Every Child Reading

Every Child Reading:
A Professional Development Guide

Executive Summary

 

New and widely accepted understandings of how children learn to read, why some fail, and how best to teach have yet to be applied on a widespread, consistent basis. Teachers may be educated, licensed, and employed without knowledge of the most important tools for fighting illiteracy. They may be asked to instruct all students in early reading without the essential information, program resources, or contextual supports necessary to achieve such a goal. As the Learning First Alliance's 1998 report Every Child Reading: An Action Plan concluded, substantial changes in the preparation and professional development of all those who are responsible for student outcomes - teachers, administrators, and specialists-is necessary.

The type of professional development the Learning First Alliance calls for is a radical departure from the one-session, publisher-funded workshops that were typical of the past. Every Child Reading: A Professional Development Guide, the Learning First Alliance's follow-up to their action plan, envisions school-wide responses to the message of Every Child Reading and other comprehensive consensus papers on reading development, reading success and failure, and reading instruction. This guide presumes that the end goal of learning to read is to comprehend and that continuous improvement in the practical skills of each component of reading instruction is a goal of every competent teacher. It assumes that improvement in teaching is a life-long enterprise that requires mentoring, observation, follow-up evaluation, and problem solving with peers. Improved teaching is most likely to occur within a supportive, collaborative context that allows sufficient time for understanding of new ideas and approaches.

The most effective staff development programs are part of the daily life of each school's faculty and focused on evidence for student learning and remedies for insufficient progress. Increasing teacher expertise and effectiveness should be continuous and promoted in interaction with students, peers, and mentors. Vehicles for advance best practices may include professional workshops, grade level planning groups, professional development plans generated by individual teachers in relation to standards, guided peer observation and feedback, monthly meetings for discussion of professional readings, teacher research groups, and/or scheduling of demonstration lessons by master teachers. Activities such as these may be used to best advantage if the goals and content of professional development in early literacy are clearly articulated to and by the entire community.

Recommendations proposed in the guide are premised on the belief that teachers are more likely to improve student achievement in reading when the following conditions are in place:

Everyone who affects student learning is involved.

Student standards, curricular frameworks, textbooks, instructional programs and assessments are closely aligned with one another.

Professional development is given adequate time and takes place in school as part of the workday.

The expertise of colleagues, mentors, and outside experts is accessible and engaged as often as necessary in professional development programs.

Strong instructional leadership is present.

There is commitment to a long-range plan with adequate funding.

To engage teachers more fully in their own professional development, the Learning First Alliance recommends that the following conditions of change, growth, and learning should be respected:

Change occurs in definable stages.

A variety of professional development activities will meet individual needs better than a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

Self-evaluation is part of an individual professional development plan.

After initial concentrated work, follow-up consultation and classes are offered.

Sufficient time is allowed before the outcomes of a professional development program are determined.

Recent agreement by reading experts on what it takes to teach children how to read paved the way for research-based agreements on the content of professional development. A successful teacher of beginning reading enables children to comprehend and produce written language, exposes them to a wide variety of texts to build their background knowledge and whet their appetite for more, generates enthusiasm and appreciation for reading and writing, and expertly teaches children how to decode, interpret, and spell new words from a foundation of linguistic awareness. The successful teacher adapts the pacing, content, and emphasis of instruction for individuals and groups, using valid and reliable assessments. The teacher's choices are guided by knowledge of the critical skills and attitudes needed by students at each stage of reading development. Beginning reading skills are taught explicitly and systematically to children within an overall program of purposeful, engaging reading and writing. The components of effective, research-based reading instruction for the primary grades are: Phonemic Awareness, Letter Knowledge and Concepts of Print

The Alphabetic Code: Phonics and Decoding

Fluent, Automatic Reading of Text

Vocabulary

Text Comprehension

Written Expression

Spelling and Handwriting

Screening and Continuous Assessment to Inform Instruction

For teachers to be able to be proficient in each component they must possess the knowledge and skills that provide the foundation for each. The guide describes the knowledge and skills necessary for teachers to teach each component of reading, as well as related professional development experiences helpful to develop this knowledge and skills of each component for teachers.
For example, in order for teachers to guide their students to become fluent, automatic readers, they must understand: how word recognition, reading fluency and comprehension are related to one another; how text features are related to text difficulty; and who in the class needs extra practice with fluency development and why. Teachers must also be proficient in a number of specific skills. Teachers must, for example, be able to: determine reasonable expectations for reading fluency at various stages of reading development, using research-based guidelines and appropriate standards and benchmarks, and use techniques for increasing speed of word recognition.

Recognizing that a variety of professional development experiences will help teachers learn the necessary knowledge and skills to become proficient in each component of reading instruction, the guide provides concrete suggestions for professional development activities. For example, to learn how to improve reading fluency, teachers can: practice assessing and recording text reading fluency of students in class; use informal assessment results to identify who needs to work on fluency; organize the classroom library and other support materials by topic and text difficulty; devise a system for recording student progress toward reasonable goals; and conduct fluency-building activities with a mentor teachers.

A worthwhile program of professional development will encourage expertise in the components of instruction while maintaining a clear sense of the complex whole to which those components belong. Pacing guidelines, models for lesson planning, time management strategies, and daily schedules for the classroom will all be helpful in this regard. In a comprehensive reading program, skills are taught explicitly and sequentially in support of their purposeful application. Learning to integrate and manage all of the components of language arts instruction is a significant challenge for many teachers, a challenge that can be met over several years of opportunity.

Finally, the suggestions in this guide are offered with the understanding that the education of teachers, both pre-service and in-service, deserves a concerted, well-funded program of research. Although we have made progress understanding adult learning, and we have reached consensus around some long-standing issues in early reading instruction, we do not yet know with any degree of certainty the best way to create expert teachers of reading. There can be no more urgent agenda at this point in our quest to become a society that educates everyone. Well-prepared teachers who are confident of their instruction are indispensable for children's reading success.

Every Child Reading: A Professional Development Guide may be downloaded free of charge from www.learningfirst.org. It can be purchased for $3 by calling (800) 933-2723, extension 2 or at http://shop.ascd.org.
 

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