Category Archives: The Reading Wars/The Reading Evolution

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.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eie.12125

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.’ https://www.garnpress.com/news/cryonics-phonics-inequalitys-little-helper?fbclid=IwAR1FlU2YcezBi0XvlrATOxB3Z60IjXfbJyu1gxCOM6g8_v5pxOoQVIvhRQw

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)

Addendum: MY BACKGROUND/BACKGROUND ON WRITING THIS ENTRY

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.

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

BEEF WITH BACKGROUND NON COMMERCIAL

 

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

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.

 

References

 

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.

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

reading creatuve commons

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

 

This week began with an amazing post on twitter which included this comment from @briankissell:

USE BRIAN

The review being referred to was my post about the Tsunami in reading instruction predicted by some advocates of the “scientific view” of reading. I want to thank Brian for the kudus and use this as an opportunity to put all the ideas I’ve had over the last several months into one place. To that end, I am reposting the post Brain referred to along with links to two other posts I’ve made. Taken together, they give my views of the current state of the reading wars and my critique of the positions being taken by some of the proponents of the “scientific view” of reading. Here is my position in a nutshell.

The only way to get past the “swinging pendulum” in the reading wars about whether or how to teach phonics is to recognize that different children have different needs when it comes to phonics instruction. Some thrive on a synthetic approach (explicitly taught phonics), some thrive on an analytic approach ( phonics taught in lesson rooted in the discovery method of learning) some thrive on either approach, and some can learn to read with no phonics instruction at all (this is a VERY small group).  Remember that the NRP found that SYSTEMATIC instruction is the key to effective phonics instruction; it did not find in favor of either analytic or synthetic phonics.

I maintain that the real problems in the so-called reading wars arise when children are forced to use an approach that doesn’t work for them.  This happens when proponents of one of the two major approaches to teaching phonics (analytics and synthetic) demand their approach, and only their approach be used to teach phonics. As I’ve indicated multiple times, what happens next is that whichever extreme becomes the current soup de jour, children for whom that particular approach doesn’t work fail to thrive. Then the other side calls for throwing out the old ways and bringing in the new way.  Usually, enough time has passed for folks to forget the “new way” didn’t work for everyone either.  My commonsense solution is really quite simple. Train teachers in all the major approaches to teaching phonics. Allow them to use them within whatever program a district may choose to adopt. Those districts that choose a synthetic approach should still allow selected children to use the analytic approach when needed and vice versa.  Details of all this can be found in the reposting of my blogs around this topic. I will add that districts must be sure that whatever approach is adopted the district programs include more than just decoding instruction. At the very least, instruction in prosody, vocabulary, and comprehension are also needed.  Readers are invited to consider Shanahan’s views about how much time should be spent on the various components in a reading program. See https://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/how-much-time-should-we-spend-on-comprehension-and-phonics for details.

My posts also challenge claims by SOME of the advocates of the so-called scientific approach to reading. Details follow in the current reposting.  Overall, I call for a reading evolution (#readingevolution1).  This means letting the pendulum swing to the middle and then use ideas from both approaches with the caveat that programs, especially programs in the beginning decoding process, be matched to the needs of particular students. Fit the program to the child, not the other way round.

Here is my main post about what reading programs could/should look like. I’ve also included links to posts about what happens when you try to force children to use programs that don’t work for them and what a program of teaching teachers about phonics might look like. I hope readers will consider all that follows and start the dialogues that can finally lead to what I hope will become the Reading Evolution.

 

REPOSTING:

Reading and the Dyslexic Child: About that Tsunami of Change Predicted by the Advocates of the Scientific Method of Reading By Dr. Sam Bommarito

4 Replies

 

Reading and the Dyslexic Child: About that Tsunami of Change Predicted by the Advocates of the Scientific Method of Reading

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

According to some (not all) of the advocates of the scientific method of reading, there is a Tsunami of Literacy change coming. Bad practices in the teaching of reading are going to be replaced by good ones. The reading crisis is going to be solved. The problems caused by the evils of whole language and balanced literacy will be overcome by an unbalanced approach, an approach that uses most (all) of the literacy instructional time in the early grades (k-2) to teach using scientific-based reading practices (translation- TONS of direct systematic synthetic phonics instruction). Comprehension can wait. Comprehension will follow naturally once the decoding problems are solved.

