Race and class impacts instructional decisions

Mertzman, T. (2008). Individualising scaffolding: Teachers’ literacy interruptions of ethnic minority students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Journal of Research in Reading, 31(2), 183–202. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2007.00356.x


The article, Individualising scaffolding: Teachers’ literacy interruptions of ethnic minority students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, discussed a group of teachers’ scaffolding techniques of interruptions during literacy instruction. Interruptions from teacher to student are a common practice, especially when getting students to learn how to read, but little research has been done to analyze the types of interruptions teachers implement, to which specific students that teachers are interrupting as well as what effect interruptions have on literacy development. Before the study was conducted, participating teachers were interviewed to determine their beliefs and approaches around literacy instruction. The study showed, however, that teacher beliefs often contradicted or conflicted in some way with actual instructional practice. A key finding is that with ethnic minority students, teacher interruptions were more frequent and were more often related to a phonics or accuracy issue instead of an issue related to reading comprehension.


A particularly helpful heading was “Research on teachers’ literacy interruption” (Mertzman, 2008, p. 187) because it allowed me to quickly go to that section to see what is out there in terms of this topic. There is not a whole lot of research out there, but something the author did write in this section that I was not too surprised about was that students in lower ability reading groups were interrupted more than students in higher ability groups (Mertzman, 2008). This implies, however, that if a student is in a lower-ability group, they will end up reading less on a daily basis than those students who are in a higher ability reading group. This made me quickly see the relevance of this issue to not only instructional scaffolding, which is the breaking down of concepts in order for students to learn, but also to the hot topic of ability tracking. This caused me to ask, if students read less in lower ability classrooms, does this mean that we should discontinue ability tracking? It’s a complex question, but one that I began to think about right away as result of this section.

Another helpful heading was entitled, “Overall patterns of teacher interruptions: more focus on word recognition than on text meaning” (Mertzman, 2008, p. 190). This told me right away that teachers cared more about phonics than comprehension. In other words, in this study, it was found that teachers felt that it was more crucial that kids could read the words accurately than be able to understand what they actually mean. This made me think of a concept that I am learning in my human development class, in that kids at this age are cognitively able to realize that words represent concepts, so it is crucial that we focus on both the pronunciation and meaning when kids come across words.

Contribution to the Field

One major contribution to the field of early childhood literacy and instruction is the identification of the types of interruptions that are implemented in classrooms. This allows early childhood educators to discuss these types of interactions with colleagues in order to be cognizant of them and improve upon them. The types of interruptions that teachers implement are: “student or teacher model, scold, praise, repeat answer, explain the right answer, focus on meaning, focus on word recognition and sounding out Convergent questions” (Mertzman, 2008, p. 191). Knowing what these interruptions look like in practice will allow us to study them more in the future, especially as there are positive interruptions that provoke student academic achievement and those interruptions that hinder it.

Data Collection Methods

This study was conducted through examining four different classrooms within the same school closely. It was made clear to teachers that the point of this study would be to analyze interactions between teachers and students, but interruptions were never mentioned in order to avoid the problem of participants being self-conscious about these types of interactions. Once teachers were selected, each teacher was observed for two entire days of instruction in order to provide context for student behaviors throughout the day. Then, the period of class that was exclusively devoted to literacy instruction was filmed. Immediately following the literacy period, the researcher interviewed both teachers and students that were interrupted. The filmed segments were then played back to the interviewees in order to get a sense of what thoughts and feelings the participant had behind that interruption. Then, transcripts were consulted in order to begin the data analysis process and the identification of types of interruptions occurring.


The key question that the author was trying to answer was whether literacy interruption patterns were different with students from different races/economic classes (Mertzman, 2008). Unfortunately, the findings were that yes, they are. In the interviews conducted before the study, teachers never once mentioned socioeconomic status or race as a means to individualize instruction. However, as ethnic minority students were more likely to be interrupted than their white, higher income peers, it seems that teachers do in fact consider race and class as a factor when making instructional decisions. Additionally, the fact that the interruption types were more likely to be a word recognition/phonics issue does not support a balanced approach to literacy (Mertzman, 2008).

