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, all about Keys to Growing Proficient Lifelong Readers. I am President of the STLILA and Vice President of the MoILA.

Willy Wood Gives an In-Depth Look at the Upcoming Speakers for the Write to Learn Conference

Willy Wood Gives an in Depth Look at the Upcoming Speakers for The Write to Learn Conference

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Here is a link to a video interview of Willy Wood, organizer of this year’s Write to Learn Conference.

In the video Willy talks about how the conference, which has been a fixture on the Missouri Literacy Scene for the past four decades, has adapted to the new normal.  The folks who were to be the keynotes/major presenters for the face to face conference are instead each going to present a three-part series on their chosen topics. Here is are the speakers, and the dates they will be speaking:

In addition to giving many insights about each of the speakers, Willy also talked of some things that are still in the works. Included are the addition of a set of Book Club sessions and a possible free open mike session which will bring this extremely popular feature of the face to face conference into the current cyber conference.

To find out more be sure to follow Write to Learn on twitter, @WritetoLearnMO, #WTLMO and visit the conference website which will allow you to register for the various speakers. The website includes a blog where you can get the latest on how the book club and open mike events are coming along.

Here is the link to the Write to Learn page.


See you there!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- Write to Learn Conference groupie!)

Copyright 2020 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.

It’s been a good week for Dr. Sam’s professional development: Here are some key takeaways

It’s been a good week for Dr. Sam’s professional development: Here are some key takeaways

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

This week has been an exceptional week for me in terms of P.D. and my growth in professional learning. Even after over 50 years as a teacher, staff developer and college professor, I am still learning new things. Let’s start with an unexpected but wonderful turn of events that happened because of one of my posts.

I usually start the day checking for good things out there in Cyberland.  I look at the Missouri Literacy Association Facebook page, which always has inspiring comments and great information.  I came across a great  post this week.

When I find a good post like this, I usually repost it on Twitter and my professional Facebook page.  The response was overwhelming. People have been responding all week. Even my non-teacher friends are chiming in. And the responding isn’t over yet- as I did my final revision/edit of this post this morning, I checked, and there was yet another new post.  Of all the responses to this post, the one by Melissa Thurlwell, a 9th grade English teacher and dept. chair, caught my attention. I want to thank Mellissa for permitting me to use a screen capture of her tweet in this blog. And I’d also like to thank her for reminding me that sometimes students can learn more than the teacher teaches. They can take the learning to the next level. Melissa and her class certainly did. Kudos to them. Have a look.

Amid the tremendous negativity that seems to characterize things today, it’s nice to see that there is still room for positive thoughts. It’s also nice to see my belief that writing can be a powerful teaching tool reaffirmed. Again- Kudos to Melissa Thurlwell and her class.

Speaking of writing, the Missouri Literacy Association (full disclosure, I am the president) has many great P.D. events going on. Visit their website to see them all: One of them is a series of workshops by Matt Glover, part of several threads for the Missouri Write To Learn Cyber Conference fd/summary. I am attending the series being carried out by Matt Glover, and once again, the old dog is learning some very new tricks. Here is a little something about Matt and what he’s had to say so far.

Matt knows how to teach about the nuts and bolts of implementing a writing workshop (see my previous post about him, LINK). I first learned about writing workshop over 20 years ago when my district brought in folks like Katie Wood Ray and Isoke Nia to help us learn about workshop teaching. Over the four years they came, they managed to transform this skill and drill empiricist into a workshop teacher. (I am still an empiricist, though). Matt covered many of the things that Katie and Isoke taught me all those years ago and gave me two new and important takeaways.  First, teachers should create AND USE, a conferencing toolkit. He introduced that thought in the last session and promised to show us more about how it is done in the next session. The other is the thought of what teaching should look like in a conference or a class.  Explaining, critiquing and evaluating are not teaching (my take, they are precursors to teaching). To really teach, you must help the student do. This tracks perfectly with Nell Duke’s findings that teaching strategies through gradual release is the best way to teach strategies.  From now on, as I do conferences, I will be much more careful about making sure the student is talking about, using and applying the strategy I am modeling in my teaching point. Thanks, Matt!

MLA is also sponsoring a series of webinars by Dr. Tim Rasinski, a long-time friend of literacy in our state. I’ve written about Tim and his ideas before LINK1, LINK2.  He makes a compelling case for treating the teaching of reading as both art and science.  My regular readers know that I am a centrist, one who says we can and should use ideas from all sides. Tim’s work shows us how there is more to research than just carrying out random assignment-based research. He does do such random assignment research, often called quantitative studies, but he is also a master of qualitative research. For details, check out the two links I just gave you.

