Snow, Catherine E.; Griffin, Peg & Burns, M. Susan.
(2005). Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading:
Preparing Teachers for a Changing World. San Francisco, CA:
Pp. xix + 304 $32 ISBN 0-7879-7465-X
Reviewed by Seth A. Parsons
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
February 3, 2008
Current debate and controversy have drawn attention to the
knowledge that teachers need to teach reading. Researchers and
policymakers have criticized teacher education because there is
little agreement about what teachers need to know and be able to
do (Levine, 2006). This critique is particularly relevant to the
field of reading. At the most recent meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, for example, prominent literacy
researchers organized a symposium exploring how best to
conceptualize and measure teacher knowledge (Carlisle et al.,
2007). Also, the Report of the National Reading Panel
(National Reading Panel, 2000), which attempted to accumulate
scientific research findings about teaching reading, has
encouraged debate over what teachers need to know.
Snow, Griffin, and Burns try to bring consensus to the issue
of reading teacher knowledge. This text is the companion to
Darling-Hammond and Bransford’s (2005) Preparing
Teachers for a Changing World. Both these books are the
result of the work of the National Academy of Education’s
Committee on Teacher Education, and both aim to fill a void in
teacher education by describing the knowledge and skills that
teachers need to be effective. As noted later in this review,
however, the two books differ regarding when certain teacher
knowledge should be emphasized.
A central feature of Snow et al.’s text is their model
of reading teacher development presented in the opening chapter.
In this model, teachers progress through five stages: preservice,
apprentice, novice, experienced, and master teacher. This
cyclical progression involves learning, enactment, assessment,
and reflection. As teachers advance from stage to stage, they
acquire different types of knowledge: declarative, situated,
stable, expert, and reflective. For example, preservice
teacher’s knowledge is primarily declarative, whereas the
master teacher uses more reflective knowledge.
This opening chapter is titled “Yet Another Report About
Teacher Education?,” which is an appropriate question as
this book follows the National Research Council’s
Preventing Reading Difficulties (Snow, Burns, &
Griffin, 1998), the Report of the National Reading Panel
(National Reading Panel, 2000), and Preparing Our Teachers:
Opportunities for Better Reading Instruction (Strickland,
Snow, Griffin, Burns, and McNamara, 2002). Unlike previous
manuscripts, however, this text offers a developmental view of
adult learning, focuses on practical application, and represents
Catherine E. Snow
Chapter two, entitled “Students Change: What Are
Teachers to Learn About Reading Development?,” is the most
substantial chapter and represents nearly half of the
book’s length. In this chapter, the authors outline the
declarative knowledge that reading teachers need by breaking down
language and literacy into its systems and subsystems. First,
they divide reading into comprehension and word identification.
Then they describe instruction that facilitates these skills and
strategies. This chapter is extremely detailed, explaining the
many subsystems of language, such as morphology, orthography,
syntax, and etymology.
Although this chapter is rife with research-based suggestions
for what reading teachers need to know, it is not clear
when educators should know what. Chapter six
purports to address this question, but it provides general
suggestions for programs without relating those suggestions to
the specific information presented in chapter two. What
information must be included in a preservice program and what
knowledge would be better served for inservice teachers? For
example, knowledge about syntax, which according to the text most
people have a tacit understanding of, might be better taught to
inservice teachers than preservice teachers. Conversely,
phonemic awareness, which is essential to beginning reading
instruction, might be included in a preservice program. A
guideline, then, of when information should be taught would have
been extremely helpful for teacher educators and staff
The third chapter, “Students Vary: How Can Teachers
Address All Their Needs?,” focuses on the necessity of
effectively teaching all students who make up today’s
increasingly diverse classrooms and makes two major points.
First, this chapter illustrates the enactment of situated
knowledge. The authors use parallel cases to highlight the idea
that different types of instruction can lead to similar outcomes
as long as the teachers have a strong declarative knowledge base
that they can use to adapt instruction to meet individual
students’ needs. The second half of this chapter is
organized around common myths that exist about English language
learners, specific dialects that students’ possess, and
students living in poverty. This format provides important
information for reading teachers by addressing prevalent
misconceptions using the results of recent research.
