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The Teaching of Reading as Both Science and Art: A Report & Evaluation of Rasinki’s Recent Presentation In St. Louis by Dr. Sam Bommarito


The above quote from Diane Ravitch is taken from the Rasinski’s presentation in St. Louis at our local ILA’s spring banquet. Last week I promised to tell you more about it.  Here goes! As I proceed I will try to make it clear which part of what is said is Rasinski’s and which parts are my reactions or comments on what he said. As you could tell from my remarks last week I found his presentation to be enlightening, empowering and encouraging.

During his presentation, Rasinski made it clear that the teaching of reading is, and should be, a science.  He gave many details about this. However, he also feels the teaching of reading is also an art and that there are many benefits to treating it as an art as well as a science. Let’s talk about why he feels that way.

Great Minds

As illustrated by his slide about Albert Einstein, he talked about the many great minds over the years who recognized the importance of art. Others he mentioned included the Dalai Lama and Steve Jobs

Rasinski maintains that treating the teaching of reading as art can raise the level of performance of students. Look at his take on Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Blooms Tax

My take on this rendition of Blooms is that when you use an approach to the teaching of reading that is based on both art and science you raise the level of student performance.  When students are allowed the time to create things of their own, they are going beyond what they already know (Rasinski’s words).  They are adding new things to the base of human knowledge. In short, they are performing at a higher level than before.

There are unintended consequences to the “All Science” approach to reading.  Rasinski shared the example of what it’s like to read a decodable text about the “ag” family.  He used the decodable book, Mr. Zag. Rasinski asked is this science?  His answer was yes. Is it art? His answer was no. Is it engaging? My answer is no. As I thought about this example, it become apparent there while the text was read, it’s content was at the very lowest levels of blooms (e.g. Mr. Zag saw a bag with a tag). The text did not require the student to perform at a high level.  It did not require students to think except at the very lowest levels of Blooms.  I anticipated that his next few slides would show us examples of ways to accomplish the very same task (teach the ag family) but do it in an artful way- a way that would engage students and require them to perform at a high level of thinking.  That is exactly what he did. Poetry was involved.

This brings us to the centerpiece of his presentation, his new book, which is entitled the Megabook of Fluency. The book is exactly that. It is organized around his prosody factors (EARS). E is for Expression, A is for Automatic Word Recognition, R is for Rhythm and Phrasing and S is for smoothness, fixing mistakes. Rubrics based on these factors are available in the book and are written on a variety of levels including one for 6-8.  So, this book isn’t just for the primary grades, it’s content and suggestions include ideas and activities for all grade levels PP-8.  For a list of all the strategies in the book organized by EARS skills the reader can go to:

This link is for people who own the book. You can use information from the book to get the password for this link.

It was in this part of the presentation that Rasinski told the story I mentioned last week. It was the story of a new primary teacher who used the strategy of having children practice reading poetry for four days of the week in preparation for performing those poems on Friday.  Despite push back about “wasting” instructional time, she continued to do that. By the end of the year her first grades were performing significantly higher on reading tests. She replicated those results the next year and became the teacher of the year for her state. The book gave several more examples of other teachers in other grade levels having similar success.

By now my readers can guess the book contains a treasure trove of ideas and resources. There are many activities that take advantage of original sources, including a variety of songs like It’s a Grand Old Flag, primary source texts like Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, poems like Paul Revere’s Ride and of course children’s nursery rhymes.  I mentioned those nursery rhymes last on purpose. That is because I want to emphasize that this book is not just for primary students.  Students in the middle grades can also benefit from instruction in prosody. Rasinski asked what would happen if we had students practice and then perform such historic and artful texts? I think part of what would happen is that through use of primary sources teachers would include both science and social studies content within their literacy block. This in turn would enhance both their literacy scores and their science and social studies scores.  The book also includes materials on how to teach comprehension artfully.  Based on the examples Tim gave during the presentation, this is done with materials that students would find engaging.  It would be done in a way that allows students to perform at the highest levels of Blooms.

As I just indicated, the activities in his book are not just about helping students get better at decoding. Remember last week when I said that during parts of the presentation I felt like I was in a seminar on writing workshop? That is because Rasinski talked about how students used some of the poems and primary source pieces as a source of inspiration for writing their own works. He showed examples of student writing. Hmm. Students writing their own poetry, scaffolded by reading poems from this book or other sources.  What a great idea for poetry month! Might I ask on what performance level students would be working? That would be the level that comes after Blooms evaluation level, creating! Ideas for poetry lessons based on Tim’s book can be found at POETRY LESSON PDF

Ok, is all this real science? Rasinski makes a case that it is. Look at his example summarizing the impact of deep repeated reading:

Deep Repeated Reading

Example A demonstrates that performance improved over several rereads. Notice the big red arrows when doing the next set of rereads (B) and yet another set of rereads (C). They are there to call your attention to the fact that the improved performance with the first set (A), results in the reader starting on the second set at a higher level, and this phenomenon is repeated on the third set. That means the skills gained in the first performance carried over to future performances. Rasinski says that’s science! I concur.

