Seeking Common Ground and Common Practices: Let’s Promote Dialogue Not Discord in the Discussions Around Teaching Reading Dr. Sam Bommarito

Seeking Common Ground and Common Practices: Let’s Promote Dialogue Not Discord in the Discussions Around Teaching Reading Dr. Sam Bommarito

I have friends on both sides (all sides) of the reading debate who post regularly on social media. Lately, they report that they avoid terms like “balanced reading” or “science of reading”. That is because using them can result in bullying and what some call the “uncivilized discourse” that often characterizes discussions around such literacy issues. This week I had an “aha moment” around that problem. It came when I was writing a response to a SOR proponent I talked to on one of the larger Facebook groups for reading teachers. This person reported having a bad experience using balanced literacy and the various practices surrounding it. They were convinced BL didn’t work. When I pointed out that various issues of Reading Research Quarterly reported more than 25 years of research demonstrating the efficacy of using context (a kingpin for BL/MSV) LINK, they retorted that the International Reading Association had “skin in the game”.  That was a red flag for me. I will now share what I said in response to that remark. I will then talk about the implications of what I said. Here is a verbatim screen capture of my remarks.

The heart of my message was this:

“…the centrist message I am giving is appealing to a lot of folks. They are tired of the bullying and the fighting. They are tired of zealots from any side who demonize ‘the other side(s).’ They want to seek out common ground and common practices. Good things can come of SOR/BL….”

A central fact surrounding this discourse is that we are not there yet in terms of having a science of reading (I know some disagree). Research reported in RRQ, and other places make that clear LINK. However, that does not mean that there isn’t much BL folks can learn from SOR. Burkins & Yates wrote a book about that LINK. The mistaken beliefs each side has about the other must be challenged. For instance, using SOR doesn’t mean comprehension is automatically ignored any more than using BL means that phonics is automatically ignored.   

When I did my first posts around the most recent iteration of the reading wars LINK (that was almost four years ago!), I used the following logic:

  • What works for one child doesn’t always work for another.
  • Every approach has limitations. No approach works for every child.
  • Therefore, the pendulum of instructional practices has kept swinging because when one side “wins,” they invariably call for discarding all things from the other side. BUT, since there are kids for whom the new soup de jour doesn’t work, eventually, the new way gets challenged and replaced. The process repeats itself. It has done so for all the 50 plus years I’ve spent in education.

Isn’t it way past time for us to face the fact that we need to draw on things from all sides? We need to listen carefully to Cambourne and Crouch, who so eloquently explained why we need to replace the reading wars concept with the reading quilt concept, LINK.

But Dr. Sam, haven’t the SOR folks shown their way works and works well? Shouldn’t we just adopt it all and be done with it?  The answer is most of the evidence presented by the current SOR is not even close to the level of gold standard research. Gold standard research requires implementation at the district level over many years using valid tests, i.e., tests of reading, not decoding. This past week I spent several days asking an ardent SOR supporter to provide gold-standard evidence. She cited one study and had no idea whether the testing instruments used in that study really measured reading rather than decoding. In the past, when I’ve asked for gold-standard research, what I usually get back are mainly studies that don’t even come close to meeting such standards. Frequently they are studies that use instruments like the DIBELS. DIBELS measures mainly decoding and fails to directly measure comprehension.

Why should we be worried about having gold standard research? Would you be willing to be a passenger in an aircraft that passed its wind tunnels tests but had never been tested in actual flights between cities? I wouldn’t. In the same way, before mandating programs to the exclusion of all others (a practice I have criticized LINK), we must at least look at the results of implementing those at a district level. Doing that is the educational equivalent of using actual flight tests instead of wind tunnel tests to inform the decision about the viability of an aircraft.

I also want to point out that when folks evaluate “the other side,” they must test with the best plane the other side has to offer. It must have been built to meet the company’s standards, i.e. they must demonstrate the other sides practices were carried out with fidelity. When the critics of BL are asked to produce studies where the BL best practices were done with fidelity, they can’t.  They include all districts instead of drawing a sample of districts doing BL with fidelity. They can’t draw such a sample because they have no working definition of BL.  Doing it the way they do is like testing a rival company’s product by using a badly built plane from 50 years ago instead of studying their latest best-built jet.

I’ll finish by saying that life in the center is not easy. Eyebrows get raised from all sides when I report that I use decodables AND predictables AND trade books. I measure fluency using more than just speed. I use both synthetic and analytic phonics. I use a lot of materials from Dr. Tim Rasinski to build my students’ orthographic knowledge. I teach fluency using Rasinski’s method of reading for performance. The research around repeated readings strongly supports the use of such practices. I do comprehension checks, even with students working at the very beginning levels of reading.

I agree with Tim Rasinski that teaching is both art and science. Accordingly, I use direct teaching some of the time. The philosophical underpinnings of that method come from Aristotle. It tends to be the method most preferred by the SOR folks. I also use the inquiry methods. Its philosophical roots trace back to Socrates.  Inquiry learning is a favorite of BL groups.  BTW I’ve noticed that both those methods are still around, even after a couple of millenniums, with little chance that one will be replaced by the other. The two methods do not constitute a mutually exclusive dichotomy. They do require an application of the teaching both the art and science of reading in order to decide which method is best suited to which situation. The most important conclusion I’ve drawn from all the research around the issue of what practices to use in the teaching of reading is that “It Depends!”

I’ll end by asking folks from all sides to be willing to try ideas from “the other side” when ideas from your favorite approach aren’t working for a kid. I’ll also ask that we all do more talking and less bickering. I  wrote an article about that LINK, p 20. I think if we could start doing that, there would be some definite winners. The winners would be the kids we’re all supposed to be helping.

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

Copyright 2021 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.


Dispelling the myths that MSV is not research supported and that balanced literacy has failed by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Dispelling the myths that MSV is not research supported and that balanced literacy has failed

Dr. Sam Bommarito

Over the past few years, there has been a steady criticism of MSV (using the three systems of information- Meaning, Syntax and Visual).  There have also been criticisms of programs using the constellation of educational practices known as balanced literacy. The criticisms have turned vitriolic. The claim is made that such practices can actually hurt children. One zealot actually suggested that I should be charged with educational malpractice based on the practices I use. Yet the parents of children I tutor are more than happy with the results I’m getting and the children are thriving. They are in the process of becoming lifelong readers and writers. What are we to make of all this? Perhaps the naysayers have missed the mark.

