© Please note: Shirley Freed owns the copyright for the dissertation below. You may download and print one copy for educational purposes only. These pages may not be duplicated, distributed, redistributed or republished in any manner without express permission from the author.
Yin (1984) suggests two general strategies which can be used in the analysis of cases: theoretical propositions and descriptions. In the first, the theoretical propositions which led to the study are kept in focus in the analysis. In this study, I endeavored to build on the previous research base which suggests that teachers are able to implement when they have high psychological states (Maslow), conceptual levels (Hunt), and are working in supportive school climates. In an effort to expand the knowledge base concerning cognitive effects, I hypothesized that mind style (Gregorc) and operational level (Piaget) would have an effect on implementation. It seemed possible that individuals with a sequential mind style would be more in agreement with a highly structured program like ECRI and would be able to implement more easily. Likewise with operational level, I hypothesized that those on a higher level would have an easier time implementing a complex program like ECRI with its many interlocking components. It seems possible that they may have in place patterns of thinking that would facilitate the implementation of ECRI.
The second general analytical strategy suggested by Yin (1984) is the development of "a descriptive framework for organizing the case study" (p. 101). One of my original purposes in this study was the description of certain individuals within a particular context. I wanted to describe "what it is like" to be a high conceptual person endeavoring to implement ECRI. I believed administrators and teachers would be benefitted by descriptions of teachers in difficult working situations and the strategies they used to implement. I was concerned that should researchers continue to expand the list of characteristics of teachers who are able to implement for example, high psychological state and high conceptual level without thick descriptions of how these contextual factors affect implementation, the problems of implementation would remain in the teacher's lap.
When there is a list of characteristics of anything whether it be effective schools, effective change agents, effective principals or effective implementers there is a tendency to assume that reasons for problems lie within the individuals. Possibly his/her personality or conceptual level are the reason for problems. I wanted to remove myself from this type of reasoning. Believing that some traits are difficult to change, e.g., mind styles, I wanted to provide descriptions of "what it is like" for persons to find themselves in a particular context. I was hopeful that the end result would raise the level of awareness of those involved in implementation. With a greater awareness of "what it is like," teachers and administrators would be freed from tendencies to identify a particular trait as the cause of problems and would in fact be able to accept the situation and set in motion plans to deal with various contexts.
As stated in Chapter 1, the purpose of the study was to provide thick descriptions which when read would stimulate reflection. Fullan (1990) suggests in his framework of educational change that teachers must engage in reflective practices to be effective learners.
So, my case studies are organized to facilitate both strategies suggested by Yin (1984). I have grouped the data primarily around the process of implementation and focused on the unique components of ECRI. At times these descriptions provide data which are evaluated in reference to the theoretical propositions. I hypothesized that mind style (Gregorc), conceptual level (Hunt), operational level (Piaget), and working conditions (Szabo) would have an effect on implementation. To facilitate the search for patterns I used an analytic technique suggested by Miles and Huberman (1984) and compared the frequency of certain coded segments which occurred in the first four questionnaires given during the training. These results are found in Appendix B. Results of Level of Use are in Appendix C.
Overview of ECRI
In order that the case studies be understood in reference to some constant, in this section I give an overview of various ECRI components as they were presented during training.
Implementation of ECRI
One of the first hurdles to be overcome by a teacher implementing ECRI is grouping and placing students. Reid (1983) suggests a maximum of three groups and for a beginning ECRI teacher, two groups will create a major challenge. Using an informal reading inventory teachers evaluate students' oral reading and decide on a placement level. The results from this testing may indicate a wide range of levels and the teacher must decide how to group the students so as to maintain the suggested two groups. In some cases, this necessitates placing a student in a group one or two steps above or below the placement suggested by the informal inventory. This is not considered a problem since ECRI is a program which teaches word recognition skills which can be readily transferred to any level.
Reid (1983) suggests that this testing-and-placing process take place during the `orientation' to ECRI. Beginning the first day of school, this is a special three weeks when the entire class is working in the same textbook and proceeding at the same rate. During this `orientation' students learn the management system of ECRI: checklist, forms, testing system, etc. The purpose is to develop independence so that later students will be able to proceed at their own pace.
The major components of ECRI are: skills when new vocabulary words are taught and old vocabulary words are reviewed (during training, skills time was used only for vocabulary, however, as teachers become more proficient they will use this time for comprehension skills also); back-up skills for spelling, penmanship, and dictation; practice time when students prepare for mastery tests and read their story three times, and the teacher gives mastery tests, individual conferences or leads discussions; enrichment reading time when students read some book other than the one they use for practice (must be at independent level); and writing time. The teacher must decide how to schedule these various components following the `orientation.' Although four pages of different schedules are provided in the teacher's manual, these are somewhat confusing to the beginning ECRI teacher because some components are not listed specifically. For example, enrichment reading is not listed in the "90 Minutes a Day for Two Groups" schedule nor is it listed in the "120 Minutes a Day for Two Groups" schedule. At any rate, teachers need to decide on a schedule which fits their particular situation.
The trainers at Midwest University used flash cards to present vocabulary words during the `Skills' component. Using more than one card to present words which have a prefix or suffix added, the trainers followed the suggested format of Reid (1983). More than one card was also used to teach compound words and contractions, while a single card was used to teach phonetic, polysyllabic, and sight words.
Other materials required during the `Skills' section are overhead transparencies with the word listed, word formation exercises, word discrimination exercises, and a sentence using the new word (Appendix E). To review old vocabulary at the beginning of the skills section, two trainers used a chart while the other reviewed using the old mastery test overheads. For `Back-up Skills,' teachers prepared spelling exercises which involved word formation and word discrimination activities. During training the teachers were taught to use the Practice Time Checklist, the Enrichment Reading Form and the Individual Conference Form, all of which are found in the teacher's manual published by ECRI. The suggested format for organizing the checklist during training was similar to that outlined by Reid.
Other materials needed to use ECRI are various paragraphs to teach comprehension skills. These were modeled during training but teachers had little opportunity to practice these skills or to make the necessary materials.
During training teachers were shown an apron that could be worn to facilitate the organization of teacher materials needed during practice time. The apron had pockets for stopwatch, word cards, pens, and pencils. However, minimal direction was given to overall organization of teacher materials.
Directives are preplanned instructions which teachers memorize word for word. Hearing these specifically worded phrases in a consistent sequence day after day, students soon anticipate the next directive and its required activity. It then becomes unnecessary for the teacher to say the complete directive. They `fade' the directive by possibly giving only a word or two to suggest what is required or they may use a hand signal to indicate the next activity. In either case, the teacher no longer repeats the entire directive word-for-word as memorized. It is important that teachers `fade' the directives as soon as students are ready. That will be obvious because students will know the routine so well they will not wait for the teacher to repeat the whole directive but will rush ahead. At that time, it is clear the student no longer needs the directive and it should be `faded.'
The rationale for ECRI is based on practices found among effective teachers. These include eliciting rapid overt responses from students, keeping students on task, expecting mastery, modeling and prompting, and diagnosing to mention only a few (Reid, 1983,
pp. 7, 8). A teacher is able to accomplish these behaviors by using positive reinforcement. During the training this was provided in the form of points which accumulated on a 3 x 5 card taped to the students' desks. When teachers saw a student exhibiting the correct behavior, e.g., eyes up front or hands folded, they would quickly give the student a dot (1 point) or a star (5 points). In the skills section when students were able to go through all the required procedures in a specified time, e.g., three minutes, the teacher would give everyone ten points or whatever they chose. Some of the trainers allowed students to write their own points on their cards as specified, while other trainers tended to write down most points themselves. Inappropriate behavior was ignored and expected behavior was lavishly rewarded.
At the end of each week students could bring their cards to the `store' where they could spend their points. Providing a strong motivation for students to conform to the expected behavior, some students would buy small items on a weekly basis while others saved their points to buy the larger articles. The `store' contained all kinds of items: snorkels, pencils, pens, stickers, markers, swimming goggles, etc.
Realizing the need for higher-level thinking skills, the ECRI program has a component where teachers ask students on an individual basis, four levels of comprehension questions: literal, interpretive, critical, and creative. This activity is scheduled to occur during the practice time. Although it was modeled during training and teachers practiced giving conferences to their students, the classes were small, five or six students, and the situation was quite different from that facing teachers in their own classrooms.
Introduction to Cases
While the previous overview is not intended to be comprehensive, it provides a frame of reference in understanding the challenges faced by Becky, Deana, Debbie, and Tammy as they endeavored to implement ECRI. The story of their first year using ECRI is organized in a standard format. For each teacher I discuss their background, implementation of ECRI, modus operandi, use of materials, new skills, and the effect of contextual factors on their process of implementation.
Becky The Hesitant Teacher
Studying nursing at the time of her marriage to a pastor, Becky interrupted her education to join her husband in ministry. While in the ministry, Becky had many opportunities to work with young children in Vacation Bible Schools and discovered she liked it a lot. When her husband accepted an invitation to teach at a college, Becky decided this was her chance to take elementary education. Upon graduating she taught a grade five and six classroom, but because of inadequate materials, Becky was frustrated by the amount of time required to teach. She wanted more time for her family, so she decided to specialize in Spanish and subsequently completed an MAT in Spanish. When she started her family, she discontinued teaching until her children were in school; however, she continued to work with children in her church. When her youngest started school, Becky was offered and accepted a job in an elementary school. Presently in her fifth year teaching elementary school at River Ridge School, Becky believes without a doubt that "it's the leading of the Lord that I'm a teacher" (V. 2, p. 167).
