Teachers' leisure reading habits and knowledge of children's books: do they relate to the teaching practices of elementary school teachers?
Elementary school teachers (Surveys)
Elementary school teaching (Surveys)
Literacy programs
Children's books
Burgess, Stephen R.
Sargent, Stephan
Smith, Melinda
Hill, Nancy
Morrison, Susan
Pub Date:
Name: Reading Improvement Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0034-0510
Date: Summer, 2011 Source Volume: 48 Source Issue: 2
Product Code: 2731550 Juvenile Books NAICS Code: 51113 Book Publishers
Government Agency: United States. National Endowment for the Arts

Accession Number:
Full Text:
Several authors have suggested that a teacher's ability to encourage a disposition to read may be linked to their personal reading habits and views of literacy. This study examined the relationship between elementary school teachers' reading habits, knowledge of children's literature, and their use of literacy best practices in the classroom. One hundred sixty one Kindergarten through fifth grade teachers completed a survey designed to assess literacy instruction practices and leisure reading habits. Teachers who varied in the number of books read and the amount of TV viewed were very similar in their reported use of best literacy practices, but those with more knowledge of children's literature were more likely to use best practice techniques. Several possible reasons for these different findings are discussed.


"I am an elementary education major and I don't like to read." These alarming words, occasionally heard from teacher candidates at the university, send shivers through the spine of a teacher educator. Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, contends that while teachers should be exemplary role models of reading for entertainment, "most teachers are seldom seen reading for pleasure" (Trelease, 2006, p. 100). Trelease argues "The teacher (or librarian) who doesn't read much will fail for sure" (Trelease, 2006, p. 102). While this assertion seems plausible, one must question whether the reading habits of the teacher impact pedagogical practices in the classroom.

The role of the teacher in children's reading development has been the subject of increasing scrutiny over the past twenty years. Evidence clearly demonstrates that the teaching of reading requires the application of specialized knowledge, especially for alphabetic languages, instead of merely needing a teacher with commonsense (International Reading Association, 2010; Piasta, Connor, Fishman, & Morrison, 2009). As the understanding of how to instruct reading in terms of decoding and comprehension has increased, more attention has been focused on encouraging voluntary reading among students so they will seek out opportunities to interact with literacy during leisure periods. Several authors have suggested that a teacher's ability to encourage a disposition to read may be linked to their personal views of literacy and their personal reading habits (Applegate & Applegate, 2004; Powell-Brown, 2004). It seems reasonable to hypothesize that teachers who possess more favorable literacy attitudes and behaviors will be more effective in encouraging students to read and in teaching them to read. The present study examined the relationship between elementary school teachers' reading habits and knowledge and their use of literacy best practices in the classroom.

The teacher of reading has two important goals in helping children become literate: 1) development of the ability to read and 2) development of a lifelong disposition to engage in leisure reading (Applegate & Applegate, 2004; Mour, 1977). The educator's role in developing reading skill is indisputable. Teachers must ensure that their pupils can decode written words and subsequently construct meaning from the text. The educator's role in the development of a disposition to read is less clear in terms of curriculum, practice, and accountability. Several authors have questioned whether teachers who do not enjoy reading can successfully nurture reading behaviors in young readers (e.g., Applegate & Applegate, 2004). The reading habits of teachers have long been considered a concern (e.g., Duffey, 1967; Mueller, 1973).

In general, researchers have professed disappointment with the leisure reading habits of teachers. McKool and Gespass (2009) surveyed 65 elementary school teachers. Less than half reported reading for pleasure on a daily basis and 26% reported no time spent for leisure reading. Mour (1977) found that 21% of the students enrolled in a graduate reading course reported reading no books for pleasure during the past six months. Other researchers have found that teachers are not usually enthusiastic readers and report little or no pleasure in reading (e.g., Applegate & Applegate, 2004; Draper, Barksdale-Ladd, & Radencich, 2000; Mueller, 1973; Smith, 1989).

