The (In)Effectiveness of Content Area Literacy Instruction for Secondary Preservice Teachers
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The (In)Effectiveness of Content Area Literacy Instructionfor Secondary Preservice TeachersBarbara Livingston Nourie & Susan Davis LenskiPublished online: 02 Apr 2010.
To cite this article: Barbara Livingston Nourie & Susan Davis Lenski (1998) The (In)Effectiveness of Content Area Literacy Instructionfor Secondary Preservice Teachers, The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 71:6, 372-374, DOI:10.1080/00098659809599595
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00098659809599595
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The (1n)Effectiveness of Content Area Literacy Instruction for
Secondary Preservice Teachers BARBARA LIVINGSTON NOURIE and SUSAN DAVIS LENSKI
he reading problem in American secondary schools is T well documented. Recent studies have indicated that 40 percent of 13-year-old students and 16 percent of 17- year-old students attending high school still have not acquired intermediate reading skills (Irvin et al. 1995). These percentages do not include those 17 year olds who have already dropped out of high school. The attitude of classroom teachers toward content area literacy can be one of the most important factors in the reading achievement and reading practice of secondary students. Research sup- ports the premise that teachers beliefs toward reading influ- ence their plans and actions (Richardson et al. 1991).
Many preservice teachers do not recognize the extent to which content area subjects and language use are correlat- ed. Language is central to all learning, regardless of the dis- cipline. When thoughts are processed by way of thinking, reading, or writing, they are learned in deeper ways (Mc- Ginley 1992). Processing ideas through language is well understood by the reading-writing community, but many preservice secondary teachers resist the ideas that are pre- sented in content area reading courses (Stewart and OBrien 1989). Their loyalty is to their specialization fields, with lit- tle attention paid to the role that reading and writing play in those fields (Daisey and Shroyer 1993). Without the larger view that reading and writing are processes that facilitate learning in all disciplines, new teachers may not understand the necessity of teaching their students how to process writ- ten text.
One of the traditional solutions to knowledge of literacy is for teacher education programs to offer a content area lit- eracy course to preservice teachers. Since 197 1, preservice students who plan to teach at the secondary level have taken a required two-hour content literacy course at Illinois State
Barbara Livingston Nourie is the university teacher edu- cation accreditation oficer at Illinois State University, Nor- mal. Susan Davis Lenski is an assistant professor at Illinois State.
University, a teacher education institution since 1857 with its inception as Illinois State Normal University. The stu- dents in this class matriculate through the colleges of their discipline (e.g., biology), but they take fourteen hours in education course work for their certification. This study was conducted to determine how receptive students are to learn- ing literacy strategies and techniques for their disciplines.
Method and Results The students in the required content literacy class are typ-
ically white, middle-class individuals from rural, suburban, or urban backgrounds. The students are both traditional stu- dents (1 8-22 years of age) and nontraditional returning stu- dents, and gender is evenly divided.
After reviewing the extensive literature on content area literacy, we concluded that two surveys that have been a part of the research base for some years were still the most pertinent instruments to use to determine the kinds of be- haviors that our preservice teachers exhibited, relative to their own literacy, and to determine their attitudes and re- ceptiveness to content area literacy instruction.
The first survey was used to determine whether preservice secondary teachers had an overall positive attitude toward reading and were active readers themselves. The Mikulecky Behavioral Reading Attitude Measure (MBRAM) (Mikul- ecky 1976) elicits responses of actual behavior on a 5-point scale from very unlike me to very like me. We administered this survey to 90 secondary education preservice teachers. They averaged a reading attitude score of 3.39. A score above the midpoint of 2.5 on the MBRAM is considered to be generally positive (Mikulecky 1977). The majority of the preservice teachers sampled scored above 2.5, with the exception of students with grade-point averages below a 2.50 (i.e., B-/C+). In general, we found it heartening that secondary preservice teachers tended to value reading.
The second survey was that formulated by Vaughn in A Scale to Measure Attitudes Toward Teaching Reading in Content Classrooms (1977), which we used to determine the preservice teachers general attitude toward teaching
Vol. 71, No. 6 Content Area Literacy Instruction 373
reading. We administered this survey to 1 13 secondary edu- cation preservice teachers, who fit the same general profile as that of the 90 subjects who took the MBRAM. The Vaughn survey consists of 15 attitude statements about teaching reading in the disciplines. Students responded by answering on a 7-point scale: strongly agree, agree, tend to agree, neutral, tend to disagree, disagree, and strongly dis- agree. Responses were scored by assigning the values of 7 through 1 to positive statements, as specified by Vaughn, and 1 to 7 for negative statements. Each survey was given a composite number and was interpreted with the attitude descriptors developed by Vaughn (1977): 91 or higher = high, 81-90 = above average, 71-80 = average, 61-70 = below average, 60 or lower = low.
