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Teachers’ Knowledge about Beginning Reading Development and Instruction



Cunningham, A.E., & Ryan O’Donnell, C. (2015). Teacher Knowledge in Early Literacy. In Alexander Pollatsek & Rebecca Treiman (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Reading. (pp. 447-462). New York: Oxford University Press.
ose who can, do; those who understand,
—Shulman, 1986
In most academic subjects, it is obvious to the
layperson why teachers need disciplinary compe-
tence in order to be eective. For example, most
people would agree that it would be dicult to pro-
vide high-quality instruction about the principles
and concepts of physics without deep knowledge
and understanding of those principles and concepts.
A physics teacher must be able to guide students
in the creation of detailed conceptual frameworks,
respond to student inquiries, and provide nuanced
clarifications—tasks that would be impossible with-
out deep understanding of the field. However, the
need for discipline-specific knowledge or compe-
tence can be less obvious when considering a teach-
er’s ability to provide high-quality instruction in
more fundamental academic tasks such as reading.
It is easy to assume that being a skilled reader creates
a sucient knowledge base for providing reading
instruction. Although the connection may be less
obvious, content-specific knowledge may be par-
ticularly important in the teaching of fundamental
academic skills such as reading and associated skills
including spelling and writing (Brady & Moats,
1997; Wong-Fillmore & Snow, 2003). A convinc-
ing body of empirical research provides strong evi-
dence that successful reading instructors need to
have highly specialized skills and knowledge—skills
akin to those required of a physics teacher, but
specific to literacy (Connor, Son, Hindman, &
Morrison, 2005).
High-quality reading instruction is partially
defined by the knowledge that teachers of read-
ing must possess to provide eective instruction
for their students (Snow, Burns, & Grin, 1998;
National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National
Reading Panel, 2000). Specifically, the research
suggests that, like teachers of physics, teachers of
reading require domain-specific knowledge and
expertise—expertise, for example, in the language of
instruction, knowledge about reading development
This chapter focuses on the body of disciplinary and pedagogical knowledge required to provide
high-quality beginning reading instruction to young children. The chapter examines quality literacy
instruction from a historical perspective, reviews what science tells us about the successful teaching of
reading, explores why teachers are not consistently teaching beginning reading in ways that are aligned
with best practices, and provides recommendations for how the eld can support teachers in developing
the knowledge needed to improve student reading outcomes. The goal is to provide research-based
suggestions for strengthening both the content and delivery of teacher professional development in the
area of literacy, and to demonstrate that these suggestions have the power to affect child outcomes.
Key Words: teacher knowledge, teacher education, professional development, reading, word recognition
Anne E. Cunningham and Colleen Ryan O’Donnell
Teachers’ Knowledge about Beginning
Reading Development
and Instruction
Book 1.indb 447 1/19/2015 9:41:48 PM
and its component skills, and the ability to use that
knowledge in educational encounters with children
(Connor et al., 2005; Cunningham & Zibulsky,
2009; Cunningham, Etter, Platas, Wheeler, &
Campbell, in press; Foorman & Moats, 2004).
e content knowledge required for eective
instruction and intervention in the United States
includes knowledge of the American English spell-
ing system. English is a morphophonemic or deep
alphabetic orthography (Venezky, 1999), which
means that its spelling is bound by meaning (as in
magician) as well as sound (as in magic). Although
its spellings map onto speech sounds quite predict-
ably, especially for words encountered during the
earliest years of reading instruction, the correspon-
dences can be complex and variable. In order to
provide explicit and complete explanations of both
predictable and less predictable relationships (only
some of which are caused by meaning overriding
predictable sound-symbol correspondences), we
argue that teachers must be knowledgeable about
the complex English spelling system (Moats, 1994;
Wong-Fillmore & Snow, 2003). Because decoding
problems underlie the diculties of most primary
grade students who struggle with reading (Catts,
Hogan, & Adlof, 2005), explicit and accurate word
recognition instruction is necessary. Instruction
of sound-symbol correspondences is particularly
important, as well as instruction about less predict-
able words that are of high frequency (such as was
or from). Knowledge of the spelling system, along
with facility in methods known to be eective in
teaching it, is fundamental background knowledge
for teachers. us a prerequisite knowledge base
for the delivery of high-quality beginning read-
ing instruction in the United States must include
understanding reading development, linguistic con-
cepts, and features of the English language and its
spelling. is type of specialized disciplinary knowl-
edge, referred to as pedagogical content knowledge by
Shulman (1987), captures the particular amalgam
of disciplinary knowledge and pedagogy needed to
eectively teach a skill such as literacy.
Equipped with the understanding that there is
indeed a prerequisite knowledge base for the deliv-
ery of quality literacy instruction, a complementary
question is whether the average teacher recognizes
the need for these competencies, possesses the
required knowledge, and values the pursuit of this
knowledge. e goal of this chapter is to review the
literature regarding the disciplinary and pedagogi-
cal knowledge that is necessary to teach beginning
reading in English to young children (see Goldman
& Snow, this volume, for discussion of teaching for
adolescents, what teachers know, what informa-
tion they lack, and what further opportunities they
need in order to acquire this critical knowledge.
We begin by examining quality reading instruction
from a historical perspective, review what science
tells us about the successful teaching of reading, and
then define and contextualize aspects of learning to
read and discuss teachers need for knowledge of
American English spelling system. We then outline
the prerequisite knowledge base for the delivery of
quality beginning literacy instruction, explore why
teachers are not consistently teaching reading in
ways that are aligned with best practices, and pro-
vide recommendations for how the field can sup-
port teachers in developing knowledge needed to
improve student reading outcomes.
High quality reading instruction makes a dier-
ence in the literacy development and performance
of students, and in this section we discuss the nature
of such instruction.
Historical Perspectives on Quality
Reading Instruction
To provide context for our discussion of the cur-
rent understanding of quality reading instruction,
a brief historical perspective on the factors that
have traditionally driven reading instruction in the
United States may be helpful. For the better part of
the twentieth century, prominent figures in the field
of education debated vehemently about the most
eective way to teach children to read (Chall, 1967,
1992; Stanovich & Stanovich, 1995). eorists and
educators generally adopted one of two perspectives
with respect to their thinking about how children
learn to read, and what unit of language (i.e., the
sentence, word, or phoneme) should be the focus of
instruction. In one camp were those who advocated
a whole language approach, arguing that learning to
read is analogous to learning to speak and that the
most eective means of teaching children to read
is to immerse them in print, eschewing more ana-
lytic approaches (Goodman, 1986 Smith, 1971).
In the other camp were those who subscribed to
the skill-based and more analytic phonics approach,
which involves the direct teaching of letter-sound
correspondences and combinations of letters and
their corresponding sounds. ose in this camp
emphasized the importance of providing children
with direct instruction in the alphabetic principle.
According to the alphabetic principle, letters and
Book 1.indb 448 1/19/2015 9:41:48 PM
combinations of letters are the symbols used to
represent the speech sounds of a language based on
systematic and predictable relationships between
written letters, symbols, and spoken words (Adams,
1990; Bond & Dijkstra, 1967; Chall, 1967; Ehri,
this volume).
