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A view from the Radical Middle: Teachers can (and should) use and learn from and use ideas from what is sometimes viewed as “the other side” by Dr. Sam Bommarito


A view from the Radical Middle: Teachers can (and should) use and learn from and use ideas from what is sometimes viewed as “the other side” by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The current school year has begun with a call to abandon the bad balanced literacy practices we’ve been using and to adopt an intense systematic synthetic phonics approach as the “new” and improved way to teach reading.  I’ve been in the education world since 1970 and seen similar calls from time to time Is it really time to stop using all those balanced literacy/constructivist-based practices and move on to other things? There are some advocates of the Science of Reading approach who think it is. They have been widespread posts to that effect.  Based on the evidence, I must respectively disagree with taking such a course of action.

Understand first of all that I am writing from the perspective of the Radical Middle. That is a term first used by P.D. Pearson. Here is a link to what he said.  In the pdf he says “A second reason for living in the radical middle is the research base supporting it. I read the research implicating authentic reading and writing and find it compelling. I read the research supporting explicit skill instruction and find it equally as compelling. What occurs to me, then, is that there must be a higher order level of analysis in which both of these lines of inquiry can be reconciled.”

My take on this as follows. There are also real benefits to several of the various approaches to beginning reading.  There are also real limitations to every approach. SOME of (not all of) the SoR advocates are acting as if they have found the one way to teach beginning reading and that all other methods are inferior. A close examination of the evidence indicates they have not found the “one size fits all” solution to beginning reading. Let’s consider what is being said on both sides. We’ll start with the balanced reading side (what I am calling the constructivist side)


Leveled Readers USE QUOTE


Reading ROckets Ltr taken from Mary Howad


POINT ONE- SoR folks HAVE NOT established that Balanced Literacy has failed to work.

SoL advocates claim that balance reading has failed. They say the hard-empirical facts do not support the use of balanced literacy/constructivist approaches. What is their evidence? Their logic goes like this.  What we are doing now is not working well (no argument there). Balanced reading is the most used way of doing things, therefore BL has failed us. Sounds plausible but there is a problem. When we look at what is going on now it includes ALL districts.  Some aren’t using BL, some are using it but not doing it well, some are actually already using SoL approaches – you get the idea.  As soon as I point out that SoR sites are included on the current scene SoR folks say, but you must consider what just those sites are doing when evaluating SoR. Fair enough. However, that very same courtesy needs to be extended to the balanced literacy/constructivist sites. Especially since they are the SoR folks the SoR advocates should understand that they need to draw a scientific sample of sites before attempt to make generalizations about the efficacy of any given approach.  In this case, the sample needs to include districts doing BL with fidelity and using best practices in BL/Constructivism.  That hasn’t happened. No such study exists (and may I point out the onus is on the SOL folks to produce such a study) So the flagship of the fleet- the claim that balanced literacy/constructivist practices have failed remains unproven.  As a matter of fact, there is substantial evidence to a contrary point of view.

There is abundant evidence that there are districts using balance literacy and getting good results. Just did an in-service for one such district a couple of weeks ago.  Some SoL try to explain away the existence of such districts as part of the phenomena that some kids succeed no matter what methods are used. REALLY? I must have gotten personally lucky because in the mid-1980s I took part in three different Title 1 programs using BL that won national award for the gains they made. Two of the three were in areas with over 90% free lunch. Today, there are literally hundreds of such programs nationally. This leads me to conclude that the “sometimes anything works explanation” used by some SoL advocates is bogus.”  Also makes me want to double down on my call for that scientific sample of districts using strong constructivist practices before making statements about the “failure” of balanced literacy.  Until and unless studies using such a sample prove BL has failed are presented, we cannot draw the conclusion BL has failed.

POINT TWO- SoR folks have not demonstrated that intense systematic synthetic phonics programs outperform systematic analytic phonics instruction.

What about the claim that ALL children (most children) would be best off using an intense systematic synthetic phonics program?  I’ll begin by saying for the record that when the children we are talking about are children with an actual diagnosis of Dyslexia, this kind of treatment is preferred over treatments using analytic phonics. Using analytic phonics with a dyslexic child is counterproductive. But what about all the other children? In this scenario Analytic phonics is characterized as inferior, an afterthought thrown in by constructivist who finally realized they should include some kind of phonics.  That is essentially the historical narrative proposed by some SoR advocates. Readers are invited to examine chapter 2 in Mary Jo Fresch’s book An Essential History of Current Reading Practices. No mention of using analytic phonics as a weak sister band-aid in that chapter. That chapter was written by folks who are well-credentialed experts in reading, something that is not true of the historical narrative proposed by some SoR advocates.

Also, consider this study on analytic vs synthetic phonics.

According to Torgerson et al., ‘There is currently no strong randomized controlled trial evidence that any one form of systematic phonics is more effective than any other’. This study is one of several all indicating the same thing, systematic analytic phonics is just as effective as systematic synthetic phonics.  BOTTOM LINE research does not support the notion that synthetic phonics should be used EXCLUSIVELY.


POINT THREE- Literacy Leaders Like T. Shanahan advocate that there should be a balance in how time is allotted among the 4 major instructional goals of early reading instruction. This balance should be present from day 1 in 1st-grade literacy instruction.  Not all SoL advocates follow this practice.

Shanahan bases this, in part, on the things gleaned from the NRP report.  Not everyone today is doing it this way. For instance, SOME advocates of the SoR approach to beginning reading seem to want to put more emphasis on word knowledge and much less emphasis on the other three components. I’ve found that such proponents, when pressed will never ever say phonics only. However, their suggestion to delay comprehension instruction until decoding skills are in place is taken a face value, it is difficult to understand how they could maintain the equal time allotment suggested by Shanahan. As a matter of fact, when pressed about the details of that they are evasive in saying exactly how they would spend their time.  The real danger here is that if the overemphasize decoding and underemphasize the other three they are in danger of creating word callers. Just the mention of the term word callers causes them to bristle.  NO SUCH THING. Really? Readers are invited to review the evidence, including detailed information on studies around the topic found in the book Word Callers, and see if they agree. I think a review of the evidence with from this book will lead most readers to conclude that the threat of creating Work Callers is very real if the allotment of time gets out of balance.



POINT FOUR In part because they have little or no training or experience in teaching using constructivist methods SoL advocates often misrepresent what constructivist practices look like and end up presenting incorrect or “straw man” points of view around constructivist practices.

One example of this can be found in my recent presentation to some 500 first grade teachers on how to teach guided reading. Here is the blog entry around that presentation.

