Research Notes

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Teachers' Reading Habits

What teachers read has a lot to do with what they teach, according to researchers from the University of Chicago.

The researchers analyzed data on the reading habits of 666 teachers from 52 schools across the country. About half the teachers said they regularly read at least one professional journal.

Most of the journal readers, however, chose either professional publications that were directly related to the subject they taught, such as The English Journal or The Mathematics Teacher, or general education publications offering practical information that teachers can use in their classrooms. Largely missing from the mix, the researchers found, were academic journals with findings from education research or general education publications that might introduce teachers to broader discussions.

"Colleges and schools of education that are training teachers could do more to introduce prospective teachers to the literature, and school administrators could also encourage it more," says Cheryl B. Littman, a doctoral student and the study's lead author.

The survey also showed that teachers who regularly read professional journals tended: to belong to a professional organization, to know more about reforms taking place in their subjects, and to have changed their own teaching practices in keeping with those reforms.

"But we can't tell about causality," Ms. Littman cautions. "It could be that knowing about reforms causes one to read more."

Science Instruction and Gender

For more than a decade, science educators have been trying to cultivate students' interest in science by helping them actually do science rather than read about it in books. But a study suggests that even in the best of these new performance-based classrooms, boys and girls experience science differently.

Researchers Jasna Jovanovic and Sally Steinbach King of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign picked six exemplary science instructors who, in interviews, had expressed sensitivity to gender differences in their classrooms. The teachers, scattered across Illinois, taught students in grades 5 through 8.

Teams of researchers visited those classrooms twice a month over the course of a school year and observed students working in small groups on hands-on science activities. In general, they found, the more that students manipulated the science equipment themselves, the better their attitudes toward science at the end of the year.

In addition, both girls and boys were equally likely to play a leading role in the activity by instructing a classmate on what to do or by explaining a science concept to another student. But boys tended to have their hands on the equipment more often, relegating the girls to reading directions or making suggestions.

At year's end, the differing behaviors had no apparent adverse impact on achievement. Boys and girls earned similar grades in all six classrooms. But, in contrast to the boys, the girls' perceptions of their science abilities actually decreased over the course of the year.

Researchers could not say for sure why the girls lost confidence or why they seemed to take a back seat to the boys. But one point, they write, seems clear: "The present findings suggest that the performance-based science classroom did not ensure equal participation for boys and girls."

In classrooms where teachers are less sensitive to issues of gender equity, the researchers speculate, girls may have even fewer opportunities to play an active role in hands-on learning. The study is scheduled to appear in the fall issue of American Educational Research Journal.

Parental Influences

Violent behavior is not necessarily passed down from generation to generation, according to an 18-year study of mothers and their children. Academic performance, however, may be another matter.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have been tracking 57 pairs of teenage mothers and their sons or daughters since the early 1980s. They found that the children of mothers who themselves were violent in childhood were only slightly more aggressive or violent than other children in the study.

On the other hand, mothers who had poor grades in school as children tended to have children who struggled academically, too.

In both cases, though, the better determinants of how a child turned out were parents' child-rearing practices and the home environment--not genes, the researchers said. Mothers who fared poorly in school, for example, also tended to read to their children less often and to provide them with fewer books.

"We've got to get away from this idea of the inevitability of poor outcomes," says Robert B. Cairns, the lead author of the study and the director of the university's Center for Developmental Science. His report appeared December in Developmental Psychology.

--Debra Viadero

Vol. 18, Issue 22, Page 27

Published in Print: February 10, 1999, as Research Notes
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