Implementing Distance Learning: Some Advice Given to St. Louis Area Beginning Teachers by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Implementing Distance Learning: Some Advice Given to St. Louis Area Beginning Teachers


Dr. Sam Bommarito

As many of my readers know, I am a long-time member of the ILA. I am currently Chairman (used to be called President) of the state chapter. I am proud to say that our membership is quite active in providing folks in our state needed literacy services. One example of this is last week’s BTAP (Beginning Teachers Assistance Program) for St. Louis Area beginning teachers.  This program has been held twice a year for a number of years. Dr. Betty Porter Walls a long time ILA member, and an MLA board member has overseen carrying out BTAP for St. Louis Public Schools. Many of the presenters at this event are also ILA members who donate their services and expertise. This is just one of many examples of the Missouri Literacy Association’s literacy work around our state. See our website for details

This past weekend I did a one-hour BTAP session about distance learning. Here is some of the advice I gave to the beginning teachers:

1. If possible, get a doc camera and learn how to use it.  One low-cost option is to get software that turns your smartphone into a doc camera. I use EpcoCamPro. (in January I was made aware of another app that does that )

These are two of several software programs that can turn a smartphone into a webcam.  You can then use a stand such as the one below to hold your phone:

BTW- I found one teacher on-line reporting she created a stack of textbooks and sandwiched her I-phone in near the top of the stack. That meant her smartphone doc cam holder was completely free. One can also buy and use a regular doc cam. I’ve blogged about this before LINK.

2. A second piece of advice I gave to them was to learn about all the different forms of phonics and to include phonics instruction as part of their daily routines in the early grades. They should also remember to include other forms of word work in the later grades. I gave them a link to download this ILA Literacy Leadership Brief which explains the various approaches to phonics:

I talked to the teachers about how I use my distance learning tools. I push into 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms using Zoom. The school that I volunteer in for two full days a week has a blended program. Most students come face to face. A few of the school’s students get all of their classes through virtual learning. I help with both.  

One of the things I do is to push into a full class using Zoom.  I make extensive use of my doc camera when doing this. For instance, the school’s spelling program teaches students to put together words using letter sounds, basically using synthetic phonics.  I can review that with them live.  I can also show making and breaking activities where students learn to create words using onset rhyme. That is a form of analytic phonics.

Notice how my finger appears in the live shot as I move the magnetic letter. I can also write things on the white board in real time.

At my school I use many of Dr. Tim Rasinski’s materials, such as word ladders and activities around prefixes, suffixes, and roots. All this fits into the category of using orthographic information as part of their word work. Here are two sheets from Dr. Rasinski from veteran’s day. I let the teachers attending my session know that if they follow Dr. Rasinski on twitter (@timrasinski), he gives away samples of his activity sheets three times a week. That is where I got these Veteran’s Day activities.

3.  I recommended to them was to include more student talk and less teacher talk in all their distance learning lessons. Recommending this practice is based both on the ideas of Burkins and Yaris and is also a recurring theme in many current resource books about distance learning.

I let them know that all these resource books are readily available through any of the many services that sell books online. In my own work I have found Ziemke’s book exceptionally useful and I plan to let parents of my students know about the new distance learning playbook for parents.

In the spirit of “practicing what I preach”, I used the parts of my presentation dealing with comprehension to model how to teach comprehension strategies through a gradual release model. There is a considerable amount of research indicating that teaching comprehension this way can and does raise reading scores. Duke, Pressley, and Pearson all have found this to be the case.

One thing I had the teachers do is to write a “show don’t tell” paragraph. Here is the slide I used for that.

