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Inside Teaching : October 2010
Inside Teaching | October 2010 PROFESSION 16 I didn’t have to wonder for long. After explaining the nomenclature, I embarked on a review of research about the importance of teaching decoding when one teacher stopped me abruptly and said, ‘Yes, I understand the terms nowandIcanseewhyIneedto teach kids to decode, but you’re going to have to show me how if you want me to do it properly.’ It was my Damascus moment. As the words resonated in my head she added, ‘And how about coming to my classroom with my kids to do this?’ Professional development with 30 participants followed, using Patricia Formentin’s Let’s Decode, an approach to teaching phoneme awareness and systematic decoding instruction that I’ve used in previous research. I conducted the practical course with students and followed up with regular visits to model lessons in teachers’ classrooms. Let’s Decode is based on standard ‘lesson formats’ for teaching blending, rhyming, segmenting and decoding, or as one teacher put it ‘the words I needed to teach these concepts.’ Teachers are coached on how to engage all students and provide faultless instruction. To measure gains in teacher efficacy, the 30 participants agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to let my research assistant and me watch them teach. One experienced teacher observed that not since the days of being a prac student had she felt under so much pressure. Along with her colleagues, though, she acknowledged the benefit of receiving continuous feedback. I developed a rubric based on the salient features of the instructional approach so that, after each observation, teachers were able to see how their performance in three areas had changed: analysis of knowledge, communication and behaviour. I also began receiving emails from teachers that went something like, ’How many phonemes are there in “witch” and how would I clap it for segmentation?’ The answer is three – w+i+ch – and, because of the stop sound at the beginning of the word, children are taught to blend the first two sounds and hold the vowel, resulting in wiiiich. Let’s Decode, like any new intervention, has a sophisticated set of rules and I began to marvel at how committed the teachers were to delivering the program well. By far the greatest influence on the decisions teachers make about instruction is what they believe works. The gradual and supported introduction of Let’s Decode certainly increased the likelihood that teachers would take on the strategies outside their involvement in the project. Put simply, teachers had the opportunity to master all aspects of the intervention, practise the formats over three terms and receive regular feedback on their performance. Consequently, the new strategies they took on to teach beginning reading had every opportunity to be effective and yielded the expected results: children who teachers were initially concerned about, and who might otherwise have struggled, learned how to read. By far the most outstanding result was from the lowest socioeconomic school in the project, where all pre-primary students are now independently able to decode words such as strap, crush and plastic. As one teacher summed up, ‘I always knew I should be teaching these things, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to do it. You’ve given me the words to use and, unlike other sessions I’ve been to where the strategies were only ever talked about, you were prepared to come to my classroom and show me how to do it with my students. It did wonders for your credibility.’ My involvement in this project has certainly enabled me to see learning through the eyes of the participants, but most importantly it’s reminded me of the complexity of the role teachers perform and the demands on their energy and time. This project was but one of a long list of initiatives they’re engaged with. I feel privileged to have been invited into their classrooms. ■ Dr Lorraine Hammond is a Senior Lecturer and Special Education Coordinator in the School of Education at Edith Cowan University, Perth.