Teachers As Readers and Writers and As Teachers of Reading and Writing
By Brooks, Gregory W
Scholars such as L. Calkins (1993), D. H. Graves (1978, 1984, 1990, 1994), and R. Routman (1991, 1996) hypothesized that teachers must be confident, avid readers and writers to be effective reading and writing teachers. Three questions guided a case study that examined this hypothesis among 4 fourth-grade teachers nominated as exemplary reading and writing instructors. How did they describe themselves as readers and writers? What factors were most influential in their reading and writing teaching? How did they describe any relationships, or lack thereof, between their reading and writing and their reading and writing teaching? Interviews served as the primary data source. Findings indicate that although the teachers considered themselves to be competent readers and writers, their individual reading and writing experiences played little or no role in their effectiveness in teaching reading and writing.
Key words: fourth-grade reading and writing teachers, relationship of reading and writing to teaching, teaching effectiveness for fourth-grade students
Many current education policies in the United States, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, seem to view and treat the teacher as little more than a dutiful delivery mechanism for so-called proven literacy education programs and methods. Such perspectives contrast the view that factors such as individual teacher attitudes, beliefs, practices, and sustained professional development are crucial for designing and delivering effective literacy instruction and learning opportunities to students (e.g., Allington, 2002; Commeyras, Bisplinghoff, & Olson, 2003; Duffy &. Hoffman, 1999; Garan, 2002; Rief, 2002).
One hypothesis that has been touted over the years is that to be effective teachers of reading and writing, teachers must also be readers and writers, echoing the adage, “Do as I do, not as I say.” That is, students are more likely to become successful, enthusiastic, and engaged readers and writers when they learn from and are among teachers who display the same traits. Those beliefs led to the establishment of the National Writing Project in 1974 (started as the Bay Area Writing Project by James Gray of the University of California-Berkley) and the Teachers as Readers Project (created in 1993 by the Association of American Publishers Reading Initiative). Both projects emphasize the importance of teachers being competent and active readers and writers who bring this experience and enthusiasm to the classroom.
On the surface, the “Do as I do, not as I say” hypothesis seems innocent and indisputable, which may explain why few researchers have investigated it. Who would argue against teachers practicing what they preach? However, many complexities regarding this hypothesis rest beneath the surface and merit closer examination.
Theoretical Foundation and Study Questions
Teachers as Readers
Surveys have found mixed results regarding teachers’ reading preferences and habits, ranging from little to abundant reading for pleasure to reading student work and other materials related specifically to their profession. When reading for pleasure, most teachers read novels, newspapers, “how to” books, and popular press magazines, such as Better Homes and Gardens, Readers Digest, Newsweek, and Time (Cogan, 1975; Cogan & Anderson, 1977; Cramer &. Blachowicz, 1980; Mour, 1977; Williamson, 1991; Worden & Noland, 1984). In addition, they prefer practice-focused journals such as instructor and Teacher Magazine rather than theory- or research- based publications. Worden and Noland found that experienced teachers ( 11 or more years) reported more frequent journal reading than did their less experienced colleagues. Those studies provide a brief synopsis of teachers’ reading preferences, but most supply few or no details about teachers’ individual responses or practices.
The whole-language movement in the 1980s and 1990s emphasized teachers reading to and with their students (Weaver, 2002). Since the launch of the Teachers as Readers Project (TAR; Dillingofski, 1993) in Virginia, TAR groups have formed across the United States and have garnered support from international, state, and local professional education organizations, such as the International Reading Association and its chapters and affiliates. In turn, some teachers are reading more widely with colleagues and publishing detailed accounts of their experiences (e.g., Bisplinghoff, 2002; Commeyras et al., 2003; Routman, 2000). For example, Bisplinghoff explained the benefits of reading and reconnecting with books, in print and on audiotapes, such as identifying with characters facing life challenges.
Teachers as Writers
Autobiographies, observations, and interviews provide much information about teachers as writers. The type of writing that teachers do varies-lesson planning, creating lists, and writing to friends are most frequently cited. Journal writing, short stories, and professional publication manuscripts are least frequently cited (Bridge & Hiebert, 1985). Susi (1984) found that teachers assumed different positive writer roles and identities as a result of their participation in writers’ workshops. They experienced the struggles and joys of composing and revising, which, in turn, not only taught them to be more empathetic to the experiences of their students, but also “humanized” them to their students. Other researchers reported more diverse teacher self-concepts as writers from “reluctant” to “integral,” in which the importance of writing ranged from a bothersome but necessary task to a means for better understanding and living (Frager, 1994; Gleeson & Prain, 1996; Levine, 1990; Robbins, 1996). Although all participants were sufficiently competent writers, some did not consider themselves writers because they did not believe that their type of writing qualified as especially illuminating, interesting, or significant. Other teachers reported an almost inexplicable drive to write and to share their writing-their successes and tribulations-with others, despite their anxiety about how they would be accepted (Augsburger, 1998).
The Bay Area Writing Project, now the National Writing Project, has inspired and supported the writing of many teachers since its inception in 1974. Some of these experiences have been documented in autobiographical self-studies and by researchers in books of collected essays (Camp, 1982; Root & Steinberg, 1996; Thomas, 1979).
Reading and Writing Teachers
Recent studies and federal legislation (e.g., National Reading Panel [NRP], 2000; No Child Left Behind/Reading First [NCLB/RF], 2001), which have placed literacy and education in the national spotlight, are resulting in sweeping changes in literacy curriculum, instruction, standards, and assessment. Whereas some of the policies and practices are supported by broad literacy education research, teacher-educator communities, and literacy practitioners, researchers (Allington, 1994, 2002, 2005a, 2005b; Coles, 2003; Duffy, 2002; Duffy & Huffman, 1999; Garan, 2002; Graves, 2002; Ohanian, 1999) were concerned that teaching and learning are again becoming increasingly linked to implementing the right kind of materials rather than to viewing teachers as thoughtful and capable professionals who implement a variety of strategies based on student need and interest (Allington, 1994, 2002, 2005a, 2005b; Coles, 2003; Duffy, 2002; Duffy & Huffman, 1999; Garan, 2002; Graves, 2002; Ohanian, 1999).
