Training new content area secondary teachers to teach literacy: the university/public school partnership.
Teaching students to read above a basic level, and with deeper comprehension and understanding, has been a critical national problem for many years. Too often, the focus is on elementary students, but the percentage of secondary students struggling with reading is just as grim. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only thirty-one percent of the United State's eighth grade students, and almost the same percentage of twelfth graders, meet the NAEP reading proficiency standard of their grade level (Perie & Donohue, 2005). This percentage translates into an enormous number of secondary students in our country who struggle with reading. The Washington-based education policy research and advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that a total of 6 million middle and high school students are unable to read at an acceptable level (Aratani, 2006). Since the reading levels of America's seventeen-year-olds have shown no improvement at all from 1971 to 2004, this is a continuing and dire literacy crisis in the nation's schools (NCES, 2004). Lack of literacy skills affects students critically later in life, and studies show that students struggle after high school both in employment and in college (Adelman, 2006).
To help close this serious gap in literacy, students in teacher licensure programs (referred to as preservice teachers) who are not planning to be reading teachers, but will be teaching social studies, math, science or history, must be given more intensive education for teaching literacy. Teacher preparation is the key to reforming current practices (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Darling-Hammond & Young, 2002; Kanstoroom & Finn, 1999; Levine, 2006). There have been numerous evaluations and critiques of teacher preparation programs, and there have been many calls for change. According to Kanstroom and Finn (1999), teacher training has often been characterized by process, with the majority of the focus being on "seat time, repetitive educational methods courses, and heavy doses of educational theory." In the second of his series of three policy reports, Levine (2006) critically examined teacher preparation programs around the country and outlined recommendations for strengthening teacher education, as well as criteria for excellence in teacher education programs. Incorporating both scholars and expert practitioners in the planning, teaching, and assessment stages is one critical aspect for excellence in teacher education programs (Levine, 2006). Preservice students and alumni are often critical of courses taught by instructors who are not current or recent practitioners (Levine, 2006). A common criticism of alumni of teacher preparation programs is the "desire for more, longer, earlier, and better-integrated field work experiences (Levine, 2006). It is not surprising that praise for teacher education programs was found to come from those who had spent greater time in the schools from the very beginning of their preparation programs, rather than merely spending time in college courses.
Teachers are often reluctant to include literacy improvement activities as goals in secondary content area classrooms (Alger, 2007). Repeatedly, this reluctance has been documented (Fox, 1993; Hollingsworth & Teal, 1991; Wilson. Konopak, & Readence, 1993) and it has been found that teachers most often model their own teaching based on the their own experiences as a learner (Bean, 1997; Zulich, Bean, & Herrick, 1992, McKenna & Robinson, 2006). As Alger notes, most teachers were skillful readers themselves as students, and lack the understanding of the importance of integrating literacy strategies into their own content area classrooms (2007).
It is the challenge of universities to change these beliefs of preservice teachers. Barry (2005) found that when preservice teachers are explicitly taught reading strategies in an education course, they later use these strategies as teachers in their own classrooms. Preservice teachers should leave teacher preparation programs with more than theory; they must have actual strategies that they have practiced with real students.
Because of the clear research regarding the importance of literacy strategies and practice for preservice secondary content area teachers, a team at the School of Education at Colorado State University completely restructured a content area literacy course to provide a better match between theory, practice, and application. The course included a partnership between the local school district and the university to include regular interaction between secondary teachers and the preservice teachers, and the time and structure for preservice teachers to work with students on literacy. This article is a description of the literacy course, and a study recording the perceptions of content area preservice teachers before and after the course. Five hypotheses were tested:
H1: Are there differences before or after the course among the content areas in their attitude toward content area literacy strategies?
H2: Are there differences before or after the course among the content areas in their ability to incorporate literacy strategies in their classrooms?
H3: Are there differences before or after the course among the content areas in whether they intend to incorporate literacy strategies in their classrooms?
H4: Does the course increase preservice content area teachers' attitudes, abilities, or intent to incorporate literacy strategies?
