Archive article #99–03

Building on the Past, Bridging to the Future:
A Research Agenda for the Center for the
Improvement of Early Reading Achievement

Elfrieda H. Hiebert, University of Michigan
P. David Pearson, Michigan State University

(To appear in the January 2000 Journal of Educational Research)

In late winter 1997, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the US Department of Education issued a request for proposals for a new reading center. First at the University of Illinois and then at the Universities of Georgia and Maryland, a federally sponsored reading center had been a part of the American educational research scene since 1976. Unlike earlier federally sponsored reading centers, the request for proposals 1997 had a specific, rather than general, mission for a new reading center: to address the persistent problems of early reading, defined as the period from preschool through grade 3, and to find solutions that would enable the country to meet its national goal of every child reading by the end of third grade. In response to that call, we mounted an effort to address persistent problems that have faced the field in improving early reading theory and practice.

We conceptualized these problems and questions as situated within a set of interacting planes of inquiry. In the innermost plane were reader and text, the dyad most clearly implicated in the reading process. In the intermediate plane were home and school, the sites in which children learn to read. The outermost plane consisted of the policy and profession contexts that exert important, if indirect, influences on learning to read by shaping the quality of materials and instruction available to learners through policies, funding, and professional development.

We wanted to implement a balanced and diverse portfolio of research, ensuring to embrace diversity of three types: (a) in the populations of students involved in our work; (b) in the range of professionals with whom we worked to design materials, instructional interventions, and dissemination efforts; and (c) in our methodological tools and perspectives we used. Our fundamental commitment would be to work with and learn from teachers and administrators who work in poor schools, that are, by and large, also minority schools. We would spend our first year working in schools of poverty that were doing well, with students performing beyond the predictions of the socioeconomic status of their communities. We would gain insight from these contexts that would aid us in working with other schools and teachers who aspire to beat the odds of poverty. In terms of partners, we were initially committed to working with teachers and administrators, but we soon expanded our scope to include policymakers, teacher educators, publishers, technology experts, professional organizations, and scholars of many stripes.

Mindful of the validity and use of different epistemologies and research tools, we supported an agenda of paradigmatic commensurability; we would embrace complementarity, not competition, among research methods. In our center, it would be as important to generate data that would travel well in the policy circles of state capitols as it would be to understand what quality instruction looks like in a particular classroom. Large scale quasi-experimental studies would exist alongside case studies of individual classrooms and schools. We also wanted to conduct research that added value to the long and rich tradition of research on early reading (e.g., Adams, 1990; Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985; Barr, 1984; Chall, 1967/1982; Ehri, 1991; Guthrie & Wigfield, 1997; Juel, 1991). We were interested in extending, not reinventing, lines of inquiry already established by our colleagues and professional ancestors.

Those were our goals. How are we doing in our efforts to meet them? To evaluate our progress, we pose the persistent questions that have guided our efforts in our first two years of operation and summarize work that moves toward answers, admittedly at this point provisional and tentative, to each question.

Additional background will assist the reader in understanding CIERA’s organization of work. Our work is grounded in theories of the reading process and contextualized views of acquisition. The reading process and the multiple contexts that influence reading acquisition (e.g., backgrounds and expectations of teachers as well as the materials and interactions of home and school) are complex. While policymakers and the public may wish for simple answers, solutions to real problems must account for these complexities. All of the complexities cannot be attended to in a single investigation; different issues need to be foregrounded in different studies, while others stay in the background. But it is essential to recognize these complexities if we are to respond to the needs of children and teachers as we begin the 21st century.

Each inquiry is divided into four projects, each of which highlights a particular dimension of the problem addressed by the inquiry. In Figure 1, we have depicted the three areas of inquiry and the particular foci within each area. For example, Inquiry 1 (Readers and Texts) considers

how interactions between beginning readers and texts can be enhanced. As Figure 1 illustrates, Inquiry 1 has four projects in which different aspects of reader processes and text characteristics are investigated. Some of the projects contain more than one study but all of the efforts within a project pertain to the same persistent problem. In this review, space does not permit us to highlight every response of CIERA researchers to issues that stand in the way of high levels of reading achievement. We have chosen to feature responses that illustrate the ways in which we are bringing new lenses to challenges in American reading education. Readers who are interested in the additional solutions that we are exploring should visit CIERA's website ( to review the entire scope of the research program.

Inquiry 1: Readers and Texts

The work in our first area of inquiry focuses on Readers and Texts. It is guided by two overarching questions: (1) What are the characteristics of readers and texts that have the greatest influence on early success in reading? and (2) How can children’s linguistic and cultural funds of knowledge serve as resources for engaging them in the aims and tasks of school?

The first question is addressed in the first two projects; the second question by the last two projects. In the first two projects, we look at reading processes across groups of children, whatever their linguistic or cultural backgrounds, as a function of two critical features of reading instruction—teachers’ instructional emphases in teaching about the alphabetic system and the texts that are used to teach children to read and which they are given to practice.

But the study of how common characteristics of reading instruction, such as strategy emphases and materials, influence children’s reading acquisition does not answer all of the critical questions. Linguistic, cultural, and cognitive dispositions influence children’s success and ability to benefit from particular kinds of instruction. The final two projects in Inquiry 1 describe instructional responses that build on linguistic, cultural, and cognitive profiles that differ from those of the mainstream.

