Search Hero

Coaching

Accountability for Independent Reading In-Person or From a Distance

A student’s independent literacy time is best spent reading meaningful, easy text. The idea of students doing a task where the output is not tangible or easily measured may be intimidating. How do you know if they are really reading? Everything a student does should have a purpose. The purpose of independent reading is, of course, reading. It may feel necessary to rely on worksheets, quizzes, and paperwork to determine if students are doing the work of independent reading. Accountability is the obligation to account for one’s actions. A person must feel responsible for completing a task and for children, increasing engagement and providing meaningful contexts is all you need to instill a sense of accountability. This is especially important for struggling readers. Dr. Richard Allington (2013) asserts that struggling readers are often assigned more worksheets, spend significantly less time reading independently during the day, and are required to do more oral reading during instruction than their average peers. No wonder they are still struggling!

Miller and Moss (2013) cite a study by Reutzel, Fawson, and Smith (2008) that found, “in-school [independent reading] led to gains that were better than national averages in reading rates.” It is clear that allowing equitable amounts of independent reading is critical, but pairing it with the term accountability implies that we expect students to try to “get out of doing the work.” We would like to pose the question, what would happen if we instilled a sense of accountability within our students, rather than holding them accountable ourselves?

Whether we are teaching in person or from a distance, the following are suggestions that will allow you to partake in genuine meaningful conversations about books and learn more about your students as readers. We will outline a few ideas for the major elements of accountability: engagement and meaningful contexts.

Diverse, quality reading materials: First and foremost, reading has to be engaging. If the reading materials are engaging, students will be more likely to read. According to Miller and Moss (2013), classroom libraries are essential, needing from 300-1,000 books for proper diversity and in order to allow for enough choice, which also increases students’ desire to read. Here are a few ideas to gather reading materials: 

In-PersonFrom a Distance
Search your building for long-forgotten boxes of books that have been put into storage. Organize a traveling library van with your school librarian and staff. 
Use your school library to periodically rotate different types of reading into your classroom library. Organize a socially distanced book exchange by appointment.   
Use book club points. Set up or provide the locations of Little Free Libraries around the area.
Shop garage sales. Check with your public library to see if they have e-book borrowing.
Ask about funding for new books. You may be surprised at the answer.   

Ask students about their thoughts: Meaningful open-ended questions can be as simple as saying, “what did you think about [fill in the blank]?” You can fill in the blank with anything as specific or as abstract as you would like, but the key is to let students know that you truly care about their thoughts. Be careful not to judge the answer. Your questions should not sound like an interrogation or it will seem that your intention is to check the student’s work. Remaining neutral, yet interested, is especially important inspire a child to want to read.

Students ask about each other’s thoughts: Assign students to reading partners or small groups that they stay with over the course of weeks or months. Keeping the students together for an extended period of time allows for the students to build trusting relationships in which they become comfortable speaking with each other. It is important to provide students with modeling of peer to peer conversations and to share interactions that go well with the whole group. Remotely, this can be accomplished in breakout rooms, Google chats, or, by meeting with smaller groups. 

When a child just cannot read anymore: Choice builds engagement. If you have been building up your class’s independent reading stamina, you will, of course, have a few students whose stamina does not increase at the same rate as the group. Instead of insisting on more reading which frustrates you and the child, you can address differences in reading stamina by offering other independent choices.

Put together boxes of quiet, hands-on literacy activities that your student can do while others are reading text. The moment you see a student tiring of independent reading, walk over with the box and say, “I see you’re done reading. Remember to mark the page that you want to talk about when we share, and work from your box until independent reading time is finished.”  You can set weekly goals with the child to increase reading over time. The box may include:

  • A previous cut-up sentence
  • Word-making activities from previous phonics lessons
  • The child’s writing folder to add writing and/or illustrations
  • Magnetic letters to make words that have previously been taught in guided reading lessons

For students who are learning remotely, use “face to face” time to allow for reading conferences and peer discussions about the books they are reading. The actual reading should be done outside of your online time together. This means that you will need more communication with parents regarding how the reading time is going. Parents will need to know more about helping their child choose books and how to structure a daily reading time for their child. The types of boxes mentioned above can be made and provided to parents as they work with your guidance to slowly increase their child’s independent reading stamina.

Setting the stage for engagement and preparing for meaningful conversations will be enough to ensure that students are “doing the work” of independent reading. When we take a respectful approach by assuming the best about our students’ intentions, we will stay true to the purpose of independent reading. 

