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Part two of the literacy practices series: Video interview of award-winning performance poets/master teachers Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Part two of the literacy practices series: Video interview of award-winning performance poets/master teachers Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook by Dr. Sam Bommarito

As reported in this excerpt from the Write to Learn blog, I recently interviewed award-winning performance poets and master writing teachers Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook. You can check out the video on YouTube.

In the wide-ranging interview, Michael and Sara talk about what they do when working with student writers and how teachers can employ these same strategies to get students engaged with writing.

Some of the topics they talk about are:

  • How they use poetry across grade levels and content areas, virtually every day of the school year—not just during National Poetry Month!
  • Why they prefer to use the term “versions” rather than “drafts” when having students revise their work.
  • Strategies for keeping kids engaged during virtual writing lessons.
  • Why they choose to teach writing through elements (metaphor, repetition) rather than through form (sonnet, essay).

Michael and Sara have developed an approach to teaching writing that gets kids started quickly in a very non-threatening way by using simple frameworks to start, then building complexity through revision (versions) as they go, and they will walk you step by step through this process  in their upcoming workshop, “Jump Start Writing for Striving and Thriving Writers (And Everyone in Between).” 

The first session takes place on November 12, followed by session two on November 19, and concludes (after a week off for Thanksgiving) on December 3.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Willy Wood
Write to Learn Conference Coordinator

Link to Register for the Conference


The connection between reading and writing is well researched. Helping your students view themselves as writers and developing a writerly life is an important way to help them become lifelong readers. There were many practical tips given during the interview (e.g. teaching writing elements rather than writing form) Michael and Sara’s upcoming sessions will give you lots of new ideas to help you help your students. I’ll be attending, hope you will be too. Next week I will continue this multipart series on literacy practices. Till then- Happy reading and writing!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the lifelong learner, still seeking new ways to improve my teaching)

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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Part One of the Educational Practices Series: A Look at EBLI, a Science of Reading Approach by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Part one of the Educational Practices Series: A Look at EBLI, a Science of Reading Approach to Reading by Dr. Sam Bommarito

As my regular readers know, in this blog I try to take a centrist point of view, looking at all the evidence and all the practices coming from that evidence. Today I am talking to Nora Chahbzi, founder of EBLI (Evidence Based Literacy Instruction). She tells a fascinating story and includes many free resources. I hope my readers find useful ideas and information as she talks about her literacy project which is based on using what she’s learned from the Science of Reading to empower teachers so they can help their kids.  

1. Give a brief history of EBLI, how it evolved, the successes it has had and its current scope and size.

            EBLI: Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction is a system of research-backed reading, spelling, and writing instruction intended to help students of all ages and ability levels effectively and efficiently reach their highest literacy potential.

            EBLI was born out of the reading struggles of founder Nora Chahbazi’s middle daughter. Nora had been a Neonatal ICU nurse for a decade before her daughter’s experience changed the course of her life.            Nora researched whole language and phonics approaches extensively; her daughter had been taught both but was still a year below grade level in reading in 2nd grade on the Iowa test, though she was in the 98th%ile in math. A former professor of education from Michigan State University recommended the book Why Our Children Can’t Read and What You Can Do About It. This book, focused on research-based, systematic instruction of speech to print instruction for both reading and spelling then immediately applying it in text – instead of the print to speech or whole language approach- was the key to the instruction she needed.

            After teaching her daughter to read in 3 hours, Nora opened Ounce of Prevention Reading Center in 1999 and began teaching learners of all ages and ability levels and training teachers. She continuously searched and researched how to be even more effective and efficient with delivery of instruction. Remediation instruction, one hour once a week for an average of 12 total hours, is provided for everyone from complete non-readers to students wanting to improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as doctors, lawyers, and successful  business owners.

Thousands of K-12 classroom and remediation teachers, as well as adult educators, tutors, and volunteers from around the world have been trained in EBLI and teach it to their students. Some schools train remediation teachers, others train a certain grade level of classroom teachers, and some train their entire staff of classroom and remediation teachers. We also have ‘lone wolf’ teachers who have paid for their own training because their school is committed to a different program or instructional practice but the teacher isn’t satisfied with their students’ literacy progress.

Learners from around the country flock to Ounce of Prevention Reading Center to receive in-person instruction and others get online from the EBLI team. Tens of thousands of students are taught in-person or online by educators and others trained in EBLI.

To date, the vast majority of EBLI educators we train as well as students we teach have come from word of mouth advertising. EBLI has no sales team and does minimal marketing. The results speak for themselves and drive people to EBLI when they are ready. The instruction is significantly different from how educators have taught previously, and is a paradigm shift, whether the instructor has a background in a balanced literacy approach or a traditional phonics approach.  

Gains with EBLI are astounding, whether on ACT tests, state assessments, running records, DIBELS assessments, or any other assessments that measure reading or the components of reading. For students (or whole classes) who receive our 2 hours ACT prep instruction, composite scores increase an average of 2-4 points and double digit gains on the reading sub-test are common. State proficiency scores have increased up to 30 points in a year and running record scores for K and 1st graders are typically a year or more above grade level goals for most of the students. 