So…, it’s been an exceptionally good week professionally.  And I predict next week is going to be equally as good. I just did my first video interview for the blog. So, I am expanding into a whole new genre, a hybrid genre. I’ve taped an interview with Ann Kay, founder of the Rock and Read project. She’ll talk about her project and explain how brain research inspired her to use music in order to help teach reading. This one’s a must-read, and now it’s also must-see.  Next week, tune in to find out about what this new form of blogging looks like. You’ll also find out about a different point of view about what brain research says about how we could/should teach reading.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, an old dog who is still learning some very new tricks).

Copyright 2020 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.

Planning My Distance Learning Lessons- Who’s Doing the Work? by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Planning my Distance Learning Lessons- Who’s Doing the Work?

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The building I am working in has both in-person and distance learning for its students. Last week I described what I am now doing for classroom teachers to carry out my distance learning. I push into large groups once a week via Zoom.  I also carry out virtual guided reading groups for selected distance learning children, helping to reduce the classroom teachers’ workload. I continue to provide individual tutoring to selected children using Zoom. Now that I have the first month’s experience under my belt, I’d like to share key takeaways about the resources and ideas I’m using to support my distance learning implementation.

The three books I’m making the most use of are these:

I found module 6 of The Distance Learning Playbook especially useful. That module deals with engaging tasks. It includes a planning sheet that helps you think about how you can draw on your own expertise to find tasks that include behavioral engagement, cognitive engagement, and emotional engagement. The sheet is available for download at the resources site, which is accessible to all book owners. So is the sheet designed to help you find tools to use in both distance learning and face to face learning.  You can find tools to be used to help students find information, use information, create information, and share information.  Read the World has a similar set of online planning tools, including a lesson planning page, a digital feature think sheet and a learn-wonder think sheet. As one example of how these planning tools helped me think about using online programs, let’s talk about the distance learning program that is the granddaddy of them all- Zoom.

One way to use Zoom is to have the teacher mainly be a talking head.  The teacher creates a PowerPoint or Slide Deck and then spends most of the time presenting that. Let’s look at using this resource this way through my go-to book’s lens for implementing guided reading instruction. My go-to book is Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less so Readers Can Do More. It is clear that this way of teaching results in mostly teacher talk with very little student engagement. Not exactly what we’re after.

Let’s look at a different way to use Zoom, a way that follows the fundamental advice from Who’s Doing the Work. To do this we have to ask how we can implement the lesson so that the teacher says less, and the reader can do more. The Zoom feature that lends itself to this kind of implementation is the breakout room. In this case, I begin my small group by doing a BRIEF review of the reading strategy we are currently focusing on. We try to stay on the same strategy for at least three weeks. The main part of the strategy’s teaching is done in large group, in advance of the small group. That teaching is done using a gradual release model:  I do, we do, you do.  Teaching reading strategies through gradual release is a research-based method- see Nell Dukes extensive research in that area. In this example, the small group is mainly used for the “you do” part of the gradual release process.

After I do a brief (2-3 slides, 1-2 minutes) reminder of what the current strategy involves, I ask the students to think about how they used it with their current book. I then send the students into the breakout rooms in groups of 2 or 3 to talk about this.  I tell them that each student will get a chance to report on what was said in the room. However, they are not to report on what they said. They are to report on what their partner or what other group members said. This encourages active listening during the breakout groups. As the session’s moderator, I can (and do) drop in on each of the breakout groups. My function is mainly to observe and listen, though I sometimes help clarify things or gently nudge them into carrying out the assigned task.

When everyone returns from the breakout room, they each talk about what the others said. My role in that part of the lesson is to facilitate. If I notice that one or more students are unsure or reluctant, I note it and then spend a little extra time in their breakout group the next week.  Over the past month, all the students have become active participants in this process.

So, that is one example of how I use the ideas found in various professional books to inform my distance learning. When I talk to the classroom teachers about their teaching, I remind them of the importance of designing all their lessons, including their distance learning lessons, to maximize student participation.

I would love to hear how some of my readers are implementing distance learning lessons in ways where students do most of the work. Back when I did my reading workshop training (and my trainers included folks like Katie Ray Wood and Isoke Nia), my most important take away from that training was that you should know what work you are leaving for your students and why. The book Who’s Doing the Work reinforced that idea for me. It is a powerful lesson planning idea that can be used on all your lessons, including your distance learning lessons. So, until next week, this is Dr. Sam signing off.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- a teacher who tries to talk less so the kids can do more)

Copyright 2020 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.

