Multilingual Spaces for Multilingual Students

This month’s post has been written by Dr. Christine Montecillo Leider, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. Chris is a former public school teacher who specializes in teaching and learning issues related to students whose first language is not English. In addition to supporting and coaching teachers in the high-quality instructional practices that will catalyze learning for ELs, Chris often collaborates with teacher educators and practicing teachers in Massachusetts and advocates for bilingual students at the classroom, school, and policy level.

Multilingual Spaces for Multilingual Students

Jordan is in fifth grade. Jordan’s family migrated to the US from El Salvador when he was in second grade. After intake testing and an interview, Jay was classified as an English Learner and also recommend for a Students with Limited or Interrupted Education (SLIFE) program. Jordan is still a classified English Learner.

Cristian is a senior in high school. He migrated to the US from Brazil when he was in ninth grade. Upon intake testing, he was enrolled into a Newcomer program and classified as an English Learner when he initially arrived to the States. He was re-classified at the end of his junior year.

Carina is a second grader. Carina was born in the US and her family speaks Tagalog and English at home, although when Carina’s older brother started to go to school her family switched to using English more predominantly. Carina has never been classified as an English Learner.

Our schools are multilingual spaces. Even in an English-dominant society and under English-Only education policy, our schools are multilingual spaces. Continue reading

May 2018 Making our Coaching Responsive

Making our Coaching Responsive

One of the building blocks of effective coaching is its responsiveness to teacher needs.  But meeting teacher needs isn’t always as straightforward as we wish, since teachers represent a wide range of knowledge, skills, and experiences.  For this reason, coaching can never be formulaic; and simple checklists during coaching observations will always fail to capture the complexity of the teaching and learning process.

We understand very well that there is no “one size fits all” approach to coaching. Teachers’ knowledge and skill can vary dramatically, depending on the instructional practices or ideas being introduced.  Even teachers with many years of classroom experience may be novice when it comes to a new curriculum or instructional idea (e.g., introducing Writers’ Workshop or book clubs).  So we need to begin our coaching wherever teachers are on this continuum of experience, and go from there.

             Novice                                                                                                                            Expert                                                                                                                                                  

By incorporating a variety of coaching activities that help us keep our coaching responsive, we are better able to work within a “teacher’s zone of proximal development” (Heineke, 2013, p. 429) to encourage teachers’ ongoing professional growth and strengthen their instructional effectiveness.

We are guided in our work by the following evidence-based principles that help us focus on essential elements:

  •   We keep our coaching focused on student learning (Blachowicz, Fogelberg, and Obrachta, 2005; Hasbrouck and Denton, 2007).  This is not to say that we only look at test data.  As a matter of fact, test data represents only a tiny piece of progress monitoring and measuring student growth and learning.  Rather, we ask teachers to gather evidence of students’ learning based on their observations, work samples, and (when possible) video of instructional interactions.  This focus on the student provides more objective ways to talk about the effectiveness of instructional actions and to make adjustments when necessary.


  •   We try to assure that our coaching is participant-driven and collaborative (International Literacy Association, 2006).  We strive to make coaching a partnership, and to retain teacher “voice and choice” in our work together.  Puig and Froelich (2007) report that “the power in coaching is highly correlated to the degree that the literacy coach considers herself to be a co-learner” (p. 26), and we endeavor to maintain a sense of “co-construction” when working with teachers. We often begin our coaching by helping teachers refine or extend a practice that they are already doing.  Then, over time, we can introduce new ideas and help teachers adopt practices that will further students’ learning or more accurately reflect effective practices.


  • We make every effort to allocate sufficient time for the coaching process to unfold (Dearman and Alber, 2005; Knight, 2006).  Change can be hard; and just as we would never expect children to learn something new after only one lesson, we can’t expect teachers to effectively incorporate new ideas into their instruction based on a single coaching session. Teachers also need time and guided practice, with a supportive feedback loop that helps At the same time, we make every effort to routinely evaluate the effectiveness of the coaching process and look for evidence of the effectiveness of our coaching.  Coaching effects can be “measured” in various ways, e.g., through teachers’ perceptions about their instruction and sense of instructional efficacy; changes in instructional practice and adoption of new ideas; student learning outcomes (Hasbrouck & Denton, 2007; Knight, 2006; Walpole & McKenna, 2013)


  •   We employ a variety of techniques in our coaching, depending on teachers’ interests and disposition toward being coached (Fitzharris, Jones, & Crawford, 2008; International Reading Association, 2004).  We think about these techniques as lying along a continuum that ranges from very informal (e.g., sharing a relevant article from The Reading Teacher; offering a book recommendation for a classroom-based book club) to very formal (e.g., classroom observations, debriefing, or guided transcript analysis).


