More reading classes urged for teachers State panel drafts proposals to improve school instruction

'On a real fast track'

Grasmick to present recommendations to board next month

November 15, 1997|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

A statewide panel studying reading instruction in Maryland's public schools kicked into high gear yesterday, drafting a list of -- recommendations for boosting teacher preparation at the state's colleges.

The recommendations, to be presented to the state school board next month, were requested by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

A week ago, Grasmick said she wanted to quadruple the number of courses in reading instruction that early-elementary school education majors are required to take to become state-certified.

Grasmick's initiative followed a series of Sun articles that documented a pervasive failure to learn how to read properly among the state's and the nation's schoolchildren, despite advances in scientific and educational research showing that most of that failure is preventable.

"This takes work that has been on a slow evolvement and puts it on a real fast track -- like before lunch," Trudy Collier, chief of the language development and early learning branch of the State Department of Education, told the panel yesterday.

"We're really upping the ante on what we expect neophyte teachers to know. It's a paradigm shift for everyone," she said.

Also at Grasmick's request, the task force yesterday drafted a list of experts involved in cutting-edge reading research on the -- brain and in classroom studies to advise the panel as it develops a road map for improving reading instruction, expected to be completed next June.

Many experts believe the root of the reading problem in Maryland and the nation is the poor training of teachers, who typically take few college courses in how to teach reading and get too little training in phonemes, the sounds of the language, and phonics, the relationship of sounds and letters.

Yesterday, as task force members -- representing state and local education agencies and teacher and parent groups -- filled up chart after chart listing skills and subjects teachers should know, some suggested that the instructional expertise required of early-elementary school teachers often calls for graduate-level training.

"Maybe that's what we need to start looking at putting reading specialists in the classroom right from the beginning," said Judy Ramoy Johnstone, chairwoman of the Education Department of Mount St. Mary's College, who suggested requiring that all first-grade teachers be reading specialists -- who typically have master's degrees.

Currently, college education majors must pass only one course in reading instruction to become certified to teach in Maryland. Most students who major in early-childhood or elementary education take two reading-method courses. Those who earn degrees in other majors can become certified to teach without taking any reading courses.

Grasmick wants the state school board -- which approves college education courses and sets teacher certification requirements -- to require at least one course in reading instruction for all teachers and at least four reading courses for teachers of early-elementary school grades. She plans to present this proposals to the state board in January.

Grasmick also is trying to limit the number of noncertified teachers allowed in each district.

The task force generally agreed yesterday that teachers who want to be certified for preschool through eighth grade, including special education teachers, should take a minimum of four reading courses and should learn methods that have proved most successful through research. Proposed course requirements fell under four categories:

How children learn to read -- including learning the individual sounds of the language and language development.

Instruction: phonics, spelling, vocabulary, early writing and story comprehension, among other skills.

How to assess whether children are learning to read properly using such tools as standardized tests and observations; how to diagnose and treat reading problems.

Children's literature and other reading materials -- emphasizing not only what stories to use but how to use them effectively.

Over the next several months, the 24-member panel will draft recommendations for reading course work for aspiring middle- and high-school teachers, teachers who are already in the classroom, and new teachers who are entering the profession from other fields.

The panel is also discussing ways to increase the amount of time student teachers spend working in classrooms with children, a reform already under way in Maryland.

"It's really an obsolete model to teach in the college classroom because the kids aren't there," said Virginia H. Pilato, chief of teacher education at the State Department of Education.

Task force Chairwoman Patricia Richardson, superintendent of St. Mary's County public schools, stressed that while reform of ,, teacher training programs at colleges is critical to solving the reading problem, local school systems will also have to use the task force's work to retrain teachers already in the classroom.

"This is not only a higher education issue," she said. "This is one piece, but there are a series of things that have to happen in the local school systems."

Some participants said that colleges are already doing what the task force is proposing.

"That's not the issue," Pilato said. "The issue is whether it's taught so it's understood."

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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