Why I Still Like Reading Recovery and More Things We Can Learn From It (REPOST) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Why I Still Like Reading Recovery and More Things We Can Learn From It (REPOST) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

NOTE: The link to the original Feb. 2022 post was broken. I am reposting this on 4/28/022 in order to let people access this post.

I’m coming off one of the most exciting weeks of my professional life. Last Sunday, I was a featured speaker at LitCon, a national-level reading conference. Then on Thursday, I did a joint Q&A session with Paul Thomas. Immediately afterword, I attended Paul’s session entitled The State of the Reading Wars: Not Simple, Not Settled. Here is a link to the blog he wrote about that session (LINK). Paul’s session was loaded with terrific information and resources around the whole history of the so-called reading wars. I’ll also mention that Paul has an excellent book on that same topic. Here is a link: (LINK). Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing a series of blogs designed to make a case for taking advantage of what Reading Recovery can do for students.

Research Demonstrates Reading Recovery Really Works.

Here is a link to a PDF entitled Overview of Reading Recovery. The PDF is a product of readingrecoveryworks.org (LINK). A screen capture of the last page of that document now follows:

The screen capture is of the last page of a four-page document. It contains three very important research search-based pieces of information.

  1. In one of the largest controlled studies ever conducted in the field of education, the growth rate for students who participated in reading recovery was 131% of the national average rate for first-grade students.
  2. 72% of reading recovery students read at grade level after a full series of lessons
  3. 99% percent of students who successfully completed reading recovery lessons don’t need to be referred to special education for reading at the end of Grade 1.

Let’s talk about the significance and implications of each of these in turn. Statement one demonstrates reading recovery does what it’s designed to do. When Marie Clay first created the term Reading Recovery, she talked about recovery in the nautical sense. Recovery means getting back on course. It is clear that given one and two, students completing the full course of study provided by reading recovery get back on course; they are ready to benefit from the district’s mainstream literacy program.

The crucial point is that they can start progressing like all the other kids in the district’s mainstream program. In districts with a working mainstream program, the gains from RR stick long term. In conversations on Twitter and my interview with her (LINK), Susan Vincent reported that data from her district showed the learning stuck over long periods. I’m well aware that some naysayers claim Reading Recovery gains don’t stick. They provide studies to prove that. As in all research, the devil’s in the details. Their studies failed to control for those districts that don’t have a mainstream program where students don’t make average to above-average progress. In those districts, the RR students can be expected to progress at a much slower rate. That is misinterpreted to mean the RR learning didn’t stick. When asked how the studies they cite account for this factor, not one of the naysayers has responded to date. The upshot is that the RR gains can and do stick.

This PDF is not the only source demonstrating that Reading Recovery works. What Works Clearinghouse has for years found RR works, and RR helps both decoding and comprehension. Here is a blog containing information about what WWC has said. (LINK) In next week’s blog, I’ll also provide some additional links.

COMPREHENSION

Comprehension is the Achilles heel of the current SOR movement. I’m not going to use the strawman tactic of claiming SOR doesn’t teach comprehension. They do, sort of. If asked, they will remind you that their collection of practices includes the five pillars. Those were gleaned from the National Reading Panel report. One of those pillars is comprehension. In his book, Paul reminds us of the limits and limitations of that report (a topic for another day!). That point aside, there are additional problems. One of them has to do with accepting Willingham’s work around comprehension at face value.

This is what Willingham had to say:

Building on Willingham’s research Karen Vaites wrote a blog entry about comprehension:

(LINK) Here is a screen capture giving the key to her entry:

Notice that the key conclusion here is that “background knowledge is key to reading comprehension.” On the one hand, I could not agree more with the concept that background knowledge is incredibly important to comprehension. Virtually all folks schooled in literacy instruction would agree to that. On the other hand, the issue becomes is it “THE KEY” or “A KEY”? I subscribe to the latter point of view. So do many experts in the reading field. Based on Willingham’s limited look at the research, some questionable practices are beginning to emerge. I say his look is limited because he does not give proper consideration to or explanation of the findings of Pressley, Pearson, Duke and others. What has happened is that folks like Vaites are using Willingham’s work to say teachers need to change how they teach. Teachers should spend lots less time teaching reading strategies and lots more time simply building background. Implied in that is that building background is all of (most of) what it takes to “teach” comprehension. This results in calling on teachers to spend much less time teaching comprehension strategies. All this is based on Willingham’s views, including his contention that these strategies are quickly and easily learned.

Unfortunately, this “new way” of teaching comprehension flies in the face of several decades of research by folks like Pressley, Pearson and most recently Duke. In a nutshell, those aforementioned researchers have found that teaching reading strategies using a gradual release model raises reading test scores significantly. On the one hand, I agree with Willingham that too much of the time teachers spend on reading strategies is not well spent. That is because the time is often spent on the wrong things. Time spent naming strategies or practicing test questions that ostensibly test for the use of reading strategies is not what the research has indicated should be done. Rather GETTING THE STUDENTS TO INTERNALIZE AND USE THE COMPREHENSION STRATEGIES AND ASSESSING WHETHER OR NOT THEY ACTUALLY USE THEM is what “teaching reading strategies using gradual release” entails. Teaching the strategies in that way is critical to building students’ ability to make meaning out of text. I find nothing in any of the three-plus decades of work that the aforementioned researchers completed indicates that those strategies are quickly and easily learned. Teaching in a gradual release model takes time. However, I do find study after study after study that shows that teaching these strategies does raise test scores significantly.

