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Summary of the Study
The purpose of this study was to describe the process of
change experienced by teachers as they implement a direct instruction
reading approach ECRI. While a limited research base reveals
that teacher implementation is affected by psychological state,
school climate, and conceptual level, this study endeavored to
expand the knowledge base of staff development by focusing on
cognition and the way different cognitive patterns affect the
learning of a direct instruction reading approach. The study
treats working conditions and cognitive processes as contextual
factors and endeavors to describe the process of change for certain
modal individuals, e.g., low conceptual level, high operational
level, or coached individuals.
Using questionnaires, inventories, and observations, data were collected from 20 teachers as they proceeded through a three-week training session in the summer of 1990. Following the training, the researcher remained in contact with the teachers by telephone and finally chose four teacher whose experience was documented in the form of case studies. Using various documents, interviews, and observations, the process of change was followed over a period of ten months.
The Findings in Relationship to the
By referring back to the original research questions, a framework is provided for this summary of findings. Caution when generalizing across the teacher population is advised in the use of these findings because they represent results from only four major case studies.
Question 1: What happens to teachers when they try to learn a new teaching strategy?
The teachers in this study related to the process of learning a direct instruction reading approach in a way similar to a cross-cultural experience. Beginning with enthusiastic acceptance, their enamourment soon changed to disintegration as the differences between ECRI and their regular practices became obvious. As the demands of the training and the strategy itself began to "sink in," they experienced doubts, hostility, and resentment. While using the ECRI method, they developed new skills and recovery was evidenced by the teachers adapting ECRI to make it personally meaningful, adjusting their previous program to accommodate ECRI and making specific plans for implementation. In the stage of disintegration, concerns with self and physical manifestations were a common motif.
Question 2: What factors within the teacher affect the learning of a direct instruction reading approach?
The cross-case analysis revealed ways in which mind style,
conceptual level, and operational level affected the way teachers related to the training and implementation of ECRI.
First, during the training, random teachers tended to make more statements indicating they were adjusting to ECRI than sequential teachers. They recognized what they would need to do to use ECRI in their classrooms. During training they also tended to have more belief changes than sequential teachers. In implementation, sequential teachers had fewer problems with materials. They were able to make overheads, flash cards, and charts with precision and organize them with little difficulty. Sequential individuals found the atmosphere created by the practice time somewhat chaotic and set about to specify how students should use the practice time.
Second, low conceptual level teachers tended to make more statements in `agreement' with the ECRI program than high conceptual level teachers. The highly structured ECRI program appeared to meet their needs. High CL teachers generally experienced more changes in belief during the training and more independent thinking in implementation.
Third, differences between high and low operational level were noted during the training. While high operational level teachers were making connections with their prior knowledge and adjusting to ECRI, low operational level teachers viewed the incoming information as new ideas and indicated they were thoughtfully evaluating ECRI. High OL teachers recognized they were learning new skills but generally had more self-concerns and physical manifestations than did the low OL teachers. All high OL teachers mentioned a dislike for having to memorize directives.
Question 3: How do teachers relate to other contextual factors as they implement change?
In assessing working conditions, it was found that two of the four teachers were working in situations dominated by low support and high difficulty. With one teacher this appeared to affect her level of implementation, however, the other teacher was able to implement more of the critical components of ECRI than the two teachers who were working under slightly better conditions.
In this study teachers had low expectations for support and were generally content if parents or administrators did not interfere with their program. They expected and received little technical support from principals or supervisors.
Question 4: What changes in their beliefs do teachers experience as they learn a direct instruction reading approach?
Some teachers who learned ECRI realized a direct instruction approach placed them in a position of `teaching' more rather than simply managing materials. These teachers experienced changes in their beliefs concerning their role as a teacher. While all teachers are theoretically in agreement with positive reinforcement, when they saw a demonstration rewarding desired behavior with points and ignoring negative behavior, they were amazed.
Other teachers were surprised by the way students responded to the structure and repetition of ECRI. They discovered students enjoyed practicing until they mastered their spelling lists.
Teachers who had strong beliefs about the inadequacy of using workbooks did not experience any challenge to their belief system when they realized the ECRI program does not use workbooks; however, those teachers who liked workbooks experienced real dissonance which they had to resolve. Some chose to implement ECRI without workbooks, some used ECRI with workbooks, while others chose not to use ECRI and reverted back to their previous practices of using workbooks.
