Week 8: Literacy Solutions Project

Patterns in the Data that Point to the Need for a Literacy Solution:

1.  Bonsack Elementary in Roanoke County:  The data is showing a three-year decline in reading comprehension with a particular weakness in reading nonfiction flyers or vocabulary in the context of a graphic.  According to the Director of K-12 English in Roanoke County, more students are coming to third grade unable to read on grade level across the County and at Bonsack Elementary.  The data provided by the Virginia Department of Education shows that third graders in the “All Students” category at Bonsack Elementary had a 96% Reading SOL pass rate in 2011-12, an 89% Reading SOL pass rate in 2012-13, and a 74% Reading SOL pass rate in 2013-14. This school and all the schools in the County are fully accredited and are still above the percent needed to meet state and federal requirements.  While Roanoke County declined in third grade reading, it was not as precipitous a drop overall, and many other schools did better than Bonsack Elementary, with more needy students.  95% of the County third graders passed the Reading S.O.L. in 2011-12, 78% passed it in 2012-13, and 72% passed it in 2013-14.  Bonsack Elementary is a relatively privileged school; it is not Title 1, it does not have enough students to make a “Black” subgroup, an “Asian” subgroup, a “Two or more races subgroup,” an “Economically Disadvantaged” subgroup, or a “Limited English Proficient” subgroup.  So, that means there are fewer than twenty students in these groups at Bonsack Elementary.  At the same time, there were Title 1 elementary schools in Roanoke County that out-performed Bonsack Elementary on the third grade reading SOL.

2.  William Byrd Middle School in Roanoke County:  The data shows a need to focus both on all student’s and acutely on Limited English Proficient student’s writing skills, including organization and paragraph development, across content areas.  Last year, the state of Virginia dropped the required Writing SOL test in 5th grade.  At this point, the first time students are assessed in writing in Virginia is in eighth grade.  Data is showing a decline in writing skills in the County.  In 2011-12, 94% of all students passed Writing SOLS and 67% of LEP students passed their Writing SOLs.  In 2012-13, 82% of all students passed Writing SOLs and 53% of LEP students passed their Writing SOLs.  In 2013-14, 80% of all students passed Writing SOLs, and 45% of LEP students passed their Writing SOLs.  A caveat, William Byrd Middle does not have enough English Language Learners to make a subgroup according to the state definition, so data is limited to just the County.  William Byrd Middle is fully accredited and the administration is aware that writing will need to be focused on across all grades and content areas.

3.  William Byrd High School in Roanoke County:  The data shows both a school and a county decline in Reading A.M.A.O.’s for ELLs.  That is, English Language Learners are struggling more to meet the Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives required by federal law.  The four components of A.M.A.O’s include:  % of LEP students, (Limited English Proficient,) passing the Reading S.O.L.s, % of LEP students passing Math S.O.L.s, the progress of LEP students on the WIDA-Access test, the % of LEP students exiting the ESL program, and a new fifth component is under the F.G.I. umbrella.  Districts will be lose points if ELLs don’t graduate in four years, even though they can legally attend school until they are twenty-one years of age.  So, even though William Byrd High School does not have enough English Language Learners to make a state-defined subgroup, the County does, and the ELLs in the County barely passed the A.M.A.O. standards in Reading in 2013-2014.

Possible Solutions that I am exploring:

1.  Bonsack Elementary in Roanoke County:

I recommend a team approach with the Reading Specialist and others to improve nonfiction comprehension, and most particularly comprehension of flyers and graphics in the primary grades.  This could be implemented in second or third grade, and would specifically include teaching students to create, share and question graphics as explained in Maloch and Horsey’s article for The Reading Teacher: “Diagrams, Timelines, and Tables-Oh, My!” The article recommends filling a classroom with graphics and integrating them into every facet of inquiry.  For example, the students make a timeline of their lives and even use a student-created table to compare daily weather temperatures.


K.L. Roberts, Rebecca R. Norman, Nell K. Duke, Paul Morsink, Nicole M. Martin, and Jennifer A Knight.  (2013).  Diagrams, Timelines, and Tables-Oh, My!  The Reading Teacher, 67(1), 12-23.

Maloch, B. & Horsey, M. (2013).  Living Inquiry:  Learning from and About Information Texts in a Second-Grade Classroom.  The Reading Teacher, 66(6), 475-485.

Pardo, Laura S. (2011).  What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Comprehension.  The Reading Teacher, 58(3), 272-280.

2.  William Byrd Middle School in Roanoke County:

I recommend a school-wide focus on writing, with multi-grade expectations across content areas.  For example, teachers in math, social studies, science and every class, not just English 8, would be provided with ideas, and mini-lessons on how to integrate writing into their lessons and in particular, morphology.   When I recently approached the principal with this idea, she said all the teachers knew the expectations, (the standards,) and she mentioned a highly-skilled, highly experienced 8th grade English teacher who I might like to interview.  I think this teacher is an untapped resource for the school.  For example, I could work with her to create a package of approaches for embedding quality morphology-focused writing activities focused in the content areas.


Goodwin, A., Lipinsky, M., & Ahn, S. (2012).  Word Detectives:  Using Units of Meaning to Support Literacy.  The Reading Teacher, 65(7), 461-470.

Kleffer, M.J.,  & Lesaux, N.K. (2007).  Breaking Down Words to Build Meaning:  Morphology, Vocabulary, and Reading Comprehension in the Urban Classroom.  The Reading Teacher, 61(2), 134-144.

Rasinski, T. V., Padak, N., Newton, J., & Newton, E. (2011).  The Latin-Greek Connection:  Building Vocabulary Through Morphological Study.  The Reading Teacher, 65(2), 133-141.

