Category Archives: Reading Evolution

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

COVER FOR THE POETRY ISSUE

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.

POETRY!

Here is the link to the newest Missouri Reader:  https://joom.ag/o1ta

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

The Reading Evolution Part Two: Clarifications and Thoughts for The Future

The Reading Evolution Part Two: Clarifications and Thoughts for The Future

First, I would like to thank the readers of this blog for their thoughtful comments both within the blog itself and in various tweets about the blog. Readership has climbed each week. The latest posting had the most reads yet.  For those of you that are coming to the blog by way of twitter, know that you are welcome to follow the blog to make sure you always get the weekly notice of the newest post.

A number of you seem to like the central idea of my latest posting. This comment from twitter was typical of the comments made: “I love this from Dr. Sam Bommarito: A Call for a Reading Evolution: (No, it’s not typo, I mean Evolution). Throwing out and starting over is so common in schools these days so I love the idea that we enhance rather than start over @DoctorSam7

Another said “Great post here. Glad I saw your tweet. So much of what is written here resonates from: learned helplessness to motivation to that swinging pendulum.”

Another wanted clarification of the various dichotomies I mentioned. I answered by using the analytic vs. synthetic phonics as an example of what I had in mind.  Recently I listened as a very learned man talked of how as a beginning teacher he was forced to use only analytic phonics. It didn’t work for him or his children. Readers of this blog are already familiar with the group of teachers being told to use only synthetic and to use it with a very time consuming scripted program. I don’t agree with what happened in either situation. Some children need one approach, some need the other. Some can get along with either. I just did an in-service for beginning teachers in St. Louis. They weren’t even aware that there were two possible ways to teach phonics.  Overall, I took the position that teachers should be trained to use both methods and allowed to use the method that works best for their particular child/children.

What I am afraid may happen is that we will have a repeat of what happened during the Great Debate in reading. I recognize that many of the current readers weren’t even born when the great reading wars took place.   On the surface it would seem that during the Great Debate in reading (Frank Smith once called it the endless debate) folks were shifting between positions that focused around the issue of phonics. It was often characterized as phonics vs no phonics, with advocates of what became known as the whole language movement being characterized as completely opposing phonics. I was doing my dissertation work at the height of this great debate and I became very interested in the question of whether there might be common ground between the advocates of whole language and the advocates of other forms of literacy instruction who seemed to favor more direct and systematic approaches to reading.  What I found was that on most literacy issues folks from both sides agreed on almost everything except the issue of phonics. I’ll be posting details about those findings in future blogs.

The idea I want to explore right now is one that was first presented to me by a member of my dissertation committee who supervised me as I ran the Reading Clinic at the University of Missouri- St. Louis as part of my doctoral coursework. We had many in-depth discussions around literacy topics. At this time whole language was in full bloom. What he said was this. “Sam, the great debate has never been about phonics vs. no phonics. It has always been about my phonics vs. your phonics.”

The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. While some characterized whole language teachers as rejecting phonics, I was present in Anaheim when at the Hall of Fame presentation at the ILA convention no less a figure than Ken Goodman stated there was room for phonics in a whole language classroom.  While it was true that there were some whole language teachers that categorically rejected the use of phonics, it is equally true that leaders like Dr. Goodman did see a place for it.  The problem was that very often the kinds of phonics they found acceptable was analytic phonics not synthetic phonics. I’ve already stated my position on this. Teachers need to be trained in both. I want them to be allowed to use whichever works with their particular child/children at their particular stage in the literacy process.

 

There’s more to it than just phonics vs. no phonics. In our article on differentiation (link is posted on this blog), our review of the research around phonics concluded that phonics is a necessary but not sufficient condition for successful literacy programs. 50 years of research clearly demonstrates that programs that rely exclusively on phonics have equivocal results. Best results come when programs include both a meaning and a phonics component.

The time is long overdue for a serious conversation around all these points. Is it possible for a literacy programs to evolve that includes both synthetic and analytic options for teachers and students? Is it possible for those programs to include a significant meaning component? Is it possible for those programs to be taught in a way that encourages lifelong readers and lifelong reading?

I think it is both possible and that in many ways it is already happening.  I believe that path to that happening lies not in throwing out what we’ve done so far. It’s time to talk with an aim toward reaching what I think is quite possibly a consensus on what a good literacy program should contain.  It is truly time for a reading evolution.I think we are closer to a consensus than we’ve ever been.

Readers what do you think?

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. B. (aka, seeker of common ground and common sense in literacy)

 

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

A Call for a Reading Evolution:

(No, it’s not typo, I mean Evolution)

By

Dr. Sam Bommarito

 

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

What to do, what to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dr. B.