The Illusion of Change

By Guest blogger, Dr. Anthony Muhammad, Author and Leadership Consultant.  He will be speaking at a VIP Leadership Summit event sponsored by the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative. This event is being held May 15, 2017 at the DoubleTree in Westborough, MA. It is an invitation only event designed to offer an opportunity for school leadership to discuss transforming school culture to build teacher leadership and improve student outcomes. Please contact literacy@lesley.edu for more information.

 

Anthony MuhammedChange is a very difficult process, but it is the catalyst to continuous improvement.  It tests our ability as professionals at many different levels.  Sometimes, when things get too challenging, we tend to look for short-cuts or we quietly surrender.  We live in a political climate that demands that we change, whether we choose to or not, but I have found that some organizations are good at creating the illusion of change, rather than being fully involved in the process of change.  There are a three key phrases which clearly indicate that an organization is not fully committed to the change process.

Phrase #1: “We are having conversations”

This phrase is a code for; “we have a lot of opposition to this idea and we are afraid to make people too uncomfortable and release an onslaught of political and social opposition.”  I recently worked with a school that has been involved with the implementation of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process for three years.  They have created collaborative teams and they have designated time for those collaborative teams to meet.  They have created district-wide formative assessments that are administered four times per year.  These milestones were reached in the first year of the process.  So, I asked about PLC Questions #3 and #4 which address systems of student intervention and enrichment, and the room got very quiet.  When people finally began to speak, each answer began with the phrase “we are having conversations.”  If your district is “having conversations,” the change process has stalled.

Phrase #2: “We are in different places”

This phrase is code for; “we don’t have a universal system of accountability, and people who understand the intrinsic value of what we propose have embraced it, and those that are averse are allowed to disregard it until they ‘buy-in’.” Schools and systems that use this phrase are engaged in what I call “accountability light.” This is a diet version of universal professional accountability where group expectations and coherence are the norm.  Healthy school cultures make collaborative decisions and they hold each other mutually accountable for full participation.  When shared commitment is not achieved, a tiered-system of commitment emerges where implementation is based upon personal preference.  Partial commitment is the same as no commitment.

Phrase #3: “District initiatives”

This phrase is code for; “there is a huge philosophical divide between school practitioners and central office which has led to a stalemate.”  I have had the pleasure to work with thousands of schools on the change process and whenever practitioners refer to the change process as a “district initiative,” it is never good.  In essence what they are expressing is a feeling of imposition.  In the mind of the school practitioner, they are confronting real world issues and they have their fingers on the pulse of the needs of the school; and central office lives a world disconnected from reality and their priorities are unreasonable and unnecessary.   This is a clear indication of poor communication and professional disconnection.  If your district has a lot of “initiatives,” effective change is probably not on the horizon.

A First Timer’s Guide to Registering for the Literacy for All Conference

We’re excited to announce we’ve opened registration for the 28th Annual Literacy for All Conference, co-hosted with The University of Maine, and the University of Connecticut. This year the conference will be held October 22–24, 2017 in Providence, Rhode Island. While we know many of you are veteran LFA attendees, each year we have more and more new faces joining us in Providence. Welcome to all first timers!

We have made it even easier to register for the Literacy for All Conference! Simply visit www.regonline.com/lfa2017 and enter your email address to begin your registration process. We’ve put together a little guide to our online registration system to help make the process as quick and painless as possible.

An Important Note

We have created an online registration process that seamlessly guides you through the steps of registration. Please do not use your Internet browser’s “back” button if you want to go back and make a change, as it will cause errors and you will not be able to complete your registration. Instead, if you need to change something, complete your registration and then email us at literacy@lesley.edu, and we will make the changes for you.

Before You Register

First, you should make a list of all the sessions you want to attend. You can find the full list on our website. Each time block is listed with a letter, ie: LCA, LCB, etc. Then, each session within that time block is numbered. So, the full session code will read something like LCA-1 or LCC-4. You can only choose one session per time block, so you should have one LCA, one LCB, and so on.  Please note, that on our online registration system, RegOnline, the sessions are listed with only the code and the presenter name, not the session title, as shown below.

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The only variation is in the In-Depth sessions, which occur either in the C or F blocks. In-Depth sessions are three hours long, not the normal 90 minutes, so if you choose an In-Depth session for your C or F, you will not be able to choose a D or G, respectively, as the In-Depth session will run through that time.

If a session doesn’t appear on the drop-down menu that means it is sold out and you will have to choose another session. Sessions do sell out, so we recommend registering as early as possible to ensure you get all your first choices.

