Academic journal article English Education

How English Language Arts Teachers Are Prepared for Twenty-First-Century Classrooms: Results of a National Study

Academic journal article English Education

How English Language Arts Teachers Are Prepared for Twenty-First-Century Classrooms: Results of a National Study

Article excerpt

In 1995, Smagorinsky and Whiting published the results of a national study of methods classes, which were examined through collection and analysis of methods course syllabi. Their landmark project still exists as the only study aiming to comprehensively study how English teachers are taught to teach in middle and secondary schools. Since then, much has changed in education, and members of the NCTE CEE Commission on the Teaching of English Language Arts (ELA) Methods have regularly discussed the Smagorinsky and Whiting study and the need for more current data. The authors of this article, all members of the Commission, embarked on a national study to meet this need. The study on which this article is based emerged from our desire to understand how programs and teacher educators viewed preparing English language arts teachers for a changing world and to address the chal- lenges resulting from these changes. As a result of preliminary discussion in the Commission meetings, we also considered how challenges and changes in the discipline over the past 20 years were curricular, cultural, and political, and aimed to design a study that would capture these dimensions of change.

Challenges in English teacher education throughout the last two decades have been curricular: States developed K-12 standards and assessments and expected teachers to both align local curriculum and ensure students score at proficient levels on new assessments. With the advent of the Common Core State Standards, pressures for "college and career readiness" (CCSSI, 2010) have prompted English teachers to include more nonfiction texts in their courses, to teach reading strategies as opposed to literary analysis, and to require students to write to prompts similar to those found on essay exams.

Challenges in English teacher education have been cultural: While the percentage of White and middle-class teachers grew larger, more students of color and children of immigrants entered classrooms, even in communities with relatively little demographic diversity (Baber, 1995; Boutte, 1999; Burbank et al., 2005; Nieto, 2003; Sleeter, 2001; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Increased technology and its use for communication also prompted changes in textual production and consumption in private, civic, and working life.

Challenges in English teacher education over the past two decades have been political: The new standards were accompanied by legislation (e.g., NCLB), and the attendant growth of accountability measures at K-12 and university levels held individual schools and their teachers accountable for student performance on state measures to an extent never seen before. At the same time, political attacks challenged the efficacy of traditional programs of teacher certification, and ongoing attempts have been made to link K-12 student performance to the programs that prepared their teachers (U.S. Department of Education, 2014; Zeichner, 2010).

This article reports findings from a questionnaire that formed part of a larger study of English teacher preparation programs. This questionnaire, distributed to English teacher educators across the United States, sought input about the field of English teacher preparation in the twentyfirst century. Considering subject-specific methods courses as the primary location where secondary teachers develop subject-matter-specific pedagogical content knowledge (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008; Shulman, 1987), we focused much of our questionnaire on ELA-specific methods courses. However, recognizing that such courses operate within a programmatic and institutional context, we also questioned respondents about where and when teacher candidates learn about various topics, if they do so outside of methods courses. The questionnaire aimed to capture how the day-to-day practices and pedagogies of English teacher educators changed-throughout the two decades since Smagorinsky and Whiting's (1995) study. Our research questions were as follows:

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