Toward a Scientific Definition
of Quality Reading Instruction
Because the field of education in the 1970s and
1980s was yet to be influenced by the idea that
instruction should be guided by scientific inquiry
and converging empirical evidence, educators in the
United States were easily persuaded by movements
that were driven predominantly by deeply rooted
philosophical perspectives, observation, and per-
sonal experience (Stanovich, 2000). Across much of
his writing, Stanovich (e.g., 1993) maintained that
a reliance on a political/ideological rather than a sci-
entific model for making instructional decisions has
created endless problems for reading education. He
argued that the extreme pendulum swings that have
characterized reading education in particular might
be avoided by equipping teachers with a scientific
model of decision-making. Concomitantly, the
end of the twentieth century brought nationwide
concern in the United States regarding academic
achievement, especially among disadvantaged
students (Lyon, 1999a; National Assessment of
Educational Progress, 1995). As a result, there was a
push to end the “reading wars” and identify, from a
scientific perspective, the most eective approaches
to reading instruction.
Research Regarding the Critical Features
of a Quality Reading Curriculum
One of the most notable large-scale investiga-
tions in the United States was conducted by the
National Research Council (NRC) in 1998. Noting
the increasing demand for literacy in a techno-
logically advanced society and the repercussions
for those who have low levels of literacy, the U.S.
Department of Education and the US Department
of Health and Human Services asked the National
Academy of Sciences to establish a committee
focused on determining, from an empirical perspec-
tive, how to best support the reading development
of children and prevent reading diculties. e
committee reviewed the research on reading devel-
opment and instruction, the factors associated with
reading failure, and the interventions and instruc-
tional approaches known to prevent reading di-
culties and promote optimal reading outcomes. In
summarizing the results of their research, the com-
mittee argued that a greater focus must be placed
on improving the quality of reading instruction for
both struggling readers and beginning readers. ey
noted that, although the needs of struggling read-
ers vary depending upon their skills and abilities,
eective teachers use evidence-based materials and
strategies to craft an appropriate mix of learning
opportunities for every student. e NRC (1998)
argued that the ability to craft an ideal combination
of instructional techniques requires, at a minimum,
deep knowledge and understanding of reading
development as well as familiarity and facility with
the pedagogical strategies known to be most eec-
tive in supporting reading development (or remedi-
ating delay).
Multiple skills have been shown to be essential
for successful reading acquisition. ese include
phonological awareness (the ability to detect and
manipulate the sounds or phonemes in language),
print knowledge (the combination of elements of
alphabet knowledge, concepts about print, and
early decoding), fluency (the ability to quickly and
eciently process text), vocabulary, background
knowledge, and comprehension (the ability to derive
meaning from written text). For beginning reading
acquisition, the NRC (1998) report highlighted the
importance of accurate word identification and the
role of explicit instruction to help children develop
an appreciation for the sound structure of language
to facilitate decoding. is included knowledge of
specific letter-sound correspondences, common
spelling patterns, and high-frequency irregular
words. Additionally, according to the NRC report,
repeated opportunities to practice both silent and
oral reading in high-quality engaging texts promote
childrens reading fluency. Moreover, when chil-
dren receive explicit instruction in comprehension
strategies, their understanding of texts is facilitated.
Finally, the facilitative eects of reading exposure
across a wide variety of topics provide a level of dis-
tributed practice that promotes fluency and read-
ing comprehension. Such exposure across a variety
of texts further promotes childrens vocabulary and
conceptual knowledge.
Research Regarding the Pedagogical
Methods Known to be Eective
in Supporting Student Learning
e report of the NRC (1998) provides more
than a theoretical approach to reading instruction.
It draws attention to the fact that teachers must
have deep understanding of the process of reading
Book 1.indb 449 1/19/2015 9:41:48 PM
development and provides a synthesis of the research
supporting the claim that teachers must be able to
provide quality instruction in five areas: phonologi-
cal awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and
oral language development including vocabulary.
Although the report of the NRC (1998) provides
an analysis of the skills, environments, and experi-
ences that are critical to the acquisition of reading,
the committee did not address the specific instruc-
tional approaches that are most ecacious in bring-
ing about positive outcomes. us, Congress asked
the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development (NICHD), in collaboration with
the Secretary of Education, to convene a panel of
experts to review the research on reading instruction,
including the eectiveness of common approaches
to teaching children to read. e National Reading
Panel (2000) (NRP) engaged in a comprehensive
review of the major variables found to contribute
to skilled reading. Based on the consensus synthesis
of the NRC (1998), the NRP (2000) focused on
research pertaining to word recognition (i.e., phono-
logical awareness, learning the alphabetic principle
through phonics instruction, vocabulary, fluency,
and comprehension). is work diered from the
NRC (1998) report in that it attempted to synthe-
size experimental and quasi-experimental work in
reading instruction through a meta-analysis of the
research on reading instruction. Meta-analyses are
eective tools for summarizing the research in a spe-
cific area in that they provide a statistical analysis of
the results of multiple individual studies and inte-
grate findings more rigorously than traditional nar-
rative or descriptive review methods (Glass, 1976).
e NRP (2000) concluded that there was an
impressive body of converging evidence in the area
of the word recognition to guide the field. e
meta-analysis suggests that specific skills must be
mastered along the course of reading development
and that not all strategies or forms of instruction are
eective for all students at all levels of development.
For example, the NRP found that teaching chil-
dren to manipulate phonemes in words was highly
eective and that teaching phonemic awareness
improves reading significantly more than instruc-
tion that does not include instruction in segment-
ing and blending phonemes. Moreover, this finding
extends to a variety of learners across a range of
grade and age levels. Likewise, after reviewing 38
independent studies on the teaching of phonics, the
NRP (2000) found that systematic phonics instruc-
tion benefits students in kindergarten through sixth
grade who are having diculty learning to read.
Yet phonics instruction had the greatest impact for
students in kindergarten through second grade. e
NRP argued, based on converging evidence from a
variety of studies, that explicit, systematic phonics
instruction that includes phonological awareness is
an essential part of a beginning reading curriculum.
In addition to word recognition, the NRP
(2000) reviewed data on reading fluency and com-
prehension. One instructional procedure they
found to be highly eective was guided repeated oral
reading, which encourages students to read pas-
sages orally with systematic and explicit guidance
and feedback from teachers. e NRP reviewed
16 studies of this approach and found that guided
repeated oral-reading procedures had significant
benefits (weighted eect size average of 0.41) for
the development of word recognition, fluency,
and comprehension across a range of grade levels.
Furthermore, these results apply to all students,
including those having diculty reading. e NRP
also reviewed 205 independent studies of reading
comprehension and found that text comprehension
improved when readers actively related the ideas in
print to their own knowledge. ere was substantial
evidence to suggest the need for direct instruction
in text comprehension strategies such as question-
ing, summarizing with words and pictures, drawing
maps of stories, cooperative work, and monitoring
ones own comprehension. It was determined that
a combination of comprehension strategies was
most eective. Supporting reading comprehension
through vocabulary development—both explicit
teaching of vocabulary and incidental exposure to
vocabulary—was also found to be critical.
Across a number of domains, the National
Reading Panel (2000) provided specific informa-
tion about which instructional strategies were most
eective at which level of development, for which
specific reading skills, and with which types of stu-
dents (e.g., typically developing children, children
at risk for reading failure, and second language
learners). ese detailed findings highlight the
importance of ensuring that teachers have a deep
knowledge base that can be skillfully woven into
the acts of teaching—from explicit instructional
opportunities to the ability to supply fruitful expla-
nations, analogies, examples, and materials to each
student at the right time. at is, if teachers are to be
eective, they must be equipped to evaluate, under-
stand, and respond to each student’s instructional
needs. us, when it comes to having demonstrated
competence in reading instruction, it is insucient
for a teacher to be able to identify the essential
Book 1.indb 450 1/19/2015 9:41:49 PM
components of an eective reading curriculum or
define literacy-related terms. Instead, competence
in teaching reading entails a wider variety of factors.
