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.

Reading Against the Text in a Supportive Classroom Community By Dr. William Kerns



As many of you know- I am a bit under the weather- a root canal is coming. UGH! But I am getting by with a little help from my friends (and co-blogger!). It is timely and well worth the read!!! Dr. Sam 

Reading Against the Text in a Supportive Classroom Community


William Kerns


In this blog I wish to stress the importance of teachers and students alike engaging in reflective thinking while learning to read the word and read the world, as advocated by Freire (1973; see also Freire & Macedo, 1987). This means building strong literacy skills but in the context of reading and communication that is socially and culturally meaningful. As part of this type of instruction, teaches should build positive communication with families and community members. The approach advocated in this blog is one in which dialogue with families enriches the curriculum, including the development of learning objectives and content, with both teachers and parents viewing each other as experts and resources in a relationship of mutual respect (Swap, 1993).

Readers engage in a transaction with text that is situational, shaped by activity, context, and sociocultural-historical factors (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Smagorinsky, 2001). Scholes (1985) differentiated between interpretations of text that involve reading within a text and interpretations that involve engaged reading against a text. Reading against a text enables an examination of the way that language use can serve to perpetuate patterns of discrimination and inequitable power distribution in schools. Teachers who promote reading against a text can share with students, families, and community members a common determination for meeting the challenges of using reflection and inquiry to continually learn and continually seek to improve the society in which we live.

The promotion of reading against a text includes the establishment of a supportive environment for reflection in which students learn to take control and responsibility for their own learning. Steps that I recommend taking to promote reflective thinking and reflective teaching include the following: establishing a supportive environment within the classroom for reflective thinking and for inquiry; guiding students to learn about the role of reflection in learning and development of concepts such as identity and moral decision making; guiding students through the conduct of systematic reflection and inquiry; and encouraging students in their development of dispositions involved in the conduct of reflection and inquiry.

Promotion of presence is an important part of the process of cultivating within students the ability to read against a text. Rodgers and Raider-Roth (2006) define presence as “a state of alert awareness, receptivity, and connectedness to the mental, emotional, and physical iterations of the individual and the group with the world and each other, and the ability to respond with a considered and compassionate best next step” (p. 266). A teacher with presence can observe students as they engage in activities, gathering information used as data, and make instructional choices based on an analysis of this data. Further, a teacher with presence builds a caring, trustworthy relationship through a wholehearted (Dewey, 1986) commitment to learning with and responding to students.

Teachers and students alike can cultivate presence within the supportive context of a caring classroom community. The concept of presence emphasizes reflectiveness and inquiry as well as compassion in responses during the context of activities that include teaching or dialogue. Teachers who develop presence are alert to the needs of students and have a heightened sense of self-awareness. Students with presents are alert to the needs of peers and have a heightened self-awareness. Presence is not limited to classroom contexts. Presence can be cultivated as a part of daily life and daily interactions. A teacher wishing to encourage presence among students needs to model presence. Dialogue that is open to an exchange of ideas based on mutual respect is an important aspect of presence.

Dispositions involved in inquiry should be promoted. To foster the development of reflective thinking as a habit among students, teachers should be open to new ideas and understandings. Over time, a teacher may experience a paradigm shift related to views on social justice, race, gender and gender roles, poverty, or other matters.  A teacher or a student who engages in reflective thinking as a habit develops the dispositions of open-mindedness, whole-heartedness, responsibility (Dewey, 1986) and directness (Dewey, 1980). Open-mindedness, as understood by Dewey, is a willingness to rethink ideas based on inquiry. Reading against a text requires a student (or a teacher!) to exhibit wholeheartedness, or an in-depth commitment of personal and emotional resources when inquiring into key social and cultural themes within a text. However, commitment is not enough without responsibility. A sense of responsibility entails taking seriously the moral choices faced by habitually evaluating how actions may bring about desired or undesired consequences. Dewey urged an attitude of directness, or faith that actions grounded in the conduct of inquiry and the process of reflective thinking are worth taking for the benefit of a just society.

It’s important to read against a text when encountering stereotypes that may previously be unexamined. Often, for example, a student may genuinely consider himself to be “not racist” while failing to challenge stereotypes within a text. For example, stereotypes about poverty intersect with stereotypes about race in a nasty web that can have a deeply detrimental impact on students when the deficit model influences instruction.

Race and poverty are addressed in this blog from a multiculturalist perspective in that I emphasize the value of cultivating cross-group and cross-race mutual understandings and shared interests (Hartmann & Gerties, 2005). Socially constructed racial identities can be sources of misunderstanding and tension, yet there are social interventions that can reduce the effects of prejudice (Allport, 1954). Race is viewed for the purpose of this blog as a socio-cultural construct rather than biological. There are widely varying ways of defining race in the literature (Markus, 2008).

Poverty is commonly defined based on income thresholds (Brady, 2003). These definitions are problematic given that thresholds fail to adequately account for different needs of families whose incomes are both below the thresholds or above the thresholds. The lived experience of people who are classified as living in various types of poverty, such as urban poverty, rural poverty, situational poverty, or generational poverty, can widely vary. Further complicating discussions on poverty, different people can view the same reality and yet their social constructions of this reality and representations of this reality might be very different (Leeuwen, 2016).

We must watch out for the insidious impact of deficit perspectives. Valencia (2014) defines a deficit perspective as a stance that: “the student who fails in school does so because of his/her internal deficits or deficiencies. Such deficits manifest, adherents allege, in limited intellectual abilities, linguistic shortcomings, lack of motivation to learn, and immoral behavior” (p. 6-7). A deficit perspective within a text which accentuates weakness of people who are characterized as “living in poverty: poisons teaching-and-learning interactions as well as teacher-parent interactions (Gorski, 2011). For example, classroom teachers tend to underestimate the cognitive ability of children who are growing up in poverty (Ready & Wright, 2011). Additionally, many teachers in high poverty urban schools view the families and home communities of their students as obstacles to their students’ success and so they distance themselves from families and community members (Hyland & Meacham, 2004).

A deficit perspective contributes to a pattern of seeking to “change the victim” and “blame the victim” (Ryan, 1971). Such a deficit perspective historically is a predominant one in US discourse on poverty (De Goede, 1996) which frequently is reflected in texts read by students. According to Katz, who investigated the deficit perspective related to discourse on welfare reform, “debate has focused on ameliorating the condition of disadvantaged people with income supports and social services and on eradicating the cultural traits that retard their economic progress” (1989, p. 208). When storylines about the poor highlight claimed moral or behavioral deficiencies the focus turns toward ways of reforming the poor rather than a focus on reforming the socio-economic and political structures (Katz, 1995).

