You are on page 1of 15

Journal of Teacher Education Writing Instruction or Destruction: Lessons to be Learned from Fourth-Grade Teachers Perspectives on Teaching Writing
Roger Brindley and Jenifer Jasinski Schneider Journal of Teacher Education 2002; 53; 328 DOI: 10.1177/0022487102053004005 The online version of this article can be found at:

Published by:

On behalf of:

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Additional services and information for Journal of Teacher Education can be found at: Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions: Citations

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002


Roger Brindley Jenifer Jasinski Schneider
University of South Florida

The purpose of this study was to examine fourth-grade teachers self-assessments of their perceptions about writing development and writing instruction. The authors surveyed fourth-grade teachers within one large school district in the Southeastern United States. Utilizing quantitative and qualitative methodologies, they analyzed the teachers self-assessments of their instructional practices with regard to writing. They found that the teachers revealed a wide range of statements about writing instruction with fluctuating perspectives about how writing develops. In addition, there was evidence that the state curriculum and the writing test dictated the teachersinstructional practice. As a result, many teachers revealed discrepancies between their perspectives about writing development and their instructional practices. The authors suggest there are lessons to be learned for all teacher educators from this scenario.

What happens to teachers instruction in the face of high-stakes testing? Are teachers able to apply subject matter and pedagogical content knowledge within the pressure-cooker environment of classroom accountability? This study focused on fourth-grade teachers perspectives about writing development and instruction, as well as their practical knowledge, within a climate of testing and educational reform. The insights gained from surveying these teachers may help teacher educators recognize the tensions between the teachers beliefs and practices and help educators at all levels to have a better understanding of the complexities surrounding teaching in the elementary school today. As a result, teacher educators may further develop the manner and sensitivity with which pedagogical issues are addressed in preservice and in-service course work and the role teacher education has to play in the reform process.

TEACHER BELIEFS Any discussion of classroom practice should recognize the influence of teachers beliefs on their teaching behaviors in classrooms (Pajares, 1992). In general, people hold complex belief systems that have been built on memorable episodes in their lives, unquestioned presumptions, and personal truths (Nespor, 1987). Furthermore, beliefs often persist even when they are seemingly inaccurate. Rather than being reasonable representations of reality, these beliefs are often ideal conceptualizations that differ from reality to some extent (Nespor, 1987; Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Rokeach, 1968). Teachers professional behaviors in particular situations are affected by their episodic beliefs about previous experiences. These experiences create images or perspectives about, and influence their personal knowledge of, appropriate classroom practice (Calderhead, 1988;

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002 328-341 2002 by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education


Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

Carter, 1990; Tabachnick & Zeichner, 1984). In this way, teachers use their intuitive screens (Goodman, 1988) as they develop personal practical knowledge that is ultimately aggregated as lay theories about teaching (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990; Holt-Reynolds, 1992). Explaining teachers classroom behaviors in terms of the individual teachers theories and knowledge of teaching is complex. Cazden (1976) recognized the irregular mapping between teachers knowledge and how they deliver the curriculum to children. Teachers personal theories are juxtaposed against other factors, ones that influence their teaching practice. In fact, they are surrounded by a myriad of contextual pressures in the school site. These may include the evaluations of administrators, the physical environment of the classroom, the needs of individual children, the attitudes of parents, the prescriptive curriculum, and their relationships with other teachers (Borko et al., 1991; Cazden, 1976; Kilgore, Ross, & Zbikowski, 1991). In addition, educators are becoming increasingly concerned about the pressures associated with high-stakes testing reform, suggesting these standardized tests may be inadequate or inappropriately administered or that they may result in unintended consequences (American Educational Research Association, 2000; Barksdale-Ladd & Thomas, 2000; Gratz, 2000; Kohn, 2000). Within the social context of these competing measures, it is reasonable to expect that teachers personal theories about pedagogy will be influenced in contradictory directions. Yet it remains unclear how teachers might enact this juxtaposition in the area of writing instruction. It is tempting for teachers to conform to predominant classroom approaches found in the culture of the school site or to allow their predispositions to cloud their reflections about teaching (Bullough, 1992; Eisenhart, Behm, & Romagnano, 1991; Feiman-Nemser, 1983; Zeichner & Tabachnick, 1981). These predispositions are also evident in preservice teachers (Bird, Anderson, Sullivan, & Swidler, 1993; Goodman, 1988). Preservice teachers often assume that pupils have learning styles and attributes similar to their own (Feiman-Nemser

& Buchmann, 1986; Hoy & Woolfolk, 1990). The meaning they attach to course work often depends on their prior understanding of schools (Aitken & Mildon, 1991), and their course and field work may not disturb these preexisting perceptions (Clark, 1988). Lacking an appreciation of the complexities of teaching and learning, preservice teachers can be unrealistically optimistic (Weinstein, 1988) and frequently fail to see the complexities of the connection between course content and the realities of the school classroom (Johnston, 1994; Wubbels, 1992). Little wonder many teacher educators are encouraged to promote reflective discourse with preservice and in-service teachers and to assist teachers in examining the congruence or discrepancy between their stated beliefs and classroom practice (Hoover, 1994; Schon, 1987). AN OPERATIONAL INTERPRETATION OF WRITING Our survey research focused on the tensions between teachers beliefs and perspectives and their teaching practice with regard to elementary writing. Therefore, we begin with our working definition of writing and instruction as a context for this study. We accept writing as a complicated, intricate, and symbolic process that develops out of and in conjunction with talking, drawing, and playing (Britton, 1970; Daiute, 1990; Dyson, 1997). Not only should children be allowed to talk, play, and draw while writing, but teachers should also encourage these behaviors and recognize them as contributing to childrens symbolic understanding of language. We believe that childrens approaches to writing are influenced by factors such as their personal home background (Bissex, 1980), culture, and community (Dyson, 1995; Heath, 1991; Lensmire, 1994) and the reading and writing relationship (Sulzby, 1992; Tierney & Shanahan, 1991). We believe that during writing events, children simultaneously interact with peers and teachers in dynamic classroom contexts (Martinez & Teale, 1987; Sperling & Woodlief, 1997). Therefore, we assert that peers and teachers

