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6.5 Preservice, In-service and Professional Development

"Effective classroom instruction delivered by a knowledgeable teacher, especially in the early grades, can prevent or at least effectively address and limit the severity of reading and writing problems."
Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading (IDA, 2018)

Although the difficulties experienced by students with dyslexia may originate from neurobiological differences of genetic or non-genetic origin, the most effective treatment for these students (and all students who struggle with acquiring literacy skills) is effective instruction provided by skilled teachers. As a result of current knowledge about effective instructional practices, teacher effect, and the science of reading development, we know it is critical that teachers and other educators have access to accurate and current information about evidence-based instructional strategies and the content knowledge underlying them.

A large body of research evidence shows that with appropriate, intensive instruction, all but the most severe reading disabilities can be ameliorated in the early grades, and students can get on track toward academic success. For those students with persistent dyslexia, who need specialized instruction outside the regular classroom, competent intervention from a specialist can lessen the impact of the disorder and help the student overcome and manage the most debilitating effects. — IDA, 2018

Learning to teach reading and related literacy skills is complex and challenging. In Chapters 1 and 4 of this handbook, the specific content of high-quality reading instruction has been identified. The Structured Literacy approach is characterized by the explicit and direct instruction that incorporates all components of literacy (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and emphasizes the structure of the language. These structures include the speech sounds (phonology), the writing system (orthography), the structure of sentences (syntax), the meaningful part of words (morphology), the relationship among words (semantics), and the organization of spoken and written discourse.

As outlined in the IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards, teachers need in-depth knowledge of the structure of the sound and meaning aspects of the language. They need deep understanding of what phonology is and how it is taught. They must be experts at isolating individual speech sounds, counting speech sounds in words, and understanding the developmental progression of phonological awareness in early childhood. They need to demonstrate competence in English spelling and how speech sounds are mapped onto specific letters or letter combinations. Teachers will need a solid grasp of morphology and how to determine the meaningful part of words. This is just a short list of what effective teachers of reading must know before they can begin to teach these concepts to children.

Investigative studies have suggested that if preservice teachers are provided with focused instruction and the opportunity to acquire this basic foundational knowledge of English-language structures, they would be able to use this knowledge as they are developing expertise in individual interventions and classroom reading instruction during their preservice fieldwork and during in-service and induction training early in their professional careers, where expert mentoring and coaching are offered (Spear-Swerling & Brucker, 2004; Ness &  Southall, 2010).

In addition, preservice teachers need to have foundational knowledge of how typical reading skills develop and what types of reading challenges they are likely to encounter in their future classrooms. Preservice courses need to prepare teachers to assess their students’ progress and make adjustments when progress is not meeting expectations. With this knowledge and an understanding of the administration of validated reading assessments and the interpretation of the results, teachers will be prepared to readily identify students at risk for reading failure.

Literature and research about effective schools offer solid evidence of what else and who else must be involved in the consistent delivery of highly effective, comprehensive literacy instruction for all students, including those with dyslexia. Master instructional schedules that ensure adequate time for instruction separate from the time devoted to interventions must be created. Schools need to value time for collaboration among teachers and their educational colleagues and align professional learning opportunities to further develop expertise in reading instruction and intervention. Teachers need access to mentors and coaches as they gain enhanced skills and increased confidence in their teaching.

Research into effective schools consistently identifies strong school leadership as an essential element leading to positive outcomes for children. The principal’s role as an instructional leader is crucial. Principals need deep knowledge of learning and evidence-based instruction. They need comprehensive knowledge of reading development, atypical reading development, the structure of language and reading instruction, and interventions. Also, they must understand the use of data to inform instruction and be prepared to provide teachers with high-quality in-service and professional development opportunities.