Nearly all students can learn how to read, yet only 35 percent of them are reading proficiently. This widening gap seems insurmountable, but the bottom line is that teachers are the most essential factor in student reading success.
However, here’s the problem as I see it: only about half of all teaching institutions effectively prepare teachers for literacy instruction. And while it’s easy to assume that the schooling, master’s degrees, and pre-service training adequately prepare us to walk into the classroom and teach students how to read, the reality is that this training isn’t enough.
To truly master reading instruction, teachers need more. Fortunately, our cooperative’s previous director recognized this and started using LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) Suite. The program teaches the skills needed to master the fundamentals of reading instruction, including phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, writing and language.
I was already familiar with the professional learning platform when I joined Monroe One BOCES and knew it provided a comprehensive learning experience for teachers. In fact, it supports educators professional learning through a modern, blended approach with the availability of digital and print resources and it offers virtual face-to-face interactive sessions and an interactive platform for asynchronous professional learning specific to each unit. At Monroe One, we encourage the use of the interactive platform as a supplemental tool, but we do not require it.
I believe it’s really what we all should have learned during our pre-service training.
For example, even being elementary-certified and holding a master’s degree in reading, I could see that my pre-service training didn’t prepare me to teach reading. I wanted to know more. When I moved into a curriculum coaching position when the New York state test was developed, it forced me to “dive deep” into the English Language Arts standards and get back into working with the teachers who would help students prepare for the assessments.
A Valuable Tool
The professional learning platform would soon prove itself as a valuable tool in that process. In fact, it was eye-opening. Before the use of the professional learning program, we talked about phonics from a much more constructivist, inquiry-based approach and did a lot of word study within a balanced literacy framework. I didn’t realize what I didn’t know. Now I understand that explicit, systematic instruction is needed to fully address phonemic awareness and phonics.
Take the keywords used when teaching kids letter-sound correspondence, for example. Teachers have different charts or ways of teaching: “A is for apple” and “B is for boy” and so forth. One thing the professional learning platform covers early is the idea that many letter names are very complicated in terms of the sounds that make up the name. Knowing this, some letters can be taught earlier than others.
I also learned how to be very explicit with students when it comes to letter names (e.g., this is letter B, B looks like this and here’s the sound that it makes). Kids need to know both of those pieces, but they need to know them at different points in time and for different purposes.
Going through the training, we realized that different grade levels were using different keywords and/or visual images. For example, we learned that when teaching the short E sound, you really don’t want to use elephant, because the E and the L blend together and can create confusion for young readers.
Leveling the Playing Field for Students
By preparing teachers to cultivate successful readers, Monroe One is also expanding reading equity, which directly supports the principles found in the New York State Education Department’s Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework. Reading is an equity issue, and the practices we learn through the professional learning platform are good for all students. These practices help to provide access to the content and to the instruction for all learners.
I’ve come to appreciate that teachers need a common learning experience themselves that they can attach new learning to and go back to when they’re talking to their colleagues. The cooperative’s use of the program has helped our teachers gain foundational knowledge of language, reading, spelling, and writing that is both research-based and provides the skills to deliver explicit, Structured Literacy instruction.
Watching our teachers using this application of research-based methodologies in the classroom and gaining a deep knowledge of the cognitive and language factors that shape student learning is exciting. Understanding the diagnostic process for data analysis to identify skill deficits for individual and/or student groups is key and most importantly, learning how to differentiate instruction based on data to meet the needs of all our students is central to the important work we do.