Second, know your method of payment. If your district will be paying for you with a purchase order, you don’t need to know the purchase order number to register. If your district will be paying for you with a credit card, you can still register yourself. When you get to the checkout screen, simply choose “Pay with Purchase Order” and then have your district call us with the credit card number, or fax or email us the PO within ten business days of registering.  Please note, if you are paying with a purchase order (PO), we require that you submit a copy of your PO to secure your registration.  If your PO has not been received by the opening of the institute, you will be required to provide a credit card in order to attend the institute.

We recommend that all attendees register themselves. The process begins with an email validation– you’ll receive an email with a secure link, which you’ll need to click on in order to continue your registration. Forwarding these emails can sometimes be tricky, so we recommend you register yourself to avoid confusion.

If someone else has to register for you, we recommend that you choose your sessions ahead of time and give the list of sessions, including session code and presenter name to the person registering you.

When entering in your personal information, please note that there are separate spaces to enter your school district and your school name, as shown below. When entering your district, please don’t use abbreviations like RSD or UFSD– if the district has a separate name (ie: Oxford Hills School District) please use that; alternately, please spell out the words Regional School District. This will help us keep uniformity in printing name badges, and help match up registrants to purchase orders when we receive them.

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Confirmation

When you’re done registering, you will see a screen confirming that your registration is complete. If you don’t see that screen, you haven’t finished registering yet! Once you get to that screen, be sure to read it thoroughly, as it contains details about which sessions have required readings and materials, a list of conference policies, your own detailed agenda based on the sessions you selected, and other helpful links.

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In addition to the confirmation page, a confirmation email will be automatically sent to the email address you provided. If it doesn’t appear within an hour of you registering, check your spam and junk folders, as some email providers mark emails from RegOnline as spam by mistake. In the past, many were not able to receive RegOnline emails, because many schools block emails from RegOnline, so if you have a personal email address, we encourage you to use it, instead of your school email, when registering.  If you don’t receive your confirmation email at all, please email literacy@lesley.edu and we will re-send it to you.

Please help us be environmentally conscious! Do not print out your confirmation message to mail in with your check or PO. Instead, just make sure your full name and district are written on the PO or in the item line of the check. That’s all we need to match up your payment with your record in the system.

Conference Events, Exhibit Fair, and Other Information

The conference registration desk hours are as follows:

  • Sunday, October 22, 2017: 10:00 am–6:00 pm
  • Monday, October 23, 2017: 7:00 am–5:00 pm
  • Tuesday, October 24, 2017: 7:30 am–9:00 am

The conference help desk will be open 7:00 am – 6:00 pm each day.

Literacy for All also includes an exhibit fair with booths showcasing classroom services and products for all grade levels and subjects. Exhibit hours are 4:00-6:00 on Sunday, 10:00–6:00 on Monday, with the Exhibit Fair from 5:00–6:00; and 7:30–3:30 on Tuesday. During the Exhibit Fair on Monday, you can enter to win something from our prize raffle, and get books signed by some of our featured and keynote speakers.

Please visit the conference website, www.lesley.edu/literacyforall, for information on hotels, parking, attendance policy and certificates of attendance, and sessions with required readings/handouts/materials.

Have questions? You can contact us anytime at literacy@lesley.edu or by phone at 617.349.8402.

Looking forward to seeing you all in October!

Elevating the Profile of Literacy Improvement

By Wendy Vaulton, Assistant Director of Research, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

wendy-vaulton“So, what do you do?” For years I envied people with job titles that were easy to convey in casual conversation—nurses, spy novelists, dog groomers.  My stock answer involved so much detail that by the time I finished, any sane person would have nodded off or fled for the bean dip. Enter the elevator speech.

Used in the corporate world to promote good and services for years, the elevator speech (or elevator pitch) can also promote your school’s literacy efforts. The elevator speech is intended to be brief (imagine the length of time it takes to ride up a couple of floors), and the primary goal is to interest someone in learning more, rather than deluging them with information.

Developing an elevator speech is not easy.  You want your speech to be simple but not simplistic, and rehearsed but not canned.  Start with a “hook” to peak the listener’s interest and motivate them to continue the conversation. Your hook might change depending on who you’re talking to, but two of the most memorable hooks shared by Literacy Coaches during trainings were:

  • “I help teachers make better decisions in the classroom”
  • “I’m the literacy quarterback at my school”

Follow your hook with that which is most difficult of all…a pause. Give that school board member a moment to ask a question or respond. Then, be prepared to answer those questions simply. You have already learned something valuable about that stakeholder’s point of view just by the nature of his or her question. It helps if you have a few “headlines” in your back pocket about results or needs that are relevant to different interest groups (parents, school board members, central administrators).  It takes practice and a lot of thought to get there, but when you can explain your literacy improvement efforts in 30 seconds, you’ve got it.

