By: Richard Allington
It seems that, finally, those who make educational policy – at the local, state, and federal levels – have begun to recognize just how much good teachers matter.
A series of studies have confirmed what was probably obvious from the beginning. Good teachers, effective teachers, matter much more than particular curriculum materials, pedagogical approaches, or "proven programs" (Allington & Johnston, 2001; Darling-Hammond, 1999; Duffy, 1997; Pressley, et al, 2001; Sanders, 1998; Taylor, Pearson, Clark & Walpole, 2000). It has become clearer that investing in effective teaching – whether in hiring decisions or professional development planning – is the most "research-based" strategy available. If we are to hope to attain the goal of "no child left behind," we must focus on creating a substantially larger number of effective, expert teachers.
Good teachers, effective teachers, manage to produce better achievement regardless of which curriculum materials, pedagogical approach, or reading program is selected.
I am not going to attempt to understand why it has taken education so long to recognize what other industries recognized almost from the start – expertise matters. Instead, I am going to describe what the teaching of exemplary elementary teachers looks like and challenge school administrators to examine whether their daily practice and their longer-term planning is designed to foster such teaching. In other words, I believe school administrators should be crafting policies that ensure that more effective teachers are created each year in their schools.
For much of the past decade my colleagues and I at the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement have been studying some of the best elementary school teachers in the nation (Allington & Johnston, 2002; Pressley, Allington, Wharton-McDonald, Collins-Block & Morrow, 2001). These teachers were selected, primarily, from schools that enrolled substantial numbers of poor children and schools that reflected the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the nation.
We observed first and fourth-grade teachers from six states (New York, Texas, New Hampshire, California, Wisconsin, New Jersey). In each case we spent at least ten full instructional days, and often more, observing, interviewing, and videotaping in each room. Two books, a number of articles, and related technical reports provide documentary details (the books and articles are cited throughout and the technical reports, along with research summaries, can be found at http://cela.albany.edu).
We studied teachers found to be particularly effective in developing reading and writing proficiency. Over the course of the study, however, it became clear that the teachers we were studying developed academic proficiencies well beyond higher reading and writing achievement test scores (though the evidence we gathered did demonstrate that these teachers did produce significantly better standardized test performances as a matter of course).
The hundreds of days of classroom observation and the hundreds of interviews with teachers and students provide a clear portrayal of what good elementary teaching looks like. Below I sketch six common features – the 6 Ts of effective elementary literacy instruction – that we observed in the exemplary elementary classrooms we studied.
Note: The author would like to thank the following people for their assistance in the project: Peter Johnston and Michael Pressley, co-principal investigators for the fourth and first grade teacher studies, respectively; the classroom teachers who allowed us to study their teaching practices, and the other researchers on the project, including Elizabeth Asbury, Kim Baker, Kim Boothroyd, Greg Brooks, Melissa Cedeno, Cathy Collins Block, John Cronin, Jeni Pollack Day, Gay Ivey, Haley Woodside-Jiron, Susan Layden, Anne McGill-Franzen, Lesley Morrow, Steven Powers, Jean Veltema, and Ruth Wharton-McDonald. The paper is based on research supported in part under Research and Development Centers Program (award number R305A6005) as administered by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, US Department of Education. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the sponsor.