3.  William Byrd High School in Roanoke County:  

I recommend surveying the English teachers in grades 9-12 to see if there would be interest in a semester-long professional focus on Latin and Greek word families.  I would provide snacks and a flexible meeting schedule to go over the research with interested teachers.  We would discuss evidence-based ideas for integrating morphology into their lessons.


Goodwin, A., Lipinsky, M., & Ahn, S. (2012). Word Detectives: Using Units of Meaning to Support Literacy. The Reading Teacher, 65(7), 461-470.

Kleffer, M.J., & Lesaux, N.K. (2007). Breaking Down Words to Build Meaning: Morphology, Vocabulary, and Reading Comprehension in the Urban Classroom. The Reading Teacher, 61(2), 134-144.

Rasinski, T. V., Padak, N., Newton, J., & Newton, E. (2011). The Latin-Greek Connection: Building Vocabulary Through Morphological Study. The Reading Teacher, 65(2), 133-141.



Week 7: Literacy and Technology

Week 7: Literacy and Technology


The first article I read this week was in The Reading Teacher and it was called, “Guiding Principles for Supporting New Literacies in Your Classroom.”   It emphasized that digital literacy is here to stay, and there is even a name for it:  “Information Communication Technologies” or I.C.T.  Karchmer-Klein and Shinas said there are several important new skills that modern digital navigators will need to know.  Firstly, how to tackle, (read,) nonlinear text.  Next, how to continuously evaluate resources, how to mine through irrelevant materials, how to make inferences, and how to use a range of media to create messages that are well-articulated and thoughtful.  So, all of this will need to be taught, and the authors recommend that educators begin with the basics and move toward the more complex by using informal measures and teacher-developed rubrics on multi-modalities.  The article recommends four basic principles for the modern teacher: 1.  “Keep you Eye on the Moving Target,” 2.  “Recognize the Complexity of New Literacies,” 3.  “Digital Natives Still have a lot to Learn,” and 4.  “Reconsider Assessment Methods.”   It rang true to me that when taught well, all the new ways to express literacy, the “multi modalities,” can be motivating and can actually extend a student’s ability to communicate well and for authentic reasons.  I find it intriguing that we simply don’t know where all this will lead in terms of the complexity of these new literacies.  Certainly, some things will fall by the wayside, but others will add enormously to our ability to communicate in the classroom.

Next, I read an article called, “Blogging as a Means of Crafting Writing” by Jan Lacina and Robin Griffith.  They underscored the importance of integrating new literacy technologies into our classrooms, and explained that web blogs are popular ways for upper elementary and middle school students to express themselves.  The authors said blogs were great for humor, playfulness, being used as rhetorical device experiments, and as a way for students to reflect on their writing for real audiences.  Karen Arrington is a thirty-year teaching veteran who is spotlighted in the article.  She is a technology coordinator in an elementary school, so she makes sure to talk about internet safety issues with her younger students.  The upper-elementary students get more of her time, and she teaches them to make “dollar” comments, (these are substantive, specific compliments,) as opposed to “penny” comments, which are just superficial.  Arrington has a paper blog activity which sounds motivating because the students end up with a list of peer-composed helpful suggestions regarding their writing.  She stresses the importance of creating a “community of writers” and gives four recommendations when starting a class blog.  First, she says “baby steps,” or start slow.  Next, she says to model with paper first.   For example, a “dollar” comment might be listed on a poster with the class contributing ideas.  She says to make blog expectations very clear and to use rubrics.  Finally, she says to give the writing community lots of choices.  The most important thing is for the group to be supportive and collaborative, so the experience will be as motivating and authentic as possible.

The third article I read was very short and helpful.  It was called, “Collaborative Literacy:  Blogs and Internet Projects,” and it was also in The Reading Teacher.  The first vignette describes a teacher, Erica Boling, who has come up with a blog host named “Jefferson Bear.”  The young students respond to his queries with composition and research.  One example was when he asked how should they respond if they were teased?  So the children are just hugely motivated to respond to this big brown bear with sensitive questions.  Next, a fourth grade teacher named Betty Collum is described, and we learn about her class blog literary discussions.  She  teaches her students to use symbols as they respond to each other’s writing about a shared reading of a book.  For example, a “wonder” is a question mark used during collaborative writing responses.  Mr. Hodgson uses something called, “Youth Radio,” to motivate students to share news through audio and podcasting with pictures and written responses.  I was convinced of the effectiveness of both of these examples because he also has had success as the students become more engaged and motivated to connect safely with real audiences.  The final focus of this article was on collaborative internet projects.  Four of the article’s authors worked on a Wiki website with a fifth grade classroom in Connecticut and a fourth and fifth grade classroom in California.  They said it required a lot of patience because so many revisions were necessary.  The idea was to motivate the classes to write cooperatively and discuss the process of their research on national parks.  Ultimately, it was highly successful and they were pleased despite the added work of building a Wiki.

Finally, I read an article called “Literature Circles Go Digital.”  This was a very interesting explanation of a new take on a book club.  Karen Bromley and seven graduate students read the novel Al Capone Shines My Shoes, (2009) and used multimodal digital resources and literacy circle roles to respond to the book.  Wow!  They each were assigned a different role, like “Discussion Director,” and they really responded creatively.  Since they didn’t have total access to technology, they used a blended approach with both online research and face-to face discussions.  Also, the students used a document camera on a large screen to share what they did and how they learned digitally.  Karen Bromley noted four themes that emerged.  The first was there was a great breadth of digital research, and this probably had to do with all the different student roles.  For example, Julia used Kidspiration to find a cause and effect graphic, and this matched her role as the “Illustrator,”  while Michelle, the “Summarizer,” used Glogster to create a 3-d poster response to the book.  The second theme that Bromley relates was a “Curiosity to Dig Deeper.”  She found that her graduate students were motivated to expand upon their research.  For instance, a student named Michelle became curious about the real Al Capone.  Her third theme was an “Enhanced Understanding of the Book,” and Bromley said that all seven of her students said the digital resources enhanced their comprehension and desire to do further research.  The last theme that she shared was a “Connection to Teaching.”  That is, five  of her graduate students actually connected to the experience enough to express plans to use it in future teaching.  Bromley cited very interesting research by Dalton and Grisham in 2013 that said digital work engages students, increases reading comprehension, and improves literary analysis of text.   She concludes the article by giving suggestions to educators including obtaining parent permission to use the Internet and guiding students to appropriate websites for research.  I was impressed by the creative contributions the graduate students made and the research that Bromley referenced.   Multi-modal digital work can increase reading comprehension and student engagement, and this was clearly true with her assignment.




