My first class roster as a newly minted, suburban middle school reading teacher in the 1970s was 85% male and 100% White. Kind boys all, they changed my flat tires, gave me their Halloween candy, and apologized when they were naughty. They also missed school for hunting season, punched each other to resolve disputes, described story characters with racial slurs, and qualified for free and reduced price lunches. They could not decode multisyllabic words or discuss main ideas and details with any precision, and they knew it. As a result, they lacked the wherewithal to complete homework assignments unless we did them together. Most tested at a third- to fourth grade “reading level,” yet they did not qualify as “learning disabled” because of “reading potential” that was measured as commensurate with “cognitive ability.” They enacted their hopelessness by taking standardized tests stoned on cough syrup despite my warnings that high school course selections depended on their performance.
While I was teaching, Kenneth Goodman (1967), Frank Smith (1971), and Richard Anderson and colleagues (1977) were exploring the role of prior knowledge in reading comprehension. Scholars like P. David Pearson and Dale Johnson (1978), and my advisor, Harold Herber (1978), followed with instructional recommendations that incorporated important insights from this research about attending to students’ prior knowledge, work that resonated with me as methods that could be helpful for my students. I went to graduate school, excited about doing research in this same vein.
However, at the same time, Dolores Durkin (1978-1979) and Richard Allington (1984) published research that described the limited implementation of such new ideas, and the National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) chastised us for not helping all students participate in the global economy in a report called, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform. As a result, my own work also took a turn toward exploring how reading instruction was situated in schools, and I decided to explore why content area teachers did not support students’ reading despite decades of research suggesting they should do so (Hinchman, 1985).
Why do I begin this foreword with a brief, biased history of literacy education from my perspective? Each theoretical and research advance in literacy instruction that I have experienced over the past 30 years has brought new affordances and challenges to educators’ ability to meet the needs of all students. These, too, are contentious times in the educational world: Common Core State Standards and assessment-tied teacher evaluations have positioned literacy instruction and assessment at the center of this contention: ironically, the literacy skills that are the most reliably tested do not reflect the wide array of communicative skills that the Common Core Standards and others suggest as what is needed by our young people in today’s uber competitive world. The world of literacy research can seem to offer a miasma of competing ideas about how to proceed with literacy instruction and programs in this context.
This text, Steps to Success: Crossing the Bridge Between Literacy Research and Practice, addresses today’s practice-driven questions about how to help young people live successful lives as literate human beings. I am proud to note that its editor and authors were all successful Syracuse University literacy education doctoral students. Their research, like mine, addresses gaps they have observed between classroom reality and what we know about embracing students’ literacy strengths to address their needs. The chapters that follow are in the same vein, offering practical suggestions based on their research by identifying affordances and challenges of current approaches to literacy instruction and delineating clear paths for educators to follow.
The pluralistic approach to literacy instruction represented by this text means that readers will brand it a “keeper” after an initial read. The text as a whole provides a needed and useful overview of how current K-12 literacy instructional approaches are situated in a standards-driven world. Each chapter includes a nice balance of research-based instructional practices that address a wide array of students’ needs. The practical support offered by Steps to Success: Crossing the Bridge Between Literacy Research and Practice will be invaluable to educators who want to provide effective literacy instruction in today’s contentious, standards-driven world.
Kathleen A. Hinchman is Professor in the Reading and Language Arts Department and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Education at Syracuse University. A former middle school teacher, she teaches literacy methods courses and seminars. A co-editor of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, her scholarship includes grants, articles, and books, including Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives, Best Practices in Adolescent Literacy Instruction, and the forthcoming Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Practice-based Research. Her current scholarship explores policy implications of literacy-related secondary school reform and use of formative design to explore methods of adolescent literacy instruction.
Anderson, R. C., Reynolds, R. E., Schallert, D. L., & Goetz, E. T. (1977). Frameworks for comprehending discourse. American Educational Research Journal, 14, 367-381.
Goodman, K. S. (1967). Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game. Journal of the Reading Specialist, 6, 126-135. doi:10.1080/19388076709556976
Herber, H. L. (1978). Teaching reading in content areas (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Hinchman, K. A. (1985). Reading and the plans of secondary teachers: A qualitative study. In J. Niles & R. Lalik (Eds.), Issues in literacy: A research perspective: Thirty-fourth yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 251-256). Rochester, NY: National Reading Conference.
Pearson, P. D., & Johnson, D. D. (1978). Teaching reading comprehension. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
Smith, F. (1971). Understanding reading: A psycholinguistic analysis of reading and learning to read. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. United States Department of Education.