Our work with reading begins with a commitment to giving students large amounts of time to read books of their own choice, 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. Lucy Calkins and colleagues have developed the Units of Study for Teaching Reading Series, Grades K-5, published by Heinemann, to support this vital work in schools.
Teachers who work with us begin the year by assessing their students to learn the level of text complexity (on an A-Z scale) that each child can handle and then channeling kids towards texts they can read. Students select a stack of books to keep close on hand in book bins or baggies, so they can easily move from one book to another. Students are instructed to read both in school and at home, and to carry books between both places. They record their progress through books in reading logs, and study this data alongside teachers to ascertain patterns in their reading.
We support explicit instruction in the skills and strategies of proficient reading, following the gradual release of responsibility model. Teachers develop an understanding of the continuum of development contained within any one skill (e.g. synthesis, prediction, interpretation) by studying performance assessments that differentiate student work along a continuum and by reflecting on adult proficient reading. This knowledge positions teachers to explicitly teach in ways that help readers 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. Through feedback, teachers give readers an understanding of the progress they have made, and name important goals and work they can do to 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 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, and generate charts that spot patterns in students’ reading. Schools interested in using AssessmentPro can contact TCRWP.
Generally, a staff developer works with a school to support the entire literacy curriculum. As part of this, he or she leads 2-3 labsites during each school visit, at least one of which supports reading instruction. In the reading labsite, the structures, methods and expectations for a rigorous reading workshop are illuminated. On the first day, the staff developer models minilessons, conferences, and small group work. On the second day, the staff developer models how to adapt instructional plans and methods based on quick assessments of students. Teachers and staff developers then become co-researchers, observing what students do as readers, developing and pursuing inquiry questions, studying and developing a discourse about texts, and planning teaching strategies to help students learn, both independently and with a partner. Staff developers and teachers then work collaboratively to assess students’ growth as literacy learners, to confer with individuals and with small groups, and to design small group and whole-class teaching based on students’ needs. In addition to in-class labsite work, staff developers generally 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. 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 refining and outgrowing our best thinking.