Category Archives: Ending The Reading Wars

Five things that can lead to success in K-2 Literacy: A look at the old and the new (and they are both the same) By Doctor Sam Bommarito

OLD AND NEW creative commons

Five things that can lead to success in K-2 Literacy: A look at the old and the new (and they are both the same)

By Doctor Sam Bommarito

Regular readers may recall my Jan 11th blog post where I talked about the Shanahan/Berger podcast. It was done through Amplify. Folks who signed up for that podcast got a whitepaper from Amplify entitled Five leadership practices that drive success in K-2 literacy. It was written by Krista Curran, SVP and General Manager for Assessment and Invention. It reports on the results of interventions done in 11 schools where “mCLASS data showed exceptional growth in student literacy”. Details of all this can be found in the Amplify document, which was distributed by their website. What caught my eye was their overall conclusions about what “school leaders, teachers and other staff” did to contribute to that success. Here are the 5 things they listed:

Five Leadership Characteristics

While recognizing the limits and limitations of a single study done with a relatively small N, I find the above conclusions intriguing. They reminded me of another project I was involved in a very long time ago. Back in the late 1980’s and throughout the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s I was part of a Title 1 program in a “next to urban” district in St. Louis. As a matter of fact that district bordered on Ferguson. My building was Title 1, sometimes Chapter 1, depended on the year. We were twice given the Secretaries’ Award. That award went to Title 1 programs showing exceptional gains by their students. Winning the award meant the buildings in the district were in the top 1/10 of 1 percent of all Title 1 programs in the nation in terms of improving student’s achievement scores and other factors considered in giving the award. My building always had 90% plus free lunch, the yardstick used by Title 1 to determine what buildings would qualify for Title 1 services. The year I did my dissertation work, the first graders in my building had Gates-MacGinitie reading scores that were one full standard deviation above what one would expect in a building with that free lunch rate. In point of fact, their median score was at or near the 50 %’ile. What we were doing was working and working very well. I would point out that the measure of comprehension we were using measured vocabulary knowledge (about ½ the items) AND comprehension (the other ½), unlike some measures today that measure mainly decoding with some attention given to vocabulary and little or no attention given to directly measuring reading comprehension.

As I think back to the project I participated in and looked at the 5 points listed by this recent report it hit me that the teachers, staff and administration at my building (and the other elementary buildings in the district) were doing all the things mentioned by this recent report. Our tact may have been somewhat different in terms of interventions. We moved from a basal instruction, using a basal well known for it’s strong phonics program, to a guided reading/workshop model, a model that has some critics and doubters. However it REALLY worked for us and did so over a number of years. I always note (tongue in cheek) that the year after I left, my building’s reading scores went down dramatically. What changed was not the fact I left but rather the fact that new leadership came to central office and readopted the basal with the strong phonics program. Over the next few years reading scores went down dramatically. The district took years to recover from that change over. For readers of this blog- when I talk about “word callers” (and some folks take me to task for using the term) I’m talking about children who don’t comprehend because decoding was overstressed and comprehension was virtually ignored in early instruction. I worked with such children for years. I found those children thrived in the workshop environment. In this blog, I’ve often called reading recovery the bumble bee of the literacy world. According to some theories it should not fly at all. Yet it does. Shall I give a similar name to my old Title 1 project? By some theories it shouldn’t have worked at all. Yet in fact in worked better than most of the projects of it’s era.

Two thoughts here. One is that my district’s story serves as allegory for those who would ignore comprehension and focus entirely on decoding in the early grades. Based on my experience that is not a particularly good move for developing great readers (though it may develop great decoders). The other thought is that as folks design literacy programs might do well to look hard at the conclusions of the recently published white paper. I think it outlines ideas that all sides of the current reading debate could live with. As a matter of fact I would predict they would thrive if they used them. So I hope I’ve given my readers some food for thought here.