Karchmer-Klein and Harlow Shinas, Valerie, (2012) Guiding Principles for Supporting New Literacies in Your Classroom, The Reading Teacher 65(5) pp. 288-293.

Lacina, Jan and Griffith, Robin, (2012) Blogging as a Means of Crafting Writing, The Reading Teacher 66(4) pp. 316-320.

Boling, Erica, Castek, Jill, Zawilinski, Lisa, Barton, Karen, and Nierlich, Theresa, (2008) Collaborative Literacy:  Blogs and Internet Projects, The Reading Teacher 61(6) pp. 504-506.

Bromley, Karen, Faughnan, Michelle, Ham, Susan, Miller, Melissa, Armstrong, Traci, Crandall, Cassandra, Garrison, Julia, and Marrone, Nicholas, (2014) Literature Circles Go Digital, The Reading Teacher xx(x) pp. 1-8.


Week 6: Interview with Diane Rheem of NPR

1.  Diane Rheem:  “Erin, how can schools make the best possible decisions with developing their curriculum?”

Erin:  “Well Diane, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a large, inclusive group of educators and school stakeholders to consider both horizontal and vertical alignment of the curriculum, along with due consideration to state and federal requirements.  The group needs to conscientiously reflect upon the objectives required for each grade level, and how to integrate those in a balanced way that builds year upon year.  Reading objectives are not narrowly taught or learned, so curriculum decisions should reflect that.  The decisions should always be made with clear annual goals in mind regarding what a student will be able to do by the end of a given year.  The final curriculum absolutely must line up with the specific reading goals of the schools.”

2.  Diane Rheem:  “Tell me some common pitfalls in selecting programs to teach reading?”

Erin:  “It’s funny you should ask that, because I recently read a Reading Teacher article by Peter Dewitz and Jennifer Jones that discussed that very thing.  The main idea expressed was there is a need to be critical when selecting a program, and not to feel like fidelity to the program is more important than trusting the expertise of an excellent teacher to adjust it for the real needs of the classroom.  A common problem in selecting new reading programs includes not making sure that the scope and sequence is basically aligned with your particular school district’s needs. It’s important to have a highly inclusive selection team that considers whether the program is in sync with state, federal, and even local requirements. So that means that lots of teachers are involved, and everyone is checking to see if the program is sequenced in a logical way that will work with the actual reading curriculum. For example, most programs do not come with enough texts for students to read, and so they should be supplemented with plenty of authentic literature from a multitude of levels and genres.  It’s so important to remember that only the teacher will be able to differentiate for his or her classroom needs because he or she will have the data that’s needed to know students’ sociocultural backgrounds and needs.  It’s terrible to see selection committees who don’t seem to realize that programs are “market-driven” and follow trends, so that needs to be clearly in mind.  A pitfall would also be an approach that seems to believe an entire reading curriculum is going to exist in a single box or “program.”  The committee should be a critical consumer.  It’s important to ask if an excellent teacher will be able to use the program, but also know when to go beyond the script to supplement, modify, and meet his or her particular classroom reading goals for the year.”

3.  Diane Rheem:  “What other advice do you have for reading specialists as they work with schools to maintain a high quality reading program?”

Erin:  “I would suggest that reading specialists work continuously to modify and improve upon the basal program.  Dewitz and Jones suggest going beyond the basal and using authentic literature for children’s read alouds.  Clearly this will change from year to year.  Teachers also will need help to build up student prior knowledge because basals do not really enlarge this.  So, it’s just very important for the reading specialist to  make sure that the teachers know to have their students read widely outside of the basal, because it generally will not include enough text to improve comprehension.  Reading specialists are aware that the volume of text being read is actually very important and has been a proven predictor of comprehension.  A good reading specialist will point out when the basal program does not include something essential to a state requirement.  An example recently cited was the required knowledge of text features that were not addressed in a core program.  Overall, I recommend that a reading specialist stays vigilant about the changing needs of their readers, because often core programs are adopted for five or more years.


Dewitz, Peter, and Jones, Jennifer, (2012) Using Basal Readers-From Dutiful Fidelity to Intelligent Decision Making, The Reading Teacher 66(5) pp. 391-400.

Bean, R. M. (2009). The Reading Specialist: Leadership for the Classroom, School, and Community. Guilford Press.