An abundance of research exists on effective literacy instruction practices (e.g., Allington, 2005a, 2005B; Allington & Johnston, 2002; Allington & Walmsley, 1995; Pressley, Rankin, & Yokoi, 1996; Pressley et al., 2001), suggesting ways that teachers should teach their students to read, write, and engage in literacy activities. For example, Pressley et al. (2001) found that effective teachers (a) established positive, reinforcing, cooperative classrooms; (b) modeled self-regulation strategies; and (c) made deliberate and clear connections across the curriculum. However, a variety of political and special interest factors have been highly influential in shaping currently accepted literacy pedagogy and curriculum. Those factors have resulted in practices that follow a select agenda not widely supported by research or best practices (Allington, 2002, 2005a, 2005b; Coles, 2003; Garan, 2002; Graves, 2002; Ohanian, 1999).
Vigorous theoretical support and research evidence supports the hypothesis that teachers should be readers and writers to be effective teachers of reading and writing (Atwell, 1987, 1991; Augsburger, 1998; Calkins, 1993; Commeyras et al., 2003; Draper, Barksdale-Ladd, & Radencich, 2000; Frager, 1994; Gambrell, 1996; Gilespie, 1991; Graves, 1978, 1984, 1990, 1994; Hansen, 1985, 1987; Mueller, 1973; Murray, 1968, 1985, 1989; Routman, 1991, 1996; Scott, 1996; Searls, 1985; Thomason, 1993).
In their study of preservice teachers’ reading habits, Applegate and Applegate (2004) described the Peter Effect. According to a story in the Bible, a beggar asked the Apostle Peter for money, and Peter replied that he could not give what he did not have. Applegate and Applegate likened that scenario to their preservice teachers who lacked enthusiasm for reading but were nonetheless expected to instill enthus\iasm in their students. Although the authors did not study inservice teachers, they recommended that they, like their soon-to-be practicing preservice teachers, serve as role models to their students, especially regarding reading attitudes and practices. As in the comparison with Peter and the beggar, teachers may have difficulty instilling a love for reading in their students if they do not possess and demonstrate such a love themselves.
The growth of Teacher as Readers groups and National Writing Project centers across the country has resulted in autobiographical accounts of teachers’ personal and professional reading and writing experiences and the positive impact that these experiences have had on their teaching practices (Augsburger, 1998; Bisplinghoff, 2002; Commeyras et al., 2003; Rief, 2002). Specific connections and reasons vary, but themes that clearly resonate within and across all self-reports are a deep sense of teacher satisfaction sharing aesthetic experiences (Rosenblatt, 1978; Ruddell, 1995, 1997), motivation (Gambrell, 1996), and empathy (Root & Steinberg, 1996) with students.
Contrasting findings and theories exist regarding the degree to which teachers’ personal reading and writing practices affect their teaching of reading and writing. Researchers theorize that the way in which teachers think of themselves as writers substantially affects their thinking about how they demonstrate and implement writing as part of the curriculum (Frager, 1994; Gilespie, 1991; Susi, 1984). If teachers have a low or mediocre self-concept of their writing and, consequently, do not write often or for varied purposes, then this will negatively affect and limit their ability to support their students’ writing. From a survey of nearly 1,900 elementary teachers, Morrison, Jacobs, and Swinyard (1999) found a statistically significant, positive relationship between teachers’ descriptions of themselves as readers and their use of literacy practices recommended in the current literature. For example, teachers who were enthusiastic readers were likely to use literature circles and discussions to promote greater student engagement.
In contrast, other researchers found that, although teachers’ writing practices and beliefs may play some role in teaching writing, other factors have a greater influence (Gleeson & Prain, 1996; Robbins, 1996). Teachers in Gleeson and Prain’s study, for example, listed two such factors: (a) valuing students’ unique personalities and helping them view their writing as personally meaningful and (b) providing stimulating examples from books, newspapers, and cartoons (occasionally, the teacher’s own writing) to enthuse students to compose their own writing. Robbins presented three case studies of teachers who engaged in various forms of writing in their personal lives but found that these experiences played little or no role in their approaches to teaching. For example, Rebecca considered herself a writer; she wrote regularly in a reflective journal and composed short stories. However, she rarely wrote with or in front of students because she worried that they would try to emulate her rather than develop their own voice and personality. Rebecca used her own writing experiences to inform students how she modeled a writer’s feelings, by sharing some of the joys and frustrations that she had experienced. The Gleeson and Prain and Robbins studies served as an initial indicator of the potential complexities and shortcomings inherent in the hypothesis linking teachers’ reading and writing to their teaching those subjects.
In a study examining 21 fourth-grade teacher responses to the hypothesis, Brooks (1999) found mixed support, ranging from those who agreed wholeheartedly to those who found little or no connection between their reading and writing practices and their teaching of reading and writing. All participants had been nominated by one or more school administrators as exemplary reading and writing teachers, according to a nominator’s criteria, such as student test scores, personal observation of the teachers’ instruction, and feedback from parents and fellow teachers. Ironically, some of the teachers believed that they were reluctant or poor readers or writers by their own definitions; however, they all believed that they were highly effective in helping their students develop necessary reading and writing strategies, skills, and dispositions. Those results, along with similar findings by Gleeson and Prain (1996) and Robbins (1996), provided further evidence that the “Do as I do, not as I say” hypothesis needed further exploration and explanation.
Researchers have identified the improvement of the quality of reading and writing instruction as a critical educational challenge to teachers and teacher educators. Some researchers hypothesize that effective reading and writing teachers must also be readers and writers (Atwell, 1987, 1991; Augsburger, 1998; Calkins, 1993; Commeyras et al., 2003; Draper, Barksdale-Ladd, & Radencich, 2000; Frager, 1994; Gambrell, 1996; Gilespie, 1991). Some researchers, however, suggest that other teaching and learning factors play a greater role in determining teaching effectiveness in these areas (Brooks, 1999; Gleeson &. Prain, 1996; Robbins, 1996). According to a review of available literature, teachers vary as readers and writers regarding the type and quantity of materials that they read and write, as well as in their specific means of teaching these subjects. It seems unlikely that any one factor, including the hypothesis, is solely responsible for how well teachers foster their students’ reading and writing. Rather, an individual teacher’s effectiveness is more likely a complex and eclectic matter that may involve aspects of the teacher’s personal reading and writing attitudes, beliefs, practices, and experiences.
