Preparing Reading Teachers
Teaching reading well is far more complicated than it might seem to a casual observer. Reading is a skill that can be developed by some learners regardless of the quality of instruction they receive, and an able and well-prepared child can make the experience of learning to read look fairly effortless. What casual observers may miss is the extent of knowledge and preparation a skillful teacher brings to a classroom that may include students with a range of impediments to learning to read. Successful reading teachers—and we include both teachers of elementary students in the early stages of reading, and teachers of older students who are struggling with reading—understand how students learn to read and how to provide the support they need.
Yet this description hardly captures the complexity of preparing students to flourish in the workplace and in a society that requires high-level uses of text. Teachers of reading are called on to prepare students to interpret complex ideas, critically analyze arguments, synthesize information from multiple sources, and use reading to build their knowledge. When literacy is measured by these criteria, the literacy crisis in the United States is evident.
According to the most recent “reading report card” for the nation (Lee, Grigg, and Donahue, 2007), 67 percent of 4th graders and 74 percent of 8th graders are scoring at minimal levels of reading competency. There has been no significant improvement in reading achievement at grades 8 and 12 since 1992, and the achievement gaps for historically underperforming subgroups have not been reduced (Grigg, Donahue, and Dion, 2007; Lee,
Grigg, and Donahue, 2007). Furthermore, 4th- and 8th-grade students who are English-language learners scored 36 and 42 standard-scale points, respectively, below the performance of native speakers of English in 2007 (Lee, Grigg, and Donahue, 2007).
In this chapter we first briefly discuss the general state of research on reading. The next four sections address the four questions presented in Chapter 4 as applied to reading:
What are students expected to know and be able to do to be successful readers?
What instructional opportunities are necessary to support successful students?
What do successful teachers know about reading and how to teach reading?
What instructional opportunities are necessary to prepare successful teachers?
We then turn to what is known about how teachers are currently being prepared to teach reading, and we close with our conclusions.
THE RESEARCH BASE
The available research that relates specifically to the preparation of reading teachers is relatively sparse, but we identified a range of materials that shed light on our questions about what preparation for reading teachers ought to entail and on what reading programs currently require. The overwhelming majority of the research we found on reading education concerns two topics: the process of learning to read and strategies for teaching the elements of fluent, accurate reading, and for addressing problems that can delay the development of reading skills.
The study of reading has followed a variety of pathways in the course of a long history (Venezky, 1984). As the practical necessity and prevalence of literacy have grown, scholars from a range of fields—including linguistics, neuroscience, and cognitive and developmental psychology, as well as sociology and history—have explored questions about how people learn to read, reading difficulties, and other questions pertaining to literacy. Yet there are now so many publications on teaching reading, from so many sources, that there is a certain amount of fog around the question of how much of the guidance is based on research.
The National Reading Panel identified approximately 100,000 research studies published between 1966 and the late 1990s (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). These publications include summary documents that synthesize many research threads, consensus
documents, position papers, and standards documents, as well as published research articles. The research itself draws on a variety of methodological approaches, including correlational studies that identify connections between particular practices and student outcomes as well as experimental and quasi-experimental studies that use controls to assess the effects of instruction. The “reading wars,” which were based on differences between proponents of the whole-language and phonics-based approaches to teaching reading to young children, illustrate how easily questions about literacy and reading have been politicized (Lemann, 1997). Thus, sorting through all of the research and other publications about reading is a major task.
For our work, we were fortunate to have three influential publications that have summarized this work, by the National Research Council (NRC) (1998), the National Reading Panel (NRP) of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000), and the International Reading Association (2007). We have relied particularly on these documents because their authors are groups that represent the leading scholars in the field and because the authors established rigorous criteria for their reviews of the literature. However, we also consulted a number of other documents that summarize and reflect prominent theoretical stances and positions in the field.
There is a strong, empirically based consensus about our first two questions: what students are expected to know and be able to do to be successful readers at different stages and what kinds of instructional opportunities support the development of successful readers. For our third question, what successful teachers know about reading, there is a growing consensus, though one less well supported by empirical evidence. And for our fourth question, what preparation helps teachers become successful at teaching reading, we found very little evidence. We also found comparatively little evidence on the current preparation of reading teachers, though studies of specific jurisdictions and a small number of other studies provide some insights.
WHAT ARE STUDENTS EXPECTED TO KNOW AND BE ABLE TO DO TO BE SUCCESSFUL READERS?
Reading, a skill relevant and necessary in every field of academic study and in most other aspects of life, is somewhat different from other school subjects. Theories—such as cognitive theories about text comprehension or sociocultural theories about the role of context in shaping literacy learning opportunities—have made important contributions to the understanding of reading. However, the “big ideas”1 of reading are not theories and con-
cepts that are central to any field of academic inquiry. Rather, the principal elements of the knowledge of how students develop as readers, and how successful readers navigate texts, have emerged from many disciplines, from the study of a range of questions using a range of methods.
Research on reading has produced a portrait of successful readers at various stages of their development and has characterized the principal difficulties that impede progress in learning to read fluently. We summarize here the main findings from the three summary documents that relate to the question of what successful readers know.
Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children
The committee that developed Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (National Research Council, 1998) was asked to consider the effectiveness of interventions for young children who are at risk of having problems learning to read. The committee examined a range of evidence, including case studies, correlational studies, experimental and quasi-experimental studies, epidemiological studies, ethnographies, and other work. The committee looked for converging evidence from a range of sources to support their conclusions. The report’s introduction contains a detailed discussion of the complex issues associated with evidence in the field of reading (pp. 34-40).
The committee found that children who are successfully learning to read have
a working understanding of how sounds are represented alphabetically,
sufficient practice in reading to achieve fluency with different kinds of texts,
sufficient background knowledge and vocabulary to render written texts meaningful and interesting,
control over procedures for monitoring comprehension and repairing misunderstandings, and
continued interest and motivation to read for a variety of purposes.
