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"Understanding Literacy Development: A Global View" (review)

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  • Don Osborn
    FYI. An announcement of this title was previously posted on this list as message #333. From that and the review below, it is not clear how directly
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 28, 2005
      FYI. An announcement of this title was previously posted on this list
      as message #333. From that and the review below, it is not clear how
      directly multilingual literacy is addressed. (Fwd from the Linguist
      list)... DZO

      Date: 03-Dec-2005
      From: Sue Hasselbring <suehassel@...>
      Subject: Understanding Literacy Development: A Global View

      EDITORS: McKeough, Anne; Phillips, Linda M.; Timmons, Vianne; Lupart,
      Judy Lee
      TITLE: Understanding Literacy Development
      SUBTITLE: A Global View
      PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
      YEAR: 2006
      Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-2737.html

      Sue A. Hasselbring, Department of Linguistics, University of South
      Africa, Pretoria.


      Understanding Literacy Development brings together ten articles
      focusing on how individuals, especially children, develop literacy
      skills both in and out of school. The authors approach literacy from a
      variety of perspectives, but all maintain a positive focus on tools
      that help learners become literate, rather than on criticizing other
      methods. The perspective is primarily educational, although the
      chapters by Lundberg, and Anderson and Li are approached from a solid
      linguistic base while Nicholson's touches on linguistic topics. The
      chapters by Hamilton, and Gosse and Phillips approach reading from a
      sociological perspective. According to the preface, the audience is
      university faculty and students, reading researchers, school
      administrators, teachers, school psychologists, government ministries,
      and academic societies.


      The first part of the book, consisting of four chapters, focuses on
      the literacy teaching in schools. Lundberg emphasizes that in order to
      learn to read, children need both the decoding (phonological) and
      comprehension tracks of instruction. He cites a wide range of relevant
      international research and provides clear summaries of significant
      findings. He shows the importance in the comprehension track both of
      building children's vocabulary and providing a safe, nurturing

      Nicholson begins by distinguishing between phonemics, phonetics and
      phonics before focusing on the teaching of phonemic awareness. Studies
      are cited which show the importance of phonemic awareness preceding
      literacy instruction, and which demonstrate that phonemic awareness
      can be taught. Practical examples are given and some references
      provided for phonemic awareness methods for teaching and testing.

      Pressley and Hilden focus on strategies used by skilled readers which
      enhance comprehension. They conclude that while a large number of
      strategies have been identified, students' literacy skills improve the
      most when a few strategies are taught with long-term reinforcement.
      Strategy instruction works best when accompanied by instruction in
      decoding, vocabulary and general knowledge of the world.

      Anderson and Li compare learning to read English with learning to read
      Chinese while focusing on two types of metalinguistic awareness:
      phonological and morphological. Similarities and differences between
      the languages, orthographies and the two types of awareness are
      emphasized. They provisionally conclude that both phonological and
      morphological awareness are important for learning to read any
      language, but that the type of phonological awareness needed may vary.
      English learners required more phonemic and onset awareness, while the
      Chinese learners required more syllable and rime awareness.

      The second section, which consists of three chapters, focuses on
      literacy instruction outside of schools. Alvermann suggests that
      struggling adolescent readers should be viewed not as culturally
      deprived, nor as culturally different but as individuals erroneously
      labeled by their culture whose primary need is an improved self-image.
      Four approaches to critical literacy are described: 1) teacher
      directed, 2) teacher guided 3) the ''all media is good'' approach, and
      4) learner established critique approach. The use of the last approach
      in an after school media club for struggling readers is described.

      Sample Gosse and Phillips explore issues related to family literacy
      programs. The family's centrality in literacy is based on their being
      the basic kinship group in all societies and their being the primary
      interactors with pre-school children. Individual families may face
      challenges in using literacy due to language and cultural backgrounds,
      lifestyles, and time limitations. Two dominant philosophies are found
      in family literacy 1) that families should be taught the successful
      literacy behaviors of other classes or cultures and 2) that families
      should be assisted in more fully using the literacy activities
      inherent to their culture. The authors recommend the integration of
      both philosophies into family literacy programs. They call for further
      research on the best intensity and duration of programs, and on how
      family literacy impacts larger social networks of friends and school.

