Inference Making Skills in Young Learners and Educator Knowledge: Connecting Research to Practice

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Adams, Barbara
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Middle Tennessee State University
Adding to the current body of research on inference making skills and young learners, this study examined the knowledge base of classroom teachers, speech-language pathologists, and other literacy specialists. Specifically, educator knowledge was considered in relation to the extant literature on the inference making abilities of young children. Using a survey design, educator knowledge to accurately identify an inference, knowledge of young learners’ capabilities for constructing inferences, and knowledge of instructional strategies for teaching inference making was explored. Descriptive statistics, correlational analysis, and analysis of variance were used to explore the close-ended question responses of general education teachers, special education teachers, reading interventionists, and speech-language pathologists working with preschool through third grade students. Additionally, open-ended questions were considered through qualitative inductive and deductive coding of responses. Statistical analyses of survey results revealed no statistically significant relationships among educator experience, role, or trainings, and educator knowledge to accurately identify an inference (EK), knowledge of young learners’ inference making abilities (EKYL), or knowledge of inference making instructional strategies (EKIS). However, descriptive analyses aligned with previous educator knowledge studies and indicated educators may lack evidence based knowledge regarding inference making, young learner ability, and instructional strategies. Mean differences among groupings demonstrated classroom educators (general education teachers and special education teachers) scored higher on EK items than itinerant educators (reading specialists and speech-language pathologists), but itinerant educators scored higher on EKYL and EKIS. Whereas 28% of educators answered all eight questions comprising the variable EK correctly, 43% of respondents were unable to provide an accurate response on five or more EK items. Likewise, only 26.5% of respondents strongly agreed that young learners who are good at forming inferences from a picture will likely be good at inferencing from other sources such as read alouds. Finally, although 78% of respondents recognized small group instruction as a way to teach inference strategies, only 12% reported actually using small group instruction. Study limitations discussed included sample size and limited response. Future directions were noted as further survey development, professional development applications, and the addition of a student component to the study.
Educator knowledge, Inference making, Inference skill, Inference strategy, Young learner, Reading instruction