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A Brief History of 'The Reading Wars'

Brian Cambourne, University of Wollongong, Foundation for Learning and Literacy, April 2021

Brian Cambourne provides a summary of the history of the debates about reading instruction dating from as far back as 1779 and outlines the debates that have occurred, and reoccurred through the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s and continue to resurface every decade since. Cambourne’s history  begs the following question: 'Why is reading education pedagogically confused? The answer to this question lies in history as well as different understandings about what reading is.' This short paper published by the Foundation for Learning and Literacy provides a very useful perspective with Cambourne concluding that‘ Such theoretical arguments are not helpful for the teaching profession or the teaching of reading. To date, not enough attention has been paid to educators’ experiences and their evidence in helping children learn to read in classroom contexts.’  
Key words: Reading Reading wars Reading research Reading pedagogies

The Benefits of Reading for Pleasure

Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. Edutopia; October 30, 2017

This article summarises a study by Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith that finds reading for pleasure has many forms, and each form provides distinct benefits that are outlined in the article. It concludes; “Make no mistake, the next generation standards worldwide require profound cognitive achievements. Meeting such standards and the demands of navigating modern life will require student effort and the honing of strategies over time. Promoting the power of reading for pleasure is a proven path there.

Key words:  Reading  Pleasure  Choice  Research  Lifelong reading

What the Phonics is the Science of Reading

Hruby, G. J
In this video clip the presenter outlines why literacy educators should beware of how and when the term the Science of Reading is used in an informative and humorous manner. He takes the claims about the Science of Reading and provides evidence as to why the branding requires caution. Perhaps the Science of Reading is more about advocacy than science.
Key words: Reading   Phonics  Science of reading  Research  Program

A Confluence of Complexity: Intersections Among Reading Theory, Neuroscience and Observations of Young Readers

C. Compton-Lily, A. Mitra, M. Guay & L. Spence. 2020
Reading Research Quarterly

This article examines a range of evidence that demonstrates the complexity of reading. The authors argue that multiple factors, processes, and sources of information inform reading. They support this with research findings including emerging research related to the brain and reading coupled with observations of emerging readers and conclude that singular reading models do not account for the individual needs of learners.

Keywords: Reading processes  Reading research  Complexity of the reading process   Processes, factors and information informing reading

The Teacher's Toolkit for Literacy

The Teacher’s Tool Kit For Literacy is the free podcast for motivated teachers and school leaders who want the latest tips, tricks and tools to inspire their students and school community in literacy learning. Literacy experts and founders of Cue Learning, Sharon and Phil Callen, along with their special guests, provide practical literacy insights that you can apply in the classroom today.

'At Cue Learning, our literacy specialists draw on over 30 years of teaching and international consulting experience to deliver world-class learning solutions. We equip, empower and support teachers to become their authentic selves, using the fullness of the Australian curriculum'.

To find out about upcoming webinars, and about how Cue can help you and your school, visit And you can get  more amazing teaching resources at

Teachers' Knowledge of Children's Literature:  the Cornerstone of Reading for Pleasure  

Teresa Cremin, 2019.   Scottish Book Trust

Those who choose to read for pleasure are often high achievers in both literacy and numeracy.  In this article, Cremin discusses how important it is for teachers to develop a rich and wide knowledge of children's literature.  At the same time, they must be able to model their enjoyment of reading so they can nurture reading for pleasure in the classroom.  

Key words: Reading  Reading for pleasure  Children’s literature

Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading Comprehension

TDuke, N. D., Pearson, P. D., Strachan, S. L., Billman, A. K. (2011). In S. J. Samuels & A. Farstrup (Eds.). What research has to say about reading instruction, 4th Edition (pp. 51-93). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

This is a comprehensive account of 10 major instructional practices that teachers of primary and secondary students might adopt to develop reading for understanding. Australian primary and high-school teachers are likely to be familiar with ideas such as building disciplinary and world knowledge, providing exposure to a volume and range of texts, providing motivating texts and contexts for reading, engaging students in discussion, building  vocabulary and language knowledge, integrating reading and writing, observing and assessing, and differentiating instruction. They are likely to find the table, “What Good Readers Do When They Read”, useful and most useful the details in the section “Teaching Strategies for Comprehending”.

Key words: Reading  Meaning  Comprehension

Teaching Decisions That Bring the Conditions of Learning to Life

Debra Crouch and Dr Brian Cambourne

The authors have collaborated to discuss the eight Conditions of Learning that Brian has been describing for teachers for quite some time. They also discuss the importance of the Four Processes that Enable Learning in relation to the effectiveness of the conditions. Detailed explanations of the conditions and the processes are described as they would occur in classrooms in the teaching of reading and specific examples are provided to explain what would occur in Read-aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading and Independent Reading. Teachers will find this article extremely helpful as they think about their theory and practice about the teaching of reading. For more detailed information educators will be pleased to know that Brian and Debra have written a book,  Made for Learning - How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions, published by Richard Owen, 2020.