Next Week I hope do a blog entry on Missouri Reader’s upcoming issue. It on the theme “Poetry- the Game Changer”. The theme comes from an article David Harrison wrote as the anchor piece for the issue. Glenda (my co-editor for the Missouri Reader) and I are presenting the key ideas from this issue on March 1st, at The Missouri Write to Learn Conference held at the Tan Tar Ra resort, Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. Here is a link to the conference: http://www.writetolearnconference.com/

Next week also marks the 1st anniversary of this blog. The blog has had 10,000 readers since starting. WOW! Thanks to all of you who have come to visit over the past year. Please do keep coming!!!

Happy Reader and Writing

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, protector of bumble bees and other such amazing creatures)

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.

 

 

 

 

Toward a complex view of the reading process: Advantages of looking at the strengths and weaknesses of all approaches and adapting our instructional practices accordingly by Dr. Sam Bommarito

 

Breadboard_complex creative commons licenseToward a complex view of the reading process: Advantages of looking at the strengths and weaknesses of all approaches and adapting our instructional practices accordingly.

Cyberspace is currently full of posts claiming that there is a one size fits all solution to improving reading, especially early reading. This solution focuses on intense systematic phonics instruction for all children. Close examination of such instruction shows it relies mainly on teaching synthetic phonics. Reading speed is valued over reading prosody. Some of the proponents claim there is just not time for comprehension concerns at the very beginning stages of reading. Comprehension comes later, perhaps as late as 3rd grade.   The pillars of this “simple view of reading” include vocabulary both comprehension. Yet the tests used by the proponents of this view to demonstrate gains are usually heavy on decoding and vocabulary and very light on comprehension. This can and should lead to questioning the face validity of such “reading” tests. My view is that they are more properly labeled as “decoding tests”.

When taking the courses for my doctorate one of the things I learned is that establishing a theoretical construct requires many observations over a great deal of time. However, it only takes one contrary observation to potentially call the whole construct into question. In the case of this simple view of reading I have some observations that seem to challenge the validity of their current construct.

First and foremost is the fact that Reading Recovery, which has been under steady attack from the proponents of the simple view of reading, has consistently been dubbed the most successful early reading program currently available. This observation was not made by the proponents of RR, but rather the independent government agency, the What Works Clearinghouse. It is a claim that has been made multiple times over multiple years. I did an entire blog about that and readers are welcome to review the statistical facts from that blog in their entirety:

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

Here is a key chart from that blog post:

BETTER IW

I’m more than aware of the studies opponents cite, finding weaknesses and flaws in Recovery. Even strong advocates of RR like myself know there are limits and limitation to the program (as there are with virtually any program one would care to examine). I personally feel there are SOME students who will not benefit from RR. However I firmly believe that the data I cite in the blog indicates that it works with enough children enough of the time to make it a viable educationally significant option. The fact remains when early reading program are analyzed RR is the only one that consistently gets results in BOTH decoding and reading achievement/comprehension. The research cited by the What Works Clearinghouse indicates that code base approaches show gains in decoding but not in comprehension/achievement. Because of this I’ve come to call RR the “bumble bee” of the reading world. You see, according to the science of some individuals, the bumble bee should not be able to fly. But it does. In the case of RR, the bumble bee not only flies but actually outperforms all its code based competitors.

In a future Blog post Dr. Kerns and I are going to explore this observation along with others. There is the matter of research indicating that while code based instruction produces gains in work attack skills, past a certain point they fail to produce gains in reading comprehension/achievement. In that upcoming entry Dr Kerns and I will also look into look into the early research around Analytic vs Synthetic phonics. The upshot is that the research clearly indicates that there are students who benefit more from an Analytic approach, leading to the conclusion that neither approach should be exclusive in its use. In an earlier blog post I indicated that my mentor, the late Dr. Richard Burnett, professor emeritus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, maintained that the great debate in reading was never about phonics vs no phonics. While there are folks who feel no phonics is the best approach, the fact is that the majority of people from the whole language/constructivist point of view favored the use of some form of phonics. I was present at the 1995 IRA (now ILA) reading hall of fame session where Ken Goodman said that there was a place for phonics in a whole language program. My interpretation of what whole language/constructivist based individuals of that time advocated was that they favored a analytic phonics approach used on an as needed basis. Too often critics of this position employ what amounts to a “straw man” approach. They pick on only the weakest points advocated by their opponents and knock those down. They ignore the strong points. While that is an effective ploy in political debates it rarely results in uncovering the full reality of what is going on.