In this video from 2018, Nora shares her story and her wishes for EBLI and literacy in a very authentic and vulnerable manner.

2. Free resources from EBLI and paid resources from EBLI. What are the possibilities/procedures for family signing up

Free resources from EBLI:

  • EBLI (Level 1) free lessons (live lessons now available as recording)
    • 16 EBLI lessons, each 45 minutes long, for K, 1st, and 2nd and older
    • For parents to use for their children or for teachers to assign to their students
    • Lessons to be done sequentially, 1-3 per week
    • Created when children were sent home for Covid so intended for learners mid/late year,
      • Would be too rigorous for most beginning Kindergarteners
      • For older students, can back down to the younger grade level
  • EBLI Webinars for parents and teachers (include video examples with students and strategies plus how to do the process, if applicable)
    • Roadmap to 95-100% Reading Proficiency: Webinar panel with educators from the classroom to state level, sharing how they got to or are on their way to 95-100% reading proficiency on state tests in their classroom, school, district, or state. It was one of the most profound literacy events I’ve ever experienced!
    • Blending: Accelerate blending for new readers and those who struggle
    • Sight Words by Sound: the do’s and don’t of sight word instruction so students accurately read them in context and spell them in writing, plus a parent’s perspective and experience
  • Read Alouds – 7 (1) hour sessions, include Vocabulary instruction, discussion, and a small amount of code instruction – these were a BIG hit

Paid Resources from EBLI

EBLI Teacher Trainings (all online, includes student lessons, done over time)

  • ETSL: EBLI Teacher Training and Student Lessons for K-3 classroom teachers (yearly subscription)
    • For K-3rd classroom teachers
    • Training videos, example videos of instruction in classroom by EBLI founder, Student lessons, Materials, Student Lesson Videos (shown to students as teacher facilitates), gradually release to teacher teaching
    • Training price for 1st year, deeply discounted for renewal
    • Transferable if teacher leaves
  • ETSL: EBLI Teacher Training and Student Lessons for K-12 Remediation Teachers
    • Pilot fall 2020
    • For those who teach small group or 1:1 remediation (any age)
    • Training videos, example videos of instruction in classroom by EBLI founder, Student lessons, Materials, Student Lesson Videos (shown to students as teacher facilitates), gradually release to teacher teaching
    • Training price for 1st year, deeply discounted for renewal
    • Transferable if teacher leaves
  • EBLI 8 week online training
    • For remediation teachers (students 2nd grade and older)
    • For classroom teachers 4th-8th grade

Student Instruction

  • EBLI Apps
    • Description of each app
      • EBLI Island Lite (free)
      • EBLI Island ($4.99)
      • EBLI Space ($4.99)
      • EBLI Sight Words Made Easy ($4.99)
  • EBLI Online Lessons Level 2
    • K, 1st, and 2nd and up
    • June 17th – Aug 26th  (Live lessons or recordings)
      • (10) 45 min lessons for each lesson
    • Around the World theme
      • Articles on animals and other interesting information students choose
      • Showing locations on the globe
        • Where what we are studying is located
        • Where students participating in the class live in the country/world
      • EBLI instruction including vocabulary, spelling, and summarizing instruction based on the theme covered
  • High Level Vocabulary Instruction
    • 100 minute high level lesson
      • Not intended for remediation
    • 4th – adult
    • Improve fluency (up to 150 wpm) and comprehension
    • Increase ACT composite score an average of 2-4 points
    • Cost $20
      • 14 day access

3. Is EBLI phonics, whole language, or balanced literacy? What does and doesn’t EBLI teach and why?  What advice or resources do you have for teachers to teach in a holistic manner?

EBLI would not be categorized as phonics, balanced literacy, or whole language (though there are some research-backed elements from each of the 3 included in the EBLI framework).

What EBLI does: teaches by sound, teaches all components of literacy systematically and explicitly, asks student to apply what they have learned immediately through supported reading and writing, teaches basic and advanced phonemic awareness skills explicitly and also embedded in EBLI activities starting at the sound level, teaches vocabulary within all activities as well as in explicit vocabulary lessons, trains fluency from the beginning of instruction, teaches and reinforces proper handwriting, focuses first on sound as opposed to letter names, quickly moves students (in K) from decodable to authentic text but avoids predictable text that requires looking at the picture, moves to multi-syllable word level instruction at all grade/ability levels, teaches and reinforces correct conventions and accurate spelling in writing, provides significant support with error correction of misread and misspelled words, differentiates instruction, gradually releases responsibility to the student in all areas of literacy, and promotes read a louds of higher level text at all grade levels.   