The low levels of leisure reading seen among teachers are consistent with the leisure reading behaviors evidenced by other adults (National Endowment of the Arts, 2004; 2009). There has been a general decline in reading-related behavior and an increase in alliterates or those who are capable readers but choose not to read (Scott, 1996). A National Endowment for the Arts (2004) study showed an overall decline in the amount of time adults in the US spend in leisure book reading. Reading declined among every group of readers during the 20 year interval examined. More recently, a National Endowment for the Arts (2009) study found 49.3% of young adults aged 18-24 years reported reading no books not required for work or school. Gambrell (2008) suggested the lower amounts of time spent reading was linked to a decline in general comprehension skills and had serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications. The consequences of low levels of reading behavior and interest among teachers, given their expected role in the education of literacy behaviors, may also have important implications for young children.

A growing body of evidence indicates that teacher knowledge of reading development (e.g., phonemic awareness, spoken and written language structures) and instructional practices in the classroom are significantly related (e.g., Baker, Dreher, & Guthrie, 2000; McKool & Gespass, 2009; Morrison, Jacobs, & Swinyard, 1999). Teachers possessing a better understanding of language and sound structures are more likely to employ best practices in the classroom. Teacher knowledge of reading development and student reading achievement are also significantly related (e.g., Foorman & Moats, 2004; McCutchen, Abbott et al., 2002; Piasta et al., 2009; Spear-Swerling & Bruckner, 2004). Piasta et al (2009) found that more time in explicit instruction predicted stronger word-reading gains for students of more knowledgeable teachers, whereas more time in explicit instruction predicted weaker skill gains for students of less knowledgeable teachers.

Recent research has also indicated teachers' classroom teaching techniques may be related to their leisure reading habits. McKool and Gespass (2009) found that even though most teachers in their sample reported valuing reading as an activity, those who read more often for pleasure were more likely to use a variety of best practices. The best practices they examined were primarily associated with the practice of book reading such as the use of sustained silent reading, recommending specific book titles, and teacher read aloud practices.

In theory, teachers who read more themselves will be more adept at communicating the joys of reading to their students. Many enthusiastic readers say they had a teacher who stressed reading for fun (Nathanson, Pruslow, & Levitt, 2008). In addition to their personal leisure reading habits and attitudes, a teacher's ability to encourage reading in students may be influenced by how well they can suggest the fight book to a student and subsequently discuss that book based on familiarity with the book, author, or genre (McCuthen et al., 2002). Strommen and Mates (2004) found that middle school children who considered themselves readers pointed out the importance of being able to talk with friends and family about books. Being able to talk with students about books in a similar fashion would also be a prime opportunity for teachers to encourage reading behaviors. Teachers report that providing opportunities to read text that is interesting to students is the primary mechanism for motivating them to become independent and fluent readers (Sweet, Guthrie, & Ng, 1998).

Knowledge of children's literature would appear to be a valuable asset if teachers are to provide an environment designed to encourage students to read. Cunningham and Stanovich (2004) examined the knowledge of children's literature of 722 kindergarten through third grade teachers. They found that only 10% of the teachers were familiar enough with the most popular children's books for kindergarten through third grade to recognize over half of the 35 titles examined. Reading experience, especially with books immediately accessible to the student, may help the teacher more effectively share a love of reading with the student. This may be accomplished generally by modeling reading behavior in the classroom and sharing personal experiences of reading with the students. It may be accomplished more specifically by being able to provide useful information about books relevant to the child and being able to discuss those books with the student. It is one thing to suggest a student read, while it may be another to be able to recognize the book or author and talk about it with the student.

Overview of the Present Study

A review of the literature identified no research that examined the relation of knowledge of the books children are likely to read and teacher's practices in the classroom. Moreover, no research examined whether the relations of teacher reading habits or knowledge of children's literature is differentially related to practices primarily associated with the reading of books or more basic reading skills such as the essential elements of reading instruction identified by the National Reading Panel (2000) -phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). The study at hand examined the reading habits of elementary teachers and how those habits impact the use of literacy best practices tied to the five essential areas of literacy. The researchers hypothesized that the leisure reading habits of teachers are significantly related to their use of literacy best practices in the classroom. In addition the researchers extended previous research by specifically examining the relation of teacher's knowledge of children's literature to their use of literacy best practices.



