Changes that have been made to BalancedReading.com
Trust (www.edtrust.org) is a very
well-informed think-tank that conducts research in a variety of important areas
related to education. Since the passage
of No Child Left Behind, Education Trust has been beating on a drum that is
very near and dear to my heart – teacher quality.
Trust has published a number of studies of teacher quality in the past 5 years,
most of them sounding alarms both about the critical importance of improving
teacher quality, and the terrible and unjust shortage of high-quality teachers in
Trust released a study this summer (Peske & Haycock, 2006) showing that
schools with high rates of poverty and large populations of minority students
have fewer highly qualified teachers than more advantaged, low-needs
schools. They cite a recent study by
Pressley, White, and Gong (2005) that showed that schools in Illinois with
higher rates of poverty almost never had a staff of high-quality teachers.
There can be no doubt that teacher quality is critically important for academic
success of at-risk students, especially when it comes to teaching literacy
skills. However, since No Child Left
Behind increased the focus on teacher quality, we really have not been able to
agree on a definition of what teacher quality is. Education Trust has focused much energy and study on
the topic of teacher quality, but they have not been very clear on how they
determine teacher quality.
I would argue that much confusion has come from the conflation of the terms “highly qualified” and
“high quality.” Legislation passed since
2001 has called for more “highly qualified” teachers, and the focus has shifted
away from “high quality” teachers. The
term “highly qualified” does have a clear definition – highly qualified
teachers are teachers with degrees and certification in the areas in which they
teach. Thus, high school math teachers
should have degrees in math (or at least substantial college credit hours in
math), history teachers should have a clear and documented background in
history. But what about elementary
school reading teachers? There is no degree in elementary school reading at most universities.
on Teacher Quality
National Reading Panel (2000) broached the subject of teacher quality
in their influential report. In addition to introducing the
world to the five “Big Ideas” of reading instruction, they
also reviewed the
literature on teacher education and it’s impact on reading
instruction. However, most of the studies they examined
involved providing long-term professional development for current
teachers. There was usually no
certification or granting of degrees involved in the studies they
reviewed – the question
addressed in these various studies was simply whether providing
development to existing teachers positively influenced their students'
reading. In nearly all of the studies
reviewed by the National Reading Panel, the answer was, yes –
long-term professional development for existing teachers does
reading achievement for students.
qualified” teachers are those with degrees and certifications in the areas in
which they teach. “High quality”
teachers, however, are those with talent, knowledge, and skill. Alas, when it comes to reading instruction,
there is very little evidence that the two are related. In other words, recruiting and retaining
“highly qualified” teachers is no guarantee of “high quality.”
While we define “highly qualified” teachers by the degrees
they hold, I think it is important for us to think more broadly
about “high quality” teachers. Over the years, I have
observed hundreds of
teachers teaching students to read. When
I walk into a class and watch a teacher, I have little knowledge of the
certificates or degrees that teacher has earned. However, I can
tell very quickly whether that
teacher is a “high quality” reading teacher.
Disturbingly, as I have come to know the teachers better, I rarely find
any relationship between the quality of their instruction and the number or
types of certificates they hold. I am
sad to say that I have seen many awful reading teachers who are certified
reading specialists, certified master reading teachers, and National Board
Certificate holders. And I am pleased to
say that I have seen many excellent reading teachers who have few such credentials
touting their quality. Sometimes, I have
even seen novice teachers who are remarkably talented at teaching reading
skills. In my experience, the credentials and years of
experience are simply insufficient for defining teacher quality.
of High-Quality Reading Teachers
I walk into a classroom and observe instruction, there are certain hallmarks
that I have found correlate very well with the effectiveness and success of
those teachers in teaching students to read.
And, of course, there are other hallmarks and characteristics that I have encountered that
almost always correspond to low student achievement. Furthermore, I find that when I talk to school
administrators and other experts in my field, my impressions of teacher quality
are quite similar to theirs. That is to
say, we know high-quality reading teachers when we see them.
