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Something old and something new: Using Language Experience in this new era of online learning by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Something old and something new: Using Language Experience in this new era of online learning by Dr. Sam Bommarito

For those of you who may not know about Language Experience, it is a very old but effective way to teach reading. The implementation of it is quite simple. The teacher asks the student to talk about things. For instance, he/she could ask them to tell a story. The student does the dictating, and the teacher takes down what they say. What they say is saved on paper or other means, and the student comes back to read what they’ve “written” several times. It is essential in this part of this process that the teacher writes down what is said and doesn’t write the story for the student. Once published, the student’s writing piece is read and reread. The benefits of this kind of repeated reading have been widely researched and documented by educators like Dr. Tim Rasinski. See my previous blogs about that LINK1, LINK2.  The tremendous advantage of this method is that every word the student says is in their listening vocabulary.

Language experience is a useful technique for both younger students and older students. The best teaching move when using this technique is to have students talk about the things that are the most interesting to them. That helps to ensure the students are likely to have good background knowledge about the topic and, of course, that the subject is of interest to them. For instance, I’ve used this instructional method with 16-year-olds who were reading well below grade level.  One of the things that most 16-year-olds are interested in is passing the driver’s test. After reading parts of the driver’s manual to them aloud, I asked them to talk about what they learned. I wrote down what they said. We returned to their writings several times on different days.  Usually, finding something for older readers who are reading well below grade level is very difficult.  Too often, things they can decode are not age-appropriate or not of much interest to them.  However, I found them to be very interested in what they had to say about the driver’s manual. Since it was in their own words, virtually every word they “wrote” was in their listening vocabulary. This meant as we worked with these texts, I could focus on their decoding skills.  They were more than willing to read and reread their stories about what drivers need to know. Properly scaffolded, such repeated reading can go a long way toward developing fluency and decoding skills. More on that in future blogs. The upshot is that I used analogical phonics to teach them about decoding as they reread their books.

In previous weeks I talked about how I used Language Experience with younger students. This year I’m working one on one with several 1st and 2nd graders who were struggling with reading at the beginning of the year. In a previous blog, I described how I had them dictate books and then reread them. The result was these young readers were willing and able to do wide-reading of the books that they wrote. Coupled with their wide-reading of Keep Books (LINK) and eventually trade books, the students made remarkable progress in reading. As I described it, the students would dictate their story. We went to the web and downloaded pictures they thought would go with their book, using an 8-page book template from Publisher (LINK to APRIL 4 Share folder this folder has the template).  I typed in their story and then printed out a copy. Publisher prints out the booklet in a form that can be stapled into a book. I use a printer that prints on both sides, and a stapler made just to put the staple for the booklet dead center on the seam. That makes the end-product look more book-like.  If your printer doesn’t support printing back to back on the same page, Publisher’s printing routine allows you to print all pages separately. You can then place the appropriate pages back to back and use a glue stick to make the necessary back to back pages. The book comes out a bit thicker that way, but until I got my back-to-back printer, I made books like that for years. Here is what the finished product looks like. The extra-long stapler used to staple the book in the center is also pictured:

Like all teachers everywhere a couple of weeks back, I came face to face with the new normal. Suddenly, the student wasn’t in the same room as me. How could we make our next books? How could we conference about the first draft of their book, taking it through all the writing steps and turning the first draft (sloppy copy) into a published piece? How could we pick pictures to go with the story? How could we get the finished book to them? I quickly had to learn the ins and outs of using Zoom in order to carry out my tutoring sessions. I promise you there were bumps in the road. But things have actually worked out quite nicely.

First of all, know that for the online tutoring sessions, both the child and their parent are on the other end. That gives me a teaching assistant, actually much more than a teaching assistant, the parent is really my teaching partner. The student and the parent did the picture searches for the book (always setting the filter to Creative Commons License only), and they would then e-mail the pictures. Depending on the circumstances, they might also take photographs to use in the book and send them. This week I’m going to try to do picture searches on my mini iPad and hold that up to the camera. I’ll let you know how it goes. After some conferencing to turn the sloppy copy into a piece ready for publication, I would then type up the final copy. The parents already knew where I live (they came to the at-home tutoring sessions), so they would simply drop by and pick up the book. We used social distancing in the process. I left the book on my covered patio in the back, and they would drop in and pick it up at least 24 hours after it was printed. I now use gloves when I’m making books. As I said, a sign of the times. Here is a story by Suzie (pseudonym). At the start of one of our sessions, which always begins with a how is it going what have you been doing segment, Suzie excitedly told me about going to a Birthday Parade (another sign of the times). Here is her story:


I loved it when she talked about the poster falling off the car. She said it had to hold on for dear life. She’s becoming quite the storyteller!

I talked about the steps in the writing process and about turning a sloppy copy into a finished piece. That will become a topic for a future blog post. Here is a link to a pdf in my APRIL 4 SHAREFOLDER, giving some of my favorite professional books about the writing process. It includes books by Jennifer Serravallo, Katie Wood Ray, Ralph Fletcher, Carl Anderson, and Lucy Calkins. The sharefolder is located on the google drive for my blog’s e-mail. Using that sharefolder is something new, leave comments if there are any problems, and I will fix them asap. BTW several people have tried to access the folder and the Goggle drive is asking them to request access. I have answered those e-mails quickly and giving access. This week I will research how to set up the drive so it is accessible to all. Because it is set up in my blog account, I think the program is only allowing blog followers to have access. I will a goggle drive folder set up that is accessible without that extra step. Don’t you just love computers (actually I do!).

So that wraps it up for today. With some adaptations, I can do many of the most important things I include in my teaching sessions. I’m most certainly not alone in that. I am in awe of how teachers have stepped up to the plate and, in no time at all, gotten a working distance learning program in place. For that, I have to say “well done!”. So, until next week- happy reading and happy writing!

