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

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


Pearl Harbor “Bookends”                                                Plaque Marking Surrender Spot

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

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

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


Dr. Sam



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

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

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

To see his full post around the topic of time allotment, go to

Here are some highlights from that post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reading Story teller image

Happy Reading, Writing, AND Singing

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

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

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

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

reading creatuve commons

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


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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth three: SES Doesn’t Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go to this link for details


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







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


Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the #readingevolution guy

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

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

Books to help you get off to a good start in your literacy program part two: Readers chime in by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the BlogBooks to help you get off to a good start in your literacy program part two: Readers chime in

One of my twitter followers asked the following question:

Dr. Sam, do you have any books you’d recommend to administrators working in elementary schools on reading instruction? Current ‘reading wars’ have polarized the discussions. Would appreciate any recommendation.

Last week I answered that question with a list of 6 books I thought would make a good starter set. The reader response was overwhelming. Over 1000 educators read last week’s blog. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to do that. That’s not all you did. A number of you also suggested things to read beyond this starter set of books. This week I’m going to share some of those suggestions with you. Perhaps today’s entry could be the start of a summer reading list (or rereading list).

Two books by Ellin Oliver Keene were mentioned. These include:

Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning

Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop

Susan Zimmermann was her co-author on Mosaic. I had the privilege of hearing Ellin speak at the NCTE conference in St. Louis. If you want to bring joy back into your reading and writing, if you want your workshop teaching to really matter then these books should be on your must-read list. My guess is many of you already have read them

Disrupting Thinking

Another book mentioned by readers was Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst.  Ideas from this book can go a long way toward helping teachers create lifelong learners.

Book Whisper

Also included was Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child21`. Richard Allington called this book powerful and practical. I must concur. Also, be aware that Miller helped to establish a blog called The Nerdy Book Club. It is a great source for reviews of the latest children’s books and new ideas about the teaching of reading.

RTI from all Sides

Mary Howard came to St. Louis this past year, and my blogging partner Bill Kerns and I got to meet her. She is an amazing educator. Readers mentioned her book RTI From All Sides as another “must read” book.

Two books by Mary Jo Fresh made the list.  They were Strategies for Effective Balanced Literacy and 7 Keys to Research for Writing Success, a book co-authored by David Harrison. I had the privilege of hearing them both talk about that book at the NCTE conference in St. Louis. I was so impressed with the book I used it as a resource for the push in work I’m doing with a local 4th-grade teacher.

Equipped for Reading Success

And finally, one reader highly recommended books and materials by David Kilpatrick. One example is the book Reading Success: A comprehensive, step-by-step program for developing phonemic awareness and fluent word recognition.

Those are the books readers brought up as ones that would be worth reading. By the way, I also found out that two of my readers have written books of their own. Those two books are going on my must-read book list this summer. The first book is They are Smart Kids, Struggling Readers: The Overlooked Factors and Novel Solutions by Nickie Simonetti and Creating Capable Kids, 12 researched based reading programs by Bruce Howlett.

I want to thank all the readers who gave feedback about my “basics” list and to invite all my readers to select a couple of books from this reader created list to add to their own reading list this summer.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- lifelong reader, lifelong learner)

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

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

Six books that will help you get your literacy program off to a good start by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the Blog

One of my twitter followers asked the following question:

Dr. Sam, do you have any books you’d recommend to administrators working in elementary schools on reading instruction? Current ‘reading wars’ have polarized the discussions. Would appreciate any recommendation.

I’m sorry it took so long to get the response back to you, but I really wanted to give this one careful thought. Here goes:

What Matters Most for Struggling Readers

Book one- What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs by Richard L. Allington.  My colleagues and I have found Allington to be the “go to person” on so many things. I chose this book because it lays the foundations for a sensible approach to teaching literacy. Key ideas include that kids need to read a lot, need books they can read, need to learn to read fluently and to develop thoughtful literacy.  He also includes a chapter on instruction for the struggling reader. To get a sense of the research base behind Allington’s work see:

Whos doing the work

Book Two- Who’s Doing the Work: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. For anyone wishing to improve the impact of their guided reading program this book is a must-read. The basic premise is that too often we over scaffold within our guided reading groups and that is a direct result of failing to do the work needed in other parts of the overall guided reading model and trying to fit all that work that should be done elsewhere into the small group setting. See the figure that accompanies the Fountas and Pinnell book- book 4 to get a sense of all the components that should be included in guided reading instruction.