There are three potential stumbling blocks that may impede children’s progress toward skilled reading. The first obstacle, which arises at the outset of reading acquisition, is difficulty understanding and using the alphabetic principle—the idea that written spellings systematically represent spoken words. It is hard to comprehend connected text if word recognition is inaccurate or laborious. The second obstacle is a failure to transfer the comprehension skills of spoken language to reading and to acquire new strategies
that may be specifically needed for reading. The third obstacle to reading will magnify the first two: the absence or loss of an initial motivation to read or failure to develop an appreciation of the rewards of reading.
National Reading Panel
In response to a congressional charge, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a division of the National Institutes of Health, formed the NRP to “assess the status of research-based knowledge, including the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching children to read” (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000, p. 1). The report was designed to build on the 1998 NRC report.
The NRP’s process included public hearings that involved teachers, parents, university scholars, educational policy experts, and others in wide-ranging discussions of learning and teaching reading, as well as a systematic review of a voluminous literature. The NRP used specific criteria to identify findings that were supported by high-quality experimental studies. It selected for consideration studies that measured reading as an outcome, were published in English in a refereed journal, focused on children’s reading development from prekindergarten through 12th grade, and used an experimental or quasi-experimental design with a control group or a multiple baseline method. The NRP also coded the selected studies for certain qualities, such as sample characteristics, degree of detail of description of interventions, methods, and outcome measures (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000).
The NRP’s findings confirmed the definition of the components of successful reading offered in the 1998 NRC report. In terms of what enables students to become successful readers, the NRP organized its findings around three foundational elements—alphabetics, fluency, and comprehension—that encompass the basic skills all readers need to master.
Alphabetics includes both phonemic awareness and phonics, which the report describes as the “two best school-entry predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of instruction” (p. 7). Phonemes are defined as “the smallest units composing spoken language.” The two sounds that make up the word “go,” for example, are two phonemes. A phoneme can be identified by a single letter, but phonemes are not synonymous with either letters or syllables. Thus, phonemic awareness, the ability to recognize and use spoken phonemes, precedes understanding of phonics, the way “letters are linked to sounds (phonemes) to form letter-sound correspondences.” The NRP found that “systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for children in kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read” (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000, p. 9).
Students must also develop fluency, or the capacity to “read orally with speed, accuracy, and proper expression” (p. 11). Fluency increases with practice in oral and silent reading.
Both alphabetic skill and fluency are essential for students to achieve the purpose of reading, comprehension. Viewed as “essential not only to academic learning in all subject areas but to lifelong learning as well” (p. 13), comprehension is described by the NRP a “complex cognitive process” that requires an adequate vocabulary, purposeful “interaction with the text,” and the capacity to relate ideas in the text to personal knowledge and experiences (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000, p. 13).
Because they overlap, the underlying skills may be grouped in various ways (e.g., phonemic awareness and phonics may be treated as one skill or two) than the one used by the NRP report. However, the field has achieved consensus on the basic components of what a successful reader “knows.” These elements—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension—are increasingly identified as the most important content for teacher preparation courses (August and Shanahan, 2006).
International Reading Association
The International Reading Association (IRA) has synthesized the literature on reading with the goal of offering guidance on preparation for reading teachers. Its findings are presented in the form of a multipart study of effective practices (2003a), standards for reading professionals (2003b), and a research synthesis (2007). The study on practices (2003a) included a survey of reading teacher educators, an in-depth look at several programs identified as exemplary, and analysis of the effectiveness of the graduates of those programs. The IRA standards (2003b) are used by the faculties of teacher preparation programs and state departments of education in planning for the training of classroom reading teachers, paraprofessionals, reading specialists and coaches, reading teacher educators, and administrators. They are also used for evaluating both candidates and programs. A revised version (which will incorporate new comments from panels of experts and reviewers) is scheduled for publication in 2010.
The IRA’s 2007 report synthesized findings from the 2003 study, as well as a review of empirical research by Risko and colleagues (2008) (discussed below). Many of its findings are more pertinent to the committee’s questions 2, 3, and 4, than to question 1, but with regard to what successful readers know, it essentially follows the NRP in identifying what it refers to as the major components of reading. The IRA’s purpose in these three documents is to guide instruction and teacher preparation, so it discusses the skills in the context of strategies for teachers.
From these summary reports it is clear that there is a consensus among leaders in the field of reading that successful beginning readers possess six foundational skills:
oral language as a base for learning,
a grasp of phonics,
vocabulary knowledge, and
Adolescent Readers and English-Language Learners
The basic picture of what successful readers know begins with young children whose first language is English. The picture is somewhat different for adolescent readers and English-language learners. The still-developing literacy of adolescents has been less thoroughly studied than that of young children, though some recent work has expanded thinking on this topic (International Reading Association and the National Middle School Association 2002; Kamil et al., 2008). Successful adolescent readers have mastered phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency by the middle school years, but they face higher demands for vocabulary and comprehension than do younger students. Once they reach middle school, students must rely on academic vocabulary and comprehension to learn other subjects (though they begin “reading to learn” during the primary grades). Development of vocabulary and comprehension continues throughout life—unlike phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency, which become automatic once they are mastered.
Adolescents who are reading successfully expand and broaden their comprehension skills and strategies across a range of texts. The texts they read present complex ideas, technical vocabulary, an array of graphical representations that have to be interpreted, and underlying structures that mirror the discipline in which they are reading (e.g., scientific argumentation) (Greenleaf et al., 2001). These skills and strategies include predicting the content of upcoming texts, summarizing to get the gist of a document, and monitoring their own comprehension (Dole et al., 1991). Adolescents are still building stores of word knowledge that will help them in adult life and in studying new or greatly expanded knowledge domains, such as science and history (Beck, McKeown, and Kucan, 2002). Many of these skills are reflected in the proficiency standards for 8th- and 12th-grade readers established for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2005). Thus, adolescent readers build on the skills established in the elementary years by solidifying their
comprehension skills and accelerating their acquisition of the vocabulary necessary to read effectively in variety of fields.
