While attending the recent SREB High Schools That Work summer professional development conference, I received a copy of their new report, A Critical Mission: Making Adolescent Reading an Immediate Priority in SREB States. (Read the entire report here.)
In the introduction, Virginia Governor Timothy M Kane states,”Nationwide, students in the middle grades and high school are failing to develop the reading and writing skills they need in order to meet higher academic standards later in their educational careers.”
“Research shows that poor reading and writing skills prevent many students from graduating from high school, completing college and contributing in the workplace.”
SREB’s study found that secondary students need direct, explicit instruction in how to read, learn, and analyze information in key fields of math, science, social studies, and career/tech studies. Mastering these skills prepares students for reading they will need to do in college, at work, and in managing their personal lives. Subject area teachers might be the best qualified to help their students develop critical strategies and skills to master text in each area of study (pg 5).
The report findings recommend that secondary teachers receive professional development and course work on effective reading strategies within each content area and that literacy coaches provide job-embedded professional development to help teachers plan lessons, try new strategies and apply effective practices. Literacy coaches should model good reading instruction, and plan and critique lessons with teachers.(pg 19)
I just completed a four day institute with Secondary Reading Coaches in Hillsborough County (Tampa) Florida under the direction of Lynn Underwood Dougherty (Lynn.Dougherty-Underwood@sdhc.k12.fl.us). We covered topics ranging from verbal skills of coaching, questioning skills for facilitation, and feedback strategies for differentiating professional development and working effectively with school leadership.
One of the specifics that we explored was the conversations that coaches should have with administrators as they planned the start of the year, especially important for new coaches or those working with new administrations.
Leadership and coaches being on the same page in visioning the next step and assessing where we are at is crucial for the staff to get a clear understanding of desired direction.
We prepared the following questions to guide these discussions. (Those of you not focused on reading, should be able to change a few words and use a similar structure.)
– In your mind, observe an effective teacher working with struggling readers. What do you see/hear students doing? What do you see/hear teachers doing?
-Observe an ineffective teacher with struggling students. What do you see/hear?
-Observe an effective teacher with on level readers. What do you see/hear?
-Observe an ineffective teacher with on level readers. What do you see/hear?
-How is the staff distributed along this continuum?
-How are grade levels or departments similar and different?
-Which two groups of teachers should be my (the coaches) initial focus in order to have maximum impact on student learning?
-Summarize the resistance from teachers you imagine I’ll meet.
-How much effort do you believe you want to expend on getting these two groups of teachers to change? Why?
-What ways can we create time for these two groups of teachers to be PLCs focusing on student reading achievement?
-How might these teachers respond to our idea?
Coaches or administrators can instigate the conversation with these questions. If you have a Reading Leadership Team, they could respond as well. Certainly an administrative team should be brought into the conversation.
Consider sharing the “what would you see” responses with the entire staff at faculty, department, grade level or vertical team meetings. If people disagree, you’ve identified critical next steps in training and coaching.