Assuring a Standardized Comprehension Conversation with the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System

By Irene Fountas, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Director/Author/Professor

irene_fountas_2.JPGAs you use the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, do you and your colleagues have common understandings so you will have accurate information on your students? Think about how you are providing a standardized comprehension conversation and scoring it in a standardized way. The following suggestions may be helpful:

Before the Assessment:
* Be sure you have read and thought about the information in the book. When you know the text well, it will be easier to facilitate the conversation.

* Read the key understandings and prompts prior to the assessment so you are familiar with them.

* Explain to children beforehand that you are going to meet with each of them to listen to them read so you will be able to help them as readers. Explain that you will ask them to read a short book and then you will ask them to share their thinking about what they read.

During the Assessment
* Use an encouraging tone when inviting the student to talk more.

* Avoid repeating what the student says.

* Give wait time instead of jumping in to ask the question again.

* Be concise in the language of your prompts.

* Don’t ask leading questions.

* When the student has indicated some knowledge of an answer but uses only one or two words in a superficial way, you must respond with “Say more about that.” or “Talk more about that.”

* If a student is simply pasting sentences from the text together, or reading them, it shows the student knows where to find evidence; however, the student needs to be able to articulate, understanding independently. You might say, “Can you say that in your own words?”

* Try not to repeat a question or prompt unless it is necessary. Repeating a question several times can make a child confused or become “a lead” to an answer.

* Paraphrase a prompt only once. Doing so multiple times may lead the student to an answer.

* Avoid asking a question in a way that “gives” the answer. A leading question might be, “And how do these adaptations help this animal?”

* Be careful not to change the intentions of a prompt or question. For example, “What is the writer’s message?” is different from “What is the writer’s message about extinction?”

* Do not direct the student to a particular part of the book unless the prompt requires it.

* Allow the student to look back in the book if they initiate it. If the student starts to read from the book, you should say “Can you say that in your own words?”

As you become very well versed with the books and the prompts, your comprehension conversation at the lower levels will only take about 2-3 minutes and the upper levels about 4-5 minutes. Remember, an assessment conference is the time for you to gather good information, so resist the urge to teach! Discuss these points with your colleagues so your team can assure that each student is engaged in a standardized comprehension conversation that gives good data to inform teaching and document profiles through time.

Learning Places: Shifting from School Change to Fostering a Culture of Growth

By Irene Fountas, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Director/Author/Professor

As we contemplate the improvement of our craft to benefit the children we teach, it can be useful to reflect on the language we use to describe the journey. Recently, I began to notice how often I read the term or use the term “school change” and began to think about a needed shift in language.

irene_fountas_2In a culture where all professionals are committed to the learning of their students, every teacher uses the knowledge they have to provide the most effective teaching they can. Every teacher is doing what he understands. So I began to think, the goal is not to change, but to grow. Nothing we do as teachers is wrong. Our teaching actions represent our best understandings at a particular point in time. Instead of spending time feeling badly, we need to focus our efforts on growing and supporting the growth of all members of the school community.

In their book Learning Places, Fullan and St. Germain describe schools as “learning places” or places where learning thrives.

  • Educators recognize that school improvement is complex.
  • Teachers are supported to engage in ongoing critical inquiry.
  • Educators have a shared purpose, a common base of knowledge and develop a common language.
  • Working as a team to recognize problems and plan actions, educators engage in a variety of collaborative activities.
  • Educators take shared responsibility for student learning.
  • All members seek to expand their knowledge through professional reading, study groups, conferences, research, affiliation with universities, professional organizations, coaching sessions and professional development sessions.
  • All members of the school community are invited to pool their knowledge and experiences to make informed decisions that best serve the school.

These critical elements should resonate with you as you think about your schools’ journey of growth.  As you think about the culture of your particular school, contemplate the factors that will support a culture of teacher growth – one that honors everyone’s efforts, but also brings energy and passion to the goal of continued learning. In the words of Fullan and St. Germain, think about whether your school is a “learning place.”

Fullan, Michael and St. Germain, Clif. (2006). Learning Places: A Field Guide for Improving the Context of Schooling. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Bringing Back Some Teacher Control to Reading Instruction

Thumbnail- Wiley Blevins

by Guest Blogger Wiley Blevins—Author (A Fresh Look at Phonics) and
2016 Literacy for All Conference speaker

As teachers, we know our students better than anyone else. Yet in some schools, teachers are given curriculum and told to follow it with fidelity—meaning, do exactly what the teacher guide says and never veer. To compound this issue, principals and district personnel visit these teachers, observe their teaching, and criticize or punish them when the lesson hasn’t been followed verbatim.

