Elevating Teacher Expertise: Key to Literacy for All Children

irene_fountas_2012_webby Irene Fountas, Author and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

Over the decades, we have witnessed a variety of perspectives on the essentials of high quality literacy opportunities for children. Though we have seen a variety of approaches to instruction and arguments about content, the key role of teacher expertise in schools must be at the forefront of systemic change if we are serious about educating every child.

This means abandoning the notion that adopting a new set of materials, another new program or getting better units will be the most important factor. Of course we want beautiful books and high quality materials that support global learning but we need to reckon with the fact that what teachers know and understand as they make minute-by-minute decisions within the act of teaching is what will make the biggest difference in student learning. This will mean an investment in continuous professional learning with a focus on creating a culture of teacher growth in our schools.

Four key areas of expertise are essential for literacy teachers:

1. Expertise in Systematic Observation and Assessment  

Teachers need to be able to observe carefully what students know and are able to do as readers, writers, listeners, talkers, or viewers and they need to be skilled at using this information to guide teaching. Skilled observers note the precise language and literacy behaviors the child reveals and understand how the behaviors reflect the child’s building of a processing system for literacy. They can use that knowledge to make their next teaching move. Responsive teaching meets the learners where they are and brings them forward with intention and precision.

2. Expertise in Understanding the Reading and Writing Process and How it Changes Over Time  

Teachers need to know what proficient reading and writing looks like and sounds like. Through observing effective processing and how it changes over time, teachers build understandings of how readers and writers build a literacy processing system and can teach towards those competencies. This means teaching forward with a clear view of the competencies and the ability to note changes along the way.

3. Expertise in Understanding the Demands of Texts  

When teachers understand the ten characteristics of texts (Fountas and Pinnell), they can anticipate the demands and scaffold each reader in taking on new ways of processing increasingly complex texts. When teachers are able to analyze mentor texts, they can help writers learn how to write for a variety of purposes and audiences from effective writers of every genre. Knowledge of texts also enables the expert teacher to use different texts for different purposes.

4. Expertise in Core Instructional Procedures  

Teachers need to develop an expertise in a set of highly effective instructional procedures that can be linked to student learning. The procedures need to reflect elements of high impact teaching such as good pacing, intensity, and transfer. This includes knowing when whole group teaching, small group teaching, or individual teaching is appropriate and effective for the students. This also requires knowledge of the texts that provide the appropriate amount of support and challenge to assure new learning.

We have long known that what teachers know and can do is the most important factor in student learning. This means going beyond scripts and one size fits all lessons delivered the same way to students to complex teaching that is grounded in teacher understanding. We argue for the kind of thoughtful teaching that means not just changing what teachers do, but how they think about what they do. This means a school filled with educators who value and actively seek continuous professional learning and administrators who understand the investment in teacher expertise is the soundest long-term investment in student learning.

Our team at the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative provides a high level professional development for teachers and administrators to support these areas of expertise. We hope you will join us for an institute, a seminar series, or a long-term partnership to create the systemic change that assures every child grows up literate in our schools. www.lesley.edu/crr 

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?


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?


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.


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.

Running Records- Part 1

by Diane Powell, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Josh's rrI’m going to share some thinking from the questions that were posed by teachers on previous Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Twitter chats and could be a help to educators everywhere.  I’ll be using Marie Clay’s text An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement and Fountas & Pinnell’s The Continuum of Literacy Learning, PreK–8 as resources so you’ll know of appropriate resources to use in your continuing search for guidance around the use of Running Records.

1. Can you share strategies for helping teachers see value of Running Records as formative assessment rather than an event at the end of the term?

Teachers are very busy these days and unless they understand the power of Running Records and the rationales for using them, they will see them as optional or mandated a few times per year. One thing that often helps teachers see their value is to have them follow one reader over time by capturing the reading behaviors the reader demonstrates during oral reading. Looking across records of oral reading begins to show the teacher the ways in which the reader’s processing power is changing over time. It also allows us to think about how our teaching is impacting the learning of the reader –or not. The Running Record allows us to see how the reader is using strategic actions for thinking within the text – those he is using and those he is neglecting to use. How is the reader working in a balanced way to gain meaning from a text? What does he do when he comes to an unknown word? How is the reader showing us he’s monitoring his reading? How does his reading sound with respect to aspects of fluency? How does the reader search for and use information sources to read or self-correct? How does the reader adjust his reading depending on the text and the purpose for reading? All of these kinds of information can inform our teaching and the student’s learning. Yes, it takes some time, but the teaching becomes so much more powerful based on what we find in the Running Records.  Using them only occasionally is like taking only a portion of a prescription a doctor gives you – it doesn’t reach the problem to provide long lasting improvement for the reader!


2.  How often should readers be assessed with Running Records? How often should teachers be doing Running Records, besides benchmarking?

That depends on the reader. If a reader is making steady progress in his reading, it makes sense to check in with him every 2-3 weeks to be sure his trajectory continues in the right direction and he’s taking on new learning as well as strengthening his reading powers. High progress readers should probably have a check in about every 4-6 weeks to be sure they, too, are continuing to progress.

 On the other hand, if the reader is reading below grade level, he needs more frequent checks. A teacher should plan on capturing his reading every two weeks to see if any of the teaching that you’re doing is impacting his learning. If not, you need to adjust the teaching to work from the reader’s current strengths and move him forward. That’s often easier said than done and it may require help from a colleague who works with struggling readers or a coach who can see things you might be missing. Make sure you reach out for help in working with readers who are not making progress. They may be taking on the learning differently than you imagine and your teaching might be missing them where they are.

Part 2 of this post (next week) will answer some of the remaining questions on Running Records from our previous Twitter chats!

Guided Reading K-2 Twitter chat with Irene Fountas transcript

Guided Reading K-2 Twitter chat with Irene Fountas transcript

On 6/20/13, we had our Center’s first Twitter chat! Irene Fountas took questions from teachers around the world about guided reading in grades K-2. The transcript of the chat can be found by clicking the link above. Thank you to all of the educators who participated or followed the chat. It was great to see all of the terrific questions that were asked by all!

Our next guided reading Twitter chat will be this Thursday, 6/27, from 4-5 pm Eastern. Irene will be taking questions on guided reading in grades 3-5.