Organization

College of the Holy Cross

Project Description

Objective:
The survey will assess Massachusetts teachers’ knowledge of the following: English language structure, national and state reading policies, and research findings on reading acquisition. It will also probe teachers’ attitudes towards and preferences in using skill-based/phonics and/or whole language approaches to early reading instruction, as well as their opinions on applying research findings in their classrooms.

Method:
The online survey will be completed by a random sample of kindergarten and second grade teachers, selected from schools in each Massachusetts school district that includes students in kindergarten through grade three. These teachers will be contacted through sending information packets to their building principals. These packets will include 1) a cover letter addressed to the principal that describes the study and asks that the enclosed letters be distributed to all regular education teachers, special education teachers, or reading specialists who work with kindergarten and second graders and 2) letters addressed to the teachers that describes the study and also includes the URL where the survey can be completed and submitted via the internet. Once the teachers respond to the survey, the data set will be imported into SPSS for statistical analysis.

The survey will consist of demographic, Likert-scale, and multiple choice items, as well as a few open responses. Demographic information will include school and district information, for correlating results with socioeconomic factors, reading achievement scores, and enrollment and special education statistics (as obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Education School/District Profiles website), and teacher variables, such as gender, level of education, years of experience teaching, grade level taught, special qualifications, and the number of literacy courses taken. The Teacher Perceptions Toward Early Reading and Spelling scale will assess teacher’s attitudes and approaches towards beginning reading instruction, and their knowledge of English language structure (i.e. phonology and morphology) will be measured by the Teacher Knowledge of Language Structure scale (Mather, Bos, & Babur, 2001). Additional questions will probe the teachers’ understanding of educational policies and reading research as well as how these relate to classroom practices.

Project Abstract

Reading is a fundamental skill necessary for success in our society. In particular, failure to acquire effective decoding skills impedes the development of subsequent reading, spelling, and comprehension abilities, and thus impacts many further learning opportunities (National Reading Panel, 2000). Due to the prevalence of reading difficulties in school-aged children, much research has focused on how children develop reading skills and how teachers can most effectively instruct such skills. This research has emphasized the importance of explicit, systematic phonological skill instruction as part of the curriculum for both poor and normal readers (e.g. Ball & Blachman, 1991; Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Schatschneider, & Mehta, 1998; Juel, 1988, National Reading Panel, 2000; Torgesen et al., 1999) and these recommendations have been reflected in many national and local educational policy advisements (e.g. Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework, Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001). Yet, some reading policies, school systems, or individual teachers still favor an implicit, whole language approach to reading instruction and omit the systematic teaching of phonics. In addition, previous research has found that teachers often do not understand the fundamental concepts of reading acquisition or the underlying structure of the English language (e.g. Moats, 1994), hindering their abilities to impart adequate reading skills to students. National statistics clearly demonstrate the effects of this gap between the research on early reading acquisition and the teaching of reading skill: over 40% of fourth graders did not show appropriate reading skills on the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, estimates of the number of young children with reading disabilities have risen to 17-20% (Lyon, 1999), and the United States has failed to raise student achievement scores significantly in the past 30 years (Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, 2003). The causes of this disparity between research and practice, however, are not readily discernable. Over the course of the coming year, I intend to investigate the process of translating reading research into educational policy and classroom practices, with the hope of gaining a better understanding of where and why the gaps between research and practice exist. My eventual conclusions will result from the integration of two studies, using both quantitative and qualitative measures, with an extensive review of the relevant literature.

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