Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

What Matters to Teachers? Let's Listen

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

What Matters to Teachers? Let's Listen

Article excerpt

Introduction

Teachers in the many and varied school classrooms of any nation are the people who matter most in the search for high literacy achievements among the children in their care. However their concerns are not regularly sought as a basis for ensuring that they can be well-prepared to undertake the task. Most books and journal articles that review the research literature draw implications for classroom practice from that literature. As Weaver and Shonkoff (1978) note, they rarely begin with the immediate concerns of classroom teachers or school leaders. The reason seems straightforward. Academics interested in teaching reading seek to extend the knowledge base of literacy practice by their research and through reporting the findings of that research in the literature of their disciplines. Most attempts to summarise research literature in a given area usually begin with the question, `What have researchers discovered?', followed by, `What are the implications of these findings for educational practice?' Whether the research findings closely address the immediate concerns of practitioners is rarely a prime concern. In a study that reversed this sequence, Weaver and Shonkoff interviewed a small group of teachers, supervisors and administrators to determine their substantive questions on reading development and instruction. They then set about searching for the best `state-of-the-art' answers that research could offer and provided those answers in readable form to teachers.

Baumann, Hoffman, Moon and Duffy-Hester (1998) suggest that even though `the great debate' about the respective roles of phonics instruction and whole language teaching lives on in professional and popular reports, it has, in their opinion, ignored teachers' voices. While researchers may have had their major focus on this `great debate' about teaching reading, `as so often happens when education issues become political, teachers are rarely consulted' (p. 648). These claims are made as a result of exploration of the issues, challenges and classroom practices in reading teaching as reported by a national American sample of 1207 teachers. Baumann et al. examined their data especially in relation to the controversy about phonics versus whole language. Interestingly none of the major areas identified by the teachers suggested that the controversy was of concern to them or that their own instructional practices were other than balanced and eclectic `involving both reading skill instruction and immersion in enriched literacy experiences' (p. 637). This is in contrast with the way at least the popular press of the time was reporting on the situation. For example, Time magazine was claiming, `A war is on between supporters of phonics and those who believe in the whole-language method of learning to read: caught in the middle--the nation's schoolchildren' (27 October 1997, p. 78). Baumann et al. concluded that, for this issue anyway, the `great debate' was neither great nor a debate, diverting `attention, energy and resources from the real challenges and concerns ... teachers face' (1998, p. 637).

Cassidy and Wenrich (1998, 1999) have developed `what's hot' and `what's not' lists in regard to issues concerning reading matters. Although their stated intention is to keep teachers and others aware of the issues about literacy that are receiving negative and positive attention in professional venues and the popular press, their resulting list of issues is also useful as background to issues raised by those at the chalk-face. Their list of `hot' and `cold' issues in reading instruction is compiled and updated annually from the results of an analysis of recent articles about literacy, titles of conference presentations, classroom observations and suggestions from literacy leaders. The `hot' category list, that is, issues or topics receiving current and positive attention, and the `cold' category list, that is, issues or topics receiving negative or less attention, are determined from the views of 25 international literacy leaders. …

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