Category Archives: Joyful Reading

Introducing the special edition of the Missouri Reader- Poetry- a Path to Literacy by  Dr. Sam Bommarito, Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader


Introducing the special edition of the Missouri Reader- Poetry- a Path to Literacy by

Dr. Sam Bommarito, Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader

You may know that one of the hats I wear is that of Co—Editor of the Missouri ReaderMissouri Reader has been publishing for over 40 years now.  We publish between two and three issues a year. We are peer edited and have a highly qualified review board.  We do publish some very well-known literary leaders. But we also give teachers a chance to publish right alongside them Most often those teachers are graduate students at one of our state’s universities, though we do accept articles from all over the United States (and Beyond!). Details on how to submit are always found on the last page of each issue of the journal.  This latest issue is something very special. As you both read about it and then actually read the journal itself, you’ll see what I mean. For me personally the timing of this issue couldn’t be better. It’s my birthday today (don’t ask!). It’s also the first anniversary of this blog. Over 10,000 people have read it since beginning it last year.  In a way, things have come full circle. That first blog entry was written at Tan Tar Ra (Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.) at last year’s Write to Learn Conference. Next week Glenda (my Co-Editor) and I will be at this year’s conference making a presentation on Friday, March 1st..  It will be about this issue of journal (it’s that special). If you’re in the Midwest region come see us, links to all the registration information can be found in our journal. We are part of the Missouri State Literacy association which is a co-sponsor of the Write to Learn Conference.

Readers. I now want to editorialize a bit.  Please indulge me. It relates to the theme of our special issue, Poetry- a Path to Literacy.   Lately I’ve been wondering aloud why we have so many people writing about the need to return to joy in the reading and writing field (lots of titles about that lately). Why do we have a famous video called Don’t Read Like a Robot.  Why are some so determined to turn reading into a race?  Do we really need a nation of Robot Readers and Auctioneers? Or do we need a nation of students who know how to read like Storytellers? Storytellers around those long-ago campfires were the beginnings of what we now call civilization.  The historian in me thinks they were at the heart of the movement that separated human kind from the rest of the living creatures on our planet. To read a story like a story teller you’ve got to understand the characters, know what they act like, what they should sound like. I think that is why Rasinski calls prosody the gateway to comprehension. To read like a story teller is to return to the most basic of basics.  All the authors contributing to this very special issue of our journal hope that our readers find the ideas and resources in this issue that will help them get back to the real basics. Learning to read poetry well is one of the key things that make up what I call the real basics. I also hope the readers of this issue will find much of what they need to help create a nation of readers who know how to read like story-tellers. Perhaps then we would not have to worry about how to bring joy back to all aspects of literacy. The answer is so very simple. Read (and write) because you want to. Let your children do the same.

Pardon me, it’s nighttime and I suddenly feel the urge to build a very nice campfire. Then I think I’ll get out a copy of the new journal. I hear there are some wonderful things to read in it, poems and such. I hear that there’s a whole world of joy to find if you’re just willing to look. Please do have a look. You deserve some joy and so do your children.


Here is the link to the newest Missouri Reader:

Happy Reading and Writing!

Dr Sam Bommarito (aka, the storyteller/poet/singer songwriter)

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.

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 . . 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:

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 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.

Making use of the Resources in the Megabook of Fluency and the books and songs of Eric Litwin (Part three) By Doctor Sam Bommarito


MY COMPUTER & PETE THE CATMaking use of the Resources in the Megabook of Fluency and the books and songs of Eric Litwin (Part three)


Doctor Sam Bommarito

For the past two weeks I’ve been talking about the work I’m doing with an after-school group. The group meets for an hour each Tuesday. It is voluntary.   We call it the Reading Club.  My partner in the endeavor is the building learning specialist.  In addition to the 20 club members, who are 1st and 2nd grade students, there are also 6-7 upper grade students who come in to help with centers, paired reading et. al. For my part of the program I am using ideas drawn from the Megabook of Fluency and selected materials for Eric Litwin. Last week I focused on my use of ideas from Megabook of Fluency.  This week I’m going to talk about how I am using/will use resources from Eric Litwin and from selected web-based site to help implement that program. I’m also going to talk a little about the way I teach word strategies.

The after-school program is meant to be a supplement to the building program, not a stand- alone program.  I’m trying to motivate the students to want to read, to read with prosody and to use word strategies based on both analytic and synthetic phonics.