Doctor Sam Bommarito (aka, editor and Publisher for many a young author and lover of writing workshop)


Copyright 2020 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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Advice to teachers: Effective ways to promote literacy: Part two of the new normal series by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Advice to teachers: Effective ways to promote literacy: Part two of the new normal series by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Last week I talked about the new normal. This week I’d like to share some ideas and resources I’ve come across as I dived into distance learning this week and also talk about some of the things I’m doing with the kids I tutor individually. Regular readers know I am an advocate of balanced literacy (click here for my views).  Reading ought to be fun and engaging. It ought to be all about meaning-making. Our instruction should be done in a way that helps to create students who are lifelong readers- readers who want to read. I always think of what Mem Fox, one of my favorite children’s authors, had to say : ‘When I say to a parent, read to a child, I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.’. That’s excellent advice for everyone. I always try to teach reading in a way that keeps that in mind. Look at what I found on my sidewalk this week:

I LOVE He started out this year as a 1st-grade non-reader, who knew his letters but could not read. He is now reading on the second-grade level, has a favorite author- Eric Litwin, and recently read through one of Eric’s books for me reading like a storyteller. Here are some key things I did with him from the get-go and for the last two weeks, I was able to still do all these things while using Go To Meeting:

CHOICE- For the purposes of this discussion, I will call him Jake (a pseudonym). Every week Jake dictated a book to me, and I made a copy of the book for him to take home to read. This was always about something he wanted to talk about. Every week Jake got to pick Keep Books to take home. He now has a huge shoebox library full of books. Jake has read and reread these books many many many times!  I always start each session by asking him to pick his favorite keep book to read, and then his favorite book from those he wrote.  In this time of distance learning, I simply ask him to read his copy from the shoebox library while I follow along in my office with my copy of the same book.

DAILY READING- From the outset, he would read daily. At first, it was with level A (level 1) Keep Books and short phrases that he wrote down. At first, the sentences he wrote down were inspired by the Keep Books he was reading. Later his stories became more complex and we turned them into actual books.  Once again- I was still able to write down what he said and make new books. I’ll be writing about how I did that next week.

Keep Books

One of the dangers of using short texts like these is that what often happens is the child simply memorizes the whole book. I let Jake know from the outset that when he read the book back to me, I expected him to know which word was which. “Make it match, don’t make it up, that is what to do. Make it match don’t make it up, you’ll read your story true!”.  Matching meant that he had to point to each word as he read. “If you see three words, say three words, if you see five words, say five words.”  Matching also means say the word that is there not some other word that might make sense. For instance, if he said I see the ball instead of I see the balloon, I would prompt by saying, “Ball makes sense, but are those the right letters for ball?  Looks like there are extra letters “loon,” say all the sounds. OR I could also prompt- ball makes sense, but those are not the right letters for ball. What other word starts with <b> and goes with the picture? Jake knew that once he could read the book to me, it was his to keep. He could write his name in the back. He could color the pictures in the book. The book became part of his shoebox library.  On some of the miscued words, I would have him make and break the word using magnetic letters.  Keep Book sets of various sizes are available at

SIMPLE COMPREHENSION CHECK- The danger with doing comprehension checks is that if you overdo asking literal level questions, you can send the wrong message about what reading is all about. My first questions are always, did you like the book? What was your favorite part? Unfortunately, these are often questions that never get asked.  Making it a habit to always ask these questions first, makes it more likely the students will be willing to get engaged in other kinds of questions you need to ask them, What are some of those other kinds of questions?

For storybook stories, I taught Jake these little rhymes “You may have said it, but you haven’t read it until you tell me the characters, the problem, the solution.” For informational books, I would say, “If it’s true, tell what’s new.” The point of that rhyme is that if you are reading a book with lots of facts- which facts are the facts you didn’t know before you read the book? One of my other students taught me a lesson about this. I didn’t realize there were ugly sharks and blobfishes. He did. Here are two pages from his book he called “Strange Things.”  When we download pictures to use in the books, I always set the filter to creative commons license.

Strange things




READ ALOUDS – I’m encouraging all the students I work with to listen to and think about some of the many read alouds that are coming online now. Listening to Read Alouds followed up by a simple comprehension check can be a powerful combination. Here are some of my favorite sites:

David Harrison




Mrlibraryman is a private Facebook group. Kevin Boozer does an excellent job of providing daily read alouds. Here is what he said about how to join the group:

Please use this link to access the group. You will need to agree to join the group and then wait for an admin to confirm you. Thank you for doing your best to be kind and help the rest (of us) and do your best to follow publisher guidelines.

 For the love of learning and books, Kevin Boozer, media specialist AKA @MrlibrarymanSC


Eric Litwin is a talented author and song composer. He writes many books that are also sung. His website has many videos, including videos based on singing his books. You can reach his site using this link:


Also, Eric has a link about how to share his books during social distancing. He gives details on what each of his three major publishers ask for when teachers make read-aloud videos to share:


I am the president of the Missouri Literacy Association, an affiliate of the International Literacy Association. It has new posts daily from educators giving inspirational messages, tips, and resources. There have been several posts lately about various authors, famous people doing read alouds. Please do have a look at our Facebook page each day! @mscira


A little bit of fun. A very long time ago I was a Title 1 teacher/staff developer and the parent liaison for my building. During that time I wrote several songs to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s’ reading. This week I posted one of those songs to YouTube. Have a listen- hope you enjoy it!

Read Me a story jpg

In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking more about distance learning and I hope to add some permanent resource pages to this blog. Until next week- happy reading and writing.


Dr. Sam Bommarito aka the new distance learning guy

Copyright 2020 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




Adapting to the new reality in literacy, using technology to promote a blended approach to literacy education by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Adapting to the new reality in literacy, using technology to promote a blended approach to literacy education by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Words and phrases like coronavirus, COVID-19, the new normal, self-quarantine, social-distancing, and cancelation of all school classes are quickly reshaping the landscape of the world, including the world of literacy education. As a leader of both a local and state-level literacy organization, I found myself having to announce the canceling of end of the year events and advising members to take all the precautions necessary to slow the advance of the pandemic. There is a groundswell of people caring about others and trying to figure out ways they can best help. I have friends whose children are in the medical field, working in E.R.’s, the de facto front line of the current situation.  My friends are rightly concerned, but quite proud of what their children are doing.

My wife and I are both in education- she works in the Parents as Teacher program at a local district, and I continue to do a variety of literacy work, including spending one full day a week at an elementary school. Both of us are at an age where we are considered part of the high-risk group who should be strictly limiting their contact with others. Where does that leave us as educators?  What viable options are there for us? Both of us are about to join other educators who are using technology to try to reach our students. Next week I will be doing virtual lessons with the students I tutor individually using Go to Meeting, and I will also be continuing to help the 1st through 3rd-grade students I work with using the Raz-Kids program.  I want to talk a little about what I’m going to try to do to carry out this cyberlearning. I want to be sure it is done in a way that maximizes the development of lifelong readers and writers (as per the title for this blog).

I’ll start with the reminder that technology is a tool, and like all tools, its impact depends on how it is used.  Seymour Papert, a pioneer in the use of technology in education, viewed computers as “tools of the mind.”  His book Mindstorms is still worth reading even today.  Some of my colleagues fear that doing cyberbooks will not result in authentic reading. Today I’ll make the case that cyberbooks can and should be part of the “new normal” that is beginning to develop in the world of literacy. Let’s talk a bit about what the new normal is starting to look like at the Bommaritos.