My purpose was to investigate and discuss how teachers describe themselves as readers, writers, and teachers of reading and writing, with attention devoted to exploring whether, how, and why these teachers do or do not acknowledge relationships between their reading and writing and their teaching of reading and writing. I focused on case studies of 4 fourth-grade teachers deemed as exemplary reading and writing teachers by one or more of their school administrators.
Three key questions guided this study:
1. How did the 4 fourth-grade teachers describe themselves as readers and writers?
2. What relationships, if any, did the teachers believe existed between their reading and writing and their teaching of reading and writing? How did these teachers respond to the “Do as I do, not as I say” hypothesis?
3. What factors most influenced the teachers’ reading and writing instruction?
Regina, Jennifer, Jerry, and Debbie were the focus of this study. They represent a subset of teacher participants in two larger studies in which reading and writing instructional practices of exemplary fourth-grade teachers was explored (Allington & Johnston, 2002; Brooks, 1999; Consult those sources for further details regarding participant selection criteria and methods employed.) The 4 teachers were nominated by at least one of their school administrators as exemplary fourth-grade teachers of reading and writing.
I used LeCompte and Preissle’s (1993) notion of criterion-based selection to choose the 4 teachers from the original sample of 21 teachers (Brooks, 1999). The primary criterion was that these teachers presented varied descriptions of themselves as readers and writers and served different student populations (see Table 1). They also met five additional criteria:
1. Identified specific materials that they read and wrote (and avoided reading and writing) and provided detailed explanations for these preferences.
2. Provided detailed explanations for why they read and wrote (e.g., pleasure, professional, both) and why they avoided reading and writing certain materials.
3. Provided detailed explanations for when, where, and how they read and wrote (e.g., frequency, school, home, weekends, summers).
4. Provided detailed explanations of their understanding of the relationship between their own reading and writing and their teaching of reading and writing.
5. Agreed to participate in additional sets of interviews and to have their responses and experiences appear as case studies.
The primary data source for the case studies was interviews, although I also consulted field notes from the larger study (Allington & Johnston, 2002) that pertained to relationships between the teachers’ reading and writing and their teaching of reading and writing.
Interviews. I gave teachers the choice to be interviewed during one or two telephone interviews or to discuss interview questions by e-mail, whichever was most convenient. Regina and Jennifer chose telephone interviews, which I tape-recorded and transcribed. I interviewed Regina once for 50 min and Jennifer on two occasions for roughly 90 min. Jerry opted for e-mail correspondence; we exchanged four e-mail messages. Debbie chose an in-person interview (60 min), which I tape-recorded and transcribed.
Each interview lasted about 45 to 90 min and was taperecorded and later transcribed for analysis. Questioning and conduct were guided by the nonschedule standardized (Denzin, 1988), focused (Merton, Fiske, & Kendall, 1990), and friendly conversations (Spradley, 1979) interview techniques. I designed all interview questions to tap teachers’ individual descriptions of and explanations for their own reading and writing, as well as for their understanding of the relationship between their reading and writing and their teaching of reading and writing. I entered the interview setting with a list of eight prepared questions (see Appendix) that I adjusted according to the teachers’ responses and to help the interview better resemble a conversation rather than a formal inqu\iry.
In addition to learning more about teachers’ reading and writing and their teaching of reading and writing, I gathered background information and demographics that teachers may not have provided in their earlier interviews, such as (a) total years teaching; (b) teaching fourth grade; (c) teaching other grades; (d) teaching in current position; (e) degrees and certification; (f) significant professional development experiences and training; (g) socioeconomic, cultural, and racial diversity of students and teachers; and (h) school community type-rural, suburban, or urban.
Field notes. As part of their participation in the larger study (Allington & Johnston, 2002; Brooks, 1999), one or more project leaders or graduate assistants observed each teacher in his or her classroom on at least eight occasions. I did not gather all the field notes, but I requested that other researchers note any connections between teachers’ reading and writing experiences, habits, or beliefs and their teaching reading and writing. My goal in these observations was to construct a written record of the literacy instruction, activities, opportunities, interactions (student/student, teacher/student), environment, and materials used on a given day. Researchers recorded these data in observational field notes, which consisted of (a) verbatim comments made by teachers and students, (b) conversations between students and the teacher, (c) descriptions of teacher and student activity, and (d) diagrams and photographs of the classroom layout and materials.
I reviewed the field note data for the 4 case study teachers and identified segments that depicted the teachers’ reading and writing instruction. If I decided that a field note entry needed further clarification, I either contacted the person who recorded the field notes or asked the case teachers to recall and explain the entry to the best of their ability.
I reviewed interview transcripts and field notes for the 4 teachers and highlighted segments that related to the three research questions; I also attempted to theorize (Goetz &. LeCompte, 1984) how each teacher interpreted the questions and explained his or her responses. Several questions guided and informed this theorizing, such as: How did the teachers interpret and respond to the hypothesis that good reading and writing teachers also needed to be good readers and writers? Did they concur with major supporters of this hypothesis (Graves, 1990; Hansen, 1985, 1987), agreeing that their teaching reading and writing was linked to their personal and professional reading and writing? Or did they agree with critics such as Gleeson and Prain (1996) and Robbins (1996) who cautioned that although the hypothesis appeared reasonable on the surface, teaching reading and writing was a far more complex matter? If the teachers’ reading and writing were not salient factors that determined how they planned and implemented their reading and writing instruction, what were the major influences?
On the basis of the theorizing and questioning, I unitized the data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), which involved identifying relevant units or categories of information within the data sources. The units were identified with a highlighter marker and then used to draft narrative statements and summaries for each unit or category for each teacher.
Next, I again theorized whether and how teachers’ responses supported the units or categories that I identified. How did teachers’ interview responses and researchers’ field notes describe how the teachers interpreted and responded to the eight interview questions (and any relevant follow-up questions), which ultimately informed the three key research questions?
