From Literacy Methods Classes to the Real World: Experiences of PreService Teachers

Article excerpt

As faculty members involved in the preparation of elementary school teachers in an undergraduate program, we are investigating the evolution of our students' approaches to teaching reading and writing and identifying significant influences on their literacy teaching. To do so, we are conducting a study to compare the approaches and methods recommended in the literacy courses we teach to the approaches and methods employed by students during the student teaching practicum and their first year as classroom teachers. The insights we are gaining are informing our own instruction and suggesting ways in which student teaching supervisors, as well as cooperating teachers, and we can support novice teachers. There is a paucity of research in the area of preservice teacher education (Anders, Hoffman, & Duffy 2000). Consequently, we have taken Anders, Hoffman, and Duffy's (2000) plea in the Handbook of Reading Research to heart and committed "...our energies to studying our programs, our courses, our teaching, and our expectations and requirements" (p. 734).

When we began this study we had many questions about the significance of the methods and content of our undergraduate courses in shaping the literacy teaching practices of future teachers. Anders, et al. (2000) stated, "recent reviewers have suggested turning attention to how teachers learn...a nagging question for us is what teacher educators should do to promote that learning" (p. 723). As teacher educators we share that "nagging question." There is little information in the research literature to guide faculty teaching undergraduate teacher preparation courses. Anders, et al. (2000) asked: "How should teachers be taught to teach reading? This question has received little attention from the reading research community" (p. 719).

The research that is available is troubling. Massey (2004) followed one former student, Paula, in her first year of teaching to understand the experiences of a first-year teacher. She found that classroom management issues, the school's mandated curricula, and test-practice lessons frustrated Paula. All of these factors contributed to her difficulty implementing the methods she learned in her undergraduate courses and practicum experience. Harste, Leland, Schmidt, Vasquez, and Ociepka (2004) observed four former students in their student teaching experience and then two years later in their own classrooms. They found that time constraints and instructional materials often interfered with the content and methods their former students wished to use. A more optimistic perspective was offered by Grossman, Valencia, Thompson, Martin, Place, and Evans (2001). They followed ten beginning teachers from their final year of teacher preparation into their first three years in their own classrooms. Focusing on writing instruction, they also found that curriculum materials were often at odds with the methods recommended in preservice courses (in this case writer's workshop). However, after the first year of teaching, the novice teachers adapted the mandated materials to be more consistent with writing process instruction. They concluded, "perhaps what is most striking across these case studies is the teachers' ability to hold on to important concepts, even when they were trying practices that were antithetical in certain ways to their initial conceptions" (p. 96).

These studies, along with our experiences in schools, led us to wonder what challenges our students would experience in the "real world" and to what degree our courses prepared them for those challenges. Would our students as student teachers and classroom teachers be able "to hold on to" the concepts we had taught? To what degree were those concepts internalized? Assessment-based inquiry such as we are conducting is helping us to answer these questions, understand the development of teachers' literacy teaching practices and beliefs, and improve our teacher preparation courses.

OUR INQUIRY: CONTEXT and PROCESS

The Education Department in which we are faculty members is part of a publicly funded institution of higher learning located 20 miles north of a northeastern U. …