New ideas this study suggests for my area of interest

The author made it clear that interruptions can be a powerful force to effectively scaffold a child’s instruction. As this study identified interruptions that would foster a balanced approach to literacy, I began to think of cues that could be taught to teachers during professional development. I thought how when I go and observe teachers, I can specifically focus on the interruption types, the frequency of them and to whom they are being given in order to come up with appropriate suggestions for instructional improvement. I also thought about how we can connect positive interruptions to the idea of helping students manage their uncertainty within the context of learning how to read.

Further study

It is important to note, as disturbing as the results of this study are, that this was a very small-scale study. Only four teachers were studied and the school was in a rural area of the Southeastern United States. Therefore, to get a better sense as to whether race and socioeconomic status impacts teachers’ literacy scaffolding, larger studies in more diverse settings should be executed.

‘High ability’ does not equal ‘high achieving’

In the article “Should We Track or Should We Mix Them?” (Pivovarova, 2014), the issue of class tracking is tackled. Though I fear this will be a controversial statement, to put it in more simple terms, this article sought to answer whether its okay for the ‘smart’ kids to be together in one class and have a separate class for the ‘slower’ kids. As a teacher, this is a question that I have been struggling with for the past seven years, and truthfully, I still do not have a clear answer. I can see both sides. I get the argument that Pivovarova (2014) summarizes that ability tracking allows teachers to specialize, meaning that they can really individualize the curriculum and instruction for the particular ability of their students. In this model, teachers can more efficiently plan lessons that align to student needs and more easily pace the curriculum.

I myself have benefited from ability tracking as a teacher. When I taught 7th grade English language arts, I had a group of the ‘high ability’ students in one class and ‘low ability’ students in another class. Just as a side note, I will not refer to the high ability group as the high achieving students, because that implies that all high ability students are high achieving students, which I can assure you is definitely not true. Anyway, within this context, it was very easy for me to form a rigorous curriculum for my higher ability students specifically. Throughout that process, I realized that there were modifications that I could make to make my instruction as strong for the lower ability students and get them to reach the same outcomes. I had much more guided practice of the instructional objective for that day with my lower ability group. I chunked out larger pieces of text so they were not overwhelmed by so many words on the page. They were doing the same work and taking the same tests, but the strategies I used were unique to the ability level of the group. To be truthful, I felt like I was a better teacher with my lower ability group. The achievement level in my lower ability class was equivalent to my high ability class, making the need for these ability groups fairly obsolete the following year.

Pivovarova (2014), however, argues that though there can be benefits to ability tracking, overall, it negatively affects lower ability students. Previous literature that she reviewed asserts this, though I am a bit skeptical about what data suggests that. There was some research that suggested that there was no positive or negative effect from tracking and some that suggested tracking was a positive thing. From my own experience, I really think the effectiveness of ability tracking as to do with how well the teacher is at ensuring that all classes are getting the same curriculum and being held to the same high standards. Another point that I most definitely agree with Pivovarova (2014) on is that the effectiveness of this model has a lot to do with peer interactions. For me personally, I think I was successful because I had students engage in the same projects and discussions, no matter what class there were in. Though, I cannot ignore the fact that the author brings up that having high achievers is good for everyone and low-achievers are not harmful to achievement of everyone else (Pivovarova, 2014), I question this notion that low-achievers and low-ability are synonymous. One of the reasons why I believe my ‘low-ability’ class was so successful was due to certain students being able to really shine. They proved that they were and could be consistently high achieving because they had the confidence to move up and be considered one of those higher ability students within this group of peers. They were not lost and timid to speak up, unlike when they were in the same setting as the higher ability students. So, though I definitely see the argument for not tracking, I do not agree that high ability means that you are high achieving and vice versa.

I also assure you that I do not love the term ‘low ability’ but have yet to find a great alternative; hope everyone can give me the benefit of the doubt here.


Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.  Tempe: Arizona State University.

Pop up books do not support emergent literacy!