The foundational reading skills that successful native English speakers develop apply to English-language learners as well, according to the National Literacy Panel on Language Minority Children and Youth (August and Shanahan, 2006, 2008). This panel of experts (in a range of fields relevant to language acquisition and literacy for non-native English speakers) reviewed research studies published in peer-reviewed journals, most of which used experimental or quasi-experimental designs.
The panel found that reading development for English-language learners presents several distinct challenges. Transferring conceptual knowledge and intellectual skills from students’ native language to English is not automatic, and progress with English depends in part on both the stage of development the student has reached before beginning to learn English and the strength of the skills he or she has developed in the first language. We address instructional strategies for both struggling adolescent readers and English-language learners in the discussion of question 3, below.
WHAT INSTRUCTIONAL OPPORTUNITIES ARE NECESSARY TO SUPPORT SUCCESSFUL READERS?
Instructional opportunities encompass more than teaching—curriculum, instructional materials, and other elements are also important—but the opportunities that teachers can provide are our focus. We again begin with the consensus reports. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children describes the kinds of instruction that help students become successful readers (National Research Council, 1998). They include instruction in the various uses and functions of written language and an appreciation and command of them; the use of the alphabetic principle in reading and writing; and language and metacognitive skills to meet the demands of understanding printed texts. Specifically, the report finds that adequate reading instruction for young children provides them with opportunities to:
use reading to obtain meaning from print,
have frequent and intensive opportunities to read,
be exposed to frequent, regular spelling-sound relationships,
learn about the nature of the alphabetic writing system, and
understand the structure of spoken words.
As noted above, the NRP report (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000) builds on NRC’s conclusions, and it identifies instruction in the five foundational skills as the learning experiences with the strongest basis in empirical research. The report addresses alphabetics
(including phonemic awareness and phonics), fluency, and comprehension (including vocabulary and comprehension).
The NRP panel subgroups who examined those three topics were charged with identifying effective instructional practices for each topic. The NRP found that the research base is strongest and most explicit for skills related to alphabetics. For example, instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics has been found to improve students’ reading, decoding, spelling, and comprehension skills. In particular, an approach called systematic phonics instruction is identified as a key means of building essential skills, though the authors caution that it is a means to an end, and that overemphasis on phonics instruction, at the expense of other kinds of instruction, is “unlikely to be very effective” (p. 10).
The NRP found less to say about fluency, noting only that both guided oral reading and independent silent reading are the strategies typically used to boost fluency, but that this kind of instruction is not emphasized as much as it should be. The report also identifies “guided repeated oral reading” as an important experience for all students—those who are developing in the typical way and those who are struggling, even though methodologically strong evidence linking these experiences to fluency is not available. Both direct and indirect vocabulary instruction also appear to be valuable: the NRP found that students benefit from exposure to multiple methods of vocabulary instruction, though there is no firm basis for identifying specific methods or combinations as optimal or even essential.
With regard to comprehension, the NRP report identified a solid research basis for seven types of strategies for instruction. These include, for example, teaching readers to summarize what they have read, generate questions about a text, and use graphic organizers. The NRP found that exposure to multiple methods of comprehension instruction yields the best outcomes. It did not find evidence to support specific recommendations about which strategies are best at different stages of development.
Opportunities for teachers and students to discuss the material students are reading have also been identified as a valuable tool for developing comprehension (Applebee et al., 2003). Discussions that are largely directed by the teacher—reflecting goals the teacher has identified or challenges the teacher anticipates (such as complex or unfamiliar ideas or vocabulary or support features such as maps and graphs that require interpretation)—build specific comprehension skills. Discussion-based approaches are most successful when teachers are knowledgeable about the content of the text, thoughtful about the kinds of questions that are likely to lead the students to deep understanding of the ideas, and capable of adjusting to students’ needs and challenges as the discussion unfolds.
We note that there are several approaches to instruction that are designed to build comprehension and that a debate has developed between
those who favor strategy instruction and those who favor content instruction. Strategy instruction, which entails explicitly teaching the processes used in reading for understanding, has been prominent in the literature, including the National Reading Panel Report (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). This model of instruction is principally based on theories regarding self-regulation. The alternative approach focuses on the way readers continuously build a mental representation of a text, and it calls for a focus on content, rather than processes.
The two approaches have been studied independently, but it is only recently that researchers have investigated their comparative advantages. McKeown, Beck, and Blake (2009) compared the effects of each approach and also compared them with the effects of a control approach, instruction guided by a basal reading program. This quasi-experimental study was conducted over 2 years with 5th-grade students in an urban setting. The “strategies” group received explicit teaching in specific procedures for interacting with text (i.e., summarizing, predicting, drawing inferences, generating questions, and monitoring comprehension). The “content” group responded to general questions about the meaning of the text (e.g., “What’s going on here?” “How does all this connect with what we read earlier?”). For the control group, the researchers extracted comprehension-related questions from the teachers’ edition of a basal reading program. Measures used to assess the effectiveness of instruction included assessments of the understanding of the texts taught and assessments that asked students to go beyond what they had been explicitly taught. The results of this study were mixed: they showed no difference across the approaches on one measure but more positive results for the content-based approach on others.
WHAT DO SUCCESSFUL TEACHERS KNOW ABOUT READING AND HOW TO TEACH IT?