This activity develops the ability of the student to draw inferences. An important nuance in all this is that when done the way I am about to describe, most of the teaching time is spent letting students TALK about how THEY USED the strategy.  In this case, they did that by sharing their “show don’t tell” paragraphs. One of the crucial things teachers can do in their distance learning lessons is to learn how to use the breakout rooms in Zoom. The break out rooms give students a place to go to and explain how they used the particular strategy that helped them understand their particular reading. I also talked to the beginning teachers about criticism Patrick Shanahan leveled at the way teachers teach strategies. Too often they model a strategy and then tell the student to use it whether they need to use it or not.  They also continue to teach and model the strategy even after it is apparent that the students know how to use it and use it as needed. I explained how I react to this criticism. Some weeks I model a new strategy as I did in this lesson. However, in many other weeks I do not model new strategies. Instead, in those weeks, I provide time where I ask students to explain what strategies, if any, they used to understand that week’s reading. In order to have such discussions in distance learning it is critical that teachers learn how to use the breakout room feature in Zoom. Included in that is learning how to visit different groups to help promote discussions and scaffold students into independent thinking about the various strategies. Here is the slide I used to give teachers a place where they could go and learn about features like breakout rooms. The link sends them to the Zoom help link. There they can search for information about how to use all the various features in Zoom, including the breakout room feature.

So, I have given you some of the highlights I gave to the beginning teachers last week. I also let them know that over the Christmas break I plan to add a page to my blog with overviews of what can be found on websites of various literacy leaders and links to those websites. I hope to include Burkins, Shanahan, Rasinski and others. Next week is Christmas. I will have a special Christmas present for all of you. We are trying to have the newest edition of our state’s literacy journal, The Missouri Reader, ready for you then.  After the New Year I am lining up video interviews of many literacy leaders to tell you about their approaches to literacy. I’m including folks from the United States and I’ve even arranged to interview two different educators from Australia who have some very interesting things to report.

So, until next time- Happy Reading and Writing!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the guy tries to have less teacher talk and more student talk is his distance learning lessons).

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

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

It’s time to start looking at ALL the ways to teach beginning reading: There is no one size fits all solution. Blog entry by Doctor Sam Bommarito

It’s time to start looking at ALL the ways to teach beginning reading: There is no one size fits all solution.  Blog entry by Doctor Sam Bommarito

This is a reposting of a blog from last October. It calls for taking a centrist position and maintains that while NO ONE SIDE IN THE READING WARS HAS ALL THE ANSWERS, every side has ideas that would help many (not all) children.  I am reposting  this on the eve of presenting an inservice to teachers in the St. Louis Area that gives advice on how to create effective distance learning lessons. More next week on what I had to say to them. After that I will resume interviewing literacy leaders/practitioners from all sides of the so called “reading wars”.

I’ll begin by calling attention to a recent blog by Tim Shanahan

Note the three forms of text named in the title.  Here are some highlights from that entry:

“The role of text in reading instruction has always been a big instructional question for parents and teachers—but it has not drawn the same kind of research interest as many other issues.

Nevertheless, the research does provide clues and it suggests that kids are likely to be best off in classrooms that provide them with a mix of these text types rather than a steady diet of any one of them—nor do I see the progression through these as developmental, with kids graduating from one kind of simplified text to another.

He goes on to say:

Personally—based on my own experiences as a primary grade teacher—I would use all of these kinds of text. My thinking then, and my thinking now, is that the way to prevent someone from being hurt by over dependence on a crutch is to employ a variety of crutches; deriving the benefits of each, while trying to minimize potential damages.

It is very reasonable to employ decodable texts. It gives kids a chance to practice their phonics in a favorable text environment—an environment in which there aren’t likely to be many words that can’t be figured out easily.

But those “experts” who claim that kids should only read such texts for some length of time (e.g., 2-3 years) are just making that stuff up (bolding is mine). Research is not particularly supportive of such an artificial text regime (Adams, 2009; Jenkins, et al., 2004; Levin, Baum & Bostwick, 1963; Levin & Watson, 1963; Price-Mohr & Price, 2018). “Teaching children to expect one-to-one consistent mapping of letters to sounds is not an effective way to promote transfer to decoding at later stages in learning to read” (Gibson & Levin, 1975, p. 7).”


So that is what Shanahan had to say on the topic. Overall, he makes it clear that all the forms have limits and limitations, including those based on the views of some proponents of the Science of Reading.