THe Reading Strategies Book


Book Three- The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. This book is part of a constellation of books Serravallo has put together. Again, for anyone wishing to improve the guided reading or reading workshop program these books are essential. The online support provided for each book is amazing. For anyone wanting to know the nuts and bolts of how to teach guided reading and reading workshop, Serravallo’s books are an excellent source.


Book Four- Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency: Thinking, Talking, and Writing About Reading K-8. This book gives the blueprint for setting up an effective guided reading program. The processing systems for reading found on the inside of the front cover and the collecting evidence of literacy processing found on the back cover provide excellent visuals of what guided reading should look like. Notice how the small group in the Collecting Evidence of Literacy Processing figure is only one part of a much larger array of components that make up Guided Reading instruction.

Teaching Phonics Today

Book Five Teaching Phonics Today: A Primer for Educators by Dorothy Strickland

My readers are familiar with the fact that I advocate using both synthetic and analytic phonics in phonics instruction. Whether a teacher elects to use analytic or synthetic phonics, the teacher still needs a working knowledge of sound-symbol relations. Over the years this has been my go-to book to recommend to teachers in order to get the basics of what they need to know in order to teach phonics. I remember a number of years ago a colleague was applying for a reading position. She knew the search committee wanted candidates to have a firm knowledge of phonics. I recommended the first edition of this book to her as a study guide to that end. She got the position and continues to teach in it even today. A newer edition of this book is also available. One of the things I like the most about it is a self-test of basic phonics knowledge is included. Readers could use that as a pre/post test for themselves.

The Megabook of Fluency

Book Six The Megabook of Fluency by Tim Rasinski and Mellissa Chatman Smith. Rasinski has taken the concept of fluency well beyond the focus on reading speed that characterizes some approaches to the teaching of fluency. Tim calls prosody the gateway to comprehension. He has developed a rubric for measuring prosody that includes the components of Expression, Automatic word recognition, Rhythm & phrasing, and Smoothness. He uses the acronym EARS to describe his fluency rubric. In this book, he and Mellissa give many practical examples of how to build prosody. Using the activities from this book teachers can scaffold readers into sounding like storytellers instead of robots.  The bonus is the readers will also understand what they read much better than before.

Taken together these six books can be used to create a viable system for reading instruction. It is a balanced system. That is not the bad thing that some critics try to make it out to be. I have detailed my criticisms of the opinions and practices of some of the proponents of the simple view of reading. Here is a link to my latest summary of that criticism:

A final thought, whether one agrees with all of what I am advocating or not, I do want to strongly recommend one rule for all administrators considering adoption of a reading program to follow. Make certain that whatever program you are adopting has evidence that it improves reading comprehension. That means you must make sure the instruments used to measure reading comprehension are widely accepted instruments that are up to the task. Also, make sure that the evidence for improving reading comprehension establishes a pattern of doing so over several years. Taking this stance around the issue of comprehension, in my opinion, provides the gold standard by which to judge literacy programs.  I think the six books listed in this entry will help any group of administrators find ways to implement a successful literacy program. They constitute a basic starter set, not a complete list of all possible books to use. For instance, once administrators are ready to make the leap to reading and writing workshop teaching I would have additional books to recommend.  I hope this answers your question and hope that your administrators find these six books helpful.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the advocate of a common sense approach to literacy instruction)

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

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


Cutting Through the Gordian Knot of Beginning Phonics Instruction: My Advice to Beginning Teachers by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the Blog

Cutting Through the Gordian Knot of Beginning Phonics Instruction: My Advice to Beginning Teachers by Dr. Sam Bommarito


For the past several years I’ve taught in the BTAP program. BTAP (Beginning Teachers Assistance Program) is carried out once or twice a year by Harris Stowe University for beginning teachers in the St Louis Public Schools.  Here is some of what I had to say to them last week about teaching beginning reading.

There has been a concern from the ILA that the issue of teaching phonics has been politicized.


Take away one: There is more than one approach to teaching phonics.

Educators Guide To Phonics


Approaches Include English Orthography, Analytic phonics and Synthetic phonics. The latter two are the current most used approaches. Teachers need to be aware of and trained in all of the approaches to teaching phonics.

