New teachers are not always sure how to apply what they learn at university to their own classes. A tiered support program modeled on RTI can meet them where they are while teaching literacy and literacy skills.
The science of reading is a hot topic in education today. Much has been written about what the science of reading is, how important it is, and how to use it in learning to read. TheMay 2022 The coat, which focused on literacy, included a wide range of practitioner voices discussing various aspects of the issue. And the APM Reports podcastA story sold, moderated by Emily Hanford, brought the issue to the attention of those outside of education.
In essence, the science of reading suggests that students learning to read need guidance based on scientific evidence (Petscher et al., 2020), including practice in five fundamental components of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonetics, fluency , vocabulary and comprehension (National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, 2000). Some claim that teacher preparation programs are not teaching the science of reading to the next generation of teachers (Crowe & Howard, 2020; Hanford, 2018). However, research shows that student teachers grow in their understanding of the science of reading during their teacher preparation programs (Al Otaiba & Lake, 2007; Englert et al., 2020; Hudson et al., 2021; Spear-Swerling & Brucker, 2003; Washburn et al ., 2016). The problem is that they struggle to translate the theoretical knowledge they learn at university into the practical skills they need in the classroom (Tortorelli, Lupo, Wheatley, 2021). Because of this, many teachers require additional training.
Unfortunately, the type of professional development offered in schools often lacks the intensity and duration needed for real learning. Some experts suggest that increasing training volume (McMahan, Oslund, & Odegard, 2019) and coupling knowledge with practice (Ehri & Flugman, 2018; Englert et al., 2020; Hudson et al., 2021) can achieve greater results. What types of professional development do college graduates need in the transition to teaching to successfully teach the science of reading?
Knowledge of student teachers about the components of literacy
When I started teaching literacy courses for elementary school teachers in 2016, one of the first things that struck me was how much the course emphasized phonetics and phonemic awareness. As a reading specialist trained many years ago, I was surprised at the level of content knowledge of phonetics and phonemic awareness required to pass the state literacy exam for student teachers.
After my first semester, however, I saw that while the course offered face-to-face instruction in all the fundamental components of the science of reading, phonetics and phonemic awareness were the two most challenging for student teachers. This explained why the department placed such an emphasis on these components, even requiring students to pass a benchmark exam in phonetics and phonemic awareness. I decided to ask the students themselves about their experiences of learning about the key components of the science of reading and their willingness to use that content in their future classrooms.
From spring 2018 to fall 2019, I surveyed students at the beginning and end of the semester, asking them to rate their understanding of the five components of reading. In addition, the students answered a questionnaire about their learning experiences in the science of reading. For four consecutive semesters, I collected data from 241 elementary and special education teachers in the second or first year of a teacher preparation program.
The survey used a Likert scale on which students rated their knowledge on a scale of one to four, with one representing minimal knowledge, two representing moderate knowledge, three representing very good knowledge, and four representing expert knowledge. Student teachers consistently ranked their knowledge of phonemic awareness and phonetics lowest. While the mean scores increased from the beginning to the end of the course, the order of perceived difficulty remained the same (see Figure 1). I was intrigued by these results, particularly because we spent more time on phonetics and phonemic awareness than the other components of reading.
As the student teachers' understanding of all components of reading studies increased, they felt that their knowledge of phonetics and phonemic awareness was inferior to their knowledge of fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Additionally, nearly a third of student teachers felt they needed more training in phonetics skills before teaching them. How would they receive additional preparation? They completed the required literacy courses for their degree. Would they receive the required training as part of their teacher induction, mentoring program or in-service training? How could the schools they would attend meet them where they are and give them the practical support they need to apply what they have learned?
Application of RTI to professional development
Just as K-12 students need differentiation, so do new elementary school teachers. The Tiered Response to Intervention (RTI) model is widely used in the United States to support K-12 students. The RTI model provides a safety net to prevent student failure by ensuring that all students receive basic instruction and that students who need additional support can get it quickly. Could a similar support model prevent first-year teachers from failing in teaching literacy?