  •   Finally, we make conscious effort to continue our own professional growth (Blachowicz et. al., 2005; Hasbrouck and Denton, 2007; International Literacy Association, 2006) both through the knowledge and skill that we continue to develop through reading related literature and research, engaging in coursework and/or related professional development, and through associations with other literacy coaches who share their expertise and help us grow.


So what about you?  How have you differentiated your coaching?  What ideas have worked for you? What challenges have you faced?  Join the conversation!


References cited in this month’s post:

Blachowicz, C.L.Z., Obrochta, C., & Fogelberg, E. (2005). Literacy coaching for change. Educational Leadership, 62 (6), 55-58.

Dearman, C. C., & Alber, S. R. (2005). The changing face of education: Teachers cope with challenges through collaboration and reflective study. The Reading Teacher58(7), 634-640.

Fitzharris, L., Jones, M. B., & Crawford, A. (2008). Teacher knowledge matters in supporting  young readers. The Reading Teacher61(5), 384-394.

Froelich, K.S., and Puig, E.A. (2007). The magic of coaching: Art meets science. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 3(1), 18-31.

Hasbrouck, S., & Denton, C.A.  (2007). Student-focused coaching: A model for reading coaches. The Reading Teacher, 60(7), 690-693.

Heineke, S., (2013).  Coaching discourse: Supporting teachers’ professional learning. The Elementary School Journal, 113(3), 409-433.

International Reading Association. (2004). The Role and Qualifications of the Reading Coach in the United States. A position statement of the International Reading Association. Newark, DE: Author.

International Reading Association, & National Science Teachers Association. (2006). Standards  for middle and high school literacy coaches. International Reading Association.

Knight, J. (2009). Coaching. Journal of Staff Development, 30(1), 18-22.

Puig, E.A. & Froelich, K.S. (2011).  The Literacy Coach: Guiding in the right direction.
Boston, MA: Pearson.

Walpole, S. & McKenna, M.C. (2013). The Literacy Coach’s Handbook: A guide to research based practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press.






What’s New In Literacy Coaching?

As literacy professionals ourselves, we understand that literacy coaches wear many hats – interventionist, professional developer, parent communicator, community educator… the list goes on! Each of these responsibilities requires significant time expenditure. With all of this going on, it can be difficult to keep up with current research and news in the field of literacy coaching. For this reason, we decided to devote a few of our blog posts to exploring, “What’s new in literacy coaching?” As we search the literature for new findings to inform our work, we’re going to share with you articles we find particularly interesting and informative.
Continue reading

From Coaching to Conform” to” Coaching for Transformation”

Literacy Coaches Blog October 2018

This month’s post has been written by Dr. Lisa O’Brien, Assistant Professor of Reading and Language Arts at Merrimack College and former public-school classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy coach.

From “Coaching to Conform” to “Coaching for Transformation”

…the teacher not only sticks to the script, but she also stays close to the pacing guide which on the surface seems productive; however, I am noticing from being in her room that her students are not comprehending much of what they are reading in the program and are not interested…the majority of the reading is done in the textbook, taking away from students being able to explore their own motivations to read.

-Carolina, a first-grade teacher and Master’s candidate in a reading specialist licensure program

Many of the literacy coaches I work with in schools share their experiences about coaching teachers in implementation of mandated literacy curricula. In these instances, literacy coaches are expected to support teachers in conforming to the curriculum. Indeed, high-quality literacy curricula plays an important role in students’ opportunity to learn.  But, as we know, for teachers to be effective, they must hold (1) deep understanding of their students and evidence-based practice and (2) act on this understanding in ways that support diverse students’ literacy development.  However, not all literacy curricula are created equal nor, can any literacy curricula fully account for the needs of diverse students across American schools.  Thus, “coaching to conform” can actually undermine students’ opportunities for learning through the practices teachers implement based on this coaching.