When many teachers enter the profession, they are trained for working with families and students who live in poverty through Ruby Payne’s framework that makes use of stereotypes (Bohn, 2007; Gorski, 2007), a deficit model (Bomer et. al., 2008; Dudley-Marling, 2007; Gorski 2006, 2008; Kunjufu, 2007; McKnight, 2006; Ng & Rury, 2006; Osei-Kofei, 2005) and which contains inaccurate scholarship (Bomer et. al., 2008; Dudley-Marling, 2007; Montano, 2006).


Stereotypes include the image of parents who do not plan for the child’s education. I am struck by the following claim made by Payne (2008): Individuals in poverty usually have a strong belief in fate and destiny. Therefore, to expect changed behavior after a parent-teacher conference is, in most cases, a false hope” (pg. 23). If a teacher believes, as Payne claims, that an expectation of changed behavior after a parent-teacher conference represents a false hope then it may inhibit that teacher from communication with the family in a manner that expresses genuine hope for positive outcomes.

Instead of the deficit perspective, tap into the background knowledge – the schema – of students while building meaningful bridges between the families and what children experience at school (Gay, 2002; Howard, 2003). An important factor in overcoming deficit model approaches and instead, drawing on the strengths of a family and the community to be culturally responsive.

Cultural differences and language differences can cause teachers to form low perceptions of parental interest in school involvement (Halgunseth, 2009). Efforts to increase communication and family involvement should be shaped to the needs of the community (Auerbach, 2009). Teachers improve communication with students and parents by frequently reaching out in positive dialogue that builds comfort in the conversation. Parent involvement increases when teachers talk with families in order to provide instruction within the context of the family’s culture and knowledge base (St. Claire & Jackson, 2007).

Reading against a text is a valuable aspect of literacy which is socially and culturally meaningful to students. The fostering of ongoing reading against a text takes time. It is unrealistic to expect paradigm shifts for students in one class session. However, I do believe that the heightened awareness that is associated with reading against a text is a vital aspect of the educational journey.

Schools are cultural hubs where students can learn to see beyond socioeconomic and racial differences and to spot the flaws in deficit-oriented thinking. This can be done through careful means. But it starts with teachers understanding their roles as cultural role models (Banks, 2015). Teachers can overcome cultural obstacles by using dynamic, emergent, and interactional teaching to engage students and help bridge the gap between students. This will, in turn, allow students to become more engaged in the mentor/mentee partnership and instill positive relationship knowledge in the student.



Dr. William Kerns.
> Assistant Professor of Education
> College of Education and Health Professions
> University of Arkansas-Little Rock

Aug 2019


Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito/Dr. William Kerns. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of the author of this piece and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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It’s Time to Revive the Radical Middle & Finally End the Reading Wars by Dr. Sam Bommarito


It’s Time to Revive the Radical Middle & Finally End the Reading Wars by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The work of P.D. Pearson, a researcher is best known for developing the gradual release model, once again is coming to the forefront of literacy instruction. The most recent issue of the Reading Teacher contains an excellent article entitled Thirty- Five Years of the Gradual Release of Responsibility:  Scaffolding Toward Complex and Responsive Teaching by Sandra Webb, Dixie Massey, Melinda Goggans, & Kelly Flajole. The Reading Teacher Vol. 73 No. 1 pp. 75–83. I predict it will turn into a must-read for all literacy teachers. I bring up this article because I feel some of the current iterations of the Reading Wars are putting the work of centrists like Pearson and Pressley, in jeopardy. I see us as traveling away from views of reading as making meaning and comprehension as something to be TAUGHT not just practiced, back to views of reading as decoding. The logic goes if a reading is at a child’s reading level the child already has all the background they need to understand it. I just had that argument used on me by a proponent of the SoR. The problem is that flies in the face of decades of research indicating learning decoding does not AUTOMATICALLY lead to comprehension.  On one point the SoR (Science of Reading) folks and I agree, reading is not a natural process, it must be taught. It seems that at least some of the SoR folks think that mainly applies to decoding. I, along with tons of teachers from what I am about to call the Radical Middle, believe it applies also to the teaching (as opposed to practicing) of comprehension. Teaching comprehension requires teaching comprehension strategies. For a great example of that see @ReadingShanahan on teaching summarizing  I’ll concede in advance that some teachers can and do fail to see the forest for the trees, getting so lost in strategy instruction that they fail to take the lesson to its’ logical conclusion, applying the strategy and building background knowledge in the process. Shanahan makes no such mistake.  Properly done teaching comprehension strategies is a powerful tool. Back in the day (70’s & 80’s) Durkin found that teachers of the day spent almost all their time practicing comprehension (think answering comprehension questions). Durkin’s work was built upon by Pearson/Pressley and others. Thanks to them teaching comprehension now includes teaching comprehension strategies. I think we could do with a little replication of Durkin’s work today. Let’s find out exactly what the proponents of different approaches to teaching reading are actually doing with their instructional time, especially with their youngest readers.

Here is an example of what I think early readers should be doing:

Taken from a PBS for Parents  interview by Deborah Farmer Kris: “I recently spoke with Boushey, and she told me that reading isn’t just about sounding out words. It’s also about understanding the story and drawing connections between the story and your life or the world around you. Strong readers find meaning in the text.” Use the link to see full interview

For decades the reading wars raged around analytic phonics vs synthetic phonics (the view that most constructivists oppose phonics is not supported by an actual review of the history of the reading wars). My initial analysis of why the reading wars persist is that whichever side became the current soup de jour, folks at the extreme insisted ONLY their way be used. The result was that there were always kids for whom the soup de jour failed to work. Next step- out with the old in with the new. Usually, enough time passed for folks to forget that the soup de jour hadn’t worked for everyone last time around. Currently, things have gotten a bit more complex, another group, who I label the orthographic advocates have become a movement in their own right.  So now instead of swinging, the pendulum is circling just like a Foucault pendulum. The problem still remains. Until and unless each side is willing to admit its ways have limits and limitations the wars will continue.

Lately, on many occasions, I’ve asked all sides to produce studies showing their ways work for almost all kids. None has. “You’re being unfair and unrealistic Dr. Sam,” they say. But remember Dr. Sam is first and foremost a reading teacher/specialist/staff developer who for a couple of decades was charged with helping the kids for whom the main programs didn’t work. Pretty successful at it. Different programs at different times. Gives me the perspective that whichever of the big three a district might choose to adopt there will be children who need something else. I think we’re bright enough to handle that inside a 3-tier system handling most of the “other kids” needs in tiers two and three and with some clever differentiation in tier one.