Distance Learning in Literacy: My Takeaways from the First Six Weeks by Dr. Sam Bommarito


Before I begin the blog, a special announcement- Many of my readers know that I am Chairman of the Missouri Literacy Association. MLA is cosponsoring The Virtual Write to Learn conference this year. For conference information/registration, go to  LINK.  MLA is also sponsoring a contest where four lucky folks can win a free registration for one of the conference strands. For details about the contest, go to LINK. In a nutshell, anyone can enter by sending an e-mail to In the body of the e-mail, give your name and grade level or your role (e.g., staff developer). Among the strands this year is one by Matt Glover. At the end of this blog, you will find a screen capture giving all the conference strands. For University professors, the conference this year has adopted a new policy:  Professors who register for the conference can allow their classes to watch the conference sessions either live or with an on-demand session recording that will be available for 90 days after the conference.  See you there!

Dr. Sam

Distance Learning in Literacy: My Takeaways from the First Six Weeks

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

During my 50 plus year in education, I have worn many hats- Title One reading teacher/staff developer, university professor, national reading consultant. I am retired (sort of). One of the things I do is push into my grandchildren’s elementary building for two full days a week. Along came Covid. Now what?  At the start of the year, the principal, classroom teachers and I brainstormed about things I could still do. All of them had to be distance learning since I could no longer come to the building in person this year.  Fortunately, over the past summer, I used Zoom to work with some of the students I tutor.  By this fall, I knew some practical things I could offer the staff that might really help.

For Kindergarten, there was a quick and easy to implement software program. That program is Headsprout. Headsprout is one of the many software programs produced by the Learning A-Z company. They also publish the popular Raz Kids plus program. In the way of full disclosure, I used their programs when I was working as an elementary Title 1 reading teacher/staff developer. I found out about them from one of the teachers I worked with. The Raz Kids became one of the programs I used with my grades 1-4 classes. I even did a presentation for them at the ILA convention when it was held in St. Louis.  Headsprout is what I call a turnkey program.  It is designed to teach the students their sounds and how to put together those sounds into words. The program then provides them with progressively more complicated decodable books. Copies of the books can be run off. The students I tutored this summer have an extensive set of these books. Being the centrist that I am, these were not the only books they got. They also got Fountas and Pinnell Keep books and trade books by authors like Eric Litwin. 

Currently, the school is doing a five day a week face-to-face program for the children who want that option.  They are doing distance learning for children who do not. The advantage of programs like Headsprout is that they work in either setting. The face to face children still get the regular program. In that setting, Headsprout is a supplement that helps to ensure the students do get a program designed to build their decoding skills.  For the distance learning children, Headsprout guarantees that the students will still learn how words work and that they will master the skills they need to break the code.  Like all the Learning A-Z programs, it provides extensive feedback on how the child progresses and alerts the teacher to what sounds have been introduced and mastered. That information makes it very easy to coordinate the program with the rest of the reading instruction. My role in all this was to help get the program set up, help inform parents of what the program was all about and answer teachers’ questions about the program.

For grades one and two, my role includes direct teaching in a whole group, small group and even some individual tutoring.  I come into each of the classrooms once a week for a whole group session. Thanks to Zoom, I can see the whole class in real-time and the whole class can see me on the classroom’s smartboard.  It is almost like being there in person.  In previous years, when I came in, I would do some whole group lessons and then work with one of the small groups.  This year, with some adaptations, I do the same thing. Let us talk about the whole group work first.

The teachers at the school are following a basal series for their literacy program.  They then use guided reading groups to supplement and support the basal.  I would mention that when I was working in some award-winning Title 1 programs in the 1980s, that is how their programs first began. Eventually, the district dropped the basal and went to a guided reading only model.  It remains to be seen if something similar will happen at this building.  Each week the guided reading groups focus on the same skills that the basal is teaching. This past week the skill was that good readers look for details.  One of the places good readers can find details is in the stories, pictures, and illustrations. I did a mini lesson around that teaching point and told them as they did their guided reading work to be sure to use that strategy.  I also did some word work with the group.  The spelling program is designed to teach the students about the sounds they need to learn.  I use making and breaking to develop that kind of sound/symbol knowledge. The teachers and I know we are teaching the students about such things as blends, diphthongs, and digraphs.  For the students, we talk about special pairs or chunks. For instance, the sound “sh” makes and use that sound to make various words.

Each week we look over our spelling words for chunks or special pairs,. For instance, words like dish, fish, ship.  First, we put up the special pair. Then we say the word slowly and build the word around the special pair. All this is done using magnetic letters. My doc camera allows me to do the word work with magnetic letters in real-time.  The combination of the doc cam and using the record feature of Zoom allows me to make video clips for the students to use later. For me, the ability to make such clips has been a real game-changer. I can give teachers the clips. They can then make them available for the students to use at any time.