Take away two: In spite of claims to the contrary there is not a one size fits all solution to teaching beginning reading:

Some simple view proponents claim synthetic phonics is the one size fits all solution for teaching beginning reading.

The Facts:

  • England has mandated synthetic phonics for several years. Scores have improved. However, there are still significant numbers of students who do not thrive using synthetic phonics. The promised 100% or near 100% success rates have never been realized.
  • Studies claiming enormous gains in “reading” by using synthetic phonics approaches are often based on testing instruments like the Dibels. Dibels is a test of decoding, not a test of reading. On multiple occasions I have called for decisions about program adoptions be based on studies using widely accepted tests of reading comprehension (not decoding) and that those studies demonstrate gains in comprehension scores over more than one year.
  • Research has not demonstrated synthetic phonics is superior to analytic phonics. Jonathan Glazzard reports the following:


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


Taken from:



Take away number three: Teachers need to learn about how to teach using both analytic and synthetic phonics

On several occasions, I have proposed an explanation for why over the past five decades the pendulum of how to teach beginning reading swings between the two most used forms of phonics instruction analytic phonics and synthetic phonics.  It is because what works for different children varies. Some children seem to need no phonics instruction at all (this a VERY SMALL part of the overall student population). Some seem to thrive on either of the two methods. Some thrive on programs using only synthetic phonics (I suspect this may be the largest number of students). Some thrive on programs using only analytic phonics (see my blog entry on the tale of two children:

My analysis of what has been happening over the years is that problems occur when proponents of either method (synthetic or analytic) insist that ONLY their method be used. Whichever is chosen, there will be some children for whom the method does not work. Once that becomes apparent, it results in calls to “throw out the old and bring in the new.” Usually, enough time passes that folks have forgotten the “new” didn’t work for everyone either.  The common sense approach here is to allow both approaches and to train teachers, in both.  We should allow teachers to use both approaches within the confines of whatever literacy program a district may adopt.

Take away number four: Whether they are teaching analytic or synthetic phonics, teachers still need to know about sound-symbol relations.

One excellent source for this is Dorothy Strickland’s book Teaching Phonics Today: A Primer for Educators. It even includes a self-test over basic knowledge about phonics. It is also available in a newer edition that includes more recent research around the topic. Both editions are readily available on book sites like Amazon.

Strickland Phonics

Take away number five: The decision on which form of phonics instruction to use is best made at the district level. Whichever phonics approach is chosen it must be done systematically.

Regular readers of the blog are aware that my blogging partner, Dr. Kerns, prefers analytic phonics as the mainstream program. I prefer synthetic.  Whichever program is chosen it is crucial that provisions be made for the students who do not thrive using the chosen approach.  This can be accomplished by differentiating classroom instruction and by use of a tiered system of providing instruction.   I strongly recommend that in the instance where a district might choose the analytic approach that Tier Two and Tier three options be made available for Dyslexic students. The warning is also given that analytic phonics programs, which are often taught in an “as needed” way, still need to include a system for assuring that throughout the beginning reading instruction all the key phonics elements are covered. In this way, the analytic phonics can still be systematic.


Making this presentation last weekend has allowed me to synthesize in one place all the things I’ve been saying over the past few months about what beginning reading instruction should look like. It is a common sense approach.  Fit the program to the child, not the other way round.  Don’t force selected children to use methods that don’t work for them. Don’t “jump to extremes” in selecting methods.  Follow the path of what I have come to call the Reading Evolution. Instead of throwing everything out and starting over, tweak things until they work for you and your district. To talk about the Reading Evolution on Twitter or Facebook, please use the following hashtag #ReadingEvolution.  I’ll be looking forward to reading some of your comments.


Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the middle of the road guy)

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

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












Teaching students to talk big about little books and to read like storytellers: Tales from a successful after school 1st & 2nd-grade program. By Doctor Sam Bommarito



Teaching students to talk big about little books and to read like storytellers:

Tales from a successful after school 1st & 2nd-grade program.

