Analysis of a Literacy Program
Reading is essential. It not only helps develop the brain, but helps develop a person’s character. In Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Miserables, he said, “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” With 14 percent of America’s population being illiterate, how can that spark continue to be found? This paper will be analyzing ABC Independent School District 1’s literacy program, and how it is seeking out that ‘spark’ for children in their schools.
ABC Independent School District 1 has a set of beliefs that centers around continuous learning for everyone involved. Students, staff, community members, and families are all connected in helping build an effective district of learners and supporters. The ABC School District believes that having these close connections and engagements across the entire district is a necessary step to creating a culture of academic achievement. They focus heavily on what the essential components of learning are, one of which is assessing student progress, and another being evaluating and updating curriculum and instruction in their schools. This involves their very own curriculum for literacy. Their vision for literacy revolves around the idea that a strong foundation in literacy will help learners achieve academic success. Bringing the district’s set of beliefs for learning and their vision for literacy together is a goal wholly. However, there is a strong need for the component of evaluating and updating the literacy curriculum for alignment across all grades in the district. District 1 has been intentional in their literacy practices for grades K-5, but is seeing deficits in their secondary schools. Along with analyzing its literacy program, this paper will also identify the increasing gaps in literacy achievement across the district, as well as suggestions for improving this ever-increasing need for proficiency in literacy.
Goals and Curriculum
ABC Independent School District 1’s vision for literacy in their district’s Local Literacy Plan involves the “responsibility for everyone who is involved in a student’s life to build a strong literacy foundation that will support the student towards academic excellence” (Statement of Goals and Objectives, n.d, para. 1). The district literacy goals comprise of having aligned instruction to the MN ELA Common Core standards, collaboration throughout the entire school as well as learner’s homes, using research-based teaching practices, using data to help make decisions regarding learners, and providing staff development to create effective literacy leaders while developing literacy skills to multiple texts. In order to achieve these goals, standards-based assessments are given to plan an approach for student achievement.
ISD 1 gives learners standardized screening assessments and diagnostic assessments in order to create instruction and support for all learners. Learners are given a screening assessment from Pre-K through grade five. Three assessments are given throughout the school year; one during the fall, one during the winter, one during the spring. These screenings give baseline data to help identify learners who do not meet grade-level expectations according to the MN ELA Common Core standards, and establish a beginning point for teachers to give the needed instruction. The screening assessments given to learners in different grade levels are Teaching Strategies Gold, AIMSweb, and Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). Diagnostic assessments should be used strategically in order to provide information for effective, intensive instruction and intervention that will accelerate the learner toward reading proficiency at their grade level. The diagnostic assessments used by ISD 1 are Spelling Inventory, Houghton Mifflin Diagnostic Assessment, Observation Survey, Six Minute Solution, Qualitative Reading Inventory, The Abecedarian Reading Assessment, Cool Tools Informal Reading Assessments, and 1000 Fry Word List.
The ABC District believes that utilizing standardized screening assessments, diagnostic assessments, and informal classroom assessments will give a better understanding to a learner’s needs, and in turn provide a guide to the instruction and support given. The district not only gathers multiple points of data, but also makes sure their educators are using the data properly in the creation of their instruction. Educators are trained in administering these assessments, the use of data from the assessments, and observed when instructing and supporting learners. Though data from assessments can give great insight into each learner’s needs, home life is also an important factor.
The ABC District understands that in order to have successful learners, support comes not only from the district administrators and educators, but also from their parents. The district “feels strongly that parents play an important role in the education of children and are invited to work in partnership with the district to help students succeed” (Parent Notification and Involvement, n.d., para. 1). Parents are given access to multiple resources to keep them updated on assessment information, newsletters, schoolboard and superintendent updates, and events. They are also given access to Skyward, an online resource that keeps parents updated on their child’s attendance, grades, and discipline. Report cards are sent out three times a year, along with reports from screening assessments. Conferences two times a year give families time to connect in-person with their child’s teacher, and further the connection between school and home.
DEF Elementary, a K-5 school in the ABC School District, “includes a schedule that allows for 90 minutes of core curriculum instruction for reading, writing and word work” (Curriculum and Instruction Section, n.d., para. 2). The district utilizes the literacy practices Daily Five (Boushey & Moser, 2009), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Journeys Reading Program (2014), as well as Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (Bear, Invernizzi, Johnston, & Templeton, 2016). The Daily Five (Boushey & Moser, 2009) is a framework for literacy practices that consist of 5 stations that learners work through. Read to self, work on writing, read to someone, listen to reading, and word work take learners through an engaging and productive practice of skills. Through these stations, learners are able to practice independence, collaboration, and accountability while practicing their literacy skills. Journeys (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) is a research-based and standards-based reading program that is interactive and engaging for learners. Through this program, learners will practice reading strategies that will bring them through a system of skills, whether they are below or at grade level. Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (Bear, Invernizzi, Johnston, & Templeton, 2016) is used for supplementary reading methods, vocabulary, and spelling skills that will help organize instruction for each learner and provide activities to enhance content.
