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An investigation of elementary pre-service teachers' reading instructional beliefs.

In today's diverse elementary classrooms, teacher educators must model for preservice teachers how to implement exemplary literacy practices. It is sometimes necessary to dispel misconceptions regarding these instructional practices. Often, instructional strategies learned in the undergraduate classroom are disregarded by preservice teachers because these techniques were not used during their own elementary school experiences. This quantitative research study investigated elementary education preservice teachers' attitudes and beliefs about reading instruction and whether or not their literacy coursework had an impact on them.

Introduction

Teacher certification programs are responsible for preparing well-qualified teachers to meet the needs of today's diverse student population, and higher education coursework is carefully sequenced and strategically planned to thoroughly prepare them. Literacy instruction coursework is a vital component within elementary preservice teachers' undergraduate preparation programs. Instructors and professors, who teach literacy courses, must not only teach preservice teachers how to implement exemplary literacy practices, but they must also dispel misconceptions regarding these practices. Often, instructional strategies learned in the undergraduate classroom are disregarded by preservice teachers because these techniques were not used during their own elementary school experiences. Therefore, instructors and professors may be challenged to examine preservice teachers' preconceived beliefs about reading instruction prior to their coursework. In addition, it is important to determine if preservice teachers' beliefs are aligned with best literacy practices upon completion of their coursework so that effective literacy instruction will occur when they enter the teaching profession.

Purpose

This quantitative study describes elementary education preservice teachers' reading instructional beliefs and the possibility of modified beliefs upon completion of university coursework. The participants include students enrolled in two different teacher preparation programs. Research on teacher education is increasing and the focus often includes the relationship between teachers' beliefs and practices (Fang, 1996). Research suggests that educators tend to teach the way they were taught unless their university course-work makes a direct attempt to address their preconceptions (Fang, 1996; Yoo, 2005). Three main models of the acquisition of literacy, bottom-up, top-down, and interactive, are typically introduced within preservice teacher education programs. The process of reading within the bottom-up model moves from a focus on print to a focus on meaning. The bottom-up model emphasizes specific teaching of decoding skills and word recognition. Within the bottom-up model, teachers typically believe in a skills approach to reading instruction and expect the children to learn in the same sequence. The top-down model is connected to the whole language belief which posits that reading instruction should focus on semantic cues, or meaning, rather than a skills approach. Proponents of this model feel that children should learn skills in authentic experiences and construct their knowledge through a child-centered approach. An interactionist model combines the bottom-up model and the top-down models in order to form a balanced view of reading instruction. Research indicates that excellent reading instruction entails multiple instructional components (Pressley et al., 2001, Reutzel, 2007). Therefore, for teacher preparation reading programs to be effective, they must include instruction in the following concepts: phonics, phonemic awareness, oral language, word identification, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, assessment, and the management of literacy instruction across various grades (Feilding-Barnsley & Purdie, 2005).

Research Questions

This quantitative study was designed to address the following questions:

1. What are elementary education preservice teachers' attitudes and beliefs about reading instruction?

2. Do preservice teachers' attitudes and beliefs about reading instruction align with the theoretical orientation(s): bottom-up, top-down, or interactive?

3. Does literacy methods coursework have an impact on elementary education preservice teachers' attitudes and beliefs about reading instruction?

The Study's Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework is based upon the socio-constructivist perspective, along with Vygotsky's (1978) socio-culrural theory. This framework maintains that preservice teachers construct meaning about the practices of effective literacy teachers through the theories and activities introduced to them within their teacher education programs. These programs work to prepare exemplary, influential reading teachers who are knowledgeable and responsive to their students' needs (Maloch, et al., 2003). Constructivism is a theory of knowledge and learning in which the learner creates, or constructs, knowledge based on a variety of different experiences and essentially, the learner plays an active role in the learning process (Pransky & Bailey, 2003). Mayor (2005) states that preservice teachers' knowledge regarding effective teaching is enhanced through their engagement in activities within their teacher preparation programs. However, while the goal of teacher education programs is to foster preservice teachers' knowledge regarding the information they will need to be effective educators, researchers have found that students are not always open to learning new information.

Preservice teachers begin their education with preconceived beliefs that may not be dissuaded during their teacher education programs (Rath, 2001). Therefore, it is important for teacher educators and preservice teachers to discuss pre-formed beliefs and construct a schema to help them understand their experiences and education. Understanding and addressing pre-conceived beliefs will provide teacher educators a platform on which to build new information that preservice teachers will need in order to be effective in the classroom.