In the area of word recognition, the primary focus
of this chapter, teachers of beginning reading in the
United States must possess a good knowledge about
the American English spelling system to be able
to provide this level of instruction (Moats, 1994;
Brady & Moats, 1997).
e Need for a Deep Knowledge of the
American English Spelling System
Expert teaching of reading requires knowledge
of language structure, and in this section we discuss
the nature of American English spelling and teach-
ers’ knowledge about it.
e Complex American English
Spelling System
English is considered a deep orthography because
it has a lower degree of letter-sound correspon-
dence than many other alphabetic writing systems
(Besner & Smith, 1992). is letter-sound irregu-
larity leads to a complex spelling system, which is
the main hurdle for beginning readers. e com-
plex letter-sound system of English must be taught
because it is not necessarily intuitive to beginning
readers. Although describing each rule in the spell-
ing system is beyond the scope of this chapter, two
main concepts of the American English spelling sys-
tem are discussed below.
Cummings (1988) suggested that spelling rules
are of at least two types, tactical and procedural.
Ta c t i c a l r u l e s cover the rules for lettersound cor-
respondence and contextual constraints of spell-
ing. For example, there are a number of ways to
spell the /k/ sound (i.e., ‹c›, k›, ‹ck›, ‹ch›, q›, and
‹cq›), which, interestingly, depend on the context
in which the phoneme occurs. Procedural rules
govern the way prefixes, bases, and suxes com-
bine to form written words. In other words, pro-
cedural rules underlie the morphological structure
of spelling. For example, the spelling of “running”
is run+n+ing rather than run+ing, the doubling
of the n serving to reinforce the pronunciation
of the first syllable as closed (run) not open (ru).
Cummings notes, the important products of these
tactical and procedural rules are correspondences,
the conventionalized relationships that exist
between sounds and their spellings” (p. 10). ese
relationships assist beginning readers learning new
words, and instruction about these relationships
should be based on a solid understanding of how
the spelling system works (see Kessler & Treiman,
this volume).
Knowledge of the Spelling System
Is Not Intuitive for Teachers
e knowledge and skills required to imple-
ment an eective early literacy curriculum are
not necessarily intuitive to skilled readers. Once a
reader becomes fluent, attention moves away from
code translation toward comprehension (Oakhill,
Berenhaus, & Cain, this volume). e vast major-
ity of teachers became skilled readers far too long
ago to rely on their intuitive knowledge of pho-
nology and orthography as guides for instruction.
Knowledge of conventional spelling can obscure
the ability to attend to language at the sound level,
thus making a teacher believe, for instance, that /s/
is the third sound in the word music rather than
/z/. Consequently, awareness of subtleties of word
structure needed to guide students is, ironically,
often obscured by the teacher’s personal reading
In her seminal study, Moats (1994) found that
teachers’ knowledge of phonology, orthography,
and morphology was surprisingly poor”. She
was one of the first to suggest that many teachers
understand too little about spoken and written
language structure to be able to provide sucient
instruction in these areas” (p. 81). is does not
mean that teachers lack reading and spelling abil-
ity; instead, her initial results suggested that teach-
ers’ own literacy does not guarantee them detailed
insights into structural aspects of phonology,
orthography, and morphology. For example, when
administered a series of multiple choice questions,
Moats (1994) found that only 27% of the teach-
ers could successfully count the number of mor-
phemes in a word (e.g., salamander = 1, pies = 2,
unbelievable=3). Also, only 10% could identify a
consonant cluster (i.e., two or three consonants
that blend together to make a distinct consonant
sound such as /sk/ in scratch and /st/ in first), and
0% consistently identified consonant digraphs
(i.e., two consonant letters that together make a
single sound such as /θ/ in think). ere was like-
wise substantial evidence that many experienced
teachers have misconceptions about the principles
of grapheme-phoneme correspondence, such as
the number of ways to spell /k/, the reason for
doubling the ‹m› in words such as comment and
commitment, and the way in which the following
vowel signals whether the letter g› is pronounced
as /g/, /dʒ/, or /ʒ, as in god, gem, and rouge.
Book 1.indb 451 1/19/2015 9:41:49 PM
Subsequent studies provided converging evidence
that teachers generally lack sucient knowledge of
many of the linguistic concepts needed to success-
fully teach beginning readers (e.g., Bos, Mather,
Dickson, Podhajski, & Chard, 2001; Cunningham,
Zibulsky, & Callahan 2009; Cunningham, Perry,
Stanovich, Stanovich, & Chappell, 2001; Piasta,
Connor, Fishman, & Morrison, 2009). ese stud-
ies have similarly shown that teachers have diculty
counting phonemes and morphemes in words, rec-
ognizing phonetically irregular words, classifying
words by syllable type (open, as in hi, closed as in him,
r-controlled as in bird, silent-e as in mate, vowel team
as in bread, consonant-le, as in lit/tle), and under-
standing how syllable-division patterns aect pro-
nunciation (for example, a vowel-consonant-vowel
(VCV) sequence can be divided in two ways to
produce dierent syllable types—VC/V, as in wom/
an [the first syllable is closed] and V/CV, as in hu/
man [the first syllable is open]). e implications
of this are that teachers are limited in their ability
to interpret and respond to students errors, pick
appropriate examples for teaching decoding and
spelling, eectively organize and sequence instruc-
tion, use morphology to demystify various aspects
of spelling, and integrate the components of literacy
instruction (Cunningham, Zibulsky, Stanovich, &
Stanovich, 2009; Moats, 1999).
Why Teachers Need Deep Knowledge
of the American English Spelling System
To illustrate how limited knowledge of these
concepts may result in weak instruction, con-
sider the following examples. A teacher who can-
not consistently count phonemes in a word might
mistakenly believe that a child who spelled exit as
‹eksit› was not successfully representing each of the
sounds in the spoken word in the spelling. A teacher
who mistakenly believes that /θ/ is a blend of /t/
and /h/ might not provide corrective feedback to
a student who attempts to sound out the written
word thin by saying, /t/ /h/ / ɪ/ /n/. A teacher
who does not know that ‹c› is pronounced like /s/
when followed by the letters ‹e›, ‹i›, and ‹y› is less
equipped to support a student who haphazardly
uses the sounds /k/ and /s/ when decoding. Or a
teacher who is unable to consistently recognize an
irregular word as irregular may cause confusion by
including the word give as an example of a typical
word with a silent ‹e› or encouraging a student to
sound out the word was. ese practices are prob-
lematic given that, as mentioned earlier, the ability
to decode words is the source of reading diculty
among many beginning readers (Catts et al., 2005;
Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997). Without train-
ing, many teachers cannot explain the underlying
system of the English spelling system to students
(Treiman, Kessler, & Evans, 2007).
What Teachers Know
As compared to disciplines such as mathemat-
ics and social studies, studies of teachers’ declarative
knowledge in the domain of literacy are not well
developed. With only a few exceptions, the majority
of research in this area has occurred within the last
two decades (Bos et al., 2001; Brady et al., 2009;
Cunningham et al., 2001; Mather, Bos, & Babur,
2001; McCutchen et al., 2002; Moats, 1994).
ere has recently been a substantial increase in
the amount of research going beyond the docu-
mentation of knowledge levels to investigating the
underlying factors related to variations in teacher
knowledge as they relate to classroom practice (e.g.,
Cheesman, McGuire, Shankweiler, & Coyne, 2009;
Cunningham, Perry, Stanovich, & Stanovich, 2004;
Mather et al., 2001; Lopes, Spear-Swerling, Gabriela
Velasquez, & Zibulsky, 2014; Spear-Swerling,
Brucker, & Alfano, 2005).
