Harvard Educational Review
  1. Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading: Preparing Teachers for a Changing World

    Edited by Catherine E. Snow, Peg Griffin, and M. Susan Burns

    San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005. 304 pp. $30.00.

    Seven years after the highly influential book Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children was published, the same three editors (Snow, Griffin, and Burns) take on teacher education, particularly the teaching of literacy. Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading: Preparing Teachers for a Changing World is a companion volume to the Committee on Teacher Education book, Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do. The organization of the book reflects the developmental process of the teacher career path, which occurs in four cycles: learning, enactment, assessment, and reflection. Chapter 2 establishes the declarative knowledge that literacy teachers should learn; chapters 3 and 4 show how this knowledge base can be enacted in the classroom; chapter 5 elaborates on assessment; and, finally, chapter 6 offers reflection on the developmental framework of a teacher’s career path.

    Chapter 1 provides a rationale for “yet another report about teacher education” while convincingly challenging the shortcomings of the prevalent traditional view of teacher training; the status shift (from precertified to certified) view, according to which teachers, upon certification, are expected to have fully developed skills to carry on many duties without subsequent support and guidance. As an alternative, the authors propose a progressive differentiation framework, which views teachers as lifelong learners who undergo several phases in their knowledge development: preservice, apprentice, novice, experienced, and master teacher. Teacher development is conceptualized as a lifelong journey on which teachers constantly change in terms of the amount and the types of knowledge they gain in various domains while engaging in the cycles of learning, enactment, assessment, and reflection. Another framework emphasized in this opening chapter is the concept of usable knowledge, which implies building bridges between research findings and teachers’ working knowledge and teaching practices.

    Chapter 2 builds a foundation for concepts and facts that literacy teachers need to know, including comprehension, word identification, phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, etymology, and metacognition. The authors situate these topics and provide examples at three critical developmental points: kindergarten, grade 4, and grade 9. For instance, the role of text types in reading comprehension is illustrated by comparing the characteristics of science texts and history texts. It is further argued that in addition to attending to text types, teachers of various subjects should make their implicit knowledge of their reading practices explicit to students (e.g., a scientist and a historian approach texts differently).

    Chapter 4 presents snapshots of four fictitious students, Sara, Frank, Rebeca, and Krissy. The chapter provides a detailed illustration of Sara’s and Frank’s fictitious school experiences in kindergarten, fourth grade, and ninth grade to show the expected grade-level literacy and academic skills development when reasonably good instruction and support are provided. Snapshots of Rebeca and Krissy explicitly delineate the diverse needs of students who come from different linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The chapter rebuts some popular misconceptions of research-based findings about second-language learning, the effects of poverty, and dialect variations (e.g., African American English) in relation to students’ reading development.

    Although the majority of children with speech and language difficulties are taught in general-education classrooms, only a fraction of teachers enter classrooms feeling adequately prepared to meet the needs of students with various disabilities. Chapter 4 argues for the importance of enhancing general-classroom teachers’ basic knowledge of the needs of students with disabilities so they can provide the necessary and appropriate help. Again, the chapter addresses some common misunderstandings and research-based suggestions about literacy acquisition for students with developmental disabilities, cognitive deficits, hearing loss, and visual impairments.

    Good teaching should be informed by teachers’ understanding and use of assessment. Chapter 5 describes the ways reading assessments can be incorporated in preservice programs, classrooms, and teacher professional development. Rather than focusing on the technical aspects of assessment, this chapter provides a starting place for teachers to learn about the basic principles underlying quality assessment, ways to use assessment results to inform instruction, and ways to communicate assessment results effectively. This chapter also provides useful information on the available popular assessment tools for skills related to reading (e.g., word identification, reading comprehension, and motivation) so that interested readers can employ them for diagnostic or formative purposes.

    The last chapter revisits the developmental framework for the teacher career path elaborated in chapter 1, and proposes “a model of professional growth in reading education” that includes nine principles that should occur during teacher professional preparation and development.

    The book’s argument for a shift in the teacher-preparation paradigm from a status-shift view to a developmental framework is not a novel idea. However, this book’s message rings loud and clear because of its careful elaboration of the research-based model and its attention to the way its message is presented. The authors did a solid job in articulating their arguments and in presenting the extensive knowledge base and fictitious but plausible scenarios about what instruction looks like when that knowledge base is applied in real classrooms. This book could be an excellent resource for someone who strives to be, or is interested in preparing, an informed and effective teacher of reading.

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    Book Notes