By Doctor Sam Bommarito


It’s been just a little over a year since Dr. Tim Rasinski came to speak to our local ILA. His newest book co-authored with Mellissa Cheesman Smith had just come out. He was talking to us about the issues of fluency, prosody and a fresh look at the science of reading. Tim told the compelling tale of a first-grade teacher who used repeated readings to help her students become better readers. Her plan was simple, have them rehearse short passages such as poems and practice them daily and perform them at the end of the week. Tim reported that at first, this teacher was getting a lot of pushback from administrators who saw what she was doing as a waste of instructional time. However, they did allow her to continue. It’s fortunate that they did. It seems that at the end of the year her first-grade students outperformed all the other first grade classes in the school. The story had a more than happy ending. The teacher became the teacher of the year for her state. Readers can read more about all this in Tim’s Megabook of Fluency.

The story had a very direct effect on my own teaching practices. Though I am “retired” from full-time teaching, I’m still active in many different literacy projects, one of which is to spend one day a week at a school doing push-ins during the day and helping with the afterschool program. The afterschool program is voluntary. We have around 20 first and second graders who come once a week. They stay for about an hour, and I thought long and hard about what we can do in their relatively brief time that would really have an impact on their reading.

I’ve been a fan of the Raz Kids program for quite a long time. As part of my work at this building, I encouraged them to consider using the program. It is now in use in 1st through fourth grade. I like the depth and breadth of the program. It Includes well-written on-line books some of which are predictable, some of which are decodable and some of which are essentially trade books. It includes both fiction and nonfiction books. There is a very well-developed set of questions for each book. The quizzes are scored automatically and detailed information about types of questions missed et al. are provided to the teacher. My key use of the Raz Kids program for the afterschool group is to provide all of them one self-selected book to read each week. It also gives me the ability to talk to them during the week. I give them feedback and encouragement using the comment feature available through Raz Kids. This feature allows the teacher to both write and record their messages which students can access anywhere there is an internet connection, home or school.

Also, some of the students record the stories as they read them. I’m able to listen to the recordings. Listening to stories the students have recorded is another feature available on the Raz Kids program.  In a couple of cases, I could hear parents in the background helping children along. I was able to give some parents ideas on how to use prompting near the point of error to improve their child’s reading. For the first couple of years of afterschool, this use of Raz Kids became the cornerstone of my part of the after-school program.

However, after hearing Rasinski speak last year, I decided to supplement the after-school program with a couple of additional activities. These activities involved doing lessons around reading like a storyteller and providing the students with books to read from at the start of each after-school session. Regular readers of the blog know that one of my favorite authors to use for this kind of reading is Eric Litwin. My kids learned about Pete the Cat & Groovy Joe among others. Now each session begins with the kids in pairs picking books to read aloud. Each partner gets to choose one of the two books they read together. The partners choral read both books together. Each week I added one or two new books. I read parts of them to the student before adding them to the pile of books to pick from. I did think alouds around what I was doing to sound like a storyteller.

After several weeks of this, there was a wide variety of books. The students were rereading books, and they were happy to do so since they were getting to pick their favorite books to reread. I told them it was important that as they did their reading they try to sound like storytellers. Over time, they did. I love my white shoes, disco party bowwow, all these phrases from the books began reverberating through the room.  They loved to read them again and again.  Normally they read in pairs. The students read from each other’s book, always reading in chorus. I circulate the room along with my student helper. Our afterschool program has seventh and eighth graders who come to help us with the kids each week.  Over the course of the year, the students were really beginning to sound like storytellers. They were learning to read with prosody.

Another addition this year was the use of keep books. In addition to doing the reading of what came to be called the big books, the students were allowed to pick a Keep Book.  Keep Books are take-home books developed by Fountas and Pinnell. They are written around levels one through 16. See the link to keep books site.


These books are meant to be taken home to read. That’s exactly what my students did. Whatever Keep Book they chose for that week they got to take home and keep! Parents were asked to provide a shoebox or similar storage device.  I asked the students to try to read from their reading box at home. Over the course of the school year, they kept getting one keep book each week. Parents and students alike were pleased by the shoebox library. By the end of the year, each child had a very large collection of keep books. I would classified keep books as predictable and very heavy in the use of sight words. I let the parents know that sending home Keep Books and having the kids read from them was my way of teaching sight words. Over the years I found this way usually out produces the typical flash card way of teaching sight words

As you can see, the first 15 to 20 minutes of afterschool was spent in doing the paired reading read alouds of both the trade books  and the keep books. In addition to the read alouds, there was one more step. That was for them to talk about their books with each other. The phrase they learned was “you may have said it, but you haven’t read it until you tell me the characters, the problem, the solution.” By the end of the year all of them were able to have conversations around the narrative books. Once those conversations were going well, I also asked them to have conversations around their Non-Fiction Raz Kids books. The phrase for that was “if it’s true tell us what’s new.” They knew that what I was after was something new they learned from the non-fiction book. In case there was nothing new that they learned from the book they were told instead talk about the most interesting thing they found in the book, even if it was something they already knew.  Again, by the end of the year my students were talking big about their little books. I continue to use Raz Kids at the end of each session giving them just about enough time to finish one book each time they come.