The past two days in the Bommarito household have been spent learning the ins and outs of getting in contact with people using Zoom and/or Go to Meeting. We’ve both done practice runs, contacting each other, and some of our educator friends who are in the same boat. We are learning to set the screen image up, learning how to have a face to face conversation using the new tools and gadgets. Still learning. It has been a “keep the faith,” do what you can do kind of endeavor. At the moment, we can contact folks using e-mail, they open the e-mail on their device of choice. The device has the Zoom or Go to Meeting already downloaded. They click on the link, and voila, we are now face-to-face and talking.  This morning we learned that it might be possible to skip the e-mail part and do a direct phone contact. Stay tuned on that- and BTW, if any of my techi friends out there already know whether or not that is possible and how to do it, please do chime in with a comment. After all, this has evolved into a learn by doing situation.

So, we can now have face to face conversations with folks in real-time. What to do, what to say. I’ll tell you about my plans for next week. I’ll be contacting the parents and kids I work with individually.  They will be there along with their child. I’ll be trying out doing my lesson face to face with them. In my case, I’ve gotten a license for Go To Meeting, and I will be contacting them with that software. I will be talking to my kids about what they are reading. So, what are they reading (and why)?

They all have Keep Books. I’ve given them a whole collection of Keep Books. You’ll remember that Keep Books are the brainchild of Fountas and Pinnell and can be ordered on-line in sets from Ohio State University.


Keep Books are predictable texts. As you can see from the picture, they are small and inexpensive. They are rich in high-frequency sight words, the kind of words found on the Dolch List or Fry List. Every week since we started, each child has gotten to pick a Keep Book to read for the week. They get to put their name in the book. They add it to their shoebox library. They bring that library to their sessions, and the session always begins by asking them to pick the favorite keep book so far and read it to me, reading like a storyteller.  They know when they read that I will always be checking to see that they know which word is which. For each of the three children I’m working with, one critical problem they had at the start was that they had no real concept of what a word was. Before I started working with them, they were memorizing their little books and/or making up stories using the pictures from the book. They now know which word is which they pay attention to the letters in each word and they know how to figure out their own words. They are proud of the fact they can do that.  When they miscue (and they sometimes do!), my typical prompt is to say, “does that look like xxxx? Are those the right letters for xxxx?. That prompt usually results in an immediate self-correction. Keep Books are not the only books they are reading and rereading.

A second significant set of books they are reading and rereading are books from the Raz Kids program. This is what the kids see when they log on:


The “LEVEL UP” room contains books at their current decoding level. I ask them to read at least two of these each week. The reading room includes books at various decoding levels. Once they’ve done at least two books from the level up room- I let them know they can choose any texts they want from the reading room. Starting this week, I’ll be asking them to record themselves reading one favorite Raz Kid book. The program allows me to review those recordings while looking at the actual text they read from. I’ll be talking to each of them about their favorite Raz Kids book so far

Then there is their collection of books they made using Language Experience (I write down what they say. Together we find creative commons pictures on-line to add to their book. Here is one sample:


Finally, I ask students about their favorite trade book.  Recently one of the boys I’ve been working with since the start of the year was able to read the entire Eric Litwin book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes.


The bottom line to all this is that the students I work with individually have a very large collection of books that they read and reread. They have a choice about which ones to reread. They know that when they read, they should “make it match, don’t make it up.” They know they should be reading like storytellers. Most of all, they are learning the importance of having favorites. They are reading from a variety of different kinds of books, including cyberbooks.   In the next few weeks, I’ll be trying to replicate the lessons I’ve been doing with them in person using my face to face on-line program.  BYW, yes, there is a systematic phonics component, using analytic phonics lessons based on their rereading of favorite books.  I will let you know how all this goes.


Doctor Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy learning to teach again, using the “new normal”)

Copyright 2020 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.



Taking the middle ground in the reading wars: Reactions to last week’s post and presentation By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the Blog

Taking the middle ground in the reading wars: Reactions to last week’s post and presentation

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The reaction to last week’s blog post and presentation about taking the middle ground in the reading wars was overwhelmingly positive. The blog post had over 1000 views. Here a couple of the many comments made around the post:

Judi said “Thanks, Dr. Sam! A voice of reason in the war zone…. a war of words and a swinging pendulum doesn’t get the job done. Too many children are losing out as we waste precious energy fighting our corner. Teach child children to read the way it works for you and for them. Learn from others, share what works and most importantly celebrate success! Grow and nurture children who will read for pleasure for the rest of their lives.”

Christina said “Yes!!! I agree completely! Thank you for posting this.”

Abagail took issue with the success I credited to some SOR folks who have helped some Dyslexic children. She gave additional facts and information that clearly demonstrate that the methods advocated by some of the SoR proponents are not even close to the cure-all they are sometimes made out to be.

“There is no data showing the structured, sequential phonics approach to be more effective for dyslexic learners than other approaches.  For a summary of research status for various school-based interventions, see: 

University researchers who have focused on developing programs for dyslexia have taken other directions, such as Rave-O program developed at Tufts University by Dr. Maryanne Wolf, which is based on comprehensive, meaning-focused word study.

Given that most dyslexic children would benefit from ANY extra help, it is probable that most dyslexic children given specialized tutoring of any kind would show some level of improvement, but dyslexic children in particular also need strong focus on reading comprehension, fluency, and sight word recognition — otherwise they get stuck in a pattern of slow, effortful decoding rather than developing the strengths that characterize older dyslexics who later become capable readers. See  “

Now I want to encourage all educators who believe there are many paths not just one, and especially those who know how well-balanced literacy has worked in many settings to push for a combination of using Common Sense and Common Practices.  We’ve never ever tried letting the pendulum stop in the middle. Let’s do try and see what happens. I predict that what will happen is that many students will be helped and educators from all points of view will learn from each other. Please do share your ideas along these lines, #readingevolution1.

NEW ADDITION TO THIS BLOG- My response to the question of what to do about states that have already adopted the SoR methods advocated by some SoR folks:

“Read the information in last week’s post. Plenty of counters to the public relations campaign. Should be using them in states that have not adopted. In those that have- monitor results CAREFULLY. Make sure they are not allowed to use tests of decoding as proof of success. Their methods of doing things are likely to create at least some word callers. Make sure all state legislators are aware of the fact that word callers are a significant source of low test scores. As these problems are discussed ask that any analysis of BL to use a scientific sample of BL districts using the best of BL practices with fidelity.

On more additional response based on what DeGee said- “You really summed up things nicely when you said “What is truly needed is dedicated, educated, well-trained teachers who have on-going professional learning backed up with on-going support. These teachers need to be free to use all the resources at their disposal and all their learning to make decisions about what is best for the students in their classrooms. These teachers are the professionals and as such should be given the freedom to design lessons and interventions for their students because they know their students best.”