What EBLI does not teach: to memorize sight words (or any words), to learn and memorize spelling or syllable rules, to look at pictures to figure out the text, to learn sounds in isolation, to visually memorize spelling words, to guess words, that reading and spelling need to be learned with different processes, to use drill, or to have them insert a word they think makes sense instead of accurately reading the words on the page. 

EBLI is a system of literacy skills, concepts, strategies, and activities to effectively and efficiently assist all students in reaching their highest literacy potential. Explicit, systematic instruction with scaffolding is provided in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, spelling, handwriting, and writing.

The speed of student progress with EBLI is a result of having many components of literacy taught simultaneously in each activity, immediate error correction, multi-sensory instruction, focus on speech to print for reading and spelling words, and quickly and constantly building on what was learned previously. The same system of logic is utilized throughout instruction and what was learned is immediately applied through supported then gradually released reading and writing.

With EBLI the process of learning to read words, reading accurately and understanding text, learning to spell accurately, and applying that to writing is effective and streamlined. It is not complicated with rules, drill, excessive information or cognitive overload nor with asking students to learn to read and write by chance or by teaching themselves or classmates. EBLI instruction is purposeful. Every step of every activity has the purpose of efficiently leading students – through instruction, support, and scaffolding – to the end goal of reading and writing accurately, understanding what they are reading, and communicating to others through great writing.  

EBLI utilizes the best of what is backed by research along with what is easily and efficiently replicated through application with student instruction and leaves the rest out. EBLI is a system. The foundational components remain the same but the application with students is constantly refined as new information on effective teaching of literacy is learned and instructional practices are honed.

Instruction that is explicit and systematic while at the same time holistic is not only possible, it is realized with EBLI. EBLI’s main focus is on instruction that is engaging, efficient, and effective. It is proficient at moving students to their highest literacy potential as quickly as possible. Teachers are provided with the tools they need to accomplish this goal while also increasing the joy of teaching and decreasing the amount of time, energy, and effort it takes to get all their students reading, writing, and spelling at or above grade level. 

Teachers are the experts! My advice to them is what I practice myself: if any students they teach are not proficient readers, writers, and spellers, then search the world over to find out what they might need to do differently to move students to their highest potential. I have found that student weaknesses are, without exception, able to be strengthened. However, I may not yet know how to strengthen that particular weakness (yet). I ask questions, search the internet, pay attention to those whose students or children have made measurable and obvious improvement in the area, stay open minded, and realize that I do and always will have more to learn! Keeping the perspective that the student can learn regardless of their circumstances, and that we can teach them, is imperative.  Accepting and acknowledging that I was wrong or was on a path that wasn’t the most beneficial for the student in some situations is challenging and humbling but it is always rewarding in the end.  

4. EVERYONE is having to learn about distance learning on the job so to speak. Any insights, advice, or tricks of the trade for classroom teachers?

We have been doing online teacher trainings for years but just since schools closed in March have done online instruction for groups of children.  There has been much trial and error but it has been wildly successful with groups of over 125 students. My greatest advice: stay flexible and open minded, be open to creative, unique solutions, and allow the students to be active participants in the planning and learning process.

For example, in our summer lessons the students share what animals they want to study or what parts of the world they’d like to learn about and this guides my lesson planning. I utilize words and vocabulary from the articles we read to drive the EBLI word work we do. When there are any challenges, I ask for input from the children on how to solve them. It is amazing how creative they are! Using the student’s names often and providing more-than-typical positive feedback (catching those often off-task when they are on-task and pointing it out, quick compliments on their work, behavior, and answers to questions, etc) is very beneficial. I use a t-chart point game and give student points liberally!   

Another common issue has been the desire of the parents to answer the questions and do the work for the children. I have found it is helpful to be clear from the outset that I will give the child feedback and guidance and will let the parent know, if they’re sitting with the child, if and when we need any assistance from them. I also let the child know to look at and listen to me, not their parent, during the lessons. I do let the parents know how they can best be supportive.

5. What are parents and teachers saying about EBLI?

Parent feedback about EBLI lessons

Teacher feedback about EBLI training

6. Is their flexibility with implementation of EBLI?

EBLI is a system of skills, concepts, strategies, and activities as opposed to a program. Because of this, it is flexible and adaptable to any situation requiring reading, writing, and spelling. If you ask EBLI trained teachers when they teach EBLI, they will tell you, “All day long, wherever students read, write, and spell”.

EBLI has explicit, systematic, supported, and accelerated instruction of the English code so students are able to effectively, efficiently, and accurately read words in text and spell correctly in writing. The purpose of EBLI is to ensure that students can immediately APPLY what they have learned so they are able to accurately read with understanding and write adeptly.

Thanks so much to Nora for sharing this wonderful information. In the coming weeks I will be continuing this series on educational practices, interviewing two educators from Australia about their literacy programs. This will include exploring the practices of the THRASS institute literacy program.  I will also be talking to two of the upcoming speakers at the Write to Learn conference. I also hope to interview Matt Glover about writing.  It’s going to be an interesting and informational packed month or two for the blog!