Chiong, C., & DeLoache, J. S. (2012). Learning the ABCs: What kinds of picture books facilitate young children’s learning? Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 13(2), 225–241. doi:10.1177/1468798411430091


Chiong and DeLoache (2012) explored the question of “what kinds of picture books facilitate young children’s learning?” (p. 225). In the emergent literacy phase, which consists of children from zero to four, many children acquire literacy skills through the interactions they have with their parents and other caretakers. What the authors of this study wanted to know was whether the books being used in these interactions actually helped students in developing literacy skills. In order to explore this question, the authors conducted two studies with children ranging from 30 to 36 months of age. Children were given a normal children’s book without manipulatives and others were given a book that had them. The results of the first study showed that children acquired fewer letters with books that contained manipulatives, compared to those who read the standard books.  In the second study, when manipulatives were directed toward actual letters themselves the researchers wanted the participants to know, there was no noticeable effect. Therefore, this study showed that manipulatives in books are a distraction to getting children to acquire literacy skills.


The organization of this article was very easy to follow. The article started with the abstract and an overview of the research out there followed by a summary of the first study, then the second and a discussion/conclusion. What was most effective about the organization were the subheadings present under each major section. For example, under the main heading for Study 2, there were subheadings that labeled the participants, materials, procedure, and results/discussion. Additionally, there were very clear images pasted directly into applicable areas, such as examples of what the different books they used looked like. I like that I did not have to go look in the appendix for this; the fact that the book examples were there allowed me to think about these images as I continued reading.

Contribution to the Field

This study gives early childhood researchers and educators an idea of what ineffective books for developing early literacy skills look like. From their work, we know that pop-up books are less effective in getting children to master the alphabet than your standard 2D book.

Theoretical Framework

The framework that this research is based on relates to that it is generally agreed upon that parent facilitation of book interaction in the early years is crucial to developing early literacy skills.  It is accepted that learning the actual alphabet names and letter sounds in conjunction with one another is a best practice.  The researchers cited a meta-analysis of the research about early literacy “that interactive shared book reading was associated with increased expressive vocabulary, especially for two- to three-year-olds” (Chiong & DeLoache, 2012, p. 226).  However, it is still a large debate about how to best teach children how to read.  Therefore, the researchers tried to further investigate the issue around how the content of the book that children interact with.  According to previous studies, “the nature of the pictures with which [children] had been taught influenced how well the children performed in the tests” (Chiong & DeLoache, 2012, p. 227).

Data Collection Methods

In the first study, 48 children participated. Children were given three alphabet books, one that is standard, one that had 3D manipulative elements and one that was the same as the 3D books but the manipulatives were taken out. Children were tested on their prior letter knowledge and parents also completed a survey about how many letters their child knew. Then, an adult reader read the book with the child in which they heard the letters they would be tested on six times. Then, children were given a test on letter naming and on letter recognition.

In the second study, 64 children participated. The procedures were similar to those of the first study. In this one, however, some children were given books where letters were made of sandpaper. The kids with the sandpaper letters were asked to trace the letters and the kids with the normal letters were simply asked to point. Just like study one, they were given a letter naming and letter recognition task immediately afterwards.


Children performed worse on the tasks when they had the 3D book. This made the authors of the study conclude that manipulative books are distractions. As for students who had the sandpaper letters to trace them, there was no evidence that suggested that this interaction positively impacted their letter naming/recognition. However, with this particular study, the authors concluded that there was no detrimental effect of tracing a letter that had a sandpaper texture.


I think that this article would be beneficial for any parent to read. It is written in such a clear language that I think it could be accessible to many parents outside of academia. It made me think about my own self and my process in selecting books for kids. I always explore the children’s section of bookstores for my students and for my niece. I now am going to look at the ‘cool’ kids’ books at Costco and Barnes and Noble much differently. Essentially, this article sends parents and educators a really simple message: to look closely at what the actual goal of the book is. The goal should be to build a child’s literacy skills through practicing reading a certain set of words or letters. However, this article demonstrated that those things that may make the books seem ‘fun’ are actually just distractions and do not help kids meet the true goal of the book. Obviously, pop outs, manipulatives, etc. found in kids’ books makes the book more sellable, which is I am sure why it is done. However, it is our responsibility as educators to inform everyone we know about this problem in our children’s literature so that parents can focus their energies on books that will actually increase access and excellence in education.

