because the support any given student needs may change with different texts. This kind of “adaptive expertise” requires that a teacher have a deep understanding of comprehension processes and approaches to supporting them. Mastering decontextualized rules of instruction will not be adequate (National Research Council, 2000).
Metacognitive strategy instruction is a case in point. To teach metacognitive strategies effectively, teachers must have a good grasp themselves of the text content and of the strategies. But their knowledge must be conditionalized; they must know which strategies are most effective for which students and which types of content. They must be able to respond flexibly and opportunistically when the intervention is needed to aid student comprehension rather than using strategy instruction as the end in itself.
Research by Palincsar et al. (1989) suggests that the preconceptions that many teachers hold regarding student learning are at odds with the research-based conceptions incorporated in reciprocal teaching. In one study with first grade teachers, for example, the teachers’ own goals for student listening comprehension emphasized the ability to follow a sequence of directions, and instruction was limited to the support of that goal. The teachers believed that collaboratively constructing the meaning of text was beyond their students’ abilities. Pilot studies of reciprocal teaching using teachers whose beliefs were in accordance with the program showed significant gains for 85 percent of students. But in the hands of first grade teachers with discordant beliefs, only 47 percent of their first graders showed comparable improvement, even after the teachers were trained in the technique by the researchers.
In other work as well, Palincsar and her colleagues found that teachers who conceptualize reading as a sequence of isolated skills require considerable support and coaching to overcome the propensity to use the strategies in a routine fashion. Without that support, their students show gains in tests of strategy use, but not in reading comprehension (Palincsar, 1986). Teachers’ conceptions regarding collaborative learning more generally diverge from the research base as well. While research suggests that student performance in collaborative groups exceeds individual performance, teachers generally believe that collaborative groups support social goals but not cognitive gains (Palincsar et al., 1989).