In the meantime- be safe, be well and Happy Reading and Writing

Here’s a link to the Write to Learn speakers:

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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

A New Look at Brain Research- The impact of music on reading fluency/prosody: A Video Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

A new look at Brain Research- The impact of music on reading fluency/prosody: A Video Interview by Dr. Sam Bommarito

In this interview Ann C. Kay, co-founder and Educational Coordinator of the Rock ‘n’ Read Project gives us an engaging and informative look at the topic of the impact of music on reading fluency and prosody. This was my very first blog interview done as a video, though I posted a video blog interview last week that was done after this one. That interview was time sensitive- it was about an upcoming Write to Learn speaker. Thanks to Ann for letting me post that first.

How Rock ‘n’ Read Came to Be

Ann begins by telling us she is a long-time music teacher. The saga began with a serendipitous discovery that a software product designed by Carlo Franzblau in Tampa Florida to help users improve singing accuracy, rhythm, and pitch had some amazing effects on reading. It turned out that one of the folks trying out the product, discovered that after a number of weeks of use that her daughter, who had been in special classes in reading, had shown marked improvement in reading fluency. This discovery began Ann’s journey of exploring how and why the product had the tremendous impact that it did.

Carlo Franzblau, the creator of the software program used by Ann, went to the University of South Florida, and engaged Dr. Susan Homan to study the effects of singing on reading achievement. The research by Dr. Homan indicated a year’s gain on average in reading after 13.5 hours of use of Franzblau’s software over 9 weeks. You can read about this research in the handouts that can be downloaded at this LINK.   Ann and her partner Bill Jones were the co-founders of the Rock ‘n’ Read project. Bill decided to literally take the use of the software on the road. He turned a converted Metro Bus into a computer lab with 32 computers. Bill and Ann brought this into neighborhoods during the summer and thus was born the Rock ‘n’ Read Project. After the summer project she began using it in Minneapolis public schools- first with a $100,000 state grant and next with a $500,000 state grant for a pilot.  She is currently nearing the end of that grant.


Ann then talked about the research that backs up the use of singing (and other things like repeated readings) to improve reading fluency/prosody. She is especially passionate about this topic.  She is interested in spreading the word about this research, especially current research in neuroscience which indicates the importance of keeping a beat. She has advocated keeping the beat as an additional foundational skill in state ELA Standards. She notes that children who are unable to keep a beat are much more likely to have problems in reading.

She talked about the 50 plus studies in brain research that explored how the brain processes sound. Researchers have found that children who have trouble keeping a beat often have trouble with reading. One researcher, Dr. Kraus, found that playing music improves auditory processing, which in turn leads to improvement in reading performance. That is why Ann is lobbying that keeping a steady beat, which the researchers are saying is a foundational skill, should be included in the foundational skills in her state. See the handouts in the LINK for details.

Advice for Teaching

Ann indicates that she is a big fan of Rasinski’s work. His work includes not only singing, but also repeated readings, reading poetry, choral reading, nursery rhymes et. al. I have written before in this blog about Dr. Rasinski’s work and ideas. LINK1, LINK2, LINK3. She thinks his activities include the common characteristic of keeping a steady beat.   

It turns out Ann teaches a course about using singing to develop other skills. She has been teaching that course since 2005. Included is not just singing but also singing games. Singing games go beyond singing and include the social/emotional development of students.

Ann singing & reading “Hush Little Baby” to her granddaughter

Dr. Sam’s Takeaways

I have spent most of the last 2 years blogging around the topic of the Reading Wars, the limits and limitations of various approaches and the need to find common ground and common practices. A constant theme has been to look at all the research. That includes the research around the brain.  I view the research that Ann is calling to our attention as supporting the work of Tim Rasinski and as explaining, in part, why practices like repeated reading are successful. There is brain research to support them.  I am a lover of music and do play guitar and sing as a personal hobby. But the kind of activities this research supports goes beyond just singing. The key is having repeated performances that include keeping a steady beat

Here is Ann’s contact information

Ann C. Kay, Minnetonka, MN

The Rock ‘n’ Read Project

Ann Kay’s website—Center for Lifelong Music Making

Singing-based software program
Tune into Reading

Blog entry 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.

Willy Wood Gives an In-Depth Look at the Upcoming Speakers for the Write to Learn Conference

Willy Wood Gives an in Depth Look at the Upcoming Speakers for The Write to Learn Conference

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Here is a link to a video interview of Willy Wood, organizer of this year’s Write to Learn Conference.

In the video Willy talks about how the conference, which has been a fixture on the Missouri Literacy Scene for the past four decades, has adapted to the new normal.  The folks who were to be the keynotes/major presenters for the face to face conference are instead each going to present a three-part series on their chosen topics. Here is are the speakers, and the dates they will be speaking:

In addition to giving many insights about each of the speakers, Willy also talked of some things that are still in the works. Included are the addition of a set of Book Club sessions and a possible free open mike session which will bring this extremely popular feature of the face to face conference into the current cyber conference.

