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

reading creatuve commons

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

Dr. Sam

Working Together: Addressing Challenges in Literacy through Teamwork

William Kerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

One size still doesn’t fit all: Finding the middle ground in the reading wars by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the Blog

Of all the hats I’ve worn in almost five decades of teaching (see addendum at the end) the one that fits me best is that of reading teacher/reading specialist. During my Title I days, one of my jobs was to support/coach teachers in Tier one and to sometimes provide Tier two services as needed. The Tier one programs changed over time. What all had in common Is that none succeeded with 100% of the kids. There were always some kids for whom the Tier one program didn’t work. One of my jobs was to scaffold those students into learning to read. This experience definitely shaped my view of things.

Fast forward to today. We now have SOME (not all) proponents of the Science of Reading point of view claiming they do have the solution to all students reading problems. Just teach them using a strong systematic synthetic phonics and all is solved. Before I say another word, please note the word SOME. Let’s look at relevant evidence.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eie.12125

According to Torgerson et al., ‘There is currently no strong randomized controlled trial evidence that any one form of systematic phonics is more effective than any other’   Bottom line, research does not support the notion that synthetic phonics should be used EXCLUSIVELY.

‘The conclusions of one study on phonics and similar word-level training represents … Benefits for “reading comprehension were not significant” (Reading the Naked Truth, 92). A recent analysis by literacy researcher Jeff McQuillin drew similar conclusions from a large-scale study in England.’ https://www.garnpress.com/news/cryonics-phonics-inequalitys-little-helper?fbclid=IwAR1FlU2YcezBi0XvlrATOxB3Z60IjXfbJyu1gxCOM6g8_v5pxOoQVIvhRQw

Bottom line- Science of Reading approaches must be viewed with caution. Care needs to be taken that the approach doesn’t just produce better decoding.  The extreme proponents of Science of Reading have tried to pass off gains on decoding based tests as reading gains, claiming almost miraculous one-year growth.  Bad science. The problem remains- they are not demonstrating long term growth in comprehension. Decoding DOES NOT automatically lead to comprehension. Comprehension requires direct teaching around comprehension (a blog in itself).

The final problem is what I call the Near 100% Problem. On many occasions, I’ve asked proponents of all the current possible ways to teach reading to “show me the beef,” i.e. show me studies demonstrating their way gets almost 100% success. Unfair? Remember my background. I’m the one that got to work with and scaffold the students for whom the Tier one program didn’t work. So long as there are such kids, there is a need for alternative approaches to teaching those kids. There is also a need to allow reading specialists and classroom teachers some leeway in how they help those particular kids, and to give them some serious PD in those alternate ways. My mantra is, fit the program to the child, not the other way round.

Currently, there are any number of approaches being advocated. That is a whole different blog entry. What I say to every one of those advocates of alternate approaches, if you don’t have the near 100% study for your methods, then admit your methods have limitations. That is a very hard sell. But if folks TALKED TO, as opposed to debated with, folks with alternate methods,  kids would benefit. Districts can and should adopt the method they think best fits their population. See both Mary Howard’s and Linda Dorn’s books on RTI for guidance. It is critical that the Tier one program be strong enough that Tier two and three aren’t overwhelmed.  BTW if anyone really does have that magic near 100% method that nets comprehension gains over several years, please do let us all in on it. I’ll help organize the parade for you!!! Longitudinal data using actual comprehension tests, please.

Overall, I call this potential dialogue among advocates of the various approaches “The Reading Evolution”  #readingevolution1. Check the entries in my sidebar labeled the Reading Wars/Reading Evolution for details. Remember that the key to this dialogue happening is for all sides to admit their ways have some limits and limitations. I think good things will come from it.

I’ll end with a quote from Pressley who I view as the “take the middle ground” advocate of his day.  A good friend reminded me of this quote. Think about it. We’ve tried the extremes so many different times; maybe it is time to try finally try the middle and end this swinging pendulum once and for all.

“What is “balanced literacy instruction” from my perspective? It involves explicit, systematic and completely thorough teaching of the skills required to read and write in a classroom environment where there is much reading of authentic literature–including information books and much composing by students. Balanced literacy instruction is demanding in every way that literacy instruction can be demanding. Students are expected to learn the skills and learn them well enough to be able to transfer them to the reading and writing of texts. Yes, this is done in a strongly supportive environment, with the teacher providing a great deal of direct teaching, explanations, and re-explanations, and hinting to students about the appropriateness of applying skills they have learned previously to new texts and tasks. As children learn the skills and use them, the demands in balanced classrooms increase, with the goal of the balanced literacy teacher being to move students ahead, so that every day there is new learning; every day students are working at the edge of their competencies and growing as readers and writers” (Pressley, 2003).

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the one in the middle of the road happily taking flak from all sides)

Addendum: MY BACKGROUND/BACKGROUND ON WRITING THIS ENTRY

It’s been an interesting and productive week on twitter. I’ve been asked to clarify and synthesize my views on the reading wars and good literacy practices. Here goes. First, it will help readers to understand my positions on literacy instruction if they knew something of my background. Started teaching in 1970. Have taught every grade from K-graduate school. Have taught all the preservice reading courses both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Spent over two decades teaching in Title 1 buildings spanning the time from 1985 through the early 2000s. Three times,  projects I worked in received the Secretaries’ Award, placing the reading achievement gains made in those projects in the top 1/10 of 1 percent of all Title 1 projects nationally. Two of the three buildings involved had free lunch rates exceeding 90%.  I am currently retired (not really). During the school year, I spend one full day a week pushing in at an elementary school, I am active in the ILA, and Co-Editor of the professional reading journal for my state, The Missouri Reader. I am also involved in promoting local literacy projects, including the St. Louis Black Author’s Believe project and The Ready to Learn book distribution project (over a quarter of a million books given to Title 1 kids in the last four years). I’m starting to do some national consulting and Inservice work. I also write this weekly blog and am working with some friends on a book. As I said, not really retired.