This is one of many examples that demonstrate that SOR advocates’ advice goes off the tracks too often because they fail to look at all the research before handing out their advice. Other examples of this abound. These include failure to consider research about retentions before implementing things like the Florida “miracle” model or ignoring research by early childhood experts about what and how to teach our youngest students. Next week I will continue this discussion and further discuss the whole issue of assessing reading. I’m going to suggest that many of the “miracle studies” cited by SOR are very heavy on assessing decoding and very light (or simply don’t) assess comprehension. We’ll be looking at Duke’s work on how reading is measured by gold-standard reading tests. Those are tests like you find on state-wide reading assessments. BTW those tests involve much more than simply reading a word list, a testing method that is used in many SOR studies.  

In the meantime, I will leave you with this thought.

What Works Clearing House found Reading recovery helps BOTH decoding and comprehension.

That is a huge advantage and an important reason to consider the use of Reading Recovery. Here is the blog where I explore what WWCH had to say LINK.

Next week we will explore why reading recovery does such a good job of teaching comprehension. We’ll also further explore the problems that arise because the approaches of some  SOR folks often leave out key elements needed for successful reading comprehension. Reading comprehension strategies need to be taught directly and explicitly. We’ll also take a long hard look at the issues of phonics and how phonics is an integral part of Reading Recovery.

I’ll be suggesting that one semester of RR in first grade is one of the best moves a district can make to help get control of its reading problems, especially in light of the current state of things in the Dyslexia community. They lack a widely agreed-upon definition of Dyslexia. They do not have a reliable screen. Instead, they are now recommending legislation that requires testing everyone for Dyslexia. Given the current state of their screening instruments, this practice is guaranteed to glut programs with false positives. See the most recent issues of Reading Research Quarterly and check out the information in Paul’s book to verify that the Dyslexia community has a long way to go in both these areas. Please don’t misinterpret my position. I think there should be services provided to those kids who need extra help. I spent over 40 years working in Title 1 buildings giving help to students of greatest need. Giving expensive specialized services to children who don’t need them is a huge waste of resources. Those resources could be used to help other children. I am seriously suggesting that giving a semester of RR to struggling children might be the most effective screening possible. Until the Dyslexia community develops better screenings and better definitions, that might very well be the way to go. Remember that Reading Recovery is NOT an ongoing program. It is an intense short-term intervention that gives the kind of positive results listed at the start of this blog.

In anticipation of the naysayers using the public relations ploy of discount and discredit concerning the data on the efficacy of Reading Recovery- I would point out that I could use information like that found in Paul’s book to counter many of the things SOR folks advocate. If we go down that road, the pendulum will swing indefinitely. This is a centrist saying, let’s try using things from both sides. Let’s start acting like we are all on the same side, the side that wants to help kids. I’d be very interested in hearing from districts using RR first, then testing for Dyslexia. I’m betting that such districts will not have as large a problem of overidentifying children needing a program based on the practices suggested by the  Dyslexia community. I’ll bet that would go a long way toward assuring that the resources will be there for the children who really need them.   

Until next week then- Happy Reading and Happy Writing

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

Copyright 2022 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.

PS 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.

Video of my presentation to beginning teachers in St. Louis about the Sciences of Reading (Sciences with an s!) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Video of my presentation to beginning teachers in St. Louis about the Sciences of Reading (Sciences with an s!) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Today’s blog is a bit different from most. I am providing readers with a video of the highlights of what I said to beginning teachers in St. Louis about the Sciences of Reading. Here is an abridged version of my presentation.

The pdfs of the PowerPoints used in this presentation are in this share folder.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1H-SmOZReCqHL5tkiRHvyUgkbExHs6CUR

You can download the pdfs and click on all the various links I provided while discussing the topic. LOTS of information! ENJOY

I’ve got some interesting and informative blogs/interviews lined up for the next few weeks, be on the lookout for a guest blog post from Laura Robb and an interview with Rachael Gabriel.  

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

Copyright 2022 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 News for the Missouri Literacy Association by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Happy News for the Missouri Literacy Association: The ILA has recognized MLA for its outstanding work.

During the past few decades, I’ve been active in my state’s ILA chapter and the local ILA chapter in St. Louis. I am happy to announce that this year, both the state organization and the St. Louis chapter have been recognized by the ILA for their outstanding work in the literacy field.

I will say that it truly does take the whole village to raise the child, and there have been several wonderful things going on in our state. This includes a remarkable growth in membership, book giveaways of thousands of books to children living in book deserts, establishing community cooperation with several local literacy advocacy groups, providing daily PD & inspiration on Facebook, along with book clubs and webinars done by national experts in literacy, and of course, the peer-reviewed state journal, The Missouri Reader. The many activities that served as the basis for the award would not have been possible without the contributions of many MLA members. Kudos to all the members of MLA- Well Done! Special thanks to ILA for all that it does to promote literacy. Here is a screen capture of the announcement for the MLA award:

This is a message from ILA: “We want to celebrate and acknowledge the great work the chapter has accomplished.  Please join us for a one-hour Zoom event to celebrate ILA Chapter Awards. We encourage you to share this invitation to all your local leaders, chapter members, friends, and supporters. Register in advance for this meeting:

LINK

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.”

