Primary Grade Reading Instruction Empowered Through Research-Based Knowledge

Ann Sharp, Ralph E. Reynolds, Kathleen J. Brown, Amy Morris, and Susan Gunn

 

Introduction

            What would you do if you were a member of a major school district and during a school board meeting a group of discontented parents waved Adams’ (1990) book, “Beginning To Read: Thinking and Learning About Print”, and asked, “What do you know about this book? And if nothing why not?” This incident actually happened. These parents were concerned that their children were not receiving the benefit of instruction based on the twenty years of theoretical and applied research explicated in the book.

This incident became the impetus for reading instruction reform within the district. Seeking counsel from an educational department of a large western university, the district put into motion a wide scale plan. Projected within that plan was a professional development reading program (PDRP) that would focus on and support scientifically based reading research.  The program design was the result of a joint effort by the university reading professors, district leaders, and researchers.

Program Design

Seven components of reading acquisition were identified (six of which later became the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000) standards: phonological awareness, explicit systematic phonics instruction, word study, fluency, comprehension strategies instruction, vocabulary instruction and writing. These components were the emphases of the program and considered core to effective reading instruction (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).

Three orientations or approaches to reading were identified: code-based, whole-language, and integrated. A code-based approach utilizes the phonics component with little care to the other components or reading acquisition (Diederich, 1973). A whole-language approach utilizes the component of writing with an emphasis in the use of literature and affective measures such as motivation (Bergeron, 1990). An integrated approach utilizes all seven components of reading acquisition.

Ten academic courses (30 credit hours) focusing on seminal research were created: theories and models of reading; beginning reading instruction; comprehension instruction; content area reading; diagnosis and remediation of reading difficulties; reading assessment; writing instruction; children’s literature; evaluation of reading programs; and cultural diversity. Two courses a semester were offered over five semesters.

The PDRP would take a proactive stance towards understanding reading research and understanding the nature of science. This dual focus would be developed to facilitate appropriate criteria in evaluating the quality of reading research and to encourage the use of this understanding to drive classroom practice.

Methods

            To evaluate and describe changes in the teacher participants, the researchers and the professors together designed interview protocols to answer three descriptive, interpretive questions. First, how did the teachers’ orientation toward teaching reading change? Second, how did their actual classroom practice change? Third, how did teachers’ disposition toward reading research change?

Participants

From the 25 participants of the PDRP, interviews were reviewed and narrowed to three participants who typify differing initial orientations to teaching reading. Also, only primary grade teachers were chosen because basic reading processes are developed in the primary grades (Snow, Burns, and Griffin, 1998; Adams, 1990). A cross case comparison study was implemented to evaluate how the program was affecting the participants and provide foundational information for a future full-scale analysis. Participants all began the program unfamiliar with reading research or reading theory. They were all considered to be excellent teachers by their principals and co-workers. However, though successful, each of them spoke of being dissatisfied with classroom results. Pseudonyms are used.

Diane is a first grade teacher who initially presented herself as a code-based teacher. Jill is also a first grade teacher who initially presented herself as a whole-language teacher. Kim is a second grade teacher who initially presented herself as a whole-language teacher.

Design Limitations

Data collecting procedures produced design limitations. Data collection did not begin until after the PDRP was actually started. The pre interview was conducted towards the end of the first year. This required the teacher-participants to remember what their opinions and practices were like before the PDRP. Also, only one observation was conducted after the PDRP was completed producing heavy reliance on self-report measures. In addition, there are no outcome measures on student learning to evaluate whether the PDRP truly impacted student achievement.

Additionally, participant selection can be viewed as a design limitation. Teachers allowed to enroll in the PDRP met selection criteria of high grade point average, willingness to take risks, cross-generational professional experience, academic records, and reputation as a teacher. Perhaps a more normal sampling would not yield such strong positive results.

Procedure

            A one hundred thirty question interview protocol was developed (Appendix A). It included open-ended questions that were carefully designed to reduce researcher influence on participant responses (Spindler & Spindler, 1992). It solicited demographic information as well as explicated what the participants knew about reading, reading theories, and literacy practices. It was designed to uncover the participants’ understanding of the reading process, their approach to reading instruction, and their disposition towards reading research. Example questions are: What is your definition of reading? Describe your reading block? Tell me what you know about the different approaches to reading (i.e., whole language, phonics, based instruction, etc.). Has research influenced your practice?

