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Effective Instruction for Struggling Readers K-6

reviewed by Nancy Witherell - January 28, 2008

coverTitle: Effective Instruction for Struggling Readers K-6
Author(s): Barbara M. Taylor and James E. Ysseldyke
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807748218, Pages: 272, Year: 2007
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Effective Instruction for Struggling Readers, K-6 is not only a title of a new book edited by Barbara M. Taylor and James E. Ysseldyke (2007), but also, no doubt, a pursuit of educators since the beginning of modern education. “What constitutes effective instruction in reading?” is a question the editors and authors of this volume try to answer as they elaborate on reading practices they have created, researched and/or nurtured into effective, and strategic instruction for struggling readers. The book is comprehensive in its design as it encompasses effective classroom reading practices that can go beyond K-6, and concludes with a section that astutely takes the reader into the importance of effective schoolwide practices. This text may be read in its entirety or by sections of interest. Additionally, this book is meant for more than reading, as each chapter contains questions for reflection and discussion - the authors’ subtle approach to encourage their readers to use effective reading strategies as they interact with the text!   

The book is organized into four sections: Effective Practices to Foster Students’ Success in Learning to Decode, Effective Instructional Strategies to Improve Students’ Vocabulary, Effective Instruction to Develop Students’ Comprehension, and Effective Schoolwide Practices to Improve All Students’ Reading. The book opens with some hard facts. First, it states that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2005) found only thirty-one percent of our nation’s fourth-graders to be at the proficiency level in reading. Secondly, the research of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1999) produced evidence that seventy-four percent of children who fail to read by grade three cannot read well by grade nine. Whereas a lack of reading proficiency is highly correlated to high school drop-out rates, the clear implication is that children who are not reading by grade three are already at risk of dropping out of high school.

In order to provide a good overview of the book, this reviewer offers the essence of each of the four major parts by summarizing the chapters included. The first three parts, which include two chapters each, offer evidence of effective reading practices, and also include information for implementation. Some chapters offer enough information to get started on specific instructional ideas; others allow readers to make an informed decision as to whether they want to learn more. The fourth part of the book takes a wider view as schoolwide practices are outlined and discussed.

Part One, Effective Practices to Foster Students’ Success in Learning to Decode, begins with Chapter 2, “One-to-One Reading Intervention in the Primary Grades: An Idea that Must Evolve to Survive.” The author, Darrell Morris, proclaims the effectiveness of well-designed one-to-one tutoring sessions in reading. She describes her own “Early Steps Model” as a modified Reading Recovery approach that has been proven to be economical, yet successful. One unique aspect of her approach is follow-up tutoring in second grade, enabling needy children to continue with support.

Chapter 3, “Embedded Multimedia: Using Video to Enhance Reading Outcomes in Success for All” (Chambers, Cheung, Madden, Slavin and Gifford) puts an unusual twist into Success for All as it describes research including the interesting addition of embedding 4-5 minutes of multimedia daily into SFA’s regular instruction. This multimedia, including skits and demonstrations, focuses on letter sounds and vocabulary and was found to enhance children’s reading achievement.


Chapter 4, “Conceptual and Empirical Bases for Providing Struggling Readers with Multifaceted and Long-Term Vocabulary Instruction,” by Michael Graves begins Part Two, Effective Instructional Strategies to Improve Students’ Vocabulary.  Graves offers an overview and insight into his four-part program, which he recommends for students in kindergarten through grade twelve. According to Graves, the four elements, (1) frequent, varied, and extensive language experiences, (2) directly teaching some individual words, (3) the teaching of word-learning strategies, and (4) fostering word consciousness, are all key to strong vocabulary growth. Graves strengthens his position by citing research that correlates vocabulary knowledge to comprehension.

In Chapter 5, “Developing Vocabulary in English-Language Learners: A Review of the Experimental Research,” August and Snow substantiate Grave’s claims as to the four-part program for vocabulary growth. They also review experimental and quasi-experimental research on vocabulary development for ELL students highlighting effective techniques. Since research indicates that vocabulary is one of the best predictors of comprehension scores for native English speakers and English language learners, these authors recommend specific strategies and techniques to teach vocabulary more effectively to English Language Learners.

