Howard Margolis, a professor of educational and community programs
at Queens College, has edited the Reading and Writing Quarterly
for the last decade. He reports here on this major journal in the
In Congressional testimony before the House Committee on Education
in 1997, Dr. Reid Lyon of the National Institutes of Health painted
this grim picture: “The psychological, social, and economic consequences
of reading failure are legion. . . . Unfortunately, it appears that
for about half of our nations children, learning to read is a .
. .formidable challenge, and for at least 20 to 30% of these youngsters,
reading is one of the most difficult tasks that they will have to
master throughout their life.
This is very unfortunate because if you do not learn to read and
you live in America, you are not likely to make it in life. This
view could almost stand as the mission statement the contributors
to Reading & Writing Quarterly and its editors have pursued over
the 17 years since its founding.
Failure to learn to read and write devastates children, frequently
resulting in embarrassment, stigma, social isolation, resentment,
depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and behavioral problems. Ongoing
reading and writing difficulties dramatically increase a childs
likelihood of being retained in grade and ultimately dropping out
of school. Not surprisingly, reading and writing difficulties, and
the many problems they create, dramatically reduce a childs future
chances for economic and social success.
The Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties
(RWQ), to give the journals full title, is dedicated to reversing
these problems by publishing articles that address the broad array
of issues involved in preventing literacy problems. As a peer-reviewed,
interdisciplinary journal that aims to influence practice, as well
as to advance knowledge in reading and writing, RWQ publishes articles
that emphasize the connection between research and practice.
As with all leading journals, the RWQ Review Board consists of leading
literacy scholars and practitioners from around the country. Three
of the Boards members Drs. Irene Clarke, Daniel Hittleman, and Lee
Ann Truesdell—teach at Queens College.
RWQ stresses the implications of the latest research for classroom
and special education teachers, reading specialists, psychologists,
and administrators. In line with this goal, the journal publishes
literature reviews, original research, theoretical essays, program
descriptions, and articles on assessment, instruction, and decision-making
Two premises underlie RWQs editorial policy of diversity. First
is the conviction that, over time, no one instructional approach
or theoretical orientation has proven best. As Richard L. Allington,
professor of education at SUNY-Albany and past president of the
National Reading Conference, has noted, Because reading and writing
are complex and children and teachers are different, there can be
no one best way to teach reading and writing.Second, we believe
that progress results from the full, careful, impartial, and open-minded
examination of different viewpoints that are supported by sound
Although RWQ has published individual articles, the majority of
its past issues have offered a single-theme focus. Recent umbrella
topics we have explored include the affective dimensions of literacy
difficulties (for example, anxiety, alienation, aggression, withdrawal),
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders, cooperative learning,
electronic literacy, and homework problems. RWQ has also devoted
issues to integrating special-ed students into regular classes,
overcoming problems of motivation, school- and district-wide change,
textbook evaluation and modification, word-recognition difficulties,
and writing assessment.
The theme format offers a multifaceted synthesis of relevant scholarship
that makes clear, well-justified linkages to recommended practices.
For example, in a recent issue on performance-based assessment,
two articles examined first the perspective of equity and fairness
and then the potential of such assessment to help or hurt students
with reading and writing problems. These articles were complemented
by two related articles that described how practitioners could use
the principles of performance-based assessment to improve teaching
in heterogenous classrooms and help resolve nagging issues of educational
Most appropriately, the City Universitys connection with RWQ has
been strong. In addition to its editor, two of its associate editors
have CUNY links: Gaoyin Qian is an associate professor in the graduate
program in reading at Lehman College, and Patrick P. McCabe, now
associate professor of reading at St. Johns University, was formerly
an associate professor of education at Baruch College.
Many RWQ contributors are CUNY faculty or graduates. Distinguished
Professor Linnea C. Ehri, in the Graduate Centers Educational Psychology
Program, is one of the nations leading authorities on the problems
children have learning to recognize words. RWQ recently published
an article she co-authored on Phases of Word Learning: Implications
for Instruction with Delayed and Disabled Readers." The article
discussed the pre-alphabetic, partial-alphabetic, full-alphabetic,
consolidated-alphabetic, and automatic phases of word recognition.
It also demonstrated how teachers could use this knowledge with
delayed readers to tailor "a program of word learning. . .to capitalize
on the students strengths, to avoid instruction that requires processes
the learner has not yet acquired and to move the student through
that phase into the next."
Dr. S. Jay Samuels, a professor of educational psychology at the
University of Minnesota, graduated from Queens College in 1953 with
a degree in elementary education. He has won many major research
awards and is recognized as one of the nations eminent researchers
on the ability of readers "to perform complex skills with minimal
attention and conscious effort," which is technically referred to
as automaticity. Without the virtually instantaneous recognition
of words and phrases, retrieval of word meaning from the mind while
reading, and the accurate creation of a texts intended meanings,
reading is a laborious, fatiguing, disagreeable task characterized
by diminished comprehension and small accomplishment.
Samuels guest-edited an issue of RWQ on automaticity that summarized
research on the subject. Importantly, the issue addressed new roles
for automaticity in reading and showed how the context and the appearance
of words can affect the development of automaticity. One suggestion
given for using context and the appearance of words to improve automaticity
was to have children repeatedly read newly-learned words in different
materials with different fonts. In this way, teachers can help children
quickly retrieve the pronunciation and meaning of words from memory,
freeing them from dependence on more demanding word-analysis strategies.
Samuels automaticity issue revealed an important subject for future
inquiry: how to reduce the amount of practice needed to identify
words and their meanings quickly.
Great strides have been made over the last two decades in effectively
addressing the learning, social, and emotional needs of students
tormented by literacy problems. Yet, much more has to be done to
translate what is known into daily realities that serve these children
and their families.
To this end, RWQ will seek to broaden the scope of topics it presents.
Among those now on the drawing-board are: translating literacy research
into practice, helping teachers establish and maintain high levels
of morale during stressful change, dealing with the politics of
reading, using groups to effectuate individualized instruction,
designing diagnostic plans that impact on instruction, improving
the oral language of children, matching texts to childrens needs,
and implementing effective interventions for struggling readers.
Clearly, the field of reading/writing pedagogy is scientifically
complex, instructionally demanding, and both ideologically and politically
charged. RWQs charge has been to present the most important research
in this challenging field aimed at improving the lives of children
for whom literacy is a great barrier to success.
Sample copies and additional information about RWQ are available
from the publisher: Taylor & Francis Publishers, 325 Chestnut StreetSuite
800, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Web site: www.taylorandfrancis.com).