- Too many students advanced to middle and high school without being able to read at grade level
- A targeted professional development program helped this district’s teachers improve literacy instruction for older readers
- See related article: I didn’t learn how to teach reading in my teacher prep program
The mission of our English Language Arts Department is for staff, families, and community members to work in partnership to ensure that all students have adequate and equitable access to high-quality literacy instructional experiences that will prepare them to graduate ready to transform their communities and beyond. As part of our theory of action, we believe that if we support teachers in developing and delivering aligned, rigorous, and engaging literacy instruction (including targeted professional development for reading instruction), and if we use varied, intentional, and common literacy assessment data coupled with individualized student learning, then we will achieve equitable outcomes in which every student thrives, and every school is high performing.
Our district was already engaged in a professional development program for literacy in grades K-3 when we learned about a new offering that had been created specifically for adolescent reading instruction. We were instantly interested, knowing that we had interrupted and unfinished teaching and learning, especially in grades 4 through 8 as a result of the global pandemic.
The fact is, too many of our students had advanced to middle and high school without being able to read at grade level yet. We had intervention programs in place: Some students were enrolled in Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS), and others were receiving additional specialized instruction related to literacy and reading.
Our teachers in kindergarten through third grade were already engaged in Lexia’s LETRS professional learning course, which teaches the skills needed to master the fundamentals of reading instruction. However, our English Language Arts (ELA) teachers for grades 4-8 were voicing their frustrations over how they themselves didn’t go to school to teach kids how to read, and they wanted to learn the next steps to teach our students this life-long skill. We knew that we needed to fast-track that learning for our teachers.
What got us here?
When I learned about Lexia Aspire professional learning, a professional learning solution designed for educators of adolescent students, I got very excited. This self-paced digital solution grounded in the science of reading is focused on the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” We started with a pilot program at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. The pilot involved our ELA instructional coaches, departmentalized 4th and 5th grade teachers, and all ELA teachers in grades 6-8. We also went all-in with our multilingual instructional coaches and teachers, our resource instructors, and special education teachers in order to build coherence and alignment across all of our educators.
We first rolled out the initiative in September 2022. We began by talking to stakeholders about the why, how we got to where we are, the importance of teaching students how to read, and helping students to transition into reading to learn. We started using our new professional development platform in October 2022 and dedicated all our district professional learning time to the new learning.
4 key benefits of targeted professional development
By April 2023, nearly all staff had completed the program and taken the post-test. Here are some of the benefits we’ve realized so far from using this professional development platform designed for adolescent reading instruction:
- A cohesive approach to professional development for adolescent reading instruction. Everything we are doing ties into the science of reading. We are currently going through a full curriculum review, selection, and adoption process for grades K-12. We wanted to make sure the new curriculum is aligned with the science of reading. It is also important we have a structured literacy approach tied into the work that our teachers have been engaging in with the professional learning for grades PreK-8.
- A new way to fill in the learning gaps (COVID, SEL and Unfinished Learning). We are not only dealing with interrupted learning as a result of the pandemic. The issue is rooted in the unfinished teaching that happened because instructors were not able to teach the way they normally have in the past due to remote learning. In addition, I’m a big believer in social-emotional learning and we need to ensure that our students’ social-emotional needs are being met in order for them to fully engage in academic learning.
- It helps teachers reflect on their own needs and capabilities. I recently examined completion reports for the professional learning that took place for 166 participants. The training generated a great deal of excitement, and the pre-test scores were pretty eye-opening. The results showed an opportunity for where our instructors could improve their skills. Teachers began to reflect on their own needs and how they can better weave literacy skills and strategies into their instruction. This supports learners to read, comprehend, and articulate their ideas across various subjects.
- Teachers are “all in” and are engaging with the curriculum. They want to learn and apply their newfound knowledge. To support them, we set up PLCs so they can talk with each other about the practice applications. Teachers are also engaging with their literacy coaches in a similar manner. We are really excited about connecting the work we’ve done this year with our new curriculum next year, as it all aligns and really fits hand-in-glove. That’s very important to us and it’ll probably drive even more excitement about using our professional learning tools.
Connecting the dots
Especially for students in upper grades, we have to understand that wherever a child is in literacy development, it’s where they should be, and that’s okay. Once a child’s strengths and needs are assessed, the teacher’s next step is critical because it ultimately determines the ways in which a student progresses as a reader. With the help of the new professional learning platform, we can ensure that our teachers understand the meaning of structured literacy, comprehend the theories of reading development, know what fluency really means, and can successfully connect everything to strengthen reading comprehension.