Literature Review

Preservice Teachers' Attitudes and Beliefs about Reading Instruction: What are elementary education preservice teachers' attitudes and beliefs about reading instruction?

The educational belief system held by preservice teachers is the foundation they will use in making decisions about how to teach. Research supports that teachers hold implicit beliefs about students and subject areas that affect their learning and their teaching practices (Fang, 1996). The strong influence of teachers' belief systems on their reading instruction affects the ways in which the information is presented to the students which greatly influences lesson planning and student learning (Cheek, Steward, Laureny, & Borgia, 2004; Cummins, Cheek, & Lindsey, 2004). Because the belief system plays such a major role in teaching practice, teachers are unlikely to change their teaching style when a change is warranted, unless their belief system can be changed first. In addition, the belief system held by teachers is often instilled in their students. Therefore, evaluation of preservice teachers' belief systems should be an essential part of teacher education instruction. Preservice teachers must examine their belief systems connected to teaching practice and identify the shortcomings of their beliefs (Asselin, 2000).

Theoretical Orientations of Preservice Teachers' Attitudes and Beliefs about Reading Instruction: Do preservice teachers' attitudes and beliefs about reading instruction follow the theoretical orientation(s): bottom-up, top-down, and/or interactive model?

The three theoretical reading instruction models are top down, bottom-up, or interactive and these theoretical orientations have differing ideas about the emphasis that should be placed on various aspects of reading education. Instructional practices will be governed by the reading instruction methods of the model and on student expectations (Fang, 1996). Research has found that literacy teachers generally subscribe to one of the three models for reading instruction formally known as: top down, bottom-up, or interactive. The model to which they subscribe can have a profound influence on their teaching styles, the materials they choose for their classrooms, and their flexibility in instructional design.

Impact of Methods Coursework: Does literacy coursework have an impact on elementary education preservice teachers' attitudes and beliefs about reading instruction?

Research shows that teachers tend to teach the way they were taught unless their teacher education program directly addresses their preconceived beliefs (Rath, 2001). Some studies have concluded that beliefs about reading and literature are formed from high school and bachelor's level literature courses and that these beliefs are difficult to sway during teacher education (Asselin, 2000; Yoo, 2005). Teaching, unlike other professions, has a unique caveat in that students preparing to be teachers have been immersed in the education profession for their entire academic career and will draw upon those experiences, both good and bad, to form their own beliefs and opinions. It is suggested that changes to the implicit belief system during teacher education are only made when the new information fills a gap in their own education. Even after learning new methods during teacher education, preservice teachers tend to revert back to their traditional belief systems.

Another factor that shapes preservices teachers' belief systems is the quality of their classroom field experiences. However, the complexities of actual classroom instruction can restrict teachers' abilities to teach according to the model that they value (Fang, 1996). Preservice teachers' beliefs regarding beginning reading instruction encompass an array of subcategories and are explained within the Results and Conclusion section below.

Methodology

A survey developed by Knudson & Anderson (2000) was utilized with preservice teachers at two universities. Permission from the authors was gained to use the survey. Participants' ages ranged from 18 to 26. The majority was female and all participants were enrolled in an undergraduate elementary education program. The survey was completed online and consisted of items based upon reading materials, the teaching of reading skills, reading comprehension, and meaningful learning experiences during instruction. It was comprised of twenty-four items and a Likert scale of five, ranging from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. The survey was administered in the spring of 2006 and in the fall of 2006 to measure changes in the preservice teachers' reading beliefs after they completed their methods coursework.

Data Analysis

The survey data were collected and analyzed. The mean, standard deviation, two-independent samples t-test, and Chisquare, for pre and post responses, were calculated for each question. The data for each university were combined and analyzed. The twenty-four survey items were separated into the following nine categories: (1) literature experiences, (2) meaningful experiences, (3) narrative experiences, (4) story structure, (5) phonics, (6) phonics experiences, (7) word analysis, (8) skill instruction, and (9) integration of skills. For comparison, an accepted alpha of .05 was used for each variable. Pre, post, and total percentages were also calculated.

Results and Conclusions

Descriptive statistics were used to measure elementary preservice teachers' reading instructional beliefs in the spring of 2006 and fall of 2006. Results of the Pearson Chi-square revealed that there are no statistically significant differences in responses for the participants' pre and post scores, for the majority of the questions. The only question for which there was a statistically significant association between pre and post responses is the following: Children should be taught skills to comprehend what they read (See Table 1).