The mean score of the preservice secondary students at the beginning of the content area course was 79.65, which indicated, according to the scoring grid, that the students had a high-average to above-average attitude toward the teaching of reading in the content areas. After taking the content area reading course, a random sample of forty-two students took the test again. The mean score of the sample group was 79.58, a score not significantly different from the pretest score, but numerically slightly lower.
A closer look at the responses on the post-survey indi- cated that 60 percent of the teacher candidates believed that knowing how to teach reading in content areas was significant enough to be required for a secondary teaching certificate. Furthermore, 67 percent of the teacher candi- dates disagreed with the statement that English teachers alone should be responsible for teaching reading in sec- ondary schools, and 78 percent disagreed that content teachers should leave reading instruction to reading teach- ers. These results indicated that our students have a gener- ally favorable attitude toward teaching reading strategies in their content areas.
After analyzing the two surveys we made two tentative conclusions: (1) our students generally felt that they need- ed to learn content reading strategies, and (2) the students personal reading attitudes were not roadblocks to their teaching of reading strategies.
Discussion and Implications The results of the two surveys suggest that students with
positive attitudes toward the importance of reading and writing in the content classroom retain that positive attitude as they progress through their methods courses. Methods courses in content area reading, however, do little if any- thing to enhance the generally positive attitudes of the stu- dents toward reading. Nor does taking a one-semester con- tent literacy course do anything to increase students personal reading and writing.
Therefore, we believe that the content literacy courses traditionally taught to secondary preservice students need to have a redirected focus. Our study indicates that those students are primed to learn about the teaching of reading in content areas; the traditional preservice approach, how-
ever, does nothing to enhance the attitudes of the students. Furthermore, because research indicates that the learning of reading strategies in college courses is not generally trans- ferred to actual classroom practice, we believe that second- ary students in content literacy courses need to have their beliefs about the teaching of reading solidified through a strong motivational approach.
Four ideas to increase the desire of students to teach read- ing in content classrooms follow:
1. Assign a book (any book) to be read for pleasure. College assignments require so much reading of a technical nature that students may appreciate the opportunity to read
or students who think literacy F is exclusively a matter of fiction, examples of processing symbol systems can prove enlightening.
a book for pleasure. Of course, when an assignment like this comes along, some students may use a book they have already read. Many students will take the assignment more seriously, however. Book talks allow students to share the books they have read without the burden of a formal book report. Typically, on such sharing occasions, lively dis- cussions ensue as other students comment on their own reading of the same book or of something by the same author or in the same genre.
2. Ask students to bring to class examples of reading in their disciplines. Many students have the misconception that reading means reading fictional works or textbooks. Reading, however, can mean many different things. In some disciplines, reading is used for understanding manuals, directions, lists of rules, articles from the media, and other expository text. Some disciplines rely on symbols other than words for communication. The music majors and the mathematics majors, along with those from some of the sciences, can identify linkages-how an equation, for in- stance, is really a sentence. Many math teachers, in fact, have students write out sentences to explain how they derived the solution to a problem. Math teachers also have students write their own word problems in order to grasp the concepts used in solving that kind of math problem. Music students preread a piece of music before sitting down to play, getting the gist of the music, the difficult parts, and the repeats. Reading music, in fact, is the actual phrase used. For students who think literacy is exclusively a matter of fiction, such examples of processing symbol systems can prove enlightening.
3. Help students understand the importance of written works in our culture. When students do not believe that
374 The Clearing House JulyIAugust 1998
content area literacy applies to their teaching field, it is useful to have them describe a world without language of any kind. Obviously, this is an impossible task. Whether students are doing reading or writing assignments, they are speaking and listening-using language to process ideas or steps in skill development. Teachers must be aware of student limitations in these areas as well as in reading or writing. In the United States today, many students come from homes where the language spoken is not English. Communication with those students, as well as with native speakers, can be complex if one party has one image in mind and the other party is thinking of something entirely different. Literacy equals effective communication.
4. Model content area reading techniques in the course itse& Teachers of content area courses should use content reading strategies for assigned readings in the course. When secondary preservice students use content strategies to read, they can learn how text becomes more interesting and readable. For example, an issues-oriented class with readings selected from research, theory, and practice re- quires in-depth understanding for students to react critic- ally and to articulate their responses. Content area reading techniques applied to these readings not only can reinforce student understanding of a given chapter or essay but also can demonstrate the techniques. Of course, the professor must not be too subtle, and the reading technique and ac- companying terminology should be provided to students. Gradually, as the class progresses, more and more in- dependent use of good reading skills and strategies can be called for, requiring students to note how their own reading awareness has grown, a process called metacognition. The
professor should then instruct the students in ways to use the content strategies in the students discipline.
The dilemma of how to enhance secondary preservice teachers positive attitudes toward the importance of read- ing and also increase their knowledge about specific strate- gies to employ in content classrooms can be resolved by including content area instruction in many if not all cours- es in professional studies. If preservice teachers ca...