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Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It: A Scientific Revolution in Reading Paperback – March 24, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (March 24, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684853566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684853567
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #510,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


E.D. Hirsch, Jr. author of Cultural Literary A superb achievement...This clearly written and authoritative work is the work to read for parents and teachers who wish everyone in our democracy to be able to read.

From the Foreword, by Steven Pinker author of The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works Why Our Children Can't Read is one of the most important books of the decade. Read it for your own pleasure and enlightenment, and buy copies for the people in control of your children's education.

Rita Kramer The Wall Street Journal The real news this book brings us is that no child has to fail at learning to read, that there are ways to help those who have trouble without consigning them to the dustheap of special ed classes. For parents of children with reading problems, this book is a clear guide to effective remedial programs.

From the Publisher

Chances are, if you can read this book, you're lucky. Even so, you may be reading it less well than you could. The fact is, you probably learned to read the wrong way, but somehow you've managed to get by, even do well. Many children and adults are not so lucky.

In America today, 43 percent of our children test below grade level in reading. Among adults, 42 million are functionally illiterate. The numbers are staggering, but in our schools, the problem is only getting worse. Most schools teach reading with phonics, the whole language method, or some eclectic combination of the two. Unfortunately, these methods are failing our children; phonics by 30 percent, whole language by 50 percent.

We are in crisis. Now, what are we going to do about it? If we're wise, we'll read and use what's in this book at home -- and in every school in America -- because it is the first thorough diagnosis of the problem and the first viable solution. The old methods don't work, and this book will tell you why. Psychologist Diane McGuinness draws on twenty-five years of solid reading research that shows exactly how the current system fails and how to fix it.

She explains that the ability to read depends on the ability to hear the sounds of our language correctly, and on a working knowledge of something called the spelling code, which is the key to how English spelling works: what letters and letter combinations go with which sounds. This connection of sounds and the symbols that represent them is crucial to learning how to read, and McGuinness explains it with rigor, clarity, and expertise. Moreover, she shows how this method is scientifically proven and has transformed so-called dyslexics and troubled readers into expert readers and spellers, often in astoundingly short periods of time.

Diane McGuinness has given us the blueprint for a reading revolution -- one that offers real hope to the millions of children and adults who are failing needlessly in school and in life. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I am very much further ahead .
julie elliott
McGuinness has been a tireless researcher and prolific author, and has added over six volumes to the theoretical and practical understanding of how to teach literacy.
Warner Peter
This book should be a must read for every teacher and for all parents with children who are struggling with reading skills in school.
Arlie T. Clark

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Warner Peter on March 6, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kousuke had never been to my classroom before, so we were both a little nervous as he faced me across the table. As his mother watched from the couch behind him, he answered questions about an animal scene I had placed between us, and I began to get a sense of his ability with English. For a lower elementary grade student, his responses were remarkable- alert, expressive, and confident. I reached into his bag and pulled out one of the books he had brought to show me, opened it to a random page, and asked him to read it for me. Without hesitation, he read through two paragraphs of the Frog and Toad story, as his mother beamed from the couch. It was astounding, especially for a child who hadn't yet stepped foot outside of Japan.

But something bothered me. He was going through the story almost too fast, as if he was reciting a familiar tale, and he wasn't giving himself time to look closely at at the words printed on the page. It was obvious that he knew the story, but it wasn't clear if he knew what he was looking at.

Stepping to the large white board next to the table, I wrote the letters t-o-b, and asked him how he would read what I had written. Instantly, he announced `dot'. Okay, I responded, trying not to convey any disapproval or praise in my voice, and wrote d-o-s. `That's dog' he almost shouted, perhaps a little impatient with such simple words. After I wrote s-o-d, he suddenly hesitated, gazed curiously at those three letters, and then said simply; `I don't know'. I was stunned.

In ten more minutes, I was certain of five things: Kousuke was a motivated student with a strong interest in English. He could memorize whole words, sentences, and even stories. He could not read. Neither could he write.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Teecha247 on October 1, 1998
Format: Hardcover
As a teacher with advanced degrees in reading and learning disabilities, I have never read a more concise, persuasive (and useful) book. Ms. McGuinness's research results certainly changed my professional direction. I bought Reading Reflex as well, became a certified Phono-Graphix instructor/trainer, and have built a successful reading therapy practice. EVERY client has succeeded using this approach (average: 24 session-hours). The sad part is the non-believers and the naysayers, those teachers and administrators who refuse to acknowledge the power of the evidence, refuse to read about this paradigm shift in instruction, and refuse to discuss the new possibilities for struggling readers of any age. Some even attempt to deny the obvious results! All I can say is I consult my copy of this book so often that it's falling apart--and I've just ordered a second copy from Amazon!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I am a home educator. I have looked for years for a spelling program which would teach phonics in an overall logical way. I discovered this book, read it three times (it is in the library), and bought the program [money]. It is well worth it!
Even though I have a couple of problems with it such as the lesson numbering system and completeness, I am thrilled with the result. My 7th grader finished it around Christmas. She spent 1 1/2 years on it. She can spell VERY well now--not before. My son began in 3rd grade and now is finishing 4th. His spelling has done a complete turn around.
Just to let you know, both of my children read well beyond their years, even before this program. I used "Teach Me To Read in 100 Easy Lessons" and then "Alphaphonics." They still couldn't spell.
We went through many, many programs which I gave up on because they didn't work. This one teaches rules which apply to ALL words not just memorizing a few disjointed lists. Her theories are right on target. I wish that I had been taught this way. I was a terrible speller most of my life. Now I am not too bad at all. My children won't ever be horrible spellers, thanks to her methods.
I believe that everyone should use this method. Once it is taught, I can assure you that the other programs will be unnecessary. I got out my McGuffey's Speller. My daughter had very little problems with any of the words.
I would like to say thanks to Diane. And, I have already sold 2 others on this program. I wish she would speak at some Home Educator conferences, though. I am only one.
Thanks again!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By lauzaucpa@iname.com on October 12, 1997
Format: Hardcover
On the very first page of her book, Diane McGuinness profiled a boy whose reading and writing issues were so much like my daughter's that I knew for once I was reading a book that was going to take my concerns seriously. For the last year, I have been searching high and low for a reading program that makes sense. I thought phonics instruction was preferable to making her memorize words, but when I tried to teach it, I ran into the very issues McGuinness describes in the book - incomplete and confusing rules that just get broken anyway. The method McGuiness recommends (teaching sounds first) is elegant and simple, and would seem to solve the problem my daughter seems to have more than any other - inability to hear the sounds inside the words. I just wish this book had been published a year ago when I started on this agonizing journey. I must disagree with Rita Kramer though, because I don't believe this book is too technical for parents who want the best for their children. How else can we evaluate whether her program makes sense unless she gives us an in-depth analysis? This is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the hows and whys of reading.
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