The volume of available guidance to reading teachers shows that many practitioners and researchers have strong views about the knowledge and skills that are most important for teachers of reading; however, the research has less to offer on this question than on the question of what successful students know. The three summary reports from the National Research Council (1998), the International Reading Association (2007), and the National Reading Panel (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000) have put forward summary descriptions of what excellent reading teachers know and can do. The next section summarizes those three reports on this question; the following two sections cover two special groups, adolescents and English-language learners.
Preparing Our Teachers, a report designed to distill from the 1998 NRC report practical suggestions for teachers and teacher preparation programs, stresses the importance of a well-rounded education for prospective teachers (Strickland et al., 2002): “Because reading touches all content areas—from sciences and social studies to literature and philosophy, . . . good teachers benefit from being well read themselves and knowledgeable in many disciplines” (p. 17). The report advocates that teachers develop knowledge across a range of fields and topics—including the behavioral and cognitive sciences, the social sciences, and language and literature—as well as a detailed understanding of the content of relevant academic standards.
The NRP’s vision of what teachers need to know is grounded in their framing of what students need to know. Thus, they posit that teachers need to understand and know how to teach the foundational reading skills (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000).2 However, the NRP notes that there are numerous ways to teach these skills and that the evidence does not provide completely clear indications of which approaches are best, which are most suitable for particular groups of students, or how best to apply evidence-based techniques. Thus, the NRP asserts that prospective teachers should learn how to apply emerging empirical evidence in making their own judgments about instructional programs or developing instructional approaches for themselves, based on the needs of their students.
For example, only a handful of studies that met the NRP criteria addressed specific approaches for teaching comprehension—one of the foundational skills. The few studies that were available (related to the specific strategies known as the direct explanation approach and the transactional strategy approach) support the conclusion that formal instruction is necessary for teachers to implement them effectively. The panel also found that research on the development of reading comprehension skills provided important guidance for effective instruction (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000, p. 13):
First, reading comprehension is a complex process that cannot be understood without a clear description of the role that vocabulary development and vocabulary instruction play in the understanding of what has been read. Second, comprehension is an active process that requires an intentional and thoughtful interaction between the reader and the text. Third, the preparation of teachers to better equip students to develop and apply reading comprehension strategies is intimately linked to students’ achievement in this area.
The panel conducted similar analyses for the elements of alphabetics and fluency and found empirical support for the effectiveness of a number of instructional strategies, such as teaching children to manipulate phonemes in words and guided oral reading, in helping students develop as readers. Nevertheless, the NRP report notes that many specific questions about instructional approaches remain unanswered.
The IRA identifies an array of knowledge that is important for teachers to have. Based on professional judgment and on a review of the literature on reading and reading instruction, the IRA concluded that any preparation program for reading teachers should include six elements (International Reading Association, 2007):3
A foundation in research and theory: Teachers must develop a thorough understanding of language and reading development as well as an understanding of learning theory and motivation in order to ground their instructional decision making effectively.
Word-level instructional strategies: Teachers must be prepared to use multiple strategies for developing students’ knowledge of word meanings and strategies for word identification. This includes the study of the phonemic basis for oral language, phonics instruction, and attention to syntax and semantics as support for word recognition and self-monitoring.
Text-level comprehension strategies: Teachers must be prepared to teach multiple strategies that readers can use to construct meaning from text and to monitor their comprehension. They must understand the ways in which vocabulary (word meaning) and fluency instruction can support comprehension and develop the capacity for critical analysis of texts that considers multiple perspectives.
Reading-writing connections: Teachers must be prepared to teach strategies that connect writing to the reading of literary and information texts as a support for comprehension. This includes attention to teaching conventions of writing.
Instructional approaches and materials: Teachers must be prepared to use a variety of instructional strategies and materials selectively, appropriately, and flexibly.
Assessment: Teachers must be prepared to use appropriate assessment techniques to support responsive instructional decision making and reflection.
The IRA’s standards for reading professionals address five areas: foundational knowledge; instructional strategies and curriculum materials; assessment, diagnosis, and evaluation; creating a literate environment; and professional development (International Reading Association, 2003b).4 The standards in each area provide further detail about the knowledge and skills they believe teachers should have. For example, a reading specialist should be able to “refer to major theories in the foundational areas as they relate to reading [and to] explain, compare, and contrast the theories” (see http://www.reading.org/downloads/resources/545standards2003/index.html [February 2010]).
There is little empirical evidence that directly links particular knowledge and skills that teachers have to outcomes for students. However, experts have drawn logical conclusions about what teachers should know and be able to do from research concerning the attributes of successful readers and instructional strategies that have been successful, as well as normative views of the professional knowledge necessary to teach reading. The current working hypothesis is not that teachers need to master particular instructional strategies, but that there is an arsenal of strategies they can use to meet the needs of diverse students. Experts believe that teachers draw on both a macrolevel understanding of instructional goals (such as assessing and diagnosing readers’ strengths and weaknesses, adapting available strategies and materials to students’ needs, creating a rich literary environment with numerous and varied opportunities to practice reading skills, etc.), as well as a microlevel understanding of the foundational skills and challenges students face in mastering them, building vocabulary and comprehension (including, for example, a detailed picture of developmental stages and knowledge of how to effectively group diverse students).
In short, reading teachers rely on a broad-based understanding of:
the foundational elements of reading and the theory on which they are based;
the range of instructional strategies they can use to develop each of these skills in diverse students; and
the materials and technological resources they can use to support student learning.
Teaching Adolescent Readers
Common sense suggests that the teaching of reading is different in elementary schools than it is in middle and high schools. Elementary schools have a built-in support system for the development of successful reading. That system includes a period of time devoted each day to instruction by a teacher who has special training in reading, and elementary schools often have reading specialists and interventions for struggling readers. Middle and secondary schools, however, less frequently have systems in place to support struggling readers. English/language arts classes may offer instruction aimed at building reading and writing skills, but students who are not yet reading well are at a disadvantage, not only in those classes, but also in other classes that draw on reading skills, such as history, science, and mathematics.
