The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Teach More, Test Less and Empower Teachers and Students

on January 12, 2016

Today’s post was written by Dr. Sam Bommarito who, over a 43 year career as a teacher, taught every grade from kindergarten to graduate school.  Now retired,  he is involved in a volunteer reading project at a private school in which he tutors students from grades 3-5.

 Teach More:

Over my career I’ve found that following a Reading/Writing workshop format helps me to maximize my use of teaching time. I am using mini lessons that are short and focused. In my project I also use strategies from two commercial programs that help me to teach and keep track of students’ progress

 Test Less:

One way to test less is to build ongoing assessment into your teaching, expanding the time between sumative assessments. The leveled books in the on-line library I use include well-written fiction and non-fiction. Each book comes with questions based on the Common Core Standards, which are automatically scored by the program I use and are accessible to the teacher.

My students’ time is spent reading books not answering questions. They pick their own books at the levels determined by their scores. Later, I get detailed information that allows me to discern student performance patterns in comprehension. I can also access recordings that my students make of their oral reading

Empower Teachers and Students!:

My belief that teachers should be empowered is research based. That classic research found that no one method of teaching beginning reading works best, and that teachers accounted for more of the variance in reading performance than methods. That is why I shy away from “teacher proof” methods and materials and look for resources that serve as tools for teachers. Such resources give teachers a choice in how to use them in the most effective way. For my project I’ve looked for materials that empower me as a teacher to help my students become better readers.

As students read within my project, one of the things I’ll ask them to do is to pick a favorite book from the on-line library. They will record and re-record their reading of that book (or selected pages from it) until they are satisfied that they are reading like a story teller. Only then will they send their recordings to me.

I am also doing weekly face-to-face workshop conferences with each child. One unique thing is that in addition to the regular weekly conferences, I am able to do cyber conferences. The recorded messages I send are especially useful in promoting prosody and helping students with sound/symbol difficulties. Parents at home often listen in to my comments and over time learn to help their children become problem solvers in both word recognition and comprehension. My simple advice to parents is: don’t give your children answers; help them work out the answers for themselves.


Mark Twain once said: “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.” I’m trying to help my students want to read by allowing for self-selection, placing them at their instructional level, having them move up as soon as they are ready, helping them problem solve their own comprehension questions, and encouraging their classroom teachers to promote wide reading outside of the cyber books. My practices encourage and facilitate their reading.

In sum, I hope I am teaching students how to read by focusing on how to think and problem solve for themselves. That is what I’ve always thought reading teachers should be doing. That is what I hope I am doing in my retirement years.





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