Category Archives: Uncategorized

Finding Meaning: The Best Path to Find Joy in Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Finding Meaning: The Best Path to Find Joy in Reading


Dr. Sam Bommarito



Before moving on to the topic of the Three Cueing Systems (we’ll do that next week), I’d like to deal with a comment made by one of my readers in the last blog post. The comment was as follows:

“I’m very interested in this series of articles. I wonder if my brother was taught with the decoding and then comprehending philosophy. He is VERY intelligent but doesn’t like to read. He does not “make pictures in his head” when reading. It’s like he can tell you what he read, but there’s no depth or soul to it.”

I’ll first note that some, not all of the advocates of the science of reading, have moved to what I consider a rather extreme view of the reading process. That view is that reading and decoding are completely separate. First, the reader must learn to decode. That means an intense program of synthetic phonics. Once the reader can decode the message, the reader can then use their listening comprehension skills to understand the message. The texts used by teachers in this scheme of reading instruction are decodable texts. The emphasis of the instruction in this initial phase is on decoding, not on comprehension. This view does include comprehension as one of the five pillars of reading instruction, but comprehension is not possible until decoding is mastered completely. At the extreme, the decodable text used in this kind of instruction borders on nonsense writing.  To be fair, as more decodable texts have been published, some of those texts do have meaningful elements.  However, when Dr. Tim Rasinski presented in St. Louis two years ago LINK TO BLOG, he read an example using such a decodable text. He made the point that with this text, readers could only interact at the lowest level of comprehension. By contrast, the beginning text he used, in this case, a poem, did allow readers to interact at the higher levels of comprehension. He advocated teaching readers to read with prosody. Fluency involved more than the reading rate (speed).  He saw prosody as the gateway to comprehension.  My take is that he views reading as a complex process that focuses on meaning-making.

Not all advocates of the science of reading agree with this extreme position, decode first, then use listening comprehension to understand what you have decoded. For instance, Dr. Tim Shanahan, in a recent blog, cited considerable research to show there is more to reading comprehension than just listening comprehension. However, when teachers use the decode first, comprehend later philosophy as their base, there is a very real danger that they will create students who fit the profile of my follower’s brother “he can tell you what he read, but there’s no depth or soul to it.” My take- he can interact with text at the literal level, but does not want to, or perhaps doesn’t know how to interact with text at the higher levels of comprehension.

If you want to create lifelong readers, it is critical that from the very beginning, the text read by children is meaningful. That is step one in making reading joyful for your students. I recently blogged about using Language Experience- the teacher writes down what the student says, then uses that text for future readings  LINK TO BLOG. Early in my teaching career, I began asking my youngest students to “talk big about little books.” In order to do this I made sure that even at the very beginning levels, books, and poems I used allowed the reader to do more than simply recall what is said. For instance, how did this poem make you feel (happy, sad, mad), what kind of person is Mrs. Wishy Washy (kind, mean, silly), what kind of voice should I use when reading the part of the big bad wolf (deep, mean, high pitched, nice).  The whole point of reading is getting the message. The message directly impacts how you should decode the word and what you should sound like as you do. Bill Kerns’s blog last week about dual coding brought that idea home forcefully.

I’ll end with two ways to go about things. One way is to take your medicine (lots and lots of skill and drill). Then let a spoon full of sugar help the medicine go down, i.e., try to make the skill and drill a little bit fun and engaging. The other way is the way Mem Fox suggested.

“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.”

I highly recommend the latter approach. When you are working with younger children, use readings that have real meaning for the child, readings that allow you to let them “talk big about their little books.” If you do, you will have taken the important first step in bringing joy into their reading lives.

Next week I will take up the issue of the Three Cueing Systems. Until then, happy reading and writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. the joyful reading 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.

Dual Coding and the Importance of Imagery for Reading Comprehension  by Dr. William Kerns

This week my blogging partner Bill Kerns sets the stage for discussing models of reading that are contrary to the simple view of reading. Lately, some advocates of the simple view of reading have proposed models where decoding and reading are completely separate processes. First the reader decodes, then the readers use their listening comprehension skills to make sense of the message.  Obviously, not all researchers concur. This entry is the first in a series of entries that will explore research-based alternatives to the proposition that decoding and reading are completely separate processes.

