Higher Education Collaboratives: Aligning Research and Practice in Teacher Education

By Cheesman, Elaine A.; Hougen, Martha et al. | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Higher Education Collaboratives: Aligning Research and Practice in Teacher Education


Cheesman, Elaine A., Hougen, Martha, Smartt, Susan M., Perspectives on Language and Literacy


Anyone who drives a car has probably felt the vehicle "pull" to one side, signaling to the driver that a wheel alignment is due; however, the problem is actually a much more complex situation involving the interrelated suspension and steering systems. Proper alignment is essential to the car's steering system. The current state of reading instruction is very much like a car out-of-alignment - the steering system (standards, accountability, and instruction) often do not align with the suspension (research basis).

Decades of research evidence confirms the lasting value of reading instruction that includes five essential elements - phonemic awareness, systematic phonics, text fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). Moreover, a teacher's level of expertise in assessing and teaching these essential skills predicts reading improvement in children (Moats, 2004). Although ongoing research is important to refine our understanding of reading acquisition and instruction, there is already enough valid, research evidence to improve reading instruction. However, this knowledge about evidence-based reading instruction is not universally recognized, accepted, or practiced.

The Alignment of Research, Policy, Accountability, and Practice

Aligning the steering (standards, accountability, and instruction) with the suspension (research basis) of the "reading machine" involves several components:

* policy (e.g., State and professional organization standards for teachers),

* accountability (e.g., standards for State accreditation of teacher preparation programs, licensure tests for teachers), and

* teacher knowledge.

Each element involves a tangled web of repair shops. The drivers of the reading car, the customers, are the beginning readers who expect the car, that is, their instruction, to work for them. Finally, the title to the reading car is shared by many partners - researchers, professional associations, federal and State policy makers, and teacher educators - who have varying views on what teacher candidates need to know and be able to do when teaching reading. Sometimes it seems that the reading car is a politically correct compromise of all views, rather than a unified machine with all parts working together to better serve the teacher candidate and ultimately, their students.

Policy

Professional associations publish standards for teacher education in reading instruction with varying degrees of depth and alignment with scientifically based reading research. Some standards, such as the new IDA Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading (International Dyslexia Association, 201 0), elaborate and specify critical areas of content knowledge and practices. IDA's standards include 42 separate elements to guide instruction in the five essential elements of reading, plus another eight devoted to spelling, handwriting, and composition, all supported by extensive research citations. In contrast, other standards, such as the recently revised International Reading Association's (IRA) Standards for Reading Professionals (2010), leave educators on their own to translate research into meaningful practice. Standard 2 states, "Candidates use the instructional approaches, materials, and an integrated, comprehensive, balanced curriculum to support student learning in reading and writing." Evidence that demonstrates competence for Reading Specialist/Literacy Coach Candidates for this standard states, "Use instructional approaches supported by literature and research for the following areas: concepts of print, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, critical thinking, motivation, and writing" (Standard 2, Element 2.2). The 2003 IRA standards, which covered the five essential reading elements in one sentence (International Reading Association, 2004, Standard 1 .4), were adopted by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), recognized by the U. …

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