The Effects of Teacher Education on Reading Improvement
Rickford, Angela E., Reading Improvement
The debate about the effects of teacher preparation on their performance in K through 12 classrooms continues with both supporters and dissenters. This self-study of the effects of one reading methods course on the quality of lessons that teachers deliver to their ethnically diverse "at-risk" students, shows that robust teacher preparation can have positive effects in terms of both content and pedagogy. It can improve students' reading comprehension of narratives, teachers' enjoyment of their work, and teachers' perceptions of their own competence as reading teachers. The study also identifies some of the general principles about student learning that teachers honed during the course which helped them become more effective practitioners.
At a recent luncheon held at my university for faculty in the College of Education, the Provost was fielding questions when the discussion settled into issues relevant to "methods" courses and teacher education programs. My ears perked up, since I was responsible for teaching the required reading methods course in our division at the oldest teacher education institution in Northern California. "How do we know," she asked "whether what we are teaching our students to do really works?" Though an obvious question, it made me think. Upon reflection, I felt that my course entitled, "Teaching Reading and Language Arts to Students with Mild and Moderate Disabilities", had been indeed effective. But I began to wonder where I would gather the hard data to prove this.
The provost's question made me recall the 2001 theme of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), "what we know and how we know it," and the recent spate of journal articles which placed the issue of teacher education outcomes in the spotlight (Zeichner, 1999; Chard, 1999; North, 1999; Putnam & Borko, 2000; Brady, 1999; Darling-Hammond, 2000). I realized that my position as a career teacher educator might allow me to reflect on my own practice and contribute to the debate on the value of teacher education. In what follows, I wish to consider whether the reading methods course that I teach has positive effects on teacher education in two respects: a) the quality of lesson plans that teachers construct in preparation for teaching their various K through 12 classes, and b) teachers' actual performance in their classrooms.
Background and Organization of the Course
The materials that I draw on in this article have been gathered from a course I taught in 1998. The thirty-three students involved (twenty-nine women and four men) were either pre- or in-service special education or resource specialist teachers registered in one of our teaching credential programs. Most of them were employed at a public K through 12 grade school, while a few were reading consultants in private practice. The course met for two and three-quarter hours each week throughout the 16-week long semester.
The primary objective of the course was to provide teachers with the expertise they need to be successful. Teaching reading continues to be a challenge for teachers of ethnic minority and at-risk students, especially in states like California which are composed of large percentages of diverse students, many often included in the ranks of "learning-disabled" and "special education" students. Because of this reality, teachers who enroll in the course come committed to finding ways to deal with their challenging groups of students. In teaching them, I explore the latest theories and research on issues in reading instruction, and help them develop practical and powerful strategies for their classrooms.
The course was divided into four inter-related modular components: 1) Teaching Decoding, 2) Teaching Vocabulary and Spelling, 3) Teaching Narratives: Appreciation, Analysis, Comprehension, and Composition, and 4) Teaching Exposition. For example, one underlying theme was the idea that literacy for today's students requires them not only to read and write, but to go beyond these basics, and have an explicit understanding of how language functions for communicating ideas in our complex world. …