One hundred sixty one kindergarten through fifth grade teachers (29 Kindergarten, 70 first- and second-grade, and 62 third- through fifth-grade) completed a survey designed to assess literacy instruction practices and leisure reading habits. Each teacher reported their teaching responsibilities included reading instruction. Participants were from three Midwestern states in the United States. The average age was 40.7 years with 12.6 years of experience. Females comprised 93.8% of the sample.

Materials and Procedure

A questionnaire was developed to assess teachers' leisure reading habits, knowledge of children's literature, and classroom literacy instructional practices. The survey was distributed to teachers who reported that their instructional responsibilities included reading instruction via an online survey program called "Check Box." Those teachers enrolled in university classes were provided the web address for access to the survey by education faculty. Other teachers were given the survey web address via word of mouth through professional teacher organizations in the state, direct recruitment by teachers taking graduate classes at the author's institutions, and direct recruitment by the authors.

A cover letter explained the rationale of the study. Human subject consent was specified as online submission of the survey. The first part of the survey contained demographic questions about the participant including age, number of years teaching, and grade taught currently.

Both the teachers' leisure reading behavior and knowledge of children's literature were measured. Teacher leisure reading habits were assessed by questions asking the participant how many books they read per month and how much TV they viewed on average per day. Familiarity with children's literature was assessed using the children's author recognition test (Senechal & LeFevre, 2002), a measure of relative print exposure. Relative print exposure tasks are designed to measure exposure to an activity and to reduce self reporting bias (West, Stanovich, & Mitchell, 1993). For example, a person who reads more children's literature should also have seen more children's books in places such as libraries and books stores. The participant designates each item presented, in this case a list of children's book authors, as a target or foil. A list of 41 real author targets was mixed with a set of 19 foils, or made-up titles. The score was calculated by subtracting the proportion of fake authors incorrectly identified from the proportion of real authors correctly identified. Participants were asked to mark only authors they knew to be real authors and not guess because incorrect answers would be counted against them. Previous research has shown measures of relative print exposure to be highly reliable indicators of an individual's level of reading engagement (e.g., Cunningham & Stanovich, 1991) and time spent in literacy activities (e.g., West et al., 1993) for children and adults.

Teacher instructional practices were assessed by asking the teachers to identify how often they employed each listed best practice technique designed to encourage the development of the five essential areas of literacy (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension) identified by the National Reading Panel (2000) (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). See Appendix for a list of the best practices included by literacy area. Each of these skill areas had five or six best practice techniques listed plus an option for noting the use of other techniques. All methods listed were best practice techniques identified by Reutzel and Cooter (2007) in their renowned reading methods text, Strategies for Reading Assessment and Instruction.


The reading habits and knowledge measures evidenced a great deal of variability. Teachers were asked to estimate how many books they read each month for their own pleasure. The average was 2.67 (SD = 3.48). Considerable variability was noted with 20.5 % reporting reading less than one book per month, 36.6% reading one per month, and 17.4% reading four or more books per month. Many teachers spontaneously reported not having enough time to read or that they did their leisure reading during the summer months. Television viewing was a common activity with an average of 1.70 (SD = 1.13) hours per day reported. Most teachers reported watching at least some TV per day with 49.4% reporting they watched two or more hours daily while 15.5% reported watching less than one hour daily. Scores on the children's author checklist were comparable to previous research studies (e.g., Cunningham & Stanovich, 2004) with a mean of 0.34 (SD = .20).

Data Analysis

The researchers compared the use of best practices between groups of teachers differing in reported book reading, TV viewing, and knowledge of children's literature. Comparison groups were created by identifying the top and bottom third of teachers in reported books read per month, reported hours of TV viewed per day, and score on the children's author recognition checklist. Chi square analyses were conducted to compare the reported use of best practice teaching techniques between the groups.

Differences in Best Practices by Teacher Leisure Book Reading

The reported use of best practices was compared for teachers who reported reading one or less books per month (bottom third) versus those who reported reading three or more books per month (top third) (see Table 1). The percentage of teachers who reported using each best teaching practice technique at least weekly was compared. Significant differences were only evidenced for two of the techniques studied: the study of affixes for vocabulary and KWL charts for reading comprehension.