MSV has a place in literacy instruction.

Let’s begin with MSV (the three systems of information).  According to the naysayers, it doesn’t describe how readers actually read. They claim that only poor readers use the three cueing systems. Really? I wonder if they realize that when Marie Clay and others did the groundbreaking research on MSV they looked at what all readers do, not just what poor readers do. As a matter of fact, I think many of the readers of this blog use MSV some of the time when they do their own reading. Let me give you an example. Consider the following:.

“I   b-t    y- -u  c-n   r- -d   th-s”

Back when I was teaching the Analysis and Correction of Reading course, I’d use examples like this to demonstrate that consonants carry more information than vowels. That is important to know. It is especially important to know if you are working with very young readers who sometimes lack the auditory discrimination to hear vowel sounds, especially short vowel sounds. Such children exist. Such children can still be taught to read. But not using teaching schemes that allow only letter by letter sounding.

Let’s get back to the main point. If you decoded the above sample  (and most of you did), you didn’t do it by using only the letter sounds. You used other information, including orthographic information and information from MSV. You likely crosschecked the data from the different systems of information in order to make sure that what your read made sense. BTW- you are good readers using MSV to decode the message. So much for the myth that only bad readers use MSV. Naysayers use quantitative studies to try to prove this point. Qualitative information and qualitative studies are left out. They most certainly should not be left out as the qualitative information provided here clearly shows. Talking about why using both qualitative and quantitative information is important is definitely a topic that will be the subject for future blogs.

There is an excellent review of research around the topic of using context to help reading. Here is a link to the Reading Research Quarterly PDF talking about that. I also include a brief excerpt from that PDF. Regular readers know I’ve talked about this PDF many times.

https://ila.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/rrq.360

“….Unlike the position advocated by SOR groups who criticize use of the three-cueing system, Scanlon and Anderson emphasize that the thrust of our argument is that the use of context can be a valuable assist for word solving both when a student’s knowledge of the code is still developing and when in consistencies in English orthography result in only an approximate pronunciation of a word. In either situation, successful word solving that includes a careful interroga-tion of the letters in the word supports the orthographic mapping required for skilled word learning. Additionally, the word-solving process itself becomes generative as it helps to familiarize the student with new letter–sound cor-respondences and orthographic patterns that can then be applied in decoding even more new words, thus expanding the power of the self-teaching mechanism (Share, 1995).This work, which includes studies of K–4 students, showed the effectiveness of the Interactive Strategies Approach, indicating “that using both phonics- and  context-based information facilitates the ability to build sight vocabulary, which in turn enables readers to turn their attention to the most important goal of literacy learning: meaning construction.”

Balanced literacy approaches such as reading/writing workshop and guided reading can and do work in many districts.

I’ve written many times about the manner in which the naysayers criticize the use of balanced literacy practices. Their logic seems to be as follows:

  • The number of children not learning to read is far too high (no argument there- even one kid not learning to read is one too many!)
  • Balanced reading is widely used (no argument there lots of places are using balanced reading in one form or another)
  • Therefore, balanced reading is the reason all those kids are not learning to read (WHOA! A great public relations ploy, but very bad analysis, see below)

Here’s the problem with the third point. It is based on what’s happening in ALL DISTRICTS. That would include districts doing balanced reading with fidelity, districts doing balanced reading but doing it poorly, districts using SOR, districts not really using any particular method, etc.  Based on the fact that SOR is included in what is currently happening,  should we then conclude both Balanced Reading and SOR practices don’t work? When asked this question, SOR advocates maintain that we must look at just the districts using SOR practices and see how well SOR performs.  Point taken. We should. BTW that also means we should look at districts using workshop or guided reading or other balanced literacy programs with fidelity. Then draw conclusions.

That is not at all what is being done currently. Too often the naysayers fail to look at how districts doing balanced literacy with fidelity are doing.  I’ve had them say they can’t do such studies because they can’t really define balanced literacy. Hmm. That can be a problem if you want to conduct research around its efficacy.  It would be especially important if you wanted to do a research study based on a sample of districts doing balanced literacy with fidelity. Definitions of balanced literacy are readily available- see the seminal work of Pressley LINK, or the description of balanced literacy given by Kerns in the most recent issue of The Missouri Reader, LINK (pg. 10)  Any claims that balanced literacy has failed should provide studies that use a carefully drawn scientific sample of districts doing balanced literacy with fidelity. Instead, most of the naysayers base their claims on all districts and the myriad of things one finds when looking at what all districts do.

A few critics who do focus their criticisms on one or more of the balanced literacy programs e.g. workshop or guided reading usually do so when data becomes available showing those programs are working well. When this happens the naysayers use the public relation’s tactic I call, discount and discredit. When positive data becomes available they find ways to “prove” the data is inaccurate or irrelevant.  It doesn’t stop there. In addition, they often provide data to “prove” the SOR practices are better than balanced literacy. These claims often rely on testing instruments like the DIBELS. Those instruments focus mainly on decoding, not comprehension. Overall I find that when I call for research studies to back up the various claims of the naysayers the studies they cite fail to achieve the level of  “gold standard” research.

Let’s talk about  “gold standard”  reading research. Here is a partial list of what one should look for in “gold standard” research.

  • The research reported should have been done over a period of years.
  • The research should involve district wide implementation of a program or select programs WITH FIDELITY. The study would include a careful, precise description of the program being studied. It would include verification that the program was fully and properly implemented (done with fidelity!).
  • It would use measures of reading that include both a decoding and comprehension component. Nell Duke has done work describing what is included in state-wide  reading tests. See my blog for details. LINK  The blog entry includes a chart Duke created describing the content of state wide reading tests (Box 1).
  • The research should be published in a recognized, peer reviewed journalof research. Reading Research Quarterly would be an excellent example of such a journal.
  • The research should be replicable. Ideally should have been replicated several times.
  • Both quantitative and qualitative research can rise to the level of gold standard research. Both can and should be included in the body of research supporting various claims.

Every time I ask the naysayers for proof for the efficacy of their programs or for the proof discrediting the programs they claim don’t work, I don’t get anything close to responses using gold-standard research. Instead, I get stock public relations answers. These answers do not use both qualitative and quantitative information. These answers are often made using limited & limiting views of what reading is and about how research in education should be conducted. These answers are based on research that uses testing instruments that don’t fully test reading.