I will say that at first the conversations were stilted, the reading was word by word, and they were somewhat unsure of themselves. Now at the end of the year, I thoroughly enjoy listening to the way all of them the blossomed into true storytellers.   Pete the Cat, Groovy Joe and many other such characters are very much alive for my after-school children.  The bow-wows in “Disco Party Bow Wow”, were a turning point for many of the children. They said it with gusto, and soon such reading carried over to other books they read. The tentative conversations from the start of the year have turned into more genuine book talks. I like to call it “Talking Big about Little Books.”

Remember, that this afterschool program is meant to be a supplement to what is a very good mainstream program done in the building. I found that adding the elements of repeated reading to what I’d already been doing with the Raz Kids program made for a much better year this year. Given the limitations of a once a week program designed to get extra help to the participants, adding the big talk, repeated readings, and the goal of becoming a good storyteller maximized the impact of this voluntary program. There was almost always time at the end of the teaching session to do at least 1 Raz Kids book. I have continued to use talking to them through the Raz Kids program as a way to reach them outside the after-school time.

Next week I want to continue to explore the ideas that I learned from Tim Rasinski. Especially those around reading being both a science and an art. I would encourage all teachers to consider the importance of teaching beginning reading in a way that encourages prosody rather than speed and robot reading. I’ll have much more to say on that point next week.

Until then happy reading and writing


Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the book guy)

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

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

Striving for a Caring Approach to Literacy by Dr. Williams Kerns


NOTE FROM DR SAM- This week my blogging partner asked to do a guest blog. It is a powerful piece with a powerful message. Hope you enjoy it. See you next week!

Striving for a Caring Approach to Literacy by Dr. Williams Kerns



The reading wars that we often wage in the literacy field will continue. Arguments over methods of instruction, theories of how to teach key skills, and how to foster comprehension will go on with urgency and the stakes are indeed high. But if the reader will indulge me in this blog, I wish to take a brief break from the battles. In this guest blog, I focus on an underlying need by the student to know that a teacher genuinely cares, and to feel fully valued as an individual.

On Thursday of this week (April 11) I had the pleasure of listening to a talk by children’s book author Angela Cervantes during the annual banquet of the St. Louis Regional Literacy Association. During her talk, Cervantes described an experience that I believe holds important lessons for us as educators.

When Cervantes was 16, she worked as a hostess in a Red Lobster restaurant. One night, she was among the few who braved a winter storm to report to work. As she cleaned a table, she overheard a couple making negative remarks about her that were based on stereotypes too commonly held about Mexican and Latinx people.   The couple remarked that Cervantes must not speak English, that she must be a high school dropout. They knew nothing about how hard Cervantes worked in school and her passion for literature. Eventually, Cervantes did offer to serve the couple, while speaking to them in English to the embarrassment of the couple.

In the story told by Cervantes, I believe there are important lessons. We need to ensure that we avoid making negative assumptions and stereotypes about students. Additionally, we need to take strides to ensure that students feel welcome, respected, and fully accepted within a community of learners. To do less than that is, I believe, an act of immorality against the human dignity of the student. I believe that efforts to establish a moral and caring purposefulness in educational practices should be sensitive to the interests and needs of students. Dare I say it – we ought to act with love toward students. I view love within educational practice as both an emotion and a moral decision. We can feel love, but we can also make the choice to act with love toward or to not act with love (Bransen, 2006).

It was not an act of love for the couple in a Red Lobster restaurant to engage in the negative stereotyping of a teenage Cervantes when she was working hard at performing her job. But how often might teachers also engage in negative stereotyping that can follow a student around for years in the educational journey? Far too often. Negative stereotyping can be difficult to shake because a tendency toward confirmation bias contributes to rigidity of concepts within social groups. This means that when a group of teachers may hold negative views about a student based on negative stereotyping, confirmation bias contributes to that negative view becoming difficult to change in the minds of teachers. A literacy teacher might engage in teaching strategies tied to such terms as systematic phonics, whole language, or balanced literacy, but if care – and love – is missing then the educational practice is, I believe, immoral.