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

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

Happy 4th of July!

happy_4th_of_july_by_aparks45-d3kzxqm

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

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

Thanks,

Dr Sam

MLA

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

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

https://joom.ag/VMta

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

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

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

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

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito

Co-Editor of the Missouri Reader

LOOK OVER THE VARIOUS TITLES- FIND SOMETHING YOU LIKE AND CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO GO TO THE ONLINE JOURNAL AND READ IT! THERE ARE ARTICLES ABOUT GETTING STARTED IN THE FALL, SOCIAL JUSTICE, WRITING (WITH TONS OF LINKS TO RESOURCES) AND MANY OTHER THINGS.

https://joom.ag/VMta

Summer Issue of the Missouir Reader

Tab-e of contents

Tab-e of contents 2

 

 

 

 

Research demonstrating the effectiveness of differentiated instruction: One size does not fit all and never has- Part One (alternate title: Show Me the Beef!) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Research demonstrating the effectiveness of differentiated instruction: One size does not fit all and never has- Part One (alternate title: Show Me the Beef!) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

BEEF WITH BACKGROUND NON COMMERCIAL

 

Quite a while back, there was a set of TV commercials based on the slogan “show me the beef.”  We are long past the point where the proponents of “the science of reading” need to do exactly that.  They are making claims that what they do works with most every child most every time (though the road might be bumpy they say). If they have actually found THE METHOD that works with every child every time here’s what we need from them to prove such claims are true for large populations:

What they need: Studies that show “science of reading” (SOR) has a near 100% success rate with all kids.

What they have: In England, which has mandated synthetic phonics for several years now, an improvement over previous test scores QUALIFIED YES. Near 100% success rate NO!!!!!!

What they need: Studies showing long term gains in COMPREHENSION using tests of COMPREHENSION. Studies demonstrating the gains stick over time.

What they have: Studies using the Dibels (mainly a measure of decoding) and vocabulary tests (vocabulary is only one component of comprehension). That kind of testing might do for pilot studies, but since they’re trying to encourage districts to spend large sums on their methods and hoping to change the landscape of reading instruction they need much stronger testing instruments than the ones they are currently using.

Some SOR proponents are already claiming victory (move over bub, they say) based on one or two years’ worth of results. Guess they haven’t heard of the Hawthorne effect or looked at the research showing that test gains based solely on a synthetic phonics approach often evaporate after a year or two.

So, I’ll try this one last time. Show me the studies demonstrating near 100% success. If you can’t, that means there are KIDS FOR WHOM YOUR METHODS DON’T WORK. You have an ethical obligation to address the needs of those children.  Show me the studies demonstrating long term gains in COMPREHENSION using actual tests of COMPREHENSION. In sum, show me the beef!!! Either that or admit your methods have limits and limitations. If you would do that, we could actually start a conversation around what methods work for which child and how to tweak each method so that we could find something that helps almost each and every child.   It could be the start of a reading evolution #readingevolution1 #showmethebeef/lit https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/03/16/a-call-for-a-reading-evolution-no-its-not-typo-i-mean-evolution-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

There’s more.

SOR folks note that what districts around the nation are doing now in literacy instruction is ineffective. Literacy scores are low.  They claim the blame lies mainly with balanced literacy et. al. No question at all that literacy scores are low. Let’s remind the SOR folks they are part of what is going on now. So, in a sense, they are very much a part of this ineffective scene.  I’d anticipate they’d say, but you have to look at what individual schools/districts are doing and see which districts/schools are doing SOR practices well and getting good results.  Fair enough. Let’s do that. But then let’s ALSO do that for the districts currently doing what can be described as balanced literacy and doing it well. No strawmen please. Make this a 2019 version of constructivism not the 1967 beginnings of constructivism.  I’ve already found some really interesting things around the question of is there such a thing as a successful BL program.

Just this week the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) named this year’s Missouri Gold Star Schools. That program recognizes schools that perform at high academic levels or that perform at high levels while serving a significant proportion of disadvantaged students. One of the schools was from the Clayton district and two of them from the Francis Howell District. Both districts have programs that would fit the criteria for balanced literacy. I can easily name many other St. Louis area districts where reading scores are high and some form of balanced literacy is used. For good measure, I’m going to ask my constructivist friends out there to name districts from their area that meet the balanced literacy criteria and currently have high reading achievement scores. Please use the hashtags #readingevolution1 #showmethebeef/lit in order to make them easy to find. The point is that it is abundantly clear that there is such a thing as a successful balanced literacy program

Now I have one more “show me” to ask of the SOR folks. Show me a study (or studies) of districts using a representative random sample of Balanced Literacy programs, programs that would meet the criteria set by proponents of Balanced Literacy.  Then show me those results. Until you can do that please take a little more care about your pronouncements around the topic of Balanced Literacy.  What you’re saying now is incomplete and inaccurate.