What about the guided reading groups? This is where the virtual learning feature can be of real help. For years I have used Raz Kids and Raz Kids plus for my guided reading groups.  Remember that the guided reading groups are being used as a supplement to the basal. Raz Kids has many features that make doing virtual guided reading groups possible. You can assign students to a group. You can then make a group assignment for each group using Raz Kids’ extensive library of well-written leveled text. This collection contains both expository and narrative texts.  The group can then be invited to do their Raz Kids story.  Raz Kids allows students to Listen to, Read and then Take a Quiz on each story.

The groups are instructed to listen to their book in advance of coming to the Zoom meeting. At the Zoom meeting, the teacher talks to the group about how they can use that week’s skill/strategy to help them understand the story.  The small group function in Zoom allows the teacher to create break-out groups of 2 or 3.  The teacher can drop into each break-out group during this time. Having this kind of discussion time in each group is especially important. One thing that is necessary for successful distance learning lessons is that students be active within the lesson. Student talk time should always exceed teacher talk time.  In addition, what the students talk about is equally important. We encourage them to talk about how they used this week’s strategy. As the weeks progress, we plan to also ask them to talk about how they used any of the previous week’s strategies as well.  I am heavily influenced by Nell Duke’s research on strategy teaching. The teaching strategies through gradual release results in improved reading test scores. Using the small group time to provide that gradual release is one way teachers can and should do that.

One more thing.  Since each teacher has some students who do virtual learning only, what can we do about them? One of my goals is to help take some of the burden off the classroom teachers. Raz Kids has a unique feature that lets me do just that.  You can assign students to more than one group.  I created a group containing all the virtual kids. Remember, they are also in the regular small groups, so they already have group assignments. I meet with the virtual groups at a different time than whole group. The time is set by the classroom teachers. I tell the virtual kids to listen to their assigned book before coming to the group.  My group lesson is about how they might use this week’s strategy as they read the book.  When I use the Zoom break-out rooms, I assign students in the same book to the same break out room.  I also drop into each room. I use an old writing workshop trick to help assure students are really listening to the break-out discussions. When they come back from the breakout groups, they report on what someone else from the group said.  I have only had a couple of the virtual groups so far, but to date, all is going well, and the student talk time in my groups far exceeds the teacher talk time.

So- that is what is happening so far. I will say that Headsprout and Raz Kids are not the only software programs out there.  When you do your own planning, I highly recommend that you think about what you really want to do and then locate software that helps you do it. Do not be a slave to the software. Treat the software as a tool and look for the best ways that tools can help you.  Next week I will return to the topic of good resources to help you do that. This includes books, websites, and blogs. 

Dr. Sam Bommarito (back in the saddle again learning how to use cyber tools)

Copyright 2020 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.

Here is a screen capture of the line-up for the Write to Learn conference

MLA’s Contest- Chance to win free sessions with Matt Glover special blog entry by Dr Sam Bommarito

Missouri Literacy Association’s Write to Learn Contest

Win a FREE Zoom series for the Write to Learn Virtual conference, including (but not limited to) the upcoming three sessions by Matt Glover. If you win, what session you claim is up to you!

What to do:

Send an e-mail to MLA, subject ‘WTL Contest.” Our e-mail is

In the body of the e-mail, please say, “I wish to enter the WTL Zoom contest.” Indicate your name and grade level(s) or your current role (e.g., staff developer). The e-mail you use to send the entry will be the e-mail used to notify you if you are a winner.   

The winners will be chosen from these entries. That will happen Sept. 27th,. The Matt Glover series begins Oct 1st. Winners will be contacted on Sept 27th with information on how to claim their prize when they register online for Write to Learn.

To register for the Write to Learn Virtual conference, go to this link:

Contest Details:

  • Only ONE entry per individual. Duplicate entries will not be counted.
  • Individuals can only win one time. There will be a total of 4 winners
  • You must be an MLA member before claiming the prize ($20.00 to join). You can join MLA even after winning the prize, but we would love for you to join anytime!
  • To join MLA (anytime!), go to our website and follow the directions
  • If you are already registered for the Write to Learn Virtual conference, you will be given the option of getting a refund for your Zoom series OR adding one additional series to your registration.

See the screen capture below for information about the WTL conference- the link in the screen capture is not active.

Write to Learn Conference with Matt Glover/Dr. Sam’s Literacy Today Article by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Write to Learn with Matt Glover/Dr. Sam’s Literacy Today article


Dr. Sam Bommarito

Two important developments this week.


The Write to Learn Conference is special to me for a number of reasons I have mentioned before. My very first blog post was made from a hotel room while I was at the conference. I’ve done many presentations at Write to Learn over the years. Finally, I am  President of the Missouri Literacy Association. MLA has sponsored/co-sponsored the WTL conference for a couple of decades now. MATT GLOVER will kick off the sessions for this year’s virtual Write to Learn conference. It’s definitely the place to be this fall! You can’t go wrong starting off your school year’s writing program with tips and insights from this icon in the field of writing instruction. I’ve already signed up- see you there!