Presence (Rodgers & Raider-Roth, 2006) by teachers provides a way to encourage the consideration of considering the affective and academic needs of students. The concept of presence emphasizes reflectiveness and inquiry as well as compassion in responses during the context of teaching. The teacher who develops presence would be alert to the needs of students and have a heightened sense of self-awareness. Dialogue that is open to an exchange of ideas based on mutual respect is an important aspect of presence. Presence can take place while a teacher is grounded in critical reflection. This approach would mean that teachers examine and respond to the diverse ways that children are impacted by life-conditions that often include the denial of equitable opportunities in education. A discussion of explicit or implicit bias provides an example of how the critical examination of educational practices can help teachers to explore their underlying moral beliefs that shape their educational practices.

Students will graduate from school with positive stories about teachers who genuinely cared about their needs and interests while remaining committed to expertise in the executional of teaching practices. I hope that each of us who are educators from Kindergarten through graduate schools will strive to be the caring teacher who is remembered with a sense of gratitude by students. Meanwhile, I also hope that we as educators will strive to be among those who have a positive influence on the lives of our students. Making such a difference includes a strong grounding in the content and pedagogical practices that are encouraged within a professional area. However, there is more to teaching than merely gaining certification that qualifies a person to teach. Ultimately, those teachers wishing to become excellent in their craft would do well to examine the needs and interests of students while also making lesson plans and curriculum design.

Don’t be “that teacher” who is remembered in an embarrassing manner. Be “that teacher” who makes a positive direction in the career and life-path of a student.



Bransen, J. (2015). Self-knowledge and self- love. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 18, 309-321.

Rodgers, C., & Raider-Roth, M. (2006). Presence in teaching. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 12, 265-287.




Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author or guest blogger 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.


What happens when you empower teachers and scaffold them into improving their teaching craft?: MAGIC!!!! By Dr. Sam Bommarito

reading creatuve commons

What happens when you empower teachers and scaffold them into improving their teaching craft?: MAGIC!!!! By Dr. Sam Bommarito


I decided to take a break from talking about the reading wars this week. Instead, I’ll talk a little bit about some success stories in the school where I spend one day a week doing some push-ins. I also help to implement an afterschool program. The school’s mainstream program is a basal, one that includes the use of decodable texts, predictable texts and trade books. For a variety of reasons, I find that a sensible approach since each kind of text lends itself to lessons around different strategies that can help scaffold students into reading. I’m going to first talk about a fourth-grade classroom where I have been helping the classroom teacher to implement some workshop teaching as a supplement to what she is already doing with the basal program.

This week that teacher taught me a lesson. Kind of made me think she was learning more than I was teaching. I had carried on some discussions with her around one of my favorite quotes. It’s a paraphrase of something Mark Twain said. “Those who can read but don’t are no better off than those that can’t read at all.”  So, it is important for teachers to encourage students to want to read. Take a look at a couple recent ILA position papers on that.  Special thanks to Fran McVeigh, principle author of and Molly Ness principle author of for bringing those kinds of ideas to the forefront of current literacy instruction.  This classroom teacher had a rather innovative way of getting students to talk about their books with each other and share ideas. Some of it involved the dreaded cyber books. Her overall goal was to try to reignite her kids’ interests in reading. Let me tell you about what she did.

There is a widely used software platform that has extensive collections of leveled books. Includes a balance of fiction and nonfiction books. It even includes quizzes for the books. It also gives a great deal of diagnostic information about the quizzes. What sets it apart from many of the programs like this is that it allows a great deal of teacher control. This particular classroom teacher has used the program for a number of years and treats it as a tool rather than a prescribed lockstep program.

She noticed that one of the reports that are given each week talks about what books each child read. She got the idea of having the students talk about their favorites among those books. We modeled to the class how to do a simple summary. For fiction books talk about the character, the problem/goal, and the solution. As you talk about how the goal/solution is reached you end up giving the events of the story.  In the case of nonfiction books, we used the phrase “if it’s true, find out what’s new.” Translation of this is that readers should report on what new information was in the story about the topic that they didn’t know before. The students are given the fallback that if all the information was all about things they already knew, they could instead talk about the information they found most interesting.