The key takeaway from this presentation is that if guided reading is done IAW the principles laid down in Burkins and Yaris’s book Who’s Doing the Work then there is much more to Guided Reading than just the small group using leveled texts. MOST of the time in a complete program of Guided Reading is spent in LARGE GROUP INSTRUCTION using texts AT OR ABOVE GRADE LEVEL. I have to wonder aloud what the finding would be if one took a scientific sample of districts carrying out Guided Reading in this manner. My prediction would be that the results would support the use of constructivist practices outlined in the presentation

I’ll end this with a link to my original post, made over a year ago calling for a Reading Evolution #readingevolution1. Instead of being at loggerheads perhaps what is needed is for BOTH sides to admit their favorite methods have limits and limitations and maybe, just maybe, ideas from the other side might be employed to overcome those limits. Dare to dream!!!!

So, this is Dr. B, speaking from the radical middle, wondering aloud if a Reading Evolution just might be possible.

Dr. Sam Bommarito aka Don Quixote daring to dream the impossible dream

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.






Musings of a workshop teacher, Advice I just gave to some 1st-grade teachers in Houston By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Musings of a workshop teacher, Advice I just gave to some 1st-grade teachers in Houston

By Dr. Sam Bommarito



I’m coming off of what are two of the best days of my professional career. That is saying a lot since my professional career in education began almost 50 years ago, in 1970.

What happened was I was asked to provide PD for some 500 1st grade teachers from a very large district in the Houston Texas area. The teachers were divided into more or less even-sized groups. I gave each group of 60 (approx.)  the same 90 minutes of professional development ideas.  The ideas were designed to enhance their implementation of Guided Reading and Reading/Writing workshop.

My readers are familiar with the fact that in the 1980s I participated in several highly successful Title 1 programs. Those programs won awards from the Secretary of Education.   Receiving that award meant the reading achievement gains for those programs were in the top 1/10 of 1 percent of all Title 1 programs nationally. The programs included the use of the three cueing systems and small group instruction. You can see why I am then skeptical of the claims that research fails to support the use of such methods. How can those results from long ago be so different? I very much suspect it is because of the way the programs were implemented.  As I looked at the Houston program, I saw many things being done that are NOT typical of the way small group guided reading/reading writing workshop is currently viewed and carried out.  My PD for Houston teachers was designed to enhance some of their already good practices. Looking at what I said in Houston might help in the creation of a new exemplar program for constructivist-based practices, an enhanced model for balanced literacy. My belief is that doing studies around the efficacy of constructivist based balanced literacy programs including those characteristics would yield very different results than those being reported about constructivist practices. Simply put- the critics are not looking at the best of the best when studying the efficacy of the constructivist programs. Let’s look at a couple of the takeaways from my recent PD work.

Characteristic Number One: The programs included a balance among the 4 major instructional goals of early reading instruction and does so from the outset.


On a number of occasions, Shanahan has advocated having equal time for the 4 instructional goals with each goal getting equal time from the very outset of the reading instruction in first grade. He bases this, in part, on the things gleaned from the NRP report.  Not everyone today is doing it this way. For instance, SOME advocates of the SoR approach to beginning reading seem to want to put more emphasis on word knowledge and much less emphasis on the other three components. I’ve found that such proponents, when pressed will never ever say phonics only. HOWEVER, they are reluctant to commit to the equal time idea and evasive about how they actually spend their instructional time.  That is actually a topic for a whole other blog.

For this blog, suffice it to say when talking to the Houston folks on this point I was “preaching to the choir”.  My main message to them on this point was to keep doing as they are already doing it. Decoding and meaning-making/fluency/writing should be taught CONCURRENTLY from day one of 1st grade.  Doing it that way can and does improve overall reading achievement.

Characteristic Number Two- Implementation of a COMPLETE program of Guided reading, not just the small group component some programs concentrate on.

As part of the implementation of the successful Title 1 programs I took part in a 4-year program of training in reading/writing workshop given by cadre from the Teacher’s College. My district trained all their Title 1 staff so that they, in turn, could train the classroom teachers. Here is the single most important takeaway I got from those 4 years of training:


P.D. Pearson developed the idea of the gradual release of responsibility.  Nowhere does that idea work better than when teachers do PLANNED AND CONSCIOUS scaffolding as part of the lesson plans they are creating.  It turned out that Burkins and Yaris have written a book, based on a very similar premise. I recommended to the Houston staff that they take a very careful look at that book and what it had to say. Essentially the book details how to make better use of instructional time within an overall program of Guided Reading. As you can see from the slide above, I was able to share with the book’s authors the fact that they were building on advice that workshop trainers had been giving for years. I am so fortunate to be in St. Louis where our local ILA group is active in bringing speakers in that talk about the latest in literacy practices.  The slide below details the very good advice I hoped the Houston teachers would glean from the Burkins and Yaris book.



The next two slides deal with the very important issue that Guided Reading is more than the “at the instructional level small group” that is most often associated with the term Guided Reading:



I tried to emphatically make the point that Guided Reading includes ALL the activities listed on the inside cover of the F&P book on the topic. Many of these activities are done in WHOLE-GROUP, using grade level or higher texts. Critics who say guided reading doesn’t provide challenging texts are basing that criticism on one small part of the overall Guided Reading Program.  Back in the day when I did my PD for our classroom teachers, I emphasized the point that MOST OF THE READING DONE IN GUIDED READING SHOULD NOT BE IN LEVELED READERS. Most of the reading comes in the Read Alouds, Think Alouds et al.  Burkins and Yaris make the important point that if we use that time in the whole group setting to lay the groundwork for teaching strategies (e.g. strategies for handling complex text) so that when the time comes for small group we won’t have to load all that work into the small group setting.  Small group can become what it is meant to be- the place where we take the final step to scaffold readers into learning to use the various strategies independently.


So- there was more,  but those are a couple of important highlights.  I have to wonder aloud if one studied “enhanced” guided reading/reading workshop programs, enhanced by the suggestions made in books like Burkins and Yaris, if we would still find including small group instruction, conferencing, following the child and other such constructivists practices were ineffective?  I think before the total abandonment of constructivist practices being called for by some today is carried out, that constructivists at least deserve some studies to see if there is such a thing as effective balanced literacy. Such studies need to be conducted around the best of the best in constructivist practices.  I’ll be picking up on that theme in my next blog entry.

In the meantime, Happy Reading and Writing

Doctor Sam Bommarito (aka the “enhance workshop not replace it”  guy)

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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.



Nerd Camp:  Summer Camp for Book Lovers by Sarah Johnson, Reading Specialist, Trautwein Elementary School

I’m just back from Houston Texas, where I did professional development this week for some 500 first grade teachers. I’ll be blogging about that next week. Knowing I would be out of town, I asked St. Louis Regional ILA board member Sara Johnson to prepare a blog entry about a very special event she attended this summer, The Nerd Camp: Summer Camp for Book Lovers. Read all about it. She’s even included tips on how to get registered for next year’s event.