New ideas this study suggests for my area of interest

I am interested in researching the best approaches to early literacy. In conducting my annotated bibliography, I have been focusing directly on reading curriculum and instruction. This article gave me the idea that my study could involve parents as part of the process. Perhaps I could think about what would the effect of giving parents a workshop on the ineffectiveness of manipulative books be? What if I did the same for teachers?

Further study

I think this research could definitely benefit from looking at what is currently in pre-K and kindergarten libraries. Are the books we are providing our students full of manipulatives? This also got me thinking about supplemental materials we provide our students. A typical activity I have observed in a kindergarten classroom is kids cutting and gluing letters onto a matching letter. Does this mean students are actually learning their letters or are they simply learning to cut and glue? Obviously motor skills such as gluing and cutting are necessary for students to master, but can the fine motor activities we provide for students replace the actual learning of their letters and sounds? I would like to know this to get more insight as to what the barriers are to getting our students to grow in their reading.

Uncertainty is a good thing

Just so everyone has a clear sense of what is meant by uncertainty, Jordan and McDaniel (in press), define it as “an individual’s subjective experience of doubting, being unsure, or wondering about how the future will unfold, what the present means, or how to interpret the past” (p. 3). As a reading teacher, this is a topic that I am particularly interested in, as my students undoubtedly have felt uncertain while learning how to read. I’m sure they have thought about which phonetic sound represents the letter of the alphabet that is front of them. If they are an older student, they are likely confused as they attempt reading a complex novel or article. In transitioning to my role as a literacy coach next year, I think about how I will soon have to give advice and tips to teachers about how to manage their students’ uncertainty within the context of a literacy classroom. So, as you can see, I was hopeful that this article would give me some insights as to how to do that.

The authors mentioned that the research out there points out that individuals deal with uncertainty through communication and the responses given by peers heavily impact one’s ability to deal with uncertainty in the future (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). In reflecting upon my own students, as many of them are struggling readers, I think about how they often rely on peers to help them when they do not know a concept. However, often times, the students that they are asking for help from also are uncertain. This caused me to ask the following questions: Does this mean that students will be content in remaining uncertain? Will they try to inquire further? Or, do they just accept to live with the uncertainty and move on?

In thinking about these questions, it seems that how a student deals with uncertainty really has to do with how well the teacher helps students manage it. This article makes it clear that this is a key responsibility of the teacher. When students are encouraged to tackle problems, uncertainty can be productive; however, when problems are to be avoided, that is when students struggle in managing uncertainty (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). As a teacher, there will of course be those students who struggle with a particular concept more so than other students. This might lead to frustration from both the person who is struggling and those who are directly working with them. According to the study by Jordan and McDaniel (in press), if individuals shared the same uncertainty over time, groups eventually become annoyed with them and lost their patience. Therefore, it is crucial that teachers consistently model supportive peer responses for their students. Additionally, it is important that when assigning group work, that they strategically group students so no one becomes discouraged from their uncertainty.

The article suggests that individuals learn how to mange their uncertainty through their interactions with others (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). Therefore, it must be communicated in every interaction with students that uncertainty is natural and healthy. Though it can be difficult within the context of standardized testing where kids are encouraged to get to the ‘right’ answer all the time, it must be emphasized that struggling can be a good thing. Teachers should not always try to reduce student uncertainty immediately to supposedly allow learning to happen (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). From being a classroom teacher, however, I know this is very hard to change, especially when teachers are constantly being evaluating for what their students know at that moment. I do think that changing the way we manage student uncertainty could increase educational excellence, but it is something that teachers and administrators will need to agree upon in order for this to be a reality.