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

undoubtedly influence childrens texts in many explicit and implicit ways. In response to the complexities of childrens writing development, writing instruction has expanded from a skills-only approach to more varied approaches that reflect this complexity (Dyson & Freedman, 1991; Hillocks, 1986). For example, many teachers have learned to support students writing processes rather than focus on only their products (Graves, 1983). Writing workshops (Calkins, 1994) have been established in many classrooms so that students may write on meaningful topics of their choice and learn writing techniques from teacher minilessons as well as from individual and peer conferences. Most literacy researchers agree that there is not any one single approach to teaching writing (National Council of Teachers of English, 1996). Subsequently, we believe that writing instruction should evolve into a more complex repertoire of techniques and strategies that include modeling, shared writing, guided writing, and interactive writing (Pinnell & Fountas, 1998; Routman, 1991). Furthermore, research indicates isolated grammar instruction has been found to have no effect or possibly a negligible effect on students writing (Hillocks, 1986). Therefore, we believe that teachers should productively teach grammar, punctuation, and parts of speech in the context of real reading and writing. These personal beliefs underlie our theoretical orientation toward this study of teachers beliefs and theories about teaching writing. THE STUDY An examination of teachers perspectives about writing reflects their attitudes toward, knowledge of, and ability to implement writing development and instruction. In light of the testing pressures exerted within the writing curriculum at this time, we conducted a survey to gain insight into the ways that teachers balance their professional perspectives with the various demands on their teaching. We designed survey questions to reflect current research on writing and instruction and utilized the data to determine what teachers believe about writing instruction and delivery in their own class330

rooms. Based on the survey data, we investigated the following questions: (a) What do teachers state about childrens writing development and their subsequent writing instruction? and (b) What do teachers perceive as interceding factors that affect their writing instruction? METHOD AND ANALYSIS Initially, we piloted a survey instrument with in-service teachers in a masters level literacy 1 course. The teachers provided comments and suggestions, and then we revised the questions accordingly. The resulting survey (see Table 1) included seven questions with Likert-type rating scales for teachers to quantify their perspectives about writing and instruction. The questionnaire also provided an opportunity for narrative explanations and included eight survey questions that requested open-ended responses. PARTICIPANTS We surveyed fourth-grade teachers from one school district in the Southeastern United States. We selected the district because we supervised student teachers in the schools and the children reflected various cultural, racial, and socioeconomic groups. At the time of the survey, the district contained 100 inner-city, suburban, and rural elementary schools. We selected fourth-grade teachers because their students are required to pass a statewide standardized test on writing before being promoted to middle school. Each student is randomly assigned one writing prompt that addresses either an expository or a narrative topic. The children then have 40 minutes to read the prompt, plan their responses, and compose their texts. In early spring, the test is administered, collected, and submitted to the state, where trained scorers score it holistically. Individual students and their schools receive the scores at the end of the school year. Although the fourth-grade children have a few years of school and writing experience behind them, these students, and subsequently their teachers, are the focus of state, local, and public pressure to pass the test. Schools are dec-

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009


Survey of Writing Instruction (in percentages)

Likert-Type Scale Question

1. Do you believe teachers need to write in order to teach writing? Please explain your answer. (n = 124) 2. To what extent do you perceive drawing to be a part of childrens writing? Please explain your answer. (n = 124) 3. To what extent do you perceive talking to be a part of childrens writing? Please explain your answer. (n = 123) 4. To what extent do you perceive playing to be a part of childrens writing? Please explain your answer. (n = 121) 5. What do you believe is your role in teaching writing? Please briefly explain. 6. Has your writing instruction changed in the last three years? Please explain your answer. (n = 121) 7. Have your students attitudes towards writing changed in the last three years? Please explain the nature of the change. To what do you attribute these changes? (n = 112) 8. In your classroom how much time do children write everyday? (n = 117) 9. What type of writing do children do in your classroom? 10. What writing behaviors do your fourth grade students typically exhibit? Can these behaviors be generalized or are they specific to individuals? 11. What type of writing instruction do you provide students? Does this vary for individuals? 12. How does the state writing exam positively affect writing instruction? 13. How does the state writing exam positively affect students writing? 14. How does the state writing exam negatively affect writing instruction? 15. How does the state writing exam negatively affect students writing?