Dual Coding and the Importance of Imagery for Reading Comprehension 

by Dr. William Kerns

            Reading is a complex process that involves social and cultural influences, background knowledge, emotional and cognitive as well as physiological factors, and the processing of sensory detail. This blog will address strategies for building literacy skills through big books and graphic novels. In this COVID-19 era with instruction increasingly online, discussion of ways that technology and imagery influence literacy and meaning-making is timely. Grounding the blog is research from dual coding theory.

Dual coding theory (Paivio, 2007) gives equal weight to verbal and non-verbal processing. According to dual coding theory, any understanding of the how students read, or best practices for literacy instruction, which fails to adequately account for both verbal and non-verbal processing is incomplete. The theory proposes that there are two cognitive subsystems at work when we read. One specializes in representation and processing of nonverbal objects and events (i.e., imagery). The other specializes in representation and processing of language. Thus, by implication, when a reader makes sense of words printed on a page and related imagery, this comination helps them understand the text in a more nuanced way. Dual coding theory is widely used in the research into ways of delivering information through both verbal and non-verbal means to increase memory in areas such as vocabulary and comprehension of texts (Mayer,1997). A key advantage offered by combining the use of imagery with words in text is that students will increase their level of attention they use to examine both (Boers et al., 2017).

Three types of processing should be accounted for by teachers when instruction is informed by dual coding theory. First is representational processing, which involves the direct activation of verbal or non-verbal representations. Secondly, referential processing is the activation of the verbal system by the nonverbal system or vice-versa. Finally, in associative processing, the reader activates representations within the same verbal or nonverbal system.  Any given literacy task may require any one of the subsystems, or a combination of the processing subsystems. The implication for teachers is that literacy instruction should involve planning, implementing, and evaluating the effectiveness of how to foster the increasingly skillful use of each of these three processing, involving both verbal and non-verbal means. Dual coding theory holds that images on a page are an important aspect of processing a text and teachers should plan ways of including images within literacy instruction.

A word of caution is needed here prior to proceeding. Sensory memory has a limited storage capacity and readers can be easily distracted from a text by imagery. Readers are more likely to pay attention to information if it has an interesting feature. They also are more likely to pay attention if the information activates a known pattern or calls to mind relevant prior learning. Thus, readers only possess a limited capacity for attention. As a reader attends to information, the information enters short term memory. Only a limited amount of inform can be held in short term memory at once. When using imagery with text, bear in mind that the amount of information that can be processed without reaching a point of overload is constrained. If the imagery is too distracting, causing for example a student to pay attention to the imagery instead of the words in the text, it can inhibit comprehension of text, so be careful here. Skilled readers are selective and strategic in what they pay attention to and why, but it is also important for teachers to guide students in the use of these strategies and the monitoring of the reading strategies. This spells out why it is so vital to teachers to point out details, and help developing or struggling readers to be strategic and well-focused, minimizing potential distractions from comprehension of a text.

Picture books and graphic novels become a vital aspect of literacy instruction from a dual coding framework, and during this pandemic many teachers share the reading of these books online. The picture book should contain the same elements found in any good children’s literature if used with children (importantly, some picture books are aimed at adolescents and adults) while a graphic novel shared with adolescents should include elements present in good Young Adult literature. Both picture books and graphic novels should have strong visual appeal with good quality illustrations. Print should well-spaced for readability. Picture books contribute to visual literacy development which is the ability to understand, interpret and appreciate the meaning of visual messages, as well as effectively communicate and produce visual messages. Picture books and graphic novels can be used in the literacy and English language arts classroom to help students make gains in understanding concepts about print, the parts of a book, and different genres.

Repeated reading techniques along with choral reading of a picture book can improve fluency. The study – and better yet, lively discussion – of words within a picture book can improve a student’s phonics and phonemic awareness, understanding of grammar and conventions, vocabulary, and comprehension. Importantly, by varying the way that words are studied, teachers help students develop the following four types of vocabulary: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Students can also use these books as anchors in writing workshops while they develop their own writing skills. Make sure that you are integrating the six language arts (listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and visually representing) in meaningful ways that are linked together rather than isolating the six language arts from one another.