Becky has experienced some excellent results in her reading program in the past. She tries "to make it a fun time and motivate so learning will take place" (V. 1, p. 89). When teaching grade 1, she uses "a puppet named `Soundy' who listens to and works with the students on the sounds of letters" (V. 1, p. 89). She feels that
Some methods I have used have had excellent results but I always hope to find a method to reach all the children. Each child is different. I would like an approach to language arts that is more integrated spelling, reading and English all in one.
(V. 1, p. 91)
So Becky brought to the ECRI experience 11 years of classroom experience and a desire to enhance her reading instruction techniques.
Implementation of ECRI
The last two days of training left Becky in a state of confusion:
It's all sort of a blur to me right now. I want to implement but things seem really confused to me. This last week with comprehension has been tough. I think I had too many things to think about. (V. 1, p. 97)
She went home and wrote in her journal:
The class is completed! Great! I'm glad it's over. All the
books and materials will be put away for a while. I really do
not even want to see them! I feel I'm saturated and ready to
(V. 2, p. 173)
Becky did not think a lot about ECRI until the fall school term. She started to prepare materials in the summer but the process did not begin in earnest until school began. Teaching 25 students in a Grade 2 classroom, Becky has the advantage of having taught many of the students in Grade 1 the previous year. In fact that was one of the reasons she decided to implement ECRI:
When I was taking the class in the summer I was thinking about my students. If I would have had a different group of students, I may not have even gone into this program. I thought this group could do it and that I had advanced enough to be able to go into it. (V. 2, p. 87)
When the school bell rang on the first day, Becky hesitated. New students kept coming and she just did not feel like starting ECRI until things had settled down. She talked a lot with Mary Beth, another teacher who was using ECRI. Mary Beth kept "telling her to jump in and go!" (V. 2, p. 76). By the third week of school, Becky was ready to begin. Following the orientation schedule loosely; she taught skills, practice time, and handwriting the first day. The second day, she added spelling, and the third day, enrichment reading. By the third week she was ready to implement conferencing. Becky could not believe how long it took second graders to get into the routine. It was much harder work than she had expected. She maintains, "If I would not have had some extra help (Mary Beth), I think I would have just thrown up my hands and said forget it" (V. 2, p. 169). After a month of orientation Becky had decided on two groups, one using a Grade 2 reader and one using a Grade 4 reader. In giving the informal reading inventories during orientation, she considered not only reading levels but also study habits. Having borrowed materials for the fourth grade from Mary Beth, she had prepared some materials for second grade and was ready to go!
In implementing ECRI, Becky's modus operandi has been to take things step by step:
I've implemented one thing at a time. I started with skills, and back up, and then it seemed to start to snowball, and I said just take one step at a time. (V. 2, p. 170)
Often Mary Beth would encourage her to `take time.' In my efforts to gain entrance to Becky's classroom, I also recognized she needed time. In September she said, "Please give me some time before you come. I need to develop some confidence" (V. 2, p. 77). Thus, Becky has moved through implementation, beginning a new component of the program as she became comfortable with the previous one.
When asked to describe her change to ECRI she said, "hang in there, that's how I felt, just hang in there, and give it time"
(V. 2, p. 170). Endeavoring to implement with a high degree of fidelity, Becky has been hesitant to make changes to the program. She says, "I wanted to try the program exactly and see if it works. I wanted to see if it functions" (V. 2, p. 166). And so she has added each component in a step-by-step fashion until she has attempted to implement all but penmanship and dictation.
Use of Materials
In keeping with her desire for fidelity, Becky has tried to use ECRI materials as outlined in the teacher's manual, but has found herself making some changes. Originally using a chart for reviews, she soon changed to overheads because some of her 25 students were having a hard time seeing the chart. Not completely satisfied with overheads, in February 1991, she was considering making flash cards for reviews.
Realizing Grade 2 students have a difficult time keeping records, Becky has developed a simplified version of the Practice Time Checklist. It lists primarily the first 12 items and then has added the tasks: alphabetizing the words, using them in sentences, and writing rhyming words for five of the words on the mastery list.
Although the students' materials are organized in one folder, Becky is not pleased with "how messy they have become in less than half a year and would like to do something different in the new year to keep things straight" (V. 2, p. 83). She considered laminating the folders, but in January 1991, decided to just give the students new folders.
With the help of Mary Beth who has provided materials for one group, Becky has not been overwhelmed with making materials:
I know that making materials takes lots of time, but I figured out we do not have all those workbooks to grade. (V. 2, p. 165)
During training Becky did not enjoy having to memorize directives:
I'm having such a hard time memorizing but I think it's because I'm bringing so much baggage phonics, etc., and all my training and experience. I do not feel like memorizing these directives. (V. 1, p. 93)
Finding so much to learn in such a short time caused tension for Becky. When saying the directives she would find her mind going blank; however, realizing others had similar problems was reassuring. Even though it was stressful, Becky said:
I'm glad that we have to do it ourselves. This is difficult but it is the only way to learn to feel more comfortable doing it. (V. 1, p. 92)
In actual implementation, directives did not present a problem to Becky, and she was fading many of the skills directives by December 1990.
During training Becky expressed concerns about positive reinforcement:
I'm worried about being quick enough and seeing the ones that really deserve the points. Sometimes it may turn out unfair if we are not quick enough and give points to some that do not deserve any. (V. 1, p. 94)
This concern persisted throughout implementation and had not yet been resolved in February 1991. In trying to develop a system for giving points, Becky has pointed to students and let them record their own points. She has found it almost impossible to give points to the students individually. There are just too many students and with their desks arranged in a two deep U-shape, she is unable to easily reach the back row. Originally giving points to keep students `on task' she found some would rush to be ready for `proof and correct,' so she started giving points for neatness.
Becky feels the "point system really tests the children's honesty and is very tempting to them" (V. 2, p. 178). Having discovered several students giving themselves extra points, Becky does not feel comfortable thinking she has possibly driven them to cheating. Initially having the `store' once a week where the students could spend their points, Becky soon decided once every two weeks was enough. Now, she opens the `store' once a month.
Philosophically, Becky does not feel content with positive reinforcement:
I do not think we need it in this environment that much. I always give some rewards. But I'm wondering if we really need them in this materialistic society. I think the students do not need to be given stuff for doing things. I just do not know if it's necessary. (V. 2, p. 169)
In fairness to the ECRI program, however, Becky continues to use positive reinforcement. But she confesses, "Sometimes I use negative, too, like today I put some names on the board" (V. 2,
Following the teaching of the four types of questions in training, Becky expressed confusion. When asked how she felt about any strikingly new concepts introduced during the week, she replied:
Critical comprehension somewhat confused. Inferential comprehension right now I'm not ready to teach it or implement it. (V. 1, p. 98)
In implementation, concerns over types of questions is obscured by the whole situation of conferencing. With 25 students, Becky finds herself unable to individually conference a student more than about once a month. She does not believe this is often enough and is concerned that students' comprehension may not be adequate. To help alleviate this concern, Becky has started using reading groups with a discussion afterward to provide some form of evaluation of the students' comprehension.
Effects of the Context
A dominant abstract sequential/concrete sequential, Becky's mind style has kept her methodically adding each of the critical components of ECRI during implementation. She has had minimal problems organizing materials and has systematically set about to validate ECRI by using it with a high degree of fidelity.
The environmental preference of sequential teachers is ordered, quiet, and non-authoritative. Becky finds the environment created by ECRI in conflict with her previous practices:
I used to have centers, but with ECRI I do not have time to do that. Nor do the students have time. I'm pushing them so hard. I miss that in a way. Because I think it's good for students to not have anything to do and have to make choices. It makes them self-motivated. (V. 2, p. 167)
ECRI is a direct instruction approach and it feels too authoritarian for Becky. Also, the confusion created by having so many students doing different things especially during practice time is uncomfortable for Becky. In an effort to bring some order out of the chaos of practice time, Becky has divided it into two sections. The students read for half an hour and then do other practice and mastery tests for the other half hour. Because the students do not need the entire half hour to read their stories, Becky encourages them to do SRA reading and in the second half to do phonics books.
The way Becky relates to change is also indicative of her mind style. When asked how she usually reacts to change, Becky responded, "Normally, it takes me a while if my husband wants to go on a trip, it takes me a while to get my head going I'm not one to just jump on the bandwagon" (V. 2, p. 85). Reserved and indecisive, abstract sequential individuals need time for deliberation. In December when some of her colleagues were pressing her for an opinion of ECRI, she said, "I'm not ready to make that decision yet I need more time" (V. 2, p. 88). In February she was still wishing she "could say one way or the other about ECRI but there are still too many kinks in it" (V. 2, p. 171).
