Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Shoot for the Moon, Part 2 of 5: Getting Bang for Your Buck

Thanks for coming back for part 2 of this five-part series on literacy leadership. Last time, I talked about how administrators and leaders need to know what to pay attention to when it comes to getting a real picture of their literacy program.  This second tip has to do with where school leaders spend money.  Like I’ve said before, I get asked about the best resources ALL the time.  Teachers and administrators are willing to spend precious dollars on things that they think will make a difference.  I agree wholeheartedly with that. Spend it on things that will make a difference.  

The problem is that the things that make the most difference seem too simple and don’t cost near as much money as  classroom sets of test prep materials.  If you don’t know by now...I am NOT a fan of test prep materials.  For one reason…..THEY DON”T WORK! Don’t get me wrong….I don’t mean they sometimes work.  I mean they DO NOT motivate kids to learn, teach them material, or get better scores.  Period.  Yes, there are places that use them and get good scores.  There are equally as many places that use them that don’t.  It is not the material that is getting the results. It’s the TEACHERS.  I go to Vegas a lot, and I’m willing to place bets on the teachers every single time. It’s not just me saying that though.  In the 2012 edition of Educational Leadership, there is an article by Richard Allington and Rachel Gabriel titled “Every Child Every Day” that talks about things that every student should be exposed to each day.  At the end of the article, they talk about things to invest in...and not to invest in:
...eliminate almost all worksheets and workbooks. Use the money saved to purchase books for classroom libraries; use the time saved for self-selected reading, self-selected writing, literary conversations, and read-alouds.
Second, ban test-preparation activities and materials from the school day. Although sales of test preparation materials provide almost two-thirds of the profit that testing companies earn (Glovin & Evans, 2006), there are no studies demonstrating that engaging students in test prep ever improved their reading proficiency—or even their test performance (Guthrie, 2002). As with eliminating workbook completion, eliminating test preparation provides time and money to spend on the things that really matter in developing readers.

So, with that said, if you want to get bang for your buck, spend it on these things:
  1. Classroom libraries
  2. School libraries
  3. Professional resources
  4. Training

Classroom libraries
Plain and simple...if we want students to read, they have to have access to books.  Generally, a well-stocked classroom library would contain anywhere from 15-30 books per student.  A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a campus who had been given money to improve reading scores.  As a part of the plan, they purchased 30 titles of different young adult novel for each ELA classroom in their middle school.  They also purchased copies of Penny Kittle’s Book Love, Jeff Anderson’s Everyday Editing, and Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This.  We did training on the importance of self-selected reading, using mentor texts, and the value of authentic literacy.  After taking the books back to their classes, teachers were commenting that students were asking to come in at lunch to finish a book that they were connecting with.  Many of them said they wished they had let their students have more choice in their reading from the beginning.  To begin evaluating your classroom library, just search “classroom library checklist” in your browser. You will get a ton of documents that can get you started.  Also, check out this teacher’s classroom library tour for some helpful tips:

School Libraries
Libraries have evolved dramatically, and school libraries should be no different.  (See this report on the way modern libraries are evolving: School libraries can be hubs of learning IF they are invested in.  Maker movements, digital literacy, and the arts are all integrated into modern libraries.  When schools hire trained instructional librarians, the effect can be astronomical.  I can’t overemphasize the value of a committed, certified, and knowledgeable librarian/media specialist.  I have had the good fortune to work in several schools where the library was a priority, and the value it added to my classroom was exponential.  Long gone are the days of “’re in the library.”  Modern learning libraries are buzzing with activity and are often the place where students can connect in ways that typical classroom experiences can’t provide.

Professional Resources
When I go to schools, one of the things I am always interested in seeing is the professional resource section of the library.  Often, there is none.  Teachers are berated for not being cutting edge, yet I have been to campuses where the professional resources consisted of guidebooks published in the 90’s on how to use CD-roms.  Let’s face it...for the most part, a teacher's professional growth is at the mercy of the district they are in.  Yes, teachers have a responsibility to learn on their own, but the designated professional development days in a district are, for the most part, directed by what the district deems as priorities. And...professional resources are expensive.  Teachers are already spending a ton of money from their own pocket on birthday treats for students, clothes for students, food for students, resources for lessons, and a million other things. So, having current resources available, buying books for book studies, etc. can offer a great return on the investment.  If you want a short list of authors to to get started with….see below.

·   Richard Allington
·   Jeff Anderson
·   Nancie Atwell
·   Kylene Beers
·   Gretchen Bernabei
·   Lucy Calkins
·   Harvey “Smokey” Daniels
·   Douglas Fisher
·   Ralph Fletcher
·   Irene Fountas
·   Nancy Frey
·   Kelly Gallagher
·   Matt Glover
·  Steve Graham
·  Stephanie Harvey
·  John Hattie
·  Sara Holbrook
·   Carol Jago
·   Penny Kittle
·   Teri Lesesne
·   Tanny McGregor
·   Debbie Miller
·   Donnalynn Miller
·   Mark Overmeyer
·   Steve Peha
·   Gay Su Pinnell
·   Katie Wood Ray
·   Timothy Rasinski
·   Laura Robb
·   Regie Routman
·   Michael Salinger
·   Cris Tovani
·   Jeffrey Wilhelm
·   Sarah Ressler Wright

I will expand on this more in part 3, but if you want highly qualified must ensure they are highly trained.  Most of us can relate to the fact that we were not quite prepared for what we would encounter when we graduated college and entered our first classroom.  In fact, it takes about 5 years for teachers to really get their groove.  Training, mentoring, coaching are musts.  