Multi-level support systems have proven successful in training and coaching teachers in areas such as classroom management (Simonsen et al., 2014) and student behavior disorders (State et al., 2019). Following this format, I designed a tiered support structure to help new elementary school teachers in the science of reading as they move from college to the classroom. Figure 2 illustrates a structured, tiered support model to meet first-year teachers where they are learning the science of reading and advance them in their professional learning. The recommended list of support at each level is neither exhaustive nor exhaustive, but provides a model that school leaders can follow to provide teachers with differentiated professional development in the critical areas of phonetics and phonemic awareness. While the model was designed for new teachers, it could also be adapted for experienced teachers who are new to the science of reading.
Level 1: Universal support
At Level 1, all first-year teachers receive universal support to build on their pre-service understanding of the science of reading.
Support should start with school leaders being aware of the challenge that student teachers can have in teaching phonetics and phonemic awareness. This awareness helps leaders develop empathy for first-year teachers and prompts school leaders, literacy coaches, and mentor teachers to take steps to address potential challenges.
School leaders can also support first-year teachers by creating a culture of collaborative learning. A collaborative learning culture allows new teachers to speak openly about the challenges they are experiencing with phonetics and phonetic awareness without fear of judgment about a potential deficit. In such a culture, teachers can discuss and reflect on their individual learning (Bennett & Bromen, 2019) and their teaching in the classroom (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 2011).
As the student teachers' understanding of all components of reading studies increased, they felt that their knowledge of phonetics and phonemic awareness was inferior to their knowledge of fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Schools can support all first-year teachers by providing ongoing professional development in the school's literacy curriculum and research-based strategies for teaching phonetics and phonemic awareness. The training should be tailored to the needs of the individual teacher, be continued over time and include opportunities to apply the newly learned information (Wasik & Hindman, 2011). Regarding the literacy curriculum, new teachers need guidance on the scope and sequencing, developing lessons using the syllabus, and the school's expectations for a faithful implementation of the syllabus. If a new teacher graduates from a teacher preparation program with an initial understanding of teaching reading, but arrives at a school without a solid curriculum or professional development in applying the curriculum, that teacher will have difficulty teaching literacy effectively. Leaders at all levels need to do more to bridge the gap that currently exists between literacy taught at university and daily literacy practice in local schools (Solari, 2020).
Another Tier 1 support that all new teachers need is access to a specialized literacy professional (i.e., reading specialists or literacy coaches) and a grade level mentor who can answer syllabus questions and offer lesson planning advice. The work of Rita Bean (2015) highlights the significant role that specialized literacy professionals play in supporting new teachers in teaching reading. Both the literacy coach and mentor should talk to the new teacher about when they will be available to offer support and answer questions, as new teachers may be reluctant to seek support.
In addition to human resources, first-year teachers should have access to a variety of resources to improve reading instruction. This includes decodable texts, sound plays or multi-sensory materials. Teachers also benefit from materials to supplement their own learning about phonetics and phonemic awareness. For example, a teacher resource center with reference books, reading and writing magazines, and online resources can enhance the ongoing learning of new teachers.
Tier 2: Small group support
While universal support benefits everyone, some first-year teachers, like some K-12 students, will benefit from opportunities to continue learning in small groups. RTI models often give 15-20% as a typical percentage of students requiring Tier 2 support; however, a larger number of first-year teachers may benefit from the work of Level 2. A teacher's participation in Tier 2 support programs may be based on self-identification or an invitation from a principal.
Given the limited time available to first-year teachers, a school leader, literacy coach, or class leader should take the lead in assembling the group and scheduling meetings. Keeping these options flexible and non-prescriptive will minimize stress for first-year teachers. Small groups can extend beyond the first year of training.