Boers, F., Warren, P., Grimshaw, G., & Siyanova-Chanturia, A. (2017). On the benefits of multimodal annotations for vocabulary uptake from reading. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 30(7), 709–725


Mayer, R. E. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking the right questions? Educational Psychologist, 32(1), 1–19


Paivio, A. (2007). Mind and its evolution: A dual coding theoretical approach. Erlbaum.


Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito and Dr. William Kerns. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of the 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

Practicing Love for Students and Love for Yourself by Dr. William Kerns

The_New_Normal_Logo (labeled for reuse)

Special thanks to Dr. William Kerns for this insightful blog entry. For me personally, this entry could not have come at a better time. This week my wife’s mom passed away. Her mom was in her 90’s and had a rich and full life. Still, that kind of thing is never easy and was made worse by the realities of a new normal as they impacted both the wake and funeral. On the brighter side, the family was able to make up for some of the restrictions by selected use of Zoom meetings and by having the services streamed to friends and family. Bill knew all this was happening and wrote this entry so that writing for my blog was off my plate this week. So- Bill definitely practices what he preaches.  I want to thank him again for this thoughtful and timely entry.  I’m getting by with a little help from my friends. So, all of you, take care of yourselves so you can do a better job of taking care of your kids. Be Safe and Be Well. See you next week- Dr. Sam   

Practicing Love for Students and Love for Yourself by Dr. William Kerns 

 Time to take a deep breath. And exhale. I have no doubt at all that every teacher reading this blog is deserving of gratitude. And the best dessert that you want. Maybe chocolate cheesecake or blueberry pie. If you are reading this on a Saturday morning, the least you deserve is a strong cup of rich coffee and some pancakes. Time to destress. In this blog entry, I will address self-care and trauma-informed instruction in the context of literacy instruction. An ethic of care (see Katz et al., 1999) frames this blog, one which promotes meaningful connections between teacher and student, between student and family, and among students.

We cannot bury or ignore that we are each going through a trauma, defined by the American Psychiatric Association (2013) as experiencing, witnessing, or being confronted with actual or threatened death or serious injury, or threatened physical integrity of self or others. Trauma is experienced when an event exceeds normal coping skills. The pandemic is an adverse childhood experience for students. For all we know, students may be living in conditions aggravated by such additional adversity as maltreatment, the experience of or witnessing of violence, or the loss of a loved one. So, at the core of trauma informed instruction is an emphasis on responding to what has happened to a child instead of focusing on what is wrong with the child.

Each of us are also coping with trauma-induced stress. Children can be ill-equipped to handle responses to trauma that may include fear, horror, helplessness, disorganization, and agitation. In fact, it would not at all surprise me if many of the teachers reading this blog have likewise recently experienced some combination of these responses. It is, therefore, crucial that we practice trauma informed instruction and self-care. Trauma informed instruction involves understanding the impact of trauma on cognitive development and learning, understanding the impact of trauma on socio-emotional development, and understanding the impact on behavior. Meanwhile, self-care involves developing the practices of maintaining mental, emotional, and physical health even during times of adversity.

We need to face the distinct possibility that many students and teachers are trying to cope with toxic stress, a “strong, frequent, or prolonged activation of the body’s stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection of a supportive, adult relationship” (Shonkoff et al., 2012). The pandemic appears to be far from over, and some students may have unstable homes. This poses a challenge, because repeated traumatic experiences lead to an over-release of stress hormones and to an over-reactive stress system.

Not only are each of your students going through trauma with the pandemic, but marginalized groups often do share a history of trauma from which we can learn. Making connections with students is important. May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, so you might consider incorporating themes to honor Asians and Asian-Pacific Americans within the curriculum. English Language Arts and Literacy classrooms, even online, can provide a lens through which victims of trauma can explore topics through material that is emotional and relevant (Dutro 2019). You could also incorporate themes of African Americans, or of Latinx peoples. The key here is to be honest. Open. Dialogue about shared pain, about common experiences, but also about experiences in life that are quite different. We can learn so much by listening.