Reader Processes
Even in the early years of their schooling, children are expected to read many words they have never before seen in print. Only a few thousand words usually receive direct instruction in the primary grades, yet children must read over 80,000 different words by the end of third grade (Adams, 1990; Carroll, Davies, & Richman, 1971). Even the most comprehensive phonics programs typically teach no more than 90 phonics "rules," yet good readers deal effortlessly with over 500 different spelling-sound rules (Gough & Juel, 1990). Instruction can also differ on the strategies with which children are advised to approach these units in unknown printed words. Although approaches are not mutually exclusive, different emphases direct children to look for clues in different places, including sounding and blending and attending to the meaning level of the text that is being read. Questions about which units to emphasize in beginning reading instruction and which strategies to teach for figuring out unknown words puzzle and frustrate teachers in their daily work in classrooms. Despite the decades of argument and debate over these issues, examinations of the literature show that the amount of rhetoric on these topics throughout the 20th century has far outstripped the amount of research.

To provide answers to teachers, Connie Juel has spent the first phase of this project in studying the word recognition and comprehension performance of first graders in classrooms that differ in the units and strategies emphasized. This work has involved both systematic measurement of reading processes (phonemic awareness, word recognition, and passage reading) and careful observation of classroom practices and materials. It must be said, at the outset, that differences among first-grade teachers observed in the first phase (years 1 and 2) defy any neat and tidy categorization. In a classroom, one can find elements of contextualized, phonics, and sight word strategies as well varying emphasis on letters, syllables, onsets and rimes, and words. Nonetheless, general instructional tendencies exist within classrooms which Juel and Minden-Cupp (1999) used to characterize normative differences in practice and correlated these with word identification performance. These analyses showed reliable aptitude-by-treatment interactions, with initially low-performing students benefiting most from an initial (in the fall) code-emphasis that, over the year, transforms itself into more of a meaning emphasis. For children who began grade 1 in the middle range on literacy measures, their growth in reading was "exceptional" (Juel & Minden-Cupp, 1999, p. 18) in the classroom that emphasized contextualized word identification instruction attached to the reading and discussion of trade books. In the next phase of work, Juel will apply knowledge from this first phase in classrooms and with children of different initial reading levels.

Text Difficulty
For much of the 20th century, most American school children learned to read with texts that featured high-frequency words, exemplified by Dick and Jane running, riding, coming, and going. During the middle of the century, such texts came under harsh criticism by advocates of texts featuring phonetically regular words (Flesch, 1957). Because high-frequency and phonetically regular texts require the creation of special books for beginning readers, both approaches were criticized during the 1980s as questions were raised about the quality of literature used to teach young children to read. At that point—a decade ago—high-quality literature became the norm for all levels of readers, with state-mandated textbook adoptions in California (California English/Language Arts Framework Committee, 1987) and Texas (Texas Education Agency, 1990). Educators assumed that the language and ideas of good literature would motivate young children to read. But when Hiebert, Liu, Levin, Huxley, and Chung (1995) gave the books from these new trade book programs to first graders at the end of the school year, they found that about 45% of the children were unable to read the literature selections in the first of the five first-grade books (see also Hoffman, Roser, Patterson, Salas, & Pennington, 1998). These children had almost no sight vocabulary; their ability to use words with consistent and common letter-sound patterns was also negligible.

At the end of the millennium, and with virtually no research to support changes, textbook policies are changing again. Recently, the Texas Education Agency (1997) mandated particular types of controlled for initial reading texts. But the crucial issue is determining what the basis of controlled vocabulary should be. Should the control be based on phonetically regular words, such as bati and hat? High-frequency words such as the, this, and of? High-imagery words such as dinosaur and spaceship? Despite a half-century of debate, reviews in the Handbooks of Reading Research (Barr, Kamil, Mosenthal, & Pearson, 1991; Pearson, Barr, Kamil, & Mosenthal, 1984) indicate little substantive research on the texts that best support beginning reading.

Elfrieda Hiebert has set out to understand those features in greater detail. Hiebert and her colleagues have identified three lenses for evaluating instructional potential of texts for young readers: (a) engagingness, a tripartite (content, design, and language) index of the quality of illustration and story (Hoffman, McCarthey, Abbott, Christian, Corman, Dressman, Elliot, Matherne, & Stahle, 1994); (b) accessibility, a scale depicting word and rime density and repetition; and (c) generalizability, a measure of the degree to which the words within a given selection could be used to support generalizations about the decodability of text (e.g., a letter-sound relationship or the pronunciation of a rime, such as –at, -ad, or –ig) (Hiebert, 1999). In applying these lenses to anthologies and little book components of three reading programs, Hiebert and her colleagues found that in spite of systematic differences among these series (e.g., the Literature Core series rated higher on the engagingness scale and had more, shorter texts than either the Phonics plus Literature or the Phonics Core series), the overwhelming conclusion is that the texts provided for the first term of grade 1 would require a substantial level of reading proficiency if children were asked to read them independently (Menon & Hiebert, in review). Even the little books, which are specially crafted to be easier for beginning readers, are sparse (in terms of word repetition) and challenging (in terms of numbers of words) (Martin & Hiebert, in review). These features of commercial series may go a long way toward explaining the popularity of whole-class read-alouds in today’s schools.