I hope that many of the readers of this blog will consider coming to our celebration using the link above. Debbie Lambeth, the current MLA chair will accept MLA’s award. Julius B Anthony, current chair of the St. Louis group and future chair of MLA will accept St. Louis Regional’s award. BTW, Julius’s work was critical in creating our membership growth in the past few years. It’s looking like MLA is going to have a bright and productive future ahead of it.

Here are some links that you might find useful in taking advantage of the many resources that both MLA and St. Louis Regional provide.

  • Facebook Page LINK. Daily information and inspiration from our FB team.
  • Web Page LINK Information on our upcoming webinars and book studies including our upcoming two-part book study with Stephanie Affinito.
  • The Missouri Reader, newest issue LINK and our most read issue of all time- the special edition about using poetry as a vehicle for teaching reading LINK
  • Here are some links to blogs about some of the local partnerships we’ve developed within our state and region, including our partnerships with St. Louis Black Authors, LINK, Turn the Page LINK,  and Village of Moms LINK. There was also a Missouri Reader article about The Africa Project LINK pg 10. Lots going on! Please consider joining MLA or donating to support its work. Do that at the website. LINK

In the coming weeks, I’ll be continuing my exploration of the issues surrounding the teaching of reading. I will also carry out a number of author interviews I think you will find interesting. Until next week- HAPPY READING & WRITING.

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka proud citizen of the village of literacy in Missouri (and beyond!).

Copyright 2022 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.

PS 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.

Views from the Center: There’s much more to comprehension instruction than just building background knowledge by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Views from the Center: There’s much more to comprehension instruction than just building background knowledge by Dr. Sam Bommarito

There is a growing movement of teachers who have come to believe that the main thing you need to do to help your students understand what they are reading is to provide the students with background knowledge before reading. They feel the time spent teaching comprehension should be drastically reduced. A few seem to think it should be eliminated altogether. That idea is simply not supported if you look at ALL the relevant research.

I’ll begin by saying background knowledge is critical for understanding. That is something folks in the reading field have known for decades. So having background knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for reading comprehension to occur. By the way, I can’t help but point out that one way to develop background knowledge is for teachers to include read alouds in their daily routines to encourage wide reading and encourage deep conversations LINK as students share ideas they have gleaned from new materials they have read. But that is a topic for a different blog.

Let’s turn next to the work of Willingham. In his widely read article about teaching comprehension LINK, he makes a case for using brief instruction in reading comprehension. Here is a screen capture from page 45 of that article; it summarizes his overall conclusions:

Please note that he did not say to abandon the teaching of reading strategies (though some folks on social media seem to be taking such a position). He called for teaching less of it. My chief criticism of his position is quite simple. It has to do with the research he left out of his analysis (ignored), especially the three decades of research by Pearson, Duke and Pressley that demonstrated that teaching reading strategies using a gradual release model consistently results in significantly higher reading scores. It is not at all transparent that representative sample articles from those bodies of research were included, nor is it transparent that strategy teaching from the articles cited used gradual release in the teaching of the strategies. Teaching a gradual release model means doing much more than naming or talking about strategies. Too often, that is what is passing for strategy instruction in some classrooms. What should be involved is students INTERNALIZING strategies and using them as they are reading. A strong clue to where things might be going off the track is the “strategy” of teacher preparation, which was found to be inconclusive based on six studies considered (see his chart from the NRP on page 43). First, I find it difficult to understand how this is a reading strategy (it would be best classified as teaching about reading strategies). Second, the fact that the results were inclusive should be a red flag. That means that during the era studied; teachers were not taught very well what reading strategies are and how to help students internalize and use them. The absence of any mention of teaching students about inferences and how to make inferences is also a major omission in this analysis.

My take on this now follows.

The key to teaching comprehension strategies is that the teaching must be done in a way that results in the students internalizing and using the strategies, so says the research by Pressley, Pearson, Duke and others.

I want first to remind readers of the observational studies done by Durkin in the 1980s. Overall, they showed that less than one percent of the instructional time spent on reading instruction in classrooms was spent on teaching comprehension during that era. Here is a screen capture of the first page of her 1982 article in Educational Leadership:

LINK to the article.

Durkin’s research sparked a great deal of interest in the area of teaching reading comprehension. This led to a renaissance of research around how to effectively teach reading. It provided the impetus for the subsequent work of  Pressley, Pearson, Duke and others that clearly established that teaching selected reading strategies does have a significant positive impact on children’s reading scores. There are now over three decades of research to back up those claims.

Unfortunately, today we seem bound and determined to forget those important lessons learned during the 1980s and beyond. Today we now have some people saying not to teach comprehension strategies at all. In addition,  too often, what happens in “strategy” instruction is that the instruction focuses on naming the strategy or describing the strategy or “practicing” the strategy rather than learning how to internalize and use the strategy.  This is a step backward. My final important point is that teaching strategies using the gradual release model is not something that can be done in five or six lessons. It’s time to revisit the whole notion of what constitutes teaching students to internalize and use reading strategies when needed. A key to this is having an empirical measure of how students have internalized the strategies. Another key is to do some new research on what teachers today are actually doing with their instructional time.

A final thought on the Willingham article is this. He only considers the NRP data and definitions. He is using a sample of convenience to prove his point. He did not control for the existence of the definitions/data from Pressley, Pearson and Duke on the importance of teaching strategies through gradual release. Given the fact, that the NRP chart he references called Teacher preparation, a reading strategy, in terms of reading strategies we seem to be talking about apples and oranges. It is not transparent from the chart whether all the strategies taught were taught using the gradual release model. That is important because the research from all three of the previously mentioned researchers demonstrate that teaching reading strategies using the gradual release model produces the most dramatic effects on reading scores. HE IS SIMPLY NOT CONSIDERING ALL THE EVIDENCE. Yet we are making state and national policies based on this incomplete evidence.