64 17 71 21

29 51 24 41

2 19 3 26

4 13 0 8

1 0 2 4




29 11

44 20

24 39

1 29

2 1

NOTE: For Questions 1 through 4, 5 = completely necessary, 4 = somewhat necessary, 3 = neutral, 2 = somewhat unnecessary, and 1 = completely unnecessary. For Questions 6 and 7, 5 = significantly, 4 = to a large degree, 3 = somewhat, 2 = minimal, and 1 = not at all. For Question 8, 5 = more than 2 hours, 4 = between 1 2 hours, 3 = between 11 hours, 2 = between -1 hour, and 1 = less than hour.

orated with banners and posters that encourage students to Get a 6 (a perfect score). Individual schools scores are disseminated across all media, and schools are given letter grades based on test scores, percentage tested, attendance, suspension, and dropout-rate criteria. The letter grades are weighted so that the greatest emphasis is on student assessment results (Gallagher, personal communication, 2000). Individual students are told that they will not be promoted to middle school if they do not receive a score of 3 or higher. In addition, state support is tied to the individual schools ability to help students pass the test in that schools receive a monetary increase based on the schools performance. As part of the present discussion in the state legislature tying student achievement to individual teacher incentive raises, each principal is also required to identify the primary instructor for each student (Myers, personal communication, 2001).

With so much at stake, the school district has been proactive in supporting teachers in their efforts to help students get a 6. This particular districts programs for teacher in-service in writing focus primarily on testing writing rather than teaching writing. Teachers receive rubrics and anchor papers that guide their instruction of various written forms, specifically expository and narrative texts. In training manuals and during in-services, teachers are supplied with district-recommended methods for teaching children how to write successful narrative or expository papers. For example, a few years ago, teachers were told that students expository papers should contain paragraphs that begin with the following transitional words: first, next, finally, and in conclusion. Recently, the teachers were told that these words were no longer acceptable and that children should develop other ways to transition the reader from one paragraph to the next.

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

Essentially, the district provides information on particular techniques to improve students abilities to score higher on the test. Given these instructional influences and the amount of pressure placed on fourth-grade teachers, we selected this group of teachers to survey. We distributed the anonymous surveys to each of the 100 elementary schools in the district. We asked principals to distribute the surveys, along with return envelopes, to all fourthgrade teachers within their respective schools. Of the 504 fourth-grade teachers, we received 125 surveys, for a response rate of 24.8%. DATA ANALYSIS The mixed-method design of this study allowed us to compare responses and identify emergent themes across the entire sample population and then to investigate strategically a smaller number of thick descriptive responses (Denzin, 1989) that reflected the themes found in the larger sample. Across-case analysis. We selected a multimethod approach for analysis of the survey results. First, we recorded Likert-type rating frequencies and then computed overall mean scores for each question to determine general trends (Ary, Jacobs, & Razavieh, 1990) (see Table 1). We examined the narrative responses for emerging themes by separating the individual questions into two major categories that came from our prior beliefs about writingthose that dealt with writing instruction and those that pertained to the teachers perspectives on writing development. Within each section, we read through the narrative comments for each question. As the teachers comments revealed different thoughts or ideas relevant to each question, we created categories to summarize the essential content of the teachers statements (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). After we discussed and agreed on the emerging themes within each question, we reread the responses to determine how many teachers provided a written explanation that related to each theme. After these themes were identified, we reread the responses to determine the total number of teachers whose

answers could be categorized into the emerging themes (see Tables 2 and 3). At this point, we moved to a within-case analysis that permitted a closer inspection of specific teachers responses. Within-case analysis. Because these teachers perspectives varied, we identified a purposeful sample of 9 information-rich surveys (Patton, 1990) to illuminate the teachers responses further. We selected this sample from surveys that included either a strong correspondence between all questions for an individual or apparent contradictions within a survey. The comparison of written and Likert-type responses for each question and the comparison between questions within an individuals survey revealed the complex nature of the teachers stated perspectives of teaching writing. RESULTS In the following sections, we provide a brief overview of the Likert-type ratings and the teachers comments for each question (see Tables 1, 2, and 3 for all results). The ordering of these results represents our desire to give a holistic overview of the data collected and to synthesize the teachers responses to related survey questions. Following this report, we then present data from 9 surveys in which the teachers provided contradictory or complementary statements within their respective surveys. SURVEY RESULTS: TEACHERS PERSPECTIVES ABOUT WRITING DEVELOPMENT AND INSTRUCTION The surveys indicated that there was a wide range of perspectives among these teachers about writing instruction and how writing actually develops. The degree to which teachers explained the developmental and symbolic progression of childrens writing varied greatly, and there were clear distinctions between stated instructional perspectives and self-reports of classroom practice. Although teachers recognized the significance of talking in the process of writing, many did not appear to acknowledge the symbolic

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009


List of Questions and Related ThemesWriting Development n

Themes Within Narrative Responses to Questions

To what extent do you perceive drawing to be a part of childrens writing? Drawing helps children form concepts or visualize their texts. Drawing is necessary for younger children. Drawing helps build creativity and expression. Drawing supplements writing. Drawing is not necessary if children can write more completely. Drawing is a form of writing. Drawing is not part of the state writing exam. To what extent do you perceive talking to be a part of childrens writing? Oral language is the basis for writing. Talking allows children to share stories and ideas. Talking builds background knowledge, vocabulary, and expression. Children who talk out writing can put the words on paper. Talking is necessary during planning. Talking is unnecessary because it is separate from writing. To what extent do you perceive playing to be a part of childrens writing? Playing in the primary grades is useful for socializing and background experience. Play is unnecessary in the intermediate grades. Did not understand the question. How do you define play? Role-playing helps with dialogue, character development, story details, and vocabulary. Play has limited use after writing. Play helps children practice language. Writing is play. What writing behaviors do your fourth grade students typically exhibit? Can these behaviors be generalized or are they specific to individuals? Writing is individualized. Good writers know expository and narrative formats. Good writers are creative, enthusiastic, and organized. Good writers attack writing with confidence. Good writers use the writing process. Poor writers are reluctant, afraid, or anxious. Poor writers write off topic, they do not elaborate, and they do not edit their writing. Poor writers freeze under test pressure and hate writing. Poor writers are hasty or lazy. Poor writers write like they speak.