Nerd Camp:  Summer Camp for Book Lovers

by Sarah Johnson, Reading Specialist, Trautwein Elementary School


I first heard about Nerd Camp several years ago from Donalyn Miller. I promised myself that one summer I would go. This year I decided 2019 would be the year. At 4 a.m. on February 1st, I woke up, logged on and reserved one of the tickets before they were gone.

Fast forward to July 7 and I made the 8-hour drive to Michigan. As much as I had read about what to expect, nothing really prepared me for how inspiring my first Nerd Camp would be. I arrived an hour early on Monday morning and discovered around 800 people already lined up to get in the door. Luckily, the weather was beautiful and the crowd was friendly.

A little background for those who haven’t heard about this event. nErDcampMI (Nerdy + EdCamp, Michigan chapter) grew out of the online Nerdy Book Club. If you’re not familiar with the Nerdy Book Club, I recommend you go online and start following this wonderful site. At nErDcampMI, educators join with award winning authors and illustrators for two days to celebrate the power of reading. Nerd Camp is free and run entirely by a team of volunteers led by the husband and wife team of Colby and Alaina Sharp. The Nerd Camp experience is unlike any other conference I have attended — the level of excitement over books and their creators was inspiring.

Day One has a pretty traditional conference set up. After the volunteers checked in around 1,800 people at 9 a.m., there was plenty of time to snag a good seat in the gym for the opening ceremony. The day’s events began with an author panel discussing the topic Feminism for All: A Discussion of Feminism in Schools, KidLit, and the World. This was followed by the opening ceremony which included Nerd Talks by Laurie Halse Anderson, Cece Bell, Minh Le, and Donalyn Miller.

Participants had the opportunity to attend 3 sessions in the afternoon. There were numerous options and after a lot of deliberation I attended Think Big With Think Alouds presented by Dr. Molly Ness; Peace, Joy and Books: Read-Aloud Experiences to Nurture the Heart and Mind presented by Dr. Maria Walther; and Now What? Helping Students Become and Remain Passionate Readers presented by Pernille Ripp. These are three authors I have read and followed for several years so having the opportunity to hear them speak on the same day was pretty thrilling for me.

During breaks, there was plenty of time to browse the books available from Bookbug, an independent book store in Kalamazoo. They had an incredible array of books created by the authors and illustrators attending Nerd Camp. On Tuesday, they restocked so there were plenty of copies for anyone who missed out on Monday.

Monday closed with an extremely talented high school student named Evan Struck who “speed painted” a custom portrait of author Jason Reynolds. Jason then closed the first day with a short talk and took a few questions from the audience. At 5 p.m., the author signings began.



Day Two is an edcamp or (un)conference experience. Until you arrive on Tuesday, you don’t know what types of sessions will be offered. Anyone can propose a session. Educators and authors line up on the gym floor and pitch a session topic to the assembled crowd. The only rule is that whoever pitches an idea facilitates the discussion. Once all of the sessions have been proposed, you decide which you want to attend. There is time to attend two sessions in the morning. After lunch, the process is repeated again for the two afternoon sessions. As with other edcamps, “vote with your feet” is the rule of the day. If you end up in a session that doesn’t meet your needs, you simply get up and find another session — no hurt feelings. After a quick closing session the day ended around 4 p.m. After the educators leave, volunteers set up for the Nerd Camp Jr. event that is held Tuesday evening. This year, 1,500 students from grades 1-12 had the opportunity to engage with authors and illustrators. Nerd Camp Jr. is funded entirely by donations.

Children’s authors and illustrators were available throughout both days and were incredibly generous with their time. They didn’t just sign books — they genuinely wanted to talk to teachers and librarians about their books and the children who read them.

Lasting Impressions:

If you want to engage in thoughtful conversations with people whose primary focus is improving literacy experiences for all kids, I highly recommend attending Nerd Camp. If you feel like you are sometimes on an island where you teach, Nerd Camp will connect you with other passionate book lovers. If you want to have your thinking about teaching and texts challenged, Nerd Camp is the place for you.

Donalyn Miller challenged educators to work on behalf of all children.  She reminded educators that we don’t just sign a contract with a school district. “Our contract is with society and ALL of its children.” I will keep her words in mind as I navigate the upcoming school year  and think about her two questions when presented with new directives or consider new teaching practices:  “Is this good for kids?” and “Can you share the research that is informing your decision?”

Practical Things to Know if You Want to Attend Nerd Camp:

First, start following Nerd Camp and Colby Sharp on Facebook and Twitter for updates. Nerd Camp is always held the Monday and Tuesday after July 4th. Next year’s dates are July 6-7, 2020. Tickets will be available on February 1 at 4 a.m. (CST). Tickets are usually gone within 2 hours so set your alarm!

Nerd Camp is held at Western High School, 1400 South Dearing Road, in Parma, Michigan. Parma is a very small town with no hotels or motels.  There is a gas station and a Subway sandwich shop.

Jackson, Michigan is about 10 miles east of Parma. There are numerous hotels, restaurants and some shopping venues in Jackson. There are also a couple of hotels in Albion about 10 miles west of Parma. Albion is much smaller than Jackson so dining and shopping options are very limited. Dorm rooms are also available at Albion College. These rooms are very affordable and might work for some people. I like air-conditioning and my own bathroom so I opted for the Comfort Inn & Suites in Jackson. It took me about 15 minutes to drive to Parma each morning.

If you prefer to fly, there are several airports that might work depending on your departure city. Most of the airports are 50 miles or more from the Parma area. A rental car would be necessary for those who chose to fly. After some research and discovering that flights were in the $300.00 plus range, I decided to drive. From the St. Louis area it took about 8 hours. It was an easy drive and I used the time to listen to several podcasts.

I went on my own and had a great time, but I realize not everyone may be comfortable doing that. Nerd Campers are friendly, and I didn’t have any shortage of people to talk to. Many people do attend in groups with their colleagues. If you don’t like traveling alone, recruit a friend or two and go to Nerd Camp. It is definitely worth the time and effort.

Reader from Nerdy Book Club


Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of myself and the guest blogger 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

Cutting Through the Gordian Knot of Phonics Instruction by Dr. Sam Bommarito


Cutting Through the Gordian Knot of Phonics Instruction by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Right now, I’m on the mend from a back injury from swimming. I’ve had better weeks!  The doc says there is no permanent damage, I just need to rest and complete some P.T. This is a repost of a previous blog with one important update on recommended books in phonics instruction and a list of the blog posts where I criticize positions taken by SOME advocates of the Science of Reading.    

For the past several years I’ve taught in the BTAP program. BTAP (Beginning Teachers Assistance Program) is carried out once or twice a year by Harris Stowe University for beginning teachers in the St Louis Public Schools.  Here is some of what I had to say to them last week about teaching beginning reading.

There has been a concern from the ILA that the issue of teaching phonics has been politicized.


Take away one: There is more than one approach to teaching phonics.