The interview protocol was administered to all participants during the end of the first year of the program (pre), and again at the completion (post) of the program, making possible comparison of the participant’s responses. Research assistants trained in the interview process administered the protocol. All participants of the program were interviewed individually with each interview taking approximately an hour and half. All interviews were recorded on audiotape and later transcribed for analysis.

Videotaped observations of the participant’s classroom practice were conducted at the completion of the program. In addition, a third videotaped interview was conducted to ascertain the participant’s intentions behind the instructional actions observed. Researchers functioned as observer-participants (Merriam, 2001); they were present but did not actively participate in classroom activities.

Data Analysis

 Researchers have noted that gathering data related to participants’ thought processes raises a number of validity issues (Miles & Huberman, 1994). To reduce these concerns, Miles & Huberman suggest triangulation: the collection of data from multiple sources that do not share the same potential for error. Triangulation was achieved through the use of the pre and post interview protocol, videotaped classroom observations, the third videotaped interviews, and quantitative tabulations from the protocols and observations.

Data from the primary protocols were transferred to an electronic database where each question from the first and second interview could be viewed simultaneously and analyzed for change (Miles & Huberman, 1984). Graduate assistants reviewed, coded and rated the protocols for three types of change: instructional orientation, teacher practice, and research disposition. Also, they flagged any evidence of the seven components of reading acquisition. An inter-rater reliability of 88.25% was achieved.

Reduction of the data was based on questions that seemed to yield consistent change across participants. For instance, when asked to define reading, all three participants’ pre and post responses yielded change in instructional orientation. Therefore, that protocol item remained a part of the analysis. However, questions that asked for theoretical information (i.e., How do you define Behaviorism?) yielded little consistent change across participants and were dropped from the analysis. Tabular materials were created (Miles, 1979) using counts of various phenomena. Data from the interviews were analyzed and compiled using content analysis process (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Developments of vignettes for the three teachers were developed out of the analysis.

Results

Findings represent changes made by the three participants studied and will be presented in the following order: first, changes in orientation toward reading instruction, followed by changes in reading instruction in the classroom, and finally, changes in disposition towards reading research. These three are demonstrated with graphs and video clips representing the participants and the changes they made. (Appendix B has written quotes from the videos.)

Shifts In Initial Orientation Towards Reading Instruction

Shift in orientation of reading instruction is demonstrated in Table I. It is based on fifteen items from the protocol that were coded consistently as self-report orientation of the preferred reading approach across the three participants. The percentages seen in the table represent how many of those fifteen items indicated one type of approach. The same fifteen items were again used in the post interview to determine if any change had been made. A definite shift for all three teachers was seen from an initial orientation to an integrated reading approach.

Table I

Shift in Orientation

 

 

                                                                  

 

Diane’s shift went from code-based to integrated reading instruction in her first grade classroom. Her pre interview showed her as a Reading Mastery teacher. She did straight decoding, reported no use of literature, and used only small reading groups. She said that her students didn’t read more than two or three minutes per day even though she had a ninety-minute block dedicated to reading instruction. In contrast, Diane’s post interview spoke of comprehension strategies, literature, learning theories, situated cognition, whole group instruction along with small flexible groups, phonological awareness, and teaching reading all day long as she incorporated different reading components throughout her other subjects.

 

Jill’s shift went from whole language to an integrated reading instruction approach in her first grade classroom. During her pre interview she speaks of reading a lot of literature, writing stories using literature, having books of choice, and embedded phonics. Her reading instruction was a ninety-minute block. The post interview showed her still reading an abundance of literature, writing on a daily basis, and having books of choice, but she was now using explicit systematic phonics instruction, phonological awareness activities and teaching reading throughout the entire day.

Kim’s shift was from an initial whole language approach in her second grade classroom to an integrated reading approach. In her pre interview she indicated that phonics was not needed as part of a reading instruction. She placed her instructional focus on writing using real literature to provide models, and on having children read books of personal interest (these books were not necessarily at their reading level). She read a lot to her students and had a ninety-minute reading block. Revealing her shift, Kim’s post interview showed she felt phonics was critical for reading instruction. She was still using real literature to model writing, but reading materials were now suited to reading levels of individual students. She incorporated reading instruction throughout the instructional day rather than using the ninety-minute block.

