Critical Analysis: Dawkins, et al.'s
"Learning by Doing: Preservice Teachers as Reading Tutors"
Educational research aims to solve a problem concerning a specific context in the sphere of education. Anderson (1998) enumerated a series of characteristics of what makes educational research distinctive from other research approaches, and from these it is evident that other than the context, the distinction comes with the presence of philosophical and conceptual analyses that responds to the educational settings.
The importance of educational research comes in many aspects, from the inquiry to know certain truths, to the discussion of certain problems and issues, and last but not the least, how the knowledge can in fact also affect decision-making in the field of policy-making (Hess, 2008; Scott, 2000). Among the important fields of educational research is how it aims to address literacy, especially as to how relevant issues can be utilised to tackle these literacy problems. Hence, what can be regarded as an important characteristic of educational research is that it does not only contribute to new knowledge but also the means to best tackle the pressing problems in the world of education (Anderson, 1998).
Dawkins, Ritz, and Louden's article, "Learning by Doing: Preservice Teachers as Reading Tutors" (2009) brings up the issue of 'struggling readers' as found among early childhood educational settings. Given the state of the child and the need to foster reading skills at a young age, the authors mentioned past studies as to the effectiveness of one-on-one support that can be given to the student. Although it is an idealistic arrangement, it has been noted as unrealistic nowadays because giving the child one-on-one attention is found to be "difficult" (Dawkins, et al., 2009, p. 40). Hence, parents have approached early reading programs in order to effectively nurture reading skills, although it was found in some studies that quality programmes do not instantly equate to significant progress among the students.
It is in this regard that Dawkins, et al. (2009) presented a study that explored preservice teachers as reading tutors for early interventionary programmes for reading. The main point of this investigation is to examine these preservice teachers in the extent of their effectiveness as reading interventionary tutors to becoming trained tutors that would contribute to the actual school settings. The study then assessed and surveyed preservice teachers who volunteered in a reading interventionary programme. Dawkins, et al. (2009) concluded that the interventionary programmed participated in by the preservice teachers brought significant experience to these teachers, thereby adding confidence to their abilities in serving in actual school programmes. The study then recommended that an ideal and effective set-up is for schools to create partnerships with preservice teachers in the interventionary reading programmes in order to ensure an effective tutor structure in the school setting.
Introduction and Background
In Dawkins, et al.'s (2009) paper, the topic was introduced by means of quality teachings and its effects on the students' performance and achievement. For support, as early as the Introduction the authors cited several previous studies supporting teaching and learner outputs. However, at the same time, Dawkins, et al. also mentioned that despite the presence or establishment of quality, there remains the studies which pointed out that there were still shortcomings when it comes to the performance of the students.
It is then where Dawkins, et al. (2009) introduced the effectiveness of the one-on-one reading tutorial set-up, especially in term of its effectiveness in early childhood education; the authors also mentioned the difficulty in achieving this arrangement. The authors then pointed out the role of preservice teachers in interventionary reading programmes, specifically citing a study that highlighted their effectiveness.
From this introduction it is evident that at this point it sets up the stage of reviewing relevant literature as a foundation for the study and how it identifies the problem that is tackled by the research. What makes this an effective introduction is that it is deductive; the paper established the importance of quality teaching for reading literacy in early childhood education and the problems it encounters. From there, Dawkins, et al. (2009) identified a study leading to the effectiveness of preservice teachers, which would then lead to the authors defining its own approach in creating a study out of past relevant studies. From a reader's perspective, this already establishes a workable sense of logic, thereby the hypothesis already presented is already strongly valid (Johnson-Laird, 1999). Hence, this easily gives way to the process that the authors would use in the study which was "a small-scale exploratory study, using a single observer" (p. 41).
From the article the background provided by the author can be also considered substantial. In order to further elucidate how the issue of preservice teachers is not an automatic positive response or solution to the problem (providing effective one-on-one tutorial in interventionary reading literacy programmes for early childhood education), the authors presented a well-rounded collection of studies tackling certain challenges concerning preservice teachers. The authors did this by citing some issues with regards to beginning teachers and beginning teaching, in addition to the citing of a study from the Australian National Inquiry Inquiry Into the Teaching of Literacy. Hence, the concerns on these teachers are then established, thereby creating a sense of potential conflict in the hypothesis of the study.