What follows are MY reactions to and reflections on what he said.  The “radical middle” point of view I used in earlier blogs has relevance here. I’ve talked about this before. P.D. Pearson, who is credited with creating the gradual release model, coined the term. Here is what he says:

“Even though I find both debates interesting and professionally useful, I fear the ultimate outcome of both, if they continue unbridled by saner heads, will be a victory for one side or another.  That, in my view, would be a disastrous outcome, either for reading pedagogy or educational research. A more flattering way to express this same position is to say that I have always aspired to the Greek ideal of moderation in all things or to the oriental notion that every idea entails its opposite. Neither statement would be untrue, but either would fail to capture the enchantment I experience in embracing contradiction.

A second reason for living in the radical middle is the research base supporting it. I read the research implicating authentic reading and writing and find it compelling.  I read the research supporting explicit skill instruction and find it equally as compelling.  What occurs to me, then, is that there must be a higher order level of analysis in which both of these lines of inquiry can be reconciled. (bolding is mine). 

My take is that since no one approach has all the answers since no one approach works with every kid every time, you must draw from and learn from each of the approaches. For instance, you should use all three kinds of books in your lessons. You should get people from each approach to talk with one another, learn from one another. That is the essence of my idea of a reading evolution #readingevolution1.

There is a problem in that SOME advocates of Science of Reading are acting as if they have a method that works with every kid every time. They post information touting the power of systematic synthetic phonics.  They criticize anyone not using this method. An exemplary example of such a post is the famous Tsunami of Change post. It indicates what we currently do is ineffective and must go and be replaced. No one would argue with the thought that what is currently happening is ineffective. However, I must respectfully point out that SoL advocates taking this point of view have ignored one of the key tenets of scientific methodology. Simply put, if you are going to attempt to demonstrate a particular method doesn’t work, then you must take a scientific sample of folks using the method WITH FIDELITY.  Then report the results. Have they done that?  NO. They base their argument for change on everything going on currently. That includes districts that say they are using balanced literacy but actually don’t ( I prefer to talk about constructivist literacy practices, more easily defined and measured). It also includes districts using no effective methods at all. It even includes districts using SoL methods. When I make this last point, SoL advocates are quick to point out that to properly evaluate SoL, one must look at a sample of districts using SoL with fidelity. No argument there. BUT- that means we must do the same for balanced literacy (because BL is an umbrella term, hard to define, I recommend looking at selected constructivist-based methods). Until and unless that is done the current argument to get rid of everything is simply not justified. 

Is there evidence that there are things out there, other than intense systematic synthetic phonics that are working? I always point out I had three different Title 1 projects I participated in in the mid-80s that won awards for being in the top 1/10 of one percent in achievement gains for projects of that era. Also, there is abundant research that demonstrates analytic phonics is the equal of synthetic phonics. Have the intense synthetic projects folks given us data that demonstrates their way works with almost every kid every time?  I issued a challenge about that. 

No one has sent a link to research demonstrating that intense synthetic phonics works with almost every kid almost every time. Some SoL folks said I was being unreasonable because everyone knows such research doesn’t exist. My point exactly.

Am I saying there isn’t a place for intense systematic phonics? No, quite the contrary. I recommend trying synthetic phonics first (my blogging partner disagrees).  What I am saying is exactly what folks in the radical middle have been saying for a couple of decades. No one method works for every kid every time. That is most definitely a research-based statement.

For my thinking about what to do about this, please see the blog entry listed below. Be sure to check out all the blog entries cited at the end of this entry. They include my counter to the Tsunami of Change post

In the meantime, what should district-level decision-makers do? First and foremost, ask that any program being considered demonstrates reading comprehension gains (note I did not say decoding gains). If you’re spending thousands (millions) on materials make sure the test they evaluate them with match the content of the tests being used in most state tests. Nell Duke had an excellent post about what that content includes. Ask that the program demonstrates those gains over several years. It’s a buyer beware situation when looking at programs that can only demonstrate decoding gains. Beginning with the NRP, we’ve known that the jump from decoding gains to comprehension gains is not automatic.