Concrete sequential persons approach life in a realistic way, often being serious, determined, and perfectionistic. Becky demonstrates these qualities in dealing with the comprehension problem. In describing how she recently related with one student, she says:
Maybe I'm too much of a perfectionist. Like today one foreign student was reading well, but she did not understand the idioms at all. I just took extra time and made sure she understood. (V. 2, p. 165)
Using ECRI does not seem to allow Becky the time to make sure the students are working carefully. She feels pushed all the time and is afraid the students feel the same pressure. Finding students skipping pages to keep up with faster readers and having one student cry and say she hates this reading program has not made the change to ECRI easy for Becky.
As she faces the prospect of teaching Grade 1 next year, Becky is undecided about ECRI. She wants school to be enjoyable, but ECRI just seems to be too high-pressured.
As a high conceptual level individual, Becky has an internalized structure whereby she organizes her life. As she proceeds through implementation, she shows evidence of questioning the ECRI method. She has several values which seem to conflict with ECRI. One is the pressure:
I want the children to love school and I think some of them will just fall apart at the seams with the pressure they get with this system. I do not know - maybe I'm wrong - I'm not saying you cannot do some of it but I'm just not sure about the whole program. (V. 2, p. 88)
Another is positive reinforcement. She does not like giving material things for rewards. She believes children should be more intrinsically motivated.
Becky along with the other high conceptual level teachers made more statements about belief changes during the training (Appendix B). This was a slight trend among high conceptual individuals and one possible interpretation of this trend is that high CL teachers, preferring less structured situations, experienced more changes in their beliefs as they learned the highly structured ECRI method than did the low CL teachers.
Low on formal operations, Becky processed the incoming information about ECRI during training in three primary ways. She viewed many concepts presented in training as new ideas even though she had some instructional practices similar to ECRI before the training. She did make one link with her prior knowledge when she said, "I have already used a similar method of write, proof or correct in spelling and it works well" (V. 1, p. 92).
Throughout the training Becky showed evidence of thoughtfully evaluating ECRI:
We have the younger children and I feel they would have needed a little more instruction to be fully ready for this program.
(V. 1, p. 94)
Some areas I still feel enthusiastic about, but some areas I'm questioning. I am being critical and this is a learning process. (V. 1, p. 95)
In teaching penmanship, I question whether one has to repeat that often. (V. 1, p. 95)
I do need more practice and speed but I feel this will come
from practice with my class. I do feel there was a disadvantage
because different teachers were involved and therefore the continuity
was not there. (V. 1, pp. 97, 98)
This tendency toward careful appraisal persisted throughout implementation. In fact, in February 1991, Becky still felt there were too many unresolved questions about ECRI to be able to commit herself to it.
In considering Szabo's typology of working conditions, Becky at first maintained that she works in a very supportive environment. Having not received any negative feedback from parents and working with a nice group of teachers, Becky is content. Until Christmas, she had a parent help give the mastery tests. That was substantial support! Her principal allows for creativity and basically she has no hassles:
I do my own thing. I do not even know if they know what I'm doing. (V. 2, p. 166)
The other teachers do not understand the program, so they are not involved. Mary Beth has shared materials but "she does not have time to come and say `how's it going?' I go to her and say `help!'" (V. 2, p. 166). In reference to tangible assistance in planning and evaluating ECRI, she said, "I have not had any positive feedback. No one says you're doing great, go on with it" (V. 2, p. 166). One day in passing her principal said to me, "I'm watching Becky closely to make sure the ECRI program does not become too much for her"
(V. 2, p. 77). Earlier when discussing ECRI with me, the principal shared his concerns about ECRI when he said, "Potatoes and cottage cheese are good for your kids, but you would not give them just that every day" (V. 2, p. 77). It is clear he is not completely sold on ECRI and, further, he lacks the technical knowledge of the program to be of much support.
Concerning level of difficulty, Becky perceives her situation to be about average. She says "that was part of the reason I decided to go with ECRI. I was quite sure my students could handle it" (V. 2, p. 166). She had taught many of the students the year before in Grade 1 and was experiencing no other curriculum changes. Thus, using Szabo's typology, Becky's work conditions would be characterized by low support and average difficulty.
Level of Use
At Level III (Mechanical Use) on Loucks, Newlove, and Halls' (1975) Levels of Use of the Innovation, Becky is caught-up in a step-wise attempt to master the critical components of ECRI. Using about half of the strands in a regularly scheduled manner, Becky is sorting out when and how to use the other components: penmanship, dictation, discussion, timed reading, comprehension, and writing (Appendix C). Becky is frustrated knowing all that needs to be implemented and suggests that possibly the training could be broken into two sections and teachers could implement half the components one year and then the next year work on the other half. She says, "Maybe I would not be frustrated now, if I was not trying to do everything" (V. 2, p. 170). Of those strands which she has attempted to implement, none but skills, back-up, and enrichment reading are routinized.
In trying to do conferencing, she is able to get to each student only about once a month and she does not think that is enough. She relates:
We should have more emphasis on discussion, just doing skills and spelling, there's not enough meat there. Kids need exchange. I wish I would have had discussions under my hat better. (V. 2,
Not owning her own ECRI textbook where discussion is explained, Becky is thwarted in her efforts to implement this aspect of ECRI. Uneasy that her reading program is weak in comprehension, she has recently been using old-fashioned reading groups with a little discussion following immediately.
The practice time continues to cause Becky consternation:
In reading time, some of the stories are so short, the kids get finished too fast. If I did it again, I think I'd want to use an old series. The ones who finish fast do SRA and I give them extra material like phonics, but that's a problem because the top ones who do not need it are the ones who get it. (V. 2, p. 164)
During the final observation and interview, Becky became aware of one of the sources of problems in practice time. She had been allowing students to read ahead of where they were on the mastery test, so the students had lost the sense of reading the story, practicing the words, and passing the mastery test for that story before going on to the next story and mastery test.
Relating her thoughts on writing she says, "I have not done much writing because they need to know adjectives, etc., and I need to teach that. I know there's a time for creativity, but you have to put the tools in" (V. 2, p. 170). And for Becky that is an incredible problem of time when to do it!
Experiencing success with skills, back-up skills, and enrichment reading, Becky knows there must be more to her reading program than just those components. As she endeavors to systematize other strands, she is finding it easy to slip into some old routines, e.g., reading groups. She did not order workbooks except for phonics, so there is no temptation to use them, however, she has continued to use SRA.
In summing up her own use of ECRI, Becky has a sense of accomplishment. She has been able to use a program which is more integrated and she has gotten away from workbooks which she dislikes. She has also enjoyed the immediate feedback which ECRI allows. On the other hand, she recognizes that ECRI is not a panacea. She still has at least three students who are not being adequately reached with ECRI. Realizing that possibly no program will reach these students, Becky has a sense of disappointment. Somehow, she had hoped ECRI would solve some of her problems, but it has just not turned out that way.
Deana The Confident Teacher
Having decided to be a teacher in second grade when Deana had a teacher whom she admired, Deana has not wavered in her desire to teach. Believing that God wants her to help people, she chose to study elementary education in college rather than interior design. She firmly believes teaching is a gift from heaven and that God provided the job which she currently holds in a Christian school.
Finding a limited amount of available energy during the school year, Deana pursues a Master's degree during summers. Knowing she will eventually have an administrative position, she intends to acquire as many teaching strategies as possible so that she might be a greater help to other teachers. In the past she has centered in various models of teaching: cooperative learning, Taba inductive, and concept attainment, however, this year her "extra energy has been focused on ECRI" (V.2, p. 149).
Implementation of ECRI
Bringing a combination of stability and determination to the ECRI experience, Deana approached implementation with confidence. While still in the training, she talked with her superintendent and principal and was assured of their backing. Having taught in the same school for four years, Deana believes she has a good reputation. "I do not want to sound proud but some parents have been waiting to get their kids into my room," she confides (V.2,
p. 91). In implementing ECRI, Deana realized that if she gave her parents "a sensible presentation, the majority would go along with it" (V. 2, p. 101). And they did! With 25 students in Grades 4 and 5 Deana started using ECRI the second day of school. Knowing that she had one student at approximately a third-grade level, she decided to use a third-grade textbook for the first three-week period. This orientation time is used to thoroughly teach students the ECRI management system by a series of modeling, prompting, and practice directives for each component in the program.
Deana says, "The first few days were really tough. If I had not seen it working before I'd really wonder about it!" (V.2,
p. 90). She realizes now that she should have started with a harder textbook. The students just looked at her when she said, "You will learn to read a new word," because it was not a new word! Getting used to the materials was hard for the students. Deana says, "I'd say, take out your spelling, and they'd say, `What?' So I'd give them a time, 30 seconds . . . it took so long to know how to find the dumb stuff after they put it away" (V. 2, p. 100). Finally, the students did catch on to the management system, but not without Deana altering the directives. Finding them wordy, Deana dropped parts so students could understand better. She also omitted many of the modelling and prompting directives.
Getting the orientation going was easy for Deana, but she still had not tested the students or decided which books to use. After approximately two weeks of school, Deana knew she had to test her students for placement purposes. She had an idea she would have two groups, but it was not until the researcher and she had tested all the students that she discovered some students were reading above Grade 10 level on the ECRI informal inventory. "My brain was blown away," she recalls. "I knew I had some whoppers, but I did not know I had so many" (V. 2, p. 107). Vacillating between using science or social studies books and an old reading series, she finally decided on the latter, because they were readily available. Placing students either in an eighth-grade reader or sixth-grade reader for skills, spelling, and practice time, Deana reserved the regular fourth-grade and fifth-grade readers for use during enrichment reading. Deana believes this was necessary so that next year the students will be able to fit into the regular program.
