The Most Important Part of Strategy Instruction

By Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, 2018 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speakers

With the publication of Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman
in 1997, ideas about comprehension instruction began to shift towards teaching students  to be strategic. Since then, powerfully influential books–such as Strategies that Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis and The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo–have helped us understand how to consider the strategic work of reading as a collection of processes that work together to help children comprehend text. While we agree that strategy instruction should be an instructional mainstay, we invite you to consider some of the more subtle aspects of teaching students to be strategic.

LFA2018-Kim-YarisLFA2018-Jan-BurkinsHere are five things to think about as you are working to develop strategic readers in your classroom:

  1. You can better teach reading strategies if you understand the reading processes of students.

    Listening to students read, talking to them about their understanding of texts, and knowing how they idiosyncratically approach and process text is quintessential to knowing which strategy will be most helpful to them. As a teacher you can know 1,000 reading strategies, but if you don’t know your students well enough to understand them as readers, you will not be able to effectively match the strategy with the reader.

  2. Students do not need 1000 strategies to be successful, in fact this may make them less successful. 

    The value of knowing a lot of strategies as a teacher is that we can then differentiate our instruction to meet the individual needs of students. Teaching lots of strategies to all of your students, however, will likely produce a cognitive overload. In the moment of figuring out the tricky part of a text, having three very-versatile strategies will prove more beneficial than having 15 specific strategies. In the moment of reading, problem solving must be on the run. Having too many strategies to sort through slows the whole process, which interrupts comprehension. Sometimes, less is more.

  3. It doesn’t matter how many strategies students know, if they don’t actually use them. 

    The real value of reading strategies is in their application! If students don’t–independent of teacher reminders and prompting–use a strategy, then it is of little value. The reading rubber meets the literacy road when you evaluate strategy instruction through the lens of student transfer–Do students know when, as well as how, to use strategies, and are they doing so independently?

  4. Isolated strategies are not the end goal. 

    The ultimate purpose of strategy instruction is that students integrate new strategies into their larger reading process. Knowing how to infer (or question or predict or clarify, etc.) is not enough. Proficient readers integrate strategies, flexibly using them in fluid ways. Putting all the strategies together is the ultimate goal.

  5. Not all students need explicit instruction in specific strategies. 

    Students who have balanced and integrated reading processes, who are already strategic and agentive as they work through text, probably need little (or even no) strategy instruction. They simply need more time to read. Their reading processes are already what Marie Clay referred to as “self-extending systems.” Be careful about one-size-fits-all strategy instruction, particularly if it replaces actual reading practice for students.

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Book Review: Leadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement

By Jill Eurich, Assistant Director of Intermediate and Middle School Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University

102283bLeadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement by Linda Lambert is a slender book that was published ten years ago but remains for me one of the most accessible, wise, and helpful books for thinking about school change. It combines her own thoughts about elements essential for lasting school improvement, some examples of schools that have attained success and what that looks like, and a variety of ways to analyze your own school or district to develop an action plan to achieve leadership capacity.

In the opening chapter Lambert provides a Leadership Capacity Matrix (Figure 1.3, pg. 5) to begin to set forth essential components for building school capacity. Through her narrative here are some elements she describes:

How we define leadership frames how people will participate in it. Within the context of education, the term “community” has almost come to mean any gathering of people in a social setting. But real communities ask more of us than merely to gather together; they also assume a focus on a shared purpose, mutual regard and caring and an insistence on integrity and truthfulness. By leadership capacity I mean broad based, skillful participation in the work of leadership… (pg. 4). It is only when a school has undertaken skillful work using inquiry, dialogue and reflection to achieve student performance goals that a school can be said to have achieved high leadership capacity (pgs. 4,5).

Lambert provides figures, rubrics, surveys and a series of questions to engage in as principals, faculty, and staff so to assess our own capacity and chart a course for improvement. Here are a few I have found particularly thought provoking and useful:

  • Engaging Reluctant Teachers: Questions to Ask Ourselves
  • Principals of Constructivism
  • How Principals Build and Sustain Leadership Capacity
  • Leadership Capacity Staff Survey
  • School Assessment Questions

The crucial role that the superintendent and district administration plays is also explored. “A shared vision is the touchstone from which district actions flow; for the vision to be meaningful, it should be created by representatives from all school community groups. Because they are derived from core values, school and district visions should be congruent if they are to guide action. This does not mean the vision statements need to be identical, but they do need to be mediated so that participants understand how they are connected ” (pg. 86).

Linda Lambert’s Leadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement is both visionary and practical. I highly recommend it!

Leading for Excellence: Establishing Coherence in the Instructional Program

by Irene Fountas

Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

One essential goal in our schools is to create places where students learn how to learn and experience the joy of inquiry into meaningful topics and a variety of texts so they can develop the essential habits and competencies that will enable them to live a fulfilling and productive life. This is the greater goal that sometimes gets lost in everyday schooling. The goal can’t be accomplished without year after year of highly effective teamwork around a set of common values and beliefs that pervade the school. The set of values and beliefs form the foundation for the set of competencies that form the curriculum and lead to the effective instructional practices.

The Principal Factor

As the instructional leader in the school, the principal plays a key role in bringing the team together around developing and stating in clear terms the values and beliefs of the school that will provide the context for student learning. The team includes all those who support the literacy development of the students which of course includes classroom teachers, disciplinary teachers, support teachers, and specialists and classroom teachers. Along with the principal, the whole school team owns the outcomes of the literacy program and contributes to the success of each other in helping students achieving those outcomes.