Part Three, Effective Instruction to Develop Students’ Comprehension, begins with a chapter on techniques for younger children. In Chapter 6, “The Comprehension Conversation: Using Purposeful Discussion During Read-Alouds to Promote Student Comprehension and Vocabulary,” Santoro, Baker, Chard and Howard advocate for schools to teach comprehension skills through oral language activities prior to students learning to read. Through “comprehension conversation,” teachers coach students on strategies that will be invaluable as their beginning reading skills increase. The “comprehension conversation” includes discussion on previewing, the text, text structure, interactive vocabulary learning and self-monitoring strategies.

In Chapter 7, “Accelerating Expository Literacy in the Middle Grades: The ACCEL Project,” Englert, Mariage, Okolo, Courtad, Shankland, Moxley, Billman and Jones recommend that all content area teachers support literacy growth and the authors provide clear and abundant information about the ACCEL project to make this feasible. The focus of the instruction is strategic and independent engagement with text. The use of well-designed tools and techniques such as Read-It Logs, Mark-It, Highlight-It, Note-It, Map-It, Respond-to-It, Report-It and Plan-It, ensures students employ numerous cognitive processes while interacting with text.

Part Four, Effective Schoolwide Practices to Improve All Students’ Reading, includes four chapters and brings to the forefront the necessity to make good things happen throughout the whole school. Chapter 8, “Multiple Tiers of Intervention: Framework for Prevention and Identification of Students with Reading/Learning Disabilities,” supports a preventive model similar to the public health prevention model. In this chapter the authors, Vaughn, Wanzek and Fletcher, suggest a three-tiered model for schools which includes professional development along with the three tiers:  primary, secondary and tertiary interventions. It is their belief that identifying students through the prevention model, in which risk factors found through research help identify at-risk students and intervention occurs along with on-going monitoring, will allow earlier treatment for students with learning disabilities, lessen bias in identification, and allow for more monitoring of student progress.

In “Toward the Development of a Nuanced Classroom Observational System for Studying Comprehension and Vocabulary Instruction” (Chapter 9), Gersten, Dimino and Jayanthi describe an instructional observation technique used in first grade ELL classes which enables the observation results to be less subjective than high-inference instructional observations, but which provides more detailed facts than would normally be found during low-inference instructional observations. The authors’ challenge was to create a tool that would measure effective comprehension and vocabulary instruction accurately. They explain and share the Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary (RCV) Observational Measure which contains quantitative (the what) and qualitative (the how) items for observation. In this instance, the RCV was completed at fifteen-minute intervals to measure the effectiveness of professional development implementation.

In Chapter 10, “Scaling up a Reading Reform in High-Poverty Elementary Schools,” Taylor, Peterson, Marx and Chein offer the School Change Framework for Reading Instruction that was successfully used in twenty-three high-poverty schools. The comprehensive program’s success focuses on teachers (1) improving reading instruction in areas of student need, (2) working collaboratively and reflectively, and (3) using research-based effective practices.        

The final chapter, “Schoolwide Reading Improvement to Meet All Students’ Needs” (Chapter 11), offers the reader “the how,” an outline to create effective instructional practices that can be used schoolwide. Taylor and Peterson’s plan begins with the creation of a literacy team that studies school data and offers a plan for improvement. Suggested areas for schoolwide study: parent partnerships, professional development, making adjustments to programs, and learning about effective reading instruction.

In conclusion, this book offers myriad ideas for effective reading instruction. The new research shared and analyzed in the book focuses on one main goal: improved reading instruction to improve students’ reading. This book contains no simple answer but is a compilation of high-powered, complex, in-depth instructional ideas and formats to improve reading instruction. The research provided suggests that schools willing to “struggle” to learn highly effective teaching practices might well relieve some of the “struggling” experienced by their students.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 28, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14936, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 5:51:18 AM

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About the Author
  • Nancy Witherell
    Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater, Massachusetts
    E-mail Author
    NANCY WITHERELL, Ed. D. is a Professor of Reading and Chairperson of the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Nancy holds a doctorate of education from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Her most recent publications include The Guided Reading Classroom: How to Keep Students Working Constructively (Heinemann, 2007) and the co-authored Teaching Vocabulary Through Differentiated Instruction With Leveled Graphic Organizers (Scholastic, 2007). Additionally, Nancy presents at national and regional conferences, is a board member of the New England Reading Association, the Massachusetts Reading Association, and a member of the Professional Standards and Ethics Committee of the International Reading Association.
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