As teachers proceeded through the training, I noticed that belief changes were not immediate. In answer to the question, "Are you aware of any change you are experiencing in your beliefs or attitudes?" several answered, "Not yet, I am too shell shocked!" or "It's too soon in a new experience to tell" (V. 1, p. 201). This confirms Fullan's (1982) suggestion that possibly "beliefs can be most effectively discussed after people have had at least some behavioral experience in attempting new practices" (p. 35). Guskey (1986) also suggests that teachers' beliefs change after they see changes in student outcomes. Also Mansell (1981) provides insight from a cross-cultural perspective. She quotes Schutz (1970) saying that "the experience of `the stranger' is analyzed in terms of interpretative procedures and suspension of beliefs" (emphasis supplied). While changes in beliefs were not immediate in this study, the presence of children and the opportunity for teachers to practice the ECRI program on them was a factor in the beliefs that did change as the training proceeded.
Question 5: Are there aspects in the teacher culture which act as obstacles in the implementation of ECRI?
Yes! First, the practice of negative reinforcement appears to be so pervasive and so in-grained in the system that teachers have a great deal of difficulty learning to ignore bad behavior and focus on the positive. The teacher who had consciously worked on positive reinforcement previous to the ECRI training had little difficulty in using the specific ECRI-type of positive reinforcement. Overcoming well-established habits, the other teachers struggled throughout the first year to positively reinforce acceptable behavior and ignore negative behavior.
Second, the lockstep mentality is quite prevalent among parents and teachers. In order to implement ECRI, teachers are often required to break the routine of reading every book in a basal series in sequence. Students may be required to read a text book different from their grade level or their placement according to an informal inventory. This was a major obstacle in the implementation process of several teachers and ultimately was the reason some did not continue the use of ECRI. All teachers who eventually implemented ECRI either brought a mind-set which would allow them to break this routine progression through textbooks, or changed their minds in order to implement the suggested pattern of two groups.
Third, laissez-faire teachers dislike the behavioristic overtones in ECRI. To them it seems too authoritarian and controlling. Teachers with this attitude did not implement ECRI.
Fourth, misunderstanding by parents, other teachers, or administrators may prove to be an obstacle to implementation. Of the four teachers in the case studies, one experienced major parental problems. Of the other five, one was mandated by her superintendent to stop using ECRI. Two of the four teachers had other teachers in their building who were somewhat threatened by their use of ECRI. Subtly they indicated that they did not need or want to change.
Question 6: What strategies do teachers use to help them in implementation?
The four teachers in this study devised their own methods for coping with the change to ECRI. One used positive self-talk, another used a systematic step-by-step approach, while a third repeatedly returned to the schedule in the teacher's manual. The fourth teacher adapted freely. In her efforts to make ECRI `agree,' she found ways to simplify so it would be more `sensible.'
Question 7: How does a direct instruction reading method (ECRI) affect the teaching/learning process?
A direct instruction reading approach places teachers more in control of the teaching/learning process. Some teachers readily adapt, while others find the control or structure against their beliefs or practices and are unwilling or unable to change. Those who continue to use ECRI believe they are `teaching' more, are more in touch with student learning, and enjoy the high level of involvement which students experience.
The amount of time required to make materials causes the ECRI program to be burdensome. While teachers in this study who implemented were able to prepare the necessary materials for skills and spelling, none found time to prepare comprehension materials and, hence, in the first year, no one except Debbie taught comprehension using a direct instruction format. Debbie purchased comprehension paragraphs from ECRI headquarters in Utah.
An unexpected finding was the way one teacher in particular related to the research process. While the others mentioned from time-to-time that I had helped them resolve problems in relationship to the implementation of ECRI, Deana made some poignant comments:
I'm glad I got to do this with you because I don't think I would have spent so much time thinking, if I wouldn't have done this. . . . I've spent more time thinking about what I've done how I could make it better. After your visits I would focus more on the schedule and how I was changing it. I also thought more about the progress of the kids comparing ECRI with the regular program. I think I do a lot of thinking anyway but you forced me to look at details more. (V. 2,
In the methods chapter, I discuss the idea that `changing' is an interpretative act. Here is an example of one teacher who not only was actively involved in interpreting the process of change for herself but was also aware that she was doing it. This account is encouraging to me as the researcher since one of my purposes for this study was that reflection would be facilitated by the case studies and that other teachers would move into a reflective mode as they read the description of teachers in change. I now see this as a definite possibility.
Implications of the Study
For Staff Developers
Since teachers relate to inservice training in unique ways, training which is devised to meet the needs of different teachers is more successful. Inservice trainers who find ways to address the issue of reticence among concrete sequential teachers may be more successful. Strategies could be developed to help these teachers begin to adjust to the changes required of them if they are to implement a new strategy like ECRI.
