Good Teacher Training Equals Heightened Student Learning
Classroom teachers are being penalized for their students’ poor test scores. We must recognize that teachers face different students every year with different abilities, and the factory model of manufacturing cannot apply to educating human beings.
We must also recognize that we give new teachers none of the training they need in preparation for their job. Schools of education teach about educational theories; they do not teach how to teach actual subjects. Education students read about Freud, Pestalozzi, Maria Montessori, whole language reading, phonics. They never learn how to teach reading, writing, spelling, comprehension, history, science, arithmetic, history of music and art. They have to learn through painful experimenting. Teachers only learn how to teach after years of experience, trial and error, and a few years of failing to give students what they need. The fault lies in the lack of training they received.
A model of training teachers in the teaching of reading, writing and spelling has been developed by Reading Reform Foundation over a 30-year period that has proven to be successful for the teachers and their students. It requires hard work and dedication on the part of the mentors as well as teachers being trained, but it works.
The classroom teachers take a 40-hour course in one of the Orton-Gillingham approaches to teaching reading, writing, and spelling. These are systematic methods that teach in step-by-step ways an analysis of the English language that make its spelling and pronunciation logical. The teachers, and subsequently their students, learn that 87 percent of English is logical and subject to phonetic rules. Careful handwriting and accurate spelling precede reading. Everything is taught by using all the senses: seeing, hearing, speaking (muscles of the mouth) and writing (muscles of the arm and hand). This multisensory teaching helps fix learning on the brain and makes learning and remembering easier.
The course is then followed up by twice-a-week visits to the classroom teacher by a highly trained, sympathetic mentor. Together they plan lessons to be used in the classroom. The mentor first demonstrates and models, then gradually lets the classroom teacher take over more and more. This program of 160 hours of training (40 hours in the course, 120 hours of classroom visits) results in well-trained teachers who are secure in teaching the subjects for which they have been trained.
Meanwhile, the students benefit from the logical teaching they are receiving as well. Their enthusiasm as they recite the sounds together, put them into words, and read aloud with confidence is palpable. These classes are alive with full participation and excitement. Solid gains in test scores provide additional proof of how much the students have learned.
The confidence engendered in the children by acquiring real skills also is bolstered by reading exciting or instructive stories and literature. Legends and myths can be read to the students in first and second grade until they can read on their own.
Some of the third-graders in a bilingual class read a child’s version of “The Odyssey” in English this past year. When asked to write to thank the donor of the books, one child said, “Why? He didn’t write the Odyssey. Homer did!”
Thus, the true purpose of good training for the teacher comes full circle in the intellectual ferment that can be created in the minds of the students in an inner-city school. #
Sandra Priest Rose is a reading consultant and a founder of Reading Reform Foundation of New York. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.