Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

The Impact of Professional Development to Infuse Health and Reading in Elementary Schools

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

The Impact of Professional Development to Infuse Health and Reading in Elementary Schools

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Elementary classroom teachers must overcome a number of instructional barriers, including time constraints and professional preparation, if they are to deliver effective health education and enhance health literacy among youth. Purpose: This study examined the direct impact of a long-term professional development program on integrating health education and literacy instruction on third-grade teachers' confidence and practice and its indirect effect on student learning. Methods: Data on confidence and implementation of instructional and assessment practices were collected from 16 teachers. Students (n=99) from their classrooms and from four comparison classrooms (n=101) completed pre- and post-program constructed response assessment. Results: Significant increases were seen in teachers' confidence in describing health education standards, determining if students achieved the standards and using rubrics to guide scoring practices. Children's books were used to integrate instruction and most teachers increased the time spent on integration activities. Students in their classrooms scored significantly higher than students in comparison classrooms on health knowledge and skills. Discussion: These results confirm our belief that by increasing awareness and understanding of standards-based health education and assessment, and by showing teachers how they can use children's books as the context for teaching and reinforcing health concepts and skills outlined in the standards, their confidence about teaching health can increase. Translation to Health Education Practice: Integrating health and language arts instruction may be the key to overcoming some of the factors teachers report as barriers to teaching health education.

BACKGROUND

One of the desired outcomes of health education is to increase students' health literacy so they have the capacity to navigate the numerous health challenges they will face in the 21st century. Experts across the globe have espoused the critical role schools can play in helping students achieve health literacy (1-5) In 1995, the Joint Committee on National Health Education Standards (NHES) published, Achieving Health Literacy, a document that outlined the essential knowledge and skills children need to master to become health literate. (6) (The NHES were revised in 2007 and whereas the title of the document was changed to Achieving Excellence, (7) the essence of the standards has remained the same.) Results from the 2006 School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHHPS) (8) showed that 36 (72.0%) states either require or encourage schools and districts to follow health education standards or guidelines based on the NHES. At the elementary level, most states (70.6%) reported they have adopted goals, objectives or expected outcomes for school health education, but only 19.6% had enacted specific time requirements for health instruction.

Without such a mandate, the elementary curriculum may be narrowed to align with subjects that are included in high stakes testing. Other subjects like health, physical education, music, art and the social sciences may be limited or even eliminated. (9,10) The Center on Education Policy (11) published a report on the impact federal legislation (i.e., No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) requirements have had on instructional time in elementary schools in all 50 states, including 349 school districts. They found that the shift in instructional time away from non-tested subjects was relatively large. Districts that reported a reduction in instructional time did so by an average of 145 minutes per week. It has been estimated that teachers need approximately 1-1/2 times the instructional time they currently have to teach language arts, mathematics, science and civics. (12) It is not surprising that available instruction time has become a major issue facing teachers today. Lack of time is one of the primary barriers reported for not teaching health education. …

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