The analyses resulted in the construction of an interpretive case study (Merriam, 1988) for each teacher. I conducted a cross-case analysis to explore similarities between and differences among the teachers and their responses. To conduct the analysis, I read each case study and extracted teachers’ responses to the three key guiding questions. Results of the analyses inform the synthesis of findings section that follows the individual case reports. Finally, I provide recommendations for further research and implications for instruction that were based on the cases and cross-case analysis.
Author Factors Potentially Affecting Data Collection and Analysis
I was a member of the New York research team and participated in all phases of the larger research project, which included interviews with and classroom observations of several New York teachers. (The other four sites were based in California, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Texas.) I conducted research in classrooms led by Regina and Debbie, who were teachers in New York. However, I conducted all communication and data gathering by electronic mail or telephone for Jennifer, a teacher in New Hampshire, and Jerry, a teacher in California. Given the geographical and proximity factors, the relationship that I had with each teacher varied, which likely affected how the teachers responded to questions. For example, because I had a more personal relationship with Regina and Debbie, these teachers may have felt more comfortable dialoguing with me than did Jennifer and Jerry.
I devoted equal attention and emphasis during interviews and observational field notes to the research questions and goals of the larger studies (Allington &. Johnston, 2002; Brooks, 1999), as well as to those of this smaller substudy.
I present a case report on each teacher in the following paragraphs. The case includes the following components for each teacher: (a) perception of self as a reader and writer, (b) report of major literacy teaching influences and practices, (c) report of relationships between individual reading and writing practices and teaching of reading and writing, (d) response to the hypothesis, and (e) response to the reader and writer and teacher of the reading and writing hypothesis. Table 1 includes teacher and school background information. Following the last individual case, a cross-case analysis synthesizes findings and teachers’ perspectives across the three study questions. Implications of the analysis are presented in the Conclusion.
Regina: Perception of Self as Reader and Writer
Reader. Regina defines a reader as a person who reads to stay informed as well as for pleasure, relaxation, or stimulation. A reader reads a variety of materials from newspapers and magazines to novels and professional materials. Regina recounts comforting and joyful memories of reading in her family when she was a little girl. In particular, she remembers her father reading stories to her at night before bed. Her mother and father regularly brought the family to the local library, and everyone would select a book and a quiet spot and “get lost” in a story for hours. Regina now loves to lose herself in a good book, especially those by authors Dean Koontz and Tom Clancy. She acknowledges that her busy adult life often makes it difficult to find time to read, but she is determined to read a moderate amount every day, both in and outside of school.
Like all teachers, Regina does a great deal of teacher reading each day, such as reviewing students’ homework and journal entries and preparing future lesson materials and plans. Although this type of reading differs from reading more polished writing pieces, it helps Regina develop a better appreciation and understanding of her students’ writing strengths and areas of need. Regina accepts this task as a reasonable trade-off.
Writer. Regina acknowledges that most people probably associate being a writer with someone who is a professional writer, such as a children’s book author or newspaper reporter. She defines a writer as a person who writes for multiple purposes, such as letters, songs, poems, and personal journals, all activities in which she engages. She enjoys writing creative stories in school because she likes to share this experience with children. She serves as a role model and writing companion and often asks her students for help when she has difficulty with her writing:
I think one of the things the kids like is when, if I get to a part, and I can’t think of where 1 want to go, I’ll kind of stop and say, ‘I’m not sure what I want to have come next. I’m kind of stuck here.’ And I’ll ask the kids, ‘What about you, any suggestions? I need feedback. Let me hear you.’ And they help me, and they feel really proud that they helped an adult, me, with writing. (Interview 3, p. 3)
Regina engages in a great deal of teacher writing activities during the day-grading assignments, writing notes to parents, and completing other job-related paperwork. In addition, she often writes nightly at home in her personal diary, which she has been keeping for most of her adult life. She uses this diary as an outlet for her thoughts and to work through confusions or stressful situations. She occasionally handwrites letters to family and friends to keep them informed of what she is doing. Regina prefers handwriting letters because she believes this preserves a sense of personalization and intimacy with the recipient.
Major Influences on Practice
Regina’s reading and writing instruction is most influenced by (a) students’ literacy abilities and interests; (b) fourth-grade standards and curriculum required by the school district, state, and federal education departments; and (c) expectations conveyed to fourth-grade teachers by fifth-grade teachers regarding the literacy skills and knowledge that students need to demonstrate in fifth grade. Although she plans lessons and activities to meet various standards and curricular goals, her instruction is based primarily on students’ demonstrated needs. She uses a combination of commercially published books and instructional materials, along with trade books and materials that she creates and designs.
Relationship Between Rea\ding and Writing and Teaching Reading and Writing
Because Regina is a reader and writer and enjoys doing both, she believes it is easier to immerse herself in reading and writing along with her students and to share in their joy and creativity. She believes that it is hard for teachers to convince children to engage in and embrace reading and writing if the children do not observe the teacher doing the same. Regina likens that to the old saying, “Do as I do, not as I say.” Although she believes that teachers who are not avid and passionate readers can teach children to read and write, she does not believe that their instruction will exhibit a high level of energy, creativity, and authenticity that she considers essential. She tries to demonstrate to her students that she takes risks and occasionally struggles with ideas.
Regina emphasizes the physical and intellectual environment and the freedom, time and opportunities that “real” readers and writers need and want because she needs and admires these qualities for her own reading and writing. For example, Regina often plays classical music for part of the writing workshop period, but she also designates time when the room must be completely quiet so that creative thinking can take place. During reading workshop, children can sit wherever they are comfortable-on pillows in the reading corner, their own desk, or a chair by the window.