In sum, there is abundant evidence that balanced literacy has worked well and is working well in selected districts. So how is it that SOR folks are convincing folks that BL doesn’t work? They’re doing it by a rather clever intellectual slight of hand.  Their logic is as follows: The current scene is not working well (TRUE!). Most districts in the current scene are using properly implemented BL (UNPROVEN/FALSE). So, BL doesn’t work (UNPROVEN BY THIS CURRENT ANALYSIS). The breakdown in their logic occurs because they are assuming most districts today are using BL and doing BL in the manner advocates of BL have described (with fidelity!). Not the case. The facts are that many districts aren’t doing it all OR say they do it but really don’t OR say they do it but in practice the are doing it badly, etc.  You get the picture. The only way to get a proper sample is to just look at those districts doing BL in a form approved by BL advocates and with fidelity to the form. When we do things that way (dare I say when we base our results on a proper scientific sample) I predict that the results will be quite different from what they are claiming now.

Introduction to Research In Differentiation. (Remember that differentiation is a cornerstone of many  BL programs)

 

My friend and mentor Dr. Dan Rochcio sent me this information recently:

Regarding differentiated instruction, I reviewed the Juel and Minden-Cupp ( 2000) descriptive research in four first grade classrooms.  It is still a classic in my mind.  They found that the two teachers who were most successful in improving students’ word analysis and comprehension skills were those teachers who provided the most differentiated instruction throughout the first grade.  For example, Teacher 4 focused on teaching direct systematic phonics with the low reading group, who lacked phonemic awareness skills and the ability to identify initial and final consonant sounds.  This approach lasted until February when she modified her approach based on her students’ ability to apply consonant and vowels sounds to larger chunks such as onsets and rimes.  But her instruction with two other homogeneous groups who had learned phonic strategies early in the year, focused more class time on teaching vocabulary, comprehension, and the reading and writing of text.  In addition, they found that the teachers who used both sequential letter-sound decoding and the use of analogies ( i.e., onsets and rimes) to decode new words were the most successful in helping the lowest level readers.  Another conclusion of this study supported the four phases of phonics learning researched by Ehri 2005).  My experience in teaching beginning reading and a review of research indicates that Ehri’s phases are crucial to delivering the type of differentiated instruction explained in Juel and Minden-Cupp (2000).  All kindergarten, first, and second-grade teachers need to learn how to apply Ehri’s four phases if they wish to successfully differentiate phonics and other word solving strategies in grades K-2.

 

References

 

Connor CM, Morrison FJ, Schatschneider C, Toste J, Lundblom EG, Crowe E, Fishman B.

2011a. Effective classroom instruction: Implications of child characteristic by instruction interactions on first graders’ word reading achievement. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness. 4:173–207. [PubMed: 22229058]

 

Connor CM, Morrison FJ, Fishman B, Giuliani S, Luck M, Underwood PS, Schatschneider C.

2000b. Testing the impact of child characteristics × instruction interactions on third graders’ reading comprehension by differentiating literacy instruction. Reading Research Quarterly. 46:189–221.

 

Dorn, L., & Schubert, B. (2008).  A comprehensive intervention model for preventing reading

Failure: A response to intervention process. Journal of Reading Recovery. Spring.

 

Ehri. L. (2005). Learning to read words: Theories, findings, and issues.  Scientific Studies of

            Reading.  92(2), 167-188.

 

Juel, C., & Minden-Cupp, C. (2000). Learning to read words: Linguistic units and instructional

strategies. Reading Research Quarterly, 35, 498–492.

Thanks Dan! Useful stuff! I especially like your use of the term “word solving strategies”. Says it all! I think your remarks help lay the foundation for what a COMPREHENSIVE program in phonics instruction might look like. Comprehensive in the sense that it uses multiple ways to teach phonics and integrates this with a SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME for comprehension work and writing.  I know I will be looking up more information around Ehri’s phases and sharing it with readers of the blog.  Readers, also know that I might try to pick Dan’s brain further about this topic. He really seems to be on to something here, doesn’t he?

All this sets the stage for Part 2 of this blog entry. Most likely, I will take that up week after next. Next week I hope to share the summer edition of the Missouri Reader with you – if all goes according to plan. Until then-

 

Happy  Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito aka the “show me the beef” guy from the “show me” state of Missouri!

 

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

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

Exploring the limits of quantitative measures: The case for including qualitative studies in educational research. By Doctor Sam Bommarito

reading creatuve commons

 

One recent post on twitter indicated that the only real criteria for judging the worth of instructional methods are that they pass the test of randomized controlled trials. This randomized control statement is one important way of looking at things. However, like all things in educational research, there are limits and limitations to the use of “pure” science. This is especially true when looking at the instrumentation often used in conducting educational research.  Let me give two examples that demonstrate this point.

The first is the use of the Lexile system for measuring readability.  I have long maintained that measures of readability are really measures of decodability. They should really be called decodability formulas. For instance, a 4th-grade decodability means that a student performing at a 4th-grade reading level can decode it. In no way does it guarantee that the material in the book itself is actually 4th-grade material, more on that thought in a minute.

The components that go into Lexile measurements are fairly straightforward. See this link for an explanation of how they are determined: https://lexile.com/educators/measuring-growth-with-lexile/lexile-measures-grade-equivalents/ .

Key components include sentence complexity and vocabulary.  Overall the system does a fairly decent job of doing what it is supposed to do. It does give us a sense of what grade level a child’s reading ability needs to be to decode it.

There are critics of the Lexile system. I’m providing a link to this anti-Lexile post not because I agree with its conclusion (I don’t) but because it contains good examples of times when Lexile really gets it wrong. http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=8891.

TIMES WHEN LEXILES GET IT WRONG

Examples of Of where Lexile scores get it wrong.

 

 

I’ve seen the Grapes of Wrath example in many places. The content of Grapes of Wrath clearly does not fit the typical content for a 4th-grade classroom.  This particular example seems to be a favorite of the critics of Lexile measurements.

What to do, what to do?

