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Volume VIII Number 12 . . . . February 15, 2002
David Booth is surely one of Canada's most prolific reading and writing educators. In a career spanning over thirty years, he has numerous books to his credit. Reading and Writing in the Middle Years makes another worthwhile contribution to a teacher's professional library. As with other Booth titles, such as Guiding the Reading Process, he places most of his emphasis on strategies for the classroom but still provides a brief theoretical overview of reading and writing development in the middle years. He chooses "to relax" (p. 11) about curricular demands (a course of action not available to many Canadian teachers) and instead presents an overview of reading and writing strategies he judges to be generally helpful in promoting authentic interaction of students with books.
Booth's book has four parts: "Readers and Writers in the Middle Years," "Reading Strategies," "Writing Strategies," and "Strategies for Teaching," plus a collection of "Self-Assessment Guides" (including items such as reading and writing surveys, an editing checklist and a guide to writing tests) and an index. "Readers and Writers in the Middle Years" is a nine page overview of reading and writing goals, interwoven with Booth's personal stories of his own experiences (and those of friends and colleagues). "Reading Strategies" and "Writing Strategies" contain explanations from Booth's considerable background on approaches such as skimming, noticing text features, visualizing, doing independent writing projects, and improving spelling and handwriting. The section entitled "Strategies for Teaching" offers ideas on such topics as organizing a program, reading aloud, and conferring with students. Booth's style will probably work well with most teachers. His approach is casual and friendly, with only occasional mentioning of theorists but abundant recognition of the practices of the many middle years teachers he has admired over the years. There is nothing new or exciting here, but rather a thorough overview of many traditionally effective practices.
The book is organized by headings and subheadings, but the pages tend to be print dense with a lack of visuals or white space or colour. This approach is no doubt intended to keep down the price of the book, but the small font and lack of appealing visual design did cause me to wonder about the appeal of the book for busy older teachers or for younger education students. The "look" is traditional, even dated, and does not invite easy access to information.
I also wondered that Booth did not acknowledge more up-to-date approaches such as the fostering of critical literacy and the inclusion of mass media and the arts with reading and writing. Middle years students especially, it seems to me, need both to appreciate and evaluate the multiple texts, both print and non-print, of their own worlds and become more broadly literate in a variety of sign systems. Young adolescents are intrigued by new technologies that mediate reading and writing in conjunction with visual and multimedia texts. Print text remains important, but often they comprehend it and want to create it along with images, music, and dance. Today's middle years students want to navigate web sites, make music videos, create e-zines, draw comic books, and understand exploitative (yet well designed) advertisements in their favourite magazines. The new generation of teachers, and those interested in upgrading their practice, will have to learn how to weave these new demands into their curriculum.
Nevertheless, to be fair, Booth has delineated his emphasis on reading and writing and his lack of focus on new curricular mandates, which include, for example, media literacy, so teachers need mostly to be aware that this is a highly personal look at what is important in a language arts program.
Reading and Writing in the Middle Years summarizes a life-time of work with Canadian teachers. It is as much a tribute as a source of instructional ideas and is a valid addition to a professional development library.
Recommended with reservations.
Deborah L. Begoray is an associate professor in language arts in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. She is currently assisting secondary pre-service and in-service teachers to implement new language arts curricula.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.