I will be visiting the issue of how to best test comprehension from time to time in future blogs. In the meantime, I’ll be doing another in-service with teachers in the St. Louis region, showing them how to help students internalize the strategy of making inferences and, more importantly, how to evaluate whether the students have begun to apply that strategy. Also, I just attended a webinar given by Rachael Gabriel. She is another advocate for the Sciences of Reading LINK (that’s sciences with an s!). I am hoping to arrange an interview with her to discuss this issue (among others). In the meantime, I will continue to advocate for the direct explicit teaching of reading strategies using gradual release. As I said at the outset, building students’ background knowledge is a necessary but not sufficient condition for students to develop an in-depth and complete understanding of the things they read.

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

Copyright 2022 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.

Dr. Sam is on Spring Break This Week

Dr. Sam is on Spring Break This Week

Flowers are bloomed in the spring season; as shown here. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

I’m taking the week off for spring break. Doing family things. I even had lunch with teachers from my Title 1 building in Jennings where I worked for over two decades.  HAPPY SPRING!

Here are links to some of my most popular blogs:

The Sciences of Reading (and yes, I mean Sciences, not Science) LINK

A new look at brain research part two: Additional information about the impact of music on reading fluency/prosody LINK

An alternate explanation as to why reading achievement isn’t where we want it to be LINK

NEXT WEEK I’ll be posting the following blog: Views from the Center: There’s much more to comprehension instruction than just building background knowledge. Hope to see you then!

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

Copyright 2022 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 interview with Mark Pennington about his Teaching Reading Intervention Program (Part Two). Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito.

This week I am completing the two-part interview with Mark Pennington about his reading program. I do this in the spirit of presenting ideas from all sides. Mark’s program is aimed at the older reader. Its foundations lie in the ideas of Science of Reading and Scarborough’s Rope. It includes direct phonics instruction for middle school/high school students. As I indicated last week, I recognize that some research indicates that such instruction does not usually pay large dividends. However, in a recent blog, Timothy Shanahan pointed out that newer studies indicate that some students could benefit from such instruction LINK. Could Mark’s program benefit some of the students you serve? Check out the links to the free materials he has provided and see what you think.

The regular readers of this blog know I am a centrist and believe that if we are to cut through the gordian knot that is reading instruction, it will take using ideas from all approaches. In the second part of this interview, we will look at such topics as vocabulary, Scarborough’s rope, and comprehension related to Mark’s program. The video starts as Mark changes from talking about decoding to talking about these other topics.

About the author (taken from the Mark Pennington Blog)

Mark Pennington is an educational author, publisher, reading specialist, and teacher. Mark’s English-language arts/reading resources help teachers apply assessment-based instruction to teach grade-level Common Core State Standards and also individualize instruction for the diverse needs of their students.

Mark has taught in the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college settings. He has also served as a district reading specialist. His MA Education (Reading Specialist) is from California State University at Sacramento. Mark received his teaching credential at the University of California at Los Angeles after graduating Magna cum Laude from the University of Southern California. Go Trojans!

Teachers refer to his books as “user friendly,” “written by a teacher for teachers and their students,” “comprehensive,” “minimal prep and correcting/grading,” “easy to individualize instruction,” and “efficient and effective balanced instruction.”

Mark and his family live in the beautiful Sierra Foothills of Northern California. In his spare time, Mark is a blues musician and avid day hiker.

Here is the link to the second half of the interview:

Scarborough’s Rope00:00
Background Mentor Text & Response03:28
Vocabulary6:56  
Language Structures10:36
Verbal Reasoning18:01  
Literacy Knowledge31:45
Closing Thoughts34:08
Time Stamps for the Interview

Important Links from Mark (includes link to his Teaching Reading Intervention Program):

Mark Pennington BLOG LINK

Teaching Reading Intervention full-year word recognition and language comprehension program for students ages 8-adult.

Free ELA and Reading Assessments from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Over 700 ELA and Reading Articles with FREE lessons, activities, and resources from the Pennington Publishing Blog

I hope you got many good teaching ideas from Mark’s interview. Next week, I will review some additional ideas about teaching comprehension.

Soooo- until next, Happy Reading and Writing.

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

Copyright 2022 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 interview with Mark Pennington about his Teaching Reading Intervention Program. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

An interview with Mark Pennington about his Teaching Reading Intervention Program. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This week I am beginning a two-part interview with Mark Pennington about his reading program. I do this in the spirit of presenting ideas from all sides. Mark’s program is aimed at the older reader. Its foundations lie in the ideas of Science of Reading and Scarborough’s Rope. It includes direct phonics instruction for middle school/high school students. I recognize that some research indicates that such instruction does not usually pay large dividends. However, in a recent blog, Timothy Shanahan pointed out that newer studies indicate that some students could benefit from such instruction LINK. Could Mark’s program benefit some of the students you serve? Check out the links to the free materials he has provided and see what you think.