Keywords: Conditions of learning  Reading 

Principles for Working with Struggling Readers and Writers - Advice for teachers across primary and secondary schools

August 2020

This Foundation for Learning and Literacy published article is one of two partner articles on supporting struggling readers and writers and expands on Touchstone 6. The partner article is Meeting the needs of struggling readers and writers, particularly in the later primary years and secondary years.

This article outlines principles aimed to assist teachers in adjusting their literacy teaching for individual students who are experiencing some difficulty with reading and writing. They are based on what research tells us about struggling readers and writers.

Key words: Reading  Writing  Engagement  Support

Meeting the Needs of Struggling Readers and Writers 

August 2020

This Foundation for Learning and Literacy published article is one of two partner articles on supporting struggling readers and writers and expands on Touchstone 6. The partner article is Principles for working with struggling readers and writers- advice for teachers across primary and secondary schools.

This article draws on research and practice in order to provide teachers and school leaders with research evidence and informed instructional and organisational practices to meet the needs of those students who are struggling as readers and writers.

Key words: Reading  Writing intervention  Engagement  Support  Strategies  Expectations

Reading for Pleasure

Rosen, Michael. blogspot- Friday, 26 February 2021

In this blog, well-known author Michael Rosen unpacks the question How does Reading for Pleasure produce this seemingly magic effect without direct instruction? To answer that question, Rosen looks at the process of reading and how children and young people respond. Rosen has a check list for teachers to discuss, adapt, argue with in whatever ways they choose. The checklist includes reading for pleasure creates a space for readers to interpret; to experience empathy; to leap from the oral code of English to the written code; to learn knowledge and wisdom; to learn about stylistic devices and to learn about possibility and change.

Rosen concludes this blogpost with “There is a lot of talk in the air about how to help children 'catch up' because of the pandemic. Helping children to read widely and often for pleasure will help them ... This is a kind of education in a holistic way.

Key words: Reading  Pleasure  Choice  Research  Lifelong reading

What Really Matters When Working with Struggling Readers

Richard Allington: Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 7 pp 520-530 International Reading Association 2013

This article argues that we have a research base demonstrating that ‘virtually’ every child could be reading at grade level by the end of first grade. The author links his arguments to US schools but the compelling arguments on teaching reading based on evidence are applicable anywhere. The author raises issues such as not having expert teachers working with struggling readers, providing texts that are too difficult and the observation that struggling readers often spend more time doing worksheets than reading. The article calls the teachers to rethink current approaches with struggling readers for better outcomes.

Key words: Reading  Struggling readers  Independent reading  Support  Research  Text difficulty  Intervention

The Critical Story of the "Science of Reading" and Why Its Narrow Plotline Is Putting Our Children and Schools at Risk

NCTE 24 October 2020 by Dorothy C. Suskind

There is a critical story behind “the science of reading,” one whose players and plotlines have been misconstrued by political agendas. As a former classroom teacher and reading specialist and current literacy professor, Suskind interrogates four themes threading this narrative.

 Key words: Engagement in reading  Teacher knowledge

 Foundation touchstones: 1,3 and 7

But just what is explicit, systematic phonics instruction? 

Heidi Anne E. Mesmer & Priscilla L. Griffith. (2005) Everybody’s selling it—International Reading Association (pp. 366–376) 

Very experienced K-3 teachers from across the United States, who were members of the ‘International Reading association’, responded to a questionnaire which was used to gauge their perceptions about explicit and systematic phonics instruction. There were 382 respondents, a 38.2% return rate, which “was in line with other U.S. surveys.” Six common phonics strategies were considered: “(1) songs, (2) word sorts, (3) making words, (4) scripted teacher directions, (5) worksheets, and (6) games”. The strategies, which required teacher-student interaction,’ word sorts’ and ‘making words’, were most often identified as ‘highly explicit and systematic’. The strategy ‘worksheets’ was least often identified and the researchers concluded that: “teachers seemed to demonstrate that explicit, systematic phonics instruction should be engaging and responsive.

Key words: Phonics   Explicit  Systematic phonics instruction

Teachers' Knowledge of Children's Literature:  the Cornerstone of Reading for Pleasure  

Teresa Cremin, 2019.   Scottish Book Trust

Those who choose to read for pleasure are often high achievers in both literacy and numeracy.  In this article, Cremin discusses how important it is for teachers to develop a rich and wide knowledge of children's literature.  At the same time, they must be able to model their enjoyment of reading so they can nurture reading for pleasure in the classroom.  

Key words: Reading  Reading for pleasure  Children’s literature

Seven Rules of Engagement: What’s Most Important to Know about Motivation to Read

Gambrell, Linda B. (2011) The Reading Teacher Vol.65 Issue 3 pp 172-178

International Reading Association

Linda Gambrell shares the findings from a major international study – that interest in reading predicted students’ reading comprehension and that students who enjoyed reading the most performed significantly better than students who enjoyed reading the least. Then Gambrell gives clear guidelines and practical tips about research-based classroom experiences that help all students to be intrinsically motivated to read. ‘Clearly, instruction that provides students with decoding and comprehension skills and strategies is not sufficient’ but Gambrell’s guidelines help teachers to fill the gap. It is refreshing to read about the importance of motivation and engagement in reading.