Week 5: The Role of the Reading Specialist


1. How has this week’s readings changed your perspective about presenting and reaching audiences?

I would say that the readings have just reinforced the idea that I really need to be organized and do my homework to have a successful presentation.  I like the idea of starting with the end in mind, (per Joe McVeigh in TESOL,) and looking carefully at a rubric such as the sample given by Concordia University.  The concise guide for writing a conference proposal provided by Educause will definitely work as an outline for me.  For example, it will be very important to think about who our audience is, (adult learners and primarily literacy professionals,) and to present with their learning styles and interests in mind.   I loved Don McMillan’s “Life After Death of Power Point” video and will try not to do so many of the silly errors that he pointed out!  There will be absolutely no flashing or simultaneously moving text in the presentation!  I really enjoyed his suggestions, and I think it’s because he used humor.  I will try to incorporate some humor into our presentation because I think it’s a great way to reach audiences of any age.  I noticed a reference after the Concordia sample proposals for TED presentation tips, called:  “The TED Commandments:  Rules every speaker needs to know:  http://www.timlonghurst.com/blog/2008/05/16/the-ted-commandments-rules-every-speaker-needs-to-know/.   This looked intriguing, so I will watch it this weekend.  In general, this week’s readings helped me to get focused on tailoring the presentation for the specific needs and interests of our adult, highly literate audience.  I love that I’m working with a partner because we will be giving each other second opinions and suggestions, as recommended by Joe McVeigh in TESOL’s “Tips on Writing Successful Conference Presentation Proposals.”  I think we will also ask Dr. Mesmer for a strong critique before submitting a proposal to VSRA, too.  So, these readings have helped me quite a lot with what to consider as we begin to prepare our presentation proposal.


2. What questions or concerns do you still have about presenting at VSRA?

Oh dear!  Well, I’m a little nervous, but thrilled to be working with a partner.  I would really appreciate lots of feedback as we formulate the proposal and work out the kinks of our presentation.  Do you know how much time a presentation is generally allotted?   What are some specific characteristics that you personally have noted about excellent presentations at VSRA?  What is the number one thing, in your opinion, to avoid when giving a presentation to adults?  I am open to suggestions for public speaking because it does make me a tad nervous.  On the other hand, I’m getting excited too.





Click to access Sample%20Conference%20Proposals.pdf




Week 3: The Role of the Reading Specialist

p. 76 “Think About This”  from Bean, R.M. (2009). The Reading Specialist:  Leadership for the Classroom, School, and Community. Guilford Press.

“How comfortable would you be in your leadership role in the situation with experienced teachers whose task is to select new materials?  What difficulties do you foresee in working with this group?  What essential skills would you need for working with the third-grade teacher who is seeking information about teaching comprehension?”

  • I would be moderately comfortable working with an experienced, opinionated teacher group who needed to choose new reading materials.  It would be an opportunity to facilitate polite discussion between educators with great classroom expertise and very likely, a wealth of pertinent reading knowledge.  It would be important for me to set and keep a respectful, positive, and polite focus on the task at hand, and not allow the more dominant personalities to direct the agenda.  At times, it could be necessary to redirect the conversation to the task:  To select the best possible new reading materials for our particular needs.  At other times, I may need to make sure that a quiet teacher’s views were expressed by calling on them to share.  There may be difficulty if the group arrived with a desire to vent unrelated frustrations or to go off task, and it would be essential that I communicate the organization of the discussion from the beginning, so everyone could plan break times for side discussions.  I think my role ultimately would be to model a dogged concentration on obtaining the best possible reading materials for our specific needs, and so respectful redirection to what those needs actually are would be important.  Modeling and reinforcing polite listening and time sharing would be important too.  I find that adult learners are not always patient listeners, and yet the best ideas often need time to bubble up.  So, I would ask a lot of questions and follow-up questions, with wait time, as all the teachers would deserve to be given the opportunity to evaluate and express opinions about the materials at hand.  Gently, I would continue to press for evidence so the teachers would remember to support their opinions with best practices in reading research.  If that was missing from the discussion, then I would quietly share it.  As the group worked toward a consensus, I would model respect for all ideas shared and keep the focus on what would be best for our current student reading needs.


  • The essential skills needed for working with a third-grade teacher who seeks information about teaching comprehension would be very different from the scenario above.  Since this teacher is actively asking for help, and it’s a one-on-one discussion, then I could simply listen carefully and respectfully to her concerns, evaluate the needs of her class, and advise her with research-based strategies to improve her comprehension instruction.  This teacher has already shown an openness to change and an eagerness for coaching.  I would probably want to observe a few lessons and hear her concerns completely before relaying any possible modifications to instruction.  It would also be important to follow up with this teacher and make sure that we are both satisfied with the effect of any changes.  Of course, further tweaks could be implemented if needed. Overall, this sounds easier to me than working with the group whose opinions initially differ.




Bean, R. M. (2009). The Reading Specialist: Leadership for the Classroom, School, and Community. Guilford Press.

Week 2: The Role of the Reading Specialist

1.  Read Chapters 3-4 in Bean, R.M. (2009).  The Reading Specialist:  Leadership for the classroom, school and community. Guilford Press.


Ch. 4 on p. 48, the author asks reading specialists to consider how they would respond to 9 factors in the classroom.  Identify 2 for which you have pretty strong beliefs and 2 for which you are not as concerned about.

Answer:  Bean relates nine topics that an effective collaboration between a reading specialist and teaching partner should include in regular discussions.  These are:  Instructional beliefs, when and how to plan, parity issues, confidentiality issues, noise levels, classroom routines (instructional and organizational), discipline, feedback, and pet peeves.  I would be most concerned about congruency regarding our instructional beliefs as well as noise, (and discipline) approaches.  I would be less concerned about the specifics of when and how to plan and parity issues.

I just think that we would need to be on the same page in terms of our overall instructional beliefs.  For example, if the data showed that Johnny really does need more help with decoding, then I would hope that would be a priority for both of us.  I really think it wouldn’t be a problem because I have yet to meet a teacher who didn’t want their students to progress as much as possible.  For me, and this might also be a pet peeve, an important question would be an agreed level of appropriate noise in the classroom.  Some people do not focus well with a lot of background noise, and I happen to be one of them.  As a result, I might seem less tolerant of super noisy classrooms than other people, but it’s because I know how hard it is for some children to concentrate with auditory distractions.  I do understand that there are people who can “tune out” the noise, but I don’t think it’s a risk worth taking when we’re trying to meet individual needs in a large classroom.  Overall, I think the level of noise is a classroom management or discipline issue, and that’s why I tie those together.  Effective teachers are really good at maintaining appropriate noise levels, in my opinion, because they are clear in their discipline and expectations.

