Research, Rigor and Readiness: The New Three ‘Rs’ in Reading Instruction
By Jhan Dunn, candidate, UC San Diego Extension Reading and Literacy Added Authorization Program and Morgan Appel, director, Education Department, UC San Diego Extension
In 2012, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) issued important changes to standards for advanced reading certification for public school teachers in the Golden State. These changes were designed to reflect the changing nature of our educational environments and emerging research in the field.
The Education Department at UC San Diego Extension worked closely with the campus-based Education Studies Department and active reading specialists to design programming that was holistic and contextually sensitive to California’s increasingly diverse population of readers. The new Reading and Literacy Added Authorization was purposely developed to assist teachers in cultivating a ‘culture of literacy’ in their classroom regardless of assignment and to enhance existing diagnostic abilities to facilitate more precise differentiation of curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of readers across the board.
In approaching these transitions in earnest, our instructional and administrative staff hoped that we had created a practitioner-friendly program that embodied traditions of research and rigor in the University of California. More importantly, however, we sought to ensure that our candidates were ready to embrace any challenge they might come across in the field. Were we successful?
We leave that to our candidates to decide, and are happy to provide insights from one of our soon-to-be completers, Jhan Dunn. Ms. Dunn serves as a full-time Instructor - Coordinator for a rural adult education program and as an associate faculty member at a local community college. She teaches ESL, GED Prep., ABE/ASE, High School Diploma, Citizenship, Parenting, and NCLB Para Professional Certification for the Glenn County Office of Education's Glenn Adult Program (GAP) and Developmental Reading and Writing courses for Butte Community College. Clearly, a busy professional!
Jhan, what have you learned as a result of participating in the Reading and Literacy program that you will be able to use in a classroom setting?
My first thought is that I will be able to use everything I’ve learned in the classroom in some way. This program has given me the opportunity to closely examine all of the various parts of our Literacy program and to evaluate what changes need to be made, what we are doing right, and where we need to go in the future.
In the past we have not done much diagnostic work with our students and intervention activities have been relegated to tutors in our Family Literacy program. In the future we will be taking on more of both of those tasks ourselves as well as coordinating activities with Family Literacy to insure that there is a well-rounded, comprehensive approach that is designed specifically to meet each individual student’s needs. Another area that we will be working on that will improve activities in the classroom is increased teacher training related to creating a Professional Development plan that includes time for teachers to discuss and reflect, to engage in collaborative instructional activities, peer observations, and teacher demonstrations, as well as, guided practice and research based activities.
We are also organizing teaching teams to encourage teachers to work together with students to improve screening, progress monitoring, and intervention activities. Because we are a small program our resources and staff time are limited but the Reading and Literacy Program has helped me to uncover several “small but mighty” ways that we can better impact our students Reading and Writing skills without impacting the budget or sacrificing teacher /student time in other areas of the program. As I write this we are working on choosing some new Common Core State Standards aligned materials for our High School Diploma (HSD) students. We are also looking for an additional assessment tool that is more suited to the needs of our program and students. (We currently use an assessment tool that is state mandated but that does not provide us with any in- depth information about a student’s specific challenges in reading.)Through the Reading and Literacy Program I have been introduced to several assessment tools.
We are evaluating some of them in order to find something that will fit the needs of our adult learners as well as providing the teachers with a more in depth picture of each student’s reading abilities. Another area we are working on is improving the consistency of instruction from one classroom to another through: common practices, common understanding of goals and program needs, use of common terms in discussing reading and literacy. Our teachers work in two different towns so coordinating can be a problem at times but in the coming year we will be able to use Adobe Connect for virtual meetings and individual conferences which will allow us more opportunities to discuss and implement common practices and goals.