There is also the matter of how much time is needed to carry out an effective synthetic phonics program. A careful read of the NRP will indicate that at the time of the report there was no clear answer to that question. It is an important one. Do we really need to spend most (all) of the early instructional time on teaching synthetic phonics? Should we really effectively ignore comprehension (i.e. spend little or no time teaching comprehension) in the early grades? Or is it possible to create synthetic phonics instruction that is efficient enough to leave time for comprehension instruction? A careful look at the reading world circa 1985 demonstrates that leaders in the field like Pearson and Presley called for more direct teaching of comprehension. They cited the work of Durkin to uphold their belief the teachers of that era were in fact not teaching comprehension at all. At best, they were simply practicing how to answer selected kinds of comprehension questions. Since that time the majority of folks in the reading world have come to the conclusion that the explicit teaching comprehension strategies should be an important part of every literacy program. My opinion is that explicit comprehension instruction should be a part of every literacy program from the outset. Details of all these aforementioned observations and criticisms will be included in the future blog post which will include an extensive look at the research being alluded to here. I anticipate it will be several weeks before that is ready.

My point in this is not to totally discredit the use of synthetic phonics. In earlier blogs I have said there are definitely children who need that direct, intense systematic program. I also pointed out that following an as needed analytic program runs the risk of leaving large holes in students knowledge about phonics. There are ways to fix all the problems inherent in both these major approaches to phonics. At the moment the reading world seems locked in yet another debate (war) about early reading instruction. Critics of the critics of whole language point to the fact the attacks from the simple view of reading folks are really attacks on a straw man. Only the weakest points from the whole language constructivist views are taken. The charge is also made that sometimes their views are actually being totally misrepresented. My criticisms are not limited to the simple view of reading. I hear advocates of using an as needed analytic view of the reading process indicating that only their point of view works with kids. The fact is that SOME kids need some of the things advocated by the code based folks, and SOME kids need the things advocated by the constructivist based approach and, most importantly NEITHER APPROACH WORKS WITH EVERY KID EVERY TIME.

I’ll restate something I’ve said before. Both sides of this great debate (more accurately all sides in this great debate) need to explore the weaknesses as well as the strengths their own position They need to acknowledge that there are some strengths the opponents position. Teachers need to become adept in teaching phonics using all the various ways to teach phonics and they also need to become adept at teaching comprehension strategies. They must be allowed to use a variety of approaches so they can meet the needs of the diverse population of children they serve. We need to remember that beginning with the First Grade Studies and through the works of Allenton, research has consistently demonstrated that teachers make more difference than any particular reading approach. We need to empower teachers and give them the ability to help their students using the methods that fit each particular student. Fit the program to the child, not the other way round. I’ll have more to say on this point next week.

Regular readers of this blog know that my doctoral dissertation was on the topic of common ground. I found that the opposing sides of the great debate from that era had more instructional practices in common than they had that were different. I believe that if the current debate over reading changed into a dialogue about what works more children could be helped. The issue of what works needs to be addressed by more than the simple ability to decode. Reading without comprehension is not reading at all. It is simple decoding.  I detailed my position in the following blog post about calling for a reading EVOLUTION. You are welcome to read it:

https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/03/16/a-call-for-a-reading-evolution-no-its-not-typo-i-mean-evolution-by-dr-sam-bommarito

So as we begin the new year lets shift the focus of things from debate to dialogue. Let’s recognize that reading is a complex process. Let’s start asking what will help THIS PARTICULAR CHILD, rather than try to find something that works with every child every time. The search for the latter has never been very fruitful. I maintain we are much more likely to find a workable answer if we stop debating and start dialoguing. Reading is a complex process. Different children learn in different ways. Let’s start a dialogue around that. Let’s begin the reading evolution.

