The right words

David Wray

READING WORDS. By Barry Stierer and David Bloome. NATE Pounds 10.95. 0 901291 38 2.

One of the problems in the reading debate is confusion over the way people define their terms. It oftens seems to teachers that when the media or politicians discuss reading, the underlying ideas are oversimplified. Reading Words clarifies the language and concepts of reading and is an extremely welcome publication.

The book begins with the important notion that the language we use is scarcely ever neutral: "Whoever has the authority to define reading has the power to determine who is a reader and who is not, whose interpretation of a text is acceptable and whose is not, and how and for what written language may be used". The authors then question the everyday meanings given to terms connected with reading. "Reading scheme", for example, implies a technology for teaching reading considered according to ideas such as efficiency and value. But, they argue, reading schemes also promote a set of social practices, each with its own ideological underpinning. Thus reading schemes lead to grouping children and educational grouping tends to reinforce social grouping. The authors also imply a particular control system: teachers control what children read, and teachers in their turn are controlled by the designers of the schemes.

This kind of analysis is applied to 24 terms including "comprehension", "phonics" and "real books". As a result, ideas that are often taken for granted are fundamentally challenged.

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