Here is what to do. Do exactly what systems like Fountas and Pinnell do when they assign readabilities to books. In addition to the usual things (sentence complexity/vocab load) they look at the actual content of the book, how the book is structured, specific characteristics of the book and the degree to which the book that is measured matches the usual characteristics of books at that reading level. F & P’s system adds qualitative information that makes their product far more useful to classroom teachers.  When talking to teachers about which system to use when choosing a leveled text, I always recommend systems like F & P.  Fewer “surprises” like saying the Grapes of Wrath or the Color Purple are appropriate books for 4th graders.  The overall point here is that adding the qualitative element to the decodability measure makes It much more useful for educators. Quantitative measures can benefit from the addition of qualitative supplements.

Another example is the whole idea around measuring fluency. As I mentioned last week, Tim Rasinski just did an excellent post about that. The post was from the Robb Review.

https://therobbreviewblog.com/uncategorized/making-kids-read-fast-is-not-the-goal-of-fluency-instruction-making-meaning-is/

Last week’s post is germane to this week’s topic because unlike measures like the Dibels which measures fluency solely as speed, Tim’s measurement is much more complete since it includes the use of a rubric based on the acronym E.A.R.S. (Expression, Automatic Word Recognition, Rhythm and Phrasing, and Smoothness). Dibels focuses only on speed.  Teachers using Dibels for instruction use a shallow view of the oral reading process that too often results in the creation of Robot Readers. These readers read in a monotone, lifeless manner. Such readers are not likely to use oral reading as a window to comprehension.

Tim had this to say in a Twitter post this week:

TIM RAZ

 

 

Tim’s post clearly indicates that when most of the literacy instructional time is used on phonics instruction with little or no time spent on meaning making the result can be the creation of word callers. This dove tales completely with my own experiences working with children placed in a basal that focused too much of its time on phonics and not enough of its time on things like Tim’s style of fluency (shall we call it prosody?), writing, and comprehension.  This isn’t to say there should be no time spent on decoding. This is simply saying that there should also be SIGNIFICANT amounts of time spent on the other components of the reading process.

Overall, Tim’s way adds a definite qualitative aspect to the mix.  Instead of just doing simple speed measures, teachers must carry out a somewhat more complex measure using his rubric. Does that make it less scientific?  For those who have taken courses in qualitative analysis, you know that if one takes the time and follows the procedures, one can get interrater reliability. It is completely scientific. Qualitative measures and qualitative statistics are perfectly capable of answering the question of whether or not the results of a study are simply the result of chance or the result of the experimental treatment.

This leads me to my big question. Is there a reason to also include qualitative studies when evaluating the efficacy of reading approaches?  I think there is. Qualitative methods pick up on things pure quantitative methods simply can’t.  Is this a case of advocating my science against your science? Not really. It’s a case of advocating my science (qualitative studies) IN ADDITION TO your science. It’s an acknowledgment that empirical approaches have limits and limitation. Qualitative approaches can make important value-added contributions to the study of literacy approaches. In sum, I’m not saying to replace purely empirical studies. I am saying that we should consider supplementing their findings with qualitative studies as we determine the efficacy of various approaches in the teaching of literacy. Tim has said in the past that the teaching of reading is both science and art. I’ve given the link to my post about his views around this previously. Here it is again.

https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/05/04/the-teaching-of-reading-as-both-science-and-art-a-report-evaluation-of-rasinkis-recent-presentation-in-st-louis-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

I wholeheartedly concur with Tim. The teaching of reading really is both art and science. I think the study of the efficacy of literacy approaches would benefit from the inclusion of qualitative studies. What do you think?

Til next time, Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. the quantitative PLUS qualitative guy)

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

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

Oral Reading Fluency: Exploring fluency practices suggested by the work of Dr. Tim Rasinski (Part Two) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Fluent Reading

Oral Reading Fluency: Exploring fluency practices suggested by the work of Dr. Tim Rasinski (Part Two) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

 

While I was away on vacation, Dr. Tim Rasinski made a post in the Robb review that is quite relevant to our topic of reading fluency (I follow the Robb review- lots of good stuff there!). Here is a link to his post:

https://therobbreviewblog.com/uncategorized/making-kids-read-fast-is-not-the-goal-of-fluency-instruction-making-meaning-is/

==============================================================

Key ideas included:

  • The real goal of phonics instruction should be to “get kids to the point where they don’t have to use phonics.”
  • Fluency is not about reading fast; fluency is about reading in a manner that promotes meaning-making. He did an ORF score (speed test score) on recordings of arguably two of the most fluently read speeches in American history – Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address “Ask Not What Your Country…”. He found that “in both cases, Dr. King and President Kennedy’s readings of their speeches may have landed them in a remedial reading class based on their very low ORF scores.”
  • He urged caution in using the scores, e.g., DIBELS and AimsWeb ORF scores, or Hasbrouck and Tindal’s norms (Words Correct per Minute).
  • He also said that “For fluency instruction to truly work, we need to see the goal of fluency as expressive oral (and silent) reading that reflects the meaning of the text.

=============================================================

Which brings us round to the story I was telling you before I left for vacation.  I volunteer one day a week doing literacy work at an elementary school. I had been using the idea of teaching kids to read like a storyteller in the after-school group all year.  About 20 1st and second graders participated.  We used one of the several techniques Rasinski reported on when he spoke to us in St. Louis. We paired off readers and had them read/reread poems and passages from favorite books.  We used several Eric Litwin’s books since they were at the right readability, were engaging and predictable.  When the after-school program ended, I asked one of the first-grade teachers if she would be interested in trying the reading practice with the whole class for a couple of weeks. She agreed.

