Improving Middle School Professional Development by Examining Middle School Teachers' Application of Literacy Strategies and Instructional Design

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Temple University Libraries]On: 16 November 2014, At: 05:14Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    Reading PsychologyPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/urpy20

    Improving Middle SchoolProfessional Developmentby Examining Middle SchoolTeachers' Application ofLiteracy Strategies andInstructional DesignWilliam Dee Nichols a , Carl A. Young b & Robert J.Rickelman aa University of North Carolina at Charlotte ,Charlotte, North Carolina, USAb North Carolina State University , Raleigh, NorthCarolina, USAPublished online: 01 Feb 2007.

    To cite this article: William Dee Nichols , Carl A. Young & Robert J. Rickelman(2007) Improving Middle School Professional Development by Examining MiddleSchool Teachers' Application of Literacy Strategies and Instructional Design, ReadingPsychology, 28:1, 97-130, DOI: 10.1080/02702710601115497

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  • Reading Psychology, 28:97130, 2007Copyright C 2007 Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0270-2711 print / 1521-0685 onlineDOI: 10.1080/02702710601115497

    IMPROVING MIDDLE SCHOOL PROFESSIONALDEVELOPMENT BY EXAMINING MIDDLE SCHOOL

    TEACHERS APPLICATION OF LITERACY STRATEGIESAND INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN

    WILLIAM DEE NICHOLS

    University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

    CARL A. YOUNG

    North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

    ROBERT J. RICKELMAN

    University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

    The goal of this article is to explore the effects of professional development on middleschool teachers understanding and application of literacy strategies supportingand enhancing instruction across the curriculum. This study investigated theextent to which reading and writing strategies, along with sound instructionaldesign, were implemented by middle school teachers in their content areas based ondata collected from self-reports (i.e., strategy and design checklists) and authorsclassroom observations. Results from the analysis of the data collected suggestthat the sampled middle school teachers used a wide variety of instructionalstrategies and instructional designs throughout their teaching. While certaininstructional designs (whole-class discussion) and strategies (note-taking andgraphic organizers) were used universally throughout the school, perhaps moreimportant was the fact that others were selected dependent upon the unique contentarea they taught.

    Introduction

    Henriquez (2005) reported that a review of literacy practices, in-cluding consultations with the leading researchers and practition-ers, revealed that the teaching of reading in grades K3 is well sup-ported by substantial research, practice, and policy. The ReadingExcellence Act, Reading First initiative, and the National Read-ing Panels report Teaching Children to Read all provide a strong

    Address correspondence to William D. Nichols, The University of North Carolina atCharlotte, College of Education, Department of Reading and Elementary Education, 9201University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28223-0001. E-mail: wdnichol@email.uncc.edu

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  • 98 W. D. Nichols et al.

    foundation for the developmental aspects of reading (the teach-ing of phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency); however, con-tent area reading typically associated with upper elementary andadolescent learners does not receive as much attention. While com-prehension instruction is included in all the previously mentionedefforts, it is reduced to a small part of the reading curriculum(Liang & Dole, 2006); and the knowledge base for grades beyondK3 is not as robust or as well defined.

    DeLeon (2002) found that almost half of the students enter-ing ninth grade are reading several years below grade level. Find-ings by Biancarosa and Snow (2004) confirmed this, revealing that70% of entering ninth graders can be considered to be reading be-low grade level. While these statistics might be disputed by some,more research conducted at the middle grades level on effectiveliteracy practices still needs to be made a priority. According toBiancarosa and Snow (2004), the primary problem for older read-ers is not their ability to decode, but instead that students lack thestrategies to assist with comprehension. There seems to be fairlyconsistent agreement within the field (National Reading Panel,2000) about effective literacy instruction within the earlier grades,but there is less agreement about effective teaching methodolo-gies and strategies for comprehension development beyond theelementary school.

    This study aims to fill some of the void in terms of literacyresearch in the middle grades by focusing on a professional de-velopment initiative with middle school teachers. While there hasbeen some federal response to this middle/secondary literacy crisis(e.g., No Child Left Behind Act [2002] and Striving Readers Initia-tive), we feel that professional development at the school level hasthe potential for a much more immediate impact upon teacherspractices and subsequent students learning. Currently, only 15%of Title I funding goes to middle and high schools, and promis-ing programs like GEAR UP and TRIO, which assist disadvan-taged middle school students in preparing for college, only reach1020% of students who are eligible for assistance (National Mid-dle School Association [NMSA], 2006). In addition, if educatorstruly desire to improve the literacy needs of adolescent learners,time and resources must to be allocated to the development of ef-fective teachers so that adolescent learners are assured of the sameopportunities to learn (Pitcher, 2003). Allington and Cunningham

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  • Improving Middle School Professional Development 99

    (2002) stated that it was difficult to find school districts that in-vested even 1% of the annual budget in supporting professionaldevelopment; therefore, it is imperative that professional develop-ment moves beyond one-shot training and begins to make themost of the time allocated to such an important cause.

    Background

    The authors of this study were invited to conduct a long-term pro-fessional development consulting initiative with a middle school insouthwest Virginia that focused on reading and writing strategy de-velopment and implementation. A major expected outcome was,ultimately, to provide strategies that would help students scorehigher on state-level standardized tests. The authors saw this as anopportunity to build a strong professional development model forfaculty and students and develop a research-based agenda focus-ing on effective literacy strategies, as well as address the pressingissue for administrators, faculty, and students on how to increasethe number of students passing the required standardized tests ad-ministered to students. The consulting site was a public alternativemiddle school for at-risk students not succeeding in their assignedschools (a formal application and interview process were requiredfor admission).