I also should point out that there are some teachers who are wonderful
certain things, but they are not great reading teachers. I am not
much of an expert on instruction in
other domains, and I rarely look for expertise in those domains when I
a lesson. I’m a reading expert, so I can
speak more intelligently about high-quality reading instruction than,
music lesson or a math lesson.
Some hallmarks of quality teaching are undoubtedly universal, but
the reader should still keep in mind that when I talk about teacher
quality, I'm really trying to emphasize their quality as reading and
tried to capture some of the hallmarks of high-quality reading teachers – some
are quite easy and obvious, but others are a bit harder to pin down and
define. The list of eight
characteristics of high-quality reading teachers below is a
work-in-progress. I certainly would appreciate
feedback and thoughts on this very important issue.
high-quality teachers are very purposeful about what they teach. High-quality teachers can tell you what they
are teaching, and why they are teaching it.
They have clear instructional goals.
They don't just fill the day with activities, they focus their
instruction like a laser on specific learning goals that they have for their
students, and they monitor their students' progress toward those goals. Their instructional goals are always clearly
aligned with standards and assessments so students are well prepared and
confident as they take tests and advance to the next grade.
High-quality reading teachers use powerful instructional strategies. High-quality teachers can tell you with
confidence that the teaching strategies they are using are research-based and
have been shown to be effective. And if
you are familiar with the research literature, you know they are right --
they're not just confident, they're confident because they really are
informed. You never see these teachers
asking students to read a chapter and answer the questions at the end. You never see them using worksheets or
creating “busy-work” for their students.
These teachers know those are not powerful instructional strategies for
achieving their learning goals. In
short, high-quality teachers are creative and dynamic and well-informed in finding instructional
strategies that work for each of their students.
high-quality teachers do not waste time.
I can not tell you how many hours of the week are wasted in most
classrooms on silly, pointless routines.
I am also sad to say, I have walked in on hundreds of idle classrooms
the years, and it is always embarrassing for me and for the
teacher. The teacher is usually at her desk. The kids are
entertaining themselves. The teacher usually panics a little when
walk in, and for some reason always says the same thing: "They've
finished their work -- I'm just giving them a break."
High-quality teachers do not do this. High-quality teachers are
activities to get the kids engaged the second they walk in the
before the bell has even rung.
High-quality teachers do not waste time on transitions from one
to another. They don't waste time on
house-keeping (calling role, getting in line, dealing with tardy
etc.). They definitely do not waste time
in the days and weeks leading up to holidays.
High-quality teachers do not "throttle back" after the
state-mandated exams are given, and "coast" toward summer
vacation. I know one high-quality principal who
disabled the classroom intercoms on her campus because she did not want
interruptions taking up even a minute of valuable class time.
Allington and Cunningham in their book, "Schools that Work: Where All Children Can Read and Write" described
time in terms of months, weeks, days, hours, and minutes. High-quality teachers know that they can not
afford to waste minutes, because those minutes add up so very quickly. If there are 181 days of school, high-quality
teachers take advantage of every minute of every day to teach their students.
high-quality reading teachers keep their students actively engaged.
This is actually pretty redundant to the
qualities listed above, but I know if I don't actually mention student
engagement explicitly, I'll get a bunch of angry letters.
When I walk in a classroom and see students asleep, or playing games,
just sitting and staring, then I know I am not dealing with a
reading teacher. When I walk in and see
chaos, with students up and moving around and talking to each other,
MIGHT not be dealing with a high-quality reading teacher. Or I
might be. Chaos is not necessarily a bad sign. High-quality
teachers can often work on the
edge of chaos, with students collaborating on projects, reading
practicing skills together. It can be
noisy, but effective. The bottom line,
though, is that high-quality teachers make sure that students are
actively engaged in purposeful literacy-building
activities throughout the day.
high-quality reading teachers create a learning environment that is literature
rich and inviting. I get a very good
feeling when I walk into a classroom that is filled with books arranged in an
inviting manner, featuring comfortable places to sit or lounge and learning
activity centers. This is hard to
describe in words, so I’ve got a few pictures to illustrate what I’m talking
When you walk in one of these classrooms, everything about the room says
that this is a place where reading and literature is valued.