Deana's strategies for coping with the demands of the change to ECRI are characterized by positive self-talk and determination. Since she is also experiencing other major curricular changes new math books and Grade 5 for the first time she has found the change to ECRI demanding. This is also the first time Deana has taught two grades with two distinctly different curricula. In the past, when she had two grades, some subjects were always overlapped and could be taught to both grades. Although the stress and demands are equivalent to her first year of teaching, she tells herself, "Keep the faith you can do it" (V. 2, p. 153). At the beginning of the year she committed herself to using ECRI for at least one year and now that commitment forces her onward:
My parents all know what I'm doing, my principal and assistant superintendent do too. Unless there's some great massive reason, and I'd be having surgery and be out of school for a month, I can see no reason to stop. . . . I'd have to tell these people that I've quit and explain why, and I don't have a reason to quit. I'd rather die getting materials done. (V. 2, p. 117)
She has struggled with materials but at her lowest moments when materials are not ready and she feels like quitting she says, "I've started it and I can't just stop. . . . I've set myself to go with it for a year" (V. 2, p. 117). However, occasionally self-talk and determination wane and Deana recognizes her own personal needs. "I haven't been able to spend as much time doing my macramé. I have been able to do some," she says, "to the detriment of ECRI, but that's just too bad, I have to maintain my sanity" (V. 2, p. 111).
Some days go very well and Deana feels relaxed and satisfied, but other times she acknowledges she is tenaciously hanging on. Then she relies on her modi operandi:
There are days when I get up at 4:30 in the morning, I do positive self-talk, that I can make it. I know I have sped up enormously in giving mastery tests. (V. 2, p. 153)
Use of Materials
While materials were not a major concern for Deana during the three-week training, making the necessary items is a source of considerable tension in implementation:
My biggest frustration at this point is just the materials, getting them fellers made up. It's a struggle to stay ahead. I really think the toughest thing is materials. (V. 2, p. 105)
My trauma has been getting the material ready. I get up early in the morning trying to get it done. Then when I start teaching it, I find some of my discrimination activities are awful. (V. 2, p. 106)
Making the stuff is my number one difficulty. (V. 2, p. 110)
Originally intending to use the computer for overheads, Deana
found the print too small, and not knowing how to enlarge it,
settled on making hand-made overheads. "It makes me write
more carefully," she admits, "but it's really frustrating
because I was looking forward to having it on disk" (V. 2,
Having implemented several ECRI components, Deana is anxious to begin teaching comprehension skills but the thought of making the necessary materials slows her down. "I have such a hard time keeping ahead of materials, just for skills and back-up," she says, "I haven't done as much comprehension as I wanted" (V. 2, p. 152).
The struggle with materials is related to accuracy as well as time. Deana has discovered herself making a variety of mistakes. She claims it is a big surprise "when I misspell a word and try to teach it to the students. . . . [But] I just say to the kids, `isn't it nice to know your teacher isn't perfect, you can love her more that way,' and I just grin" (V. 2, p. 110). Using green cards for one group and yellow for the other group, one day she started to teach the wrong cards to one group. The kids noticed it, but did not say anything until she realized it herself. When she discovers word-discrimination activities that are not good she simply declares, "We're going to skip this one guys" (V. 2, p. 107).
Several times Deana has been totally overwhelmed by the task of having materials ready. Then she just tells herself, "I'm not going to kill myself, forget it" (V. 2, p. 116). One time when this happened, she had missed two days and then on a Friday when she had talked herself into doing ECRI again, the kids were quick to tell her they did not do ECRI on Friday. But she retorted that they had their Friday on Wednesday and today they were doing ECRI.
Deana has helped her students organize the ECRI materials by asking them to buy a three-section spiral notebook for all their writing and providing laminated, pocket folders for checklists, mastery tests, and back-up skills. Students can find extra checklists in a big envelope at the front of the room. Setting up a system for herself has not been so easy:
Flash cards, overheads, mastery tests, new mastery tests, conferencing, I have to organize all this. Its helped me, at the beginning of the year I had folders of stuff all over the place. And I didn't know what to call anything, it was a mess. Every time I wanted to find something, I'd have to ask where did I put it. Now I have a folder with all the review mastery tests in it for each group. When I want to review, all I have to do is pick up one folder. I made a folder with 3 or 4 pockets and whenever I do mastery tests, I walk around with my folder in my hand, and I make sure I have the mastery tests they need. I have also set up a sheet so I know where each student is at and can keep track of the mastery tests they have passed. (V. 2, p. 116)
Working with ECRI has forced Deana to become more organized. Like her counter tops, she says, "You can see them now. Before the kids thought the counter tops were just for teacher's stuff" (V. 2, p. 115).
Deana found memorizing the directives during training to be difficult. She relates, "Half way through, everybody else had theirs partially memorized and I hadn't done a thing! Then it started to make sense to me, and I could start memorizing" (V. 2,
p. 106). But having nightmares about the directives and "saying the most `off the wall' things" (V. 1, p. 49) may reveal the high level of concern she experienced. Now when she asks students to memorize, she makes sure they understand the material first because she realizes how unpleasant it is to rote memorize.
Also, she says, "I'm sort of a free spirit, and if I have to say the directives the same way every time, I'm in trouble" (V. 2, p. 105). And so during the orientation she found herself changing the directives. She said, "I have to be honest, I modify them to my comfort, and to the comfort of the kids" (V. 2, p. 105). Deana found "the wording of some of the directives too intense, so [she] chopped them down" (V. 2, p. 99).
Deana likes the change in focus toward the positive that comes with ECRI. Previously she has done some positive reinforcement but now she realizes she has not been doing as much as she could. At the beginning, she says, "I gave mega points to get them to speed up" (V. 2, p. 108), but now she finds herself slipping away from the use of points and using more verbal praises like "that was the hardest word you've ever done!" (V. 2, p. 115). During practice time she gives group points when she looks around and "finds every one working and talking with a quiet voice" (V. 2, p. 110). She likes ECRI because "there are so many things you can compliment the students on . . . you can build their little esteems up" (V. 2,
p. 115). That is important to Deana. She believes teachers should find the students' strengths and build on them.
Although convinced that higher level questioning is imperative, Deana has been unable to do very much conferencing. With so many students, she has found time to have individual conferences about twice with each student. This is a source of anxiety for her because she does not have a consistent evaluation of comprehension for each story. One of the conferencing tasks, that of checking the students' word lists, Deana does immediately following the skills section. She quickly looks over each word list, checking for spelling and penmanship errors and gives the student five points if everything is correct. This quick evaluation following skills prevents the student from perpetuating errors which could be the case if she waited to do this at conferencing time. When I told her of another teacher's solution to the comprehension problem doing the questions at mastery test time she liked the idea and thought she may try it.
Having never been exposed to direct instruction previous to the ECRI experience, Deana believes she has acquired new skills in being able to "use directives, simplify explanations, have the students repeat explanations, make sure all students are answering and in `eye-balling' everybody" (V. 2, p. 115). She has experienced considerable value in direct instruction and has been impressed by how much the students are able to accomplish. It makes her delighted to see "how positive the students feel about what they are doing" (V. 2, p. 114).
Effects of the Context
Words like "super," "super blooper," in Deana's language reveal her mind style. A dominant abstract random/concrete random, Deana does not object to change:
A lot of change I like, and some changes I really enjoy, like moving and doing some things in the classroom. On the average I do pretty ok with change. I've taught for 4 and a half years, every year I've modified, sort of regrouped. (V. 2, p. 103)
But learning a structured program like ECRI created tensions. During training she declared, "I would not have gone so heavily into the structured repetition. I'd be leery of the amount of repetition if I had not seen how content the students are to follow the system" (V. 2, p. 50). She found the pressure to get it all straight and organized in her mind overwhelming. There were so many details.
The organization of all the materials was a particular challenge for Deana's random mind style. At first she could not find anything, but ECRI forced her to become more organized. The rather high incidence of mistakes which she admittedly made on materials may be an indication of her mind style:
I'm having many less bloopers, I used to have about one per mastery test. (V. 2, p 153)
An easy talker, Deana has found that ECRI causes her to "streamline
and limit the hot air talking" (V. 2, p. 115). She finds
herself giving more simple explanations and having the students
Along with other random thinkers, Deana realized during training that she would have to make adjustments in her reading program (Appendix B). The large number of adjustments being made by random thinkers may be because they had to make more adjustments to come into agreement with such a structured program or possibly random thinkers simply adjust to change more readily.
In this study, high CL individuals tended to have more changes in beliefs than low CL teachers during the training (Appendix B). Since high CL teachers do not rely on an external structure, they may be able to internalize new concepts and either accept or reject them. Deana recognized that direct instruction had value and she was able to fit it into her belief system. She acquired new beliefs concerning direct instruction and also validated her previous ideas about positive reinforcement. High CL individuals do not need structure and in Deana's story we note her initial reluctance to the use of directives and her resistance to structure.