I have also evaluated our Literacy program’s relationship with families and the community. Because we are an adult school we have good access to the adults in the communities around our county. We are good at pairing with our Family Literacy program, Head Start, county libraries and local HRA/One Stops to promote Literacy programs and adult education courses but on the other hand, an area that needs attention is making students feel welcome and included within the school itself. We don’t have much student work up in some classrooms or in the schools. Our intake process is confusing for students and we also need to change our orientations to be more than just a placement test session. For the coming year the orientations will revert back being given by the teachers instead of clerical staff and will include goal setting activities and a writing sample, plus a welcome message, and brief tour, etc. We also plan to include a few fun/educational activities (ie: writing contests, book club, student readings, posting student writing on our Facebook site, etc.) for the various classes and an “open house” twice a year to help us raise student and community involvement.
What have been the most important or most intriguing aspects of the Reading and Literacy Program?
In my case the most important aspect of the Reading and Literacy Program has been the wonderful amount of information and research regarding what the elements are of a good Reading and Literacy program and how to move toward building that program. Intuitively, I knew some of these things before I began this program but my efforts to move my agency toward a focus on reading and literacy were a hodge-podge of ideas. I did learn that some of my efforts were going in the right direction but that we needed a lot more coordination and planning than I had thought through. Taking this program has really helped me to get a better idea of how to phase in program improvements as well as what we need to emphasize in the way of teacher training and coordination, materials, and classroom activities. Another important area has been learning about good data collection and assessment of that data. For many reasons we have never had good follow through in that area but in the coming year we will be entering data into a Google Drive file to enable all instructors to enter and have access to student assignment and testing data. This will make it easier for instructors to work together to plan appropriate lessons for a students across content areas. It will also make it possible to quickly gather progress data for weekly online meetings so teachers can determine if a course change may be needed for a student.
The most intriguing part of the program was what I have learned about screening and intervention strategies. For many years it has been the practice in our program that any adult learners who have reading or learning problems are referred to Family Literacy for “tutoring”. Sometimes students are helped and sometimes they are not, and when they are not helped they usually give up. I have wanted to change this situation for quite a while and believed that if I could learn more about identifying a student’s problems and about remediation I would be in a better position to help the students and to keep them in school. I know that this is just a beginning of what I need to know but it is a starting point for me. I feel that through the course assignments I have gained a better idea of how to determine what a student needs help with and then how to proceed with creating an intervention plan. I have been able to start a few students on new reading and writing plans and have already seen some small successes. I have also had some real “aha” moments while working with those students. In the past I would have just been guessing at what I thought the problem was and I have found that now that I have some educational background and some reliable resources to use I am doing a better job of figuring out where the student needs help, getting the student help, and then following up as he/she makes progress.
What have you found to be most challenging in your Reading and Literacy Program experience?
The Reading and Literacy Program has been a great experience for me. I have learned so much, been introduced to new strategies, and found wonderful new resources. The main challenge in my case is dealing with my own program. I want to create a “culture of Literacy” and our students have such a great need to improve their reading and literacy skills, however, I’m hampered in directly moving forward due to administrative issues. Of course the budget figures into this and as with any school these days we don’t have a lot of money for new programs or to buy a lot of new books, etc. In principle, our director is for building a better reading and literacy program, but he has no time to work on it and in our COE we (an Adult School) are basically invisible and certainly are at the end of the “cows tail” when it comes to getting money for anything. I have most of the teachers on board now so that is something and we will be making changes for next year that I believe will be very helpful to the students but that is really not enough. Professional Development is always hit or miss with us, we will have more trainings next year but none of them are directly related to reading or literacy skills. In the past I have facilitated NIFL workshops and reading circles for the teachers but it has been several years since we have held those trainings. I have been thinking of holding them again as a “refresher”. We will be able to hold online meetings next year between our two locations so that should improve teacher to teacher communication. I’m also hoping that we can set up some web cams in the classrooms so teachers can observe each other as well as observing students (for consultation purposes) who need additional support/intervention. Clearly, I have a lot of ideas; the challenge is finding ways within our current situation to implement them.