Educators Guide To Phonics


Approaches Include English Orthography, Analytic phonics and Synthetic phonics. The latter two are the current most used approaches. Teachers need to be aware of and trained in all of the approaches to teaching phonics.

Take away two: In spite of claims to the contrary there is not a one size fits all solution to teaching beginning reading:

Some simple view proponents claim synthetic phonics is the one size fits all solution for teaching beginning reading.

The Facts:

  • England has mandated synthetic phonics for several years. Scores have improved. However, there are still significant numbers of students who do not thrive using synthetic phonics. The promised 100% or near 100% success rates have never been realized.
  • Studies claiming enormous gains in “reading” by using synthetic phonics approaches are often based on testing instruments like the Dibels. Dibels is a test of decoding, not a test of reading. On multiple occasions I have called for decisions about program adoptions be based on studies using widely accepted tests of reading comprehension (not decoding) and that those studies demonstrate gains in comprehension scores over more than one year.
  • Research has not demonstrated synthetic phonics is superior to analytic phonics. Jonathan Glazzard reports the following:


“According to Torgerson et al., ‘There is currently no strong randomized controlled trial evidence that any one form of systematic phonics is more effective than any other’ (2006: 49). Research evidence which is available is insufficient to allow for reliable judgments to be made about the efficiency of different approaches to systematic phonics instruction (Stuart, 2006). “

Taken from:

Take away number three: Teachers need to learn about how to teach using both analytic and synthetic phonics

On several occasions, I have proposed an explanation for why over the past five decades the pendulum of how to teach beginning reading swings between the two most used forms of phonics instruction analytic phonics and synthetic phonics.  It is because what works for different children varies. Some children seem to need no phonics instruction at all (this a VERY SMALL part of the overall student population). Some seem to thrive on either of the two methods. Some thrive on programs using only synthetic phonics (I suspect this may be the largest number of students). Some thrive on programs using only analytic phonics (see my blog entry on the tale of two children:

My analysis of what has been happening over the years is that problems occur when proponents of either method (synthetic or analytic) insist that ONLY their method be used. Whichever is chosen, there will be some children for whom the method does not work. Once that becomes apparent, it results in calls to “throw out the old and bring in the new.” Usually, enough time passes that folks have forgotten the “new” didn’t work for everyone either.  The common-sense approach here is to allow both approaches and to train teachers, in both.  We should allow teachers to use both approaches within the confines of whatever literacy program a district may adopt.

Take away number four: Whether they are teaching analytic or synthetic phonics, teachers still need to know about sound-symbol relations.

One excellent source for this is Dorothy Strickland’s book Teaching Phonics Today: A Primer for Educators. It even includes a self-test over basic knowledge about phonics. It is also available in a newer edition that includes more recent research around the topic. Both editions are readily available on book sites like Amazon.

Strickland Phonics

Since writing this original post another book has come out that I think will become a go-to book for all teachers teaching beginning phonics. This book is readily available both at Heinemann and on Amazon.

Letter Lessons & First Word


Take away number five: The decision on which form of phonics instruction to use is best made at the district level. Whichever phonics approach is chosen it must be done systematically.

Regular readers of the blog are aware that my blogging partner, Dr. Kerns, prefers analytic phonics as the mainstream program. I prefer synthetic.  Whichever program is chosen it is crucial that provisions be made for the students who do not thrive using the chosen approach.  This can be accomplished by differentiating classroom instruction and by use of a tiered system of providing instruction.   I strongly recommend that in the instance where a district might choose the analytic approach that Tier Two and Tier three options be made available for Dyslexic students. The warning is also given that analytic phonics programs, which are often taught in an “as needed” way, still need to include a system for assuring that throughout the beginning reading instruction all the key phonics elements are covered. In this way, the analytic phonics can still be systematic.


Making this presentation last weekend has allowed me to synthesize in one place all the things I’ve been saying over the past few months about what beginning reading instruction should look like. It is a commonsense approach.  Fit the program to the child, not the other way round.  Don’t force selected children to use methods that don’t work for them. Don’t “jump to extremes” in selecting methods.  Follow the path of what I have come to call the Reading Evolution. Instead of throwing everything out and starting over, tweak things until they work for you and your district.

Also, consider this series of posts that questions the positions taken by SOME, not all, of the proponents of the “Science of Reading”

This previous post best sums up what I see as the limits and limitations of the Science of Reading point of view expressed by some of the proponents of Science of reading.

See also

To talk about the Reading Evolution on Twitter or Facebook, please use the following hashtag #ReadingEvolution1.  I’ll be looking forward to reading some of your comments.


Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the middle of the road guy)

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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.













Reading Against the Text in a Supportive Classroom Community By Dr. William Kerns



As many of you know- I am a bit under the weather- a root canal is coming. UGH! But I am getting by with a little help from my friends (and co-blogger!). It is timely and well worth the read!!! Dr. Sam 

Reading Against the Text in a Supportive Classroom Community


William Kerns


In this blog I wish to stress the importance of teachers and students alike engaging in reflective thinking while learning to read the word and read the world, as advocated by Freire (1973; see also Freire & Macedo, 1987). This means building strong literacy skills but in the context of reading and communication that is socially and culturally meaningful. As part of this type of instruction, teaches should build positive communication with families and community members. The approach advocated in this blog is one in which dialogue with families enriches the curriculum, including the development of learning objectives and content, with both teachers and parents viewing each other as experts and resources in a relationship of mutual respect (Swap, 1993).

Readers engage in a transaction with text that is situational, shaped by activity, context, and sociocultural-historical factors (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Smagorinsky, 2001). Scholes (1985) differentiated between interpretations of text that involve reading within a text and interpretations that involve engaged reading against a text. Reading against a text enables an examination of the way that language use can serve to perpetuate patterns of discrimination and inequitable power distribution in schools. Teachers who promote reading against a text can share with students, families, and community members a common determination for meeting the challenges of using reflection and inquiry to continually learn and continually seek to improve the society in which we live.

The promotion of reading against a text includes the establishment of a supportive environment for reflection in which students learn to take control and responsibility for their own learning. Steps that I recommend taking to promote reflective thinking and reflective teaching include the following: establishing a supportive environment within the classroom for reflective thinking and for inquiry; guiding students to learn about the role of reflection in learning and development of concepts such as identity and moral decision making; guiding students through the conduct of systematic reflection and inquiry; and encouraging students in their development of dispositions involved in the conduct of reflection and inquiry.

Promotion of presence is an important part of the process of cultivating within students the ability to read against a text. Rodgers and Raider-Roth (2006) define presence as “a state of alert awareness, receptivity, and connectedness to the mental, emotional, and physical iterations of the individual and the group with the world and each other, and the ability to respond with a considered and compassionate best next step” (p. 266). A teacher with presence can observe students as they engage in activities, gathering information used as data, and make instructional choices based on an analysis of this data. Further, a teacher with presence builds a caring, trustworthy relationship through a wholehearted (Dewey, 1986) commitment to learning with and responding to students.