Regina acknowledged that years ago as a new teacher she rarely wrote in front of her students. However, as she became more interested in improving her own writing, she brought these desires into her classroom:
I was not doing much writing with my children in the classroom prior to struggling to become a writer myself. When I first realized that writing myself was important and I attended workshops and went to conferences, 1 said, wait a minute. You need to let writing happen in your classroom and you really need to show the kids that you’re a writer as well. Write along with them. . . . I don’t think kids can grow as writers unless they’re given the opportunity to do it in a classroom setting. A comfortable climate, encouraged to take risks-which is so important-and given time, which I know is at a premium. . . . If you are going to go home and write a composition by yourself, it’s just you. There’s no one else to bounce things off of. There’s nobody else to get ideas from. There’s no one else to learn from. (Interview 3, p. 8)
Regina values student input about her writing, as well as suggestions for improvement. Students feel comfortable offering honest opinions and critiques, and they consider Regina a fellow member of their classroom writing community. Regina described student feedback on two stories she shared:
One story was about a little girl who was poor, and she got three wishes. When I finished that one, the kids said: ‘You should publish that here in the classroom.’ So the kids give me comments like that. Another time I shared a story that I had written. It was based on something in my childhood. When I finished, the children kind of said, ‘Eh. We liked one of your other stories better. This wasn’t exciting.’ So we talked about what made it not exciting. What should I have done to make it more exciting? So they gave me suggestions for that. Maybe you could add this and this and take away that. I said, ‘Yeah. Good idea.’ (Interview 3, p. 7)
Response to Teacher as Reader and Writer Hypothesis
Regina embraces the spirit in the hypothesis that teachers who are readers and writers are more effective teachers of reading and writing, but she places stronger emphasis on empathy and identity rather than effectiveness. That is, teachers who regularly engage in reading and writing activities with their students are perceived by them as fellow readers and writers rather than as solely teachers of reading and writing. Such teachers visibly join their students in embracing literacy tasks, from reading a book on a soft pillow in the classroom library, to struggling to find the perfect words to compose a story, to groaning when it is time to place a marker in the read-aloud book and move to another activity. Regina cautions, however, that teachers’ personal reading and writing behaviors do not guarantee that they possess and demonstrate sound reading and writing pedagogical skills. Most important, effective teachers must know and demonstrate quality pedagogical skills.
Regina suggests an alternative hypothesis:
Teachers who read and write may better empathize with students’ reading and writing experiences, and this empathy may influence the conditions by which teachers provide reading and writing instruction. However, a teacher’s reading and writing practices do not necessarily play an essential role in his or her reading and writing instruction.
Jennifer: Perception of Self as Reader and Writer
Reader. Jennifer believes that a reader is a person who uses reading skills to navigate through daily life, whether for pleasure or for work. She characterizes herself as a good reader, although somewhat slow and easily distracted. Because she often has a great deal on her mind and on her schedule, Jennifer needs complete silence to understand what she reads, and, even then, she often finds herself rereading to maintain her comprehension, which makes her a slower reader. She describes most of her reading as “fast food- quick and easy” (Interview 1, p. 35) because she does not have the time or mental energy for much else. For example, she occasionally reads People magazine and her local newspaper. She rarely reads adult books, such as novels, poetry, and nonfiction, but when she does read books, they generally are children’s books that she is previewing for her students or read-alouds to her young children at home. On the rare occasions that Jennifer has spare time in her life, she usually does not read, opting instead to spend time outside with her children or to socialize with adults. Jennifer emphatically believes that her easy reading, or the fact that she generally views reading as a practical activity rather than a social one, does not signify that she is a less effective or accomplished reader.
Writer. According to Jennifer, a writer is one who engages in a “pen to paper thought process” (Interview 3, p. 7) resulting in an intended message being conveyed. To do this successfully, one needs to have a strong foundation and engage in a great deal of focused practice. Jennifer believes that she is a confident and capable writer who developed her writing competence during her college years. When required, Jennifer can easily prepare any type of document, from a letter to a parent to a memorandum to colleagues. As a mother, teacher, and wife “with a life beyond reading and writing all the time” (Interview 3, pp. 7-8), Jennifer considers herself a practical writer who writes competently when necessary. That is, writing is a means to an end.
Jennifer does not engage in creative writing in or out of school because she does not have the time or the drive. Furthermore, she states that she cannot afford to do her own writing during class time because she has so many students who need her help to brainstorm, develop, and revise their own writing. However, she does model different forms of writing for her students. Such modeling develops the writing foundations that she believes are so critical to helping students become effective writers. As with reading, Jennifer views writing as primarily a practical activity rather than as a social one. Jennifer does not believe her “writing for practical purposes” stance makes her a less effective writer.
Major Influences on Practice
Although official state and district language arts curricula and her own goals influence her reading and writing instruction, Jennifer is most influenced by her students when making instructional decisions. She considers which curriculum methods and materials will work best with the students, knowing that she will need to modify these plans throughout the year as the students grow.
Jennifer notes that although mandates and expectations are placed on her as a teacher by parents, administrators, other teachers, policymakers, and herself, experience has taught her to select methods and materials that meet her students’ needs and that she is comfortable using. She is always open to new ideas and to learning from other teachers, but she does not feel obligated to change her methods or to adopt strategies simply because they are new or because someone is using them. Other teachers may teach in ways that Jennifer does not necessarily agree with, but she acknowledges that like her, other teachers must be true to themselves and teach in ways that they feel work for them, regardless of what others are doing.
On the basis of her assessment of students’ reading and writing needs, Jennifer plans and models lessons to help students determine how an expert reader and writer functions. She follows the modeling with guided practice and many opportunities for independent practice so that students will develop their own expertise. Jennifer believes that modeling and guided practice are two of the most important functions that a teacher performs to foster students’ learning.
Relationships Between Reading and Writing and Teaching Reading and Writing
Jennifer staunchly believes that to be effective, reading and writing teachers must be competent readers and writers. By competent, Jennifer means that a person comprehends what is read and composes coherent, well-organized texts. She asserts that competence in reading and writing is like competence in riding a bike or skiing; once learned, a person develops a baseline level of competence. Jennifer recognizes that her notion of reading and writing is likely not embraced in the definitions espoused by Graves (1978, 1984, 1990, 1994) and Routman (1991, 1996), but she offers no apologies and believes that her view does not pr\ohibit her from being any less effective as a teacher of reading and writing.
Instead of looking to her own literacy practices to make her a better reading and writing teacher, Jennifer places more emphasis on how well she helps her students develop literacy. She devotes all student contact time to working directly with them rather than engaging in her own reading and writing, with the hope that the children will observe and emulate these behaviors.