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. an evolutionary leader)

 

Copyright 2018 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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A happy and joyous new year to all my readers! Thoughts on where we’ve been & where we’re going with the blog by Dr. Sam Bommarito

happy-new-year-1900587_1280 free noncommercial use

A happy and joyous new year to all my readers! Thoughts on where we’ve been & where we’re going with the blog by Dr. Sam Bommarito

A Happy and Joyous New Year to all my readers! Since this blog started last February there have been 11,500 views from readers in 85 different countries.  That’s quite encouraging and I want to thank you all for your interest and support.

I’ve added a “most read posts” category to the sidebar and put the top five posts for readership there. I will update the top five from time to time during the course of next year.  Right now the most read post this year was .  https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/08/24/what-i-learned-from-reading-recovery-and-how-it-helped-to-inform-my-classroom-practices-by-dr-sam-bommarito/ . There were over 2,500 views of this post.

I’m trying to stay true to the stated goal for the blog- finding ways to create motivated lifelong readers and writers.

In terms of things to come- I want to continue to explore the topic of code based vs. meaning-based approaches to reading. I want to look at both the strengths and limitations of each approach. Regular readers know that I posit that the reason the reading wars continue to rage is that neither side has all the answers. Too often folks from all sides report only the strengths of their positions and the weaknesses of the other sides position. To move from debate to discussion we must be willing to explore BOTH the strengths and the limitations of all approaches (including the ones we personally support!). I have been on a lifelong quest for common ground, practices that both sides might be willing to support. My dissertation was on that very topic. In that dissertation I found that the two sides to the debate in that era actually had more practices that they used in common than practices that separated them.  Is that still true today?  We’ll be looking to find out.

My personal favorite blog post for the year was the one entitled “A call for a reading evolution”. Have a look at it:

https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/03/16/a-call-for-a-reading-evolution-no-its-not-typo-i-mean-evolution-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

It envisions a change from debate to dialogue. For that to happen all sides need to admit that there are limitations to their approach (as well as the strengths we are so fond of pointing out).  Once that happens, once we admit to how complex an issue learning to reading really is, it might be possible to turn the great debate into the great discussion.  Dare to dream!

One new thing for the new year is that I will be pushing into a 4th grade classroom and helping the teacher of that classroom implement a writing workshop program.  I’ll be getting to see writing workshop through some fresh eyes. I’ll be sharing insights gained through this process.

Also, I am the Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader. I’m EXTREMELY excited about the upcoming issue, due out in February. David Harrison, a well published author and poet laureate for the state Missouri, suggested we devote an entire issue to the power of poetry. That is exactly what we did. The theme for the issue is “Poetry- a Path to Literacy”.  David has written an article especially for this issue. Many other folks will also weigh in on the power of poetry. These includes Tim Rasinski, Eric Litwin, Melissa Chessman Smith and Mary Jo Fresch just to name a few. When the issue comes out, I will devote a full blog post to it. I will also provide a link to this free cyber journal.

Missouri Reader is a professional journal sponsored by Missouri ILA.  It has been publishing 2 issues  a year for the last 42 years (so yes it was a paper journal before it become a cyber journal). It is peer reviewed (we’re always looking for review board members) and encourages articles from both university professors AND classroom teachers (we’re always looking for submissions, see the last page of each journal for information on how to submit).  Here is a link to the current issue https://joom.ag/7fWY. It contains interviews with Jennifer Serravallo and Eric Litwin and a wonderful article by Dr. Molly Ness about Think Alouds.  I hope you will continue to follow the blog so that you’ll get a front row seat when the new poetry issue comes out in February.

So…, have a joyous New Year. Help make literacy become something joyous for you and your students. Remember our goal is to find ways of teaching that fit the child. Fit the program to the child, not the other way round! That’s my final thought for this year and my first thought for next year.

All the best to you and yours and I HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL NEXT YEAR!!!!!

