Guest post: The basics teachers need in order to get students past the basics

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A 20-year teaching veteran, Mella Baxter is currently the Reading Coach at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast, Florida and a 2013 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow.

When I took my teacher prep courses in the dark ages, 20+ years ago, the only class I took that had anything to do with teaching reading was a single three-credit-hour course entitled "Teaching Reading in the Content Areas" -- and I was pursuing certification in secondary ENGLISH! Sure, I had a "Methods of Teaching English" course, but it didn't address how to teach struggling readers how to read content.

As a department chair and reading coach over the past 15 years, I continue to encounter new high school teachers fresh from teacher prep programs who lack adequate preparation to meet all the demands of being classroom teachers. Many have little instruction in, or understanding of, how to support struggling readers. They are also not versed in preparing students to handle the complex texts they will be required to navigate (without teacher assistance) on the new  exams aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) being rolled out for many secondary content areas.

We have entered a new era with the CCSS, which have been adopted by 45 states and contain literacy standards that apply to English and reading classes, as well as to social studies, science, and technical classes. It is no longer sufficient for teachers to summarize text and provide all the important information from the textbook to students via PowerPoint presentations, lectures and the like. They must be able to teach students to gather correct and relevant information on their own.

But what does this mean for teacher prep? Truly, it will no longer suffice to have secondary teachers take a single, generic "reading in the content areas" course. To be effective, literacy education in teacher prep programs must be specific and targeted to each individual content area, equipping secondary content-area teachers to make the significant shifts required.

In turn, having teachers prepared in effective reading instruction, particularly for non-fiction texts, will heighten students' levels of understanding and ownership over their learning. It's likely we'll start to see content-area teachers spending less time feeling frustrated that students are "not getting" even the basics from reading assignments and much more time interacting with students on assignments that demand higher-order thinking skills.