The regular readers of this blog know I am a centrist and believe that if we are to cut through the gordian knot that is reading instruction, it will take using ideas from all approaches. In the first part of the interview, we will look at the decoding aspect of Mark’s program. The video stops as Mark changes from talking about decoding to talking about comprehension. Next week’s blog post will deal with Mark’s approaches to comprehension. The following week I will be blogging about the importance of looking at all the research, especially research by folks like Nell Duke and P.D. Pearson, as one develops a curriculum for teaching comprehension. So, the next few weeks should prove both interesting and informative.

About the author (taken from the Mark Pennington Blog)

Mark Pennington is an educational author, publisher, reading specialist, and teacher. Mark’s English-language arts/reading resources help teachers apply assessment-based instruction to teach grade-level Common Core State Standards and also individualize instruction for the diverse needs of their students.

Mark has taught in the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college settings. He has also served as a district reading specialist. His MA Education (Reading Specialist) is from California State University at Sacramento. Mark received his teaching credential at the University of California at Los Angeles after graduating Magna cum Laude from the University of Southern California. Go Trojans!

Teachers refer to his books as “user friendly,” “written by a teacher for teachers and their students,” “comprehensive,” “minimal prep and correcting/grading,” “easy to individualize instruction,” and “efficient and effective balanced instruction.”

Mark and his family live in the beautiful Sierra Foothills of Northern California. In his spare time, Mark is a blues musician and avid day hiker.

Here is the link to the first half of the interview:

Mark’s Background Information                                              00:28

Marks Program- Introduction to                                             06:16

Activity 1 Prefixes                                                                         10:30

Sam and Friends Phonics Books (suitable for older kids)                                                                                                                                                               17:33

Dr. B. talks about Nell Duke and Comprehension                                                                                                                                                                          31:29

NEXT WEEK THE SECOND HALF OF THE INTERVIEW WILL BE POSTED

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

Important Links from Mark (includes a link to his full Teaching Reading Intervention program):

Mark Pennington BLOG LINK

Teaching Reading Intervention full-year word recognition and language comprehension program for students ages 8-adult.

Free ELA and Reading Assessments from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Over 700 ELA and Reading Articles with FREE lessons, activities, and resources from the Pennington Publishing Blog

.

Soooo- until next week when we resume with part two of this interview, Happy Reading and Writing.

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

Copyright 2022 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 interview of Latisha Smith, Children’s Author & Director of Professional Development- St. Louis Public Schools. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

An interview of Latisha Smith, Children’s Author & Director of Professional Development- St. Louis Public Schools. Interview conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Dr. Latisha Smith is very active on the literacy scene in St. Louis. In addition to her full-time duties as Director of Professional Development for the St. Louis Public Schools, Latisha is also the author of many children’s books and an active member of the Missouri Literacy Association Board. MLA is an International Literacy Association board. Here is a sample of some of Latisha’s many community activities:

Latisha reports that having the mayor of St. Louis read her newest book, And the People Carried Signs for this year’s African-American Read Aloud Week, was a real career highlight for her. She also served as the installation officiant for this year’s St. Louis Literacy Association installation ceremonies. Dr. Tracy Hinds, Deputy Commissioner of Learning Services for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, was the keynote for that event. As you will find in the interview, Latisha still finds time to be a mother and the author of many different children’s books. She does an amazing job of facilitating the partnership between the St. Louis Public Schools, St Louis & Missouri Literacy Associations, and the St. Louis Black Authors. Here is a link to the interview, followed by time-stamped highlights from the interview.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Tell Us about yourself

As a person                                                     01:45                                     

Professionally                                                   02:17

Tell Us about the partnership between SLPS

and ILA/St. Louis Black Authors (especially

the many events speakers and P.D.)                  07:45

Tell Us about your book.                                         12:18

Any final remarks?                                                   15:00

Be sure to visit Latisha’s website LINK. Here are just some of the books you will find on that website:

It was a real pleasure to talk to Latisha again. As indicated in the interview, I got to know her very well when I worked for the St. Louis Public Schools as a reading specialist and staff developer. In addition to still working with Latisha on the MLA board, I also participate with her in the bi-annual BTAP program, which provides beginning teachers in St. Louis with PD in order to help them get a good start to their teaching careers. That program is organized by Dr. Betty Porter Walls, another MLA board member. Latisha works hand in hand with MLA and St. Louis Black Authors to provide various P.D. opportunities to teachers. Incoming MLA president, Julius Anthony, has played an important part in keeping the partnerships alive and well.

In the coming weeks, I will continue my interviews with various literacy leaders. I will also continue to do op-ed pieces advocating for centrist-based reading practices. So…, until next week, Happy Reading and Writing!

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

Copyright 2022 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.

It’s Time to Bring Teacher’s Voices into the Dialogue Around Best Ways to Teach Literacy by Dr. Sam Bommarito

It’s Time to Bring Teacher’s Voices into the Dialogue Around Best Ways to Teach Literacy by Dr. Sam Bommarito

The past few weeks have been amazing in terms of my professional career. I was a featured speaker at LITCON and presented a case for why Reading Recovery is a viable intervention LINK. Remember that RR is a one semester intense intervention designed for use in the first semester of first grade. It is not meant to be an ongoing program. If that first semester intervention doesn’t work, and in a small number of cases it doesn’t, then we should move on to other things. To be crystal clear, that could mean moving on to some SOR interventions. If that sounds like Doctor Sam is saying that one semester of RR could serve as a screening, that is exactly what I am proposing. That idea is a trial balloon. We’ll see how all sides receive it.