The process of truly listening to another opens the door for empathy. As we strive to be there for students, we must also be there for ourselves, practicing self-care. Like me (in all honesty) many of you may be experiencing symptoms of trauma. The lack of sleep, restlessness which can also become a type of hyperactivity, heightened sense of emotional arousal that can be exhibited in feelings of highs (joy, exhilaration) that are too high, and lows (sadness, anger) that are way too low. The cravings for foods and in my case for chia banana smoothies is also part of stress. Focus can be a struggle. If we are going to exercise self-care, I recommend that we start by being trauma-sensitive through recognizing what has happened to us rather than feeling guilty about what may be wrong with us.

I find myself highly focused for stretches at a time, but also taking long walks to regain focus. I might also pace around trying to regain focus. I find myself avoiding topics that distract me from work. All of this is a normal response to trauma, many of you might be able to relate. It is forgivable if you may have made mistakes – a lost temper with a loved one, a wasted day dealing with anxiety or sadness that later seems overblown, but such things can also cause damage.

We can each choose to act with love toward our students even when we are emotionally burned out and physically exhausted. Love as both an emotion and a moral choice (Bransen, 2006). We can feel love. We can also make the choice to act with love toward one another. This choice can carry us through times with the experience of trauma negatively impacts mastery of the teaching craft, confidence to perform instructional duties, and even a sense of professional identity. Don’t be surprised if at some point you and your students alike may find yourselves distancing from social connections (friends, colleagues, even loved ones) or lacking confidence to maintain control over emotions, this too is a natural aspect of coping with trauma (Brock et al., 2006).

Forgive yourself please and forgive students (or friends, loved ones) who may have made mistakes. Be honest with yourself and be honest with students. You are only human. This can lead to shared stories of pain and vulnerability. It can also lead to shared stories of strength. Love for students as people, and faith in your abilities to perform instructional tasks skillfully, can help to overcome the deleterious effects of this traumatic time. In the process, students benefit from the example. So, you can model for students how you find the strength to carry on during hard times.  This can lead into reading literature with characters who likewise face difficulties and find strength to overcome trauma.

The importance of social support at the time of a traumatic event is well established. It is also OK to be there for yourself. Take a break. Be healthy and find an opportunity to laugh. Even if all you do is imagine me composing this blog while wearing a T-Rex dinosaur outfit that is good enough. Now, dear reader, go find an excuse to play for a little while. Work will still be there later. The play time will help you to have the energy it takes to be there for your students with all your heart.


American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th Ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association (APA)

Bransen, J. (2006). Selfless self-love. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 9, 3-25.

Brock, K., Pearlman, L., & Varra, E. (2006). Child maltreatment, self-capacities, and trauma symptoms: Psychometric properties of the inner experience questionnaire. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 6, 103–125.

Dutro, E. (2019). The Vulnerable Heart of Literacy: Centering Trauma as Powerful Pedagogy. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Katz, M.S., Noddings, N., & Strike, K.A. (1999). Justice and caring: The search for common ground in education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Shonkoff et al. (2012). Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. Key concepts: toxic stress.

 Tedeschi, R., & Calhoun, L. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 1–18.

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito and Dr. William Kerns. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of the 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


 Addressing Racism in the Reading and Language Arts Classroom by Dr. William Kerns

Call-to-action-with-words public domain from

Today my blogging partner Dr. Bill Kerns gives a thought-provoking essay. Special thanks to Bill for giving us all things to think about as we address the issue of racism in the reading and language arts classroom.  

