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Review of  Understanding Literacy Development

Reviewer: Sue A. Hasselbring
Book Title: Understanding Literacy Development
Book Author: Anne McKeough Linda M. Phillips Vianne Timmons Judy Lee Lupart
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 16.3462

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Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2005 05:27:16 GMT
From: Sue A. Hasselbring
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

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

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'

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


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 each.

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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ISBN: 0805851151
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Pages: 248
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Format: Paperback
ISBN: 080585116X
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