A Call to Action by Dr William Kerns

(This weeks entry is by my partner,  Dr William Kerns)

A Call to Action by Dr William Kerns

Those of us in dialogue on this blog site tend to share a common vision for literacy and education. We seek to promote wide reading and learning experiences that are constructive, engaging, even playful while academically and cognitively vigorous. Learning is social. When Tim Rasinski speaks of an approach to fluency that draws on stories, music, dialogue, and that is intended to promote a lifelong love of reading, we love it. When Mary Howard speaks of the urgency of addressing approaches to reading interventions that take the joy out of reading, we agree.

There is a crisis in the literacy field. It’s a crisis of engagement. A crisis of vision over how literacy is understood. A crisis for the very “soul” of what it means to promote strong literacy. In this blog entry, I intend to depart a bit from describing strategies for reading instruction. This blog entry is a call to action.

I love seeing the way that literacy bloggers are linking with and promoting one another. It’s also heartening to see various organizations including International Literacy Association and National Council of Teachers of English promote partnerships as well as dialogue. By no means do I intend to discount good work already being done.  I’d urge us to bring out minds together to think of how to link our resources, imaginations, and strategies together to address the crisis that is occurring in the literacy field.

There are two key steps I’d like to urge in this blog. One is to view ourselves as part of a community of learners. The next is to be the change that we wish to see in the literacy field. It is only by working together and by becoming energized that we will impact the crisis within the literacy field.

Be a Community of Learners

We can start by acknowledging that we are all continuing to learn. Our learning is a lifelong, constructive and evolving process. So, let’s establish a makeshift professional learning community together. It is vital for us to provide supportive experiences in diverse contexts for one another. We are each still growing in our own areas of expertise. The premise for my call for a community of learners is that as each of us explores concepts of literacy and literacy instructional methods through dialogue online and in different contexts, we construct a richer understanding as we participate in what Barbara Rogoff would call a community of learners.

We learn from experience and dialogue with one another in a community of learners as we move between roles of the more experienced expert and the less experienced novice. Each person reading this blog entry is at a varied stage in the process of gaining skill in the use of tools within the profession while also gaining a sense of agency in the way that we understand the rules of how we can perform our roles. Collaboration can lead to increased confidence to take a stand for what we believe. Let’s help one another to maintain a passion for our role in the literacy field.


We can help one another in key areas including: the planning of activities as well as the construction of objectives and assessments; planning for in-depth learning and critical thinking. Important strategies in planning that are essential for social-constructivist teachers include sequenced instructional design. I advocate the design, implement and evaluation of meaningful classroom activities, with each activity preparing a student for the next activity, providing guidance and assistance to students as the students explore increasingly complex concepts and tasks. Teachers should learn how to assess the current knowledge and skills of students and how to provide skilled instruction to diverse learners, adapting instruction based on an ongoing assessment of progress.

Be The Change We Wish to See

We can help one another to take increased responsibility for our own roles in shaping our careers and contributing to the field. Helping one another and helping colleagues can become a way of living as we operate in our own individual schools, universities, and professional organizations. We can in the process encourage colleagues (and ourselves) to continuously re-examine  fundamental assumptions about literacy and teaching as new evidence arises based on reflection and inquiry. This means being honest with one another if we are to encourage colleagues to be open to new ideas and understandings based on an examination of evidence. We too need to wholeheartedly be committed to the pursuit of inquiry, and take responsibly to be committed to a careful consideration of the consequences of possible actions. That’s why we need to work together. We can’t address the crisis in the literacy field in silos.

Be a Reflective Practitioner

I view a reflective approach to education as tied in with choices of morality. We can choose to act or not to act. I believe that reflection on practice is at the heart of professional growth. I also believe that reflective practice is not an act to be best engaged in within a silo. We need one another if we are going to be at our best. There are ways we can help each other on research project ideas, design ideas, and teaching ideas. Sometimes an intelligent conversation itself can be energizing. A sure way to avoid becoming “stuck in a bad habit” is through what John Dewey would call a reflective habit, by being committed to re-examining assumptions on the basis of new evidence. I urge that we together foster among one another the skills to critically examine language, stereotypes, and educational practices various contexts. Those whose lives we touch as educators are impacted by life-conditions that often include the denial of equitable opportunities in education. Let’s together build the capacity to respond in a way that can help students reach their fullest possible potential in life.