The small groups can take different forms. A literacy group, for example, is a safe place for new teachers to share teaching experiences with other teachers. Literacy support groups can be permanent groups that meet simultaneously with the same participants, or they can be more flexible. They can be organized by grade level, area of interest or specific needs. The leader can be an experienced mentor or a literacy coach. Sometimes it can be beneficial to involve experienced teachers who have difficulty teaching phonetics and phonemic awareness, or experienced teachers who are experts. Both can offer different perspectives and enhance the discussion with real-world examples.
Book studies are an excellent opportunity for professional development in a small group. First-year teachers can grow with others as they read a newly released title or a current treasure. Some proposed titles for book studies related to phonetics and phonemic awareness include:A new look at the phonicsvon Wiley Blevins,Prepared for reading successby David KilpatrickShift the balanceby Jan Miller Burkins and Kari Yates andspeech to printby Louisa Moats. Book studies can use any structure that works best for the group, but they usually involve a series of meetings where group members discuss individual chapters together.
In roundtable discussions on literacy, members read from a variety of professional journals, both practice-based and research-based. A specialized literacy professional familiar with the phonetics and phonemic awareness literature can suggest articles for teachers to read and conduct monthly discussions based on the selected articles. Some recommended literature-oriented journals to choose articles from include:The reading teacher,Reading Research Quarterly, Literacy Today, Literacy Research and Instruction, AndJournal of Literacy Research.Online reading material is available from Reading Rockets (www.readingrockets.org) and the reading covenant (www.thereadingleague.org).
Level 3: Individual support
Some first year teachers will need or want a more intensive intervention beyond Level 1 and Level 2. In this case, schools can provide opportunities for individual support. In the RTI model, approximately 5% of students require intensive intervention. However, as with Tier 2, the number of teachers requiring Tier 3 support will most likely be higher. School leaders can identify which teachers need Level 3 intervention through classroom observation, but teachers can request some of the support themselves.
At Level 3, teachers who have difficulty teaching phonetics and phonemic awareness will benefit from individual coaching from a trained literacy professional. While a reading specialist or literacy coach should be available to all as Level 1 support, some new teachers need more support. A helpful strategy is for the literacy professional to observe the new teacher teaching phonetics and phonemic awareness, discuss the observation, and provide specific suggestions for improvement. Intensive one-on-one coaching can provide the focused feedback a first-year teacher needs, particularly when implementing the school's literacy curriculum. This type of coaching arrangement is a beneficial professional development for both the new teacher and the expert (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 2011).
School leaders can support these teachers who need help beyond Levels 1 and 2 by providing them time to observe experienced literacy teachers as they teach students. Conferences before and after observation with the expert can maximize teachers' learning from lesson observation.
Workshops, conferences and special trainings can be a source of inspiration for all teachers, including new ones. Funding to attend local, state, and national meetings where new teachers can connect with other literacy teachers and hear from experts motivates new teachers to learn and grow. Being part of a professional community outside of school can be a powerful tool for professional growth (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 2011).
A reproducible model
As student teachers complete their coursework and enter their first year of teaching, they will benefit from supportive school leaders, literacy professionals and experienced mentor teachers who build on the foundational knowledge of the science of reading they acquired at university level. A tiered support model can bridge the university-to-classroom gap and ensure all students have a teacher equipped with the basic components of reading.
I have focused on how a tiered model can support new teachers in the science of reading. However, this system can be replicated to any classroom where teachers have different levels of understanding and different support needs. Furthermore, a tiered system is not limited to first-year teachers. Teachers of all experience levels can benefit from a similar level of support when implementing new strategies or curriculum, or brushing up on skills. A tiered model respects teachers as learners and provides relevant, personalized professional development that recognizes the needs of different teachers.
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This article appears in the February 2023 issue ofthe cloak,Bd. 104, Nr. 5, p. 38-43.
- Stacey Bose
STACEY BOSE(firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Associate Professor at Cairn University, Langhorne, PA.
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