Recent research has identified instructional strategies that seem to be effective with struggling adolescent readers (Kamil, 2003; Biancarosa and Snow, 2006; see also Graham and Perin, 2007; Haynes, 2007; Heller and Greenleaf, 2007; Short and Fitzsimmons, 2007).5 For example, in a recent report that was based on an expert panel’s review of current research that would be useful in identifying the most promising approaches to supporting struggling adolescent readers, Biancarosa and Snow (2006) identified nine key instructional components of effective adolescent literacy programs that have yielded improvement in reading and writing abilities:
direct, explicit comprehension instruction;
effective instructional principles embedded in content;
motivation and self-directed reading;
text-based collaborative learning;
technology component; and
ongoing formative assessment of students.
A report from the What Works Clearinghouse (a project of the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences that assesses the research support for education programs and practices) has examined class-
room practices and interventions that target the needs of adolescent readers (Kamil et al., 2008). The authors recommend five specific practices, with different levels of evidentiary support: for 1, 2, and 5, the evidence is strong; for 3 and 4, it is moderate.6 Their recommendations are that teachers (p. 7):
provide explicit vocabulary instruction,
provide direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction,
provide opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretations,
increase student motivation and engagement in literacy learning, and
make available intensive and individualized interventions for struggling readers that can be provided by trained specialists.
There is ample evidence that many students have not become successful readers by the time they leave elementary school (see, e.g., Lee, Grigg, and Donahue, 2007). Thus, it is important that teachers of middle and high school students understand the importance of helping students continue to build on the foundational reading skills established in elementary school and know how to identify students who are still struggling. Although researchers are now focusing greater attention than previously on the distinct needs of struggling adolescent readers, the literature supplies more promising ideas than settled research on the most effective ways to reach these students. Those who have studied the issue believe that teachers who work with adolescents draw on strategies for fostering motivation to read, building vocabulary, and expanding students’ capacity to comprehend a variety of information and literary texts.
Teaching English-Language Learners
Although there are teaching specialists trained to work with English-language learners (see Chapter 3), most of those students do not have enough access to specialists, either because they are moved out of language support classes before they are proficient or because they are expected to function in mainstream classes with teachers who have not been prepared to address their needs while extra language support is provided separately (Lucas and Grinberg, 2008). These students would be best served if their teachers understood the factors that affect their reading development and
were prepared to address them. Unfortunately the empirical evidence on what this preparation should consist of is limited.
Preparation for All Teachers
The National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth prepared a report similar to that of the National Reading Panel, which summarized the evidence on the development of literacy among English-language learners using similar criteria in identifying high-quality empirical research (August and Shanahan, 2006). The panel reviewed studies on the development of literacy through five domains: the differences between the development of literacy in language-minority students and mainstream students; cross-linguistic relationships between oral language development and literacy in students’ first and second languages; sociocultural contexts and literacy development; instruction and professional development; and student assessment. The panel identified the knowledge it views as important for teachers who will work with English-language learners:
understanding of the complexity of the reading process for English-language learners;
competence at explicit instruction in vocabulary, the development of oral proficiency;
content instruction that focuses on learning from text, understanding and producing academic language, genre differentiation, and academic writing;
understanding of home-school differences in interaction patterns or styles and individual differences among the wide range of English-language learners; and
understanding of the ways language and reading interact, the skills that transfer into English, and how to facilitate that transfer; and understanding of the context in which second-language learners develop as readers.
Lucas and Grinberg (2008) also summarized the literature available, including the limited number of empirical studies and other materials. They found that it is valuable for teachers of English-language learners, regardless of the subject they are teaching, to have knowledge of (p. 614):
the language backgrounds, experiences, and proficiencies of their students;
the connection between language, culture, and identity; and
language forms, mechanics, and uses.
It is valuable for teachers to understand their students’ linguistic backgrounds for several reasons. A strong teacher-student relationship has benefits for students’ academic development, for example, and teaching that draws on students’ linguistic traditions facilitates their learning. In terms of second-language development, Lucas and Grinberg (2008) cite a range of empirical and other work that indicates that the development of literacy is much smoother for English-language learners if they have already developed strong skills in their native language and that teachers should help students draw on their original language as a support in improving their English.
Lucas and Grinberg also report that it is important that teachers recognize the difference between conversational and academic language. Students cannot succeed at studying academic subjects in a second language until they have sufficient proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Moreover, anxiety, which is more likely if their skills in any of these areas are limited, can impede learning. The authors note that teaching of grammar has fallen out of favor in the English curriculum and that many teachers have not studied a second language; however, they also note that educational linguists have argued that teachers need specific knowledge of language mechanics and usage in order to facilitate their students’ language development.
Calderón (2007) has also summarized key aspects of second-language learning in a teaching framework that is based on a set of longitudinal studies in which strategies were field-tested around the country. Calderón notes that English-language learners who already have strong literacy skills in their own language have a significant advantage, but that transferring knowledge and skills from one language to another may not be automatic. English language learners may need to be explicitly taught to transfer these skills.
Furthermore, Calderón notes, building vocabulary depth (the degree of knowledge of a word) and breadth (the number of words) is more challenging for English-language learners than for native English speakers. More than a third of subject-specific vocabulary words in English are cognates with Spanish, for example, but many other words that seem to be cognates actually have different meanings in English and have to be learned (Calderón, 2007). All readers comprehend texts on familiar topics more readily than unfamiliar ones, and English-language learners may have difficulty comprehending texts, even if they are proficient readers in terms of their decoding and fluency, if they are unfamiliar with the vocabulary and content of a text. Adolescent English-language learners who have opportunities to apply comprehension skills to content texts in their native language acquire these skills much faster because they understand the text.
