Guiding Readers And Writers Grades 3-6: Teaching Comprehension, Genre, And Content Literacy, by Irene C. Foutas & Gay Su Pinnell
Reading a book like this was something I found a bit puzzling. It is by no means a bad book. Indeed, this particular book is written by people who obviously care about education and who seek to combine teaching in grammar, reading, and writing so that learning in one area fuels improvements in the other. On the surface, there should be no reason why this would be a hard thing to grasp, but one gets the sense that more is going on beneath the surface, as there is an element of doublespeak in a lot of the educational language talked about here. While the fundamental elements of this book, encouraging good reading which feeds more reading, a familiarity and understanding of genre, and being able to talk about and write about what one has read, is obviously sound, there are other angles here that appear to cut against what the authors would appear to be proclaiming. For example, the authors talk about “independent reading” that ends up being highly facilitated by the teacher and not really independent at all. One wonders why there is such dodgy and dishonest language in elementary education.
This book is a massive one of six sections and 28 chapters, with a special feature at the end of every section for struggling readers and writers, that goes on for a bit more than 500 pages long before a large number of appendices that provide forms and matrices for teachers to use in their instruction. After acknowledgements and an introduction and a look at a sample day for a student, the first section of the book argues for a breakthrough to literacy, with chapters on the goal of intermediate literacy in producing lifelong readers and writers (1), the three-block focus on language, reading, and writing (2), investigating and learning language (3), becoming joyful readers (4), becoming accomplished writers (5), and organizing and managing time (6). The second section discusses “independent” reading (II), in four chapters that include mini-lessons from the teacher (8) and response journals (10). After that the authors discuss guided reading in four chapters (III), including leveled texts (14). There are three chapters on literature study (IV), five chapters on comprehension and word analysis (V), and then six chapters that close the book on the connection between reading and writing (VI), including teaching genre (23), creating poetry (24), writer’s talks (25), understanding testing (27), and continuous assessment (28). A long section of appendices then follows.
The failures of elementary education hang over this book. The authors, for example, appear somewhat frustrated at the way that teachers are held accountable for the reading and writing levels of their students but, being practical people, make the best of it by advising in this work on how to meet standards. Likewise, the authors make a claim to want to raise the level of students in asking questions and reading and writing but are a bit coy about the sort of agendas that contemporary teachers often have when it comes to their studies, which are as heavy-handed but not nearly as moral as the moralistic writings of classic children’s literature. Overall, the writers of this book are trying to raise the level of education knowledge and practice among the writing and literature and reading teachers of America’s elementary and early middle schools, but there are some blind spots that the authors have in terms of failing to recognize the gap between their rhetoric and performance that show some of the wider problems within the American education system that these authors are a part of, an education system that simply fails to educate its children to the level of many nations around the world, an area that is especially a struggle given that elementary education is full of the least intellectually inclined members of the least intellectually capable profession in the United States, our school teachers.