Linguistic and Cultural Funds of Knowledge
A central ethical, policy, and pragmatic question for educational research and practice is how to regard the existence of cultural, linguistic, and intellectual diversity in our schools. We have a long legacy of research based upon the assumption that differences are deficits (see review by García & Pearson, 1991); more recently, however, we have witnessed the development of models and research programs that regard diversity as a resource that schools should exploit to everyone’s advantage (e.g., Moll, Amanti, Neff, &Gonzalez, 1992). Moll et al. have suggested that funds of knowledge exist within particular cultural groups. Because of participating with family or community groups, some children may have expertise in mechanics or gardening. When these funds of knowledge are recognized in schools, children’s learning can be enhanced because they are viewed to be competent learners. Further, some funds of knowledge may be directly applicable to conventional curriculum.

The orality prevalent in particular cultures is a fund of knowledge that appears to be germane to learning to read. For example, clapping and language games enhance phonemic awareness, essential for success in reading acquisition in school (Torgesen & Davis, 1996). In some communities, clapping and language games are common in playgrounds and street games but are not been integrated into classroom events. CIERA researcher Nichole Pinkard is using the lyrics of culturally familiar songs such as clapping songs ("Miss Mary Mack") and rap songs ("I Missed the Bus") in interactive computer environments to aid children in word recognition. In the interactive computer environment, students reconstruct and write clapping songs, learn or create clap routines to accompany them, and listen to their responses spoken aloud.

Even at this early stage of her work, Pinkard (1999) has documented effects on students’ word identification performance, high degrees of involvement and motivation to use the hypermedia tool, and a serendipitous diagnostic utility (i.e., teachers find that the work students complete within the technology environment reveals useful data about their progress) for the instructional tool (Pinkard, 1999). Her study indicated a consistent gain in sight words between pre- and posttests for children using both computer programs. Moreover, African-American children performed as well as or better than their European-American counterparts. Interviews with the children after working with the programs indicate that children who profess a strong dislike of reading actually enjoy working with the programs and would use them again.

Unique Learners
The number of students who are classified as having learning disabilities, specifically in reading, are high. In some cases, learning difficulties are confounded with language and culture that differ from those that dominate the classroom. Other factors come into play, however; these may be cognitive, perceptual, linguistic, and motivational in nature. The initial difficulties of some children, while mild, may be compounded by poor instruction (McGill-Franzen & Allington, 1991). An example of the ways that instruction can exacerbate initial learning proficiencies is the frequency with which programs for children with learning difficulties emphasize drill and attention to the letter-sound associations without involvement in books or writing words (Rueda & Moll, 1994). Though partly effective, these programs fail to immerse students completely in literacy so that they become aware of the broader strategies, purposes, and functions of literacy (Purcell-Gates & Dahl, 1991).

Carol Sue Englert has developed a beginning literacy program, Learning Environments for Accelerated Progress (LEAP), that connects literacy skills (e.g., decoding and comprehension) and language modes (e.g., reading and writing) for learning disabled, primary-level students. In earlier work, Englert and her colleagues established that experimental students outperform controls in sight word recognition abilities, oral reading accuracy, comprehension, writing fluency, and expository writing (Englert, Garmon, Mariage, Rozendal, Tarrant, & Urba, 1995). Englert’s extension of LEAP is to integrate informational text activities and activities with technology into the literacy program in general and special education environments. To date, analyses of partial implementation of LEAP in inclusion and self-contained learning disabilities classrooms indicate that learning disabled students can experience success in challenging programs when teachers hold high expectations for all students, include learning disabled students in roles in which they become classroom experts, and provide students with the scaffolding—both technological and interpersonal—that they need to meet these high expectations. In a case study of a special education second grader, Gover and Englert (1998) demonstrate the manner in which conversations between students and a teacher produce a well-written and mechanically sound essay on a topic of interest to the student—snakes.

Englert’s research on LEAP is extended through collaboration with Yong Zhao, a specialist in learning with computers. Their goal has been to use the internet to connect special education students with students in sites beyond their immediate classrooms and schools. By giving children reasons to write messages and read the messages of others, special education students’ reading engagement would increase and, subsequently, their reading levels. Their hope, also, was that the technology could offer the lowest-achieving readers a more concentrated set of experiences that could unify literacy instruction across language domains, and give teachers a method of providing support on demand to all students when working independently. To this end, Zhao and Englert developed TELE-Web (Technology Enhanced Learning Environment on the Web). TELE-Web consists of four environments (Writing Room, Reading Room, Library, and Publishing Room) that have teacher and student interfaces. For example, the Writing room permits students to compose texts, work on stories started by other students, and choose to distribute their compositions to a wider internet audience. The TELE-Web software has been pilot tested, and its impact on student learning will soon be evaluated in six elementary schools.

