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F R O M T H E S T A R T: T H E E F F E C T I V E R E A D I N G T E A C H E R

MEETING

FIRST-YEAR CHALLENGES

READING INSTRUCTION IN

Brandi L. Noll

Lisa A. Lenhart

E

ach year, eager new teachers with promising positions arrive in their very first classrooms—some more prepared than others to teach reading well. All face the daunting challenge of effectively translating what they have learned in their teacher preparation to the realities of everyday teaching work. Although the essentials of effective reading instruction are quite clear based on research, the road ahead can be a bumpy one for beginning teachers, even those with the best teacher prep. In this column we follow two first-year teachers into their classrooms and learn about a few challenges they faced. We also learn (a bit to our surprise) how their teacher-education program prepared them to meet these challenges thoughtfully and carefully. Meet Marco and Destiny (both pseudonyms), who with much enthusiasm accepted their first teaching positions soon after graduation from a local university. They are a fortunate pair. Both attended a strong teacher-education program that focused

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on evidence-based practices in the essential areas of reading instruction. Both were trained thoroughly on the diagnostics of reading that provide support for readers who struggle. Both had preclinical experiences in a variety of local classrooms. Both were mentored and supervised in their preclinical and clinical teaching experiences by strong, knowledgeable teachers who deepened (and tested) their understandings. Both, in short, were ready and confident beginning teachers of reading. Let ’s join them now as they start their professional careers and

Brandi L. Noll is an assistant professor at Ashland University, Ohio, USA; e-mail bnoll@ashland.edu. Lisa A. Lenhart is a professor at the University of Akron, Ohio, USA; e-mail lenhar1@uakron.edu. The department editors welcome reader comments. Kathleen Roskos is a professor at John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio, USA; e-mail roskos@jcu.edu. Susan B. Neuman is a professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA; e-mail sbneuman@umich.edu.

DOI:10.1002/TRTR.1214

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“He knew from his teacher education courses that although high-quality evidence-based materials matter, students’ ongoing needs take precedence.” observe how they deal with what is and adapt it to align with best practices in reading as the foundation for their own.

Marco’s Challenge Marco was hired as a second-grade classroom teacher in an urban public school district. Before the school year started he was oriented to a commercial core reading program, which is not surprising at all, considering that 74% of American teachers use basal programs in their classrooms (Dewitt & Jones, 2013). He was directed by his principal to teach reading using this program “with fidelity.” He collaborated with his mentor teacher to find out exactly what this meant. His mentor teacher informed him that the district wanted to make sure all children were receiving the same curriculum, so they purchased a new reading program for kindergarten through gradetwo classrooms. Teachers at these grade levels were expected to teach the lessons in the core reading program sequentially and in the time frames designated by the teacher’s manual to the extent possible. This was Marco’s first hurdle in implementing high-quality reading instruction. He knew from his teacher education courses that although highquality evidence-based materials matter, students’ ongoing needs take precedence. He could not just blindly implement the lessons as presented in the teacher’s manual, but instead needed to adapt them when necessary to ensure students’ steady progress toward endof-year goals and standards.

Marco knew that ongoing, formative assessment would be key to pinpointing the strengths and weaknesses of students within his classroom. Marco collaborated with other grade-level teachers in his building to ensure that he had multiple assessments at his fingertips that he could use from day 1 until the last day of school. Some of these assessments originated within his core reading program, which included a variety of pretests before major units of study that could help him decide whether he needed to teach the lessons carte blanche to the whole class or only specific portions to small groups of students with specific needs. He also had a variety of other assessments available to him that were either being implemented by the district already or that he had experience using within his teacher-preparation field experiences. This included a variety of screening assessments for areas such as phonemic awareness, letternaming skills, and word-reading skills. The teachers were also provided with an informal reading inventory to examine students’ reading strengths and

weaknesses, as well as insight into reading levels and a greater understanding of reading strategies and comprehension. In addition, a variety of progress-monitoring tools were used for measuring progress in the skill areas in which students struggled. For example, he knew how to conduct frequent curriculumbased measurements (CBMs) and how to graph progress. Marco felt secure that his assessment toolbox was well-stocked, providing him with the tools he needed for reliable, valid measures of students’ reading skills in the context of instruction. Marco recognized, too, that the quality of core reading programs varies, and most have gaps. He knew from his teacher-preparation courses that there are tools available that could help him to discover both the strengths and weakness of the core reading program he was expected to use (see Table). Marco located a curriculum-evaluation tool and, with the help and support of his mentor teacher, went about evaluating the current program in place. Marco and his mentor teacher discussed how they could adjust the core reading curriculum to fill the gaps. They discovered, for example, that the vocabulary instruction within the core reading materials was weak. Words targeted within several unit themes did not match what research states about the most optimal words for vocabulary instruction, referred to as Tier 2 words (Beck & McKeown, 1985). As well,