For example, Mather et al. (2001) examined the
potential impact of years of experience on teach-
ers attitudes and knowledge of eective class-
room practices for the teaching of reading. ey
explored teachers awareness of the importance of
direct, explicit, code-based literacy instruction and
their knowledge of phonics terminology, such as
consonant blend, diphthong, digraph, and schwa.
Specifically, 293 teachers attending a university to
receive their teaching credential (preservice teach-
ers) and 131 teachers in the field (in-service teach-
ers) were asked to complete a rating scale inquiring
about their beliefs about various practices in lit-
eracy instruction along with an assessment of their
knowledge of the structure of language. Results of
the study suggested that more experienced teachers
generally had a more positive view of the role that
explicit, code-based instruction plays in supporting
the reading development of children. Mather and
her colleagues hypothesized that this finding might
indicate that experiences with beginning and strug-
gling readers increased teachersappreciation for the
importance of code-based instruction. Less encour-
aging was that neither group of teachers had a clear
understanding of the importance of letter-sound
correspondences as a foundation for accurate word
recognition. Instead, the large majority of teachers
Book 1.indb 452 1/19/2015 9:41:49 PM
believed that the use of context was the most ben-
eficial strategy for identifying an unknown word.
Moreover, consistent with the findings of Moats
(1994), neither preservice nor in-service teach-
ers had sucient knowledge of the phonological,
orthographic, and morphological structures of the
English language to eectively teach reading at a
basic, code-based level. In other words, although
experience may have supported teachers in the
development of an appreciation for the importance
of code-based instruction, it had less impact on the
development of the knowledge required to success-
fully provide that instruction.
It is counterintuitive to think that teachers might
recognize the importance of a particular instruc-
tional approach yet fail to develop their own skills
in a manner that would enable them to provide
that instruction. However, this recognition may
be an important precursor to knowledge gain, and
it is therefore crucial to evaluate whether teachers
are aware of what they do not know (Cunningham
et al., 2004). Cunningham et al. argued that it
is only when individuals recognize gaps in their
knowledge that they are inclined to seek out and
attend to the information they do not possess.
Well-calibrated thinking about one’s own knowl-
edge has significant consequences in terms of how
likely one is to improve the quality of instruction by
targeting the areas of weakness through professional
To investigate this aspect of teachers’ knowledge,
Cunningham and her colleagues (2004) assessed the
actual and perceived reading-related subject matter
knowledge of 722 teachers of kindergarten through
third-grade pupils. e researchers evaluated teach-
ers’ actual knowledge through the use of direct mea-
sures of knowledge of phonemic awareness (e.g.,
the number of speech sounds heard in the word
exit=5 and sun=3), and phonics (multiple choice
questions related to concepts such as syllables and
speech sounds). Perceived knowledge was evaluated
by asking teachers to respond to the following ques-
tions: How would you describe your current skill
level, based on past success, in your (1) knowledge
of childrens literature, (2) ability to provide instruc-
tion in phonemic awareness, and (3) ability to pro-
vide instruction in phonics? Teachers were asked
to make one of four choices: (1) no experience,
(2) minimal skills, (3) proficient, or (4) expert.
Based on their responses, two subgroups of teach-
ers were identified for each category of knowledge.
Consistent with previous research, teachers had
limited knowledge in all these domains. However,
this study made an additional contribution to the
literature: the majority of teachers overestimated
their levels of knowledge in word recognition, but
not childrens literature. Teachers were particularly
poorly calibrated in the essential domains of pho-
nemic awareness and phonics, with the majority
of kindergarten to third-grade teachers failing to
recognize the limits of their knowledge of skills
known to be critical to quality literacy instruction.
Spear-Swerling et al. (2005) replicated this study
and obtained similar findings for general and special
educators (teachers who educate atypical students).
e limits of teacher knowledge in this area are
not unique to elementary school teachers. Given
their involvement with children at a critical time
of language development, teachers of children
aged three to five in preschool represent an impor-
tant bridge to literacy acquisition. ey are in a
unique position to begin helping children develop
an awareness of the linguistic elements of language.
As the demands of schooling and literacy increase,
preschool teachers are increasingly called on to pro-
vide explicit and systematic instruction that helps
students develop the phonological skills necessary
for later efficient word recognition. Cunningham,
Zibulsky, and Callahan (2009) examined the
knowledge of early childhood educators to deter-
mine whether they possess the necessary compe-
tencies to guide the literacy development of their
students. Similar to the results of studies investi-
gating the knowledge of elementary school teach-
ers, Cunningham, Zibulsky, and Callahan (2009)
found that preschool teachers lack the disciplinary
knowledge required to promote early literacy and
also overestimate what they know. e researchers
made the case that overconfidence in ones ability to
teach young children essential language and literacy
skills creates a potential obstacle for seeking addi-
tional information or professional training.
Attitudes Toward the Teaching of Phonics
e elusiveness of foundational concepts of lan-
guage may aect teachers attitudes about their
instructional responsibilities. Cunningham, Zibulsky,
Stanovich, et al. (2009) investigated first-grade teach-
erspriorities and preferences in beginning reading
instruction, and showed that this groups preferred
time allocation for instruction typically did not
conform to models of reading instruction substanti-
ated by the National Reading Panel report (2000).
Cunningham, Zibulsky, Stanovich, et al. (2009)
Book 1.indb 453 1/19/2015 9:41:49 PM
found that teachers preferred to spend their reading
instruction time on literature-based activities and
independent reading and writing. Although teach-
ers with more knowledge of letter-sound correspon-
dences were somewhat more inclined to spend time
teaching phonics, the majority of teachers did not
allocate their time in ways consistent with research
recommendations. Surprisingly, even special educa-
tion teachersoverall content knowledge was quite
low and they did not favor intensive code-based
instruction for struggling readers. ese findings
have been replicated by Lopes et al. (2014).
on Practices and Student Outcomes
In response to evidence that teachers lack the
knowledge to provide quality instruction in early
literacy, research eorts turned toward investiga-
tions of the relationship between teachers’ knowl-
edge, classroom practices and students’ outcomes.
McCutchen et al. (2002) proposed that if knowl-
edge of phonology is essential for children as they
acquire literacy (Adams, 1990; Cunningham &
Stanovich, 1997; National Reading Panel, 2000),
then knowledge in this area must likewise be
important for teachers. ey examined the con-
tent knowledge of teachers of children ages six to
nine in phonology, evaluating the extent to which
teachers knowledge varied based on grade level
or classroom placement (i.e., regular education
vs. classrooms of children with special needs) and
investigated the impact of teacher knowledge on
student’s learning.
Results of this study provided further evidence
that all grade level teachers generally lack sucient
knowledge of phonology (McCutchen et al., 2002).
Furthermore, significant relationships were observed
between teacher content knowledge and instruc-
tional practices. Across all three grades, teachers
reading-related content knowledge was correlated
with their observed instructional practices. For
example, knowledge of phonology was related to the
instructional practices utilized in focusing childrens
attention on sounds and letter-sound relationships.