Teachers and students alike can cultivate presence within the supportive context of a caring classroom community. The concept of presence emphasizes reflectiveness and inquiry as well as compassion in responses during the context of activities that include teaching or dialogue. Teachers who develop presence are alert to the needs of students and have a heightened sense of self-awareness. Students with presents are alert to the needs of peers and have a heightened self-awareness. Presence is not limited to classroom contexts. Presence can be cultivated as a part of daily life and daily interactions. A teacher wishing to encourage presence among students needs to model presence. Dialogue that is open to an exchange of ideas based on mutual respect is an important aspect of presence.

Dispositions involved in inquiry should be promoted. To foster the development of reflective thinking as a habit among students, teachers should be open to new ideas and understandings. Over time, a teacher may experience a paradigm shift related to views on social justice, race, gender and gender roles, poverty, or other matters.  A teacher or a student who engages in reflective thinking as a habit develops the dispositions of open-mindedness, whole-heartedness, responsibility (Dewey, 1986) and directness (Dewey, 1980). Open-mindedness, as understood by Dewey, is a willingness to rethink ideas based on inquiry. Reading against a text requires a student (or a teacher!) to exhibit wholeheartedness, or an in-depth commitment of personal and emotional resources when inquiring into key social and cultural themes within a text. However, commitment is not enough without responsibility. A sense of responsibility entails taking seriously the moral choices faced by habitually evaluating how actions may bring about desired or undesired consequences. Dewey urged an attitude of directness, or faith that actions grounded in the conduct of inquiry and the process of reflective thinking are worth taking for the benefit of a just society.

It’s important to read against a text when encountering stereotypes that may previously be unexamined. Often, for example, a student may genuinely consider himself to be “not racist” while failing to challenge stereotypes within a text. For example, stereotypes about poverty intersect with stereotypes about race in a nasty web that can have a deeply detrimental impact on students when the deficit model influences instruction.

Race and poverty are addressed in this blog from a multiculturalist perspective in that I emphasize the value of cultivating cross-group and cross-race mutual understandings and shared interests (Hartmann & Gerties, 2005). Socially constructed racial identities can be sources of misunderstanding and tension, yet there are social interventions that can reduce the effects of prejudice (Allport, 1954). Race is viewed for the purpose of this blog as a socio-cultural construct rather than biological. There are widely varying ways of defining race in the literature (Markus, 2008).

Poverty is commonly defined based on income thresholds (Brady, 2003). These definitions are problematic given that thresholds fail to adequately account for different needs of families whose incomes are both below the thresholds or above the thresholds. The lived experience of people who are classified as living in various types of poverty, such as urban poverty, rural poverty, situational poverty, or generational poverty, can widely vary. Further complicating discussions on poverty, different people can view the same reality and yet their social constructions of this reality and representations of this reality might be very different (Leeuwen, 2016).

We must watch out for the insidious impact of deficit perspectives. Valencia (2014) defines a deficit perspective as a stance that: “the student who fails in school does so because of his/her internal deficits or deficiencies. Such deficits manifest, adherents allege, in limited intellectual abilities, linguistic shortcomings, lack of motivation to learn, and immoral behavior” (p. 6-7). A deficit perspective within a text which accentuates weakness of people who are characterized as “living in poverty: poisons teaching-and-learning interactions as well as teacher-parent interactions (Gorski, 2011). For example, classroom teachers tend to underestimate the cognitive ability of children who are growing up in poverty (Ready & Wright, 2011). Additionally, many teachers in high poverty urban schools view the families and home communities of their students as obstacles to their students’ success and so they distance themselves from families and community members (Hyland & Meacham, 2004).

A deficit perspective contributes to a pattern of seeking to “change the victim” and “blame the victim” (Ryan, 1971). Such a deficit perspective historically is a predominant one in US discourse on poverty (De Goede, 1996) which frequently is reflected in texts read by students. According to Katz, who investigated the deficit perspective related to discourse on welfare reform, “debate has focused on ameliorating the condition of disadvantaged people with income supports and social services and on eradicating the cultural traits that retard their economic progress” (1989, p. 208). When storylines about the poor highlight claimed moral or behavioral deficiencies the focus turns toward ways of reforming the poor rather than a focus on reforming the socio-economic and political structures (Katz, 1995).

When many teachers enter the profession, they are trained for working with families and students who live in poverty through Ruby Payne’s framework that makes use of stereotypes (Bohn, 2007; Gorski, 2007), a deficit model (Bomer et. al., 2008; Dudley-Marling, 2007; Gorski 2006, 2008; Kunjufu, 2007; McKnight, 2006; Ng & Rury, 2006; Osei-Kofei, 2005) and which contains inaccurate scholarship (Bomer et. al., 2008; Dudley-Marling, 2007; Montano, 2006).


Stereotypes include the image of parents who do not plan for the child’s education. I am struck by the following claim made by Payne (2008): Individuals in poverty usually have a strong belief in fate and destiny. Therefore, to expect changed behavior after a parent-teacher conference is, in most cases, a false hope” (pg. 23). If a teacher believes, as Payne claims, that an expectation of changed behavior after a parent-teacher conference represents a false hope then it may inhibit that teacher from communication with the family in a manner that expresses genuine hope for positive outcomes.

Instead of the deficit perspective, tap into the background knowledge – the schema – of students while building meaningful bridges between the families and what children experience at school (Gay, 2002; Howard, 2003). An important factor in overcoming deficit model approaches and instead, drawing on the strengths of a family and the community to be culturally responsive.

Cultural differences and language differences can cause teachers to form low perceptions of parental interest in school involvement (Halgunseth, 2009). Efforts to increase communication and family involvement should be shaped to the needs of the community (Auerbach, 2009). Teachers improve communication with students and parents by frequently reaching out in positive dialogue that builds comfort in the conversation. Parent involvement increases when teachers talk with families in order to provide instruction within the context of the family’s culture and knowledge base (St. Claire & Jackson, 2007).

Reading against a text is a valuable aspect of literacy which is socially and culturally meaningful to students. The fostering of ongoing reading against a text takes time. It is unrealistic to expect paradigm shifts for students in one class session. However, I do believe that the heightened awareness that is associated with reading against a text is a vital aspect of the educational journey.

Schools are cultural hubs where students can learn to see beyond socioeconomic and racial differences and to spot the flaws in deficit-oriented thinking. This can be done through careful means. But it starts with teachers understanding their roles as cultural role models (Banks, 2015). Teachers can overcome cultural obstacles by using dynamic, emergent, and interactional teaching to engage students and help bridge the gap between students. This will, in turn, allow students to become more engaged in the mentor/mentee partnership and instill positive relationship knowledge in the student.



Dr. William Kerns.
> Assistant Professor of Education
> College of Education and Health Professions
> University of Arkansas-Little Rock

Aug 2019


Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito/Dr. William Kerns. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of the author of this piece 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.