Here is the link to conference information/registration:


This article was originally published in the September/October 2020 issue of Literacy Today. Copyright 2020 International Literacy Association. In it I argue for taking a centrist position in the Reading Wars. I also argue for making the discourse within the Great Debate in Reading more civil by having folks talk more and bicker less. A great example of such a discourse happened this week when the two TIms talked about the science of reading. Tim Rasinski made the case for the teaching of reading as both art and science. Tim Shanahan made the case for following research and gave useful insights and information into the origins and importance of the term science of reading.  I’ll have more to say about that next week as I talk about their important session at a recent ILA event.

Here is my article from Literacy Today

Dr. Sam Bommarito aka the centrist thinker trying to use ideas from all sides

Copyright 2020 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

Matt Glover leads off the virtual Write To Learn Conference series, starts Oct 1st

Matt Glover leads off the virtual Write To Learn Conference series, starts Oct 1st

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Write to Learn Conference holds a special place for me. My first blog entry was posted from the hotel room while I was at the conference. I first met Eric Litwin, at an all-day session there. It was the start of a long and productive friendship. As the President of Missouri International Literacy Association, I am proud of the fact MLA is a co-sponsor of the conference. It has been around for a number of decades now and is always well attended. This year, like many conferences it has gone virtual.  There will be a total of 4 virtual series.  There are major discounts for signing up for more than one series. We are getting off to a strong start. Matt Glover is presenting the first thread. It begins on Oct. 1st


I just registered. It is a quick and easy process. So why don’t you join me at the conference. Here is the link and conference information (the link below works, the screen capture link does not!)


Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- Write to Learn Conference lover!)

Copyright 2020 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.

Eric Litwin’s & Gina Pepin’s The Power of Joyful Reading: A Good Place to Resume Dr Sam’s Blog

Eric Litwin’s & Gina Pepin’s The Power of Joyful Reading: A Good Place to Resume Dr Sam’s Blog


Dr. Sam Bommarito

Happy Labor Day weekend! It is a happy time in the Bommarito household. My wife Bonnie is home from her operation and on the mend. The doctors predict it will be 4-6 weeks for a full recovery. It is Bonnie’s birthday this weekend and she will be able to share it with our socially distanced children and grandchildren, a few a  time on different days. I’m ready to resume my regular blog entries.  I want to thank all of you for your thoughts, prayers and well wishes on social media. I also want to thank you for your patience during this hiatus. I couldn’t pick a better way to resume my blogging than to talk about a new book by Eric Litwin and Gina Pepin. The title of the book is The Power of Joyful Reading. It is published by Scholastic. My copy arrived yesterday. I found the fastest way to get a copy is by using Have a look:

The first part of the book contains a section about why young children need to enjoy reading and be immersed in print. That is a theme you have heard many times in this blog as I talked about how I am able to get lots of print into the hands of the students I tutor, even the very beginning readers. Creating a love of reading is a task that is sometime overlooked or ignored by some advocates code based approaches to reading. The path suggested by Litwin and Pepin is one that allows the child to learn to break the code while instilling the child a lifelong love of reading.  In terms of decoding and fluency Litwin and Pepin are influenced heavily by the work of Tim Rasinski. They specifically reference his  Megabook of Fluency and even cite my  December 19th  2019 blog about how I use Rasinski’s ideas around fluency.

The second part of the book focuses on how to optimize shared reading experiences and to teach like a reading superhero.  Taken together chapters 4-9 deliver a systematic  plan for teaching implementing a Joyful Reading Plan.  I first met Eric at the Write to Learn Conference in Missouri a couple of years back. Many of his books are also songs, with predictable lyrics.  During the day long workshop he had the teachers at the workshop engaged, singing and even dancing to his newest Groovey Joe book. His website became a go-to one for me and his use of song and music to help build reading and fluency has become a mainstay of my teaching.

Speaking of mainstays of teaching. Dr. Gina Pepin, an award winning classroom teacher, has include many of her favorite resources such as great read alouds, morning routines, marvelous mission statements and Ideas around positive classroom rules and community building.  As a teacher I always evaluate workshops and books around the criteria of does this book/workshop give me something I can take away and use on Monday. Dr. Pepin’s ideas will give teachers many such take aways.  Scholastic has created a website with resources from the book. To get into the website you need to use information from your copy of the book.  So,  if you don’t already have one, I’d highly recommend going to and order yours right now. 


Happy Labor Day and

Happy Reading and Writing!