Functioning at formal operations, Deana is able to connect new ideas with her prior knowledge to the point where she does not view them as new ideas but rather as adjustments in her thinking:
I don't think I've ever really changed. I just organize differently. (V. 2, p. 103)
During the training and implementation, Deana recognized she was learning new skills: positive reinforcement, and organizational and questioning skills. As was true with other high operational level teachers during training, Deana had concerns about herself. She questioned her "ability to sell ECRI to parents and teachers" (V. 1, p. 56). This concern was basically resolved during training when she was able to negotiate permission to use ECRI from both her principal and vice superintendent.
While still in training Deana was adjusting to ECRI:
If I'm not able to use all of it right away, I certainly will use the directives for spelling and word structures. (V. 1, p. 49)
I know I would have to change my schedule. I haven't thought of anything else yet. (V. 1, p. 53)
Believing she works in a situation of high support, Deana
explains she has the backing of parents and her principal. "There's
a really positive attitude through the whole school, parents are
very supportive of the teachers," declares Deana (V.2, p.
101). At the first parent teacher conference, the parents "were
really surprised that their kids could spell the way they did"
p. 106). Deana has a strong advocate in her principal:
Mrs. Taylor has been very supportive, I haven't felt at
all that she's been critical. Once in a while she'll hear something, and stick her head in the door like what's going on in here. She's curious and would like to spend more time, but hasn't been able to. (V. 2, p. 109)
Sometimes she asks me how the `E' stuff is going, but she really doesn't understand it. (V. 2, p. 147)
Deana says she talks to the twelve other teachers in her
school but that they "don't talk about school stuff a lot"
p. 150). Alena, a teacher in Deana's school, is also using ECRI. Deana recounts, "Occasionally we visit briefly about what we've been doing with our classes, how many words we've gotten through, etc., but our situations are so different" (V. 2, p. 109). Most of the other teachers in the school do not understand ECRI and therefore do not talk about it. Caroline, across the hall from Deana, has taken some interest in ECRI and recently used her professional development day to observe in another ECRI teacher's classroom, so sometimes she and Deana talk about ECRI-related topics, but there usually is not much time for that. Deana relates:
There's only one teacher I've had any guff from. She's so defensive. In staff meeting when Mrs. Taylor asks me questions, she says, `well I do something like that.' . . . It's like, `hey, don't try to make me do anything different I can't handle it!'. (V. 2, p. 108)
Realizing that Deana viewed support as primarily the lack
of interference in her program, I discussed with her the supports
she has had in the implementation of ECRI. She said Dr. Haskell
came in once at the suggestion of Mrs. Taylor:
It was nice to have someone in who knew what they were talking about, to reassure me that I'm not creating a disaster. (V. 2,
Other than that instance, she has had no one observe her teaching and give suggestions and provide alternatives when she needed them. She shares, "As far as my classes, I'm not being coached, the superintendent doesn't do anything" (V. 2, p. 148). We agreed that her level of support was about average; not high, because she has no real technical assistance, but not low, because she is encircled by people who make her school a pleasant place in which to work.
Concerning level of difficulty, she states, "I'm basically secure in my job, I probably wouldn't lose my job unless the whole school shut down" (V. 2, p. 150). However, she perceives the level of difficulty of her situation high because of a total new curriculum in Grade 5, new math books for both grades, and ECRI. This is also the first time she has taught two grades with no overlapping curricula. In the past when she taught a combined Grade 3 and 4 classroom a number of subjects, e.g., science, social studies, and Bible were the same for both classes. On Szabo's grid, with average support and high difficulty, that would place her someplace between "tested" and "coached."
Level of Use
Having attempted the use of all major components of ECRI except one, Deana is at a "mechanical" level of use according to Loucks, Newlove, and Hall (1975) (Appendix C). She is preoccupied with trying to keep all components functioning well:
I haven't really made a lot of changes. It's just that I'm continuing to implement, like I haven't done timed reading yet, and I haven't done as much comprehension as I wanted. I have such a hard time keeping ahead of materials, just for skills and back-up, I had hoped to be farther along than I am. (V. 2,
But it has not been easy. As she said in November:
A lot of the dictation, comprehension, and penmanship we haven't done because I'm not able to fit it in. When I try to fit them in, we don't have skills for a couple of days and when we start again, it's like pulling teeth. (V. 2, p. 107)
Determined as she is, Deana continues to work out the logistics of using ECRI. Trying to increase her speed in conferencing is one of Deana's immediate goals.
Regardless of her own ability to implement the total program and considering that she may not be allowed to use ECRI next year (it was a pilot project for one year), Deana confirms, "No matter what happens with ECRI, I will still teach my spelling words this way and do comprehension, discussion, and practice time. I like the idea of checklists" (V. 2, p. 153).
My old way could never be the same again. If I was in a school where they wouldn't let me do a radical thing like this, I would still do a lot of ECRI-type things. I see it working, and the kids enjoy it on a greater scale. (V. 2, p. 112)
Having always hoped to find a way to reach students who cannot read, Deana "thinks that ECRI holds out more hope than your basic old-fashioned way of teaching reading, with the workbooks and what have you" (V. 2, p. 104). She has seen some notable successes with her students this year. She notes, "These kids are spelling words and reading stories that I know if I would have given them last year, they would have died" (V. 2, p. 109). She thinks of one boy in particular:
I have one kid who quits before he tries, and this is helping
him a lot. He used to hate reading and writing. He'd write perfectly
two words per hour but with this stuff you have to speed up,
so that's been a trial for him. But about a month ago he said,
"Oh great, this is ECRI time." (V. 2, p. 110)
While Deana is experiencing success in her use of ECRI she has clear-cut ideas about when to use it:
I firmly believe that this is not something for every class
period it's just not to be done. (V. 2, p. 114)
When trying to decide which textbooks to use in September she stated:
I could use the social studies books I'm using now, but I
want to use cooperative learning. I need to keep the kids together,
it's a totally different idea than ECRI. (V. 2, pp. 102,103)
While Deana may not be at a high `level of use' of ECRI, she does have well-defined ideas about how it can function in her classroom.
Debbie The Single-Minded Teacher
Although Debbie did not aspire to be a teacher, she was programmed to be a helper when a student herself. She remembers tutoring other students while still in Grade 4; and in Grades 7 and 8 she was chosen to work in the resource room. In that position she consistently assisted teachers in the lower grades. In her senior year in high school, Debbie was chosen to go back to Grades 7 and 8 every day for half a day as a tutor. Telling Debbie she had a God-given talent, Debbie's mother continually encouraged her to be a teacher, but Debbie did not like her gift, saying "my gift doesn't pay enough" (V. 2, p. 180).
In college she almost accidently registered for elementary education. On one occasion during registration while waiting for advice from another department, the education counsellor picked up her folder and looking it over said, "You have enough credits to do elementary education" (V. 2, p. 180). Today, she believes this incident was not a happenstance but that "the Lord wanted her to teach" (V. 2, p. 180).
Following graduation with an elementary education degree, circumstances led Debbie to work in telecommunications for six years. Although enjoying this job, she was laid off in a reorganization of her company. A friend gave her name to the superintendent of a near-by school district and shortly she was hired to teach Grades 1 and 2 in Daytona Christian School. She is currently in her second year at Daytona.
Coming to the ECRI training in the summer of 1990, she was immediately impressed. She was so excited she wanted to go to Utah for further training and then come back as the trainer in her school district.
Implementation of ECRI
Implementing in a Grade 1 and 2 combined classroom, Debbie has experienced some unique challenges. With eight students in Grade 1 she had a difficult time deciding how to group them. Half had never gone to kindergarten and did not even know the alphabet, and the other half were not advanced enough to be with the Grade 2 class so it seemed at first she would need three groups and she considered placing the total beginners in phonics books. Upon the advice of Miss Sabrina, who said the Grade 1 students would likely be neglected if left to phonics books, Debbie finally decided to have two groups, basically Grade 1 and Grade 2. The results of the informal inventory indicated that two girls, Shelly and Nancy did not really fit either class. After several weeks of indecision, Debbie placed Nancy with the Grade 2 class and established an individualized program for Shelly. This was an effort to satisfy Shelly's parents who believed she was too far advanced to be with the Grade 1 class but who would not consider allowing her to be placed with the Grade 2 students because that would entail her skipping some preprimers. Nancy seemed to adjust even though she was several preprimers behind the other students in Grade 2:
I have placed Nancy on Grade 2 level, because of what you guys recommended, I don't know what the parents think of it. With dictation, the other day, she did Grade 1, and didn't want to try Grade 2 words, because it had apartment in it, and she didn't know how to spell it. She wants to do what's easiest, I'm having a hard time with her. (V. 2, p. 57)
Nancy did finally adjust and has happily fit in with the Grade 2 students. Shelly is the local pastor's daughter and the situation with her has deteriorated from the day Nancy was placed in Grade 2 and Shelly kept in Grade 1. Both teachers in the public system, Shelly's mother and Nancy's father have been unrelenting in pressuring Debbie:
They know I'm doing a new program, they keep asking me if their children are learning this or that are they learning clusters and blends? (V. 2, p. 58)
Debbie tells them, "I'm teaching that as I go, in contrast to waiting for it to come up in some workbook the students get it every time they get a new word" (V. 2, p. 58). Creating a special situation for Shelly has complicated the ECRI program for Debbie. Shelly's vocabulary words are introduced with the Grade 1 students. Debbie gives three words for Shelly, then three for the other Grade 1 students. They each have their own mastery tests, the Grade 1 students staying about one book behind Shelly. In February 1991, however, several Grade 1 students were catching up with Shelly. Shelly's parents are not happy about this and are accusing Debbie of having a weak program, and Debbie (even though she enjoys the support of her principal) is concerned about her job for next year.