Inquiry 2: Home and School

Schools are our first priority in this inquiry because schools are the primary context in which the literacy of low-income students is shaped. We draw on the rich experiences of our teacher partners to discover exemplary practices in early reading instruction and to receive advice on ways to engage their colleagues in the implementation of new methods and programs. But school is not the only site where children learn to read. We also examine children’s reading at home, in preschools, and in communities such as libraries, museums, and shopping malls. If we can understand how and what students learn in these environments and, more importantly, learn how home and community activities can be connected to reading at school, we will be able to identify and validate practices that can aid all children in learning to read well.

The first project in Inquiry 2 addresses the match between home and school on matters of reading practice and views of student efficacy; of particular importance are the mismatches—how they develop, how they impede communication, and how they can be overcome. In the second project, we move into community settings to study effective practices within community settings as well as the relationships between school and community reading activities. In the final two projects, we move first into preschools and then into schools to examine best practice directly.

Home-School Match
Literacy events occur in the lives of children, whatever their socioeconomic background. For example, many families look at the advertisements announcing the week’s specials at grocery store chains (Purcell-Gates, 1996). These familiar uses of literacy for children can be quite different from the literacies of school, where kindergartners are evaluated on their knowledge of letter names or matching sounds to letters (Meisels, in press). When a mismatch exists between the backgrounds of teachers and those of students and their families, problems often arise. For example, families’ aspirations may not be recognized in the contexts of schools. The literacies of homes are often not appreciated there, either. Further, labels such as "at-riskness" may actually place children at greater risk when the interpretation prompts educators to withhold challenging curriculum.

Patricia Edwards addresses the question of how the literacies of home and the aspirations of low-income parents can be integrated into beginning reading programs. Situated in an urban, largely African-American community school that also houses a large Head Start program, Edwards is working with both parents and teachers in Head Start and K–3 to implement complementary interventions that are designed to align the two groups in promoting children’s literacy. The teachers participate in Edwards’ Parents as Partners program, where they learn how to do family literacy stories for individual children in their classrooms. Parents of both Head Start and K–3 students participate in Talking Your Way to Literacy, a program designed to help parents acquire the discourses of schooling so that they can talk with teachers and administrators "on their own terms." The idea is to bring families to schools and schools to families.

Phase one has been devoted to studying how parents and teachers view the roles and responsibilities of one another in promoting children’s learning. In an analysis of beliefs about the attribution of success and failure, Edwards, Danridge, and Pleasants (1998) found that Head Start teachers believed that their instruction could reduce educational risk for their students; by contrast, elementary teachers viewed variations in children’s social and academic skills as largely determined by family practices and attitudes toward school and learning. These data are informing the intervention, to be implemented in the 1999–2000 school year, making collaboration among Head Start and K-3 teachers and parents a priority.

Communities and Reading
Children spend much more time in their homes and the broader communities in which their families live (places like grocery stores, churches, malls, and doctors’ offices) than they do in classrooms. These communities provide occasions for children to see print and, if adult family members are aware of these opportunities, to use this print for acquiring reading.

Community resources can aid parents in using these occasions for teaching children to read. For example, libraries sponsor Saturday and summer reading events for children and their families. A book chain distributes books for children. Often, however, these community resources are not linked to the school reading programs. This can have unfortunate consequences in that yet another resource that might support the children most in need remains underused or not used at all. Schools can make connections between families and these community resources in several ways. First, schools can inform families about these resources. Just as critical, schools can integrate the literacies of the communities into classroom programs. For example, by conducting a field trip to the grocery store, a kindergarten teacher aided children and their families in understanding the abundance of print in everyday contexts (Hemmeter, 1991).

How can schools be supported in making links such as these? That is the question that Scott Paris is addressing. Paris’s point of departure, as it has been in a variety of CIERA projects, is to begin with the activities in the most effective schools to demonstrate what is possible—an analysis of the community outreach practices of high poverty, high performance schools. Carpenter, Paris, and Paris (1999) tapped into the data from a national survey of 124 schools selected by their states and the national Title I program as exemplary in delivering effective programs to poor youngsters. In comparing those "exemplary" schools that scored above versus below the state average on their state assessment, they found reliable differences favoring the higher performing schools in the number of volunteers working in classrooms, the frequency of communication with the homes of their students, and the schools’ reported involvement with community literacy activities (Carpenter et al., 1999). These differences notwithstanding, the most salient finding in this domain is that schools, even those with exemplary programs and exceptional achievement, were more connected to homes than to communities; they were much more likely to reach out to the homes of their students than to connect to community agencies, resources, or programs.

Preschools as Contexts for Reading Acquisition
The past ten years have seen an unprecedented research and program development focus on the preschool-early grades period as one that holds considerable promise for stemming the unacceptably high rates of failure in the public schools in the United States (Campbell & Ramey, 1995; Pianta & Walsh, 1996). Although early childhood and reading educators agree that early experiences with books and writing are critical for young children, the form that this initiation should take is the source of considerable debate among early childhood educators. In discussions of developmentally appropriate practice, early childhood educators often align reading with academic curricula, whereas child-centered activities such as play centers are viewed as the contexts for developmentally appropriate practice (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1991; Hyson, Hirsch-Pasek, & Rescorla, 1990). There are few descriptions of developmentally appropriate literacy practices with preschoolers that extend beyond adults reading books aloud with children.

