Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print
Marilyn Jager Adams
Published in 1990 by MIT Press
This is clearly the most often cited, most influential
book in the area of reading research. In the history of this field,
"Why Johnny Can't Read," "The Great Debate," and "Beginning to Read" are
the three publications that have had the most profound, far-reaching impact
on reading instruction. "Beginning to Read" is quite simply the most
important book that has been written about reading research in the past
20 years, and it stands alone at the very top of my list of recommended
readings for all reading teachers, policy-makers, and anybody else interested
in understanding the "big picture" of reading research.
Marilyn Adams is a delightful writer who has a talent for
taking fairly abstract and complicated ideas and conveying them in the most
clear and understandable way possible. This talent for synthesizing
various, distantly related research findings into a cohesive, comprehensible
picture that can be understood by a wide audience has made Marilyn Adams
the de-facto voice of the reading research community.
Be warned, however, this book is not light
It is true that Adams is a graceful writer who has a talent for making
complicated research understandable, and she has a knack for helping
people see how best to apply reading research in instructional
practice. However, some
of this research information is still quite challenging to
understand. In this book, Adams shares current research that is
very easy to translate into instructional practice. But she also
shares findings that, while good to know, do not have very obvious
implications for instruction. Anybody looking for a simple "how
to" manual for reading instruction will be disappointed by this book --
this book requires thought on the part of the reader, and some chapters
in this book are devoted to very abstract research findings and models
describing the cognitive processes that are involved in the act of
reading. This book is, however, required reading for anybody who
wants to develop an advanced understanding of the state-of-the-art in
Reading Research at Work: Foundations of Effective Practice
Katherine A. Dougherty Stahl and Michael C. McKenna
Published in 2006 by Guilford Press
In May of 2004, Steven Stahl lost a 4-year battle with cancer at a
young age, and we lost one of the greatest contributors to the field of
reading research and instruction. With the passing of
this happy, funny, wonderful man, our field also lost a brilliant
collection of research that will never be conducted. I mourn the
of a friendly and delightful character I barely had a chance to know,
and I also mourn the loss of all that he could have shared with our
field if he had been able to live out his life.
Reading Research at Work: Foundations of Effective Practice celebrates the enormous contributions that Steven Stahl made before he
passed away. Steven worked until he could no longer work to share his
vast experience and insight with us, and after he passed, his most
influential and profound writings were collected and reprinted in this
book. Friends and colleagues also added chapters to this book to share
different perspectives about the contributions Steven made through his
Reading this book, it was hard for me to reconcile the serious
and profound contributions to reading research with the jovial,
easy-going man I knew. He was at the center of every debate in reading
research. He was in charge of some of the most important reading
research and policy events of the past 20 years. He conducted some of
the most important, seminal research in all of the five "big ideas" of
And he was a young prankster who cracked
jokes all the time. I really can't wrap my mind around that. Had I
not known Steven, I would read this book and think of a venerable old
scholar who meticulously pushed out the boundaries of our knowledge
through the course of a long and diverse career. But I knew Steven to
be young, vital, and so very personable. He always made time for
teachers and students and friends and family, and reading this book, I
can't help but wonder where he found the time to do so much.
you read this book, you will be amazed at how much of instructional
practice was influenced by one man. He conducted research in
awareness, phonics, and fluency, and of course, he was best-known for
his work on vocabulary and comprehension. He was also an expert
in assessment in all areas of literacy. He inspired me with his
prescient advocacy for a "balanced" approach to reading instruction,
and I promise you, while you may not know it, he changed what you know
about reading, too.
Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children
Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children,
Edited by Catherine E. Snow, M. Susan Burns, Peg Griffin
Published in 1998 by National Academy Press
In the mid-'90s, leaders in the field of reading research
were assembled by the National Research Council to synthesize what we know
with some certainty about how children learn to read, why some children
fail to learn to read, and how best to teach children to read. The
panel published its report and emphasized the most obvious finding from
years of reading research -- it is easier to prevent reading difficulties
from developing in the first place than to attempt to address those difficulties
once they have taken root.
This book synthesizes a wide body of research and represents
the views of a wide variety of perspectives. At times the book rambles
a bit -- with so many authors and so many views about such a wide variety
of areas of reading research, it is understandable that the book would
occasionally lose a bit of focus and clarity. However, overall, it
is a very thought-provoking book, and it offers one of the widest views
of a variety of issues that researchers are endeavoring to examine and understand.
