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.

 

 

Reference

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

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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.

Question:

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.

Answer:

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.

Answer:

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.

References

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.”

References:

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

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