Preparing Our Teachers: Opportunities for Better Reading Instruction
reviewed by Marianne Baker - 2003
Title: Preparing Our Teachers: Opportunities for Better Reading Instruction
Author(s): Dorothy S. Strickland, Catherine Snow, Peg Griffin, M. Susan Burns,and Peggy McNamara
Publisher: Joseph Henry Press, Washington
ISBN: 0309074452, Pages: 183, Year: 2002
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What is the core content for reading educators today? What is it pre-service and in-service teachers need to know to effectively teach students to read?
Beginning with a grant received from New York’s Carnegie Corporation, Strickland and Snow convened with New Brunswick Group members Burns, Griffin and McNamara to develop this consensus document and work with professional development institutes on teacher education in reading. Snow, Burns, and Griffin also served as editors in the landmark academic report reviewing some of the nation’s leading and most current reading research; Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. The group’s 1998 report evaluated methods and results of reading instruction and reading intervention, surmising that the primary prevention is good classroom instruction. In an attempt to bring findings from that report to non-academics, Burns, Snow, and Griffin edited Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success (1999). Both for the home and the classroom, reading-related activities were offered for children from birth to grade three.
Similarly, Strickland and Snow’s Preparing Our Teachers: Opportunities for Better Reading Instruction is also presented in layman’s terms and uses concise summaries of current reading research as an overview to the field to educate administrators and also parents, teachers, and others involved with teacher professional development. The authors state that the focus of this book is on the “content knowledge for providing children the opportunities they need to become skilled readers” (p. 159). Openly committed to improving reading instruction for children, the authors are dedicated to the notion that “to provide the best instruction for children learning to read, there is no question that teachers should be provided with far more and far better pre-service and in-service education” (p. 5).
Educators today face a political hotbed of ever-increasing standards and accountability. The authors cite the Department of Education’s projections, reminding us that our nation faces a teacher shortage and will require over 2.2 million teachers to be hired over the next decade. More than half will be first time teachers. Undoubtedly, these teachers require effective preparation. If the nation’s report card, presented by the authors and prepared by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is to be accepted without scrutiny, large numbers of school-aged (fourth grade) children continue to face significant difficulties in learning to read.
Researcher Richard Allington (2002) argues in Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum: How Ideology Trumped Evidence that the national report card requires closer evaluation and that reading achievement has actually risen over the years and continues to do so. Few would argue though that all students deserve no less than the best in reading instruction. These implications are evident in efforts to support both existing teacher education programs and new and veteran classroom teachers in Preparing Our Teachers: Opportunities for Better Reading Instruction. Strickland and Snow refer to the effects on students of enhancing teacher quality, stating “one recent study of more than 1,000 school districts concluded that every additional dollar spent on more highly qualified teachers netted greater improvements in student achievement than did any other use of school resources” (p. 23). In similar fashion, Richard Allington has noted that reading achievement levels have risen primarily in states that have invested heavily in teacher development as opposed to states investing heavily in curriculum standards and testing.
The introduction to Preparing Our Teachers: Opportunities for Better Reading Instruction provides a look at skilled readers, and what is required of students in order to become skilled. This translates to the whatand why of teacher education content, and of professional development to support teacher growth. Professional development, according to the authors, may be “judged by the extent to which it helps teachers provide children with crucial opportunities for becoming full members in our literate society” (p.11).
Chapters 1 through 5 each examine the framework of five “opportunity to learn” standards summarized from Preventing Reading Difficulties. Chapter 1 examines the tried and true forms and functions of our written language in an introduction to highlighting the significance of oral and written language, supported “play”, and the use of symbols in developing literate practices.
In Chapter 2, the authors examine meaning-making through language development and comprehension, beginning with spoken language. In the growing diversity of our schools, the authors note that well-prepared teachers know about English dialects and the languages their students speak. Vocabulary instruction is highlighted as a key to comprehension.
Chapter 3 provides a summary of how print works with letters, sounds and words, offering definitions of the key terms: phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency. Myths are explored including the notion that all children require the same instruction in phonemic awareness and the myth that phonemic awareness is the same as auditory discrimination.
The significance of providing children with opportunities to become enthusiastic about learning to read and write is underscored in Chapter 4. Especially essential in a pressured era of testing is the clear statement this book makes that success in reading involves motivating children to read and offering rewarding reading experiences. Following the suggestion of assessing students on their reading interests, the authors stress the significance of good reading instruction, student writing, the matter of materials, and the role of families and culture in motivating students to read.
Chapter 5, Anticipating Challenges: Assessment, Prevention and Intervention, addresses many of the instructional questions involved with struggling readers. The significance of teaching at the child’s instructional level is mentioned, and the authors are to be applauded for the strong message conveyed in the special section highlighting a conclusion from the national Committee on Minority Representation in Special Education. Educators are specifically implored not to wait for reading failure to begin intervention. The authors also provide useful guidelines for judging the effectiveness of staff development.
While the task of teacher education appears quite a daunting one in this book, the authors and contributors offer ways of ongoing support. A coaching teacher (Bernadine Hansen of Tyler, Texas) who supports ten grade K-2 classroom teachers offers supportive advice. Researcher and third grade teacher Ruth Nathan offers her own evolution of development in the teaching of reading. Grouping peer teachers for study groups and providing discussion time is thought to be effective, but the book delves further. General activities are offered following the literacy strand of each chapter (e.g., a teacher refresher on phonemes, word meanings based on context, plotting what and why readers read). Also offered are lengthy bibliographies with specific readings referenced to guide further exploration of the research. The few highlighted teacher stories offer just a glimpse of the vast payoffs possible in the field of teacher education. This book emphasizes an introduction to the necessary content and ongoing support that teachers require in their preparation for reading education.
Allington, R.L. (2002). Big brother and the national reading curriculum: How ideology trumped evidence. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Burns, M.S., Snow, C.E., & Griffin, P. (1999). Starting out right: A guide to promoting children’s reading success. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.