Rasinski also says that repeated reading is more effective when done for authentic purposes.  His book gives you many pieces of authentic reading materials and many authentic reasons for rereading (e.g. rereading to prepare for a performance). My experience with his materials over the years is that his materials work and they are engaging to the students.

That concludes what I have to say about Rasinski’s presentation. Stay tuned. Next week there will be a blog post over the next part of this topic. I’m using the title “Singing Our Way into Fluency”.  Eric Litwin: Best-selling author of the original four Pete the Cat books, The Nuts and Groovy Joe. will share his views on using music with beginning readers. So please come back next week as we continue our discussion.

For more information about Tim and his various visit his website  BTW- the blog on his website includes free versions of his famous Word Ladders.


Also check out his articles in professional journals:


Reading Teacher


Article Copyright 2018 by Sam Bommarito

Includes the use of the title “Singing Our Way into Fluency







Exploring the Science and Art of Teaching Reading

Exploring the Science and Art of Teaching Reading

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading is both an Art and a Science. Why on earth have we all seemed to have forgotten that?  I’m just coming off an amazing evening that included the installation of the board and officers of our local ILA group in St. Louis, and listening to two outstanding speakers, Amanda Doyle- the author of Standing Up for Civil Rights in St. Louis and Tim Rasinski who was there to promote his newly released book The Megabook of Reading Fluency.  My regular readers know I post every Friday. For the next few Fridays I’ll be unpacking the many wonderful ideas that came from the speakers and audience at that meeting.

Let’s start with the big gun. Tim Rasinski. I got to introduce him. Didn’t know I was going to do that until the outgoing president of our local ILA said “Sam why don’t you introduce our second speaker.”  OMG. What to say! Actually, it wasn’t very hard. Tim is a long- time friend of literacy in St. Louis. He is a former president of the IRA (now ILA), former editor of many prestigious journals including the ILA’s research journal. He has enough publications to fill a room. Yeah, I said it that way- I was on the spot.  But you know, it’s true.  Most of all I described him as a major reading guru, well known for his work in fluency.

Let’s talk about fluency for a second. Tim doesn’t view fluency as speed reading (ugh!). He views it as prosody (yeah!).  He has a prosody rubric that he makes available for free on his website. He also uses it in his own 3-minute reading assessment which is also available on his website ( That one’s not for free! His new book contains a revised version of the rubric that includes the acronym E.A.R.S. to describe the major components of prosody. I’ve supported the use of the various forms of this rubric for a long time. This is because, in my opinion, it actually measures reading. I’m not at all sure what it is those tests that measure solely the speed of reading measure. I guess they might help folks who want to become auctioneers. Not sure who else really reads or talks that way. But I digress. What about this idea of reading as art as well as science.

I’ve heard Tim speak many times in many places. But this was the first time I’d heard him pitch the idea that READING IS AN ART AS WELL AS A SCIENCE. He made a very compelling argument. He made it clear that he supports the idea that the teaching of reading is a science. Given his background and publications I find his claim that he believes that teaching reading is a science more than credible.  However, my ears perked up though when he started talking about the teaching of reading as an art as well. The more he talked the more I realized that he was afraid it was becoming a lost art. What does the art of reading look like in the classroom?

Tim talked about several different classroom teachers he has encountered. One of them spent about half of her literacy time doing all the traditional scientific things and the other half of the time having her children learn to read AND PERFORM poetry.  Practice all week, performances on Fridays.  She was a second-year primary teacher. She was getting major push back about “wasting” instructional time. The upshot- lots less art, lots more science please. She wrote Tim about that. He advised her to stay the course. She did. As a result, her classes’ end of the year test performance went up dramatically. She replicated the results the next year. She also become her state’s teacher of the year.

Readers have I got your attention yet?

By next week I’ll have my own copy of Tim’s latest book (found it on Amazon Prime) and a chance to really look and think about both the ideas he presented Wednesday night in St Louis and about the content of his new book. A big thanks to Scholastic for sponsoring him. Just in the brief chance I had to look at the book he brought with him and also looking at the on- line previews of the book I have become convinced that this book is destined to become the go to handbook for teachers who want to do serious teaching around the concept of fluency.  It’s packed full of practical lessons and a defense for using such lessons that can only be mounted by someone with Tim’s knowledge of fluency. It is a blueprint on how to use the art (and science) of reading to help kids become more fluent readers. For me, this means readers who read with prosody. It doesn’t mean readers who aspire to read fast, faster, fastest. Instead it means readers who aspire to read with varied speeds, speeds appropriate to the text content and meaning. Speeds that demonstrate an understanding of text meaning. In short, readers who read like storytellers.  I predict the use of Tim’s rubric and his lessons will go a long way toward helping to make that happen.