Jordan, M. E., & McDaniel, R. R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences.  doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

Belief and practice

Sandvik, J. M., van Daal, V. H., & Ader, H. J. (2013). Emergent literacy: Preschool teachers’ beliefs and practices. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 14(1), 28–52. doi:10.1177/1468798413478026


The point of this study was to get an idea of what preschool teachers’ beliefs about literacy were and whether or not those beliefs impacted their practice. The authors of this study acknowledge that there is no question that the earlier literacy skills are fostered, the better, as there is research that links strong emergent literacy skills in the preschool years to later success as a reader. Essentially, this study demonstrated that training on a literacy development program for teachers more heavily impacts their beliefs about reading itself rather than instructional practices that foster literacy development. Beliefs and practice of preschool teachers were examined through a survey. Before conducting the survey, the researchers identified instructional practices that foster emergent literacy skills. To decide if these instructional practices were being implemented, teachers were asked about this on their survey. To determine what their opinions were about emergent literacy, they were also asked a series of questions. From the survey data, the researchers were able to determine that specific literacy trainings do impact belief about instructional techniques but do not correspond to changes in practice.

Contribution to the Field

The major contribution to the field of emergent literacy is that though training in emergent literacy programs may positively impact a teacher’s beliefs about certain instructional practices, the training has little to no effect on actual teacher practice.

Literature Review

From the review of literature, the authors discuss how there is disagreement within the early childhood community about the role of literacy. Some of this has to do with misunderstanding about what emergent literacy is. People are so fixated on the word literacy, that they assume that emergent literacy suggests that students directly need to read and write. However, the author’s define emergent literacy as simply processes that foster the ability to read and write successfully later in life. Additionally, the role of literacy in classrooms is challenged by “deep seated beliefs” (Sandvick, van Daal & Ader, 2013, p. 30) held by teachers. Those deep seated beliefs include uncertainty about how literacy should be carried out in preschool. Some preschool teachers do not believe that literacy skills should be promoted in preschool. Another challenging component is that research suggests that there is much ambivalence on the behalf of preschool teachers about what their role is in promoting literacy with their students.

Theoretical Framework/Lens

The theoretical framework was cohesive. First, the authors hypothesized as to why there was disagreement within the preschool educator community about the role of emergent literacy, based on the current research. The authors acknowledged that there is little to no argument about success in early literacy translates into later on reading success.

The lens that this study went through was that though there is understanding about the importance of early literacy, this does not necessarily imply that the instructional practices to support this will be in place.  This means that what teachers believe does not necessarily inform their practice.  In other words, a teacher can believe that it is important to promote early literacy but not have that reflected in their instruction.

Data Collection Methods

In order to find out more about teacher beliefs and practices, the researchers conducted a 130 item survey between two groups of preschool teachers: those who had participated in a literacy training program which promoted practices such as reading aloud and phonological awareness and a group of teachers who had not, the latter serving as a control group. The goal of the survey was to get a sense of teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about emergent literacy practices and what their actual literacy practices in their classrooms were.


I thought the method used here was solid. A survey was given to teachers to measure their beliefs about literacy, what they did in practice and whether or not these practices were in line with current research. The only area of concern I see is with this approach is that I feel many respondents might feel inclined to be dishonest about their practices, particularly the ones who went through the literacy training. I cannot help but think if I went through training on literacy practices, I would be inclined to say that I do these practices because I am always seeking for approval, to be the star student, even though it would be made clear that this was going to be anonymous. Granted, the survey showed that beliefs did not change practice, so it seems like I would be wrong in my theory. However, I would love to see further study on what the impact on ‘practice’ or lack thereof is in order to get a firmer response. This might mean that researchers will have to actually go into classrooms during literacy instruction to see if any of those practices that they claim or disclaim are in fact being followed.


Though preschool teachers had moderately positive beliefs about literacy in preschool, the authors of this study contend that beliefs do not correspond to practice. As Sandvik, van Daal, and Ader (2013) conclude, “with the exception of Shared Reading, preschool teachers reported engaging in all other literacy-related activities (Emerging Reading and Writing, Letter Knowledge, Phonological Awareness, and Literacy in Play), on average, only 0-5 minutes per day on any given literacy-related activity” (p. 46).


