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Unison Reading

Unison Reading
Socially Inclusive Group Instruction for Equity and Achievement

First Edition

June 2012 | 168 pages | Corwin

"This book's strong research base, as well as the knowledge that a school can use this method with success, speaks volumes about the possibilities for success using Unison Reading."
—Dolores M. Hennessy
New Milford Public Schools, CT

"This could be the most innovative approach to reading instruction I've come across in the last 20 years. It has the potential to transform classroom practice, enabling students to meet the highest quality standards of reading instruction. A must-read."
—Susan B. Neuman, Professor
University of Michigan, School of Education, Ann Arbor, MI

A revolutionary breakthrough in reading instruction that benefits ALL students!

When teachers give students an equal opportunity to learn, children flourish. Unison Reading is a novel approach to literacy instruction that creates a more equitable learning experience and advances students' reading abilities. Unison Reading engages students as they read content of their choice aloud in small, diverse groups. Tested and proven effective in a PreK–8 Title I school, Unison Reading:

  • Builds on the premise that reading is fundamentally a social activity, and texts are expressions of social purposes
  • Organizes learning around children's self-chosen interests
  • Fosters confidence, relationships, and collaboration between students
  • Maximizes children's opportunities to communicate with and learn from others
  • Redistributes responsibility for learning from the teacher to the students

This innovative guidebook includes principles for practice, teacher testimonials, and an appendix with ready-to-use forms. Cynthia McCallister's groundbreaking work addresses frequently asked questions from educators and clearly demonstrates how Unison Reading benefits all students.


Foreword by David R. Olson
About This Book
About the Author
1. What is Unison Reading? The Method
Unison Reading: A Pedagogical Revolution

The Unison Reading Method

The Unison Reading Record

Children's Self-Responsibility and Accountability

Getting Started With Unison Reading

Conclusion: "Chew Food Taste Better"

2. Unison Reading as a Program of Instruction: Classroom Implementation
Unison Reading: Principles for Practice

Classroom Implementation

Summarizing Procedures for Implementation

Conclusion: The Paradox of Rules

3. Distinctions and Differences: How Unison Reading Breaks the Mold
The Aims of Reading

Group Reading Instruction: Traditions and Conventions

Redefining Reading Instruction: Unison Reading as a New Space for Learning

An Examination of Unison Reading Principles

A Pedagogy for Reading

4. "A Seat at the Table": How Unison Reading Supports Every Child
Raising Strong Readers From the Start: Unison Reading in Kindergarten and First Grade

Unison Reading in Content Areas: Maximizing Learning in Middle School

English Language Learners and the Pull of a "Cool" Text

Re-Engaging Reluctant and Avoidant Adolescent Readers

Re-Entry: Mainstreaming Students With Special Needs Into the General Education Classroom

Unison Reading Is Good for Everybody: The Advantages of Diverse Learning Groups

"Unison Reading Makes Teachers Reading Teachers": What We Ourselves Can Learn at the Table

5. Conclusion: Unison Reading as Consciousness Raising
A Concluding Story: Unison Reading at the Jacob Riis School Conclusion


Afterword by Edmund W. Gordon
Appendix A. Forms
Appendix B. Forms

"This book’s strong research base, as well as the knowledge that a school can use this method with success, speaks volumes to the success rate of using Unison Reading."

Dolores M. Hennessy, Reading Specialist
New Milford Public Schools, CT

"This book offers the promise of an effective approach to reading instruction based on sound theory and substantial research. It is a powerful antidote to the hyper-focus on low level reading skills."

Curt Dudley-Marling, Professor
Lynch School of Education, Boston College, MA

“Cynthia McCallister reminds us to stop labeling children and to begin listening to them and learning from them. Above all, the author highlights the importance of camaraderie, respect and support as children learn to read in the company of their peers.”

Shelley Harwayne, Author and Educational Consultant
New York, NY

"As the principal who collaborated with McCallister to pilot the implementation of Unison Reading on a PK-8 schoolwide basis, I have witnessed firsthand its true power to dramatically raise reading achievement. Growth of students in all grades outpaced the national norm, and our lowest performing students' achievement rates have been even more dramatic. Unison Reading, if brought to a larger scale, can close the achievement gap.”

Kerry Rutishauser, Principal
The Jacob Riis School—P.S. 126/Manhattan Academy of Technology, New York City Department of Education

“Cynthia McCallister’s Unison Reading boldly proposes and shows how to achieve a deep change of theory and practice in the acquisition and development of reading. It promises to live up to its subtitle and build socially inclusive classrooms producing equity and achievement. And, most exciting of all, this uncommon sense approach will banish boredom and bring joy and excitement back to the reading class."

John S. Mayher, Professor Emeritus
New York University

“Unison Reading enables educators to deliver the kind of attention to individual performance that is normally only attained through one-on-one instruction. As a science education researcher I've used Unison Reading to hear students co-construct and talk about scientific words, claims, and evidence and found it to be a powerful tool to design transformative instruction.”

Susan Kirch, Associate Professor, Science Education
New York University

“McCallister and her colleagues in schools have spawned an enormously generative idea that creates a lively and inclusive learning environment. This approach provides a remarkable opportunity for teachers who want a very rich context for observing students' comprehension and interests."

Susan Lytle, Professor of Education
University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education

“McCallister has developed one of the most exciting and important educational innovations I have ever seen. In an era where schools are forced into a Faustian choice between time spent on academic skills and time spent on social, moral, and character development, along comes this theoretical and practical breath of fresh air, which elegantly does it all at the same time. This book should be read by anyone interested in improving education.”

Joshua Aronson, Associate Professor and Editor of Improving Academic Achievement: Impact of Psychological Factors on Education
New York University

“Thank you, Cynthia McCallister, for this remarkable contribution to practices of collaborative learning. The concept of Unison Reading reminds us that learning is fundamentally a social process. Most helpfully, we are introduced to the fine details of how this process can increase motivation, attention, mutually supportive relationships, and reading mastery. I am very impressed, and we should all be grateful.”

Kenneth J. Gergen, Senior Research Professor and Author
Swarthmore College, PA

"This could be the most innovative approach to reading instruction I've come across in the last 20 years. It has the potential to transform classroom practice, enabling students to meet the highest quality standards of reading instruction. A must-read."

Susan B. Neuman, Professor and former Assistant Secretary of Education
University of Michigan, School of Education, Ann Arbor, MI
Key features
This resource contains:
  • An innovative model strongly embedded in theory, but with specific examples to show how it works in real classrooms and with all children, including delayed and reluctant readers and English language learners.
  • Vignettes illustrating unison reading in practice, and data showing its effectiveness in a K-8 pilot program
  • Strong and much needed research base uniting social construction theories with reading pedagogy
  • Unison reading prompts as compared to traditional reading comprehension prompts
  • Guidelines and reproducible forms for implementing the unison reading approach at the classroom and school-wide level


Sample Materials & Chapters

Foreword by David R. Olson