So- I think it’s time to remember the Radical Middle.  It’s not my term, it belongs to P.D. Pearson. Here is a link to his article about it  I believe it first appeared in 2001. It’s worth the read. I don’t know about you but I’m quite ready to join the radical middle. I’m ready for all sides to stop debating and start talking. I’m ready for the upcoming Reading Evolution #ReadingEvolution1. Here’s a blog post summarizing what I’ve had to say about the Reading Evolution so far.

Revisiting three posts I’ve made about the reading wars: A synopsis of what I hope will become a reading evolution by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Copyright 2019 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.

Please note: Dr. Sam is a bit under the weather- working on 2 root canals (UGH!). Getting by with a little help from my friends in the next two weeks.  Dr. Kerns is making a return appearance next week and the week after Sarah Valter will be telling all about this year’s Nerd camp. I will be resuming my posts after that. THANKS TO MY TWO FRIENDS FOR FILLING IN, I think you will enjoy what they have to say!















Striving Toward an Anti-Racist Pedagogy in Literacy By Doctor William Kerns

The next few weeks are going to be interesting. This week my blogging partner Dr. William Kerns gives his views on an important issue in literacy. Sometime in the next few weeks, I will be blogging about the topic- The Reading Wars: A New View from the Radical Middle. Radical Middle is a term first used by P.D. Pearson, the creator of the gradual release model. So, stay tuned, lots of good things coming! Dr. Sam




In this blog, I take a stance that as teachers, it is imperative to engage in ongoing self-reflection and exploration about race. This is a crucial step in order to engage in teaching that is actively anti-racist. The topic is imperative to consider considering the news of this week, but I would not wish to view a discussion of critical literacy (Kuby, 2013; Luke, 2018; Wallowitz, 2008) and transgressive pedagogy (hooks, 1994) as limited to only times when discussions of the role of race in politics and society make headlines. Instead, I argue in favor of foregrounding anti-racist pedagogy and critical literacy in an ongoing manner as a teacher.


This is a challenging task. Thankfully, there are a wealth of recent books that explore strategies for being an anti-racist teacher who helps students to explore difficult discussions and texts on the topic (Ahmed, 2018; Brookfield, 2018; Kay, 2018; Minor, 2018; Okun, 2010; Tatum, 2017). In taking on the challenge, it would also be wise to explore literature related to racism in the United States (Kendi, 2017; Ortiz, 2018) and literature that can provide guidance in reflecting about the difficult topic of race (DiAngelo & Dyson, 2018).


I believe in the importance of teachers openly and honestly investigating our beliefs in relation to teaching practices. This includes, for white educators, such as me, openly confronting issues of white privilege and interrogating whether white fragility or even the white gaze might come into play. It also means listening – always being open to learning.  Key questions we might ask include: What are my fundamental beliefs about education including reading education and language arts? How do these beliefs shape my teaching? Underlying these questions are also questions about stances on diversity, race, ethnicity, and whether you view it as important to activity be anti-racist as an educator. Why or why not.  There are possible tensions and challenges that arise as you consider ways to be anti-racist while helping students gain knowledge and skill that they will need.  In addressing these questions, follow-up questions to address can include: What assumptions do we make about people around us – the adults and the children? It is imperative to be anti-racist, rather than merely making a claim to be non-racist. Otherwise, activities can wind up supporting racist narritives without questioning the narratives. The educational choices we make in the classroom are not neutral. The very claim to be neutral itself is an act of privilege, exercising the power to claim neutrality while making underlying choices about what texts to use, whose voices will be heard.


I believe in the need to raise the question of voice by asking who is considered legitimate to speak on a certain issue and who is silenced within a curriculum as an aspect of being an anti-racist teacher. Is it possible that a curriculum might condone or support racist structures or racist assumptions? I also believe that it is important for teachers and students alike (and together!) to develop the skills to examine language used about issues such as race and racial identities in various texts and contexts. Race is a socio-cultural construct grounded in Colonialism and in systems of oppression. An anti-racist approach which includes ongoing self-reflection as a teacher will aid teachers as they respond to the diverse ways that children are impacted by life-conditions.


In order to be anti-racist as a teacher, I believe that it is important to examine discursive practices, or episodes in action and rules – made explicit or implicit – related to who has a voice and who does not, as well as things that are deemed acceptable to be said or that are deemed unacceptable (Young & Ortega, 2009). This can help teachers to explore underlying beliefs regarding race that shape educational practices.  The discourses about children and parents who are of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds provide a framework for further communication about aspects of the reality of lives of students, and the reality of teaching.  Discourses on race are shaped by social structures, and in turn discourse can either support or change those social structures (Fairclough, 2013). So, in practice, this means listening and engaging in dialogue with students while engaging with diverse texts. It also means providing the context within the learning environment for students to be empowered and to be heard.


Freire and Macedo (1987) argue that an emancipatory approach to literacy does not merely focus on the mechanical skills of reading and writing, the classical traits of what it means to be a well-educated person, or even the joy and comprehension of reading a text. These approaches to literacy are insufficient for education to have an emancipatory rather than an oppressive impact. Instead, in an emancipatory pedagogy, an emphasis is placed on a critical analysis the text and of social structures in order to “read the word and read the world”. I would argue that to be anti-racist as an educator of literacy and English Language Arts, an emancipatory approach is needed. Crucially, Giroux (1992) argues that this voice is best enabled when the student engages in communication in his or her own primary language (or dialect).


The journey of self-discovery and reflection never ends. Each of us has our own story. Let’s take the anti-racist journey together. Let’s stand together. Our students deserve it.




Ahmed, S.K. (2018). Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Brookfield, S.D. (2018). Teaching Race: How to Help Students Unmask and Challenge Racism. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


DiAngelo, R., & Dyson, M.E. (2018). White Fragility Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.


Fairclough, Norman (2013) (Second Edition). Analyzing Discourse: Textual analysis for social research, London: Routledge.


Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.


Giroux, H. A., & McLaren, P. (1991). Radical pedagogy as cultural politics: Beyond the discourse of critique and anti-utopianism. In D. Morton & M. Zavarzadeh (Eds.), Theory/pedagogy/politics (pp. 152-186). Chicago: University of Illinois Press.


hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.


Kay, M.R. (2018). Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.


Kendi, I.X. (2017). Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Bay City, MI: Bold Type Books.