Shifts In Classroom Reading Instruction

Protocols and video observations were examined for evidence of inclusion of the seven components of reading acquisition within the participant’s instructional practice. Findings showed shifts in classroom practice and changes in reading instruction. Table II indicates how many of the three teachers were using each of the seven components of reading acquisition in their classroom instruction before and after the PDRP. Edited video segments of actual teaching moments illustrate the seven components.

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Table II

 

Seven Components of Reading Acquisition

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Component

Teachers using: Pre

Teachers using: Post

Link to video

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Phonological Awareness

0

3

 

 

Explicit Systematic Phonics Instruction

 

1

 

3

 

 

Word Study

 

1

 

3

 

 

 

Fluency

 

3

 

3

 

 

 

Comprehension Strategies Instruction

 

0

 

3

 

 

 

Vocabulary Instruction

 

2

 

3

 

 

 

Writing

 

2

 

3

 

 

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Shifts In Disposition Towards Reading Research

 

Findings in changes of disposition towards research were evidenced throughout the protocol as participants voiced their opinions about research. During the pre interview, statements like the following were common: “Didn’t influence my practice” and “Hadn’t read it.” During the post interview statements shifted to: “Totally influences”, “Read it a lot”, “Understand it”,  “Supported my teaching”, and “Tells me why.” A quote from Diane characterizes pre-intervention attitudes towards reading research and the post-intervention shift in attitude.

 

Discussion

Despite a predictable resistance toward change (Berliner, 1987), participants experienced shifts in orientation and disposition towards research. Their reading instruction became consistent with implications derived from scientifically based research. Why did this program promote this degree of change? The authors think it is a multi-dimensional interactive process incorporating the sustained, intense involvement of the participants over a two-year period. During this process they were required to become knowledgeable, critical consumers of research. They were able to apply this research concurrently in the classroom. They were able to reflect, receive feedback, and change their classroom practices in a supportive environment.

Implications

Successful, effective professional development must have the following components: sustained, intense involvement; active participation; opportunity for processing and application; support from professors and fellow participants; and access to up-to-date research information.

 

 

References

Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MS: The MIT Press.

 

Bergeron, B. (1990). What does the term whole language mean? Constructing a definition from the literature. Journal of Reading Behavior, 22, 301-329.

 

Berliner, D.C. (1987). Knowledge is power: A talk to teachers about a revolution in the teaching profession. In D.C.Berliner & B.V. Rosenshine (Eds). Talks to teachers (pp. 3-33). New York: Random House.

 

Diederich, P.B. (1973). Review 1960-1970 on methods and materials in reading (TM Report 22), Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Services.

 

Miles, M.B. (1979). Qualitative data as an attractive nuisance: The problem of analysis. Administrative Science Quarterly, 24, 590-601.

 

Miles, M.B. & Huberman, A.M. (1984). Analyzing qualitative data: A source book for new methods. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

 

Miles, M.B. & Huberman, A.M. (1994). An expanded sourcebook: Qualitative data analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

 

Merriam, S.B. (2001). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

 

National Reading Panel (NRP). (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

 

Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.) (1998). Preventing difficulties in young children. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

 

Spindler, G. & Spindler, L. (1992). Cultural process and ethnography: An anthropological perspective; the handbook of qualitative research in education. London/New York: Academic Press.

 


Appendix A: Interview Protocol

 

ID # ____________________

 

I. DEMOGRAPHICS

 

Name:

Address:

Phone:

Where did you receive your certification?

What is your certification/degree?

Education: (highest degree held)

College GPA--Bachelors:

GPA--Master's:

Number of years teaching:

List the schools and grades in which you have taught and number of years in each grade.

Number of years teaching experience in current grade:

 

II. INTERVIEW

 

1. What is your definition of reading?

2. What is your definition of writing?

3. What do you think happens when students read?

4. Do you think your own experiences in learning to read have influenced your teaching?

5. Do you think reading and writing relate?

5. a. How?

6. Every teacher approaches reading differently. These questions are not an evaluation, but to see how you teach. I am going to ask you about your Reading / Language Arts block and I want you to just go through each component. I am going to take notes, and then we will come and talk about each component individually. Right now, I just want you to name the components off for me in a list form. Ready? What do you do when you teach Reading / Language Arts?

6.a. How long is your block?