The reason that I would be less concerned about the specifics of when and how to plan is because it’s a must happen type of thing.  I would be willing to flex to the classroom teacher’s schedule, and that includes coming in before or after school, using email, and any other way to meet up.  In terms of “how to plan,” I also would yield to the classroom teacher’s style.  I think substance is more important than style, and I would honor the preferences of my partner.  I really don’t think there would be parity issues because I am not there for the limelight.  The focus is really on the needs of the student(s,) so the percentage of time that I may lead a mini-lesson or work with a small group is only relevant to what is most needed.  It would be important that I let my partner know that I’m a team player focused on student needs above everything else.

2.  Question:

Ch. 4  Read the case studies of high school reading specialists, (i.e. Brenda pp.54-55 & Jennifer pp. 60-63).  In your blog address the lessons that you learn from these reading specialists.  Be specific and identify at least 3 different lessons keeping in mind that they could be things that you would do or things that you wouldn’t do.


After reading about Brenda and Jennifer’s experiences as secondary reading specialists, I can say there are at least three different lessons that I can take from this.  First, Brenda’s mini-lesson on text organization and note-taking for a content-area classroom is a great idea.  I think I would do this and also lead teacher in-services on it.  If students are reading below grade-level, then it would be so helpful to show them how to focus on text features such as bold print or compare and contrast text organization so they get as much as possible out of their content-area reading.  I think there are secondary teachers who are highly qualified in their field, and yet not as skilled at helping struggling readers grapple with the text.  Another lesson for me came from the vignette on Jennifer.  While she only had time to administer Globe Fearon’s Secondary Reading Assessment Inventory, (2000,) within a one-hour period, I like what she did next.  After scheduling struggling readers into a Reading Strategies class, then she went into a really thorough process of research to determine individual instruction.  I was impressed that she looked at their transcripts, administered inventories, gave assessments, and collected as much data as possible, (including from standardized tests,) to create a personal reading profile of each student.  This is a terrific practice to learn from.  Finally, I like the creative scheduling that Jennifer arranged with a math support teacher.  They split thirteen week trimesters in half, so they each only worked with ten students rather than twenty, and then they flipped the students at the six and one-half week mark.  This is smart scheduling!

3.  Question:   

After reading the article by Elish-Piper & L’Allier, reflect on the activities and characteristics of coaches who had an impact on student learning.


This study showed that the varied aspects of teacher quality was a substantial factor in student achievement gains, and the literacy coaches who spent the most time working with teachers made the biggest impact on student learning. In three of five predictive models, a positive relationship was found between coach observation hours and the total literacy gain by students.  The study authors speculated that coach observation time might be responsible for fostering rapport between the coach and classroom teacher, more deliberative planning, productive conversations, and as a result, increased learning by students.  Also, the students who had teachers supported by the most highly qualified literacy coach, (the one who had a Reading Teacher endorsement and was enrolled in an M.S. Ed. in Reading Program,) showed the highest average gain on the subtests of the ISEL.  This particular coach also had the highest number of interactions with teachers.  The study authors observed that strategic use of coaching time by helping less-experienced teachers and teachers who need specific assistance would be of highest benefit.  It was suggested that schools might employ a targeted approach whereby coaches identify teachers who need assistance to improve instruction in a specific area of literacy, like developmental spelling.  Overall, the biggest student reading achievement gains occurred with coaches who spent the majority of their time working with teachers, also know as “teacher-oriented” coaches.


Bean, R. M. (2009). The reading specialist: Leadership for the classroom, school, and community. Guilford Press.

Elish-Piper, L., & L’Allier, S. K. (2010). Exploring the relationship between literacy coaching and student reading achievement in grades K–1. Literacy Research and Instruction, 49(2), 162-174.

Ch. 1 from Bean’s “The Reading Specialist” and an Interview.

Ch. 1:  “The Role of Reading Specialists in Schools, Classrooms, and Communities” p. 14  Reflections. 1.  What skills and abilities do you think are essential for working successfully as a reading specialist in an instructional role?  Leadership role?  Assessment role?

  • Instructional role:  After reading the first chapter, I think the instructional role of a reading specialist must be research-based and highly collaborative.  Part of this includes working with students in small groups, but more emphasis is now being placed on collaborating with classroom teachers and other literacy stakeholders.  For example, in order to prevent literacy problems in kindergarten, a reading specialist can work with preschools and parents to communicate upcoming instructional expectations.  Also, there is currently a greater instructional focus on adolescent and English Language Learner literacy.  Reading specialists can partner with the community, the library, the school, and the parents to address these ever-changing literacy needs.  It is vital for a reading specialist to disabuse teachers and others of literacy research misunderstandings.  So, the instructional role of the modern reading specialist goes well beyond remediating students, and it includes sharing research-based information with teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large.
  • Leadership role:  According to Bean’s research, literacy coaches and mentors are more in demand now.  This aspect of the reading specialist’s leadership role is to improve classroom instruction and requires excellent interpersonal and communication skills.  Also, there is a need for leadership at the secondary level when reading specialists collaborate with content-area teachers to improve literacy.  In my opinion, the leadership role of a reading specialist will be most in evidence when instructional changes and student advocacy are needed.
  • Assessment role:  This is the age of “accountability,” and the assessment role of a reading specialist includes both giving assessments and measuring reading growth by interpreting the results of various measures.  This data is essential to help specialists to make important literacy decisions and to assist teachers as they differentiate for changing literacy needs.  So, the specialists’  role of analyzing high-quality, research-based assessments is critical.