(NOTE TO READERS: Please read the previous single word paragraph in a voice drawn out slowly, emphasis on the first syllable and with real enthusiasm! 😊 Writer’s workshop note I learned the writer’s trick of single word paragraphs for the purpose of emphasis from my writing workshop teachers many years ago. At this juncture, I just tried to meld that particular piece of writing craft with the concept of reading with prosody. Hope all that just had the desired effect).

So…, there will be more to come on this topic over the next few Fridays.  For right now I’m inviting my readers to wrap their head around the idea that reading is both an art and science.  Some of you have had this idea for a long time. For some it may be brand new. Please understand that treating the teaching of reading as art can be justified.  Treating it as an art can pay off in so many ways. According to Rasinski, one of those ways happens to include the possibility of better test scores. But it also includes so much more. I think Rasinski’s newest book will help you as a teacher to get into the art of teaching reading (and writing) while still using the science of reading (and writing). Some of the things he said in St. Louis made me feel I was back in a writer’s workshop seminar.  You’ll see what I mean next week. Anyway, we REALLY need to talk more about all this over the next few weeks. As always, both push back and praise are welcome. Have a good week!


Happy Reading and Writing


Dr. Sam Bommarito (A.K.A. Dr. B., newly minted “art” teacher & wanna-be storyteller  who is learning how to read with a storyteller’s voice)


Copyright 2018, Dr. Sam Bommarito, all rights reserved

Does Educational Research Really Support Promoting Independent Wide Reading as an Educational Practice? by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Does Educational Research Really Support Promoting Independent Wide Reading as an Educational Practice?

by Dr. Sam Bommarito


(screen capture taken from Dr. Molly Brown’s Website)

Author’s note: this is part of a series of blog postings about the issue of wide reading.

I’ll start by answering the question posed in the title. My answer is as follows:


That answer is different from some you will find in various books, articles, blogs. These contrary opinions are held by individuals who are well credentialed and who have substantial experience both in the practice of reading and in doing research about the field of reading. So why do I insist on taking the position that there is a substantial research base supporting independent wide reading as a preferred educational practice?

The answer lies in my take on what constitutes usable research. Many individuals who write about the science behind literacy practices, warn that one cannot take the concept of being guided by science at face value. The question must be asked, whose science? What are the limits and limitations of each view of science?

Let’s first consider the position taken by some critics of independent reading. They indicate that that isn’t possible to provide sound estimates of the impact of Independent Wide Reading from existing experimental studies. They maintain we only have correlational data about independent reading, and these studies are not very thorough. The problem with requiring that all research guiding practice be mainly done with experimental studies is that the methods and techniques developed for such studies were born in fields often referred to as the “hard sciences”. Randomly assigning treatments and availability of widely accepted ways to measure the phenomena being studied are usual characteristics of this approach. We could call this a “pure empirical approach”. This approach when transferred directly to educational research can sometimes raise some red flags on the issue of face validity. Almost every Doctoral candidate in the field of reading becomes aware of these issues.  By the time one includes random assignment, acceptable instrumentation for a completely empirical study, et. al., the danger is that one narrowed the scope of the research to such an extent that the results could potentially lack face validity and consequently lack any educational significance.

On the other hand, when considering a qualitative research approach, one is often relying on correlational measures.   Correlational measures can result in finding spurious relationships. One example that stands out from my statistics course work is one where a researcher found a significant correlation between the birthrate in Puerto Rico and the subway schedules in New York. The example was meant to bring home the point that correlation does not establish causality. It was a strong enough example for me to remember it some three decades later!   Let me tell you how I reconcile the limits and limitations of each approach to science.

Before I was a reading teacher I was a history teacher. I learned an important lesson in decision making. It involved General Eisenhower and the issue of selecting a date for the Normandy invasion.  There were two competing schools of thought on how to predict the weather. Why did Ike did pick June 6th?  June 6th was the date on which the two competing schools of thought on how to predict weather agreed.  The strategy worked. Its implementation contributed to an important turning point in world history.

In the same way, I look at both qualitative and quantitative research to see what I can learn from each. I remain skeptical of those who advocate using evidence from only (or mainly) from one or the other. When considering each kind of research, I check for both face validity (is what is being measured really reading) and for spurious correlations (could the finding really be a result of random chance). Overall, I’ve found enough evidence to support the concept of promoting independent reading. Most of this is evidence we have already talked about in the last few posts in this blog. I will review it now.


I’ll begin with an excerpt from Bill Kerns post on this blog last week:

The Battle Over Wide Reading

The ability to provide students with opportunities for wide reading in school is under attack. Given pressures of high stakes tests, schools commonly reduce wide reading opportunities while narrowing the curriculum and focusing on test taking skills (Moon, Brighton, & Callahan, 2003). This contributes to lack of opportunities for students to engage in reading for pleasure and simple enjoyment within classrooms (Lareau, 2003).

