TEACHER BELIEFS AND PRACTICES
AS THEY RELATE TO READING INSTRUCTION
AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
B.A., University of Northern Colorado, 1983
M.A., University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, 1986
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
1997 by Michelle Mastrini-McAteer
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
has been approved
W. Michael Martin
Mastrini-McAteer, Michelle (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Teacher Beliefs and Practices as They Relate to Reading Instruction and
Thesis directed by Professor Sharon Ford
This was a descriptive study designed to examine the relationship
between beliefs and instructional practices of third grade teachers regarding
the teaching of reading and to consider this congruence in relation to (a)
socioeconomic status of the school and (b) student achievement in reading
Data was gathered from eighteen third grade teachers in Colorado
Springs School District Eleven in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Data was collected using four methods. The DeFord Theoretical
Orientation to Reading Profile was used to identify each teachers theoretical
orientation to reading instruction. Classroom observations were conducted
to investigate the extent to which teachers behave consistently with their self
reported belief systems. Interviews were conducted to uncover the factors
teachers say have influenced their beliefs about reading and their
instructional practices regarding reading. Student achievement data was
obtained through the school district.
Results indicated that (1) only five of the eighteen teachers (28%)
were found to be teaching in congruence with their beliefs regarding reading
instruction, (2) classroom experience was cited most often as being the
major influence on beliefs regarding reading instruction, (3) instructional
practices were most often influenced by the teacher guide accompanying the
reading series used for instruction, (4) socioeconomic status of the school
was not a significant factor in the relationship of beliefs and practices, (5)
teachers who taught reading in congruence with their beliefs had classrooms
where gains in student achievement were significantly greater than those
who did not.
Implications for primary teacher education, teacher supervision and
inservice training were presented.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's
thesis. I recommend its publication.
To my daughters; Caitlin Paige Shannon McAteer and Claire Elyse
May you continue to see every day as an opportunity to learn something
A monumental debt of gratitude is owed to Professor Sharon Ford for
directing this project and offering guidance and support while serving as
graduate advisor and dissertation committee chairperson. Thanks also go to
Dr. Michael Martin, Dr. Kathy Escamilla, Dr. Alan Davis, and Dr. Nadyne
Guzman for their support and suggestions as well as the challenge to
produce the best work possible. A special thanks to Dr. Jack Sherman, who
with one sentence convinced me it was time to complete this project.
To the teachers and students who welcomed me into their classrooms,
I am especially grateful. I enjoyed every minute.
Thanks to my family for their support and for giving the girls a little
extra attention while I was writing. I extend my heartfelt appreciation to my
mother, Margie Mastrini, for serving as transcriber, editor, and super-fun
Most of all, I wish to acknowledge my husband, Patrick, for his
continuing support, love, and willingness to take the kids on adventures
weekend after weekend, so that I could work in a quiet home.
My parents taught me the importance of education and perseverance.
What valuable lessons they have been!
1. THE PROBLEM.....................................................1
Background of the Study......................................6
Significance of the Study...................................13
Foundation of the Study.....................................24
Statement of the Problem....................................26
Summary and Outline of Research Design......................27
Definition of Terms.........................................29
Structure of the Dissertation...............................31
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE.......................................33
Views of the Reading Process................................33
Information Processing Models...............................38
Definition of Terms..................................40
Description and Characteristics......................42
Definition of Terms...................................44
Description and Characteristics.......................45
Whole Language Orientation...................................47
Definition of Terms...................................47
Description and Characteristics.......................50
Summary of Reading Orientation Literature....................56
Beliefs in Teaching..........................................57
Definition of Beliefs.................................57
Research Regarding Beliefs in Teaching................67
Beliefs in Reading Instruction...............................78
Research Regarding Beliefs in the
Teaching of Reading.............................78
Modification of Beliefs...............................85
The Relationship Between Beliefs and Practices...............89
Research Describing a Congruency
Between Beliefs and Practices...................89
Research Describing a Lack of Congruency
Between Beliefs and Practices...................96
Theoretical Orientation and the Teaching of Reading..........99
Definition of Theoretical Orientation.................99
Research Supporting a Strong Relationship
Between Theoretical Orientation and
Research Supporting a Complex Relationship
Between Theoretical Orientation and
Development of Theoretical Orientation..................134
Modification of Theoretical Orientation.................138
Research Supporting Modification
of Theoretical Orientation..................143
3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY..............................................152
Description of Subjects........................................154
Self-Reported Theoretical Orientation...................156
Observations of Teachers................................157
Student Achievement.................................... 159
Methods of Data Collection and Investigation.................. 161
Research Question #1.................................161
Research Question #2.................................164
Research Question #3.................................165
Research Question #4....................................165
Research Question #5....................................166
Administration of the TORP..............................168
Beliefs, Practices and Congruence Between These...............173
Theoretical Orientation to Reading......................174
Phonics Oriented Group..................................181
Skills Oriented Group...................................183
Whole Language Oriented Group...........................185
Extent of Congruence Between Beliefs and Practices...........187
Phonics Orientated Group................................192
Skills Orientated Group.................................194
Whole Language Orientated Group.........................197
Congruence Between Beliefs and Practices by SES...............200
Factors Influencing Reading Instruction.......................201
Factors Influencing Teacher Beliefs.....................202
Factors Influencing Teacher Practices.................208
Selecting Materials and Programs......................211
Congruence Between Beliefs and Practices
and Student Achievement...............................217
5. SUMMARY AND INTERPRETATION.....................................223
Summary of the Study.......................................223
Research Questions and Methods........................226
Research Question #1............................227
Research Question #2............................227
Research Question #3............................228
Research Question #4............................229
Research Question #5............................229
Summary and Discussion of the Findings......................230
Research Question #1............................232
Research Question #2............................235
Research Question #3............................238
Research Question #4............................240
Research Question #5............................241
Implications for Educational Practice and Policy.............244
Primary Teacher Education................................245
Teacher Supervision and Inservice Training...............247
Suggestions for Future Research................................249
A. The DeFord Theoretical Orientation
to Reading Profile.......................................251
B. TQRP Validity and Reliability Data..........................254
C. The Observation Instrument..................................257
D. Interview Schedule (Part 1)...............................258
E. Interview Schedule (Part 2).................................260
F. Principal Letter............................................261
G. Demographic Data Form.......................................263
H. Letter of Informed Consent................................264
I. Cover Letter................................................265
J. Candy Break Note............................................267
K. Thank You Note (Survey).....................................268
L. Study Participation Letter..................................269
M. Summary of the Study........................................270
N. TQRP Response Frequencies
for the Total Population.................................280
O. TQRP Response Frequencies
for the Phonics Group....................................283
P. TQRP Response Frequencies
for Skills Group.........
Q. TORP Response Frequencies
for the Whole Language Group..........................289
R. Observation Frequency Tabulations
for the Total Population..............................292
S. Observation Frequency Tabulations
for the Phonics Group.................................295
T. Observation Frequency Tabulations
for the Skills Group..................................298
U. Observation Frequency Tabulations
for the Whole Language Group..........................301
4.1 Demographic Data for Sample Population......................173
4.2 Teacher TORP Score, Theoretical
Orientation, and SES Status..............................175
4.3 Frequency of Observable Behaviors
for Total Population.....................................178
4.4 Frequency of Observable Behaviors
by Theoretical Orientation...............................181
4.5 Reversed Value Scale for Observation Data...................189
4.6 t-tests for Paired Samples Within
the Total Population.....................................191
4.7 t-tests for Paired Samples within
the Phonics Group........................................193
4.8 t-tests for Paired Samples within
the Skills Group.........................................196
4.9 t-tests for Paired Samples within
the Whole Language Group.................................198
4.10 RIT Gain by Item Category..................................222
Educators, parents, and legislators continue to debate the role of
public schools in a fast-changing world, but most agree that teaching kids to
read and write is key. The challenge is to get the right help to every child
early enough so that all can succeed.
Concerned about the new content standards in Colorado, many
districts are reexamining how they teach reading and are looking for ways to
provide early help for struggling readers.
Denver Superintendent, Irv Moskowitz, last year targeted literacy as
the top priority for Denver Public Schools, where as many as 75 percent of
children in some schools read below grade level. The district has just set
aside $2 million to put full-time trained reading aides in first-grade classes at
schools where at least 40 percent of the students are eligible for free lunches
Bingham, J. (1996, May 5).
Schools nationwide are looking closer than ever before at the way
reading is taught and are stressing intensive teacher training. Any
investment, they say, will be more than repaid in savings down the line as
fewer children are held back or referred to costly special education classes.
Reginald Leon Green, professor of Educational Leadership at Wright
State University in Dayton, Ohio, developed a third-grade guarantee during
his tenure at the Red Clay Consolidated School District in Wilmington, DE.
He believed that to ensure success, one must make sure all students can
read proficiently before they leave third grade. From his experience, he
knew the best way to improve student achievement was to teach children to
read with comprehension before they reached the fourth grade. His
reasoning was simple: After primary school, teaching methods and materials
undergo a dramatic shift. In the first through third grades, teachers
emphasize reading as a skill itself. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades,
though, reading is something students are expected to use to obtain
information. Put another way, children in kindergarten through third grade
learn to read; after that, they read to learn (Green, 1995, p. 31). Thus, after
students leave the primary grades, it is imperative that they have top-flight
reading skills to do well in English, social studies, science, and other
subjects. Researchers have told me they can trace the academic difficulties
of dropouts to their failure to learn how to read by the end of the third grade"
(Green, 1995, pg. 31).
Carbo and Cole (1995) recognize that learning to read well is an
important step on a childs path to success. They believe recent warning
signs suggest that this success might be in jeopardy. According to the 1994
study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of
students in grades 4, 8, and 12:
U.S. students read alarmingly little, both in and outside school, and
library use is decreasing.
Students have difficulty in constructing thoughtful responses to what
A full 20 percent of American youngsters say they read for fun just
once a yearor never, (p. 28)
According to the NAEP, in 1994 60% of 4th grade students were
reading at or above the basic level and only 30% at or above the proficient
level. The NAEP describes the three 4th grade proficiency levels-basic,
proficient, and advancedusing the following characteristics:
Basic partial mastery of the skills and knowledge that are needed to
be proficient at work at each grade level.
Proficient solid academic performance for the grade level
assessed. Students can understand challenging subject matter and
apply the knowledge to real world situations.
Advanced superior performance. Students can generalize about
topics in their reading, judge texts critically, and provide thorough and
thoughtful answers. (Carbo & Cole, 1995, p. 29)
This means that of the approximately four million 4th graders in this
country, around 2.4 million 4th grade students were at or above the basic
level and only 1.2 million were at or above the proficient level. Forty percent
of all fourth grade students, 1.6 million, scored below the basic level (U.S.
Department of Education, 1996).
These findings are grim enough, but even more disturbing is the
consideration that the ability to read is often the key to success both in
school and in the world outside the classroom (Carbo & Cole, 1995).
According to Evans (1995), The essential task faced by every teacher
is that of making appropriate decisions regarding instructional materials and
methods. Each class is different, and each child is unique. Teachers are
continually challenged to select the most meaningful and effective strategies
available in order to maximize the learning of each student (p. 3).
This process is particularly significant in reading. Many instructional
strategies, programs, and sets of materials are available for teachers to
choose from when teaching reading. As May (1990) has stated, reading
teachers are continually faced with such choices, which must frequently be
made moment-by-moment. The question then becomes, how teachers
decide on these things related to reading instruction? When faced with the
variety of competing ideas about appropriate methods and materials, how
does the teacher decide? Richardson-Koehler (1990) determined, through
the belief interviews and observations done during the Conceptions of
Reading Study, that teachers are open to changing their practices, and, in
fact, do so regularly. Most of the teachers expressed an uncertainty about
whether they were doing the right things and indicated that they would be
happy to adopt new practices if it "worked" for them. Richardson-Koehler
(1990) believes practices that work are those that match the belief systems
within an individual and are based upon their personality. The set of beliefs
developed from that match often exclude certain practices that may, in fact,
help teachers solve problems that are frustrating them. It seems that
knowing what they believe is important for teachers, and an important
consideration related to that is how these beliefs influence the instructional
practices they employ in their classrooms on a daily basis. May (1990) puts
it another way: The teachers view of the reading process influences the
decisions the teacher makes and thus influences the reading instruction (p.
This study was designed to examine the congruence between the
beliefs and practices of teachers concerning strategies of reading instruction
and the relationship of that congruence to socioeconomic status of the school
and student achievement in reading by classroom.
Background of the Study
Anderson (1994) states:
Researchers agree that reading is the essential prerequisite for school
achievement and for eventual personal and economic success.
Parents and teachers know reading is important. They care
passionately that children learn to read. They know that the child who
succeeds in learning to read will find other school subjects accessible,
while the child who cannot read well is certain to encounter difficulty in
those subjects, (p. 2)
According to Anderson (1994), a depressing stability to test scores
and other educational indicators after the first grade exists: The first grader
who cannot independently read stories from the reader by the end of the year
is already at grave risk for school failure. According to the U.S. Department
of Education (1996), Research demonstrates that if students cannot read
well by the end of third grade, their chances for success are significantly
diminished, and they have a great likelihood of dropping out or engaging in
escalating delinquent behaviors (p. 1). Children from any walk of life may
face difficulty in learning to read. However, the incidence of slow progress
and outright failure is highest among poor children, children from homes low
in literacy, ethnic minority children, and children who have limited proficiency
in English. Children who become accomplished readers despite these life
circumstances have a springboard for breaking the cycle of poverty and
ignorance. Those who make unsatisfactory progress in reading, however,
become even more vulnerable to failing in school, to dropping out, and to the
accompanying social risks. The highest priority for reading research and
development must be to discover and put into practice the means for
reaching children who are failing to learn to read (p. 2).
In recent years, research concerning the relationship between
teachers thinking and beliefs and instructional practices is attracting
increased attention. Current research on teacher thinking assumes that: (1)
practice is greatly influenced by teacher thinking; (2) teaching is guided by
thought and judgments; and (3) teaching is a high-level decision-making
process (Isenberg, 1990, p. 322). These assumptions portray teachers as
active, engaging, and rational professionals who make both conscious and
intuitive decisions in the school context. It is also suggested that, The
thinking of a teacher constitutes a large part of the psychological context of
teaching and that practice is substantially influenced and even determined by
that teacher's underlying thinking (Clarke & Peterson, 1986, p. 255).
According to Harste and Burke (1977), both teachers and learners
hold particular and identifiable theoretical orientations about reading, and
those orientations significantly affect experiences, goals, behavior, and
outcomes. Weaver (1988) suggests the following:
Childrens success at reading reflects their reading strategies; their
reading strategies typically reflect their implicit definitions of reading;
childrens definitions of reading often reflect the instructional
approach; and the instructional approach reflects a definition of
reading, whether implicit or explicit, (p. 2)
Both Shapiro and Kilbey (1990) and Meloth, Book, Putnam, and Sivan
(1989) argue that critically and reflectively examining teaching practices is
essential for teachers to integrate their theoretical knowledge and beliefs
with their instructional behavior.
According to Gove (1983), many teachers, when confronted with the
idea that they adopt a specific theory, retort," I am eclectic; I use what
works." These teachers do, however, have reasons for what they believe
works, and these reasons reflect basic beliefs. Research shows that
teachers hold implicit theories about the learning to read process and often
behave in ways that validate these beliefs (Barr and Duffy, 1978; Gove,
1981; Harste and Burke, 1977; Mitchell, 1978). At other times, however,
teachers have not thought about whether practices are logically related to
each other and how practices relate to their beliefs.
According to Feng & Ethridge (1993),
Many people (Harste & Burke, 1977; Kamil & Pearson, 1979; Weaver,
1988) have proposed or supposed the relationship between teachers
theoretical orientation and their reading instructional practice,
empirical investigation of the relationship has been limited and is
comparatively new. Only in recent years have some reading
researchers empirically examined the relationship between what
teachers believe about reading instruction and what they actually do in
classrooms (Bawden, 1979; Bawden & Duffy, 1979; DeFord, 1978;
Duffy, 1977; Duffy and Anderson, 1982; Gove, 1981; Harste and
Burke, 1977; Hoffman & Kugle, 1982; Lehman, Allen & Freeman,
1990; Levande, 1989; Rupley & Logan, 1985; Watson, 1984). (p. 4)
Duffy (1977) evaluated the research on reading methodology and
identified the most important variable in instructional effectiveness as the
teacher rather than the method or material (Bond & Dykstra, 1967; Early,
1976). However, the still unanswered question is, what makes a teacher
effective? Some researchers point to conceptions as the crucial variable.
Brophy and Good (1974) said, The individual difference variable that
appears to be especially important for the classroom is the teacher's belief
system or conceptual base (p. 262).
Olson & Singer (1994) state, If we assume that the individual teacher
is key to any educational reform, then we must agree that self-evaluation is a
critical aspect of such change (p. 97). One premise of the Olson & Singer
research is that real effectiveness in the classroom lies within the teacher.
Many teachers appear willing and eager to improve their pedagogical skills.
Nevertheless, they are often unaware of how their beliefs about teaching
specific subjects, or about teaching overall, affect the kinds of changes they
might make. They do not always know how to begin to effect positive
changes that are in line with their beliefs.
Olson & Singer (1994) believe that Fenstermacher's practical
argument theory proposed a way to organize a teacher's purposive, intuitive
actions and help convert what teachers believe into more effective practice.
They agree with Fenstermacher's view on the use of research in practice.
Research can improve practice; it helps clarify practical arguments in
teachers minds" (p. 98). If teachers can formulate a practical argument to
support classroom practices and then be supplied with evidence to support
that argument, they will begin to recognize what was previously unidentified,
and instruction will improve.
Duffy (1990) addressed the changing face of effectiveness research
and attributed this modification to our changing conceptions about the nature
of literacy. He recognized that process/product research taught us much
about the effectiveness of teachers, but we have since realized that teachers
and students can no longer concern themselves merely with adequate
performance on a preselected list of isolated skills. Reading is a complex act
of meaning construction subject to many intervening variables. Therefore,
according to Duffy, the emphasis on process/product research and the
generation of lists of effective teacher behaviors has shifted, out of necessity,
to a research paradigm that seeks to identify effective teacher actions and
decisions in response to student understanding.
Rupley and Logan (1985) discovered that teachers knowledge of
reading content relates to their beliefs about reading, which, in turn,
influences their decisions about the importance of reading outcomes
namely decoding-oriented versus comprehension-oriented outcomes.
Furthermore, Richardson, Anders, Tidwell, and Lloyds (1991) study of the
relationship between teachers' beliefs and practices in reading
comprehension instruction suggests that shifts in beliefs precede changes in
practices and that at such times of transition, beliefs and practices may be
incongruent. Finally, both Shapiro and Kilbey (1990) and Meloth, Book,
Putnam, and Sivan (1989) argue that a critical and reflective examination of
teaching practices is essential for teachers to integrate their theoretical
knowledge and beliefs with their instructional behavior.
In his summary, Isenberg (1990) stated that the literature on teacher
thinking and beliefs has contributed to a broadened view of teaching that
includes a teachers mental life as integral to the teaching process. He
determined that a teacher's ability to make conscious, interactive decisions;
to articulate his or her theories and beliefs about practices; and to reflect on
those practices are important determinants of exemplary teaching.
Current research is trying to meet this need as it moves in a more
utilitarian direction. Much of that research argues that continuing research on
teacher beliefs could be useful in improving teaching practice. One aspect of
the current research is described by Feng (1990) as focusing on the
relationships among the factors that influence the manner in which teachers
teach reading. He determined that those relationships have not been clearly
established and need to be further studied. This research attempted to fill
Significance of the Study
Debate rages over the role of schools in a fast-changing world, but on
one thing most people agree: Literacy is key.
Discussion over the years has focused on the effectiveness of
different methods of teaching reading. This study looks beyond the
relationship between methods used to teach reading and the growth of
students in reading ability. It considers whether the methods of instruction
being used are congruent with the teacher's beliefs. It could be that
congruence between beliefs and methods of reading instruction used by a
teacher is an important variable to consider in relation to improving student
literacy. The present study was significant due to potential statements which
it can generate about reading instruction. The instruction of reading in our
nations schools has potentially broad implications at five different levels: (1)
national, (2) district, (3) state, (4) school, and (5) individual teachers.
At the national level, reading is critical to the development of skills
necessary to obtain jobs; not just white collar jobs but also technical and
service jobs. This study looked at a factor that may be very important to
consider in helping to improve reading skills for students in schools.
Students reading abilities will affect their success in all aspects of school
and in their abilities to function as contributing members of society. Our
employment rate can be affected by the abilities of people to read. Thus, our
economy can be affected. This study explored the possibility that
congruence between beliefs and practices is related to improved
achievement in reading, which could help school districts everywhere to
improve reading instruction and student learning. These factors can have
large scale effects on peoples lives and society.
There is more to literacy than preparation for jobs that may or may not
exist in the future, says Chris Pipho, spokesperson for the Denver-based
Education Commission of the States. Literacy is vital for citizen
participation, for the maintenance of democracy, and for public well-being
(Bingham, J. 1996, May 5).
You cant cruise the Internet if you cant read," U.S. Secretary of
Education Richard Riley told 500 educators at a World Literacy Congress in
March (Bingham, J. 1996, May 5). In fact, in the information age, the level of
literacy needed to be successful is much higher, he said.
While literacy does not guarantee a good income, there appears to be
a correlation between poor literacy skills and poverty, according to a
federally funded 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey. About 42 percent of
those with the lowest level of literacy proficiency were living at or below the
poverty line, compared with 5 percent with the highest levels of literacy.
When asked by President Clinton to speak at the 1996 Democratic
National Convention on the topic of education, Colorado Governor Roy
Romer reminded Democrats, at their national convention, of the critical
importance of education to the nations future.
Look deeply into the eyes of a child. To know what to value, to know
what beauty is, to know how to sort out whats true and whats false;
this is the greatest gift we can give to ail our children.... How can we
become all we were bom to be unless we can read, unless we have
the tools that education gives us? ... Only education can lift us up. It
can raise our sights. It can make us reach for the best thats within us
as a people, as a community, and as a nation. (Brown, 1996)
Another indicator of the significance of this study is the recent major
push to improve literacy, and education overall, in schools throughout the
GOALS 2000: Educate America Actthe national goals for education,
focus in part on ways to improve literacy in our country. GOALS 2000
is the landmark school reform effort that establishes a framework for
excellence in American education. It established conditions for
improving student achievement through high expectations for all
children, increasing parent and community involvement, making
schools safe and drug free, improving professional development,
increasing flexibility through waivers from federal regulations, and
supporting long-term and system-wide efforts. The Act reaffirms that
the responsibility for control of education is reserved to the states and
local school systems.
Within this framework for excellence, GOALS 2000 supports states
and local districts in creating their own comprehensive plans to help
all students reach high standards. These plans will pull all the pieces
of education reform together. They will align the curriculum,
instructional materials, teacher preparation and development, and
student assessment with high academic standards. (GOALS 2000,
The gap between the literacy haves and the literacy have-nots is
particularly stark in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of
Education (Bingham, J. 1996, May 7). Colorado has the 6th-highest level of
college graduates in the nation, while ranking 11th in the nation in adults with
Colorado completed the development of statewide standards in the
Fall of 1995 for what students should know in major areas, including reading
and writing. In the Spring of 1996, the state legislature passed House Bill
1139 declaring that for success in school, reading is the most important
skill. Colorado House Bill 1139 Literacy Skills of K-3 students, sponsored by
Representative Anderson and Senator Meiklejohn, enacts the Colorado
Basic Literacy Act. It requires schools, in cooperation with parents, to
formulate individual literacy plans for all pupils in kindergarten through third
grade who are reading below grade level.
Literacy is the key to all other skills. You cant get to the others
without putting literacy first, says Colorado State Commissioner of
Education, Bill Randall. It's not a question of either/or but of providing a
pathway for getting to the other skills. Learning to read and communicate
effectively must be the primary instructional goal (Bingham, J. 1996, May 5).
The most recent statewide measure, the 1994 National Assessment of
Educational Progress Reading Standards, found 44 percent of fourth graders
reading at a below-basic level. Thats up from 40 percent in 1992. The
percentage of black and Hispanic fourth graders below basic was higher 66
percent. That means that as many as 22,000 fourth graders statewide are
likely to need help under the new law (Bingham, J. 1996, May 5).
Weve taken it for granted that kids were learning to read effectively,
says Randall. Now we are realizing that it doesnt just happen; that we have
to tighten up our instruction and opportunity for kids (Bingham, J. 1996, May
School districts everywhere are looking for ways to increase literacy.
The superintendent of Denver Public Schools (DPS), Irv Moskowitz, has
made boosting literacy among first and second graders a priority. During the
1996-1997 school year, DPS planned to spend nearly $6 million in a
concerted effort to boost literacy in elementary schools, particularly those
with large numbers of poor children. Denver Public Schools gave tests
during the first two weeks of the school year to all students in grades two
through nine to determine literacy levels of students. Tests were scored
within a week. Results were sent home to parents, with a letter detailing
each childs reading level and offering suggestions on how to improve
reading. Scores will be compared with later tests results to note each
students growth. Results help principals hold teachers accountable and aid
central office administrators in charting progress of individual schools and the
performance of principals. These results also help the city rate the districts
overall performance (Gottlieb, A. 1996).
At the school level, administrators could use the information from this
study as they collaborate with teachers, evaluate instructional programs, and
seek to improve methodological practices in the teaching of reading.
Understanding the relationship between an individual teachers beliefs
concerning effective instruction and the implementation of practices within
the classroom, is of interest to elementary level principals charged with hiring
teachers, providing supervision, and planning appropriate staff development
in the area of reading instruction.
Such data would allow principals to provide individual teachers with
the additional support and staff development necessary to implement more
effective instructional reading strategies supported by current research. This
study highlights the necessity of addressing more than just the practices
used by the teacher, but also, the beliefs and principles that lead to such
Finally, this study is important to teachers interested in improving their
method of reading instruction. Teachers know they touch the future every
day. They constantly look for ways to help students reach their full potential.
They know that literacy is the key to a bright future.
What we have in our heads is a theory of what the world is like, a
theory that is the basis of all our perceptions and understanding of the
world, the root of all learning, the source of all hopes and fears,
motives and expectancies, reasoning and creativity. And this theory is
all we have. If we can make sense of the world at all, it is by
interpreting our interactions with the world in the light of our theory.
(Smith, 1982, p. 54)
Following the work of DeFord (1985) and Richardson, Anders, Tidwell,
& Lloyd (1991), a constructivist perspective on teacher beliefs can be defined
as one in which teachers are seen as knowing, meaning-making beings, and
this knowledge and meaning influence their actions. A definition compatible
with this sociocultural approach was developed by Tabachnick & Zeichner
(1984). Preferring the term teacher perspectives, they defined them as a
reflective, socially defined interpretation of experience that serves as a basis
for subsequent action ... a combination of beliefs, intentions, interpretations,
and behaviors that interact continually (Clark & Peterson, 1986, p. 287).
Unlike more general ideological beliefs which can be decontextualized and
abstracted, these are seen as situation-specific and action-oriented. They
include both the beliefs teachers have about their work (goals, purposes,
conceptions of children, curriculum) and the ways in which they [give]
meaning to these beliefs by their behavior in the classroom" (Clarke &
Peterson, 1986, p. 289).
Harste and Burke (1977) hypothesized that teachers make decisions
about reading instruction in light of the theory, or assumptions they hold
about reading and learning. They propose that a teacher's theoretical
orientation establishes expectancies and influences goals, procedures,
materials, and classroom interaction patterns.
Harste and Burke define (1977) theoretical orientation in reading as
the particular knowledge and belief system held toward reading, that is,
those deep philosophical principles that guide teachers to establish
expectations about student behavior and the host of decisions they must
make as they teach reading lessons. Steiner (1977) draws the conclusion
that a difference in the theory model held, or theoretical orientation, will
necessitate differences in practice. Harste and Burke (1977) suggest that
some decisions are influenced by a teacher's theoretical orientation.
1. The goals that teachers set for the classroom reading program.
2. The behaviors teachers perceive as reflecting good reading
3. The procedures, materials, and information teachers use for
4. The weighting teachers give to various pieces of diagnostic
5. The materials teachers select and use for instruction in the
6. The environment teachers perceive to be most conducive to
7. The criteria teachers use to determine growth in reading.
Gove (1983) states that teachers have an implicit theoretical
orientation, even though they are not always aware of such. Further, Feng &
Ethridge (1993) found, as did others, (Chambers, 1989; Gove, 1981; Watson,
1984; Richardson, et al. 1991), that most teachers do adhere to their
theoretical orientations when teaching reading, but that some, 40% (Feng &
Ethridge, 1983) did not. This may suggest that there is a more complex
relationship between teachers theoretical orientations and their reading
instruction practices (Duffy & Anderson, 1982; Matonicik, 1981).
As Richardson (1990) suggests, a teacher's enactment of an
instructional practice may, for example, be related to classroom
management and control or student testing, and to notions of the roles of
teachers and students ... [These practices may be] embedded in different
belief sets, intentions, and theoretical frameworks (p. 16) than that of the
related research. It is also possible that teachers are highly influenced by
either the content of basal reader manuals (Shannon, 1989), or their
perception of their administrator's expectations of basal reader
For teachers practices to change in ways that would improve
students comprehension, they need opportunities to examine their practices,
beliefs about teaching reading, and current research (Richardson, Anders,
Tidwell, & Lloyd, 1991).
Diane DeFord, (1985) in her study validating the DeFord Theoretical
Orientation to Reading Profile, examined and categorized instructional
reading programs according to basic distinctions in theoretical orientation.
Three clusters of theoretical orientations were apparent in these
classifications and were labeled as (1) phonics, (2) skills, and (3) whole
DeFord (1985) described the phonics grouping as
one that initially emphasized smaller than word level language units,
with gradual movement toward word units and attention to
comprehension. The texts used in these programs were controlled for
phonemic consistency and systematic introduction of consonant-vowel
combinations. The teachers manuals suggested large segments of
time for the practice of decoding isolated letters and letter
combinations. Once a foundation in sound/letter correspondence was
built, texts became more complex and instructional activities centering
around fluency and comprehension were increased. Sight word
instruction was utilized only for those words that did not lend
themselves to use of phonics. DeFord (1985) identifies McCracken
and Walcutt, Basic Reading Series (Lippincott, 1975) as an exemplar
of this cluster of programs, (p. 353)
DeFord (1985) describes the skills cluster as
one in which the initial programs placed their emphasis on building an
adequate sight word vocabulary for the children to use in reading.
These vocabulary items were usually introduced in context, with
multiple opportunities provided for practice. Instruction in sound/letter
correspondence was also found in these materials, but seemed to
concentrate on initial and ending consonant sounds from the
vocabulary items that had been introduced. Exercises on short and
long vowel sound distinctions were dealt with less systematically than
in the phonics programs. Many word attack skills were introduced,
often in a hierarchically arranged sequence (e.g., use of affixes, word
configuration, root words, compound words, context clues). The texts
were generated for further practice of sight vocabulary. Story quality
improved as a greater number of vocabulary items were incorporated.
DeFord (1985) identifies Clymer, Bisset, and Wulfing, Reading 720
(Ginn & Company, 1976) as the representative of this cluster, (p. 353)
The third cluster, the whole language cluster, identified by DeFord
(1985) is one in which
the instructional programs provided readers with quality literature from
the outset of instruction. Initially, the emphasis was on developing a
sense of story/text as a framework for dealing with smaller units of
language. Activities that focused on words or letters were integrated
into the reading experience (e.g., circle all the occurrences of and,
draw a line under all the words that start with d), with student/group
generation of stories strongly recommended. Student writing and
shared reading experiences were integral to these instructional
programs. The Martin and Brogan Sounds of Language Program
(Holt, 1972) is an example of this whole language orientation, (p. 353)
Foundation of the Study
David Levande's dissertation study, "A Descriptive Study of Teacher
Beliefs, Teacher Practices and Teacher-reported Factors Influencing
Reading Instruction," (1988) became the foundation on which the present
study was built. Levande's study had three purposes: (1) To investigate the
extent to which teachers behave in ways consistent with their self-reported
belief systems concerning the teaching of reading; (2) To discover the
specific instructional practices used by teachers with a given theoretical
orientation in reading; (3) To uncover the factors teachers say have
influenced their beliefs about reading and their instructional practices
concerning reading (p. 48).
Levande used The DeFord Theoretical Orientation to Reading Profile
(TORP) and The Moss Classroom Analysis of Teachers' Theoretical
Orientation to Reading (Revised) in his study. Interviews were used to
uncover the factors teachers say have influenced their beliefs about reading
and their instructional practices concerning reading.
Just over half (53%) of the teachers who participated in this research
taught in a manner inconsistent with their Theoretical Orientation to Reading
Profiles. The major reason for the theory vs. practice mismatch was found to
be teachers' effort to comply with administrative policies regarding reading
Levande also determined that teachers with different theoretical
orientations to reading cited different influences on their beliefs about
reading and their instructional practices concerning reading. Skills and
Phonics teachers reported that their classroom experiences had the greatest
influence, while Whole Language teachers cited their districts recent
professional development program as influencing their beliefs about reading
and their instructional practices concerning reading.
Levande, (1988), determined that, to improve reading instruction, it is
first necessary to obtain accurate information about teacher beliefs and
practices regarding reading instruction. Identification of the factors that
influence teachers in their instructional behavior then becomes paramount
The present study was designed to add another dimension to that
done by Levande. This study examined the congruence between a teachers
beliefs and practices during reading instruction despite his/her particular
orientation, and the relationship of that level of congruence to the growth of
student achievement in reading for that particular classroom. This study also
examined how the congruence of beliefs and practices of third grade
teachers in schools of different socioeconomic levels differed regarding the
teaching of reading.
Statement of the Problem
The purpose of this study was to examine the congruence between
beliefs and instructional practices of third grade teachers regarding the
teaching of reading and to consider this congruence in relation to (a)
socioeconomic status of the school and (b) student achievement in reading
1. To what extent does congruence exist between (a) beliefs of third
grade teachers about reading and (b) instructional practices of these
teachers when teaching reading?
2. What factors are perceived by third grade teachers as influencing
the beliefs they hold about the theoretical orientations of teaching reading?
3. What factors are perceived by third grade teachers as influencing
their instructional practices when teaching reading?
4. How does the congruence of beliefs and practices of third grade
teachers in schools of different socioeconomic levels differ regarding the
teaching of reading?
5. What is the relationship between (a) the congruence of beliefs and
practices of third grade teachers regarding the teaching of reading and (b)
levels of student achievement in reading by classroom?
Summary and Outline of Research Design
The study was conducted in El Paso County School District Eleven,
Colorado Springs Colorado.
Eighteen teachers were selected randomly in schools which
represented different socioeconomic status (SES) levels and where the
principal indicated a willingness to have his/her teachers involved in the
study. These teachers were asked to consent to completing (1) the survey,
(2) the observation cycle, and (3) the follow-up interview.
The DeFord Theoretical Orientation to Reading Profile (TORP)
(Appendix A) was used to identify each teacher's beliefs concerning reading
instruction. An instrument adapted from the TORP (Appendix B) was used to
record instructional practices within the classroom setting during reading
Each teacher in the study was interviewed after that teacher had been
observed for the full cycle of three forty-five-minute sessions. This follow-up
interview was conducted to investigate the reasons behind the teacher's
actions during the instruction of reading. Interview questions were adapted
from a portion of the Conceptions of Reading Interview Schedule (Duffy &
Limitations of the Study
The present study was limited in three ways. First, the fact that all
teachers in this study were from a single school district could limit its
generalizability to other school districts. Second, the level of classroom
experience for the teachers in this study leads the researcher to consider if
the results would have been different if the teachers had less overall
teaching experience. The small sample size of 18 teachers could also be a
Definition of Terms
For the purposes of this study, the following definitions were utilized:
1. Theoretical Orientation in Readingthe particular knowledge and
belief system held toward reading; those deep philosophical principles that
guide teachers to establish expectations about student behavior and the host
of decisions they must make as they teach reading lessons. (Harste &
Burke, 1977 in DeFord (1985, p. 353).
2. Phonics approachan approach to the teaching of reading and
spelling that stresses symbol-sound relationships, especially in beginning
reading instruction. The instructional activities are designed to teach reading
and/or spelling through an emphasis upon the relationship of speech sounds
to the letters and letter combinations that represent them (Harris and
Hodges, p. 238).
3. Skills Emphasis approachthis model focuses on mastery of
component skills in reading, breaking down the reading task into subskill
components, and using principles of educational psychology to teach these
subskills. (Leu and Kinser, 1987) This approach is typically found as an
integral part of a basal reading series.
4. Whole Language approachboth a professional movement and a
theoretical perspective. It embodies a set of applied beliefs governing
learning and teaching, language development, curriculum, and the social
community. Because whole language teachers believe that all language
systems are interwoven, they avoid the segmentation of language into
component parts for specific skill instruction. The use of strategies taught in
meaningful contexts is emphasized. Phonics is taught through writing and by
focusing on the patterns of language in reading-and students are taught only
as much phonics as they need. Invented spelling is viewed as the best
demonstration of the development of phonics relationships. Assessment
focuses on authentic demonstrations of each students ongoing work
(Dorothy Strickland in Harris and Hodges, 1995 p. 279-280).
5. Basal Reading Program/Seriesa collection of student texts and
workbooks, teachers manuals, and supplemental materials for
developmental reading and sometimes writing instruction, chiefly in the
elementary and middle school grades (Harris and Hodges 1995, p. 18).
Basal programs may have a specific orientation: phonics, skills, or whole
language. Components included in a series may change based upon the
specific orientation of that series.
6. Beliefsindividual constructions of reality constructed from
personal experience (Sigel, 1985, p. 349).
7. Practicesthe individual, day to day activities conducted during
Structure of the Dissertation
Chapter 1The Problem. This chapter includes the background of the
study, the significance of the present study, a theoretical framework on which
the present study is based, the statement of the problem and research
questions, a summary of the research design, limitations of the study, and
definition of terms to be used throughout the paper.
Chapter 2Review of the Literature. This chapter discusses the
literature written on the topic of the present study.
Chapter 3-Research Methodology. In Chapter 3, the specifics of the
research design, sample selection, and methods of data analysis are
Chapter 4Results. The data and findings obtained during the study
are discussed in this chapter.
Chapter 5Summary and Interpretation. The findings and data from
Chapter 4 are summarized by answering the questions posed in Chapter 1.
Implications of the study and suggestions for future research are discussed.
AppendicesSamples of the instruments, cover letters, consent forms,
transcripts of the interviews, and statistical data are included here.
ReferencesAll works cited in the present study are included in the
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The literature review is organized into four sections:
Section 1: Views of the reading process as defined by three major
approaches to reading instruction.
Section 2: Research that defines beliefs and the importance of beliefs
in teaching in general and reading in particular.
Section 3: Educational research discussing the relationship between
beliefs and practice in teaching in general and reading in particular.
Section 4: Theoretical orientation and the teaching of reading.
Views of the Reading Process
This section will examine the relevant literature regarding the
characteristics of the three main approaches or methods of teaching reading
and the theoretical models on which the three approaches are based.
Levande (1988) reviewed the literature related to reading and
discussed the existence of several different ways to teach children how to
read. Each method of teaching reading is based on a distinct theoretical
model of the teaching-learning process. Variations in teaching methods
cause differences in students' basic conceptions of the reading process and
influence students' achievements in reading and general attitudes toward
reading (Rasinski & DeFord, 1985; Stansell & Hubert, 1978).
'The Great Debate" according to Chall (1967) meant the debate
between adherents of approaches to reading which either emphasized whole
words or stressed sound-symbol correspondences. The new debate is
between those who see reading as best taught in the "bottom-up" manner,
with children being taught first to decipher words or parts of words and then
to put these words together to make meaning, and those who offer a "top-
down" approach in which children begin with meaningful units of language,
either sentences arising from their spoken language or whole stories, and
only later have their attention focused on the individual elements of these
units. Both phonics & look-and-say are essentially bottom-up approaches,
and the new element in the debate about reading is the growth in adherence
to top-down approaches (Wray, 1989, p. 2).
According to Manning (1987), research comparing one method with
another is not as prevalent in educational research as it was from 1920-1965.
This statement is supported by Bond and Dykstra, (1967) "No one approach
is so distinctively better in all situations and respects than the others that it
should be considered the one best method and the one to be used
exclusively" (p. 12). Recent research on reading instructional methods also
suggests that the most important variable in instructional effectiveness is the
teacher rather than the method or material (Duffy, 1977).
According to Harste, (1977) educators almost universally accept the
notion that the teacher variable is the most important variable in reading
instruction. At least 70% of the teachers in that study agreed with the
following statements: (1) Methods are more important than materials in the
teaching of reading. (2) The teacher's ability is more important than either
method or materials in the teaching of reading. (3) In teaching reading, a
wrong response can be as useful as a correct response (Harste, 1977, p.
Bond and Dykstra (1967) state, To improve reading instruction, then,
training better teachers of reading is necessary, rather than to expect
materials to make the changes (p. 11).
According to Harste (1977), Ramseys study from 1962 involving the
evaluation of three grouping procedures for teaching reading, concluded,
The thing that the study illustrates most clearly is that the influence of
the teacher is greater than that of a particular method, a certain variety
of materials, or a specific plan of organization. Given a good teacher,
other factors in teaching reading tend to pale to insignificance, (p. 2)
Harris and Morrison (1969) reiterated this conclusion. They found, as
did Bond and Dykstra (1967), that differences in mean reading scores within
each method were much larger than differences between methods and
approaches: The results of the study have indicated that the teacher is far
more important than the method.
Pressley, Rankin & Yokoi (1995) states that a case can be made that
a teachers education should include exposure to several approaches and
practices intermingling different types of instruction. As Duffy (1991) put it:
I think we do better by teaching teachers multiple alternatives, by
teaching them how to network these so they can be accessed
appropriately when needed, and by helping them understand that
teaching demands fluid, multiple-dimensional responses to an infinite
number of classroom situations, not narrow, uni-directional
responses.... I want [teachers]... to select among theories and
procedures according to their judgment about what the situation calls
for. (pp. 13-14)
Duffy (1991) describes two recent trends that led to this line of
reasoning. The first is the teacher effectiveness research, of recent years,
that identifies patterns of teacher process variables that do make a difference
in terms of producing reading achievement as measured by standardized
tests and similar devices. Because these variables represented a pattern of
behaviors rather than a single behavior, cognitive psychologists
hypothesized that such patterns reflect a specific information-processing
modelthat the teacher organizes his/her world according to a conceptual
frame, schemata, or cognitive structure that drives him/her to select certain
alternatives over others when making instructional decisions.
This notion is implicit in Brophy and Good's (1974) statement that it is
"the teacher's belief system or conceptual base" that is particularly important;
in Goodman and Watson's (1977) argument that "teachers should be able to
articulate the ... [reading]... program's theoretical base;" and in the work of
researchers of teaching such as Shulman (1975) and Clark and Yinger
Perhaps Borko, Shavelson, and Stem (1981) reflect this view best
when they suggest that the teacher's conception of reading is the basis for
Information Processing Models
As previously discussed, Gove (1981) states that there are two main
types of information processing models, bottom-up and top-down. By far the
most common are bottom-up models. Bottom-up models (Gough, 1972;
LaBarge & Samuels, 1974) view reading as beginning with the printed page,
proceeding from the visual data to meaning. They are "data driven" models
in that they describe the reader as starting with low level analysis of sensory
input (features, letters, letter clusters, words) and proceed stage by stage to
higher levels of linguistic analysis (sentences, paragraphs, selections).
Rumelhart (1976) defines a pure bottom-up model as one with a series of
stages, each corresponding to a level of analysis in which no higher level
can in any way modify or change the analysis at a lower level. Top-down
models view reading as "conceptually driven". Top-down models (Goodman,
1967; Smith, 1982) see reading as beginning with the readers predictions
(based on knowledge of language and background experiences) about the
printed page and proceeding to the testing of predictions against the visual
These models emphasize that the reader has hypotheses regarding
the meaning of the message being read and uses the lower levels of analysis
to "check the hypotheses out". Obviously, pure top-down models do not exist
because a reader must begin by focusing on print. Rumelhart (1976) defines
top-down models as having the following properties: (1) higher stages of
processing may be first; (2) higher stages influence lower level processing;
(3) many stages operate in parallel and many levels may interact.
Gove (1981) defines a bottom-up conceptual framework of reading as
one in which the student first processes lower order units (letter, letter
clusters, words) before he can process higher order structures (sentences,
paragraphs, selection). Teachers who hold this framework believe that
students must process lower order units before they can process higher
order structures. They view reading acquisition as mastering and integrating
a series of worked recognition or decoding skills. Recognizing each word is
believed to be an essential prerequisite to being able to comprehend the
passage being read. Therefore, accuracy in recognizing words is seen as
important (p. 15).
Gove (1981) sees the distinctive aspect of the top-down conceptual
Framework of Reading to be that the higher levels of processing (sentences,
paragraphs, selection) influence lower levels of processing (letters, letter
clusters, words). A teacher who holds this framework believes that a student
learning to read uses syntactic and semantic cues (higher order cues) to
determine words or letters. Based on this belief, reading for meaning is
considered an essential component of all reading instructional situations (p.
Teachers holding a top-down conceptual framework may have as their
main goal to teach important matter or curriculum. These teachers
emphasize the importance of students choosing their own reading material
and of students enjoying the material they read.
On the one hand, the view is held that learning to read is a holistic
process, on the other, that the process involves a lightly sequentialized
building of skill upon skill. Clearly, neither system in its pure form can be
effective for the greatest number of children (Braun, 1977).
Definition of Terms
The phonics orientation focuses on dissected portions of words: One
second of reading is described as a letter by letter inflow of information
(Gough, 1976). "Reading means getting meaning from certain combinations
of letters. Teach the child what each letter stands for and he can read"
(Flesch, 1955). Initial reading instruction is viewed primarily as decoding
skills and eventually, comprehension of the message (McCraken and
Since the phonics orientation is primarily concerned with accurate
word decoding, instruction consists of introducing letters and combinations of
letters first, then short words that follow the specific sound/letter relationships
being taught. Words not following this sound/letter relationship are excluded
from the student's materials to be taught in a subsequent sound/letter
relationship lesson or taught as sight words. However, the emphasis with
the instructional lesson is not upon sight words but upon the
phoneme/grapheme relationships. Sentences and stories grow more
complex as the reader's ability to grasp phoneme/grapheme relationships
increases. Separate phonics lessons accompany each reading lesson, and
eventually, comprehension is addressed through development of strategies
for recognizing whole-part, sequential, causal, and comparative relationships
(Matteoni, etal., 1980).
Description and Characteristics
According to Levande (1988), the phonic methodology is based on the
concept that reading is speech coded by letters. Since the key to reading is
learning how to break the code, instruction focuses on the skills necessary to
accomplish this decoding. Learners are initially taught the forms and names
of letters. Next, learners are taught to associate the letters with the
corresponding sounds that the letters represent. This is followed by
instruction in blending known letters into words. Content is limited to words
consisting of letters that have previously been introduced. A few necessary
function words are taught by sight. The phonic methodology places heavy
initial emphasis on letter-sound relationships and is based on bottom-up
model. Learners are taught to recognize the relationship between a speech
sound and its written form. Rules governing these relationships are
emphasized during instruction (p. 9).
Fries (1963) describes the phonics-oriented teachers beliefs
concerning reading instruction as, 'The process of learning to read is the
process of transfer from the auditory signs for language signals that the child
has already learned to the new visual signs for the same signals (p. 40).
A comprehensive review of studies concerned with phonics instruction
was undertaken by Johnson and Baumann (1984). Two main findings
emerged from this review:
(1) Programs emphasizing a phonics or code approach ... produce
superior word-calling ability when compared to programs applying an
analytic phonics or meaning emphasis superior being defined as
fewer words mispronounced on either isolated word or in-text reading
tasks and, (2) there seem to be distinct differences in the quality of
error responses made by children instructed in the two general
methodologies reader errors tend to be real words, meaningful and
syntactically appropriate, when instruction emphasizes meaning,
whereas code-emphasis ... instruction results in more nonword errors
that are graphically and aurally like the mispronounced words, (p.
Resnik (1977) examined several decades of applied research on the
relative advantages and disadvantages of a phonics oriented methodology
and concluded that when skill in word recognition is the primary goal, code-
oriented methodologies are superior. However, he continues, when
comprehension above a very simple level is considered, there is no
advantage in using a phonics-oriented program.
Skills/ Basal Orientation
Definition of Terms
The Basal Approach to reading is similar to the Phonics Approach in
that it, too, is a bottom-up approach. It combines ability-leveled student texts
with selections to be read, workbooks with exercises, and a teacher's edition
with extensive teaching directions and suggestions. Lessons follow a pattern
of introduction, vocabulary, reading, discussion, skills development,
enrichment, and evaluation (Duffy & Roehler, 1986, p. 87).
The Skills Orientation to reading is a skills (sight word) orientation that
emphasizes rapidly developing a basic sight vocabulary (Scott, and structural
analysis skills. The other components of this model are comprehension skills
and, to a lesser degree, phonemic analysis or decoding. Reading, therefore,
is viewed as a "pie from which individual 'skill slices' can be extracted"
(Harste and Burke, 1977).
Reading skills are seen as distinct units that can be taught in
isolation. Fluent reading occurs when the learner has mastered a sufficient
number of skills. Reading programs developed from a skills orientation first
identify skills considered necessary for fluent reading (sight words, phonics,
structural analysis, comprehension). These skills are then broken down into
more manageable components called subskills. The subskills are sequenced
into logical order. Lessons are constructed to teach each subskill. Learners
are often tested after completing a lesson on a subskill to determine whether
or not the skill has been mastered and to determine if the learner is ready to
proceed to the next skill in the sequence.
Description and Characteristics
Since the skills orientation stresses recognition of whole word units,
the instruction, activities, and materials involve high-frequency words.
Generally new words to be learned by "sight" are introduced prior to each
reading selection, repeated extensively in the story and successive stories,
and finally tested at the conclusion of each unit of stories. In addition to the
reading selection and introduction of vocabulary, each reading lesson
includes a section on various reading skills such as structural analysis
(prefixes, suffixes, contractions, compound words), comprehension skills
(details, main idea, sequence of events, cause/effect relationships), and
possibly study skills (map or chart reading) (Moss, 1980).
According to Harste (1977) the majority of today's teachers of
reading have a decoding or skills orientation to reading. Primary importance
is placed on the word analysis skills and vocabulary development in the
belief that reading is largely a decoding and word recognition process.
Teachers holding this orientation typically believe that with recognition of
individual words will come comprehension of a sentence, paragraph, or
longer section of text (p. 25).
Basal readers are the materials most commonly associated with
the skills orientation and are used in approximately 90% of elementary
classrooms in the United States (Swaby, 1984, p. 188). In a basal series,
each learner has a "reader" which is a textbook for learning how to read.
The teacher is provided with a detailed manual to assist in instruction.
Instruction focuses on the skills of vocabulary development, decoding, and
comprehension. According to Zintz and Maggart (1984), basal readers
provide carefully sequenced presentation of skills, continuity of all skills
through the grades, and integration of materials and skills to facilitate
independent learning (p. 156).
Miller (1984) describes the skills/basal-oriented view of reading
instruction as utilizing materials which
... do not emphasize any single reading skill at the expense of other
reading skills. For example, all the word identification techniques from
sight word recognition, phonic analysis, structural analysis, and
contextual analysis are stressed from the initial stages of reading
instruction, (p. 87)
According to Levande (1988) advocates of a skills/basal orientations
argue that sequentially organized instruction and continuous monitoring of
students' skill development enable teachers to focus their instructional efforts
on the specific needs of individuals. Critics argue that the approach may be
too mechanistic and that by fractionating the process, it may promote
negative attitudes toward reading.
Few research studies have been done to test the claims of either
advocates or critics of a skills/basal orientation. The data do not exist to
support firm conclusions regarding the claims of advocates or critics (Otto,
Wolf & Eldrige, 1984, p. 808).
Whole Language Orientation
Definition of Terms
Though much has been written about whole language, definitions are
vague and elusive, perhaps because the concept itself is broad and
encompasses beliefs about all language learning and the context of that
learning (Goodman, 1986). Whole language, as a philosophy about teaching
and learning rather than a method, involves an abstract concept based
mainly on beliefs and attitudes about learning and teaching (Camboume,
1989). While specific instructional practices may vary from class to class,
from a theoretical perspective, whole language teachers share a consensus
of beliefs about language learning. Specifically, language learning involves
the child actively engaged in the process of learning (Goodman, 1989).
Moss (1980) describes the whole language orientation as one which
assumes that reading is a natural extension of language and therefore,
readers may utilize background experiences as well as knowledge of
language to develop their own strategies for dealing with print. Learning to
read is viewed as bringing meaning to the print in order to obtain meaning
from print. Reading always focuses upon comprehending (p. 5).
Mills (1990) continues that thought when he describes the function of
language as the making and sharing of meaning. This understanding is
central to a whole language philosophy of teaching and learning.
The whole language orientation, with meaning as its primary focus,
uses many different strategy lessons developed for individual needs
encouraging integration of the language cue systems and the use of
predicting, sampling, and confirming or correcting strategies (Weaver, 1980;
Goodman, 1976). Activities also include "language experience" techniques
such as student dictation and story writing; one or more language immersion
techniques such as reading aloud from (or taping) trade books while students
follow along and eventually read in unison with the teacher; and reading
components such as a sustained silent reading program. In all cases,
strategy lessons do not fragment language into words or letters but rather
keep language whole (Moss, 1980).
According to Goodman and Goodman (1981):
1. Meaning is constructed during listening and reading. Readers
build meaning by using what they have already learned and by
interacting with the text.
2. Reading is a process of prediction, selection, confirmation, and
3. The three systems -graphophonic, syntactic and semantic- interact
in the language process and cannot be taught as separate parts of
4. Comprehension is the center of every lesson in reading.
5. Learning must be functional, and literacy is an extension of natural
6. Teachers motivate learning, arrange stimulating learning
environments, monitor learning activities, provide relevant
materials for learning, and encourage and suggest. But it is
always the learner who extracts what is meaningful to him or her.
7. Learning to read is not learning to recognize words; it is learning to
make sense of printed text, (p.58)
Description and Characteristics
Psycholinguist Ken Goodman pioneered "whole language," as it is
called today in the US, by adopting and adapting many of the principles
developed by language theorists of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and
According to Taylor (1992), whole language is viewed as a
developmental process. It is related to Piaget's Developmental Theory of
Learning in that it is orderly and sequential and develops from basic to
complex cognitive, physical, and social skills. The theory focuses on how
students comprehend; how they receive and interpret information; and how
they make meaning of the learning process. The Whole Language Approach
appears to be based upon this theory, by providing cognitive activities based
upon principles of growth and development. One major goal of the Whole
Language Approach is to give children an opportunity to experiment and
explore their environments through activities and direct experiences, using all
of their senses.
Blazer, (1989) summarizes some more widely acknowledged
characteristics of whole language theory:
1. Learning is viewed as an active constructive process in which prior
knowledge, interest, and self-motivated purposes play a major role.
2. Language is viewed as central to learning.
3. Social interaction is acknowledged as playing an important role in
the learning process.
4. Reading is viewed as a meaning-making process in which meaning
is constructed by building associations between the text and what
is already known and believed.
5. Writing is viewed as a meaning-making process in which writers
make their own connections and construct their own meanings.
6. Language learning is viewed as being functional in nature;
language is learned through actual use in efforts to accomplish
relevant purposes, (p. 1)
Manning (1989) describes the key theoretical premise for whole
language in the following manner:
The world over, babies acquire a language through actually using it,
not through practicing its separate parts until some later date when the
parts are assembled and the totality is finally used. The major
assumption is that the model of acquisition through real use (not
through practice exercises) is the best model for thinking about and
helping with the learning of reading and writing and learning in
general, (p. 10)
The whole language view represents a top-down orientation. The act
of reading is seen as a part of an integrated process of listening, speaking,
reading and writing that cannot be broken down into narrow subskills.
Advocates of a whole language orientation view reading as "a process by
which readers use all possible language cues to obtain meaning from print"
(Swaby, 1984, p. 24). Learning to read involves viewing written language as
spoken language and applying the skills of interpreting speech to the process
of interpreting print.
Whole language is more than a method of teaching reading. It is "an
attitude of mind which provides a shape for the classroom" (Rich, 1985, p.
719). Teachers possessing whole language orientation are concerned with
helping children make sense of the world. They view reading as a process of
constructing meaning for themselves based on their need to develop a
"theory of the world" (Smith, 1978). Reading is seen as more than
accurately reproducing words. The purpose for reading is comprehension.
The goal of whole language is to help children become independent, life long
learners . curious, knowledgeable, and competent (Edelsky, Draper &
Searfoss and Readence (1985) in describing a whole language
orientation stated that methods and materials used to teach reading must:
1. Provide children with genuine, real purpose for reading;
2. Produce children who can and do read;
3. Supply in the classroom a wide variety of relevant, natural forms of
print from the world outside the classroom;
4. Keep meaning or comprehension as the center or focus for
5. Recognize that language systems (graphophonic, syntactic, and
semantic) operate together as inseparable parts of whole
6. Use materials to teach reading that are whole samples, such as
complete stories, rather than offering isolated practice in bit and
pieces of language, (p. 92)
Swaby (1984) described the content of whole language programs as
using predictable, simplified literature for reading instruction. Sight
vocabulary develops from the exposure to literature and phonic instruction is
based on the sight vocabulary. Attempts are made to assure that reading
material is representative of the vocabulary, experiences, and language
patterns of the learner. Oral discussion and comprehension are emphasized.
The key to a successful whole language classroom is not so much in
the kinds of techniques and materials used, (although certain ones do tend to
be used more than others), as in the relationships one finds therebetween
children and their reading/writing (one of enjoyment and ownership),
between the adults and the children (the former are "encouragers" as well as
teachers, the latter "initiators"), and among the children (cooperative rather
than competitive) (Clarke, 1987, p. 386).
A person with a whole-language orientation toward reading believes
that the emphasis in teaching reading must be centered on the fact that
reading is first and foremost a meaning-getting process. Word analysis skills
and vocabulary development, while important, are presented by teachers
holding this orientation in such a way so that they are subordinate to reading
as a meaning-getting process.
Wagner (1985) reviewed the research on whole language and cited
three types of research that support a whole language orientation: (1) first
language acquisition, (2) emergent literacy, and (3) effective classroom
Studies of first language acquisition demonstrated that children learn
to use language not as passive imitators, but as active participants
constructing their own view of the world. Psychologists explain this process
by theorizing that infants are bom "wired" for seeking meaning and
generalizable patterns in language.
Studies in emergent literacy have documented a similar search for
pattern and meaning as children begin to pay attention to print. Even before
children are literate, they begin to generate hypotheses about how written
language is supposed to work.
The research of Clay (1975); Graves (1983); and King & Rentel
(1981) agree that longitudinal, ethnographic, case study and control-group
comparisons of student performance under various instructional conditions
support a whole language orientation.
Studies cited by Hittleman (Baker & Brown, 1984; Mason, 1984;
Pearson & Tierney, 1984; Pezdek, 1980; Linden & Wittrock, 1981) appear to
sustain the concept that readers understand text when they undertake
reading as a search for information and when they relate that information to
their background knowledge while simultaneously monitoring whether
understanding has occurred. Thus, it seems that reading may be an
elaborate process and not merely an accumulation of discrete skills.
Hale (1980) noted the trend in the literature toward advocacy of a
holistic approach to the teaching of reading. She argued that a holistic
approach reflects recent developments in cognitive psychology and the
nature of language learning and reflects the earlier classic work of Huey and
The preponderance of research reviewed and analyzed by Taylor
(1992) supports the use of the Whole Language Approach as a promising
technique to teach language skills to children.
The extensive body of recent research cited by Hittleman (1988)
seems to indicate that "reading is a thinking, linguistic, and cultural/social
process that is interrelated with and supportive of the other language
processes listening, speaking and writing" (p. 2). This view reflects the
growing awareness of the efficacy of teaching from a whole language
perspective that is prevalent in the field.
In addition, investigations by (Goodman, 1990; and Pils, 1991)
contend that students in a whole language classroom are encouraged to
make decisions, take risks, interact with other students, and to share ideas.
Reading Orientation Literature
The importance of the manner in which reading is taught is clear.
Teacher educators interested in changing classroom practices to reflect the
recent research in such fields as reading, cognitive psychology, information
processing, and psycholinguistics need to understand the factors that
influence classroom teachers in their selection of instructional behaviors. If
teachers' behaviors are consistent with their self-reported theoretical
orientation, then it may be possible for teacher educators to affect change by
influencing how theoretical orientation is formed during preservice
professional preparation and inservice staff development. Efforts could focus
on changing teachers' theoretical orientation to be more consonant with a
top-down or whole-language model that reflects new evidence from recent
research on the teaching and learning of reading. On the other hand, if
factors beyond theoretical orientation influence instruction, then these
additional components need to be identified, understood, and considered
before change can be accomplished (Levande, 1988, pp. 6-7).
Beliefs in Teaching
Adams, (1992) has synthesized the literature regarding the beliefs
held by teachers in relation to their classroom instruction. According to
Adams, several relevant and conflicting strands emerge: (1) Teachers do
have beliefs that influence practice, (2) beliefs held by teachers have only a
minimal effect upon practice, (3) beliefs of teachers are important only after
other considerations have been taken into account. The literature review
that follows, summarizes the literature relevant to those strands.
Definition of Beliefs
Sigel (1985) defined beliefs as individual constructions of reality
constructed from personal experiences. The source of beliefs is personal
experience and the individual's perception of that experience, not provable
knowledge. Sigel asserts that belief statements are not synonymous to fact
statements (knowledge) in that
beliefs are knowledge in the sense that the individual knows that what he
(or she) espouses is true or probably true, and evidence may or may not
be deemed necessary; or if evidence is used, it forms a basis for the
belief but is not the belief itself, (p. 348)
Thus while knowledge is derived from provable evidence, beliefs can be
based on non-verifiable emotions and speculation. According to Sigel, an
individual does not seek provable fact statements to substantiate his or her
position but may instead adopt the belief merely because it has been useful
in his or her personal experience (1985, p.349). Sigel asserts that beliefs
may be either conscious or nonconscious. Individuals may or may not be
aware of their beliefs and therefore may or may not be able to articulate
them. Sigel maintains that beliefs do not occur in isolation but must be
considered within the surrounding context. Belief-behavior interaction is
influenced by factors such as education, contacts with significant others,
cultural traditions, and past individual experience (p. 357).
Beliefs have been described as providing a screen through which
teachers view the world and establish the basis for teachers' action (Harvey,
1970; Nespor, 1985; Spodek & Rucinski, 1984). Bauch (1982) reported that
"educational beliefs do influence teaching practices thereby contributing to
the context in which learning occurs" (p. 16). According to Clark and
Peterson (1986) teachers possess an individualized system of beliefs,
values, and principles concerning their profession. This system varies from
teacher to teacher in its content and orientation. What teachers understand
about language, language learning, and children will determine the kinds of
educational experiences they will consider and those that they will avoid.
Essentially, teachers' beliefs become operationalized as curriculum.
According to Isenberg, (1990) the literature supports the statement
that, in contrast to thinking based on student behaviors, teachers thinking
may be guided by a personally held system of beliefs, values, and principles
or by a broad knowledge base of content and teaching strategies that form
their teaching practice and go largely unarticulated (p. 324). Because much
practical knowledge is implicit, teachers' reasons for selecting certain
strategies may not be clearly understood until teachers try explaining their
actions (Argyris & Schon, 1974; Spodek, 1988; Yonemura, 1986).
Clarifying beliefs may force teachers to reexamine what they do and
why they do it. If we assume that the individual teacher is key to any
educational reform, then we must agree that self-evaluation is a critical
aspect of such change. One premise of the present research is that real
effectiveness in the classroom lies within the teacher (Olson & Singer, 1994).
Many teachers appear willing and eager to improve their pedagogical skills,
but they are often unaware of how their beliefs about teaching specific
subjects, or about teaching in general, affect the kinds of changes they might
make. They do not always know how to begin to effect positive changes that
are in line with their beliefs.
As explained by Argyris and Schon (1974), theories are vehicles for
explanation, prediction, or control.
An explanatory theory explains events by setting forth propositions
from which these events may be inferred, a predictive theory sets forth
propositions from which inferences about future events may be made,
and a theory of control describes the conditions under which events of
a certain kind may be made to occur, (p. 5)
According to Brousseau and Freeman (1988), a first step toward
understanding how to affect the process of schooling is to understand the
values and beliefs underlying those processes. They further assert that a
clear description of the educational beliefs of a school's staff is an important
contribution in efforts to understand a teaching culture, the importance of
which is supported by Deal (1985) who states, "Unless local educators
understand and reckon with the existing culture of each school, the
introduction of commissions' recommendations or characteristics of
effectiveness will probably not work; it may even do more harm than good"
According to Mayer (1985), teacher education in America has always
had a tendency to be practice-oriented as opposed to theory-oriented. He
cites research which suggests that the beliefs teachers hold are an important
determinant of teaching behavior and that those teachers who do operate
from beliefs and theory are in fact more effective teachers than those who
operate at a more concrete level (Brown, 1969; Buchman, 1983; Olson,
1981). Mayer argues that findings from research on teacher beliefs justify
devoting more time in teacher education to the issue of teacher beliefs.
The small but expanding literature on teachers' conceptions and
theories of practice leads one to conclude that ignoring teachers' beliefs in
implementing change often leads to disappointing results. Understanding
teachers' beliefs is crucial to the development and implementation of new
programs and effective inservice education.
Fenstermacher (1986) has asserted that research should help
teachers understand, modify, change, and solidify the arguments for their
actions because many times teachers do not understand the reasons for their
actions. Fenstermacher's intent in developing the concept of teachers'
practical arguments was to indicate the ways in which teachers can use
research results: "... as evidence, as information, as sources of insight for
teachers to consider along with their own experiences" (1978, p. 175). The
concept then, is not meant to describe the ways in which teachers make
decisions, but to provide a means of transforming teachers' beliefs from
being subjectively to objectively reasonable. For Fenstermacher: 'The
relevance of research for teaching practice can be understood as a matter of
how directly the research relates to the practical arguments in the minds of
teachers" (1986, p. 44).
Fenstermachers practical argument theory proposed a way to
organize a teachers purposive, intuitive actions, and help convert what
teachers believe into more effective practice. If teachers can formulate a
practical argument to support classroom practices and then be supplied with
evidence to support that argument, they will begin to recognize what was
previously unidentified and instruction will improve. He asserts that research
can improve practice if it helps clarify practical arguments in teachers' minds.
According to Richardson-Koehler, (1987a), a practical argument
consists of three types of premisesvalue, empirical, and situationand
concludes with an action. Research can help change the truth value of the
premises. But research that is presented in a "Research says..." statement
that does not account for teachers' practical rationality, may not be ignored or
discounted. Further, mandated practices based on the research will be
performed in a perfunctory manner, if at all.
As teachers mature and change, new beliefs evolve to replace former
or conflicting beliefs. One way to facilitate this development for teachers is to
help them become reflective and self-conscious as they are presented with
data that validates or their beliefs. However, the formation of beliefs and
their subsequent operation are not well understood. Socialization to the
school environment, a teacher's concept of the learning process, and
attempts to resolve cognitive dissonancethe discomfort that occurs when
one experiences inconsistencyalso influence belief formation. Reflective
self-assessment may enhance the understanding of how various operations
play a role in belief formation and evolution.
The concept of reflectivity is rooted in the writings of Dewey (1916;
1933; 1965). More recently, the discussion of reflective practice has been
renewed and elaborated by Schon (1983; 1987), Smyth (1984; 1989), and
Tom (1985). Recent work on how teachers and professionals think-in-action
helps to explain how teachers' implicit theories affect behavior, and how
these beliefs and theories can be modified to accept new and different
research-based practices. Schon's (1983) work on reflective practice, for
example, suggests that practitioners' knowledge-in-action is intuitive, tacit,
and based on the experiences of trial and error. Reflection in action, or the
ability to think about the knowledge-in-action process while it is taking place,
helps practitioners deal with situations of "uncertainty, instability,
uniqueness, and value conflict" (p. 50).
Elbaz (1981, 1983) suggests that teachers hold three forms of practical
knowledge rules of practice, practical principles, and images; and these are
used in different ways in practice. Reflection-in-action is grounded in inquiry-
oriented education theory and suggests that teachers need to become more
responsible for improving their own practice.
Argyris and Schon (1974) suggest that theories of action determine all
deliberate behavior. Such theories of action depend on a set of stated or
unstated assumptions and beliefs. According to their view, when someone is
asked how he or she would behave under certain circumstances, the answer
one usually gives is their espoused theory of action for the situation; the
theory of action to which one gives allegiance and communicates to others.
However, the theory that actually governs one's actions is his/her theory-in-
use, which may or may not be compatible with their espoused theory.
Congruence exists when one's espoused theory matches the theory-in-use;
when one's behavior fits his/her espoused theory of action.
Nespor (1987) presents a conceptualization of beliefs grounded in
current research in cognitive psychology which supports Sigel's definition of
beliefs. Nespor contends that several features serve to distinguish 'beliefs'
from 'knowledge' (1) existential presumption, (2) altemativity, (3) affective
and evaluative aspects, (4) episodic structure, (5) non-consensuality.
Nespor presents a conceptualization of beliefs grounded in current research
in cognitive psychology which supports Sigel's definition be beliefs.
Nespor contends that several features serve to distinguish "beliefs''
1. Existential presumption-Belief systems frequently contain
propositions or assumptions about the existence or non existence of
entitiessuch as the entities thought to be embodied by the students.
The "conversion of transitory, ambiguous, or abstract characteristics
into stable, well-defined and concrete entities is important because
such entities tend to be seen as immutableas beyond the teacher's
control and influence."
2. AltemativityBeliefs often include representations of 'alternative
worlds' or 'alternative realities'-conceptualizations of ideal situations
differing significantly from present realities. "In this respect, beliefs
serve as means of defining goals and tasks, whereas knowledge
systems come into play were goals and the paths to their attainment
3. Affective and evaluative aspectsBelief systems rely much more
heavily on affective and evaluative components than knowledge
systems. She contends that affect and evaluation can be "important
regulators of the amount of energy teachers will put into activities."
4. Episodic structureInformation in knowledge systems is stored
primarily in semantic networks, while belief systems are composed
mainly of 'episodical ly'stored material derived from personal
experience or from cultural or institutional sources. Beliefs "often
derive their subjective power, authority, and legitimacy from
particularly episodes or events"
5. Non-consensualityBelief systems consist of "propositions,
concepts, arguments that are recognizedby those who hold them or
by outsidersas being in dispute or as in principle disputable." Much
of the non-consensuality of beliefs derives from a lack of agreement
over how they are to be evaluated. By contrast, part of the consensus
characterizing knowledge systems is a consensus about the ways in
which knowledge can be evaluated or judged, (pp. 318-320)
Nespor (1987) suggests that to understand teaching from teachers'
perspectives we have to understand the beliefs with which they define their
work. She asserts that teaching takes on different meanings for different
teachers, and failure to recognize this impairs any attempt to make sense of
what teachers do in the classroom or why they do it.
If the ultimate goal of research on teaching is to shape, direct, or
improve the practices of teachers, then the reasons that teacher(s)
have for acting as they doreasons which make them more or less
amenable to advice and trainingmust be examined. (Nespor, 1985,
Spodek (1988) discussed the role of teachers' "implicit theories" in
guiding instruction, implicit theories are the ideas about child development
and instruction that teachers develop from their personal experience based
on their practical knowledge. According to Spodek, they differ from the
explicit theories of the profession which are taught in education and child
Teachers' implicit theories provide a way to interpret events and a means
of predicting the consequences of teachers' actions, which Spodek noted is
consistent with Argyris and Schon's (1974) concept of "theories-in-use."
Research Regarding Beliefs in Teaching
According to Spodek (1987),
Teachers actions and classroom decisions are driven by their
perceptions and beliefs. They create conceptions of their professional
world based upon their perceptions of reality and their beliefs of what
These understandings, and the thought processes that lead to
them, become the basis of the teacher's actions. To understand the
nature of teaching one must understand teachers' processes of
thinking about teaching, and the belief systems that drive these
processes, (p. 197)
Spodek and Rucinski (1984) attempted to arrive at teachers'
constructs and "theory-in-use" by asking them to respond to actions that take
place in their classroom. Observations of ongoing classroom activities were
recorded from three first grade classrooms. Observers reviewed the notes
taken during observations and identified decisions that were made by each
teacher. Descriptions of the teachers' actions and their contexts were
abstracted. Teachers were interviewed about the decision situations.
Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed, wherein statements of beliefs
were identified by researchers. Statements of beliefs were edited and
presented to the teachers for confirmation or modification. Statements were
organized into ten content areas and statements of belief about values
(representing the "oughts" and "shoulds" of education) were separated from
beliefs about fact (descriptive of attributes of schools, teachers, children,
parents, and other adults and the relationship between such attributes) (p.
Although there was a great deal of differences in the number of
statements generated by each teacher, the proportion of value-oriented belief
statements to technically-oriented statements was nearly identical among the
three teachers: 60% technical or "fact" beliefs and 40% "value" beliefs (p.
16) . Researchers were also able to identify three categories which
generated the highest number of beliefs for each teacher (classroom
management, learning, and instructional practices).
Spodek suggested that since these three categories predominated in
the statements of all three teachers, they may reflect the focus of teaching in
the primary classroom:
A class need to be well managed for any teaching to occur. Once
management is accounted for, the focus of the teacher is on
instruction and learning. This is the prime role of the school and those
beliefs are related to the purposes of primary education and what
teachers need to do to achieve these purposes. (1984, p. 23)
Spodek further asserts that the manner in which these beliefs were
generated, focusing on theories-in-use rather than espoused theories, lead
them to be consistent with each teachers practice.
Nespor (1985) maintains that teachers' beliefs about teaching play a
crucial role in the way they formulate goals and define the tasks of teaching.
Nespor conducted the Teacher Beliefs Study, an intensive, two-year program
of research on the structures and functions of teachers' beliefs systems.
Teachers were found to act according to reasons that made sense to them in
terms of what they considered to be the goals of teaching. Analyzing the
data led Nespor to conclude that teachers have conceptual systems, even
though they may be implicit and unsystematized, which are used for making
sense of, evaluating, and justifying classroom activities and interactions.
Recent work on how teachers think-in-action helps to explain how
teachers' implicit theories affect behavior, and how these beliefs and theories
can be modified to accept new and different research based practices.
Schon's (1983) work on reflecting practice, for example, suggests that
practitioners' knowledge-in-action is intuitive, tacit, and based on the
experiences of trial and error. Elbaz (1983) suggests that teachers hold
three forms of practical knowledge (rules of practice, practical principles, and
images), and these are used in different ways in practice. And Connelly and
Clandinin (1985) feel that any teaching act is a reflection of all the modes of
knowingaesthetic, scientific, formal, interpersonal, intellectual, intuitive, and
Expanding on this idea, Kaplan-Sanoff (1980) asserts that teachers
who can identify their theoretical assumptions and classroom strategies
related to child learning are better able to make daily educational decisions
based upon a rational and consistent framework of beliefs. In addition,
teachers who are able to explain their goals and how their strategies will
achieve these goals can justify their teaching positions to principals and
parents and are more likely to receive their support. Kaplan-Sanoff contends
that teachers should be able to identify their own teaching behavior and their
ideal teaching beliefs. Teachers and supervisors can then identify the
difference between actual classroom behavior and theoretical teaching
beliefs and work toward making practices and beliefs more congruent.
An extensive study of teachers undergoing change to open and less
formal approaches to instruction was conducted by Bussis, Chittenden, and
Amarel (1976). They interviewed 60 kindergarten, first, and second grade
teachers and then analyzed and categorized their responses into categories
representing curriculum, understanding of children's perceptions of the
working environment, and perceptions of support from advisers. These
researchers made a distinction between
... the surface content of curriculum and a deeper level of organizing
content... with 'surface' referring to the manifest activities and
materials in the classroom and the 'deeper level referring to the
purposes and priorities a teacher holds for children's learning, (p. 4)
Bussis et al. ( 1976) found that teachers differed significantly in the
number of learning priorities held, in their awareness of the existence of
these priorities, and in their perceptions of the connection between priorities
and the surface content of the curriculum. Another discovery that the
researchers made was that a substantial percentage of the teachers held
philosophies inconsistent with the open-classroom approach and dealt with
the conflict in different manners. One group of teachers behaved in their
traditional manner and showed no evidence of changing their surface
curriculum in the classroom. Another group of teachers followed the open-
classroom program while experiencing a great deal of anxiety and frustration.
They encouraged group interaction in their classroom but experienced a fear
of management problems.
In general, the belief-behavior relationship was stronger for those
teachers whose construct systems were clearly formulated and articulated.
The researcher concluded that teachers need to have a philosophical
commitment to an innovative program in order for it to work and an ability to
see the connection between their priorities for children's learning and the
surface curriculum. Bussis et al. also concluded that aides and parents were
more influential in shaping teacher behavior than were the principal or school
Olson (1981) found that teaching behavior in the classroom is linked
to belief systems about the role of the teacher and appropriate curriculum;
teachers' beliefs and principles interact with curricular innovations resulting
in translations which radically alter the curriculum as practiced.
The conclusion drawn from the Bussis et al. (1976) and the Olson
(1981, 1990) studies is that when teachers are confronted with a teaching
method containing beliefs inconsistent with their own, they tend to return to a
practice that is more consistent with their own belief system, thus supporting
the contention that beliefs create practice.
The result of a study by Rupley and Logan (1985) indicate that beliefs
about reading influence elementary teachers' decisions about the importance
of reading outcomes typically taught in the elementary grades. Teachers
who hold student-centered reading beliefs are not likely to value instruction
that focuses on decoding.
As discussed by Parkay and Stanford (1992), an awareness and
understanding of philosophical beliefs guides the behavior of teachers. It is
from this underlying philosophical belief that particular educational schools of
thought emerge. In short, teachers' philosophical beliefs play a key role in
determining the way in which teachers teach. May (1990) argues that the
teacher's view of the reading process influences the decisions the teacher
makes and thus influences the reading instruction.
Working with a sample of 182 teachers from Goodlad's national
research project, A Study of Schooling, Bauch examined the degree to
which the instructional beliefs of teachers influence their behavior in the
classroom. Bauch's theoretical conceptions described belief systems as a
psychological filter which selectively attends to and admits information from
the environment. The individual's beliefs are viewed as predispositions to
action, in that beliefs screen the information available for the formation of
attitudes, which influence intentions, which are the basis for decisions that
lead to related behavior (1984, pp. 2-3). The model of beliefs used by Bauch
assumes that, and individual's beliefs are organized around underlying points
of reference which represent something that is important to an individual
"criterial referents." Bauch's study
attempted to identify from among two belief referents (teacher control
and student participation), the degree to which one or both was held,
and the extent to which they seemed to influence classroom teaching
behavior and student perceptions of the classroom environment.
(Bauch, 1984, p. 4)
Bauch explored elementary school teachers' beliefs using a paper-
and-pencil inventory, the Teacher Beliefs Inventory. She assessed teacher
practice through questionnaires, interviews, and direct observation of
instruction using a modified version of the Stallings Classroom Observation
Instrument. Basing her judgments on the belief dimensions of teacher
discipline and control and student participation, Bauch labeled teachers as
controllers (scoring high on teacher control but low on student participation),
strategists (high on both), laissez-faire (low on both), or relators (low on
teacher control and high on student participation). Bauch's discussion of the
results focused on the two groups of teachers for whom one of the constructs
was relevant: controllers and relators.
Bauch (1984) found that teachers' instructional beliefs were generally
consistent with their teaching behaviors. Controller teachers were found to
express both in belief and practice, classroom curriculum and instructional
behavior different from relator teachers. Controllers tended to employ
lecturing, writing, and test-taking as their primary methodology. Controller
teachers reported that they were more influenced by curriculum guides,
standardized test results, textbooks, and commercial materials than by
student background and preferences in planning for teaching. In contrast,
relators tended to promote student self-direction through such activities as
class discussions, dramatizations, projects, and experiments. In planning for
teaching, relators considered student preferences, interests, and abilities
then evaluated students based on student projects, reports, and
Bauch attributed the difference in belief systems to the philosophical
presuppositions held by each group of teachers. Each group was seen as
having different assumptions about human nature, the focus of culture, and
the center of values (society vs. individual).
Mayer (1985) itemized research completed in the broad area of
teacher beliefs. He determined that the research completed to date has
examined many different phenomena. According to Mayer, researchers have
investigated broad philosophical systems of belief; broad philosophical
systems of specifically educational beliefs; beliefs as they relate to specific
educational areas such as music rehearsal management; desirable science
classroom behavior and beliefs concerning the importance of certain
curricular areas, reading, and discipline. He summarized the research, "A
growing body of research literature suggests that the beliefs teachers hold
are an important determinant of teaching behavior (p. 21). The work of
Brown (1968, 1969), Olson (1981, 1990) Olson & Singer, (1994), and others,
for instance, suggests that beliefs do guide practices. Further, the work of
Buchman (1983) suggests that those teachers who do operate from beliefs
and theory are, in fact, more effective teachers than those who operate at a
more concrete level.
In contrast, additional research suggests that beliefs have only a
minimal effect upon practice, if any. For instance, in a review of literature
concerning the relationship between theories about reading and elementary
teacher reading practice, Duffy (1981) concluded that the three factors most
greatly influencing practice were the nature of the students (i.e., income
level, grade level, and ability level), the commercial reading material used in
the school, and the desire or need to maintain a smooth activity flow.
Observations show that some teachers operate out of a system of beliefs and
some do not. The work of Miller (1981) and Buchman (1983) are two
examples of such research. Observational studies cited suggest that the
theories implicit in basal readers are major factors in shaping observable
teaching practice related to reading instruction. The theory inherent in the
text replaces the teachers' theories about reading instruction. Duffy (1981)
also lists demands of teacher peer pressure, pressure from the principal, and
applicable accountability mandates as factors affecting teacher practice.
Duffy's literature review clearly conflicts with the research previously cited.
Does a teacher's belief system have an association with a teacher's practice
or doesn't it? The answer might very well be yes or no. Some research
points to the conclusion that some teachers operate out of a system of beliefs
and some do not. The work of Miller (1981) and Buchman (1983) are two
examples of such research.
The conclusions from the research regarding teacher beliefs creates a
framework with many holes. There is a relationship between what teachers
believe and what they do. There is also some support for the conclusion that
some teachers operate from a sophisticated system of beliefs and some do
not. The holes in the framework support the suggestion that other research
needs to be done. This research includes filling in holes related to
knowledge concerning the development of beliefs in association with practice
in order to get a better sense of that process, knowledge with practice in
order to get a better sense of that process, knowledge concerning whether or
not there are qualitative differences in the way teachers think (i.e., role
oriented vs. self-oriented), and knowledge concerning whether or not there is
any association between the way teachers think and a teacher
Beliefs in Reading Instruction
Research Regarding Beliefs in the
Teaching of Reading
As previously discussed, Adams, (1990) has synthesized the research
discussing the manner in which the beliefs of teachers influence their
decisions and behavior in the classroom. Levande (1988) has done the
same, focusing on the growing body of current literature that discusses the
relationship between teacher beliefs or perceptions and instructional
decisions specifically in the area of reading instruction at the elementary
level. The following section will summarize the research relevant to that
Educational leaders, in attempting to explain the failure of explaining
the differences in instructional effectiveness, have indicated that the crucial
variable is not the approach or materials but the teacher (Bond and Dykstra,
1967) and more specifically, that it is the teacher's belief system or
conceptual base which makes the difference (Brophy & Good, 1974; Carroll
& Chall 1975). This study is designed to determine whether teachers
possess such belief systems or conceptions (particularly about reading) and,
if they do, whether these belief systems influence instructional patterns and,
ultimately, the reading growth of pupils.
The whole notion of examining teacher beliefs stems from
investigations which focused on the connection between a teacher's stated
beliefs and that teacher's instruction in the classroom (Duffy, 1981; Hoffman
& Kugle, 1982; Richardson, Anders, Tidwell & Lloyd, 1991). A belief can be
defined as a statement of a relationship among things accepted as being true
(Fenstermacher, 1979; Richardson et al., 1991). To the teacher, these
beliefs conceptually represent a valid reality which guides personal thought
and action (Harvey, 1986).
Recently Harste and Burke (1977), DeFord (1978), Mitchell (1978),
and Barr and Duffy (1978) have conducted ground-breaking exploratory
studies into teachers' implicit theories of reading and reading instruction and
how these implicit theories influence instructional behavior. It is assumed by
the researchers in these studies that reading instructional behavior, guided
by implicit theories of reading instruction, influence students' reading
behavior as well as students' conceptions of reading.
McKee (1967) points to the importance of "the teacher's understanding
of what reading instruction is." Carroll and Chall (1975) conclude that the
teacher's system of beliefs about how different children learn to read is
crucial. Cunningham (1977) suggests that an important factor is the
teacher's beliefs about the reading process. Goodman and Watson (1977)
argue that teachers should be able to articulate the reading program's
theoretical base. Harste and Burke (1977) say that every teacher possesses
an implicit model of reading, which can be discovered through observation.
Kamil and Pearson (1979) provide the most straightforward statement of the
role of reading conceptions when they describe three reading models,
stating that these different models of reading suggest different instructional
practices and that teachers theoretically make different instructional
decisions depending upon their particular model (or conception).
In 1977, Duffy (in Meioth, Book, Putnam & Sivan, 1989) studied the
relationship between teachers' concepts of reading and their practices and
found that these were congruent for just half of the participating teachers.
Later, Bawden, Buike and Duffy's (1979) research into this same relationship
found it to be positive, at least a superficial level. However, a closer look
showed the relationship to be "fluid" (p. 9) and influenced by other non-
reading conceptions (such as classroom management) and by grade level
and pupil ability level.
To date, the most extensive investigations of teacher beliefs in reading
and their relationship to practice have been those conducted as part of the
conceptions of reading project at the Institute for Research on Teaching at
Michigan State University. Using the Propositional Inventory, they found that
teachers do have conceptions of reading, but that these do not match the
theoretical categories commonly found in the reading literature, which
Bawden & Duffy (1979) labeled "content-centered and "pupil-centered.
Through informal and formal interviews and observations, the study showed
that teachers did have identifiable conceptions of reading, but their
statements conveyed multiple ideas about reading rather than a single
theoretical perspective. In addition, teachers held many non-reading
conceptions about such things as classroom management or the
appropriateness of instruction for students of different ability levels. In many
instructional situations, teachers' decisions appeared to be influenced more
by such non-reading factors than by their ideas about reading.
Teachers have identifiable beliefs about teaching reading (DeFord,
1985; Duffy & Metheny, 1979), and these a beliefs are generally consistent
with classroom practice (Borko & Niles, 1982; Borko, Shavelson, & Stem,
1981; Gove, 1981; 1983). Teacher beliefs as well as teacher perceptions
about themselves, about how they teach, and about their students are as
important to consider as a teacher's instructional practice (Guzzetti &
Duffy and Metheny (1979) concluded that teacher beliefs are not static
but take shape as they are examined within the context of the classroom and
the specific teaching context. In addition, Nespor (1987) found that the way
teachers think about, understand, and value instruction influences their
practice. Researchers, therefore, must assess a teacher's beliefs if concepts
of the learning experience are to be understood.
Chambers (1989) examined relations between fourth grade teachers'
knowledge and beliefs about reading comprehension and comprehension
instruction using the Knowledge and Beliefs about Reading and
Comprehension Interview (RCI). Chambers concluded that teachers' beliefs
and knowledge about reading comprehension and instruction shape their
instructional decisions. However, beliefs grounded in solid knowledge of a
topic appeared to be a more influential force in instructional decision making
than beliefs based on intuitive knowledge or experience. Teachers
instructional decisions may also be influenced by other factors such as time,
the reading program, administrative directives, classroom management
issues, and the availability of instructional materials.
Lehman, Allen & Freeman (1990) investigated the congruence
between teacher perceptions and teacher practice regarding literature-based
reading instruction. The investigators concluded that teacher beliefs correlate
with classroom practices as reported by these teachers; thus, there is a
congruence between teacher perceptions and teacher practice regarding
literature-based reading instruction.
Richardson et al., (1991) examined the relationship between teachers'
beliefs about the teaching of reading comprehension and their classroom
practices at the intermediate level. The study concluded that the beliefs of
teachers relate to their classroom practices in the teaching of reading
The theory of the reading educator fails to account adequately for the
multiple complexities and demands faced by the classroom teacher. Hoffman
and Kugle (1981) suggested that beliefs are situational and relate in complex
ways to the context of instruction. Hence, the major conclusion of our work
may well be that we must abandon the simple, linear hypotheses for
classroom reading improvement and generate more complex strategies that
reflect and account for the complexities of the instructional setting in
The studies that follow have produced results that indicate a more
complex relationship exists regarding the connection between theory and
practice in the teaching and learning of reading. The implication is clear. If
the nature of the relationship is truly more complex, then teacher educators
and staff developers need to understand all the factors in the theory-practice
equation in order to intervene in ways that will affect classroom instructional
practices. Merely acting to change theoretical orientation will not be
There is no question regarding the importance of theories and models
of reading. As Carr (1982) states: "... Models help you understand the
phenomenon so that you can tell when things are going well and make
informed and intelligent adjustments when things are going poorly."
However, theory is not enough. As these findings suggest, there is a
complex interaction between reading instruction and teacher conceptions,
and teachers apparently modify their instructional decision-making in
response to many factors. Reading beliefs do not get applied until they have
been filtered through the teacher's perception of contextual classroom
conditions. Such contextual conditions mediate the teachers abstractly-held
theory of reading, pushing it into the background where it functions not as the
primary cognitive structure governing the selection of instructional
alternatives but as a secondary concern which is applied only after other
concerns about the classroom life have been considered.
Modification of Beliefs
Research completed by Lehman, Allen & Freeman (1990), suggests
that teachers' perceptions do influence their practices, and thus perhaps