26 25 19 16 16 5 5 37 23 18 18 6 4 41 13 13 12 5 3 1

20 16 14 11 6 16 15 9 8 2

relationship between talking and writing. Talking was viewed as a writing aid, but not as an integral component of writing. Although teachers stated that writing is talk written down, and that children may orally rehearse or plan their writing, they did not reveal an awareness that children also use talk to negotiate their ideas as they write (Dyson, 1983) or that students use talk to direct their texts (Dyson, 1997). These teachers described many of the ways talking supports writing, but they did not explain the ways they are connected during writing (Dyson, 1983). Similarly, the relationship between drawing and writing was not always made explicit. The teachers stated that drawing may be a supple-

ment to writing, but not an activity that is symbolically linked to writing. We found it significant that 68% of the teachers indicated that drawing was necessary, but none of the teachers included drawing as part of their description of students writing behaviors, nor did they list drawing as part of their instruction. Teachers perceptions of the role of play in writing were the least clear to us in the survey responses. Many teachers viewed play as off task rather than a way that students interact with texts (Daiute, 1990). Other teachers explained that play is useful only in the primary grades for socializing and background experience. Therefore, they rated play as necessary, but only for younger studentsnot their

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009


List of Questions and Related ThemesWriting Instruction n

Themes Within Narrative Responses to Questions

Do you believe teachers need to write in order to teach writing? Teachers need to write in order to model writing for students. Teachers need to understand writing in order to teach it. Teachers need to do what children are expected to do. Teachers should know mechanics, usage, and formats. Teachers do not have to be writers in order to teach writing. Teachers need to feel confident about their own writing in order to teach others. What do you believe is your role in teaching writing? Teachers are role models and encouragers. Teachers guide students writing. Teachers should teach writing skills. Teachers should correct students writing and provide feedback. Teachers should set the attitude toward writing and motivate students. Teachers should teach narrative and expository formats. Teachers should teach the writing process. What type of writing do children do in your classroom? Expository and narrative. Journals/logs. Creative writing, poetry, letter writing. Workbook pages. Writing across the curriculum. Grammar exercises. Free choice writing. Creative writing after the state exam. What type of writing instruction do you provide students? Does this vary for individuals? Provided narrative/expository prompts. Individual/small-group instruction. Whole-group instruction. Modeling. Minilessons on skills/grammar. Process writing strategies. Workbook pages. Free writing. Reading literature.

50 30 27 10 8 6

45 41 32 28 27 24 22

114 64 47 32 27 14 6 5

51 29 29 25 22 13 4 3 1

fourth-grade students. Interestingly, additional teachers stated that they did not understand the question or that their response depended on the definition of play. Among those who returned surveys, there were teachers who specifically stated their knowledge of childrens writing. These teachers described writing as a continual negotiation between symbolic worldslanguage, talking, writing, and visual expression. Through survey

responses, these teachers also reported their use of effective instructional strategies. Many teachers stated that they modeled writing for the students, they guided and supported students efforts, they taught writing strategies rather than skills, and they motivated and encouraged the children. The teachers also included journal writing, creative writing, poetry, letter writing, and writing in the content areas. When preparing students for the state standardized test, most of the teachers stated that they felt limited in their choices for instructional strategies. The writing-on-demand expository and narrative passages were predominant across classrooms. The teachers also stated that creative writing was moved to the final months of the school year when the state test was over. In fact, only 1 teacher indicated that he or she read literature to students as part of his or her writing instruction, and 3 teachers provided opportunities for students to write on topics of their choice. In contrast, 101 of the 125 teachers in this survey explicitly discussed the pressures related to testing. These responses indicate that most teachers chose to prepare students for a writing test utilizing district-prescribed methods. Their instructional strategies included assigning narrative or expository prompts for students to practice. Many of these teachers appeared to equate writing instruction with assigning activities or topics. While lamenting the loss of some control in their instruction, many teachers also indicated that training for the exam made them feel more skilled at teaching writing and better able to instruct the students. They also stated that the writing exam brought more structure, organization, and formality into their instruction. They found that they focused on narrative or expository writing until the test was administered, but this limited their creativity or instructional freedom. Yet the mandatory test ensured that some form of writing was taught more frequently, and it raised their expectations for students. Many teachers felt they were modeling writing more often, and their writing instruction had moved beyond the basics despite survey results that revealed that isolated skills, grammar, and workbook instruction were still prevalent (see Table 3).