The push-back to their cherry-picked views has begun. They’re writing checks that I predict they won’t be able to cash. The key is that ANYONE advocating for any method must show that the method can produce improved REAL comp results. Hold ALL to that standard and I think in the long run the situation will improve. Push for methods that help comprehension as measured by state tests (see Nell K. Duke‘s work that I cited last week). an actually measure comp and do so over several years. Hope this helps.”

Next week I will start talking about some of the wonderful things I learned at the Write to Learn conference in Missouri, beginning with my thoughts about the writing ideas of Nic Stone, who I got to meet and talk with at the conference.

Until then- Happy Reading and Happy Writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, still the one in the middle willing to take flak from all sides)

Copyright 2020 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.

The Reading Evolution: Finding a Path to End the Reading Wars By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Reading Evolution:

Finding a Path to End the Reading Wars

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

It’s been almost two years since I first wrote about the reading evolution. This post gives links to the many blogs I’ve written about the reading evolution/the reading wars over the past two years. It provides a summary of those things, and lets you know where I stand right now.  In my very first post about this topic, I suggested that the pendulum continues to eternally swing between two (or more) positions on the question of how to best teach children to read. The swinging pendulum has become the defining feature about what has become known as the reading wars. The problem is that after each and every swing, the folks who call for replacing the old way of doing things are quite confident, they have finally found THE WAY to solve things.  They insist that all old practices be dropped and replaced by the newest soup de jour. Invariably what happens is that the new way helps many, but not all. Eventually, this new way becomes the old way and is replaced yet again. The pendulum continues to swing. My proposed solution to this conundrum is simple.  Instead of insisting on throwing away everything that’s come before and starting over, we should instead tweak what we have. This would require both sides (all sides) to admit that their particular way of doing things is not THE SOLUTION. It also means that their particular way has limits and limitations. It would follow that all sides might have things to learn from what folks in different positions are saying. Effectively it means trying something that we’ve never before tried in the history of teaching reading. That is leaving the pendulum in the middle, talking to one another, learning from one another, and putting together a system that helps as many children as possible by using the best ideas of all the approaches. P.D. Pearson expressed this kind of sentiment in the last round of the reading wars. Have a look: Life in the Radical Middle: A Personal Apology for a Balanced View of Reading.

Why do I predict that the current rush to judgment supporting the so-called science of reading is eventually doomed to the same fate as all its predecessors and that it is simply a matter of time before the pendulum swings back to something else? Let’s explore my reasons for saying this.

  1. Science of reading advocates have never shown their methods to help all or almost all children. Instead, they have shown their methods help some children some of the time, especially those that fit the definition of Dyslexic.

Some of the science of reading advocates seem to have created an incredibly successful public relations campaign that is convincing a lot of folks that they truly have found THE WAY.  However, several important indicators show otherwise. Over the last couple of years, I’ve asked the science of reading advocates for evidence that their proposed methods will work with nearly every child nearly all the time.  Advocates are unable to produce such data and say that such data is impossible, Jun 2019 (Show Me the Beef); March 2019; March 2019 (Summary of 3 posts about limits of SoR position).  I have to agree with them on that point. Their conceding that point means there are some children for whom these methods are not working and are likely not to work. What do we do for them? What do we do for them, especially when the zealots of the movement want to end access to some of the techniques that can help some of these children?  Techniques including things like using analytic or analogical phonics in addition to the synthetic phonics that seems the staple of many of the zealots’ programs. Their contention that analytic phonics is a weaker form that was only begrudgingly used by advocates of balanced literacy is simply not supported by a look at the research. I have blogged on this point many times Aug 2019 cutting-through-the-gordian-knot-of-phonics-instruction; April 2019 cutting-through-the-gordian-knot-of-beginning-phonics-instruction-my-advice-to-beginning-teacher; July 2019 phonics-the-endless-debate-another-case-of-please-fit-the-program-to-the-child-not-the-other-way-round

  1. Some science of reading advocates are attempting to skip an important part of the verification process normally used by researchers. That part comes when the promising new theories are put to the test in large-scale studies under actual working conditions. What would be needed are districtwide adoptions of the science reading program, testing using the state test, and analysis of the results. These results should span several years. The upshot- they don’t have anything close to that. They are jumping from promising initial results to mandated statewide adoptions without doing the necessary large-scale district-wide tests of their methods. I have blogged multiple times about how they have jumped far ahead of what the research actually demonstrates. Jun 2019 (Show Me the Beef); March 2019; March 2019 (Summary of 3 posts about limits of SoR position).

By and large, what is happening is that the studies they use to call for the adoption of their methods do not use the kind of statewide tests of reading described by Duke and others. Instead, they use tests like Dibels. Why is that a problem? Let’s look briefly at Duke’s work around this issue:

When Duke talks about reading being measured as reading from a list of words and testing whether students can decode words, she is accurately describing what tests like the Dibels do. Is that enough? NO!

Look at what readers are actually required to do on statewide tests of reading: See her Box 1 above.  You can find a full rendition of this information at Reading by Third Grade: How Policymakers Can Foster Early Literacy


This would be a good time to talk about comprehension strategies- the 16th item on her list in Box 1. Duke has cited decades of research showing that when students are taught comprehension strategies using a gradual release model, reading scores rise significantly.  This research is being ignored or discounted by some science of reading advocates.  Again, many of the zealots from the science of reading call for little or no teaching of reading strategies, focusing mainly on building background and vocabulary. I strongly suggest that before any district adopts any major district-wide program, they demand proof that the program has shown significant gains, over a significant period of time using tests that closely resemble the statewide reading tests described by Duke.

  1. Some science of reading advocates are jumping ahead of what research shows about the Dyslexic child. Tim Shanahan, a strong proponent of using science to guide reading instruction, has said screening instruments for dyslexia are not yet fully developed Yet some science of reading advocates insist on giving estimates of how many dyslexic children exist even though they are based on unproven instruments
  2. Some science of reading advocates attempt to discredit or disregard research that is contrary to their core beliefs.

The most blatant example of this is the research around Reading Recovery. Reading Recovery has years of “gold standard data” indicating it outperforms rival methods. I’ve blogged many times over this and the overwhelming evidence from the What Works Clearinghouse and others shows that recovery works. I also talk about the flaws around claims that the effects of Reading Recovery interventions are not maintained. August 10, 2018; August 16, 2018.; August 24, 2018

A more recent example is their scathing reviews of Lucy Calkins’s programs. What the reviewers fail to mention is that many of them work for publishers with competing programs. One of my colleagues expressed these concerns best by saying he loved reading Lucy Calkins’s response to the SAP critique of her Units of Study. “She is so right to point out that a study of the curriculum without talking/surveying teachers and visiting the classrooms of experienced TCRWP teachers is woefully inadequate.  They did not even address the very positive data on the TCRWP website..” The lack of anything resembling peer review is a fatal flaw. It takes all credibility away from the critics’ position.

