Unpacking the Code

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of a professional learning course on elementary educators’ knowledge and perception of reading development, disabilities, and instruction. The 19-hour course covered the principles of structured literacy with a focus on early reading skills and basic phonics. Read the summary report.

Nine experienced elementary teachers and educational professionals who were enrolled in the course were invited to participate in three separate interviews: prior to the start of the course, within two weeks of completing the course, and approximately 6-months later. During each interview, participants were asked to discuss their reading program, perceptions of reading development, confidence for teaching reading, as well as the challenges and benefits of incorporating aspects of the course into their practice. Interview transcripts were analyzed through an inductive approach to qualitative analysis. Themes were selected to represent each category.

A main theme across all participants was the positive impact the course had on their understanding of reading development. The course was the first to introduce participants to the principles of structured language and effective instructional strategies to use with all beginning readers. Somewhat surprising, these principles were new to all participants. Additional themes include evolving definitions of reading and self-efficacy for supporting struggling readers. Teaching reading is a complex professional responsibility and requires continuous learning to support diverse student needs. It is therefore important to know about the information being delivered to teachers and the impact course material has on teachers’ understanding of how reading develops. Findings of this study highlight the positive effects comprehensive professional learning can have on teachers’ knowledge. Results also point to the critical need for initial teacher education programs to include the principles of structured language in their coursework.

Read more about structured literacy instruction.