References:
Allington, R.L., What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 66 Issue 7 April 2013
Miller, D. & Moss, B. (2013). No More Independent Reading Without Support. N.K. Duke & E.O. Keene (Ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Five Tips for Ensuring the Success of Literacy Coaches and Teacher Leaders

Congratulations! You’ve made the wise decision to build professional capacity in your school by investing in hiring literacy coaches or teacher leaders. This is a wise first step in beginning the journey to build systemic improvement that will facilitate student growth for years to come. Investing in building the expertise of the teachers in your school is one of the most lasting decisions a leader can make when choosing how to spend their Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) funds.

How can principals support the work of literacy coaches and teacher leaders to ensure they are successful in their roles? Below are five tips for optimizing the work of the literacy leaders in your school.

  1. Develop the expertise of the literacy coach/teacher leader – Coaching initiatives often falter when teachers are selected to be coaches without providing training for them. The role of the literacy coach is complex and no one is born a coach. Coaches need ongoing professional development and support that helps them to refine their literacy expertise, learn how to lead the learning of adult colleagues, and develop their coaching language to facilitate reflective conversations. 
  2. Communicate the role and responsibilities of the literacy coach/teacher leader –  Administrators should define the roles and responsibilities of the coach and then create a written job description that communicates these expectations. Then it is essential for the coach to meet with teachers (hopefully with the principal in attendance) to introduce the role and provide opportunities for teachers to ask questions so all have clear and common understanding about what coaching is and is not.
  3. Prioritize and support coaching and professional learning opportunities – Problems with scheduling often prove to be a roadblock in making regular coaching sessions and professional learning meetings a reality. Prior to the beginning of the school year, take pro-active steps to ensure there is time in teachers’ schedules and coverage is in place so teachers may participate in coaching and professional learning. A wise person once said, “We find time for what we value.” So be sure to work with as a school team to problem-solve around scheduling challenges. When teachers see that the work is prioritized and not added as “one more thing to do,” they will be embrace coaching much more readily.
  4. Schedule regular meetings between the principal and coach/teacher leader – Meetings with clear agendas can be efficient and are an opportunity for the coach/teacher leader to share general ideas about what the teachers are learning and working on in coaching and professional learning. Principals can learn about the nature of the coach’s work without discussing individual teachers. Be sure to avoid those types of conversations at all costs as they will quickly erode the trust that the coach has built with colleagues.
  5. Communicate and model your commitment to coaching and continuous professional learning – Actions always speak louder than words! Be sure to show your commitment to leading a culture of continuous professional learning by attending professional development sessions led by the coach/teacher leader as your schedule permits. Be sure to read professional articles and share your learning. Celebrate the collective learning and work of the teaching team.

As Elmore Leonard once wrote, the road to school improvement “is hard, it’s bumpy, and it takes as long as it takes.”  Working to support and by partnering with coaches/teacher leaders, principals can make the journey much smoother and enjoyable.

Literacy Collaborative 2021 Virtual Cohort

Literacy Collaborative is a research-based literacy improvement model that strengthens the adult learning culture and gets everyone on the same page about the most effective ways to teach reading and writing in grades K–8.

Through a unique design, Literacy Collaborative offers a systems approach to ensuring high literacy outcomes for all children and fosters collective responsibility amongst the school team.

Seven Elements of the Literacy Collaborative Systems Design

  • A shared vision for literacy learning
  • Collective ownership of student outcomes
  • A commitment to teamwork and shared leadership
  • A set of research-based instructional practices that equitably address the strengths and needs of all learners
  • Student data to inform decision making, document growth over time, and reflect on the effectiveness of teaching and learning
  • Job-embedded professional learning and coaching
  • Partnership with families and community members

Affiliated Literacy Collaborative schools also enjoy a range of partnership benefits. For more information the Literacy Collaborative Partnership, click here.

Literacy Collaborative Training is Virtual!
Accepting Applications for the 2021 Cohort

The 2021 cohort will be held online through a combination of live, interactive sessions and on-demand learning starting in August. Participants will apply what they learn and receive job-embedded coaching from Lesley University faculty as part of their coursework.

The literacy coaches/teacher leaders record videos of their teaching and coaching, and complete readings, case study assignments, and reflection papers. The literacy coach takes three 3-credit courses during the year and earns 9 graduate credits from Lesley University upon completion of the training.

Wondering if Literacy Collaborative is right for your school? Schedule a free consultation with one of our literacy trainers.

Learn why Mission Grammar School has invested in the Literacy Collaborative and how intermediate literacy coach Christina is benefiting from the experience.