I’ll begin by reminding my readers that a Tsunami is a form of a natural disaster. It usually results in great pain and suffering. It can take months, sometimes years to recover from a Tsunami. Perhaps it would be wise to show some caution before welcoming a Literacy Tsunami as a solution to our perceived problems in the teaching of literacy.

Let me now address the very real problem that was the impetus of the current movement to change literacy practices. That is the failure to provide adequate instruction for the Dyslexic child. I’ll skip right to the end on this one. Dyslexic children do not thrive on a program based on analytic phonics. They truly need a program that is direct, synthetic based and systematic. There is no question they should be provided with such programs. My belief is that currently, the best place to do that is in a tier three program. For that, to work it would require that Dyslexic children be a “minority” in the sense that most children with reading problems do not have Dyslexia. That would require taking the point of view that reading difficulties have their origins in multiple (complex) factors. The rest of this entry will present some evidence that this is the case. I will present evidence to demonstrate that we may not want to abandon practices that, in point of fact do help a significant number of children, children with very real reading difficulties but who do not fit the criteria for being Dyslexic.  Let’s see why I say this based on challenging some of the myths propagated by some of the advocates of the “scientific method” of teaching reading.

Myth one: Programs like Reading Recovery, programs that often use things like the three cueing systems and other unproven educational practices, should be ended and replaced with strong systematic synthetic phonics-based programs. There is a major problem with this point of view. It fails to explain why RR has consistently been found to be the most effective reading program in beginning reading. It is the only beginning reading program to show significant improvement in BOTH comprehension and decoding. Its synthetic-based rivals show gains in only decoding.  We’ll dive into that fact a little more deeply later in this analysis. See the following link for the newest information on this point: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/EvidenceSnapshot/420.

I was always taught that all it takes to call a scientific hypothesis into question is one contrary observation. The What Works Clearinghouse conclusions clearly show that, in spite of its critic’s complaints that it does not follow their vision of “scientific teaching”, Reading Recovery actually works better for many children than the programs advocated by the “science of reading” point of view.

In previous blogs, I’ve pointed out that SOME of the advocates of the scientific method employ the “strawman” tactic in order to make the case against Reading Recovery, along with other constructivist-based tactics. They create a “strawman”. They do this by reporting only studies critical of a method and ignoring studies (like the WWC analysis) that demonstrate that they work. These kinds of tactics may work in heated political campaigns. But if one is pursuing science, one must weigh in with all the data before drawing final conclusions. Ignoring critical data that supports “the other side” is not my idea of science.

Myth two: Whole Language and Balanced Literacy are the cause of all the current problems in literacy.  Let’s examine one case where that claim was made. California mandated that whole language be used. Shortly afterward reading achievement went down. That’s a slam dunk, right? Whole language caused a major loss in reading achievement scores. As is often the case in scientific research, the devil is in the details.

Enter on the scene Stephen Krashen. He took a closer look at the data. He asked a simple question. Were most teachers in California actually using whole language?  He found the answer was an emphatic no. Most were not. Yet the scores went down. How can that be? He reported that the actual causes of those lower scores were “a large influx of non-native speakers of English and significant decreases in educational funding (larger classes specifically negatively impacting achievement).” See this link for details.

https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2019/02/14/the-big-lie-about-the-science-of-reading/

Myth two: The source of most (all) reading problems is Dyslexia.  Having taught the analysis and correction of reading course multiple times at both the graduate and undergraduate level I’m familiar with textbooks that were used/are being used in that course. Harris and Sipay was a mainstay textbook for quite a number of years. The earliest versions of that text came out before the current round of the Great Debate. Their conclusion- there are multiple causes for reading problems. John’s is another text often used. His conclusion- multiple causes.  Readers are invited to examine other textbooks currently in use. I think they will find- multiple causes is the current conclusion of virtually all the experts in area analysis and correction. If this is true, then solving the overall problem of low achievement in literacy requires much more than solving the literacy problems of the Dyslexic child. IN NO WAY am I suggesting that working toward meeting the needs of the Dyslexic child is unimportant. It is VERY important. But meeting their needs only solves a small part of the overall literacy instruction problem. It does not address the problems of the children whose literacy problems stem from other sources. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that one of those sources is the failure to provide systematic and explicit instruction in comprehension. I predict that those who think that decoding instruction in the first few years should supplant comprehension instruction are going to be sorely disappointed.  Solving decoding problems is NECESSARY for a good literacy program. However, solving those problems IS NOT SUFFICIENT.