Kuby, C.R., (2013). Critical Literacy in the Early Childhood Classroom: Unpacking Histories, Unlearning Privilege. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Kurashige, L. (2016). Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.


Luke, A. (2018). Critical Literacy, Schooling, and Social Justice: The Selected Works of Allan Luke. New York, NY: Routledge.


Minor, C. (2018). We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to BE Who Our Students Need Us to Be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Okun, T. (2010). The Emperor Has No Clothes: Teaching About Race and Racism to People Who Don’t Want to Know. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.


Ortiz, P. (2018). An African American and Latinx History of the United States. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.


Tatum, B.D. (2017). Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race. New York, NY: Basic Books.


Young, R.F., & Ortega, L. (Eds.) (2009). Discursive Practice in Language Learning and Teaching. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


Wallowitz, L. (2008). Critical Literacy as Resistance: Teaching for Social Justice Across the Secondary Curriculum. New York, NY: Peter Lang.


Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the views of this author & his guest bloggers.  They 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.

Working Together: Addressing Challenges in Literacy through Teamwork by Doctor William Kerns

reading creatuve commons

The wonderful ILA chat this week inspired my blogging partner, Dr. William Kerns, to write the following entry. In order to get it out to everyone in a timely manner, we’re doing this extra blog post this weekend. ENJOY

Dr. Sam

Working Together: Addressing Challenges in Literacy through Teamwork

William Kerns

The debate over phonics represents one of numerous challenges that threatens to narrow the curriculum in P-12 schools and in higher education. In early childhood, teachers face pressure to conform to a narrow view of reading instruction that is based on a Simple View of Reading, which takes decoding and language comprehension into account but, in this author’s opinion, fails to adequately account for the many ways that social-cultural experiences shape and reshape the way that a child reads. This pressure is combined with pressures to “teach to the test” in order to achieve certain scores on high stakes examinations.

I do not intend to offer a panacea for this situation in this short blog. In fact, any attempt at offering a panacea would run counter to my belief that one-size-fits-all solutions are themselves potentially harmful to students. I situate myself in the social-constructivist school for reading and language arts. This blog’s proposed plan of action is also situated within a social constructivist understanding of reading and the overall language arts.

We need to work together. This collaboration should include work among P-12 teachers and university professors within a school and within a district. This tends to already be emphasized in schools, especially among teachers who instruct the same grade level. The collaboration I call for is not only local, but also statewide and national.

Dialogue through social media is a powerful tool.  By virtue of reading this blog online, I am presuming that most if not all readers of this blog are active in online communications with fellow educators. This can be the start of a type of professional learning community in which strategies and resources are actively shared. It can also be the start of an inquiry community, in which research efforts are performed in collaboration together even among people at a geographic distance from one another. Along with this collaboration comes increased voice.

Mutual support is vital. This can take the form of basic friendships, even among those of us who have not actually met in person. We all get tired and discouraged at times. We need one another as a support base.

Finally, comes perhaps the hardest part. Public advocacy of literacy education even among those with whom we might strongly disagree. An important aspect of fighting for the active, engaging, constructivist approaches to education that readers of this blog are likely to favor is through dialogue and through example. The thing with dialogue is that it works best when both sides of a dialogue feel mutually respected. The collaboration that I advocate is, in many ways, already occurring. However, I advocate that the collaboration should become increasingly systematic and strategic. Teamwork will help produce increased research. Increased dialogue. Increased awareness. In a sense, we each are ambassadors of literacy education. We each have a role to play. And who knows, we might even enjoy this process along the way. We need to come together. We cannot adequately address the challenges we face if we are working in isolation.

This call for action is not easy. However, below I will outline some areas where I believe there can be agreement and collaboration.

Children need to develop skills in phoneme awareness and phonics, decoding, accurate and automatic word recognition, reading at an appropriate rate, vocabulary and word attack strategies, text comprehension and strategies for comprehension of difficult texts. Misunderstandings and lack of agreements abound. For example, proponents of approaches to reading instruction that privilege taking social and cultural experiences of a child into account are often accused of being “anti-phonics” when in fact a social constructivist approach does recognize the importance of decoding, phonemic awareness and phonics skills. Greater emphasis tends to be placed on inquiry, games, songs, rhymes than in programs that are based on synthetic phonics. Proponents of whole language prefer to work on these skills in the context of real/authentic texts being read.

Complicating matters, there is a great deal of linkage between the reading process and the writing process. Writing is both a way of learning and a way of communicating. In fact, I argue for an approach to reading instruction that is inclusive of areas often discussed within English Language arts, including but not limited to the study of grammar and syntax, the study of literature, the study of writing and composition, the study of linguistics, and the study of rhetoric.

Skills generally associated with language arts include reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and visually representing. I view reading instruction as insufficient without strong language arts instruction, and likewise, I view language arts instruction as insufficient without strong instruction in reading. This means that reading teachers and reading specialists need to work in alliance with language arts teachers. It also means that language arts teachers need to team up with reading teachers. The success of the two fields are linked.

A misimpression that exists about the social-constructivist approaches to instruction which I support is that they are opposed to explicit and direct instruction. This is not true. However, it’s important to draw on a child’s background knowledge and to consider the social-cultural influences on meaning-making. That’s why dialogue matters. It’s important for the teacher to learn from the child as the child is also learning from the teacher. Leaving a child bored and disconnected from material is something to be avoided. Intensive, personalized instruction for students using other educational staff members. As appropriate, seek additional reading and varied forms of texts (video/digital, visual art) and instruction for students.

A wide variety of diverse literary options need to be available for students to read. These options should include representations of characters and settings from diverse cultures. It should also include multiple genres and multiple types of texts. Wide reading experiences with diverse texts is also critical. The end goal of instructional intervention is for the student to gain increased independence as a reader, to be able to gain purposeful comprehension skills and strategies that can be applied with diverse texts and in diverse contexts.

Plus, let’s not forget, we want the student to also have a lifelong love for learning and passion for reading. It is so important to provide opportunities for students to become independent readers. A wide selection of texts can be a critical aspect of intervention. Interest in a text can help a student to be increasing engaged and motivated while working on skills in an authentic context. Guided repeated reading can help a student to build fluency skills. A classroom teacher should work with a team of well-trained professionals who specialize in intervention assessment and techniques when a student fails to make adequate progress.

Appropriate assessments guide instructional choices. After all, it would not be possible to accurately determine a student’s current ability to independently engage in a task without assessment. Likewise, it also is not possible to determine a student’s upper range of ability to successfully complete a reading task with guidance and assistance unless there is assessment tied to goals. These assessments should determine both strengths and areas of weakness to address in an ongoing way that tracks progress. The strengths can be used toward addressing weaknesses, but key to this is that the teacher needs to be working in partnership with the student.