It’s Time to Revive the Radical Middle & Finally End the Reading Wars by Dr. Sam Bommarito


It’s Time to Revive the Radical Middle & Finally End the Reading Wars by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The work of P.D. Pearson, a researcher is best known for developing the gradual release model, once again is coming to the forefront of literacy instruction. The most recent issue of the Reading Teacher contains an excellent article entitled Thirty- Five Years of the Gradual Release of Responsibility:  Scaffolding Toward Complex and Responsive Teaching by Sandra Webb, Dixie Massey, Melinda Goggans, & Kelly Flajole. The Reading Teacher Vol. 73 No. 1 pp. 75–83. I predict it will turn into a must-read for all literacy teachers. I bring up this article because I feel some of the current iterations of the Reading Wars are putting the work of centrists like Pearson and Pressley, in jeopardy. I see us as traveling away from views of reading as making meaning and comprehension as something to be TAUGHT not just practiced, back to views of reading as decoding. The logic goes if a reading is at a child’s reading level the child already has all the background they need to understand it. I just had that argument used on me by a proponent of the SoR. The problem is that flies in the face of decades of research indicating learning decoding does not AUTOMATICALLY lead to comprehension.  On one point the SoR (Science of Reading) folks and I agree, reading is not a natural process, it must be taught. It seems that at least some of the SoR folks think that mainly applies to decoding. I, along with tons of teachers from what I am about to call the Radical Middle, believe it applies also to the teaching (as opposed to practicing) of comprehension. Teaching comprehension requires teaching comprehension strategies. For a great example of that see @ReadingShanahan on teaching summarizing  I’ll concede in advance that some teachers can and do fail to see the forest for the trees, getting so lost in strategy instruction that they fail to take the lesson to its’ logical conclusion, applying the strategy and building background knowledge in the process. Shanahan makes no such mistake.  Properly done teaching comprehension strategies is a powerful tool. Back in the day (70’s & 80’s) Durkin found that teachers of the day spent almost all their time practicing comprehension (think answering comprehension questions). Durkin’s work was built upon by Pearson/Pressley and others. Thanks to them teaching comprehension now includes teaching comprehension strategies. I think we could do with a little replication of Durkin’s work today. Let’s find out exactly what the proponents of different approaches to teaching reading are actually doing with their instructional time, especially with their youngest readers.

Here is an example of what I think early readers should be doing:

Taken from a PBS for Parents  interview by Deborah Farmer Kris: “I recently spoke with Boushey, and she told me that reading isn’t just about sounding out words. It’s also about understanding the story and drawing connections between the story and your life or the world around you. Strong readers find meaning in the text.” Use the link to see full interview

For decades the reading wars raged around analytic phonics vs synthetic phonics (the view that most constructivists oppose phonics is not supported by an actual review of the history of the reading wars). My initial analysis of why the reading wars persist is that whichever side became the current soup de jour, folks at the extreme insisted ONLY their way be used. The result was that there were always kids for whom the soup de jour failed to work. Next step- out with the old in with the new. Usually, enough time passed for folks to forget that the soup de jour hadn’t worked for everyone last time around. Currently, things have gotten a bit more complex, another group, who I label the orthographic advocates have become a movement in their own right.  So now instead of swinging, the pendulum is circling just like a Foucault pendulum. The problem still remains. Until and unless each side is willing to admit its ways have limits and limitations the wars will continue.

Lately, on many occasions, I’ve asked all sides to produce studies showing their ways work for almost all kids. None has. “You’re being unfair and unrealistic Dr. Sam,” they say. But remember Dr. Sam is first and foremost a reading teacher/specialist/staff developer who for a couple of decades was charged with helping the kids for whom the main programs didn’t work. Pretty successful at it. Different programs at different times. Gives me the perspective that whichever of the big three a district might choose to adopt there will be children who need something else. I think we’re bright enough to handle that inside a 3-tier system handling most of the “other kids” needs in tiers two and three and with some clever differentiation in tier one.

So- I think it’s time to remember the Radical Middle.  It’s not my term, it belongs to P.D. Pearson. Here is a link to his article about it  I believe it first appeared in 2001. It’s worth the read. I don’t know about you but I’m quite ready to join the radical middle. I’m ready for all sides to stop debating and start talking. I’m ready for the upcoming Reading Evolution #ReadingEvolution1. Here’s a blog post summarizing what I’ve had to say about the Reading Evolution so far.

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

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Please note: Dr. Sam is a bit under the weather- working on 2 root canals (UGH!). Getting by with a little help from my friends in the next two weeks.  Dr. Kerns is making a return appearance next week and the week after Sarah Valter will be telling all about this year’s Nerd camp. I will be resuming my posts after that. THANKS TO MY TWO FRIENDS FOR FILLING IN, I think you will enjoy what they have to say!















Striving Toward an Anti-Racist Pedagogy in Literacy By Doctor William Kerns

The next few weeks are going to be interesting. This week my blogging partner Dr. William Kerns gives his views on an important issue in literacy. Sometime in the next few weeks, I will be blogging about the topic- The Reading Wars: A New View from the Radical Middle. Radical Middle is a term first used by P.D. Pearson, the creator of the gradual release model. So, stay tuned, lots of good things coming! Dr. Sam




In this blog, I take a stance that as teachers, it is imperative to engage in ongoing self-reflection and exploration about race. This is a crucial step in order to engage in teaching that is actively anti-racist. The topic is imperative to consider considering the news of this week, but I would not wish to view a discussion of critical literacy (Kuby, 2013; Luke, 2018; Wallowitz, 2008) and transgressive pedagogy (hooks, 1994) as limited to only times when discussions of the role of race in politics and society make headlines. Instead, I argue in favor of foregrounding anti-racist pedagogy and critical literacy in an ongoing manner as a teacher.


This is a challenging task. Thankfully, there are a wealth of recent books that explore strategies for being an anti-racist teacher who helps students to explore difficult discussions and texts on the topic (Ahmed, 2018; Brookfield, 2018; Kay, 2018; Minor, 2018; Okun, 2010; Tatum, 2017). In taking on the challenge, it would also be wise to explore literature related to racism in the United States (Kendi, 2017; Ortiz, 2018) and literature that can provide guidance in reflecting about the difficult topic of race (DiAngelo & Dyson, 2018).