 One of the more unique hats I’ve worn over the years is that of alderman in a small town. The mayor of that town was a colorful character, and he had a folksy down to earth way of saying things. One of the things he used to say is “If it aint’ broke, don’t fix it”.  Let’s not throw out methods that work and trade them for methods that work for some and not all. Let’s do learn from all the methods.

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

P.S. for regular readers of this blog starting next week I will be doing interviews of authors who have written about various literacy topics. This entry closes out my entries around the reading wars, at least for a while.

Copyright 2019/2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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

Helping Parents Help Their Kids Become Passionate About Reading and Writing: A Video Interview with Linda Mitchell conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Helping Parents Help Their Kids Become Passionate About Reading and Writing: A Video Interview with Linda Mitchell conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This is another in my series of interviews with literacy leaders. This one is with Linda Mitchell. Linda is part of the literacy scene in the St. Louis Metro Region. I first met her several years ago. She told me the compelling story of her grandmother. Her grandmother could neither read nor write. Yet she raised children who were passionate about both. How could this be? I think as you listen to the story you will see that the path taken by Linda’s family is one that could benefit many families in our nation today.

Linda has several different literacy initiatives she is carrying out in the St. Louis region. Her work centers in East St. Louis, Illinois- which is just across the river from St. Louis. East Saint Louis has suffered an economic decline. It is an area with a high poverty rate and all the problems that come with that. But as Linda explains, there has been no decline in the spirit of the people in the region. You can tell that Linda really loves her city and is doing many things to help in its rejuvenation. Her spirit and will come through loud and clear in this interview. Her methods are groundbreaking. She is the epitomy of thinking outside the box. Though the research around her projects has been interrupted by the current Covid crisis, I have no doubt that once it resumes, it will clearly demonstrate the efficacy and value of the things she is doing. Please join me as I talk to this St. Louis area literacy leader about her pioneering work with kids and parents. Here is the link to the interview:

Interview highlights- fast forward to the time stamp indicated to listen to that part of the interview. The overall interview takes 22 minutes

Tell us about yourself and the Imitate Reading Initiative- start of the video

Tell us about your newly revised book:  3-minute mark

Tell us about your video casts and u-tube channel: 10-minute and 45- second mark

Tell us about East St Louis and how it fits into the St. Louis Metro Area- 14-minute and 30- second mark

Closing Remarks- 19 minutes 32 seconds

Linda Mitchell Books

There are some excellent interviews about social and emotional learning.

Metro East Literacy Project

Here’s where Linda explains a little bit about the Imitate Reading Initiative.

Literacy is Liberation! It Takes You Higher YouTube Channel

Here’s where Linda posts interviews about a person’s literacy journey and topics pertaining to my children’s book on emotions. I’ve interviewed a lawyer( my son), singer/musician (my daughter), Dr. Kelly Byrd, Julius B. Anthony, a police officer, a railroad worker, community organizer, TV personality, social worker, a blind retired judge and several more.

Penny Press Puzzle Lady

Here’s Linda’s website for her hobby–solving word puzzles. I give tutorials for puzzles in the Penny Dell Press Variety Puzzles magazine. I focus on the fact that doing puzzles helps our brains stay healthy.

In the coming weeks I’ll be talking to more literacy leaders, including some more of being carried out by the many literacy leaders the St. Louis Metro area. Until next time- Happy Reading and Writing!

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers- Dr. Sam Bommarito

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers- Dr. Sam Bommarito

I am taking this weekend off to be with friends and family for the Thanksgiving holiday. I will be resuming the Literacy Leaders Video interviews next week.

In case you missed them, here are links to the interviews I have done so far. Upcoming interviews will include educators from Australia. I am attempting to include ideas from all sides of the question of how to best teach reading. BTW- thanks to all of you for all you do and all you are going to do in order to help children find their best path to literacy.

In the meantime- I found this on You Tube.


Dr. Sam

The Doc Camera Revisited- Still more ways to enhance your distance learning using this versatile tool.