To find out more be sure to follow Write to Learn on twitter, @WritetoLearnMO, #WTLMO and visit the conference website which will allow you to register for the various speakers. The website includes a blog where you can get the latest on how the book club and open mike events are coming along.

Here is the link to the Write to Learn page.


See you there!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- Write to Learn Conference groupie!)

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 will not miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

It’s been a good week for Dr. Sam’s professional development: Here are some key takeaways

It’s been a good week for Dr. Sam’s professional development: Here are some key takeaways

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

This week has been an exceptional week for me in terms of P.D. and my growth in professional learning. Even after over 50 years as a teacher, staff developer and college professor, I am still learning new things. Let’s start with an unexpected but wonderful turn of events that happened because of one of my posts.

I usually start the day checking for good things out there in Cyberland.  I look at the Missouri Literacy Association Facebook page, which always has inspiring comments and great information.  I came across a great  post this week.

When I find a good post like this, I usually repost it on Twitter and my professional Facebook page.  The response was overwhelming. People have been responding all week. Even my non-teacher friends are chiming in. And the responding isn’t over yet- as I did my final revision/edit of this post this morning, I checked, and there was yet another new post.  Of all the responses to this post, the one by Melissa Thurlwell, a 9th grade English teacher and dept. chair, caught my attention. I want to thank Mellissa for permitting me to use a screen capture of her tweet in this blog. And I’d also like to thank her for reminding me that sometimes students can learn more than the teacher teaches. They can take the learning to the next level. Melissa and her class certainly did. Kudos to them. Have a look.

Amid the tremendous negativity that seems to characterize things today, it’s nice to see that there is still room for positive thoughts. It’s also nice to see my belief that writing can be a powerful teaching tool reaffirmed. Again- Kudos to Melissa Thurlwell and her class.

Speaking of writing, the Missouri Literacy Association (full disclosure, I am the president) has many great P.D. events going on. Visit their website to see them all: One of them is a series of workshops by Matt Glover, part of several threads for the Missouri Write To Learn Cyber Conference fd/summary. I am attending the series being carried out by Matt Glover, and once again, the old dog is learning some very new tricks. Here is a little something about Matt and what he’s had to say so far.

Matt knows how to teach about the nuts and bolts of implementing a writing workshop (see my previous post about him, LINK). I first learned about writing workshop over 20 years ago when my district brought in folks like Katie Wood Ray and Isoke Nia to help us learn about workshop teaching. Over the four years they came, they managed to transform this skill and drill empiricist into a workshop teacher. (I am still an empiricist, though). Matt covered many of the things that Katie and Isoke taught me all those years ago and gave me two new and important takeaways.  First, teachers should create AND USE, a conferencing toolkit. He introduced that thought in the last session and promised to show us more about how it is done in the next session. The other is the thought of what teaching should look like in a conference or a class.  Explaining, critiquing and evaluating are not teaching (my take, they are precursors to teaching). To really teach, you must help the student do. This tracks perfectly with Nell Duke’s findings that teaching strategies through gradual release is the best way to teach strategies.  From now on, as I do conferences, I will be much more careful about making sure the student is talking about, using and applying the strategy I am modeling in my teaching point. Thanks, Matt!

MLA is also sponsoring a series of webinars by Dr. Tim Rasinski, a long-time friend of literacy in our state. I’ve written about Tim and his ideas before LINK1, LINK2.  He makes a compelling case for treating the teaching of reading as both art and science.  My regular readers know that I am a centrist, one who says we can and should use ideas from all sides. Tim’s work shows us how there is more to research than just carrying out random assignment-based research. He does do such random assignment research, often called quantitative studies, but he is also a master of qualitative research. For details, check out the two links I just gave you.

So…, it’s been an exceptionally good week professionally.  And I predict next week is going to be equally as good. I just did my first video interview for the blog. So, I am expanding into a whole new genre, a hybrid genre. I’ve taped an interview with Ann Kay, founder of the Rock and Read project. She’ll talk about her project and explain how brain research inspired her to use music in order to help teach reading. This one’s a must-read, and now it’s also must-see.  Next week, tune in to find out about what this new form of blogging looks like. You’ll also find out about a different point of view about what brain research says about how we could/should teach reading.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, an old dog who is still learning some very new tricks).

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.

Planning My Distance Learning Lessons- Who’s Doing the Work? by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Planning my Distance Learning Lessons- Who’s Doing the Work?

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The building I am working in has both in-person and distance learning for its students. Last week I described what I am now doing for classroom teachers to carry out my distance learning. I push into large groups once a week via Zoom.  I also carry out virtual guided reading groups for selected distance learning children, helping to reduce the classroom teachers’ workload. I continue to provide individual tutoring to selected children using Zoom. Now that I have the first month’s experience under my belt, I’d like to share key takeaways about the resources and ideas I’m using to support my distance learning implementation.