We paired readers with somewhat higher scores with readers with somewhat lower reading scores. We allowed the children to self-select from poems that they were familiar with. This included some from trade books and some from the basal program. Partners could select the same poem OR they could each select a poem of their own.  Students practiced reading to each other daily. The teacher circulated in the room as the oral reading went on. The entire process took 10 minutes or so each day. I was present for this activity each Tuesday.

Students knew there would be a performance event at the end of the week. The classroom was using SeeSaw. The kids made audio recordings. The purpose of this little trial was to see if the primary teachers would be interested in trying this out during the school year next year. I’m happy to report that the results were such that both the 1st and 2nd grade is going to do this next year.

Here are some of the highlights:

The classroom teacher was surprised to see how quickly some of the “average” students improved in prosody. The stronger of the two partners were showing improvement as well.  The kids coached each other in how to sound more like storytellers.   One interesting anecdote came when I gave my usual talk about reading like a storyteller NOT like a robot. “Never read like a robot!” I said. One of the 1st graders raised his hand and said, “But Dr. B., what if the character is a robot? Then what?”  Hmmm. Guess you know how I answered.  You know, sometimes the kids learn more than you teach them!

I have parent permission to listen to the recordings, and over the summer I’ll be using the rubrics from Rasinski and Smith’s The Megabook of Fluency to assess those recordings.  I’ve talked about that rubric before. It uses the acronym E.A.R.S. Expression, Automatic Word Recognition, Rhythm and Phrasing, and Smoothness.  By the fall I expect to be able to use the rubric with some degree of reliability.

All four of the classes (2 first grades and 2-second grades) use the Raz Kids computer program.  I already have used the message feature of that program to talk to the after-school kids and give them advice about reading. The program allows both written and recorded messages. I think feedback on oral reading might prove useful.  Stay tuned- by the end of next year, I may have an action research project to report on!

Next time I want to take up the topic of the advantages of supplementing quantitative research with qualitative research.  I’ll explain how the startup I just described does exactly that.  I’ll also explore some of the limits and limitations of using only quantitative information.

Until next time, this is Dr. Sam signing off.

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito

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

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

Back from vacation- Some thoughts about the “Bookends” of WWII found at Pearl Harbor By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Back from vacation- Some thoughts about the “Bookends” of WWII found at Pearl Harbor

 

Pearl Harbor “Bookends”                                                Plaque Marking Surrender Spot

Just back from vacation. Letting everyone know my regular posts will resume next Friday morning. My last day in Hawaii was spent touring the bookends of WWII. The bookends include the Arizona Memorial (the beginning) and the Battleship Missouri (the end). Our guide for the Battleship Missouri tour told the moving story of how General MacArthur handled the speech he gave at the end of the war.  He spoke at the surrender ceremony that took place on the deck of the Battleship Missouri. The guide noted MacArthur could have talked about all the horrors and injustices of the war. Instead here is the heart of what he said:

“It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past — a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”

So, he chose to offer a message of hope at the end of the war. A message of healing for all sides. Perhaps this is a message worth pondering.  See you next Friday morning.

 

Dr. Sam

 

 

Oral Reading Fluency: Exploring fluency practices suggested by the work of Dr. Tim Rasinski by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Oral Reading Fluency: Exploring fluency practices suggested by the work of Dr. Tim Rasinski by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I spent a great deal of time in the past few weeks talking about phonics and the current iteration of the reading wars. My position remains that teachers be allowed to use a full range of approaches to teaching phonics matching the child to the type of decoding instruction that best fits the child.  But I believe decoding instruction should never be the total sum of the child’s beginning reading instruction. I find the guidelines for time allotment proposed by Shanahan quite sensible.

To see his full post around the topic of time allotment, go to https://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/how-much-time-should-we-spend-on-comprehension-and-phonics

Here are some highlights from that post:

“The biggest decisions teachers make, have to do with how much time to spend on literacy and language and how to divide this time up among the components of literacy. I have long emphasized 2-3 hours of literacy instruction per day in grades K-5 (if you are teaching in a half-day kindergarten, then 60-90 minutes per day).”

“I would argue for dividing the total amount of literacy and language time equally across those five components (or four, if the students aren’t yet reading). Before they are reading, I would devote about a quarter of the instructional time to oral language development (including listening comprehension), a quarter to decoding, a quarter to oral reading fluency, and a quarter to writing. Once children are reading, then the time shifts so that each component gets 20% of the time.”

So, let’s turn our attention to one of the components Shanahan has outlined.  What to do during the 20% of the instructional time allocated to oral reading fluency?  I would recommend that all teachers take a hard look at Dr. Tim Rasinski’s ideas and methods in this area

I first heard him speak at one of our local ILA’s meeting. I wrote a blog about what he said in that presentation:

https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/05/04/the-teaching-of-reading-as-both-science-and-art-a-report-evaluation-of-rasinkis-recent-presentation-in-st-louis-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

As you can see from the title of the blog post above, Rasinski sees the teaching of reading as both science and art. He made some compelling arguments to that end. The thing he talked about that REALLY got my attention was his story of a 1st-grade teacher who tried a very simple technique for building fluency for her readers. She had them practice reading poems aloud on a daily basis. They knew that at the end of the week they would get a chance to perform their poem. This practice/perform sequence did not take up an inordinate amount of time since the daily practice sessions were short (5-10 minutes). The teacher got major pushback from her administrator about wasting classroom time. But she was allowed to continue her program all year. Her building was a high needs building. Her class outperformed all the other classes in the building on the end of the year reading achievement test. She went on to become the teacher of the year. You can see why this story caught my attention.

