Harvard Educational Review
  1. The Science of Reading

    A Handbook

    edited by Margaret J. Snowling and Charles Hulme

    Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2005. 661 pp. $131.95 (cloth)

    The Science of Reading is a comprehensive collection of topics related to reading skills development — from the psychology of reading development to reading instruction. The topics, reflecting the complexity inherent in the reading processes, range from the biological bases of reading to reading comprehension, and include disorders of reading and spelling in English and other languages. Many leading researchers and educators in the field have contributed to this volume, offering basic concepts as well as cutting-edge insights about reading development.

    The book is accessible to a wide range of audiences — from an educated person who is interested in reading development to young scholars and established leaders in the field of reading development. Each chapter provides clear and accessible definitions of terms, builds cases for different theories and approaches to reading development, and offers the most current understanding of reading development.

    The book starts by introducing different views on the processes involved in the foundation of reading: written word recognition. The authors open the debate about how we recognize printed words and retrieve their meanings using the two leading models — the dual-route model and the connectionist model. This is followed by a discussion of the visual and phonological aspects of reading.

    Part Two of the book presents learning to read — that is, breaking the code of the mapping between sounds and letters — as an essential step in learning to read in languages with alphabetic writing systems. The authors emphasize the importance of some specific subskills, such as letter-name knowledge and phonemic sensitivity, in addition to general cognitive and verbal ability. They also underscore the critical role of the home environment in fostering children’s interest and ability in learning to read.

    Part Three presents the processes involved in comprehending the meaning of written texts. The authors agree that in addition to fluent word reading, reading comprehension relies heavily on the foundation of spoken language comprehension, such as vocabulary and inferential skills. The acquisition of sufficient oral language skills, vocabulary in particular, remains one of the critical challenges that many English-language learners face in learning to read English.

    The majority of our knowledge on reading development is informed by research in reading development in English, which is on one end of a continuum with respect to irregularities in orthography. Part Four presents findings from languages other than English that have varying orthographic regularity. These studies revealed some common cognitive and linguistic skills involved in learning to read across languages, and also identified differences in the magnitude of the relationships between linguistic skills and literacy acquisition due to oral language and orthographic characteristics in a given language.

    As much as our understanding of normal reading development informs research on reading disabilities, research on reading disorders also informs us of the processes involved in the normal development of reading. Part Five provides a review of reading disorders, including biological origins and environmental factors, employing different theoretical approaches. The authors illustrate the intricate relationship between disorders in spoken language and reading development.

    Part Six is devoted to the biological bases of reading. There has been rapid advancement recently in our understanding about the role of genetics in reading disorders, revealing the powerful influences of genetic mechanisms that underlie developmental dyslexia, in addition to environmental influences. Many studies have identified a circuit of areas in the brain involved in reading and the variation in brain developmental patterns that contribute to dyslexia. However, the incorporation of these findings into the cognitive models of reading remains a challenge.

    The last part of the book discusses the application of the science of reading — that is, teaching reading. Although only two chapters are devoted to this important topic, the authors do a wonderful job of articulating a brief history of the scientific evidence on the phonics versus whole-language debate and what is known about effective ways of remediating reading difficulties. While the authors emphasize the importance of explicitly teaching letter-sound correspondence along with reading for meaning, they underscore the importance of quality of teaching rather than the curriculum itself. Studies also show that tackling reading difficulties is a great challenge: Highly intensive, extensive, and expert teaching is required to improve reading accuracy, while remediating difficulties in reading fluency appears to be even more challenging.

    Overall, the book is an excellent anthology of recent scientific efforts to understand one of the essential skills for educational and life success — reading development.

    y.-s. k.
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    The Science of Reading
    edited by Margaret J. Snowling and Charles Hulme