Teachers' Decision-making Regarding Low-performing Emergent Readers in Three Kindergarten Classrooms

Williams, Beth, Curriculum and Instruction - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Mintz, Susan, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Executive Summary

Possessing the ability to read critically allows one to be a fully-participating member of our democratic society (Apple, 2000; Kretovics, 1985), and conversely, not having critical reading skills limits one’s opportunities. As such, teaching students to read in elementary school is a fundamental concern, and schools spend a great deal of time, effort, and resources toward reaching this endeavor. However, many students do not reach high levels of reading skills (NAEP; National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2011), and many of these students are either living in poverty, non-White, or both, making this problem a social justice issue. This national issue pertains to Springwell Elementary School in particular. The problem of practice at the school is that many students do not achieve high levels in reading. School data show that many students do not make the necessary progress to be on grade-level by the end of the school year. Researchers have found that offering students explicit classroom instruction that meets their developmental needs in the early grades can increase students’ reading achievement (Piasta, Connor, Fishman, & Morrison, 2009) and reduce the incidence of reading disabilities (Vellutino & Scanlon, 1999).
The purpose of this capstone project was to examine kindergarten teachers’ reading instruction for low-performing emergent readers at Springwell Elementary School and to describe the preactive and interactive decisions of kindergarten teachers. Ultimately, the findings and implications were used to make recommendations to Springwell Elementary School on ways to improve kindergarten reading instruction.
Using a qualitative multiple-case study design, I examined small-group reading instruction in three kindergarten classrooms at Springwell Elementary School over a period of eight weeks. I collected observation, interview, and document data, and analyzed data iteratively by coding, composing analytic memos, creating data displays, and developing assertions, in order to search for confirming and disconfirming evidence of findings.
The overall findings of this capstone study are:
1. Kindergarten teachers at Springwell Elementary School relied primarily on assessed Rigby (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007) reading levels to flexibly group students for small-group instruction during their literacy block. The prominent focus on Rigby levels may hinder teachers from addressing multiple indicators of emergent reader development.
2. Kindergarten teachers at Springwell Elementary School often planned and implemented differentiated small-group reading instruction for low-performing emergent readers. However, teachers did not appear to use a systematic approach, as instructional content and activities were delivered inconsistently; at times, teachers offered activities other than reading instruction during designated small-group time.
3. During interactive teaching, kindergarten teachers at Springwell Elementary School made two types of “pedagogical maneuvering decisions” (Duffy & Ball, 1983, p. 16) in response to student behaviors (i.e., stuck, incorrect, and correct): procedural (i.e., activity-oriented) and substantive (i.e., goal-focused). Within the initiation-response-feedback (IRF) framework, teachers missed opportunities to make substantive decisions to exploit their feedback turns. Additionally, instructional activities that seemed to be more goal-focused increased the potential for teachers to make substantive decisions.
Implications and Recommendations
The implications of the findings from this capstone study revealed that kindergarten reading instruction at Springwell Elementary School may both encourage and limit student growth. The recommendations to Springwell Elementary School on possible ways to improve kindergarten classroom instruction are:
1. In order to increase (1) teacher knowledge of emergent reader development, and (2) teacher skill in using assessment data to plan targeted instruction: Provide teachers instructional support in analyzing how the school’s literacy-diet-based emergent reader lesson plan components (i.e., concepts of print, alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, COW-T, and writing) and instructional activities can be used to support emergent reader development.
2. To improve the quality of teacher decisions when implementing small-group reading instruction: Provide teachers instructional support in (1) contrasting procedural (i.e., activity-based) and substantive (i.e., goal-focused) decisions, and in (2) identifying and exploiting opportunities to make substantive decisions (i.e., asking metacognitive questions, offering explicit instruction, offering specific praise, and confirming with elaboration).
3. As part of a systematic approach to reading instruction:
a. Use valid, reliable, and instructionally transparent assessment tools (e.g., PALS-K [Invernizzi, Swank, Juel, & Meier, 2003] and PALS-K Quick Checks) to determine students’ strengths and weaknesses with respect to multiple indicators of emergent reader development including COW-T, spelling, letter recognition, letter sounds, and phonological awareness (i.e., rhyme and beginning sounds). Use these assessment data to flexibly group students and plan for differentiated small-group instruction. Kindergarten teachers and other collaborating teachers (e.g., ESOL, reading specialists, SPED) should meet at least monthly to discuss student progress (as measured on assessments) and adjust instruction.
b. Design and use a daily record-keeping system to track which literacy components (i.e., concepts of print, alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, COW-T, and writing) each teacher or teaching assistant is delivering during small-group instruction, to ensure that each student is getting appropriate amounts of instruction across the McGuffey literacy diet (http://readingfirst.virginia.edu/pdfs/diets.pdf) and to allow teachers to maintain a consistent daily routine (e.g., reread books, practice letter sounds, and read a new book) with their emergent reader groups.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
kindergarten, emergent literacy, classroom-based reading instruction, teacher decision-making, early reading, qualitative, elementary, multiple-case study, teacher knowledge, explicit instruction, cross-case, differentiated small-group reading instruction
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