The three books I’m making the most use of are these:

I found module 6 of The Distance Learning Playbook especially useful. That module deals with engaging tasks. It includes a planning sheet that helps you think about how you can draw on your own expertise to find tasks that include behavioral engagement, cognitive engagement, and emotional engagement. The sheet is available for download at the resources site, which is accessible to all book owners. So is the sheet designed to help you find tools to use in both distance learning and face to face learning.  You can find tools to be used to help students find information, use information, create information, and share information.  Read the World has a similar set of online planning tools, including a lesson planning page, a digital feature think sheet and a learn-wonder think sheet. As one example of how these planning tools helped me think about using online programs, let’s talk about the distance learning program that is the granddaddy of them all- Zoom.

One way to use Zoom is to have the teacher mainly be a talking head.  The teacher creates a PowerPoint or Slide Deck and then spends most of the time presenting that. Let’s look at using this resource this way through my go-to book’s lens for implementing guided reading instruction. My go-to book is Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less so Readers Can Do More. It is clear that this way of teaching results in mostly teacher talk with very little student engagement. Not exactly what we’re after.

Let’s look at a different way to use Zoom, a way that follows the fundamental advice from Who’s Doing the Work. To do this we have to ask how we can implement the lesson so that the teacher says less, and the reader can do more. The Zoom feature that lends itself to this kind of implementation is the breakout room. In this case, I begin my small group by doing a BRIEF review of the reading strategy we are currently focusing on. We try to stay on the same strategy for at least three weeks. The main part of the strategy’s teaching is done in large group, in advance of the small group. That teaching is done using a gradual release model:  I do, we do, you do.  Teaching reading strategies through gradual release is a research-based method- see Nell Dukes extensive research in that area. In this example, the small group is mainly used for the “you do” part of the gradual release process.

After I do a brief (2-3 slides, 1-2 minutes) reminder of what the current strategy involves, I ask the students to think about how they used it with their current book. I then send the students into the breakout rooms in groups of 2 or 3 to talk about this.  I tell them that each student will get a chance to report on what was said in the room. However, they are not to report on what they said. They are to report on what their partner or what other group members said. This encourages active listening during the breakout groups. As the session’s moderator, I can (and do) drop in on each of the breakout groups. My function is mainly to observe and listen, though I sometimes help clarify things or gently nudge them into carrying out the assigned task.

When everyone returns from the breakout room, they each talk about what the others said. My role in that part of the lesson is to facilitate. If I notice that one or more students are unsure or reluctant, I note it and then spend a little extra time in their breakout group the next week.  Over the past month, all the students have become active participants in this process.

So, that is one example of how I use the ideas found in various professional books to inform my distance learning. When I talk to the classroom teachers about their teaching, I remind them of the importance of designing all their lessons, including their distance learning lessons, to maximize student participation.

I would love to hear how some of my readers are implementing distance learning lessons in ways where students do most of the work. Back when I did my reading workshop training (and my trainers included folks like Katie Ray Wood and Isoke Nia), my most important take away from that training was that you should know what work you are leaving for your students and why. The book Who’s Doing the Work reinforced that idea for me. It is a powerful lesson planning idea that can be used on all your lessons, including your distance learning lessons. So, until next week, this is Dr. Sam signing off.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- a teacher who tries to talk less so the kids can do more)

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.

Distance Learning in Literacy: My Takeaways from the First Six Weeks by Dr. Sam Bommarito


Before I begin the blog, a special announcement- Many of my readers know that I am Chairman of the Missouri Literacy Association. MLA is cosponsoring The Virtual Write to Learn conference this year. For conference information/registration, go to  LINK.  MLA is also sponsoring a contest where four lucky folks can win a free registration for one of the conference strands. For details about the contest, go to LINK. In a nutshell, anyone can enter by sending an e-mail to In the body of the e-mail, give your name and grade level or your role (e.g., staff developer). Among the strands this year is one by Matt Glover. At the end of this blog, you will find a screen capture giving all the conference strands. For University professors, the conference this year has adopted a new policy:  Professors who register for the conference can allow their classes to watch the conference sessions either live or with an on-demand session recording that will be available for 90 days after the conference.  See you there!

Dr. Sam

Distance Learning in Literacy: My Takeaways from the First Six Weeks

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

During my 50 plus year in education, I have worn many hats- Title One reading teacher/staff developer, university professor, national reading consultant. I am retired (sort of). One of the things I do is push into my grandchildren’s elementary building for two full days a week. Along came Covid. Now what?  At the start of the year, the principal, classroom teachers and I brainstormed about things I could still do. All of them had to be distance learning since I could no longer come to the building in person this year.  Fortunately, over the past summer, I used Zoom to work with some of the students I tutor.  By this fall, I knew some practical things I could offer the staff that might really help.