Moving Toward a Centrist Perspective

My readers are reminded that lately,  researchers in prestigious journals such as the Reading Research Quarterly have concluded that “we are not there yet” in terms of having a science of reading  LINK. I’ve written several times saying that promoting one set of literacy practices and banning all others is a decidedly bad idea. It takes away the right of local districts to find the best fit for their students. It limits the power of teachers to adapt programs to the child. It effectively creates a situation where teachers are forced into teaching situations where they are trying to force square pegs into round holes.

Some have likened the stance taken by selected SOR advocates as more a marketing campaign than a real discussion of research LINK. In the end, the winners in such discussions are the for-profit companies pushing their wares and the losers are the teachers and the kids who eventually find out the hard way that one size really doesn’t fit all.  I’m not against using practices associated with SOR. Regular readers know my students read in decodables. They also are provided systematic instruction in synthetic phonics. But they also read in predictable text and high-interest trade books. They also learn about reading with prosody using materials and ideas provided by literacy leaders like Tim Rasinski LINK. That includes using Rasinski’s materials on prefixes/suffixes and roots and his famous word ladders. Overall,  I try to use programs and materials based on how well they fit the particular child I’m working with. I am not a fan of adopting one size fits all programs. Welcome to the world of the centrist. It is a world in which balanced literacy is carried out with fidelity using the latest and best information about balanced literacy practices. LINK

In Conclusion

Of all the many hats I’ve worn in my 50 plus years in education the one I am the proudest of is that of reading teacher.  I find it upsetting that we seem to be willing to listen to everyone on the planet about the issue of how to teach reading, but seem all too ready to ignore the teachers that are working with the kids directly in the field. It’s been over 50 years since the First Grade Studies concluded that teachers make more difference than any particular program, LINK.  Isn’t it time to stop talking about the combative and shortsighted view exemplified by centering the discussions around terms like “the reading wars” and look instead to anchoring those discussions in more cooperative models like Camborne’s reading quilt LINK (p 5)? Isn’t it time to join what P.D. Pearson once called “The Radical Middle” LINK?  Isn’t it time to stop bickering and to start talking? LINK Isn’t it time to let districts empower teachers by helping them learn a variety of methods so teachers can find and use the methods that best fit each child. Isn’t it time that we finally try out the center? It’s my belief that if we do,  the winners will be the kids. Those kids will become the thinkers and leaders that build that better world that we all continue to hope for.

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam   (aka the reading teacher in the middle still taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2021 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.

An overview of the newly released issue of The Missouri Reader: Common Sense Discourse on the Teaching of Early Reading – a blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito

An overview of the newly released issue of The Missouri Reader: Common Sense Discourse on the Teaching of Early Reading-

A blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito

As promised, the newest issue of The Missouri Reader is out. In it, a number of teachers, university professors and researchers give different points of view about the dialogue around the issues of teaching early reading. As we say in our editors’ expressions:

“This edition of The Missouri Reader represents different views of the Science or Reading (SOR).  Some of the articles represent very strong views for one side or the other and do not necessarily represent the views of the Missouri Literacy Association (MLA) or the International Literacy Association (ILA).  Our goal is that the various articles result in discussions that move us forward in discussing the value of doing what works for EACH student.”

As some of you may already know, I am the Co-Editor of this journal along with Glenda Nugent. The Missouri Reader has been around for over 45 years. It started as a “paper journal.”  Now we publish digitally. We have two issues each year. We are peer-reviewed, and our editorial board has many highly qualified people (see the sidebar on the Table of Contents page of the journal). We publish many articles by well-known experts in the reading field. However, we also encourage teachers to publish, especially action research, book reviews, and app reviews. The last page of each issue explains how to submit an article for review. We are an official publication of the Missouri Literacy Association. Missouri Literacy Association is an ILA affiliate. Anyone with the following link can read the current issue for free:

https://joom.ag/rXuI

I want to also call your attention to another issue for you to explore. It is a poetry issue that was published in 2019. It is our most-read issue of all time (however I am hoping that this current issue may claim that honor soon). The poetry issue contains TONS of innovative ideas about how to use poetry in the classroom. It was the brainchild of Missouri’s own David Harrison. He approached Glenda Nugent (my Co-Editor) and I about the idea of a special issue dedicated especially to poetry. We are so glad he did. Here is the link to that issue. Feel free to share it with other interested educators.

https://joom.ag/o1ta

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

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

https://mla31.wildapricot.org/

Until next week,

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (Co-Editor of a peer-reviewed teacher’s journal)

Copyright 2021 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect any other person or organization’s views.

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

It’s time to fundamentally change the dialogue around the issue of how to teach beginning reading: The case for taking a centrist position by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This past Thursday night, I took part in a fascinating book club discussion around Eric Litwin’s book, The Power of Joyful Reading LINK. Eric was present for the book club, and he had many interesting things to say. What he had to say is very much pertinent to the upcoming special edition of The Missouri Reader that is scheduled to come out next weekend. That issue will focus on the question of where we are in the “great debate” on the issue of how to teach beginning reading best.  Basically, Eric said that too often, we focus on all the wrong things, e.g., analytic phonics vs. synthetic phonics and do not focus on the central question of how to best teach reading. That question is, “How can we take full advantage of the power of joyful reading?” For me, that means making sure the key goal of any reading program is to create lifelong readers (and writers). I feel that the answer to the question of how to cut through the gordian knot of best ways to teach reading can come from considering the following question:

“How can we fundamentally shift the dialogue from the current ‘us/them’ approach we seem to be taking in our current talks around the question of best approaches to teaching reading into a dialogue based on the quilt metaphor?”

The talking points I have developed for our upcoming special edition of The Missouri Reader issue will delve into the issues raised by the so-called reading wars. They are designed to shift the conversation from an adversarial one to a cooperative one.  Taken together, I hope that the following talking points make a powerful argument for taking a more cooperative, centrist approach to the issue of teaching reading. Here are the talking points:

1. Taking an us/them approach, treating the issue of teaching beginning reading as a dichotomy is counterproductive. It guarantees that the Great Debate will turn into what Frank Smith once called The Never-Ending Debate, LINK.