Although overshadowed by the parental problems, Debbie has developed her own strategies for coping with the ECRI program.
Debbie kept one thought uppermost in her mind as she implemented ECRI: follow the schedule. After her summer holiday in Maine, she said, "I didn't know where to begin except follow the schedule" (V. 2, p. 59). Experimenting with several different schedules in the teachers' manual, Debbie finally settled with the 120 minute schedule for two classes. Because she had a two-hour slot in her schedule last year for reading, she is comfortable with this timing. However, ECRI is different.
Last year I had reading from 9:00 to 11:00 but I also had a time for English, handwriting and spelling. Now all of that is being put into ECRI time for 2 hours. (V. 2, p. 64)
When she first started, Debbie said, "I always did vocabulary for skills time, but then realized I wasn't getting in any comprehension" (V. 2, p. 64). Now she understands that when she sees "skills" in the schedule she has to decide what she is going to teach during that time. And for back-up skills, she is aware that she should do penmanship and dictation sometimes and not always spelling.
Debbie finds it "really hard to follow the schedule exactly because sometimes the first grade students take more time on skills" (V. 2, p. 64). And when that happens, an already difficult situation is confounded. Because the components of the 2-hour time change from day-to-day in the five-day cycle, Debbie finds it almost impossible to get the students into a routine. She has a hard enough time herself:
I keep going over the schedule, making sure I know what I'm doing. I always have to keep studying the teacher's manual to make sure I'm doing it right. (V. 2, p. 69)
Debbie's modus operandi has certainly served her well as she has implemented ECRI this first year.
Use of Materials
While still in training, Debbie was concerned about "having all the materials and books available to implement the program effectively" (V. 1, p. 17). This concern has resulted in several original approaches to materials.
Debbie has altered the Practice Time Checklist twice (V. 3, pp. 1,2) so that the total number of tasks is now reduced to eight. In the first revision, Debbie asked the students to write each new word in a complete sentence; however, in the second edition this was changed to writing sentences only for the underlined words. Feeling unsure about comprehension Debbie added a reminder of which workbook pages to complete in the second checklist.
Debbie's overheads for vocabulary presentation are beautiful (V. 3, p. 4). She has solved several criticisms of the overheads being used during training:
I just type them regular and enlarge them one and a half times for Grade 2 and two times for Grade 1. . . . I darken them too. (V. 2, p. 68)
At the beginning of the year, Debbie tried to follow a system outlined in the teacher's manual for the students' materials. She arranged for each student to have two folders: one for new words and mastery tests and the other for back-up skills; however, she says, "they really only use the one for spelling" (V. 2, p. 72). She has had trouble with students losing their mastery test cards and in December 1990, she had not used the enrichment reading or conferencing forms. She has decided to send the mastery tests home with the students as soon as they pass, thus eliminating the problem of organizing them.
Knowing how to categorize all the materials she has made is an obstacle for Debbie:
I have the material in folders but they are not organized so I could use them next year. I was hoping to have someone help me organize them. All the cards are in one big folder. They are semi-organized, it wouldn't take me too many years to organize them. (V. 2, p. 71)
Realizing the horrendous task of preparing materials to teach comprehension, Debbie decided to order a ready-made set of paragraphs from the ECRI headquarters in Utah. Happy to have acquired such materials, Debbie is confident she is doing an adequate job of teaching main idea, inference, setting, main character, etc.
Appreciating the structure provided by the directives, Debbie has liked "knowing exactly what you have to say" (V. 2, p. 182). When students misspell a word in any written work, Debbie asks them, "What letters make those sounds?" (V. 2, p. 182), and students are able to correct their own work. Having faded most directives for skills and spelling by March 1991, Debbie still struggles with some of the comprehension directives. While observing her teach sequencing, I noted it was impossible to use the exact directives. The directives were asking for students to focus on words which indicated sequence, e.g., first and finally; however, the paragraph (ECRI produced material) did not have any of these words. In teaching inferencing, she was able to follow the directives more closely but still adapted them in an effort to ensure student comprehension.
The last day of training, when asked if she was aware of changes in her beliefs or attitudes, Debbie responded:
At first I thought the students were extra good, but I have seen the results of positive reinforcement. I will work hard on focusing on positive instead of negative reinforcement. (V. 1,
During the first few days of implementation Debbie "rewarded for answering and the first graders caught on right away" (V. 2,
p. 59). She noted the sparkle in their eyes and how involved they became. As time progressed it has been difficult to maintain positive reinforcement. Not being able to acquire funds to operate the store, Debbie has been unable to have the store open once a week. During those times of inconsistency, Debbie recalls, "The kids didn't care about points then, because they didn't know when the store was going to be" (V. 2, pp. 70, 71). In December 1990, Debbie was trying to have the store open once a week, but even so, she finds herself giving negative reinforcement. She remembers, "Miss Clarissa said to never take away points" (V. 2, p. 71), but she finds herself doing so occasionally.
Although she has not been totally successful using positive reinforcement, she still believes it to be important and has shared the main concepts with other teachers:
I've told some other teachers in Daytona about it and they're using it with their students. One teacher is in the public system and she said it turned her students around. The other teacher, in a Christian school, said it has helped her kindergarten students a lot. (V. 2, p. 71)
Having a difficult time fitting conferencing into the schedule, Debbie has compromised by doing some conferencing activities with the mastery tests. Being concerned that the students were not involved in comprehension activities, Debbie began to use the workbooks fairly consistently in November 1990. At that time she placed the page numbers for these workbooks on the mastery tests and included a place on her revised practice time checklist for the students to check when they finished the pages. When the students come for conferencing, Debbie checks their workbooks and is satisfied that she has some evaluation of their comprehension.
Debbie is aware that using ECRI has improved her pronunciation. She says, "It's so easy for me and the students to speak without clearly enunciating" (V. 2, p. 70). Sometimes Debbie sets aside an entire day for everyone to really concentrate on speaking clearly insuring that all the beginning and ending sounds be heard.
Also cognizant that more time is spent in actual instructing, Debbie is pleased that she is no longer a passive teacher:
Last year the students would read a story and then sit and do independent work. I used to be able to do other work, but I'm teaching a lot more now, maybe 30-40% more actual teaching. (V. 2, p. 69)
Effects of the Context
Debbie's dominant random (AR-CR) mind-style influences her implementation of ECRI in several ways. First, change does not really bother her:
I think it feels kind of comfortable to change. Sometimes you just do what you have to do and wait to see the results. (V. 2, p. 61)
Second, while in training she began to realize a number of adjustments she would be making to her reading program. For example, she said, "I'll return books such as handwriting and spelling and purchase overheads, spelling strips, penmanship paper and chart boards" (V. 1, p. 18).
In a program with so many confusing components, a random teacher could have real difficulty. Debbie's modus operandi has no doubt helped to bring order out of chaos. By continually returning to the schedule, she found the organizational direction she needed.
The challenges in organizing materials is likely related to her mind style. I noticed on several occasions when she was teaching, she would suddenly discover she had neglected to make the `word part' of a new word and would quickly make the card while she was teaching.
Being a high conceptual level person, Debbie brings to the ECRI experience an inner structure. She is able to evaluate ECRI and does not simply agree with the program:
I'm teaching more, and being up front more in comparison to last year. I'm able to recognize sooner the change in my students. I also see how much I have to change to make them respond the way I want them to. (V. 2, p. 61)
Evidence that she was not simply agreeing with an outside authority the trainers was seen in her constant checking of scope and sequence charts to see if ECRI addressed the same issues.
Functioning at a transitional operational level, Debbie processed information during the training in some ways similar to concrete operational level teachers while in other ways similar to formal operational level teachers. By viewing many concepts as new ideas, she tended to behave as one at a concrete operational level. One time she shared, "I clearly understand a child must be taught. This program teaches exactly what each child should know. That's a new idea for me" (V. 1, p. 18). With a high level of statements indicating adjustment, she is more like a formal operational level teacher. However, the lack of links to her prior knowledge and awareness of developing new skills would be more like a concrete operational level teacher. So, during training Debbie had a mixture of behaviors some like formal operational level teachers and some like concrete level teachers.
In assessing her working conditions, Debbie recognizes support from the principal, however, he does not understand the whole program and is unable to advise her about technical concerns. He did arrange for a parent to come and help part-time for several months until the Grade 1 students were more independent. The other three teachers in the building are not acquainted with ECRI. One teacher commented: "ECRI is the same as what others do except a lot more work" (V. 2, p. 181). Parental support is generally evidenced by a lack of interference except in the case of the pastoral family who continue to cast a shadow over the ECRI program. Debbie wishes she had more support in the form of another teacher whom she could observe. She would like to follow someone through a complete week of ECRI.