7. Let's go back and talk about each individual component. I want you to tell me why you include what you include, and what you hope it accomplishes. Let's talk about...

8. If you could change anything in your R / LA block, if you could create the R / LA block of your dreams, what would it look like? What would you do differently?

9. What grade level do you teach?

10. What goals do you have for your students with regard to reading?

11. In your own language, how would you describe yourself as a reader? Why?

On a scale of 1 - 10 how would you rate yourself?

12. How would you rate yourself as a reading teacher? Why?

How would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10?

13. How would you rate yourself in comparison to other teachers? Why?

Would you consider yourself below average, average, or above average?

14. Who do you consider an exemplary reading teacher? What makes them exemplary?

15. How much control do you have over what you teach in your Reading / Language Arts block?

Now rate the control you have on a scale of 1 - 10.

16. Has your feeling of control changed over time? With different principals or in different schools or districts?

17. Now that you have been through the Co-op, do you feel that your principal or that the district would listen to advice from you about the teaching of reading in your classroom?

18. Over the years, different approaches of teaching reading have been developed. What can you tell me about the different approaches?

19. I am going to ask you about some other approaches. Can you tell me what you know about then, and what you think the advantages and limitations are about each approach? Ready?

A. Whole Language.

B. Phonics.

C. Decoding by Analogy.

D. Direct Instruction.

E. Explicit Instruction.

F. Explicit Instruction.

G. Balanced Literacy Approach.

H. Cuing Systems.

I. Basal Series.

J. Comprehension Strategies Instruction.

K. Literature Based Instruction.

20. What are the major influences on how you teach reading in your classroom? Prompts (How do you decide on the materials you use? Do you use a commercial program? Which one? How long have you used it? Have you taken any inservice on it? What else has influenced how you teach reading?)

21. Who do you consider the nations leading experts in reading? Why?

After they have recalled all they can, prompt for the rest.

A. Marilyn Adams

B. Pat Alexander

C. Richard Anderson

D. Nancy Atwell

E. Isabell Beck

F. Maria Carbo

G. Lucy Caulkins

H. Jean Chall

I. Maire Clay

J. Pat Cunningham

K. Linea Ehri

L. Ken Goodman

M. Phil Gough

N. Jerome Harste

O. David Pearson

P. Chuck Perfetti

Q. Gay Sue Pinell

R. Michael Pressley

S. Ralph Reynolds

T. Reggie Routman

U. Connie Weaver

22 Has the way you teach reading ever changed? Tell me about it.

23. What caused you to change the way you teach reading?

24. Has research influenced your practice?

a. -How do you define scientific research?

b. -Where do you go to find it?

c.-What books, articles, journals do you read?

d.-Of those, which has been the most influential?

25. Who are the people that influence your practice the most? How?

-How are you familiar with these people?

26. Has your basic philosophy of teaching reading ever changed? If yes, how and why?

 

III Theoretical Knowledge

 

27. Now we are going to talk about the theories of learning. Once again, I just want you to name them off and then we will go and talk about each theory individually. Ready? O Kay, What do you know about the theories of learning?

28. I'm going to list a few theories. Just tell me if you are or are not familiar with it, and like I stated earlier, we will talk about each one in isolation.

-Behaviorism

-Connectionism

-Constructivism

-Human Information Processing

-Schema Theory

-Situated Cognition

-Social Perspective Theories

 

Now I am going to ask you more specific questions about the theories with which you are familiar enough with to discuss. Ready?

 