Once these skills are acquired in their native languages, they can be transferred to English reading (August and Shanahan, 2006).
Middle and High School Teachers
English-language learners of middle or high school age present a particular challenge. The integration of second-language and reading development requires specific teacher preparation, particularly for those who teach English-language learners in content areas such as mathematics, science, and social studies (August et al., 2005a; Valdés et al., 2005; August and Calderón, 2006; Calderón, 2007; Short and Fitzsimmons, 2007; August, 2008). The challenge is particularly hard for English-language learners who are newcomers or “students with interrupted formal education,” who may be reading at a 1st- to 3rd-grade level. These students are at a significant disadvantage because they are not generally offered the literacy instruction provided to students in elementary school (August et al., 2005b; Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2010).
Not only are middle and high school English-language learners expected to master complex course content, often with minimal background knowledge or preparation, but they also have fewer years to master the English language. English-language learners can be fluent readers even when they do not fully understand the meaning of the words they read (Stahl, 2003; Calderón et al., 2005). When English-language learners are promoted from grade to grade on the basis of fluency assessments, they may not receive appropriate instruction on vocabulary and reading comprehension (August et al., 2005c). Thus, these students benefit if their teachers of mathematics, science, and social studies can integrate explicit vocabulary and reading comprehension instruction that focuses on their subject-matter instruction (Short and Fitzsimmons, 2007). However, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (2002), in 1999-2000 only 12.5 percent of teachers who taught English-language learners had received 8 or more hours of training in teaching these students during the preceding 3 years.
Teachers of any subject or grade may be called on to address the needs of English-language learners, but reading teachers have a particular responsibility to understand the challenges of second-language acquisition. The literature we reviewed indicates the value for elementary reading teachers, reading specialists for all levels, and middle and high school English/language arts teachers of a clear theoretical understanding of the process of learning to read for English-language learners, strategies for
assessing the literacy skills of these students, and a range of strategies for targeting their needs, as well as resources for additional support (Fillmore and Snow, 2000; Valdéz et al., 2005). There is little empirical research to demonstrate that teachers who have been taught particular knowledge and skills have students who learn better than others. However, there is a consensus on the skills and knowledge most useful to teachers of reading, which provides the best available guidance for the preparation of teachers of reading:
the foundational elements of reading and the theory on which they are based;
the range of instructional strategies they can use to develop each of these skills in diverse students;
the materials and technological resources they need to support student learning;
a clear theoretical understanding of the process of learning to read for English-language learners, strategies for assessing the literacy skills of these students, and the range of available strategies for targeting their needs, as well as resources for additional support; and
strategies for helping struggling older readers build foundational skills, foster motivation to read, build vocabulary, and improve comprehension of a variety of information and literary texts.
WHAT INSTRUCTIONAL OPPORTUNITIES ARE NECESSARY TO PREPARE SUCCESSFUL READING TEACHERS?
Relatively few empirical studies have been focused on the question of how teachers ought to be prepared to teach reading. The NRP examined this question and identified just 11 studies that addressed preservice education and also met the selection criteria for their report (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). These studies did not address long-term outcomes or outcomes for students, and there were too few of them for the NRP to draw specific conclusions about what should happen in teacher preparation programs. The NRP report noted that many questions—regarding the content, length, and effectiveness of preservice education, and other issues—deserve further research.
In its synthesis of empirical and theoretical work on teacher preparation, the IRA’s Teacher Education Task Force identified six characteristics as essential to programs that “produce teachers who teach reading well” (International Reading Association, 2007, p. 1). Not all of those characteristics are directly relevant to the experiences prospective teachers should have, and they are derived less from empirical research than from an analy-
sis of programs selected as examples of a diverse range of program types. We include them here because the programs were reviewed in unusual depth, and the IRA’s exploratory work has been influential in the field:
Content: The programs draw on an integrated body of research focusing on how students become successful readers and how teachers support students with instruction.
Faculty and teaching: The faculty is committed to effective instruction that delivers appropriate content and models successful instructional techniques for students.
Apprenticeships, field experiences, and practice: The programs move teachers through systematically arrayed field experiences that are closely coordinated with their coursework and expose them to excellent modes and mentors.
Diversity: The programs are saturated with an awareness of diversity, and they produce teachers who know how to teach diverse students in diverse settings.
Candidate and program assessment: The programs intentionally and regularly assess their students, graduates, faculty, and curriculum to guide instructional decision making and program development.
Governance, resources, and vision: The programs are centered on a vision of quality teaching that produces a community of future leaders in reading education. The governance gives faculty appropriate control for realizing that vision.
Following the task force’s work, the IRA established a new program in 2008 to promote and honor excellence in the preparation of reading teachers, the Certificate of Distinction. The certificate is designed to recognize programs that “consistently prepare well-qualified reading teachers who know about and use evidence-based practices” (see http://www.reading.org [October 2009]).
Risko and her colleagues (2008) also analyzed the research on the education of reading teachers. They identified 82 studies that focused on the preparation of teachers for K-12 classroom reading instruction that met their critieria. They selected for review empirical studies that reflected a variety of methodological stances and were published between 1990 and 2006 in a peer-reviewed journal. The outcomes they examined included both changes in teachers’ beliefs and attitudes in the course of their education, as well as gains they made in knowledge and skills. The findings in this paper are primarily suggestive of experiences that may be valuable, depending on the goals one identifies for teacher preparation.
The authors offer a detailed critique of the available literature, as well
as several findings about practices that seem to be associated with effectiveness. They observe that evidence shows that “reading teacher preparation programs have been relatively successful in changing prospective teachers’ knowledge and beliefs” (Risko et al., 2008, p. 252) and that there is some (but less) evidence that they affect teaching practice. The authors identify a few elements of teacher preparation as likely to be effective:
explicit examples and explanations of material;
a “learning and doing approach,” in which teacher educators model the pedagogical strategies they are teaching their students to use;
opportunities for guided practice of teaching strategies in the university classroom and with students;
extended opportunities for fieldwork and sustained interactions with students; and
mentoring that includes both feedback on teaching and peer coaching.
