NRRF Review of Current College Textbooks for Elementary School Reading Teachers

College Textbook Review for Undergraduate Elementary Teachers

Reviewer: Robert W. Sweet, Jr., President,

The National Right to Read Foundation.

April 25, 2017

“At the level of the written word, English is one of the most complex languages in the world. Due to this complexity, most English speakers do not know the basic building blocks of the language: the sounds, their corresponding written expressions, and the spelling rules that go with them. Yet a finite number of tools unlock the mystery of 98% of the words in the English language. When these tools are presented, nearly all students can succeed.” Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy. Eide, 2012.

1. Literacy in the Early Grades – Gail E Tompkins/4th Edition – Pearson/2003 – 2015
Cueing systems/Constructivism/Guided Reading/Balanced Approach/Allington, Au, Goodman, Pearson, Caulkins, and Clay are often quoted, whole language advocates all.

Students are screened for their “phonics knowledge” but there is no assumption that ALL students who enter school are, by definition, unfamiliar with the alphabetic principle. To assess them to find this logical conclusion to be true is a waste of time. The assumption should be that ALL students need explicit, systematic, direct instruction in ALL the phonetic principles of the English Spelling System. This textbook fails to present these principles in this textbook. This textbook is graded as an F.

2. Literacy Development in the Early Years – Lesley Mandel Morrow/Eighth Edition –Pearson/2001 – 2015.

Frank Smith, long time whole language Advocate is quoted as the authority. Goodman/Allington/Cunningham/and other whole word advocates are often cited as well. Cueing Systems/teaching the names of the letters of the alphabet is a painfully long section/language experiences (whole word)/sight word lists/picture cues/phonetics is addressed, but in a scattered and imprecise way/there is NO consistent way of insuring that ALL students receive initial instruction in ALL the letter sounds and spellings as a prerequisite for learning to read proficiently. This book fails to provide new teachers with a consistent instructional pattern for reading instruction, and follows the “balanced approach” leaving teachers to pick and choose what they want to use in developing their own instructional program. This textbook fails to present the totality of phonetic principles of the English Spelling System, and rather provide a smorgasbord of information from which teachers can choose in developing a reading instruction program for their students. This textbook is graded as a D.

3. Teaching Children to Read – D. Ray Reutzel, Robert B. Cooter, Jr./Seventh Edition – Pearson/2008—2015

This text book includes a significant section on the teaching of “phonemic awareness” and “phonics.” Although the objective presented is not as complete as it could be, based on voluminous research, it does emphasize explicit instruction in decoding skills, although it states that students should only be able to “decode” two syllable words by the end of first grade, and then memorize all the sight words that are considered “not decodable.” Using authentic “big books” for repetition of sight words and words with more than two syllables is considered the next step to become a fluent reader. Since reading science is clear that a “mixed” approach, or a “balanced reading program” can be very confusing for young readers, and often actually frustrate many students, thus causing them to “struggle” more with reading more complex text, it is not ideal. However, the information in this textbook does favor the work of Adams, Shanahan, Moats and others with similar views on the science of reading instruction. It also provides information about common core standards of reading instruction which are quite explicit in both the sequence and content of the alphabetic phonetic principles. Whether teachers would be discerning enough to sort through all the other varied approaches to reading instruction and apply what really does work in helping all students become proficient readers by the time they leave second grade is questionable. It also refers to the Report of the National Reading Panel, Preventing Reading Failure in Young Children and the National Early Literacy study. This textbook is graded as a C .

4. Reading and Learning to Read – Jo Ann Vacca et al – Ninth Edition/Pearson/2009 – 2015

The content of this textbook provides a typical whole word overview of all the possible variations of how reading could be taught. There is emphasis on the impact of “belief” about reading instruction that individuals bring to the task of teaching this vital skill. References are made to the findings of many of the most recent national and international studies about reading instruction, the conclusion that most will arrive at is that “all roads lead to Rome.” That is, a “balanced approach” that includes memorizing sight words, guided reading, leveled readers, and some instruction in phonetics is the recommended for classroom instruction. Attention is given to common core and the instructional elements that sequentially present the alphabetic phonetic principles. But there are no conclusions made that could present a method of instruction that draws from the voluminous knowledge gained through research, both in cognitive studies, and in brain research as well. The elements of reading instruction are presented as all being “equal” in their veracity and results. A student being exposed to this survey of instructional components would not be prepared to enter the classroom with any sense of direction or knowledge about how to teach the skill of reading. This textbook is graded as a D.

5. Literacy: Assessment and Intervention – Beverly A DeVries/Holcomb Hathaway Publishers/4th Edition 2004 – 2015

This textbook is another survey of every possible instructional practice that has been used (and most have failed) over the past half century. Two quotes summarize how textbook addresses the teaching of the skill of reading: “Remember that no one method suits everyone. There is no perfect method to use for all students; effective teachers ‘understand the physical, psychosocial, and cognitive characteristics of their students (Manning, 2002. P.225) so they can choose a method that fits each student’s strengths and needs.’” P. 9.