This list goes on to include ignoring research from the early childhood community on why the kind of direct instruction in reading that the SoR advocates call for is developmentally inappropriate. Dec 2018- Things-I’ve-learned-from-our-very-youngest-readers-thoughts-on-my-recent-talk-with-parent-educators-   They then laud over the gains in reading scores made in many states but they fail to mention that many of these “gains” are made in part by retaining students so that their scores don’t count in the next year’s testing.  P.L. Thomas Feb 2020. Such retention policies fly in the face of a large body of research indicating that retention in the early grades greatly increases the likelihood students will drop out during their high school year

  1. Science of Reading advocates seem to discount the importance of fostering a love of reading and creating lifelong readers. By contrast, balanced literacy proponents work actively to get books into the homes of children in the book deserts. As Molly Ness explains, book deserts are zip codes where most children have no books at home. Her Podcasts about Book Deserts contain interviews of people who are doing the very necessary work of getting books into the homes of the children who need them the most. Here is one example: Book Desert Podcast. This work is important because wide reading is one of the key ways students build their vocabulary and background knowledge. Balanced reading advocates are proactive in trying to help with this problem. May 2018 Getting-books-into-the-hands-of-children /; The Believe Project
  2. There are viable alternatives to the Science of Learning position. Tim Rasinski views the teaching of reading as both science and art. April 18, 2018, the-teaching-of-reading-as-both-science-and-art/ He is a proponent of teaching prosody, reading like a storyteller. I’ve found using his ideas helps readers of all ages. It pays to teach readers to read like storytellers. P.L. Thomas has written extensively about the reading wars and the limits and limitations of the Science of Reading position. P.L. Thomas selected blog entries.  I found his analysis of the media’s current misreading of the reading crisis especially compelling. P.L. Thomas- Media Misreads the Reading Crisis  .  Eric Litwin has written about how to use songs to bring joy into the process of teaching reading and my kids love to read his books and sing his songs. Singing-our-way-into-fluency-exploring-the-work-of-eric-litwin-and-how-he-brings-together-the-art-and-science-of-reading/  P.D. Pearson had many insights as he talked about in the historic session on reading research done at last year’s ILA convention. I did a series of blogs giving highlights of the content of those sessions. Oct 18th 2019 ; Oct 25 2019; Nov 2019.

Finally, there are attempts to meld aspects of some of the current ideas about the science of reading together into a new set of practices designed to teaching decoding. See this article about the ideas of Jeffrey S. Bowers, a professor at the University of Bristol’s School of Psychological Science, and Peter N. Bowers, a semantic scholar at the WordWorks Literacy Center in Ontario. Although they have an incomplete view of whole language and ignore balanced literacy altogether,  they do have an interesting point of view about how to put together some of the Science of Reading ideas into a more viable way of teaching decoding.

I do not want to leave the impression that there aren’t areas of agreement developing. There are.

  1. Both the science of reading and balanced literacy advocates agree that phonics is necessary. Although there are still a few educators who say phonic isn’t necessary- their numbers are small. Most of the current talk about phonics is not about whether rather it is about how much and what kind(s).
  2. Both science of reading and balanced literacy advocates agree that the system of teaching teachers about decoding needs repair. Balanced literacy folks insist we include all forms of phonics when we carry out this repair. We must assure that enough time is spent on phonics and that the time spent results in students actually learning how to use phonics.
  3. Both science of reading and balanced literacy advocates agree on the importance of background information and vocabulary. Even P.D. Pearson says that the balanced literacy folks took too much time away from the content areas in order to teach reading. The key issue here is that some are doing this in a way that ignores the importance of also teaching reading strategies. I wrote a blog about how we could tweak the implementation of guided reading to both teach the reading strategies and provide the needed work in the content areas. Aug 2018 Musings-of-a-workshop-teacher-advice-i-just-gave-to-some-1st-grade-teachers-in-houston/
  4. Both science of reading and balanced reading advocates see the importance of including decodable text in reading programs. In a recent personal conversation with Lucy Calkins, she indicated that she could see a role for some decodable books within a literacy program. Patrick Shanahan blogged, saying it was ok to use both decodable and predictable books, with reservations about the how and why this should be done. Overall, I think a consensus is developing that there is a place for decodable, predictable, and trade books in every literacy program.

Can we talk? /Should we talk?

On the one hand, there are some science of reading folks that take a “my way or the highway stance.”  I label them the zealots. They seem to think the best defense is an offense. This has led to many individuals in the balanced literacy movement feeling bullied or worse. I’ve been at the receiving end of spurious attacks of my credibility with claims that I wasn’t worth following or talking to since my number of followers was shrinking. In fact, at that point, they had more than doubled from the previous year, and they numbered in the thousands.

I don’t think that tactics of the zealots should result in folks from the various positions not talking. For instance, Tim Rasinski and I had some very productive conversations with the head of EBLI (Evidence Based Literacy Instruction), Nora Chahbazi She has some groundbreaking work going on in the area of getting phonics taught quickly and efficiently.  There is also some interesting work being carried out by the Thrass Institute in Australia ( They are advocates for the Science of Reading who are willing to talk rather than bicker.  My views around the point that eventually, a mutually acceptable position might be hammered out are colored by my research about the reading wars. In my doctoral thesis, done in 2004, I studied the practices of whole language teachers vs. other teachers. What I found was that there were more areas of agreement than disagreement in terms of the practices they used.  The chasm separating the positions was not as large or permanent as it might seem at first glance. So long as all sides are willing to forgo “my way or the highway positions,” there is hope for a resolution.

So, I’m rather confident that if all sides would just admit they have SOME answers, not all the answers, the reading wars could finally be resolved. I think there is room for genuine dialogue. As I look to the ideas from “the other side” that have influenced my current teaching, what has been said and is being said about the use of orthographic information has proved very useful. My friends in Australia have convinced me that it is not quite as cut and dried as some of the American advocates of the science of reading make it out to be, but it’s certainly something worth learning even more about.

