Introduction- The Problem
The writer of this research works as a reading teacher for special education students in a large, urban public high school. The writer is often challenged with the difficult task of finding ways to motivate these students to use the strategies necessary to develop the literacy skills for survival. Individuals can listen well enough to be articulate, but these same individuals may be illiterate (unable to read and write) (Curcio, 1995). Students are often unable to comprehend difficult text; they seem to believe if their eyes pass over the text they have read (Metzger, 1998).
Reading skills are critical to the academic prosperity of students (Holloway, 1999). The ability to read has far-reaching importance (Weedman & Weedman, 2001). Yet, in the writer’s work, it is not uncommon to experience 11th and 12th graders reading on a first-grade level. Even more alarming, is the number of students reading (or stumbling) through a passage having no clue what was just previously read. The writer is certain these same concerns carry over into other subject areas, ultimately leading to course failure.
Part I- The Problem “Reviewed”
Alvermann (2001) suggests it would prove easier to nail gelatin to a wall than to define a struggling reader. Some professionals refer to adolescents who are unable to keep up with the demands of the reading curriculum, and other describe students falling below what is considered average on some measure of reading competence. Alvermann proceeds to state that struggling readers have an identity. This identity formulates the individual’s seeing, acting, believing, speaking, recognizing and being recognized by others sharing the same attributes. Students with comprehension concerns lack metacogitive knowledge and the ability to recognize a breakdown in understanding to draw from comprehension strategies to formulate meaning (Rose, 2000).
According to Curcio (1995) a U.S. Department of Education study revealed less than 4% of high school dropouts possessed the literacy skills to comprehend a bus schedule. Reading involves having a “metacognitive moment.” Thinking about one’s thought processes and thinking about one’s thinking is essential to the reading process (Peterson & Vanderwege, 2002). However, many youth view reading as “slow” and prefer to gain the information they acquire from television and visual media (Curcio, 1995). Rose (2000) discovered that many students at the secondary level have an insufficient understanding of the process involved in reading or what people actually do when reading. In a survey provided to secondary students, this author discovered many students do not think beyond decoding when defining reading. Students fail to make the connection that comprehension and meaning making are integral components in the process. Students must realize reading has little to do with speed or material (Metzger, 1998).
Asselin (2002) noted two aspects of reading comprehension focused upon by current researchers: a) process used by proficient readers and b) strategies to improve students’ comprehension. Research conducted by Villaume and Brabham (2002) raised an important question- why do we teach comprehension strategies? The initial answer, because that is what students need to learn, was not sufficient; thus, these educators were lead to a reflective process to gather a deeper understanding of their own reading processes. Students must be equipped to monitor and control comprehension processes as they encounter a variety of text and reading experiences. Therefore, comprehension instruction must surpass simply providing activities for students, to fostering understanding of complex literature, emphasizing metacognition, facilitating connections to text, and self-regulating the construction of meaning (Asselin, 2002).
Children are born able to learn any language. As children develop in their environment, they learn to keep the sounds they need and disregard those not needed; children’s language continues to develop, as they get older. The reading process functions similarly (Bakken & Whedon, 2002). Bakken and Whedon contend children learn to read by being read to and involved in the process of reading; the more they read the better readers they become. Therefore, struggling readers and good readers are cut from the same cloth. However, each group becomes bound by the cultural contexts and experiences they encounter (Alvermann, 2001); thus, our identity as readers are often pre-determined. As readers are identified as slow readers, avid readers, active readers, and so on, they begin to identify themselves as such and associate with other readers like themselves. Alvermann concludes professionals must use what they know about the culture of reading to guide youth to more enhanced literacy practices.