As you have some time to reflect this summer, here are some questions to consider:
  1. How many books are in each classroom?
  2. How is the school library used?
  3. How often are teachers reading aloud to students?
  4. What access do students have to technology and reading materials?
  5. How are resources being used?

I hope this gives you some food for thought as we head into July.  Check back in 2 weeks for part 3: Build Your Teachers.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Shoot for the Moon, Part 1 of 5

Image result for shoot for the moonI was recently asked to give a presentation to school leaders on literacy leadership.  In thinking about what to say, I thought about all of the literacy program reviews that I have done and what patterns have surfaced.  I titled my session “Shoot for the Moon: Leading for Literacy in the Land of STAAR” because I have encountered far too many school leaders that are aiming too low. If you are just aiming to pass STAAR, you are aiming way too low.  The quote “Shoot for the moon...even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” is very apt in this day and age of accountability.  

Houston, we have a problem.
Typically, when a district calls me, they have either undergone a leadership change and want recommendations for how to enrich their literacy program, or they have reached a point where they simply don’t know how to move beyond a particular road block.  They usually just need an outside perspective on what is happening and some recommendations on how to get things on track. Through the years of working with a wide range of districts from tiny rural to large urban, I have come to see certain patterns of thinking that exist when it comes to literacy and certain common mistakes that administrators make. Part of what I love about being an independent consultant is that I can look through the lens of what is best for kids...not politics or anything else.  The kids in those classrooms need me to be honest about what is happening, and I take that seriously.

So, I decided to write a multi-series blog post about 5 things that I have found to be critical for administrators to understand when it comes to literacy. I hope you will tune in and share your thoughts over the next several weeks. 

Here goes with #1…

Know what to pay attention to.

When I go into a school to conduct a program review, I look at and listen to all kinds of things...the walls, the book room, the practices, the things teachers say, the library, the resources...and on and on.  I have a list of guiding questions that I use that help me stay focused on the things that really impact learning.  As a part of my reviews, I often talk to administrators and teachers and ask questions designed to let me know what they are paying attention to. The majority of the time, their attention is focused on things that don’t give them the information they need. So here are three things that administrators need to understand in order to pay attention to what matters:

  1. All data are not created equal.  Our schools are bloated with data. Honestly, teachers are testing and assessing for almost as many days as they are instructing. Yet, much of the data that is collected is never used or is used for the wrong purposes.  STAAR data is not a good source of data for grouping kids for guiding is a good source of data for revising curriculum.  Lexile levels don’t really help much with guided reading either.  At a certain point, levels (of any kind) become somewhat obsolete and fuzzy.  Diagnostic tests (like TPRI, Istation, etc.) are useful for helping to determine WHY a student might be reading at a particular level, but often this data is never reviewed.  In older grades, it is often STAAR data that drives every decision.  The problem with that is that a student can pass STAAR and not improve in reading….and a student who CAN read may not pass STAAR.  There is a difference between not understanding a skill in a situational context and not being able to read. You have to know what data to look at to determine where the issue is. You also have to look at student data that is not collected formally, like student interests.
  2. Pay attention to learning over looks. I have said for many years that you can have bad instruction in a small group just as easily as you can have it in a whole group.  It’s not the format that matters, it’s the learning.  I have found that well-intentioned administrators often make a format (reading/writing workshop) or a practice (guided reading) an initiative without considering WHY those formats or practices are effective.  You can have a well-organized reading workshop or consistent guided reading groups being pulled yet no content being learned.  Sometimes we get so focused on what it is supposed to look like that we forget what it is supposed to produce.  Stay focused on the WHY.
  3. Face reality with vision.  I have no doubt that the teachers and administrators that I have worked with over the years are well-meaning, passionate educators. I KNOW they are.  They have a vision of what they want for their students, and it is for good things.  Sometimes, though, our vision gets clouded. Sometimes, the barometer of “normal” is skewed simply because of geography or internal school culture.  It takes  a lot of guts and bravery to look at your campus/district (or have someone else look at it) with an objective lens, but it is necessary if you want to create the reality you envision for your students and staff.

So, in thinking about what you pay attention to, here are some questions to consider:
  1. What data do we use to determine if students can read?
  2. What strategies do we use to improve students’ abilities to read and write?
  3. What practices are emphasized?
  4. What do we believe about literacy?

I hope this first installment is helpful, and stay tuned for part 2: Getting bang for your buck.