More pushback on the Social Media version of SOR: A blog post by Dr. Sam Bommarito
In last week’s blog, I talked about the major pushback that has emerged recently about what I have come to call the social media version of the Science of Reading. That version claims they have the one and only Science of Reading and that the whole issue of teaching reading is now settled. They claim that researchers have reached a consensus, and that consensus is that the social media version of Science of Reading should be implemented nationwide to the exclusion of all else. The fact is that contention has been called into question by many major researchers and educators. I talked about Amanda Goodman’s article. She is the Co-Editor of the Reading Research Quarterly. Here is the link to my review of that interview: LINK.
This week I want to call attention to several more important pieces that have been written countering the claims of the social media version of SOR. I will start by calling attention to one very important point Goodman raised during her interview:
“For instance, advocates often claim that “the science of reading” proves that it’s ineffective to use pictures and other contextual cues to help students figure out the words they’re trying to decode. Even some state literacy boards have become adamant that this is bad practice: No pictures! Teachers need to make students sound out the letters!
But their RRQ article, Donna Scanlon and Kimberly Anderson review 25 years of rigorous experimental studies in which kids were given systematic phonics instruction and also taught to use context cues to help them when they struggle to sound out words. And what they found was that kids tend to become more successful readers when they get both kinds of instruction, compared to those who get phonics alone. In short, they found that more resources are better. It’s self-defeating to insist on an either-or choice between phonics and context cueing, as though these practices were at war with each other. It’s much more helpful to treat them as complementary.”
One of my mantras has been to consider all the research before making important decisions about what reading instruction should look like. Clearly, Scanlon’s research is being discounted and ignored by some state literacy boards and state legislators. The result of this is that kids are being hurt. This week Dr. Billy Molasso, executive director of Reading Recovery, wrote a blog post entitled When Doing the Right Thing Is the Wrong Thing LINK.
Here are some things Dr. Molasso said that I think is worth considering:
“Even the National Reading Panel – frequently cited while justifying SOR laws – concluded that, ‘Phonics instruction should not become the dominant component in a reading program, neither in the amount of time devoted to it nor in the significance attached.’ Yet here we are, forcing teachers to swim upstream amidst mandates that go against common sense tactics to help kids access the right tools at the right moment.
Let’s be clear: when you choose which tools teachers can use, you are choosing which children to help. Banning tools is tantamount to saying the children who need those tools don’t matter, and shame on the states that have legislated to leave some children behind. (italics & underlying are mine) If you acknowledge that children deserve the right to read, your advocacy must reflect a commitment to ALL children.”
I’ve made the point many times before that following the Social Media Version of SOR helps some kids at the expense of others. The claims of public relations gurus like Emily Handford and Karen Vaites have been repeatedly challenged. Just this week, Paul Thomas posted a letter Diane Stephens wrote to the Curriculum Coordinators in South Carolina School Districts. LINK. Stephens again points out the lack of evidence supporting the social media brand of SOR.
“It is important to note that the SOR is not the same as the science of reading discussed earlier in this letter.
What reading research (the science of reading) has shown is that there are no differences in outcomes among the various approaches to teaching phonics and that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is not effective. Knowledgeable teachers know best about what instruction is needed at what time for their students. In addition, as authors Reinking, Hruby and Risko (2023) explain in their research article, phonics instruction has been shown to be “more effective when embedded in a more comprehensive program of literacy instruction that accommodates students’ individual needs and multiple approaches to teaching phonics—a view supported by substantial research. “
There simply is no research support for SOR or for a product, called LETRS, often associated with it. There have not been controlled studies in which the progress of students in classrooms taught by SOR teachers were compared to the progress of students taught by teachers whose practices were consistent with research on best practices. And there is absolutely no research which shows that LETRS is an effective instructional approach. (See HERE).”
Finally, I promised last week to talk about another recent article about the social media version of SOR. Paul Thomas wrote it. The title is FACT CHECKING SCDOE SCIENCE OF READING INFOGRAPHIC LINK. Here are some of the key points he makes:
FACT: Reading achievement in the U.S. and most states has remained essentially flat for three-plus decades. There is no credible evidence of a reading crisis.
FACT: The Mississippi “miracle” is a manufactured narrative created by the media. (Yet Karen Vaites posted these claims again this week despite Paul pointing out that the 3rd-grade rise in scores, created in part through retention, disappeared by 8th grade)
FACT: The NRP report is now 20+ years old, and reading research has advanced beyond the report’s findings. The report also was underfunded and incomplete and should not be viewed as “settled” science. The media and political misrepresentation of the NRP report, however, continues to mislead; the report found systematic phonics instruction increases pronunciation of nonsense words in grade one but does not improve comprehension. (Italics and underlining are mine) As well the report found systematic phonics was no more effective than W.L. or B.L.
FACT: Starting as a media movement supported by state-based dyslexia organizations, SOR has become a political movement due to its direct impact on state legislation. That movement has misrepresented the reading sciences. Further, SOR has increasingly become a marketing label for reading materials and programs, often identified as “structured literacy,” which can be scripted programs that de-professionalize teachers and impose a one-size-fits-all approach to phonics on all students.
Paul made additional points. Read his entire blog post for that additional information. All these pushbacks on the social media version of SOR have appeared at different times in different places. I thought it important to bring them together in one place. I think much of what has been said lately supports taking what I have called a centrist position LINK, LINK LINK. As I said in one of my blogs, “It’s Not Settled Science or Rocket Science, and It’s Not Your Science, It’s Our Science”. I think it is time for educators to take the great debate out of the hands of the social media gurus/spin doctors and put it back in the hands of the researchers and educators. For me, the most hopeful sign of that happening came when Amanda Goodwin (researcher) described what happened in the process of peer review for the writing of the Reading Research Quarterly articles:
Some researchers probably started out thinking they were in different camps, but during the editing process, that changed. You know, in an academic journal like RRQ, we ask experts to review each article and give the authors anonymous feedback. A lot of them pushed the authors to say more about the gap between research and practice and to consider differing perspectives. And when they revised their articles, those researchers who started out in separate camps seemed to move more to the center and acknowledge and welcome other views. So, overall, I’d say that the experts agreed that it’s valuable to conduct various kinds of scientific research that aims to better understand and meet children’s complex and varied needs — not to insist that there’s a single, “one best” way to teach reading.
I think that is a good thought on which to end this conversation- not to insist that there’s a single, “one best” way to teach reading. Instead, let’s consider ideas from all the different sides. Let’s really listen to all sides- just as the RRQ researchers did. Let’s try something that’s never been tried in the whole history of teaching reading. Let’s try stopping that pendulum in the middle for a while and see what happens. Dare to dream!
Next week I will resume my interviews. I have some good people lined up, including Gravity Goldberg and Dr. Chase Young. Until then:
Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)
Copyright 2023 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely this author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.
P.S. Don’t forget the upcoming webinar from P.D. Pearson. There will be lots to unpack from that webinar LINK.