A teacher’s knowledge and the impact on student achievement
“Not only must you be able to read to learn other subjects such as science, math, social studies, but you must also be able to read to apply for jobs, navigate a map or restaurant menu, stay informed of the world and be an active citizen.” – Dr. Emily Cantrell
Children across Texas are struggling in reading. According to the latest report from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, almost 30% of students did not meet requirements. When you look at economically disadvantaged students, the percentage hits higher than 30%.
Research shows a number of factors can influence a student’s literacy development including both the home and school environment. However, of all factors, the most influential is the quality of instruction a student receives.
“Quality literacy instruction, that is evidence-based literacy instruction based upon empirical research, is absolutely critical for these students to learn, to achieve, to succeed – and many times school is their only chance at getting that,” said Dr. Emily Cantrell, clinical associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture.
Cantrell notes the key to quality literacy instruction is a teacher knowledgeable in the science of reading and the science of teaching reading. Her latest research sought to determine how well elementary teachers in low socioeconomic status schools are prepared to effectively teach reading, a skill that requires understanding basic language concepts.
Using a survey, teachers rated their knowledge and understanding of phonology, phonics and morphology.
Cantrell found teachers generally performed best on basic phonological awareness items that do not require much explicit understanding and worst on items related to morphology, or how words are formed. Overall, teachers did not display an understanding of the structure of language and how to effectively teach it.
“A teacher must have an explicit understanding of the structure and patterns of the language in order to be able to teach the structure and patterns in a direct, explicit and systematic fashion. Not only has research indicated ‘what’ is necessary to teach, but also ‘how’ it is most effectively taught. 40% of children will always struggle with reading if they are not taught the components of reading in a direct, explicit and systematic fashion.”
Ultimately, Cantrell said the findings revealed an absence of the explicit knowledge needed to effectively teach struggling readers in teachers located in low SES schools.
“All of these findings replicate findings from previous teacher knowledge research,” said Cantrell. “While not particularly surprising, it further highlights the need for more effective teacher preparation and training – particularly in districts such as these where effective literacy instruction is so critical for students.”
Cantrell said it is important for universities to consider how they are preparing teachers and districts to consider the type and amount of professional development for their teachers. Research continues to show professional development on the basic constructs of language can increase teacher knowledge significantly.
“Teachers, not curriculum programs, make the difference. Build your teachers’ knowledge base of the science of reading and the science of teaching reading and you will see results,” said Cantrell.
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