I believe in the importance of teachers openly and honestly investigating our beliefs in relation to teaching practices. This includes, for white educators, such as me, openly confronting issues of white privilege and interrogating whether white fragility or even the white gaze might come into play. It also means listening – always being open to learning.  Key questions we might ask include: What are my fundamental beliefs about education including reading education and language arts? How do these beliefs shape my teaching? Underlying these questions are also questions about stances on diversity, race, ethnicity, and whether you view it as important to activity be anti-racist as an educator. Why or why not.  There are possible tensions and challenges that arise as you consider ways to be anti-racist while helping students gain knowledge and skill that they will need.  In addressing these questions, follow-up questions to address can include: What assumptions do we make about people around us – the adults and the children? It is imperative to be anti-racist, rather than merely making a claim to be non-racist. Otherwise, activities can wind up supporting racist narritives without questioning the narratives. The educational choices we make in the classroom are not neutral. The very claim to be neutral itself is an act of privilege, exercising the power to claim neutrality while making underlying choices about what texts to use, whose voices will be heard.


I believe in the need to raise the question of voice by asking who is considered legitimate to speak on a certain issue and who is silenced within a curriculum as an aspect of being an anti-racist teacher. Is it possible that a curriculum might condone or support racist structures or racist assumptions? I also believe that it is important for teachers and students alike (and together!) to develop the skills to examine language used about issues such as race and racial identities in various texts and contexts. Race is a socio-cultural construct grounded in Colonialism and in systems of oppression. An anti-racist approach which includes ongoing self-reflection as a teacher will aid teachers as they respond to the diverse ways that children are impacted by life-conditions.


In order to be anti-racist as a teacher, I believe that it is important to examine discursive practices, or episodes in action and rules – made explicit or implicit – related to who has a voice and who does not, as well as things that are deemed acceptable to be said or that are deemed unacceptable (Young & Ortega, 2009). This can help teachers to explore underlying beliefs regarding race that shape educational practices.  The discourses about children and parents who are of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds provide a framework for further communication about aspects of the reality of lives of students, and the reality of teaching.  Discourses on race are shaped by social structures, and in turn discourse can either support or change those social structures (Fairclough, 2013). So, in practice, this means listening and engaging in dialogue with students while engaging with diverse texts. It also means providing the context within the learning environment for students to be empowered and to be heard.


Freire and Macedo (1987) argue that an emancipatory approach to literacy does not merely focus on the mechanical skills of reading and writing, the classical traits of what it means to be a well-educated person, or even the joy and comprehension of reading a text. These approaches to literacy are insufficient for education to have an emancipatory rather than an oppressive impact. Instead, in an emancipatory pedagogy, an emphasis is placed on a critical analysis the text and of social structures in order to “read the word and read the world”. I would argue that to be anti-racist as an educator of literacy and English Language Arts, an emancipatory approach is needed. Crucially, Giroux (1992) argues that this voice is best enabled when the student engages in communication in his or her own primary language (or dialect).


The journey of self-discovery and reflection never ends. Each of us has our own story. Let’s take the anti-racist journey together. Let’s stand together. Our students deserve it.




Ahmed, S.K. (2018). Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Brookfield, S.D. (2018). Teaching Race: How to Help Students Unmask and Challenge Racism. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


DiAngelo, R., & Dyson, M.E. (2018). White Fragility Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.


Fairclough, Norman (2013) (Second Edition). Analyzing Discourse: Textual analysis for social research, London: Routledge.


Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.


Giroux, H. A., & McLaren, P. (1991). Radical pedagogy as cultural politics: Beyond the discourse of critique and anti-utopianism. In D. Morton & M. Zavarzadeh (Eds.), Theory/pedagogy/politics (pp. 152-186). Chicago: University of Illinois Press.


hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.


Kay, M.R. (2018). Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.


Kendi, I.X. (2017). Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Bay City, MI: Bold Type Books.


Kuby, C.R., (2013). Critical Literacy in the Early Childhood Classroom: Unpacking Histories, Unlearning Privilege. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Kurashige, L. (2016). Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.


Luke, A. (2018). Critical Literacy, Schooling, and Social Justice: The Selected Works of Allan Luke. New York, NY: Routledge.


Minor, C. (2018). We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to BE Who Our Students Need Us to Be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Okun, T. (2010). The Emperor Has No Clothes: Teaching About Race and Racism to People Who Don’t Want to Know. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.


Ortiz, P. (2018). An African American and Latinx History of the United States. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.


Tatum, B.D. (2017). Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race. New York, NY: Basic Books.


Young, R.F., & Ortega, L. (Eds.) (2009). Discursive Practice in Language Learning and Teaching. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


Wallowitz, L. (2008). Critical Literacy as Resistance: Teaching for Social Justice Across the Secondary Curriculum. New York, NY: Peter Lang.


Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the views of this author & his guest bloggers.  They 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.

Working Together: Addressing Challenges in Literacy through Teamwork by Doctor William Kerns

reading creatuve commons

The wonderful ILA chat this week inspired my blogging partner, Dr. William Kerns, to write the following entry. In order to get it out to everyone in a timely manner, we’re doing this extra blog post this weekend. ENJOY

Dr. Sam

Working Together: Addressing Challenges in Literacy through Teamwork

William Kerns

The debate over phonics represents one of numerous challenges that threatens to narrow the curriculum in P-12 schools and in higher education. In early childhood, teachers face pressure to conform to a narrow view of reading instruction that is based on a Simple View of Reading, which takes decoding and language comprehension into account but, in this author’s opinion, fails to adequately account for the many ways that social-cultural experiences shape and reshape the way that a child reads. This pressure is combined with pressures to “teach to the test” in order to achieve certain scores on high stakes examinations.

I do not intend to offer a panacea for this situation in this short blog. In fact, any attempt at offering a panacea would run counter to my belief that one-size-fits-all solutions are themselves potentially harmful to students. I situate myself in the social-constructivist school for reading and language arts. This blog’s proposed plan of action is also situated within a social constructivist understanding of reading and the overall language arts.

We need to work together. This collaboration should include work among P-12 teachers and university professors within a school and within a district. This tends to already be emphasized in schools, especially among teachers who instruct the same grade level. The collaboration I call for is not only local, but also statewide and national.

Dialogue through social media is a powerful tool.  By virtue of reading this blog online, I am presuming that most if not all readers of this blog are active in online communications with fellow educators. This can be the start of a type of professional learning community in which strategies and resources are actively shared. It can also be the start of an inquiry community, in which research efforts are performed in collaboration together even among people at a geographic distance from one another. Along with this collaboration comes increased voice.

Mutual support is vital. This can take the form of basic friendships, even among those of us who have not actually met in person. We all get tired and discouraged at times. We need one another as a support base.

Finally, comes perhaps the hardest part. Public advocacy of literacy education even among those with whom we might strongly disagree. An important aspect of fighting for the active, engaging, constructivist approaches to education that readers of this blog are likely to favor is through dialogue and through example. The thing with dialogue is that it works best when both sides of a dialogue feel mutually respected. The collaboration that I advocate is, in many ways, already occurring. However, I advocate that the collaboration should become increasingly systematic and strategic. Teamwork will help produce increased research. Increased dialogue. Increased awareness. In a sense, we each are ambassadors of literacy education. We each have a role to play. And who knows, we might even enjoy this process along the way. We need to come together. We cannot adequately address the challenges we face if we are working in isolation.