Fluency, involving an ability to read with accuracy and expressiveness with little effort (Kuhn & Stahl, 2003), is a strong predictor of comprehension skill. There appears to be a strong relationship between reading fluency and reading comprehension according to numerous studies with children from the primary grades through middle school (Hosp & Fuchs, 2005).  Children trained in the acquisition of reading fluency also demonstrate growth in comprehension (Rasinski et al., 2009). Students with reading disabilities often lack fluency as readers (Torgesen et al., 2001). Wide and repeated readings improve both fluency and comprehension skills among students with reading disabilities (Allington & Gabriel, 2012; Chard, Vaughn, & Tyler, 2002; Therrien, 2004; Vaughn et al., 2006).

Vocabulary knowledge also is significantly linked to comprehension skills (Baumann, Kamenui, & Ash, 2003). Reading an hour per day greatly increases vocabulary (Mason, Stahl, Au, and Herman, 2003).   Progress in vocabulary and reading comprehension skills and achievement is strongly related to increased time spent reading (Taylor et al., 2000; Krashen, 2004; Wasik & Iannone-Campbell, 2012).

I don’t just argue for wide reading but also deep reading. Giving students a say in what they read promotes motivation to read (Cambourne 1995, 2000). This can be a challenge on a tight budget. When I taught high school English I would sometimes have 40 or more students in a class. So, I recommend reaching out for partnerships with organizations such as the local affiliate of the International Literacy Association for help in building up a classroom library without breaking the bank account. Choice isn’t enough, motivation to read is also fostered when the books are of personal and cultural relevance to students (Gambrell, 2011; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002) and with sustained engagement in the texts (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000).”


In addition readers are invited to view Dr. Molly Browns March 7th 2018 blog  entry, which a lively defense of independent reading and gives classic research examples to back it up, . Kylene Beers has a blog that supports the idea of wide reading ( A teacher quote from that blog reads “I teach novels not because the CCSS says students need to learn to read texts closely or learn to find details or learn something about the author’s craft.  I teach novels because I teach kids and I want kids to love to read.  And if they are going to love to read, they need to read novels.  They need to read some they’ve chosen; some I’ve chosen; some that are hard; some that are easy; some that make them laugh; some that make them cry.”  Beers’ book, Disrupting Thinking contains a widely used graphic listing research that shows the benefits of wide reading. When the book came out she shared the graphic on twitter. It can easily be found using a web search and it is used by many teachers to send home to parents in order to sell parents on the importance of wide reading.

Some ideas that I hope readers will take away are the following. First, great books must be made available and these should include both expository and narrative books. Student book choice is not absolute.  As the teacher for Beer’s blog said: “some they’ve chosen; some I’ve chosen”.  As Kern’s indicates the talk around the book must include deep thinking, and the book themselves must be socially and culturally relevant.  Parents can and should be part of the process of promoting wide reading. And finally, there’s the quote from Atwell (my favorite Atwell quote of all times!). It reminds us that the only way anyone becomes a reader is to sit and read in a quiet room. That is how readers can enter The Reading Zone. That is both a place and a title of one of the best known of Atwell’s publications.

So- those are my views about how (and why) to proceed with a program of independent reading. Please feel free to comment. Push-back and praise are both welcome.  I am delaying the finish of the talk this topic because I want to do one more share with you about some of the splendid work educators are doing in getting quality books into the hands of ALL children.  Then I will take on the topic of workshop teaching and how it can be used to promote the development of lifelong readers.


Happy Reading and Writing



Dr. Sam Bommarito (A.K.A informed consumer of educational research both quantitative & qualitative)

Addressing the Wide Reading Needs of English Language Learners

Addressing the Wide Reading Needs of English Language Learners

by Dr. William Kerns

The promotion of wide reading at the K-12 levels of education is imperative. In this blog post, I focus on reasons why wide reading opportunities are too often denied to English Language Learners (ELLs). The Response to Intervention (RTI) model often is touted as a way to address the needs of English Language Learners, but I’m concerned that too many students are denied wide reading opportunities in their first and second language, only to instead spend hours in pull-out intervention sessions.

I was a high school English and Reading teacher in Central Florida prior to entering higher education. Many of my students were English Language Learners, with Spanish tending to be their primary language. My students didn’t want rote, boring instruction. They wanted to be engaged in learning as a social process through curriculum that is driven by inquiry and investigation into topics of high interest (Moses, Busetti-Frevert, & Pritchard, 2015). They wanted dialogue. Digital storytelling. Writing workshops, reading workshops, and learning workshops geared toward guidance through increasingly challenging activities (Larson, 2014). Bring in art, music, drama, and the students are increasingly engaged. Bring in opportunities for playfulness and creativity. They also wanted opportunities for wide reading of material that is meaningful to them.  My former students provided inspiration for me as I wrote this post.