See you next week

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the Joyful Reading Teacher)

Copyright 2020 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 Reading Evolution: Finding a Path to End the Reading Wars By Dr. Sam Bommarito (re-post of an important blog)

As my regular readers know my wife underwent surgery last week. She came home from the hospital and is doing well. I need to focus my attention on her this week. Next week I will resume my regular blogging. For today I am re-posting my most important blog to date. It gives my current views on the reading war. It takes a centrist perspective and suggested ways we can use ideas from all sides to finally resolve this decades old debate. It contains numerous links to previous blogs. It builds the case for having a Reading Evolution. 

The Reading Evolution:

Finding a Path to End the Reading Wars

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

It’s been almost two years since I first wrote about the reading evolution. This post gives links to the many blogs I’ve written about the reading evolution/the reading wars over the past two years. It provides a summary of those things, and lets you know where I stand right now.  In my very first post about this topic, I suggested that the pendulum continues to eternally swing between two (or more) positions on the question of how to best teach children to read. The swinging pendulum has become the defining feature about what has become known as the reading wars. The problem is that after each and every swing, the folks who call for replacing the old way of doing things are quite confident, they have finally found THE WAY to solve things.  They insist that all old practices be dropped and replaced by the newest soup de jour. Invariably what happens is that the new way helps many, but not all. Eventually, this new way becomes the old way and is replaced yet again. The pendulum continues to swing. My proposed solution to this conundrum is simple.  Instead of insisting on throwing away everything that’s come before and starting over, we should instead tweak what we have. This would require both sides (all sides) to admit that their particular way of doing things is not THE SOLUTION. It also means that their particular way has limits and limitations. It would follow that all sides might have things to learn from what folks in different positions are saying. Effectively it means trying something that we’ve never before tried in the history of teaching reading. That is leaving the pendulum in the middle, talking to one another, learning from one another, and putting together a system that helps as many children as possible by using the best ideas of all the approaches. P.D. Pearson expressed this kind of sentiment in the last round of the reading wars. Have a look: Life in the Radical Middle: A Personal Apology for a Balanced View of Reading.

Why do I predict that the current rush to judgment supporting the so-called science of reading is eventually doomed to the same fate as all its predecessors and that it is simply a matter of time before the pendulum swings back to something else? Let’s explore my reasons for saying this.

  1. Science of reading advocates have never shown their methods to help all or almost all children. Instead, they have shown their methods help some children some of the time, especially those that fit the definition of Dyslexic.

Some of the science of reading advocates seem to have created an incredibly successful public relations campaign that is convincing a lot of folks that they truly have found THE WAY.  However, several important indicators show otherwise. Over the last couple of years, I’ve asked the science of reading advocates for evidence that their proposed methods will work with nearly every child nearly all the time.  Advocates are unable to produce such data and say that such data is impossible, Jun 2019 (Show Me the Beef); March 2019; March 2019 (Summary of 3 posts about limits of SoR position).  I have to agree with them on that point. Their conceding that point means there are some children for whom these methods are not working and are likely not to work. What do we do for them? What do we do for them, especially when the zealots of the movement want to end access to some of the techniques that can help some of these children?  Techniques including things like using analytic or analogical phonics in addition to the synthetic phonics that seems the staple of many of the zealots’ programs. Their contention that analytic phonics is a weaker form that was only begrudgingly used by advocates of balanced literacy is simply not supported by a look at the research. I have blogged on this point many times Aug 2019 cutting-through-the-gordian-knot-of-phonics-instruction; April 2019 cutting-through-the-gordian-knot-of-beginning-phonics-instruction-my-advice-to-beginning-teacher; July 2019 phonics-the-endless-debate-another-case-of-please-fit-the-program-to-the-child-not-the-other-way-round

  1. Some science of reading advocates are attempting to skip an important part of the verification process normally used by researchers. That part comes when the promising new theories are put to the test in large-scale studies under actual working conditions. What would be needed are districtwide adoptions of the science reading program, testing using the state test, and analysis of the results. These results should span several years. The upshot- they don’t have anything close to that. They are jumping from promising initial results to mandated statewide adoptions without doing the necessary large-scale district-wide tests of their methods. I have blogged multiple times about how they have jumped far ahead of what the research actually demonstrates. Jun 2019 (Show Me the Beef); March 2019; March 2019 (Summary of 3 posts about limits of SoR position).

By and large, what is happening is that the studies they use to call for the adoption of their methods do not use the kind of statewide tests of reading described by Duke and others. Instead, they use tests like Dibels. Why is that a problem? Let’s look briefly at Duke’s work around this issue:

When Duke talks about reading being measured as reading from a list of words and testing whether students can decode words, she is accurately describing what tests like the Dibels do. Is that enough? NO!