For the kids I talk about two different ways to figure out words. One is to “sound them out” (traditional synthetic phonics). The other is to “say the first sound and think of the clues” (my adaption of analytic phonics).  I tell them to use the one that works best for you first.  I also tell them if one way doesn’t work, try the other. I want to point out to any readers who might be nervous about my promoting “word guessing”, that in fact what I’m promoting is “educated word guessing” based on crosschecking.  Marie Clay talks about “crosschecking”, i.e. using more than one of the cueing systems concurrently.  That means making sure that the “guesses” make use the visual clue (first sound) and work with the meaning clue (picture or how the story is going).  So if the child was guessing the word “sun” for something they see in the sky, but the text actually says star I WOULD NOT accept sun. I would prompt near point of error by saying that “ ’sun’ is a very smart guess, but does sun start with the ‘st’ sound and look at that picture. What other word would work here that starts with the ‘st’ sound and goes with the picture?  (The picture, of course, is a picture of a star).

As I’ve already mentioned I picked Eric and his books for our groups first favorite author because his work incredibly motivating and it promotes the use of crosschecking as I’ve just described it. They are predictable and engaging. They often include real life lessons or teach relevant literacy lessons in an entertaining way.   Kids REALLY want to read his books. I told my kiddos that I learned that it pays to find a favorite new author from time to time. It pays to learn all about them and to read lots of their books.  I told them that for our first favorite author, the after-school group would be explore books by Eric Litwin.  I also told them if they wanted to find their own new favorite author for the year I would help with that. They know that later in the year we will all talk about our other favorite authors and pick a new author for the group to focus on after Christmas.

Eric has turned out to be a very good choice for a first author. Several of the students raised their hand when I asked if they have heard of the book Pete the Cat Book- I Love My White Shoes. I then told them that Eric had written a new book, called If You’re Groovy and You Know It Hug a Friend (

I read/sang some of the book to them. Rather than go straight to the full book, I then used the session to practice the song “If your Happy and You Know It”.  That fit in exactly with learning to read/sing a new piece and then practice it for future performance.

Here’s how I expect this to play out over the next few weeks.  Eric’s site is a treasure trove of songs and videos (see for yourself  It includes free downloads of songs and lively video renditions based on his books.  For instance, the Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes has a free download of the song.  So does his new book. I’ll be encouraging parents to let their children visit the site and listen to the songs.  I’ll also encourage them to use these books as night-time read alouds, and even let the children join in the reading.  Parents are welcome to buy them if they want, but they are also readily available at the public library. Because we meet only once a week, the VOLUNTARY performance songs/poems practice during the week (recommended by Rasinski) will be done once a month rather than weekly. I’m also trying to get permission to use one of the several programs that allow students to share videos with parents and students within the class (and only within the class). In that way their “performance” is something they can share with the whole group. There are also other things going on within reading club, especially as it relates to direct instruction in phonics & other reading skills, that I will discuss at a future date.  This includes sharing how  to “talk big about little books” .

Now I want to take a moment to talk about an important UPCOMING EVENT here in the Midwest. The Early Childhood Conference, which is usually held at Lake of the Ozarks each year is being held at Harris Stowe University in St. Louis. MARY HOWARD will be one of the keynotes.  Bill and I will be leading a panel discussion at one of the sessions. If you are in the Midwest Region please have a look at the website.

Happy Reading and Writing



Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, big fan of Eric Litwin)

(For Visitors from Twitter and Facebook, thank for coming. You can subscribe to this blog using the subscribe button on the right hand column of this entry)



Early Learning



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


A Message to Reading Recovery Teachers Everywhere: Well Done! By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The response to last week’s post about Reading Recovery was overwhelming. It set all time personal records on both my Twitter and WordPress accounts. Over 6000 impressions in one day on Twitter. Over 1182 people came to read my latest post on WordPress. The message was from the readers was clear. My readers LOVE Reading Recovery and found that it forever changed their lives as teachers. That change was very much for the better. I’m turning the rest of this blog over to my readers, so you can hear all the wonderful things they had to say about Reading Recovery   So…, for my friends on the RR site, know that what you do works, that it is appreciated and that it helps you become better teachers so that you in turn can help the kids.  This is my thought for you as you start the new year:

Well done!

Here is my “summary of findings” based on what RR teachers had to say:

New Part One

New Part THREE

New Part TWO

Finally- In the original article, I reported on research demonstrating that reading recovery is the most successful early learning program around. It results in improved student performance in both decoding and comprehension.  To cap things off, here is one more piece of evidence provided by fellow a fellow blogger, Rhonda from Literacy Pages. Thanks to her for letting me repost her remark.  The remarks are on a screen capture so link she gives doesn’t work, but I’ve provided a working version of that link at the end of the blog.

New Part FOUR

EPILOGUE: I’ve been posting my blog entries on the Reading Recovery Facebook site.  That is because the last few blogs have been surrounding RR teachers and what they do. The blog will now be turning to more general literacy topics that focus about finding common ground, good literacy practices and growing lifelong readers.   Should I ever have a blog post that directly relates to RR I’ll definitely post that on the RR Facebook site again. I will of course continue to read the RR Facebook site and make comments outside of my blog entries.  Remember that it was a comment by a RR teacher on the RR Facebook page that got the ball rolling on this project. THANKS to all the visitors to the blog (over a thousand in the past couple of weeks). I would love to have some of you follow the blog and join in our ongoing literacy discussions.  So to see future posts please do subscribe to this blog. I promise you that Bill Kerns and I still have lots more to say about literacy and helping children become lifelong readers.

Happy Reading and Writing


Dr. Sam Bommarito (so grateful that he become a Reading Recovery teacher)

The link from the Literacy Pages blog

Special Thanks to Rhonda at Literary Pages for use of her remark and for providing the link.

Special Thanks to Dr. Mary Howard for her encouragement in this project and for taking up this topic on her facebook page.

Special thanks to all who posted on facebook and twitter about my original blog on Reading Recovery. 

And a very Special thanks to all the teachers currently implementing Reading Recovery.  You are changing the world one kid at a time. And that is exactly how it should be!

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito, who is solely responsible for it’s content

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Bringing Joy into Teaching Literacy: A Worthwhile Goal for Literacy Instruction

Bringing Joy into Teaching Literacy: A Worthwhile Goal for Literacy Instruction

I’m writing this at a sad time in our history. I was just talking to Joanne Yatvin on her blog about recent events. Neither of us have an answer to the question of how things had gotten to this state in education. The building where I worked in my last year before my retirement had three lock downs for cause, incidents near the building requiring a lock down.  Things are most certainly not what they once were. These circumstances make what I’m about to say even more important.

Let’s begin this discussion about motivation vis a vis literacy instruction at an intuitive common-sense level. Mark Twain, a favorite son for my state, once said a person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t. We can teach all the skills and strategies students might need perfectly. But if students are not motivated to use them when they read, more to the point if students are not motivated to read at all, this teaching could be for naught. The writers of current content standards and curriculum too often seem oblivious to this crucial point.  We need to teach in a way that motivates students. That’s the number one item on the literacy program Bill and I proposed. Unfortunately, sometimes, the mandated standards and the way they are currently implemented tend to have the exact opposite effect.

What to do, what to do.

The first thing to do is to look at current practitioners and leaders in the field of literacy instruction who seem to have a handle on how to build that fundamental desire to want to read and write. David Harrison is a well-known author He is a favorite son in my state. He wrote a piece for the Missouri Reader entitled For the Fun of It (And the Learning Just Happens!).  When I was doing the layout for that piece I felt the need to include balloons and other such things in the supporting graphics. David wanted poetry to be fun. David has a knack for making poetry fun. Teaching poetry using David’s ways helps students want to learn poetry. Delightful! Go to the “Previous Issues” heading of this blog and see for yourself how David accomplishes this.

Dianne de Las Casas was another author who had a knack for making reading and writing fun. She was the founder of picture book day. When writing about her Glenda (my Co-Editor) said her work sparkled. Sadly, she left us prematurely shortly after that piece was published. Glenda wrote a poignant tribute to her. Happily, her love of all things literary comes through so strongly that her legacy will be with us for a very long time. Again, visit both pieces and see for yourself.

I am a member of both ILA and NCTE. I often go to conventions. I am also fortunate to be in a state where we also have state wide events carried out on a regular basis by both Willy Wood (@WillyWood2  @WritetoLearnMO) and by Mid Missouri TAWL. Going to such events is a way to recharge one’s batteries and get the support of like minded colleagues who take the notion that reading and writing ought to be fun quite seriously. At NCTE and ILA conventions, when I go to sessions by Tim Rasinski and Lori Oczkus I find two experts who know how to make what they advocate fun. Tim’s word ladders, his use of songs to teach about prosody make reading fun.  He is also a serious scholar. His works could easily fill a room (literally not figuratively).  But he knows how to reach people’s hearts as well as their minds.

