Literacy Connection: An Examination of the Instructional Practices of Fourth Grade Reading Teachers in the Dougherty County School System for Struggling Readers

Date of Award





Doctor of Education


Counseling, Foundations & Leadership


Societal expectations center upon the belief that children in grade four should be competent in terms of literacy skills and having acquired the necessary foundational skills to be successful in grade four. Instructional practices, reading programs and resources are linked to reading achievement and literacy acquisition of students. In Southwest Georgia, teachers’ instructional practices from twelve schools in urban Dougherty County were examined. The researcher examined the instructional practices of fourth grade reading teachers in the Dougherty County School System to determine the perceived impact on reading achievement and literacy acquisition of struggling fourth grade readers. The fourth grade reading teachers served as the independent variable while the instructional practices served as the dependent variable. The two groups of teachers were analyzed during this study included 1) a group of teachers who possessed 10 or less years teaching grade four reading. 2) a group of teachers who possessed more than 10 years teaching grade four. The study analyzed the mean scores of the teachers in with 10 or less and other teachers who possessed 10 or more and the entire tested population.

For research question 1, the results indicated that those with 11 or more years of experience leveraged a wider range of strategies than did those with 10 or fewer years of experience, although both groups tended to use a fairly wide variety of instructional strategies. Based on a combination of the research survey responses and the interview responses, the strategies that were commonly used by the participants include introducing new vocabulary words before they are presented in the text; modeling fluency; grouping students based on ability and pairing students, including cooperative groups; teaching viii students reading strategies; phonetics instruction (sounding out); read alouds; and differentiated instruction. In addition to these common instructional strategies, teachers also tended to use graphic organizers, leveled readers, and technology based programs.

For research question 2, based on a combination of the research survey responses and the interview responses, participants believe that the strategies they are using (especially differentiated instruction, grouping and modeling) and the materials that they are leveraging (e.g. graphic organizers, leveled readers, technology based programs) are effective at impacting the reading achievement of struggling readers because they allow for students to receive incremental modeling, incremental and faster feedback, incremental one-on-one instruction, and they help students to monitor their own learning as well as think critically. The consequences of these impacts include an increase in student engagement, an increase in student motivation, and ultimately incremental growth as defined by increased reading fluency and comprehension. Some potential obstacles to achieving these goals include having to meet specific “one size fits all” standards on tests, which causes teachers to have to speed up the pace of instruction and thus not having enough instructional time.

A major implication for educators was the determination that instructional practices of educators support and impact the reading and literacy development of struggling readers. Additionally, educators who possessed 10 or more years reasoned that word level recognition and phonics was a key determinant in terms of success of struggling readers. Word level instruction in grade 4 implies that explicit instruction in grades K-2 is needed prior to students entering grade 4. Additionally, professional development is needed for in-service teachers to equip them with strategies and instructional practices specific to the needs of struggling readers to address the deficits. Future research should focus on longitudinal implications for this population utilizing a larger sample size, would provide additional implications for educators.

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