Aside from anthologies and supplementary items, a balanced core instructional model is what DEF Elementary practices regularly. Within this balanced instruction approach, the teacher guides their students through three stages: whole group, guided instruction, and practice. In the whole group stage, the teacher gives standards based instruction through mini-lessons, connecting their learners to prior knowledge (scaffolding), while setting the purpose of the lesson. As the teacher walks their learners through new concepts, modeling of the skills and strategies should be taking place, consistently checking for understanding. The learner is applying their learning through questions and practices given by the teacher, sharing their thinking, listening, and participating. The second stage is standards based differentiation by flexible grouping, which is driven by formative assessments. The teacher still models skills and strategies while re-teaching and enriching for the different level groups. The learners continue to apply their learning collaboratively through questions and practices, sharing their thinking, listening, and participating. The third stage is standards based practice for learners without the teacher, whether it is independently, with partners, or in small groups. The teacher plans intentional practices at differentiated levels, providing previous practices and instructions. The learners are expected to self-regulate, self-evaluate, and apply their knowledge practiced. The Gradual Release Model (Fisher & Frey, 2008) of “I do” (teacher modeling), “we do” (teachers and learners together), and “you do” (learners working on their own) is found in these practices, and is what the ABC District is implementing more frequently. As they continue to look at their balanced literacy approach with the Gradual Release Model, the district continues to use student data in order to provide support where needed.
The ABC Public Schools use an additional 50 minutes of their curriculum instruction for their Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) to provide support to the needs of their learners. The district uses data and professional development to create quality instructional needs, monitor learner progress, and provide interventions for learners who need it. There are three levels to the MTSS that learners are identified and matched with. Tier One, Core Instruction, is comprised of differentiated and evidence-based instruction. Tier Two, Strategic Support, is for at-risk learners or accelerated learners who need additional instruction beyond the core instruction. Tier Three, Intensive Support, is for learners who show minimal responses to Tier One and Tier Two instruction.
Analysis and Evaluation
According to Gambrell and Morrow, “It is important, however, that children experience a variety of interactive settings as a whole class, in small group, and individually each day” (2015, p. 373). One example of this can be found in DEF Elementary’s use of the Daily Five (Boushey & Moser, 2009). Learners are exposed to a variety of interactive settings throughout this practice. It is important to note that the Daily Five (Boushey & Moser, 2009) assessments should, “play key roles in assisting the teacher make instructional decisions that meet the developmental needs of students” (Gambrell & Morrow, 2015, p. 373). Teachers at DEF Elementary use assessments from the variety of tasks asked in the Daily Five (Boushey & Moser, 2009) for creating groupings of learners, deciding which learners need help in different areas, and identifying those learners who may be a Tier II or Tier III learner. In the event that a learner may identify as Tier II or Tier III, further intervention and remediation processes will take place. This approach to student success in accordance to District 1’s goals, as well as what is considered an effective practice according to Gambrell and Morrow (2015), is a strong approach. Learners are able to be assessed in multiple areas of the MN ELA Common Core standards with the Daily Five (Boushey & Moser, 2009), and teachers are utilizing these data points to further their instructional practices for each learner.
Though the Daily Five (Boushey & Moser, 2009) is used as such by some educators in the district, not all are utilizing the system in a common way. “They have used this as a framework for their instruction. Some educators use 4 of the 5 practices, and some call it the “Daily 3” because they use only three of the components. Many people also have guided reading groups that fit into that depending on what their learners need” (D. Hiedemann, personal communication, October 2nd, 2016). This differentiated approach by the district’s educators seems to make sense. Not all cohorts of learners are the same. Therefore, adaptation must take place. This also holds truth with the usage of the Journeys Reading Program (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), as well as Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (Bear, Invernizzi, Johnston, & Templeton, 2016). Both items are used in supplemental ways amongst educators in accordance to what their learners need. The programs have differentiated levels for learners with various skill levels. Educators group their learners and give them specific work they have supplemented out of those programs, mainly in vocabulary development and word work. Though it is important to differentiate for learners, this pieced together curriculum may not be as reliable as learners move onto secondary education if not followed closely with the MN ELA Common Core standards. If the goal is to make sure all learners are meeting their grade-level standards, yet some continue to fall behind, how can the gap continue to close through accelerated intervention and not gain momentum?