However, in exploring the relationship between
teacherscontent knowledge and student outcomes
significant relationships were only observed between
kindergarten teachers’ phonological knowledge and
their studentsreading achievement (i.e., the more
teachers knew about phonology, the better the per-
formance of their students). is linkage was not
observed among first- and second-grade teachers.
e researchers argued this finding may be due to
methodological reasons. ey also noted that the
link between kindergarten teachers’ phonological
knowledge and their students’ reading performance
was troubling because overall, teachersphonologi-
cal knowledge was quite low.
Spear-Swerling and Brucker (2004) conducted
a study involving 147 novice teachers of special
education students. ey examined the impact of
teacher training and direct instruction emphasizing
basic linguistic concepts on teacher knowledge and
the progress of their students in the development
of basic reading and spelling skills. Teacher instruc-
tion was focused on the importance of systematic
and explicit teaching of word decoding to begin-
ning readers and children with reading diculties.
Teachers were also taught about the characteristics
of language that are reflected in the writing system
such as phonemes, graphemes, and morphemes.
Additional central concepts included phonemic
awareness, the role of orthographic and morphe-
mic units in reading and spelling, common syllable
types in English, multi-syllable words, and com-
mon phonetically irregular words. e results of the
study suggested that teachers who received direct
instruction about the English spelling system had
greater knowledge of how writing reflects language
than teachers who had not received such instruc-
tion. A similar pattern of results were observed by
McCutchen, Green, Abbott, and Sanders (2009)
following teacher training among a sample of teach-
ers of older students (ages 10–12 years old). ey
found that teacherslinguistic knowledge uniquely
predicted lower-performing students end-of-year
performance in reading, spelling, writing, and
Although some of the data suggest a link
between teacher knowledge and student outcomes,
investigations of this nature have also produced
null results. For example, two experimental studies
by Carlisle and her colleagues (Carlisle, Correnti,
Phelps, & Zeng, 2009; Carlisle, Kelcey, Rowan, &
Phelps, 2011) demonstrated only small and nonsig-
nificant relationships between teachersknowledge
of early literacy and studentsperformance on tests
of decoding, word recognition and reading compre-
hension. In interpreting these results, the research-
ers point to methodological weaknesses in the fields
approach to studying teacher knowledge and to
the complexity of the factors that influence teacher
knowledge acquisition. For example, Carlisle and
colleagues highlight the potential for limited align-
ment between measures of teacher knowledge (e.g.,
knowledge of linguistics) and their knowledge of
Book 1.indb 454 1/19/2015 9:41:49 PM
how to eectively embed this information into
their reading instruction (e.g., understanding of
how to eectively utilize knowledge of linguistics
in instructing students, or what Shulman, 1987
described as pedagogical content knowledge).
Piasta et al. (2009) sought to examine these link-
ages between teacher knowledge, classroom prac-
tice, and student growth. ey examined first-grade
teachers knowledge about early literacy concepts
such as phonological awareness and the alpha-
betic principle, the amount and type of decoding
instruction teachers provide, and their students
outcomes. Piasta et al. hypothesized that teachers’
knowledge impacts students’ outcomes through the
type of instruction teachers provide. eir results
suggested that students’ gains were predicted by the
interaction between the teachers’ knowledge and
the amount of explicit decoding instruction stu-
dents received. Students with more knowledgeable
teachers demonstrated stronger gains with increased
time in explicit instruction. Conversely, even with
an explicit code-focused curriculum, teachers pos-
sessing low levels of knowledge produced weaker
gains in skill with increased time in explicit phonics
instruction. Piasta et al. maintained that their data
demonstrated that explicit code-focused curricula
cannot replace the expert teaching of highly knowl-
edgeable teachers.
Explaining Gaps in Teacher Knowledge
As the science of reading development has
matured over the past thirty years, a convincing
body of evidence has emerged regarding how chil-
dren learn to read and best practices in the teaching
of reading. is research base is now coupled with a
growing literature suggesting that many teachers do
not possess the knowledge and skills needed to pro-
vide quality early reading instruction. In many ways,
the field of teacher education has not kept up with
the literature on reading development and instruc-
tion. Necessarily, we turn to the role that teacher
preparation at the university level may play in the
development of disciplinary content knowledge.
For over a decade, researchers and policymak-
ers have been investigating the types of educational
opportunities that are aorded to and required of
trainee teachers. Lyon (1999b) cautioned that most
teachers receive insucient formal instruction in
reading development and reading disabilities or
disorders during their undergraduate preparation.
Specifically, the average teacher completes just one
or two reading courses prior to receiving a degree.
Although noted to be insucient, the statistics
presented by Lyon also beg the question of whether
the courses oered to or taken by preservice teachers
align with our knowledge of instructional best prac-
tices. Additionally, it is unclear whether the content
of these courses provides the necessary instruction in
reading development, the eective components of
literacy instruction, and sucient knowledge of the
English language (Walsh, Glaser, & Wilcox, 2006).
In 2001, a study of teacher preparation programs
was ordered by the National Center for Education
Evaluation and Regional Assistance at the U.S.
Department of Educations Institute of Education
Sciences (No Child Left Behind Act, 2002). In
addition to a direct evaluation of preservice teach-
ers knowledge about the essential components
of early reading instruction, the study included a
survey of preservice teachers perceptions of the
extent to which their training programs focused
on the essential components of literacy instruction.
Specifically, 2,237 preservice teachers from 99 insti-
tutions responded to a survey inquiring about the
degree to which their teacher education programs
emphasized the five essential components of eec-
tive reading instruction of phonemic awareness,
phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension
(National Reading Panel, 2000), and provided field
based practica. On average, preservice teachers rated
their training programs as placing only little or
moderate emphasis on the essential components of
reading instruction. Interestingly, preservice teach-
ers were twice as likely to report that there was a
stronger focus on the essential components of read-
ing in their field experiences, whereas they reported
the opposite emphasis when answering about their
e National Council on Teacher Quality
(NCTQ) (2006) also examined what preservice
teachers learn about reading instruction in their
undergraduate teacher preparation programs. In
this study, analyses were not limited to preservice
teacher’s perceptions of their coursework. Rather,
NCTQ (2006) examined the content of coursework
by reviewing the course syllabi and texts for the
reading-related courses required of students train-
ing to be teachers of children ages six to twelve years
old at 72 of the nations 1,271 elementary education
programs. Courses were analyzed to assess the extent
to which they provided instruction in the five essen-
tial components of eective reading instruction.
e results suggested that education schools are
not consistently teaching the principles and prac-
tices that recent evidence has demonstrated to be
eective. Of the 72 randomly selected schools, 85%
Book 1.indb 455 1/19/2015 9:41:49 PM
earned what the study called a failing grade for their
instruction of students in the scientific evidence
related to reading development and instruction.
is finding is noteworthy given that schools could
earn a passing grade even if less than 20% of the
lectures in a reading-related course were devoted to
the science of reading. Additionally, passing grades
merely mandated that course materials reference
each of the five essential components of reading
instruction and did not require any demonstration
that the information was presented accurately or
suciently. What is perhaps of greater concern is
that much of the instruction discussed approaches
to literacy instruction that were not scientifically
based as if they were as eective as approaches
which research does support. e NCQT (2006)
report made the additional point that not only are
the majority of teacher candidates not receiving suf-
ficient exposure to scientifically based methods of
reading instruction but that teacher candidates are
often advised to develop their own unique approach
to teaching reading.