Differences in Best Practices by Teacher TV Viewing Habits

The reported use of best practices was compared for teachers who reported watching one or fewer hours of TV per day (bottom third) versus those who reported watching two or more hours of TV per day (top third) (see Table 2). Significant differences were only evidenced for two of the specific techniques studied: the use of individual student word banks and the study of affixes for vocabulary. Teachers who watched more TV were also significantly more likely to note they used techniques not among those listed (other) for each of the skill areas except phonemic awareness than teachers who watched less TV.

Differences in Best Practices by Teacher Child Author Knowledge

The reported use of best practices was compared for teachers who scored in the bottom third versus those who scored in the top third on the children's author checklist (see Table 3). There were a number of significant differences between the groups with teachers who evidence greater average knowledge of children's literature reporting using many of the best practice techniques more often. This pattern was found across the five skill areas. It should be noted that 78.6% of the teachers in bottom third of children's literature knowledge still reported using teacher read alouds at least weekly and 55.4% reported using it daily. However, 94.7% of the knowledgeable teachers reported reading aloud at least weekly and 75.4% read daily. Interestingly, wide extensive student reading, although more frequent with the more knowledgeable teachers, was not significantly different. These results are similar to those reported by McKool and Gespass (2009).


The results of this study expand the current knowledge base regarding the reading habits and knowledge of teachers and their relations to teachers' use of literacy best practices. Previous researchers found differences in the use of literacy best practices by teachers differing in leisure reading habits (e.g., McKool & Gespass, 2009). These practices mainly related to activities focused on the use of books in the classroom (e.g., sustained silent reading). In the present study the researchers extended this research to include a broader range of literacy teaching practices tied to the National Reading Panel's essential five elements of reading instruction (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000) as well as by examining teacher's knowledge of children's literature.

Differences in reported use of best practice literacy techniques between groups of elementary teachers varying in book reading and TV viewing habits and knowledge of children's literature were explored. Teachers who varied in the number of books read and the amount of TV viewed remained very similar in their reported use of best literacy practices. The researchers did not find as many differences in the use of literacy best practices by teachers who differed in literacy and TV viewing habits as previous researchers. Several possible reasons help explain these different findings. First, this study examined a wider range of skill areas. It is possible that differences will be more strongly associated with teaching practices more closely tied to the use of books and the encouragement of interest in literacy than more basic skill literacy areas such as phonemic awareness. The measure of reading habits used in the current study may also have produced groups for comparison less extreme than in previous studies. McKool and Gespass (2009) used an estimate of minutes spent reading per day and their analyses compared those who read less than ten minutes per day to those who read more than 30 minutes per day. This study's low reading group included those who read a book per month or less. Additional research is needed to clarify this discrepancy.

In contrast to the measures of teacher reading and TV viewing habits, there were many differences related to knowledge of children's literature with those having more knowledge reporting using almost all of the best practice techniques more often. It is not surprising that teachers scoring higher in knowledge of children's books reported employing literacy best practices related to book usage in the classroom more often than teachers scoring lower in knowledge of children's books. It is interesting that the differences between groups were also evident in the more basic skill areas. It is possible that teachers with greater children's literacy knowledge are also better readers and subsequently more comfortable with the more basic literacy skills. Those with more positive attitudes towards literacy may be able to help the learner focus on the joy of learning to read more effectively. It is important to remember that the process of learning to read is typically slow and difficult. The role of the teacher's general disposition towards leisure reading is one for additional examination. Knowledge of children's literature may help by aiding teacher more adeptly identify books and authors for the specific student while a general favorable disposition towards leisure reading may increase the enthusiasm of the teacher for the entire process. Both likely play an important role in the teacher's ability to motivate students to read.


Several limitations should be noted in the present study. The sample size, although representing a sample of 161 teachers, does not permit an examination of individual grade levels because there are too few participants at each grade level. Thus, care should be taken in generalizing the results to individual grades within the elementary system. Self-report measures were used to determine the best practices teachers used in their classroom and their leisure reading habits. Social desirability is a potential concern, but the levels of reading reported were consistent with other measures of teacher reading habits reviewed (e.g., Applegate & Applegate, 2004). Future research is needed to replicate the obtained findings.