Myth three: SES Doesn’t Matter

It is sometimes implied by SOME advocates of the scientific method that because Dyslexic children can (and do) come from families who are what we would call high SES (Social Economic Status) that SES doesn’t matter much. On the one hand, it is absolutely true that some Dyslexic children come from high SES families. So, it is true that SES is not always a factor in reading difficulties. Does that mean that SES never a factor reading achievement? Hardly. There is a TON of data demonstrating SES is a factor. By and large areas with low SES have consistently had scores about 1 standard deviation below the expected reading achievement scores. That has been a widely accepted fact of life since I began my teaching career in 1970 right through to today.  Many of us in the reading world view that solving the poverty crisis and mitigating the effects of poverty is crucial to solving the literacy problems of many children.  I’ve mentioned before that back in the day I worked in three different Title one programs that won awards for the achievement gains in reading. By definition Title 1 programs are in low SES areas. One can find many examples of programs in low SES areas doing that. I think a careful examination of those programs will demonstrate that they accomplished their gains by doing much more than simply solving the decoding problems of their students. I’ll leave it to my friend Dr. William Kerns to provide more research around that point in future blogs.

Myth four: Applying the Methods of the “Scientific Approach to Reading” results in tremendous gains in reading achievement.

Careful examination of the data some proponents of the scientific method of reading provide does demonstrate major gains in DECODING ability, not reading achievement. Please examine the instruments used in their studies. Most of the variance measured by those instruments come from Decoding, not comprehension. Too often their comprehension data, if it is present at all, relies on vocabulary only or data based on correlations with comprehension tests instead of directly measuring comprehension. Correlational data may be satisfactory for exploratory studies, but for studies used to justify large expenditures by districts, direct measures are needed.

My next remarks are addressed to district level decision makers “shopping” for literacy programs. If you are looking to make long term investments in a program, I think it is prudent that you demand something more than the current level of proof provided by some advocates of the scientific method.  My advice is to ask for data indicating 1. Long term sustained gains (critics of the “Scientific Approach” often point out the gains they claim happen disappear once data is looked at over extended periods). 2. Studies that use actual direct measures of comprehension. In my day we used the Gates-Macginitie. It has a Vocabulary Section and a Comprehension section resulting in an overall reading score. Once again, as is often the case, the devil is in the details. It is a buyer beware kind of situation. Before you buy into a particular set of methods, please ask your local experts in testing to search programs you are considering for evidence of long-term READING ACHIEVEMENT gains based on widely accepted tests of COMPREHENSION. I’d recommend against adoption if such proof cannot be provided.

An important footnote. I’m sure you’ll hear answers like- if you take care of decoding problems then the comprehension problems will be solved as well.  The problem is, reading is not a natural process (one point on which the science of reading folks and I agree). Since it is a LEARNED process, it follows that in addition to learning the decoding strategies readers must be explicitly and systematically taught comprehension strategies (or the single comprehension strategy if some analysts are correct) as well.  Do you really want to wait until the second or third grade to do that? That is what many advocates of the scientific method are asking you to do in order to make time for all that extra decoding instruction they recommend. If you follow that advice you run the risk that the “hidden curriculum” (only decoding matters) will cause many of your readers to pay little or no attention to the ideas of the things they read.  Does that sound like the kind of learner that can survive in the 21st-century work environment? Does that sound like a learner that will provide your district with long term gains in reading achievement?  As I said, buyer beware.  Until and unless they provide comprehension instruction from the outset, I would not consider buying into implementing their programs.

Myth number Five- All districts are using balanced literacy/whole language and that is why the current reading scores are so low.