The problem of reading failure is not the solely the fault of schools. The problem is an inclusive responsibility involving school personnel, parents, curriculum designers, textbook publishers, philosophers, testers, and researchers (Alvermann, 2002). According to Rose (2000) teachers addressing comprehension concerns must use realistic strategies that can be put to action, and receive continual support and encouragement by others seeking positive results in student progress. A collaborative effort from the aforementioned responsible individuals is necessary to establish the activities and behaviors that will not inadvertently leave these struggling readers worse off than intended (Alvermann, 2002). Villaume and Brabham (2002) argue the act or reading should render an experience of empowerment. In an effort to bring justification to the process of reading comprehension, educators have a responsibility to students to elicit their question asking, connection making, visualizing, and formulating predictions. In doing so, readers gain meaning personally significant to them as they learn and discover more about the world, through satisfying and stimulating their own curiosity.
Many students feel sad, frustrated and angry concerning their inability to comprehend what is read, including content contained in classroom textbooks (Rose, 2000). Effective comprehension instruction is based on the premise that the instruction has the potential to change resistant, disenfranchised readers into more active, proficient readers (Villaume & Bradburn, 2002). Rose (2000) outlines the qualities of a proficient reader as follow:
· Think about what they already know about a topic and relate it to text
· Set purpose for reading
· Use text features (titles, bold, italic, and drawings) to make predictions
· Question, predict, summarize, decode difficult words, phrases and passages
· Make text-to-text, self, and world connections
· Understand how the sum of the parts make the whole
· Determine relevant and irrelevant material
· Recognize when comprehension breaks down and self-regulate accordingly
Good teachers continually search for strategies to improve student performance; research continues to provide and refine strategies to improve students’ ability to comprehend and excel independently (Shelley, Bridwell, Hyder, Ledford, & Patterson, 1997). A proficient reader is not solely characterized by the magnitude of tactics used but rather by the appropriate strategies used to achieve the desired goal for that text and purpose (Feldt, Byrne, & Bral, 1996). A good place for teachers to start in this process is to build their own metacognitive awareness, build reading partnerships with students, and serve as reading mentors while facilitating and monitoring the process of comprehension acculturation (Rose, 2000).
Research suggests strategies that construct meaning construct learning (Shelley et al., 1996). Whittier and Blokker (2001) suggest following the results of norm or criterion-referenced reading comprehension assessments, students should be placed in one of the following categories: 1) reading and comprehending at grade level, 2) reading and comprehending no more than two grades below grade level, or 3) reading and comprehending two or more grades below level. A plan of action and goals should be determine for each level of readers. Villaume and Brabham (2002) suggest comprehension instruction should: (a) be introduced systematically, logically, cumulative, and with purpose, (b) be comprehensive, interrelated, and occur over time, and (c) be monitored regularly to determine what students do and do not know, in an effort to plan instruction accordingly.
The writer of this research deems this information applicable to current setting and interests. The research provides implications for future action and behavior the writer may use in approaching lesson planning, students, other colleagues, and professionals concerning student reading performance. Educators are often trying to pry into the backgrounds of students to search for answers to student failure. However, as the research suggested, it may be the teachers, parents, and policy-makers who need to revisit proficient reading practices and plan instruction accordingly. Another conclusion the writer gained from the research concerns the role of students in the process. Adults easily discredit students’ participation and ownership in their learning process. Yet, the research suggests many students are just as upset and frustrated by the inability to read and comprehend as professionals. Further research implied these students do not understand what reading is or the processes involved in reading. By taking a collaborative approach to reading comprehension concerns, across disciplines, students may be equipped with strategies to meet difficult text with success.