 Addressing Racism in the Reading and Language Arts Classroom by Dr. William Kerns

Silence about human suffering and injustice is not a moral option. A global pandemic is ongoing, with impact that is disproportionate by race and socioeconomic status because of a long legacy of inequities. Many students you may teach are likely struggling to keep up with the demands of online courses because of gaps in access to technology. In my last guest blog on this site, I discussed ideas for learning about Chinese cultural traditions in literature and language arts activities during writing workshops as a means of countering stereotypes. In this blog, I urge you to consider how issues raised by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery can inform your curriculum. It is my belief that this tragedy is not merely a reminder of past horrors. It is a reminder of the past, present and a warning of the future. The realities of brutal injustices and blinding racism never went away with the passing of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, they evolved. It is my stance that as an educator it is insufficient to be merely non-racist while claiming a type of political neutrality.

I view it as a moral imperative to create literacy and language arts activities that intentionally are anti-racist. This can be done while honoring the needs of instruction in language arts and literacy. A good first step for each of us as educators is to examine our own classroom (online or eventually face-to-face) and school climate. Is it empowering or disempowering for students from cultural, ethnic, and racial minority groups? Does it include issues and topics related to the students’ background and culture? Be supportive and nurturing with students, because a key criterion for culturally relevant teaching is nurturing and supporting competence in both home and school cultures (Gay, 2018). So, use the students’ home cultural experiences as a foundation upon which to develop knowledge and skills. Content learned in this way is more significant to the students and facilitates the transfer of what is learned in school to real-life situations. By engaging in in-depth literature study and inquiry projects around difficult themes related to social inequities and racism, students develop new skills and knowledge, teachers make meaningful connections between school and real-life situations, and there is meaningful discussion about how the inequities of society can be improved.

It is possible to plan literature circles, literature discussions, writing workshops, and digital storytelling that incorporate these areas into topics that are anti-racist by countering stereotypes, raising attention to the damaging impact of bigotry, and the horrors of systemic injustices. Incorporate the language arts (reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and visually representing) in creative ways. Literary studies in the classroom should not merely focus on the skills and content that are determined to be important in order to pass standards and high stakes testing.

Being anti-racist as a teacher includes lessons that encourage the exploration of what it means to participate in society, with an awareness of injustices in society in the context of race and ethnicity. Help prepare students to become change agents in society as you also help students in their personal growth and ethical development. Seek out literature that can be useful in communicating moral and ethical themes, communicating life stories and life lessons related to the human condition and the psychology of characters. More than this, you can also seek out literature that communicates themes and trends in society and that explores power structures, ideologies, communicates trends in history and forms of conflict. In the process, lessons can focus on both the information in a text and the evoked experiences.

You can then explore diverse ways that students are impacted by life-conditions in society, including ways that many students are denied equitable education opportunities. Critique how forms of social injustices are either supported or resisted through pedagogical practice. Students can engage in in-depth examination of the ethical and moral context of who is empowered and who is disempowered, who is given voice and who is silenced. They can examine the moral implications of ways that conceptions of race can contribute to privileges and disadvantages in society.

The approach to literacy and language arts instruction that I encourage is grounded in not only skill development but a goal of using literacy and literature lessons to change lives. The curriculum should recognize the importance of including students’ cultural references in varied aspects of the learning. Stories and dialogue make a difference, so make sure that the conversations are genuine even if difficult. Create an environment in which there is a consistent set of high academic expectations and a real respect for students as well as a belief in their capability. Admittedly, I realize that any teacher reading this blog is likely under pressure to enact curriculum that is efficient in its techniques and processes that address basic skills, standards and high stakes tests. Behavioral objectives drive the design of instructional processes. But it is possible to address these skills and objectives while promoting critical inquiry into racism and social injustices. Schools should not be factories. Students are not merely products. They are people. Precious. Beautiful. Fragile. They deserve the opportunity to contribute to a world that is more equitable, a world in which finally racism is addressed and not just swept under a rug with the pretense that if ignored, it is a thing of the past. This week’s headlines are a tragic reminder that the deadly consequences of racism are not in the past.


References and Resources


Gay, G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Kendi, I.X. (2017 ). Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America. New York, NY: Nation Books.


Kendi, I.X. (2019). How to be an anti-racist. New York, NY: Random House.


Motha, S. (2014). Race, empire, and English language teaching: Creating responsible and ethical anti-racist practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito & Dr. Williams Kerns. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of the 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.