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

TEACHERS PERSPECTIVES: A LOOK WITHIN INDIVIDUAL CASES The within-case analysis of 9 teachers revealed three distinct categories of teachers perspectives associated with writing instruction. In the first category, teachers shared statements about writing development that were not reflected in their statements about writing instruction. In the second category, teachers who did not explicitly state their understanding of writing development provided clear statements about instruction. The final category demonstrates cases of congruence between teachers statements regarding writing development and instruction. These categories are summarized below. For reasons of clarity, we have assigned names to these anonymous teachers, and in doing so, we randomly included both genders. Statements about writing development contradictory to instruction. Ms. Montoya, Ms. Smith, and Mr. Fields were representative of teachers who shared specific perspectives about the symbolic nature of writing development, but these were not reflected in their statements about writing instruction. Ms. Smith maintained that drawing, talking, and playing were all completely necessary to childrens writing. She asserted that drawing helps many children who need something concrete to write about and encouraged writing for detail. Talking was essential to writing as many of our students lack the experience or language to first write. They need the background and language experience provided by brainstorming, creating word banks, etc. She perceived role playing as great for characterizations and teaching dialogue for narrative writings. However, when asked about the 1 hours of writing instruction she provided each day, Ms. Smith spoke exclusively about standardized test preparation. Writing focused on narrative and expository writing, writing conventions, and story map elements for writing narrative texts. She reported that students sometimes get turned off by writing everyday and that the state writing test has also curtailed more creative writing such as persuasive, poetry, etc.

Mr. Fields felt that the effectiveness of play as a part of childrens writing depended on age and life experiences but that talking was essential. He asserted, Writing is an extension of talkingyou cant write what you cant say. It allows you to get ideas from others and writing is an ideal subject for cooperative group activities. With regard to drawing, he also suggested that his beliefs were compromised, stating, In an ideal world 4th graders should do more [drawing] than they do, but were too busy teaching 5-paragraph essays to nine year-olds! Although Mr. Fields recognized the need as a teacher to have writing experiences over time, he spent more than 1 hour per day teaching writing, with 40 minutes assigned solely to state test preparation. He stated,
Too much time is spent in one very narrow area [test preparation]. . . . It reduces their instruction in areas beyond narrative and expository essays! If students leave elementary school only doing good writing [on tests] we, as educators, have failed them just as much as we would have, had we taught them nothing.

Nonetheless, Mr. Fields also asserted that because of the mandatory state writing exam, my students are better prepared than those in previous years. . . . It forces all teachers to spend more time on the direct instruction of writing. Now more students are better/good writers. The third teacher in this category, Ms. Montoya, declared that students needed experiences to write about and that talking, drawing, and playing all helped children become better authors. Ms. Montoya also identified several prescriptive elements of her writing instruction. These included childrens writing short answer responses to questions, state achievement test practice, descriptive paragraphs, and expository and narrative essays. She also identified negative effects of the state writing exam that included stress, the focus on the score, and time pressure. Ms. Montoya stated that [the children] usually dont write their best and when the scores come they are disappointed. They feel stress over the time requirements. All three of these teachers made substantial concessions in their stated perspectives to fulfill their perceived responsibility to the school district. In each of these cases, the teachers asser335

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

tions about writing development were not reflected in their statements about teaching writing. Statements about instruction contradictory to writing development. Ms. Kerr and Ms. Franks were representative of teachers who did not indicate an understanding of the symbolic and social underpinnings of writing development in their comments yet reflected those tenets in statements about writing instruction. Ms. Kerr and Ms. Franks suggested that talking, drawing, and playing were somewhat unnecessary. Ms. Kerr contended that at this level, they do not need drawing to be part of the process and that talking was important at times but not at others. Ms. Franks added, In the upper grades students need to write and focus on their paper, not on their drawings. Yet, when asked to describe their writing instruction, Ms. Kerr believed her role is to model good writing, to show them how to improve, to motivate, and get them excited about writing. To this end, writing included helping the children see the connection between good literature and their writing, writing letters to their pen pals, and developing figurative language. Ms. Franks reported using journals, letter writing, shared modeling, and writing strategies, as well as integrating writing across the curriculum. She maintained, There are a lot of teachers who prepare students for the test. We should be preparing them for life! These declarations suggest that whereas the symbolic and social nature of writing might not be reflected in some teachers belief statements, they can be seen in their instructional practice. Congruence between statements about writing development and instruction. This category includes 4 teachers whose statements about writing development and statements about writing instruction were congruent. Ms. Brand, Mr. Milton, and Ms. Andrews all believed talking, playing, and drawing are necessary components of writing instruction. Ms. Andrewss comments were typical:
Students are challenged to draw what they read. . . . Conversation models writing ones thoughts and

words, storytelling is essential to understanding writing, . . . and an array of fun/experiential activities lend themselves well to writing about the experienceshigh interest material. Also, role-playing promotes an understanding of sequence and character development.

These 3 teachers described using a series of writing strategies in their classrooms. Beyond narrative and expository writing, instruction included story writing and publishing using computers, peer conferencing and editing, creating reports across the curriculum, writing authentic letters, reading response logs, writing personal journal, writing portfolios, and using affirmation notes with peers and teachers. All 3 teachers perceived the need to provide a variety of writing experiences. Their responses also indicated they were having difficulty reconciling their instruction with the state and district expectations. They maintained that this exam sends a message to children that writing is important, but each expressed serious reservations. All three asserted that the test not only limited the scope of writing, but it was also a source of stress for the teacher and children. Ms. Brand commented that some students become very nervous and freeze up during testing. We have noticed an increase in crying and stomach problems during testing. Likewise, Mr. Milton stated, Kids should be able to write creatively and freely. This exam makes writing a chore for students and teachers, plus there is a great pressure to perform and get good scores or else go to summer school or fail. The 4th teacher in this category, Ms. Locke, was also congruent in her stated beliefs and practices about writing. She did not believe that drawing or playing should be a part of writing. She considered playing to be unrealistic most of the time and suggested drawing is nice but asked, Who has the time [to incorporate drawing]? Her writing instruction was mostly whole class and appeared exclusively skill based: expository and narrative writing, vocabulary, daily oral language (i.e., grammar practice), and writing paragraphs. She considered there to be three kinds of child writers. Those good writers who enjoy and get it; those who are lazy, unmotivated and dont


Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

care; and those who dont get it and are frustrated or disinterested. Based on her selfreport, Ms. Lockes beliefs were also reflected in her practice. LIMITATIONS The results reported in this article are limited in several ways. First, we received only 125 surveys from the 504 teachers within the district. This response rate is low, and we do not have sufficient demographic information from the teachers to determine how accurately these teachers reflect the entire district population. Some possible reasons for the low response rate may be explained by the teachers comments. One teacher stated, I cant take it anymore. Im exhausted and tired of all the pressure. Another revealed, Please note that though 15 minutes [to fill out this survey] may not seem like much time, teachers have no time to do extra tasks such as this. . . . Dont forget what its like down in the ranks. Although these survey results do not allow us to make comparisons across the entire population of fourthgrade teachers within this school district, they do allow us to understand the perspectives of these individual teachers. We believe that the perspectives and experiences of 125 teachers are worth sharing. Another limitation relates to the nature of survey research in that the accuracy of selfrepo r ti ng can be quest i one d (Ho o k & Rosenshine, 1979). Classroom observations would have supported the survey data, but we were unable to conduct observations because of the number and anonymity of respondents. Dealing with a very political and highly debated topic, we were also aware that teachers may have hesitated to answer questions or felt a need to extrapolate beyond the questions. For this reason, we asked for the surveys to be returned directly to us, and we did not collect any information that would reveal the school location or the teachers identity. Finally, our interpretation of the teachers answers and comments could be biased because we were aware of the pressures the teachers faced, and we expected state testing to be

addressed in their comments. We also had definite views about writing and instruction based on research, classroom observations, and our own practice. We hoped the classrooms in this district would reflect our bias for current research. Therefore, we could have anticipated the responses or interpreted teachers comments unfairly. To account for our subjectivity, we have acknowledged our interpretative lens in this report. IMPLICATIONS FOR LITERACY EDUCATORS A substantial amount of research identifies what we believe to be best practices in writing in struc tio n . Th e se in c lude ind iv id u al conferencing with students (Calkins, 1994; Graves, 1983), materials and strategies for dealing with the various situations and scenarios that writers face (Hillocks, 1986), critical-thinking and problem-solving activities, analyzing and responding to literature, prewriting preparation, and the use of rubrics (Sadoski, Willson, & Norton, 1997). Within the literacy education programs at our university, these practices are emphasized in undergraduate and graduate programs, where instruction typically includes participation in writing workshops, journal writing, and immersion in the publication process. Despite the universitys role in preparing more teachers for the school district than any other institution, the majority of teachers in this survey did not use a variety of these approaches. For instance, only 2 teachers indicated that they used literature or writing about literature as an integral part of their writing instruction. Ironically, Sadoski and colleagues (1997) found that when teachers made writing about literature central to the instructional approach, this technique was predictive of higher scores for writing quality (p. 143). Instead, responses suggest teachers believed that for their pupils to obtain higher test scores, teachers needed to focus on prescriptive test formats. Furthermore, although some teachers complained about the emphasis on testing, our results demonstrate that other teachers considered themselves better writing instructors due to the curricular

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002


Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

structure and associated in-service surrounding high-stakes testing. Although the knowledge of writing instruction and development has grown substantially during recent decades, our findings lead us to question to what extent this knowledge is reflected in classroom writing pedagogy today. Although many teachers such as Ms. Locke had a cohesive and congruent theory and practice, they completed this survey without revealing a fluid and complex understanding about writing development. They did, however, consistently share information about test preparation in their survey responses. Indeed, the results indicate the most frequently cited factor in the differences found between the teachers stated perceptions about writing and their selfreports of writing instruction was the state- and district-level standardized writing exams. Although many teachers included process-oriented writing pedagogy, poetry, letter writing, and journals in their classrooms, standardized testing and district training dominated their instruction (see Table 3). Despite some statements that reflected writing as a symbolic process, teachers like Ms. Smith, Mr. Fields, and Ms. Montoya felt there was little correspondence between their personal theories of writing instruction and their actual classroom writing practices. They attributed their reported incongruity to assessment pressures. As a result, it is reasonable to question the extent to which their knowledge from experience and teacher training facilitated a coherent and well-founded grasp of writing development. These teachers, all of whom have taken state-mandated literacy courses in their teacher preparation, did not reflect the social and dynamic relationship between cognition and language in their practice. We are left questioning to what extent this content was prioritized in their literacy course work and the extent to which they were able to apply this knowledge. This study confirms that for many teachers, there is a juxtaposition of their stated beliefs and their description of practice (Pajares, 1992). Given the high-stakes testing movement in K-12 edu-