  2.  With which role are you most comfortable?  What concerns do you have about the other roles? I feel most comfortable with the instructional role of the reading specialist, and it’s probably because I’ve been teaching children and strategizing with teachers for a long time.  I’m a little wary of certain aspects of both the leadership and assessment roles of the modern day reading specialist.  As a leader, I like to bring positive, constructive ideas to the table.  I can imagine the importance of  great diplomacy when it’s time to change direction in a literacy program or approach.  It would be very important to communicate in a way that encourages “buy in” and not resentment.  Bean wrote that the most successful literacy collaborations included positive, supportive principals, and I really believe that to be true.  In terms of the assessment role, I remain concerned about the current pressure to “teach to the test,” due to the high-stakes nature of some formal assessments.  Beyond that, I would hope that a district would be open to using plenty of short, informal assessments that are diagnostic and based on proven literacy research.  In sum, it would be great to work with a community that, when necessary, is open to change.  

3.  Interview with a Reading Specialist:  I am interviewing Lisa Cunningham, Reading Specialist at Bonsack Elementary in Roanoke County.  Mrs. Cunningham will complete the interview on Saturday, September 6, 2014, and I will upload her answers to these questions, from p. 14 of the Bean book, as referenced below. 1.  What are your responsibilities as a reading specialist?   “At Bonsack, I have to wear a number of different hats.  My job is really split into two specific areas:  Language Arts Coordinator:  Keep staff updated on current Reading/Writing Goals for the school.  Train staff in new/revised practices concerning Language Arts (rubrics, F&P Testing, DSA, I-Test &, etc.) Maintain records for Reading/Writing assessments from K-5th grade, (SOL, PALs, F&P, RCPS Benchmarks, etc.) Create and maintain Guided Reading Book room.  Attend monthly Language Arts meetings and report back to staff.  Inclusion on many different committees, (Literacy Committee, Textbook adoption, etc.,) that meet regularly throughout the school year.  Provide feedback to Central Office staff on Reading/Writing achievement, goals, and practices in the school.  Create a schedule for PALs remediation and oversee a PALs instructor for students in K-3rd grade.  Reading Specialist:  Test students in K-5 using the F&P Reading Assessment Kit throughout the year.  Prepare Reading/Writing progress reports for any student participating in any type of evaluation for Special Education or remediation.  Attend parent-teacher conferences to support teachers in their reading and writing goals.  Plan, schedule, and conduct remediation groups for students in 1st–3rd grade.  These remediation groups meet daily for 45 minutes and include reading intervention and word study remediation.  For some groups, our focus is writing intervention.  Provide staff instruction in reading assessments, instruction and practices to enhance the current curriculum.  Throughout the years, I have also been assigned a “full” class, (15-18 students,) to instruct in reading and language arts for a 2 hour block daily.  I have had classes in grades 2-5 for Language Arts.  I also assist with SOL testing as a proctor every year for all grade levels in all subjects, (typically in a small group, read-aloud setting.)” 2.  How do you determine the goals and content of your instruction?  “To determine who receives intervention, we use a number of different methods, which include:  Analysis of SOL scores and PBQ results, Benchmark results and the analysis of PBQ results, F&P scores, PALs results, classroom assessments in reading and teacher observations. Goals are determined by assessing a student’s current reading level in the areas of accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.  Students receive individual goals based on their current performance and ability; remediation groups are very fluid and change throughout the year.  Using the SOLs and the vertical alignment of reading skills, we focus on students achieving grade level expectations in specific areas of comprehension, fluency, and accuracy.  For Special Education students, the Spec. Ed. Instructor will typically supply goals based on our recommendations and then we work collaboratively to meet those goals.  Content is based on the specific program being used or the goals outlined in the remediation plan.  Typically we use Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention system, which is very scripted.  I will always enhance that program with content from the regular classroom using the social studies, math, and science curriculum to add additional support and practice in reading comprehension and vocabulary development across the curriculum.  For students not participating in F&P LLI groups, I use the SOLs and the grade level pacing guide to help me with planning and instruction.  We are really lucky to have a HUGE book room and tons of resources available to us, so my reading instruction really works to incorporate many areas of the curriculum in developing reading fluency and comprehension.”  3.  Which assessment instruments do you find to be particularly helpful in assessing students’ needs?   “F&P Testing; Benchmark Assessments, (only useful when a careful analysis is done of the questions and student’s responses,) SOL reports, (really just the individual performance by question reports,) and Teacher Observations!!!” 4.   How do you use assessment results?  “I use them to guide instruction by targeting strengths and weaknesses.  I never solely focus on remediating a weakness; I believe that by enriching a child’s strengths and encouraging them to feel successful, it is easier to get them to “buckle down” and work to strengthen their weak areas.” 5.  In what ways do you serve as a resource to teachers?  “I build units in writing for them, (often going into classrooms to “guest teach” a unit.)  I create trade book units to help teachers bring new trade books into the classroom.  I train and assist in any new programs or tools brought into the school that affect language arts/reading.  I hold after-school professional development sessions, (Daily 5, Writing Traits, Guided Reading with Differentiated Instruction.)  Finally, I brainstorm creative approaches to assessment and instruction, (4th grade movie, Bit Strips, Blogging, etc.)”  Do you have any other coaching responsibilities, and if so, what?  ” I mentor new teachers if necessary; model specific instruction techniques for specific classroom teachers as requested by administration.  I also create the yearbook for the school.  :-)”  6.  If you were able to develop your own assessment program, what would you emphasize or change?  “Wow!  I would love to find a reading assessment program that is more objective.  It is very difficult to be objective when testing a child you have worked with and seen significant growth in as a reader.  Often, the comprehension portion of reading assessments is really subjective and can significantly skew the results.  Basically, being able to assess comprehension is a significant weakness in all of the testing programs available, but I don’t know how this can be fixed since it is so objective when it comes to higher level thinking and analysis.”   7.  What are some of the major difficulties experienced by students in your school?  ” (1) Our students face the same challenges as students in other areas.  Across the board, our students struggle with reading comprehension and higher level thinking skills.  In this “test-saturated” environment, kids are losing the ability to spend time developing higher level problem-solving skills and creative solutions.  (2)  Few parents spend the time necessary reading, writing and “talking” to their kids.  Job commitments and financial responsibilities have taken over their lives and down-time is a luxury.  (3)  Also, kids are overwhelmed by so many other commitments and come to school exhausted and discouraged.  It is not unusual to have a first grader come into school and tell you about the football, dance, etc. practice that lasted until after 8:00 the evening before.  It makes it hard to keep their focus and enthusiasm when they are not getting enough sleep!”  8.  In what ways do you facilitate parent involvement?  ” A website, student blogs, movie showings, quarterly notes sent home to encourage reading at home (how-to type stuff,) SOL Night to show parents what the students are actually facing and how to prepare them.” 9.  What are the major issues you face as a reading specialist?   “Like any other teacher, the biggest issue is time!  The expectations placed on any teacher are nearly impossible within the confines of the school day.  The SOLs have gotten out of control as far as the amount of “documentation” and meeting time dedicated to improving scores.  It seems that we spend more time documenting what we do and revamping curriculum to ensure that kids are performing adequately on a  test that does not reflect independent student growth.  Also, I can spend all day long remediating at school, but if a child is not reading and practicing reading skills at home and throughout the summer, then improvement is not going to be optimal.  I cannot force a child or a parent to commit to the amount of time beginning reading remediation really requires!  I wish I could though!!!” 10.  How well prepared were your for the position you now hold?    “I think I was fairly well prepared simply because I had already spent 9 years as a classroom reading/writing teacher in a middle school.  This exposed me to readers of all levels and showed me the importance of early intervention and strong instruction in reading comprehension skills.  Because I knew first-hand how many students were leaving elementary school without the necessary reading skills, I could offer real-world perspective on its impact in upper grades.  It gave me more credibility with teachers.  I had no idea the responsibilities of my position would be so expansive, but there is a great support system here, so I have been lucky to work with people who truly want the best for all of their kids.”


