The Misconception Behind having a Literacy-Focused School
Oftentimes the belief within the school is that literacy belongs to English Language Arts (ELA) teachers. They’re the ones teaching reading and writing, so literacy is their baby. However, this belief could not be further from the reality of it. Literacy needs to be EVERYONE’S baby. It needs to be an “all-hands-on-deck” approach where the entire school works together to promote literacy growth in all students. Literacy is the foundation for the success of our students, and we should ALL take part in making sure they’re successful. My previous post tackles the importance of literacy and lexiles and why it’s so important to make sure we, as educators, are helping our students in their literacy for the sake of their future careers and lives.
Creating a culture at your school where literacy strategies, lexile uses, and reading growth is common dialogue is important in sharing the responsibility of literacy. Many non-ELA teachers stress out at the idea of teaching literacy because it can be intimidating and overwhelming to someone who is not confident in teaching reading and writing and believe their shared responsibility in teaching literacy means they become the ELA teacher. In a school where literacy is common talk and built into the culture, non-ELA teachers will know this isn’t the case. Playing a role in teaching literacy does not mean you put your content on the back-burner, which is often what is believed by non-ELA teachers. It simply means teaching your content through the use of literacy strategies when possible. Reading and writing can easily happen in all classes, and this is why it’s important to have this common dialogue.
Building a Literacy-Focused School
Determining how to create a literacy-focused culture can be the hardest part of making it happen. You want there to be buy-in from all teachers and staff so that it’s not a forced task to bring in literacy. I highly recommend starting by creating a sense of urgency with your staff in the need for literacy in your school. I would pull data showing student deficiencies (such as percentages showing students reading below grade level), create a presentation that shows the lexiles needed to be successful in specific careers, and have them reflect on how literacy could improve the students’ scores in their content areas.
Once you have created a sense of urgency with your staff and they see the immediate need for literacy across the school, work with them to create a shared vision for what a literacy-focused school will look like and then proceed in creating an action plan to get there. During the creation of your action plan, I would try to think about how you can get ALL teachers and staff involved and which literacy strategies you want to adopt school-wide. It is better to have a couple set strategies that everyone does right than to have an abundance that are half done. My two go-to strategies are PALS and Reciprocal Teaching. If interested, I have a blog post on these as well.
Whichever strategies you decide to go with, I would recommend having professional learning on how to implement them with fidelity. I would be specific in exactly what these strategies should look like in the classroom, practice with the teachers completing the strategies as if they were the students, and then having them practice implementing the strategies themselves. Your non-ELA teachers will appreciate this as they go back to implement the strategies on their own. We came up with a peer coach system where teachers could go observe each other completing PALS or Reciprocal Teaching. The peer coaching system was not to observe to leave feedback for one-another, but to learn from each other.
Tracking Progress of Your Literacy Initiatives
When you make something a focus of your school and have the buy-in of your teachers and staff, it is important that you are tracking progress, celebrating ALL successes (even the small ones), and making sure the teachers and staff are seeing and celebrating them as well. In my position as instructional coach, I decided the best way to help retain the buy-in and for teachers to see the difference they were making in our literacy-focused school was to create a data wall tracking the students’ reading lexiles.
This data wall proved to be powerful in allowing teachers and staff members to see the direct impact they were having on the student’s literacy abilities and reading growth. As teachers came in to update students’ scores, it was like they became cheerleaders for the students. I could hear the teachers cheer on their students who were showing growth and let out a little “I know you can do this” for those who decreased.
After the implementation of the data wall, the teacher buy-in for literacy expanded, and teachers were even more eager to make a difference for the students. The data-tracking process and celebrations are imperative for a literacy-focused culture to continue in a school. As educators, we thrive on seeing our students grow and improve; it’s why we teach. Implementing a data wall or some other sort of progress monitoring plan to watch the positive impact being made is vital.
HAPPY LITERACY CULTURE-BUILDING!!!