    Purpose/Rationale

    Research has identified the teacher as the major contributingfactor in effective instruction (Kennedy, 1998) and the impor-tance that teacher expertise has upon student learning out-comes (Darling-Hammond, 1997). Regardless of the program, theteacher is the most important variable in childrens literacy devel-opment (Flippo, 2001; Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, & Schatschnei-der, 1998; National Reading Panel, 2000; Pitcher, 2003; Snow,Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Teachers make multiple, daily decisionsin planning their learning outcomes, meeting childrens learningneeds, and accommodating and broadening their instructionalpreferences (Mergen, 2000). Effective teachers respond to stu-dents learning needs by varying their instructional proceduresand methodologies in relation to desired learning outcomes andstudents capabilities. Furthermore, teachers can make informedand purposeful decisions about their classroom practices because

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  • 100 W. D. Nichols et al.

    they recognize the impact of their instructional design and theirinstructional strategy selection on the learning of individual stu-dents (Heilman, Blair, & Rupley, 2001; Nichols, Jones, & Hancock,2003). Successful instruction does not rely on one single strategy,method, or combination of these to meet the learning needs ofall children; rather, the teacher is the major variable that deter-mines the efficacy of instruction (International Reading Associa-tion [IRA], 2000). The effective teacher incorporates theory intopractice and reflects on student learning, performance, applica-tion, and motivation (e.g., Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as aProfession, 1986; Goodlad, 1990; Pressley, 2000; Reynolds, 1992).

    To be more specific, effective teachers demonstrate for stu-dents how to apply a variety of instructional strategies before, dur-ing, and after reading. Weaving these strategies throughout theirinstructional day and into their students learning nurtures andfacilitates further learning development (Jacobs, 2002; Pressley& Wharton-McDonald, 1997; Rupley, Willson, & Nichols, 1998).Many instructional strategies can be taught explicitly and used inmeaningful practice while students are learning from increasinglydifficult text. Explicit strategy instruction for students is benefi-cial because, for the most part, they need scaffolded guidance andsupervised practice in using instructional strategies (Dole, Duffy,Roehler, & Pearson, 1991; Willson & Rupley, 1997). In addition, forinstructional strategies to be understood, practiced, and appliedby students, teachers must help students understand how benefi-cial such strategies can be to their learning from text. In essence,students need to be taught when and under what circumstancesthey should apply particular instructional strategies (Grimes, 2004;Pressley & Wharton-McDonald , 1997).

    Learning and understanding requires using both prior andstrategic knowledge; however, not all students realize either theimportance of these or are unable to draw upon them for compre-hending and learning from texts (Barton & Sawyer, 2004). Strug-gling learners often have difficulty using strategies because of theirinability to monitor their own understanding of text (Paris, Lipson,& Wixson, 1994; Pressley, 2000; Willson & Rupley, 1997). They maygive too much attention to decoding and determining word mean-ing as a way to monitor their understanding rather than relying onmultiple monitoring strategies that focus on both word identifica-tion and construction of meaning (Pressley, 2000). Furthermore,

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  • Improving Middle School Professional Development 101

    struggling learners may have difficulty learning from text becausetheir emergent knowledge about learning reflects incomplete con-cepts about the nature and purpose of learning (Nichols, Rupley,& Mergen, 1998; Pressley, 2000; Stahl, 2004). For many strugglingstudents, independent learning remains an untapped resource,because they have not been taught explicit literacy strategies toguide self-directed learning experiences.

    Most of the research on the extent to which instructionalstrategies are implemented in the content areas has occurred overthe past two decades. During this time, researchers have examinedthe specific strategies learners use to comprehend informationaltext and have determined that successful reading comprehensionrelies on conceptual understanding, automatic use of basic skills,and use of appropriate reading strategies (e.g., Jetton, Rupley, &Willson, 1995; Kletzien, 1991; Weaver & Kintsch, 1991). Instruc-tional strategies include the practice of varying ones approachto learning depending upon ones goal. Reading in the contentareas is seen as a process in which the construction of meaning oc-curs by the interaction of knowledge stored by the learner and thetextual information that the learner encounters. Skilled readersconstruct mental models of the text by using their existing knowl-edge along with flexible strategies. When comprehension breaksdown, good readers have the awareness necessary to monitor andchange strategies so that comprehension has a better chance ofoccurring (Dole et al., 1991; Pressley, 2000).

    Even though comprehension requires prior and strategicknowledge, these forms of knowledge are often times a difficultcomponent for students to use. It appears that less skilled readershave difficulty monitoring comprehension. This is partially due totheir lack of awareness about the appropriate measures for evaluat-ing their own comprehension (Paris, Lipson, & Wixson, 1994; Will-son & Rupley, 1997). McKenna and Robinson (1990) assert that itis essential that teachers share explicit reading strategies with stu-dents in order to better prepare them to implement comprehen-sion strategies effectively in their encounters with challenging text.It is their belief that by improving teachers knowledge of instruc-tional strategies and methods, teachers will have a better under-st...

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