cation today, this scenario should present some immediate concerns for literacy educators. EXTENDING THE CONVERSATION TO ALL TEACHER EDUCATORS This study focused on writing in fourthgrade classrooms. However, the issues that are embedded in the teachers responses speak to teacher educators about more than just writing. Teachers perceptions of writing development are vulnerable under high-stakes pressure. Therefore, we speculate a similar phenomenon occurs across the curriculum. For instance, it is feasible that elementary math teachers may use a prescribed curriculum of skill and practice more than building conceptual understanding through the use of manipulatives. Similarly, elementary science teachers may focus on textual information rather than developing scientific concepts and processes. As teacher educators, we feel similar high-stakes dichotomous reasoning between our understanding of appropriate practice and the reality in the schools we serve. If we accept that the voluminous body of research on best practice is accurate, how do we help preservice and in-service teachers apply this knowledge given the latest reform movements in education? How do we promote and emphasize this content knowledge base while recognizing the preservice and in-service teachers need for procedural knowledge? Our study found that there are contradictions between stated beliefs and classroom practice for some teachers. They either do not see a contradiction or have not dwelt on this lack of correspondence to the point that they have addressed this inconsistency. We believe teacher education can do more to assist preservice and in-service teachers to situate their classroom practices within their belief systems. The contradictions in our survey responses suggest teacher educators should discuss the relationship of subject matter and pedagogical content knowledge to teachers practical classroom knowledge. To this end, we believe college-based teacher education should be more involved in district-level


Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

teacher training by collaboratively planning professional development that includes opportunities to reflect on practical knowledge in light of contemporary literature in teacher education. Furthermore, given some of the discrepancies found in our data, teacher educators must engage preservice and in-service teachers in identifying and expressing the philosophical perspectives they bring to teaching. The ensuing strengthening of beliefs, or cognitive dissonance caused, will help preservice and inservice teachers situate the new information being shared (Gore & Zeichner, 1991). If teacher educators fail to encourage philosophical and critical reexaminations, not only will their unquestioned presumptions remain, but new perspectives embraced within the teacher education classroom can be left unprotected and open to being discarded within the reality of the elementary classroom (Calderhead & Robson, 1991; Pajares, 1992). In this study, teachers reported that both they and their students were feeling substantial stress. We recommend that preservice and inservice teacher training should directly address the social contexts that cause teachers stress. By discussing this dilemma, and identifying possible strategies for coping with curricular requirements, teachers may be more likely to manage the pressures and limits imposed by testing. For example, in a literacy course, a period of time may be spent studying state literacy assessments, followed by conversations designed to frame these tests within the context of appropriate instruction and knowledge of childrens development. Teaching cases that highlight teachers stressed reactions to testing mandates might also be productive. If, as our study indicates, in-service teachers are adapting their practice as a result of assessment pressures, teacher education programs could productively offer opportunities for continued training and education. In the field of writing and literacy, this process would require involvement between state and local policy makers and literacy researchers regarding possible curricular decisions about the content and delivery of writing instruction. We must support instruction that cultivates child writers, not

writing tests. We must support writing instruction, not destruction. Likewise, we must sc affo ld te ac h e r wisdo m, no t t e ache r compliance. NOTE
1. Twenty students, selected from two graduate classes, were involved in this phase of the study. All the student names used in this article are pseudonyms.

Aitken, J., & Mildon, D. (1991). The dynamics of personal knowledge and teacher education. Curriculum Inquiry, 21, 141-162. American Educational Research Association. (2000). Position statement of the American Educational Research Association concerning high-stakes testing in preK-12 education. Educational Researcher, 29, 24-25. Ary, D., Jacobs, L., & Razavieh, A. (1990). Introduction to research in education. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Reinhart & Winston. Barksdale-Ladd, M. A., & Thomas, K. (2000). Whats at stake in high-stakes testing: Teachers and parents speak out. Journal of Teacher Education, 51, 384-397. Bird, T., Anderson, L., Sullivan, B., & Swidler, S. (1993). Pedagogical balancing acts: Attempting to influence prospective teachers beliefs. Teaching & Teacher Education, 9(3), 253-267. Bissex, G. (1980). Gnys at wrk: A child learns to read and write. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Borko, H., Eisenhart, M., Underhill, R., Brown, C., Jones, D., & Agard, P. (1991, April). To teach mathematics for conceptual or procedural knowledge: A dilemma of learning to teach in the new world order of mathematics education reform. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago. Britton, J. (1970). Language and learning (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Bullough, R. (1992). Beginning teacher curriculum decision making, personal teaching metaphors, and teacher education. Teaching & Teacher Education, 8, 239-252. Calderhead, J. (1988). Teachers professional learning. Philadelphia: Falmer. Calderhead, J., & Robson, M. (1991). Images of teaching: Student teachers early conceptions of classroom practice. Teaching & Teacher Education, 7(1), 1-8. Calkins, L. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Carter, K. (1990). Teachers knowledge and learning to teach. In W. Houston (Ed.), The handbook of research on teacher education (pp. 291-310). New York: Macmillan. Cazden, C. (1976). How knowledge about language helps the classroom teacherOr does it: A personal account. Urban Review, 9, 74-90.

