Learning How to Teach Reading: A Tale of Two Beginners and the Factors That Contributed to Their Vastly Different Teaching Perspectives

By Smith, Mike | Reading Improvement, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Learning How to Teach Reading: A Tale of Two Beginners and the Factors That Contributed to Their Vastly Different Teaching Perspectives


Smith, Mike, Reading Improvement


This article reports on the vast differences between two beginning teachers' perspectives on teaching reading. The study followed preservice teachers during their teacher preparation program's field experiences and into their first year of teaching. Two of the five participants differed widely in both their philosophy of reading and in the way they enacted reading instruction. What caused such differences given that both beginning teachers were enrolled in the same teacher preparation program? Four factors were identified that enabled and constrained their developing perspectives on reading: (a) their knowledge base; (b) opportunities to plan, teach and reflect; (c) models; and (d) feedback.

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Helping beginning teachers develop into high-quality teachers of reading is an important goal for education. Skilled teachers of reading have been found to make a difference in students' reading achievement (Sanders & Rivers, 1996; Snow, Griffin, & Burns, 2005; Wright, Horn, & Sanders, 1997).

However, it is not clear how to prepare high-quality teachers of reading. For example, Hoffman and Pearson (2000) note that limited research is available. Moreover, Britzman (2003) points out that new teachers often set aside everything they have learned in their teacher-education programs, because they have difficulty seeing its relevance.

The IRA study of beginning teachers (International Reading Association, 2007) does indicate that preservice teachers "were able to maintain their theories--and, in fact to convince others in their school settings to change their theoretical orientations and their practice" (p.3). But the study does not delineate just how the field experiences contributed to their development as reading teachers.

Further, other barriers short-circuit novices' attempts to develop into expert teachers. For example, Lortie (1975) points out that beginning teachers are heavily influenced by the 13,000 hours during which they have been passive observers as students in schools. Thus, according to Howey and Zimpher (1996), many preservice teachers come to their teacher preparation program seeing "teaching as telling and showing, and learning as memorizing" (p. 483).

As illustrated above, research in teacher education is a sobering reminder that preparing excellent teachers is no easy undertaking. This study was designed to contribute to the knowledge base on preparing teachers, particularly how the field experiences influenced their perspectives on teaching reading.

The Study

The present study followed five beginning teachers from their field experience (Experience I) to their student teaching (Experience II). (1) Three of the five, Alice, Karen, and Terri (pseudonyms), were followed into their first year of teaching (Experience III). Two questions guided the study:

(a) What are the beliefs preservice teachers hold about the teaching of reading, and how do they enact these beliefs? (b) What key factors in their coursework and field experience enabled or constrained their developing belief systems about how to teach reading?

This report focuses on Alice and Karen, and delineates how they went about teaching reading. Alice viewed teaching reading as managing students through the prescribed curriculum outlined in the basal series. Karen, on the other hand, saw reading instruction as coming from her professional judgement and based her curricular decisions on the needs of her students. Why such wide differences given the fact the two preservice teachers were enrolled in the same teacher preparation program?

Methods and Procedures

Subjects

The five informants were elementary majors and represented a good cross-section of the teacher preparation program's student population in terms of commitment, ability, age, and field-placement diversity. The institution at which the study took place is located in Middle America in a city of 70,000.

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