Though retired, I donate one day a week to a private elementary school in my area. My grandchildren attend that school. Just this quarter I found a 1st-grade teacher willing to try this practice/perform method. The week after next, I will give you a full report on how it went (hint- it went VERY well).

WAIT A MINUTE DR. SAM. You said week after next. What’s going on?

Dr. Sam is off on a family vacation next week. My wife and I are going with my son and his family. So- no blog next week. But I thought I would leave you with a little preview of things to come.  I wrote a little parody sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. I used that as my introduction to the whole topic of reading like a storyteller. Below is an audio of the song and a picture. The first graders joined me in singing the song. I’ve given a link to a folder where you can download both the audio and the pdf. The song is copyrighted, but permission is given for its non-commercial use at the class, building or even district level.  If you want to use it as part of a program that is sold- contact me.  Otherwise- feel free to use it. There is a very real lesson in prosody contained in the song. The week after next, I’ll tell you all about how things went with the prosody lessons. Until then, Aloha! (hmmmmm, wonder where Dr. Sam is going next week? hmmmmm).

Here are the song and links to a downloadable PDF and audio file.

TO DOWNLOAD THE PDF AND AUDIO FILE CLICK HERE

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/13W2d9hPo_eHycQjLtIt5mec5zC44J3qc?usp=sharing

Reading Story teller image

Happy Reading, Writing, AND Singing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the wanna-be songwriter)

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

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

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

reading creatuve commons

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

 

This week began with an amazing post on twitter which included this comment from @briankissell:

USE BRIAN

The review being referred to was my post about the Tsunami in reading instruction predicted by some advocates of the “scientific view” of reading. I want to thank Brian for the kudus and use this as an opportunity to put all the ideas I’ve had over the last several months into one place. To that end, I am reposting the post Brain referred to along with links to two other posts I’ve made. Taken together, they give my views of the current state of the reading wars and my critique of the positions being taken by some of the proponents of the “scientific view” of reading. Here is my position in a nutshell.

The only way to get past the “swinging pendulum” in the reading wars about whether or how to teach phonics is to recognize that different children have different needs when it comes to phonics instruction. Some thrive on a synthetic approach (explicitly taught phonics), some thrive on an analytic approach ( phonics taught in lesson rooted in the discovery method of learning) some thrive on either approach, and some can learn to read with no phonics instruction at all (this is a VERY small group).  Remember that the NRP found that SYSTEMATIC instruction is the key to effective phonics instruction; it did not find in favor of either analytic or synthetic phonics.

I maintain that the real problems in the so-called reading wars arise when children are forced to use an approach that doesn’t work for them.  This happens when proponents of one of the two major approaches to teaching phonics (analytics and synthetic) demand their approach, and only their approach be used to teach phonics. As I’ve indicated multiple times, what happens next is that whichever extreme becomes the current soup de jour, children for whom that particular approach doesn’t work fail to thrive. Then the other side calls for throwing out the old ways and bringing in the new way.  Usually, enough time has passed for folks to forget the “new way” didn’t work for everyone either.  My commonsense solution is really quite simple. Train teachers in all the major approaches to teaching phonics. Allow them to use them within whatever program a district may choose to adopt. Those districts that choose a synthetic approach should still allow selected children to use the analytic approach when needed and vice versa.  Details of all this can be found in the reposting of my blogs around this topic. I will add that districts must be sure that whatever approach is adopted the district programs include more than just decoding instruction. At the very least, instruction in prosody, vocabulary, and comprehension are also needed.  Readers are invited to consider Shanahan’s views about how much time should be spent on the various components in a reading program. See https://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/how-much-time-should-we-spend-on-comprehension-and-phonics for details.

My posts also challenge claims by SOME of the advocates of the so-called scientific approach to reading. Details follow in the current reposting.  Overall, I call for a reading evolution (#readingevolution1).  This means letting the pendulum swing to the middle and then use ideas from both approaches with the caveat that programs, especially programs in the beginning decoding process, be matched to the needs of particular students. Fit the program to the child, not the other way round.

Here is my main post about what reading programs could/should look like. I’ve also included links to posts about what happens when you try to force children to use programs that don’t work for them and what a program of teaching teachers about phonics might look like. I hope readers will consider all that follows and start the dialogues that can finally lead to what I hope will become the Reading Evolution.

 

REPOSTING:

Reading and the Dyslexic Child: About that Tsunami of Change Predicted by the Advocates of the Scientific Method of Reading By Dr. Sam Bommarito

4 Replies

 

Reading and the Dyslexic Child: About that Tsunami of Change Predicted by the Advocates of the Scientific Method of Reading

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

According to some (not all) of the advocates of the scientific method of reading, there is a Tsunami of Literacy change coming. Bad practices in the teaching of reading are going to be replaced by good ones. The reading crisis is going to be solved. The problems caused by the evils of whole language and balanced literacy will be overcome by an unbalanced approach, an approach that uses most (all) of the literacy instructional time in the early grades (k-2) to teach using scientific-based reading practices (translation- TONS of direct systematic synthetic phonics instruction). Comprehension can wait. Comprehension will follow naturally once the decoding problems are solved.

I’ll begin by reminding my readers that a Tsunami is a form of a natural disaster. It usually results in great pain and suffering. It can take months, sometimes years to recover from a Tsunami. Perhaps it would be wise to show some caution before welcoming a Literacy Tsunami as a solution to our perceived problems in the teaching of literacy.