Key words: Reading  Comprehension  Engagement  Motivation  Sustained reading  Classroom libraries 

Stereotypes Impact Reading Outcomes-Study

The Educator November 30, 2020

This article discusses a study carried out by Associate Professor Laura Scholes, Barbara Comber and Nerida Spina .

The study challenges the belief that boys choose to read mainly non-fiction texts and that this has changed since the early 2000’s.  The article stresses the important place of fiction in developing long term reading skills, highlights the place of digital texts, and also challenges teachers to expand their knowledge of literature that may be engaging for boys.

 Key words: Boys’ education  Engagement in reading  Teacher knowledge about literature  Digital texts

 Foundation touchstones: 1,3 and 7 in particular

What are 'decodable readers' and how do they work?

Misty Adoniou, Brian Cambourne and Robyn Ewing  The Conversation Nov 12 2018

Money for books must surely be a good thing. But what exactly is a “decodable reader”? After all, surely all books are decodable. If they weren’t decodable they would be unreadable.

Key words: Decodable readers  Decoding  Quality texts  Phonics  Teaching reading  Books

Children's Right to Read

The International Reading Association has published this useful and important list for teachers and parents to keep in mind.

Explicit and Systematic Teaching of Reading - A New Slogan

Brian Cambourne The Reading Teacher; Oct 1999; 532; eLibrary pg.126

This is an interesting article given the date of publication and what it says about explicit and systematic learning. These words are widely used so a reminder of the use of these terms in the mid-80s and 90s will be of interest to many educators as they reflect on the use of those terms today. The author discusses the inclusion of two other dimensions; mindfulness —>mindlessness, contextualised—> decontextualised. The article will raise some thoughts for educators about programs claiming to be"explicit and systematic" and whether they are in fact mindless and decontextualised.  

Key words: Explicit  Systematic  Reading

Reading Like a Writer

Frank Smith, Language Arts, 1983 Vol 5, No 5 pp558-567

In this seminal article Frank Smith questions ‘the myth that one could learn to write to diligent attention and practice’ (p.558). Smith asks: ‘Where do people who write acquire all the knowledge they need?’ The conclusion Smith reaches is that it can only be through reading that writers learn all the ‘tangibles that they know’. He claims that ‘to learn to write, children must read in a special kind of way’ (p558). Smith clearly and logically shares his reasoning, discussing the complexities of writing, learning as a collaborative activity and how readers collaborate with the author whose writing they are reading. Finally, he outlines what this means for teaching writing.

Key words: Reading  Writing  Reading/writing connection

Conversation About the Reading Wars

NEPC Newsletter, 29 November 2018

Q&A with Elizabeth Moje, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Education in the National Education Policy Center 

 The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions.  This conversation between a member of the NEPC and Elizabeth Moje provides expert insights into some of the key issues regularly debated regarding effective literacy instruction. The conversation is set out with a Q&A style and provides the clarity,  perspective and research that educators, policy makers and parents need to understand some of the polarising debate that arises from time to time and restores confidence in the important and complex work of teachers in supporting young readers and writers.

Key words:   Reading  Reading wars  Balanced literacy  Literacy instruction  Phonics  Research

Building a Knowledge Base in Reading

Jane Braunger and Jan Patricia Lewis,  pages 124-128, 1997. 

This extract is from a book that provides a research baseline for teachers, policy makers and anyone interested in helping all children learn to read. Although it was published in 1997,  and there has been a great deal more research in this field since that time, the content is still extraordinarily helpful in guiding the best practices in the teaching of reading and what influences children's success as readers. This part of the book distills the knowledge base about beginning reading into 13 core understandings and one of those is that ‘students need many opportunities to read, read, read’.  It provides extensive details of the research supporting that particular core understanding.  In recent times the main discussion about the teaching of reading tends to focus on approaches used to teach reading, but the importance of students having time to read, plus all of the practical issues relating to that, receives little attention. This extract is extremely important to read in that context.

Key words:   Beginning reading  Core understandings  Reading  Choice  Texts  Assessment

Reading Between the Lines:  the benefits of reading for pleasure

A Study of Benefits to Adults of Regular Reading for Pleasure

A report from Quick Reads, in partnership with Dr Josie Billington, Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society at the University of Liverpool

This report is a valuable evidence-based document which shares some definitive benefits of developing a culture of reading for pleasure, especially when these benefits are understood by teachers, educational leaders and parents. The conclusions and recommendations include information that reading for just 30 minutes a week:
- Produces greater life satisfaction;
- Enhances social connectedness and sense of community spirit;
- Helps protect against and even prepare for life difficulties.

Key words: Reading  Reading habits  Reading for pleasure

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