Bean, R. M. (2009). The reading specialist: Leadership for the classroom, school, and community. Guilford Press.

Week 4: Evaluation of a Program-The Amazing Race

The challenge:  I’m at a meeting and my principal asks me to check out a “great” program, and give her an opinion.  The program is called:  “The Foundation Series-Word Build,” and it’s described on a commercial website:  http://www.dynamicliteracy.com/Media/  What is my thought process as I take steps to evaluate the program based on evidence?

    Well, first I would just use Google and look at the commercial site.  So, I did this and learned about the basics of the program.  It’s put out by a company called Dynamic Literacy, LLC in Charlottesville, Va.  The program has two series, and it uses morphology to improve vocabulary, language, and reading comprehension.  Both series, “Foundations” for gr. 3-5 and “Elements” for gr. 5-9, teach the student to focus on the meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and roots to comprehend what they read. The program is meant to be a total of three years of morphics-based instruction.  I thought this sounded good.  Next, I clicked on the Executive Team tab of the website to learn about the background of the three co-founders.  I was impressed by the resumes of the president, the director of instructional content, and the chief operating officer.  The President, Dr. Thomas H. Estes, is a Professor Emeritus and taught at the University of Virginia from 1970 to 2001.  He was a professor of Reading Education at the Curry School of Education.  Before that, Dr. Estes worked as an English teacher in a high school and a Reading Specialist in an elementary school.  The biography said he had co-authored and authored several books and many articles on the psychology and pedagogy of reading.  Dr. Rollin David Larrick was another co-founder and the Director of instructional Content.  Dr. Larrick had twenty-five years experience teaching Latin and Greek at the high school level, while also teaching Linguistics for teachers as an adjunct instructor at U.V.A.  Both Dr. Larrick and Dr. Estes were said to be consultants on language and derivation as well as product developers for the program. The third co-founder was Gerald V. Bailey, and he was listed as the Chief Operating Officer.  Mr. Bailey had worked in computer systems for twenty-five years and some of his clients included The Mayo Clinic and U.V.A.  I was impressed by the backgrounds of the three co-founders of the program because while Dr. Estes and Dr. Larrick had direct experience in reading and linguistics education and research, Mr. Bailey had longstanding computer systems experience at highly-reputable institutions.

   My next step was to skim a few articles the website listed as having positively reviewed the Foundations-Word Build program.  I learned that the program has 60,000 users in 100 schools across the U.S., and while two articles gave positive reviews, the other media coverage was too old, and I encountered “Page Not Found” instead of reviews. 

    After that, I Googled the first developer of the product, Mr. Thomas H. Estes.  I learned that Mr. Estes had been a principal investigator on an NIE/NSF research project addressing the relationship between text structure and comprehension.  This was highly impressive and seemed a good prerequisite to the creation of a reading program.  I also learned that at least two of his books were related to the content of the product.  In 1985, Dr. Estes co-authored a book called: Reading and Learning in the Content Classroom.  Also, in 1986, Dr. Estes published a book called:  Reading and Reasoning Beyond the Primary Grades.  His primary interests were said to include the pedagogy of reading and comprehension of textbooks.  I found all of this information to be favorable background for someone selling a reading vocabulary program.