The role of teachers in the development of literacy behaviors and dispositions is coming under increasing scrutiny. Seemingly, a teacher's attitudes towards literacy and their use of best practices in the classroom are related. Efforts to increase the reading development content knowledge of teachers may need to be implemented in conjunction with efforts to encourage teachers to become more knowledgeable of children's literature. Resources designed to increase teacher awareness of children's literature, such as Huck's classic manual, Children's Literature in the Elementary School (Huck, Hepler, Hickman, & Kiefer, 2001) as well as efforts to improve the reading attitudes and behaviors of teachers have been described. Research is needed to address the extent to which these factors are part of successful professional development programs. Jim Trelease claims that to an extent the classroom teacher is like a match-making service. Instead of dates, he/she constantly makes matches between children and books. Trelease asserts that "the better she knows her students and authors or books, the more successful will be the match-making" (Trelease, 2006, p. 102). Results of this study speak to the yet another facet of the relationship between best teaching practices and the teachers' personal reading habits and knowledge of children's literature.


Best practice teaching techniques contained in the reading survey by the five essential areas of literacy.

Phonemic Awareness

Elkonin (sound) boxes

Rhyme play

Rubber band stretching of words

Oral segmenting of words

Oral blending of words



Pre-packaged phonics program (e.g., Saxon phonics, Open Court, etc)

Onset and time instruction

Word sorts

Making big words

Word walls



Choral reading

Reader's theatre

Teacher read-alouds

Wide/extensive student reading

Repeated readings

Echo reading (the teacher reads aloud and the student "echoes")



KWL charts

Retelling of stories (oral and/or written)

Graphic organizers

Story maps

Questions-answer relationships (QAR)




Teacher read-alouds

Wide-extensive reading

Etymology (word origins, meaning, etc)

Activities from Words Their Way (Bear, Templeton, & Invernezzi)

Study of affixes (e.g., prefixes, suffixes, root/base words, etc)

Individual student word banks



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Southwestern Oklahoma State University



Northeastern Oklahoma State University



Southeastern Oklahoma State University
Table 1. Percentage of teachers using each best practice technique
grouped by books read per month

                              Bottom             Top
                              third              third

                  Variable    % use at   % use   % use at   % use
                                least    daily     least    daily
                               weekly             weekly


       Teacher read alouds        88.1    67.8       88.3    63.3

    Wide extensive student          78      61         80    63.3

                 Etymology          39     8.5       46.7     8.3

     Activities from words        25.4    10.2         30       5

          Study of affixes        44.1    15.3         55    16.7

   Individual student word        30.5     8.5       51.7    26.7 *

                     Other        23.7    13.6       36.7      25


       Prepackaged phonics        47.5    30.5         45      30

Onset and time instruction        45.8    16.9         40    18.3

                Word sorts        49.2     8.5       53.3    11.7

          Making big words        37.3     5.1       38.3    11.7

               Words walls        64.4      39       58.3      40

                     Other        33.9    23.7       46.7      35


            Choral reading        49.2      22         50    16.7

          Reader's theatre        10.2       0       11.7     3.3

        Phonemic awareness

             Elkonin boxes        23.7    10.2       18.3       0

                Rhyme play        59.3    25.4         50    23.3

    Rubber band stretching        27.1    18.6       26.7    13.3
                  of words

  Oral segmenting of words        66.1    50.8       66.7    43.3

    Oral blending of words        69.5    54.2       66.7    48.3

                     Other        28.8    18.6         40    28.3

Significant group differences
in percent use at least
weekly noted by: * < .05, ** < .01

Overall N = 161

Table 2. Percentage of teachers using each best practice technique
grouped by knowledge of children's authors

                              Bottom            Top third

                  Variable   % use at   % use   % use at    % use
                                least   daily      least    daily
                               weekly             weekly