P.S. If you are a visitor from the internet and liked this blog please consider following it.  Just type in your e-mail address on the sidebar of this blog post. THANKS

Copyright 2018 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.

The Teaching of Reading as Both Science and Art: A Report & Evaluation of Rasinki’s Recent Presentation In St. Louis by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Capture

The above quote from Diane Ravitch is taken from the Rasinski’s presentation in St. Louis at our local ILA’s spring banquet. Last week I promised to tell you more about it.  Here goes! As I proceed I will try to make it clear which part of what is said is Rasinski’s and which parts are my reactions or comments on what he said. As you could tell from my remarks last week I found his presentation to be enlightening, empowering and encouraging.

During his presentation, Rasinski made it clear that the teaching of reading is, and should be, a science.  He gave many details about this. However, he also feels the teaching of reading is also an art and that there are many benefits to treating it as an art as well as a science. Let’s talk about why he feels that way.

Great Minds

As illustrated by his slide about Albert Einstein, he talked about the many great minds over the years who recognized the importance of art. Others he mentioned included the Dalai Lama and Steve Jobs

Rasinski maintains that treating the teaching of reading as art can raise the level of performance of students. Look at his take on Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Blooms Tax

My take on this rendition of Blooms is that when you use an approach to the teaching of reading that is based on both art and science you raise the level of student performance.  When students are allowed the time to create things of their own, they are going beyond what they already know (Rasinski’s words).  They are adding new things to the base of human knowledge. In short, they are performing at a higher level than before.

There are unintended consequences to the “All Science” approach to reading.  Rasinski shared the example of what it’s like to read a decodable text about the “ag” family.  He used the decodable book, Mr. Zag. Rasinski asked is this science?  His answer was yes. Is it art? His answer was no. Is it engaging? My answer is no. As I thought about this example, it become apparent there while the text was read, it’s content was at the very lowest levels of blooms (e.g. Mr. Zag saw a bag with a tag). The text did not require the student to perform at a high level.  It did not require students to think except at the very lowest levels of Blooms.  I anticipated that his next few slides would show us examples of ways to accomplish the very same task (teach the ag family) but do it in an artful way- a way that would engage students and require them to perform at a high level of thinking.  That is exactly what he did. Poetry was involved.

This brings us to the centerpiece of his presentation, his new book, which is entitled the Megabook of Fluency. The book is exactly that. It is organized around his prosody factors (EARS). E is for Expression, A is for Automatic Word Recognition, R is for Rhythm and Phrasing and S is for smoothness, fixing mistakes. Rubrics based on these factors are available in the book and are written on a variety of levels including one for 6-8.  So, this book isn’t just for the primary grades, it’s content and suggestions include ideas and activities for all grade levels PP-8.  For a list of all the strategies in the book organized by EARS skills the reader can go to: https://www.scholastic.com/pro/TheMegabookOfFluency.html.

This link is for people who own the book. You can use information from the book to get the password for this link.

It was in this part of the presentation that Rasinski told the story I mentioned last week. It was the story of a new primary teacher who used the strategy of having children practice reading poetry for four days of the week in preparation for performing those poems on Friday.  Despite push back about “wasting” instructional time, she continued to do that. By the end of the year her first grades were performing significantly higher on reading tests. She replicated those results the next year and became the teacher of the year for her state. The book gave several more examples of other teachers in other grade levels having similar success.

By now my readers can guess the book contains a treasure trove of ideas and resources. There are many activities that take advantage of original sources, including a variety of songs like It’s a Grand Old Flag, primary source texts like Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, poems like Paul Revere’s Ride and of course children’s nursery rhymes.  I mentioned those nursery rhymes last on purpose. That is because I want to emphasize that this book is not just for primary students.  Students in the middle grades can also benefit from instruction in prosody. Rasinski asked what would happen if we had students practice and then perform such historic and artful texts? I think part of what would happen is that through use of primary sources teachers would include both science and social studies content within their literacy block. This in turn would enhance both their literacy scores and their science and social studies scores.  The book also includes materials on how to teach comprehension artfully.  Based on the examples Tim gave during the presentation, this is done with materials that students would find engaging.  It would be done in a way that allows students to perform at the highest levels of Blooms.

