Preparing Beginning Reading Teachers for K-3: Teacher Preparation in Higher Education

By Otaiba, Stephanie Al; Lake, Vickie E. et al. | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, October 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Preparing Beginning Reading Teachers for K-3: Teacher Preparation in Higher Education


Otaiba, Stephanie Al, Lake, Vickie E., Scarborough, Kathryn, Allor, Jill, Carreker, Suzanne, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


Teachers, researchers, and parents recognize that children's reading development is influenced by their teacher's effectiveness. However, historically, the lack of effective teacher preparation has been one of the most persistent problems that teachers face, as noted by members of the Reading Hall of Fame (Bauman, Ro, Duffy-Hester, & Hoffman, 2000). Researchers interested in teachers' knowledge about teaching reading have documented many teachers' lack of preparedness to implement evidence-based beginning reading instructional practices (e.g., Bos, Mather, Dickson, Podhajski & Chard, 2001; Mather, Bos & Babur, 2001; Moats, 1994, 2009; SpearSwerling, 2009). In particular, these studies have convergent findings that many teachers, even those with experience and credentials, have limited knowledge about phonemic awareness and phonics and their importance for students at risk for reading problems. In addition to the lack of knowledge to teach these code-focused skills, other researchers also reported limited knowledge of strategies to teach vocabulary and comprehension (Brady et al., 2009; Carlisle, Cortina, & Katz, 2011). Recent research has found that very few teachers are aware of specific evidence-based practices and may not understand assessments well enough to guide their instruction or to develop and evaluate intensive interventions for students who inadequately respond to evidence-based practices (e.g., Leko, Brownell, Sindelar, & Kiely, 2015; Spear-Swerling & Cheesman, 2012).

Teachers need to be better prepared more than ever before to help children learn to read for several reasons. First, classrooms are increasingly diverse, particularly in urban areas. Although some progress has been made in closing the fairly persistent achievement gap in literacy between children from high and low socioeconomic groups and between White, African-American, and Hispanic ethnic groups, alarmingly, fewer than 50% of children in urban high-needs schools read proficiently; furthermore, 67% of students with disabilities read below a basic level (http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/).

Second, legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Act (2004) allows states to use Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS); in these models, expert beginning reading teachers are the first line of prevention for reading problems across all 50 states (Zirkel & Thomas, 2010). In these models, students who do not show adequate reading growth to classroom instruction are provided additional intervention, which increases in intensity. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA; PL 115-95; 2015) continues to emphasize MTSS and early literacy instruction. However, research has not yet evaluated the impact of core reading instructional programs on student learning (Kretlow & Helf, 2013).

Third, students with the most significant needs, those receiving special education services, are more likely to be included most of the day in their general education classrooms as inclusion policies become more prevalent (USDOE, NCES, 2015). However, general education teachers may not have opportunities to develop the teaching competencies they need to use with students in special education in the area of literacy (Grossman & McDonald, 2008; Leko et al., 2015). Fourth, the bar for reading and writing is higher than ever before. With a majority of states using the Common Core State Standards (2010), teachers need to support all children in achieving more rigorous reading standards and in reading much higher level text.

There is a paucity of research that explicitly links teacher knowledge, teacher practice, and students' reading growth. A notable example is a study by McCutchen et al. (2002) that demonstrated linkage among improved beginning reading teachers' knowledge of phonology, observed improved lessons, and reported increased student reading scores. In another study, Piasta, Connor, Fishman, and Morrison (2009), found that when teachers lacked knowledge about how to teach phonics, the more time they provided phonics instruction was actually negatively related to their students' reading growth. …

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