“The big question that teachers face is, ‘what is the most effective way to help students as they learn the letter-sound relationships?’ They found whole-class phonics instruction ineffective…” The textbook continues to promote sight words, balanced reading, cueing systems, whole word memory, high frequency words, and using context clues. These techniques all represent the failed practices of the past despite the findings of decades of extensive brain research and cognitive studies to the contrary. This textbook is graded a D +.

6. Basic Reading Inventory – Jerry L. Johns/Kendall Hunt Publishing Company/
11th Edition/1978 – 2012.

The primary objective stated at the outset of this textbook is that: “Effective reading instruction begins with assessment.” P.3. In addition, it is clearly stated that: “It must be remembered that accurate recognition is not the major objective in reading. The goal is always meaning.” (Goodman, 1971, p.14) Miscue Analysis is consistently presented and underlies the methodology of reading instruction advocated in this textbook. There is one mention of “phonics” in this textbook, no reference to “decoding” and no evaluation of whether students, at any level, have mastered the entire sound/symbol system in the English spelling system. This textbook is outdated, and based on instructional practices that do not comport with the findings of reading science over the past two decades. This textbook is graded at F.

7. Literacy for the 21st Century: A balanced Approach – Gail Thompkins/Pearson/
6th Edition/2000 – 2014.

On page 161 the philosophy of instruction is identified. “Phonics is a controversial topic. Some parents and politicians, as well as even a few teachers believe that most of our educational ills could be solved if children were taught to read using phonics. A few people still argue that phonics is a complete reading program, but that view ignores what we know about the interrelatedness of the four cueing systems. Reading is a complex process, and the phonological system works in conjunction with the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic systems, not in isolation.” (This charge is a “straw man.” All reading educators accept the five components of reading instruction as essential in becoming literate. However, the neglect of the “phonics” component, that is essential, yet not sufficient, is ignored.)

There is no clear roadmap for the teaching of the entire alphabetic code that undergirds the reading process in this textbook. If that skill is not mastered, then reading will be a struggle for many, as has been illustrated over the decades since these harmful philosophies of reading instruction have prevailed in our schools. The tragedy is that little children are deeply affected by this confused and unscientific pedagogy. The title of one chapter on reading instruction is “Cracking the Alphabetic Code.” Yet, there is very little by way of clear, comprehensive instruction in HOW to teach the code completely. This textbook receives a D -.

8. Teaching Reading in the 21st Century – motivations All Learners. – Michael F. Graves et al/2011/Pearson/5th Edition/1998-2011.

The approach in this textbook is a “balanced approach” to reading instruction as illustrated here: “Teaching skills, strategies, and concepts can be placed on continuum with more open, student-centered, and indirect approaches at one end and a more structured, teacher-centered, and direct approach on the other end. Guided reading (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996, 2001) is the most indirect approach because skills and strategies are modeled only as student needs them. The content of reading is in the foreground and the strategies are in the background. Direct explicit instruction (Canine, Silbert, & Kame’enui, 1997) stands at the other end. This method calls for a hierarchy of skills, a task analysis of skills, and texts crafted for the specific purpose of teaching the skills. The cognitive-constructivist position, direct explanation and the gradual release of responsibility standing in the middle – is the focus of our book.” P.39

A further explanation is given on page 193: “Some children need less phonics instruction than others, and phonics instruction must always be kept in proper perspective—to an end. Comprehension is the goal of reading, and reading, writing, speaking, listening , and being read to must form the heart of the literacy curriculum. But for readers who have not yet mastered the code of written English, learning to read words—which includes phonics—plays an essential role.”

The missing piece in this textbook is the strong recommendation in ALL of the important studies on the science of reading instruction over the past decades is that phonics instruction must be direct, systematic, sequential, and insure that the knowledge of the alphabetic code is mastered to the point of automaticity. It is obvious that most all students who enter school, especially those from minority communities, or impoverished homes do NOT know the English spelling code. Even those students who do know some of the alphabetic code will benefit from explicit instruction in these instructional principles. This part of learning to read should be completed by the end of first grade for most students. This textbook is graded as a C.

9. Assessment for Reading Instruction – Michael C. McKenna and Katherine A. Dougherty Stahl – The Guilford Press/Third Edition/2009 – 2015.

The philosophy of this textbook can be illustrated here: “Assessing the Content of Decoding: Even if a child has knowledge of a process such as letter-by-letter decoding, he or she still needs to learn certain linguistic facts…The “rules” do not apply to enough words to render them clear-cut…Rather than presenting a rule, present lists of words that adhere to the pattern, so that children can internalize the pattern and do not have to think about the rule. As Cunningham (2001) has observed, the brain is more comfortable recognizing patterns than apply rules.”