This past year, grades K-12 in the ABC School District worked together to align the MN ELA Common Core standards with each ELA grade level. In doing this, the grade levels were able to specify their instructions and practices within each standard, and look for areas that have created gaps in literacy for the district in standards and skills. Working together to ensure that all standards would be met and scaffold where necessary was an improvement. Within the next few years, a more stable approach to meeting the standards will succeed. However, it is not only the content that has aided in this literacy gap. It is also practices used by the educators themselves. The ABC School District is moving more toward the Gradual Release Model across all grades K-12 in hopes to have a close alignment of common practices amongst educators. Skills gained through this model are diverse, giving all learners the practice and ability to learn various contents in a multitude of ways. The Gradual Release Model allows learners to practice actively listening, note taking, inquiry, collaboration, responsibility, and time management. Gambrell and Morrow state this as “a process in which students gradually assume a greater degree of responsibility and independence for a targeted learning outcomes” (2015, p. 17). If all learners are exposed to and gain any number of these skills, this common approach amongst all educators within the ABC district will support and validate them. There will still be gaps found. However, having a common practice aligned district-wide can create known expectations not just for the learners, but for the educators as well. This common ground will give better insight to skills and content deficiencies of learners, making way for a clearer and more concise approach to differentiation.
Suggestions for Improvement
After going through MN ELA Common Core standard alignment work with the ABC School District, this author believes that there is still more work to be done in their literacy practices district-wide. Standards being met have been a focus for this first year of the alignment implementation. However, their literacy plan needs to be updated regarding the Gradual Release Model. Learners may be meeting the standards by content, but they are lacking important skills that allow them to be better learners overall. The educators in this district utilize their resources to help their learners become successful, differentiating to the needs of their class. They do not need a prescription of what they are teaching their learners when utilizing the Daily Five (Boushey & Moser, 2009), Journeys (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), or Words Their Way (Bear, Invernizzi, Johnston, & Templeton, 2016). What they do need is a common approach to the content, so those skills are transferrable to all content areas, literacy skills, and secondary education.
In seeing the gaps within the district’s literacy skills data, an update and alignment of a K-12 literacy plan and reading goals is necessary. This needs to come with professional development for all educators to ensure that the literacy plan, reading goals, and common practices are understood as a framework for success and backed by research. These updated and aligned elements should decide how the district creates a successful environment for all learners, as well as why there is a benefit to common practices and understandings. In that, the data from standardized tests used also needs to be looked at and decided on how it will be used.
The standardized tests given in the ABC district are plentiful, and this author believes that teaching learners how to take a test well takes away from a meaningful and differentiated approach in the classroom. Though data from these tests are used in sometimes valuable ways, they cannot speak to how the district helps their learners succeed in each of their lessons. An increase of 10% on standardized test scores is what is asked of the entire school district this year. This causes mandates prescribed by the district, such as simplified learning targets for students in the form of “I can” statements that are required of all educators to place in their classrooms. This mandated practice has not been explained as to how or why the district is using the learning targets. Rather, the district would find it beneficial to allow more time to develop a stronger literacy program, reading goals, and common practices that all educators can believe in and implement. These understandings can create authentic experiences between all educators and their learners, allowing for best practices and a more balanced approach to literacy skills in all classrooms.
The ABC Independent School District 1 has a respectable vision of literacy, focused on having instruction aligned to the MN ELA Common Core, collaboration throughout the entire school as well as learner’s homes, using research-based teaching practices, using data to drive decisions regarding learners, and providing staff development to create effective literacy leaders while developing literacy skills to multiple texts. There are many positive practices happening in building literacy skills in their learners. However, there are still gaps in literacy skills growing throughout the district. In that, an updated literacy plan and reading goals is needed. More professional development is also needed for educators to be educated on the meaning of the literacy plan and reading goals, as well as how to effectively implement the Gradual Release Model into their practices. This will help create a common culture of research-based instructional practices that can empower learners in their reading skills, which can continue on throughout their academic career.
Baumann, J. F. (2014). Journeys. Orlando, FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Bear, D. R., Invernizzi, M. R., Johnston, F., & Templeton, S. R. (2016). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (6th ed.). Harlow, Essex: Pearson.
Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2009). The CAFÉ book. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
District #47 Sauk Rapids-Rice (n. d.). District #47 Sauk Rapids-Rice Local Literacy Plan. Retrieved from http://www.isd47.org/media/2014/03/6.2012-District47-SRR-Local-Literacy-Plan.pdf?x64048
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2008). Releasing responsibility. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
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