Many things are presented with little debate or argument -- the Matthew Effect,
the Simple View of Reading, etc. Others are described as areas where
research is not so clear. This is a nice follow-up to Marilyn Adams'
book, and I would recommend it as "suggested further reading."
Straight Talk About Reading: How Parents Can Make a Difference
During the Early Years
Susan L. Hall, Louisa Cook Moats, Marilyn Jager Adams
Published in 1999 by Contemporary Books
This book was supposedly written for parents who want to
understand what they can do to support their child's reading development.
I think that is actually a very small part of the target audience for this
book. I imagine some parents will pick up this book, but as I read
it, this book actually contains a lot of good information that teachers can
use -- perhaps information that teachers can communicate to parents.
Anybody who needs a basic crash course in early reading
acquisition would do well to read this book. Susan Hall writes from
the perspective of a mother who was raising a struggling reader -- who
was frustrated at the lack of good information that is available for parents
who want to know more. Louisa Moats is a talented writer who understands
the research in reading development and reading instruction very well,
and who has a talent for conveying that information clearly to a variety
of audiences. Together, they have produced a nice summary that is certainly
appropriate for parents, but which I think will be of greatest interest to
pre-school and early-elementary teachers. People who run day-care centers
may also want to pick up this book -- there is a lot they can do to help young
children develop healthy literacy skills.
What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing
Richard L. Allington
Published in 2001 by Addison Wesley Longman
The title of this book is a little misleading. In
the preface, Allington starts off with a small note saying that in writing
this book, he is assuming that basic phoneme awareness, letter-knowledge,
and word-attack skills are already being taught. He basically takes
those important areas for granted in writing the rest of the book.
That doesn't offend me, but the title suggests that those things don't REALLY
I think what Allington was trying to emphasize was the
idea of the "struggling" but non-fluent reader -- a reader who has developed
some very basic reading skills, but has not developed fluency and advanced
comprehension skills. In that sense, Allington quite rightly points
out that most struggling readers have very few opportunities to practice
their skills, and they receive very little in the way of enriched, engaging
instruction. This book helps teachers to rise above the minimal expectations
that we so often place on early readers, and challenges teachers to engage
students in much richer more challenging instruction -- and lots of it.
Throughout his career, Allington has lead the field in his arguments for
time-on-task. He has shown through repeated studies that students in
general are given few opportunities to practice literacy skills and engage
in challenging reading activities. Moreover, he has argued that the
students who receive the least attention, least instruction, and least support
are the struggling readers who most desperately need help from teachers and
time to practice their skills in class.
After reading Classrooms that Work and Schools that Work,
I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of this book and think about what
can be done in your school to provide hours of opportunities every day for
students to engage in authentic, challenging, and engaging reading and writing
Reading Instruction That Works: The Case for Balanced
Teaching (2nd Edition)
Published in 2002 by Guilford Press
The second edition of this book is a stark improvement
over the first edition, and honestly, I thought that would be hard to do.
The first edition was very informative and well-written, and I found it downright
inspiring. The new edition somehow is even more so.
This book is very enjoyable to read -- Pressley is another talented researcher
who also has a gift for conveying complicated issues in a concrete, understandable
way. This book really made me think about how we motivate students
to read. It also made me think about how quickly the Matthew Effect
takes hold of young, struggling readers and really suppresses their desire
to read. And as Pressley has done repeatedly through his writing,
this book really helped me to understand what the difference is between
being able to read and being literate.
Pressley is not satisfied with students having basic reading skills --
Pressley wants students to deeply comprehend what they read. He wants
teachers to challenge students' understanding of what they read.
Pressley argues that simply drawing facts from short passages of text is
not sufficiently challenging or engaging or important. Education
should be designed to enable students to read widely, and to synthesize,
evaluate, and formulate new ideas. Good literature is not found in
three paragraphs of text -- it is found in great books that must be read
repeatedly in order to truly appreciate them and understand them.
I read the first edition of Pressley's book; I read the second edition;
and I'm sure I will read it again -- it is good literature.
Handbook of Early Literacy Research
Edited by Susan B. Neuman and David K. Dickinson
This is another collection of chapters written by some of the
leading experts in reading research. The book is broken down into
six thematic sections: 1. Models of reading acquisition and development,
2. Precursors and predictors of reading success, 3. The role of home and
community in reading development, 4. Preschool influences, 5. Instructional
materials and classroom practices, and 6. Special interventions for struggling
or at-risk readers.
The first section is a bit wonkish -- these chapters are really for the
people who really want to understand underlying theory and models of reading
development. It's not light reading.