A team of university professors at Colorado State University and practicing teachers at a local junior high school developed a new literacy professional development school model with practices for teacher preparation that would result in improving the quality of preservice teachers. The course was developed specifically for content area preservice teachers, not reading teachers. The practicing teachers at the junior high school were selected based on principal recommendations of outstanding teachers. All students intending to complete the teacher preparation program at Colorado State University were required to complete the course with a grade of "C" or better in order to fulfill program requirements. Upon completion of the course, students were expected to understand and support student literacy development, an objective of the Colorado State Content Standards.
In order to reach these goals, the course contained three components:
(a) weekly lectures
(b) weekly recitation classes
(c) field experiences at a local school site.
The weekly lectures were held on the Colorado State University campus. Students in the weekly lectures were given instruction on the current neuroscientific research on literacy learning, research-based models of reading instruction, and relevant empirical evidence on best practices in literacy instruction for content area teachers in secondary schools. Students also attended a smaller (25 or fewer students) weekly recitation class, taught by practicing content area teachers. The curriculum for the recitation classes was co-developed by a university professor and the recitation instructors based predominately on the research-based curriculum developed by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL).
It was in the recitation sessions that direct, practical connections to theory were made. Each week, preservice teachers were presented with a specific literacy strategy relating to the lecture content. The strategies were modeled, and preservice teachers learned how and when the particular strategy could be applied in a secondary content classroom. The preservice teachers then had an opportunity to practice using the strategy with their peers in the recitation session prior to using it in their field experience.
The final component of the course included a field experience at the local school site. University students were invited into classrooms to apply and practice the strategies they learned with small groups of secondary students. These field experiences were an opportunity to immediately apply the theory and practice discussed each week; preservice teachers applied the content-specific instructional literacy strategy introduced that week in recitation. Debriefing of their field experiences also occurred in the weekly recitation sessions.
This study employed descriptive statistics, factor analysis, reliability analysis, and analysis of variance to discover the differences described above.
Study participants included students enrolled in the Literacy and the Learner course during the spring semester of 2006. All students in the course were eligible for participation, as all are preservice secondary teachers. At the beginning of the semester, 116 students were enrolled. There were 103 respondents on the pretest, and 91 respondents on the post-test. Matching was required to run appropriate analysis to test the fourth hypothesis. After matching based on demographic characteristics (gender, content area concentration, program of study), the final sample size included 84 preservice teachers. The matched data set was used only to test the fourth hypothesis.
The questionnaire assessed variables associated with attitude toward literacy in content areas, the importance of various teacher attributes, understanding of literacy strategies, intention to incorporate literacy strategies into content area classrooms, and the value of individual literacy strategies. In addition, there were three demographic questions (gender, content area concentration, program of study) and three open-ended questions.
Attitude. In addition to a direct question relating to the importance of literacy to the individual's content area, ten 5-point likert-type scales were used to assess beliefs about the importance of literacy strategies in content area classrooms with endpoints labeled extremely important and not important at all. These ten items were combined to form a composite index variable.
Understanding. Level of understanding of how to integrate literacy strategies into a secondary content area classroom was assessed. The respondents were asked to rate their level of understanding of how to use and apply various specific literacy strategies on a 5-point scale (I definitely understand--I do not understand)
Intent. Eight 5-point items were included in the index used to assess the individual's intent to incorporate literacy strategies in their classrooms. Respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they planned to incorporate a variety of general literacy strategies. (5 = I will definitely do this, 1 = I do not plan to do this).
A link to a 40-item online questionnaire was emailed to all students two times during the semester-long course: once during the first week, and once during the last week of classes. The link was announced in lecture class and the posted on the course web page to ensure access by all students. The questionnaire included a consent page indicating that participation was voluntary and would not affect the participant's course grade.
To increase instrument validity and reliability, the questionnaire included items to check response validity. The questionnaire was pilot-tested during the fall semester 2005. Cronbach's alpha was conducted to test internal consistency of the pilot test and necessary changes were made. Experts in literacy and teacher education evaluated the questionnaire for face and content validity.