The p-value for that question is 0.0007. The mean difference is 0.21 units, which indicates stronger agreement than the mean pre score. This corresponds to a smaller percentage of "Somewhat Strongly Agree" responses in the post test. However, the data indicated that the p-values for two additional questions are borderline. The question, regarding children's first grade experiences with reading in meaningful contexts,has a p-value of 0.077. The question, regarding children needing to learn to read sounds in isolation and then practice perceiving them in whole-word contexts as they read their own stories, has a p-value of 0.060. Although the p-values for each question are borderline of statistical significance, it cannot be stated that there are statistically significant differences in responses.

The following subcategories about reading instruction were addressed on the survey. The information gleaned from the data analyses is as follows:

Literature Experiences: Participants responded to the following survey statements which addressed literature experiences:

* The teaching of beginning reading needs to be integrated with the teaching of literature.

* First grade reading experiences should be focused on surrounding the children with print.

* The best method of teaching word recognition is to permit children to self-select books and then correct their errors for a group of children with similar word recognition problems.

Post-test findings indicated that 75.9% of preservice teachers either strongly agreed or somewhat strongly agreed that teaching beginning reading needs to be integrated with the teaching of literature. Additionally, 92.9% of post-test results identified that participants either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that first grade reading experiences should be focused on surrounding the children with print. Less than half (39.1%) of the preservice teachers strongly agreed that the best method of teaching word recognition is to permit children to self-select books and then correct errors for a group of children with similar word recognition problems.

Meaningful Experiences: Participants responded to the following survey statements which addressed meaningful experiences:

* Children should be taught to read using their own language and experiences.

* Children's first grade experiences with reading need to be in meaningful context.

* Children's first and early second grade experiences with reading should not consist of workbooks and/or flash cards.

Post-test findings indicate that 86.2% of preservice teachers strongly agreed or somewhat strongly agreed that children should be taught to read using their own language and experiences and children's first grade experiences with reading need to be in a meaningful context. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of preservice teachers indicated that they strongly agree, somewhat strongly agree, or somewhat agree with the following statement: Children's first and early second grade experiences with reading should not consist of workbooks and/or flash cards.

Narrative Experiences: Participants responded to the following survey statements which addressed narrative experiences:

* Children need to learn to read expository (nonfiction) text as well as narrative (stories) text in first and second grade.

* The best method of teaching beginning reading includes developing an Into, Through, and Beyond plan for literature study.

Ninety-three percent (93%) of participants agreed that children need to learn to read expository (nonfiction) text as well as narrative (stories) text in first and second grades. However, only approximately half (56.5%) of the participants surveyed agreed that the best method of teaching beginning reading includes developing an into, through, and beyond plan for literature study. This may be due to limited vocabulary because the terms before, during, and after, rather than into, through, and beyond, are used in both teacher preparation programs.

Story Structure: Participants responded to the following survey statements which addressed story structure:

* Teach reading by doing the following: show a video or film of a book. Read the book aloud. The children read the book.

* Teaching beginning reading by concentrating on narrative structure and story grammar.

Thirty-nine percent (39%), approximately one-third, of the participants either strongly agreed or somewhat strongly agreed that showing a video or film of a book, reading the book aloud, and then asking children to read the book is the best method for teaching story structure. In addition, 29%, approximately one-third, of the preservice teachers believed that to teach beginning reading you should concentrate on narrative structure and story grammar. Again, this low percentage may be due to limited vocabulary because the term, story elements, is the term typically used in both programs.

Phonics: Participants responded to the following survey statements which addressed phonics:

* Children must learn the relationship between sounds and words.

* Children need to learn to read sounds in isolation and then practice perceiving them in whole-word contexts as they read their own stories.

All of the participants either strongly agreed or somewhat strongly agreed that children must learn the relationships between sounds and words, and 72.4% of the participants strongly agreed or somewhat strongly agreed that children need to learn to read sounds in isolation and then practice perceiving them in whole-word context as they read their own stories.

Phonics Experience: Participants responded to the following survey statements which addressed a phonics experience:

* Good first grade teaching includes pointing to an initial consonant and identifying its sound.

* First grade children need to be able to distinguish between the words pin and pen when they are said aloud. If they cannot distinguish between these sounds, they should have practice in doing so.

* The best method of teaching word recognition is to teach each new word, use it/them immediately in a story, and then with other new words.

The post-survey results reveal that the 82.6% of the participants agreed that good first grade teaching includes pointing to an initial consonant and identifying its sound. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the participants strongly agreed or somewhat strongly agreed that first grade children need to be able to distinguish between the words pin and pen when they are said aloud, which indicates their identification of vowel sounds. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of preservice teachers strongly agreed or somewhat strongly agreed that the best method of teaching word recognition is to teach a new word(s), use it (them) immediately in a story, and then use it (them) with other new words.