Look at what readers are actually required to do on statewide tests of reading: See her Box 1 above.  You can find a full rendition of this information at Reading by Third Grade: How Policymakers Can Foster Early Literacy


This would be a good time to talk about comprehension strategies- the 16th item on her list in Box 1. Duke has cited decades of research showing that when students are taught comprehension strategies using a gradual release model, reading scores rise significantly.  This research is being ignored or discounted by some science of reading advocates.  Again, many of the zealots from the science of reading call for little or no teaching of reading strategies, focusing mainly on building background and vocabulary. I strongly suggest that before any district adopts any major district-wide program, they demand proof that the program has shown significant gains, over a significant period of time using tests that closely resemble the statewide reading tests described by Duke.

  1. Some science of reading advocates are jumping ahead of what research shows about the Dyslexic child. Tim Shanahan, a strong proponent of using science to guide reading instruction, has said screening instruments for dyslexia are not yet fully developed Yet some science of reading advocates insist on giving estimates of how many dyslexic children exist even though they are based on unproven instruments
  2. Some science of reading advocates attempt to discredit or disregard research that is contrary to their core beliefs.

The most blatant example of this is the research around Reading Recovery. Reading Recovery has years of “gold standard data” indicating it outperforms rival methods. I’ve blogged many times over this and the overwhelming evidence from the What Works Clearinghouse and others shows that recovery works. I also talk about the flaws around claims that the effects of Reading Recovery interventions are not maintained. August 10, 2018; August 16, 2018.; August 24, 2018

A more recent example is their scathing reviews of Lucy Calkins’s programs. What the reviewers fail to mention is that many of them work for publishers with competing programs. One of my colleagues expressed these concerns best by saying he loved reading Lucy Calkins’ response to the SAP critique of her Units of Study. “She is so right to point out that a study of the curriculum without talking/surveying teachers and visiting the classrooms of experienced TCRWP teachers is woefully inadequate.  They did not even address the very positive data on the TCRWP website..” The lack of anything resembling peer review is a fatal flaw. It takes all credibility away from the critics’ position.

This list goes on to include ignoring research from the early childhood community on why the kind of direct instruction in reading that the SoR advocates call for is developmentally inappropriate. Dec 2018- Things-I’ve-learned-from-our-very-youngest-readers-thoughts-on-my-recent-talk-with-parent-educators-   They then laud over the gains in reading scores made in many states but they fail to mention that many of these “gains” are made in part by retaining students so that their scores don’t count in the next year’s testing.  P.L. Thomas Feb 2020. Such retention policies fly in the face of a large body of research indicating that retention in the early grades greatly increases the likelihood students will drop out during their high school year

  1. Some of the Science of Reading advocates seem to discount the importance of fostering a love of reading and creating lifelong readers. By contrast, balanced literacy proponents work actively to get books into the homes of children in the book deserts. As Molly Ness explains, book deserts are zip codes where most children have no books at home. Her Podcasts about Book Deserts contain interviews of people who are doing the very necessary work of getting books into the homes of the children who need them the most. Here is one example: Book Desert Podcast. This work is important because wide reading is one of the key ways students build their vocabulary and background knowledge. Balanced reading advocates are proactive in trying to help with this problem. May 2018 Getting-books-into-the-hands-of-children /; The Believe Project
  2. There are viable alternatives to the Science of Learning position. Tim Rasinski views the teaching of reading as both science and art. April 18, 2018, the-teaching-of-reading-as-both-science-and-art/ He is a proponent of teaching prosody, reading like a storyteller. I’ve found using his ideas helps readers of all ages. It pays to teach readers to read like storytellers. P.L. Thomas has written extensively about the reading wars and the limits and limitations of the Science of Reading position. P.L. Thomas selected blog entries.  I found his analysis of the media’s current misreading of the reading crisis especially compelling. P.L. Thomas- Media Misreads the Reading Crisis  .  Eric Litwin has written about how to use songs to bring joy into the process of teaching reading and my kids love to read his books and sing his songs. Singing-our-way-into-fluency-exploring-the-work-of-eric-litwin-and-how-he-brings-together-the-art-and-science-of-reading/  P.D. Pearson had many insights as he talked about in the historic session on reading research done at last year’s ILA convention. I did a series of blogs giving highlights of the content of those sessions. Oct 18th 2019 ; Oct 25 2019; Nov 2019.

Finally, there are attempts to meld aspects of some of the current ideas about the science of reading together into a new set of practices designed to teaching decoding. See this article about the ideas of Jeffrey S. Bowers, a professor at the University of Bristol’s School of Psychological Science, and Peter N. Bowers, a semantic scholar at the WordWorks Literacy Center in Ontario. Although they have an incomplete view of whole language and ignore balanced literacy altogether,  they do have an interesting point of view about how to put together some of the Science of Reading ideas into a more viable way of teaching decoding.

