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English Teachers Endorse Shift From Basal Readers

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The National Council of Teachers of English has put itself on record favoring an accelerated shift away from reliance on basal readers, a move that may give momentum to the push for literature-based reading instruction.

At its annual convention last month in St. Louis, the council urged policymakers "to change policies that require or favor the use of basal reading systems," and commended states that take initiatives "encouraging the use of literature as primary material for reading instruction."

The action is part of a "concerted effort to open up alternatives to teaching reading," said Constance Weaver, chairman of the council's commission on reading.

"This is only the starting point," she said. "We are trying to help people become better informed about the limitations of basal readers."

"We hope to empower teachers," Ms. Weaver said, "to help create climates in which teachers can use the best materials they know of to help foster literacy."

The council's action, she noted, could encourage other states to follow the lead of California, which recently adopted language-arts textbooks that stressed, in officials' words, "real literature," rather than the drills common to basal texts.

The council's resolution, which commended California's reading and language-arts curriculum framework, could hasten the "dramatic shift away from skills-based reading instruction," added Norma W. Willson, a language-arts consultant in Torrance, Calif.

But she also noted that the council tends to be a "liberal organization" that is more receptive than other groups to departures from tradition.

Little Time for Reading

The resolution comes at a time when a growing number of reading specialists are questioning schools' reliance on basal reading textbooks.

In a report last year, the council's reading commission concluded that such texts are based on outmoded theories of teaching and learning that take decisionmaking out of the hands of teachers and students.

In addition, the resolution states, by including workbooks, skill sheets, tests, and other supplementary materials, the basal series "leave little time for other reading activities in schools that adopt them."

Mary Kroguess, an English teach8er at Shaker Heights (Ohio) Middle School, said that, in contrast, the use of literature "has the power to quicken the imagination, and to generate talk and ideas."

Rather than require a single method of instruction, the resolution states, administrators should "allow alternatives to basal readers and ... provide inservice programs that will enable teachers to determine materials and means that best foster the development of literacy."

The ncte also resolved to:

Support the development of assessment procedures that "reflect a broad, functional, and learner-centered concept of literacy"; and

Continue a "concerted effort" to educate the public about effective literacy instruction.--rr

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