The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 2 - Page 11


"The common theme that seems to have emerged from a number of literacy leaders such as Burkes & Yaris, Fountas and Pinnell and Calkins is that a child is not a level."

Effective Differentiation: Keys to Growing Proficient, Motivated, Lifelong Readers


Sam Bommarito and William Kerns

Instruction using systematic phonics is the best way to proceed in early literacy. The report’s findings do not support such a far-reaching conclusion. For instance, the report states “However, phonics instruction failed to exert a significant impact on the reading performance of low-achieving readers in 2nd through 6th grades….” (NRP 2-133). The report also indicates that “Finally, it is important to emphasize that systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program. Phonics instruction is never a total reading program” (NRP 2-136).

The report cautioned that findings do not recommend a one size fits all approach to phonics and comprehension instruction:

As with any instructional program, there is always the question, ‘Does one size fit all?’ Teachers may be expected to use a particular phonics program with their class, yet it quickly becomes apparent that the program suits some students more than others. In the early grades, children are known to vary greatly in the skills they bring to school. There will be some children who already know most letter-sound correspondences, some children who can even decode words, and others who have little or no letter knowledge. Should teachers proceed through the program and ignore these students? (NRP 2-136)

The narrow scope and methods used by the NRP (2000) are criticized for failing to adequately address complexities of the reading process, including social and cultural factors (Cunningham, 2001; Garan, 2002). Only quantitative studies were considered, so questions that might be addressed in qualitative research do not inform findings. Even the panel’s choice to identify five critical components of good reading instruction is critiqued for reducing the complex process of reading to a set of decontextualized skills without adequate consideration for social purposes in reading (Coles, 2000). The five critical components according to the NRP include phonemic awareness (a child’s ability to hear, discriminate, and make meaning out of individual sounds within words), phonics (a child’s ability to work with letters within words), fluency (a child’s appropriate pace, accuracy and expressiveness when reading), vocabulary (both oral vocabulary used when speaking and listening and reading vocabulary used in print are key considerations), and comprehension (understanding and making meaning out of text).

By contrast, the RAND Reading Study Group (Snow, 2002) embraced an approach to literacy that is inclusive of “social literacies” (Street, 1995) and social identities (Gee, 1996) practiced in diverse contexts including homes, communities, and online. Reading is described as an active, constructive process influenced by social interactions. The RAND report is representative of a “social turn” in literacy education also gaining traction in the field at about the same time as when the NRP report was influencing funding and policy decisions. Meaning-making in reading is seen as situational, shaped by activity and context (Gee, 2003; Knobel, 1999; Palinscar, 1998; Smagorinsky, 2001).

In the years since the release of the NRP and RAND Reading Study Group reports, debate continues over different views of literacy and literacy education. Debate is heated between schools of thought that can be called the “simple view of reading” (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) and a “sociogenetic” (John-Steiner, 1983) view of reading.