However, in his book Reading in the Brain (2009) Stanislaus DeHaene is very definitive about what has been learned through brain imaging research. This knowledge should be taught in the college classroom if elementary school teachers are to be prepared to teach ALL their students to read proficiently. “No one can deny, however that some questions about reading instruction have already been answered. We now know that the whole-language approach is inefficient: all children regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds benefit from explicit and early teaching of the correspondence between letters and speech sounds. This is a well-established fact, corroborated by a great many classroom experiments. Furthermore, it is coherent with our present understanding of how the reader’s brain works. To backtrack on this point, under the pretext of experimentation or pedagogical independence, would be disastrous for reading acquisition.” P. 326-27.

Although Assessment for Reading Instruction does include some of the knowledge of how the alphabetic system is organized, there is no sequential, systematic presentation of the steps a kindergarten, first or second teacher should follow to ensure that students can master these initial skills that will lead to fluency, expanded vocabulary and comprehension of what they read. This textbook grade is D +.

10. All Children Read – Teaching for Literacy in Today’s Diverse Classrooms. Charles Temple, Donna Ogle, Alan Crawford, Penny Freppon/Pearson/4th Edition/2005- 2014.

This textbook provides an overview of various approaches to beginning reading, but the emphasis is on the “four block” approach, guided reading, rhyming, and sight words. Some attention is given to “sounding out” words, but there is very little concrete instruction that would prepare first year elementary school teachers to teach a sequential, systematic approach to learning the alphabetic code to the point of automaticity by the end of first grade.

Students are required to “read” authentic text, thus memorizing whole words, and then later to “sound out unfamiliar” words. This mixture of instruction is not consistent with good reading pedagogy or what reading science has proven to be the most effective way of teaching a child to read proficiently. This textbook is graded at D +.

11. Classrooms That Work – They Can All Read and Write – Patricia Cunningham, Richard Allington/Pearson/Sixth Edition/2001 – 2016.

This book is totally outdated, and is very thin on pedagogy. It is a clone of Ken Goodman’s “psycholinguistic guessing game.” The last chapter begins with the quotation: “The more different ways I teach, the more children I reach.” Using this textbook to prepare college students to teach children to read would be a tragedy. To deny that reading science research, and decades of classroom experience that direct, systematic, explicit, synthetic instruction has proven the most effective instructional practice for kindergarten, first grade and second grade for students to “crack the code” of English spelling is education malpractice at its worst. This textbook deserves and receives an F.


The focus of these reviews is on the essential, initial instructional steps to teach all children to read proficiently. Once these foundational principles have been well established, then systematic instruction in fluency, vocabulary development, and comprehension follows. Most of the textbooks reviewed offer content about these three skills that are sufficient. However, if students do not master the foundational knowledge of the English alphabetic code to the point of automaticity, fluency, vocabulary development and comprehension will be illusive or non existent for many students.
Effective reading programs offer phonics instruction that:
• helps teachers explicitly and systematically instruct students in how to relate letters and sounds, how to break spoken words into sounds, and how to blend sounds to form words;
• helps students understand why they are learning the relationships between letters and sounds;
• helps students apply their knowledge of phonics as they read words, sentences, and text;
• helps students apply what they learn about sounds and letters to their own writing;
• can be adapted to the needs of individual students, based on assessment;
• includes alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, and the reading of text, as well as systematic phonics instruction.

Non-systematic instruction often neglects vowels, even though knowing vowel letter-sound relationships is a crucial part of knowing the alphabetic system. Non-systematic programs of phonics instruction do not provide practice materials that offer children the opportunity to apply what they are learning about letter-sound relationships. The reading materials these programs do provide for children are selected according to other criteria, such as their interest to children or their literary value.
Non-systematic programs of phonics instruction

Some programs of instruction do not teach phonics explicitly and systematically.
• Literature-based programs that emphasize reading and writing activities. Phonics instruction is embedded in these activities, but letter-sound relationships are taught incidentally, usually based on key letters that appear in student reading materials.
• Basal reading programs that focus on whole-word or meaning-based activities. These programs pay only limited attention to letter-sound relationships and provide little or no instruction in how to blend letters to pronounce words.
• Sight-word programs that begin by teaching children a sight-word reading vocabulary of from 50 to 100 words. Only after they learn to read these words do children receive instruction in the alphabetic principle. Further, adding phonics workbooks or phonics activities to these programs of instruction has not been effective. Such “add-ons” confuse rather than help children to read.


It is clear why there is little change in how reading is taught in the public schools of the United States of America. Colleges of Education are NOT applying the findings of reading science in the content of courses that should be preparing teachers for the classroom. Rather, they adamantly refuse to adjust their instructional texts to reflect the voluminous findings or brain research on the reading process, or the findings of cognitive science in the steps that are essential if all children are to learn to read proficiently.

The major publishing companies continue to produce textbooks that are outdated, despite the “patch plate” revisions that are done to keep the copyright current. Some of these books have as many as eleven editions. Until the colleges of education change the content of what they teach to undergraduate and graduate teachers to reflect current reading science. In the meantime, illiteracy in America continues unabated. 65% of all students in 4th grade cannot read proficiently. That is an unacceptable number, and all Americans should be outraged and demand change.

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