the (in)effectiveness of content area literacy instruction for secondary preservice teachers

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Regina]On: 17 November 2014, At: 11:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies,Issues and IdeasPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

    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

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  • The (1n)Effectiveness of Content Area Literacy Instruction for


    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





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  • 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


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