Part II- Staff Development: Effective = Solution
Garmston (2002) raises the following question: Is it possible to change embedded patterns of behavior through staff development efforts? Murphy (2002) proposes there are better ways to train teachers than, often useless, in-services. Murphy states:
For years, principals have planned staff development programs intended
to achieve dramatic improvement in classroom teaching and student
performance. In many cases, however, these efforts are doomed because
what teachers learn has little relationship to actual practice. Too often,
staff development is implemented outside of the school day, in physical
locations and contexts removed from the classroom. As a result, teachers
tend to regard the “in-service” as the fulfillment of a mandatory requirement
rather than an improvement opportunity. (16-17)
Schools and districts must communicate their professional agendas to teachers and parents (Smith, 1999). When considering staff development to address the needs of an organization, each facilitator, presenter, consultant, and recipient must have clarity of their role, knowledge of the discipline, and the skills and prerequisites to share in, learn from, or enhance the experience (Garmston, 1999). In any effort to make improvement, school organizations must clarify their mission early in the process. The mission should be directly connected to the day-to-day school functioning and mirror the practices, policies, and programs serving the school (DuFour, 2001). DuFour suggests formulating a mission that promotes positive feelings from students and staff concerning their educational institution.
Gaitlin (2002) states most staff development carries an underlying “fix the teacher” objective. Improvement in student performance must move beyond teacher isolation to developing collaborative communities (Garmston, 1999). Kermit Buckner (2001) contends no teacher is an island. Garmston (1999) suggest two reasons professional development should be targeted as a group effort: 1) group effectiveness is determined by collaborative maturity of the group versus an individual’s knowledge or expertise and 2) accountability is a shared aspect not to be directed toward one individual or effort.
Dixon, Willis, Benedict, and Gossman (2001) witnessed a staff development effort involving four veteran teachers. These veteran professionals facilitated a year of professional development involving peer coaching, study groups, and mentoring. The result was a learning community enhanced by share professionalism. Staff development helps staff members grow as individuals, professionals, and teams, and in doing so, more confident, competent teachers will exist in classrooms. According to Gaitlin (2002) teachers chose what they believe is best practice, not what they are told. Teachers determine what is best for them based on their experiences; therefore, staff development must respect the teachers’ voices concerning what they want to learn. Teachers and administrators must share a commitment to identify the most important goals for student progress and persistently work toward successful outcomes (Bernauer, 2002).
Findley (2002) states effective staff development addresses a variety of needs. These include physical needs, safety and security needs, social and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. Smith (1999) proposes a set of teacher and parent needs when planning for student performance. Teachers need:
· Knowledge of the process by which professional development agendas are set
· Knowledge of professional development goals and relevance to achievement
· Opportunity to set personal goals to enhance content knowledge and skills
· School and district encouragement and input facilitation
· A clear process for documenting the achievement of objectives
· Measurable learning objectives and feedback on the impact of methods
· Correspondence sent in plain, reader-friendly language
· An understanding of the professional development goals
· Convenient times and meeting places
Smith (1999) concludes it is necessary to make sure all involved parties have the same understanding and perspectives if student achievement is to be reached.
Part III- A Needs-Based Approach
Based on the previously stated research and information, the writer proposes a staff development initiative to address the reading comprehension concerns stated.
Title: Reading Across Disciplines
Session Requirements: One initial full day training session is required (summer interim,
prior to the start of school) during the already mandated district training days. Two half-day evaluation sessions (one prior to Winter break and the second proceeding Spring Break) will be conducted on the already mandated district staff development days. This time will be used to share success/failure stories and compile data for reporting purposes. Additionally, staff is encouraged to communicate any questions, concerns, or suggestions via the discussion board on the district email system.
Facilitators: School and/or District Reading Specialist
Presenters: One presenter (from previously selected departmental volunteers) for each
academic subject/department will be represented on the panel.
Rationale: Students who experience reading comprehension concerns more than likely
are experiencing those reading concerns across academic subjects. Finding success in one or more subjects may lead student to experience confidence and competence in their learning process. Equipping them with strategies for success will supply them with tools for self-regulatory learning.
Prerequisites: An open-mind and a commitment to student achievement. Willingness to
work as part of a collaborative team in the interest of student outcomes is desired.
Materials: All note-taking, writing, and handout materials will be provided.
