Training New Content Area Secondary Teachers to Teach Literacy: The University/public School Partnership

Article excerpt

A high number of secondary students struggle with literacy. This adolescent literacy educational crisis affects students after they graduate both in college and in their employment. One resolution for this problem is to train secondary content area preservice teachers in strategies for literacy. Colorado State University developed a university literacy course for secondary preservice teachers using a university/public school partnership. Preservice teachers attended a large weekly lecture, a small weekly recitation class where they learned literacy strategies, and then practiced these strategies in a junior high classroom with students weekly. Course attendants answered questionnaires both before and after the course, and it was found that students highly overestimated their understanding of literacy strategies before the course.

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Teaching students to read above a basic level, and with deeper comprehension and understanding, has been a critical national problem for many years. Too often, the focus is on elementary students, but the percentage of secondary students struggling with reading is just as grim. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only thirty-one percent of the United State's eighth grade students, and almost the same percentage of twelfth graders, meet the NAEP reading proficiency standard of their grade level (Perie & Donohue, 2005). This percentage translates into an enormous number of secondary students in our country who struggle with reading. The Washington-based education policy research and advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that a total of 6 million middle and high school students are unable to read at an acceptable level (Aratani, 2006). Since the reading levels of America's seventeen-year-olds have shown no improvement at all from 1971 to 2004, this is a continuing and dire literacy crisis in the nation's schools (NCES, 2004). Lack of literacy skills affects students critically later in life, and studies show that students struggle after high school both in employment and in college (Adelman, 2006).

To help close this serious gap in literacy, students in teacher licensure programs (referred to as preservice teachers) who are not planning to be reading teachers, but will be teaching social studies, math, science or history, must be given more intensive education for teaching literacy. Teacher preparation is the key to reforming current practices (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Darling-Hammond & Young, 2002; Kanstoroom & Finn, 1999; Levine, 2006). There have been numerous evaluations and critiques of teacher preparation programs, and there have been many calls for change. According to Kanstroom and Finn (1999), teacher training has often been characterized by process, with the majority of the focus being on "seat time, repetitive educational methods courses, and heavy doses of educational theory." In the second of his series of three policy reports, Levine (2006) critically examined teacher preparation programs around the country and outlined recommendations for strengthening teacher education, as well as criteria for excellence in teacher education programs. Incorporating both scholars and expert practitioners in the planning, teaching, and assessment stages is one critical aspect for excellence in teacher education programs (Levine, 2006). Preservice students and alumni are often critical of courses taught by instructors who are not current or recent practitioners (Levine, 2006). A common criticism of alumni of teacher preparation programs is the "desire for more, longer, earlier, and better-integrated field work experiences (Levine, 2006). It is not surprising that praise for teacher education programs was found to come from those who had spent greater time in the schools from the very beginning of their preparation programs, rather than merely spending time in college courses.

Teachers are often reluctant to include literacy improvement activities as goals in secondary content area classrooms (Alger, 2007). …