Using the “reading wars” metaphor guarantees that the debate around reading will endlessly swing between extreme positions about teaching reading. See the details about why I think that is the case in section three of this blog post. Because of the inadequacies of the reading wars metaphor,  I advocate for adopting the metaphor that Cambourne and Crouch are suggesting in the upcoming issue of The Missouri Reader LINK. It is the “quilt” metaphor.  There is a quilt of available reading practices. My take on this is that teachers should be allowed to take from the quilt those particular practices that are most likely to help the particular children they are working with. There is a caveat: Teachers must follow district guidelines/policies as they use these various practices.

2. Despite claims to the contrary, the issues around how to best teach beginning reading are not settled science.

I have talked about the Reading Research Quarterly Special Issue: Executive Summary Science of Reading- Supports, Critiques and Questions several times in the past few months. The summary gives us insights into what the top researchers in reading are thinking about this important topic, LINK.  Here is a brief excerpt from the summary of the document:

“In short, a key contribution of this special issue is to clarify that it is not enough to consider the collection of experimental studies conceptualized within SOR; instead, this special issue pushes a broader conceptualization.”

That push for a broader conceptualization of the SOR can be found in Pearson and Tierney’s new book A History of Literacy Education: Waves of Research and Practice.  I recently talked in detail about the content of this book in a recent blog LINK. Here is a key quote  from the book. I used this quote in the blog:

“When the editors of the Reading Research Quarterly invited scholars to submit articles to address this topic, we had envisioned more debate and adamant views. We predicted poorly. The contributors were restrained in their general characterization of the state of reading instruction, the preparation of teachers, and the state of student achievement. Our reading of the separate articles suggested that there was a general consensus that we were ‘not there yet’ relative to science being able to offer guidance to teachers about teaching and learning for diverse classrooms and learners.”

In light of the above quote and reading the considerable research around the Science of Reading issue, I stand by my conclusion that it is not yet settled science.

3. The issues around what works have been clouded by misinformation, misrepresentation and misunderstanding about what methods work (or don’t work).  That kind of thing has been carried out by folks from both sides (all sides?).

For example, using the ideas and methods of the SOR approach does not necessarily automatically produce “word callers.”  Using ideas from the SOR approach does not automatically exclude developing readers who comprehend.  Some critics of the SOR methods seem to indicate that both things are true. They do this by drawing on what I consider “strawman tactics,” looking only at those advocates of SOR who take things to the extreme or who implement the tenets of SOR poorly. Don’t get me wrong. I am a critic of those SOR advocates who take the “my way or the highway” positions. LINK, LINK.  But I do try to dialogue with folks who believe in the SOR approach or who are sure that Dyslexia is a real phenomenon.  I find that many of them have ideas that are very much worth considering. LINK, LINK. I even wrote an article for Literacy Today entitle Argue Less, Talk More (pg. 20) LINK. This article outlines how all sides could and should have productive dialogues around this important topic.

One of my earliest blogs proposed the idea of a “reading Evolution” LINK.  

In this entry, I argue that so long as we continue to treat things as a dichotomy (the reading wars), as long as both sides (all sides) take a “my way or the highway” attitude that the pendulum of instruction will continue to swing between extremes.  There is a fact of life in education that most teachers become well aware of. What works with one kid does not necessarily work with another. No one method works with all kids all the time. Accordingly, when the pendulum swings to a particular way of doing things, if folks from that method insist that their method and only their method be used, it is guaranteed that there will be some children for whom that method doesn’t work. What happens next is a call to try something better. We swing to another extreme. For most of my 5-decade career in literacy, I’ve watched the pendulum swing time and again. Isn’t it time for something new? Here is what I suggested in that blog entry:

“Effectively, it means trying something that we’ve never before tried in the history of teaching reading. That is leaving the pendulum in the middle, talking to one another, learning from one another, and putting together a system that helps as many children as possible by using the best ideas of all the approaches. P.D. Pearson expressed this kind of sentiment in the last round of the reading wars. Have a look: Life in the Radical Middle: A Personal Apology for a Balanced View of Reading.

That is what the “Reading Evolution” is all about. Having teachers who are willing and able to try to find the best methods for each individual child. My mantra has been “fit the program to the child, not the other way around.” No one side wins with the approach. But no one side loses either. The real winners of taking this approach are the students who finally get the instruction that is most likely to help them.

4. There is a real need to consider all research and all forms of research as we wrestle with the problem of how to teach reading, especially beginning reading.

I intend to take an in-depth look at the issue of qualitative vs. quantitative research in future blogs.  For now, I will say this- based on the coursework I’ve had in both approaches, I firmly believe that one is not “better” than the other. Many SOR advocates approach things as if quantitative research should be considered first and foremost, perhaps exclusively. They treat qualitative information as a weak sister at best. I respectfully disagree. We need both to inform our instruction. I say this because doing educational research is a messy business. There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of variables that can come into play. Random assignment can only do so much to overcome this. There are limits to what quantitative studies can tell us. Qualitative work gives us important additional information that can be hidden or lost by using only quantitative information. One of my favorite examples of action research involving both qualitative & quantitative measures can be found in the action research of one of my former professors. I wrote a blog about that LINK. That same professor told of one district that looked at which teachers had the best reading outcomes with students. They then invited those teachers to make suggestions about what practices the district might consider adopting. I thought that was an innovative qualitative-based way of doing things. Bottom line- we need to use both quantitative and qualitative information to inform our instruction.

5. There are hopeful signs that work from both sides (all sides) can lead to further research that can help inform our reading instruction.

For me, Nell Duke is the epitome of what a good researcher is all about. She follows the research where it leads, even when it leads to challenging folks’ long-cherished ideas about reading. Be sure to look at the repost and discussion of her most recent article, where she proposes an improved model of how to deal with teaching reading. It will appear in next week’s Missouri Reader. Here is a preview of that model:

6. The best hope for helping all children does not lie in adopting particular methods. Instead, I believe it lies in empowering teachers by teaching teachers about a variety of different teaching methods and allowing local districts (not state or national mandates) to determine what methods would work best with their particular population.

The International Reading Association has long advocated a policy of using a variety of methods LINK.  Here is a brief excerpt from that statement:

“There is a strong research base supporting this position. Several large-scale studies of reading methods have shown that no one method is better than any other method in all settings and situations (Adams, 1990; Bond & Dykstra, 1967; Foorman et al., 1998; Hoffman, 1994; Stallings, 1975). For every method studied, some children learned to read very well while others had great difficulty.

