With more than 150,000 students, our urban school district is one of the largest in the nation. An issue that we frequently grapple with is the problem around “one-shot” professional development—the kind of PD where teachers attend one session targeted around a certain need. The problems with this type of PD had been myriad: Usually, teachers did not delve any deeper into the topic, nor did they receive ongoing support. And these sessions were also not typically embedded in their daily work. So we began to think differently about how we approached PD.
An opportunity to do so arose when the Executive Director of one of our feeder patterns asked our department how we could support the primary literacy teachers at nine elementary schools in their study of guided reading. We decided to embark upon a semester-long professional learning community (PLC) focused on guided reading. We chose Jan Richardson’s The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading as the text that would be the center of our work. I worked closely with the Academic Facilitator from that feeder pattern throughout the entire process.
Our Guided Reading PLC
First, we had each school complete an inventory of their leveled libraries and reading assessment kits. Next, campus administrators chose one teacher from each grade (K-2) to attend our monthly sessions and become trained as guided reading teacher-leaders. Some teacher-leaders were in their first year of teaching, while others were veterans, but each was chosen because he/she exemplified a growth mindset. Literacy coaches from each campus also attended the monthly sessions. It was imperative for the literacy coaches to learn alongside the teachers to increase their own capacity, to carry a consistent message to the teachers not directly involved in the PLC, and to provide additional support to all teachers implementing guided reading. Approximately 50 teachers, coaches, librarians, and administrators attended each session.
I planned each session using the outline of Jan Richardson’s book and accompanying study guide. Teachers read chapters in the book before coming to the sessions, and we began each meeting with a read aloud. These read alouds, although not a part of a guided reading lesson, served as a time to build community, a model of an effective literacy practice, and time to talk about books and literacy.
We implemented Richardson’s “Assess, Decide, Guide” framework in each session as we focused on a specific developmental level of a reader. Each time, participants listened to a recording of a student reading a leveled text, and completed a running record as they listened. The teachers then worked together to notice patterns in the student’s reading behaviors and determine next steps for reading instruction. After digging into the information in the chapters and videos from the book, teachers met in groups to discuss how guided reading was progressing in their classrooms, to share artifacts from their classrooms, or to discuss student assessment data. At the conclusion of each session, teachers set their own individual, specific implementation goals based upon the learning they had that day.
In the Classroom
Between sessions, the teachers implemented new guided reading practices in their classrooms. The teacher-leaders shared their learning with grade-level teams so that even the teachers who were not part of the PLC still benefitted. Literacy coaches frequently visited the teacher-leaders’ classrooms during guided reading to offer on-the-spot coaching support. Every few weeks, a small group of leaders (administrators, literacy coaches, the Academic Facilitator, and I) visited the classrooms of the teacher-leaders during their guided reading instruction. During these instructional rounds, we used the rubrics that accompany Jan Richardson’s book to guide our observations. It was important that these observations were not seen as an evaluation of the teacher but as an important step in providing specific feedback that would lead to continued growth for both teachers and students. After each visit, the group shared with the building administrator any trends that we observed. Information gathered from the observations also helped determine topics for discussion at future PLC sessions. This cycle of professional development session, implementation, classroom visits, and feedback reoccurred monthly.
The thirty-one participating teachers were surveyed on their beliefs about guided reading during the first PLC session. All of the teachers indicated that guided reading was an important vehicle in moving students toward grade-level proficiency in reading. However, 30% of the teachers felt they were not adequately prepared to conduct guided reading. Although they felt it was important and necessary to conduct guided reading every day, only 28% of teachers reported that they did so. When teachers were given the same survey during the final session, over 90% reported that because of the PLC, they were now adequately prepared to conduct guided reading on a daily basis.
Teachers were asked what specific knowledge they had gained as result of the PLC. One teacher explained that she now knew “how to better organize my class and structure guided reading using specific activities to guide students’ understanding; meeting them at their level and challenging them.”
Another teacher mentioned that he learned how to incorporate writing into guided reading. When asked how their level of understanding of guided reading had changed since before the PLC, one teacher wrote, “This PLC addressed questions regarding guided reading, and equipped me to be successful in implementing and doing guided reading well.”
Teachers were also asked to describe how their thoughts and beliefs regarding guided reading changed throughout the PLC. One teacher stated, “I feel more confident, organized, and prepared.” Another teacher wrote, “I am confident to implement it in my classroom and enjoy it! It’s amazing to see how much they are learning and how much we can get done in 20 minutes!”
We attributed the success of this PLC to the fact that teachers were engaged in work that directly connected to their classrooms and that they were provided time during the sessions to reflect and engage in meaningful conversations about that work. This semester-long PLC approach with multiple campuses was so successful that the teacher-leaders designed an entire day of professional development on guided reading for their colleagues before school started the next school year. Additionally, this new professional learning model was so impactful that ten other feeder patterns in our district adapted it into a year-long model for more than 50 additional campuses.
Photo by Gina Asprocolas