The tracking of student growth and the development of literacy abilities requires strong assessment.  Students will at times struggle in reading for a variety of reasons, including skill development but also potentially including lack of mastery of appropriate reading strategies. Too often, students whose primary language is not English may be misidentified as having a learning disability. A student might need to work on decoding, phonemic awareness and phonics, or other skills such as fluency or word identification strategies in order to enhance purposeful vocabulary development. The nature of intervention should be determined through assessment. The type of reading structure appropriate for the child depends on needs and interests. Options might include whole class, small flexible groups, or guided reading with systematic and explicate instructional strategies.

Care should also be taken when the tutoring is pulling a student out of regular classroom instruction. Students can feel embarrassed, and they can miss out on valuable instructional time with the regular class. If the tutoring is unengaging, fails to be beneficial, or it is simply boring to the student, then the effort at tutoring could backfire and contribute to the student becoming disengaged.

Finally, I believe in the importance of a positive learning environment. To be more specific, this learning environment should include welcoming students into a community of readers and writers. Such a community should welcome the exploration of new and imaginative concepts while drawing on prior knowledge. The classroom community should be welcoming to diverse students of varied backgrounds. One way of promoting such a positive classroom community is to make sure that students have a sense of belonging and acceptance. Teachers need to honor the human dignity of students and promote the ability of fellow students to honor one another’s dignity. An important aspect of honoring the dignity of individual students is to honor their sense of identity and their cultural identities.


Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the views of this author and his blogging partner. They 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.

One size still doesn’t fit all: Finding the middle ground in the reading wars by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the Blog

Of all the hats I’ve worn in almost five decades of teaching (see addendum at the end) the one that fits me best is that of reading teacher/reading specialist. During my Title I days, one of my jobs was to support/coach teachers in Tier one and to sometimes provide Tier two services as needed. The Tier one programs changed over time. What all had in common Is that none succeeded with 100% of the kids. There were always some kids for whom the Tier one program didn’t work. One of my jobs was to scaffold those students into learning to read. This experience definitely shaped my view of things.

Fast forward to today. We now have SOME (not all) proponents of the Science of Reading point of view claiming they do have the solution to all students reading problems. Just teach them using a strong systematic synthetic phonics and all is solved. Before I say another word, please note the word SOME. Let’s look at relevant evidence.

According to Torgerson et al., ‘There is currently no strong randomized controlled trial evidence that any one form of systematic phonics is more effective than any other’   Bottom line, research does not support the notion that synthetic phonics should be used EXCLUSIVELY.

‘The conclusions of one study on phonics and similar word-level training represents … Benefits for “reading comprehension were not significant” (Reading the Naked Truth, 92). A recent analysis by literacy researcher Jeff McQuillin drew similar conclusions from a large-scale study in England.’

Bottom line- Science of Reading approaches must be viewed with caution. Care needs to be taken that the approach doesn’t just produce better decoding.  The extreme proponents of Science of Reading have tried to pass off gains on decoding based tests as reading gains, claiming almost miraculous one-year growth.  Bad science. The problem remains- they are not demonstrating long term growth in comprehension. Decoding DOES NOT automatically lead to comprehension. Comprehension requires direct teaching around comprehension (a blog in itself).

The final problem is what I call the Near 100% Problem. On many occasions, I’ve asked proponents of all the current possible ways to teach reading to “show me the beef,” i.e. show me studies demonstrating their way gets almost 100% success. Unfair? Remember my background. I’m the one that got to work with and scaffold the students for whom the Tier one program didn’t work. So long as there are such kids, there is a need for alternative approaches to teaching those kids. There is also a need to allow reading specialists and classroom teachers some leeway in how they help those particular kids, and to give them some serious PD in those alternate ways. My mantra is, fit the program to the child, not the other way round.

Currently, there are any number of approaches being advocated. That is a whole different blog entry. What I say to every one of those advocates of alternate approaches, if you don’t have the near 100% study for your methods, then admit your methods have limitations. That is a very hard sell. But if folks TALKED TO, as opposed to debated with, folks with alternate methods,  kids would benefit. Districts can and should adopt the method they think best fits their population. See both Mary Howard’s and Linda Dorn’s books on RTI for guidance. It is critical that the Tier one program be strong enough that Tier two and three aren’t overwhelmed.  BTW if anyone really does have that magic near 100% method that nets comprehension gains over several years, please do let us all in on it. I’ll help organize the parade for you!!! Longitudinal data using actual comprehension tests, please.

Overall, I call this potential dialogue among advocates of the various approaches “The Reading Evolution”  #readingevolution1. Check the entries in my sidebar labeled the Reading Wars/Reading Evolution for details. Remember that the key to this dialogue happening is for all sides to admit their ways have some limits and limitations. I think good things will come from it.

I’ll end with a quote from Pressley who I view as the “take the middle ground” advocate of his day.  A good friend reminded me of this quote. Think about it. We’ve tried the extremes so many different times; maybe it is time to try finally try the middle and end this swinging pendulum once and for all.

“What is “balanced literacy instruction” from my perspective? It involves explicit, systematic and completely thorough teaching of the skills required to read and write in a classroom environment where there is much reading of authentic literature–including information books and much composing by students. Balanced literacy instruction is demanding in every way that literacy instruction can be demanding. Students are expected to learn the skills and learn them well enough to be able to transfer them to the reading and writing of texts. Yes, this is done in a strongly supportive environment, with the teacher providing a great deal of direct teaching, explanations, and re-explanations, and hinting to students about the appropriateness of applying skills they have learned previously to new texts and tasks. As children learn the skills and use them, the demands in balanced classrooms increase, with the goal of the balanced literacy teacher being to move students ahead, so that every day there is new learning; every day students are working at the edge of their competencies and growing as readers and writers” (Pressley, 2003).

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the one in the middle of the road happily taking flak from all sides)


It’s been an interesting and productive week on twitter. I’ve been asked to clarify and synthesize my views on the reading wars and good literacy practices. Here goes. First, it will help readers to understand my positions on literacy instruction if they knew something of my background. Started teaching in 1970. Have taught every grade from K-graduate school. Have taught all the preservice reading courses both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Spent over two decades teaching in Title 1 buildings spanning the time from 1985 through the early 2000s. Three times,  projects I worked in received the Secretaries’ Award, placing the reading achievement gains made in those projects in the top 1/10 of 1 percent of all Title 1 projects nationally. Two of the three buildings involved had free lunch rates exceeding 90%.  I am currently retired (not really). During the school year, I spend one full day a week pushing in at an elementary school, I am active in the ILA, and Co-Editor of the professional reading journal for my state, The Missouri Reader. I am also involved in promoting local literacy projects, including the St. Louis Black Author’s Believe project and The Ready to Learn book distribution project (over a quarter of a million books given to Title 1 kids in the last four years). I’m starting to do some national consulting and Inservice work. I also write this weekly blog and am working with some friends on a book. As I said, not really retired.