One hypothesized explanation for why teacher
preparation programs are not adequately preparing
their students is that the professors who teach the
students lack sucient awareness or knowledge of
these critical elements of reading development and
instruction. In a 2009 investigation, Joshi et al.
examined whether instructors in teacher train-
ing programs have sucient knowledge of read-
ing development, linguistic concepts, and features
of the English language and spelling system. Joshi
et al. found that although teachers in these train-
ing programs could provide the definition of and
manipulate syllables, many had insucient knowl-
edge of phonemes and concepts related to mor-
phemes. In addition, many instructors of preservice
teachers were unable to define phonological aware-
ness (erroneously identifying it as letter-sound cor-
respondence) and failed to recognize phonics as a
desirable method for beginning reading instruction.
Joshi et al. concluded that professional develop-
ment opportunities for professors and instructors
in teacher preparation programs may be necessary
for ensuring proper training of elementary school
teachers (see also Binks-Cantrell, Washburn, Joshi,
& Hougen, 2012).
Teacher preparation programs are not solely
to blame for the fact that teachers lack sucient
knowledge to provide quality literacy instruction.
In order to be considered highly qualified under the
laws established in the United States, such as the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act: No Child
Left Behind (2002), teachers must not only hold a
degree from a four-year institution but must also be
fully certified or licensed by the state in which they
work and demonstrate competency in the core aca-
demic subjects in which they teach. us, teacher
preparation programs do not operate in isolation.
Licensing criteria and licensing exams must also
do their part to verify that teachers have sucient
knowledge. Although in the United States there are
state-by-state dierences in licensing exams and the
requirements for the number of reading courses that
must be taken, research by Stotsky (2009) suggests
that in general, licensing exams do not adequately
assess the extent to which teachers know the critical
information they must possess in order to eectively
teach reading (Wayne & Youngs, 2003).
Having established that many teachers lack the
skills to provide quality reading instruction, we
must now address the gaps in teachers’ content
knowledge. Teacher preparation programs are the
first line of defense. Highly specified training in
empirically based understanding of literacy devel-
opment, eective literacy instruction, and the ele-
ments of the English language should be required
components of any teacher preparation program.
However, adjustments to professional education
programs are only eective in ensuring that future
teachers have adequate disciplinary knowledge and
concept mastery. In isolation, this approach fails to
target current educators, some of who may be in
the classroom for 30 or 40 more years. Additionally,
simply targeting preservice teachers fails to antici-
pate that our understanding of the teaching of read-
ing will continue to develop. As a result, we must
also rely on the education of teachers through ongo-
ing professional development.
Developing Eective Professional
Development Interventions
Professional development refers to the acquisition
of skills and knowledge, both for personal develop-
ment and for career advancement. ere are numer-
ous models, including training provided by outside
experts such as consultation and coaching, commu-
nities of practice (educators working collaboratively
to achieve better learning outcome of students), les-
son study (small group, inquiry-based approach),
mentoring, and reflective supervision (Kennedy,
2005). Because research demonstrates that iso-
lated professional development experiences, such as
one-day workshops taught by outside professionals,
Book 1.indb 456 1/19/2015 9:41:50 PM
do not generally result in lasting change in teacher
practices and student achievement (for a review see
Joyce & Showers, 1995; Lonigan, Farver, Phillips, &
Clancy-Menchetti, 2011), alternative approaches
to professional development must be explored.
Although it is beyond the scope of this chapter to
address this topic in depth, recent syntheses of adult
learning and teacher development have identified
several key features of eective professional develop-
ment. Professional development is most successful
when it (1) is intensive and ongoing, (2) includes
a sequence of active learning experiences such as
explaining to a peer what one has learned or prac-
ticing teaching activities that build on each other,
(3) emphasizes specific skills and goals rather than
general ones, (4) provides opportunities for applica-
tion and practice of newly acquired knowledge and
skills, and (5) incorporates feedback to participants
about their errors or successes as well as reflection
and self-assessment (Darling-Hammond, Wei,
Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009; Fukkink &
Lont, 2007).
As the demand in the field for skilled and respon-
sive teachers grows, systematic and sustained models
of professional development with the above compo-
nents are needed. An examination of current models
to identify the active features involved in teachers’
development of targeted competencies, leading to
improvements in childrens school readiness, is also
necessary. Because researchers in the field of teacher
professional development have called for a shift
away from isolated, single, or one-day workshops
and training as the primary mode of delivery, a
movement toward more sustained models as exem-
plified by relationship-based professional development
models has grown (Bowman, Donovan, & Burns,
2001; Fukkink & Lont, 2007). Relationship-based
professional development refers to using relation-
ships to improve the quality of adult learning and
can take the form of mentoring, coaching, profes-
sional learning communities, and consultation. e
goal of relationship-based professional development
is to use the skills of experts to provide support
and opportunities for learning to those who are
less experienced, to promote change, and to sup-
port improvement in professional knowledge and
pedagogy (National Council on Compensation
Insurance (NCCI), 2008). Dierences in the type
of relationship-based professional development are
based on the form of relationship, the purpose of
the activity, and how information is shared between
the expert and teachers (NCCI, 2008). Research
suggests that relationship-based professional
development approaches can increase teachers
knowledge and use of eective classroom practices
(e.g., Cunningham et al., in press; Hepburn et al.,
2007; Isner et al., 2011; Neuman & Cunningham,
2009; Powell, Diamond, Burchinal, &
Koehler, 2010).
In addition to these general features of eective
professional development, research has indicated
that there are additional characteristics of profes-
sional development designed to promote student’s
emergent literacy and language skills. In a recent
review of 37 studies evaluating professional devel-
opment programs focused on emergent literacy and
language among prekindergarten and kindergarten
age students, Zaslow, Tout, Halle, Whittaker, and
Lavelle (2010) identified several promising prac-
tices. First, successful programs provided teachers
with recommendations for research-based prac-
tices and also encouraged teachers to set their own
goals and engage in self-reflection. e provision
of instructional resources was another key element.
Providing teachers with useful, accessible materials
such as activity guides, references for further read-
ing, and summaries of key principles may increase
the likelihood of sustainability and fidelity to the
approach. Another common thread among eective
professional development programs is the notion
of establishing a cohort of educators, often from
the same school, who collaborate toward a shared
long-term goal and learn from each other.
e Teacher Study Group Model
e teacher study group model provides a
framework for incorporating the features of eec-
tive professional development that we have out-
lined. is approach is in keeping with principles of
relationship-based professional development. In this
form of professional development, a small group
of teachers meet regularly with a highly trained,
knowledgeable facilitator. e goal is to work col-
laboratively toward deepening content knowledge
and integrating research-based practices into teach-
ing. Teachers participating in teacher study groups at
the elementary school level reported strong, positive
attitudes toward the experience of being included
in a supportive, collaborative, and reciprocal pro-
fessional learning environment and appreciated the
opportunity to gain knowledge of research-based
strategies to promote childrens literacy develop-
ment (Foorman & Moats, 2004; Gersten, Dimino,
Jayanthi, Kim, & Santoro, 2010).
In addition to teachers’ positive responses to
this approach, teacher study groups have been
Book 1.indb 457 1/19/2015 9:41:50 PM
shown to increase teachers’ content and pedagogi-
cal knowledge, transform pedagogical practices in
the classroom, and positively influence child out-
comes (Cunningham et al., in press; Foorman &
Moats, 2004; Gersten et al., 2010; Saunders et al.,
2001). For example, Cunningham et al. (in press)
conducted a study of the teacher study group model
of professional development. eir goal was to
support teachers’ development of the knowledge
and practices that promote childrens emergent
literacy in the preschool classroom. ree sequen-
tial cohorts involving a total of 19 teachers in a
high-need community participated in yearlong
interventions. ere was no comparison group.