The topics discussed in this post became increasingly poignant to me after my marriage in February 2017. My wife, “Deanna” Deng Pan, was born and raised in China. To be more specific, she lived in Szengzhou, capital of Henan Province in North-Central China, until attending college in Beijing. Although my wife studied English in China, she felt ill-prepared to speak English fluently when she moved to the United States for graduate study. We frequently talk of her difficulties living in the United States related being an English Language Learner. The sense of social isolation. The way that quietness caused by uncertainty in what to say or how to say it can contribute to many Americans mistaking Chinese women for demure and shy, when in reality the Chinese women may, like my wife, actually be lively and potentially outspoken. But there can be differences in observable personality traits when speaking English compared with speaking Mandarin.

Little fears creep in on a daily basis, such as whether a misspoken word to a clerk might result in a condescending look or remark from the clerk. She is presently an advanced Ph.D. student at University of Missouri-St. Louis in Supply Chain Management and Analytics, so she speaks English fluently enough to get by as a professional. Yet, on nearly a daily basis I am reminded of important lessons related to instruction for English Language Learners from my wife. When my wife uses Internet search engine tools for assistance in understanding a word or a phrase in English, it’s a reminder to me that students need access to a variety of tools for their own assistance in the classroom. She values seeing the word in English and Mandarin, along with frequently a visual image and a vocal recording to help her learn the pronunciation. She might even use her hands to make a gesture that helps her understand a concept. So, I think of the importance of learning in various modes (e.g. visual, kinesthetic, aural, verbal). If she watches a movie such at Batman: The Dark Night she also likes to investigate cultural, social, and linguistic connections before, during and after the movie. In other words, she is building her schema in order to help her to understand themes in the movie. She’s also engaged in wide reading that is personally and socially meaningful to her.


The Battle Over Wide Reading

The ability to provide students with opportunities for wide reading in school is under attack. Given pressures of high stakes tests, schools commonly reduce wide reading opportunities while narrowing the curriculum and focusing on test taking skills (Moon, Brighton, & Callahan, 2003). This contributes to lack of opportunities for students to engage in reading for pleasure and simple enjoyment within classrooms (Lareau, 2003).

Fluency, involving an ability to read with accuracy and expressiveness with little effort (Kuhn & Stahl, 2003), is a strong predictor of comprehension skill. There appears to be a strong relationship between reading fluency and reading comprehension according to numerous studies with children from the primary grades through middle school (Hosp & Fuchs, 2005).  Children trained in the acquisition of reading fluency also demonstrate growth in comprehension (Rasinski et al., 2009). Students with reading disabilities often lack fluency as readers (Torgesen et al., 2001). Wide and repeated readings improve both fluency and comprehension skills among students with reading disabilities (Allington & Gabriel, 2012; Chard, Vaughn, & Tyler, 2002; Therrien, 2004; Vaughn et al., 2006).

Vocabulary knowledge also is significantly linked to comprehension skills (Baumann, Kame ’ enui, & Ash, 2003). Reading an hour per day greatly increases vocabulary (Mason, Stahl, Au, and Herman, 2003).   Progress in vocabulary and reading comprehension skills and achievement is strongly related to increased time spent reading (Taylor et al., 2000; Krashen, 2004; Wasik & Iannone-Campbell, 2012).

I don’t just argue for wide reading but also deep reading. Giving students a say in what they read promotes motivation to read (Cambourne 1995, 2000). This can be a challenge on a tight budget. When I taught high school English I would sometimes have 40 or more students in a class. So, I recommend reaching out for partnerships with organizations such as the local affiliate of the International Literacy Association for help in building up a classroom library without breaking the bank account. Choice isn’t enough, motivation to read is also fostered when the books are of personal and cultural relevance to students (Gambrell, 2011; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002) and with sustained engagement in the texts (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000).

The Denial of Wide Reading Opportunities to English Language Learners

English Language Learners (ELLs) too often lack opportunities to engage in wide reading in school due to a failure to accurately distinguish between language differences and disabilities. When an inaccurate diagnosis is made, the child can find himself or herself spending perhaps hours in pull-out intervention rather than engaging in wide reading. Disproportionate numbers of ELLs placed in special education may not have actually been learning disabled. Instead, these students may be struggling readers in English because of limited English proficiency or because of a lack of reading instruction in English as their second language (August & Shanahan, 2006; National Research Council, 2002).


Abedi (2009) identified focal characteristics of ELLs that pose problems in relation to identifying and educating ELLs with learning disabilities. The first challenge posed is the racial and ethnic diversity of the ELL population. Second, ELLs vary greatly in their exposure to academic learning. Finally, as a result of these first two factors, ELLs demonstrate widely varying rates of individual progress in learning English. Abedi contends that results on reading proficiency assessments and on high stakes academic assessments are significantly influenced by English proficiency levels.


Test bias is an important concern in assessments for second language learners. Test bias relates to assessment results that are not equally accurate in measuring ability or predictive in identifying learning difficulties. According to Snow and Van Hemel (2009), potential sources of bias for minority students include: (a) test content  that may measure different constructs depending on a student’s culture;  (b) minorities tend to be underrepresented in standardization and norm-setting norm-reference assessments; (c) test performance can be influenced by familiarity with testing situations; (d) differential representation of minorities; and (e) errors in predicting future performance of minority students. Williams and colleagues (2007) found that success in improving the academic achievement of ELLs is more likely when schools consistently use reliable and valid assessment data to improve instruction.


