Cognitive and Constructivist Strategies for Teaching about Language and for Providing Reading and Writing Instruction

Article excerpt

Introduction

In far too many cases, professors of education indirectly tell their students, even in methodology courses, "Teach as I say to teach, not as I teach." Admittedly, lecturing to a class of prospective teachers seems to be the most expedient way to cover the complex content and multiple strategies that should be taught. It is not unlike the situation that often is cited by teachers in K-12 who state that they are expected to cover all of a prescribed course of study (as usually found in textbooks) by the end of a year or by the time mandatory high-stakes tests are given in their schools.

Reading methodology courses exemplify the broad spectrum that encompasses the curriculum in a single disciplinary area. In the past, one three-hour course in reading was often all that was required for elementary education majors (apart from a single course each in language arts and children's literature). However, teaching the basic components of reading knowledge takes a considerable amount of time. Consider the content and strategies that most experts agree are the basic essentials to teach in reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, comprehension, and more recently, fluency (Adler and others (1); The National Reading Panel (2)). In each area, there are numerous facts and strategies to be taught. For example, to adequately address the best-recognized strategies for teaching fluency, identified by Allington as repeated reading, Readers' Theater, echo reading, modeling, paired reading, choral reading, and audio-taped reading (3), requires a significant amount of time in a three-hour reading methodology course or even two three-hour courses. Then there are other facts/processes that teachers should know about this component of reading, including major skills (automaticity, quality, rate, prosody [pitch and other elements of expression]), benchmark standards, and assessment of fluency (Reutzels, Cooter (4); Hudson, Lane, Pullen (5)). To a lesser extent, the problem of "too much content, too little time to teach it" occurs in the single secondary reading course that has become a standard requirement for those who wish to become teachers of science, social studies, mathematics, and other subject areas.

Recent publishing history backs up our assertion that there is more in reading than can be covered in one or two courses. Furthermore, course expectations are growing rapidly. In the past few years, more books have surfaced in reading instruction with "essentials" in the title than ever before, suggesting that there has to be a narrowing of what can be included in a basic course or two in reading methodology. In addition, there are more books being published in each of the basic components of reading (Teaching Comprehension, Vocabulary Development, Phonics, etc.), indicating growth of knowledge about the reading process and strategies for teaching it.

Going beyond the basic content and strategies for teaching each component of reading takes additional time. How to find reading levels, basal readers vs. other kinds of programs (literature-based programs, leveled readers, language experience programs to name a few), integration of reading with writing, primary-reading programs vs. upper-elementary grade reading programs, assessment techniques for reading, and more recently, technology and how to use it in the teaching of reading--extend the knowledge one should know for teaching reading. In addition, there is the practicum aspect of teaching reading that includes planning and implementing reading lessons. Concomitantly, both motivation and aliteracy are areas that must be considered, particularly in those courses geared toward instructional design for struggling readers.

Added to the fact that professors of reading instruction feel that they must "talk through" the vast amount of content and strategies in a limited number of reading courses, there is the continuing, hard-to-break cycle of one "teaching as he/she has been taught. …