This happens for a variety of reasons that are important to understand. A district reading coordinator, for example, is responsible for the academic growth of all the students in the school system. She purchases a packaged curriculum with research data to support its efficacy and believes that this program will have a strong, positive impact on student growth. She devotes a great deal of time and money to select, purchase, and train on the use of these new instructional materials and practices. So, it makes sense that the district administrator would want these materials used properly and implemented well. When principals and district-level personnel visit classrooms for observations, some have reading expertise, others do not. So, what do they do? They pick up the lesson and follow along as the teacher teaches. Of course, any deviation from that plan will be noticed. Over time, teachers begin feeling like these observations are increasingly punitive and decide it’s best to just “follow the plan.” In some instances the result is teachers who are going through the motions. It’s fear-based teaching and it’s the most disheartening thing I see in classrooms. So what do you do?

In some school districts I’ve worked with, I’ve recommended using an 80-20 principle of instruction. I didn’t make this up (I wish I had); it was something used by one of my principals back in the 80s and something common to high-tech companies today. Here’s the basics behind the 80-20 principle. Workers devote 80% of their time to the assignments given them by their managers. The other 20% of their time is theirs, time in which they can innovate to create new product ideas and grow and develop. This creates a situation in which the company is getting the work they need from their employees, and the employees are respected and highly engaged because they have time to be creative, use their training, and possibly create breakthrough ideas.

How does this apply to the teaching of reading? What this means is that 80% of the time teachers use the district approved materials and resources (including tools for differentiation). 20% of the time, teachers examine their student needs and use their own creative ideas and best practices to meet those needs. This can occur in many different forms.

In one district, teachers followed the curriculum 4 days a week (80% of the time). The 5th day was called a “Flex” day. The teachers could meet the stated learning objectives in any way they saw fit. Some teachers would “bank” their flex days for a month and have a “Flex Week” in which they would do an author study, book study, or larger project-based learning mini-unit.

In another district, they built in places in the lesson plans each day where teachers had choices. Some were simple places, such as the selection of the daily read aloud. The district’s curriculum only provided a read aloud for one day each week, yet students need to be read to every day. So, the district created a list of books from collections they had purchased, books available in the school library, and other recommended titles that the teachers could choose from related to the unit’s theme. The teachers could also choose any book of their own that they liked. The teachers were given a generic read aloud protocol (routine for selecting a book, identifying vocabulary words to highlight, writing text-based questions, etc.) to use with the books they chose. Teachers loved this freedom and the amount of reading aloud increased in the classrooms. That’s a simple fix.

In other places of the lesson, teachers were asked to think about the formative assessment data they had collected throughout the lesson or week and make decisions about what to do next based on their students’ needs, rather than what the curriculum suggested. For example, on the last day of an instructional cycle in any reading program (generally Day 5), teachers are given a series of review activities, one per main skill taught that week. In classrooms where teachers felt punished for not following the curriculum, they would simple march through these (often simple and boring) activities without regard to whether or not their students needed them. In an 80-20 situation, teachers instead look at which skills their students need reinforcement on (and which students need what), then select from the activities provided, a list of additional more-engaging activities provided by the district, or create their own activities to use. This is so much more fun for teachers and more purposeful for students! If a district observer entered the classroom and picked up the lesson plan, they knew this was a place the teacher was thinking about her students’ needs and innovating using her wealth of experience, resources, and expertise.

Another example of bigger choice involved the use of novel studies. For the last unit of the year (in which the district really wanted to reinforce the skills taught during the year in a longer text than those provided in basal reading anthologies), teachers could choose to do the unit provided in the basal or replace it with a novel study. The specific novel used was selected by the teachers after several were distributed for review and a vote taken. (Teachers must have a say in some of these decisions.) A few master teachers then worked together at the district level to create a lesson guide including some support for vocabulary selection and instruction, text-dependent questions, writing experiences, etc. However, teachers were asked to evaluate their students’ growth on all the major standards for the year and focus on those that students still needed work on. That means teachers could innovate on the plan provided. Additional support readings were provided to supplement the novel. These were often short, informational text pieces so those skills could be addressed, too.

We need to put systems in place like these in which teachers are respected, highly engaged, thinking professionals with the necessary support tools. This involves a system in which district level administrators also know that their efforts (time, money, expertise) are being utilized and publishers are comfortable that their materials are being implemented with enough efficacy to ensure their success. But remember, a textbook or instructional resource is only a tool. And no one tool will be perfect. You want to find and use the best tools possible for your students. But you and only you can take that tool to the next level by adjusting it to your students and their specific needs.


