Should instruction in reading span all high-school disciplines?; Becoming Readers in a Complex Society, Volume I: 83rd Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, co-edited by Alan Purves and Olive Niles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 312 pp. $20.

Most high school teachers of academic subjects rarely teach their students the reading skills needed in their particular content area. In fact, they seem to expect students to be able to read textbooks and other materials without any additional reading help. This state of affairs may be one reason that American high school students do not read as well as we would like them to. It is also the concern of the contributors to ''Becoming Readers in a Complex Society,'' Volume I of the most recent yearbook published by the National Society for the Study of Education.

The thrust of this volume, which contains articles by well-known educators in reading and English education, is to suggest that these high school teachers of academic subjects should be teaching reading as part of their course work, a suggestion that parallels the recent proposal that all teachers be made responsible for teaching the writing skills needed for their particular subject as well as its academic content. Clearly, it is a reasonable suggestion and a pedagogical issue that needs to be addressed far more effectively than it has been so far by teacher training institutions. It is more than likely that English teachers cannot give adequate time to teaching students how to read nonliterary kinds of writing in addition to the works of literature they normally study in the English class.

In the one article that touches on some of the features of elementary school reading programs, we also learn that mainly narrative or literary selections are used to teach reading at this level. The lack of fit between the content of elementary programs and the reading needs of high school students suggests another, and possibly major, source of the difficulty later. Students who spend most of their time on stories and poems in the elementary school will not necessarily learn the reading skills that are needed for their history or physics textbooks. Nor will they necessarily learn how to read and evaluate newspaper editorials or articles and other kinds of informational material they need to read in order to become informed citizens. One hopes this mismatch will be the subject of another article explored at length in another edition of this comprehensive, thoughtful, and well-written series.$90, By Sandra Stotsky; Sandra Stotsky is a free-lance writer living in Brookline, Mass.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.