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Building Professional Capacity

Building Professional Capacity to Advance Student Literacy

Advancing the academic literacy of all students as envisioned in new standards for college and career readiness requires effective methods of building teacher capacity through ongoing teacher professional learning. Much of the professional development traditionally offered for literacy in the subject areas focuses on specific instructional methods for teaching comprehension strategies, rather than on building teachers’ understanding of literacy practices, processes, and learning. Yet we know from a long history of research in reading that reading comprehension strategies are rarely taught in subject area classes, even when teachers are trained to use these strategies.18 Furthermore, even when teachers do try to implement literacy strategies, they often struggle to “balance” content and strategy instruction. For many others, a culture of whole class direct instruction means that engaging students themselves in the active processing of text and learning is an unnatural act.19

We have charted a different course by focusing on collaborative, metacognitive inquiry as a means for learning—for teachers and for their students. The mode of instruction that characterizes Reading Apprenticeship requires teachers to responsively navigate interactions between learners, texts, tasks, and content. We take to heart Ball and Cohen’s formulation of instructional capacity:20

Instructional capacity is partly a function of what teachers know students are capable of doing and what teachers know they are professionally capable of doing with students. . . . Every student and curriculum is a bundle of possibilities, and teachers whose perceptions have been more finely honed to see those possibilities, and who know more about how to take advantage of them, will be more effective.

How then to transform more traditional forms of instruction in which teachers convey and test students’ retention of information into active, inquiry‐based, apprenticeship learning opportunities? The inquiry designs for teacher learning and collegial teamwork that we describe in this book aim to build teachers’ capacity to engage with students in collaborative meaning making and problem solving during ongoing instruction with course readings.21 They are designed to foster teachers’ adaptive expertise,22 honing teachers’ perceptions of the possibilities in the texts and in their students, and building teacher capacity to surface and model effective ways to address comprehension problems that arise as the varied learners in the classroom interact with course materials. When professional learning fosters and supports inquiry, teachers take an inquiry stance to their own teaching, learning from ongoing practice how best to perfect their craft.

Our studies of inquiry‐based professional development for secondary and post–secondary teachers demonstrate that with the support of well–designed inquiry activities, teachers make profound changes in their teaching practice. (See Appendix B for a summary of this research.) These changes, in turn, provide powerful new learning opportunities to students that make a difference in student achievement. Through this kind of generative professional learning, teachers learn to closely and critically read both their curriculum materials and their students’ performances to inform their professional judgment and instructional actions. They develop the means by which to weigh competing ideas about literacy and classroom methodologies. They are able to move beyond the eddy–ing currents of debate and mandate to take warranted action in the classroom. They become designers as well as implementers, informed professionals rather than mere conduits for other people’s designs and agendas. Educating all students to their highest potential rests on this kind of professionalism.

  1. ACT, Inc. (2009). ACT national curriculum survey 2009. Iowa City, IA: Author.
    Alvermann, D. E., & Moore, D. W. (1991). Secondary school reading. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2., pp. 951–983). New York: Longman.
    Duffy, G. G., Roehler, L. R., Meloth, M. S., Vavrus, L. G., Book, C., Putnam, J., & Wesselman, R. (1986). The relationship between explicit verbal explanations during reading skill instruction and student awareness and achievement: A study of reading teacher effects. Reading Research Quarterly, 21(3), 237–252.
    Duke, N. (2000). 3.6 minutes per day: The scarcity of informational texts in first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 35(2), 202–224.
    Durkin, D. (1978). What classroom observations reveal about reading comprehension instruc-tion. Reading Research Quarterly, 481–533.
    Fielding, L. G., & Pearson, D. P. (1994). Reading comprehension: What works. Educational Leadership, 51, 62–68.
    Ness, M. K. (2008). Supporting secondary readers: When teachers provide the “what,” not the “how.” American Secondary Education, 37(1), 80–95.
    Richardson, V. (Ed.) . (1994). Teacher change and the staff development process. New York: Teachers College Press.
    Snow, C. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R&D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
  2. Reed, D. K. (2009). A synthesis of professional development on the implementation of literacy strategies for middle school content area teachers. Research in Middle Level Education Online , 32(10), 1–12.
  3. Ball, D., & Cohen, D. (1999). Developing practice, developing practitioners: Toward a practice‐based theory of professional education. In L. Darling‐Hammond & D. Sykes (Eds.), Teaching as the learning profession: Handbook of policy and practice (pp. 7–9) San Francisco: Jossey‐Bass.
  4. Greenleaf, C., Brown, W., & Litman, C. (2004). Apprenticing urban youth to science literacy. In D. S. Strickland & D. E. Alvermann (Eds.), Bridging the literacy achievement gap, grades 4–12 (pp. 200–226). New York: Teachers College Press.
    Greenleaf, C., & Schoenbach, R. (2004). Building capacity for the responsive teaching of reading in the academic disciplines: Strategic inquiry designs for middle and high school teachers’ professional development. In D. Strickland & M. Kamil (Eds.), Improving reading achievement through professional development (pp. 97–127). Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon Publishers.
  5. Bransford, J., Derry, S., Berliner, D., & Hammerness, K. (2005). Theories of learning and their role in teaching. Lai, M. K., McNaughton, S., Amituanai‐Toloa, M., Turner, R., & Hsiao, S. (2009). Sustained acceleration of achievement.

From Leading for Literacy, pages 61-62

DMU Timestamp: May 31, 2018 00:33

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