The past few weeks, I’ve also had a lot of time to think about where I began in this quest to make sense of the current iteration of the reading wars LINK. Just last week I posted a summary of my current thinking. The upshot of that thinking is that the group I have dubbed the “my way or the highway” branch of The Science of Reading says they have all the answers. They don’t. Check out my last week’s blog, and you’ll see there is plenty of evidence that major folks in the research field do not believe that it is settled science LINK, LINK. By the way, in my view, the definition of science is never settled LINK, Science is an ongoing inquiry. Science should be an ongoing quest to discover what else we can learn. It’s a bit difficult for me to see how the “my way or the highway group” branch of SOR can be so ready to say they have the final answer and so ready to force that answer on all of us. Frankly, I don’t see such a position as being very scientific at all.

I don’t view myself as having any final answers. I do think I have some important questions to ask. For instance, in this current iteration of the reading wars, what can each side learn from the other? Is there a path for using common sense to find common ground? I think that there is. There are signs there are advocates of the Science of Reading who are willing to talk. This past week, someone from DNA Films (see thetruthaboutreading.com) Interviewed me for a documentary they are doing about the reading. I think that they wanted to hear what a centrist might have to say. By the way, they are interviewing folks from various points of view. I can’t wait for that to come out because that is the kind of thing that is needed to start a dialogue about how to best help the children.

For such a dialogue to occur, all sides must be willing to admit that there are limits and limitations to all points of view. What works with one child, or one group of children doesn’t always work with another. When your particular point of view’s methods fail to work for a particular child, you must be willing to try methods from the other side(s). You must be willing to look at both qualitative and quantitative information to decide whether the methods are working. You can and should add to Cambourne’s quilt (p. 18) https://joom.ag/rXuI . But remember, no addition can be made without some research supporting it. Again, the research can be either qualitative or quantitative. Given the complexities involved in any school setting, I recommend that you provide both kinds of data whenever possible.  

My regular followers know my doctorate was done around the last iteration of the reading wars. It found that teachers from the two sides had more practices in common than practices they differed on. Unfortunately, back at that time, some of the constructivist advocates were dead set against the use of phonics. Fortunately, times have changed. MOST educators now believe phonics is needed. The question is now more around how much and what kind of phonics. Because we went through a time when teachers weren’t taught phonics at all, there is a real need to rectify that situation. This ILA document outlines nicely the kind of things that all teachers should learn LINK.

I’m writing this today as I finished up the Write to Learn conference in Missouri. There is a certain symmetry to that. Four years ago, my very first blog post was made from that conference. There is always much to be learned at the conference, and this year was no exception LINK, LINK, LINK. I presented a last breakout session on the last day. I want to thank the teachers who stayed for that session (it would have been so much easier to get an early start for home). I’d especially like to thank @TeacherMommyMO and @zachary_hamby shout-outs on Twitter. I hope I gave the teachers something they could use on Monday (e.g., Rasinski’s Word Ladders, his materials on Prefixes/Suffixes/Roots and most especially his Megabook of Fluency). At the end of the session, I made a mental note to myself that I needed to flesh out the idea of how to use “reading to perform” &  repeated readings- expect a blog post about that soon.

I want to end this post with the same thought I left with those teachers. Over five decades ago, the First Grade Studies demonstrated that good teachers account for more of the variance in reading scores LINK. Good teachers tend to get good results. Isn’t it time for us to stop focusing on the perfect program (we’ve never yet found one) and start focusing on the thing that can have the biggest impact of all? That something is empowered, informed teachers operating within each district’s best plans for their particular district. Dare to dream!

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching and who thinks teachers, not programs, matter most.

Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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Deconstructing the “My Way or The Highway” Branch of the Science of Reading- A Centrist’s Perspective by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Deconstructing the “My Way or The Highway” Branch of the Science of Reading- A Centrist’s Perspective by Dr. Sam Bommarito

A little background about this post: Lately, I’ve been engaged in a spirited exchange with some folks I consider as “my way or the highway” advocates of the Science of Reading. I’ll be crystal clear from the outset that not all SOR folks take that position. As a centrist, I’ll also be clear that I draw on and use things many folks would call practices supported by the Science of Reading, though I prefer the term Sciences of Reading. That said- let’s talk about my concerns about what this particular group of Science of Reading advocates are saying and doing. I’ll also give my advice on how I think folks should proceed. Understand that the concerns in this post are about the “my way or the highway group,” so it is about what SOME, not ALL SOR advocates, are saying and doing. For this essay, please treat SOR as the “my way or the highway” SOR group.  

CONCERN ONE– Some folks treat things as a winner takes all dichotomy. SOR vs. Balanced Literacy/Whole Language. Things are a lot more complex than that.

Recent issues of Reading Research Quarterly have warned against treating approaches to teaching literacy as a dichotomy. I subscribe to Cambourne’s view that a Reading Quilt metaphor should replace the Reading Wars metaphor, LINK p6.  I am now going to trace to the two sides WAY back.

Inquiry instruction is the underpinning of constructivist learning approaches. It is also a key feature of analytic phonics. It has its origins in the philosophical teachings of Socrates.

Direct instruction is the underpinning of the behaviorist approaches to learning. It is the key feature of synthetic phonics. It has its origins in the philosophical teaching of Aristotle.