There are comfortable places to sit, books are very invitingly
displayed. The class is organized around group and shared
reading. There are clear reading-related learning goals on the
walls. There are books, books, and more books. There is
clear evidence that ALL of the books are used and read by the students,
and that uninteresting and undesirable books are culled from the
collection. Student writing is displayed on the wall with very
clear learning expectations. It is not just there for artwork --
there is a clear reason why the student work is being displayed on the
wall. These are classroom environments that tell me that I'm
probably dealing with a high-quality reading teacher.
high-quality reading teachers use data to inform instruction. They are constantly quizzing their students,
probing their knowledge, testing their skills, and -- here is the important
part -- they use the information they gather from all that quizzing to plan
instruction. They plan their lessons
days in advance, not weeks or months (or years). They keep a portfolio demonstrating clear
evidence of each student's strengths and needs, and they use that to guide
instruction. They follow what my
colleague Deborah Jinkens called a "teaching-learning cycle" --
focusing instruction on learning needs, assessing growth, focusing instruction
on new learning needs, assessing growth, focusing instruction on new learning
needs, assessing growth, and so on. In
these classrooms, there is a blend of teaching and testing going on all the
time. Occasionally, high-quality
teachers will interrupt instruction to give a formal, more objective exam, but
most of the time, the assessment and progress-monitoring is fairly
informal. The formal exam usually just
confirms what the teacher already knows about her students.
high-quality reading teachers connect with their students and their families on
a personal level. They are masters of
classroom-management, so the students feel comfortable with clear and
consistent rules and boundaries. They
respect and love all of their students, and their students feel the same way
about them. High-quality teachers take
the time to really get to know their students and their families. They call parents just to touch base, and
share what is happening in the classroom.
They meet with parents in local coffee shops, restaurants, parks, and,
if invited, in their homes. When parents
come to the school, the teacher makes the parent feel welcome and honored. Some high-quality teachers have admitted to
me that they resent that they have to do these things -- they feel like the
parents should be working a little harder to be more involved in their child's
education. However, high-quality
teachers put their resentment aside and do these things anyway because they
know how important it is for their students.
high-quality teachers are relentlessly positive and encouraging. Frankly, it's sickening. They always find a way to make learning fun
and enjoyable. They never seem to have a
bad day. And they do not put
unreasonable pressure on their students for achievement. Certainly high-quality teachers feel the
pressure of high-stakes testing and the community's expectations for high
reading achievement, but they do not put much of that pressure on their
students. They have relentlessly high
expectations for their students’ achievement, but they always project an
attitude of fun and excitement about learning.
They are always searching for that compromise between fun and effective
-- they try to keep the lessons and activities entertaining and interesting,
but they never lose sight of the learning goals.
wish it were the case that “highly qualified” teachers consistently exhibited
these characteristics of “high quality” reading teachers, but unfortunately, I
find that “quality” and “qualifications” are only loosely related (at best)
when it comes to reading instruction.
Perhaps qualifications are more important for teaching math or art or
music -- I don’t know. But I know that
the qualifications that have been created for reading and literacy instruction
have little to do with the “quality” characteristics I look for in
help all students learn to read proficiently, we must look beyond mere qualifications
to actual classroom instructional quality.
The hallmarks I describe above are probably not exhaustive, but they're a
start, and I would personally argue that it
is a better start than focusing merely on certifications or degrees awarded.
For more germane information, please see P is for Professional Development, and I is for Instruction.
Peske, H.G. & Haycock, K. (2006). Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority
Students Are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality. Available:
White, B.R., & Gong, Y. (2005).
Examining the Distribution and Impact of Teacher Quality in Illinois.
Illinois Education Research Council. Policy Research Report: IERC 2005-2, p. 1.
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Last Updated 5-1-06