Word Analysis: Participants responded to the following survey statements which addressed word analysis:

* Children need to learn to hear and divide words into syllables.

* The competent reading teacher teaches children the words used in beginning reading, such as vowel, consonant, syllable, word, and sentence.

* Students without oral English skills need to be taught to speak English before they learn to read English.

Ninety percent (90%) of the participants agreed that children need to learn to hear and to divide words into syllables. Ninety-three percent (93%) of the preservice teachers believed the competent reading teacher teaches children the words used in beginning reading, such as vowel, consonant, syllable, word, and sentence. Eighty-six percent (86%) of the participants strongly agreed, somewhat strongly agreed, or somewhat agreed that English language learners should be taught to speak English before they learn to read English.

Skill Instruction: Participants responded to the following survey statements which addressed skill instruction:

* Children use four major methods of identifying printed words: context cues, sight words, structural analysis, and symbol-sound correspondence.

* Children should be taught skills to comprehend what they read.

One hundred percent (100%) of the participants strongly agreed, somewhat strongly agreed, or somewhat agreed that children use four major methods of identifying printed words: context cues, sight words, structural analysis, and symbol-sound correspondence. Overall, the participants agreed that children should be taught skills to comprehend what they read.

Integration of Skills: Participants responded to the following survey statements which addressed integration of skills:

* Teach children to distinguish the shapes of different letters.

* Teach children to alphabetize at the same time that you teach initial and consonant sounds.

* The best method of teaching beginning reading contains lessons for teaching word identification and comprehension.

* Teach children to distinguish shapes of different letters.

The post-survey results indicated that 92.9% of the participants strongly agreed or somewhat strongly agreed that teaching children to distinguish the shapes of different letters is necessary. However, only 30.4% strongly agreed or somewhat strongly agreed to the statement that teaching children to alphabetize at the same time that you teach initial vowel and consonant sounds is important. In addition, 78.3% agreed that the best method of teaching beginning reading contains lessons for teaching word identification and comprehension. Approximately eighty-eight percent (88%) agreed with the belief that beginning reading should be taught with pictures.

The results indicate that overall, the participants' beliefs were generally literature-based with strong beliefs regarding phonics and skill instruction as well. The participants' beliefs, about the integration of skills were weak, with the exception of the belief that distinguishing shapes of various letters is important. The participants were advocates for teaching skills in order to foster comprehension. A limitation of the study includes variations between the vocabulary terms used within the survey and the vocabulary terms used within the preservice teachers' education programs. The analysis of the data suggests that preservice teachers' belief that children's first grade experiences with reading need to be in meaningful contexts increased after enrollment in coursework. However, their belief that children use a combination of method to read (e.g., context cues, sight words, structural analysis, and symbol-sound correspondence) decreased upon completion of their coursework. As previously stated, the only question for which there was a statistically significant association between pre and post scores included: Children should be taught skills to comprehend what they read. Overall, it appears that the preservice teachers within this study believed in the interactionist model of reading instruction to some extent.

Implications

This research is significant to teacher preparation programs regarding the implementation and planning of reading methods courses. Preservice teachers must know that it is very important to utilize effective, research-based reading instructional strategies with their students, regardless of their previous, personal experiences. Additional research is needed pertaining to preservice programs and the positive effects on teachers' attitudes (Maloch et al., 2003). It is essential for language arts education programs to help preservice teachers examine and to identify their beliefs regarding reading instruction (Asselin, 2000). In order to gain in-depth knowledge of preservice teachers' reading instructional beliefs, qualitative research measures, such as interviews, should be incorporated as well as quantitative measures.

Research has often indicated that preservice teachers' beliefs are resilient during their participation within teacher education. Additional studies have suggested that alternative views may be fostered if certain conditions are present. Asselin (2000) posits that instructional activities within teacher education programs may be useful to help preservice teachers identify their beliefs. If preservice teachers have not taken part in the actual implementation of specific literacy instructional activities, they are less likely to feel they are useful. Therefore, literacy coursework must incorporate meaningful instructional activities and a variety of opportunities for preservice teachers to implement the activities.