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002


Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

Clark, C. (1988). Asking the right questions about teacher preparation: Contributions of research on teacher thinking. Educational Researcher, 17(2), 5-12. Connelly, F., & Clandinin, D. (1990). Stories of experience and narrative inquiry. Educational Researcher, 19(5), 2-14. Daiute, C. (1990). The role of play in writing. Research in the Teaching of English, 24, 4-47. Denzin, N. (1989). Interpretive interactionism. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (1994). Introduction: Entering the field of qualitative research. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 1-17). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Dyson, A. H. (1983). The role of oral language in early writing processes. Research in the Teaching of English, 17(1), 1-30. Dyson, A. H. (1995). Writing children: Reinventing the development of childhood literacy. Written Communication, 12, 4-46. Dyson, A. H. (1997). Rewriting for, and by, the children. Written Communication, 14, 275-312. Dyson, A. H., & Freedman, S. W. (1991). Critical challenges for research on writing and literacy: 1990-1995 (Tech. Rep. No. 1-B). Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Writing. Eisenhart, M., Behm, L., & Romagnano, L. (1991). Learning to teach: Developing expertise or rite of passage? Journal of Education for Teaching, 17, 51-71. Feiman-Nemser, S. (1983). Learning to teach. East Lansing, MI: Institute for Research on Teaching. Feiman-Nemser, S., & Buchmann, M. (1986). Knowing, thinking and doing in learning to teach: A researcher framework and some initial results. East Lansing, MI: Institute for Research on Teaching. Goodman, J. (1988). Constructing a practical philosophy of teaching: A study of preservice teachers professional perspectives. Teaching & Teacher Education, 4, 121-137. Gore, J., & Zeichner, K. (1991). Action research and reflective teaching in preservice teacher education: A case study from the United States. Teaching & Teacher Education, 7, 119-136. Gratz, D. (2000). High standards for whom? Phi Delta Kappan, 81, 681-687. Graves, D. (1983). Writing teachers and children at work. Exeter, NH: Heinemann. Heath, S. (1991). The sense of being literate: Historical and cross-cultural features. In R. Barr, M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, pp. 3-25). White Plains, NY: Longman. Hillocks, G. (1986). Research in written composition: New directions for teaching. Urbana, IL: National Conference on Research in English and ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. Holt-Reynolds, D. (1992). Personal-history based beliefs as relevant prior knowledge in coursework. American Educational Research Journal, 29, 325-349. Hook, C. M., & Rosenshine, B. V. (1979). Accuracy of teachers reports and their classroom behavior. Review of Educational Research, 49, 1-12.

Hoover, L. (1994). Reflective writing as a window on preservice teachers thought processes. Teaching & Teacher Education, 10(1), 83-93. Hoy, W., & Woolfolk, A. (1990). Socialization of student teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 27, 279300. Johnston, S. (1994). Conversations with student teachers Enhancing the dialogue of learning to teach. Teaching & Teacher Education, 10(1), 71-82. Kilgore, K., Ross, D., & Zbikowski, J. (1991). Understanding the teaching perspectives of first-year teachers. Journal of Teacher Education, 41, 28-38. Kohn, A. (2000). Burnt at the high stakes. Journal of Teacher Education, 51, 315-327. Lensmire, T. J. (1994). When children write: Critical re-visions of the writing workshop. New York: Teachers College Press. Martinez, M., & Teale, W. (1987). The ins and outs of a kindergarten writing program. Reading Teacher, 40, 441-451. National Council of Teachers of English. (1996). Standards for the English language arts. Urbana, IL: Author. Nespor, J. (1987). The role of beliefs in the practice of teaching. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 19, 317-328. Nisbett, R., & Ross, L. (1980). Human inference: Strategies and shortcomings of social judgment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Pajares, M. (1992). Teachers beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62, 303-332. Patton, M. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Pinnell, G. S., & Fountas, I. (1998). Word matters. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Rokeach, M. (1968). Beliefs, attitudes and values: A theory of organization and change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Routman, R. (1991). Invitations. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Sadoski, M., Willson, V. L., & Norton, D. (1997). The relative contributions of research-based composition activities to writing improvement in the lower and middle grades. Research in the Teaching of English, 31, 120-150. Schon, D. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books. Sperling, M., & Woodlief, L. (1997). Two classrooms, two learning communities: Urban and suburban tenthgraders learning to write. Research in the Teaching of English, 31, 205-239. Sulzby, E. (1992). Writing and reading: Oral and written language organization in the young child. In W. Teale & E. Sulzby (Eds.), Emergent literacy (pp. 50-89). Norwood, NJ: Ablex. Tabachnick, B., & Zeichner, K. (1984). The impact of the student teaching experience on the development of teacher perspectives. Journal of Teacher Education, 35, 28-36. Tierney, R., & Shanahan, T. (1991). Research on the readingwriting relationship: Interactions, transactions and outcomes. In R. Barr, M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P. Pearson


Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002

Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009

(Eds.), Handbook of reading research (pp. 247-280). New York: Macmillan. Weinstein, C. (1988). Preservice teachers expectations about the first year of teaching. Teaching & Teacher Education, 4(1), 31-40. Wubbels, T. (1992). Taking account of student teachers preconceptions. Teaching & Teacher Education, 8(2), 137149. Zeichner, K., & Tabachnick, B. (1981). Are the effects of university teacher education washed out by school experience? Journal of Teacher Education, 32(3), 7-11.

Roger Brindley, Ed.D., is an assistant professor at the University of South Florida. His interests include teacher beliefs and university-school partnerships. Jenifer Jasinski Schneider, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the University of South Florida. Her interests include writing development and writing instruction.

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 4, September/October 2002


Downloaded from at MOUNT SAINT VINCENT UNIV on July 7, 2009