The purpose of this study was to examine the issues of elementary teacher preparation for teaching literacy and teacher preparation for teaching literacy to diverse populations. This study contrasted primary teachers' literacy preparation and practice in high, middle, and low achieving and high, average, and low need schools in New York State. When the data permitted, this study also examined how teachers in high, middle, and low achieving and high, average, and low need schools described their Baccalaureate and Master's preparation to teach literacy on the dimensions of Literacy Background, Writers Workshop, Readers Talk, Comprehension Development, Skills Development, Creative Applications, and Teaching Diverse Populations. In addition, this study analyzed the usefulness of the preparation on these dimensions in the teachers' daily instructional activities.
Data were collected by an original survey instrument that was sent to Kindergarten, 1st-, and 2nd-grade teachers in schools identified by achievement and need in urban/suburban districts across New York State. Eighty three responses were received. The study was guided by five research questions.
In all areas, results indicated general weakness in the preparation the respondents received. Especially weak results were shown on the scales for Writers Workshop and Creative Applications. Teachers indicated greater agreement about the usefulness of pre-service teacher preparation in most areas of the dimensions, but results showed stronger disagreement in the data for Writers Workshop and Creative Applications. In all cases, teachers indicated greater agreement with the usefulness of the training than with the actual receipt of the training. Additionally, teacher responses indicated four weak trends regarding skills gained that were useful: classroom management skills, skills for teaching diverse learners, knowledge gained about literacy theory, and knowledge about strategies. Stronger trends emerged regarding training that was lacking in pre-service education: skills for implementing guided reading instruction, skills for implementing Writers Workshop, and skills for assessment of students' literacy levels. Additionally, a large number of respondents stated that they gained most of their knowledge "on the job," or in-service, or that their undergraduate work did not prepare them to teach literacy and that they gained their knowledge and skills in their graduate work. This was in addition to the respondents who claimed that they had received their pre-service education too long ago for their preparation to teach literacy to be current or relevant.
There were not enough data to indicate significant differences in the teacher preparation to teach literacy on the dimensions being studied when schools were divided according to achievement and need.
Analysis of the data indicated that all the variables were highly related to each other, and credits in literacy had a weak relationship with the variables. Findings also indicated that there was a moderately strong relationship between the number of years teaching and high need schools. Therefore, the number of years of teaching was greater in the high need schools. Furthermore, a moderately strong but negative correlation between number of years teaching and graduate credits in literacy indicated that the longer a teacher had been teaching, the less likely she or he was to have a greater number of graduate credits in literacy.
A key concept that emerged from this study was the evidence of disparity of experiences and preparation among programs. Furthermore, school districts are given the undue burden of having to compensate for the deficits in the pre-service education of their teachers. It is incumbent upon New York State to change its certification requirements with regard to teaching literacy at the elementary level. Currently, the initial certification requirement is six credits in literacy. Teachers are not provided with more in-depth literacy preparation unless they pursue a graduate degree. Changing the certification requirements would give the colleges leeway to offer more substantive literacy courses as part of their teacher preparation programs and enable more consistency among programs across the state.
This research could be used to guide professional development and in-service programs in school districts. The Literacy Survey could be used as a needs assessment tool as districts plan their professional development of in-service teachers, as it would be instrumental in identifying areas for improvement of skills in literacy development. It could also be used as an assessment tool for any training that is provided, since it is designed to assess the usefulness of training received.
Furthermore, colleges could use the Literacy Survey to follow the progress of their students and to assess their own programs. This could be used as an exit survey from the program (for preparation received) and to track success in the first years of teaching (for usefulness of training received). Self-reflection as a result of survey results would enable programmatic improvements to take place.