Supporting the Development of Effective Reading Teachers
“When you teach comprehension, you are teaching students how to think, how to make connections, and how to think about their thinking. I don’t ever want to teach students what to think. I want them to be able to understand what I think – and what the author thinks—and decide for themselves what they think”
These are the reflections of Joan Gottesman, a recent graduate of Bank Street’s Reading and Literacy Program, featured in a new book I co-authored. Her words illustrate the program’s goals: teacher candidates must ask themselves, “Why am I teaching this?” and use those answers to inform their work.
Created in 1980, the Bank Street College Reading/Literacy Program has evolved in response to the changing needs of children and teachers. The program offers a Masters of Science or a Masters of Education to pre-service and in-service teachers preparing them for a range of educational roles: classroom teachers, reading specialists who work with teachers and small groups of students in public and private schools and reading specialists in private practice.
The program views reading, writing and language development as integrated processes supported by developmental and systematic instruction. The needs of the individual child are paramount: therefore, no one approach to teaching reading and writing is considered best for everyone. Rather, it is understood that reading and writing are complex processes involving the integration of a variety of strategies and skills. Effective readers and writers are in control of the graphophonic (letter/sound), syntactic (structural or grammatical) and semantic (meaning) aspects of language. They take risks, make predictions, and connect their own experiences with the information in the text. With these literacy concepts as the foundation, program courses are designed to integrate knowledge of child and adolescent development with a repertoire of teaching and assessment practices.
The supervised fieldwork/advisement process deepens and refines theories and practices developed in course work for one year. At Bank Street, fieldwork supervisors are called advisors to signify a coaching relationship. The advisor engages the teacher in a collaborative process of learning about teaching. Through monthly observations in classrooms, the advisor and teacher examine the sources of information used to observe and instruct their children. Over time, the teacher internalizes the ongoing analytical process supported by the advisor. Teachers and their advisor also meet in a weekly conference group that serves as a vehicle for the formation of critical practitioners who are able and disposed to engage in substantive and reflective conversations about their lives as teachers.
J. Gottesman’s quote at the beginning of this article was taken from, Preparing Our Teachers: Opportunities for Better Reading Instruction, (to be released December 10, 2002 by Joseph Henry Press of the National Academy Press DC). As a member of the New Brunswick Group, I co-authored the book with Dorothy Strickland, Catherine Snow, Peg Griffin, and M. Susan Burns. The New Brunswick Group considers what teachers need to know and do, so that preschool through 4th grade children can become effective readers and writers. Based on five opportunities children need, the book outlines the experiences teacher education programs should provide and school districts need to build upon. The opportunities cover understanding the forms and uses of language, the language and metacognition skills required for comprehension, connecting sound, letters and words, motivation, and anticipating challenges. Most importantly this text (available online http://nap.edu/catalog/10130html.) is a call to action for teacher educators, policy makers and the public, that one of the most enduring ways to meet children’s literacy needs is to support their teachers and teachers-to-be. #
Peggy McNamara is the Director of the Reading and Literacy Program, Bank Street College of Education.