, we saw an opportunity to put together a special issue of the journal focused on what’s at the heart of this debate: science. Our goal for this project was never to decide which is the “right” side of the debate but to help us be better consumers and creators of information. The compilation of articles in this special issue, as well as those that will appear in the second special issue in spring 2021, examine SOR through a broader, more inclusive lens. Together, these pieces bring a supportive and critical perspective to the conversations, and identify next steps for the field.”

It goes on to say:

“We started to solicit opinions on SOR and what the term meant to people both in and outside of the field. It quickly became clear that, not only was there no single definition, there was also no consensus as to what has been cited to inform theory, research, policy, and practice in the name of SORBOLDING MINE

It also indicates:

“What is important here is that the authors almost universally emphasized that narrow interpretations of SOR (often taken up by the media to make its way into practice, policies, and schools) are problematicBOLDING MINE Taken together, the articles in this special issue suggest that SOR is both a body of knowledge (defined broadly by researchers and scholars) and an interpretation of that body of knowledge (often defined narrowly by audiences outside the academy). The authors in this special issue push back on the idea that SOR be characterized by support for or opposition to phonics instruction.”

=====================================================================

The appendix of this document contains 26 key points to consider. Overall, my takeaway from these points supports the notion that the narrow interpretations of SOR that have found their way into the media are incomplete, sometimes inaccurate and counterproductive. Some things that caught my attention in the RRQ paper include:

” results from six experimental studies to suggest the ‘value of teaching students to use both alphabetic and contextual information in word solving in interactive and confirmatory ways.’ Unlike the position advocated by SOR groups who criticize use of the three-cueing system, Scanlon and Anderson emphasize that “the thrust of our argument is that the use of context can be a valuable assist for word solving both when a student’s knowledge of the code is still developing and when inconsistencies in English orthography result in only an approximate pronunciation of a word.” From section one.

“that the lack of clarity in terminology weakens our understanding of dyslexia. Elliot writes, “Despite the vast proliferation of scientific research, our understanding of dyslexia is marked by serious weaknesses of conceptualization, definition, and operationalization that are not only unscientific, but also result in impoverished practice in schools, social inequity in both understanding and provision for many struggling readers, and ultimately, reduced life chances for millions of students worldwide.” From Section 4.

“Overall, the authors push on the narrow conceptualization of SOR and also suggest that multicomponent language interventions may be helpful, as they “have tended to be more effective in improving reading and listening comprehension than single-component interventions have (e.g., Connor et al., 2018).” From Section 12.

“emphasizes that reading is complex and multifaceted. The authors explore “a confluence of complexity across: (a) theoretical models of reading based on empirical research, (b) emerging information related to the brain and reading, and (c) research findings based on close observations of young learners.” This embracing of the complexity of reading “challenges instructional approaches (e.g., structured literacy) that deny or ignore the multidimensional and networked nature of young learners’ reading processes and/or unique literacy learning trajectories.” From Section 14

“If our goal is to determine how best to teach reading, then we must rely on data that evaluate the effectiveness of teaching, rather than depending solely or even mainly on studies of reading processes or of other non-instructional phenomena, which are then applied to teaching through analogy or logical deduction or from premature conclusions drawn from empirical investigations that do no more than describe or correlate. The role of basic research in shaping instruction quite appropriately lies either in identifying pedagogical innovations that can be evaluated through studies of instruction or in providing evidence that further buttresses or explains the results of such experimental pedagogical study.” From Section 17

“in contrast to the SOR’s instruction of skills in isolation, adaptive teaching emphasizes an approach to pedagogy that focuses on teaching within authentic opportunities for learning, valuing the individuality of students, and connecting their cultural and linguistic strengths (Duffy, 2005; Fairbanks et al., 2010; Gambrell, Hughes, Calvert, Malloy, & Igo, 2011; Purcell-Gates, Duke, & Martineau, 2007; Purcell-Gates, Duke, & Stouffer, 2016). Adaptive teachers are flexible and skilled at teaching reading, using knowledge of reading acquisition and embedding instruction within students’ instructional needs and their rich literacies, cultures, and backgrounds.” Bolding is mine Section 22

My Conclusions:

All these takeaways from this document lead me to the conclusion that I stated earlier. The pronouncements of SOME, not all, of the SOR folks who indicate they have found the one true path that we all must follow are at best premature and are, at worst.  completely misleading and counterproductive. On the one hand it is entirely true that we need to do a much better job of providing all teachers the basic knowledge they need about teaching decoding and especially develop in them a more complete understanding of orthography.  On the other hand, however, we can’t discount the decades of work around the reading process/meaning-making part. We must teach students how to use both alphabetic and contextual information in the process of word solving. We must also teach our teachers how to scaffold children into using comprehension strategies- using instructional models based on gradual release. There is no one size fits all solution. LINK

Most of all, we need to learn to listen to one another and learn from each other’s craft.  I had one comment about last week’s blog postings & tweets indicating that balanced literacy advocates encourage readers to memorize whole words. She maintained that Kindergarteners taking part in a model video of choral reading were not reading at all.  They were simply regurgitating the text entirely from memory. A careful study of the program being used would reveal that the children from that video take part in word work on a daily basis and are using a systematic phonics program. They are not just reading from memory.  By the way, they are also encouraged to talk about what they have learned about what they’ve read.

Taking such narrow, inaccurate views about what “the other side” is doing is not limited to SOR folks. I’ve heard some balanced literacy folks intimate that using a systematic phonics approach precludes children from ever doing meaning-making. I visited an EBLI site, which has a strong SOR focus. It uses a form of systematic phonics. I promise you there is more on their minds than simply decoding. Their children do talk about their stories, and EBLI uses a full reading test for their program evaluation. I’ve said before, let’s argue less and talk more.  It’s time for ALL sides to do that.

At the end of the day, I believe that the solution to the problem of how to best teach reading doesn’t lie in adopting this program or that one.  I believe it lies in creating the kind of teachers that can make effective use of many programs. These teachers should be allowed to adapt what they do to best fit the child. Districts should have a variety of programs to choose from. The final decision of what program to use should be made by the district. They are the ones that know their children best. Mandating one size fits all programs at a state or national level guarantees that some districts will find that there is no program available that fits their children.

I am a firm believer in fitting the program to the child, not the other way around.  One of my critics last week indicated that I was guilty of pie in the sky thinking. She intimated that there are too many young, inexperienced teachers and that they would not be able to learn such things. I must respectfully disagree. Districts can and do use mentor teachers to help beginning teachers in that kind of situation. It is time to create the kind of teachers described in section 22. These teachers are  “Adaptive teachers (who) are flexible and skilled at teaching reading, using knowledge of reading acquisition and embedding instruction within students’ instructional needs and their rich literacies, cultures, and backgrounds.” It’s time to task those teachers with the job of implementing the programs. It’s time for teachers, not programs, to be the key to improving reading instruction. I think everyone would do well to read and reread The First Grade Studies (Guy Bond & Robert Dykstra, 1967/1997). LINK I’ve talked about them before. It’s been over 50 years since this pioneering comprehensive study first concluded that teachers make more difference than programs. Isn’t it well past time for us to act on that finding?

The Sciences of Reading Part Two: Looking Further into the Conundrum of How to Best Provide Reading Instruction to Our Students by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Sciences of Reading Part Two: Looking Further into the Conundrum of How to Best Provide Reading Instruction to Our Students

by Dr. Sam Bommarito

“In terms of the broad piece there is no one science that matters, it’s not just experimental research, not just qualitative research, it’s not just quantitative research we are using all and every methodology to figure out this multifaceted thing called reading….” LINK

Amanda P. Goodwin, Co-Editor of the Reading Research Quarterly 

Quote taken from 2020  U Tube interview called Unpacking the Science of Reading: A Conversation with Editors of Reading Research Quarterly, 1:18 on the video

I am using this quote from my post last week about the Sciences of Reading (that post has had 4000 views so far- THANKS) LINK. It provides a nice segue into the key points in this post. Reading is a multifaceted phenomenon. To get a complete view of reading requires examining it using all the tools of research- experimental, qualitative, and quantitative.  As indicated in last week’s post the so called “Science of Reading” advocates have taken a limited and limiting view of the research process. They often using testing instruments that test decoding rather than reading. They routinely ignore research that runs counter to their views. For instance:

  • Research by Nell Duke, P.D. Pearson and Michael Pressley demonstrating that teaching comprehension strategies has a positive impact on reading scores. Duke’s studies focused on teaching those strategies using a gradual release model.
  • Research around early childhood indicating that the current push to move direct reading instruction into Kg and preschool is developmentally inappropriate.  Early childhood experts see play as more important than direct instruction in these early settings.
  • Research around the long-term negative impact of retention. In spite of such research, SoR advocates made retention a key part of their 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 retain students as part of their model?

This same group also criticizes Whole Language and Balanced Literacy. They sometimes use the two terms interchangeably and often misrepresent what advocates of these positions say. Most importantly, they claim balanced literacy has failed. On many occasions, I’ve pointed out that this claim is based on what is currently going on in all the different districts in the United States. However, some of those districts are doing balanced literacy with fidelity, some are doing it poorly, some are not doing it at all, and some are using Science of Reading. Could that mean Science of Reading is part of the current problem?  The quick retort to that is that to judge how well Science of Reading is doing, you need to look at a sample of districts doing SoR with fidelity. I agree! That also means you must afford balanced literacy the same consideration. In a post I entitled Show Me the Beef, I asked SOR critics to produce a study based on a scientific sample of districts using balanced literacy with fidelity that shows such districts are doing poorly. LINK They have never been able to produce such a study. BTW I have visited many sites throughout the country where districts are using the balanced literacy model quite successfully.

Another problem with the SoR criticisms of Balanced Literacy is that they often treat Balanced Literacy as a strawman.  Have a look at this Washington Post story about the current situation. The author is Rachael Gabriel. It appeared in Valerie Strauss’s column. She is the same reporter who did last week’s article from the post.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2018/09/25/straw-man-new-round-reading-wars/

Here is a key excerpt from the article:

“No matter whose voices are loudest in any given decade, scientific research has consistently shown that:

  • All children’s minds meet the task of learning to read a little bit differently. For example, some scientists estimate up to four different subtypes of dyslexia, rather than one as once assumed. Conclusion: One philosophical orientation toward reading instruction is never going to work in all U.S. public schools no matter whose idea it was. Students learn differently and the sources of potential difficulty are varied. BOLDING IS MINE.
  • There are differences in experiences and outcomes related to reading and writing based on gender, race, language history, disability status and socioeconomic factors. These often appear before formal instruction has begun, and widen after. Conclusion: The question of how literacy is taught has everything to do with race, class, culture and identity, and any reporting or reform that ignores this is missing or misrepresenting reality.
  • Ultimately, our failure to teach all students to read is a failure of our ability to improve instruction that starts with well-researched ideas, and is molded by professional educators into individualized pathways to a common outcome: powerful literacies. Conclusion: We should be more focused on improving instruction than disproving philosophy.

Contrasting approaches are rarely explored with genuine curiosity as starting points for rigorous improvement based on practice-generated evidence of effectiveness (e.g., in classrooms rather than in lab settings). They are religions unto themselves, complete with leaders, deities, catchphrases, measures of fidelity, branded tote bags and pledges of allegiance that blind people to the pitfalls and possibilities each one carries. The leaders of one routinely dismiss the ideas of the other, and their followers follow suit, often without a full understanding of that which they dismiss. This won’t go away with the next pendulum swing.

So, before we take the usual “ready, fire, aim” approach and swing back toward phonics-focused instruction, let’s not assume any one approach has the monopoly on authoritative research. Let’s not just sound the alarm when we notice students struggling, but actually build in some improvements when whatever path we’re on leaves some students behind.

The question we should be asking in investigative reports, board meetings and individual classrooms is not, “Have we gone the wrong way?” The questions should be: “What is working here, when and for whom, and what can we improve?”  Or at the very least: “As we go this way, who becomes vulnerable, and how do we support them?” BOLDING IS MINE.

Shaming and blaming public schools for how they have attempted to manage the complex and sacred task of teaching reading will make the swing back toward phonics so rigid, narrow and self-righteous that it will certainly fail and come bounding back toward more holistic approaches with all their pitfalls and possibilities in a decade.

