Reflective Practice in an Online Literacy Course: Lessons Learned from Attempts to Fuse Reading and Science Instruction
by Donna E. Alvermann, Achariya T. Rezak, Christine A. Mallozzi, Michael D. Boatright & David F. Jackson - 2011
Background/Context: One of several challenges to fusing reading and science instruction through the use of reflective practice arises from recent claims that it is questionable whether anyone can “make” preservice teachers into reflective practitioners. This challenge has implications for researchers and teacher educators in general, especially if one assumes that novices are without sufficient resources for reflecting on their own experiences and interactions.
Two frequently cited commissioned reviews of reading research conclude that skills-based instruction in graphic organizing, self-questioning, summarizing, and other similar generic reading strategies can improve adolescents’ comprehension of written texts. However, there is a growing consensus about the importance of domain-specific pedagogical knowledge, and preservice teachers who view science instruction as largely concept oriented may not view reading instruction as highly relevant. Little research has been directed toward understanding how preservice science teachers learn to integrate what they know about their subject matter with the generic reading strategies they are taught in content literacy courses.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The researchers documented a prospective science teacher’s struggle to make sense of an online content literacy course that attempted to strengthen her capabilities to combine skills-based instruction (reading) with concept-based instruction (science). Specifically, the researchers were interested in her reflections on the feedback she received from the course instructors and, in turn, how her struggle caused the researchers to reflect on several contradictory discourses in the online course that needed addressing before offering it in subsequent semesters. While looking at the course through the eyes of this student’s experiences and interactions, the researchers were also mindful of how her professional identity as a science teacher was being informed by those same contradictory discourses in small but incremental ways throughout the semester.
Research Design: In the context of an online content literacy course, 11 pairs of prospective and mentor teachers worked as partners in the instruction of middle school students reading one or more grade levels below actual grade placement in one or more content areas. This interpretive case study focused on one of those pairs. The concept of approximations of practice framed this study and led to a focus on the clinical aspects of reflective practice manifested during periods of preactive teaching (e.g., lesson planning) and reflective teaching (e.g., explaining and receiving feedback on the planned lessons).
Data Collection and Analysis: Data sources included a prospective teacher’s four intervention lessons plans and e-mails containing reflections on those lesson plans from the prospective teacher, her mentor teacher, and the teaching team. Analysis was a four-step process that included coding key sources and writing analytic memos through the use of deductive and inductive methods. The primary researcher used discourse analysis to interpret the researchers' and participants’ written reflections related to preactive and reflective teaching.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Implications derived from the study’s findings for literacy educators point to the value of collaborating with colleagues in schools of teacher education who have expertise in teaching their specific discipline’s content. Most importantly, the implications point to the need to reexamine the assumption that prospective teachers are without sufficient resources for reflecting on their own experiences and interactions in situations that call for fusing skills-based reading instruction with concept-based science instruction.
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