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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

Happy 4th of July!


Taking the day off. Celebrating the 4th of July with my family.

Let me use this occasion to give you a tip on where to find some good reading about literacy issues. Visit the Missouri Literacy Association’s Facebook page (@mscira).  They have good readings on a daily basis (including today). You’ll find this page a great resource with a wide variety of posts relevant to improving literacy. The screen capture below shows a recent posting. Go to the MLA Facebook page (@mscira) to see the live feed.


Dr Sam


Please have a look at the newest Missouri Reader (free)- Lots of great articles to choose from! Dr. Sam Bommarito

As promised the newest issue of the Missouri Reader is ready. It can be reached at this link.

We e-mail a link out to all our members (Missouri Literacy Association- an affiliate of the ILA) using our membership list. We also blog and tweet out the link.  Please share the link with all educators you think may be interested in the topics presented. By doing that you help us carry out our own form of “word of mouth”, essentially word of mouth in the cyber world. The journal is free.

Glenda Nugent (my co-editor) and I are quite proud that we can carry out the forty plus year traditions of the journal. It started off as a “hard copy” journal and has now shifted to a cyber journal. We publish many well-known authors and literacy researchers. We also publish articles from many teachers, including teachers doing their first action research projects/first journal articles. It gives teachers a chance to share with their fellow teachers and also a chance to find out about publishing in a peer-edited journal. They get to publish right alongside more experienced writers and researchers. A look at our editorial board will show our board is well credentialed. We are grateful for their ongoing contributions to the journal.

If you are interested in submitting an article for the Fall journal, go to the last page of the current journal for details. I’ve included a screen capture of the front cover and the table of contents in this blog entry. These show you what’s in the journal. Once you get to the journal online, there are easy links to follow for all the articles. There is quite a variety (see below), so I think you will find something of interest to you.

Happy Reading and Writing, and I hope you enjoy the Missouri Reader and find it provides you with valuable resources and information. As I said before, please do share with anyone you think might be interested in the topics covered.


Dr. Sam Bommarito

Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader


Summer Issue of the Missouir Reader

Tab-e of contents

Tab-e of contents 2





Research demonstrating the effectiveness of differentiated instruction: One size does not fit all and never has- Part One (alternate title: Show Me the Beef!) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Research demonstrating the effectiveness of differentiated instruction: One size does not fit all and never has- Part One (alternate title: Show Me the Beef!) by Dr. Sam Bommarito



Quite a while back, there was a set of TV commercials based on the slogan “show me the beef.”  We are long past the point where the proponents of “the science of reading” need to do exactly that.  They are making claims that what they do works with most every child most every time (though the road might be bumpy they say). If they have actually found THE METHOD that works with every child every time here’s what we need from them to prove such claims are true for large populations:

What they need: Studies that show “science of reading” (SOR) has a near 100% success rate with all kids.

What they have: In England, which has mandated synthetic phonics for several years now, an improvement over previous test scores QUALIFIED YES. Near 100% success rate NO!!!!!!

What they need: Studies showing long term gains in COMPREHENSION using tests of COMPREHENSION. Studies demonstrating the gains stick over time.

What they have: Studies using the Dibels (mainly a measure of decoding) and vocabulary tests (vocabulary is only one component of comprehension). That kind of testing might do for pilot studies, but since they’re trying to encourage districts to spend large sums on their methods and hoping to change the landscape of reading instruction they need much stronger testing instruments than the ones they are currently using.

Some SOR proponents are already claiming victory (move over bub, they say) based on one or two years’ worth of results. Guess they haven’t heard of the Hawthorne effect or looked at the research showing that test gains based solely on a synthetic phonics approach often evaporate after a year or two.

So, I’ll try this one last time. Show me the studies demonstrating near 100% success. If you can’t, that means there are KIDS FOR WHOM YOUR METHODS DON’T WORK. You have an ethical obligation to address the needs of those children.  Show me the studies demonstrating long term gains in COMPREHENSION using actual tests of COMPREHENSION. In sum, show me the beef!!! Either that or admit your methods have limits and limitations. If you would do that, we could actually start a conversation around what methods work for which child and how to tweak each method so that we could find something that helps almost each and every child.   It could be the start of a reading evolution #readingevolution1 #showmethebeef/lit

There’s more.

SOR folks note that what districts around the nation are doing now in literacy instruction is ineffective. Literacy scores are low.  They claim the blame lies mainly with balanced literacy et. al. No question at all that literacy scores are low. Let’s remind the SOR folks they are part of what is going on now. So, in a sense, they are very much a part of this ineffective scene.  I’d anticipate they’d say, but you have to look at what individual schools/districts are doing and see which districts/schools are doing SOR practices well and getting good results.  Fair enough. Let’s do that. But then let’s ALSO do that for the districts currently doing what can be described as balanced literacy and doing it well. No strawmen please. Make this a 2019 version of constructivism not the 1967 beginnings of constructivism.  I’ve already found some really interesting things around the question of is there such a thing as a successful BL program.

Just this week the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) named this year’s Missouri Gold Star Schools. That program recognizes schools that perform at high academic levels or that perform at high levels while serving a significant proportion of disadvantaged students. One of the schools was from the Clayton district and two of them from the Francis Howell District. Both districts have programs that would fit the criteria for balanced literacy. I can easily name many other St. Louis area districts where reading scores are high and some form of balanced literacy is used. For good measure, I’m going to ask my constructivist friends out there to name districts from their area that meet the balanced literacy criteria and currently have high reading achievement scores. Please use the hashtags #readingevolution1 #showmethebeef/lit in order to make them easy to find. The point is that it is abundantly clear that there is such a thing as a successful balanced literacy program

Now I have one more “show me” to ask of the SOR folks. Show me a study (or studies) of districts using a representative random sample of Balanced Literacy programs, programs that would meet the criteria set by proponents of Balanced Literacy.  Then show me those results. Until you can do that please take a little more care about your pronouncements around the topic of Balanced Literacy.  What you’re saying now is incomplete and inaccurate.

