Inquiry into Meaning

Inquiry into Meaning


by Edward Chittenden, Terry Salinger, and Anne Bussis
Teachers College Press.

For those interested in how children learn to read, I really think this is one of the very best books out there. It is actually a study of how children learn to read, rather than a study of how people teach reading or a book describing a theory of learning to read.

Academic studies that claim they are about learning to read are almost exclusively studies of a particular approach to teaching and how well students did on tests of reading after being exposed to that approach (the National Reading Panel report, which I have critiqued in an earlier post, for instance, was based solely on such studies).

This book took a different approach. A group of researchers sponsored from, of all places, the Educational Testing Service, decided to do an in-depth qualitative and somewhat longitudinal study of the children, rather than the teaching. This was a close examination of what the children were doing as they were learning to read, how they approached text. This was done much in the spirit of how Piaget examined intellectual growth of babies—by close examination of individuals. It takes a deductive, grounded theory, approach. Rather than testing some theory, it attempts to build a theory out of the data.

As the preface puts it: “This project entailed classroom documentation of over 80 children going about the challenge of making sense of print…over 2 years of instruction” (p.xi). The children came from several different classrooms and schools, with teachers using very different teaching methods.

The book is divided into several section. In the beginning the research process is described. Then the book looks at what they learned in different areas, from what supports learning to read, to how students use those supports and knowledge. The next part, which seems to be the main conclusion of the book, is a look at learning styles and its relevance to learning to read. It seems the teaching approach had little if any direct connection with the approach the students actually took to learning to read.  Lastly are case studies of three representative children.

The book is fascinating and full of rich description of the children and how they attempt to make sense of print, books and the world.

I think it should be required reading for anyone who teaches reading, and recommend it to anyone who is just fascinated by the topic.

P.S. Here are some other good reads on the topic of how children learn to read.:

  • Frank Smith, Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read. 6th ed. (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004).
  • Stephen D. Krashen, Three Arguments against Whole Language & Why They Are Wrong (Heinemann, 1999)
  • Gerald Coles, Misreading Reading: The Bad Science That Hurts Children (Heinemann, 2000)
  • Kenneth S. Goodman, In Defense Of Good Teaching: What Teachers Need to Know about the “Reading Wars” (York, Me: Stenhouse Publishers, 1998)
  • Jeff McQuillan, Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions (Heinemann, 1998)

One thought on “Inquiry into Meaning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s