This is not a new finding. For example, in their report on the First-Grade Studies, Bond and Dykstra (1967) wrote the following: ‘Children learn to read by a variety of materials and methods. Pupils become successful readers in such vastly different programs as the Language Experience approach with its relative lack of structure and vocabulary control and the various Linguistic programs with their relatively high degree of structure and vocabulary control. Furthermore, pupils experienced difficulty in each of the programs utilized. No one approach is so distinctively better in all situations and respects than the others that it should be considered the best method and the one to be used exclusively. (p. 123)’ .”

Taken together, I think these six talking points make a case for adopting a centrist position around the issue of how to best teach reading. I do think it is time to replace the Reading Wars metaphor with the Quilt metaphor. It is valuable to look at the best of what each point of view has to offer rather than tear down points of view that don’t fit our favorite way of doing things. I’d very much be interested in finding out what you think. Would you please respond with comments to this blog or by tweeting out your ideas? Also- please do be on the lookout next week for The Missouri Reader, and please do visit the MLA website for information about upcoming book clubs, LINK.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Sam Bommarito began his teaching career in 1970. During his career, he has taught every grade Kg-graduate school. His educational roles have included being a Title One reading teacher, Title One staff developer, and University professor. He is currently a national reading consultant and has presented at numerous local, state and national reading conventions. He has done a considerable amount of professional development training for schools in the St. Louis region and is actively involved in a literacy initiative spearheaded by Turn The Page. This initiative is designed to improve instruction in the St. Louis region. He is also currently doing pro bono work at an elementary school, where he does individual tutoring and whole class push-ins using Zoom.  He tweets about educational issues daily (@doctorsam7) and does a weekly blog about reading (DoctorSam7, via WordPress). The blog includes informational pieces, op-eds, and video interviews of people working in the field of literacy. He advocates for a centrist approach to reading, which he defines as an approach that uses reading practices from a variety of sources.  Teachers should align those particular practices to the particular children who will benefit from them the most. He has served as a board member and officer on both state and national ILA boards, and he is currently the Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader. This journal is a peer-reviewed state reading journal. It has been publishing for over four decades.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2021 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.

Lots of free low prep, high impact opportunities for improving your literacy program, just in time for the end of summer/beginning of the school year. By Dr. Sam Bommarito

There are several upcoming literacy opportunities for the end of summer and the beginning of the school year.

JULY BOOK CLUB. Included is a book club this coming Thursday evening from 6:30 to 7:30 CST. Eric Litwin will be there in person to talk about a new professional book he wrote called The Power of Joyful Teaching. I promise you it will be a lively and informative event. His book includes tons of ideas for getting kids of all ages engaged in the reading process. There are lots of specific ideas in the book and lots of free resources on his website. In this second session of the book club, you’ll be hearing about all this from Eric himself.  New registrations are welcome. This is a free event open to all.  It is sponsored by The Missouri Literacy Association, an affiliate of the International Reading Association. BTW I did a blog about Eric’s new book LINK.

Here is a link to register for that book club:

https://mla31.wildapricot.org/event-4301466

August Book Club. Here is the promo for the Missouri Literacy Association’s August book club event:

Notice we are promoting this as a “Little to NO-PREP Book Club”. It features two different books by Trudy Ludwig. It is free and open to all.

This is a one-session book club. She will be at this session via Zoom to talk about both books.  Again, you will come away from this session with great ideas about how to use picture books. It also provides you the perfect chance to learn more about both of these wonderful books Trudy has written.

Special Edition of The Missouri Reader. The last weekend in July, the Missouri Literacy Association will be releasing the latest issue of The Missouri ReaderThe Missouri Reader is a peer-reviewed professional journal that has been publishing for over four decades.  Glenda Nugent and I are the co-editors of this journal.  This special summer edition will look at the many sides of the question of how to best teach reading, especially beginning reading.  This issue includes an article by Brian Cambourne and Debra Crouch that proposes replacing the “Reading Wars” metaphor with a “Reading Quilt” metaphor. I wrote a blog about that idea LINK.  BTW- we are in the process of lining up a book club around Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne’s new book Made for Learning. I’ll let you know when we have a date for that.

We will also discuss Nell Duke’s new literacy model and P.D. Pearson’s new book, The History of Literacy Education. I will give a link to the journal. It will be in the blog I’ll be writing about this special issue. That will also come out the last weekend in July.  In the meantime, here is a sample to give you an idea of what special editions of our reading journal look like.  It is a link to a previous special edition that was about how to use poetry in literacy instruction. It includes powerful ideas for using poetry with both younger and older students. Have a look while you are waiting for the new journal to come out.

https://joom.ag/o1ta

I hope all the preceding gives you some low prep, high impact ideas that will help you make the transition from the end of summer to the start of the school year. I hope to see you at some (or all) of the book club sessions, and I hope you will enjoy the many resources that The Missouri Reader will be providing you.

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2021 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.

An “extra extra extra” post- Book Club about Eric Litwin’s New Book- Please register!

My Twitter Post

Book Club about @ericlitwinbooks ‘s bk The Joy of Reading. This one is a “must read”. Sponsored by Mo. Lit. Assoc, an ILA affiliate. #ILAchat @ILAToday @ssvincent @VSRAToday @lsrsig Eric will be at the second session! LINK = https://mla31.wildapricot.org/event-4301466

Here is a link to a recent interview I did with Eric: https://doctorsam7.blog/2021/04/02/the-eric-litwin-interview-eric-discusses-his-newest-books-the-power-of-joyful-reading-and-a-childrens-book-entitled-the-poop-song-yes-a-book-about-poop-by-doctor-sam-bommarito/

HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL AT THE BOOK CLUB

Dr. Sam!

It’s Not Settled Science: A look at Pearson and Tierney’s new book & my musing about best reading practices by Dr. Sam Bommarito

It’s Not Settled Science: A look at Pearson and Tierney’s new book & my musing about best reading practices by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I’ll begin by saying that this is not a review of Tierney and Pearson’s new book, A History of Literacy Education: Waves of Research and Practice. I am saving that for another time. Rather it is a discussion of the state of the dialogue around the best ways to teach reading.  Several things from the new book helped me expand and clarify my thinking around that issue. Despite numerous claims to the contrary, the key takeaway is this, the issue of how to teach reading is not a settled science.