When considering difficulty, the large number of first graders who had not attended kindergarten coupled with her use of ECRI makes the 1990-1991 school year a real challenge for Debbie. Using Szabo's typology, this evaluation of low support and high difficulty places Debbie in the "tested" category.
Level of Use
Looking at the checklist (Appendix C), it is clear that Debbie
has tried to implement the majority of ECRI components. However,
because many of these are used irregularly, she would be at the
"mechanical" level according to Loucks et al. (1975).
Currently, Debbie is concerned with the day-to-day management
of the program. She experiences much difficulty with organization
of materials. The younger children lose their mastery test cards
and have a hard time with record keeping.
Concerned that she is covering the same skills as in the spelling workbook, Debbie constantly checks the scope and sequence charts for reassurance. Unable to schedule individual conferences on a regular basis, Debbie is using workbooks so she has some evaluation of the students' comprehension. She says, "After a year has gone by, I may be able to let that go, but right now I want to make sure the students are learning" (V. 2, p. 56). In December when Debbie and I were going over a list which compared recom-mendations from Becoming a Nation of Readers with characteristics of ECRI and other National Diffusion Network programs, she was astonished to see the recommendation for less time with workbooks (V. 2, p. 52). She has obviously been operating on the assumption that workbooks are a part of every reading program. Debbie has become defensive as certain parents challenge her reading program, and she is trying to make sure that she is able to justify all the learning activities being implemented.
While Debbie has had plenty of difficulty in implementing ECRI, she declares, "When some of the students were so far behind, I thought about going back to the old way, but I knew I couldn't"
(V. 1, p. 69). She has seen how well her Grade 1 students have progressed and is committed to ECRI.
Tammy The Beginning Teacher
Tammy brings to the ECRI encounter a background of experience as a volunteer elementary teacher aide and one year of teaching experience in the high-school general business and typing program. She is a college graduate in secondary education and is a well-qualified secretary. Growing up with a younger Down's syndrome brother prepared Tammy for various tutoring experiences, both in college and later.
In the spring of 1990 when she realized she would be teaching in Pine Grove Elementary School in the fall, she observed there for a few days. She had been an aide in the school four years earlier and knew a number of students; however, Pine Grove is the only one-room school she has seen. Pursuing elementary certification, she attended both summer sessions 1990 at Midwest University. She also participated in a week-long conference for teachers of small schools.
Implementation of ECRI
For Tammy, the change to ECRI represents a small change within a much larger change. Implementing in a one-teacher school with nine students in Grades 4-8, this is her first year as an elementary teacher. She says she has "so much to worry about that ECRI is just part of the whole situation" (V. 2, p. 26). With three special education students and many of the others lacking basic skills, she admits, "Mostly I'm so confused about where these kids are, and what I should be doing for them, that in ECRI I feel we're in one book and I'm not going to change it (V. 2, p. 34). ECRI is probably the easiest part of my load except for the preparation" (V. 2, p. 27).
Beginning in September 1990, Tammy used an out-dated Grade 6 reader to teach all eleven students the basic procedures as outlined in training. Initially, she intended to have two groups after the first three-week orientation, but when faced with the difficulty of acquiring Grade 8 books and not able to picture herself teaching two groups, she finally said, "Why should I massacre myself? We're doing fine with one group, let's just leave it" (V. 2, p. 16).
And so she plunged in implementing six of the major concepts in the first few weeks of school: skills, back-up skills, practice time, enrichment reading, writing, and discussions. Tammy implemented all three back-up skills: spelling, dictation, and penmanship. Though one of the Grade 8 students complained of having to do penmanship, she systematically taught all the cursive letters of the alphabet.
Even with the help of an aide and a former student, whom Tammy pays out of her own pocket, she finds herself bogged down with preparation. Sometimes after spending three to four hours in preparation of ECRI materials, she asks herself, "Why am I bothering with this, but I've graded those workbooks and I hate them. They take forever to grade and teach the kids nothing" (V. 2, p. 18). So ECRI is providing an alternative to some questions Tammy had as a volunteer and teacher's aide.
I saw things I didn't like, and I wanted to simplify for the students to make learning make more sense for them as opposed to learning spelling in spelling class, definitions in vocabulary words, and if you don't know how to spell your vocabulary words, that's ok, and if you don't know what your spelling words mean, no problem. You never have to use them. Each one is a totally separate world. That bothered me, I wanted to make it so the kids would be buried in whatever they were learning. I wanted the senses to be bombarded, and that's what I like about ECRI. They're touching it, hearing it, saying it, and seeing it. (V. 2, p. 15)
Although driven by a knowledge that ECRI is a natural and logical way to teach reading, Tammy has not found implementation to be stress-free. A conscientious teacher, Tammy talks a lot about guilt and of being afraid someone will catch her doing the wrong thing. She says that "the scare that you (Shirley) were going to call has kept me going" (V. 2, p. 12).
In the summer the students seemed so enthusiastic to Tammy, but inspiring her own students has been difficult. Even though she has a store where students can spend their "points," one student said there was nothing she wanted in the store anyway. The store is well-stocked with stickers, geometry boxes, gloves, inflatables, stuffed animals, marbles, pencils, lead, yo-yos, crayons, folders, bells, frisbees, banks, and mirrors. When they really drag their feet, Tammy just reminds them, "Look there's no homework, you'd really have to try hard to get homework with ECRI" (V. 2, p. 18). Keeping a level of eagerness has been a considerable source of frustration. It took them so long to get ready for the first mastery test, Tammy was really getting nervous and was about to call Dr. Haskell. Following Christmas, she intended to try to have more positive reinforcement, and more enthusiasm and to "try to evaluate if I'm making it somewhat pleasant to be at school, not a total nightmare" (V. 2, p. 30).
On the other hand, some specific student successes keep Tammy going. In six months she has seen remarkable progress in writing. At the beginning of the year most students were unable to write more than a word or two. Now, they often write a half a page and Tammy loves reading these papers and writing comments on them.
Another notable change in students is their eye contact. Two students who would barely look at Tammy at the beginning of the year, now make eye contact with her.
Using ECRI has also made the students less fearful of speaking. And that is important to Tammy because she realizes she used to be a terrible speaker,
but no one took the trouble to teach me, in college they criticized me because I couldn't speak. And I'm saying, if you want me to speak, why don't you teach me? All you do is tell me I don't know how to do it, and I know that already! (V. 2,
pp. 20, 21)
So, Tammy is trying hard to teach her students speaking skills, and ECRI is providing the structure she needs.
In learning the ECRI method Tammy's strategy for change is dominated by adaptation. Opinionated and decisive, if she does not like something, she changes it. The first time she watched Clarissa (a trainer), she thought her hand signals were obnoxious. She said, "I'm not a dog, and I'm not going to watch any more of this" (V. 2, p. 12), and she found another trainer with whom she felt more comfortable. During the three-week session, she identified certain aspects of ECRI which she would do differently.
I know I wouldn't do so many words. They did 18 today. The kids were obviously getting tired. (V. 1, p. 1)
I think I will keep their point cards on a chart on my desk instead of running to their desks. (V. 1, p. 12)
I would say "ready" before the "spell and say, look at me" to encourage them to correct their penmanship. (V. 1, p. 13)
There are too many directives at the end of the second section
of spelling. (V. 1, p. 13)
Not liking the suggested U-shaped room arrangement, Tammy's group experimented with several different groupings, in the end finding that a curved semi-circle worked the best for them.
Following the training and continuing though the first year of implementation, Tammy has further personalized the ECRI program. For example, after the successful passing of a mastery test, she looks the student straight in the eye, says "Congratulations!," and shakes their hand. Sometimes she holds their hand for a long time, waiting for them to say, "Thank you." This has become almost ritualistic and students are quick to remind her if she forgets. She has also developed a system of giving group points. If she finds the entire group on task she places a letter on the board. The letter is part of a word which in turn is a fragment of a sentence and when the statement is finished they have a party or do something special. In December 1990, when I observed, the partially completed statement was, "I wish all of my wonderful students . . ." (V. 2, p. 22). There is also an element of suspense in this process because students are always wondering what the next word or letter is which Tammy will place on the board.
Another change which makes sense to Tammy is combining mastery tests and conferencing. In December, after several attempts at conferences, she decided to ask the comprehension questions on the story when the students come for mastery tests. This has worked well for her.
It is interesting to note that her ideas for changes are not irreversible. For example, during the training she thought she would keep the point cards on her desk, however, in actual implementation she placed them on the student's desks. Other changes such as saying "ready," room arrangement, and number of words introduced which she noted during the training have persisted throughout implementation. In agreement with her strategy for teaching, Tammy continues to evaluate and adapt. In December 1990, she said, "I'm still not sure they're learning the meanings of every word they've been taught. I wish there was a better way. I've thought about adding in another definition of the word before they make the sentence, so they would hear the definition twice" (V. 2, p. 37). By February 1991, Tammy was consistently giving the definition of the word twice. Tammy continues to adapt and change the ECRI program. Another area where Tammy's modus operandi is obvious is in her use of materials.