Instead of raising an alarm about current practices and running in the opposite direction, we should follow educators and neuroscientists who are genuinely curious about the complexity of literacy and of individuals:

  • Leaders who are thoughtfully experimenting with the possibilities of matching individual readers with individualized supports, regardless of who came up with them 
  • Leaders who understand the structures, pressures and realities of classrooms in different settings 
  • Leaders who are more invested in starting with sound scientific ideas, and improving rapidly and nimbly than being right and proving everyone else wrong 
  • Leaders who learn from the failures and excesses of the past and work to change the very thinking and tools that failed in the first place. 

It is time to change the thinking from rigid “either-or choices” in literacy instruction to responsive “yes-ands” that engage children’s unique pathways to literacy.”

First I will acknowledge that this article calls all sides to task about the current dialogue (or lack of it). Second I would like to suggest a path that we might follow.  Instead of mandating statewide or nationwide content, content based on one side or the other, we should leave it up to the local districts to make the final decisions.  Local districts know their children the best. Local districts can look at all the positions and adopt and develop curriculum/teaching methods that best fit those kids. Local districts can demand that programs/curricula considered for adoption be based on reading tests, implemented on a district-wide basis and done successfully over several years. Overall, I think Gabriel’s article dovetails nicely with my ideas that it is time for ALL sides to talk to one another rather than bicker LINK (see part two of the post). Overall I think it makes a great case for improving reading instruction using the SCIENCES of Reading.

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

Copyright 2021 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 will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

The Sciences of Reading (and yes I mean Sciences, not Science) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Sciences of Reading (and yes I mean Sciences, not Science) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

There has been a lot of push back lately about the Science of Reading folks and the claims that they are making about the best ways to teach reading. I have long taken a centrist position on the “Great Debate”, maintaining that no one “side” has all the answers and that the sensible approach is for all sides to listen to one another and learn from one another. LINK I call this approach the “Reading Evolution”. LINK

Who are these Science of Reading folks and why the current backlash to the ideas they promote?  SOR in its current iteration is the product of a group of educators influenced by the ideas of Louisa Moats. Moats claims that our current problems in the teaching of reading are caused by the failure to adopt practices like the ones described in the PDF, Reading Is a Rocket Science LINK or in this description of the Science of Reading by Holly Lane, University of Florida. LINK As we will see, critics of Moat’s approach charge that she and her supporters are a small minority of educators trying to force their views on everyone. Paul Thomas is among those critics, saying that this action of forbidding all practices except those advocated by the “Science of Reading” group  is both  hurtful and counterproductive LINK.  More about that in a minute.

Readers are invited to consider three of the major push back pieces that have emerged in the past year.

The first is the National Education Policy Center’s statement as described in Diane Ravitch’s March 2020 blog.   LINK  The upshot is that there is no “science of reading.” NEPC states that “It’s time for the media and political distortions to end, and for the literacy community and policymakers to fully support the literacy needs of all children.”

Another push back came from a December 2020 You Tube video created by George Hruby from the Collaborative Center of Literacy Development- University of Kentucky

Some key points made in his video:

  • Hruby maintains SOR advocates are wrong in saying the science is settled. Science is never settled.
  • He thinks it is more accurate to talk about the Sciences of Reading.
  • He views the Science of Reading as a branding designed to sell curriculum.
  • He described a number of programs in the past that used similar methods to the ones found in the SOR and maintained that in the end these programs were no more effective than what a good teacher could accomplish using methods that are far less costly than SOR methods.
  • He outlined the limits and limitations of other SOR claims


The most recent push back came in the form of a piece written by Valerie Strauss, a reporter for the Washington Post. In it she details the views of David Reinking, professor emeritus at Clemson University and a former president of the Literacy Research Association; Victoria J. Risko, professor emerita at Vanderbilt University and a former president of the International Literacy Association; and George G. Hruby, an associate research professor of literacy and executive director of the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development at the University of Kentucky. The link to the full article requires a subscription to the Washington Post. LINK.  