CIERA’s two efforts in preschool literacy provide different but complementary views of appropriate literacy activities in preschools that include the letter-naming and independent book-handling activities that characterize the home experiences of many middle-class preschoolers. David Yaden and his colleagues are implementing a microanalysis of a single child care center, while John Lloyd and Robert Pianta are conducing a macroanalysis of a statewide initiative. While we describe Yaden’s project here, the efforts by Lloyd and Pianta, which have involved collection of baseline data over the first two years, to conduct a statewide intervention will be a focus of CIERA work over the last three years of the project.

Over the past 20 months, Yaden and his colleagues have implemented an early literacy intervention at a child-care facility in one of America’s lowest income communities. Among the components of the intervention are: in-class support and professional development for preschool staff to expand instructional activities (e.g., Big Book Shared Reading, writing and sociodramatic play areas); a book loan program and other parent communication activities, and language and literacy assessments to monitor progress from preschool through second grade (in a nearby neighborhood school). Initial findings, which focus on program implementation, suggest that the book program and the staff development program are achieving their goals. When books are easily accessible for the poor immigrant families whose children attend the school, parents eagerly involve themselves in their children’s literacy learning and place a high value on books (Madrigal et al., 1999). Further, teachers and assistants become change agents when professional development activities are built on an understanding of the existing teaching beliefs and funds of knowledge of the staff and involve the staff in co-constructing the interventions for the children (Cubillas et al., in review).

Best Practices in the Primary Grades
The issues related to effective beginning reading instruction have a history of controversy in design and interpretation (Adams, 1990; Chall, 1967/1982; Flesch, 1957). To answer the question of how we can help all children, especially those who are at-risk for failure to learn to read, CIERA researchers began with a direct approach: They asked the experts—those teachers who are helping young at-risk learners beat the odds. The principal investigators in this project, Barbara Taylor and David Pearson (Taylor et al., in press), have studied 14 schools across the U.S. with moderate to high numbers of students on subsidized lunch. Primary-level children’s reading achievement was used to group schools by effectiveness (most, moderately, and least). A combination of school and teachers factors, many of which were intertwined, was found in the most effective schools. Significant school factors included strong links to parents, systematic evaluation of pupil progress, strong building communication, and a collaborative model for the delivery of reading instruction. Significant teacher factors included time students spent in small group instruction and independent reading, high pupil engagement, and strong home communication. More of the most accomplished teachers and teachers in the most effective schools relied on coaching and scaffolding, as opposed to telling and recitation, in their reading lessons. These same teachers asked more and higher level questions after reading. In all of the most effective schools, reading was a priority at both the building and classroom level. Teachers and administrators gave their reading program the time, energy, and resources to bring all students under its umbrella.

The question that this research team asks next is how information about effective beginning reading practice can be implemented in schools where children are not beating the odds. To implement findings from phase one and other projects (Allington & Walmsley, 1995; Pressley, Rankin, & Yokoi, 1996), Taylor and Pearson have been joined by Virginia Richardson, a specialist in professional development. The project is called Variations of Choice, so named because participating schools and teachers will select a unique combination of professional development, instructional, and assessment tools from among the "menu of effective practices" for their particular site. The model consists of both top-down and bottom-up (alternatively externally- and internally-driven) reform activities that are part of successful and enduring reform. The external is necessary to guarantee two key elements in school change: the infusion of new, research-based practices and a schoolwide commitment to high expectations and accountability for student achievement. The internal perspective recognizes all that has been learned in the past decade about the importance of school and teacher ownership of change efforts. While each school will make its own choices about key aspects of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, those key aspects (elements such as a schoolwide internal student monitoring system, an early intervention to provide a safety net for those students most at risk, a schoolwide professional development program, and a common menu of instructional strategies) are required parts of the schoolwide reform plan. What is especially compelling about the reform plan that Taylor and her colleagues are initiating is the use of the internet. Teacher leaders who will facilitate the efforts at school sites will have available to them on the internet videoclips from effective classrooms (100 already in the first stage of the project), journal articles, and overhead transparencies.

Inquiry 3: Policy and Profession

Our work in Inquiry 3 moves us into the outermost plane of inquiry, where the forces of policy and professional development exert their influence on lives of individual children, parents, and teachers involved, one way or another, in the learning to read process. Two overarching questions guide this inquiry: (1) How we can we help teachers, both novice and experienced, develop the thirst for continuous learning that will lead to the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they will need to respond to the dilemmas they face in teaching all children to read well? And (2) How do policies—including standards, assessments, resource allocations, and program initiatives—support or detract from the attempts of teachers and schools to provide all children with access to high levels of reading instruction? As in Inquiry 1, we have a division of labor in Inquiry 3; the first two projects address the first question, while the last two address the second.

Preparing Teachers for Diversity
Teachers currently joining the work force face the challenge of teaching students who are culturally, linguistically, and intellectually diverse. While the student body is heterogeneous, the teaching force is quite homogeneous—mainly European-American, middle-class, monolingual, and female (Zeichner, 1992). As a result of these dissimilarities, differences often exist between how and what students and teachers have come to know about themselves and the world (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1992). When they enter teacher education programs, teachers tend to see diversity as a problem to be overcome rather than a resource for promoting discourse and active learning (Zeichner, 1992). Few teacher candidates hold the view that societal and cultural factors have an impact on teaching and learning. Teacher education students clearly would benefit from support as they explore their beliefs about diversity and develop the ability to use culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1992).