Use of Materials
Tammy's use of ECRI materials is marked by the philosophy: "keep it simple" and in order to achieve this goal she often adapts materials. When she read the description of the organization of materials in the teacher's manual suggesting "to staple this to the back of the folder and this to this and this to this," it just seemed "like a mess there had to be something more sensible" (V. 2, p. 36). So she developed her own system. The Practice Time Checklist and Enrichment Reading Form are used as bookmarks placed in their respective books. The spelling lists are kept in the students' desks, and when the students are finished with any of these they put them in an envelope in their desks. At parent-teacher interview time, the spelling lists and check sheets are all in one place and ready to be shared with the parents. In the fall, Tammy placed the mastery test and envelope on the front of each students' desk, however, when they kept getting knocked off, she decided to have them placed in an envelope on her own desk. Not completely happy with this present situation, and always searching for better alternatives, she may change this in the future. Tammy keeps a record of all mastery tests passed on a separate sheet and from this it was clear that the students are adjusting to ECRI passing double the mastery tests in the second quarter in comparison with the first quarter. When using the enrichment reading form, students write the number of the page on which the chapter starts in the column "number of pages read" since Tammy wants a record of the page they started reading on not just the number of pages. Also, under "date completed" they make tally marks for each of the three times they read the story. These represent adaptations which Tammy has made in her use of ECRI materials.
The other materials: mastery test list, overhead with word formation, word discrimination and sentences, and all back-up sheets follow the same format as those used in training. They are typed where appropriate and the handwriting on the back-up sheets is meticulous. Tammy uses overheads of the mastery tests for review and following the 14th mastery test, she enlarged the print because it appeared that some students were having a hard time seeing.
One of the major deterrents to implementing the comprehension section is the amount of work required to find all the necessary examples and then typing them for overheads. The time required to prepare materials for the components she has implemented is so great that she cannot envision herself taking on more at the moment. Organizing materials is not always easy for Tammy. As she shares, "I'll think I have everything ready, and then discover I don't"
(V. 2, p. 27). This type of problem had resolved itself by February 1991.
During the training Tammy spent hours memorizing directives. Often not sleeping well the night before her presentation, she would find herself with a nauseous stomach, dry mouth, and shaking when she presented. While the goal was to have the directives memorized for presentations, she says, "Dr. Haskell didn't know, but for ages I wouldn't let the spelling directives out of my hand" (V. 2,
In implementation, Tammy tries to use the directives with a high level of fidelity. She notes though that sometimes she gets lost saying, "proof and correct, and the students say - we already did" (V. 2, p. 32). She admits, "Then I get all rattled and I hate that feeling. It's not fun to forget where you're at" (V. 2, p. 29). She also continues to keep the sheet with spelling directives handy, sometimes laying it down and not looking at it for awhile. She has tried to fade the directives but has been unable to do so. In December 1990 she said, "I know that part of it's my fault because I haven't been consistent so the kids don't know what order they are going to get stuff in, when that happens just a few times, it makes it impossible to fade (V. 2, p. 25). However, by February 1991, Tammy was fading many of the skills directives.
Seeing Miss Sabrina reinforcing good behavior and ignoring bad behavior during the training really excited Tammy. Before the end of the training she said:
I have seen and learned an effective, immediate, and individualized
positive reinforcement program. I had basically only witnessed
negative reinforcement. I like what I have learned in this area
very much. It is hard to do, but I know it works. It is also
much more fair. (V. 1, p. 9)
In the summer the teachers helped one another giving points when the students did the right thing. In her own classroom, Tammy misses this support. She finds that when she thinks about reinforcement, she forgets the directives. She knows "it has to be quick for them, but I have just so many arms and legs" (V. 2,
p. 29). Besides the logistics of giving points, Tammy finds it a challenge to consistently focus on the positive. When she finds Joe "enjoying the attention of having everybody get points on either side of him" she usually uses the direct approach and says, "put your chair down" (V. 2, p. 30). Finding it so natural to reinforce the negative, Tammy hates herself for not being more successful at positive reinforcement but she intends to keep working on it.
The idea of individual conferences has not been comfortable for Tammy. In December she gave the students the conferencing form and said, "We'll use those soon." After my December visit, she did try several conferences but eventually settled on the idea of questioning when the students come for mastery tests. In agreement with her philosophy to "keep it simple," this combines two meeting with the students into one meeting and eliminates one record form. Also, she has never felt sure about the four different levels of questions. "In the summer every time I did inferencing Miss Sabrina would say, `that's close'" (V. 2, p. 37). So she has developed her own system to check comprehension. At mastery test time she tries to ask the four different levels of questions, but she is not sure she always accomplishes her goal.
Effects of the Context
Being a dominant concrete sequential/abstract sequential, Tammy's mind style may make it easier to learn the ECRI method. ECRI is a totally sequential program and a teacher knows exactly which step follows another. Realizing the program is right for her personally, Tammy says,
Basically the structure agrees, because I know what to expect and the students know what to expect. I always hated school. I felt it was guesswork and I wasn't allowed to learn the way I learn best, but I feel ECRI allows for it. (V. 2, p. 15)
However, concrete sequential individuals do not adapt easily to change. They have set patterns for operating and do not enjoy having these disrupted. When asked how she usually relates to change, Tammy replied, "Change scares me. I'm basically an insecure person and change makes me extremely uncomfortable, even if I don't like something the way it is" (V. 2, p. 14). During the training, Tammy, along with the other sequential teachers, exhibited fewer belief changes and recognized fewer adjustments she would be making. Those with dominant random mind styles generally made more comments about adjusting than those with dominant sequential styles, since, no doubt, change comes more easily to them (Appendix B).
Hunt (1975) claimed that low conceptual individuals are dependent on external standards and, therefore, are more comfortable in highly structured situations. We might expect a low CL person like Tammy to feel at ease with ECRI, and Tammy did mention (in mind style section) that the structure of ECRI agrees with her. Along with other low CL teachers during the training, Tammy made many statements saying that she "liked" or "agreed" with ECRI (Appendix B).
Being at the formal operational level, Tammy processed information during the training in ways similar to other high operational level teachers (Appendix B). She took the new ideas and linked them with her prior knowledge and various ideas she had about practicality. For example she said:
I notice a lot of things are the same as those used in shorthand
and Spanish. Everyone knows you have to use all the senses to
get someone to learn something new. (V. 1, p. 2)
Similar to other high operational level teachers, she also recognized she was learning new skills with statements like:
I have learned more about leading discussions, which I have
never really had to do and generally have not seen done well.
As the training progressed, Tammy was able to conceptualize her own classroom situation and indicate how she would make adjustments:
If I implemented this method I would have to unlearn the way
I have taught and the teaching I have observed. I would have
to practice consistent positive instead of negative reinforcement.
I would no longer be enslaved to workbooks, nor would I struggle
for student responses. (V. 1, p. 7)
On the last day of training Tammy expressed having "more confidence in ECRI but less confidence in my ability to implement it" (V. 1, p. 14). This was typical of other high operational level teachers who not only had concerns about themselves but had many physical manifestations of those concerns. Tammy shared times when her head was aching, stomach was in knots, and she was tense and nervous.
Using Szabo's (1989) typology of working conditions, Tammy perceives she is in a situation of low support and high difficulty or "tested." She is in a one-teacher school and, therefore, has no support from other teachers or a principal. She has had one visit from her superintendent and later he wrote, "the new program you have, I can't remember it's name, was good" (V. 2, p. 19). Parents have been supportive, and Tammy has built on that by inviting them to watch her teach. At the beginning of the year, she made a 20-minute presentation to the board. "The chairman has no problem with ECRI and the board just figures they will stay out of my hair," says Tammy (V. 2, p. 19).
Her situation is difficult as a result of three special education students who have not been assessed, but who obviously need special attention. Other than the local pastor who comes in for a worship talk once a week, Tammy is entirely in charge of the program. She has preparations for five classes in all subject areas and must do these outside of class time. Being a committed Christian teacher, she is overwhelmed by the needs social, mental, physical and spiritual of her students. She wants to help them all. In our conversations, I found it difficult to discuss ECRI without talking about her concerns for various students.
Level of Use
Although Tammy is refining certain components of ECRI, she is functioning at the "mechanical" level for the majority of categories in Loucks et al. (1975) Level of Use chart. Her checklist of use of ECRI components (Appendix C) indicates she regularly uses most of the ECRI program presented in the training at Midwest University, the summer of 1990. The only component she has not had opportunity to try is comprehension.
Recognizing some notable successes while using ECRI, Tammy cannot imagine herself going back to workbooks. In comparison with the beginning of the year when students could hardly write a sentence, her students are now able to put their thoughts on paper. She also recognizes ECRI has helped her to become more positive:
I think I'm more positive as an elementary teacher than I would have been without ECRI, which is difficult. I'm not a positive person. (V. 2, pp. 34,35)
Working under trying circumstances, Tammy's rather high level of use of ECRI is a conundrum.
The case studies provide a picture of "what it was like" for four teachers who endeavored to master and implement a direct instruction reading approach. A description of similarities and differences between cases and a comparison with the theoretical propositions which led to the study are in chapter 6.