For Kindergarten, there was a quick and easy to implement software program. That program is Headsprout. Headsprout is one of the many software programs produced by the Learning A-Z company. They also publish the popular Raz Kids plus program. In the way of full disclosure, I used their programs when I was working as an elementary Title 1 reading teacher/staff developer. I found out about them from one of the teachers I worked with. The Raz Kids became one of the programs I used with my grades 1-4 classes. I even did a presentation for them at the ILA convention when it was held in St. Louis.  Headsprout is what I call a turnkey program.  It is designed to teach the students their sounds and how to put together those sounds into words. The program then provides them with progressively more complicated decodable books. Copies of the books can be run off. The students I tutored this summer have an extensive set of these books. Being the centrist that I am, these were not the only books they got. They also got Fountas and Pinnell Keep books and trade books by authors like Eric Litwin. 

Currently, the school is doing a five day a week face-to-face program for the children who want that option.  They are doing distance learning for children who do not. The advantage of programs like Headsprout is that they work in either setting. The face to face children still get the regular program. In that setting, Headsprout is a supplement that helps to ensure the students do get a program designed to build their decoding skills.  For the distance learning children, Headsprout guarantees that the students will still learn how words work and that they will master the skills they need to break the code.  Like all the Learning A-Z programs, it provides extensive feedback on how the child progresses and alerts the teacher to what sounds have been introduced and mastered. That information makes it very easy to coordinate the program with the rest of the reading instruction. My role in all this was to help get the program set up, help inform parents of what the program was all about and answer teachers’ questions about the program.

For grades one and two, my role includes direct teaching in a whole group, small group and even some individual tutoring.  I come into each of the classrooms once a week for a whole group session. Thanks to Zoom, I can see the whole class in real-time and the whole class can see me on the classroom’s smartboard.  It is almost like being there in person.  In previous years, when I came in, I would do some whole group lessons and then work with one of the small groups.  This year, with some adaptations, I do the same thing. Let us talk about the whole group work first.

The teachers at the school are following a basal series for their literacy program.  They then use guided reading groups to supplement and support the basal.  I would mention that when I was working in some award-winning Title 1 programs in the 1980s, that is how their programs first began. Eventually, the district dropped the basal and went to a guided reading only model.  It remains to be seen if something similar will happen at this building.  Each week the guided reading groups focus on the same skills that the basal is teaching. This past week the skill was that good readers look for details.  One of the places good readers can find details is in the stories, pictures, and illustrations. I did a mini lesson around that teaching point and told them as they did their guided reading work to be sure to use that strategy.  I also did some word work with the group.  The spelling program is designed to teach the students about the sounds they need to learn.  I use making and breaking to develop that kind of sound/symbol knowledge. The teachers and I know we are teaching the students about such things as blends, diphthongs, and digraphs.  For the students, we talk about special pairs or chunks. For instance, the sound “sh” makes and use that sound to make various words.

Each week we look over our spelling words for chunks or special pairs,. For instance, words like dish, fish, ship.  First, we put up the special pair. Then we say the word slowly and build the word around the special pair. All this is done using magnetic letters. My doc camera allows me to do the word work with magnetic letters in real-time.  The combination of the doc cam and using the record feature of Zoom allows me to make video clips for the students to use later. For me, the ability to make such clips has been a real game-changer. I can give teachers the clips. They can then make them available for the students to use at any time.

What about the guided reading groups? This is where the virtual learning feature can be of real help. For years I have used Raz Kids and Raz Kids plus for my guided reading groups.  Remember that the guided reading groups are being used as a supplement to the basal. Raz Kids has many features that make doing virtual guided reading groups possible. You can assign students to a group. You can then make a group assignment for each group using Raz Kids’ extensive library of well-written leveled text. This collection contains both expository and narrative texts.  The group can then be invited to do their Raz Kids story.  Raz Kids allows students to Listen to, Read and then Take a Quiz on each story.

The groups are instructed to listen to their book in advance of coming to the Zoom meeting. At the Zoom meeting, the teacher talks to the group about how they can use that week’s skill/strategy to help them understand the story.  The small group function in Zoom allows the teacher to create break-out groups of 2 or 3.  The teacher can drop into each break-out group during this time. Having this kind of discussion time in each group is especially important. One thing that is necessary for successful distance learning lessons is that students be active within the lesson. Student talk time should always exceed teacher talk time.  In addition, what the students talk about is equally important. We encourage them to talk about how they used this week’s strategy. As the weeks progress, we plan to also ask them to talk about how they used any of the previous week’s strategies as well.  I am heavily influenced by Nell Duke’s research on strategy teaching. The teaching strategies through gradual release results in improved reading test scores. Using the small group time to provide that gradual release is one way teachers can and should do that.