Not to say that the rest of the book is light reading. Quite the
contrary, this is a fairly technical summary of research findings.
Most of the chapters are very well written summaries of relevant research,
but every chapter is still very dense with information and research references.
This is an academic book, a handy reference book, and very informative reading
if you are trying to seriously hone your knowledge and understanding of
reading research. I would not recommend this book to people who are
looking for classroom activities, but I would heartily recommend this book
for reading specialists, curriculum coordinators, or people who need to
have more than just a passing awareness of the research that should be used
to guide instructional practice.
What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction
Edited by Alan E. Farstrup, S. Jay Samuels, and Jay Samuels
This is a compendium of reading research that is very diverse
indeed. Since the playing field that is reading research is so very
broad, different chapters in this book focus on various and sundry aspects
of reading research ranging from decoding skills to home-school relationships
to content-area reading instruction to metacognition to text structure,
etc. The common thread that runs through this collection of chapters
written by different reading researchers is an attempt to include some
discussion of instructional implications to help teachers find ways to
apply research in instructional practice.
That said, the individual chapters in this book, while fairly disjointed
and disparate, are very well-written and informative. I frequently
refer back to the chapter on fluency written by Samuels, Schermer, and Reinking,
and the chapter on reading assessment by Hiebert and Calfee shaped much
of the work that I have done to help schools develop a coherent reading
If nothing else, this book helps readers understand what a huge and diverse
field the field of reading research really is. Being a "reading expert"
is almost impossible in a general sense -- every reading expert has a select
set of focus areas that they dedicate themselves to. While I may
know volumes about assessment and decoding fluency, I know very little
about teaching adults to read (actually, much of what I know on that topic,
I gleaned from reading the chapter in this book by Sticht and McDonald).
There may have been an attempt on the editors' part to represent a variety
of different views and topics in one book, and on that front, this book
gives us an interesting sampling. While I have little good to say
about at least one chapter in this book, on the whole, this is worth buying
because so many of the chapters were so well written and do such a good
job of tracing a clear connection between research and practice.
Reading Researchers in Search of Common Ground
Edited by Rona F. Flippo
I don't know if other fields are plagued with the controversies,
polemics, and acrimony that inundates the field of reading
research. Perhaps there are equally vitriolic arguments and
debates in paleontology or sociology. I have dedicated most of my
professional career to reading research, so I mostly know what goes on
in my field. And the vitriol that plagues the science of reading
research is absolutely unproductive and at times completely
unprofessional. I have seen professionals -- celebrated,
accomplished scholars -- get nose-to-nose with their colleagues and
harangue them for some misdeed, misstatement, or transgression. I
older scholars attack younger scholars, picking on them like bullies in
playground. Mere participation on a panel of experts, such as the
Reading Panel, can get you on somebody's "naughty" list.
I know it is impossible to please all the people all the time, but our
field seems to be literally defined by controversy and disagreement.
It has been coined "The Great Debate," and "The Reading Wars," and there
is evidence that it has been going on for thousands of years. People
on one side or another have been described as "fuzzy-headed" or "racist"
or "elitist" or "communist." Seriously. Communist. Whole
language approaches have been described as a "failure." Phonics approaches
have been decried as "drill and kill." And people everywhere have
been accused of "educational malpractice."
It's a pretty stupid debate.
Rona Flippo was convinced, however, that the polemics and vitriol in
our field did not mean that reading researchers did not have a good deal
of common ground that they could agree upon. Like the (admittedly
more civilized) debates that have taken place among evolutionary scientists,
the debate does not really focus on the existence of evolution itself --
they all agree on the fundamental theory and the fundamental mechanisms
that underlie evolution and diversity of species. The focus of the
debate is usually on a specific interpretation of data or a specific period
in the geological record.
Flippo conducted a short study that came to be known as the "expert study."
She interviewed a diverse group of reading experts, representing a variety
of philosophical perspectives, and found that they largely agreed on many
important aspects of reading instruction. They found common ground
in areas that they all agreed should not be a part of reading curriculum.
They found common ground in areas they all thought were good practices that
teachers should do often.
This book contains the original "expert study" (reprinted), as well as
follow-up essays from some of the various experts and their colleagues
who participated in the "expert study." Most of the essays talk about
areas of common ground, but the authors offer caveats and warnings, usually
offering the limits of the common ground. The chapter by Scott Paris,
titled "Developing Readers," is a wonderful essay describing a psychologists
perspective on the debate and on the topic of helping children become proficient,
life-long readers. And Linda Gambrell's chapter on motivation is required
reading for anybody who feels his or her students are simply not putting
the necessary effort into developing reading skills.
Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It
by Diane Mcguinness
Published in 1997 by Touchstone Books
Honestly, what caught my eye about this book was the
introduction by Steven Pinker. Pinker is one of the most amazing
scholars of our time, and my curiosity about this book was piqued
because I doubted that Pinker would take the time to write an
introduction to a mundane or misinformed book. To a "literacy
wonk" like myself, this book was a real page-turner. It was very
well organized, beginning with the evolution of our writing system, and
linking that information to the way children learn to read. The
brief, informal assessments were very handy, and the description about
what to do with children who are struggling was highly
As I ready this book, I see a belief on the part of the
author in the preventative and curative powers of certain reading programs.
Personally, I worry about an over-reliance on reading programs. I don't
think DISTAR or Reading Reflex will fix all of our literacy problems, but
I do understand that teachers need high-quality materials and demonstrably
effective curricula to help all children learn to read proficiently.
Speech to Print
by Louisa Cook Moats
Published in 2000 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing
They say "The Devil is in the details." There may
be some truth to that. When it comes to understanding literacy and
reading instruction, it may be helpful to understand some of the nitty-gritty
details in our language and writing system. What is a phoneme?
What is a morpheme? What is meant by "semantics" and "syntax?"
And why is this stuff important?
Louisa Moats clearly wrote this as a textbook for a course
on the fundamentals of language and their relevance to reading. Every
section has quizzes or exercises for the reader to complete to test comprehension
of the material, and key words are highlighted and defined. This
would be a good book for a college course, but it is also engaging and
enjoyable to read outside of the structure of a class. Even given
my background, I found myself picking up nuggets that I didn't really understand
or know before, and I thought it was fun to take the quizzes before reading
the chapters, just to see how much I already knew before reading this
book. (I learned a lot of the jargon and terminology years ago, but have
forgotten much of it, especially the phonology and phonetics.)
There are some chapters in this book that I would recommend
more strongly than others. If you want to be immediately engaged
by this book, you might want to turn first to the chapters on semantics
and syntax. The chapter on morphology was also quite interesting and
Progress in Understanding Reading: Scientific Foundations
and New Frontiers
Keith Stanovich (and others)
Published in 2000 by Guilford Press
This may be sacrilegious of me to say, but this book is
my bible. (Or should I say Bible. I should probably say Bible.)
Like the Bible, I have found that every time I re-read this book, I gain
new insights and see relevance that I did not see in previous perusals.
I pull it out every time I have a question, because answers are usually contained
within its pages. Every investigative inquiry I have started in the
past two years has begun with an examination of this book, because most
of the time it provides an excellent overview of what research has been
done in that area to date.
To a researcher, this book is inspiring -- the directions for future
research are readily apparent to researchers who read this book.
To a writer, this book is intimidating -- I know I will never produce anything
so comprehensive and informative in my life. To a lay-person, this
book is utterly incomprehensible. Take that as a warning -- I have
read this book cover-to-cover about four times, and every time it is like
a new experience. I have pulled out chapters and re-read them several
more times. I read a lot of the original articles that were used to
create this book. And I assure you, there is a lot of information
in this book that I still don't understand. It took Keith Stanovich
most of his career to write this book -- I'm sure it will take me most of
my career to understand it.
This is advanced reading for people who are already very facile with
reading research. I know a lot of very smart reading researchers,
and Keith Stanovich is at least two of them. His intelligence and
scholarship are virtually unrivaled, not just in reading, but in a variety
of fields. Like many of the greatest thinkers in the world, it is hard
to understand or relate to his brilliance. But man, it sure is fun
Best Practices in Literacy Instruction
Edited by Linda B. Gambrell, Lesley Mandel Morrow, Susan B. Neuman, and
Published in 1999 by Guilford Press
This is a collection of chapters authored by different experts
in the field of literacy instruction, with a common theme of finding effective
instructional practices for young children learning to read. The
topics of the chapters are quite diverse, and some of them, while interesting,
do not seem terribly relevant to K-3 teachers (although they may be more
relevant to 4-6 grade teachers).
Some of the chapters in this book that stood out for me came later in
the book. Ray Reutzel has an excellent chapter on grouping strategies,
Allington and Baker have a nice overview of instructional practices that
are most effective for students with special needs, and Labbo, Reinking,
and McKenna end the book with a discussion of the use of technology in early