Teacher education programs must focus coursework on exemplary literacy practices and instruct preservice teachers to consider student's individual strengths while planning instruction. Preservice teachers must be prepared not to follow a particular prescribed program, but rather use a variety of methods to differentiate instruction in order to meet all children's instructional needs (Duffy, 2002; Barone, & Morrell, 2007; Reutzel, 2007). Reutzel (2007) describes that daily, quality instruction, focusing on the following eight areas, is necessary for children's literacy development: "(1) oral language, (2) concepts about print, (3) phonological and phonemic awareness, (4) alphabetic principle to include letter names, and phonics, (5) fluency, (6) vocabulary, (7) comprehension strategies, and (8) writing and spelling" (p. 315). Reading is a complex process. Therefore, preservice teachers need to understand that although certain models of reading instruction have been presented within their preparation programs, they must make a concerted effort to examine their own beliefs as compared to best literacy practices and ultimately make sound instructional decisions to support children's successful literacy acquisition.

References

Asselin, M. (2000). Confronting assumptions: Preservice teachers' beliefs about reading and literature. Reading Psychology, 21, 31-55.

Barone, D., & Morrell, E. (2007). Multiple perspectives on preparing teachers to teach reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 42, Retrieved July 4, 2008, from http://portal.macam.ac.il/DbImage.aspx?image=file&id=1750.

Cheek, E.H., Jr., Steward, F.A., Launey, B.L., & Borgia, L.G. (2004). Facilitative reading instruction: Preservice teachers' voices and perceptions. Reading Improvement, 41, 129142.

Cummins, C. L., Cheek, E. H., & Lindsey, J. D. (2004). The relationship between teachers' literary beliefs and their instructional practices: a brief review of the literature for teacher educators. E-Journal of Teaching and Learning in Diverse Settings, 1, Retrieved July 4, 2008, from http://www.subr.edu/coeducation/ejournal/EJo urnal.Volume 1 Issue2.Cumminsetal.pdf.

Duffy, G.G. (2002). Visioning and the development of outstanding teachers. Reading Research and Instruction, 41(4), 331-344.

Fang, Z. (1996). A review of research on teacher beliefs and practices. Educational Research, 38(1), 47-65.

Fielding-Barnsley, R., & Purdie, N. (2005). Teachers' attitude to and knowledge of metalinguistics in the process of learning to read. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 33(1), 65-76.

Knudson, R.E., & Anderson, K. (2000). Survey of elementary education students' reading instructional beliefs. Psychological Reports, 86, 883-892.

Maloch, B., Flint, A.S., Eldridge, D., Harmon, J., Loven, R., Fine, J.C., Bryuant-Shanklin, M.B., & Martinez, M. (2003). Understandings, beliefs, and reported decision making of first-year teachers from different reading teacher preparation programs. The Elementary School Journal, 103(5), 431-457.

Mayor, S. (2005). Preservice teachers' developing perspectives on assessment and remediation of struggling readers. Reading Improvement, 42(3), 164-178.

Pransky, K., & Bailey, F. (2003). To meet your students where they are, first you have to find them: Working with culturally and linguistically diverse at-risk students. The Reading Teacher, 56(4), 370-383.

Pressley, M., Wharton-McDonald, R., Allington, R., Block, C. C., Morrow, L., Tracey, D., Baker, K., Brooks, G., Cronin, J., Nelson, E., & Woo, D. (2001). A study of effective firstgrade literacy instruction. Scientific Studies of Reading, 5(1), 35-59.

Rath, J. (2001). Teachers' beliefs and teaching beliefs. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 3, Retrieved July 4, 2004, from http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v3nl/raths.html.

Reutzel, D.R. (2007). Organizing effective literacy instruction: Differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all children. In L.B. Gambrell, L.M. Morrow, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (3rd ed.), (pp. 313-343). New York: The Guilford Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Yoo, S. (2005). The study of early childhood teachers' beliefs related to children's literacy at South Korea. Reading Improvement, 42,137

NATALIE CONRAD BARNYAK, D.ED.

Assistant Professor, Division of Education

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

KELLI R. PAQUETTE, ED.D.

Associate Professor, Professional Studies in Education

Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Table 1. Children Should be Taught Skills to Comprehend What They Read

Please rate your level of agreement with the following statements:
Children should be taught skills to comprehend what they read. * Time

Crosstab

 Time
 Pre Post Total

Q23 Please rate 1--Strongly Count 39 22 61
your level of Agree % within
agreement with the Time 75.0% 95.7% 81.3%
Table 1. Children 2--Somewhat Count 13 1 14
Should be Taught Strongly % within
Skills to Agree Time 25% 4.30% 18.7%
Comprehend What
They Read
following
statements:
Children should be
taught skills to
comprehend what
they read.
Total Count 52 23 75
 % within
 Time 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
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Author:Barnyak, Natalie Conrad; Paquette, Kelli R.
Publication:Reading Improvement
Date:Mar 16, 2010
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