29. You stated that you knew about Behaviorism.

A.     How would you define Behaviorism?

B.     What influence do you think this theory has on our understanding of the reading process?

C.     Has this theory influenced your own teaching of reading? How?

D.     Do you think this theory has application to instruction? How?

E.      What do you think this theory assumes about learning?

F.      Do you think this is a good theory in terms of how students learn? Why?

G.     Could you rate this theory on a scale of 1 - 10 in terms of how students learn?

30. You stated that you knew about Connectionism.

A.     How would you define Connectionism?

B.     What influence do you think this theory has on our understanding of the reading process?

C.     Has this theory influenced your own teaching of reading? How?

D.     Do you think this theory has application to instruction? How?

E.      What do you think this theory assumes about learning?

F.      Do you think this is a good theory in terms of how students learn? Why?

G.     Could you rate this theory on a scale of 1 - 10 in terms of how students learn?

31. You stated that you knew about Constructivism.

A.     How would you define Constructivism?

B.     What influence do you think this theory has on our understanding of the reading process?

C.     Has this theory influenced your own teaching of reading? How?

D.     Do you think this theory has application to instruction? How?

E.      What do you think this theory assumes about learning?

F.      Do you think this is a good theory in terms of how students learn? Why?

G.     Could you rate this theory on a scale of 1 - 10 in terms of how students learn?

32. You stated that you knew about Human Information Processing.

A.     How would you define Human Information Processing?

B.     What influence do you think this theory has on our understanding of the reading process?

C.     Has this theory influenced your own teaching of reading? How?

D.     Do you think this theory has application to instruction? How?

E.      What do you think this theory assumes about learning?

F.      Do you think this is a good theory in terms of how students learn? Why?

G.     Could you rate this theory on a scale of 1 - 10 in terms of how students learn?

33. You stated that you knew about Schema Theory.

A.     How would you define Schema Theory?

B.     What influence do you think this theory has on our understanding of the reading process?

C.     Has this theory influenced your own teaching of reading? How?

D.     Do you think this theory has application to instruction? How?

E.      What do you think this theory assumes about learning?

F.      Do you think this is a good theory in terms of how students learn? Why?

G.     Could you rate this theory on a scale of 1 - 10 in terms of how students learn?

34. You stated that you knew about Situated Cognition.

A.     How would you define Situated Cognition?

B.     What influence do you think this theory has on our understanding of the reading process?

C.     Has this theory influenced your own teaching of reading? How?

D.     Do you think this theory has application to instruction? How?

E.      What do you think this theory assumes about learning?

F.      Do you think this is a good theory in terms of how students learn? Why?

G.     Could you rate this theory on a scale of 1 - 10 in terms of how students learn?

35. You stated that you knew about Social Perspective Theories.

A.     How would you define Social Perspective Theories?

B.     What influence do you think this theory has on our understanding of the reading process?

C.     Has this theory influenced your own teaching of reading? How?

D.     Do you think this theory has application to instruction? How?

E.      What do you think this theory assumes about learning?

F.      Do you think this is a good theory in terms of how students learn? Why?

G.     Could you rate this theory on a scale of 1 - 10 in terms of how students learn?

36. Is there anything else you would like to say about reading or the teaching of reading?

 

IV. QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CO-OP

 

37. How did the co-op change your teaching? In other words, how does your practice that you implement today, differ from what you were doing before you started the co-op?

38. What kinds of new ideas did you get from the co-op?

39. What courses did you find most useful in the co-op, and what courses did you find the least useful in the co-op? Are there any suggestions you have for Dr. Reynolds and or Dr. Brown?

Is there anything else you would like to add about the co-op?

O Kay, we are all finished. Thank You.


Appendix B: Quotes for the videos

Diane’s quote:

“We did reading mastery, which was pretty much just a straight decoding, not literature based at all…I’ve come to realize how much there is with the comprehension strategies. And you know the literature things that you do. As well as all the decoding things you do. It’s pretty all-encompassing…”

Jill’s quote:

“…[the cooperative master’s program] has just helped in the evolution of the kind of teacher that I am and the way I teach…a good reading teacher would be someone who would teach their children to really love reading. To pick books of their own choice …They would have time to read in a guided reading group..One thing Open Court does is it has a really great progression of sounds. It teaches the sounds systematically which I think a good reading teacher would also do. …and they would also be given time to write on a daily basis.”

Kim’s quote:

“I think phonics is critical for beginning reading. Kids have to know their letters, they have to, know the alphabetic principles, they have to move systematically through so they can start blending, looking at chunks, making sense of the words themselves. All kids really need that.”

Diane’s second quote

“Has the way I teach reading ever changed? Oh, yea. I think it’s a very dynamic thing. If it doesn’t change I think you’re in trouble because they’re always coming up with new research and new strategies… The research has influenced me. Oh, this is another thing. When I went into this I said, “I don’t care about this research stuff, I don’t care about this theory. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. That was my attitude. And now, I just go like, That was so neat to know like why and what went into that. You know?… In fact, my friend and I were talking, can you believe that we are sitting down and reading this stuff and liking it? I’m like picking up a reading journal. It’s interesting how things change…I love the research stuff now! Now instead of reading novels, I’m reading journals. Reading journals.