Table Tools for Evaluating Core Reading Programs Dewitz, P., Leahy, S.B., Jones, J., & Sullivan, P. (2010). Developing comprehension with core reading programs. In The essential guide to selecting and using core reading programs (pp. 281–308). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Roskos, K., Lenhart, L., & Noll, B.L. (2012). Early literacy materials selector (ELMS): A tool for early literacy program materials review. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Simmons, D.C., & Kame’enui, E.J. (2003). A consumer’s guide to evaluating a core reading program. Grades K-3: A critical elements analysis. Eugene, OR: Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement, University of Oregon.

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“Destiny soon realized there was no common curriculum in place for instruction, and a standard scope and sequence simply did not exist at her grade level.” many word-learning activities were mediocre (e.g., word searches). Drawing on materials about high-quality vocabulary instruction from his teacher prep days, Marco located a variety of instructional activities found to be effective. For example, he planned to use both open and closed word sorts because they developed word knowledge by having students compare and contrast words and categorize and classify them. He also wanted to use word mapping to show relationships between words and visually connect words and concepts. Additionally, Marco felt that he needed to choose more words that had multiple meanings across content areas or contexts so that students’ vocabulary could be expanded. Throughout the school year, Marco used ongoing assessment data to continuously make necessary adjustments, such as adding high-quality vocabulary instruction, to the core reading program so that it matched the needs of his students. He also used knowledge gained through his teacher preparatory program (e.g., the use of continual progress monitoring using the CBM) to make instructional adjustments, such as using word maps to help students make connections between words, so that the most current research in the reading education field was put to work in his classroom, resulting in literacy growth for his students.

Destiny’s Challenge Destiny was hired to teach second grade in a high-poverty, rural school

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district. Like Marco, she had the benefit of a mentor teacher. Additionally, she was introduced to the reading specialist assigned to her building—a resource she found both helpful and reassuring. Her mentor showed her around the building and introduced her to many of the teachers with whom she would be working. As they toured the building, Destiny inquired about the reading program and the materials used for instruction. These discussions with colleagues led Destiny to discover that teachers in the building taught using a wide variety of materials collected over years of teaching. Some of them had multiple sets of children’s literature, easy chapter books, or trade books. Others had sets of texts that had come from some of the old reading programs the district had purchased years ago, which had been dismantled, thrown away, or lost over the years. The reading specialist showed her the book room that was stocked with bins containing multiple sets of leveled readers. Destiny soon realized there was no common curriculum in place for instruction, and a standard scope and sequence simply did not exist at her grade level. Her greatest challenge as she entered the field was a lack of structure and framework from which to adjust her instruction. She knew if each teacher created a scope and sequence of her own, this might ultimately lead to gaps in instruction. So Destiny made plans to collaborate with her mentor, as well as the reading specialist over the year, to ensure

that her instruction met standards in a sequential, systematic, and thorough way. Together, Destiny, her mentor, and the reading specialist charted a curriculum map aligned to the Common Core State Standards, which the state had recently adopted. She studied the skill progression from K–2 in the Standards to build on previous concepts toward end-of-grade 2 expectations. From Destiny ’s experiences in her teacher preparatory program, she knew that a basic framework of evidence-based teaching should include all of the National Reading Panel’s (2000) essential areas in addition to an integration of writing instruction and the ongoing use of formative assessments. She knew it was vital to screen her students at the beginning of the year on sight vocabulary, decoding skills, fluency, and phoneme blending and segmentation to determine strengths and needs in each of these essential areas. The reading specialist shared tools that many teachers were already using to assess some of these skills, but Destiny determined she would need a few others to assess fluency. Fortunately, Destiny was familiar with a four-dimensional fluency rubric, which she had used in a teacher preparatory course, and she could use this to assess not only speed, but other essential components of fluency such as expression and phrasing as well.

“Destiny inquired about the reading program and the materials used for instruction.”

