Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Professional Development: Key to Effective Reading Instruction

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Professional Development: Key to Effective Reading Instruction

Article excerpt

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that calls for a highly qualified teacher in every classroom is especially relevant for those who teach reading, since one of the goals of NCLB is that each child be able to read at grade level by the end of third grade. To achieve this goal, there is a need for immediate and extensive professional development so that classroom teachers, as well as other support personnel (reading specialists, special educators), have a fundamentally sound understanding of how to best implement reading instruction for all students in their classrooms. One of the most difficult tasks for teachers is that of differentiating instruction to meet the diverse needs of their students. Managing classrooms of 20 students or more and providing each one with appropriate instruction is complex. But what kind of preparation or ongoing learning is required if teachers are to provide the best possible reading instruction for all students in their classrooms? In this article, I address several issues: professional development and why it is essential; criteria or components of effective professional development; and coaching as a component of professional development.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: WHAT AND WHY?

Guskey (2000) defines professional development as "those processes and activities designed to enhance the professional knowledge, skills, and attitudes of educators so that they might, in turn, improve the learning of students" (p. 16). This definition provides for much variation in how one might envision professional development, e.g., professional reading by individual teachers or groups of teachers, enrollment in university coursework, stand-alone workshop sessions organized by schools or professional organizations with the goal of increasing knowledge of a specific topic, or a mentoring or coaching approach in which teachers receive support and guidance from another educator in implementing reading instruction, and so on. The focus on student learning is an important aspect of Guskey's definition since it requires both participants and those who provide professional development to think more systematically about outcomes. However, how much and what kind of professional development are necessary if there is to be (a) change in teacher practices, and (b) improvement in student learning?

To address this question, we first need to look at the literature about professional development practices. According to Little (1993), professional development has generally been considered the "wasteland of education". Problems occurred for many different reasons: teachers received one or two training sessions in which there was little opportunity to get a useful understanding of the topic being addressed; teachers were bombarded with too many initiatives at one time; there was little follow-up or support for implementation efforts. When teachers are given new ideas and are not provided with the support needed to learn how to make these ideas a reality, to make them part of their teaching repertoire, these initiatives usually fall by the wayside. Little (1993) criticized the emphasis on skills training and the focus on implementation of specific reform efforts. She indicated that the major focus of professional development ought to be one that developed teachers' capacity to study, investigate, and invent new teaching practices.

Randi & Zeichner (2004) argue that schools today may be attending too often to what is offered in professional development rather than how something is offered. In other words, those responsible for providing professional development may be making decisions that are too narrow, which may "limit teachers' access to knowledge" (p. 181). They are concerned about professional development that focuses learning experiences for teachers on how to implement a single instructional program rather than "giving teachers access to theoretical principles of teaching and learning that can be applied to different situations (p. …

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