So, what is a literacy coach to do in situations like those described by Carolina?  How can literacy coaches traverse the tension between effective practice and prescribed curriculum in ways that enhance all students’ opportunities for learning?  Research shows that supporting reflective practice is a key component of coaching that makes a difference in teaching and students’ learning.  To guide meaningful teacher reflection: Continue reading

Developing a coaching “roadmap”: Planning across a year

Literacy Coaches Blog:  September 2018

Developing a coaching “roadmap”:  Planning across a year

When we embark on any trip, we need to have a sense of where we’re going.  So, at times like this, a roadmap comes in really handy.  We find the same to be true in our work as coaches.  As we embark on a new school year, it is tempting to jump right in, and problem solve immediate issues – administering and analyzing assessments, providing new teacher support, making sure reading and writing workshops are getting up and running…  While these issues are all important, and necessary work of coaches, it also helps to take a deep breath and develop a vision of where we want to go across the year, planning professional development and coaching activities that cohere to that vision.

First and foremost, effective literacy coaches understand the inter-relationships among the working systems of literacy and the relevant domains of reading development.  It’s essential to understand how these different domains, or pillars, of literacy (word study, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and writing) work and to know how they inter-relate with language development, speaking and listening, and student motivation and engagement.

With these “working systems of literacy” in mind, Puig & Froelich (2011) suggest a roadmap of topics that coaches can integrate in twice-monthly professional development sessions and/or study groups throughout the school year. Such a roadmap might look something like this:

Month 1:
Reviewing assessments and identifying those that will yield the most useful data to inform instruction
Data analysis and Instructional planning; Organizing for instruction

Month 2
Creating a knowledge-building classroom environment
Differentiating instruction; grouping

Month 3
Integrating the domains
Critical reading instruction; Teaching for comprehension

Month 4
Critical writing instruction
Using classroom talk as an instructional tool

Month 5
Investigating reading genres
Investigating writing genres

Month 6
Interactive spelling instruction
Interactive phonics instruction 

Month 7
Developing vocabulary
Teaching for fluency

Month 8
Revisiting comprehension
Revisiting writing

Month 9
End-of-year data analysis


(adapted from Puig & Froelich, 2011, p. 111)

Creating such a road map focuses our work as coaches, allows teachers to choose topics they feel are most relevant to their work and current needs, and relieves some of the “put out all the fires” pressure that the beginning of the year often brings.  If you can’t get to a particular topic in September, you know you will get to it within the year, and can share this calendar with teachers so they can plan sessions they would like to attend, accordingly.

We do have one caution with a ”roadmap” such as the one above, and that is to take a long-view of the year, but use your roadmap flexibly, and adapt the topics to those issues that are most pertinent to your school’s literacy vision and your teachers’ needs.  So, if you are exploring improving comprehension instruction as a school community, you might more narrowly focus this road map, and each month discuss a “slice” of comprehension instruction such as assessment, grouping, genre study, the influence of vocabulary, etc.  The more novel a topic is, the deeper exploration it will require.  What is critical is the understanding that coaching is a process.  Developing a roadmap for the year facilitates balance between immediate needs and long term goals. It also helps teachers get an idea of the “big picture” for their professional learning and keeps those all-important lines of communication open.

So what do you think? Does this idea of a roadmap make sense in your work with teachers?  How might you modify it to work in your school?  Join the conversation!

Reference cited in this month’s blog:

Puig, E.A. & Froelich, K.S. (2011). The Literacy Coach: Guiding in the right direction (2ndedition).  Boston, MA: Pearson.


April 2018 Disciplinary Literacy: The Importance of Reader Identity

Last month we explored the role of middle and high school literacy coaches who often find themselves coaching teachers towards integrating reading instruction within a particular content area and building teachers’ understanding of how readers’ goals, purpose, and strategy use varies depending on the discipline at hand.  While we have discussed some of the varying demands of specific content areas, we don’t want to leave the individual reader out of this conversation.  In Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines, Doug Buell (2011) recognizes the role that reader identity plays in the comprehension of content area texts.  Buell explains reader identity as how one might describe herself as a reader – strengths, challenges, preferences, etc.  He further explains that we all have a general reading identity, as well as multiple, discipline-specific reading identities.  We found his description of reader identity particularly informative in helping to clarify how readers’ self-efficacy within differing discipline may impact their reading comprehension within that discipline. Continue reading