The article is entitled Is there really a ‘science of reading’ that tells us exactly how to teach kids to read? The short answer to the question raised by the article is no, there is not. Here are some highlights from that article:

  • More worrisome, a majority of states have enacted, or are considering, new laws mandating how reading must be taught and setting narrow criteria for labeling students as reading disabled.
  • These themes make for a compelling journalistic narrative and they can benefit for-profit interests outside mainstream education, particularly during a pandemic when many parents are seeking help teaching reading at home. But, they also obscure established evidence that teaching reading is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor (bolding is mine). Overlooked is the common ground shared by those who draw different conclusions on the finer points of available research.
  • Instead, reasonable differences exist along a continuum. On one end are those who see phonics as the foundation of learning to read for all students. To them, phonics — lots of it — is the essential ingredient that ensures success for all students learning to read, and it must be mastered before other dimensions of reading are taught.
  • On the other end are those who see phonics as only one among many dimensions of learning to read — one that gains potency when integrated with meaningfully engaged reading and writing, with vocabulary and language development, with instruction aimed at increasing comprehension and fluency, and so forth.
  • One example is a critical review of several meta-analyses (comprehensive statistical analyses of effects across hundreds of studies), which was published recently in a highly regarded, peer-reviewed journal. It found no clear advantage for programs with a strong emphasis on phonics compared to those foregrounding other approaches (click on this).

Taken together I think these recent developments strongly support a centrist position. The limited and limiting point of view of the so-called Science of Reading advocates are not scientific at all. I have on a number of occasions called for using all the evidence from all the forms of research. Some important figures in the research world seem to have drawn similar conclusions. In a September 2020  U Tube interview called Unpacking the Science of Reading: A Conversation with Editors of Reading Research Quarterly, Amanda P. Goodwin, Co-Editor of the Reading Research Quarterly has this to say about research (1:18 on the video) :  

“In terms of the broad piece there is no one science that matters, it’s not just experimental research, not just qualitative research, it’s not just quantitative research we are using all and every methodology to figure out this multifaceted thing called reading….” LINK

So, I’m in favor of exploring the Sciences of Reading. I favor tweaking programs and finding common ground. LINK.  I favor finding out all we can from successful practitioners using the science of reading. LINK. I favor looking at the teaching of reading as both art and science and to fully explore the issues of of fluency and prosody. LINK. I favor exploring all the research around brain research LINK. I think it is time to empower teachers by providing in-service in all the ways to teach decoding LINK . I also think it is time to provide them the in-service needed to learn the skills and strategies measured by state tests of reading instruction (as opposed to tests of decoding).  These skills and strategies include those like the ones presented by Nell Duke and others at the 2019 ILA convention. LINK.  I think the time is long overdue for folks to start listening to the teachers of reading so that we can have a Reading Evolution. Maybe a Reading Evolution will finally bring that famous (infamous) swinging pendulum to a stop in the middle so we can learn from each other the teaching skills needed to become effective teachers of reading.

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

Copyright 2021 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 will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

More About Dr. Tim Rasinski and the Art and Science of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

More about Rasinski and the Art and Science of Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The response to last week’s interview of Dr. Tim Rasinski was overwhelming. Almost 1,200 views during the week and many positive comments. This week I have a birthday coming up (the day after Valentine’s Day) and I plan to spend time with my family. I am also doing a fundraiser for St. Louis Black Authors on my Facebook page as part of my birthday celebration.

I thought this would be a good time to repost links to my “best of Rasinski” blogs. I include the one where he came to St. Louis and his views about the Art and Science of reading. There are lots of additional insights into his ideas in that post.

Enjoy the reposts! In the coming weeks I will continue to talk to literacy leaders from many different positions and I will be doing a post about The Sciences of Reading (and yes the “s” belongs in there!). Until then Happy Reading and Writing!

An earlier interview with Tim when he came to St. Louis

What Tim had to say when he came to look at what we were doing at my school:

Activities I do based on the work of Rasinski and Mellissa Cheesman Smith:

My first post about Tim his work made when he came to present to our local ILA group in St. Louis:

Go to https://mla31.wildapricot.org/ to register for the final FREE session of Tim’s Webinar on Feb 23!

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

Copyright 2021 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 will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.