Chapter four focuses on meeting the needs of students with
exceptionalities. Titled “Students Encounter Difficulties:
When Teachers Need Specialized Knowledge,” this brief
chapter mimics the myth-disproving format in the second half of
chapter three. It emphasizes developmental disabilities,
cognitive deficits, and hearing loss. This format again is
effective in exposing research-based practices that are often
contrary to prevailing beliefs and instruction. This chapter,
however, is quite abbreviated for the topic. Extensive research
has been conducted on teaching reading to students with special
needs (e.g., Allington & McGill-Franzen, in press; Klenk
& Kibby, 2000), yet this chapter is notably brief. This
topic could have been expanded to include additional research
instructive to readers.
Chapter five, “Learning to Use Reading Assessments
Wisely,” discusses what teachers need to know about
assessing reading. The authors argue that assessment is a key
component of the learning cycle and is therefore very important
for teachers at all stages of development to understand. This
comprehensive chapter outlines the principles of assessment,
specific assessment tools, and how to use assessment. A
particularly useful portion of this chapter is the section on how
to communicate the results of assessments, an aspect that is
often overlooked, particularly with preservice teachers. The
chapter also includes a table that lists numerous assessments
common in today’s schools.
The final chapter discusses the model of professional growth
in reading education. Here Snow and her co-authors elaborate on
the levels of knowledge that teachers use as they mature and
describe their “principles of professional growth.”
A helpful aspect of this chapter is a table providing examples of
what knowledge might look like under the different levels of
knowledge. For example, it describes what phonemic awareness
knowledge might look like as declarative knowledge, as situated
knowledge, as stable knowledge, as expert knowledge, and as
Knowledge to Support the Teaching of
Reading is an invaluable text for reading teacher educators.
The impressively comprehensive second chapter on the declarative
knowledge that teachers need is sure to teach something to even
the most expert literacy researcher; chapters three and four
discuss and refute prevalent myths about students; the fifth
chapter not only describes many and varied assessments and their
underlying principles but also outlines how to effectively use
assessments and communicate their results; and the sixth chapter
provides guidelines for program development.
In this book, Snow and her colleagues combine
historically contradictory perspectives to inform their model:
training reading teachers and educating reading
teachers (Hoffman & Pearson, 2000). Training teachers
emphasizes basic routines and procedures, while educating
teachers emphasizes flexibly adapting instruction to meet
students’ needs. Chapter two focuses on a
“parts-to-whole” position, which is in line with the
training perspective. Yet, the authors of this book also note
the importance of teacher decision-making and thus of educating
teachers, with the top stages of their developmental model being
adaptive expert and reflective practitioner.
Like Darling-Hammond and Bransford (2005) and echoing
prominent literacy researchers (Anders, Hoffman, & Duffy,
2000; Duffy & Hoffman, 1999; Hoffman & Pearson, 2000),
Snow, Griffin & Burns believe that the most effective
teachers are not just efficient implementers of the best
practices identified in process-product research, such as
time-on-task and a brisk pace of instruction (Brophy & Good,
1986). Rather, the best reading teachers are what Duffy (1991,
1997) called entrepreneurial; that is, they take charge of their
teaching and adapt instruction to best fit the specific needs of
the learner and the situation. Accordingly, this book is
informed by both a training approach to teacher education and an
educative perspective. This balance is what Hoffman and Pearson
called for: “This is not, to be clear, a teaching vs.
training dichotomy; rather, we support a nesting of training
within a broader construct of teaching” (p. 40).
This integrated theoretical positioning is
important in the current political climate, where administrators
and policymakers are suggesting, or worse mandating, the adoption
of prescriptive reading programs that are designed to raise test
scores by focusing on reading skills (Hoffman & Pearson,
2000). This type of program, recommended by educators such as
Moats (2007), inhibits teacher decision-making, thereby reducing
teachers to little more than technicians. Yet, this book combats
this position. The authors know that classrooms are unpredictable
environments that require constant modification; thus, this
landmark text emphasizes that deep understanding of pedagogical
content knowledge allows teachers to adapt this knowledge
“to suit the particular classroom reality” (Snow et
al., p. 64).
This text differs, however, from Darling-Hammond
and Bransford’s (2005) text regarding when teachers can
implement such effective instruction. Snow and her colleagues
clearly present adaptive expertise as a characteristic associated
only with experienced teachers. Darling-Hammond and Bransford,
in contrast, imply in their text that adaptive expertise should,
and can, be facilitated in preservice teacher education
This incongruence illustrates differing perspectives in
reading teacher education. Like Snow and her colleagues, some
researchers (e.g., Shanahan, 2007) propose that novice teachers
are not able to demonstrate such effective instruction.