As I just indicated, the activities in his book are not just about helping students get better at decoding. Remember last week when I said that during parts of the presentation I felt like I was in a seminar on writing workshop? That is because Rasinski talked about how students used some of the poems and primary source pieces as a source of inspiration for writing their own works. He showed examples of student writing. Hmm. Students writing their own poetry, scaffolded by reading poems from this book or other sources.  What a great idea for poetry month! Might I ask on what performance level students would be working? That would be the level that comes after Blooms evaluation level, creating! Ideas for poetry lessons based on Tim’s book can be found at POETRY LESSON PDF

Ok, is all this real science? Rasinski makes a case that it is. Look at his example summarizing the impact of deep repeated reading:

Deep Repeated Reading

Example A demonstrates that performance improved over several rereads. Notice the big red arrows when doing the next set of rereads (B) and yet another set of rereads (C). They are there to call your attention to the fact that the improved performance with the first set (A), results in the reader starting on the second set at a higher level, and this phenomenon is repeated on the third set. That means the skills gained in the first performance carried over to future performances. Rasinski says that’s science! I concur.

Rasinski also says that repeated reading is more effective when done for authentic purposes.  His book gives you many pieces of authentic reading materials and many authentic reasons for rereading (e.g. rereading to prepare for a performance). My experience with his materials over the years is that his materials work and they are engaging to the students.

That concludes what I have to say about Rasinski’s presentation. Stay tuned. Next week there will be a blog post over the next part of this topic. I’m using the title “Singing Our Way into Fluency”.  Eric Litwin: Best-selling author of the original four Pete the Cat books, The Nuts and Groovy Joe. will share his views on using music with beginning readers. So please come back next week as we continue our discussion.

For more information about Tim and his various visit his website http://www.timrasinski.com/.  BTW- the blog on his website includes free versions of his famous Word Ladders.

 

Also check out his articles in professional journals:

Fluency

Reading Teacher

 

Article Copyright 2018 by Sam Bommarito

Includes the use of the title “Singing Our Way into Fluency

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Call for a Reading Evolution: (No, it’s not typo, I mean Evolution) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

A Call for a Reading Evolution:

(No, it’s not typo, I mean Evolution)

By

Dr. Sam Bommarito

 

As a workshop teacher I was trained to notice. One of my noticings in the field of literacy what seems to be an eternal swing between two positions on the question of how to best teach children to read. Whether one uses terms like direct teaching versus indirect teaching or synthetic phonics versus phonics or a constructivist view versus an empiricist view or in Dr. Kerns terms of the simple view of reading vs. the sociogenic view, it seems that we are locked into a pattern all or nothing in our thinking about these various positions. At the end of the day, teachers are given the choice of all of one or all of the other. That can lead to some very sad situations.  Readers familiar with me know I’m out on the internet all the time looking at various literacy sites in order to get some sense of what’s going on. I recently found entries at a popular Facebook teachers site (30,000 strong!) where teachers were saying they were in the process of adopting a very strict and scripted synthetic phonics program and being told to put away (throw away), all previously used materials. Many of these were materials that had served them very well over the years.  The teachers sounded both discouraged and confused.  I don’t blame them.

What to do, what to do?

Perhaps what we’ve needed all along is not a revolution, i.e. jumping on the latest bandwagon and forsaking all previous things, but an evolution, i.e. tweaking things until they work.  Tweaking appeals to the workshop teacher in me, we do that all the time. Tweaking appeals to my foundational training as a reading specialist, back in that day (circa 1977), when reading specialists were trained to use a diagnostic-prescriptive model. Tweaking appeals to my natural way of doing things.  I don’t throw things out. If something breaks, I get out the duct tape and find a way to make it work for just a little while longer. That sometimes drives my very patient wife crazy. However, she knows that when I eventually buy new, I make sure that the new purchase does not have the faults that caused the problem in the old. Every day in every way make things just a little bit better. Tweaking is the lifeblood of kid watchers. So, let’s say rather than throw out all our current materials and start from scratch (yet again!), we try to find ways to improve what we’ve got. Let’s try having a reading and writing evolution.