Coaching Teachers in Disciplinary Literacy


March 2018

Coaching Teachers in Disciplinary Literacy

For those of us who coach in middle and high school settings, much of our work focuses on assisting content area teachers with their literacy instruction or trying to help teachers integrate more reading and writing into their regular instruction.   Certainly, content area teachers benefit from instructional support to improve students’ general skills and strategic knowledge about reading and writing. But students also need instruction that moves them beyond general reading strategies toward the specialized literacy practices (reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking) that characterize a particular discipline.  As a result, literacy coaches are increasingly called upon to help teachers identify and then teach the specific uses of literacy that each discipline requires, in order to support students’ ability to access grade-level content.

Of course, across most subject areas, or disciplines, there are certain literacy tools and approaches that disciplines have in common.  That is, across disciplines, people generally:

  • Ask questions or frame problems
  • Work with some type of data through a cycle of inquiry
  • Read and write using a variety of text types (e.g., books, logs, journals, reflections, reports, etc.) and media (e.g., computers, photographs, video, presentations, art, etc.)
  • Record (including collecting and organizing), analyze, and synthesize data/information
  • Draw conclusions about data or information that have been gathered and synthesized
  • Evaluate and examine one’s own claims and the claims of others
  • Communicate findings orally and in writing

However, many of these processes take on different flavors or textures, depending on the discipline. In other words, different disciplines communicate and represent knowledge in different ways (e.g., Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  As a result, when interacting with content, students must know how to vary their approach to reading, including their goals and strategy use.  For example, in English Language Arts, we tend to read critically, search for themes, and analyze texts according to accepted literary elements.  In History, we examine the sources and the context for the information we read; we are also often called on to corroborate information from other sources, to look for bias, and to consider the historical context in which texts were written. In contrast, information in both Science and Math tends to be presented with one “truth” or interpretation based on accepted methods for using and interpreting data and providing evidence.

Shanahan and Shanahan (2008) propose that reading, writing, and learning become less generalizable as students move through the grades; for example, words like prime, power, paradigm, analyze, esoteric, and thesis take on greater specificity and more specialized meanings as students progress into higher grades. As well, students’ reading abilities vary substantially across texts and disciplines; that is, a student who reads and comprehends novels with ease might have difficulty comprehending her science or math textbook.  So instruction that incorporates disciplinary literacy gives students the tools, including strategies and skills, that will allow them easier access to disciplinary knowledge.

Since the purpose of disciplinary instruction is not only to build knowledge in that discipline but also to engage students in generating disciplinary knowledge (Moje, 2015), content teachers must help their students learn how to navigate disciplinary texts and to think/reason about content.  In each discipline, then, literacy (reading, writing, speaking, listening) offers TOOLS for thinking and building essential knowledge.

Elizabeth Moje, a former high school teacher and currently the Dean at the University of Michigan School of Education, has devoted much of her career to studying and thinking about the ways that teachers can best support their students in learning to read, write, and think in discipline-specific ways. She and others who have been involved in her research propose that engaging students in disciplinary literacy should incorporate the following components (Moje, 2008; 2015; Pearson, Moje, & Greenleaf, 2010):

Engage: Design classroom instruction and provide students with multiple tools that enable them to engage in disciplinary reading, writing, and reasoning practices that characterize the discipline, including discussion and debate, use of multiple texts, and introduction of a range of media.

Elicit/Engineer:  Elicit the knowledge and skills that students already have and can bring to bear on disciplinary inquiry, and then engineer opportunities for them to engage in disciplinary inquiry.  Such instruction includes focusing on both everyday and concept-rich vocabulary (not by simply writing definitions, but by interacting authentically with important words through reading, writing, and talk); providing explicit instruction in comprehension strategies within the context of classroom texts; and using a range of literacy-based instructional approaches to help students build knowledge by actively engaging with texts and content, e.g., Questioning the Author (QtA)  (see Beck & Sandura, 2015); Literature Circles and Text-Based Discussion (see Kucan & Palincsar, 2013); and Reading Apprenticeships (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, & Murphy, 2012)

Examine: Set up instructional opportunities that provide students with ways to explore the vocabulary, concepts and structures and uses of language that represent disciplinary knowledge. Such opportunities might include instructional tasks that call on students to engage in the forms of communication that exemplify the discipline (e.g., argumentation, explanation, description), to critically examine uses of words, phrases, and symbols, and to analyze how knowledge is represented in a particular discipline.  Students can also be asked to contrast disciplinary-specific ways of communicating with other forms, e.g., how is scientific information explained in a news article versus a scientific journal?