One more thing.  Since each teacher has some students who do virtual learning only, what can we do about them? One of my goals is to help take some of the burden off the classroom teachers. Raz Kids has a unique feature that lets me do just that.  You can assign students to more than one group.  I created a group containing all the virtual kids. Remember, they are also in the regular small groups, so they already have group assignments. I meet with the virtual groups at a different time than whole group. The time is set by the classroom teachers. I tell the virtual kids to listen to their assigned book before coming to the group.  My group lesson is about how they might use this week’s strategy as they read the book.  When I use the Zoom break-out rooms, I assign students in the same book to the same break out room.  I also drop into each room. I use an old writing workshop trick to help assure students are really listening to the break-out discussions. When they come back from the breakout groups, they report on what someone else from the group said.  I have only had a couple of the virtual groups so far, but to date, all is going well, and the student talk time in my groups far exceeds the teacher talk time.

So- that is what is happening so far. I will say that Headsprout and Raz Kids are not the only software programs out there.  When you do your own planning, I highly recommend that you think about what you really want to do and then locate software that helps you do it. Do not be a slave to the software. Treat the software as a tool and look for the best ways that tools can help you.  Next week I will return to the topic of good resources to help you do that. This includes books, websites, and blogs. 

Dr. Sam Bommarito (back in the saddle again learning how to use cyber tools)

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.

Here is a screen capture of the line-up for the Write to Learn conference

MLA’s Contest- Chance to win free sessions with Matt Glover special blog entry by Dr Sam Bommarito

Missouri Literacy Association’s Write to Learn Contest

Win a FREE Zoom series for the Write to Learn Virtual conference, including (but not limited to) the upcoming three sessions by Matt Glover. If you win, what session you claim is up to you!

What to do:

Send an e-mail to MLA, subject ‘WTL Contest.” Our e-mail is

In the body of the e-mail, please say, “I wish to enter the WTL Zoom contest.” Indicate your name and grade level(s) or your current role (e.g., staff developer). The e-mail you use to send the entry will be the e-mail used to notify you if you are a winner.   

The winners will be chosen from these entries. That will happen Sept. 27th,. The Matt Glover series begins Oct 1st. Winners will be contacted on Sept 27th with information on how to claim their prize when they register online for Write to Learn.

To register for the Write to Learn Virtual conference, go to this link:

Contest Details:

  • Only ONE entry per individual. Duplicate entries will not be counted.
  • Individuals can only win one time. There will be a total of 4 winners
  • You must be an MLA member before claiming the prize ($20.00 to join). You can join MLA even after winning the prize, but we would love for you to join anytime!
  • To join MLA (anytime!), go to our website and follow the directions
  • If you are already registered for the Write to Learn Virtual conference, you will be given the option of getting a refund for your Zoom series OR adding one additional series to your registration.

See the screen capture below for information about the WTL conference- the link in the screen capture is not active.

Write to Learn Conference with Matt Glover/Dr. Sam’s Literacy Today Article by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Write to Learn with Matt Glover/Dr. Sam’s Literacy Today article


Dr. Sam Bommarito

Two important developments this week.


The Write to Learn Conference is special to me for a number of reasons I have mentioned before. My very first blog post was made from a hotel room while I was at the conference. I’ve done many presentations at Write to Learn over the years. Finally, I am  President of the Missouri Literacy Association. MLA has sponsored/co-sponsored the WTL conference for a couple of decades now. MATT GLOVER will kick off the sessions for this year’s virtual Write to Learn conference. It’s definitely the place to be this fall! You can’t go wrong starting off your school year’s writing program with tips and insights from this icon in the field of writing instruction. I’ve already signed up- see you there!

Here is the link to conference information/registration:


This article was originally published in the September/October 2020 issue of Literacy Today. Copyright 2020 International Literacy Association. In it I argue for taking a centrist position in the Reading Wars. I also argue for making the discourse within the Great Debate in Reading more civil by having folks talk more and bicker less. A great example of such a discourse happened this week when the two TIms talked about the science of reading. Tim Rasinski made the case for the teaching of reading as both art and science. Tim Shanahan made the case for following research and gave useful insights and information into the origins and importance of the term science of reading.  I’ll have more to say about that next week as I talk about their important session at a recent ILA event.

Here is my article from Literacy Today

Dr. Sam Bommarito aka the centrist thinker trying to use ideas from all sides

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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

Matt Glover leads off the virtual Write To Learn Conference series, starts Oct 1st

Matt Glover leads off the virtual Write To Learn Conference series, starts Oct 1st

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The Write to Learn Conference holds a special place for me. My first blog entry was posted from the hotel room while I was at the conference. I first met Eric Litwin, at an all-day session there. It was the start of a long and productive friendship. As the President of Missouri International Literacy Association, I am proud of the fact MLA is a co-sponsor of the conference. It has been around for a number of decades now and is always well attended. This year, like many conferences it has gone virtual.  There will be a total of 4 virtual series.  There are major discounts for signing up for more than one series. We are getting off to a strong start. Matt Glover is presenting the first thread. It begins on Oct. 1st


I just registered. It is a quick and easy process. So why don’t you join me at the conference. Here is the link and conference information (the link below works, the screen capture link does not!)


Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- Write to Learn Conference lover!)

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.