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When Reading Begins: The Teacher's Role in Decoding, Comprehension, and Fluency.

WHEN READING BEGINS: The Teacher's Role in Decoding, Comprehension, and Fluency. Ardith Davis Cole. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004. 175 pp. $20.00. Any teacher of beginning readers who owned this book would make it a dog-eared, prized possession. These professionals know that teaching children to read is one of their greatest accomplishments. It is a more complex process than others realize, since 1st-graders range from those who have never held a book to ones with five years of bedtime stories! Learning to read has been the primary goal of schooling for centuries, yet children's failing to learn to read seems to be the nation's current focus. Do we really know how to ensure that children become readers? Should all teachers use the same packaged program that claims success for all students? Cole's book clearly underscores that it is the knowledgeable, sensitive teacher who will produce the results, not the one using a commercial, scripted manual.

While other authors offer a general overview of how children learn to read, Cole describes precisely what happens along each step of this journey. The book's theoretical foundation begins with such emergent literacy researchers as Marie Clay, David Doake, and Don Holdaway and continues through Cole's doctoral research analyzing teachers' scaffolding as they work one-to-one with readers at various levels. What is it that effective teachers do and say that can make the difference in a child's transition to becoming a reader?

Ardith Cole reveals how sensitive, observant teachers guide and support beginners through the world of print. In each chapter, the reader sees firsthand precisely what happens within two instructional contexts--the micro and the macro. This is one of the book's unique features--showing what the teacher does through her words and gestures to scaffold a reader's use of sound patterns and meaning (micro), as well as chunking, comprehension, and fluency (macro) within the context of reading the text. Second, the author explains the interaction and importance of the four cueing systems: syntax, semantics, graphophonics, and pragmatics--the most ignored and underrated cueing system. Her extensive explanation and examples of the three domains of pragmatics show the interactions among 1) the environment (feeling of comfort in the classroom, support for children's learning); 2) the emotional relationships (teacher, peers, etc.); and 3) the text (reader's response and textual features). Cole's explanation of scaffolding is a third unique feature, which differentiates the effective cues (words and gestures) teachers should use for preword, beginning, novice, and fluent readers. This section describes strategy mediation for each developmental level of reader, in which the teacher encourages the reader to use what has been previously taught or modeled with the goal of building the reader's independence and metacognition. Throughout this discussion, the differences between teaching strategies and skills are evident. Cole shows how teachers scaffold graphophonics, semantic, and syntactic cueing throughout the day and within the context of shared reading, writing, read-a-book, and guided reading. Thus, teachers recognize the numerous opportunities they already have to foster literacy growth in all children.

The author stresses the importance and role of using authentic texts with developing readers. Her view disputes promoters' claims that "decodable" texts support emergent readers. Toward the end of the book, Cole writes a comprehensive, thoughtful discussion of cue use and abuse, in which teachers are tempted to use the same set of scaffolding strategies or "one-size-fits-all" approach with readers, regardless of their proficiency. In this chapter, some readers may recognize that they, too, are guilty of emphasizing ineffective cues, rather than primary cues that relate closely to the context or meaning.

Who should read this book? Obviously, any teacher who works with young children or with struggling readers will find the specific explanations most helpful in fostering reading in developmentally appropriate ways. Cole's ideas are theoretically sound as well as practical. Above all, Cole encourages teachers to look closely at individual children, to take their cues from each one, and to foster independence, not learned helplessness, along the way. This book was required in a graduate primary reading class I taught recently. Although most of my students were nearing the end of their master's program, Cole's perspective and information was new to them. They found that her ideas helped them reconsider their beliefs about beginning literacy and to adopt her strategies. Readers will find the author's voice compelling and inviting as we tag along on the road to reading. Reviewed by Rebecca P. Harlin, Associate Professor, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL
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Author:Harlin, Rebecca P.
Publication:Childhood Education
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:742
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