Let’s consider starting a reading evolution. Let’s recognize that while there might not be THE ANSWER, there are good ideas from each of the points of view about how to teach reading. We are supposed to help the students in their quest to become lifelong readers who know how to think and problem solve. I see the only hope for laying the pendulum to rest is to have serious discussions around what all sides might learn from each other, firmly in the middle, using information from all sides. I’m asking the people at my presentation this week to tweet out using #readingevolution1, #ideasfromtheotherside. Let’s dialogue, not bicker. Thanks to all for considering these remarks. Please consider joining the Reading Evolution, #readingevolution1.  (Personal note: Posting this blog from my hotel room at the Write to Learn conference in Lake of the Ozarks Mo. That’s where I started writing this blog two years ago. There’s a nice symmetry to that!)

Dr. Sam Bommarito (the one in the middle who is ok with taking flak from both sides)

Copyright 2020 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.

Another call for a Reading Evolution (and as indicated before- it’s not a typo, I really mean an evolution!) By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Another call for a Reading Evolution (and as indicated before- it’s not a typo, I really mean an evolution!)

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

This coming week will be busy and exciting. I will be presenting about the reading wars at the Write to Learn Conference in Missouri. Today I want to fill you in about the conference and then give a brief preview of the things I’ll be saying. Next week I’m doing my blog early. It will appear Wednesday, the day before the conference. That blog will be about key points I will be making at the conference about the reading wars and how to end them. More on that in just a minute. Let me tell you quickly about some of the things that will be happening this week at the Write to Learn conference in Missouri.

I’ll start by saying the conference is co-sponsored by the Missouri literacy Association, an ILA affiliate. I am currently president of that Association. Although the conference is a state-level conference it often features speakers that you usually see at national conferences. This year it takes place from February 27th to 29th. It will be held at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. That location is almost dead center in the state. Our state is almost dead center in the nation.  That means it’s close to everyone! Traditionally, registration is kept open, and walk-ins are welcome. Here is a link to the registration site:

From the webpage:

“National-level Keynote Speakers, Full-Day Workshops, and 70 Breakout Sessions on a Variety of Topics of Interest to K-12 Language Arts Teachers–the Write to Learn Conference has it All!”

I’m very excited about who will be there this year. Let’s have a look at what the conference organizer, Willy Wood, had to say:


I’m going to attend this pre-conference full-day session:

 “How Critical Consciousness Informs Reading and Writing Instruction”

Penny Kittle, Author and Educational Consultant
Julia Torres, Teacher/Librarian, Denver Public Schools and Educational Consultant
rades 5-College


My session will be on Friday. It is about the Reading Wars. To give you a little taste of what I’ll be talking about here is my answer to Steve Dykstra about a question he raised about one of my recent blog entries:

Show me the beef!

You can expect a spirited defense of balanced literacy along with a call to look at ALL the research surrounding the teaching of reading. There will also be a discussion of how we might begin a dialogue about all the best practices in the teaching of reading. Two years ago, I called for a reading evolution #readingevolution1. What’s that all about?

I hold that the reason the pendulum has been swinging back and forth between various methods of how to teach reading is really quite simple. It is because when it becomes apparent that what we are doing isn’t working well, there comes a call to try something new. The problem is that almost every time the call demands that all the current practices be removed and replaced with the newest soup de jour. When the new way fails to help everyone, it, in turn, becomes the target of calls for replacement. The pendulum always ends up at one extreme or the other, never in the middle. During my session, I will explain why I think it is likely the current “Science of Reading” movement will meet the same fate as all its predecessors. I argue that an alternate course of action might be prudent.

I suggest that 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.  That would require all sides admitting their methods have limits and limitations. That would also require all sides to be willing to look at other points of view to help them with the things that don’t quite work doing things “their way.” It would require a reading evolution, where we would at long last find out what happens when you let the pendulum settle in the middle, something that has never happened in the entire 50 plus years I’ve been involved in education. Interested? I’ll have a lot more to say in my blog entry on Wednesday and the presentation at WTL. Hope you read the entry and even better- hope you come to Write to Learn if you can. Until then!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the one in the middle who is willing and able to take flak from all sides if that will help to end what Frank Smith once called the Endless Debate)

Copyright 2020 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.

The Fluency Project: Final Entry By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Fluency Project: Final Entry

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

This week I want to wrap up the topic of what we are currently doing with the fluency project and make the transition to what I’ll be saying about the Reading Wars when I present at the Write to Learn conference in two weeks. Remember that what we are doing in the fluency project is supplementing the main program at the school. We’re using the ideas of Tim Rasinski to help improve our students’ reading.

There are several things I hope my readers take away from this series. First and foremost, there is more than one way to approach the teaching of phonics, and it pays to supplement one approach with others. On the one hand, I make sure my students are given direct instruction in synthetic phonics. That is provided by the basal they are using. I view that as the start point, not the end.  In the fluency work we have them do; they also get analogic phonics activities as part of the 5-7 minutes daily practice reading a poem. They know, in advance, they that will be expected to perform that poem at the end of two weeks. When Rasinski visited our site, he made special note of the follow-up word-work the teachers were doing around the specific sounds in words from the poems.

Our view of fluency goes beyond simple measures of reading rate. Concentrating on rate alone can lead to other important factors of reading aloud being ignored. When that happens, young readers learn to read like robots rather than read with expression. That point is made in the entertaining  U Tube videos  Don’t Read Like a Robot – Blazer Fresh- GoNoodle.

We use the rubric found in Rasinski and Cheesman-Smith’s Megabook of Fluency.  That rubric is organized around Rasinski’s prosody factors (EARS). E is for Expression, A is for Automatic Word Recognition, R is for Rhythm and Phrasing, and S is for smoothness. Robotic reading is replaced by reading like a storyteller.  Readers are invited to look at my original blogpost about Rasinski’s research around the efficacy of repeated readings.

Last week I talked about one unexpected but welcome shift in the project. The classroom teachers decided that they were able to carry out the daily reads without my help.  They decided my time with them would better be spent by using the Raz Kids program, as I described last week. It became another part of their independent reading time. Each student is assigned to an instructional level in Raz Kids.  They are asked to complete at least two books a week and take the quiz for those books. While I do the Raz Kid’s work, the teachers work with a group of students solving one of Rasinski’s word ladders. Again, these activities are used as a once a week supplement to the main work of the basal series.

Lets’ take another look at what the students see when they come into the Raz Kids program:


When they first come in, each student checks to see if there are new messages. These come from me. This is how I accomplish cyber-conferencing with each student. Because the program is the kind that the teacher controls, rather one that controls the teacher, I was able to repurpose it for use as a test practice program. Inside that program, I give feedback on how to handle test questions. I described the extensive feedback the program gives on test results last week. After students complete two books in the Level Up area, an area that allows them to choose books at their instructional level, they are then encouraged to do additional reading in the Reading Room area. The program allows me to set the range of levels of the books they choose from.  I usually set that range to be at least one level below and two or three levels above their current instructional level. Students read these books for fun; no quiz required.  The groups are of mixed ability. The groups are formed so I can conference with each student from the group. They contain 4 to 6 students. I do two groups each week. There are four groups in total. Remember that these are not guided reading groups. Rather, these are groups formed so I can give each student specific feedback and strategies for handling the various types of test questions they do.  As indicated already, once they do two on level books, they are allowed to read more challenging books if they wish.

