You Can't Make an Omelet without Breaking a Few Eggs: The Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs of Retraining Tenured Teachers in Scientific Research-Based Approaches to Teaching Reading

By Gillis, Margie B.; McCombes-Tolis, Jule | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, October 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

You Can't Make an Omelet without Breaking a Few Eggs: The Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs of Retraining Tenured Teachers in Scientific Research-Based Approaches to Teaching Reading


Gillis, Margie B., McCombes-Tolis, Jule, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


Each of us has a unique perspective that informs the teacher preparation work that we are presently collaborating on. One of us has higher education experience in both special education and reading and clinical expertise in the identification and remediation of dyslexia; the other has special education classroom and clinical expertise, as well as extensive experience providing, with a team of coaches, classroom embedded professional development in reading for general education teachers. Our shared work with educators in pre- and inservice contexts has shed light on the inadequate preparation of many teachers and reading interventionists for fostering an understanding of the science of reading sufficient to inform their ability to teach children how to read. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Knowledge and Practice Standards have provided us with a set of guiding principles to inform our work with educators and to guide the design of a new Reading and Language Development (RLD) program, established with the primary goal of positively impacting the state's reading achievement gap. The centrality of the IDA standards to the program's design has drawn attention to the program-both positive and negative-as described and discussed below.

The History Behind the Reading and Language Development Program

In 2000, as part of a federally funded grant, senior scientists at Haskins Laboratories and leaders at a New England state's Department of Education recruited and hired a team of reading teachers. For this initiative, Drs. Susan Brady and Anne Fowler trained 12 knowledgeable and experienced teachers in the research and developed tools to provide classroom-based support to general education teachers. Four years later, with more knowledge and experience, Drs. Brady and Gillis led an Institute of Education Science-funded Teacher Quality Grant to study reading instruction in 120 first-grade classrooms in nine districts in the state. During the course of this study, they and their mentor team were surprised to learn that the vast majority of these teachers, including those with a Master's, Sixth Year Certificate, and/or Reading Specialist endorsement, lacked knowledge about evidence-based reading practices (Brady et al., 2009). Furthermore, teachers with whom the mentors worked for two years had varying degrees of success applying their new knowledge to have an impact on reading outcomes as documented through the use of a grant-developed Teacher Knowledge Survey.

Despite the challenges met along the way, during the grant period and subsequent to completing the study, researchers saw an opportunity to change the teacher preparation landscape in the state. This plan to better prepare teachers was facilitated when the IDA released the Knowledge and Practice Standards in 2010 (http://dyslexiaida.org/knowledge-andpractices/). Despite the fact that these standards provide the first detailed road map to guide the professional development of reading teachers, it has proven difficult to embed all of the standards into our inservice work with teachers. Ineffective district and school leadership, insufficient dedicated professional development time with teachers, philosophical differences (i.e., structured language versus whole language), and competing initiatives (e.g., Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, Common Core State Standards implementation) are several of the challenges faced along the way.

These obstacles to providing deep knowledge about language and literacy and the associated effective instruction inspired the creation of the RLD program at a private Jesuit university in New England. As a new degree program, the courses were developed to specifically align with the Knowledge and Practice Standards so that all 74 substandards were addressed multiple times within the advanced degree program to ensure that teachers master and are able to effectively apply the knowledge in their teaching. The program was reviewed by IDA earlier in the year (2016) and was notified shortly thereafter that it was endorsed. …

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