“As a coach my job is to help teachers to become more reflective practitioners and more skilled practitioners. I have come to see that this the work of an entire community. It is complex work that does not have an end.
I find this very exciting!”

Diane Lyons, Grade 1 Teacher
Ayer-Shirley Regional School District, MA

“I’m excited to create a classroom setting in which the language arts instruction is purposeful, engaging, and very intentional because it is based on the needs of my students. I have a wealth of new information and materials to help me put this knowledge into practice.”

Wendy Marotta, Grade 3 Teacher
Concord Public Schools, MA

“I did not have a clear concept of what it meant to be a coach before I began [Literacy Collaborative] training.
I now feel like I have a full understanding of what I will be doing.”

Christin Wheeler, Literacy Specialist
Brookline Public Schools, MA

Accountability for Independent Reading In-Person or From a Distance

A student’s independent literacy time is best spent reading meaningful, easy text. The idea of students doing a task where the output is not tangible or easily measured may be intimidating. How do you know if they are really reading?

Everything a student does should have a purpose. The purpose of independent reading is, of course, reading.

It may feel necessary to rely on worksheets, quizzes, and paperwork to determine if students are doing the work of independent reading. Accountability is the obligation to account for one’s actions. A person must feel responsible for completing a task and for children, increasing engagement and providing meaningful contexts is all you need to instill a sense of accountability. This is especially important for struggling readers. Dr. Richard Allington (2013) asserts that struggling readers are often assigned more worksheets, spend significantly less time reading independently during the day, and are required to do more oral reading during instruction than their average peers. No wonder they are still struggling!

Miller and Moss (2013) cite a study by Reutzel, Fawson, and Smith (2008) that found, “in-school [independent reading] led to gains that were better than national averages in reading rates.” It is clear that allowing equitable amounts of independent reading is critical, but pairing it with the term accountability implies that we expect students to try to “get out of doing the work.” We would like to pose the question, what would happen if we instilled a sense of accountability within our students, rather than holding them accountable ourselves?

Whether we are teaching in person or from a distance, the following are suggestions that will allow you to partake in genuine meaningful conversations about books and learn more about your students as readers. We will outline a few ideas for the major elements of accountability: engagement and meaningful contexts.

Diverse, quality reading materials: First and foremost, reading has to be engaging. If the reading materials are engaging, students will be more likely to read. According to Miller and Moss (2013), classroom libraries are essential, needing from 300-1,000 books for proper diversity and in order to allow for enough choice, which also increases students’ desire to read. Here are a few ideas to gather reading materials: 

In-PersonFrom a Distance
Search your building for long-forgotten boxes of books that have been put into storage. Organize a traveling library van with your school librarian and staff. 
Use your school library to periodically rotate different types of reading into your classroom library. Organize a socially distanced book exchange by appointment.   
Use book club points. Set up or provide the locations of Little Free Libraries around the area.
Shop garage sales. Check with your public library to see if they have e-book borrowing.
Ask about funding for new books. You may be surprised at the answer.   

Ask students about their thoughts: Meaningful open-ended questions can be as simple as saying, “what did you think about [fill in the blank]?” You can fill in the blank with anything as specific or as abstract as you would like, but the key is to let students know that you truly care about their thoughts. Be careful not to judge the answer. Your questions should not sound like an interrogation or it will seem that your intention is to check the student’s work. Remaining neutral, yet interested, is especially important inspire a child to want to read.

Students ask about each other’s thoughts: Assign students to reading partners or small groups that they stay with over the course of weeks or months. Keeping the students together for an extended period of time allows for the students to build trusting relationships in which they become comfortable speaking with each other. It is important to provide students with modeling of peer to peer conversations and to share interactions that go well with the whole group. Remotely, this can be accomplished in breakout rooms, Google chats, or, by meeting with smaller groups. 

When a child just cannot read anymore: Choice builds engagement. If you have been building up your class’s independent reading stamina, you will, of course, have a few students whose stamina does not increase at the same rate as the group. Instead of insisting on more reading which frustrates you and the child, you can address differences in reading stamina by offering other independent choices.