Have a look at the new issue of The Missouri Reader: You’ll be happy you did! by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Have a look at the new issue of The Missouri Reader: You’ll be happy you did!

by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The newest issue of The Missouri Reader is out. In it, we celebrate our own Missouri author, David Harrison, on 50 years of publishing and writing over 90 books for children. In addition, Carla McLafferty shares how she researched her newest book, Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Joan Boulware and Eula Monroe give an introduction to The Magical Kingdom of Mathical Books and William Kerns & Amanda McCaleb talk about how to refine your writing workshop. You’ll find these and many other useful articles and resources in this current issue. By the way- this issue contains links to Read Alouds of several of David’s books. He is making those available for use by teachers and parents as they work their way through the new normal that has emerged in response to the current pandemic.

As some of you may already know, I am the Co-Editor of this journal along with Glenda Nugent. The Missouri Reader has been around for over 40 years. It started out as a “paper journal”.  Now we publish digitally. We have two issues each year. We are peer-reviewed, and our editorial board has many highly qualified people (see the sidebar on the Table of Contents). We publish many articles by well-known experts in the reading field. However, we also encourage teachers to publish, especially action research, book reviews, and app reviews. The last page of each issue explains how to submit an article for review. We are an official publication of the Missouri Literacy Association. Missouri Literacy Association is an ILA affiliate. Anyone with the following link can read the current issue for free:

Spring 2020 Missouri Reader

I want to also call your attention to another issue for you to explore. It is the poetry issue. It is our most-read issue of all time. It contains TONS of innovative ideas about how to use poetry in the classroom. It was the brainchild of David Harrison. He approached Glenda Nugent (my Co-Editor).and me about the idea of a special issue dedicated especially to poetry. We are so glad he did. Here is the link to that issue. Feel free to share it with other interested educators.


Part of our way of distributing The Missouri Reader is the use of what we call “word of cyberspace.” We ask our readers to share the links to the magazine with other readers. As a result, we are now read all around the world. So, if you like what you see in one or both of the issues, please share the links. They’re both free. THANKS!

You can help to support The Missouri Reader by joining the Missouri Literacy Association- membership is open to all. Here is a link where you can join:

Until next week-

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (Co-Editor of an authentic teacher’s journal)


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:

The Use of Reader Response and Writing Workshops to Counter Stereotypes By William Kerns

Today’s post is from my blogging partner, Dr. William Kerns. Thanks to Bill for this thoughtful entry. Reading Header for the Blog

The Use of Reader Response and Writing Workshops to Counter Stereotypes

By William Kerns

A rising tide of stereotypes and racist actions against people of Chinese and Asian heritage calls on us as educators to not be silent. In this blog, I offer ideas for a digital writing workshop that you might be able to use to promote reading and writing gains as well as critical reflection among your students.

It is possible to set up your digital writing workshop in a low-tech manner, all you really need is an internet connection and computers for communication though it must be stressed that addressing the needs of students who lack ready access to the internet and to computers is a challenge that I do not believe schools nationally are adequately meeting.  Alternately, you can also use various software (PowerPoint, Microsoft movie maker or photostage), or digital storytelling apps (voice thread, photo pad) to help you establish a more high-tech writing workshop. I love to see writing workshops that include choice and multiple modes of creativity.

Prior to the workshop, I recommend involving students in reader response activities with a text that sheds light on Chinese culture or Chinese history, or perhaps the history of Chinese people within the United States. Be sure to invite discussions with students based on the texts. You can use this as an opportunity to explore culture, social structures, and historical circumstances that counter stereotypes. The activities are likely to be more meaningful to students if you place an n emphasis on how those issues touch real people in the present day.

Roseanne Thong’s One is a Drummer: A Book of Numbers and On My Way to Buy Eggs by Chih Y. Chen would both fit into a preschool reader response activity. Grace Lin’s Where The Mountain Meets the Moon would make a fine choice for middle school age readers while her classic Dim Sum For Everyone! Is an excellent choice for young readers. Ed (Tse-Chun) Young’s Lon Po Po is a beautifully illustrated book that opens a doorway to explore folklore. Lensey Namioka explores issues related to feeling like an outsider as an immigrant child in Yang the Youngest and his Terrible Ear. A similar theme is also at the heart of Andrea Cheng’s The Year of the Book. If you want a bit of philosophy in a highly readable, artistic book, try Zen Shorts by John Muth.