In sum, there is abundant evidence that balanced literacy has worked well and is working well in selected districts. So how is it that SOR folks are convincing folks that BL doesn’t work? They’re doing it by a rather clever intellectual slight of hand.  Their logic is as follows: The current scene is not working well (TRUE!). Most districts in the current scene are using properly implemented BL (UNPROVEN/FALSE). So, BL doesn’t work (UNPROVEN BY THIS CURRENT ANALYSIS). The breakdown in their logic occurs because they are assuming most districts today are using BL and doing BL in the manner advocates of BL have described (with fidelity!). Not the case. The facts are that many districts aren’t doing it all OR say they do it but really don’t OR say they do it but in practice the are doing it badly, etc.  You get the picture. The only way to get a proper sample is to just look at those districts doing BL in a form approved by BL advocates and with fidelity to the form. When we do things that way (dare I say when we base our results on a proper scientific sample) I predict that the results will be quite different from what they are claiming now.

Introduction to Research In Differentiation. (Remember that differentiation is a cornerstone of many  BL programs)


My friend and mentor Dr. Dan Rochcio sent me this information recently:

Regarding differentiated instruction, I reviewed the Juel and Minden-Cupp ( 2000) descriptive research in four first grade classrooms.  It is still a classic in my mind.  They found that the two teachers who were most successful in improving students’ word analysis and comprehension skills were those teachers who provided the most differentiated instruction throughout the first grade.  For example, Teacher 4 focused on teaching direct systematic phonics with the low reading group, who lacked phonemic awareness skills and the ability to identify initial and final consonant sounds.  This approach lasted until February when she modified her approach based on her students’ ability to apply consonant and vowels sounds to larger chunks such as onsets and rimes.  But her instruction with two other homogeneous groups who had learned phonic strategies early in the year, focused more class time on teaching vocabulary, comprehension, and the reading and writing of text.  In addition, they found that the teachers who used both sequential letter-sound decoding and the use of analogies ( i.e., onsets and rimes) to decode new words were the most successful in helping the lowest level readers.  Another conclusion of this study supported the four phases of phonics learning researched by Ehri 2005).  My experience in teaching beginning reading and a review of research indicates that Ehri’s phases are crucial to delivering the type of differentiated instruction explained in Juel and Minden-Cupp (2000).  All kindergarten, first, and second-grade teachers need to learn how to apply Ehri’s four phases if they wish to successfully differentiate phonics and other word solving strategies in grades K-2.




Connor CM, Morrison FJ, Schatschneider C, Toste J, Lundblom EG, Crowe E, Fishman B.

2011a. Effective classroom instruction: Implications of child characteristic by instruction interactions on first graders’ word reading achievement. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness. 4:173–207. [PubMed: 22229058]


Connor CM, Morrison FJ, Fishman B, Giuliani S, Luck M, Underwood PS, Schatschneider C.

2000b. Testing the impact of child characteristics × instruction interactions on third graders’ reading comprehension by differentiating literacy instruction. Reading Research Quarterly. 46:189–221.


Dorn, L., & Schubert, B. (2008).  A comprehensive intervention model for preventing reading

Failure: A response to intervention process. Journal of Reading Recovery. Spring.


Ehri. L. (2005). Learning to read words: Theories, findings, and issues.  Scientific Studies of

            Reading.  92(2), 167-188.


Juel, C., & Minden-Cupp, C. (2000). Learning to read words: Linguistic units and instructional

strategies. Reading Research Quarterly, 35, 498–492.

Thanks Dan! Useful stuff! I especially like your use of the term “word solving strategies”. Says it all! I think your remarks help lay the foundation for what a COMPREHENSIVE program in phonics instruction might look like. Comprehensive in the sense that it uses multiple ways to teach phonics and integrates this with a SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME for comprehension work and writing.  I know I will be looking up more information around Ehri’s phases and sharing it with readers of the blog.  Readers, also know that I might try to pick Dan’s brain further about this topic. He really seems to be on to something here, doesn’t he?

All this sets the stage for Part 2 of this blog entry. Most likely, I will take that up week after next. Next week I hope to share the summer edition of the Missouri Reader with you – if all goes according to plan. Until then-


Happy  Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito aka the “show me the beef” guy from the “show me” state of Missouri!


Copyright 2019 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.

Exploring the limits of quantitative measures: The case for including qualitative studies in educational research. By Doctor Sam Bommarito

reading creatuve commons


One recent post on twitter indicated that the only real criteria for judging the worth of instructional methods are that they pass the test of randomized controlled trials. This randomized control statement is one important way of looking at things. However, like all things in educational research, there are limits and limitations to the use of “pure” science. This is especially true when looking at the instrumentation often used in conducting educational research.  Let me give two examples that demonstrate this point.

The first is the use of the Lexile system for measuring readability.  I have long maintained that measures of readability are really measures of decodability. They should really be called decodability formulas. For instance, a 4th-grade decodability means that a student performing at a 4th-grade reading level can decode it. In no way does it guarantee that the material in the book itself is actually 4th-grade material, more on that thought in a minute.

The components that go into Lexile measurements are fairly straightforward. See this link for an explanation of how they are determined: .

Key components include sentence complexity and vocabulary.  Overall the system does a fairly decent job of doing what it is supposed to do. It does give us a sense of what grade level a child’s reading ability needs to be to decode it.

There are critics of the Lexile system. I’m providing a link to this anti-Lexile post not because I agree with its conclusion (I don’t) but because it contains good examples of times when Lexile really gets it wrong.


Examples of Of where Lexile scores get it wrong.



I’ve seen the Grapes of Wrath example in many places. The content of Grapes of Wrath clearly does not fit the typical content for a 4th-grade classroom.  This particular example seems to be a favorite of the critics of Lexile measurements.

What to do, what to do?

Here is what to do. Do exactly what systems like Fountas and Pinnell do when they assign readabilities to books. In addition to the usual things (sentence complexity/vocab load) they look at the actual content of the book, how the book is structured, specific characteristics of the book and the degree to which the book that is measured matches the usual characteristics of books at that reading level. F & P’s system adds qualitative information that makes their product far more useful to classroom teachers.  When talking to teachers about which system to use when choosing a leveled text, I always recommend systems like F & P.  Fewer “surprises” like saying the Grapes of Wrath or the Color Purple are appropriate books for 4th graders.  The overall point here is that adding the qualitative element to the decodability measure makes It much more useful for educators. Quantitative measures can benefit from the addition of qualitative supplements.

