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Do Textbooks Used in University Reading Education Courses Conform to the Instructional Recommendations of the National Reading Panel?

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Abstract

Two reasons may be responsible for the poor grasp of the linguistic concepts related to literacy acquisition by preservice and in-service teachers: a lack of attention given to such concepts by teacher educators (college faculty members) and a lack of relevant information provided in the textbooks used in college courses. In an earlier study, the authors found that many teacher educators involved in the training of preservice and in-service teachers were not well acquainted with these concepts. In this study, the authors examined the extent to which textbooks used in reading education courses contain the information about the five components of literacy instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension) recommended by the National Reading Panel. Such scrutiny shows that many textbooks do not adequately cover these five components and the related instructional procedures for teaching them. In addition to the paucity of information about teaching the five components, some textbooks present inaccurate information.
458
Do Textbooks Used in University Reading
Education Courses Conform to the Instructional
Recommendations of the National Reading Panel?
R. Malatesha Joshi
Texas A&M University
Emily Binks
University of Hull
Lori Graham
Texas A&M University
Emily Ocker-Dean
McMurry University
Dennie L. Smith
Texas A&M University
Regina Boulware-Gooden
Neuhaus Education Center
Two reasons may be responsible for the poor grasp of the linguistic concepts related to literacy acquisition by preservice
and in-service teachers: a lack of attention given to such concepts by teacher educators (college faculty members) and a
lack of relevant information provided in the textbooks used in college courses. In an earlier study, the authors found that
many teacher educators involved in the training of preservice and in-service teachers were not well acquainted with these
concepts. In this study, the authors examined the extent to which textbooks used in reading education courses contain the
information about the five components of literacy instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text
comprehension) recommended by the National Reading Panel. Such scrutiny shows that many textbooks do not adequately
cover these five components and the related instructional procedures for teaching them. In addition to the paucity of infor-
mation about teaching the five components, some textbooks present inaccurate information.
Keywords: National Reading Panel; reading education textbooks; teacher education
In their book Becoming a Nation of Readers, Anderson,
Hiebert, Scott, and Wilkinson (1985) came to the con-
clusion that “the issue is no longer, as it was several
decades ago, whether children should be taught phonics;
the issue is . . . how it should be taught” (p. 36). A few
years after this book was published, in 1993, the National
Right to Read Foundation was formed, with the objec-
tive of disseminating the research findings on reading
instruction that emerged from projects funded by National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development. In
1996, the Reading Excellence Act was proposed, and in
1998, the National Research Council presented a report
titled Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children
(Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998) that highlighted the
importance of high-quality reading instruction as well as
early intervention in the development of literacy. Similar
events took place in other English-speaking countries. In
the United Kingdom, the House of Commons Select
Committee on the Teaching of Reading was established
in 2004, and in the same year, the Australian government
created a committee to conduct the National Inquiry Into
the Teaching of Literacy. An important point to note is
that the reports from the United States, the United
Kingdom, and Australia all recommended the use of
synthetic phonics instruction to teach reading at early
grade levels (Coltheart & Prior, 2007). These reports
also stressed the importance of preparing preservice and
in-service teachers in the art and science of teaching
reading through systematic and explicit phonics, because
it is known that such an approach increases the reading
Journal of Learning Disabilities
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September/October 2009 458-463
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Joshi et al. / Education Textbooks 459
scores of children. Nevertheless, several studies (Bos,
Mather, Dickson, Podhajski, & Chard, 2001; Cunningham,
Perry, Stanovich, & Stanovich, 2004; Joshi, Binks,
Hougen, et al., 2009a; Moats, 1994; Moats & Foorman,
2003; Spear-Swerling & Brucker, 2003, 2004) have
shown that many preservice and in-service teachers are
not conversant with the concepts involved in systematic,
explicit instruction.
The finding that knowledge of core linguistic con-
cepts is weak in preservice and in-service teachers led us
to hypothesize that this state of affairs may be due to two
reasons. One is that teacher educators are not providing
the necessary information needed for explicit and sys-
tematic instruction, because teacher educators them-
selves may not be comfortable with these concepts. In
our other article in this issue (Joshi, Binks, Hougen,
et al., 2009b), we discuss our finding that teacher educa-
tors performed well on tasks relating to syllables but
were not as competent on items relating to phonemes,
morphemes, and phonemic awareness. There is a posi-
tive relationship between the knowledge of teacher edu-
cators and its effect on children’s reading achievement.