Significantly, students are allowed choice in most of the books they read.  In some cases, especially with those students I tutor individually outside class time, I can assign a specific book to that particular student. When I do that, the ASSIGNMENT icon you see on the student screen appears. This activity is not their only independent reading. However, it does allow me to build in a once a week independent reading time for all students while I work on the specific skills and strategies, they need to be successful in handling the various types of multiple-choice questions.

The final and most important point I want to make about this overall project is this. Teachers feel they are in charge and in control. After all, they are the ones that suggested my switching roles in the project.  This doesn’t mean the school has no control over what they do. They are implementing the basal program. But, they are also allowed time and latitude to do the work they feel would help the students. This fact reminds me of how Reading and Writing Workshop works. There are lessons to be carried out within the unit; there are scripts et. al.  But units of study are designed so teachers have time to do additional things if they wish. This final point is a natural Segway into next week’s topic.

Next week’s topic is that teachers need to be empowered. I think empowering teachers is the key to finally ending the reading wars. I hope that got your attention. You’ll be hearing much more about what I mean by that in next week’s blog. In the meantime, happy reading and writing!


Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- the team leader who empowers his teachers)

Copyright 2020 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.



FLUENCY PART FOUR: How I use technology with the students in the fluency program By Dr. Sam Bommarito

FLUENCY PART FOUR: How I use technology with the students in the fluency program

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Last week I talked about Seymour Papert’s idea that the best use of computers is to use them as tools of the mind. Over the many years that have passed since I talked about that at the 1985 International Reading Association (now International Literacy Association) convention that idea has been foundational in guiding my use of technology. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of how our team is using technology in our current fluency project.

There are two key programs we’re using in the project. One is SeeSaw, and we’ll talk about that in a later post. The other is Raz Kids, one of the many products of the learning A-to-Z company. I’ve already done a full disclosure about work I’ve done for learning A-to-Z which includes being a co-presenter for them at the St. Louis ILA convention and having them come to speak at one of this year’s St. Louis Regional Literacy Association’s meetings. That said, let’s talk about using Raz Kids.

In a nutshell, Raz Kids is a program that provides the teacher with an extensive library of leveled cyber books. It includes generous portions of both expository and narrative text. Quizzes are provided for each book and the quizzes are scored automatically by the program. Students get immediate feedback and scaffolding after each quiz. Quiz results are tracked by student with extensive reports. This reporting system is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It gives extensive feedback on the quiz results. These reports can be generated by student or by class. Teachers can click in and see the actual questions and responses on items the student might have missed. There are a variety of reports available, including those that analyze results by question type and by common core/state standards. There is also a report that summarizes where the class is and how they are performing. Here is a sample screenshot:

Screen Shots


It’s been said that information is power. Properly interpreted and properly used the information this program provides can prove invaluable for helping students. Let’s first begin by remembering that when the program gives the student’s performance on factual questions or inference questions, or sequence questions et. al. the program is actually testing the student’s ability to answer those kinds of multiple-choice questions. That is one step away from measuring each of the aforementioned skills.

I try to make use of aggregate data for the class. Based on the summary screen capture, it would seem that this particular class is having the most issues with answering questions about the setting. Before recommending to the teacher that they work on that skill I would first check to see how large an N is involved. Sometimes the report is based on only one or two instances, and sometimes it is based on many occurrences. Only if the skill report indicates many occurrences do I act on teaching that skill.

When I talk to teachers about using this data, I talk about the chasing your tail phenomena. On the one hand, the program gives the same kind of detailed information on each and every student. One could potentially go and try to teach each, and every student based on that. In the real world that becomes an impossible task. It simply takes too much time.  I tell them not to do it this way because that really is like the dog chasing its tail,  going nowhere.  On the other hand, by looking at the aggregate data the teacher can tell what the particular skill focus should be for a particular class at a particular time. The only time I make use of the individual data is on those selected students whose current performance is well below what we want. They are usually the students who are receiving individual tutoring.

Let’s get into what the student sees and does using Raz Kids. Here is a screenshot of what the student sees when he or she gets into the program:


The message feature is the one I like the very most about this program. The teacher can send individual students or the whole class messages. This is done within the safety of the program. I use this feature extensively to cyber-conference with students. This includes each and every student in the class with more extensive conferencing done with the individual students I’m doing extra work with. Next week I will talk about the nuts and bolts of how I do that. My Stats allow the student to get feedback on how they’re doing, and the Star Zone is a place where they can spend the stars they earn for different tasks.  They can spend their stars on various fun activities which include building their own avatar and other similar things.

The Level Up room is where students go to work on books at their own instructional level. Within this level I allow them to pick whatever books they want. Remember that I’m using this program as a supplement not the main program in reading. BTW- this means that potentially every single student can be working on a completely different book. That may seem impossible at first but as I will get into next week it is not only possible, but it is something that I’m routinely doing with great success because of the unique way in which I apply the use of this program. The My Assignment feature allows me to assign a particular book to a particular student or a particular group of students. I usually only do that with the students I’m working with individually. They know to do this assignment when they first come into the program. The program allows the student to listen to the book first, then read the book on their own, then take the quiz. I usually only have students working below level 8 do the listening activity.  The program also allows students to record themselves reading. They don’t have to, but they can. Again, with those individual students, I do assign them to record the story. I have access to those recordings and can listen to them as I’m looking at the actual book they were reading from. This is another outstanding feature of the program. It is especially helpful when working with those students that need individual help.

The reading room is essentially a cyber library. It has a variety of texts at a variety of levels. I can and do set an upper and lower limit to what part of the library they can look at but overall this is a place they can go to look at and read stories at all levels including levels above their current instructional reading level. All students are told they must do at least two books from the Level Up room before going to the Reading Room each week. I do not require them to take quizzes in the reading room. Essentially the Reading Room becomes a form of independent reading. When working with books above their level to decode students can use the listen to the book feature if they want.

Now would be a good time to take up the topic of cyber books versus paper books. In a nutshell, my take on how they should be used is this: students can and should have access to both kinds of books and read them. My readers are familiar with the fact that I am a strong supporter of projects like Molly Ness’s Book Desert project, Julius Anthony’s St. Louis Black Authors project and Elise Tierney’s Ready to Learn organization. All these projects get paper books into the hands of kids in the book deserts. Book deserts are zip codes where most children have no books at home at all. Folks like Molly, Julius, and Elise are making real inroads in that regard. Links to their project can be found at the end of this post.

