I’ve read a lot of books about teaching reading. Some have been great, some have been meh, and some have been so dense I have to wait until I’m on a break to read them because my brain literally can’t handle. None have captivated me as much as Lyn Stone’s Reading for Life. It is, without a doubt, my favorite Science of Reading book. I devoured it like I was reading Harry Potter for the first time. Let me tell you why.
Why You’ll Love It
I love Lyn’s voice. Most academic books are (understandably) devoid of a personal voice. For the sake of objectivity, the facts are presented, and opinions are limited. Lyn Stone has no qualms about sharing her personal voice and calling out ineffective practices. There are too many to mention, but here’s a few of her quips that had me reading this book like it was 12:01 am when Deathly Hallows was released:
- (Speaking on three-cueing systems) “It has developed into a system of coaching that downplays phonics, requires very little expertise and places the burden of learning to read on the child, the whole child, and no one but the child”(p.5). Lyn is unafraid to speak out against the detrimental nature of three-cueing. She doesn’t give any free passes to huge industries making millions off illiteracy.
- There’s an entire chapter comparing some balanced literacy practices to a cult. I’m giggling as I write this. Yes, she went there. Oh, let’s not forget the snake oil chapter either. The crazy thing is how spot on her observations are.
- “Unfortunately, if your lessons have failed to help a student progress, it’s your fault, not the child’s”(p.134). I know this kind of blunt speak will not be for everyone, but it is this frank conversation about teaching and learning that we need.
The book is divided into 4 different sections: the research; the “Reading Wars;” a section on cults, catchphrases, logical fallacies, and snake oil (hard to summarize in just a couple words); and a section on teaching reading and writing. This book isn’t just about the research, and it isn’t just about teaching practices. Instead, Lyn is able to cover a little bit of everything in under 200 pages.
Who Should Read It
If you are interested in the history of reading instruction in the United States and throughout the world, Lyn presents this is a way that I haven’t seen in any other book. In the “Reading Wars” section, there is a chart of all the key players who have contributed to balanced literacy, structured literacy, and what we know about how children learn to read. It includes the people, their big beliefs, and notable works of theirs. I’ve never seen a chart quite like it.
Another reason I love this book is that it isn’t solely focused on the United States. She discusses the history of reading instruction in the UK, Australia, and the United States. There’s different legislative acts and research mentioned, not just the National Reading Panel and No Child Left Behind. There were a lot of acts and reports that I had never heard about in my United States-centered world.
I could keep listing reasons, but I honestly think this book is perfect for people who want to know more about where we are coming from, where we are going, and what that means for our children. I will say, though, that this might not be the best book for everyone at any time.
A Note of Caution
This book may not be the best book for you at this time, so let me explain. I think if you are just starting your journey and are struggling to reconcile structured literacy with what you have been taught in college, this text might feel abrasive. If I had read it when I first started, I would have felt attacked. If you are a firm-believer in balanced literacy, this is not a book that will gently urge you towards structured literacy. There is no balancing, no shifting, just hard facts about what the research suggests concerning literacy.
If you just want a book for immediate instructional ideas, this is not it. While there are some classroom application ideas, it is not her main focus. There are 4 main sections and teaching reading and writing is but one of those sections. I don’t find this to be problematic, I just wanted you to be aware. If you need to read something today to help you tomorrow, you may want to pick up another book.
If you’ve made it this far, hopefully I’ve convinced you to go buy the book. It was such a fun read, and I learned so much from the author. Also, Lyn, are you reading this? Can we be friends? We should totally be friends.