There are several conclusions to come to from this study:

  • Students need to learn about reading in the emergent literacy phase in order to be prepared to read when they reach school
  • Exploration by the child and adult-directed activities work in conjunction with one another during the preschool years to foster later literacy
  • Children need to engage in storybook reading by interacting with the text through retelling, asking questions, reimagining the text. This makes reading fun.
  • Phonological awareness is as important as storybook reading and can be made fun through games
  • Identifying literacy issues can be done in the preschool years and is encouraged. Interventions will be more effective the earlier they are identified.
  • Further research is needed on the identified literacy skills “can
    best be promoted in preschool” (Sandvik, van Daal, & Ader, 2013, p. 44).

In thinking about how some of our lowest income students might have access to preschool through Head Start, it is absolutely crucial that we are giving teachers the best programs and materials to teach our youngest students how to read.  Having teachers simply believe that literacy is important is not good enough to get our kids literate.  We must equip our teachers with the best resources and train them on how to use them in order to increase access to education through literacy.

Changing the way we research to make change

From working in Title I schools throughout my entire career, I have seen lots of ‘research’ being used to justify why we are making sudden changes to our methodologies and curriculum. However, it does not seem that those who are making these decisions are thinking about whether these changes make sense for our students. For example, did they ask questions such as what was the setting of the study? Did participants share a similar context to our students and teachers? With this in mind, I was pleased to see that our readings this week were connected to action research, as maybe I could find some evidence to support my feeling that action research or traditional research for that matter is not necessarily directly transferable to students within my own context.

To start, it was refreshing to see that the study conducted by Bautista, Morrell, Bertrand, D’Artagan and Matthews (2013), was rooted in the fact that low-income students of color are not only not given the same educational opportunities as higher income students, but that any research that involves these students “consistently lacks the voices of these students themselves” (p. 1). I agree with them on their points that traditionally, we have seen research that simply legitimizes the experiences of some and just ignores the perspectives of others (Bautista, et. al., p. 3). It is because of this that the researches suggest an alternative approach to action research, such as implementing participatory action research, where the subjects are directly involved and invested in the investigation process.

I absolutely can see why having the participatory action research approach is crucial in thinking about my own research agenda. I am interested in the best approaches to teaching kids how to read. I cannot be completely objective in researching these approaches if I do not include student judgment. From the research that is out there, students are coming from multiple contexts; who knows whether or not they are similar to those students that I am trying to help? As students are the ones who I want to help, shouldn’t they then have a voice in the process? Yes they should, as the point of action research is to identify a problem in a particular setting or community and to have the participants be the ones who give us the knowledge from the study (Bautista, et. al., p. 3).

There is absolutely an issue with our most disadvantaged students reaching their full potential due to the barriers associated with poverty. We can theorize and theorize for hours about how to solve the problem, but the reality is that it will not get solved unless those affected are participating in their own research to ensure that their oppressions are overcome (Bautista, et. al., p. 10). This is especially critical when we think about the power ownership of learning has on students and families. As Liou, Antrop-González, and Cooper (2009) show, high achieving low-income students of color identified family as the reason they are successful academically, above school (p. 541). These students had families who supported them because they believed they were going to college; they felt like they ‘owned’ this goal. Therefore, I believe this same notion could be applied to action research. Action research will only be successful if students and families play a key role in the process, as they do not see the school, as the largest influence. If we do not involve students and families, we researchers take the risk that the work we conduct will not increase educational access.


Bautista, M. A., Morrell, E., Bertrand, M., D’Artagan, S., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth : Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teacher’s College Record, 115(100303), 1–23.