Put together boxes of quiet, hands-on literacy activities that your student can do while others are reading text. The moment you see a student tiring of independent reading, walk over with the box and say, “I see you’re done reading. Remember to mark the page that you want to talk about when we share, and work from your box until independent reading time is finished.”  You can set weekly goals with the child to increase reading over time. The box may include:

  • A previous cut-up sentence
  • Word-making activities from previous phonics lessons
  • The child’s writing folder to add writing and/or illustrations
  • Magnetic letters to make words that have previously been taught in guided reading lessons

For students who are learning remotely, use “face to face” time to allow for reading conferences and peer discussions about the books they are reading. The actual reading should be done outside of your online time together. This means that you will need more communication with parents regarding how the reading time is going. Parents will need to know more about helping their child choose books and how to structure a daily reading time for their child. The types of boxes mentioned above can be made and provided to parents as they work with your guidance to slowly increase their child’s independent reading stamina.

Setting the stage for engagement and preparing for meaningful conversations will be enough to ensure that students are “doing the work” of independent reading. When we take a respectful approach by assuming the best about our students’ intentions, we will stay true to the purpose of independent reading. 

References:
Allington, R.L., What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 66 Issue 7 April 2013
Miller, D. & Moss, B. (2013). No More Independent Reading Without Support. N.K. Duke & E.O. Keene (Ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

About the Authors:
Genevieve (Gen) Arcovio is a literacy specialist, trained in Reading Recovery. She has worked in a public school district in upstate New York for 16 years as a literacy interventionist K-5, Reading Recovery teacher, literacy and instructional coach, and a kindergarten teacher. Gen is certified in Literacy, Elementary Education, and Special Education. She is the co-founder of the Literacy Pages blog.

Rhonda Precourt is currently a Reading Recovery teacher and k-2 literacy specialist teaching in upstate New York.  In her 20+ years of teaching, she has been a kindergarten teacher, second grade teacher, reading interventionist, and literacy and instructional coach.  She is also a National Board Certified teacher and co-founder of the Literacy Pages blog.

A New Kind of Virtual Coaching Cycle

Normally, when you hear the word ‘coaching cycle’, you might think of a classroom coaching cycle where teachers and coaches work together in the classroom to try new instructional practices, elevate current practices or even support specific students. The cycle begins with a pre-coaching conversation, continues with classroom observations, demonstrations and/or co-teaching and ends with a reflective discussion around shared learning. But sometimes, this kind of intense collaboration around classroom instruction might not be possible and a content cycle is called for instead.

So, what’s a content coaching cycle?
It’s an intense collaboration between a coach and a teacher around a shared topic, rather than classroom instruction. And while intense collaboration around shared topics with teachers is certainly not new, it is usually reserved for professional learning sessions, not coaching cycles. But content coaching cycles are a great way to connect and collaborate with individual teachers when coaching in the classroom is not possible or desired.

A content coaching cycle is the perfect way to launch a virtual coaching cycle when actually teaming up in the classroom is not physically possible due to remote learning or a hesitation to continue intense coaching work through online platforms. So, rather than delay classroom coaching, a content coaching cycle invites teachers to explore a topic together that meets their wishes and wants and often leads to more intense classroom coaching cycles later on. You might think of it as an initial coaching cycle that dives into content and then a later classroom coaching cycle supports application.

A content coaching cycle follows the same sequence of a classroom coaching cycle with just a few tweaks. The cycle begins with a conversation between the coach and teacher around a shared topic of exploration. What do we want to explore together? What do we need next to elevate instruction? What data do we have that supports that focus? This conversation around a vision for the partnership might be an email exchange, a virtual meeting, a Voxer conversation or even a phone call with the overall purpose to decide on a shared goal and offer ideas for how and when to learn together.

Then, it’s time for the actual coaching.
Based on shared goals, the coach and teacher venture on a shared learning experience to explore a topic together, but without working with students in the classroom. Here are a few possibilities that work particular well for virtual coaching cycles:

  • Pair up for an article study on a selected topic.
  • Journey through a blog hop to various blog posts and online resources to support learning on a chosen topic.
  • Connect on a virtual think-tank session to plan for an upcoming unit of study.
  • View instructional videos together with an eye on application toward the classroom.
  • Enroll in a webinar around a topic of interest and debrief together, making plans for the classroom.
  • Team up in an interactive virtual session to co-create resources for virtual instruction and remote learning.

You’ll notice some of these options work best for synchronous learning where coaching sessions can happen live and some work best for asynchronous, on-demand learning instead. The beauty of a content coaching cycle is that it can happen in multiple ways, in different forms and at the convenience of the educators working together. 

Then, just as in a classroom coaching cycle, the coach and teacher meet for a debriefing session to discuss what they’ve learned together and how it might impact the classroom. What take-aways do we have from our time together? How might we apply that new learning to the classroom, especially the virtual classroom? What do we need next? In a traditional coaching cycle, this was usually a separate session after the collaboration in the classroom, but in a virtual content coaching cycle, this might happen immediately or be woven through the learning experience together instead.