One source for increasing exposure to diverse populations and pedagogy in teacher education programs, CIERA researchers, Laura Roehler and David Pearson argue, could come from new technologies such as the internet and CD-ROMS. These technologies make it possible to provide images of teachers engaging a diverse array students, with a special emphasis on poor students in urban and rural environments. Pedagogical diversity is also important in this effort; these technologies can portray a range classroom environments and teaching strategies. To test this hypothesis, Roehler and Pearson have created the Reading Classroom Explorer (RCE) by moving the videotapes from the Center for the Study of Reading series (Anderson & Au, 1991) into a random-access hypermedia environment, including a searchable database of clips categorized according to topics, transcripts for each clip, guiding questions, additional readings, and a space for taking notes and producing papers and presentations. Initial uses of RCE with preservice teachers show that hypermedia cases add value to the conventional methods course mix of university courses readings and discussions and classroom observations and participation. Students preferred the opportunity to review a segment over live observation in classrooms (Hughes, Packard, & Pearson, 1999). Analyses of students’ papers showed that those with access to the hypermedia cases used more diverse and more valid evidence to frame arguments about pedagogical issues in teaching reading than students without access to the hypermedia cases (Hughes et al., 1999). Data on the durability of RCE as students undertake yearlong internships showed that, for students who are able to implement challenging pedagogy in their internships, the videos served to reinforce and extend those understandings (Packard, Hughes, & Pearson, 1998). Roehler and Pearson plan to expand the cases available for use in this hypermedia environment, using new video material and teaching-learning artifacts from other CIERA’s studies of effective instruction.

Professional Development
The professional development of experienced teachers is even more strongly implicated than preservice teacher education as a policy tool (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996). Professional development programs have been criticized for incompetent designs (Guskey & Huberman, 1995), ineffectual programs (Howey & Vaughan, 1983), and minimal long-term change (Goldenberg & Gallimore, 1991). By and large, however, the programs that were examined in these reviews were of the traditional, short-term, one-day workshop variety with little or no follow-up. While short-term professional development remains popular across the U.S., research suggests that several newer forms of professional development have the potential to change teachers’ beliefs and practices. The newer forms of professional development possess different characteristics, including contextual specificity, administrative support, long- rather than short-term duration, emphasis on building collegiality among participants, respect for research-based knowledge, and ample resources for supporting the development of effective communities of practice (Fullan, 1990; Guskey & Huberman, 1995; McLaughlin, 1991). The underlying foundation across these different forms of research is thoughtful analysis of the practices involved in teaching, and building from analysis of their own settings to providing insights that support others who are attempting to reform their practice.

Professional development is part of numerous CIERA projects but studies in this project examine the conditions necessary to create such teacher reflection and the effects of teachers’ participation in such efforts on their students’ learning. For example, Taffy Raphael and Susan Florio-Ruane are examining the creation of teacher communities that have the goal of reigniting engagement in reading among second- through fourth-grade students who had early experiences of failure. Raphael and Florio-Ruane have developed three loosely coupled learning communities called the Teacher Learning Collaborative (TLC). One TLC focuses on planning and implementing Book Club Plus, an augmented version of Book Club approach (McMahon & Raphael, 1997) adapted for the primary grades; the second, the Literacy Circle, emphasizes the importance of teacher learning about diversity through the study of autobiography. The third is using the CIERA materials in Every Child a Reader (Hiebert, Pearson, Taylor, Richardson, & Paris, 1998) as the basis of an ongoing series of teacher-led professional development sessions. Data sources include interviews, field notes of professional meetings, teacher journals, teaching artifacts such as units, internet discourse, and student learning outcomes. For the teachers who participated in the Literacy Circle, the ethnic literature and autobiographies supported reflection on the role of culture in their lives and those of their students, introduced them to alternative ways of being and becoming literate, and made them more sensitive to the different ways in which individuals from different cultures use literacy in and out of school (Florio-Ruane et al., 1999).

Policy and Assessment
The contexts of test data and national goals have led policymakers in recent years to intervene in unprecedented ways in the areas of curriculum and instruction in core subject areas such as reading (Massell, Kirst, & Hoppe, 1997). A 1995 report by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) listed 49 states as having engaged in some version of standards-based reform (Gandolf, 1995) with reading or English language arts a priority. While standards-based reforms have been plentiful, evaluations of their impact have not.

CIERA researcher Karen Wixson has examined state standards frameworks, the alignment of state standards and assessments, and the implementation of standards at the district and school level. In their analysis of state standards for primary-grade instruction, Wixson and Dutro (1998) found considerable variation in the level of specificity of state standards, ranging from very general (e.g., statements such as students should read a variety of texts for a variety of purposes) to very specific (e.g., sequenced lists of particular letter-sound correspondences to be learned at specific grade levels). State standards also varied considerably in the degree to which they are connected to research on early reading development. Based upon their analysis, Wixson and Dutro have developed a set of guidelines for evaluating the efficacy and use of state standards.