I’ve written many times about the limits and limitations of the so-called Science of Reading movement, LINK1, LINK 2, LINK 3. I have talked about my position, which is essentially centrist. I advocate looking at the issue of how to teach reading using tools like Cambourne and Crouch’s quilt metaphor. Cambourne and Crouch argue that rather than looking at the issue of reading instructional practices as a dichotomy (the reading wars), it is more useful to view it as a quilt of varied instructional practices.  I think it makes sense to look at and use things from all the many resources on that quilt. This means rather than forcing a one size fits all solution on all children, we should instead find the part of the “quilt of instructional practices” that fits each particular child. Here are some key excerpts from Tierney and Pearson’s book that I believe reinforce taking that kind of centrist stance. 

On the question of, is there a Science of Reading?

“When the editors of the Reading Research Quarterly invited scholars to submit articles to address this topic, we had envisioned more debate and adamant views. We predicted poorly. The contributors were restrained in their general characterization of the state of reading instruction, the preparation of teachers, and the state of student achievement. Our reading of the separate articles suggested that there was a general consensus that we were ‘not there yet’ relative to science being able to offer guidance to teachers about teaching and learning for diverse classrooms and learners.”

The book goes on to quote Yaden, Reinking and Smagorinsky (in press), who argue that the narrow focus on reading is misguiding and misdirected…  they suggest that SOR:

     “Relies on a limited conception of science; ignores relevant environmental factors and …uncritically accepts experimentation as the only valid approach to social science inquiry in literacy … leading to the oversimplification of understanding the nature of the reading process, of teaching reading and of conducting research into effective reading pedagogies. The conception of science embedded in SOR research reduces reading to a technical exercise that eliminates critical variables that follow from how the vicissitudes of living in a complex physical and social world contribute to how people read, why they read and how they experience reading instruction.”

The book then turns to what Tim Shanahan had to say in his recent RRQ article.

“Yet no matter how good the ideas of basic research they must be tried out instructionally and shown to be beneficial in improving reading ability or its dispersion in some way before they should be recommended to educators and policymakers (Shanahan 2020, p. 241).”

My take on the preceding ideas: 

Most important is the fact that the claim that SOR is settled is debunked. A reading of the recent RRQ articles shows, as the book states, that “we are not there yet.” I talked about and gave links to the content of those articles in a recent blog post LINK. Readers are invited to review the summaries of those articles provided by that link to see if the assessment that “we are not there yet” is justified. I anticipate that most readers will concur with that view.  My mantra over the past few years has been to consider ALL the research.  This means including qualitative and quantitative research. Too often, in their public relations campaign to promote their particular methods, SOME (not all) SOR advocates treat qualitative research as weak. My research training taught me that in terms of quantitative vs. qualitative research, one form of research is not inherently better or worse than the other. They both have a place and a role to play in helping to inform our decisions. Purely quantitative approaches run the risk of leaving out critical factors. Some SOR advocates focus on a select few cherry-picked quantitative research papers while ignoring or debunking other quantitative and qualitative research findings that fail to support their preferred methods. So, one of the things I will continue to advocate for is to consider ALL the research when making decisions about what literacy practices to use.

What about the politicization of reading and literacy that has occurred? On page 219, Tierney and Pearson have the following to say:

“The politicization of reading and literacy is particularly evident in the ways in which some educators marked ideas and suggestions for reform as ‘best practice’. For example, in Australia, Jennifer Buckingham has been hugely influential positioning her own reading program (multlit.com/about/our-expertise/Jennifer-buckingham/). In the United States, Emily Hanford uses blogs and tweets to selectively represent her position on dyslexia as well as what she deems essential reading pedagogy (e.g., Hanford, 2018; Loewus, 2019). The politicization of their position is most apparent in their efforts to introduce legislation in several states mandating certain emphases to the exclusion of eclecticism and restrictions on the role of teacher decision making.”

They then elaborate on this chilling turn of events in the current dialogue around the best ways to teach reading on page 222. In what they call a compelling critique of the attacks on the quality of teachers and their preparation, they quote Hoffman et al.:

“The SOR is being used to silence the literacy teacher preparation community through its unfounded claims regarding what matters, what is known and what must be done. To question these claims or inquire into their scientific base (as many have done) is met with charges of ignorance, incompetence and/or ideological bias….”

My take on the preceding

I have, on several occasions, raised the question of whether the SOR advocates have met the “gold standard” of research. That would mean providing evidence that the practices being advocated were tried out over an extended period of time, IN ACTUAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS, and that the measures of success for those practices include using tests of reading that measure both decoding and comprehension.  Careful examination of the evidence they give to support their position has never produced anything close to meeting that requirement. Yet, they are insisting that their recommended practices be exclusively adopted at the state level.

The effect of this stance is that they take away the right of the local school districts to decide what is best. While it may be true that some districts make bad choices or fail to implement their good choices, it is equally true that there are many districts that do find things that work well for their children. It makes sense to me that such decisions properly belong at the district level. The districts are in a position to know the students they serve the best. A state-level or national-level decision runs the risk of making decisions that are a good fit for some but a really bad fit for others. As a practicing teacher for over 50 years, I have found that the fact is what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another. That fact helps to explain why the pendulum of reading instruction seems to swing from one extreme to the other. As I said in my original post entitled The Reading Evolution: Finding a Path to End the Reading Wars:

“The swinging pendulum has become the defining feature about what has become known as the reading wars. The problem is that after each and every swing, the folks who call for replacing the old way of doing things are quite confident, they have finally found THE WAY to solve things.  They insist that all old practices be dropped and replaced by the newest soup de jour. Invariably what happens is that the new way helps many, but not all. Eventually, this new way becomes the old way and is replaced yet again. The pendulum continues to swing. My proposed solution to this conundrum is simple.  Instead of insisting on throwing away everything that’s come before and starting over, we should instead tweak what we have. This would require both sides (all sides) to admit that their particular way of doing things is not THE SOLUTION. It also means that their particular way has limits and limitations. It would follow that all sides might have things to learn from what folks in different positions are saying. Effectively it means trying something that we’ve never before tried in the history of teaching reading. That is leaving the pendulum in the middle, talking to one another, learning from one another, and putting together a system that helps as many children as possible by using the best ideas of all the approaches.”

