Middle school language arts teachers' beliefs about reading instruction



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The purpose of this qualitative study was to learn about middle school language arts teachers’ beliefs about themselves as reading teachers to students who struggle with reading. National reading data find staggeringly high numbers of older students without the necessary reading skills to participate in the general education curriculum. Research suggests that some students have late developing, unidentified reading difficulties that leave students unable to participate fully in the curriculum. To address the problem of struggling readers beyond elementary grades, content area teachers are often asked to provide reading instruction. With few exceptions, however, content area teacher have not ameliorated the problem for all students. A review of the literature suggests that beliefs take center stage in how teachers define themselves, whom they are willing to teach, and the instructional practices they use. For this study, a group of middle school language arts teachers were asked to discuss their roles, students, and beliefs about reading instruction. Initial findings suggested that few teachers’ believed it was their role to provide reading instruction to struggling readers. Many were bound to content instruction, expected middle school students to be able to read, and did not provide reading interventions. They believed in the power of their ability to motivate students to be successful; however good relationships balanced with knowledgeable reading instruction was not evident. Teachers with elementary or special education preservice training and experiences in teaching reading were frustrated and had trouble generalizing their knowledge into a middle school context. Over the course of the study, the discourse the teachers used changed in regard to providing reading instruction and their need for knowledge about reading instruction. Limitations of the study include a small group, uneven participation, and capturing the fluidity of beliefs. Implications for future research including: the impact of current policy on content area teachers; the expansion of understanding reading and literacy instruction for secondary students; and research on the changing roles of special education teachers. Implications for practice include meeting teachers where they are in their professional development needs and teacher generated professional development that respects teachers as learners.