The critical need to strategically address inequity in education increases as the diversity of learners—who have varied academic and social needs—in our schools grows.
Of course, we know that equity does not mean that we provide the same resources to every student—it means that every student gets what he or she needs to be successful. A key component of these efforts is literacy. When students are able to read, then—and only then—do they embark upon the path to becoming ready for career, college, and life.
In 2003, Bill Daggett found that the texts that most adults need to be able to read and understand (such as loan applications, newspapers and tax documents) require the ability to read and comprehend text at a relatively high Lexile level. Coupled with the strong correlation between illiteracy and drop-out rates, the findings confirmed that students’ ability to read is absolutely critical to success in life.
How can this knowledge serve as a guidepost for school leaders’ work? What are evidence-based practices that work for students? How do we ensure that all students are readers? The comprehensive literacy framework provides educators with the resources and professional development needed to support the literacy of our diverse learners.
What is comprehensive literacy?
Comprehensive Literacy is a framework that includes all the components that students need to become readers, writers, communicators, and active listeners. It normally includes:
Comprehensive literacy is year-round, it engages families and communities, and incorporates learning supports. The comprehensive literacy framework also works with any national or state standards. Therefore, districts with strong comprehensive frameworks will be successful even as standards change, because the framework is balanced for students.
As with any successful implementation, bringing comprehensive literacy to your school or district must be supported with clear definitions, actions, and resources. Below are strategic steps my school took to ensure my students were able to learn and thrive with a comprehensive literacy framework.
Outline Available Resources
There are resources necessary to the implementation of each component of comprehensive literacy.
For example, students must have books to read for independent reading. Therefore, teachers need a diverse classroom library to support independent reading. Classroom libraries should have a minimum of 750 books in good condition (or about 30 books per student). But beyond sheer quantity, it is critical to have a wide variety books for diverse readers with varied (and changing) interests.
After we made sure we had enough good books for our students to read, we needed to evaluate whether our classrooms were set up for independent reading. Was there ample space? Were there dividers for students who need more privacy? Were there carpets and comfy places to read? This is an in-depth look, but it is important.
Teachers and students need particular tools to become readers and writers. Our team had to complete an evaluation process for each element of comprehensive literacy. As a team, we looked at what we had and what we would need. For example, for read-aloud, we knew that teachers had access to quality trade books in our book room. Do you know what resources are in your district and school to support comprehensive literacy? Have you outlined these with your staff?
Filling the Gaps
Our school had to find a way to fill the gaps we discovered during our analysis of resources. We set priorities by determining what would help our kids read on grade level as soon as possible. We decided we needed to focus on building our classroom libraries and our leveled reading book room. Each grade level filled out a grant to get books, and we partnered with companies to get the best prices. Our leveled book room was more expensive, so we used Title I funding along with a bank donation to purchase the books.
It is important to note that our book purchases were strategic. Our literacy team pulled all of the books from the book room and found where we had gaps in levels and in genres. We looked at the diversity and relevance of the books in our book room. This allowed us to get more bang for our buck, which we all know we need to do with our funding.
Creating a Checklist
Our team created a checklist from different resources such as Ohio State University’s Literacy Collaborative Framework and the Children’s Literacy Initiative to define what makes a literacy-rich environment and to support teachers’ success. Below is an example of my school’s beliefs. Our staff used the Ohio State Framework, the Children’s Literacy Initiative Framework and our backgrounds and knowledge to create these beliefs.
A literacy-rich environment is one where:
Students learn by reading and exploring an abundance of text and build the love for reading
Students learn by listening, talking and writing about text
Students have access to many texts and materials including level, genre, content that encourage language and literacy development
Students get time to think within, beyond and about the text
Students are in a classroom that has the resources and structure to support daily reading, writing, speaking, and listening
To ensure comprehensive literacy comes to life for all children, we have to be strategic; it does not just happen. Districts and schools must put steps in place to support all students as they learn how to read. If students are to be career-, college- and life-ready, they must be able to read, write, speak, and listen confidently at high school levels and beyond.
Educators can mitigate the equity and achievement gap by focusing on comprehensive literacy. If your school or district plans to implement a comprehensive literacy framework, remember that you (and ultimately, your students) will be successful if you have a strategy that helps you assess what you have and what you need, and a process for putting it all in place.
Photo by Julia Graeper