    My next step was to look up some of Dr. Estes work in Google Scholar.  I found eighty-five citations of his book, Reading and Learning in the Content Classroom.   There were ninety-nine citations of his book, Reading and Reasoning Beyond the Primary Grades.  I understood this to mean that a great many scholars had read and cited at least two of Dr. Estes’ books.  Again I took this to be potentially supportive of the vocabulary program.

   After that, I searched Amazon and found two all-star reviews for his second book, Reading and Reasoning Beyond the Primary Grades,  which supported current relevance.  I also noted six editions of his book Instruction:   A Models Approach had been published, and the latest was in 2010.  This text had four stars based on twelve reviews.

  Finally, I turned to What Works Clearinghouse in search of scientific evidence to support The Foundation Series-Word Build program.  This is when I got frustrated.  While Dr. Estes’ company, Dynamic Literacy, LLC, was established in 2002, as was the WWC, there was no mention of this product.  I searched and searched and just could not find a mention of the product.  I did see citations of Dr. Estes research from years past, but nothing that directly tied to The Foundations Series-Word Build program.  This led me to take one more look back at Google Scholar, and I was pleased to see a great many research articles written by Dr. Estes, beginning in the late 1970’s and running through the early 2000’s.  The titles of these articles were directly tied to topics such as reading to learn and building vocabulary.

   In conclusion, my informed opinion based on evidentiary support for this program is truly lacking.  I would have to report to my principal that while The Foundations Series-Word Build program was created by reputable sources, the program itself has not been researched as of yet.  At the same time, it can be assumed that the creator(s) used a lifetime of research, knowledge, and practical experience to create the product.  I would report that the program appears to be popular and has 60,000 users throughout the United States.  While I suspect this is a good product because I have read positive research about building vocabulary and teaching students to construct meaning using affixes and/or morphemes, I simply do not have the scientific evidence to recommend this particular product over another.

Week 3: Exploring “What Works Clearinghouse”

1.  My first impressions about WWC:

     I was impressed when I started exploring the What Works Clearinghouse website and it’s mission.  In just over ten years, (since 2002,) they have reviewed 10,000 studies in a highly-rigorous manner.  That’s fantastic.  Their overall goal, “To be a resource for informed education decision making,” and ultimately to improve education is laudable.  We need this.  It’s also an amazing achievement that they have covered over 700 publications because of the highly-scientific methods they use.  I’m excited that they review not just practices, programs, and products, but also policies.  I will need information on all of these in the future.  I’m also reassured that this will be a quality resource to use because all of their reports are evidence-based.  The materials appear to be critical and quite transparent, (candid.)  It’s surprising and reassuring, in a way, that many studies they have reviewed have been found to be somewhat lacking in various types of validity, sample sizes, and the like.  What Works Clearinghouse appears to base their reports on a high standard of critical review, and that’s great.


2.  Practice Guides:  An Analysis.

     I read a Practice Guide titled, “Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School.”   The first recommendation, (there were four,) was familiar to me, and it had strong evidence to support it.  My acquaintance with the recommendation:  “Teach a Set of Academic Vocabulary Words Intensively Across Several Days Using a Variety of Instructional Activities,” was a big part of a workshop I took through C.A.L., or The Center for Applied Linguistics.  The workshop speakers also emphasized the importance of focusing on academic vocabulary, (Tier 3 words,) and I try to do this.  The recommendation suggests using as many modalities as possible, (listening, speaking, and writing,) and I have found that to be key with English Language Learners.  Another aspect of the recommendation was to teach word families, such as affixes and cognates.  I’m glad to know that research STRONGLY supports these practices because I have been taught to do these things, have been doing them, and have come to believe in them.

The second recommendation of the four was the only other one to have “strong evidence.”  It was, “Integrate Oral and Written English Language Instruction into Content-Area Teaching.”  Thankfully, that’s sort of the definition of my current teaching position, and most acutely with the secondary and higher-level English Language Learner students.  I often teach patterns and rules of English through the context of assignments that older students bring to me, including writing papers.  For example, I have been taught that it’s a good practice to grab the opportunity of an authentic assignment to teach rules of English, vocabulary, and the rest.  This really works because the student is trying so hard to communicate for a real reason, and they are motivated by the content and the grade.  An English Language Learner will, (I find,) forget his self-consciousness about his accent when he really wants to get his ideas and understandings across.  Also, the recommendation supported the use of graphic organizers.  I find these to be absolutely essential.   For example, when a student is having difficulty communicating the pros and cons of something, I whip out a T-chart, and we brainstorm it out.  So the second recommendation is one I’ve found to be hugely effective with English Language Learners.

I was genuinely surprised at the extent of evidence available to support these strongly-evidenced recommendations, (there were six studies referenced in the report,) and the rigor of their definition of “strong evidence.”  To be labeled as having strong evidence according to WWC, a panel of experts must have found both high internal validity, (high quality causal designs,) AND high external validity, which means multiple studies with high quality causal designs.   In addition, there needs to be a direct relationship between the research and the recommendations, (yes!) consistently positive effects on relevant outcomes, and more.  

    As a result of reading this guide, I will increase my efforts to use short videos and other visuals with my English Language Learners.  This was strongly supported in the second recommendation, and it makes sense.  Also, my students are motivated when they use their laptops or see videos on the Active Board, so this is something I’m happy to increase.


3.  Quick Reviews:

According to a Quick Review of the Report, “Reading and Language Outcomes of a Five-Year Randomized Evaluation of Transitional Bilingual Education,” English immersion had a “substantively important,” or a favorable difference in outcome over transitional bilingual education in English reading and language achievement.  Since this research met WWC evidence standards, I feel comfortable saying that research says English Immersion is at least as effective as Transitional Bilingual Education in English reading and language achievement.


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