Some key questions include:

What literacy opportunities will every student have in their school day?

How will students be actively engaged in their learning?

How much text will students process each day?

What text resources will students access?

What kinds of assessments will inform the continuous teaching?

How will members of the team work together to plan for and assess the progress of each student?

When the values and beliefs in the school are clear, the team can provide coherence in the instructional program and the principal can support policy decisions and decisions related to professional learning opportunities in the school to align with those goals. The professional staff has clear expectations of their role in supporting the students and in supporting each other and the students benefit from the kind of teamwork that lets no child fall through the crack.  Every child deserves this kind of coherence to grow up literate in our schools.


We hope principals and school teams can join us for What Every School Leader Needs to Know About Good Literacy Teaching and Effective Literacy Coaching so that you can articulate your vision and have the collegial support to help your school achieve the excellence that assures every child is successfully literate.  Consider coming with principals and school teams from your district, your literacy coach, and key members of your central office as a team. Choose from our winter or summer seminar series:

Winter 2013:

January 29-31 and March 4-5, 2013

Summer 2013:

August 12-15, 2013

I hope to meet you and support you in achieving excellence!

Literacy Leadership Teams and The Vital Role They Play

By Dixie Jones

Guest Blogger

It [Leadership] means generating ideas together; to seek to reflect on and make sense of work in the light of shared beliefs and new information; and to create actions that grow out of these new understandings.”   -Harris and Lambert 2003

It’s not too late!   The new school year is here once again.  As you look ahead to the promise of this year, don’t forget about your school-based literacy leadership team.  Hopefully this group has already convened and has a clear, shared vision of what is necessary to support student success and growth over the upcoming year.

If you do not already have a literacy leadership team at your school, how do you decide who should participate?  Consideration needs to be given to the unique perspective each member will bring to the team.  A well-designed literacy leadership team includes administrators, the literacy coach, a classroom literacy teacher from each grade level, and representatives from special education and literacy support personnel.   It is important that this team of professionals share a common vision of the desired goal of the literacy implementation and its development over time.  If this vision has not been established, it should be an initial agenda item.

This team makes decisions throughout the year that directly impact the literacy development of the students, teachers, and school.  In order for this to occur on a regular basis, monthly team meetings should be scheduled at the beginning of the school year.  It is student data and the interpretation of this data that informs the  team as they evaluate the literacy implementation at the school.  Part of the responsibility of the literacy leadership team is to decide on assessments that will most accurately reflect student progress over time with enough specificity to evaluate the strengths and needs of the students, teachers, and literacy instruction.  The data gathered provides insights into weaknesses and strengths of the instruction going on at the school, both in classrooms and interventions.  Careful evaluation and reflection on the student data is the foundation for decisions made regarding budget, professional development, schedules, interventions, and many other concerns.

I know, I know.  This is a tall order and it takes time and effort to meet with the literacy leadership team on a regular basis.  It sometimes seems easier to just make decisions without the benefit of everyone’s input.  That is especially true when the decision-making involves some hashing out of difficult issues.  It can be tense.  However, the benefits that come from having an active literacy leadership team at your school are enormous and are heightened when members of the team look at the issues through a lens unique to their situation.  This is important to making well-rounded decisions in line with the overall vision. The team serves as a compass, keeping the school on a path to the desired outcome.

We will continue to look at the vital role literacy leadership teams play in the implementation of an effective literacy initiative in an upcoming blog.


Harris, A. and Lambert, L. (2003) Building Leadership Capacity for School Improvement. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Creating a Culture of Collaboration Between Early Literacy Interventionist Teachers and Classroom Teachers

by Dr. Eva Konstantellou, Reading Recovery trainer

“Educators who are building a professional learning community recognize that they must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all.  Therefore, they create structures to promote a collaborative culture”  Richard DuFour (2004)

Among the most powerful professional learning communities I’ve encountered are school    literacy teams in which Reading Recovery-trained professionals, classroom teachers, and other school personnel problem-solve collaboratively around the learning and progress of their students around literacy learning.

Teachers on those teams work together to share ideas and teaching decisions and to ensure that their school’s comprehensive literacy plan includes effective safety nets for the most vulnerable of learners.

It is impressive to witness how these teams build broad ownership and shared responsibility for the learning of the lowest-achieving students.  In the context of these meetings, individual teachers are often heard talking about the progress of “our children” instead of referring to “my children.”  The message here is that the entire school community (administrators, teachers, parents, school board members and community leaders) is committed to the literacy success of ALL children.

Through regularly-scheduled meetings interventionist teachers and their colleagues

–      Reflect on the effectiveness of the school’s literacy services

–      Evaluate the gains of each child

–      Provide Reading Recovery to the lowest achieving first graders

–      Determine the needs for further help for some children who have received Reading Recovery (classroom support, small-group instruction, special education evaluation)

–      Ensure on-going monitoring of children who have completed their interventions

–      Build and maintain home/school connections

These teams provide the context for authentic dialogue around the teaching and learning of our most-challenged learners fueled by the conviction that all children can learn.  The kind of collaboration promoted in school literacy teams helps create a common language around literacy learning that further supports Marie Clay’s belief that if some children are unable to learn we should continually strive to find the right ways to teach them.

DuFour, R. (2004).  What is a “professional learning community?”  Educational Leadership, 61, 8, 6-11.