A recent study by Binks (2008) showed that teacher edu-
cators who were provided a series of seminars incorpo-
rating the principles of scientifically based reading
research ultimately produced preservice teachers who
performed significantly better on the Survey of Language
Constructs Related to Literacy Acquisition (Joshi, Binks,
Hougen, et al., 2009a) than a comparison group taught
by teacher educators who had not undergone profes-
sional development seminars focused on the core knowl-
edge relative to the five essential components
recommended for acquiring strong literacy foundations.
The second reason for the lack of knowledge of the
linguistic concepts among preservice and in-service
teachers may be that the textbooks used in reading edu-
cation courses do not provide the required information
about the fundamentals of these instructional concepts.
After analyzing 226 textbooks used in reading education
courses, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)
reported that “the quality of almost all the reading texts
is poor. . . . The contents of these textbooks include little
to no hard science and in far too many cases, the content
is inaccurate and misleading” (Walsh, Glaser, & Wilcox,
2006, p. 33). The textbooks referred to in this study were
examined by three “literacy experts” established by
NCTQ as to whether they were acceptable as core or as
supplemental, unacceptable as core or as supplemental,
or not relevant.
The present article is a report of a study of the second
question regarding how well textbooks used in reading
education courses convey information on instructional
concepts that relate to the five components of reading
instruction recommended by National Reading Panel
(NRP). We wanted an established measure rather than
subjective criteria for the evaluation of what a good read-
ing textbook should contain. Hence, we used the five
components of the NRP’s report to structure the frame-
work of evaluation.
Method
For the present study, we contacted five well-known
textbook publishers and requested the titles of their most
widely adopted books for use in university elementary-
level introductory reading education classes. This resulted
in the selection and examination of 17 textbooks. Two of
the coauthors of the present article independently exam-
ined each of the 17 books with reference to the following
three criteria: (a) whether all five components recom-
mended by the NRP (phonemic awareness, phonics, flu-
ency, vocabulary, and comprehension) were presented
within the textbook; (b) whether the definitions in the
textbook matched the NRP’s definitions; and (c) the
extent to which the components were covered in the text.
The extent of coverage in each textbook was computed by
dividing the number of pages devoted to each of the five
components of reading recommended by NRP by the total
number of pages of the text. The amount of material on
the page, whether 1 sentence or 25 or more sentences,
counted as one page in the calculation. Even though we
examined whether the components were clearly defined
and whether research-based instructional recommenda-
tions were provided in the textbooks, we realize that
quantity, rather than quality, was given more importance.
Moreover, the measure of quantity was quite rough. The
resulting number of pages was multiplied by 100 to obtain
the percentage of content covered. References, appendi-
ces, and glossaries were not included in the analysis. The
interrater reliability of this analysis was .91.
Results
The results of the analysis are shown in Table 1. To
maintain anonymity, the names of the authors and the
textbooks have not been provided.
The analyses for the three questions showed that 13 of
the 17 most widely used textbooks included all five com-
ponents recommended by the NRP, and 10 textbooks cor-
rectly defined each of the five components. However,
there was wide variation in the extent of coverage, with the
460 Journal of Learning Disabilities
percentage of total NRP content covered in the textbooks
ranging from 4% to 60%. Some noteworthy findings were
that 4 textbooks did not cover the topics of phonemic
awareness and phonics, which are considered basic build-
ing blocks of linguistics and literacy acquisition. One of
the textbooks, used in 84 university courses, devoted only
10% of the entire volume to the five components of read-
ing, and another textbook, adopted by 91 universities, did
not cover phonemic awareness and fluency. Nine text-
books devoted only one third of their content to the five
components. Our findings were similar to the findings of
the NCTQ in that we also found that very few textbooks
covered all the information considered to be the core of the
majority of scientifically based reading research and rec-
ommended by the NRP.
A further analysis of the 10 textbooks that included all
five components and defined them correctly was con-
ducted to assess the percentage of each of the five compo-
nents. The results are shown in Table 2. As can be seen in
Table 2, even among those textbooks that covered all the
five components, relatively less attention was given to
those concepts relating to beginning reading instruction.
In general, phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency,
which are considered to be foundations of reading, were
given less attention compared to vocabulary and compre-
hension. Whereas the amount of comprehension cover-
age ranged from 1% to 20%, the coverage of phonemic
awareness ranged from 1% to 5%. Even though the ulti-
mate goal of reading is comprehension, it is generally
accepted that decoding is the foundation for reading and
is considered a necessary although not suffi cient condi-
tion for fluent reading. Our intention is not to highlight
only decoding but rather is influenced by models such as
“simple view of reading” (Gough & Tunmer, 1986;
Hoover & Gough, 1990) and the “componential model of
reading” (Aaron & Joshi, 1992; Aaron, Joshi, Boulware-
Gooden, & Bentum, 2008; Joshi & Aaron, 2000) that
stress the importance of both decod ing and comprehen-
sion for fluent reading. Neverthe less, it is noteworthy
that relatively less information was provided on phone-
mic awareness and phonics in these widely used text-
books. Some of the topics that were covered in these
textbooks but were not examined by us included chil-
dren’s literature, assessment and evaluation, technology,
English-language learners, the history of reading educa-
tion, and writing.
In addition to providing scanty information about
phonology-related concepts and their instruction, some-
times the concepts were not made clear or were
described incorrectly. Frequently, information regarding
very fundamental concepts, such as phonemic aware-
ness and phonics, was inaccurate. For instance, three
books recommended that phonemic awareness can be
improved by teaching letter-sound correspondences.
Even though there is a reciprocal relationship between
phonemic awareness and letter knowledge, generally,
phonemic awareness is improved by activities such as
the deletion of sounds in spoken words (e.g., asking a
child to say the word snow without the /s/ sound) and
substituting a sound in a spoken word (e.g., substitute
the /p/ sound for the /t/ sound in the word cat to form
the word cap; Adams, Foorman, Lundberg, & Beeler,
1998; Torgesen, 2005). Furthermore, in one of the text-
books used in graduate classes of reading education, we
Table 1
Percentages and Types of Information Provided in the Textbooks
Textbook Are the Five Components Included in the Text? Do They Match the Definitions of the NRP? Amount of Coverage Within the Text
1 Yes Yes 60%
2 Yes Yes 39%
3 Yes Yes 34%
4 Yes No 34%
5 Yes Yes 28%
6 Yes No 28%
7 Yes Yes 28%
8 Yes Yes 27%
9 Yes Yes 25%
10 Yes Yes 23%
11 Yes Yes 20%
12 Yes Yes 10%
13 Yes No 9%
14 No (missing phonemic awareness) No 46%
15 No (missing phonemic awareness and phonics) No 24%
16 No (missing phonemic awareness and fluency) No 7%
17 No (missing phonemic awareness and phonics) No 4%
Joshi et al. / Education Textbooks 461
found the following information: “A grapheme is the
smallest unit in a written language, a letter of the alpha-
bet in alphabetic languages” (Sadoski, 2004, p. 61). It
continues,
This system [phonics] is unfortunately not a matter of
one-to-one correspondence, as can be readily inferred
from the mismatch between 26 graphemes and 44 pho-
nemes. Phonics is a complex, imperfect system and
some of it is seldom if ever taught, but readers develop
considerable phonics knowledge whether they are taught
it or pick it up on their own. (p. 62)
In actuality, a grapheme is a letter or a group of letters
that represents one phoneme. For example, the letter c in
cat is one grapheme, the two letters th in the word this
are one grapheme, the three letters tch in the word match
are one grapheme, and the four letters ough in the word
through are also one grapheme. Thus, there are not just
26 but rather approximately 200 graphemes in the
English language (Caravolas, 2006). Furthermore, the
English phonics system is not as complex and imperfect
as is often claimed. Indeed, the linguists Chomsky and
Halle (1968) asserted that English spelling, far from
being irregular and illogical, is a “near optimal system
for lexical representation” (p. 49). Other scholars, too,
have argued that English includes many statistical pat-
terns that make it less chaotic than often thought (Kessler
& Treiman, 2003; Treiman, 2006). Hanna, Hanna,
Hodges, and Rudorf (1966) estimated that the spellings
of nearly 50% of English words are predictable on the
basis of letter-sound correspondences and that a further
37% are almost predictable except for one sound (e.g.,
knit and boat). Hanna et al. further stressed that if other
information, such as word origin and word meaning, is
considered, only 4% of English words are truly irregular
and may have to be learned as visual units.
Conclusion
Illiteracy is a problem of global magnitude and has an
impact on social and economic aspects of peoples’ lives.
Although there may be various factors contributing to
illiteracy, such as family background (Pennington &
Olson, 2005), the number of books available at home
(Chiu & McBride-Chang, 2006), and oral language devel-
opment (Hart & Risley, 1995; Moats, 2001), the type of
instruction received, especially at early grade levels, may
also play a major role (Foorman, Francis, Shaywitz,
Shaywitz, & Fletcher, 1997; Torgesen, 2005; Vellutino,
Scanlon, & Jaccard, 2003). The reason for the delivery of
adequate instruction in elementary grades may be that
many in-service and preservice teachers do not know and
do not have available the information required for deliver-
ing systematic, explicit instruction in the essential compo-
nents of literacy (Bos et al., 2001; Cunningham et al.,
2004; Joshi, Binks, Hougen, et al., 2009a; Moats, 1994;
Moats & Foorman, 2003; Spear-Swerling & Brucker,
2003, 2004). Two factors may contribute this situation.
One is that teacher educators themselves may not pay
adequate attention to linguistic concepts related to literacy
acquisition and hence do not teach them in their reading
education courses at the university level. Another factor
may be that the textbooks used in reading education
courses do not provide the appropriate information. The
studies reported in this issue indicate that these two fac-
tors may play major contributing roles in the quality of
preservice teacher education. An overarching factor may
be the lack of agree ment among educators as to what con-
stitutes effective literacy instruction in the early grades.
Table 2
Percentages of Five Components of Reading Included in Each of the Textbooks
Book Phonemic Awareness Phonics Fluency Vocabulary Text Comprehension Total
1 5 14 6 15 20 60
2 4 7 7 9 12 39
3 2 6 7 5 14 34
4 4 1 7 7 9 28
5a2 4 2 9 10 28
6 2 3 4 6 12 27
7a3 2 4 6 9 25
8 2 3 2 5 11 23
9 2 3 3 5 7 20
10a1 2 1 2 5 10
a. Percentages are rounded to the nearest decimal, so some of the totals may not add up exactly.
462 Journal of Learning Disabilities
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R. Malatesha Joshi, PhD, is a professor of reading education,
English as a second language, and educational psychology at
Texas A&M University, where he teaches courses and con-
ducts research in the areas of assessment and intervention of
reading and spelling problems in English speakers as well as
Joshi et al. / Education Textbooks 463
speakers of other languages. He is the founding editor of
Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal.
Emily Binks, PhD, is a lecturer and the research coordinator
for the Scarborough School of Education at the University of
Hull. Her current interests include the linguistic processes
of reading and spelling, particularly among struggling
readers and nonnative English speakers, and teacher knowl-
edge of effective literacy components and instruction.
Lori Graham is a clinical assistant professor of reading educa-
tion at Texas A&M University, where she teaches assessment and
intervention in reading. Her current interests include vocabulary
instruction in the content areas, effective instructional approaches
for struggling readers, and university-school partnerships.
Emily Ocker-Dean, PhD, is an assistant professor of curricu-
lum and instruction at McMurry University, where she teaches
courses in elementary reading methods, reading assessment,
content area reading, early childhood education, and English
as a second language.
Dennie L. Smith, PhD, is a department head, professor, and
endowed chair at Texas A&M University, where he teaches
courses in instructional theory and conducts research in
teacher education. His current research includes using anima-
tion and gaming for teaching and learning.
Regina Boulware-Gooden, PhD, is the director of
research programs at Neuhaus Education Center, Houston,
Texas.
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... Current proponents of the science of reading are correct that there is a substantial body of high-quality cognitive and neuroscientific evidence, and it is evident that instruction consistent with that research has not been emphasized much in teacher education recently (Cohen, Mather, Schneider, & White, 2017;Joshi et al., 2009). Yet, these arguments have characterized this problem too narrowly, ignoring most issues of reading instruction beyond decoding and beginning reading. ...
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... They determined that professors at the university level were lacking in understanding of critical reading components. Additionally, researchers in a separate study concluded that the textbooks being used by teacher preparation programmes contained little detail regarding the instruction of both phonological awareness and decoding, two skills that are characteristically weak in students with dyslexia (Joshi et al., 2009). ...
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... A recent study by Fuchs and her colleagues (Fuchs et al., 2019) of EFL instruction in elementary school in Israel identified several challenges to effective EFL instruction: insufficient teacher training (Joshi et al. 2009a), unsuitable textbooks (Joshi et al., 2009b), and a lack of awareness of the theoretically based teaching components needed for effective literacy instruction (Goldfus, 2012;Kahn-Horwitz, 2015;Moats, 2014;Vaisman & Kahn-Horwitz, 2019). An important component that was found lacking both in teacher training and in text books is the systematic teaching of word decoding in English. ...
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