Response to Intervention (RTI) is often promoted as a solution to this problem. In an RTI approach, interventions of increasing intensity are implemented and evaluated a student until an effective intervention is identified. RTI is a multi-tiered approach that provides high quality instruction and intervention matched to student needs and uses data on students’ performance over time to inform instructional decisions. Progress monitoring through research-based and validated assessment allows for early identification of students who are struggling. Most models of RTI have three tiers, with each tier representing an increasingly intense level of intervention, although there can be any number of tiers in an RTI framework (Klingner et al., 2007). Primary instruction, typically tier 1, is the core curriculum involving universally applied research-based classroom interventions that are provided by general classroom teachers. Students who are identified through assessment as in need of supplementary intervention then move to the second level of intervention, typically known as tier 2. Students receive targeted interventions that are provided in small groups. Finally, individualized tier 3 intervention is provided to students who are not adequately responding to tier 2 intervention and is still more intensive.


Through universal screening teachers assess students on measures that are valid indicators of important outcomes (Ikeda, Neessen, & Witt, 2008). Universal screening measures are quick to administer and to score while providing data that leads to valid inferences about those outcomes (Hosp & Ardoin, 2008). A key part of universal screening and the overall tiered RTI model is the use of general outcomes measures (GOMs), known in the literature as curriculum-based measurements (CBMs), designed to provide information on the effectiveness of instruction.


Deno (2003) describes a GOM as a standardized method of assessment that determines progress through the use of repeated measurement of what a student has learned, or should have learned, within a particular skill domain, including of importance to this paper, basic reading skills. GOMs provide evidence for adequate or inadequate reading skills. However, there is debate over appropriate assessments for evaluating how well ELLs are responding to reading instruction.


Barrera and Liu (2010) challenge the ways in which GOMS are typically used within RTI models to address the needs of ELLs. The researchers point out that for a short reading passage, it is not possible to determine whether scores may be affected by reading and content experience, language, or by a possible disability. According to Barrera and Liu, factors such as experience with reading, experience with contexts presented in a text, and language differences may be de-emphasized because the use of GOMs as part of the RTI process places an emphasis on validation with standardized assessments such as state assessment scores. Barrera and Lui reviewed 22 studies on the use of GOMs with ELLs that were published since the mid-1990s in order to investigate how the characteristics of ELLs with learning disabilities are included in these studies. Only four of the 22 studies provided disaggregated data on ELL populations by language or ethnicity. Their literature review demonstrated the following common features of research on the use of GOMs related to ELLs: (a) the research literature is growing, but at this point, ELLs with disabilities tend to be absent in most of the studies; (b) there is a limited research base related to accounting for differences in students’ academic language proficiency; (c) research studies tend to focus on the degree of technical adequacy in the predictive features of GOMs in comparison to other assessments; (d) the majority of studies focus on reading for students at the primary grade levels; (e) studies tend to compare language proficiency of ELLs with native English speakers.


The Mode of Instruction for English Language Learners

I advocate the use of a student’s primary language as part of wide reading and dialogue in order to scaffold the learning of a second language. Dual language education is a type of bilingual education in which both native English speakers and English Language Learners are taught together and both languages are used for classroom instruction.  One goal of the dual language program is to teach students to read, write, and speak both languages while they acquire the same math, science, social studies, and language arts skills that other students their age are learning.  Commonly in dual language programs, one language such as Spanish or Chinese is used as the language of the classroom for a large part of the school day.


Support for dual language education draws on findings that strong literacy development in one’s native language facilitates academic achievement and proficiency in the second language and that academic and linguistic skills developed in the first language transfer to the second language (Cummins, 1979). In addition, students involved in dual language education learn the second language better than they would in a regular foreign language class (August & Hakuta, 1997). Rolstad, Mahoney, and Glass (2005) found a positive relationship between bilingual education programs and reading gains among second language learners compared to instruction in English only.


Admittedly, research related to dual language instruction as the primary medium of instruction is both limited and mixed. The Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth (August & Shanahan, 2006) did not discuss ways that bilingualism or biliteracy may help or hinder the development of literacy in English as a second language. Instead, the use of a student’s first language in literacy instruction is discussed as optional within the report.  These findings agreed that when instructional programs include time and resources for developing literacy in the first language there are greater literacy gains in English as a second language in comparison to programs that are English only programs or programs that use English as the primary medium of instruction (Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2006; Slavin & Cheung, 2005).  Further, according to the report, although word level skills such as decoding of language-minority students are more likely to be at equal levels to monolingual English speakers than text level skills including reading comprehension (August & Shanahan, 2006).