Although there is very little empirical basis for claims about precisely how prospective reading teachers should be prepared, two elements stand out from the literature as likely to be valuable and should be examined more rigorously:
coursework that provides opportunities to engage substantively with the theoretical foundations of reading research as well as the range of pedagogical approaches currently viewed as having merit; and
extensive opportunities for fieldwork that includes supervised practice teaching content and using strategies covered in class work, as well as continuing feedback from faculty, experienced colleagues, and peers.
HOW READING TEACHERS ARE CURRENTLY PREPARED
As we discuss in Chapter 3, very few national-level data are available on program requirements, coursework, and other features of study for general teacher candidates or for those who specialize in reading or other subjects. However, states’ policies and requirements regarding readiness to teach reading provide some indications of the characteristics of reading preparation programs. In addition, we commissioned analyses of New York City and Florida about the preparation of reading teachers in those two jurisdictions. Finally, we reviewed a handful of studies that have focused in various ways on the content of literacy preparation in teacher preparation programs.
In looking at state policies, we turned first to the question of what states require of teacher preparation programs. Information about state policies is available in a database compiled by the Education Commission of the States (which includes the 50 states, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands)7 and information from our commissioned analyses. The database tracks state policies related to various questions, including whether the state’s standards for beginning teachers or requirements for preparation programs include any provisions related to the teaching of reading. The database includes excerpts from state policy documents describing requirements for undergraduate and postgraduate teacher preparation programs, which were reviewed for accuracy by state personnel.
We found that states fall into four rough categories: virtually no guidance (24 states); a specified number of credit hours (10 states); adherence to specific guidelines (4 states); and substantive guidance (15 states). In the first group, the 24 states either have no policy on the preparation of reading teachers or the only policy is an extremely general statement that does not offer any meaningful guidance for programs. In the next group, 10 states specify a certain number of credit hours in reading, but they offer no guidance as to what the credits should cover. In the third group, four states specify that programs should adhere to the guidelines of the National Council for Accreditation in Teacher Education, the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, or both. Last, 15 states offer some kind of substantive guidance (some in that category also specified a number of credit hours).
Among the 15 states that do offer some type of guidance, however, there is a considerable range in the nature of their guidance. In Alabama, for example, institutions are responsible for producing teacher candidates who demonstrate knowledge of:
language development and the role of language in learning;
how to develop a print and language rich classroom that fosters interest and growth in all aspects of literacy;
classroom environments and instruction that develop and extend students’ competence in reading, writing, speaking and listening; and
This database is hosted by the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, which is a collaboration among the Education Commission of the States, the Educational Testing Service, Learning Point Associates, and Vanderbilt University; see http://www.tqsource.org/ [October 2009].
assessment tools to monitor the acquisition of reading strategies, improve reading instruction and identify students who require additional instruction.
Massachusetts specifies that “All teacher candidates must have the subject-matter knowledge required to teach reading. Elementary teacher candidates complete instruction in reading/language arts, reading theory, and research and practice.” North Carolina stipulates that teachers must know the North Carolina and district standards for reading.
Examining the reading content of teacher certification exams provides yet another window into the kinds of reading instructional practices and knowledge beginning teachers are expected to have. Though these examinations vary by state, a recent study of state licensure examinations for prospective elementary school teachers found the focus on literacy across a range of commonly used teacher tests was wanting (Stotsky, 2006). For example, the study concluded that the content of an exam developed by the Educational Testing Service and used by 35 states includes only a tiny fraction of items that address phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary knowledge—three of the foundational reading skills. And only four states—California, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—require a separate reading test for licensing elementary school teachers. (The study does not provide details on the nature of these tests.) In short, states have very different policies related to teacher preparation in reading.
Our commissioned studies also showed considerable variation within regions. In New York, to obtain a childhood education certificate (to teach grades 1-6) through its traditional route, the state requires a minimum of six credits in language and literacy, which typically translates to roughly two three-credit courses (Grossman et al., 2008). But for the 18 institutions and 31 childhood programs that prepare the majority of teachers for New York City schools (of which 26 are labeled “college-recommending” and 5 as “early-entry”), this state-set minimum requirement did not translate into similar program requirements. In general, the programs required considerably more literacy courses than the state-mandated floor: on average, teacher candidates must take 10.5 credits in English/language arts coursework, substantially more than the 6 credits in English/language arts methods classes required by the state (Grossman et al., 2008).
Though the New York City programs generally require more English/language arts coursework than the state requires, the variation among the programs is striking. One program requires no credits, while another requires 39; the standard deviation in number of credits is 7.7—nearly three-quarters the size of the mean number of credits. A similar pattern emerges from an examination of English/language arts methods credits in particular:
the standard deviation is 3.2, with programs requiring anywhere from zero to 15 credits (Grossman et al., 2008).
We learned more about the content of these courses through surveys of new teachers that probed what kinds of learning opportunities received the most and least emphasis in their preparation programs. New teachers in New York City reported that their programs typically emphasized learning about characteristics of emergent readers, studying or analyzing children’s literature, learning ways to build student interest and motivation to read, and learning how to activate students’ prior knowledge. By contrast, the topics and opportunities receiving the least emphasis included opportunities to explore New York State standards and assessments for fourth graders or the New York City English/language arts curriculum, and learning how to support older students who are learning to read (Grossman et al., 2008).