A few student volunteers broke the ice by talking about their books using these simple retell devices. They did this in front of the whole group. The teacher had pictures of the books they had most recently read up on the whiteboard as they talked. After that, we shifted from whole group to small group. Students who had not had a chance to talk to the large group were given that chance in small group. We opened the scope of what books to talk about to include books other than the cyber books. Everyone got a chance to talk about at least one book and depending on the group some even got to talk about more than one. Each included some “what I liked most about this book” statements.

What I especially liked about this overall class activity was that something that is often held in disdain, cyber books with quizzes, was used in a way that got students interested in reading. That’s the kind of thing that can happen when one empowers teachers. Another thing is that in the process of learning some very basic retell techniques, students got the chance to get other students excited about the books they were reading. The goal of reigniting interest was more than reached.

Next time I’m going to talk about some of the first-graders in my after-school program and how they can and do talk big around little books. I’m certain that some of my direct instruction only colleagues will be all over what I said here this week. What a total waste of time they might say. Really? That is why next week I’ll also be telling you the story of a first-grade teacher who was at first accused of doing things that were a total waste of time. She was so successful with some of her constructivist activities that she became the teacher of the year for her state. Her students outperformed students doing things in a more traditional fashion. All this is based on what my good friend Tim Rasinski had to say last year around the whole issue of prosody and reading like a storyteller. More about that next week. In the meantime, Happy Reading and Writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the reading coach)


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

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

A tale of two readers: A close up look at two actual victims of the reading wars by Dr. Sam Bommarito

reading creatuve commons

A tale of two readers: A close up look at two actual victims of the reading wars

I’ve made a lifelong habit of listening to all points of view about various subjects and trying to consider all that is said before drawing conclusions. There is no place that this is more important than in the current iteration of the reading wars. Let’s talk about two actual casualties from that war.

I begin first with the child whose story convinced me that dyslexia is VERY real and that SOME students need a very different program when it comes to beginning reading. My local ILA group brings in speakers from many points of view and has for years. Last year,  a speaker who runs an excellent Dyslexia clinic here in St. Louis gave a talk. After the meeting,  I had a chance to hear one child’s story.  I struck up a conversation with a parent of a child for whom Reading Recovery hadn’t worked. I am an ardent defender of RR and have research to back up that support.  BUT I recognize that at the time this transpired reading recovery didn’t work for this child. She enrolled the child in a Dyslexia program. That helped in so many different ways including better reading and self-esteem. For my constructivist friends out there who believe that only “as needed analytic phonics” should be used I say, there are some children for whom that approach doesn’t work. Adjust your instruction for those children accordingly. I would add that more recently my friends in reading recovery are finding ways to adapt to children who need that more structured phonics program. Here is a good link summarizing Clay’s views about the younger child

I’m not finished.

Recently one of my followers published a post on Facebook about her child’s experience. Her child was in an intensive phonics program. They were only allowed to figure out words this way. Memorize these rules. Memorize these sounds. Eventually, the child actually began having nightmares about the instruction and started to hate reading.  The child was moved into a program with a more constructivist approach. Nightmares disappeared. Reading happened. The child is now an ardent lifelong reader. The mother was so inspired she decided to become a reading specialist.  To my colleagues from the “simple point of view,”  I say this: At the end of the day what you do also works for SOME children, but not all. In implementing the program for this particular child, the teachers zigged when they should have zagged. The bottom line is that there are some children for whom your approach doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean we abandon it. It does mean we recognize that LIKE ALL METHODS OF TEACHING LITERACY, it has limits and limitations.

What do the two victims of the reading wars have in common? Each was placed in a program that didn’t work for them. Each thrived when placed in a program that did work for them. There is a lesson to be learned here. That lesson is that folks who feel their way and only their way works are bound to hurt some children. There are alternate ways that might help children that you are unintentionally hurting. You need to start paying a lot more attention to what the “other side” is doing. I’m saying that the road runs both ways.

But Dr. Sam. What about all that xyz research that supports MY side?