In examining the alignment of state assessments with state standards, Wixson et al. (in review) found that, while states assert that their reading/language arts standards and assessments are aligned, from one quarter to one half of all states have achieved only low to moderate levels of alignment. Further, definitions of alignment and procedures for achieving alignment vary considerably from state to state. In future efforts, Wixson and her colleagues will focus on the ways in which local schools and districts attempt to translate state standards into curriculum.

Program Initiatives
Policies are operationalized as programs. Typically, the programs that are initiated by policies are national or statewide in scope. Policy analyses exist, but as Valencia and Wixson (in press) show, these analyses have only infrequently been conducted by literacy educators. Even though this project is not the only place in CIERA in which we are examining federal or state policies translated into programs (e.g., Edward’s Head Start effort in Inquiry 2), the efforts in this project take on the evaluation of policy initiatives as their most central goal. Given the current political climate and the spotlight on proven programs, the need for extensive evaluation of existing programs and for the replication of successful ones is especially pressing. School divisions nationwide need alternative, affordable models of effective early literacy intervention programs so that they can make informed decisions as they attempt to meet the needs of their students with the limited resources they have available.

A particular focus of this project is the ways in which schools can be supported in making use of the America Reads tutors. Considerable funding and effort have been expended on volunteer tutoring efforts. However, these policies have been enacted with little evidence of what it takes for schools or external support personnel (e.g., university work-study supervisors) to put tutoring efforts in place or what the effects of these efforts are on children’s achievement (Wasik, 1998). Further, the pattern of focusing on first-grade students can be traced to Reading Recovery rather than on evidence that this is the period on which resources should be concentrated (Hiebert, 1994; Shanahan & Barr, 1995).

Marcia Invernizzi and colleagues are answering questions about volunteer tutoring by extending an effective volunteer tutoring program to new sites and to new grade levels. Book Buddies (Invernizzi, Rosemary, Juel, & Richards, 1997) began as a collaboration in one of our Teacher Partner sites (University of Virginia with Charlottesville City Schools), aiming to provide low-cost, one-to-one tutoring to first graders having difficulty learning to read. Data from the first three cohorts of students, primarily first-grade children from the bottom quartile of each school’s Title I program, indicate that the program is indeed effective (Invernizzi et al., 1997). These reading gains are comparable to those often achieved in one-on-one programs using trained professionals as tutors but at a fraction of the cost. But can Book Buddies be successfully replicated in rural and urban high-poverty areas and can reading gains made in first grade be sustained through an expanded Book Buddies program for second and third graders?

Invernezzi and her colleagues have transported Book Buddies into one rural and one urban environment. Meier and Hartnett (in review) found that adaptations within the intervention, such as attention to the emotional needs of students, are necessary when an intervention is moved to a highly challenged urban site. While videos of successful tutorials and role-play scenarios assist in the instruction of tutors, ongoing workshops are essential in ensuring that tutors transfer strategies to tutorials (Meier & Harnett, in review). Children who received 40 Book Buddies lessons achieved significantly greater gains than control group students on several early literacy measures: word reading in context, letter and word naming in isolation, and phonological and print skills (Meier & Invernizzi, in press).

As we complete the second year of our five-year grant, we can point to answers from CIERA research to persistent problems in the teaching of beginning reading. We have made the point that we need to foreground particular aspects of reading but that the entire process of reading acquisition and instruction is a complex one. In this summary, we show how findings can be integrated. Our interactions with policy-makers and practitioners over the past two years suggest that such integration needs to be a priority if these constituencies are to be supported. Frequently, researchers foreground their area of expertise to such an extent that practitioners believe that changes in that area alone will suffice. We can see four insights that CIERA research has provided over the last two years. These insights are constructed from findings that span all three areas of inquiry.

One size does not fit all, when it comes to beginning reading instruction. A topic that has dominated the conversations of reading educators, politicians, and community leaders over the last half of the 20th century is "what is the best way to teach beginning readers?" Analyses of the practices of classrooms where approaches vary (Juel & Minden-Cupp, in press) and of schools that are exceptionally effective in teaching children to read (relative to schools with comparable resources and community profiles) (Fisher & Adler, in press; Taylor et al., in press) provide an answer that diverges considerably from perspectives that seek to find a single best approach (e.g., Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Schatschneider, & Mehta, 1998). When teachers use a consistent approach with all first graders, the same approach differs in its effectiveness as a function of children’s entry level. In the classrooms studied by Juel and Minden-Cupp (in press), those children with a literacy foundation did particularly well in a classroom where trade books and a contextual strategy for figuring out unknown words are prominent but did less well in a classroom where phonics worksheets and phonics strategies were emphasized (Juel & Minden-Cupp, in press). For initially low-achieving students in the same two contexts, achievement patterns were the opposite. Such findings suggest differentiation of instruction within primary-level classrooms, rather than "one best approach for all."

In schools where low-income children are beating the odds, teachers have created programs that recognize this need for differentiation (Fisher & Adler, in press; Taylor et al., in press). Resources from categorical programs such as Title I and special education are pooled to maximize flexibility in delivering programs. During a daily block of time, teachers meet with children in small groups and differentiate their instruction for students with differing entry levels.

