Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Every Young Child a Reader: Using Marie Clay’s Key Concepts for Classroom Instruction

reviewed by Donna Wake - January 13, 2017

coverTitle: Every Young Child a Reader: Using Marie Clay’s Key Concepts for Classroom Instruction
Author(s): Sharan A. Gibson and Barbara Moss
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807758108, Pages: 160, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

Literacy is a hot topic issue, particularly practices focusing on teaching our youngest readers. Historically, teachers and policymakers have discussed the merits of varying approaches to literacy instruction. These debates have been highly politicized and are often referred to as the reading wars. Proponents of whole language approaches to literacy instruction assert the merits of top-down reading instruction. Their opponents contend that bottom-up phonics-based education is the better approach for supporting young readers. This trend continues today with many states engaging in debates around topics like the suitability of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and legislation regarding levels of dyslexia identification, intervention, and teacher training.

In contrast, many educators take a more moderate position by advocating for both approaches to be present in the classroom in a balanced literacy model. They also advocate for the developmental appropriateness of this perspective. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and International Literacy Association (ILA) emphasize birth to age eight as the most important period of literacy development (Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp, 2000). These organizations have established recommendations for teaching practice and public policy in the literacy education of emergent readers and writers. While these recommendations offer teachers of young readers a general roadmap to best practices in reading instruction, educators may need more concrete guidance in enacting these same practices in their literacy instruction.

In Every Young Child a Reader: Using Marie Clay’s Key Concepts for Classroom Instruction, authors Sharan A. Gibson and Barbara Moss explore reading and writing instruction with the goal of providing practicing K–2 teachers with pragmatic support tools for literacy development for young readers. The authors offer a concise framework and draw together research around critical components of early literacy development. Their intent is to promote teacher autonomy based on research-based best practices around a balanced literacy model. As such, the text is positioned to support practicing teachers who already have some training in literacy instruction and are seeking to raise the bar in their own pedagogical practice. As a result, it is neither a text for preservice teachers nor practicing teachers with minimal training in literacy development.

The authors base their framework on the legacy of Marie Clay, the originator of the Reading Recovery program. Instead of focusing on the individual instruction of at-risk students with targeted interventions, Gibson and Moss take Clay’s principles defining effective instruction. They propose using these same guidelines to teach all children in the classroom context by using both small flexible groups and whole class instructional models.

The principles Gibson and Moss select ground this book within the balanced literacy model. First, literacy processing is complex and involves multiple language knowledge sources that must be explicitly taught (e.g., story structure, language structure, word structure, letter features, and concepts about print). Second, reading and writing are reciprocal in nature. Learning in one area supports and extends learning in the other. Third, reading continuous text is essential and young readers need routine practice with this text beyond the identification of letters, letter sounds, and isolated word practice. Finally, matching children with increasingly complex and different types of texts becomes key to developing their strategic reading behaviors and differentiating instruction.

The book is organized into six chapters with a separate introduction and epilogue. The introduction establishes the principles underlying the book based on Clay’s research. The first chapter takes an in-depth look at how and why to differentiate classroom instruction. It also includes information about the value of systematic observation of children’s literacy behaviors. The second chapter covers teaching foundational skills with K–2 learners and establishes best practices in teaching children concepts about print and alphabetic principles. The third and fourth chapters focus on the role of comprehension in narrative and informational texts. The fifth chapter takes a sustained look at teaching children to write informational text. The sixth chapter discusses advancing rigor in classroom literacy instruction through careful consideration of text complexity. Finally, the epilogue argues for a teacher leadership model where teachers collaborate to build a literacy program based on data, expertise, and knowledge of children.

Within each one of their chapters, Gibson and Moss establish the purpose of their chosen topic and pose focus questions that are explored in the subsequent pages. The research informing each chapter is substantial and comprehensive. The authors reference the CCSS and ILA standards. They also include other standards sets including the California English Language Arts/English Language Development framework. The authors also supplement the theory and literature base with practical and concrete recommendations for classroom practice. They even include occasional sample scripted language as models for what instruction could look like in practice. Finally, Gibson and Moss offer reading recommendations for teachers wishing to pursue further study of each topic.

It should be noted that Gibson and Moss privilege expository structures over narrative. They also focus more on informational text structures and informational writing. This makes sense given the research in the field indicating that K–2 students have far more knowledge of narrative genres and that K–2 teachers over-rely on narrative texts in instructional practice (Dymock, 2005; Heath, 2000; Kamberelis, 1999). Along this line, the authors focus exclusively on writing for information. As such, they do not examine creative writing or writing narrative text structures.

While these shifts in focus reflect a similar bias found in earlier versions of the CCSS, it is a missing piece that could have contributed to the book as a whole along with the inclusion of specific strategies applicable to both narrative and informational writing. Additionally, the text does not include direction on using technology to support students' literacy development. Technology plays an increasing role in supporting struggling readers through many available apps and web-based instructional resources. For example, in writing pedagogy for young learners, young writers can tap into available multimodal authoring options as they draft and publish their ideas.

In sum, Gibson and Moss base their work on established research in the field of literacy. Their use of Clay’s work as a foundation for their book is grounded and innovative. More important is their positioning of language to convey a much-appreciated message of teacher autonomy. They contend that educators must operate from a position of efficacy in the classroom, establish their own expertise, and eschew narrow definitions of children’s literacy learning.

Even more importantly, Gibson and Moss argue that teacher expertise is critical in meeting the needs of today’s diverse students. They also advocate for differentiating instruction to support all learners as they grow and develop as readers and writers. They see children’s literacy as the purposeful use of strategic activities guiding the learner’s metacognitive work around reading and writing. The authors contend that teaching involves more than simply following formulaic reading programs. Instead, classroom teachers should be committed to instructional dexterity. They should base their practice on an established knowledge of literacy pedagogy, depth of understanding of current standards, a repertoire of best practices, a sense of autonomy in the classroom, and the ability to systematically observe children with the goal of designing differentiated experiences to promote their literacy development. Gibson and Moss do an excellent job of articulating this message in Every Young Child a Reader. They offer K–2 teachers proven and pragmatic tools to elevate literacy instruction and support all learners in their literacy growth and development.


Dymock, S. (2005). Teaching expository text structure awareness. The Reading Teacher, 59(2), 177–182.


Heath, S. B., (2000). Linguistics in the study of education. Harvard Educational Review, 70(1), 48–49.

Kamberelis, G. (1999). Genre development and learning: Children writing stories, science reports, and poems. Research in the Teaching of English, 33(4), 403–460.

Neuman, S. B., Copple, C. & Bredekamp, S. (2000). Learning to read and write: Developmentally appropriate practices for young children. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 13, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21800, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 5:21:42 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue