Education Reading Education
G. Reid Lyon, Timothy Odegard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0030


Reading is defined by a range of different theoretical fields, including education, linguistics, psychology, and cognitive science. In general, there is agreement across definitions that learning to read is a lengthy and complex developmental cognitive process where the act of reading words accurately and fluently leads to an understanding of a written linguistic message. The term literacy typically conveys a broader meaning. For example, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. . . .” From a scientific perspective, it is clear that reading skills required for comprehension develop in parallel with oral language. However, in contrast to listening and speaking abilities, which develop naturally, reading skills are acquired and must be taught. There is widespread agreement that the ultimate goals of reading are to comprehend information presented in print for the purposes of lifelong learning, to communicate thoughts and ideas with others, and to gain opportunities for educational, occupational, and economic success. The citations included in this entry lead a user to works that provide a comprehensive examination of theoretical, conceptual, and scientific, cultural, and ideological perspectives relevant to fields of reading in general and that inform teacher preparation, instructional practices, and education policy in particular. The references have been selected on the basis of their impact on reading education practices and education policy, their clarity, and their usefulness in representing multiple perspectives.

General Overviews

The following classic and contemporary works provide an introduction to what is currently known about reading development, reading difficulties, and reading instruction. An emphasis is placed on identifying resources that are comprehensive and inclusive of a wide range of perspectives that have influenced the reading field. The critical need for skilled reading in our society was brought to the public’s attention in Anderson, et al. 1985, a classic contribution that examined the status of research knowledge relevant to reading development and instruction and the status of the United States’ efforts to ensure reading proficiency for all. This book stimulated extensive research to better understand reading development and difficulties. For example, in a follow-up to the Anderson report, Adams 1990 provided a seminal and eloquent review of the development of the reading process and the number of abilities necessary for proficient reading. Users may find that the National Academy of Sciences’ consensus report, “Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children” (Snow, et al. 1998), extends Adams’s contribution by providing a valuable multiperspective analysis of the role that language, cognition, environment, and instruction play in typical and atypical reading development. Complementing this consensus report is the congressionally mandated National Reading Panels (NRP) (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 2000) meta-analytic review of the effectiveness of different instructional reading methods, programs, and strategies. The NRP report provides the first evidence-based exploration of what works and does not work in reading education. For those interested in examining the range of research perspectives and methods applied to the study of reading, the compilation Kamil, et al. 2010 is an authoritative and comprehensive work. The traditionally understudied topic of reading comprehension receives an outstanding review in Rand Study Group 2002 in an analysis of the status of what is known, providing recommendations for research directions. For those interested in the process of translating research into practice, the edited text McCardle and Chhabra 2004 does a masterful job of illuminating how scientific evidence has informed current reading policy and reading education. For users interested in critical issues surrounding the development of literacy skills in second-language learners, the Report of the National Literacy Panel, August and Shanahan 2006, supported by the US Department of Education, may be of keen interest.

  • Adams, M. J. 1990. Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    One of the most frequently cited, provocative, and influential works in the reading field, which introduces scientific evidence to account for the ways in which children acquire proficient reading skills.

  • Anderson, R. C., E. H. Hiebert, J. A. Scott, and I. A. G. Wilkinson. 1985. Becoming a nation of readers: The report of the Commission on Reading. Champaign: Center for the Study of Reading, Univ. of Illinois.

    Under the auspices of the National Academy of Education, the Center for the Study of Reading produced this important report on the status of research and instructional practice in reading education.

  • August, Diane D., and T. Shanahan. 2006. Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    An important and highly influential report created for the US Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences to identify, assess, and synthesize research on the education of language-minority children and youth according to the degree of literacy they have acquired.

  • Kamil, M. L., P. D. Pearson, E. R. Moje, and P. Aflerback, eds. 2010. Handbook of reading research. Vol. 4. New York: Routledge.

    This volume includes comprehensive research reviews of the full range of reading topics, conducted by scholars from multiple disciplines and perspectives. This work should be required reading for those seeking a thorough understanding of the educational, scientific, political, and policy factors that influence the direction of current reading policy and instruction today.

  • McCardle, P., and Chhabra, V. 2004. The voice of evidence in reading research. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

    Comprehensive analysis of the scientific evidence relevant to reading development, reading difficulties, and reading instruction. Breaks new ground by integrating research on policy development, requirements for scientific research in reading, and the conditions under which reading development is best supported.

  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). 2000. Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. 2 vols. NIH Publication 00-4769. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

    The first congressionally mandated scientific analysis of the effectiveness of different instructional methods and approaches to the teaching of reading, which has had a profound effect on reading research, professional development, reading education, and state and federal education policy.

  • Rand Study Group. 2002. Reading for understanding: Toward an R&D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

    Extensive analysis of what is currently known about reading comprehension and the instructional strategies that support its development. This volume breaks significant new ground in identifying research needs. The group was chaired by Catherine E. Snow.

  • Snow, C., M. Burns, and P. Griffin, eds. 1998. Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy.

    A seminal consensus report from the National Academy of Sciences, funded by the US Office of Education and the National Institutes of Health, which provides an extensive treatment of the developmental reading process and promising instructional practices.

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