Lori Oczkus is another practitioner who makes what could become deadly dull strategies come alive. She is the guru of Reciprocal Teaching. She refers to the four parts of RT as the fab four. How wonderful! She employs puppets and other hands on kind of things to bring the strategies alive for the children.   The strategies are researched based. But the teaching of the strategies is done in a way that promotes motivation. The way she teaches helps make kids want to use the strategies. This is a critical point for any teacher claiming to teach strategies to keep in mind. At the end of the day, can you really demonstrate that students are using the strategies you teach? If you can’t do that, then you’re not really teaching strategies yet.

On the writing side of things, I have to tell a tale on myself. I mentioned the four years of training in which I learned about workshop.  I failed to mention that I entered that training as a skeptical, skill and drill oriented teacher.  Those workshop trainers didn’t just teach me how to scaffold staff and students into learning the processes of reading and writing. They also transformed me into a person who now thinks of himself as a reader and a writer, who has learned how to read like a writer and when to read like a writer.  They gave me the gift of finding the wonders that can come from studying the well-crafted words of a gifted author.

There are a host of others I could cite. My goal here is not to give an inclusive list of all the folks who have learned the trick of teaching literacy in a manner that is motivational. Rather it is to give you a few exemplars. You can use them to find more of your own.

I’ve already told you in the previous blog entry about the wonderful week I had at the Missouri Write to Learn conference. Eric Litwin and Carmen Agra Deedy both tackled the issue of what we can do to stop the phenomenon of kids loving reading and writing in k-1 and hating it by the time they get to 3-4.  They both mentioned the strategy of helping the younger children find their first love- helping them to find that first book they love so much that they want to read and read and read. When they start to love reading that much they will want to use those strategies you’ve taught them to unlock the wonders of the books they are reading. Somehow, I don’t think a book about Tan Dan who ran and ran to find his big tan van will ever create such motivation.  I’m not saying to not teach the strategies, quite the opposite. I’m not saying not to use direct instruction. Come on folks, what is a well done mini lesson but an intense well thought out form of direct instruction. I’m not saying to not teach phonics. Quite the opposite, I’m saying to learn how to teach several forms of phonics and to be enough of a kid watcher to know when one approach is failing your child, so you can switch to the another. Remember it is the approach failing the child, not the other way round.

What I am saying is to be mindful of the time taken to teach such things as phonics. Time is a teachers most valuable commodity. To use it up in order to over-teach something “just to be sure”, is not the way to proceed. Revisit our remarks in the article about the NRP and the issue of how much phonics instruction is enough and which phonics instruction is likely to produce the desired results. When putting phonics into your literacy program having answers to this question of how much is enough is critical to the success of the overall program.

There are some hopeful things on the horizon. Both the major figures in the literacy world in the United States are ushering out new phonics components to their programs this year. I trust each of them enough to know that they thought long and hard about what to put in and what to leave out and how to integrate it with their meaning making components.  I have confidence that they will leave ample time to teach the students about how to think critically about what they’ve read, once they’ve broken the code.  Dare to dream- perhaps we someday soon we could have a meaning making program that includes a strong phonics component. Perhaps we already do. Looking at the research Bill and I cite in our article; such a program would fit what the research says works quite nicely.

The workshop teacher in me now feels the need to give you an off you go.  I mentioned Ralph Fletchers book, Joy Write in a previous posting. Look that over again.  Look that over with an eye toward how you can find a way to build at least SOME choice time into your daily routines. Workshop teachers/Guided Reading teachers are really rather clever people. Somehow, I think that if you can find ways to do this on the writing side of things (Fletchers book), you will also be able to do it on the reading side.

One last thing. A bit of foreshadowing. I’d love to see an evolution.  Wait- did Dr. B’s spell check just insert the wrong word? No, I really mean it. I’d love to see an evolution. Have I peeked your curiosity?  I hope so. Next week Bill is going to take a turn at the blog. You’ll have a chance to learn about him and his ideas and the research behind those ideas. The week after that I will talk about the upcoming evolution. Hmmmmmm.

See you then!

Dr. B AKA Dr. Sam Bommarito, aspiring old reading specialist.  As Evan Robb said last time- you’re never too old to blog!

P.S. a special thank you to all of those who are already following this blog on Word Press. All are welcome. Please do join us. I think we’re going to have some fun with the topic of literacy.