The school year is now a few months in. The initial checklist of how to get teachers, students and families back into the rhythm of learning has been completed and it’s hard not to find yourself already looking towards preparing for the winter break. It’s a challenge to stay in control of the calendar as the many responsibilities of an administrator can be all consuming. But now is an important time to take stock of how your vision for literacy is unfolding within the classroom.
Leaders in districts and schools must actively take literacy walks to observe and model the instructional practices that are essential to ensure successful implementation of a literacy plan and support teachers with effective teaching practices. In the comprehensive literacy culture, you will find an inclusive classroom that goes beyond defining a child by his or her reading level. This classroom will be filled with positive energy focused on addressing the needs of each child through reading, writing, speaking, listening and social emotional learning as students rotate from whole-class instruction, to small-group instruction and independent learning time throughout the week.
- Whole class instruction is the teacher’s prime opportunity to model essential skills as the first step to deeper learning. By demonstrating content-rich instructional strategies to students through daily routines, students have a chance to listen, observe and discuss ideas and topics. And are the teachers challenging children to ask and investigate their own probing questions about the world? Preparing them for deep exploration in small group and independent learning time? This modeling ultimately leads to transference so that students will be able to apply learning to independent time and experiences beyond the classroom.
- In small-group instruction, through the use of data and observation, you should see teachers creating flexible groups of students that encourage them to be supportive of each other’s strengths. A thoughtfully formed group of students can bring each other up and allow for more individualized attention from teachers—a resource teacher or additional support can push in and have another small group, allowing striving readers to remain in class. Ask yourself this as well: Is there recognition of the opportunity during small-group instruction to instill social-emotional skills because students are able to discuss authentic texts with each other where they can see themselves (mirrors) and others (windows), share points of view and collaborate? Academic achievement is inseparable from social-emotional wellbeing and this demands a safe, positive learning environment for all children.
- The power of independent learning time is incredible. This time is an opportunity for exploration, practicing and demonstrating a transfer of knowledge gained from whole class and small group work. Students must have the opportunity to select books that inspire them and this can be achieved through an accessible classroom library filled with authentic, culturally responsive titles. Independent learning is also a perfect time to incorporate adaptive technology that can provide valuable data to teachers on their students’ progress and interests. Digital resources can help students practice important skills at their own pace—such as phonics and vocabulary—as well as provide greater access to fiction and nonfiction ebooks outside the classroom.
- As you consider your district’s literacy plan and instructional practices, remember that your teachers need continued opportunities to grow and collaborate with their peers. There is no instruction as productive as that which is fueled by ongoing, embedded professional development. This is the key to ensuring that teachers confidently learn to teach skills, tailor lessons based on students’ needs, and guide students to gain mastery as they become capable learners and readers.
- Finally, leaders can never underestimate the power of family engagement in a child’s reading life. Check in with your teachers and determine together what the plan is for continued communications with families to ensure that the learning goals for their children are clear and there is a mutual understanding of how families can help at home. For example, simply helping families know the questions to ask children that lead to deeper conversations than the typical “how was your day” can have tremendous results. Encourage them to instead open lines of communication by saying: “Tell me about what you read today in class.” “How did that make you feel?” “Have you read or written a story like that before?” Families are indispensable learning partners that help schools honor the child’s culture and link home language, family stories and ways of learning to the classroom.
Developing a lasting culture of literacy in your schools is, of course, a great deal of work but there is no task of greater importance than helping students become joyful and independent readers, writers and critical thinkers.