We found a handful of studies that include some kind of description of English/language arts teacher training. One study analyzed secondary English/language arts methods courses across 81 universities and classified them into types, such as survey, workshop, or theoretical. The authors found a great degree of variability in the ways in which these methods courses were taught (Smagorinsky and Whiting, 1995). Research conducted by the National Center for Research on Teacher Learning (1991) at Michigan State University focused in part on opportunities for learning about teaching writing and mathematics to diverse learners at seven teacher preparation programs of different types in the United States. This descriptive study (often called the TELT study, for Teacher Education and Learning to Teach) found considerable variation across the programs with respect to subject-specific teaching of writing. The authors cite fundamental differences in the substantive orientation of the program—either a “traditional management-oriented” program or a “reform” oriented on—as the source of the variation in program content and its effect on teacher practice (Kennedy, 1998).
There are several case studies of “exemplary” or “excellent” literacy teacher preparation programs that discuss various aspects of literacy program components (e.g., International Reading Association, 2005). However, because these studies used different selection methodologies and asked different questions, we could not develop summative statements from them about the kinds of preparation that prospective teachers receive in the area of literacy.
Our charge was to examine the extent to which teacher education programs draw on converging scientific evidence regarding the teaching of reading. However, we were able to find very little information about teacher education programs in general—except that they vary greatly—so we cannot answer this question well. The data available regarding the types of instruction and experiences that participants receive in teacher education programs do not provide a sufficient basis for any conclusions about the extent to which teacher preparation programs in reading draw on converging scientific evidence regarding the teaching of reading or other relevant aspects of literacy education.
Although our four-question framework had the effect of highlighting the relative dearth of empirical evidence about what teachers should know and how they should be prepared, we did find useful research. There is a reasonable body of empirical research concerning the question of what effective readers know and can do, though more information about English-language learners and adolescent readers is needed. There is also empirical evidence about the instructional strategies that help students learn to read, but there is no definitive guidance that points to particular effective strategies. The literature on what teachers need to know is extremely limited, and the empirical evidence on effective teacher preparation nearly nonexistent.
We did find considerable conceptual overlap across the four questions, and there have been concerted efforts by experts to provide guidance about both how to teach reading and how to prepare teachers to teach reading given those conceptual connections. Researchers who have immersed themselves in these questions and expert panels that have sifted through various kinds of evidence have concluded that teachers of reading rely on a sophisticated understanding of the development of literacy, the many factors that influence it, and the array of strategies they can use, along with the capacity to keep collecting evidence as they refine their practice. Box 5-1 highlights the way in which the foundational skills anchor thinking about each facet of teaching and learning reading by drawing together examples from the discussions of the four questions. These examples illustrate themes in the research on reading, but they do not offer a detailed picture of the knowledge and skills that would be most important to an individual teacher candidate, nor of how teachers ought to be taught. The work does support logical arguments about the kinds of educational experiences likely to be beneficial; see Appendix B for examples.
The preparation of future reading teachers should be grounded in the best available scientific literature related to literacy teaching and learning. Although there is a voluminous literature on reading, it does not provide
Teaching and Learning Reading—The Foundational Skills
The Foundational Skills:
Phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension
Examples of Student Opportunities to Learn
Small-group instruction focused on, e.g., recognizing and manipulating phonemes
Explicit instruction in, e.g., the systematic relationships between spoken sounds and letters
Guided oral reading
Examples of Teacher Knowledge and Skills
Understanding of the way the five foundational skills are integrated in fluent reading
Understanding of developmental benchmarks
Strategies for assessing and monitoring student progress
Strategies for systematic phonics instruction, e.g., synthetic phonics (children learn to convert letters or letter combinations into sounds and how to blend them into words)
Familiarity with literature appropriate to developmental levels
Examples of Teacher Opportunities to Learn
Coursework in the theoretical basis for the foundational reading skills
Guided practice in the university classroom
Mentoring and peer feedback
Practice applying student data to classroom challenges
an empirical basis for complete answers to all of our questions. We close the chapter with what we conclude can be drawn from this literature now and the areas in which further investigation is needed.
We found the strongest basis for conclusions about what students need to know and be able to do to be successful readers.
Conclusion 5-1: Successful beginning readers possess a set of foundational skills that enable them not only to continue growing as readers but also to progress in all academic subjects. A variety of instructional approaches that address these foundational skills can be effective when used by teachers who have a grounding in the foundational elements and the theory on which they are based.
The importance of those foundational skills supports conclusions about what is most important in the preparation of teachers of reading:
Conclusion 5-2: It is plausible that preparation in the nature of the foundational reading skills and research-based instructional approaches would improve teachers’ practice to a degree that would be evident in learning outcomes for their students. However, there is currently no clear evidence that such preparation does indeed improve teacher effectiveness or about how such preparation should be carried out.
Conclusion 5-3: There are very few systematic data about the nature of the preparation in reading that prospective teachers receive across the nation. The limited information that exists suggests that the nature of preparation of prospective teachers for reading instruction is widely variable both across and within states.
Conclusion 5-4: Little is known about the best ways to prepare prospective teachers to teach reading. Systematic data are needed on the nature and content of the coursework and other experiences that constitute teacher preparation in reading.
Systematic data would make it possible to monitor and evaluate teacher preparation in reading and to conduct research on the relative effectiveness of different preparation approaches. The kind of data collection and effectiveness research we envision would be focused in particular on preparation related to the foundational reading skills and the instructional approaches that have been shown to be effective in teaching reading. Examples of the sorts of research that are most needed include
investigations of the development of teachers’ knowledge and skills as they progress from novices to accomplished reading teachers;
expansion of the array of tools for investigating the relationship between features of teacher education and teachers’ preparedness to teach;
efficacy studies and scale-up studies that use experimental or quasi-experimental methods and measures; and
investigations of outcomes for teachers exposed to particular coursework and fieldwork.
We discuss the need for research more fully in Chapter 9.