Taking the challenge: A journey toward change in four teachers' language arts programs through staff development

Karen Gail Smith, University of Pennsylvania


Research validates the importance of staff development in creating and supporting pedagogical change. This study investigates four elementary teachers' responses to the changes in curriculum and practice as a revised language arts program evolved. A volunteer staff development program introduced the theories and practices of a literature-based reading program for the primary grades. Using a case study approach, the staff development facilitator investigated what happens to teachers in a collegial setting who self-select topics in professional literature to inform their teaching. Few studies chronicle teachers' struggles with paradigm shifts in language arts in order to understand teachers' needs. In Hanover Township schools, changes caused faculty to adapt: change in curriculum, change in instructional practices, change in the role of the teacher, and change in staff development practices. This study was designed to amplify teachers' voices as they experienced these changes during a thirteen week staff development seminar. Meeting on a weekly schedule, teachers attended the "Seminar in Literacy" to discuss professional materials and to understand their underlying theories. Teachers read articles and books, reflected daily in journals, and conducted an individual research project within their own classrooms. The staff development facilitator, who is also the research coordinator, guided the meetings and supported the teacher research. Each meeting was designed to elicit authentic responses to events within the school, to experience problem solving techniques, and to generate an enthusiasm for change. Teacher reflections were the means for observation and analysis. Teachers were introduced to the concept of qualitative research and were team members throughout the staff development program. All field notes, journals and reflections, as well as interviews and audio- and videotapes, formed a data base that was analyzed for themes, pattern and categories. Erickson (1985) poses the question: What is happening in the field setting? As a reading specialist in the same building with these teachers I studied daily what happened and how changes occurred. As a participant and as an observer, I have tried to be honest and accurate in my interpretation of the events and documents. This study was designed according to research in successful methods for staff development. What emerged most powerfully throughout this study was the dedication and desire for professional growth that teachers voiced, and the advantages of a site-based staff development program that continued over time to fulfill this need.

Subject Area

Literacy|Reading instruction|Teacher education|Language arts

Recommended Citation

Smith, Karen Gail, "Taking the challenge: A journey toward change in four teachers' language arts programs through staff development" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9721049.