Implementation of treatment variables
The same inservice secondary teachers who participated in the curriculum development process served as recitation instructors. To guard against diffusion of treatment in the curriculum, a weekly PowerPoint presentation was developed and provided to each recitation instructor to aid in the standardization of recitation sessions. The field experience component is the aspect in which there is the most vulnerability around inequitable experiences. To address this, the preservice teachers were provided experiences in a variety of classrooms and content areas.
The three indices (Attitude, Understanding, and Intent) were analyzed for internal reliability using Cronbach's alpha to assess whether the items that were assumed measure the same construct could be combined to form a reliable scale (Table 1). Cronbach's alphas for each dimension of the pre-course Attitude index was only marginally adequate at [alpha] = 0.68. The reliability for the remaining pre- and post-course composite indices are moderate to high ([alpha] > 0.78). Based on mean composite indices for the entire sample, means for the variable measuring attitude toward literacy strategies were very high for both the pre-course (M=4.59) and post-course (M=4.74) surveys, indicating a very strong positive attitude. Participants' understanding of literacy strategies was moderate to high when entering the course (M=3.18) and very high after completion. The preservice teachers' intent to incorporate literacy strategies was high before the course (M=4.43) and very high upon completion (M=4.67).
The original eleven content areas (Agriculture, Art, Business, English, Family and Consumer Sciences, Foreign Language, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Other) were collapsed into the following categories: English, Math, Science Social Studies, Art/Music, and Other. There were 91 respondents on the pre-course survey, and 103 respondents on the post-course survey. Matching on demographic identifiers was used for tests of the fourth hypothesis only.
One-way analysis of variance (ANOVAs) and appropriate post hoc tests were used to test the main and interaction effects implied by the first three hypotheses (Table 2). Overall, the main effect of understanding of literacy strategies was not significant for either the pre- or post-course survey, indicating no difference among the content areas in relation to their level of understanding. Before the course, there was a significant overall difference among the different content area preservice teachers in their attitude toward literacy strategies (F(5,101) = 2.95, p =.02). Controlling for multiple comparisons using Sheffe post hoc test, none of the means differed statistically. Using the more liberal LSD post hoc test, differences were found. English teachers' attitudes regarding con tent area literacy were significantly more positive than math, science, or social studies teachers. English teachers, for example, had stronger beliefs in the importance of engaging the prior knowledge of students. Preservice teachers in the areas of art and music had more positive attitudes toward literacy than those studying to be math, science, or social studies teachers. There were no differences among the content areas in preservice teachers' attitudes toward content area literacy after the course.
Intent to use literacy strategies was significantly different on both the pre-(F(5,101) = 4.44, p<.01) and post-course (F(5,88) = 4.81, p<.01)surveys. This index variable was highly negatively skewed, so transformations were made to reduce the negative skew and normalize the data. Non-transformed means are presented for clarity. It is interesting to note that art and music preservice teachers had the highest level of understanding among the content areas before the course, but their intent to incorporate the strategies was much lower both before and after the course.
After matching, 84 participants were ultimately included. The respondents were 35% male (n= 29) and 65% female (n=55) (Table 3). Preservice social studies teachers accounted for 28% of this matched sample, 26% had an English concentration, thirteen percent were science, math majors accounted for 12% of the sample, and the art/music and other categories accounted for about 10 % each. Due to extreme non-normality of the data and low cell numbers, analyses were not performed to test the fourth hypothesis. It is unknown if the literacy course significantly increases preservice teachers' understanding, attitude, or intent to use literacy strategies.
The topic of literacy in public schools has been on the forefront for many years. It is only recently that teacher preparation programs at universities have been scrutinized. This study was intended to examine the perceptions of content area preservice teachers both before and after the course and address whether a content area literacy course was effective in increasing preservice teacher perceptions of the importance of literacy strategies, preparing preservice teachers to incorporate literacy into their content areas, and increasing their perceptions of self-efficacy in their abilities to incorporate literacy into the classroom.
