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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: Jossey-Bass.

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 knowledge systematically.

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 developers.

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 reflective knowledge.

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 programs.

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 such ability.

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 reading teachers.


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 Erlbaum Associates.

Brophy, J. & Good, T. L. (1986). Teacher behavior and student achievement. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (3rd ed., pp. 328-375). New York: Macmillan.

Carlisle, J. A., (chair), Phelps, J. C., Rowan, B. P., 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.

Darling-Hammond, L. & Bransford, J. (Eds.). (2005). Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Duffy, G. G. (1991). What counts in teacher education? Dilemmas in educating empowered teachers. In J. Lutell & S. McCormick (Eds.), Learner factors/teacher factors: issues in literacy research and instruction (pp. 1-18). 40th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference. Chicago: NRC.

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), 28-44.

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 Erlbaum Associates.

Levine, A. (2006). Educating school teachers. Washington, DC: The Education Schools Project.

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, California.

Moats, L. (2007). Whole-language high jinks: How to tell when “scientifically-based reading research” is not. Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literacy on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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.

Strickland, D. S., Snow, C. E., Griffin, P., Burns, M. S., & 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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