The Doc Camera Revisited- Still more ways to enhance your distance learning using this versatile tool

By Doctor Sam Bommarito

I am putting the Literacy Practices Series for this blog on hold until after Thanksgiving. This gives me some time to make arrangements to talk to two different educators from Australia about their literacy programs. Today I want to revisit the Doc camera. I have done blogs about the doc camera before. LINK1 LINK2 LINK3. Here are some new things I’ve learned since the last time I wrote on this topic.

Remember that a doc camera is not the same as a web camera. This is a picture of my doc camera.

As I described in my previous blogs, the doc camera allows me to do real-time activities with my students. For instance, I can share a book, make & break magnetic letters, and even create language experience stories.

As I indicated in those blogs having the doc camera allowed me to move magnetic letters in real-time as the students I tutored watched. It allowed me to help students create their own stories, stories that they dictated to me based on pictures and other prompts. I then typed their stories into a publisher doc that made their story into an actual book.  There was a great deal of reader interest in all three of these blogs. Readers wanted to know where I got my camera and what brand it was. Some readers loved the idea but expressed concern about the cost. Let me briefly address those two issues.

I got my doc camera online.  It was an InSwan. At the time I purchased it, the cost was about $100.  Like many things in 2020, doc cams are periodically in short supply. My particular model is sometimes not available or available only at a much higher cost.  But there are a number of different doc cams out there. When shopping for them, look for easy connectivity (mine was plug and play), high definition,  and make sure the display is instantaneous (some older models lagged in the display picture). But what if you don’t have $100 to spare?

If you have a smartphone, you can use that as a doc camera. You read that right. The simplest way to do that is to use the EpocCam Pro app ($7.00). Load that onto your phone, follow the three-step setup process, and within two minutes, your smartphone becomes a doc camera that you can use with Zoom or other similar platforms.  Search YouTube, and you’ll find any number of videos on how different teachers make contraptions that they use to mount their smartphones for use as a doc cam. The most interesting one I found was a teacher that used a stack of textbooks. She made the stack high enough to hold the smartphone in the air at the proper height. She then placed her phone in the stack so that it stuck out. She put a couple of more textbooks on top of it. Voila- a free smartphone holder. When I created a doc cam for my wife, I spent $30.00 for a smartphone holder.  Just look for an adjustable phone holder on Amazon or any similar website. Here is a picture of the one I got.

So, if you have a smartphone, it is possible to have a webcam at low cost.  I spent just under $40 for my wife’s stand and the software to connect her smartphone to Zoom. Or you can create your own phone holder and use your smartphone to join Zoom as a separate participant. If you turn off the audio for the phone, the phone can be used as a Zoom camera. Here is a link to a pdf I found online which tells how to do that LINK . This method gives you a no cost webcam.

My latest use of the Webcam for literacy involved using my doc camera in a sketch note activity. I found out about sketch notes during recent sessions of the Write to Learn Cyberconference. They were given by Tanny McGregor.

Sketch notes can be created in many ways.  Tanny’s book is full of ideas on how to do them and what they can look like. Here is a LINK.  The book includes research demonstrating the use of sketch notes as an effective instructional technique. For my class, I did a live read of a book. As we did that, we constructed a simple sketch note about the book in real-time. The format I used in this particular lesson allowed me to talk about the main ideas and details as we make our sketch note of the book.  The students watched me in real-time. They made their own sketch note at their seat as I did mine. I was Zooming into the class, and they could see my sketch note on their classroom’s smartboard.

Afterward, I asked them to make sketch notes about the next book they were reading. All this was done in a whole class distance learning setting. I couldn’t have done it without a webcam. Here is the sketch note we made.

So  these are my latest idea on doc cameras, how to get them and how to use them.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (a.k.a. the doc camera guy)

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

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

Write to Learn Conference Announcement:

Open Mic at Write to Learn is back, and it’s free!  It’s Thursday, Dec. 3, at 8:00 p.m. at the end of Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook’s final workshop session.

Come to read, come to perform, or just come to listen.

Here’s how it works:

Just send an e-mail to Write to Learn Conference Coordinator Willy Wood at  

In the subject line of your e-mail. put “Open Mic,” and in the body of the e-mail, just say that you plan on attending.  You will receive a Zoom link.

