Improving Middle School Professional Development by Examining Middle School Teachers' Application of Literacy Strategies and Instructional Design

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Temple University Libraries]On: 16 November 2014, At: 05:14Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

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    Improving Middle SchoolProfessional Developmentby Examining Middle SchoolTeachers' Application ofLiteracy Strategies andInstructional DesignWilliam Dee Nichols a , Carl A. Young b & Robert J.Rickelman aa University of North Carolina at Charlotte ,Charlotte, North Carolina, USAb North Carolina State University , Raleigh, NorthCarolina, USAPublished online: 01 Feb 2007.

    To cite this article: William Dee Nichols , Carl A. Young & Robert J. Rickelman(2007) Improving Middle School Professional Development by Examining MiddleSchool Teachers' Application of Literacy Strategies and Instructional Design, ReadingPsychology, 28:1, 97-130, DOI: 10.1080/02702710601115497

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  • Reading Psychology, 28:97130, 2007Copyright C 2007 Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0270-2711 print / 1521-0685 onlineDOI: 10.1080/02702710601115497

    IMPROVING MIDDLE SCHOOL PROFESSIONALDEVELOPMENT BY EXAMINING MIDDLE SCHOOL

    TEACHERS APPLICATION OF LITERACY STRATEGIESAND INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN

    WILLIAM DEE NICHOLS

    University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

    CARL A. YOUNG

    North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

    ROBERT J. RICKELMAN

    University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

    The goal of this article is to explore the effects of professional development on middleschool teachers understanding and application of literacy strategies supportingand enhancing instruction across the curriculum. This study investigated theextent to which reading and writing strategies, along with sound instructionaldesign, were implemented by middle school teachers in their content areas based ondata collected from self-reports (i.e., strategy and design checklists) and authorsclassroom observations. Results from the analysis of the data collected suggestthat the sampled middle school teachers used a wide variety of instructionalstrategies and instructional designs throughout their teaching. While certaininstructional designs (whole-class discussion) and strategies (note-taking andgraphic organizers) were used universally throughout the school, perhaps moreimportant was the fact that others were selected dependent upon the unique contentarea they taught.

    Introduction

    Henriquez (2005) reported that a review of literacy practices, in-cluding consultations with the leading researchers and practition-ers, revealed that the teaching of reading in grades K3 is well sup-ported by substantial research, practice, and policy. The ReadingExcellence Act, Reading First initiative, and the National Read-ing Panels report Teaching Children to Read all provide a strong

    Address correspondence to William D. Nichols, The University of North Carolina atCharlotte, College of Education, Department of Reading and Elementary Education, 9201University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28223-0001. E-mail: wdnichol@email.uncc.edu

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    foundation for the developmental aspects of reading (the teach-ing of phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency); however, con-tent area reading typically associated with upper elementary andadolescent learners does not receive as much attention. While com-prehension instruction is included in all the previously mentionedefforts, it is reduced to a small part of the reading curriculum(Liang & Dole, 2006); and the knowledge base for grades beyondK3 is not as robust or as well defined.

    DeLeon (2002) found that almost half of the students enter-ing ninth grade are reading several years below grade level. Find-ings by Biancarosa and Snow (2004) confirmed this, revealing that70% of entering ninth graders can be considered to be reading be-low grade level. While these statistics might be disputed by some,more research conducted at the middle grades level on effectiveliteracy practices still needs to be made a priority. According toBiancarosa and Snow (2004), the primary problem for older read-ers is not their ability to decode, but instead that students lack thestrategies to assist with comprehension. There seems to be fairlyconsistent agreement within the field (National Reading Panel,2000) about effective literacy instruction within the earlier grades,but there is less agreement about effective teaching methodolo-gies and strategies for comprehension development beyond theelementary school.

    This study aims to fill some of the void in terms of literacyresearch in the middle grades by focusing on a professional de-velopment initiative with middle school teachers. While there hasbeen some federal response to this middle/secondary literacy crisis(e.g., No Child Left Behind Act [2002] and Striving Readers Initia-tive), we feel that professional development at the school level hasthe potential for a much more immediate impact upon teacherspractices and subsequent students learning. Currently, only 15%of Title I funding goes to middle and high schools, and promis-ing programs like GEAR UP and TRIO, which assist disadvan-taged middle school students in preparing for college, only reach1020% of students who are eligible for assistance (National Mid-dle School Association [NMSA], 2006). In addition, if educatorstruly desire to improve the literacy needs of adolescent learners,time and resources must to be allocated to the development of ef-fective teachers so that adolescent learners are assured of the sameopportunities to learn (Pitcher, 2003). Allington and Cunningham

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  • Improving Middle School Professional Development 99

    (2002) stated that it was difficult to find school districts that in-vested even 1% of the annual budget in supporting professionaldevelopment; therefore, it is imperative that professional develop-ment moves beyond one-shot training and begins to make themost of the time allocated to such an important cause.

    Background

    The authors of this study were invited to conduct a long-term pro-fessional development consulting initiative with a middle school insouthwest Virginia that focused on reading and writing strategy de-velopment and implementation. A major expected outcome was,ultimately, to provide strategies that would help students scorehigher on state-level standardized tests. The authors saw this as anopportunity to build a strong professional development model forfaculty and students and develop a research-based agenda focus-ing on effective literacy strategies, as well as address the pressingissue for administrators, faculty, and students on how to increasethe number of students passing the required standardized tests ad-ministered to students. The consulting site was a public alternativemiddle school for at-risk students not succeeding in their assignedschools (a formal application and interview process were requiredfor admission).