Jennifer reports that she talks with her students about what makes someone a good reader or writer. She emphasizes that quantity and speed do not necessarily make someone a good or poor reader or writer, and she draws directly on her life experiences to discuss those issues:
I don’t consider myself a fast reader. I talk to the kids about this. I have kids in my class who read faster than I do. . . . My students need to develop competence as writers, which means they need lots of practice with different styles of writing and what makes a good piece of writing, one that is clear and coherent. Does this mean they are all going to grow up to become professional writers or other people who write everyday? But they do need to be competent writers who know how to write what needs to be written. (Interview 3, pp. 5-6)
As in her life, Jennifer places great emphasis on helping her students become competent readers and writers, primarily with a solid understanding of how to use reading and writing for practical purposes. Does this mean that she does not expect that some of her students will read and write for pleasure? No, but she clearly does not believe that enjoyment necessarily equates with competence nor is required to demonstrate reading and writing effectiveness.
Response to Reader and Writer and Teacher Hypothesis
As a child and young adult, Jennifer believed that she was an avid reader and writer, but as her life became more complicated with a family, job, and other responsibilities and interests, she adopted a more practical perspective on the role and importance of reading and writing. Throughout all her interviews, and in the instruction captured in observational field notes, Jennifer echoed the practicality and competence perspectives about reading and writing. She also emphasized the importance of teachers devoting a majority of their time to interacting directly with and helping students develop their reading and writing crafts, which she believed was vastly more important than teachers modeling their own writing for students to emulate. Jennifer suggests an alternative hypothesis:
Effective teachers of reading and writing know how to read and write well, but they many not read and write much for pleasure or in the company of their students. A teacher’s effectiveness in teaching reading and writing is measured by the reading and writing successes and demonstrations of their students.
Jerry: Perception of Self as Reader and Writer
Reader. Jerry characterizes himself as an enthusiastic reader, particularly of historical fiction like Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins and books by Patricia Cornwell. However, for as long as he can remember, Jerry has struggled to comprehend especially lengthy informational materials (e.g., textbooks, reference books) and has been easily distracted by ambient noises. “If there is something I really need to know, I have to read it two or three times. . . . I have to read in a very quiet environment. I can’t have any distracts whatsoever” (Interview 1, p. 12). Instead of allowing these circumstances to frustrate him, Jerry believes that they make him a more conscientious and reflective reader because he consistently asks himself how well he understands the material he reads.
As a busy teacher, Jerry usually does not read much for pleasure. Most of the historical fiction reading he does is connected to his preparing his students to read these books. He also spends many hours each week reading students assignments and materials from his school mailbox. His most frequent “outside of schoolwork reading” is the daily newspaper and news magazines like Time and Newsweek. He enjoys being able to peruse a variety of news stories in a relatively short period of time.
Writer. In contrast to his self-concept as a reader, Jerry describes himself as an accomplished and confident writer. He enjoys spending school vacation days writing children’s stories. During a recent summer break, Jerry began writing a historical fiction novel about a troubled California boy living in the present day who meets the spirit of a young native Californian. The spirit helps the boy with his social problems and teaches him about life as a boy years ago. That story, like others he has composed, is based in part on his experiences or on the experiences he might have if he were able to go back in time and revisit significant historical events and people.
Although brainstorming and composing have always come easily to Jerry, he reported that it was in college that he received help from faculty and writing center tutors to refine the mechanics and organization of his writing.
Jerry prefers composing his stories on the computer because it helps him organize his thoughts and allows him to easily edit and revise. He also uses the computer to design writing assignment rubrics for his students. He believes that the rubrics help his students better understand and organize their writing.
Major Influences on Practice
Jerry reported that his school district has gone through many changes in response to federal and state laws, as well as district- level mandates. The district hired a literacy consultant to assess the reading and writing curriculum, recommend improvements, and help teachers implement these changes. In turn, Jerry acknowledges that his reading and writing programs have been most influenced by these changes. For example, he now engages in more focused, regular assessment of students’ reading and writing and plans instruction accordingly.
In addition to various influential factors from outside his classroom, Jerry closely monitors his students’ needs and interests when he chooses instruction and activities to foster their reading and writing achievement. For example, he recently taught several lessons in selecting appropriate books for independent reading. He told students that they had to think carefully about the topic they wanted to read as well as the type of book (e.g., mystery or nonfiction) because each type of text required a different way of thinking and reading and provided the reader with a diverse experience. He likened the decision-making process to selecting an ice cream flavor:
Say the store has chocolate, rocky road, strawberry, cotton candy, and chocolate peanut butter. You may like all these flavors, but unless you are really hungry, you are not going to buy all of them today. So you have to ask yourself, what flavor am I in the mood for now? This is the same question you ask yourself when deciding on a book. What type of book am I in the mood for now? (Interview 1, p. 5)
Jerry admits that he places a great deal of emphasis on reading and writing instruction, perhaps more than many teachers, because as a child these were difficult subjects for him. He is highly empathetic, regularly making connections between his own literacy struggles, the struggles his students face, and, ultimately, the instruction and other support he provides.
Relationships Between Reading and Writing and Teaching Reading and Writing
Jerry understands what it is like to struggle as a learner of reading and writing even though he is now teaches these subjects and is a competent reader and confident and accomplished writer. He always enjoyed writing and felt that it came naturally to him, and he was thankful to college professors for teaching him the structure and mechanics of writing to complement his enthusiasm and wealth of ideas. At the same time, however, he was displeased that his elementary and secondary teachers had not taught him these writing skills.
Jerry does not have much time to read and write outside of his busy teaching schedule, but he reads one or two novels and composes children’s stories over the summer and other vacation days. He draws on the anticipation, excitement, and satisfaction of his reading and writing experiences, as well as on his troubling childhood reading and writing memories to provide instruction and support for his students. He recalls his difficulties with reading and writing during elementary school and teachers’ seeming indifference, unwillingness, or inability to help. Jerry is highly sensitive to his students’ reading and writing struggles, and he provides intensive intervention when he discovers a child having problems. In addition, because he needs lots of time and a quiet environment for writing, Jerry strives to provide time every day for thinking, writing, and composing.