The two ways of teaching, constructivist vs. behaviorist, have co-existed for over two millennia without one replacing the other. I see no reason for wanting or expecting one approach to replace the other. Unfortunately, members of the SOR (MWOH) group view inquiry instruction as weak and seem to want virtually all instruction to be direct. They also embrace quantitative research exclusively and omit qualitative research entirely. Given the complex nature of what goes on in school districts, that is a problematical way to proceed. It leads them to underestimate the effect and importance of constructivist methods. I’ll have much more to say about that point in future blogs.

What makes the most sense to me is encouraging both instructional approaches and using the Art of Teaching to decide when best to use one or the other. In this era of a Global Economy, it seems that the kind of open-ended problem-solving thinking encouraged by inquiry instruction is exactly what we need to compete successfully. There is a place, a very important place, for inquiry instruction in our educational instructional practices today.

In my opinion, Balanced Literacy’s defining feature is the use of constructivist-based practices. Here are multiple examples of districts using constructivist-based practices with great success  LINK, LINK, LINK. Yet the SOR folks claim BL has failed. They do this by employing the public relations tactic of discount and discredit. Once data supporting constructivist practices is posted, they then do analyses to show the research behind them is flawed. By the way, their practices could be subjected to the same kind of discount and discredit analysis.

When considering whether to adopt SOR-inspired educational practices or BL-inspired practices, it’s not just a matter of counting studies and positions. It is a matter of looking at what the most widely used peer-review journals have concluded. Currently, journals like the Reading Research Quarterly have concluded that the SOR advocates lack a widely accepted definition of the term Dyslexia and, therefore, cannot properly screen for the condition. Currently, their screens misidentify large numbers of students. You’d never guess that listening to them as they call for the widespread adoption of their brand of SOR.   

There is another problem with the SOR claim. A simple summary of my position is as follows: before making any claim that BL has failed, the naysayers have to draw a scientific sample of districts using selected constructivist practices with fidelity. I say that the studies should focus on selected constructivist practices because the term Balanced Literacy is an umbrella term for which there is no widely accepted definition, accordingly, it would be best to look at districts using a list of selected constructivist practices, with the results of each practice reported separately.

Let me explain why drawing a sample of districts using constructivist practices is important. Naysayers say that things are not where we want them in literacy instruction. I can’t agree more. However, they then imply that the situation is completely the fault of BL. I then remind them that SOR is also part of the current literacy scene, so it has to take on some of the responsibility for the current failures. They then say that you have to look at the districts using SOR-inspired practices to judge SOR. I AGREE! But that also means you have to look at a properly drawn sample of districts using BL (selected constructivist practices) with fidelity. THEY’VE NEVER DONE THAT! Given the results about BL reported elsewhere in this blog entry, they would likely find that at least some of the constructivist practices used in BL do work. Perhaps that’s why they’ve never drawn the sample. Until they do, the claims “failed practices” and “BL is a failure” – are examples of half-truths and misdirection. It’s time we started looking at the whole truth in our discussions around instructional practices. For a further explanation of this point, go to this LINK

CONCERN TWO– Some folks use very limited views of the reading process and very limited inquiries into the research. The result is they champion some misleading and inaccurate positions. They claim that it is all settled science. IT ISN’T. Here is an excerpt from a NY Times article written by three top researchers in the field. It clearly shows there is no consensus. Here is a link to that article LINK, along with a screen capture of highlights from the article. Please read them carefully, especially the point about SOR’s tendency to overlook the common ground shared by those who draw different conclusions on the finer points of the available research.

Last year, I wrote a blog about the article entitled The Sciences of Reading LINK. There were over 10,000 views of that piece, and the two follow-up pieces LINK LINK. In addition, I interviewed P.L. Thomas about his view that Its Not Simple and Its Not Settled LINK. Based on what multiple well-credentialed researchers are saying, the bottom line is that it is not settled science. SOR folks saying otherwise employ the public relation tactics of using half-truths and misdirection. As the article says- teaching reading is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. I say- let’s stop pretending that it is!

CONCERN THREE– Some folks are fostering ideas about teaching comprehension that are simply not supported by ALL the research. These folks look at the evidence supporting the importance of readers’ background knowledge and then jump to the CONFUSION that teaching background knowledge is all that is needed to teach comprehension. That is simply not the case.

On the one hand, virtually everyone in the literacy community knows (and has known for decades) that background knowledge is important to understanding. However, there is considerable evidence that it takes more than just background knowledge for readers to construct meaning.

Review the work of Pressley, Pearson and more recently Duke. They found that teaching reading strategies USING A GRADUAL RELEASE MODEL can and does have a significant positive impact on reading scores. There are several decades of research supporting that statement. My take is that the charge that teachers sometimes “spend too much time teaching comprehension” is best aimed at what Shanahan has called teaching comprehension skills. I can’t agree more that endless practice teaching students how to answer various comprehension questions is not particularly useful. But teaching strategies using gradual release (Shanahan’s other category about teaching comprehension) is a different story. What follows is my interpretation, not Shanahans.

Willingham talks about teaching strategies as something that can be quickly and easily done in just a few lessons. I don’t think that that analysis fits well if one is teaching strategies using gradual release. So, I agree with Willingham in that some teachers overdo the teaching of comprehension skills. I’m afraid I must disagree with his analysis that it doesn’t take much time to teach comprehension strategies.  When it comes to teaching comprehension strategies using gradual release, it takes time and lots of it. The bottom line is this- Building background knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for reading comprehension to occur. Teaching selected reading strategies using gradual release is justified, pays off handsomely, and needs to be done.