Limitations of the Study
This study is a first step in looking at content teachers attitude toward teaching literacy as well as their content. Much more needs to be done in this area and improvements can be made. The design of the questionnaire would be improved by including an ID number to use for matching purposes. The index variables were all negatively skewed, indicating participants all rated themselves on the higher end of the scale. In addition, there was little variability in the individual variables used to create the composite indices. It is for these reasons that it is likely that the test for reliability (Cronbach's alpha) would have been high for any combination of variables, not just those that were expected to measure the same construct.
Preservice content teachers identify very strongly with their content. It is often difficult to for them to make the shift from being a content teacher to also being a reading teacher within their content. This course helps preservice teachers begin to see themselves as both reading teachers and content specialists. In order for perservice teachers to have a realistic view of their abilities, they must have interaction with students early on. This is rarely the case. In many universities, even those with a Reading Across Contents or Literacy class, secondary teachers are often taught without a any field experiences directly relating to incorporating literacy strategies in content area classrooms. With the implementation of this three-component content literacy course, we have seen that the field component can aid students in seeing the realities of literacy. The intent of this course is to provide literacy strategies that content area teachers both can and will incorporate into their classrooms to increase student learning and achievement. It is surprising that the items intended to measure the understanding of literacy strategies were so high before the course. This course is taken prior to formal admission into the Educator Licensure program; therefore, it is the first education course any of these students take. The idea that preservice teachers in the first stages of their career overestimate their abilities and have a difficult time understanding the need to see themselves as a teacher rather than as a student is an interesting insight. As long as a teacher continues to see the classroom from the eyes of a student, they fail to account for the variety of students in their own classrooms (Holt-Reynolds, 1991; McKenna, 2006). For this reason, preservice teachers' perceptions of their abilities might be unreliable. A questionnaire based on self perception is perhaps not the best tool to use to acquire accurate ideas about their level of understanding.
Adelman, C. (2006). The toolbox revisited: Paths to degree completion from high school through college. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Alger, C. (2007). Engaging student teachers' hearts and minds in the struggle to address (il)literacy in content area classrooms. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 35(4), 620-630.
Aratani, L. (2006, July 13). Upper grades, lower reading skills. The Washington Post, p. B1.
Barry, B. (2005). The future of teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 56(3), 272-278.
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ANDREA E. FRITZ
Colorado State University
Table 1. Reliability of Computed Indices Pre Course [alpha] Item total if item Item M SD correlation deleted [alpha] Attitude/Importance of literacy strategies It is important to 4.40 .72 .49 .60 .68 teach reading comprehension strategies It is important to 4.61 .57 .46 .61 teach content vocabulary It is important to 4.75 .48 .42 .64 engage student background knowledge It is important to 4.50 .73 .45 .62 assess and develop the reading and writing abilities of students It is important to 4.72 .50 .37 .65 determine students' prior knowledge of the content material Ability to use literacy .90 strategies I understand how to 2.62 .81 .63 .89 assess the literacy levels of students I understand how to 2.70 1.04 .63 .89 apply prereading vocabulary strategies I understand how to 3.14 1.03 .74 .88 activate the prior knowledge of students I understand how to 3.76 1.05 .51 .90 use graphic organizers (visual representation of information) I understand how to 3.20 1.11 .59 .89 teach a note taking method I understand how to 3.61 1.01 .78 .87 help students make connections to the content