Liou, D. D., Antrop-González, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347

The ongoing struggle of teaching kids how to read

Shanahan, T., Cunningham, A., Escamilla, K. C., Fischel, J., Landry, S., Lonigan, C. J., … Strickland, D. (2008). Developing Early Literacy (pp. 1–231). Jessup, MD. Retrieved from http://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/NELPReport09.pdf


This research centers on best practices for parents and educators in early literacy as suggested by a panel of experts. According to Shanahan et al. (2008), “The National Assessment of Educational Progress reveals that 37 percent of U.S. fourth graders fail to achieve basic levels of reading achievement” (p. v) which is why this panel of experts was created. The panel sought to discover what are the best practices to build early literacy skills. Of particular interest to my research is “which programs, interventions, and other instructional approaches or procedures have contributed to or inhibited gains in children’s skills and abilities that are linked to later outcomes in reading, writing, or spelling?” (Shanahan et al., 2008, p. vi). In order to synthesize best approaches to early literacy, a meta-analysis of research already present in this field was conducted. The goal was to provide a framework for educators and parents of young children to follow in helping this population develop in literacy.


This research was presented in the form of a report. Headings were helpful in navigating this long document. It was clear who conducted this research, why it was conducted, how and the conclusions they came to.

As the researchers divided up the study into different categories, such as early intervention and parent involvement, it was easy to follow. To improve, I think there could be a simplified synthesis at the very end of the study of next steps to follow and which stakeholders need to follow them.

Contribution to Field

Before I identify the contribution to the field, it is important to note that these findings are based on some research designs that are not completely valid, as the effectiveness of some of the analyzed literacy strategies were based on simple pre and post-test results, something that the authors acknowledged. From this panel’s research, we know that interventions overall have a positive effect on early childhood literacy acquisition. The strength of these interventions, however, had to do with what instructional techniques were used and how much time was devoted to it. The panel determined it crucial that teachers use activities and methodologies that may not be typically seen in early childhood.

Literature Used for Meta-Analysis

The study was based on what literature was out there to synthesize in order to make recommendations for early childhood literacy instruction. Through a search of major research journals, literature reviews and research recommended from people on the panel, 8,000 potential articles were screened. From this review, 500 research articles were analyzed. Overall, “correlational data showing the relationships between children’s early abilities and skills and later literacy development and experimental data that showed the impact of instructional interventions on children’s learning” (Shanahan et al., 2008, p. vi).

Data Collection

The data collection was through analyzing the 500 studies that were identified during the literature review. Identifying specific search terms that were then broken down into categories did this. Once studies were found, there was a particular criterion the researchers followed in order to decide what was valid research, one of which is that it needed to be empirical research that had been published in a refereed journal.

As the study acknowledged, “the major limitation confronting any meta-analysis is the quality of the original studies that are being combined” (Shanahan et al., 2008, p. x).


The article stated that the study “sought to identify the most comprehensive set of obtainable data in an unbiased way and to analyze those data in a straightforward manner with a minimum of manipulation or recalculation of the original data” (Shanahan et al., 2008, p. 1). There were specific research questions that the panel followed in the analysis, which could provide a framework for future researchers to use when analyzing further studies. They also included every document they used to analyze the data. Therefore, it is possible to duplicate this research or at least use the guiding questions when coming across new literature.

Theoretical Framework/Lens

The lens here is that there are many emergent literacy theories out there that need to be synthesized.  The point of this study was to consolidate what is out there, using the minds of this informed panel to make recommendations for early literacy instruction.

Findings & Conclusions

A particularly interesting finding is that the studies on language interventions have shown to be effective overall. These interventions are particularly effective when the oral language strategies are “defined as a diverse set of outcomes, such as expressive and receptive language skills, phonemic awareness, and verbal intelligence” (Shanahan et al., 2008, p. 222). What is key is that these language interventions are not exclusive to students who have limited English proficiency or who come from low-income backgrounds; rather, they are beneficial for all types of students and abilities. Most importantly, however, is that the earlier the intervention, the better. Older children had less of a boost from particular language interventions analyzed. To make these findings more valid, it would be beneficial to conduct further studies with a larger sample size, a limitation that even the authors acknowledge.

In terms of instruction, the presence of literacy focused curricula and the amount of professional development provided to teachers significantly impacted current early childhood research. Though curricula is identified, there was little discussion on what pedagogies the curricula utilized, so more investigation needs to be conducted in that area. Another big finding is in regards to parental involvement and its impact on literacy. Though the researchers studied this, they realized that this is still a very new area of research with little literature available. Therefore, currently there is not “a clear, empirically proven best way to use this involvement toward improved literacy performance for young children” (Shanahan et al., 2008, p. 199), implying that we need more data on this issue.