Singing our Way into Fluency: Exploring Other Books to use Including Books for Older Students by Dr Sam Bommarito

I wanted to thank Eric Litwin again for sharing his views on using music as part of literacy instruction.  In my view Eric is an educator who also happens to be a very talented singer, songwriter and author.  His books are entertaining. More importantly his books are educational. This is because they are being written by an educator who is consciously trying to build literacy instruction into his work. He is to be commended for his body of work. The numerous awards he has won over the years stand as evidence that I am not alone in that opinion. That said, let’s look further into the topic of singing and writing our way into literacy.

In a very real sense, songs are poetry set to music.  Music adds many things to literacy instruction, including that element of joy that so many of us seem to be looking for lately. Today I want to investigate more of my favorite books from the genre “books that are songs”.

This week let’s start with one of the all-time classics from this genre.  Baby Beluga by Rafi. How could a teacher use Baby Beluga in his/her classroom? Baby Beluga could fit in as a “read aloud” at the start or end of the day. It could also fit into any number of science lessons. It could be used to help learn the “oo” sound.   Kids love to sing along. You could even let them do that more than once (e.g. listen first, sing if you want, then for sure sing on the second time). Music for it can be downloaded on any one of the music services. As with all the books mentioned, since audios are available you need not worry about your singing voice.   The song is also readily available on u-tube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDx9zqDpSik

Baby B.

This would be a good place to bring up a point that Rasinski made during his St. Louis presentation.  It pays to have the lyrics of the song in front of the children when they are singing. In the case of Baby Beluga children could sit with copies of the book in groups of two or three. The teacher can monitor whether page turning occurs at the right time.  5-8 copies of the book should be enough for this purpose.  Having those copies makes the book available for future individual or pair reads at a station or during independent reading time. What about pointing while reading?

There is a stage in the reading process where word by word pointing (making it match!)  can be very useful at least for some students.  Based on my reading workshop training et. al. I would encourage this practice early in the reading process. Students reading at Levels 1-8, especially those that tend to “invent” i.e. make up their own text instead of reading the text from the author, could benefit from instruction on “making it match”.  I have a little poem I wrote to bring home that point to the children:

“Make it match, don’t make it up, that is what to do. Make it match don’t make it up, you’ll read your story true” (copyright 2018, Sam Bommarito)

By “matching” I mean to point to each word as the reader reads. It is up to the teacher on whether to use matching with all children at this stage or just those who tend to be inventors. Somewhere between level 9 and level 16 you want to scaffold them into dropping this practice.  Another teaching tip is to use the prompt “show me which word is which…” e.g.  show me which word is baby, or show me deep, or show me sea.  For children who are not paying enough attention to visual clues (the letters!) you can also say “How did you know that was baby (or deep or sea)”?  They would respond with “because it starts with b OR because of the picture OR because of the way the story is going”.  This method could be employed after reading the text together. In addition to its use with reading along with lyrics, these teaching tricks can also help children who memorize whole books when reading those very short beginning texts. Once they realize you want them to know which word is which, they tend to drop the strategy of “learn the whole book at once”. They start using the strategies of “knowing which word is which and learning how to figure out my own words using all the clues”.

Also- I want to make a plea to music teachers out there to let the children look at the words when they sing. I respect that oftentimes choral directors want their singers to know the songs by heart (that’s 50 plus years in church choirs talking!). But if there were points during the learning of the songs that students could be looking at the words that would be very useful for developing prosody.  You can save trees by using white board projections instead of paper copies.  Classroom teachers using songs should always take advantage of developing prosody by letting students look at the words they are singing.

Now let’s talk about three additional books that are songs and that could be used with older children.  Don’t Laugh at Me by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin, There are No Mirrors in my Nana’s House (Synthia St. James & Sweet Honey in the Rock) and Be A Friend by Leotha Stanley.  What each of these books has in common is that they deal with substantive social and cultural issues.  Teachers can easily envision places they could fit into units dealing with social justice and learning about the heritage of various cultures. They would also fit into the literacy program itself. The “make it match” strategy is not recommended for use with these books since they are all well above Level 8 in decodability. However, they would all lend themselves to reading in groups of two to three.  The Be a Friend book really lends itself to meaningful performances taken from the book.

Be A Friend   Don't Laugh at Me   No Mirrors

Don’t Laugh at Me by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin

COMMENTS: Peter Yarrows has turned this book into a national movement, here is a blog entry that talks about Peter and his work https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-luce/peter-yarrow-operation-re_b_8177720.html.  There is a strong  message for tolerance in this song.  The possibilities for meaningful classroom discussions around the book are endless.