One can get bogged down in a “my research” vs. “your research” battle. That is a never-ending battle. For anyone who would care to, I can wage a tit-for-tat endless war with you around that point. This is especially true when I draw on the knowledge of my blogging partner,  Dr. William Kerns. Such exchanges can result in blogs and twitter pages turning into very (very very) long conversations. This will go on until eventually, everyone stops reading.  OR we can fast forward to the end and look at the end results of the two approaches.  For the ardent supporters of the simple view of reading, please visit England. They’ve mandated synthetic phonics for quite a number of years. Somehow the magical “everyone is cured” outcome has simply not materialized. By contrast, visit Finland. They have one of the highest literacy rates in the world. They listen to their teachers.  They empower their teachers and give them respect. They start reading instruction at a much later age than we do.  Yet their kids outperform ours and those of most other countries around the world. In light of recent efforts to try to push direct reading instruction down into preschool to our very youngest readers, I think it is important to know that there are places in the world doing it differently who are having better success than we’ve ever had. Please do read all about it.



Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms

Apr 18, 2017


I grew up in the sixties. Snippets of songs from the era still play in my head sometimes.  “Singing songs and carrying signs, mostly say hooray for our side”.  It’s way past time to stop thinking completely about our particular point of view/philosophy of reading and start thinking about the kids instead. No more causalities. Only success stories.  You do that by fitting the program to the child, not the other way round. You do that by empowering teachers and giving them training and access to a variety of methods for teaching reading, not just one. Here is one more piece of evidence that BOTH analytic and synthetic phonics have a place in phonics instruction. The key is that they be done SYSTEMATICALLY.

My final thoughts are addressed to the folks caught between these two warring camps and trying to make sense of things. Several pieces of advice. Upgrade the beginning teacher programs so that teachers come away with a working knowledge of sound-symbol relations. Curriculum for that teacher training can be based on the basics of what speech pathologist are taught about sounds. Teach teachers about ALL the possible ways to teach phonics not just one. Here is a link to an ILA position paper explaining the various approaches. TRAIN THEM AND EMPOWER THEM to use all the methods. Train them to use what works best for each child.

Let the local school boards decide what to adopt. I predict many of them will conclude that a good synthetic based program will get the job done for their children. Some of them may adopt a more analytic based program. But, with whatever alternative is chosen, things can/should be waiting in the wings for kids for whom the “mainstream” approach does not work.  For both sides- STOP using strawmen. Stop pointing out ONLY the mistakes or shortcomings of the other sides’ point of view. Stop using the 1967 version of what constructivists said and start looking at the 2019 version. Look at ALL the research, not just the research that proves you are right and they are wrong.  For folks adopting new programs, ask for studies indicating LONG TERM SUSTAINED GAINS IN READING COMPREHENSION/ACHIEVEMENT. Consumer warning: Some folks will try to pass off vocabulary tests or testing information based correlational data instead of direct measures of comprehension, as sufficient proof for demonstrating comprehension. That kind of proof is ok for preliminary, exploratory studies. But when you’re getting ready to spend tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands) of dollars on something, demand studies that DIRECTLY use widely accepted comprehension tests. Teaching decoding exclusively sometimes results in a bump in reading scores (they learned to decode) followed by long plateaus of no progress. The plateaus occur because needed comprehension strategies are under-taught or not taught at all. Be sure to ask for ongoing results from several years, not just one.  If they can’t produce such studies hold up the adoption until they can.

In previous blogs, I have called for a reading evolution. That means both sides (all sides) should stop debating for a while and start talking to each other. Let me be candid.  I’ve said before, that at the end of the day your boss is not a district or a particular organization or movement. The kids are your boss. They don’t care who “wins” the reading wars. They only care if you can do something to help THEM. Time to start talking to each other and start listening to the boss. It’s time to stop the swinging pendulum in the middle for a while and see if we can learn things from each other that will help us help them. It’s time for a Reading Evolution.

Please tweet to # ReadingEvolution1 (with an E)“  . Please share ideas from all sides.. As indicated earlier,  It really is time to stop the swinging pendulum in the middle for a while and see if we can learn things from each other that will help us help the kids  It’s time for the Reading Evolution.


Dr. Sam Bommarito  (aka- the person in the middle happily taking flak from both sides)

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

P.S.  a very special thank you to the 5735 who visited my blog and the 6000 plus reads of the post this week. It’s good to know there is that much interest in the message. Really serious about wanting to talk about all sides. Please use the #’s to do so.