You most likely are familiar with the story of Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl and main character in the musical My Fair Lady (can you imagine Julie Andrews singing "The Rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain?"). This musical was originally written by George Bernard Shaw and titled Pygmalion, a play about the professor Henry Higgins who set out to teach a girl with a lower class English "Cockney" accent the proper way to speak, and in turn, to help her pass herself off as a lady. Higgins' belief that he can teach Eliza and Eliza's self-knowledge that she can succeed lead to the eventual conclusion of the play - Eliza is viewed as a lady at the Embassy Ball. In this Review of Research in the Classroom column, we will explore research that relates to teacher beliefs - like those of Professor Henry Higgins - and ways to motivate disenfranchised or marginalized learners, like Eliza, in an effort to help you help the struggling learners in your classrooms.
My Fair Lady
Researchers have concluded that teachers' beliefs about teaching struggling readers influence their teaching behaviors. In her study of pre-service teachers' beliefs, Scharlach (2008) found that only two of the six beginning teachers involved in her case study research "believed that they would be able to teach all of their students to read proficiently" (p. 163). Furthermore, all six participants believed the children they tutored struggled with reading acquisition "because they lack motivation to read and because of poor behavior" (p. 169). Experienced teachers of reading know their students who struggle with reading may appear to lack motivation or display poor behavior as a result o/innumerable negative experiences with reading. Clearly, experienced teachers, principals and teacher educators must attend to the results of Scharlach 's study and find ways to improve not only teacher education but also teacher induction so that all struuggling readers have the opportunity to learn with teachers who demonstrate an attitude of "it can be done" and it is my job" (Walmsley & Allington, 1995).
I think I can, I think I can
Perhaps because I am writing this column on a train from the National Council Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in Philadelphia to my home in New England, I have called this segment of this column "I Think I Can, I Think I Can" to help us conjure up the image of The Little Engine that Could (Piper, 1954) in an effort to examine ways to nurture a "can do" attitude toward teaching our most disenfranchised struggling readers. In their recent study of early reading success, McTigue, Washburn and Liew (2009) explore the role of socio-emotional development in reading success, in other words, ways to foster a "can do" attitude with our struggling learners. They identify six principles and supporting teaching practices for promoting reader self-efficacy in the context of research-based literacy skill and strategy instruction. Self- efficacy is defined as "A belief that one's actions can produce the results that they desire" (Pajares, 2005). Below, you will find a brief summary of the six principles:
1. Create a warm and accepting classroom environment;
2. Include measures of academic resilience;
3. Use direct modeling of literacy and self-efficacy;
4. Povide feedback that emphasizes effort that is specific and accurate;
5. Set goals with students; and
6. Promote self-evaluation.
I invite you to read more about the six principles that McTigue, Washburn and Liew (2009) suggest, and before we move to the next research article, I want to summarize two practical implications discussed in their study. The first is to incorporate Responsive Classroom practices into classroom practice and the second is to reframe our "teacher talk."
Responsive Classroom (2009) provides a well-researched framework for creating a classroom and school learning environment that is conducive to the needs of all of our students. …