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ILA–NCTE Advisory Explains Research Base Supporting Teacher Preparation Programs

 | Jun 28, 2017

Teacher Preparation Not just anyone can be an effective teacher, let alone an effective literacy teacher. Yet the tenor of recent policy debates in the United States has often been highly critical of the nation’s teaching corps, and especially so with respect to initial licensure programs.

While these programs demonstrate differing levels of quality and rigor, the creeping assumption has been that the nation’s schools need better teachers than they are getting, and that alternative pathways to teacher certification should be an urgent priority.

But there’s a crucial defect at the very root of the discussion, a defect which a combined task force of the International Literacy Association (ILA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has now brought to light, namely the lack of research behind many of the negative claims regarding teacher preparation.

Victoria RiskoThe ILA–NCTE Literacy Teacher Preparation research advisory was researched by the joint task force and drafted by Victoria J. Risko (pictured on the right), professor emerita at Peabody College's Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University, and Louann Reid (pictured below), professor and chair of the Department of English at Colorado State University. It brings to the policy clash a much-needed counterpoint, answering the narrowness of political remedies with a set of defining, evidence-based characteristics of effective teacher preparation programs.

Louann ReidPredicated on an extensive review of the research findings, the advisory acknowledges the lack of any large-scale, longitudinal study to date that follows teachers across their coursework and into their careers.

However, it emphasizes that a convergence across numerous studies of teacher learning and practice, as well as evidence from analyses of effective teacher preparation programs, identify four critical quality indicators for prospective teachers’ learning and new teachers’ performance:

  • Knowledge development. Teacher preparation entails the acquisition of a foundational knowledge of multiple literacies, literacy learning, language development, curriculum, theories of teaching and learning, and subject matter content and pedagogy. Coursework addresses issues such as race, class, gender, culture, language, educational equity, and teaching for social justice. This preparation broadens new teachers’ perspectives and helps them to see students’ differences as assets.
  • Authentic contexts. Instructional competency is developed by strong field experience in authentic settings. Field experience with guidance and mentoring develops prospective new teachers’ skills in providing differentiated instruction, including engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse students. It also develops their personal approaches to pedagogy and assessment, and encourages them to join professional learning communities. Lacking such preparation, a new classroom teacher may become overwhelmed.
  • Ongoing teacher development. Effective teacher preparation programs equip prospective teachers to engage in self-critique and analytical thinking and inspire them to seek continuous professional learning. They provide carefully planned and mentored opportunities for debriefing and reconciling prior beliefs with new knowledge and theories about pedagogy. Without this guidance, prospective teachers may struggle with adapting their approaches to meet students’ needs and responding to the challenges every classroom presents.
  • Ongoing assessments. Four critical assessment points are prominent across teacher preparation programs of excellence: program admission, monitoring students’ progress, benchmarking students’ accomplishments (for example, by building personal teaching portfolios), and tracking success by gathering data on graduates.

Risko, who served as ILA’s lead on the project, emphasizes that claims disavowing the value of teacher education programs are not supported by research.

“We are reporting on the substantial evidence documenting the impact of teacher preparation courses on teachers’ learning, on their teaching practices in the classroom as new teachers and, with some investigations, the impact of teacher preparation on pupil learning,” Risko says.

Reid, who served as NCTE’s lead, stresses two additional points about the advisory.

“An expert teacher never stops learning, and novice teachers need to realize that it’s OK not to know everything right away,” she says.

Reid recommends that preparation programs include partnerships with school districts that have strong induction programs.

 “Some new teachers heed the advice to forget everything they learned in the university because they are now in the real world,” she says.  

The ILA–NCTE advisory is a treasure trove for policy advocates and literacy researchers. More than 140 key reference citations are included in its reference and resource sections. Risko and Reid gave additional insights about the piece in an interview on Education Talk Radio.

Dan ManganDan Mangan is the director of public affairs at the International Literacy Association.

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