An Interview with David Harrison and Mary Jo Fresch about their new book: Empowering Students’ Knowledge of Vocabulary

An Interview with David Harrison & Mary Jo Fresch about their new book: Empowering Students’ Knowledge of Vocabulary

Today I am continuing my series on effective educational practices. This week I was able to interview two good friends, David Harrison and Dr. Mary Jo Fresch. We discussed their new book Empowering Students’ Knowledge of Vocabulary. David and Mary Jo make quite the team. David is a long time Missouri Literacy Association supporter and a prolific writer. He is best known for his extensive collections of poetry writing and his children’s books. These books often take topics from science and turn them into engaging children’s stories. Dr. Mary Jo Fresch is a professor emeritus from The Ohio State University. She has an extensive body of work in academic journals, but she has also collaborated with David in order to create professional books for teachers. These books are the best of both worlds. They combine David’s innovative practices informed by Mary Jo’s extensive knowledge of the research.  The net results are books that give practical advice informed by the latest research in literacy. Here are is a link to the interview.

Here is the cover page followed by a link for ordering the book.


This  has an extensive collection of lesson plans. David and Mary Jo tried out many of these lessons using students from all around the country. Here is one lesson plan that David and MaryJo shared during the interview along with a sample of student work as students carried out the lessons.

Here is an example of a word origin tree            

Here are some bullet points about what was said during the interview.  I have provided time stamps for each point, so if you wish to jump ahead to selected parts of the interview you can do so.

  • In the beginning I introduce Dave and Mary Jo and they talk about themselves. Some highlights- this is their 7th book together; this is Mary Jo’s 20th professional development book, and this is David’s 100th book. WOW!!!! Congrats to David on that. (starting at minute 0)
  • During the Middle Part of the interview David and Mary Jo talked about chapters one to five of the book. The topics included Nymes are Names, Planting ideas about Similes and Metaphors, Raining Cats and Dogs (idioms), Using colorful language. (starting at 10:46)
  • At the end of the interview David talked about chapter 6, tips from popular authors. David is friends with many of the most popular children’s authors today. He was able to prevail on many of them to give writing tips.  Among these authors are Jane Yolen, Nike Grimes, and Obert Skye. (starting at 17:30)

The appendices of the book include:  a list of Lessons, Lesson Resources, Electronic Resources for Teachers, Electronic Resources for Students and Resources about ELL Students. I’ve placed  my order for the book and can’t wait for it to arrive. It is sure to become a “must have” resource for all teachers of writing. I want to thank Mary Jo and David for taking time from their busy schedules to do the interview.

Here is their contact information/websites:                 

Mary Jo Fresch-;

David Harrison-;      

Over the next few weeks, I will be continuing to interview folks about best literacy practices. If all goes well technically, I have two educators from Australia lined up to talk about the literacy scene “down under” and to talk about successful practices that they are using. Fingers crossed!!! Until next time, happy reading and writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the guy who is getting by with a little help from his friends).

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

The book Empowering Students’ Knowledge of Vocabulary is copyrighted by David Harrison and Mary Jo Fresch                        

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.

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

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

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

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

Some of the topics they talk about are:

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

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

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

We look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Willy Wood
Write to Learn Conference Coordinator

Link to Register for the Conference


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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free resources from EBLI:

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

Paid Resources from EBLI

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

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

Student Instruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. What are parents and teachers saying about EBLI?

Parent feedback about EBLI lessons

Teacher feedback about EBLI training

6. Is their flexibility with implementation of EBLI?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Rock ‘n’ Read Came to Be

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

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


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

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

Advice for Teaching

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

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

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

Dr. Sam’s Takeaways

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

Here is Ann’s contact information

Ann C. Kay, Minnetonka, MN

The Rock ‘n’ Read Project

Ann Kay’s website—Center for Lifelong Music Making

Singing-based software program
Tune into Reading

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

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

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

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

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

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

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

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

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

Here is the link to the Write to Learn page.


See you there!

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

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

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