LINK to the blog

In conclusion

I think the information from Pearson and Tierney’s new book provides further support for taking a centrist view toward the issue of best practices in reading. At the end of the chapter entitled The Era of Reform Contestation and Debate, they cite the International Literacy Association views about “evidence-based” practices. They note that the IRA’s position paper states that “Time and again research has confirmed that regardless of the quality of a program resource or strategy it is the teacher and learning situation that make the difference (Bond & Dyskstra, 1967/1997).” In my view, the best path to good literacy practices lies in empowering teachers by helping them become adept in the teaching of many practices. That is the best way to ensure that each child will get the reading instruction that best suits them. Let districts decide what programs fit their particular children. Thanks to my readers for considering these remarks.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching

Copyright 2021 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 link for ordering the Tierney & Pearson’s book:

https://www.tcpress.com/literacy-education-9780807764633

(Coming soon- a special summer edition of the Missouri Reader, which deals with the issues surrounding the current dialogue around best practices in reading)

Dr. Sam is taking a break from the blog in order to spend the Fourth with family and friends.

Happy Fourth of July!

Dr. Sam is taking a break from the blog in order to spend the Fourth with family and friends.

I thought my readers might enjoy seeing some pics I posted two years ago after visiting Pearl Harbor. I got to see the “Bookends,” the two ships representing the beginning and the end of World War II.  The ships are the Arizona and the Missouri.

I am also sharing a picture of the gift I received during that visit. It came from the folks at the Mighty Mo’s gift shop. The gift was given to me because I served in the U.S. Army as a Sgt E-5 (never saw combat).  The gift shop did that for all veterans who visited the ship. Getting that gift meant a lot.

Overall, the visit to Pearl Harbor was a moving and memorable experience.

As we celebrate July 4th, let us remember that freedom is never free. Let’s especially remember those who served and are now serving to keep us all safe. Let us especially remember those who gave their all for their country. Happy 4th of July.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the centrist)

Copyright 2021 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

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.

Putting my money where my mouth is: how I am using the quilting metaphor to guide my instruction this summer by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Putting my money where my mouth is: how I am using the quilting metaphor to guide my instruction this summer

Introduction: It’s been an eventful week. I have engaged in extensive conversations on both Twitter and Facebook. These conversations were with individuals who are convinced that the only answer to all reading problems is their brand of the science of reading. As my readers know, I take a centrist approach. For various reasons, I respectfully disagree with those who claim they have the one and only true path to success in teaching reading. I have blogged extensively around the point LINK 1, LINK 2, LINK3.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I totally discount some of the practices recommended by the science of reading approach. For instance, I do teach synthetic phonics. As a matter of fact, for many kids this summer, I am telling them to try to sound it out first. I also use a form of analytic phonics. That means from time to time, I might go back and help them figure out words. When appropriate, I make use of Tim Rasinski’s wonderful resources on affixes, suffixes and roots. Those resources not only help readers decode words they also help them figure out the words’ meanings.  I also use Rasinski’s extensive materials and research on fluency, including his ideas on repeated reading and performance reading. I do use decodable books. The ones I use are found in thelearning A-to-Z program Headsprout. In this blog entry, I will talk about how I am trying to implement my summer program informed by all of the practices found on the “Reading Quilt” (see my blog on that topic LINK).

Some background about my students and me. My teaching career began in 1970. Except for the two years I spent in the U.S. Army (drafted in 1971, honorably discharged as a Sgt E-5), I have been teaching ever since. I’ve taught all grades K through graduate school. I was a reading specialist, staff developer, and university instructor teaching reading courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. I retired from full-time teaching in 2016 but continue to do consultant work and over the years, I’ve done a lot of pro bono work in reading. Presently, this work is being done at a private school. I conduct Zoom lessons, push into classrooms and also work with individuals K-3. This summer, I am doing one on one work with five students from Pre-K through third grade.  The weekly sessions are held on Zoom. Here are some highlights about the instruction.

Using Decodables. I have used Learning A-Z products for several years now. I recognize that they are not the only programs out there. But, they happen to be the ones I use. Their Headsprout program (LINK) includes a series of 100 interrelated lessons. Each lesson teaches the student selected phonemes. This is done using a series of animated games. The phonemes are eventually used to build words  and the words then used in decodable books that the students read. Here is a sample of one of the earliest books.

Some things to notice here. The characters are engaging and interesting. Frequently their names are based on one of the phonemes being taught. When working with the students, I call these phonemes “chunks.”  By the later lessons, the books are much longer but still completely decodable.

As you can see, the later books include a considerable amount of text, and they resemble trade books in overall format and content. As students progress through the lessons, they can access all the books they have read so far in their Book Room which is their own personal online library.

As part of my course of instruction with the students, I often do making and breaking activities with them. These reinforce their knowledge of the phonemes being taught in Headsprout. These activities are done using Zoom. I do a cloud recording of this part of the lesson and send it to the students to review during the week. I have written about my use of Zoom in distant learning lessons before (LINK). Here is a picture of the actual board I am currently using with students (a post-it covers over names):

Predictable books/Language Experience Books I’ve also written before about using predictable books and language experience books (LINK1). For my predictable books, I make use of Keep Books. Fountas and Pinnell publish them. They are available in RR levels 1-16 (LINK).  Notice that the back of each book contains a word count and reading levels from Guided Reading and Reading Recovery.

Predictable books lend themselves to having students write their own books using Language Experience.  In a nutshell, the teacher takes down what the student dictates and then uses those stories as ongoing material for the students to reread. Here is a sample Language Experience story:

Trade Books and Talking about Books Normally, parents sit in on the Zoom lessons. I ask the parents to be sure to check out trade books for the kids. Some are for the parents to read to the kids. I encourage them to find a favorite author to start with, e.g. Eric Litwin, Mo Williams, or Mem Fox.  Sometimes they ask about checking out books that the kids can read themselves. I teach them a simple trick for getting books at the correct level, the instructional level. It involves simply looking at the amount of text and the text to picture ratios of the books the kids can already read.  Pick books for the kids that look similar to the books they can already read.

I anticipate getting pushback about using leveled materials with students. After all, research does seem to indicate that practice may not always be best.