Escamilla (2009) takes issue with the influential Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth (August & Shanahan, 2006), arguing that learning to read in one’s native language in a manner that privileges bilingualism provides cognitive and linguistic advantages that promotes increased academic achievement in English as a second language (Carlo et. al., 2004; Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2006; Rolstad et al., 2005; Slavin et al., 2010). The sociocultural context of literacy development is one key point of contention that Escamilla raises regarding the findings within the Report of the National Literacy Panel. Authors of the report stated that they found little evidence of sociocultural interventions that were related to literacy development (August & Shanahan 2006). However, Escamilla points to findings that link student achievement to sociocultual factors (Ogbu, 1992) and links that have been found between education achievement in second generation immigrant students to the maintenance of their native languages and cultures (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). Escamilla further contends that the Report of the National Literacy Panel should have considered the influence of policies that privilege English-only instruction, while August and Shanahan (2010) counter that it was beyond the charge of the panel to become involved in debates over federal and state policies.




The complexity and urgency of meeting the needs of ELLs demands attention.  A discussion of the concept of instruction for English Language Learners provides an example of how the examination of the need for teachers to explore their underlying beliefs that shape their educational practices.  This is why I chose to describe my relationship with my wife within the introduction to this blog. I wanted the reader to be able to picture her as a real person rather than simply picturing an abstract “English Language Learner” within this blog. The discourses about students who are English Language Learners provide a framework for further communication about aspects of the reality of lives, and the reality of teaching, assessment, and intervention services that we provide.  It is beyond the scope of one single blog to solve problems raised for discussion. That’s the hard part. But to address a problem first we need to name the problem.





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Getting Books into the Hands of Children: Part Two of Three by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Getting Books into the Hands of Children: Part Two of Three


Dr. Sam Bommarito

“In many low-income households, the priorities are feeding the children and heating the home. Buying books for children is a luxury that few can afford. In the average middle-income neighborhood there are thirteen books for every child. In the average low-income neighborhood there is one book for every 300 children.” taken from the Ready to Learn Website

Last week I left off with the question of how we were introduced to Ready To Learn.  Elise Tierney (Executive Director of RTL) and I met when Ready To Learn came to my elementary building while I was teaching in the St. Louis Public schools. After I retired from full time teaching I was reintroduced to Ready To Learn when my local ILA group rented space at the Color Art warehouse in St. Louis. Our ILA group and Ready To Learn were “neighbors” at that warehouse.  They gave us many tips that helped us with our Read and Feed project and later with our project centered on distributing “gently used” books. They gladly shared their expertise on how to doctor gently used books into a new life.  Here are some pictures highlighting the work of Ready to Learn.

Ready to Learn Pic one

Over the last 6 years Ready to Learn has distributed over 205,000 books to Title 1 qualified schools in the St. Louis area. The first time they came, they gave my building a large stuffed animal, based on the school mascot. That was displayed in the library. That was part of their book buddies program. In that program students from Pre-K through third grade are each given a book paired with a stuffed animal representing the main character of the book they received. The teachers in my building found that Book Buddies really helped to engage students who have had little or no reading experience.  They provided that important first step into the exciting world of books and reading.  Reading with their Book Buddies, helped to bring the story to life for our kids.

The Ready to Learn program did not end there. In our building Elise and her group came back giving children books to all students in my building as part of her Book Day program. She also provided the school with a bookshelf that she promised to keep stocked with books.  She did that.  Hundreds and hundreds of books were taken home by our students. Every student got at least 6 books during the course of the year. Those books became part of the home libraries for our students. They became the foundation of our work with parents to encourage them to read with and read to their children.

During the book distributions, she also made classroom teachers aware that she could accommodate student needs for students reading well above or well below their grade level placement.  Part of my job as the reading specialist in the building was to coordinate the communication between Elise’s group and the classroom teachers. Elise always had adult volunteers who help students as they “book shopped”.

Ready to Learn Pic TwoOverall this project is a reading teacher’s dream. If you want to “read more about it” here are links to the Facebook page and website of Ready To Learn.

Website =

Facebook = @readytolearnstl

There is the other St. Louis area organization I want to talk about is the St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature. Julius B. Anthony is the president.  We first learned of this group through Dr. Betty Porter Walls, an associate professor of reading at Harris Stowe university. Betty is a long time ILA member and a member of both our state and local ILA boards.  Because of that contact, Julius and his group presented at one of our local ILA meetings. He also helped this spring at the semi-annual “read-in” held at Harris Stowe University’s preschool.

Harris Stowe

Being at the November ILA meeting was an amazing experience. Each of the authors talked about their books.  The most compelling story of the night was from Mikey Wren, an elementary student, who has sold over 1000 copies of his self-published book. He is slated to receive the Black-Tie Community Award this April for his work as a young entrepreneur.  You can read all about him and the work of the St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Books Initiative. You’ll find all this and more at their website and Facebook page. I’m also giving you a link to an interview of Julius that appears in the latest issue of the Missouri Reader.

