Teacher prep programs need to do more to address reading instruction biases

iStock_000017916360XSmallResearch shows that teachers tend to teach the way they were taught unless their teacher education program directly addresses their preconceived beliefs, according to a new study in Reading Improvement. 

It is a peculiarity of the teaching profession that those who are just entering their chosen field already have been immersed in it for many years as students.  Unfortunately, many of these beliefs are not consistent with good instructional practices, and teacher education programs need to do more to address those preexisting beliefs, the study says.

The study shows how little preservice teachers’ beliefs on reading instruction shifted as a result of what they learned in teacher education programs.

“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,” the researchers write.

Students from two university education programs were tested on their beliefs about twenty-four statements on reading instruction before and after they had completed their methods coursework. In the online test, students were asked to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with the statements on reading instruction. Students took the survey online in the spring and fall.

The study found that preservice teachers beliefs were very resilient.  The only statement for which there was a statistically significant change between pre- and post-responses was: “Children should be taught skills to comprehend what they read. Virtually all students “strongly agree” with that statement in the post survey while 25% or respondents said they “somewhat agree” in the pre-survey.

Reading is a complex process involving many instructional components, the authors write. Literacy teachers generally subscribe to one of the three models for reading instruction–phonics, whole language, or a blend of the two. Preservice teachers should understand that although they have been taught certain models of reading instruction in their preparation programs, they must make a concerted effort to examine their own beliefs so that they can make sound instructional decisions for students, the authors write. Teacher education programs also need to make greater efforts to evaluate preservice teachers’ beliefs, they add.

“Overall, participants’ beliefs were generally literature-based.  They had strong beliefs in phonics but weak beliefs about the integration of skills,” the researchers write, “The participants became advocates for teaching skills to foster comprehension.” 

Below are some of the post-test responses of preservice teachers to statements about  reading instruction:

  • Beginning reading needs to be integrated   with the teaching of literature–75.9%  strongly or somewhat agreed
  • First grade reading experiences should   be focused on surrounding children with  print–92.9% s strongly or somewhat    agreed
  • The best method to teach word recognition is to permit children to self-select  books–39.1% strongly or somewhat    agreed
  • Children’s first and early 2nd-grade expe  riences with reading should not consist of  workbooks and/or flash cards–79%    strongly or somewhat agreed
  • Children should be taught to read using their own language and experiences–86.2% strongly or somewhat agreed

“An investigation of elementary preservice teachers’ reading instructional beliefs,” by Natalie Conrad Barnyak and Kelli Paquette, Reading Improvement,  Spring 2010, Vol. 47 Issue 1, pps. 7-17.

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