I will begin with the obvious.  Some advocates of the scientific theory seem to assume that all (almost all) of the district programs currently in place are “whole language” or “balanced literacy”. They treat the two terms as synonymous. They are not. They attribute things to the programs that are simply not accurate or true. For instance, they often say whole language means no phonics. Sorry, I was at the 1995 ILA convention in Anaheim and heard Ken Goodman speak at the Reading Hall of Fame session. During that session, he directly stated that there is a place for phonics in a whole language program. In addition, there is the same issue raised by the whole California fiasco.  What is it that different district programs are ACTUALLY doing? Are there some programs that are more successful than others? If the science of reading folks were to try to present their findings to a doctoral committee, they would quickly find themselves being told to nail down which programs are failing and the characteristics of those programs. They would be required to provide evidence of where those programs are being done or not being done.  They might even be required to see if differences in implementation results in differences in achievement results. For instance, how do Guided Reading programs that follow the advice of Burkins and Yaris on time allotment fair compared to programs that don’t? They are currently painting with far too broad a brush to meet anyone’s definition of scientific research.  If they are going to claim the title of the scientific method, then they need to tighten up their research methods considerably, especially when making such broad statements about what districts are currently doing.

I’ve said before that my analysis of the Great Debate and why the pendulum continues to swing is based on something I learned from one of my mentors, the late Dr. Richard Burnett, professor emeritus from the University of Missouri St. Louis. A very long time ago he told me “Sam- the great debate has never been about phonics vs. no phonics. It has always been about my phonics vs your phonics.” My take on this is that the debate is really about analytic phonics (preferred by those of a constructivist bent) vs. synthetic phonics (preferred by those of an empiricist bent). My next statement will please almost no one but does have the potential to help everyone. There are SOME children who thrive on analytic phonics, SOME children who thrive on synthetic phonics, some children who can thrive on either and SOME children who can get by with almost no phonics instruction at all (very small group, don’t try to build a program around them!).

Evidence supporting the above position is as follows: “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’ (2006: 49). Research evidence which is available is insufficient to allow for reliable judgments to be made about the efficiency of different approaches to systematic phonics instruction (Stuart, 2006). “

Go to this link for details

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eie.12125

Conclusion

I’ve attributed the ever-swinging pendulum to the fact that when people at the two extremes (in the sense they take the positions of ONLY synthetic or ONLY analytic) start saying only their way works and only their way will be allowed things start to go badly.  When that happens, we find ourselves in a situation where it is guaranteed some children will not thrive.  What happens next is a call for “out with the old, in with the new”. Usually, enough time has passed so that most folks have forgotten that the “new” didn’t work the last time around. As a result, the cycle has become never-ending. My suggestion has already been made. Let’s for once try stopping in the middle. Let’s talk to each other about what works for PARTICULAR kids. Let’s stop debating and start dialoguing. Let’s learn from the ideas of all sides and ask the question of what works best for THIS PARTICULAR CHILD. In the course of that, we can start a reading evolution.

 

LINK TO BLOG ABOUT THE PROBLEMS INHERENT IN PUTTING A CHILD IN A PROGRAM THAT DOESN’T FIT THEIR NEEDS IN DECODING: https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/03/28/a-tale-of-two-readers-a-close-up-look-at-two-actual-victims-of-the-reading-wars-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

 

LINK TO BLOG ABOUT TEACHERS NEED TO LEARN ABOUT PHONICS. https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/04/26/cutting-through-the-gordian-knot-of-beginning-phonics-instruction-my-advice-to-beginning-teachers-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

 

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So…, I hope all this gives readers things to consider. Let’s do try empowering teachers. Let’s do listen to each other and find things that work for particular children. Let’s stop jumping back and forth between extremes. Instead, let’s move to the middle and try to begin a Reading Evolution (#readingevolution1).

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the #readingevolution 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.

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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.

If you are a visitor from the internet who is not yet following the blog- use the right column. It includes a place to register with this blog and follow it!

 

 

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 to make a good start at 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. Use #readingevolution1 to follow conversations around this topic.

 

Dr. B.