Two-hour meetings were held twice monthly, for a
total of 16 sessions over the academic year. In the
biweekly meetings, disciplinary and pedagogical
content knowledge in oral language, phonologi-
cal awareness, and print knowledge was explored.
Outcome measures included teacher knowledge
and observational measures of instructional practice
and child outcomes for 101 randomly selected pre-
school children. Consistent with previous research,
teachers demonstrated low initial levels of knowl-
edge of phonological awareness, and phonologi-
cal awareness activities in classrooms were of low
quantity and quality. However, pre-, and post-test
analyses revealed significant changes in teachers’
own phonological awareness ability, content knowl-
edge, and pedagogical content knowledge. Increases
were also observed in the quantity and quality of
phonological awareness activities in the classroom.
e preschool children were assessed on a standard-
ized measure of phonological awareness, the Test of
Preschool Early Literacy (TOPEL; Lonigan, Wagner,
Torgesen, & Raschotte (2007). Before interven-
tion, 64% of the children scored in the below
average range or lower. According to the TOPEL
test developers, scores in this range “indicate that
a child is below the expected developmental trajec-
tory on at least one of the key skills that predict suc-
cess in learning to read and write(Lonigan et al.,
2007, p. 20). After the intervention, the number
of children who scored below average or lower
decreased to 36%. Paired-sample t-tests compar-
ing pre- and post-test standardized TOPEL scores
indicated that the childrens phonological awareness
abilities improved significantly (pretest M = 86.42,
SD = 11.58, posttest M = 91.99, SD = 11.58;
t(100) = 5.12, p < .001). e mean change repre-
sents a movement from the twenty-third percentile
to the thirty-fourth percentile. Although the study
lacks a control group, the results oer initial support
for the use of relationship-based models of profes-
sional development as a means to address many of
the challenges inherent in providing teachers with
the knowledge needed to aect child outcomes in
To date, the majority of legislation aimed at
educational reform has focused on improving
student outcomes by mandating quality instruc-
tion. Policymakers must now turn their attention
toward building an infrastructure for supporting
the development of teachers at both the preser-
vice and in-service level in order to ensure that
they are equipped with the skills they need to
provide that quality instruction (Aaron, Joshi, &
Quatroche, 2008).
In an appendix to George Bernard Shaws Man
and Superman (1903), he wrote, “He who can, does;
he who cannot, teaches.” It is not known in what fit
of pique George Bernard Shaw wrote these words),
but they have plagued the teaching profession since
they were oered. e statement assumes a com-
plete separation between knowing and teaching, as
if the two were somehow irrevocably separated.
Almost a century later, Lee Shulman (1986)
reframed Shaws words to provide a less damning
aphorism: ose who can, do; those who under-
stand, teach (p. 14). Here the division between
knowledge and teaching is restored, for as Shulman
suggests, in order to teach, one must know. Shulman
(1986) proers a conception of teaching and teacher
knowledge that includes content knowledge, gen-
eral pedagogical knowledge, curriculum knowl-
edge, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge
of learners and their characteristics, knowledge of
educational contexts (i.e., the workings of the class-
room, the district, and the character and culture
of the community), and knowledge of educational
ends, purposes, and values.
If we consider the movement toward qual-
ity teaching and quality educational opportuni-
ties, we can see that the split between knowing
and teaching has finally gone by the wayside: To
teach, one must know. As a research community,
we are well on our way to understanding the types
of educational experiences that students need to
become competent readers. Likewise, we have
made great strides in our understanding of what
teachers must know in order to provide students
with the opportunities that lead to positive out-
comes. Despite these advances, there is much
work to be done. e 2013 National Assessment
Book 1.indb 458 1/19/2015 9:41:50 PM
of Education Progress report on reading (NAEP,
2013) showed that only 34% of US students
scored at the proficient level, suggesting a level
of reading skill commensurate with grade level
expectations. It appears that we have fallen short
in seeing to it that our research serves its ultimate
purpose of informing practice.
e research–practice divide may be knit-
ted together by employing a common metric
or method for educational decision-making.
e first step may be to expose teachers to sci-
entific research on reading in their preservice or
in-service preparation programs (Spear-Swerling
& Sternberg, 2001). By sharing the values and
methods of science—such as gathering evidence
through systematic observation and testing and
considering alternative explanations—powerful
tools for settling disputes and for educational
decision-making will be available to teachers.
As Stanovich (1993) pointed out, reliance on a
political/ideological rather than a scientific model
for making decisions has hampered the eld of
reading education. e controversies that have
plagued the field would have been better adju-
dicated by equipping teachers with a scientific
model of decision-making.
e second step in bridging theory and practice
is ensuring that all teachers in the United States are
exposed to the aspects of language discussed in this
chapter. e types of professional development we
provide our preservice and in-service teachers should
be reconsidered. We recognize that the evidence
surrounding the most eective content and meth-
ods to teach teachers is far less robust than the base
of evidence on reading development and instruc-
tion. But an emerging body of research is demon-
strating that certain aspects of language related to
the teaching of reading are elusive concepts to many
teachers. We also recognize that most of the work
examining teachers’ knowledge of their spelling sys-
tem has been conducted in the United States (cf.
Lopes et al., 2014). e relationship between teach-
ersknowledge of more shallow orthographies (e.g.,
Spanish, German, Turkish) and childrens reading
growth may be dierent than that observed in the
less transparent English spelling system.
ird, methods to impart this knowledge to
teachers must be explored. Many research-based
professional development programs give teachers
the what to do, but often neglect to provide the why
or how—the critical background knowledge needed
for eective teaching of reading. ere is a growing
recognition that teachers require mentoring in order
to grasp these concepts. Just as teacher–child rela-
tionships are integral to childrens learning (Curby,
Rimm-Kaufman, & Ponitz, 2009; Mashburn et al.,
2008), relationship-based models of professional
development may serve as a means to address many
of the challenges discussed. Recognizing the com-
munal nature of adult learning, and fostering sup-
portive, collaborative, and reciprocal professional
learning environments, may help teachers gain
knowledge of research-based strategies to promote
childrens literacy development.
As Moats argued in her seminal work Teaching
Reading Really is Rocket Science (1999), the field
has come to acknowledge the complexities of what
teachers of reading should know and do. Just as we
would not expect a physics teacher to be successful
without deep content knowledge and training from
supportive and knowledgeable mentors, we should
expect the same level of knowledge is necessary for
teachers of reading. Eorts must now be made to
ensure that this critical information makes its way
into the hands of those responsible for the provision
of quality literacy instruction, that is, teachers.
Author Note
is research was supported by the Institute of
Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education,
through the Goal 2 Development & Innovation
Grant R305A090183 to PI Anne Cunningham,
University of California, Berkeley. e opinions
expressed are those of the authors and do not rep-
resent views of the U.S. Department of Education.
We gratefully acknowledge the careful reviews of
this manuscript provided by Dr. Ruth Nathan,
Dr. Jamie Zibulsky, and Yi-Jui Chen.
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... Phonemic awareness is particularly important as it facilitates hearing speech sounds, which eventually leads to matching phonemes with their corresponding graphemes. As such, children's early phonemic awareness represents one of the strongest predictors of their later reading and spelling skills (Cunningham & O'Donnell, 2015;Hulme, Nash, Gooch, Lervåg, & Snowling, 2015;Savage, Carless, & Stuart, 2003). ...