Let me now address the very real problem that was the impetus of the current movement to change literacy practices. That is the failure to provide adequate instruction for the Dyslexic child. I’ll skip right to the end on this one. Dyslexic children do not thrive on a program based on analytic phonics. They truly need a program that is direct, synthetic based and systematic. There is no question they should be provided with such programs. My belief is that currently, the best place to do that is in a tier three program. For that, to work it would require that Dyslexic children be a “minority” in the sense that most children with reading problems do not have Dyslexia. That would require taking the point of view that reading difficulties have their origins in multiple (complex) factors. The rest of this entry will present some evidence that this is the case. I will present evidence to demonstrate that we may not want to abandon practices that, in point of fact do help a significant number of children, children with very real reading difficulties but who do not fit the criteria for being Dyslexic.  Let’s see why I say this based on challenging some of the myths propagated by some of the advocates of the “scientific method” of teaching reading.

Myth one: Programs like Reading Recovery, programs that often use things like the three cueing systems and other unproven educational practices, should be ended and replaced with strong systematic synthetic phonics-based programs. There is a major problem with this point of view. It fails to explain why RR has consistently been found to be the most effective reading program in beginning reading. It is the only beginning reading program to show significant improvement in BOTH comprehension and decoding. Its synthetic-based rivals show gains in only decoding.  We’ll dive into that fact a little more deeply later in this analysis. See the following link for the newest information on this point: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/EvidenceSnapshot/420.

I was always taught that all it takes to call a scientific hypothesis into question is one contrary observation. The What Works Clearinghouse conclusions clearly show that, in spite of its critic’s complaints that it does not follow their vision of “scientific teaching”, Reading Recovery actually works better for many children than the programs advocated by the “science of reading” point of view.

In previous blogs, I’ve pointed out that SOME of the advocates of the scientific method employ the “strawman” tactic in order to make the case against Reading Recovery, along with other constructivist-based tactics. They create a “strawman”. They do this by reporting only studies critical of a method and ignoring studies (like the WWC analysis) that demonstrate that they work. These kinds of tactics may work in heated political campaigns. But if one is pursuing science, one must weigh in with all the data before drawing final conclusions. Ignoring critical data that supports “the other side” is not my idea of science.

Myth two: Whole Language and Balanced Literacy are the cause of all the current problems in literacy.  Let’s examine one case where that claim was made. California mandated that whole language be used. Shortly afterward reading achievement went down. That’s a slam dunk, right? Whole language caused a major loss in reading achievement scores. As is often the case in scientific research, the devil is in the details.

Enter on the scene Stephen Krashen. He took a closer look at the data. He asked a simple question. Were most teachers in California actually using whole language?  He found the answer was an emphatic no. Most were not. Yet the scores went down. How can that be? He reported that the actual causes of those lower scores were “a large influx of non-native speakers of English and significant decreases in educational funding (larger classes specifically negatively impacting achievement).” See this link for details.

https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2019/02/14/the-big-lie-about-the-science-of-reading/

Myth two: The source of most (all) reading problems is Dyslexia.  Having taught the analysis and correction of reading course multiple times at both the graduate and undergraduate level I’m familiar with textbooks that were used/are being used in that course. Harris and Sipay was a mainstay textbook for quite a number of years. The earliest versions of that text came out before the current round of the Great Debate. Their conclusion- there are multiple causes for reading problems. John’s is another text often used. His conclusion- multiple causes.  Readers are invited to examine other textbooks currently in use. I think they will find- multiple causes is the current conclusion of virtually all the experts in area analysis and correction. If this is true, then solving the overall problem of low achievement in literacy requires much more than solving the literacy problems of the Dyslexic child. IN NO WAY am I suggesting that working toward meeting the needs of the Dyslexic child is unimportant. It is VERY important. But meeting their needs only solves a small part of the overall literacy instruction problem. It does not address the problems of the children whose literacy problems stem from other sources. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that one of those sources is the failure to provide systematic and explicit instruction in comprehension. I predict that those who think that decoding instruction in the first few years should supplant comprehension instruction are going to be sorely disappointed.  Solving decoding problems is NECESSARY for a good literacy program. However, solving those problems IS NOT SUFFICIENT.

Myth three: SES Doesn’t Matter

It is sometimes implied by SOME advocates of the scientific method that because Dyslexic children can (and do) come from families who are what we would call high SES (Social Economic Status) that SES doesn’t matter much. On the one hand, it is absolutely true that some Dyslexic children come from high SES families. So, it is true that SES is not always a factor in reading difficulties. Does that mean that SES never a factor reading achievement? Hardly. There is a TON of data demonstrating SES is a factor. By and large areas with low SES have consistently had scores about 1 standard deviation below the expected reading achievement scores. That has been a widely accepted fact of life since I began my teaching career in 1970 right through to today.  Many of us in the reading world view that solving the poverty crisis and mitigating the effects of poverty is crucial to solving the literacy problems of many children.  I’ve mentioned before that back in the day I worked in three different Title one programs that won awards for the achievement gains in reading. By definition Title 1 programs are in low SES areas. One can find many examples of programs in low SES areas doing that. I think a careful examination of those programs will demonstrate that they accomplished their gains by doing much more than simply solving the decoding problems of their students. I’ll leave it to my friend Dr. William Kerns to provide more research around that point in future blogs.

Myth four: Applying the Methods of the “Scientific Approach to Reading” results in tremendous gains in reading achievement.

Careful examination of the data some proponents of the scientific method of reading provide does demonstrate major gains in DECODING ability, not reading achievement. Please examine the instruments used in their studies. Most of the variance measured by those instruments come from Decoding, not comprehension. Too often their comprehension data, if it is present at all, relies on vocabulary only or data based on correlations with comprehension tests instead of directly measuring comprehension. Correlational data may be satisfactory for exploratory studies, but for studies used to justify large expenditures by districts, direct measures are needed.

