Date of Award

5-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education

Major Professor

Anne McGill-Franzen

Committee Members

Richard L. Allington, J. Amos Hatch, Gary J. Skolits

Abstract

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The central goal of elementary reading instruction is to teach students to make sense of the range of texts that they encounter during their school careers and lives. The issue of interest in this study is to better understand educational practice for upper elementary reading comprehension instruction. Using a case study design within the framework of symbolic interactionism, I studied four upper elementary teachers and examined the nature of their experiences with organizing, carrying out, and learning about reading comprehension instruction. Three weeks of classroom observations of each teachers’ language arts instruction and three interviews of each teacher constitute the major sources of data for this study.

Results suggest that each teacher provided her students a different type of instructional experience around reading comprehension, despite having access to same kinds of instructional materials and assessment information. The instructional experiences offered by the teachers were contingent upon the teachers’ perspectives on the construct of reading comprehension and the factors that weighed most heavily in their individual decision-making processes about reading comprehension instruction. Several additional patterns emerged across the teachers. All four teachers made adaptations to their core reading program, utilized a small, consistent set of instructional routines in day-to-day instruction, and identified working with struggling students as an area of concern with which they felt unprepared to handle well. None of the teachers were observed or reported consistently employing direct, explicit, accountable ways of talking with students about texts or about ways of thinking through texts.

These findings suggest future research and professional development efforts to improve reading comprehension instruction should begin with the ways in which teachers think about reading comprehension and the kinds of decisions teachers make as a result of their working definitions. In addition, more attention needs to be paid to supporting teachers in making thoughtful adaptations to their curriculum materials, in expanding the range of instructional routines employed on a regular basis, and in learning how to meet the needs of students struggling with comprehension. Finally, greater emphasis needs to be placed on fostering the kinds of talk amongst teachers and students that leads to the most robust reading comprehension development.

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