... To support teachers, the National Centre for Education Evaluation provided activities to introduce and practice syllable pattern identification (e.g., Foorman et al., 2016;Reading Rockets, 2008). Yet, once again, despite such efforts, studies on teacher knowledge indicate that this information is not widely known by practitioners (e.g., Cunningham & O'Donnell, 2015;Moats & Foorman, 2003;Spear-Swerling & Brucker, 2003). ...
... In addition, teachers can draw attention to the familiar components of the word, such as the small word 'wed' in 'Wednesday' (Moats, 2005;Ocal & Ehri, 2017). However, classroom observations indicate that teachers sometimes fail to identify irregular spellings in common words like 'give' and 'said' because the spellings have become automatic (e.g., Cunningham & O'Donnell, 2015). In such cases, teachers may erroneously direct students to sound out irregular words, which can result in confusion and frustration on behalf of the students (Piasta et al., 2009). ...
Background: Although a large body of research has investigated teachers' reading-related knowledge and associated pedagogical practices, comparatively little is known about these factors in parents. Therefore, the present study examined the association between parental reading-related knowledge and feedback during child-to-parent reading. Methods: Seventy parents completed a reading-related knowledge questionnaire (phonological segmentation, knowledge of written syllable patterns, identification of regular and irregular word spellings) while their 6 and 7-year-old children were administered the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the reading subtest of the Wide Range Achievement Test–Fourth Edition. Based on children's Wide Range Achievement Test–Fourth Edition reading performances, they were assigned one of five adapted passages from the Gray Oral Reading Test–Fifth Edition to read aloud to their parents; parents were asked to help as they normally would. Reading sessions were videotaped; the content was transcribed and coded for evidence of verbal and nonverbal parental feedback (evaluative feedback: praise and criticism; miscue feedback: graphophonemic, context cues, try again, terminal and ignoring miscues). Results: Consistent with the teacher and parent literature, reading-related knowledge was positively associated with children's reading scores. Parents' reading-related knowledge additionally accounted for unique variance in praise and graphophonemic feedback during child-to-parent reading beyond the variance already explained by children's reading scores. Conclusions: These findings suggest that even after accounting for children's reading abilities, reading-related knowledge contributes to a positive affective atmosphere for teaching key literacy skills to young readers. Implications are discussed in terms of enhancing parents' reading-related knowledge and associated practices in hopes of positively contributing to children's literacy outcomes.
... Many research-based curricula give teachers the what to do, but often neglect to provide the why or how-the critical background knowledge needed for effective teaching. Conversely, some educational or training experiences may provide teachers with background knowledge, for example, emphasizing that phonological awareness is predictive of later reading success, but may neglect to provide guidance on pedagogical strategies that teachers may transport to the classroom (Cunningham & O'Donnell, 2015). The TSG not only provided teachers with the background knowledge of how phonological awareness develops in young children and how it supports later reading development, but also offered useful, accessible materials for teachers in the form of classroom activities and formative assessment tools. ...
Full-text available
There is robust empirical evidence regarding predictors of success in reading and writing. However, pre-school and primary teachers are not always aware of this evidence and often do not know how to apply it in practice. Considering the importance of the role of these teachers and the importance of early school years in preventing learning difficulties, it is essential to study teachers’ attitudes, knowledge, and strategies for improving educational processes toward successful development of literacy skills. Particularly, recognizing the impact of phonological awareness on the development of reading skills, this study has two main research questions: What is the importance pre-school and primary teachers attribute to the promotion of phonological awareness? and Which strategies for promoting phonological awareness do they apply in their professional practice? This qualitative study includes individual interviews with 10 pre-school and primary teachers, seeking to understand the perspective of each participant about phonological awareness, its importance, and implementation in practice. Data were collected in a context of great adversity (e.g., child maltreatment, early life stress). The results reveal that both pre-school and primary teachers recognized the relevance of phonological awareness among other pre-academic skills. Regarding the activities teachers implement, in their perspective, the playfulness seems to better result to stimulate this specific skill. Preschool teachers tend to focus on the dynamics that promote syllabic, intrasyllabic and phonemic awareness. Despite recognizing the gaps in phonological awareness in the first graders, primary teachers seem not to prioritize activities that stimulate and consolidate this skill, privileging the fluency and comprehension processes. The collaborative work between professionals was highlighted as very important to optimize the stimulation phonological awareness as well as facing other learning difficulties teachers find in this context. The results are discussed considering the role of pre-school teachers and primary teachers in reading difficulties’ prevention in contexts facing multiple vulnerabilities.
This chapter will discuss a study that set out to determine if knowledge of the structure of language and self-efficacy of pre-service and in-service teachers was impacted by whether the course was taken in a face to face or online format. Results of the study showed there was a statistically significant change in the Teacher Knowledge Assessment: Structure of Language (TKA: SL) for participants in the online courses, but not for students taking the course face to face. To determine whether or not self-efficacy increased, the Teacher Efficacy Scale: short form (TES) was used, The TES includes two subscales: teacher efficacy and personal efficacy. Results showed no statistical significance on the overall TES score between participants; however, on the personal efficacy score, there was a statistically significant change in pre and post test scores of participants who took the course face to face.
The area of teachers' continuing professional development (CPD) is of growing interest internationally. However, while an increasing range of literature focuses on particular aspects of CPD, there is a paucity of literature addressing the spectrum of CPD models in a comparative manner. This article therefore considers a wide range of international literature, together with some specific examples from the Scottish context, in proposing a framework built around key characteristics of individual models of CPD. The framework identifies nine key models, which are then classified in relation to their capacity for supporting professional autonomy and transformative practice. The article considers the circumstances in which each of the nine models of CPD might be adopted, and explores the form(s) of knowledge that can be developed through any particular model. It also examines the power relationships inherent in the individual models and explores the extent to which CPD is perceived and promoted either as an individual endeavour related to accountability, or as a collaborative endeavour that supports transformative practice. Finally, it is argued that there is a need for greater interrogation of both the purpose and the potential outcomes of CPD structures - the framework outlined in this article is offered as one way of supporting such analysis. © 2014 © 2014 International Professional Development Association (IPDA).
This chapter discusses oral reading in alphabetic English, a deep orthography; and the orthographic depth hypothesis and the evidence that purports to support it. Orthographies may be defined as either “shallow” or “deep,” depending on the ease of predicting the pronunciation of a word from its spelling. In shallow orthographies, the spelling-sound correspondence is direct: given the rules, anyone can immediately “name” the words correctly. In contrast, in deep orthographies the relationship is less direct, and readers must learn the arbitrary or unusual pronunciations of irregular words such as “yacht.” A consequence of this linguistic difference between deep and shallow orthographies is that it is often assumed that the oral reading of shallow orthographies is qualitatively different from the oral reading of deep orthographies. Old and new evidence from studies of Persian, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and Croatian, which appears to undermine the essential tenents of the orthographic depth hypothesis is reviewed and assessed in the chapter. The orthographic depth hypothesis in its strong form makes a very simple claim: there is no orthographic input lexicon in the minds of readers processing orthographies, which consist entirely of words with consistent spelling-sound correspondences. The argument is that orthographic access to semantics and the direct mapping from orthographic input lexicon to phonological output lexicon only exists in scripts with inconsistent spelling-sound correspondences, and does so precisely because of this inconsistency.
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