Having spent most of my career in Title I buildings I’m always looking for ways to get books into the hands of kids. Because Raz Kids has arranged for its program to work on smartphones and tablets, it provides an ideal way to get children in the book deserts access to more books. For you see, even within the book deserts many parents have smartphones or tablets even though they don’t have a home computer access. I want to make crystal clear that I’m not talking about these books instead of paper books but in addition to paper books. By the way, in my Title 1 work with parents I found all parents eager and willing to let their children access these books. When working with parents I always stress that the kids should have access to all kinds of print, including cyber books.

Next week I will continue this topic and talk about some more of the unique ways in which I am using this program to help all the first and second-grade children in the fluency project. In the meantime, if you want to look at the Raz Kids program there is a link to their site at the end of this blog.  They even provide free trials where you can try out the program for a limited time to see all of its different features.  Again, this is not the only cyber book program out there, but it is the one that I have used the most. As you can readily see it is one that allows the teacher to take control if they want to. For me, that is the most critical feature of this program. So, till next time happy reading and writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- the cyberman- a good one!)

Copyright 2020 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.


Ready to Learn: @readytolearnstl (go to this Facebook address)

Book Deserts Podcasts: (This week it features Nic Stone)

The Believe Project:

Raz Kids:




Fluency Part Three: The fluency project, the teachers are taking over, and that’s a good thing by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Fluency Part Three: The fluency project, the teachers are taking over, and that’s a good thing by Dr. Sam Bommarito

 This is a kind of special time for me. The Write to Learn conference in Missouri is coming up this month. I’ll be making a presentation there about the reading wars. I am the president of the Missouri Literacy Association and we are one of the co-sponsors of the conference. We have an amazing line of speakers including Pernille Ripp, Penny Kittle, Michael Bonner, Sylvia Vardell and my blogging partner William Kern. There will be four keynotes in over 70 breakout sessions.  Here is the link

Two years ago, I wrote my very first blog. I wrote the blog while I was at that conference. I wrote it from the hotel room at the conference- cool stuff! That first year my blog had over 11,000 views.  Last year that jumped to over 43,000 views, and we’re on the pace to easily break that record this year. I really want to thank all the readers for their interest in the blog. I think that, for many of you, the interest comes because you are the kind of folks that believe the real key to improving education lies with the teachers. So, when I report that our team of first and second-grade teachers who are carrying out this fluency project have essentially taken the project over, I make the report with a very happy heart. Here’s what happened.

I’ll start by giving a brief reminder of what the project involves. We are basing our project on the fluency work of Tim Rasinski. Students read poems and songs for 5 to 7 minutes a day. The teachers provided the poems/songs to pick from. By and large, the poems and songs they get to pick from support the scope and sequence of the basal phonics program used by the school. As Tim described it in a presentation he made in St. Louis two years ago, the teacher he talked about had the students do daily reads and weekly performances of their poems. Our team made a number of adaptations to the basic model. We set up our daily reads so that relatively weak readers and relatively strong readers were partners. This has resulted in both students helping each other. The basic goal was to read like storytellers. The teachers report that that is happening in a very noticeable way. We are doing a formal measure of that using Rasinski’s rubric from his Megabook of Fluency. We also added a second layer of daily reading practice. To be more precise, daily singing practice. Before starting with their partners, the whole class sings a song excerpt, again picked because it contains some of the elements stressed by the basal’s phonics program. Overall this brings the daily time spent to around 10 minutes.

After we’d been in the project for a couple of months, my role, which was to come in during this time and help to monitor the paired reading began feeling a bit like being the 5th wheel.  One of the teachers suggested that the project had essentially gone into autopilot.  The routine was established. The kids were singing and doing the paired reading and they were doing their performance on an every other week basis using SeeSaw. She suggested that when I came in instead of coming in for the fluency part, I could come in and do something with the Raz Kids program that I had used in previous years as part of an afterschool program. That is exactly what happened. The team is continuing to carry out the fluency work as described, but my role has changed at the request of the team. Now it’s time for some full disclosures and explanations.

I’ve long been a fan of the Raz Kids program. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the program, here’s a link to their site-  You can look over the program and even get a free trial.  I’ll say from the outset that there are other computer-based literacy programs out there. Actually,  there is a whole constellation of them. I’m sure everyone has their favorites, and I’m equally sure that some people would never consider using them. I’m talking about Raz-Kids now because that’s what we’re using. I found out about Raz-Kids while I was still teaching full-time. One of the teachers I was supporting told me about it. Her son was using it at his school. I did the trial and fell in love with the program because it is the kind of program that lets the teacher take charge rather than telling the teacher what to do.  It includes a huge level library of both fiction and nonfiction books, a way to talk to students individually via the program, and a way to let students record themselves reading. The teacher can access the recording along with the book they read from. It also has a great tracking system that tells teachers about how students do on questions they answer from the story. I’ll have a lot more to say about this next week.

Over time, I got in contact with folks from Raz Kids (a Learning A-Z product), including the regional director and even the president of the company. I did a presentation for them when the ILA was in St. Louis, and this year they came out and did a presentation for my ILA group in St. Louis.  That information is given to you as full disclosure of my relationship with the company. Let me get back to the point that this is the kind of software that the teacher controls rather than the other way around. This is important to me. My very first presentation at an ILA conference was in 1985 on the topic of using microcomputers in reading. The computers of that age had nothing like the power of today’s computers, but there were some powerful ideas about how to use this technology. In his book Mindstorms, Seymour Papert proposed an idea that computers should become tools of the mind and that is how they should be used. It was a principle I talked about back then and one that I think should continue to guide all uses of technology. Some folks use their technology almost as electronic flashcards. The scope and sequence is defined by the computer rather than the teacher. I guess that is one way to do it. I think Papert’s way is better. He was a pioneer in using the computer as a thinking tool. The teacher is in charge, not the computer. Mindstorms is still in print and can be found at any number of book sites.


Next week I will try to describe how I use the Raz Kids program as a tool of the mind. To allay the fears of some of my friends who are somewhat reluctant to do any kind of cyber books, I’ll stress that this is not the only reading the kids do and that I really do try to integrate all in a way that results in kids wanting to read everything- paper books as well as cyber books.  This also integrates quite well with what the team is doing in fluency instruction. So, this is Dr. Sam signing off until next week. Happy reading and writing.


Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- maker of MindStorms and other such things)

Copyright 2020 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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