This call for action is not easy. However, below I will outline some areas where I believe there can be agreement and collaboration.

Children need to develop skills in phoneme awareness and phonics, decoding, accurate and automatic word recognition, reading at an appropriate rate, vocabulary and word attack strategies, text comprehension and strategies for comprehension of difficult texts. Misunderstandings and lack of agreements abound. For example, proponents of approaches to reading instruction that privilege taking social and cultural experiences of a child into account are often accused of being “anti-phonics” when in fact a social constructivist approach does recognize the importance of decoding, phonemic awareness and phonics skills. Greater emphasis tends to be placed on inquiry, games, songs, rhymes than in programs that are based on synthetic phonics. Proponents of whole language prefer to work on these skills in the context of real/authentic texts being read.

Complicating matters, there is a great deal of linkage between the reading process and the writing process. Writing is both a way of learning and a way of communicating. In fact, I argue for an approach to reading instruction that is inclusive of areas often discussed within English Language arts, including but not limited to the study of grammar and syntax, the study of literature, the study of writing and composition, the study of linguistics, and the study of rhetoric.

Skills generally associated with language arts include reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and visually representing. I view reading instruction as insufficient without strong language arts instruction, and likewise, I view language arts instruction as insufficient without strong instruction in reading. This means that reading teachers and reading specialists need to work in alliance with language arts teachers. It also means that language arts teachers need to team up with reading teachers. The success of the two fields are linked.

A misimpression that exists about the social-constructivist approaches to instruction which I support is that they are opposed to explicit and direct instruction. This is not true. However, it’s important to draw on a child’s background knowledge and to consider the social-cultural influences on meaning-making. That’s why dialogue matters. It’s important for the teacher to learn from the child as the child is also learning from the teacher. Leaving a child bored and disconnected from material is something to be avoided. Intensive, personalized instruction for students using other educational staff members. As appropriate, seek additional reading and varied forms of texts (video/digital, visual art) and instruction for students.

A wide variety of diverse literary options need to be available for students to read. These options should include representations of characters and settings from diverse cultures. It should also include multiple genres and multiple types of texts. Wide reading experiences with diverse texts is also critical. The end goal of instructional intervention is for the student to gain increased independence as a reader, to be able to gain purposeful comprehension skills and strategies that can be applied with diverse texts and in diverse contexts.

Plus, let’s not forget, we want the student to also have a lifelong love for learning and passion for reading. It is so important to provide opportunities for students to become independent readers. A wide selection of texts can be a critical aspect of intervention. Interest in a text can help a student to be increasing engaged and motivated while working on skills in an authentic context. Guided repeated reading can help a student to build fluency skills. A classroom teacher should work with a team of well-trained professionals who specialize in intervention assessment and techniques when a student fails to make adequate progress.

Appropriate assessments guide instructional choices. After all, it would not be possible to accurately determine a student’s current ability to independently engage in a task without assessment. Likewise, it also is not possible to determine a student’s upper range of ability to successfully complete a reading task with guidance and assistance unless there is assessment tied to goals. These assessments should determine both strengths and areas of weakness to address in an ongoing way that tracks progress. The strengths can be used toward addressing weaknesses, but key to this is that the teacher needs to be working in partnership with the student.

The tracking of student growth and the development of literacy abilities requires strong assessment.  Students will at times struggle in reading for a variety of reasons, including skill development but also potentially including lack of mastery of appropriate reading strategies. Too often, students whose primary language is not English may be misidentified as having a learning disability. A student might need to work on decoding, phonemic awareness and phonics, or other skills such as fluency or word identification strategies in order to enhance purposeful vocabulary development. The nature of intervention should be determined through assessment. The type of reading structure appropriate for the child depends on needs and interests. Options might include whole class, small flexible groups, or guided reading with systematic and explicate instructional strategies.

Care should also be taken when the tutoring is pulling a student out of regular classroom instruction. Students can feel embarrassed, and they can miss out on valuable instructional time with the regular class. If the tutoring is unengaging, fails to be beneficial, or it is simply boring to the student, then the effort at tutoring could backfire and contribute to the student becoming disengaged.

Finally, I believe in the importance of a positive learning environment. To be more specific, this learning environment should include welcoming students into a community of readers and writers. Such a community should welcome the exploration of new and imaginative concepts while drawing on prior knowledge. The classroom community should be welcoming to diverse students of varied backgrounds. One way of promoting such a positive classroom community is to make sure that students have a sense of belonging and acceptance. Teachers need to honor the human dignity of students and promote the ability of fellow students to honor one another’s dignity. An important aspect of honoring the dignity of individual students is to honor their sense of identity and their cultural identities.


Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the views of this author and his blogging partner. They 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.

Happy 4th of July!


Taking the day off. Celebrating the 4th of July with my family.

Let me use this occasion to give you a tip on where to find some good reading about literacy issues. Visit the Missouri Literacy Association’s Facebook page (@mscira).  They have good readings on a daily basis (including today). You’ll find this page a great resource with a wide variety of posts relevant to improving literacy. The screen capture below shows a recent posting. Go to the MLA Facebook page (@mscira) to see the live feed.


Dr Sam


Please have a look at the newest Missouri Reader (free)- Lots of great articles to choose from! Dr. Sam Bommarito

As promised the newest issue of the Missouri Reader is ready. It can be reached at this link.

We e-mail a link out to all our members (Missouri Literacy Association- an affiliate of the ILA) using our membership list. We also blog and tweet out the link.  Please share the link with all educators you think may be interested in the topics presented. By doing that you help us carry out our own form of “word of mouth”, essentially word of mouth in the cyber world. The journal is free.

Glenda Nugent (my co-editor) and I are quite proud that we can carry out the forty plus year traditions of the journal. It started off as a “hard copy” journal and has now shifted to a cyber journal. We publish many well-known authors and literacy researchers. We also publish articles from many teachers, including teachers doing their first action research projects/first journal articles. It gives teachers a chance to share with their fellow teachers and also a chance to find out about publishing in a peer-edited journal. They get to publish right alongside more experienced writers and researchers. A look at our editorial board will show our board is well credentialed. We are grateful for their ongoing contributions to the journal.

If you are interested in submitting an article for the Fall journal, go to the last page of the current journal for details. I’ve included a screen capture of the front cover and the table of contents in this blog entry. These show you what’s in the journal. Once you get to the journal online, there are easy links to follow for all the articles. There is quite a variety (see below), so I think you will find something of interest to you.

Happy Reading and Writing, and I hope you enjoy the Missouri Reader and find it provides you with valuable resources and information. As I said before, please do share with anyone you think might be interested in the topics covered.


Dr. Sam Bommarito

Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader


Summer Issue of the Missouir Reader

Tab-e of contents

Tab-e of contents 2