My next remarks are addressed to district level decision makers “shopping” for literacy programs. If you are looking to make long term investments in a program, I think it is prudent that you demand something more than the current level of proof provided by some advocates of the scientific method.  My advice is to ask for data indicating 1. Long term sustained gains (critics of the “Scientific Approach” often point out the gains they claim happen disappear once data is looked at over extended periods). 2. Studies that use actual direct measures of comprehension. In my day we used the Gates-Macginitie. It has a Vocabulary Section and a Comprehension section resulting in an overall reading score. Once again, as is often the case, the devil is in the details. It is a buyer beware kind of situation. Before you buy into a particular set of methods, please ask your local experts in testing to search programs you are considering for evidence of long-term READING ACHIEVEMENT gains based on widely accepted tests of COMPREHENSION. I’d recommend against adoption if such proof cannot be provided.

An important footnote. I’m sure you’ll hear answers like- if you take care of decoding problems then the comprehension problems will be solved as well.  The problem is, reading is not a natural process (one point on which the science of reading folks and I agree). Since it is a LEARNED process, it follows that in addition to learning the decoding strategies readers must be explicitly and systematically taught comprehension strategies (or the single comprehension strategy if some analysts are correct) as well.  Do you really want to wait until the second or third grade to do that? That is what many advocates of the scientific method are asking you to do in order to make time for all that extra decoding instruction they recommend. If you follow that advice you run the risk that the “hidden curriculum” (only decoding matters) will cause many of your readers to pay little or no attention to the ideas of the things they read.  Does that sound like the kind of learner that can survive in the 21st-century work environment? Does that sound like a learner that will provide your district with long term gains in reading achievement?  As I said, buyer beware.  Until and unless they provide comprehension instruction from the outset, I would not consider buying into implementing their programs.

Myth number Five- All districts are using balanced literacy/whole language and that is why the current reading scores are so low.

I will begin with the obvious.  Some advocates of the scientific theory seem to assume that all (almost all) of the district programs currently in place are “whole language” or “balanced literacy”. They treat the two terms as synonymous. They are not. They attribute things to the programs that are simply not accurate or true. For instance, they often say whole language means no phonics. Sorry, I was at the 1995 ILA convention in Anaheim and heard Ken Goodman speak at the Reading Hall of Fame session. During that session, he directly stated that there is a place for phonics in a whole language program. In addition, there is the same issue raised by the whole California fiasco.  What is it that different district programs are ACTUALLY doing? Are there some programs that are more successful than others? If the science of reading folks were to try to present their findings to a doctoral committee, they would quickly find themselves being told to nail down which programs are failing and the characteristics of those programs. They would be required to provide evidence of where those programs are being done or not being done.  They might even be required to see if differences in implementation results in differences in achievement results. For instance, how do Guided Reading programs that follow the advice of Burkins and Yaris on time allotment fair compared to programs that don’t? They are currently painting with far too broad a brush to meet anyone’s definition of scientific research.  If they are going to claim the title of the scientific method, then they need to tighten up their research methods considerably, especially when making such broad statements about what districts are currently doing.

I’ve said before that my analysis of the Great Debate and why the pendulum continues to swing is based on something I learned from one of my mentors, the late Dr. Richard Burnett, professor emeritus from the University of Missouri St. Louis. A very long time ago he told me “Sam- the great debate has never been about phonics vs. no phonics. It has always been about my phonics vs your phonics.” My take on this is that the debate is really about analytic phonics (preferred by those of a constructivist bent) vs. synthetic phonics (preferred by those of an empiricist bent). My next statement will please almost no one but does have the potential to help everyone. There are SOME children who thrive on analytic phonics, SOME children who thrive on synthetic phonics, some children who can thrive on either and SOME children who can get by with almost no phonics instruction at all (very small group, don’t try to build a program around them!).

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

Go to this link for details

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eie.12125

Conclusion

I’ve attributed the ever-swinging pendulum to the fact that when people at the two extremes (in the sense they take the positions of ONLY synthetic or ONLY analytic) start saying only their way works and only their way will be allowed things start to go badly.  When that happens, we find ourselves in a situation where it is guaranteed some children will not thrive.  What happens next is a call for “out with the old, in with the new”. Usually, enough time has passed so that most folks have forgotten that the “new” didn’t work the last time around. As a result, the cycle has become never-ending. My suggestion has already been made. Let’s for once try stopping in the middle. Let’s talk to each other about what works for PARTICULAR kids. Let’s stop debating and start dialoguing. Let’s learn from the ideas of all sides and ask the question of what works best for THIS PARTICULAR CHILD. In the course of that, we can start a reading evolution.

 

LINK TO BLOG ABOUT THE PROBLEMS INHERENT IN PUTTING A CHILD IN A PROGRAM THAT DOESN’T FIT THEIR NEEDS IN DECODING: https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/03/28/a-tale-of-two-readers-a-close-up-look-at-two-actual-victims-of-the-reading-wars-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

 

LINK TO BLOG ABOUT TEACHERS NEED TO LEARN ABOUT PHONICS. https://doctorsam7.blog/2019/04/26/cutting-through-the-gordian-knot-of-beginning-phonics-instruction-my-advice-to-beginning-teachers-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

 

============================================================================

So…, I hope all this gives readers things to consider. Let’s do try empowering teachers. Let’s do listen to each other and find things that work for particular children. Let’s stop jumping back and forth between extremes. Instead, let’s move to the middle and try to begin a Reading Evolution (#readingevolution1).

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the #readingevolution guy

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

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