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2018 Transformative Learning Conference

March 8–9, 2018

Oklahoma City, OK


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Transforming Concepts of Literacy: Workshop Models and Reflection in Teacher Education

Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 3:30 PM–4:00 PM CST

Preparing preservice teachers to meet the needs of modern middle grades learners requires consideration of far more than content area knowledge.  Common Core State Standards and related high-stakes measures demand that literacy skills, including critical reading, analysis and synthesis of ideas, and meaningful written communication, are taught in all content areas.  In recognition of this need, Missouri requires all content area middle grades teacher candidates to complete eight hours of literacy education preparation. Many of our teacher candidates enter these courses with a perspective of literacy as irrelevant to their content area or with a history of difficulty in reading and writing. To successfully reach them, we have designed and implemented a Reading and Writing Workshop structure to challenge student assumptions and support preservice teacher educators in exploring and reflecting on these frames of reference.

Participants will examine the use of a Reading and Writing Workshop model to launch transformative learning with preservice content-area teachers in a literacy education course.  Participants will explore student reflections using an adaptation of Brookfield's Critical Incident Questionnaire (1986) as a tool to guide student reflection on assumptions around the nature of literacy and the role of literacy instruction in content area instruction. 


As there is a significant need for literacy education instruction, Missouri teacher preparation programs require eight credit hours of literacy coursework for all preservice teachers.  Determining the best way to prepare future teachers—many of whom lack confidence in their reading and writing skills—is a salient inquiry for research. Guiding students in re-examining their assumptions around the role of literacy in their learning will support meaningful integration of these fundamental skills in instructional design.  This transformation of students' frames of reference requires both a challenge to their current conceptions of content-area literacy and meaningful reflection.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2012), students’ writing performance declines as they advance into secondary grades. Consequently, the Common Core State Standards (2010) include cross-disciplinary literacy standards, “predicated on the idea that content area teachers will use their expertise to teach, guide, and engage students in the reading, writing, speaking, and language relevant to the respective discipline” (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010). This is especially relevant in content areas like science, as it can support student understanding of the identities, activities, and patterns of thinking within the field (Pytash, 2013). Likewise, writing in math “provides opportunities for students to demonstrate mathematical understanding and construct arguments"  (Martin, 2015, p. 30).

Here, we have used the Reading and Writing Workshop format, commonly used in elementary and middle grades, to individualize instruction, engage students in self-directed learning, and facilitate differentiation and formative assessment (Teague et al., 2012). Recent research has explored the use of this model in the content areas, providing opportunities for additional instruction in content, application of learning, and information about student understanding. However, as Wendt (2013), notes, “the typical math or science teacher may lack the support and training necessary to fully implement the teaching of literacy" (p. 40).

Experiential learning has been established as an “ideal framework for delivering middle grades curriculum” (Kleine et al., 2009, p. 29). Pytash (2013) specifically notes, “preservice teachers need to write and to experience the instructional approaches they might use in their future classrooms” as many preservice teachers assume that their students will arrive with knowledge of content area writing which research has demonstrated they often lack (p. 808).  Additionally, this employs a social constructivist model which is increasingly prized in classrooms as teachers seek to build collaboration and other real-world communication skills. As cited in Martin (2015), Beck and Kosnik (2006), note “the act of writing may appear to be an isolated activity for an individual; however, the social environment and interactions of the writer are instrumental to his or her ability to construct meaning" (p. 304).

The final consideration in this research is supporting teacher candidates as they examine assumptions about literacy. This transformation is supported through structured reflection on course content and on individual worldviews. Thus, our data collection instrument was adapted from Brookfield’s Critical Incident Questionnaire (1986) to increase student focus on specific, practiced, and meaningful reflection.


Beck, C., & Kosnik, C. (2006). Innovations in teacher education: A social constructivist approach. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Brookfield, S. (1986). Understanding and facilitating adult learning: A comprehensive analysis of principles and effective practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA). (2010). Common core state standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Retrieved from

Kleine, K. & McBryar, L. (2009). Preservice Teachers Experience Middle Grades Curriculum. Middle School Journal. 40(3), 28-36.

Martin, C. L. (2015). Writing as a Tool to Demonstrate Mathematical Understanding. School Science & Mathematics, 115(6), 302-313. doi:10.1111/ssm.12131

Mezirow, J. D. (2006). Learning as transformation: critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass a Wiley Company.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core state standards initiative. Retrieved December 23, 2010 from

Pytash, K. (2013). Secondary Preservice Teachers’ Development of Teaching Scientific Writing. The Association for Science Teacher Education. 24, 793–810.

Teague, G., Anfara, V., Wilson, N., Gaines, C., & Beavers, J. Instructional Practices in the Middle Grades. NASSP Bulletin. 96(3), 203-227.

Wendt, J. (2013). Combating the Crisis in Adolescent Literacy: Exploring Literacy in the Secondary Classroom. American Secondary Education. 41(2), 38-48.

Format of Presentation

30-Minute Research Session

Conference Thread(s)

Critically Reflecting in Transformative Learning

Primary Presenter

Michelle Amos, University of Central Missouri

Secondary Presenters

Morgan Ely, University of Central Missouri