Availability and links.  The book is widely available on sites selling books. The music can be downloaded from commercial music sites.  Here is a YouTube link to the song:


No Mirrors in My Nana’s house (Synthia St. James & Sweet Honey in the Rock)

COMMENTS: I was in training for reading/writing workshop when this book first came out. My trainers were from teachers College in New York and were very excited about the book. It comes with a cd. The book is powerful and evokes strong images of the black experience in Harlem where the members of Sweet Honey Rock grew up. They sing acapella but it sounds like a full orchestra. It has a positive message. Again, the possibilities for meaningful classroom discussions are endless. Here are some YouTube links to different renditions of the book as a song and the book as a book.

Singing version (THIS ONE IS A MUST SEE!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRNfJxDNbEE

Read first then sung: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAG1j_Z850E

Be A Friend by Leotha Stanley

COMMENTS: Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print. Used copies are available on Amazon.  The original book came with a cassette, so when shopping check to see if that is included. Fortunately, the music from all the songs in the books can be downloaded from Amazon.  The book chronicles the history of black music and musicians.  Each chapter explains a genre and its impact on Black History. For instance, the chapter on Jazz talks both about the genre and famous people from the genre like Louis Armstrong.  What makes the book especially unique is that Leo wrote an original song for each chapter.  The “School Blues” is hilarious. The song “Brain Power” would really lend itself to a performance at a grade level graduation. See what I mean by reviewing these songs in the YouTube video of the book contained in first URL listed below. The possibilities of writing songs like Leo did are also endless. This book is a potential book club book with lots of opportunity to sing.

Brain Power video performed by a third-grade group with Leo accompanying them (THIS ONE IS ALSO A MUST SEE!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e10Au3BvycM

School Blues audio only, Leo & the Be a Friend singers:


So…, those are some of my favorite books from this genre.  They can be used to build prosody. They can be used to promote literacy in its many forms. They can help your students explore important social issues.  They can help to bring Joy into your literacy instruction. Hope you enjoy them all as much as I have. Next week Bill Kerns will be making another guest appearance. Until then:

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. singer of literacy songs).

Singing our Way into Fluency: Exploring the Work of Eric Litwin and How He Brings Together the Art and Science of Reading By Dr Sam Bommarito

I’ve already discussed how one educational leader, Timothy Rasinski, uses songs as an important part of his fluency program. Today I have very a special guest on the blog, Eric Litwin.  Eric is a well-known children’s author and educator. His website describes him as follows:

Eric Litwin is a song singing, guitar strumming, # 1 New York Times Best Selling, award winning author who brings early literacy and music together. 

 He is the original author of the Pete the Cat series as well as the author of The Nuts and Groovy Joe. 

Eric believes early literacy is more joyful and successful when the child is fully engaged with the book. He calls this interactive reading. 

 Eric’s books have sold over 12.5 million copies, been translated into 17 languages, and won 25 literacy awards including a Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Award.”  

             Dance Party    The Nuts, Keep Rolling    Pete the Cat

Regular readers of my blog know that I first met Eric when he did an all-day presentation about music and literacy. In an earlier blog, I described how he engaged teachers, myself included, in a day long workshop at the annual Write to Learn conference in Missouri @WritetoLearnMO. It was held in February of this year.  By the end of the workshop he had us all writing our own songs- songs that were designed to help our students on the road to literacy. He also shared his wonderful books with us.  I talked with Eric after the workshop and he agreed to be interviewed by the Missouri Reader for the fall issue. Glenda Nugent, my co-editor on the Missouri Reader has completed that interview. More about that a little later.  I asked Eric if he would consider talking to the readers of this blog about the topic of Singing Your Way into Fluency. He agreed.

I asked Eric how music can help readers, especially beginning readers. Here is the core of what he had to say:

“The components of song including melody, rhyme, rhythm/cadence, and repetition facilitate prediction. Prediction is essential for an emerging reader to successfully read a book. This combined with appropriate phonetics and sight words is empowering for emerging independent readers. I really do believe early literacy is more joyful and successful when the child is fully engaged with the book. This is the heart of interactive reading. This is the what my books try to do, engage the child and at the same time teach the child things they need to know in order to become successful readers.”

He went on to say:

“When I’m writing, a critical issue for me is to clarify my book’s message. The main message of a book can be incorporated into the song increasing the success of the message. One example of this can be found in The Nut Family, Keep Rolling.The song says, “Keep Rolling”. This reinforces and communicates the essence of that book’s message.”