Although this is an effective means to present an unbiased approach to the presentation of the hypothesis, a cited shortcoming in this section is its failure in presenting definitions in the article. Dawkins, et al. did not define what a preservice teacher is, and whether this is different from a beginner teacher. In any study, the presence of the definition of the key terms and subjects of the study remains to be important (Babbie, 1989). Which is why for a lay person reading this article who may not know these teaching hierarchies, there may be some difficulties in understanding what a preservice teacher is. Clearly, this article, on this basis, gives the impression that the reader is someone already in or familiar with the field.
Another confusing aspect in this study is the aims and objectives of the study. Dawkins, et al. (2009) merely mentioned that the exploratory study was "to examine the literacy teaching practices used by the tutors as they implemented the intervention... suggests that there is an opportunity for preservice teachers to gain valuable information to increase their knowledge of the reading process, while providing effective support to schools as trained tutors" (p. 41). From this, this is not a clear elucidation as to what the study is really because from reading the main purpose of the study it already seemed too simplistic because the deduction is already valid. This is to say that, this established aim can be already answered by common sense as represented by the study's hypothesis.
On one hand, this can also present a means for Dawkins, et al. (2009) to prevent any tendency to overgeneralise in terms of the usefulness of preservice teachers. As Babbie (1989) pointed out, as overgeneralisations lead to assumptions, it is also reflective of limited observations. Which is why, as clearly implied in the study, this article from Dawkins, et al. (2009) somehow replicated past studies from Pullen, Lane and Monaghan (2004, as cited in Dawkins, et al., 2009) as a basis for the authors' current study.
Choice of Methodology
Evidently, the choice of the methodology is qualitative by using a single-observer exploratory measures. Dawkins, et al. (2009) approached the study by using the previous study by Pullen, et al. as a framework which is described by the authors. The study therefore made use of the model utilised by Pullen, et al. in the original study. From this Dawkins, et al. surveyed participating volunteers by examining the expectations and experiences of the teachers in the pre-intervention survey, and later on, in the post-intervention survey, the volunteers were assessed according to their response on the success of the programme.
In examining the best research method implemented in any study, there are many factors that have to be considered. Typically, some may point out that there is a greater sense of validity in quantitative methodologies because the results are measurable by numbers; therefore, there is a general assumption as to the strong scientific basis of the study. On one hand, the qualitative approach presents a more empirical approach to the study, in which case results are derivatives of analysis of the experience, observation, exploration, etc. (Giarelli, 2001).
When it comes to selecting the best methodology according to the conditions of this study, it can be gathered that the qualitative method works best in this scenario primarily because it aims to "examine the literacy teaching practices used by the tutors as they implemented the intervention" (Dawkins, et al., 2009, p. 41). Should the study aim to measure effectiveness, there might be a toss between qualitative and quantitative. This time, the inquiry of this study established an empirical setting thereby eliciting the qualitative approach as the more feasible methodology.
However, an identified weakness of the paper is that it again failed to clearly elucidate the methodology. As the study is obviously a replication or a derivative of a previous study, the study by Dawkins, et al. (2009), at some points, seemed hard to distinguish from the study it based its own study from. This is to say that first, the theoretical framework of the research is absent, if not strongly established. In reading the paper what seemed to be an indication of the presence of a theoretical framework can be found in the introduction and background, yet the theoretical framework formulated by the study itself is not conveyed. Basically, the framework utilised by the study is the one presented by Pullen, et al., but the presentation in the article did not give it substantial discussion thereby expounding on what the framework is supposed to be for. Hence, in order for the study to have a strong foundation that builds up on its inquiry into the problem and the hypothesis, the theoretical framework helps in the guidance into the research (O'Donoghue & Punch, 2003); since that this paper does not clearly build up on one, this then goes back to the previously mentioned issue of difficulty in determining the line between the study conducted by Pullen, et al. and the one conducted by Dawkins, et al.