While content coaching cycles can never replace classroom coaching cycles, they offer new opportunities to partner together around shared teacher learning and can be an important first step to deeper, more intense collaboration in the classroom, either in-person or virtually.

Divider Line

Stephanie Affinito is a literacy teacher educator in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning at the University at Albany in New York. She has a deep love of literacy coaching and supporting teachers’ learning through technology. Stephanie creates spaces for authentic teacher learning that build expertise, spark professional curiosity and foster intentional reflection to re-imagine teaching and learning for students. She recently published a book with Heinemann Publishing titled, Literacy Coaching: Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools and Technology. She presents regularly at state and national conferences on literacy coaching, teacher collaboration and supporting teachers’ reading, writing and learning through innovative technology.

Book Cover for Literacy Coaching

Stephanie Affinito is a Literacy for All 2020 Conference Speaker

Coaching in Challenging Times

Teachers are under stress, and literacy coaches know it. As school resumes, some teachers will again be facing the challenges of teaching online while others will be teaching in their schools and therefore attending to social distancing, disinfecting, and monitoring use of masks. In every situation this fall, teachers will be working with students who are also experiencing stress. What’s more, teachers are well aware that the threat of getting sick is real for themselves, their colleagues, their students, and students’ families. Where does a coach fit into all this?

I encourage literacy coaches to continue to think of themselves as teachers’ partners who collaborate in solving problems. Effective coach-teacher collaborations begin with the teacher: what is going on in the teacher’s classroom, what does the teacher perceive as student’s strengths and needs, and what obstacles to success is the teacher encountering? A good coach partner listens first and then walks the path of problem-solving alongside teacher colleagues.

In preparing to work with teachers this fall, it may help coaches to think about a time when they were under duress, using an example other than their current situation at school. By thinking of a time when they felt stress, say, from a family situation, a medical concern, or a difficulty in their community, coaches can develop a sense of empathy about what their teacher partners need right now.

I experienced such a situation just this week. I needed to go to the doctor due to a problem with “trigger finger” in my hand, in which one finger became painful and often froze. This happened to me a few years ago, and the solution was a very painful shot in the palm of my hand, something I experienced as so painful that I had to lie down in the doctor’s office afterward, to prevent myself from fainting. Today, then, I forecast another painful experience, made worse by my concerns about being in a medical clinic for a prolonged period of time during the COVID pandemic.

Fortunately, I have a great partner in my husband. He sat with me the night before the appointment and listened as I talked about my fears. Then, together, we problem-solved how I could make things go as well as possible. We reviewed safety precautions that I would take to protect myself from the virus, and we looked online to read about what the clinic was doing to protect patients. Additionally, my husband helped me plan what I would do about the painful shot, things like taking deep breaths, telling the doctor in advance about my previous difficulty with such a shot, and going outside the clinic to sit on a bench if I needed to recover.

My husband did a great job as a partner because he did these things:

  • Tuned in when I told him I was struggling.
  • Listened carefully.
  • Asked open-ended questions.
  • Avoided the urge to tell me what to do.
  • Partnered with me in problem-solving.
  • Helped me think of an additional resource (the clinic website) that could help.

Literacy coaches can do the same. They can be strong partners with teachers, especially teachers under duress, by tuning in, listening, asking good questions, and mutually collaborating to solve problems.

I suggest that coaching meetings should feel a little like going to a spa. Teachers should relax, enjoy the company of a trusted other, and leave feeling encouraged and empowered. This is true any time, but especially at a time when it is so challenging to be a teacher.

And, just as my husband’s support strengthened our relationship beyond helping me through the visit to the clinic, so should a meeting between coaches and teachers strengthen their relationship. Savvy coaches see every interaction as a chance to build trust and “grow” a partnership.

Oh, and I survived the shot just fine. ?

Dr. Cathy Toll supports teacher learning by helping educational coaches, professional learning teams, and school leaders to invest in teachers’ capacity to make a difference for students. She has published widely for teacher leaders, including six books for coaches and a book for learning leaders of all stripes. Cathy has served as a teacher at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, a reading specialist, a curriculum coordinator, a principal, director of literacy research and development, university professor, grant director, consultant, and of course, educational coach. She lives in Menasha, Wisconsin, with her husband David and their two cats.

Cathy Toll is a Literacy for All 2020 Conference speaker.