Jerry rarely engages in his own reading or writing in school in front of his students, preferring instead to circulate around the room to meet with children about their own reading and writing. He believes working with students on their writing is far more valuable to and responsible for children’s reading and writing growth.
Response to Reader and Writer and Teacher Hypothesis
Jerry experienced some reading and writing struggles as a child, and these memories contribute to the empathy that he has for children in his class who also experience reading and writing difficulties. He considers himself a competent and enthusiastic reader, although he continues to encounter occasional comprehension problems with certain texts and reading tasks, and a confident and accomplished writer who enjoys writing children’s literature when he has the time. Outside of the modeling, write-alouds, read-alouds, and other reading and writing instruction and activities that Jerry does with his students, he does not believe that his own reading andwriting have any significance for his teaching these subjects.
Jerry is an effective literacy educator because he (a) focuses on teaching children the skills that they need, (b) works intensively with children on their individual reading and writing goals, and (c) carefully observes and assesses students and plans future results- based instruction. Jerry believes that he would be less effective if he devoted more time to modeling and demonstrating his reading and writing rather than to that of his students. His alternative hypothesis is that,
Teachers who themselves struggled (or struggle) with reading or writing may be empathetic toward their students’ reading and writing strengths and areas of need, which may, in part, influence the instruction provided, but other factors play a more significant role in how and why teachers provide effective reading and writing instruction.
Debbie: Perception of Self as Reader and Writer
Reader. Debbie believes that a reader is someone who reads anything and everything and enjoys what they read. She considers herself an enthusiastic reader who loves to read for entertainment; therefore, she generally makes time every day outside of school to read. Debbie often reads in the morning before driving to school, in the evening after school, over most weekends, and especially during summer and other extended holidays and breaks. It is not unusual for her to read two or three books at a time, keeping one book in her purse, one at home in her bed, and one in the car. She particularly enjoys books by John Grisham, Danielle Steele, Mary Higgins Clark, and Barbara Taylor Bradford. She occasionally reads children’s literature for pleasure, such as books by Beverly Cleary, but she prefers reading books targeting an adult audience.
Writer. Debbie makes a clear distinction between a person who writes competently and a writer. She perceives herself as the former- she can effectively write material that is required. For example, she writes notes to parents, models writing for students, and completes other job-related writing tasks. However, she never writes for pleasure or when other communication options are available, such as a telephone call or a conversation with someone in person. Debbie claims that a writer is someone who writes books or magazine articles for a living.
I write everyday, because it’s such a part of my job as a teacher. But I don’t sit down and write stories or letters or journals or anything like that. 1 don’t go out of my way to write, but I would consider myself a good writer, and I think I write well when I write, so that people can read it, get the message, and perhaps even enjoy reading it, depending on what it is. (Interview 1, pp. 44-45; Interview 3, p. 3)
Major Influences on Practice
Debbie reported that she bases her reading and writing instruction on three major factors: (a) students’ abilities and interests, (b) fourth-grade curriculum established by the state and district, and (c) personal objectives and goals.
First and foremost, Debbie acknowledges that her students’ reading and writing abilities and interests span an incredible range, from those who are reading far above grade level, enjoy a variety of materials, and enthusiastically read when given the chance, to those who are reluctant and need a tremendous amount of teacher support. She believes that her job at the beginning of the school year is to discover the kind of reader and writer that each of her students is and to provide them with instruction and materials that will help them develop into successful students.
Debbie surmises that like most teachers, she meets the fourth- grade curriculum by engaging students in lessons and activities that will interest them as children and her as a teacher. In most cases, the methods and materials that she uses are not mandated, so she can select these herself.
Writing, I try to model for them, to show them how to put ideas together, start with capital letters, put proper punctuation. . . . The new standards [for the English Language Arts] are important too, for all teachers, all of us. We have to teach and make sure our students understand the skills and other information they need to meet the new standards and to pass the new tests…. I have goals, too, that I want to accomplish, like I want them to hear and be exposed to certain books, so I make sure I read these to them. And like writing, we wrote to pen pals because we received a letter from another class of kids in another state, so 1 wanted students to write back, so we started writing letters…. I taught them how to set up the page for letters, like where the date goes, how to indent and things like that. (Interview 3, pp. 8, 9)
Relationships Between Reading and Writing and Teaching Reading and Writing
Debbie believes that her enthusiasm for reading does influence how she talks to students about their reading.
She gets excited when she talks to the class about books that other students are reading, books they read together as a class, and books she reads aloud to students. She believes that enthusiasm has a positive effect on her students’ attitudes toward reading.
You know, I’m a big fan of reading and I read all the time. I think this excitement about reading comes out when I talk about books with students. Like I’ll say to them, ‘This is such a great story because you feel like you’re in the story, right?’ And I’m sure my eyes are kind of wide and maybe the kids think I’m a little crazy. But they get into it, they like the story. They see I’m excited. Sometimes a kid will tell me he doesn’t like to read, and I’ll say, ‘What do you mean you don’t like to read? You probably haven’t found the right book.’ So, yes, I believe my enthusiasm for reading comes out when I’m doing reading with the students. But does it make me teach reading better? No, I don’t think so. (Robbins, Interview 3, p. 8)
Although Debbie reports that she does not write her own stories, she models writing for her students, “about once or twice a week, depending on what’s happening” (Interview 3, p. 4). By modeling, she means that she talks out loud to students about how to follow the writing process, starting with brainstorming and proceeding to drafting, revising, and editing.
Response to Reader and Writer and Teacher Hypothesis
Debbie believes that she does a good job teaching reading and writing. She is an enthusiastic reader, and this passion is evident when she talks with her students about books. However, she does not believe that this passion is a significant factor in her success as a reading teacher. She effectively fosters her students’ reading achievement because she is attentive to their individual reading needs by matching them to appropriate materials and providing instruction that they need to develop. She emphasizes that many people demonstrate a passion for an activity (e.g., reading, skiing, or hand gliding), but they have little idea and, consequently, little success in teaching others to competently perform these activities.