In a sense this brings up the issue on replications; although it is a common practice in research which further demonstrates the fact that knowledge is indeed connected and can be developed based on continuous and relevant inquiries, it is important to still establish a sense of independence from the other studies where the current research gathers much of its force from. Hence, although as can be seen in the later portions of the article Dawkins, et al. would establish a sense of independence as to its own research initiative, the structure of the article seems to imply a more casual presentation. This brings about both the pros and cons of this form of presentation, especially when it comes to examining the readability of the article. On one hand, when it comes to critically examining structure, which eventually affects substance and content, the tendency is that the study/article suffers some shortcomings.
Discussion the Methodology
As the research is qualitative, the methodology explained its data gathering methods which included surveys and observations. When it comes to reading the article, a weakness in the structure can be found in the headings. Although it can be discussed that article headings do not have to fall in the traditional headings such as "Review of Literature" or "Methodology", the problem is that in this study, the structure would further add confusion. As previously mentioned, there is already a problem in distinguishing the cited previous studies and the actual studies conducted by the authors, and when it comes to structure of the methodology, this further adds confusion because of the lack of distinction.
In a sense it can be gathered that this study did not focus much on presenting the methodology; it also did not mention certain ethical considerations of the research especially as to whether the study was undertaken in a setting that would require formalities. In this article, it is evident that there is less emphasis on methodology and more on the process itself; this shows that the design of the research, as to the presentation, is overlooked yet the article gives a substantial look on the process concerning the data gathering itself albeit without that much explanation on how the data is gathered.
Ethical Approval and Issues in the Study
The article did not mention the formalities the study had to undergo. As to the ethical implications and issues of the study, there is no substantial ethical impact other than the privacy of the preservice teachers should there are concerns that would emerge. In any case, the article presented the subjects anonymously.
Discussion and Findings
The findings of the study supported the hypothesis as to the usefulness of the preservice teachers not only in terms of their contributory role in the interventionary reading skills programme for early education settings but also in terms of how the programme could also help them in the development of the preservice teachers' skills.
The discussions on the methodology and certain aspects of the results can be regarded as an important strength of this study. This is to say that as these make up a substantial portion of the paper, the discussion then related the observation of Dawkins's study with the models and observations from the other studies utilised in this current study which include Pullen, et al.'s and Louden and Rohl's (2003). From this, there is a sense of clarification as to the degree of independence of this study from these previous studies.
The findings also therefore concluded by identifying the literacies used by the preservice teachers in the interventionary programmes, and from there, the authors determined how these would be helpful and relevant in actual classroom settings. From this, the implications of the findings can be seen in the strength of this study's recommendation. Dawkins, et al. (2009) thereby recommended the establishment of the relationship between the preservice teachers and the early childhood education schools in which case the partnership will be beneficial to many: the preservice teachers, through their voluntary interventionary programmes, are able to develop their skills and provide one-on-one tutorial to students which will be eventually beneficial to their performance in the actual school setting.
Although the recommendation and the implication of the findings can lead to more improved strategies in terms of the school-preservice teachers partnership, an identified issue with the study is that the conclusions did not necessarily strongly relate to the context of early childhood reading skills. In a sense, this was merely used as a context of the actual study of this paper, in which the focus is on preservice teachers. Hence, although the study initially related the importance of quality teaching to student achievement, the latter was not necessarily addressed and established as relevant to the entire run of Dawkins, et al's study.
This study by Dawkins, et al. (2009) aimed to present the role of preservice teachers, especially as to how their functions in interventionary settings can be beneficial to their development in school settings. This reflects studies that support in the development of these teachers in through field experiences; this has been tackled in many past studies across many fields other than in the reading skills and literacy context (Moore, 2003; Jung & Tonso, 2006). Overall, the article is informative as seen in the establishment of logic and the discussions as found in the paper; the main weakness is in the structure, and since the study is an extension of past relevant studies, it is apparent in the article that it faced the challenge of establishing its own independence from these other studies.
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