Methodology/Procedure: The facilitator, through an initial survey, acquired a volunteer
from each academic department in the school. These individual attended an extra, full day, training session. During the first half of the session, individuals were versed in a number of comprehension strategies (read-aloud, think-aloud, cloze procedure, questioning methods, predictions, vocabulary exercises, etc.). During the second half of the session, individual used their original classroom text and lesson plans to incorporate these strategies. The members practiced their lessons on one another then spent the remainder of the time reflecting on the processes they went through when planning that lesson. During the initial teacher training, teachers will be exposed to the same literacy methods. Following, each presenter will share examples based on the lessons planned from their individual academic expertise. The staff will act as classroom pupils engaging in the activity. The remainder of the time will be used for questions and suggestions. Scoring, recording data, and implication from the information will be share as well.
Evaluation: Prior to the implementation process. Each student will be given a
comprehension battery for each subject area. (The appropriate curriculum decision-makers and administrators will decide upon the comprehension batteries). Each student’s initial score (pretest) will be recorded and compared to scores (posttest) taken prior to the two half-day reporting and recording sessions. Teachers will take a culminating survey to gauge their feelings, feedback, and suggestions on the effectiveness of the professional development initiative.
The overall goal is to work at the staff’s level of innovation and ability to sustain change. Through such processes individuals become aware of their thought, behaviors, actions, and efforts to achieve results (Garmston, 2002).
Alvermann, D. (2001). Reading adolescents’ reading identities: Looking back to see ahead. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(8), 676-690.
Asselin, M. (2002). Comprehension instruction: Directions from. Teacher Librarian, 29(4), 55-57.
Bakken, J. & Whedon, C. (2002). Teaching text structure to improve reading comprehension. Intervention in School and Clinic, 37(4), 229-233.
Bernauer, J. (2002). Five keys to unlock continuous school improvement. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 38(2), 89-92.
Buckner, K. (2001). No teacher is an island. Journal of Staff Development, 22(1), 63, 65-67.
Curcio, S. (1995). Illiteracy and society finding modern ways to teach today’s. Corrections Today, 57, 28.
Dixon, F., Willis, R., Benedict, J., & Gossman, E. (2001). Staff development: Old dogs can learn new tricks. The Teacher Educator, 36(3), 219-232.
DuFour, R. (2001). That’s our mission? Journal of Staff Development, 22(1), 68-69.
Feldt, R., Byrne, K., & Bral, C. (1996). Use of guided design to facilitate strategic reading. Reading Improvement, 33, 136-142.
Findley, B. (2002). Needs-driven staff development. Principal Leadership, 2(7), 17-19.
Gaitlin, L. (2002). Staff developers, honor thy teachers. Journal of Staff Development, 23(2), 72.
Garmston, R. (1999). Better by the bunch. Journal of Staff Development, 20(4), 64-65.
Garmston, R. (2002). Create an atmosphere for change. Journal of Staff Development, 23(2), 62-63.
Holloway, J. (1999). Improving the reading skills of adolescents. Educational Leadership, 57(2), 80-81.
Metzger, M. (1998). Teaching reading: Beyond the plot. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(3), 240-246+.
Murphy, M. (2002). Let’s change staff development to professional learning. Principal, 81(4), 16-17.
Peterson, D. & Vanderwege, C. (2002). Guiding Children to be strategic readers. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(6), 437-439.
Rose, A. (2000). Literacy strategies at the secondary level. Leadership, 30(2), 12-16.
Shelley, A., Bridwell, B., Hyder, L., Ledford, N., Patterson, P. (1997). Revisiting the k-w-l: What we knew; what we wanted to know; what we learned. Reading Horizons, 37, 233-242.
Smith, M. (1999). Parents and teachers need to know. Journal of Staff Development, 20(4), 72.
Villaume, S. & Brabham, E. (2002). Comprehension instruction: Beyond strategies. The Reading Teacher, 55(7), 672-675.
Weedman, D. & Weedman, M. (2001). When questions are the answer. Principal Leadership, 2(2), 42-46.
Whittier, P. & Blokker, B. (2001). Starting where they are. Principal Leadership, 2(2), 52-55.