Wiley Blevins is speaking at the Literacy for All conference on:

Monday (10/24) from 10:30 am – 12:00 pm– The Key Characteristics of Strong Phonics Instruction and the 10 Common Causes of Failure (Grades K-2)

Monday (10/24) from 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm, Navigating Nonfiction (Grades 3-6)

Tuesday (10/25) from 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm– The Key Characteristics of Strong Phonics Instruction and the 10 Common Causes of Failure (Grades K-2) (repeated)

So How Are Your Reading Interventions Working?

toni's photo for blogby Toni Czekanski, Assistant Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Schools and school districts spend a lot of money on interventions designed to help students who have difficulty learning to read or write become more proficient in a short amount of time. This is the goal: to close the achievement gap. But how well are you implementing your interventions, and how often are you monitoring data on these students to be sure that what you are doing works for them?

LITERACY COLLABORATIVE

364In Literacy Collaborative we talk about Fidelity of Implementation. Usually it is in terms of your implementation of the LC model: leadership team, effective classroom teaching supported by ongoing professional development and coaching, shared leadership, data monitoring, and then…intervention. On the Fidelity of Implementation document we ask you to consider what you are doing for reading and writing interventions and how those interventions are working. What is the payoff for your students?

READING RECOVERY

Teacher and studentIf you have Reading Recovery in your school as your Tier 3 intervention, there are already built-in processes to help Reading Recovery teachers monitor their work with students. Each day they review what happened in the lesson, take a running record of a book that was introduced the day before, and make plans for where to take the student next. These teachers keep track of each student’s performance on a daily basis, and enter it annually into the national IDEC database. Each year these statistics are reviewed and an annual report is published on the successes and challenges related to Reading Recovery student achievement.

It is incumbent on each school to scrutinize their Reading Recovery teaching and data with the same rigor. In this way, the school is ensuring that students get targeted instruction that conforms to the national standards. That is the only way students who are in the bottom 20-25% of their class can possibly hope to not only catch up to the average students in their grade, but sometimes surpass them…and continue to thrive as they move up through the grades.

LEVELED LITERACY INTERVENTION (LLI)

LLI group photoWhat about Leveled Literacy Intervention? In order to implement this small group intervention with fidelity, lessons should be thirty to forty-five minutes long (depending on the level), and the LLI teacher should meet with students daily. Just as in Reading Recovery, frequent assessment assures that the students are working at their growing edge, and that the time spent on this intensive intervention has pay-offs when students meet or exceed the reading performance of their on-grade-level peers.

Schools that have invested in training LLI teachers and in materials to support the intervention then need to insure that the intervention is administered with fidelity. LLI students have been identified as needing help to succeed with reading and writing. If they do not receive the intervention as designed, then schools are compromising the ability of these students to make the big gains necessary to close the gap between them and their on-grade-level peers. Intervention is about hard, targeted teaching designed to make swift achievement gains. What can your school leadership team do to insure that interventions are administered as designed?

Whatever interventions your school uses, here are some things you might consider:

  • Time: is the time you have allotted for your interventionists to work with students adequate? Can they meet with students five days a week for the prescribed amount of time? Do they have adequate time between lessons to reflect on their teaching and record data? If time is tight, how might you stretch it?
  • Training and Monitoring: Have interventionists received adequate training in how to use materials and monitor data? Do they engage with ongoing professional development to keep their teaching skills sharp? Do they meet with other interventionists in the district to share experiences and problem-solve dilemmas?
  • Data analysis: Do interventionists have time to analyze data and meet with literacy teams to problem-solve when students are not making adequate progress? How frequently does this happen? Reading Recovery and LLI are short-term interventions. If students are not progressing after ten to fifteen lessons, another pair of eyes and ears might help to make shifts in the teaching that will help students be more successful. What procedures are in place to re-evaluate instruction that is not working and support interventionists who might need help in analyzing their work?
  • Team work: Do the administrators, classroom teachers, interventionists, and literacy coaches work as a team to develop intervention plans and monitor them for success? Does the administrator support the interventionists with time, space, materials, and ongoing professional development opportunities? Does the team meet periodically to review the progress of students taking part in interventions to determine whether those interventions are successful? What are the criteria you use to determine success?

These are all hard questions, but they can help you with the bottom line. And that bottom line is working toward student achievement through the diligent planning and implementation of effective interventions. An intervention can only be successful when done with rigor and fidelity, and when it is supported by close examination of assessment data and teaching practices.