Teachers learn how to teach reading in teacher preparation programs ꟷ maybe

One in five elementary school teacher preparation programs in the United States are addressing one or none of the five components that teachers must know to teach reading to children: phonemic awareness, phonics (alphabetics), fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

This is serious business. “Teaching children how to read is “job one” for elementary teachers because reading proficiency underpins all later learning.” (The National Council on Teacher Quality)

Unfortunately, many teachers are not prepared well in their preservice programs to teach reading. The National Council on Teacher Quality’s evaluation of more than 800 undergraduate programs for elementary teacher education determined that less than half (39%) provide instruction in all five essential components of early reading instruction. And, 19% of the programs require literacy coursework that addresses no more than one of the five essential components.

The unhappy conclusion is that “training for reading instruction is not adequate in many teacher preparation programs.”

The Institute of Educational Sciences surveyed 99 teacher preparation programs and more than 2,200 preservice teachers about how much preparation programs focused on the essential components of reading instruction [in 2010]. As summarized in Samantha Durrance’s recent blog, only “25% reported their preparation programs included a strong overall focus on reading instruction.” Interesting too is that teachers-in-training were “twice as likely to report a strong focus on reading instruction in their preservice teaching experiences as in their preservice coursework.” This means that many learned on the job, not in the formal coursework at their colleges/universities.

When I worked for two decades in Oregon, there was such concern about the lack of knowledge of teaching reading that many teachers were encouraged by their schools to gain skills in teaching reading.  Several universities joined forces to collaborate on a jointly offered set of online reading programs. The program still continues between two universities –they share a common curriculum of online literacy courses. Participants take courses at either Portland State University or Southern Oregon University (selecting one as “home” institution but able to take classes at either). This effort began as a grant in 2003 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, and I was founding Project Director of this effort.

The ReadOregon consortium offers three programs which enable teachers to gain skills in teaching reading: a 24-credit Reading Endorsement program approved by the state licensing board which enables teachers to add the Reading Specialist endorsement to their license; a 12-credit literacy education course of study for general classroom teachers; and a “courses-only” option.

I recall so clearly the in-depth discussions among teachers and school principals of what these programs must encompass to enable teachers to be prepared to teach reading better. They settled on seven thematic areas aligned with the International Reading Association Standards: 1) Literacy Foundations; 2) Literacy Strategies & Methods; 3) Literacy for Diverse Learners; 4) Literacy Assessment; 5) Leadership in School Reading Programs; 6) Literature; and 7) Practicum.

I’m proud that ReadOregon is continuing to prepare teachers of reading, and that many of the colleges and universities in Oregon — and in so many other states — are providing specialty programs in the teaching of reading.

But, I wish all teacher preparation programs were preparing teachers better before they entered the profession. Just a year ago, Kelly Wallace’s CNN report on the art of teaching teachers how to teach reading interviewed an elementary school principal who lays it out there: “Our universities do not teach teachers how to (teach reading) at the undergraduate level. [Teachers] are coming through a traditional track not knowing how to teach reading, just the overall basic components of it . . .  As a principal at a high-needs urban school with 1,260 students, up from 830 six years ago, [I] more than [have my] hands full just trying to keep [my]students and [my]130 teachers on track…faced with narrowing a stunning word deficit: Children living in poverty hear 30 million fewer words by age 4 than children in higher-income households, according to researchers.”

These are big — almost insurmountable — deficits to reverse once children are in school.

Durrance in Are Teachers Prepared to Teach Reading gives us the unhappy bottom line: “Teachers can’t teach what they don’t know. Teacher preparation programs need to make sure their elementary teacher candidates understand how children learn to read, as well as how to help students who struggle with early literacy skills.”

Sometimes people ask me what my favorite work was in Oregon. ReadOregon was and is my favorite. Working with many devoted colleagues, I was doing something that would help prepare teachers to teach reading better. And so many children would reap the benefits.

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