St Louis Black Authors of Children's Literature


Website =

Facebook = @STLBlackAuthors

Link to Julius B. Anthony’s interview in the Missouri Reader:

So…, a lot is happening in Missouri. I hope the example of what is going on in my city and state will give readers of this blog some ideas of things they might try in their own states.  Ideas about how to get books. Ideas about how to get them into the hands of the students, especially students in Title 1 buildings. Most importantly, I hope you get ideas on how to motivate students to read.  As I said at the outset, I also know there are things like this happening all around the country. I would love to hear from my readers about that. I would love to get comments about what’s going on (and push-back if merited!).

Next time this blog will tackle the issue of research supporting the use of wide reading as an instructional tool.

Until then-

Happy Reading and Writing


Dr. B (AKA, the book doctor)

Getting Books into the Hands of Our Children – A Most Worthwhile & Effective Reading Practice (Part 1 of 3)

Getting Books into the Hands of Our Children – A Most Worthwhile & Effective Reading Practice (Part 1 of 3)

Before talking about studies supporting the efficacy of wide reading (I’m saving that topic for the 3rd blog post), I want to remind readers that one of my strongly held beliefs is that one of the characteristics of an effective literacy program is that the program should help to create lifelong readers. In the real world, the reading scores of students do not matter as much as the habits of mind that those students bring to their various life endeavors.  Students who learn how think, how to evaluate ideas, can apply those life-skills/strategies in many ways. They can apply those skills/strategies to future jobs.  That includes jobs that haven’t been invented yet. In my opinion, one of the most important habits of mind we can help our students to develop is the habit of reading widely over a wide variety of reading material for a wide variety of purposes.  Most importantly, this is something we want them to want for themselves. I’m using a quote now that I’ve used several times before. The quote is from Missouri’s favorite son, Mark Twain. He said, “Those who won’t read, are no better off than those can’t read.”  Creating lifelong readers should be job one of every literacy teacher. It should be goal one of any literacy program. One way to create lifelong readers is to get books into the hands of our children.

Much of my teaching career was spent in Title I buildings. In those buildings, students often lacked access to books. I want to tell you about some very successful things that are being done in my state and in my local area to change that situation. Partly I do this as a sense of pride, pride in what various organizations are currently doing. Partly I do this out of hope, hope that reading these stories might encourage other people in other places to also take on the task of getting books into the hands of our children. And partly I do this as an invitation to those of you from other areas who are already doing similar things to share with the readers of this blog things that are happening in your region.

Let’s begin by talking about a local project formerly known as the Read and Feed project and currently known as the R.E.A.D. project. It began as a result of the 2016 International Literacy Association (formerly International Reading Association) holding their convention in St. Louis.  Large numbers of brand new trade-books left over at the convention were made available to the state/local ILA organizations for distribution.  This was done in accordance with the standing rules and procedures of ILA. These kinds of book distributions have become an ongoing feature of recent ILA conventions.  Our state and local ILA groups volunteered to take on the project. The project was to get the books distributed to students in Title 1 qualified schools.  An article from the Missouri Reader, Spring 2014 gives the details of the first year of that project.


LINK =  (Go to page 42)

As you read the article please notice the thank you from the Director of Elementary Education of the Ferguson-Florissant school district.  Books went to the summer Title 1 program in Ferguson-Florissant in the summers of 2016, and 2017. This was just one of several sites we helped. For instance, the Spanish books in this collection ended up at Confluence Academy, a charter school in St. Louis city with a very large population of Spanish speaking students.  They were given out at a parent/student breakfast. Our ILA volunteers and Confluence staff provided explanations to the students and parents of the benefits of wide reading. Thanks to the Confluence staff, this was done in Spanish as well as English.  This is a perfect example of getting books children really wanted to read into the hands of children whose access to such books was very limited. It also stresses the importance we place on including parents in that process.

During the second year of the project, we found a new source for getting books to distribute. We were able to get school library books from local districts. These were books that were slated for removal from school libraries.  Before these books were thrown away or recycled our volunteers culled through them finding appropriate “gently used” books. This enabled us to do additional book giveaways.  This project is scheduled to wrap up soon. In the end there will be over 20,000 books in the hands of students in “high needs” buildings. But were these used books worth giving away?

The answer is yes. With some work and cleaning up they were more than ready for a second life. We learned to become “book doctors” through the tutelage of Elise Tierney who directs the Ready to Learn organization in St. Louis. We learned how to go through books, sorting trash from treasure. We learned to clean and remove old tags et. al. At the end we had books that were quite usable.

How did we meet Elise and her group? You’ll find out about her organization and their work next week. I’ll also be talking about the work of another St. Louis group, St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature. I think you will find that their reading initiative is an amazing endeavor.

Want to get a preview of Elise’s group and what they do? Visit

Want to get a preview of the St. Louis Black Author’s group and their work? Visit

In the meantime,

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. B.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Readers what do you think?

Happy Reading and Writing

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