Eric has certainly written books that do all the things he talks about and more. Here is an example:

Groovey Joe Colorado

Groovey Joe Dance Party Countdown! was the winner of this year’s One Book 4 Colorado program. That’s the governor of Colorado reading the book aloud to a group of children.  This book is a perfect example of what Eric was talking about. I can guarantee it is engaging. It is definitely predictable. Got a copy for my grandchild. She loved it! She just finished preschool. This book, and others like it, really do lay the foundation for so many things. That includes building the background that children need to effectively use phonics. Just as important it gives the children experience in how to make meaning from the words they see, hear and sing.  Visit Eric’s website to see for yourself.  https://www.ericlitwin.com/. When you do be sure to scroll down the page and click on the audio link for the song Disco Party Bow Wow which is pictured below.  We got to see him perform it live at our conference, and the teachers in the room all loved it. More importantly, so did my granddaughter. I predict that your beginning readers will also love it and learn from it.

Website Play

This song uses a form of “call and response”.  Sing it with your children. It helps when children look at the lyrics of a song when they sing. Use the book. You’ll be amazed at how much they pick up when you use that strategy.   You don’t need to be able to sing yourself. Eric’s audio does that for you. I’ve spent lots of time already exploring this site- the downloads, the newest books. It is a treasure trove of materials that can help you help your beginning readers.  I think Eric’s work is an example of reading instruction that is both art and science. He is serious about both.  His musical books are unique because they bring narrative and music together. Want to read more about Eric and his thoughts about literacy?  Check out the fall issue of Missouri Reader.  It’s free.  To subscribe go to the current issue https://joom.ag/8cML and click on the subscribe bar on the left side of the reading page. Once you are subscribed, you’ll receive future journals, including Glenda’s interview with Eric in the upcoming fall issue.

Here are some additional links to Eric’s materials:

The Nut Family: www.thenutfamily.com

Groovy Joe: groovyjoestories.scholastic.com (can download Groovy Joe music for free at this site)

Additional Free Music From Eric: http://www.thelearninggroove.com/#!songs-and-activities/c129x

Next week I will expand the blog topic. It will become “Singing and Writing Your Way into Fluency”. I’ll tell you about some of my other favorite children’s books that include the use of music. Not all of them are just for beginning readers, some are for older readers and deal with topics that are important to them. I’ll talk about how to look for writing craft in these books and teach your students to use that craft in their own writing. That way they can also write their way into fluency!  As always- I value your comments and suggestions about the blog and its content.

Happy Reading and Writing


Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a., fan of Eric, friend of Groovy Joe)

Blog content Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Content from Eric Litwin’s website is copyrighted & used with permission

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


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

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

Great Minds

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

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

Blooms Tax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Repeated Reading

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

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

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

For more information about Tim and his various visit his website http://www.timrasinski.com/.  BTW- the blog on his website includes free versions of his famous Word Ladders.


Also check out his articles in professional journals:


Reading Teacher


Article Copyright 2018 by Sam Bommarito

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







Exploring the Science and Art of Teaching Reading

Exploring the Science and Art of Teaching Reading

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

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

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

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

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

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

Readers have I got your attention yet?

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


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

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


Happy Reading and Writing


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


Copyright 2018, Dr. Sam Bommarito, all rights reserved

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

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

by Dr. Sam Bommarito


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Battle Over Wide Reading

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

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

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

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


In addition readers are invited to view Dr. Molly Browns March 7th 2018 blog  entry, which a lively defense of independent reading and gives classic research examples to back it up, https://www.drmollyness.com/stop-the-anti-independent-reading-madness/ . Kylene Beers has a blog that supports the idea of wide reading (http://kylenebeers.com/blog/tag/reading-2/). A teacher quote from that blog reads “I teach novels not because the CCSS says students need to learn to read texts closely or learn to find details or learn something about the author’s craft.  I teach novels because I teach kids and I want kids to love to read.  And if they are going to love to read, they need to read novels.  They need to read some they’ve chosen; some I’ve chosen; some that are hard; some that are easy; some that make them laugh; some that make them cry.”  Beers’ book, Disrupting Thinking contains a widely used graphic listing research that shows the benefits of wide reading. When the book came out she shared the graphic on twitter. It can easily be found using a web search and it is used by many teachers to send home to parents in order to sell parents on the importance of wide reading.

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

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


Happy Reading and Writing



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

Addressing the Wide Reading Needs of English Language Learners

Addressing the Wide Reading Needs of English Language Learners

by Dr. William Kerns

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

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

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

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


The Battle Over Wide Reading

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

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

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

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

The Denial of Wide Reading Opportunities to English Language Learners

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The Mode of Instruction for English Language Learners

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


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


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


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




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





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