       Teacher read alouds       88.7    67.6       87.1     67.7

    Wide extensiva student       73.2    54.9       80.6     58.1

                 Etymology       39.4    11.3       32.3      3.2

     Activities from words       28.2       7       32.3      9.7

          Study of affixes       47.9    15.5       54.8     22.6

   Individual student word       40.8    18.3       22.6     16.1 *

                     Other       36.6    21.1       16.1     12.9


       Prepackaged phonics       47.9    35.2       58.1     45.2

Onset and time instruction       49.3    23.9       45.2     25.8

                Word sorts       54.9    16.9       45.2      9.7

          Making big words         38    11.3       35.5     12.9

               Words walls         62    39.4       64.5     41.9

                     Other       43.7    29.6       19.4     12.9


            Choral reading       49.3    21.1       51.6     16.1

          Reader's theatre       12.7     4.2        9.7        0

       Teacher read alouds       81.7    66.2       77.4     67.7

    Wide/extensive student       67.6    49.3       74.2     58.1

         Repeated readings       70.4    36.6       74.2     35.5

              Echo reading       52.1    18.3       48.4     22.6

                     Other       35.2    25.4       16.1      6.5 *

     Reading comprehension

                KWL charts       36.6     2.8       32.3        0

      Retelling of stories       74.6    36.6         71     25.8

        Graphic organizers       50.7    14.1       45.2     19.4

                Story maps         38     4.2         29      6.5

          Questions-answer         62    29.6       58.1     22.6

              Think-alouds       71.8    39.4         71     38.7

                     Other         31    18.3       12.9      6.5 *

        Phonemic awareness

             Elkonin boxes       29.6     9.9       19.4      6.5

                Rhyme play       63.4    26.8       45.2     16.1

 Rubber band stretching of       22.5     9.9       22.6     16.1

  Oral segmenting of words       71.8    50.7       77.4     48.4

    Oral blending of words       71.8    52.1       77.4     54.8

                     Other       40.8    26.8       32.3     16.1

Significant group

differences in percent use
at least weekly noted by: * < .05, ** < .01

Overall N = 161

Table 3. Percentage of teachers using each best practice technique
grouped by knowledge of children's authors

                              Bottom                Top
                               third              third

                 Variable    % use at   % use   % use at     % use
                                least   daily      least     daily
                               weekly             weekly

      Teacher read alouds        78.6    55.4       94.7      75.4 *

   Wide extensive student        73.2      50         86      75.4

                Etymology        39.3     7.1       49.1      15.8

    Activities from words          25     5.4       31.6       8.8

         Study of affixes        41.1    12.5       61.4      22.8 *

  Individual student word        35.7    10.7       38.6      22.8


                    Other        33.9    16.1       26.3      19.3


      Prepackaged phonics        41.1    23.2       50.9      40.4

Onset and time instruction         25     3.6       70.2      33.3 **

               Word sorts        44.6     7.1       59.6      22.8

         Making big words          25     5.4       47.4      17.5 *

              Words walls        51.8    30.4       80.7      57.9 **

                    Other        32.1    17.9       40.4      29.8


           Choral reading        41.1    14.3       61.4      24.6

         Reader's theatre        16.1     5.4        8.8         0

      Teacher read alouds        71.4      50       91.2      75.4 **

   Wide/extensive student        60.7    39.3       87.7      75.4 **

        Repeated readings        58.9    32.1         86        49 **

             Echo reading        44.6    16.1       56.1      22.8

                    Other          25    17.9       29.8      15.8

    Reading comprehension

               KWL charts        19.6     1.7       43.9         0 **

     Retelling of stories        66.1    28.6         86      36.8

       Graphic organizers        41.1    16.1       61.4      19.3

               Story maps        35.7     8.9       33.3       3.5

         Questions-answer        60.7    35.7       61.2      28.1

             Think-alouds        58.9    35.7       80.7      49.1

                    Other        30.4    17.9       21.1      12.3

       Phonemic awareness

            Elkonin boxes        19.6     1.8       28.1      12.3

               Rhyme play        48.2    12.5       71.9      33.3

Rubber band stretching of        16.1     8.9       35.1      21.1 **

 Oral segmenting of words        55.4    26.8       89.5      70.2 **

   Oral blending of words        57.1    30.4       91.2      71.9 **

                    Other        26.8    14.3       40.4      26.3

Significant group differences in percent use at
least weekly noted by: * < .05, ** <.01

Overall N = 161
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