I loved this book, and would definitely add it to my own library. Before reading the text, I had never really considered how much work goes into independently deciphering a text (something I should have been well aware of, given the number of science journals I have had to overcome in my academic history), and yet when laid out on the page, each step and strategy is easily recognizable as something I do without thinking. One of the book's greatest strengths lies in the detail Beers provides for each strategy: modelling the strategy through use of a transcript, and then supporting and explaining the lesson through the use of examples, more transcripts, and student work samples. Beers even goes so far as to provide numerous reproducible templates, which can be used as-is or easily adapted to a specific class or text.
Though When Kids Can't Read is aimed at teachers of grades 6-12, who are dealing with students who should be able to read, but for whatever reason have failed to develop the necessary skills, it would also be a valuable resource for teachers of the younger grades -- the strategies taught are meant to correct oversights in the process of learning to read, but they ultimately lead to skills that are invaluable at any age, and the lessons included can be easily adapted for younger readers.
The text is organized primarily as a handbook. The first three chapters outline the difficulties of using "these kids can't read" as a generalization and excuse, and provides a very detailed chart which a teacher can use to figure out exactly what the problems are when faced with a struggling reader. The chart then directs the teacher to the appropriate chapter for dealing with the problem (a simplified version of this chart is located on the inside cover, for handy reference). The chapters address a variety of subjects, laid out in a very logical order: reading comprehension, inference, pre-reading strategies, during-reading strategies, after-reading strategies, vocabulary, fluency, word recognition, spelling, response to literature, and identifying literature of interest. Finally, a comprehensive appendix provides the reader with templates, exemplars, transcripts of successful lessons, word lists, and book lists.
Each chapter provides a thorough introduction to and definition of the reading problem in question, personalized by a "Dear George" letter, written to a struggling reader Beers failed to help in her first year of teaching. The "Step Inside a Classroom" sections within each chapter provide comprehensive and illustrative transcripts of the problem as it occurs during a lesson, and is followed by a variety of techniques (again with illustrations and examples) that might be used to address and remedy the problem. Another "Dear George" letter, reflecting on what went wrong in that first year and what might have been done differently, completes each chapter.
The text also challenges the teacher's perception of what exactly a struggling reader *is*, pointing out that we all struggle with text at some point in our lives (or even lack thereof -- I can't count the number of times I've been reduced to long, profane tirades over IKEA instructions), and that the key issue is not "does this student struggle with the text", but rather "what does the reader do when the text gets tough?"
This book is instrumental in helping teachers begin to comprehend exactly what each student's needs are, and how to establish strategies to help students meet those needs. It's a lifelong learning process, and one that becomes an uphill battle at times, but a teacher cannot be successful unless he or she truly understands how an independent reader functions. Now that I know what's going on in my own head as a reader, I feel more confident in my ability to pass that on to my students. After all, in the incredibly apt words of Lee Shulman, "those who can, do. Those who understand, teach."
Thanks to When Kids Can't Read, I finally understand.
Oh, and regarding the two-star review below, based solely on a copy of Appendix M and not on the text itself, the errors the reviewer cites as being sufficient basis to pass over this incredibly helpful text are not present in the current edition.