Likewise, with conceptual level, training may be structured to match the needs of teachers with different conceptual levels. Wilsey & Killion, (1982) have developed a "framework for matching adult learning characteristics with appropriate teaching techniques and supportive follow-up" (p. 36). For example, they suggest the use of "structured lecture/discussion format that includes practical examples, frequent checks for understanding and modeling" for the stage 1 (similar to low CL) learners whereas the stage 4 learners (similar to high CL) should have a presentation with "less structured instructional models that require a greater degree of abstraction, such as problem solving, simulation, [and] inquiry"
(p. 38). While these ideas of matching are logical, they do not address the developmental nature of cognition. If staff developers want teachers in general to be moving toward higher conceptual levels, then training should be planned which would accomplish such growth.
In this study, low CL teachers tended to make more statements indicating their agreement with ECRI than did high CL teachers. It seems possible that low CL teachers who readily accept the structure and program suggested by authority figures could be pressed into new thought patterns if the trainers were less authoritarian. Thus, rather than a matching model of training, this study suggests a need for training which would increase teachers' awareness of their own beliefs concerning teaching (rather than simply agreeing with the program). This would also be more in agreement with Hunts' (1987) emphasis on various activities to bring out an individuals' implicit theories of practice.
Since high operational level teachers in this study were able to implement more ECRI components than low operational level teachers, staff developers should consider their unique way of processing information during the training. Possibly strategies can be developed so that all teachers would have opportunities to connect new concepts with their ideas of what is practical in education rather than simply viewing the concepts in training as new ideas. Also the ability to conceptualize their own situation and begin adjusting the new program to their situation appears to be beneficial.
Knowing that the high OL teachers in this study processed information in ways similar to Kolb's experiential learning cycle and realizing that some staff development programs (e.g., the 4Mat System, McCarthy, 1990) are based on this cycle, staff developers can continue to develop ways to increase reflective observations and the formation of abstract concepts and generalizations about a new program. Mansell (1981) suggests the use of a journal to "alleviate tension and clarify issues, goals, and expectations" (p. 106).
The Joyce-Showers training model has shown the value of concrete experiences (provided in modeling and practicing), however, if coaching were to address specific issues of beliefs about practicality, ways the teacher would have to adjust his present program, and recognition of new skills and beliefs, transfer of knowledge may be greater. In this study, coaching was non-existent and it may be that implementing any form of coaching would have changed the results of this study.
An awareness of the high levels of anxiety present when individuals are going through cognitive change similar to Kolb's learning cycle should cause staff developers to look for ways to reduce these high concerns with self. In the case of ECRI, possibly fewer components could be introduced in one training session. Realizing teachers need support in their workplace to implement a new strategy, it would be wise to actively solicit the support of administrators and superintendents. Then staff developers could urge teachers to come to training with someone; a principal, supervisor, or other teacher who would be available for tangible support following the training.
In general, these suggestions are in agreement with Albertson's (1985) review of the literature which found the following factors, thought to facilitate cognitive development: extended time formats, seminars and practicums, ongoing supervision, support during disequilibrium, refection and integration, and empathy (p. 8). The results of this study provide specifics which may guide these general approaches.
Realization that learning a direct instruction reading approach takes time, teachers can set up realistic expectations of how much to try to implement in a certain time frame. Frustrations would be lessened if teachers were not trying to learn all the critical components at the same time.
Knowing that learning a new approach may cause disintegration evidenced by poor self-concepts and physical manifestations such as dreams and upset stomachs; teachers could be alerted to these phenomena so when they occur it will not be so surprising.
Recommendations for Further Research
1. Expand the study to include teachers who are implementing other types of new strategies.
This study described the process by which teachers learned a direct instruction reading approach. It would be possible to study teachers who are learning other complex strategies like cooperative learning to discover whether the patterns found in this study are present when teachers learn other strategies.
2. Expand the study to include teachers in the public system.
This study describes the process of change as it was experienced by teachers implementing a new strategy in a parochial system of education. It would be interesting to know if similar reactions and problems are evidenced by teachers in the public school system.
3. Expand the study to include high-school teachers.
This study describes the reactions of elementary school teachers to the process of learning a direct instruction reading approach. It would be beneficial to know if high-school teachers react to the process of change in similar ways.
4. Develop a series of techniques that would meet the needs of various teachers. Use them in an experimental design and assess the effects they have on implementation.
Since cognitive processes are developmental, it should be possible to develop techniques that will help the low conceptual level or low operational level teacher learn new ways of processing information. Coaching should become more specific and can include more reflection on beliefs and practices. The training itself could include various activities which facilitate reflection and the formation of abstract conceptualizations.
5. Extend the study over a longer time frame.
Teachers in this study were all at the `mechanical use' stage and since they had not fully implemented ECRI, it is impossible to know the changes that may yet occur. Also more time is needed to understand if the teachers sustained the changes they did make. A longitudinal study over several years would provide answers to these questions.