Reading instruction instruction

In a distressing report of a study of the syllabi for classes on the teaching of reading, Kate Walsh, Deborah Glaser, and Danielle Dunne Wilcox of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) report that people who are likely to be teaching reading in the future are not being taught about the scientific bases for reading instruction.

Walsh et al. studied reading instruction classes of 72 schools of education, with those schools representing five different levels of selectivity in admissions and being about 5% of all schools of education; the sample appears slightly tilted in favor of public institutions and institutions accredited by the most common professional organization in teacher education. They obtained syllabi and textbooks used in 222 classes from those 72 schools and rated the syllabi and texts on the extent to which they reflected the five areas of reading instruction identified by the National Reading Panel (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

Based on their analysis of syllabi, Walsh et al. reported that (a) few schools of education are teaching prospective teachers about the scientific basis of reading; (b) most individual courses only cover one or a few of the five areas of reading; (c) coverage of the important features of reading is not related to national accreditation; (d) only 16% of classes taught about phonics and fewer than 5% taught about both phonemic awareness and fluency; (e) students are given misinformation such as the superiority of child-centered, discovery learning of reading; (f) most students are taught that alternative methods of teaching reading are of equal value, none better than another; and (g) class activities emphasize entertainment more than rigor. A table shows which schools’ classes met their standards.

Based on their analysis of text books used, Walsh et al. reported that (a) the books provided too little information about the scientific basis of reading and too much misleading and inaccurate information and (b) there is no agreement about the best texts. They list the books by author, title, and date, should a reader want to check them.

Critics of the scientific view of reading will find this report distressing, but for different reasons than I find it distressing. They will say that the criteria for evaluating courses and texts were flawed, that there are unique examples of very good programs that were not included in the sample, and (of course) that the study is the work of a politically motivated group.

In some ways, I shouldn’t find it distressing. It basically confirms my bias that what passes as teacher preparation is mostly pablum. There’s little rigor and even less science in it. In fact, I find it more discouraging than distressing…woe are we. We may never learn to teach effectively.

Download links for (a) the summary, (b) the full report by Walsh et al. or, (c) directly to the NCTQ. Link for more about the NCTQ.

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