      Hamilton presents literacy as a social practice which beyond knowing
      how to read, encompasses the use of reading to accomplish goals.
      Vernacular literacy is defined as purposeful literacy activities
      learned informally within the community. She recommends that learners
      be involved in participatory research on the ways literacy is used in
      their communities. While incorporating vernacular literacies into the
      classroom is recommended, doing so recontextualizes those literacies.

      Part three focuses on the formation of teachers with a common theme
      that the teachers must be more than masters of methods, but
      continually be cognizant of their students' abilities, perceptions and
      needs. Ng summarizes a number of issues that have dominated the field
      of literacy before turning to the teacher's role in improving
      instruction and redressing social inequities. The chapter describes a
      project in three Asian countries which attempted to shift the teaching
      of English-to-Speakers-of-Other-Languages in formal schools from a
      didactic to an interactive approach. The resituation of advisory
      visits as opportunities for cooperative growth rather than as
      assessments was instrumental. Ng calls upon tertiary educators to use
      their research to implement educational reform.

      Seda-Santana focuses on how both teachers and learners perceive
      literacy and how those perceptions impact literacy learning and
      teaching. She suggests that learning to decode is learned in schools
      but becoming literate occurs in the community. Results are presented
      from a study in Mexico which compared perceptions of third grade
      students about reading with the perceptions of third grade teachers.
      She notes several misunderstandings the students had of questions, but
      fails to note that differences in age and differences in roles between
      teachers and learners would also impact the responses. She emphasizes
      the need for teachers to be aware of the students' perceptions.

      Kibby and Dechert focus on how reading clinic experience contributes
      to the development of diagnostic teachers: teachers who continually
      assess learners, so they can adapt instruction to learners' needs even
      as they teach. Ten qualities of diagnostic teachers are emphasized.
      During the instruction process, a diagnostic teacher must
      simultaneously observe the learner, the learning, and the teaching. In
      reading clinics, supervisors guide teachers in developing the
      self-questioning skills which are crucial for growth in assessing each

      A common trend through most of the chapters was the need for learners
      to have access to high quality literature which serves to expand both
      the world view and vocabulary of the learners while they read.


      The diverse perspectives of the authors in the fields of linguistics,
      sociology and education coupled with the diverse audience targeted by
      the editors calls for clear definitions of terms and programs. Some
      such as Lundberg, and Sample Gosse and Phillips carefully situate
      their work and define terms while Hamilton's and Alvermann's
      contributions would benefit from better definitions of terms.
      Nicholson assumes readers will have knowledge of a specific reading
      program while Anderson and Li assume some linguistic knowledge that
      many educationalists may not possess. The chapters display a broad
      range in the degree of scholarly organization and clarity. For
      example, chapters 2, 9, and 10 include conclusions which do not
      logically proceed from the content of the chapter. The chapters which
      excel in clarity and organization are the four which have two authors

      The book claims to have a global view, perhaps because the authors
      come from eight countries, but it focuses almost exclusively on
      developed countries and English literacy (with literacy in Spanish and
      Chinese being the focus of one chapter each). The greatest literacy
      needs in the world are, of course, in regions of third world countries
      where world languages are second or third languages of individuals if
      they are known at all. While some authors briefly acknowledged that
      their recommendations would not apply globally or would need to be
      adapted, none offered suggestions on how their conclusions might be
      applied in other situations. The chapter by Sample Gosse and Phillips
      is most global, for although its examples all come from one country,
      they encompass aboriginal peoples, immigrants and urban areas.

      The book contributes to the understanding of literacy development of
      individuals both in and out of school and includes solid
      recommendations for the formation of literacy practitioners.


      Sue Hasselbring earned her MS in sociolinguistics at Georgetown
      University. She was a sociolinguistic researcher in four African
      countries from 1990 to 1999. She was involved in adult literacy in
      Botswana from 2000 to 2003. She is currently a doctoral student at the
      University of South Africa.
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