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Teaching Teachers to Teach Better

Published December 4, 2018

The Million Dollar Question: “How do I Teach Reading Effectively?”

In the past two decades, I have been asked this million dollar question each year by teacher candidates in my courses, and we have been exploring possible answers to this question.

“How do I Teach Reading Effectively?”

With the passing of each year, the journey to seeking answers is getting more and more challenging and interesting, due largely to additional variables we need to consider.

For example, children from diverse backgrounds bring to school their various, unique experiences and perspectives, challenging teachers to adapt pedagogy to capitalize on their strengths and address their needs.

Hence, teacher candidates in our teaching credential programs must be well equipped with pedagogical content knowledge (PCK).

My recent research has focused on exploring the development of teacher candidates’ pedagogical content knowledge through their lesson planning, teaching, and reflection. PCK (Shulman, 1986) bridges the content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge.

  • Content knowledge includes knowledge about language (e.g., sentence structures) and about reading development (e.g., comprehension process).
  • Pedagogical knowledge focuses on ways of teaching content, that is, delivering certain content in a certain way, which “makes the learning specific topics easy or difficult” for learners (Shulman, 1986, p. 9).

Image of qualitative word cloudFor example, a teacher, who is doing a think-aloud (e.g., articulate the thinking process on how to extract details from a paragraph), may vary how the strategy is being used, depending on children’s academic backgrounds.

For children at a grade level, the teacher may do the think-aloud for a few sentences and then ask children to try on their own.

With English learners, the teacher may focus on one sentence at a time, and use learners’ native language, if needed, to explain in detail the thinking process.

Findings from my work have indicated that all teacher candidates have been developing their pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), as evidenced in their ability to link the old with the new through activating children’s prior knowledge, use a familiar text or realia to explain a new concept or vocabulary, model for children in a variety of ways, and pay attention to individual children’s needs.

Image of research survey data resultsTeacher candidates have also identified a struggle with striking a balance of teaching the content and applying an appropriate strategy, such as spending much time on teaching how to do a think-aloud, leaving limited time for children to practice in order to master the lesson content (e.g., extracting details from a text).

Most importantly, teacher candidates have learned to view teaching reading as a complex process involved with multiple variables and further development of PCK.

During this research, I, albeit learning a lot from teacher candidates, have not found all answers to this million dollar question. So my quest continues with a next study on how teacher candidates use different types of assessments during lesson teaching to enhance their PCK.




Written by Professor Shelley Hong Xu
Teacher Education Department

Images courtesy of Shelley Hong Xu
Reproduced from Research @ the Beach