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Armed with her knowledge of child development from her teacher prep program as well as Internet resources on lexile levels (e.g., www.lexile.com), Destiny continued to spend the summer preparing for the varying abilities and interests of her students by gathering some high-quality literature from a variety of sources. The book room provided a plethora of fictional pieces of literature that she found to be of high quality, as well as a variety of topics that she could match to the interests of her students because she knows students must be motivated to learn, and that ’s more important today than ever before (Guthrie, 2009). Based on her recent knowledge of the Common Core State Standards, she feared there may not be enough informational pieces from which to choose. She knew teaching her students how to strategically read informational texts would better prepare them for the upper elementary grades and beyond, when the focus on content area texts would be key to academic achievement (Smith, 2000). Destiny shared these concerns with the reading specialist, as well as teacher colleagues, to find out if there were any other materials from which to choose. She found that a great resource was a fellow teacher who had been gathering sets of high-quality, informational texts that were appropriate for the reading levels of most second graders. The teacher was very generous and encouraged Destiny to use these books throughout the year. Destiny also started to plan for her writing instruction, which she knew was an essential instructional component designed to developing high-quality readers and one of the six instructional shifts that need to effectively meet the Common Core State Standards. The reading specialist introduced Destiny to

“As the first year came to an end, both Destiny and Marco found they had tackled a variety of teaching challenges with success...” a writing resource that had been used in the district for years, one that Destiny was already familiar with after using it in a course she had taken in her teacher education program. She took it home to review the scope and sequence, as well as the instructional techniques. There were many pieces of the program Destiny found useful and matched to what she knew about writing research, including the program’s use of model literature, pieces of high-quality literature that she was already planning to use in reading instruction (Daly & Sharko, 2010). As she went through the writing program, she started marking specific lessons in the resource that would match to literature she already had collected for reading. She knew that the scope and sequence would likely need adjusted, as her first writing assessment would provide her with her students’ instructional needs for the beginning of the year, and ongoing informal assessments would guide her lessons throughout the rest of the year. Although Destiny was spending a considerable amount of time designing curriculum, she knew from her teacher prep quality that materials must serve a strong curriculum, not the other way around. Although the materials were a large part of her teaching preplanning, what she would later do with these materials in the context of instruction was even more vital to the success of her students in meeting grade-level expectations.

Strong Beginnings Lead to Strong Endings As the first year came to an end, both Destiny and Marco found they had tackled a variety of teaching challenges with success, as evidenced by positive gains in reading by the majority of their students. They started their first year knowledgeable about reading instruction and applied this knowledge as they problem solved a variety of situations they encountered within the schools in which they were hired. Frameworks were created, essential curricular units were constructed, assessments were applied, and materials that matched reading levels, purpose, and interest were gathered. Both Marco and Destiny recognized that their first-hand experiences over the years would continue to help them to reexamine, adjust, and redefine their teaching. However, it was their teaching preparatory program that gave them the solid foundation needed to confront teaching dilemmas head on with knowledge, confidence, and grace. In fact, research continues to reaffirm this position that it is the teacher ’s knowledge and experiences that are vital in the production of positive student outcomes, rather than a simple focus on teaching materials. Marco and Destiny are well on their way to becoming knowledgeable and confident reading teachers because they are effectively translating what they learned in their teacher preparation to the realities of everyday teaching work.

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R E F E R E NC E S Beck, I.L., & McKeown, M.G. (1985). Teaching vocabulary: Making the instruction fit the goal. Educational Perspectives, 23(1), 11–15. Daly, L., & Sharko, S. (2010). Motivating students to write through the use of children’s literature. Online submission, Master of Arts Action Research Project, Saint Xavier University. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ Dewitz, P., & Jones, J. (2013). Using basal readers: From dutiful fidelity to intelligent decision making. The Reading Teacher, 66(5), 391– 400. Dewitz, P., Leahy, S.B., Jones, J., & Sullivan, P. (2010a). Developing comprehension with

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core reading programs. In The essential guide to selecting and using core reading programs (pp. 281– 308). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Guthrie, J.T., & Coddington, C.S. (2009). Reading motivation. In K. Wentzel, & A. Wigfield (Eds.), Handbook of motivation at school (pp. 503 – 525). New York, NY: Routledge. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769).

Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Roskos, K., Lenhart, L., & Noll, B.L. (2012a). Early literacy materials selector (ELMS): A tool for early literacy program materials review. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Simmons, D.C., & Kame’enui, E.J. (2003a). A consumer’s guide to evaluating a core reading program. Grades K-3: A critical elements analysis. Eugene, OR: Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement, University of Oregon. Smith, M.C. (2000). The real-world reading practices of adults. Journal of Literacy Research, 32(1), 25 – 52.

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Meeting First-Year Challenges in Reading Instruction