HOWEVER

Literacy experts like Shanahan indicate that some form of leveling can be useful for readers at the very beginning levels. He notes that reading history includes many attempts to simplify things at the very outset of instruction. Leveled materials, predictable books, decodable books, controlled vocabulary books and trade books all have a role in this. His thinking on this matter influenced my practices and I now routinely include all forms of books in my ongoing instruction.  That is one of my attempts to use many parts of the reading quilt.

I also take the advice of P.D. Pearson to include a strong comprehension component from the very outset of instruction. My students know that whatever kind of book they read, I expect them to know who did what (narrative books) or what interesting facts they learned (expository books).  I also encourage parents to have similar conversations about books with their children. As the summer progresses, my students will have an ever-expanding personal library of books they can read. This includes Keep Books, Language Experience books and trade books that they get from the library. Daily self-selected reading becomes part of their literacy routine. I talk to them about the importance of having favorite books and favorite authors. They are immersed in a diverse and varied amount of reading material, material that they can decode and understand.

In conclusion, I am trying to put my money where my mouth is in terms of using all parts of the reading quilt to inform and guide my instruction this summer. Now, let us briefly talk about upcoming summer events.  Currently, I am trying to arrange some new interviews with literacy leaders. Glenda and I are working on the special edition of the Missouri Reader. Just yesterday I ordered P.D. Pearson’s new book about the history of reading. I anticipate there will be a lot to unpack from that book LINK. So, it looks to be a busy and productive summer. Until next time this is Dr. Sam (Dr. B) signing off!

Happy Reading and Writing

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

Copyright 2021 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

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.

Using the quilt of reading instruction practices: Thoughts about effective ways to teach reading comprehension by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Using the quilt of reading instruction practices: Thoughts about effective ways to teach reading comprehension by Dr. Sam Bommarito

We suggest a metaphor of quilting might more aptly describe the realities of most learning experiences. Cambourne and Crouch

The response to last week’s blog was overwhelming. Over 1500 reads in the first 72 hours. People especially liked the idea of replacing the Great Debate/Reading wars metaphor with the metaphor of quilting. Cambourne and Crouch developed that metaphor. See this link for details LINK.  In this blog entry, I will discuss an important piece that needs to be present in any kind of reading instruction. That is the comprehension piece. Lately, there has been talk of teaching fewer comprehension strategies and replacing the time spent with building background instead. For some, this translates into not teaching comprehension strategies at all. That latter position is one that I think is a fundamental misunderstanding of the implications of the work of Willingham, the work that rekindled this focus on background knowledge. BTW I agree with Shanahan that Willingham is kind of right LINK (but only kind of right!).

In this post, I will make a case for making the teaching of reading strategies an important piece in the overall quilt of reading instruction. In the mid-1980s, Pressley, Pearson and others began exploring the issue of teaching reading comprehension. They were inspired by the work of Durkin. Through extensive systematic classroom observations, Durkin found that while teachers spent up to 20% of their time on comprehension, only 6/10 of 1% of that time was actually spent teaching comprehension. The remainder of the time was spent practicing comprehension. That would be something like a baseball hitting coach asking hitters to practice hitting without giving them any advice on adjusting their swing et al. The predictable result of such an approach would be that good hitters would get even better. Hitters that need instructions about effective swinging methods would further cement their use of ineffective practices. This is obviously not the desired approach.

Pressley, Pearson, and other researchers in the 80’s looked at what successful readers were doing to develop their comprehension. The findings of those studies about comprehension turned into what usually constitutes the reading strategies we try to teach today. Duke has done research over a couple of decades on the circumstances for the teaching of those reading strategies to be effective. The key to her findings is this: the strategies need to be taught using a gradual release model. When that happens, significant reading gains are made. Simply put- teaching students about comprehension strategies is not sufficient. Teaching reading strategies so that students internalize them and use them is.

That is why I am a strong advocate of spending time teaching reading strategies making sure that the instruction is done using a gradual release model. Having students name strategies or practice strategies with no instruction on how to use them is not effective. I know that Willingham has posited that the key to comprehension is making sure readers have the background knowledge needed. This has led to some of his followers forwarding the notion that all that is needed for teaching comprehension is developing reading background.  They say that comprehension instruction should focus mainly on building background knowledge.

On the one hand, I have to agree that developing background knowledge is crucial. That’s one of the reasons I advocate for allowing readers to do wide reading LINK. Wide reading in self-selected texts is an excellent way for readers to develop background knowledge.  On the other hand, as decades of research by folks like Pressley, Pearson, and Duke demonstrate, teaching comprehension strategies using a gradual release method will create handsome payoffs in terms of student reading performance.  Let me restate that teachers should teach the strategies in a way that allows the students to actually internalize and use them. Once again, I find myself saying, look at ALL the research. That means looking at both the research of Pressley, Pearson and Duke and the research of Willingham before deciding what the best course of action is around the issue of teaching comprehension strategies. By the way, I found Serravallo’s book about teaching reading strategies a particularly useful resource for creating effective lessons that actually teach students how to USE reading strategies. In some of those lessons, she even has students talk about how they use the strategies as part of the overall lesson. In addition, Burkins and Yaris’s book Who’s Doing the Work, is a great resource on how to organize overall reading instruction. I think following the ideas outlined in that book does result in strategies being taught in a way that students learn to use them. I mention using resources like these because I strongly feel that some folks are finding weak results for teaching reading strategies because they only have students name them, describe them, and practice them. That is not sufficient. I’ll make the point one last time, teaching so the students actually internalize and use the comprehension strategies is the key to the effective teaching of comprehension strategies. Teaching comprehension strategies without using gradual release is not a good use of teaching time.

In addition to making contributions to the rather large body of research around teaching comprehension, Duke has lately developed what I think is a more complete view of the reading process.  Readers are invited to read more about that model in my previous blog, LINK.  They should also be on the lookout for the special edition of The Missouri Reader, which is taking a deep dive into the topic of how to best teach reading. That issue should be released the last weekend in June.

In the upcoming blog posts, I’ll be talking about other things that I think should be present on the quilt of reading instruction. As I indicated in my previous blog, I think the best level to make decisions about which pieces of the quilt to use with children is at a district level. Districts ought to be free to make the choices.

So, until next week, this is Doctor Sam signing off

Happy Reading and Writing!

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

Copyright 2021 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

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.