The effects of professional development on content area reading instruction in the early elementary grades

Sirpa Tolvanen Grierson


This study was designed to ascertain if there is a relationship between professional development and teachers' theories, knowledge, and attitudes about content area reading instruction in the early elementary grades. The subjects $(n = 150)$ included second through fourth grade teachers in three treatment groups: (1) professional development $(n = 109),$ (2) professional development plus mentoring $(n = 11),$ and (3) a comparison group receiving no treatment $(n = 30).$ Basic principles and practices of content area reading were the focus of staff development. Pretest measures consisting of demographic questions plus three instruments, the DeFord Theoretical Orientation to Reading Profile (TORP), the Content Area Reading Strategies (CARS) questionnaire, and the Attitudes Toward Content Area Reading (ATCAR) instrument were administered prior to staff development. Subjects were then grouped according to their TORP scores into a phonics, skills, or whole language orientation to reading. Mentoring was offered at the conclusion of the staff development. A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) statistical procedure was used to compare the effects of theoretical reading orientation and the three treatment conditions (workshop, workshop plus mentoring, no workshop) on five dependent measures: theoretical orientation (TORP) scores, attitudes toward content area reading (ATCAR) scores, and three subscores reflecting knowledge, use, and recommendation of specific content area reading strategies (CARS). The results indicated that treatment did not significantly affect the dependent measures. The main effect of theoretical orientation was significant even though the whole language orientation was not a part of the analyses because of the small number of subjects $(n = 1).$ Qualitative analysis of data, including demographic data, an observational checklist, and journal notes, suggested that treatment did have a positive influence on teachers in the workshop only, and the workshop plus mentoring groups. Observations also revealed that (a) teachers are not aware of many strategies associated with content reading, (b) self-reports about content area reading instruction are often disparate from actual practice, (c) teachers with a phonics or skills orientation to reading tend to share practices, and (d) staff development workshops alone may be limited in their effectiveness to produce lasting change.