material I understand how to 3.35 1.18 .76 .87 apply strategies to help students understands events in a time sequence I understand how to 3.05 1.16 .80 .87 assist students in improving their content area writing skills Intent to use literacy .82 strategies I plan to assess the 4.21 .93 .64 .78 literacy levels of students I plan to apply 4.01 1.00 .74 .76 prereading vocabulary strategies I plan to activate 4.77 .47 .38 .82 the prior knowledge of students I plan to use graphic 4.62 .66 .31 .82 organizers (visual representation of information) I plan to teach a 4.00 1.01 .56 .80 note taking method I plan to help 4.84 .37 .44 .81 students make connections to the content material I plan to apply 4.50 .81 .64 .78 strategies to help students understand events in a time sequence I plan to assist 4.45 .85 .65 .78 students in improving their content area writing skills Post Course [alpha] Item total if item Item M SD correlation deleted [alpha] Attitude/Importance of 0.78 literacy strategies It is important to 4.58 .64 .59 .73 teach reading comprehension strategies It is important to 4.74 .46 .55 .74 teach content vocabulary It is important to 4.91 .32 .53 .76 engage student background knowledge It is important to 4.59 .65 .65 .71 assess and develop the reading and writing abilities of students It is important to 4.86 .38 .58 .74 determine students' prior knowledge of the content material Ability to use literacy 0.85 strategies I understand how to 2.42 .67 .56 .84 assess the literacy levels of students I understand how to 4.47 .63 .64 .83 apply prereading vocabulary strategies I understand how to 4.59 .58 .61 .83 activate the prior knowledge of students I understand how to 4.78 .47 .53 .84 use graphic organizers (visual representation of information) I understand how to 4.66 .57 .57 .84 teach a note taking method I understand how to 4.72 .45 .7 .83 help students make connections to the content material I understand how to 4.72 .5 .59 .84 apply strategies to help students understands events in a time sequence I understand how to 4.47 .68 .6 .83 assist students in improving their content area writing skills Intent to use literacy 0.85 strategies I plan to assess the 4.70 .55 .65 .83 literacy levels of students I plan to apply 4.60 .62 .73 .82 prereading vocabulary strategies I plan to activate 4.90 .34 .52 .85 the prior knowledge of students I plan to use graphic 4.71 .57 .57 .84 organizers (visual representation of information) I plan to teach a 4.22 .93 .54 .86 note taking method I plan to help 4.89 .32 .58 .84 students make connections to the content material I plan to apply 4.72 .64 .52 .83 strategies to help students understand events in a time sequence I plan to assist 4.61 .7 .77 .81 students in improving their content area writing skills Table 2. Mean Scores on Four Measures as a Function of Content Area. English Math Variable M SD M SD Before Literacy Course Understanding 3.4 .85 3.4 .62 Attitude [4.8.sup.a] .33 [4.4.sup.a,b] .50 Intent [4.7.sub.a,b,c,d,e] .35 [4.35.sup.a] .49 After Literacy Course Understanding 4.6 .41 4.4 .42 Attitude 4.8 .28 4.7 .39 Intent [4.8.sup.a] .33 [4.68.sup.a,b] .35 Science Social Studies Variable M SD M SD Before Literacy Course Understanding 2.9 .85 3.1 .78 Attitude [4.5.sup.a,c] .40 [4.5.sup.a,d] .44 Intent [4.38.sup.b] .46 [4.51.sup.c,f] .41 After Literacy Course Understanding 4.7 .30 4.5 .38 Attitude 4.7 .24 4.7 .47 Intent [4.8.sup.b] .19 [4.7.sup.c] .40 Art/Music Other Variable M SD M SD Before Literacy Course Understanding 3.1 .80 2.98 .84 Attitude [4.8.sup.b,d] .31 4.6 .22 Intent [3.9.sup.d,f] .88 [4.28.sup.e] .44 After Literacy Course Understanding 4.5 .54 4.6 .44 Attitude 4.7 .41 4.7 .40 Intent [4.1.sup.a,c,d] .75 [4.8.sup.d] .26 ANOVA Variable F (5,101) P Before Literacy Course Understanding 1.11 .36 Attitude 2.95 .02 * Intent 4.44 <.01 * F After Literacy Co (588) Understanding .85 .52 Attitude .59 .71 Intent 4.81 <.01 * Note. Means in a row sharing subscripts are significantly different. For all measures, higher means indicate higher scale scores. * = significant .05 level. Table 3. Participants by Content Area and Gender After Matching Content Area Gender English Math Science Social Art/Music Other Studies Male 6 4 5 11 2 1 Female 16 6 6 13 6 8
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|Author:||Fritz, Andrea E.; Cooner, Donna; Stevenson, Cerissa|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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