I do not want to leave the impression that there aren’t areas of agreement developing. There are.

  1. Both the science of reading and balanced literacy advocates agree that phonics is necessary. Although there are still a few educators who say phonic isn’t necessary- their numbers are small. Most of the current talk about phonics is not about whether rather it is about how much and what kind(s).
  2. Both science of reading and balanced literacy advocates agree that the system of teaching teachers about decoding needs repair. Balanced literacy folks insist we include all forms of phonics when we carry out this repair. We must assure that enough time is spent on phonics and that the time spent results in students actually learning how to use phonics.
  3. Both science of reading and balanced literacy advocates agree on the importance of background information and vocabulary. Even P.D. Pearson says that the balanced literacy folks took too much time away from the content areas in order to teach reading. The key issue here is that some are doing this in a way that ignores the importance of also teaching reading strategies. I wrote a blog about how we could tweak the implementation of guided reading to both teach the reading strategies and provide the needed work in the content areas. Aug 2018 Musings-of-a-workshop-teacher-advice-i-just-gave-to-some-1st-grade-teachers-in-houston/
  4. Both science of reading and balanced reading advocates see the importance of including decodable text in reading programs. In a recent personal conversation with Lucy Calkins, she indicated that she could see a role for some decodable books within a literacy program. Patrick Shanahan blogged, saying it was ok to use both decodable and predictable books, with reservations about the how and why this should be done. Overall, I think a consensus is developing that there is a place for decodable, predictable, and trade books in every literacy program. (update- in July of 2020 I posted a video showing how I use all three kinds of books in my tutoring work LINK.)

Can we talk? /Should we talk?

On the one hand, there are some science of reading folks that take a “my way or the highway stance.”  I label them the zealots. They seem to think the best defense is an offense. This has led to many individuals in the balanced literacy movement feeling bullied or worse. I’ve been at the receiving end of spurious attacks of my credibility with claims that I wasn’t worth following or talking to since my number of followers was shrinking. In fact, at that point, they had more than doubled from the previous year, and they numbered in the thousands.

I don’t think that tactics of the zealots should result in folks from the various positions not talking. For instance, Tim Rasinski and I had some very productive conversations with the head of EBLI (Evidence Based Literacy Instruction), Nora Chahbazi She has some groundbreaking work going on in the area of getting phonics taught quickly and efficiently.  There is also some interesting work being carried out by the Thrass Institute in Australia ( They are advocates for the Science of Reading who are willing to talk rather than bicker.  My views around the point that eventually, a mutually acceptable position might be hammered out are colored by my research about the reading wars. In my doctoral thesis, done in 2004, I studied the practices of whole language teachers vs. other teachers. What I found was that there were more areas of agreement than disagreement in terms of the practices they used.  The chasm separating the positions was not as large or permanent as it might seem at first glance. So long as all sides are willing to forgo “my way or the highway positions,” there is hope for a resolution.

So, I’m rather confident that if all sides would just admit they have SOME answers, not all the answers, the reading wars could finally be resolved. I think there is room for genuine dialogue. As I look to the ideas from “the other side” that have influenced my current teaching, what has been said and is being said about the use of orthographic information has proved very useful. My friends in Australia have convinced me that it is not quite as cut and dried as some of the American advocates of the science of reading make it out to be, but it’s certainly something worth learning even more about.

Let’s consider starting a reading evolution. Let’s recognize that while there might not be THE ANSWER, there are good ideas from each of the points of view about how to teach reading. We are supposed to help the students in their quest to become lifelong readers who know how to think and problem solve. I see the only hope for laying the pendulum to rest is to have serious discussions around what all sides might learn from each other, firmly in the middle, using information from all sides. I’m asking the people at my presentation this week to tweet out using #readingevolution1, #ideasfromtheotherside. Let’s dialogue, not bicker. Thanks to all for considering these remarks. Please consider joining the Reading Evolution, #readingevolution1.  (Personal note: Posting this blog from my hotel room at the Write to Learn conference in Lake of the Ozarks Mo. That’s where I started writing this blog two years ago. There’s a nice symmetry to that!)

Dr. Sam Bommarito (the one in the middle who is ok with taking flak from both sides)

Copyright 2020 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.

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Taking this week off to take care of my wife: Posting Links to Recent Blogs Worth a Second Look by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the Blog

My wife underwent surgery for a blocked bowel this week. Everything went well. I am  taking the week off in order to take care of her. Will be back next week. In the meantime, here are some highlights of my blogs that might rate a second look.








Improving Guided Reading