A good first step in that direction would be to take a long hard look at phonics and how we should be teaching phonics.  I love Dr. Tim Rasinski’s recent blog post about that very topic. Dr. Rasinski is one of the foremost experts in the area of reading fluency.  His works could literally fill a room. The title of his blog post of March 10th was: “The Goal of Phonics Instruction is to Get Readers Not to Use Phonics When Reading. He is not saying to to teach phonics. He’s saying to teach phonics in a way so that it is no longer needed. Shades of gradual release! Regular readers of this blog can already guess what my addition to Rasinski’s idea might be.  Be prepared to teach phonics as synthetic or as analytic depending on what works with the particular child. When I talked to Bill Kerns about this, he was afraid I would scare off some of my constructionists friends with my suggestion of using synthetic phonics when needed.  Too much direct teaching. I countered with the idea that many of my constructivist friends use direct teaching all the time. After all, is there a better example of direct teaching than a well crafted mini-lesson?

My thinking is my workshop friends can and will get the job done when synthetic phonics is needed by a particular student. It’s just that they would get it done with much less teaching time than is typically used up in some of the highly scripted synthetic phonics programs. Following Rasinski’s advice, their goal would be to get through this stage, which is necessary for many students, and to get students to the stage of fluent reading, which is the goal for all students.

Another pair of thinkers who seem to know how to do some effective tweaking are Burkins and Yaris. I saw them when they presented for our local ILA last fall. They warn teachers that sometimes teachers are teaching in a way that can promote learned helplessness. Teachers are simply doing too much of the work for the kids. I found they had a whole plan about how to improve the way we implement Guided Reading. As I listened to them speak I was reminded of one of the foundational pieces of advice I got during my workshop training. That advice was to know what work you a leaving for the student and why. I was taught that if you can answer that question as a teacher it is far more likely your lesson will scaffold students into real learning. Over-scaffold and you will end up creating a state of learned helplessness. Hmmm. This again sounds like there are teachers doing some very effective thinking about how to tweak current literacy practices.

Let’s turn for a moment to the pesky problem of motivation.  I have no need to convince teachers of the importance of motivation. One of the followers of this blog said just last week “I just know making reluctant, below grade level readers learn to love reading takes personal relationships with each student. That was always my “secret weapon.”  (thanks to authorlaurablog).  It’s the creators of National Standards (National Curriculum) that seem prone to ignore this aspect of literacy. To me it self-evident that teaching in a way that promotes lifelong reading should be an explicit part of every literacy program. I’m fond of quoting Mark Twain on this. “Those who don’t read are no better off than those who can’t read.”  Overall, I think I said enough make a good start in the beginning of the evolution in reading. Look over the heading in this blog explaining our recommendations for a literacy program. That is my suggested starting place for a reading evolution.

Regular readers of this blog know the impact that the events at the Write to Learn conference held earlier this year had on me.  One of the things that happened is that I met Eric Litwin author of the original Pete the Cat Books. At the conference he was teaching teachers about how to use music to help students with literacy (and doing that quite well I might add).  He had a prediction about how this whole swinging pendulum business might finally be laid to rest. You see, he believes that all this talk among teachers on social media and that all this smart thinking of teachers on social media, is resulting in the creation of a community of well informed, concerned teachers. He looks to this community to be the spark that results in change. He thinks this change could finally end the wild back and forth swings that have characterized the world of reading instruction for the past 5 decades. Interesting concept.

So, think about it. Maybe it is time for the evolution.  Maybe it is time to tweak what we have, not replace what we have. Readers, you’ve heard some of my ideas about the coming evolution what form it might take.  What do you think?  Do you think it will ever be possible to find the center, to combine best practices from many perspectives and to finally be able to really help our students to enter the wonderful world that awaits those who pursue the goal of becoming lifelong readers and writers? I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

 

Dr. B.