What an exciting time! As educators, we open another school year with all the possibility in the world as we focus on a culture and climate that is positive and reinforcing for all students.
My elementary school is coming off of a summer of reading and writing. Students from grades K-2 were invited to participate in our LitCamp over the course of four weeks. LitCamp was created and implemented to curb summer reading loss. Decades of studies have shown that although students from low socio-economic backgrounds tend to learn at the same rate as their peers during the school year, they are more vulnerable to losing academic ground after the summer (as much as one to two months). This contributes to the academic learning gap between students from high and low socio-economic backgrounds, and contributes to students not reading on grade level.
Therefore, we implemented LitCamp to provide our students the opportunity to have access to high-quality interactive summer camp experiences that incorporated reading and writing.
The program was designed for rich and engaging learning built on a foundation of authentic, motivational text and the 7 strengths model to include social and emotional development. Furthermore, all students in grades K-5 were provided books and fun activities to use over the summer. This really helps to keep the brain active during school breaks.
We experienced tremendous success with our summer reading program, which has invigorated the passion our school has for providing students authentic, enjoyable reading and writing experiences.
Therefore, what follows below will describe some of the conversations literacy leaders at my school are having around literacy.
Starting the conversation
The work we did this summer focused on the 7 strengths of super readers: belonging, friendship, community, curiosity, confidence, kindness, and hope, along with an abundance of reading for enjoyment. The enthusiasm from the teachers who were the camp leaders fostered a discussion with the entire staff during pre-service about creating an environment where all students can flourish as readers.
This, in turn, sparked our discussion around creating a literacy-rich environment that fosters readers who love reading, and see themselves as lifelong readers. We knew that one of the most important aspects of this culture would be giving students access to texts of their choice.
I was very fortunate to hear Donalyn Miller present recently in Newport News, Virginia, and she shared that students build confidence and enjoyment as readers when they get to choose a book of interest. During the presentation Miller also shared John Green’s saying that “books belong to their reader.”
I want the staff at Forrest to remember that books belong to the readers; not the school, not the library, not the classroom. As adults we know what we like to read, and we choose our independent reading, so why would this be different for students?
Therefore, we decided to conduct interest inventories during the first two weeks. Then we used this data to look for trends to help us build our classroom libraries, which in turn will allow all students to have books in their individual book boxes that they want to read. I know we have all experienced a time when we did not notice that two hours had passed while we were reading, or couldn’t wait until we had time to read again—this is what we want to foster at Forrest for all students.
Access ensures equity and excellence for all: resources and schedule
This is about access for all. To develop lifelong readers, classrooms need to have certain resources, and time must be allocated to reading.
Reading instruction must include read aloud, shared reading, small group reading, and independent reading. So a crucial question to ask is, is enough time allotted for teachers to have a balanced approach to literacy?
Then there are physical materials that teachers must have access to in order to create a literacy community in their classroom. For example, research shows that teachers should have between 300 and 1000 books in a classroom library. We must know the students, and ensure all teachers have what they need to meet the needs of all students. Are these classroom libraries diverse, with enough read-aloud text, enough leveled readers?
We ask ourselves, as instructional leaders: do all new teachers come out of college knowing how to allocate these resources? Do our veteran teachers know how to? We must be able to identify the literacy leaders in our building because no educator can do it alone.
It goes further than this though. Teachers must have a mindset to create a climate in the classroom that is truly a literacy community. A literacy leader will be strategic about:
how the desks are set up in the classroom
whether the lesson plans have opportunities for students to discuss the text they are reading
whether students have time to confer with the teacher about books and writing
whether students give each other constructive feedback
These are just a few of the questions that school leaders should use to guide literacy communities in each classroom.
Administrators as support
Administrators must provide the resources for the environment, and support for the climate. Teachers want to know what it looks like and what it sounds like, because school leaders tend to talk about terms or theory, but less often clearly articulate practical implementation strategies. For example, provide teachers with lesson plans that model turn-and-talk or shared inquiry discussion around a text.
Forrest teachers have a document that was created by our literacy team, and which outlines the expectations and the plan for the upcoming year. We review this at the end of the school year, and again during pre-service week. It is so important that everyone understands the path, and are on it together.
At Forrest, all staff have access to a “look-for document” that was created by our literacy team,* and which includes best practices for environment, climate and each portion of balanced literacy. This allows staff to self-assess their classroom, and provides more opportunities for buy-in when they make their own observations.
When teachers get the opportunity to articulate their needs to school leaders, with documentation, it increases self-efficacy.
Even several weeks into the school year, it is not too late to complete this with your staff. My staff found it very supportive and eye-opening.
Focus for the first quarter
Our focus right now is helping staff understand the importance of the first quarter of school. You have teachers in your school that created literacy communities in their classrooms. Have them share their model with their peers during the first three/four weeks of school. They can even create visual models by photographing their classrooms and making videos of successful routines.
In doing so, you will have a model to share with others from your own staff. So often we hear, "That’s not our school. That won’t work here." Peer modeling from within the building is a way to overcome that roadblock.
I meet with my literacy team weekly to map out the timeline of support and we sketch out each of the agendas. We look at our resources, and the best practices for building a literacy community, and match our professional learning with teachers in alignment. This ensures the professional learning happens in real-time and teachers will implement it in the next few weeks. This document allows us to see what and where we have been and where we need to go. It is a clearly articulated plan for implementation and evaluation.
Administrators as another set of eyes
At this time, we are gathering all of this information and visiting classrooms. We will take staff feedback, and our notes, and decide the next steps of support for each teacher. We will adjust our agendas as needed based upon real-time observation. This is a great way to differentiate the support for your staff and to help each of them to feel truly valued, which will then be fostered in their classroom throughout the year.
Our goal is to foster a love of reading so that we open a world of possible for all students. Reading transforms lives, inspires, and empowers students to explore and share ideas.
In my next post, I will discuss our literacy team meetings and Professional Learning Community agendas in detail including our small group reading professional learning monthly. Furthermore, how the work is positively impacting student reading and fostering the love of reading.