    Purpose/Rationale

    Research has identified the teacher as the major contributingfactor in effective instruction (Kennedy, 1998) and the impor-tance that teacher expertise has upon student learning out-comes (Darling-Hammond, 1997). Regardless of the program, theteacher is the most important variable in childrens literacy devel-opment (Flippo, 2001; Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, & Schatschnei-der, 1998; National Reading Panel, 2000; Pitcher, 2003; Snow,Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Teachers make multiple, daily decisionsin planning their learning outcomes, meeting childrens learningneeds, and accommodating and broadening their instructionalpreferences (Mergen, 2000). Effective teachers respond to stu-dents learning needs by varying their instructional proceduresand methodologies in relation to desired learning outcomes andstudents capabilities. Furthermore, teachers can make informedand purposeful decisions about their classroom practices because

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    they recognize the impact of their instructional design and theirinstructional strategy selection on the learning of individual stu-dents (Heilman, Blair, & Rupley, 2001; Nichols, Jones, & Hancock,2003). Successful instruction does not rely on one single strategy,method, or combination of these to meet the learning needs ofall children; rather, the teacher is the major variable that deter-mines the efficacy of instruction (International Reading Associa-tion [IRA], 2000). The effective teacher incorporates theory intopractice and reflects on student learning, performance, applica-tion, and motivation (e.g., Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as aProfession, 1986; Goodlad, 1990; Pressley, 2000; Reynolds, 1992).

    To be more specific, effective teachers demonstrate for stu-dents how to apply a variety of instructional strategies before, dur-ing, and after reading. Weaving these strategies throughout theirinstructional day and into their students learning nurtures andfacilitates further learning development (Jacobs, 2002; Pressley& Wharton-McDonald, 1997; Rupley, Willson, & Nichols, 1998).Many instructional strategies can be taught explicitly and used inmeaningful practice while students are learning from increasinglydifficult text. Explicit strategy instruction for students is benefi-cial because, for the most part, they need scaffolded guidance andsupervised practice in using instructional strategies (Dole, Duffy,Roehler, & Pearson, 1991; Willson & Rupley, 1997). In addition, forinstructional strategies to be understood, practiced, and appliedby students, teachers must help students understand how benefi-cial such strategies can be to their learning from text. In essence,students need to be taught when and under what circumstancesthey should apply particular instructional strategies (Grimes, 2004;Pressley & Wharton-McDonald , 1997).

    Learning and understanding requires using both prior andstrategic knowledge; however, not all students realize either theimportance of these or are unable to draw upon them for compre-hending and learning from texts (Barton & Sawyer, 2004). Strug-gling learners often have difficulty using strategies because of theirinability to monitor their own understanding of text (Paris, Lipson,& Wixson, 1994; Pressley, 2000; Willson & Rupley, 1997). They maygive too much attention to decoding and determining word mean-ing as a way to monitor their understanding rather than relying onmultiple monitoring strategies that focus on both word identifica-tion and construction of meaning (Pressley, 2000). Furthermore,

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    struggling learners may have difficulty learning from text becausetheir emergent knowledge about learning reflects incomplete con-cepts about the nature and purpose of learning (Nichols, Rupley,& Mergen, 1998; Pressley, 2000; Stahl, 2004). For many strugglingstudents, independent learning remains an untapped resource,because they have not been taught explicit literacy strategies toguide self-directed learning experiences.

    Most of the research on the extent to which instructionalstrategies are implemented in the content areas has occurred overthe past two decades. During this time, researchers have examinedthe specific strategies learners use to comprehend informationaltext and have determined that successful reading comprehensionrelies on conceptual understanding, automatic use of basic skills,and use of appropriate reading strategies (e.g., Jetton, Rupley, &Willson, 1995; Kletzien, 1991; Weaver & Kintsch, 1991). Instruc-tional strategies include the practice of varying ones approachto learning depending upon ones goal. Reading in the contentareas is seen as a process in which the construction of meaning oc-curs by the interaction of knowledge stored by the learner and thetextual information that the learner encounters. Skilled readersconstruct mental models of the text by using their existing knowl-edge along with flexible strategies. When comprehension breaksdown, good readers have the awareness necessary to monitor andchange strategies so that comprehension has a better chance ofoccurring (Dole et al., 1991; Pressley, 2000).

    Even though comprehension requires prior and strategicknowledge, these forms of knowledge are often times a difficultcomponent for students to use. It appears that less skilled readershave difficulty monitoring comprehension. This is partially due totheir lack of awareness about the appropriate measures for evaluat-ing their own comprehension (Paris, Lipson, & Wixson, 1994; Will-son & Rupley, 1997). McKenna and Robinson (1990) assert that itis essential that teachers share explicit reading strategies with stu-dents in order to better prepare them to implement comprehen-sion strategies effectively in their encounters with challenging text.It is their belief that by improving teachers knowledge of instruc-tional strategies and methods, teachers will have a better under-standing of the value of these when teaching in their classrooms.

    In preparing their students to become more strategic, inde-pendent readers, teachers need to be able to teach as well as to

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    encourage their students to systematically use appropriate instruc-tional strategies when interacting with text (Nichols, Rupley, &Mergen, 1998; Pressley, 2000; Rupley, Willson, & Mergen, 2005).Such multi-strategy approaches to teaching are further supportedby Langers study (2000). Her results indicated that teachers inhigher performing schools taught a skill or strategy based uponstudents needs and provided practice and application in simu-lated activities and situations. The teachers used the instructionalstrategies to instruct the students and then transferred respon-sibility for their application to the students through meaningfulactivities.

    Given that less than 1% of the research studies on readingeducation published since 1965 address pre-service or in-servicereading teacher education (Anders, Hoffman, & Duffy, 2000), thisstudy provides a focused look at the potential that professional de-velopment has in affecting teachers use of instructional strategiesand methods in their daily instruction. The major purpose of thisstudy was to determine the extent to which instructional strategiesand designs were being implemented by middle school teachers intheir instructional programs based on the subject that they taught.Knowing that effective teachers incorporate theory into practiceand do not rely on a single instructional strategy or method tomeet the learning needs of their students (Pressley, 2000), thisinvestigation sought to address the following research questions:

    1. To what extent are teachers in the selected middle school fa-miliar with content area reading and writing strategies?

    2. Do teachers within specific content areas tend to choose certainstrategies or instructional designs over others?

    Procedures

    This study focused on participating teachers from a Title I middleschool in southwest Virginia from the fall of 2004 to the springof 2005. Title I is a federally funded program that serves studentswho score below grade level in reading. Professional developmentseminars were conducted once a month for one academic yearand at least one, and often two, new instructional strategies wereemphasized. Throughout all seminars, an emphasis was placed on

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    understanding the relationship between a content learning goal,a selected strategy, and the instructional design of the lesson.

    Data Collection

    Prior to the beginning of the fall semester, the authors met withthe district director of instruction for English and the principaland assistant principals at the school to outline a plan of action.The initial plan was to hold monthly meetings, where teacherswould be introduced to reading and writing strategies in blockedgrade level meetings. Meetings by content area were discussed,but were not feasible in this setting due to scheduling. Once theinitial planning and commitment to the professional developmentinitiative was completed, the researchers interviewed the faculty inregards to a needs assessment of the school. The needs assessmentwas conducted in order to guide the direction of the professionaldevelopment initiative.

    A kickoff presentation with the faculty was planned to intro-duce the results of the needs assessment, discuss the professionaldevelopment initiative, share an initial strategy (Anticipation Re-action Guide), and administer the Reading Language Arts Instruc-tional Features Questionnaire (RLAIFQ).

    Instruments

    In order to analyze the teachers familiarity with instructionalstrategies and to examine the frequency at which the strategieswere reported being used, teachers completed the RLAIFQ. Themiddle school teachers completed the RLAIFQ at the beginningof the staff development program and took each participant aboutan hour to complete. A descriptive analysis was conducted usinginformation from the RLAIFQ.

    The RLAIFQ is an updated version of the RIFQ (Mergen,2000; Nichols et al., 1998, 2006) that was developed in order todetermine classroom teachers knowledge and use of instructionalprocedures and strategies. The first part of the instrument focusedon demographic information. The second part of the question-naire is divided into eight parts that examine the extent to whichteachers report using: (a) instructional methods; (b) groupingpractices; (c) learning and study strategies in the content areas of

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    science, social studies, math and language arts; (d) trade books;(e) paper marking strategies; (f) technology; (g) an examinationof beliefs; and (h) an examination of instructional practices inregards to beliefs.

    The instructional strategies in the RLAIFQ were compiled af-ter a comprehensive review of related literature and included asearch of ERIC citations, reading and English language arts meth-ods textbooks, and The Literacy Dictionary: The Vocabulary of Readingand Writing (Harris & Hodges, 1995). The reading and writingstrategies that were identified from this review were included asitems in the questionnaire. Details of all methods, grouping prac-tices, and learning strategies were provided to the teachers. Theoriginal RIFQ was field-tested using a sample of 30 teachers whomade suggestions for improvement (see Nichols et al., 1998, forcomplete RIFQ). Mergen (2000) and Rupley et al. (2005) foundthat the RIFQ is a reliable instrument for teachers self-reports ofclassroom use of reading instructional strategies, demonstratinga strong correlation between teachers self-reports and classroomobservations by trained observers. Use of the RIFQ in several stud-ies with more than 1,000 teachers has resulted in reliability coef-ficients greater than .80 in all instances. Teacher and researchersuggestions were incorporated into the RLAIFQ. While teachersreported on all items of the RLAIFQ, the primary focus of the dataanalysis for this study was on the 13 grouping practices, which bestrepresented instructional design and the 62 instructional strate-gies which teachers reported using in their content reading in-structional programs (See Appendix A).

    In addition to the RLAIFQ, a related Instructional Designand Strategy Checklist was developed. The checklist included itemsfrom the RLAIFQ which teachers used to make monthly reports onthe skills, strategies, instructional design, and assessments that theyhad implemented. Teachers were also given a separate annotatedlist of strategies for their use (See Appendix B).

    Data were collected over a four-month period starting inNovember and concluding in February and were used as themain instrument for determining differences among contentarea, teachers instructional design, and strategy selection. Whileteacher reports and observations focused on skills, strategies, in-structional design, and assessment, the primary focus of the dataanalysis for this study was on the strategies and the instructional

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  • Improving Middle School Professional Development 105

    design selected by the teachers. The school administrators re-quired that each teacher use the checklist, and faculty made this aregular routine. The checklists were collected by the principal ofthe school at the end of each month and were then provided tothe authors.

    Observations

    The authors also used the checklist during the classroom visits tovalidate the teachers self-reports. The teachers involved in the ob-servations were selected based on their willingness to be observedor on recommendations from school administrators. Teaching ex-perience of the participants ranged from first year classroom teach-ers to teachers with 30 years or more of teaching experience. Inorder to examine responses to the RLAIFQ, the instructional de-sign and strategy checklist, and the authors observations, the datawere analyzed using descriptive statistics.

    Professional Development

    Monthly day-long professional development sessions were held ateach school with faculty attending during grade level planning pe-riods. In addition, teachers were asked to keep a record of thestrategies they implemented in their classrooms using a strategychecklist provided by the authors. The strategies checklist was usedas an impetus for discussion at the beginning of each professionaldevelopment session. Strategies and instructional design were dis-cussed in relationship to content area learning goals and strategyimplementation processes.

    Staff development sessions were provided to assist teacherson ways to integrate informal reading/writing assessment, group-ing procedures, and selected reading and writing strategies intothe teachers instructional program. The staff development topicswere determined by the results of the needs assessment and werebased on school district guidelines that included the followinggoals:

    1. To improve and enhance middle school teachers knowledgeof content and instructional strategies for reading and writingacross the content areas.

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  • 106 W. D. Nichols et al.

    2. To create model instructional lessons that integrates readingand writing skills and teaching strategies in grade-appropriatereading content.

    Each session began with a small group reflective discoursebased on the strategy checklist and the recommended readingssurrounding the selected topic. Participants and facilitators ana-lyzed the previous strategy discussions and reinforced the integra-tive nature between the reading and writing strategy implementa-tion across the content area lessons. Participants then developedrelated content lessons. Qualified teachers were identified in eachschool to help lead the implementation of the instructional strate-gies and to serve as a resource to assist in the development ofstrategic lessons.

    Results

    Results of the Needs Assessment

    The authors met with grade level teams to complete the needsassessment and determine what the teachers needed in terms ofhelp with reading and writing strategies and working with theirstudents. Their concerns included, but also went beyond, readingand writing strategies. Larger concerns included: poor or no avail-ability of textbooks and supplementary materials, a lack of trainingin a middle school teaming philosophy and planning structure, alack of preparation or expertise within the school to teach writing,and lack of adequate special education resources and support forinclusion classes. These concerns were then shared with school ad-ministrators, and suggestions for addressing each were discussed.The authors also agreed to provide funding for nonfiction supple-mentary resources and other texts for each content area.

    Based on their feedback in the needs assessment meetings, thefollowing strategies were recommended to provide the directionof the Professional Development Initiative:

    Reading Strategies: Strategies for assisting students with summa-rizing, generalizing, and inferring (QuestionAnswer Relation-ship [QAR], Directed Reading Thinking Activity [DRTA]); flu-ency strategies; text type comparisons; text road map, reading

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  • Improving Middle School Professional Development 107

    road map; literature circles; graphic organizers; creative drama;grouping practices (Flexible Grouping); reading developmentallevels; discussion strategies (Sketch to Stretch, Inquiry charts);vocabulary strategies (Word Maps, Own-a-Word, Semantic Webs,Possible Sentences, Concept Wheels, Semantic Feature Analysis)

    Writing Strategies: fluency strategies (webbing/clustering,freewrites, guided freewrites, quickwrites, journaling), Writing-across-the-Curriculum strategies, writing process (especiallyrevising vs. editing), cubing, word lists, What I Know, What IWant to Learn, What I Learned (KWL)+ chart, written responsestrategies (e.g., Writing to. . . , It SaysI SayAnd So, Save theLast Word for Me, About/Think About Chart, Sentence-Word-Word, Text Cards, etc.), model writing, admit and exit slips,revision groups, multiple genres/discourse forms, etc.

    The intent was for faculty to choose strategies that they wantedto investigate further from the list of offered options, which wouldbecome the focus of the professional development work sessions.

    Results of the RLAIFQ

    One of the questions the researchers set out to answer was: Towhat extent are teachers in the selected middle school familiar withcontent area reading and writing strategies? In order to answer thisquestion, the pre-RLAIFQ was administered. The results indicatedthat the teachers from the selected middle school were familiarwith and reported using many of the grouping practices (Table 1)and strategies (Table 2) from the instrument.

    The results in Table 1 came from the prompt: To what extentdo you use the following grouping practices in your classroominstructional program? Teachers selected from a 5-point Likertscale ranging from Never to All or almost all the time.

    (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

    Never Rarely Sometimes Often All or almostA few times Once or twice Once or twice All the time

    a year) a month) a week)

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  • 108 W. D. Nichols et al.

    TABLE 1 RLAIFQ grouping practices

    Question Number Mean Std. dev Grouping practices

    q15 14 4.285714 0.82542 Cooperative groupsq27 13 4.076923 1.255756 Flexible groupsq17 14 4.071429 0.997249 Whole classq19 13 3.384615 1.26085 Skill groupsq25 13 3.384615 1.445595 Heterogeneous groupsq18 13 3.230769 1.480644 Interest groupsq20 14 3.214286 1.188313 Ability groupsq24 13 2.615385 1.502135 Homogeneous groupsq16 13 2.538462 1.450022 Literature circlesq21 13 2.153846 1.214232 Research groupsq26 12 2.083333 1.311372 Jigsaw groupsq23 13 2.076923 1.255756 Genre studyq22 12 1.75 1.05529 Author studies

    TABLE 2 RLAIFQ learning strategies

    Question Number Mean Std. dev. Learning strategies

    q47 12 3.916667 1.1645 Graphic organizersq48 13 3.846154 0.987096 Test-taking strategiesq32 12 3.833333 1.466804 Setting purposeq44 13 3.692308 0.947331 Note-takingq58 13 3.692308 1.315587 Brainstormingq33 12 3.666667 1.154701 Guided readingq84 13 3.615385 1.043908 Study guidesq46 11 3.545455 1.439697 Webbingq73 12 3.416667 1.1645 Predictionsq29 11 3.363636 1.433369 Directed reading

    thinking activityq61 11 3.363636 1.120065 Concept mapq80 12 3.333333 1.230915 Retellingq85 12 3.333333 1.073087 Text-previewq88 12 3.333333 1.435481 Underline-highlighterq30 11 3.272727 1.00905 Kwlq43 12 3.25 1.05529 Outliningq78 12 3.25 1.05529 Re-readq79 12 3.25 1.13818 Restate problemq83 12 3.25 1.13818 Story-tellingq41 12 3.166667 0.937437 Anticipation guidesq28 12 3.083333 1.240112 Directed reading activityq50 12 3.083333 1.378954 Writing processq70 11 3 1.264911 Mnemonicsq86 12 3 0.953463 Text structure strategy

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  • Improving Middle School Professional Development 109

    Based on their self-report, the teachers indicated that they usedcooperative grouping, flexible grouping, and whole-class instruc-tion often and at a higher rate than other forms of instructionaldesign.

    Similarly, the results used for Table 2 came from the prompt:To what extent do you use the following learning and study strate-gies in your content area (English, social studies, science, math,etc.)? Teachers selected from a 5-point Likert scale ranging fromNever to All or almost all the time.

    While the teachers were presented with 62 learning and studystrategies to choose from, only items that had a mean scoreof 3.0 (Sometimes used) or greater (Often and Almost all thetime) were included in Table 2. While Self-Questioning, Venn Dia-grams, Contextual Eedefinition, QAR, 3-Minute Pause/Reflection,Think-Alouds, Skim/Scan, Word Walls, Story Maps, Free Writ-ing, Story Impressions, SQ3R, Word Maps, Semantic Maps, Learn-ing Logs, Reciprocal Teaching, Cloze Procedure, Guided Read-ing Procedure, Choral Response Reading, Fix-Up-Strategies, PRePTechnique, Sketch to Stretch, Possible Sentences, Learning Strat-egy, Word Sorts, Semantic Feature Analysis, Concept Wheels, Di-ary Entry, Readers Theatre, Induced Imagery, ReQuest, DialogueJournal, Inquest, Point-Counter-Point, Cubing, Process Drama,Probable Passage, Radio Reading, and the Language ExperienceApproach were included, they were Never or Rarely selected. Thetop strategies reported based on familiarity and self-reports of usewere Graphic Organizers, Test-Taking Strategies, Setting Purpose,and Note-Taking.

    Results from the Instructional Design and Strategy Checklist

    In order to examine content area teachers choice of instructionaldesign and strategy selection and examine the question, Do teach-ers within specific content areas tend to choose certain strategiesor instructional designs over others? the researchers analyzed thedata from the instructional design and strategy checklist reportedon by the teachers as well as the ones used for observation.

    Examining the school as a whole, the results indicate thatthe teachers report selecting Note-Taking, Graphic Organizers,Brainstorming, Guide Reading, and 3-Minute Pause/Reflectionmore than the other strategies found on the checklist. While the

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  • 110 W. D. Nichols et al.

    teachers self-reports and observations indicated that a total of 60strategies were selected over the four month period, only the top 5were presented in Table 3. While several strategies (Graphic Orga-nizers, Note-Taking, Brainstorming) were also top-selected strate-gies in 4 of the 5 content areas, each content selected their ownunique strategies dependent upon curricular goals. The numberone strategy selected by the English teachers was Guided Read-ing, while the number one strategy selected by the math teacherswas 3-Minute Pause and Reflection. The number one strategy se-lected by the science teachers was Brainstorming, while the num-ber one strategy selected by the social studies teachers was Test-Taking Strategies. The additional teachers at the school selectedNote-Taking as their primary strategy.

    In addition, English teachers were the only group to select theWriting Process and Free Writes as their top strategies. While themath teachers were the only ones to select Reciprocal Teaching,the science teachers were the only ones to select Concept Maps andVenn Diagrams, the social studies teachers were the only ones toutilize Underlining and Word Walls, and the other teachers (thoseteachers not teaching a core content area) at the school were theonly ones to select Think-Pair-Share as their top selected strategy.

    A similar finding was identified when examining Instruc-tional Design. When examining the reports of all teachers, it wasdetermined that Directed Whole Class Instruction, Whole ClassDemonstrations, Whole Class Discussion, Large and Small GroupDiscussion, and Cooperative Grouping were the top selectedinstructional designs of the school. While the teachers selected 38different instructional designs over the 4-month period, only thetop 5 are reported in Table 3. While this finding is consistent withother findings of Nichols et al. (2003), it is only accurate whenexamining the school as a whole. Breaking the report down bycontent areas indicates that English, science, and social studiesteachers report using Whole Class Direct Instruction as the primarymeans of delivering content, while the math teachers uses cooper-ative grouping practices more frequently, and the other teachers atthe school use whole class demonstrations as the primary means ofdelivery. The results also indicate that the math teachers uniquelyselected flexible grouping, games, and manipulatives in additionto more common school instructional techniques. The scienceteachers, on the other hand, while selecting the more common

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  • 112 W. D. Nichols et al.

    instructional techniques, were the only ones to select Inquiry-Based instruction as a unique instructional design, and the socialstudies teachers were the only ones to select Technology-Basedinstruction in their instructional design. In addition, the otherteachers at the school selected Projects as their key to unique in-structional design.

    Conclusions

    A major purpose of conducting research on professional develop-ment is to facilitate the integration of current research into thepedagogical practices of classroom teachers. Today, with scriptedcurriculum attempting to provide teacher-proof cookbooks forteaching, professional development and professional decision-making are more important than ever for classroom teachers.Obviously, when teachers feel pressure to follow scripted lessons,professional development needed to make significant changeis complex and difficult at best (Pitcher, 2003). When changedoes not occur, teacher resistance is frequently blamed. However,research suggests that rather than teacher resistance, it is thelack of quality staff development that is the more likely culprit(Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Duffy, 2002; Morrow &Casey, 2004). To complicate matters more, current mandates inthe United States provide little to no direction on how districts orschools should conduct professional development to help createa conducive environment where effective teaching can occur(Lipson, Mosenthal, Mekkelsen, & Russ, 2004).

    Professional development that presents important research-tested practices and ideas in creative manners that are sensible tothe practicing teacher have a greater opportunity of being imple-mented in middle school settings (Shanahan & Neuman, 1997).For genuine change to occur teachers need to critically analyzetheir current classroom practices and be provided with instruc-tional strategies and instructional designs that match their uniqueways of thinking (Richardson, & Hamilton, 1994). Teachers mustexamine their teaching to make sure that they are providing a vi-able framework for reaching the learning goal. In order for teach-ers to reach this level of professional understanding, they musthave opportunities to assess and critically think about their in-structional practices (Perkins, 1993). Understanding what teachers

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  • Improving Middle School Professional Development 113

    know and helping them make connections between their previousknowledge and comfort level to what is being learned is crucialif changes in their instruction are to occur (Fenstermacher, 1994;Richardson & Hamilton, 1994).

    Creating classroom environments that create a communityof learners, facilitate discussion, vary instructional design, incor-porate instructional strategies, and guide students to their owncritical understanding of the learning goal cannot be capturedin a scripted teachers manual, or in a one-shot in-service session(Santa, 2006). Instead, a commitment to professional developmentthat focuses teachers attention on their own critical analysis ofwhat they do and helps them make connections between currentresearch findings and their own classroom practices has the great-est potential in making the most out of professional developmentopportunities. In addition, when developing a responsive schoolcommunity, it is important to recognize that each teacher withinthe school is different and has different strengths and differentneeds as well as teaches different grade levels and content (Learn-ing First Alliance, 2000; Lipson et al., 2004). Our findings, similarto what is referenced in Every Child Reading: A Professional Develop-ment Guide, also argue for professional development activities thatmeet the individual needs of the teachers rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. In congruence with Lipson et al. (2004), we agreethat teachers should be thoughtful decision-makers who use theirknowledge of the learning goal to design instruction and selectstrategies that best enable students to reach that goal. In order todo this, they must be knowledgeable in regards to instructionaldesign and strategy implementation. It is our belief that teach-ers should be more knowledgeable about instructional design andstrategy selection in relationship to the learning goal; however,we also feel that providers of professional development workshopsshould also recognize that instructional design and strategy selec-tion is going to be dependent on content goals, the context ofindividual schools, preferences of teachers, and needs of the stu-dents. In order to best meet teachers professional developmentneeds, it is important to understand the strategies and method-ologies they are currently using so that providers of professionaldevelopment can recommend strategies and instructional designthat make sense and build upon the foundation from which theyare already working and serving their students.

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  • 114 W. D. Nichols et al.

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    Appendix A

    RLAIFQ (Items Reported on for This Study) InstructionalFeatures Questionnaire

    PURPOSES

    1. To determine how middle school teachers implement districtsinstructional plans and curriculum.

    2. To provide diagnostic and summative information useful inplanning and evaluating professional development activitiesfor the future in the content areas.

    3. To better understand the status of paper marking practicesand technology applications.To what extent do you use the following grouping practices inyour classroom instructional program?

    (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

    Never Rarely Sometimes Often All or almostA fewtimes Once or twice Once or twice All the timea year) a month) a week)

    15. cooperative groups16. literature circles17. whole class18. interest groups19. skill groups20. ability groups21. research groups22. author studies23. genre studies24. homogeneous groups25. heterogeneous groups

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    26. jigsaw groups27. flexible grouping

    To what extent do you use the following learning and studystrategies in your content area (English, social studies, science,math, etc.)?

    (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

    Never Rarely Sometimes Often All or almostA few times Once or Once or All the timea year) twice twice

    a month) a week)

    28. Directed Reading Activity (DRA)29. Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA)30. Know Want to Know Learned (KWL)31. Story Impressions32. Setting Purposes33. Guided Reading34. Fix-up Strategies35. Story Maps36. Venn Diagram37. Readers Theater38. Semantic Maps39. Skim/Scan40. Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review (SQ3R)41. Anticipation Guide42. Reciprocal Teaching43. Outlining44. Note-Taking45. Learning Logs46. Webbing47. Graphic Organizers48. Test-Taking strategies49. Sketch to Stretch50. Writing Process51. Free Writing52. Process Drama53. QuestionAnswer Relationship (QAR)

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  • Improving Middle School Professional Development 119

    To what extent do you use the following learning and studystrategies in your content area (English, social studies, science,math, etc.)? Continued

    (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

    Never Rarely Sometimes Often All or almostA few Once or Once or All the

    times twice twice timea year) a month) a week)

    54. Cubing55. Word sorts56. Word walls57. 3-Minute Pause (Reflect)58. Brainstorming59. Choral Response Reading60. Cloze61. Concept Map62. Concept Wheels63. Contextual Redefinition64. Dialogue Journals65. Diary Entry66. Guided Reading Procedure (GRP)67. Induced Imagery68. Inquest69. Language Experience Approach (LEA)70. Mnemonics71. Point, Counterpoint72. Possible Sentences73. Predictions74. PreReading Plan (PReP) Technique75. Probable Passages76. Radio Reading77. Reciprocal Questioning (ReQuest) Procedure78. Re-read79. Restate Problem

    To what extent do you use the following learning and studystrategies in your content area (English, social studies, science,math, etc.)? Continued

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  • 120 W. D. Nichols et al.

    (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

    Never Rarely Sometimes Often All or almostA few Once or Once or All the time

    times twice twicea year) a month) a week)

    80. Retelling81. Self-Question82. Semantic Feature Analysis (SFA)83. Story-Telling84. Study Guides85. Text Preview86. Text Structure Strategy87. Think Alouds88. Underline/Highlighter89. Word Maps

    Thank you for your time and effort in completing this survey.Your responses will be most helpful!

    Terminology Used in Survey

    GROUPING PRACTICES

    1. Cooperative Learning: Any pattern of classroom organizationthat allows students to work together to achieve their individ-ual goals.

    2. Literature Circles: That part of a literature-based reading pro-gram in which students meet to discuss books they are readingindependently.

    3. Whole-Class Grouping: All of the students are in a whole classsetting working on the same activity. Often used with lectureor direct instruction.

    4. Interest Groups: A grouping practice where students aregrouped based on a common interest. Could be content in-terest, inquiry interest, research interest, thematic interest,etc.

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    5. Skill Groups: A grouping practice in which students aregrouped based on a skill that all members need to work on.For example there could be a group in the class who all needto work on writing complete sentences, or introductions, sum-marizing, etc.

    6. Ability groups: The placement of students according to sim-ilar levels of intelligence or achievement in some skill orsubject.

    7. Research Groups: A grouping practice in which students aregrouped by a shared research topic.

    8. Author Studies: A grouping practice in which students aregrouped by their selection of an author. Students in thesegroups could read a variety of books by the same author andtheir discussions may be about style and voice.

    9. Genre Studies: A grouping practice in which students areplaced in groups based on a shared interest in a specific genre.For example, short stories, poetry, screen plays, tragedies,comedies, historical fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, etc.

    10. Homogeneous Groups: The placement of students across orwithin classes according to one or more selected criteria, asage, ability, achievement, gender, ethnicity, etc.

    11. Heterogeneous Groups: The organization for instruction ofstudents of differing levels of intelligence or achievement inone or more skills or subjects.

    12. Jigsaw Groups: A grouping practice where students are placedin expert groups where they investigate a variety of similartopics and then are rearranged so that each group has oneexpert on the subject. Often combined with reciprocal teach-ing. For example in a unit on fish, a group of students mightinvestigate outer anatomy, another group might investigate cir-culation of fish, another might investigate respiration of fish,another might investigate digestive system of fish, and a finalgroup might investigate swim bladder. Then new groups wouldform containing one member from each previous group. Theyman now demonstrate their expertise by dissecting a fish, eachtaking responsibility for their area of expertise.

    13. Flexible Grouping: Allowing students to work in differentlymixed groups depending on the goal of the learning task athand.

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    LEARNING STRATEGIES

    14. DRA (Directed Reading Activity): A step-by-step process forpresenting a reading lesson: Teacher sets the purpose forreading.

    15. DRTA (Directed Thinking Teaching Activity): A teacher-directed teaching activity in which the chief elements are pre-diction and verification.

    16. KWL: A strategy that is especially useful for identifying pur-poses for reading. The term derives from (What I Know),(What I Want to Learn), and (What I Have Learned).

    17. Story Impressions: Use key concepts in the form of clue wordsand phrases that the student is expected to fit together in animpression or draft of a story.

    18. Setting Purposes: Typically where the teacher provides a rea-son to engage in the reading task. The goals that the readerseeks to attain in each reading experience usually set by theteacher.

    19. Guided Reading: Reading instruction in which the teacherprovides the structure and purpose for reading and for re-sponding to the material read. Guided reading enables chil-dren to practice strategies with the teachers support and leadsto independent silent reading.

    20. Fix-Up Strategies: Strategies taught to students in order to helpthem monitor their own comprehension. A source of ideasthat students can use when they recognize they are havingproblems understanding what they are reading.

    21. Story Maps: A time line showing the ordered sequence ofevents or plot in the text. A map or organizer that focuseson the main parts of a story (Setting, Characters, Conflict,Climax, Resolution).

    22. Venn Diagram: In semantic mapping, overlapping circles thatshow those features either unique or common to two or moreconcepts.

    23. Readers Theatre: A performance of literature, as a story, play,poetry, etc., read aloud expressively by one or more persons,rather than acted.

    24. Semantic Maps: Allow students to conceptually explore theirknowledge of a new word by mapping it with other wordsor phrases that categorically share meaning with the newword.

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    25. Skim-Scan: To examine or read something quickly, but selec-tively, for a particular purpose.

    26. SQ3R: A series of steps to be used in reading a textbook forstudy purposes. The letters stand for Survey, Question, Read,Recite, Review.

    27. Anticipation Guide: Pre-reading activities used to survey stu-dents prior knowledge and activities about a given subject ortopic. They usually consist of several teacher-prepared declara-tive statements that students read and react to before, during,and after reading.

    28. Reciprocal Teaching: Allows student to become more in con-trol of their own learning. This strategy expects students to beable to summarize the material, clarify anything that was am-biguous, generate questions to ask other students, and makepredictions about upcoming text.

    29. Outlining: A short written draft that shows the skeleton formor pattern of ideas in text or in a draft prepared for writinga specific piece. This framework often includes the main andsub-ideas highlighted by numbers and letters.

    30. Note-Taking: The study skill of outlining or summarizing theimportant ideas of a lecture, book, or other source of infor-mation to aid in the organization and retention of ideas.

    31. Learning Logs: An ongoing record of learning activity kept bystudents to help them evaluate their progress, think about newlearning, and plan further learning.

    32. Semantic Webs: Is a method that graphically illustrates how toassociate words meaningfully and allows students an opportu-nity to make connections between what they know about wordsand how they are related.

    33. Graphic Organizers: Can be used as a pre-teaching or post-teaching strategy for purposes of introducing or reinforcingthe key concepts in a text and how they might be structured.

    34. Test-Taking Strategies: Those skills that will enhance studentperformance on tests. They may include test formats, multiplechoice, matching, and true/false strategies as well as essay orwriting strategies.

    35. Sketch to Stretch: This strategy allows students the opportunityto develop a sketch of what a text meant to them and to usethis text as a springboard for interacting with others about theinterpretation of a text.

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    36. Writing Process: The many aspects of the complex act ofproducing a written communication; specifically, planning orprewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

    37. Free-Writing: Writing that is unrestricted in form, style, con-tent, and purpose. Free-writing is designed to help the student-writer find a personal voice through uninhibited expression.

    38. Process Drama: A strategy that encourages students to explorein roles through improvisation ideas and issues presented inthe text.

    39. QAR (QuestionAnswer Relationship: Designed to help stu-dents answer comprehension questions by providing them aformat for analyzing the task demands of questions.

    40. Cubing: A technique for swiftly considering a subject from sixpoints of view.

    41. Word Sorts: A vocabulary development and word study activityin which words on cards are grouped according to designatedcategories, as spelling patterns, vowel sounds, shared mean-ings, etc.

    42. Word Walls: Alphabetically displaying high frequency words,descriptive words, content vocabulary words, etc., on the wallfor all students to view and use.

    43. 3-Minute Pause (Reflect): This technique helps reinforcehigher-level thinking and well thought out answers. Reflec-tion time is important to the success of many of the followingstrategies.

    44. Brainstorming: A learning strategy involving open group dis-cussion intended to expand the range of available ideas, as tosolve a problem, clarify a concept.

    45. Choral Response Reading: The teacher assists a group of chil-dren through repeated readings of the text. Children chime inas they become more familiar with the text. Dramatic readingsare encouraged. Strategy is good for developing fluency.

    46. Cloze: The completion of incomplete utterances as an instruc-tional strategy to develop reading or listening comprehensionwith respect to sensitivity to style, attention during extendedpassages, etc.

    47. Concept Map: A framework for organizing information in or-der to define new vocabulary words. Concepts are formedaround: What is it? What is it like? What are some examples?How are examples same or different?

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    48. Concept Wheels: An organizational strategy that enables stu-dents to define a new vocabulary word, based on previous ex-periences or concepts related to the new word. Brainstormingis an essential part of this strategy.

    49. Contextual Redefinition: is designed to enable students to usecontext to make an informed guess about a words meaning.In addition, it attempts to provide students with a strategy forusing context in independent reading situations.

    50. Dialogue Journals: Written conversations in which studentsexchange ideas, including responses to literacy works, withpeers and teachers.

    51. Diary Entry: This journaling technique allows students to pro-cess new information in a familiar, relaxed way. Students areencouraged to keep a personal diary about new informationacquired in school.

    52. Guided Reading Procedure: is designed to assist students un-aided recall of specific information read. Students read a shortpassage in a set amount of time and are asked to recall all thatthey remember. The teacher places this information on board.Students re-read to check board for accuracy, and then orga-nize the information to help them remember material.

    53. Induced Imagery: this procedure allows teachers to model ex-plicitly in hopes of helping students visualize as they read.

    54. Inquest (Investigative Questioning): This procedure is in-tended to develop independent comprehension abilities bydeveloping students self-questioning strategies in a sponta-neous drama context.

    55. LEA: (Language Experience Approach): An approach to lan-guage learning in which students oral compositions are tran-scribed and used as materials of instruction for reading, writ-ing, speaking, and listening.

    56. Mnemonics: Devices or techniques that assist in the memo-rization of information.

    57. Point, Counterpoint: Is a strategy that attempts to empowerstudents interpretive repertoire by affording a forum forhaving them discuss various interpretations of the samestory.

    58. Possible Sentences: is designed to help students determinethe meanings of unknown words by pairing them with knownwords in sentences they think might possibly be found in the

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    text. Thus, the strategy enables students to predict word mean-ing and verify their accuracy as they read.

    59. Predictions: A persons use of knowledge about language, ex-periences, and context to anticipate what is coming next inthe writing.

    60. PReP Technique: Provides a teacher with a means to pre-pare students to read a text selection and, at the same time,analyze their responses to tailor subsequent instruction tostudents.

    61. Probable Passages: The attempt to incorporate the use of writ-ing in a traditional basal lesson by having students create a storybased on the key vocabulary prior to reading the intendedstory.

    62. Radio Reading: Providing practice for students in both read-ing and listening, Radio Reading focuses instruction on theultimate goal of oral reading-communicating a message.

    63. ReQuest Procedure: Uses reciprocal questioning technique inan attempt to encourage students to formulate their won ques-tions about material and thereby learn purposeful, thoughtfulreading.

    64. Re-Read: Useful as a whole-class reading activity, this strategyprovides students with active involvement in print and putsprime emphasis on interpreting meaning.

    65. Restate Problem: This technique helps the students to listenor respond to a question by restating the learning problem ina way that is meaningful and accurate to them.

    66. Retelling: This strategy assists in the development of compre-hension by enabling the student to focus on the main ideasof the passage read. This technique is a component of severalother strategies (Radio Reading and SQ3R).

    67. Self-Question: A key component of comprehension is onesability to self-question and monitor understanding while read-ing. The goal of many strategies is to ultimately get studentsto self-question what they read. Think-Aloud is a good strategyto develop self-questioning.

    68. Semantic Feature Analysis: An attempt to expand and refinestudents vocabulary and related concepts after they read. Inessence, it uses categorization as a systematic means to rein-force word meaning.

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    69. Story-Telling: Assisting students in their ability to make con-nections between oral language and printed language shouldbe a key component of any literacy program. Allowing studentstime to practice telling stories orally should transfer into theirability to write and read text.

    70. Study Guides: The backbone of the instructional frameworkis the study guide, which students use in dealing with the con-tent. Study guides can guide students through their contentarea textbook reading by focusing their attention on the majorideas presented.

    71. Text Preview: This strategy is a key component of the SQ3R.Before reading a section of text students should get in thehabit of previewing the table of contents, the introduction, keypictures, charts, and vocabulary prior to reading. This simplestrategy enables the reader to open up appropriate schemaprior to reading.

    72. Text Structure Strategy: Much like text preview, text structureenables the student to organize the layout of the text. It enablesthem to activate prior knowledge of the reading situation andto become more reflective of the reading task.

    73. Think-Alouds: A modeling procedure based upon explicitteaching intended to make students aware of the comprehen-sion process enlisted as reading is pursued.

    74. Underline/Highlighter: A strategy that many readers de-velop haphazardly on their own is underlining and high-lighting. Guided practice in this strategy enables the readerto identify key ideas and concepts while reading. It al-lows the reader to become more selective in what theyread and realize that everything they read is not equallyimportant.

    75. Word Maps: The word map provides a framework for develop-ing students understanding of concepts, including the hier-archical structure of these concepts and their attributes.

    76. Other:

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