Another example is the whole idea around measuring fluency. As I mentioned last week, Tim Rasinski just did an excellent post about that. The post was from the Robb Review.

Last week’s post is germane to this week’s topic because unlike measures like the Dibels which measures fluency solely as speed, Tim’s measurement is much more complete since it includes the use of a rubric based on the acronym E.A.R.S. (Expression, Automatic Word Recognition, Rhythm and Phrasing, and Smoothness). Dibels focuses only on speed.  Teachers using Dibels for instruction use a shallow view of the oral reading process that too often results in the creation of Robot Readers. These readers read in a monotone, lifeless manner. Such readers are not likely to use oral reading as a window to comprehension.

Tim had this to say in a Twitter post this week:




Tim’s post clearly indicates that when most of the literacy instructional time is used on phonics instruction with little or no time spent on meaning making the result can be the creation of word callers. This dove tales completely with my own experiences working with children placed in a basal that focused too much of its time on phonics and not enough of its time on things like Tim’s style of fluency (shall we call it prosody?), writing, and comprehension.  This isn’t to say there should be no time spent on decoding. This is simply saying that there should also be SIGNIFICANT amounts of time spent on the other components of the reading process.

Overall, Tim’s way adds a definite qualitative aspect to the mix.  Instead of just doing simple speed measures, teachers must carry out a somewhat more complex measure using his rubric. Does that make it less scientific?  For those who have taken courses in qualitative analysis, you know that if one takes the time and follows the procedures, one can get interrater reliability. It is completely scientific. Qualitative measures and qualitative statistics are perfectly capable of answering the question of whether or not the results of a study are simply the result of chance or the result of the experimental treatment.

This leads me to my big question. Is there a reason to also include qualitative studies when evaluating the efficacy of reading approaches?  I think there is. Qualitative methods pick up on things pure quantitative methods simply can’t.  Is this a case of advocating my science against your science? Not really. It’s a case of advocating my science (qualitative studies) IN ADDITION TO your science. It’s an acknowledgment that empirical approaches have limits and limitation. Qualitative approaches can make important value-added contributions to the study of literacy approaches. In sum, I’m not saying to replace purely empirical studies. I am saying that we should consider supplementing their findings with qualitative studies as we determine the efficacy of various approaches in the teaching of literacy. Tim has said in the past that the teaching of reading is both science and art. I’ve given the link to my post about his views around this previously. Here it is again.

I wholeheartedly concur with Tim. The teaching of reading really is both art and science. I think the study of the efficacy of literacy approaches would benefit from the inclusion of qualitative studies. What do you think?

Til next time, Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. the quantitative PLUS qualitative guy)

Copyright 2019 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.

Oral Reading Fluency: Exploring fluency practices suggested by the work of Dr. Tim Rasinski (Part Two) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Fluent Reading

Oral Reading Fluency: Exploring fluency practices suggested by the work of Dr. Tim Rasinski (Part Two) by Dr. Sam Bommarito


While I was away on vacation, Dr. Tim Rasinski made a post in the Robb review that is quite relevant to our topic of reading fluency (I follow the Robb review- lots of good stuff there!). Here is a link to his post:


Key ideas included:

  • The real goal of phonics instruction should be to “get kids to the point where they don’t have to use phonics.”
  • Fluency is not about reading fast; fluency is about reading in a manner that promotes meaning-making. He did an ORF score (speed test score) on recordings of arguably two of the most fluently read speeches in American history – Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address “Ask Not What Your Country…”. He found that “in both cases, Dr. King and President Kennedy’s readings of their speeches may have landed them in a remedial reading class based on their very low ORF scores.”
  • He urged caution in using the scores, e.g., DIBELS and AimsWeb ORF scores, or Hasbrouck and Tindal’s norms (Words Correct per Minute).
  • He also said that “For fluency instruction to truly work, we need to see the goal of fluency as expressive oral (and silent) reading that reflects the meaning of the text.


Which brings us round to the story I was telling you before I left for vacation.  I volunteer one day a week doing literacy work at an elementary school. I had been using the idea of teaching kids to read like a storyteller in the after-school group all year.  About 20 1st and second graders participated.  We used one of the several techniques Rasinski reported on when he spoke to us in St. Louis. We paired off readers and had them read/reread poems and passages from favorite books.  We used several Eric Litwin’s books since they were at the right readability, were engaging and predictable.  When the after-school program ended, I asked one of the first-grade teachers if she would be interested in trying the reading practice with the whole class for a couple of weeks. She agreed.

We paired readers with somewhat higher scores with readers with somewhat lower reading scores. We allowed the children to self-select from poems that they were familiar with. This included some from trade books and some from the basal program. Partners could select the same poem OR they could each select a poem of their own.  Students practiced reading to each other daily. The teacher circulated in the room as the oral reading went on. The entire process took 10 minutes or so each day. I was present for this activity each Tuesday.

Students knew there would be a performance event at the end of the week. The classroom was using SeeSaw. The kids made audio recordings. The purpose of this little trial was to see if the primary teachers would be interested in trying this out during the school year next year. I’m happy to report that the results were such that both the 1st and 2nd grade is going to do this next year.

Here are some of the highlights:

The classroom teacher was surprised to see how quickly some of the “average” students improved in prosody. The stronger of the two partners were showing improvement as well.  The kids coached each other in how to sound more like storytellers.   One interesting anecdote came when I gave my usual talk about reading like a storyteller NOT like a robot. “Never read like a robot!” I said. One of the 1st graders raised his hand and said, “But Dr. B., what if the character is a robot? Then what?”  Hmmm. Guess you know how I answered.  You know, sometimes the kids learn more than you teach them!

I have parent permission to listen to the recordings, and over the summer I’ll be using the rubrics from Rasinski and Smith’s The Megabook of Fluency to assess those recordings.  I’ve talked about that rubric before. It uses the acronym E.A.R.S. Expression, Automatic Word Recognition, Rhythm and Phrasing, and Smoothness.  By the fall I expect to be able to use the rubric with some degree of reliability.

All four of the classes (2 first grades and 2-second grades) use the Raz Kids computer program.  I already have used the message feature of that program to talk to the after-school kids and give them advice about reading. The program allows both written and recorded messages. I think feedback on oral reading might prove useful.  Stay tuned- by the end of next year, I may have an action research project to report on!

Next time I want to take up the topic of the advantages of supplementing quantitative research with qualitative research.  I’ll explain how the startup I just described does exactly that.  I’ll also explore some of the limits and limitations of using only quantitative information.

Until next time, this is Dr. Sam signing off.


Dr. Sam Bommarito

Copyright 2019 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.