You can draw vivid examples from bigotry faced by people of Chinese and Asian heritage historically and in the present day. Critical reflection is an important step toward critiquing common negative stereotypes that exist. Please encourage students to examine the moral implications of ways that conceptions of race can contribute to privileges and disadvantages in society (Delgado et al., 2017). It is my belief that these discussions are needed in order to counter stereotypes at the root of negative backlash faced by people of Chinese and Asian heritage.

In order to address culturally responsive instruction related to people of Chinese and Asian cultures, you might promote critical reflection within a writing workshop which responds to the diverse ways that students are impacted by life-conditions that often include the denial of equitable opportunities. You can do this while you also address the strategies of pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing, and you encourage students to explore appropriate literature and texts. Improvement in the procedures used by skilled writers.

Minilessons can include concepts of knowledge related to writing and culture, the use of detail, and of course improvement in grammar and mechanics in the context of meaningful writing. Carefully choose mentor texts that helps students to study how skilled writers use strategies and anchor charts that remind students of routines and expectations. After students have a chance to write independently, make sure the feedback carefully guides them toward both increasing skill and increasing exploration of writing concepts and concepts that are culturally and socially important to consider (or reconsider if these concepts include stereotypes).

Writing Workshops are engaging ways to help students develop writing skills and explore concepts. I encourage you to combine reader response activities with writing workshops.  Let’s engage students in rich exploration of ideas, identities, as students also develop outstanding skills as readers and writers. We must strive to guide students to act with love and kindness as we ourselves also act with love and kindness. I wish to close this blog with a plea for kindness, for love, and for critique of systemic bigotries and injustices so that we might build a future that is truly beautiful.


Delgado, R. Stefancic, J., & Harris, A. (2017). Critical race theory: An introduction (Third

Edition). New York, NY: New York University Press.

The blog will resume next week by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I decided to take the advice of a good friend and take the week off in order to refresh and renew. I’ll be back next week. I know as teachers you are always very careful to be kind to others, but my advice for this week is to also remember to also take some time to be kind to yourself. See you next week, be safe and be well.

Dr. Sam

reading creatuve commons

Special Greeting for Passover and Easter: A Gift of Song from Dr. Sam Bommarito

Special Greeting for Passover and Easter: A Gift of Song from Dr. Sam Bommarito

Sending everyone special greetings during this special time of year that includes both Passover and Easter. I know that many of the readers of this blog are from different backgrounds and faith. I hope this greeting finds you safe and well in these trying times. If one picture is worth a 1000 words, how many words are these two pictures worth?


I do want to take a moment to thank the folks who are following this blog on a regular basis and I deeply appreciate your interest in the blog. As you may know, my blog is all about taking a balanced approach to literacy and using ideas from all sides in order to help kids. Helping kids is what we should always be about.

Those who know me well, know my love of music. In church we say singing is praying twice. In literacy instruction, we know that singing is one path to reading fluently and with understanding. Since this is a literacy blog, you’ve heard a lot this year about some of my friends who use music in exactly that way. Most notable among them are Dr. Tim Rasinski who is one of the foremost authorities in the world about teaching prosody as part of teaching reading, and Eric Litwin, author of the original Pete the Cat books and a children’s author whose use of music brings joy to readers of all ages.  Tim is scheduled to come to St. Louis in the fall for our local ILA group, assuming that by then the pandemic situation will allow such travel. Eric’s new book about the Joy of reading is also coming out soon, please do be on the lookout for that.

I’ve played guitar in church for over 50 years now, so I’d like to end by giving you a little Easter gift. This is my rendition of the Easter version of the Hallelujah. Enjoy. Be safe.



Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- a music man wanna be)

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.

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. (update- that worked but I found something that worked even better. I used the share screen feature on Zoom and we were able to do the pic. searches just like we used to)  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

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.

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