The word is out—the single most important factor that supports student success in reading is access to a good teacher. Karen L. Bembry and her colleagues (1998) suggest that if students have access to a good teacher in reading for three consecutive years, scores will rise 40%. That is astonishing data—but not to the teachers who have partnered with the Project to provide the best possible instruction in the teaching of reading, who have seen firsthand the astonishing leaps and bounds students make as readers when they have the tools to succeed.
Our work with reading begins with a deep commitment to giving students large chunks of time deeply engaged in reading books—ones of their own choosing, when possible, and always ones that they can read with fluency, accuracy and comprehension. Mountains of data confirm that in order for students to progress as readers, they must have abundant time to read.
Teachers who work with us begin the year by assessing their students to learn the level of text complexity that each child can handle (on an A-Z scale) and then channeling kids towards texts they can read. Most students select a small stack of books, keeping these close on hand in book bins or baggies, so they can progress from one book to another without a hitch. Students read in school and continue reading at home, carrying books between home and school. Most keep reading logs in which they scrupulously record the data on their progress through books and the moments spent reading, studying this data alongside teachers to ascertain patterns in their reading.
We also support explicit instruction in the skills and strategies of proficient reading, following the gradual release of responsibility model. Through studying performance assessments that differentiate student work along a continuum and through reflecting on adult proficient reading, teachers develop an understanding of the continuum of development contained within any one skill—say, within the skill of synthesis, of prediction, of interpretation. This knowledge helps teachers explicitly teach readers in ways that help them progress along a trajectory of skill development.
Our work in reading, like our work in writing, is grounded in research on evidenced-based teaching (see John Hattie's Visible Learning, Geoff Petty's Evidence-Based Teaching , etc). Readers make their thinking about texts visible by talking and writing about texts. Teachers study what readers do, and consider goals that are within reach yet rigorous. Teachers give feedback that helps readers understand the progress they have made, and that which they still need to make, helping readers grasp onto important goals and work, deliberately practicing, so they become more proficient.
Instruction must always be grounded in assessment. We have developed an assessment tool that has been adopted by more than half of NYC’s elementary schools. This tool allows teachers to track students’ progress reading increasingly complex texts, and allows a teacher or a school leader to track progress of sub-groups within a school. For example, a teacher can study the progress of Latino males as readers, contrasting the growth that sub-group has made in the teacher’s classroom with growth the group has made across the school in general. We have also developed web-based software, AssessmentPro, on which schools record and track data. Teachers use the software to produce charts that illuminate patterns that allow a school to track students’ progress, and also to generate letters home to parents that convey children’s progress and next steps. Schools interested in using AssessmentPro can contact TCRWP.
Generally, a staff developer will work with a school to support the entire literacy curriculum. As part of this, a staff developer will lead 2-3 “labsites” during each school visit, at least one of which will support reading instruction. In the reading labsite, a staff developer works with students and a half dozen teachers so that the participating teachers can learn the structures, methods and expectations for a rigorous reading workshop. In a day of staff development, we are apt to work in three discrete labsites, supporting three discrete groups of teachers in reading. On the first day, the staff developer models minilessons, conferences, and small group work. By the second day, the staff developer shows participating teachers how to adapt instruction based on quick assessments of students, and to tailor teaching plans and methods based on assessment. Teachers and staff developers then become co-researchers, observing what students do as readers, developing and pursuing inquiry questions, imagining how students might work independently and in partnerships as readers, studying and developing a discourse about texts, and planning teaching strategies to help students learn. Staff developers and teachers then work collaboratively to assess students' growth as literacy learners, to confer with individual students and with small groups, and to design small group and whole-class teaching based on students’ needs. Usually when a staff developer is working with a school, he or she will not only provide in-class “labsite” work, but will also lead three study groups, one aligned to each labsite.
As with writing, we tailor our staff development in the teaching of reading to the particular needs and levels of the teachers with whom we work. Those who are new to the work learn first the foundations of reading workshop, while teachers who have been with us for many years receive more advanced professional development in the teaching of reading. Meanwhile, we, too, continue to learn alongside our schools, revising assessment tools to reflect new understandings about reading development, conducting research into the teaching of reading, and in general, refining and outgrowing our best thinking.