Conversely, other researchers (e.g., Hammerness et al., 2005) and
preliminary data (Miller et al., 2007) suggest that even novice
teachers can thoughtfully adapt their instruction. Clearly, more
research is needed to ascertain how and when teachers develop
Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading is an
important text because it accumulates what is known about
teaching reading teachers and it presents a model of how teachers
develop throughout their careers. It serves as an impetus for
future research and dialogue on improving reading teacher
education, particularly more research and dialogue on whether
adaptive teaching should be emphasized in the early stages of
learning to teach or would be best delayed until later. The
inevitable result of this text, then, is improved preparation for
Allington, R. L. & McGill-Franzen, A. (in press).
Comprehension difficulties among struggling readers. In S. Israel
& G. G. Duffy (Eds.), Handbook of research on reading
comprehension. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Anders, P. L., Hoffman, J. V., & Duffy, G. G. (2000).
Teaching teachers to teach reading: Paradigm shifts, persistent
problems, and challenges. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D.
Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading
research (Vol. III, pp. 719-742). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
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research on teaching (3rd ed., pp. 328-375). New
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Johnson, D. J., Hapgood, S. E., Kucan, L. L., Palincsar, A. S.,
Reutzel, D. R., Dole, J. A., Pawson, P. C., Read, S., Sudweeks,
R. R., & Pearson, P. D. (2007, April). Investigating the
“knowledge of reading” needed to teach elementary
students to read: The role of conceptualization, measurement, and
evidence. Symposium conducted at the annual meeting of the
American Educational Research Association, Chicago, Illinois.
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learn and be able to do. San Francisco:
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McCormick (Eds.), Learner factors/teacher factors: issues in
literacy research and instruction (pp. 1-18). 40th
Yearbook of the National Reading Conference. Chicago:
Duffy, G. G. (1997). Powerful models or powerful teachers? An
argument for teacher-as-entrepreneur. In S. Stahl & D. Hayes
(Eds.), Instructional models in reading (pp. 351-365).
Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Duffy, G. G. & Hoffman, J. V. (1999). In pursuit of an
illusion: The flawed search for a
perfect method. Reading Teacher, 53(1), 10-17.
Hammerness, K., Darling-Hammond, L., Bransford, J., Berliner,
D., Cochran-Smith, M., McDonald, M., & Zeichner, K. (2005).
How teachers learn and develop. In L. Darling-Hammond & J.
Bransford (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world:
What teachers should know and be able to do (pp. 358-389).
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hoffman, J. V. & Pearson, P. D. (2000). Reading teacher
education in the net millennium: What your grandmother’s
teacher didn’t know that your granddaughter’s teacher
should. Reading Research Quarterly, 35(1),
Klenk, L. & Kibby, M. W. (2000). Re-mediating reading
difficulties: Appraising the past, reconciling the present,
constructing the future. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D.
Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading
research (Vol. III, pp. 667-690). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Levine, A. (2006). Educating school teachers.
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Miller, S. D. (chair), Parsons, S. A., Duffy, G. G., Webb, S.,
Leiphart, R. Q., & Kear, K. (2006, December). Teacher
education effectiveness and the development of thoughtfully
adaptive teachers of literacy. Symposium conducted at the
annual meeting of the National Reading Conference, Los Angeles,
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when “scientifically-based reading research” is
not. Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
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implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC:
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Shanahan, T. (2007). More ideas not everyone will like.
Reading Today, 24(4), 18.
Snow, C. E., Burns, M. S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998).
Preventing reading difficulties in young children.
Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
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& McNamara, P. (2002). Preparing our teachers:
Opportunities for better reading instruction. Washington, DC:
National Academy Press.
About the Reviewer
Seth Parsons is a doctoral candidate at the University of
North Carolina at Greensboro where he teaches reading and
language arts methods and works closely with preservice
teachers. His research interests include teacher metacognition
and motivating literacy instruction.
Copyright is retained by the first or sole author,
who grants right of first publication to the Education Review.
Editors: Gene V Glass, Kate Corby, Gustavo Fischman
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