Yet when I ask SOR (MYOH) folks how they spend their time, specifically do they spend any time at all TEACHING comprehension strategies, the answers I get are evasive. They lead me to believe that most of the instructional time is being spent teaching decoding, not comprehension. I view what they seem to be doing as a huge mistake. Decoding is necessary but not sufficient for comprehension to take place. Better decoding does not automatically lead to better comprehension. We’ve known that since at least the NRP. SOR folks need to take a gradual release model’s direct systematic teaching of comprehension strategies more seriously. At the end of the day, how you spend your instructional time is a great predictor of your results. The “my way or the highway” SOR folks are really shortchanging the time they spend TEACHING comprehension. They would do well to review the seminal work of Delores Durkin in this area LINK. Perhaps we need some new studies informed by Durkin’s model to ascertain exactly how the “my way or the highway” crowd actually spends its time. Such studies also should be done to check on folks using more constructivist-based approaches as well. Given some of the things Shanahan has reported in his blog I suspect some constructivists are shortchanging students on the time given to decoding. I have to wonder aloud if there isn’t a scenario where doing systematic comprehension and decoding instruction would produce improved reading scores (and more importantly better readers!).

CONCERN FOUR- Some folks are trying to ban all programs except their own.

One of my friends from England likened some SOR folks to being like the mockingbird. When a mockingbird egg is left in another bird’s nest after the egg hatches, the mockingbird hatchling kills all the other chicks. MYOH SOR folks ignore what early childhood folks say about how to best teach younger children- ignore what researchers say about the downside of using retention to raise reading scores. They laude many of the programs that use retention as “miracles” that prove that SOR works. They fail to call for these programs to drop this incredibly harmful practice. The tests they use to prove their “miracles” are usually tests of decoding, not comprehension. In my blog post entitled Show Me the Beef, I called on them to provide multiple examples of district-wide studies using full comprehension tests, not decoding tests LINK. So far, they’ve not done this. They are getting laws passed that allow their model AND ONLY THEIR MODEL to be used. This strips away the rights of school districts to be the best judge of what will work with their kids. See other parts of this post to review my criticisms of the efficacy of the research they use to justify these criticisms. Exposing the half-truths and misdirection some SOR folks are using to get such legislation passed is critical. Learning how to speak to and counter such criticisms is also critical. PL Thomas has put together some great materials to that end LINK.

CONCERN FIVE- SOR “my way or the highway” folks are discussing things on social media in a way that effectively eliminates any real dialogue around the issue.

I have many friends in the Balanced Literacy community who have been swarmed multiple times by “my way or the highway” SOR folks. Many of my friends have simply stopped posting, in part for their own mental health. The dialogue from the “My way or the highway group” is often mean, vitriolic, and ill-informed. They often “shoot from the hip” without fact-checking first. I have been at the receiving end of such folks “shooting from the hip” and spreading misinformation about me and my blog LINK. A major figure in their leadership takes a “punch you in the nose” stance, leading to followers who too often “take the low road.” Here is what one of them had to say about me just this past week.

“@DoctorSam7, & ILA & BL publishers/authors refuse culpability. By putting their profits over children worldwide, they cause more injury. 2 be satisfied w/32% when 95 can be had is their own branded arrogance”

Several points about this attack. First ILA is a non-profit. Most of my own literacy work is pro-bono. So this is yet another example of a SOR advocate failing to fact check.  The “cause injury” charge flies in the face of evidence that the practices we use work as presented elsewhere in this entry, evidence that SOR folks try to discount and discredit. The fallacies of the 32% success rate (lack of success rate?) are explored elsewhere in the blog. All in all, this very personal attack is mild compared to others that have been made on me and my constructivist colleagues. I’ve been told I should be ashamed of what I’ve done in my 50 plus years teaching and helping kids. I’m not. I know I’ve helped the kids; the parents know I’ve helped the kids and the learning for the kids has stuck over time. Teacher bashing like this, discrediting teachers at every turn seems to be a public relations tactic of this brand of SOR. Sadly, it is starting to drive many good teachers out of the field.

There are lots more examples of such brazen attacks to be found. I’m trying to give a measured response to these kinds of attacks. I’ve pointed out the need to Talk More and Argue Less in my Literacy Today article LINK p20. I’m trying to push back hard against the half-truths and misdirection while still talking to (and interviewing!)  SOR folks who have not taken these extreme, indefensible positions.

CONCLUSION. These aren’t all my concerns, just the top 5 concerns. So, is there any hope for the future? Is there any hope for using common sense to find common ground? I think there is. In one of my first posts on this topic four years ago, I said that even if the SOR folks pushing their very narrow agenda win, they will lose in the long run LINK. That is because they don’t have a method that works for most kids most of the time. Once the parents of Word Callers and very young children see that the SOR isn’t working for them, I predict they will start pushing for another swing of the instructional pendulum. As a centrist, I am trying to push back against the misdirection and trying to use common sense to find common ground. I am already using many of the practices recommended by the moderate SOR folks. So are many of my constructivist colleagues. A dialogue on all this is possible. The buy-in for the dialogue is for everyone to admit that their position has limits and limitations. Those willing to do that can start the construction of Cambourne’s quilt of instructional practices. Thanks for considering these ideas. Hoping many of you will join me in what P.D. Pearson once called “The Radical Middle” LINK

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the guy in the center who is happy to take flak from all sides because he is a teacher trying hard to do what’s best for the kids)