Inventive means are needed to differentiate instruction for children with particular experiences and profiles. Among the most effective means of differentiating instruction for children who find learning to read difficult are those that take advantage of children’s community and family resources. When the oral language games of inner-city, African-American children are integrated into classrooms, they can integrate the rhyming and rhythmical knowledge from these activities to the task of learning to read (Pinkard, 1999). The strengths of home and the high expectations of families are often not integrated into primary classrooms (Edwards, in press). When family and community perspectives become primary considerations, Head Start classrooms can be motivating and effective, as the efforts of Cubillas et al. (1998) and Madrigal et al. (1999) have shown. Further, children who are identified as struggling readers early on thrive in classrooms where expectations are high and where these all children are viewed as competent; in such classrooms, special education students develop the incentive to become proficient readers (Gover & Englert, 1998). Such classrooms are not created haphazardly or intuitively but involve much guidance for teachers as well as students.

Commercial reading programs and the standards identified as guidelines within states do not necessarily provide the features that support the beginning reading acquisition of low-income children. The earliest literature components of first-grade commercial reading programs, whatever their philosophy, are constructed in ways that obscure generalizations about words and patterns of regularity. Many different rimes or phonograms are represented but infrequently repeated, as are many different high-frequency words (Menon & Hiebert, in press). Even the specially constructed little books of first-grade commercial reading programs provide few opportunities for reading a core group of words or patterns (Martin & Hiebert, 1999).

Despite the lack of support for words and rimes, teachers in high-poverty schools that are beating the odds use these texts in inventive ways so that children have the opportunity to develop mastery over high frequency words and patterns (Fisher & Adler, in press). The nature of these adaptations need to be understood before policies are made that mandate particular characteristics in early reading texts.

Just as first-grade reading textbooks present challenges, so too many of the primary-level standards that states have identified for their constituencies give little guidance to teachers. Among the states that Wixson and Dutro (1998) studied, a majority clustered standards for all of the primary grades or began standards at the third grade. While examples can be found of states where standards are informative for teachers, in many states, teachers of beginning readers receive guidelines that are either so global as to provide no guidance or so specific that they limit professional options. Furthermore, if assessments are the ways in which standards are operationalized, the misalignment between standards and the contents of the assessment (Wixson et al., 1999) means that teachers will not be supported if they implement instruction in tune with the standards.

We hasten to add that there is nothing inherently wrong with the tools of standards and texts, only their implementation. The positive cases provided by one or two states indicate that standards and assessments can support teachers, especially the beginning teachers who will enter the workforce. Further, teachers in whose first-grade classrooms children are learning to read well have organized existing texts and designed lessons and activities with these texts in ways that develop skillful reading.

New technologies and new policies, if implemented appropriately, can support teachers of teaching children to read. While the statement that "there is nothing new under the sun" can frequently be heard in education, new technologies such as CD-ROMS and policies that offer new resources to classrooms hold promise for supporting classroom teachers and their effective beginning reading instruction. Cases of effective instruction on CD-ROMS permit preservice teachers to reflect on instruction and student learning (Hughes et al., 1999). These reflections appear to have carry-over into other contexts, including subsequent instruction (Packard et al., 1998). In view of the many new teachers who will enter the profession over the next decade (Darling-Hammond, 1997), the possibility offered by hypermedia cases is encouraging.

New program initiatives stemming from public policies can have a encouraging effect on children’s reading acquisition; For example, when a volunteer tutoring program with a proven track record was adapted to new contexts as part of the America Reads initiative, more children within a high-poverty school can become better readers (Meier & Harnett, 1999). Our experience suggests that successful adaptations require forethought and follow-through in the support provided to participants in the new context.

A perusal of the reviews in the last two Handbooks of Reading Research shows that reading researchers typically end reviews of literature with the statement that "much more research is needed on this topic." The CIERA research reports on which this review is based often end with this same statement. More research on reading education is needed. As Hiebert and Taylor (in press) have noted, the federal funding recently directed at evaluating the effectiveness of early reading interventions (see, e.g., Stringfield, Milsap, & Herman, 1997) is greater than the federal funding available for development and research of research-based interventions.

We believe that the needs of low-income children in America’s most challenging schools and districts are sufficiently great to merit research-based solutions. Once developed and proven in one context, these solutions should be evaluated as they move to new contexts. The data from these evaluations should be used to modify, fine-tune, and focus subsequent generations of solutions. This stance is precisely the one that we will be taking in the design of many CIERA projects over the last three years of this funding cycle. The Variations of Choice study of Taylor, Pearson, and Richardson exemplifies this perspective. They will be evaluating carefully the components of their research-based school change model. In subsequent years, the model will be adapted as patterns of children’s reading achievement in the classrooms of schools participating in the Variations of Choice study are analyzed. If we can generate the will and resources to take an incremental, self-improving approach to program development and research, we may be able to craft instructional programs and strategies that will meet the needs of all children, especially those children most reliant on schools for access to literacy and the personal, social, and economic potentialities that come with it.

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1The contributions of both authors were supported under the Educational Research and Development Centers Program, PR/Award Number R305R70004, as administered by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. However, the comments do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the National Institute of Student Achievement, Curriculum, and Assessment or the National Institute on Early Childhood Development, or the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

© 2001 CIERA. All rights reserved.