Debbie believes that she is an effective writing teacher, despite her demonstrating little or no individual passion for it as a pleasurable activity. She teaches her students the writing skills they need and gives them practice in using these skills. Overall, Debbie believes that by the end of the year, she is successful in getting most of her students to become competent writers. That is, they can write coherent, grammatically correct, and cohesive texts. Despite her best efforts, Debbie admits that a few children leave at the “cusp of competency,” that is, needing more practice and growth. Some children develop a passion for writing in addition to their competence, and Debbie is excited for these children. However, she believes that the development of a passion is ultimately up to individual children, not to her writing behaviors or her writing instruction. Debbie’s case suggests an alternative hypothesis: “A teacher’s passion for reading and/or writing does not necessarily make this person an effective teacher of reading and writing.”
Regina, Jennifer, Jerry, and Debbie are considered exemplary reading and writing teachers by at least one of their school administrators. However, they clearly differ as teachers in a variety of ways, from (a) their viewpoints about their students as learners, (b) the specific methods and materials they use, (c) the major influences on their practice, (d) the kinds of readers and writers they believe they are, and (e) the ways, if any, that they share their reading and writing passions and experiences with their students. How do their stories address the three key questions guiding this study?
1. How did the 4 fourth-grade teachers describe themselves as readers and writers? As the cases indicate, Regina, Jennifer, Jerry, and Debbie are all readers and writers, but they are different kinds of readers and writers. For example, Regina reads and writes for recreational and professional purposes, whereas Jennifer reads and writes for practical purposes. However, Jennifer used to read and write more often when her life was less complex. Jerry loves writing, whereas Debbie avoids writing. Conversely, Debbie loves reading, but Jerry is apprehensive about reading. Those results suggest that effective teachers do not necessarily read and write often for professional or personal purposes. Although the hypothesis seemingly suggests a single, universally accepted definition of reader and writer, these findings indicate that effective teachers differ as readers and writers.
2. What relationships, if any, did these teachers believe existed between their own reading and writing and their teaching reading and writing? How did these teachers respond to the “Do as I do, not as I say” hypothesis? Regina and Debbie consider themselves to be avid and confident readers who enjoy reading for pleasure, in and out of school\, and they actively share this passion with their students on a regular basis. This passion is most evident when they introduce and discuss specific books to students. For example, they invite their students to (a) identify with the emotions and experiences of story characters (laugh when characters laugh; be inquisitive when characters inquire), (b) wonder what might happen next, and (c) question why authors guide a story in a certain direction. They often read their own books during reading workshop periods. For these teachers, reading is more than reaching the end of a book-it is time to savor.
Jennifer assumes a pragmatic stance to reading, noting her general competence as a reader but acknowledging that she often has, and chooses to make, little time in her life for pleasure reading in or out of school. However, she is adamant that she effectively models appropriate reading strategies and practices for her students and often reads aloud to them, but that these practices are not a consequence, for better or worse, of her personal reading experiences.
Jerry epitomizes the empathetic reader, able to relate to his students who struggle with reading. Jerry is still discovering his personal reading interests in various topics and authors, now that he has the maturity and strategies to help him better navigate the reading process. In a sense, Jerry is like Regina and Debbie in that he identifies with students, but the approach is different, as are the students who initially identify with these teachers. That is, Regina and Debbie perhaps most appeal to fellow reading-enthusiast students, whereas Jerry may attract reluctant readers who perceive a bit of themselves in him.
The roles and relationships shift somewhat when it comes to writing. Regina and Jerry enjoy writing, but they differ in their opinions about any relationship with their teaching writing. Regina often works on her own piece of writing during writing workshops so that her students witness her in the act of writing. As with reading, Regina subscribes wholeheartedly to the “Do as I do, not as I say” sentiment, emphatic that such a stance is common sense. Students model what she does and does not do, and she says that students have a keen sense of when teachers are behaving as assigners rather than fellow doers. Although Jerry is an enthusiastic writer on his own time, he rarely participates in his own writing with or in front of students (aside from modeling a piece for classroom use only). He believes that his job is to help students compose their own writing, not showcase his own writing.
As with reading, Jennifer assumes a pragmatic stance as a writer and a writing teacher. She believes that she has developed a sufficient level of writing competency from her years of schooling. She knows how to write effectively in various formats and styles and can do so when needed. Likewise, she believes that she knows how to teach her students to become competent writers. That instruction includes modeling writing forms and engaging in shared and guided writing as necessary in a whole-class setting, followed by small- group and individual conferencing as needed. Jennifer sees little or no connection between her own current writing practices and her writing instruction.
3. What factors did the teachers indicate were most influential in their teaching reading and writing? Regina, Jennifer, Jerry, and Debbie were emphatic about their attention to identifying and targeting the learning needs of individual students, which they identified as the most important influence in their reading and writing. These teachers were steadfast in their convictions to use methods and materials that helped their students succeed, regardless of what others might view as politically correct or incorrect, including commercially published books and tools and teacher- created materials. The teachers refer to their schools’ established curriculum and their states’ learning standards as guides in planning and implementing instruction but do not obsess or worry about matching every lesson with the curriculum or learning standards.
Regina, Jennifer, and Debbie had each been teaching for more than 10 years, and Jerry had taught for 8 years. They acknowledged that no two students or schoolyears were alike, so they were constantly thinking, learning, making decisions, evaluating, and reevaluating each day. These teachers, despite differences in their years and types of experience, seemed to have reached a point in their careers where they felt confident making instructional decisions and problem solving, unfettered by what others might think. They knew their students and what they needed, and they acted accordingly. The ease of these teachers in making such decisions was likely aided by the support, admiration, and respect of school administrators.
Regina, Jennifer, Jerry, and Debbie provide an insightful examination of how exemplary reading and writing teachers view themselves as readers and writers, how they respond to the commonly held “Do as I do, not as 1 say” hypothesis, and which factors they believe most affect their reading and writing instruction. My purpose in this study was to explore complexities associated with that hypothesis and teachers’ notions of themselves as readers and writers and as teachers of reading and writing. To this end, the study was successful because I presented evidence that questioned and critically examined assumptions and underlying issues associated with the hypothesis. What are some of the lessons learned that researchers might investigate and that teachers might ask themselves about potential connections between what they do and what they teach?
First, Regina, Jennifer, Jerry, and Debbie acknowledged the good intentions of scholars and researchers when they suggested that teacher