Improving Reading Comprehension in K-12 Education: Investigating the Impact of the Reading Specialist Credential on the Instructional Decisions of Veteran Teachers

Article excerpt

Research has identified certain comprehension strategies that seem to work in an optimal manner to increase the reading comprehension of K-12 students. However, little evidence exists about whether teachers use identified, research-based strategies when teaching (Rand Research Study Group, 2002). In view of the critical nature of literacy achievement for diverse populations and demographics, research on this topic is critical. The study reported here was conducted with graduate students in San Diego State University's (SDSU) advanced reading specialist credential program, where they are taught reading comprehension strategies as well as observed and evaluated as they teach these strategies during clinical work with students. As Graduate Reading Program Coordinator, the researcher along with her colleagues was interested in determining the impact program instruction and experiences had on the pedagogical practices of our graduates.

Studies by Durkin in the 1970s established that teachers spent a limited time on reading comprehension instruction. This body of work led to an intense study of reading comprehension (see Fitzgerald, 1990; Flood, 1984 a and b; Pearson & Johnson, 1978). Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, research on comprehension instruction flourished (Gaffney & Anderson, 2000). However, during the late part of the twentieth century, research into this critical area languished (Pressley, 2002).

Recently there has been a resurgence of research on this topic. For example, the effects of teaching and using a number of reading comprehension strategies on students' reading comprehension has been established by a substantial literature (Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002; Farstrup & Daniels, 2002). Increased literacy demands as well as the changing nature of students in K-12 classrooms make reading instruction far more complex than it was a generation ago and present an imperative in terms of understanding and implementing reading research.

The SDSU Graduate Reading Program is accredited by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and meets the State of California's most recent and exacting standards for effectiveness as an advanced reading program. The International Reading Association has provided additional weight to this accreditation by recognizing the rigor of the program through its own review process, and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) also recognizes the effectiveness of the SDSU reading program. Graduate students in the program must take at least thirty semester units of coursework to complete the requirements for the credential. Twelve of the semester units cover assessment, clinic and fieldwork in which teachers learn to assess students' learning needs and apply appropriate learning strategies. The focus of this work is to increase K-12 students' reading achievement and reading comprehension. Eighteen program units include study of children's and adolescent literature, language arts instruction, writing instruction, advanced fieldwork, research methods, and the culminating project for the master's degree.

In this study the researcher examined some particular and critically important outcomes of the Graduate Reading Program, not as an evaluation of the program's effectiveness, but as a beginning look at how we may educate teachers to teach reading comprehension instruction more effectively. The Rand Report on Reading Comprehension (RRSG, 2002) identified a number of research priorities for reading comprehension. In essence, a substantial research knowledge base exists but it is "sketchy, unfocused, and inadequate" (p. xii) as a basis for educational reform.

Method

Data Collection

The research questions consisted of the following:

(1) To what extent does an advanced reading program influence teachers' instructional decisions?

(2) From what knowledge/experience do teachers select and use reading comprehension strategies with their K-12 students? …