This study is a strong foundation for formulating ideas around access and impact in education.  However, it does not necessarily answer questions to how to promote that.  In moving forward, we need to investigate pedagogy and parental involvement so reading instruction and students’ early literacy skills can be improved overall.

For more information on the NAEP, go to the website at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.

Confronting Bias

Issues of race have hindered students’ access to an excellent education. Gould (1981) pointed out that racism has been around as long as “recorded human history,” (p. 31) however it has only been in recent history that there has been a biological justification by scientists that attempted to make an argument that people of color are biologically inferior. This shows that there was ‘proof’ for racism that the scholar community provided. Even President Lincoln, who had respect for freedmen who fought in the Civil War, believed that “freedom does not imply biological equality” (Gould, 1981, p. 35). These beliefs, held by historically respected academics and leaders, are sure to have been passed on to many in society, both the educated and non. Therefore, we can infer that minority groups have been long viewed as not deserving of an excellent education.

Gould (1981) described that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that “arguments did not contrast equality with inequality” (p. 31). With that, we can see that equality and access are fairly new concepts. So, as a teacher who got into teaching to serve students of color who are mostly poor, I questioned, are educators concerned about making equality a priority? What can we do to ensure that educators are concerned about this? Garcia and Ortiz (2013) made it clear that educators need to think about students’ cultural context in order to make the right decisions for them, especially students with disabilities, but unfortunately do not. Instead, “researchers and practitioners tend to locate the source of achievement and behavioral difficulties within students, without examining performance in the context of teaching and learning environments in which that performance occurs” (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013, p. 38). As Howard (2003) made it clear that our future teaching force will continue to be mostly middle class women and that our student population will increasingly be low income students of color, it is important that our educators confront their biases in order to ensure that every decision we make is in students’ best interest.

The idea of educators confronting biases in order to be culturally relevant practitioners is something that must be made a priority.   As the EdD “focuses on preparing practitioners…who can use existing knowledge to solve educational problems” (Shulman, Golde, Bueschel, & Garabedian, 2006, p. 26), I cannot begin to use this degree to solve the problem of early literacy for low-income students without examining the context that many of my students are living and learning in. For example, are they given the proper support at home? If not, are the schools supporting the parents with strategies to increase their children’s literacy? Last, are educators providing the right methodologies and interventions that respect the cultural context of their students? It seems unlikely that educators are currently making unbiased decisions with their students or even trying to. For example, in the study conducted by Paufler and Amrein-Beardsley (2013), the majority of principals were against randomly assigning students to classes, meaning that teachers and principals make those decisions. This means that students will undoubtedly be grouped based on many subjective factors, which will surely be somewhat biased.

Therefore, in thinking about my own research in investigating the best ways to teach students how to read, I will need to consider how and why students were grouped. I will need to consider their educational settings, such as Special Education (SPED) inclusion, English Language Development (ELD), cluster (gifted), heterogeneous, homogenous, etc. and the rationale for putting students into those settings. Lastly, I will need to look at the training and beliefs of the teacher to get a sense of why they are implementing certain instructional strategies. Overall, this week’s readings made me see that action research must consider the culture of students in order to actually make change.


Garcia, S. B., & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32–47.

Gould, S. (1981). The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Teacher Reflection and Race in Cultural Contexts, 42(3), 195–202.

Paufler, N. A., & Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2013). The Random Assignment of Students Into Elementary Classrooms: Implications for Value-Added Analyses and Interpretations. American Educational Research Journal, 51(2), 328–362. doi:10.3102/0002831213508299

Shulman, L. S., Golde, C. M., Bueschel, A. C., & Garabedian, K. J. (2006). Reclaiming Education’s Doctorates: A Critique and a Proposal. Educational Researcher, 35(3), 25–32. doi:10.3102/0013189X035003025