Evaluate: Help students consider why, when, and how disciplinary discourses are used.   Explorations of disciplinary discourses help students develop metalinguistic awareness that encourages flexibility in addressing academic reading and writing tasks, e.g., understanding the differences between a literary or scientific analysis, what “counts” as evidence, how to take a position and defend it during discussions or in a persuasive essay, etc.

As literacy coaches, we play an essential role in supporting content area teachers during this instructional cycle: by introducing relevant resources, assisting in lesson planning and design, helping to determine appropriate formative assessment tools, and assisting teachers in interpreting results. Moreover, we should actively structure opportunities for content area teachers to collaborate, within and across disciplines, to identify the instructional approaches that will most benefit their students, and in turn, to plan exciting, inquiry-based opportunities that will bring disciplinary learning to life.

References cited in this month’s post:

Beck, I. L. & Sandura, C. (2013).  Illuminating comprehension and close reading. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Kucan, L.  & Palincsar, A. S. (2013).  Comprehension instruction through text-based discussion. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Moje, E. B. (2015). Doing and teaching disciplinary literacy with adolescent learners:
A social and cultural enterprise. Harvard Educational Review85(2), 254-278.

Moje, E. B. (2008). Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and
learning: A call for change. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy52(2), 96-107.

Pearson, P. D., Moje, E., & Greenleaf, C. (2010). Literacy and science: Each in the
service of the other. Science328(5977), 459-463.

Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C., & Murphy, L. (2012). Reading for understanding: How
reading apprenticeship improves disciplinary learning in secondary and college classrooms.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Shanahan, T. & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents:
Rethinking content-area literacy.  Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40-59.


What do we do about teachers who resist coaching?

What do we do about teachers who resist coaching?

February 2018

All of us who work as literacy coaches have, at some point, encountered resistance among the teachers with whom we work. This issue seems to persist and is hard to overcome, making teacher resistance one of the ongoing challenges of coaching (Toll, 2005).  The source of this resistance often puzzles us. After all, aren’t we in this together?  Don’t we all want to strengthen our students’ learning (and improve those ubiquitous assessment outcomes)? Of course, like everything else in human nature, the issue is complex.  

Resistance can come from a variety of sources. Continue reading

MRA Literacy Coaches January 2018


Video Analysis as a Coaching Tool

Last month, we wrote about the use of video as a coaching tool with pre-service teachers, and we described some of the research that has demonstrated the value of video-coaching for developing pre-service teachers’ knowledge and skill. But there is growing evidence that video analysis offers a valuable tool for coaching with in-service teachers, as well.

Research has shown that coaching that includes video-analysis opportunities helps in-service teachers develop deeper understandings of effective instructional moves and more reflective dispositions about their own instruction (Neuman & Wright, 2010; Rosemary et al., 2002).
Continue reading

Literacy Coaches December 2017 Blog

Preservice Teachers and Literacy Coaching: 

What Can We Learn from The Coaching with CARE Model?


          Last month we explored the topic of preservice teachers and their experiences, or lack thereof, with literacy coaches. Our objective was to begin to unpack the question of why literacy coaches are sometimes viewed as evaluators rather than collaborators who share a vision of student success.

         We looked to the research and found few studies that engaged preservice teachers with literacy coaches; however we did find an interesting series of studies regarding the Coaching with CARE  Model (Maloch, Mosley, Wetzel, & Hoffman, 2015).  This multi-year, multi-phase, longitudinal study explored a model for honing the coaching skills of cooperating teachers (CTs) in a literacy-focused master’s program with preservice teachers (PTs).  The model also highlighted the use of video analysis to engage PTs in in coaching conversation that resulted in deep analysis and reflection.  This month, we will explore this series of studies to posit the potential benefits that arise from partnering PTs with CTs trained in best practice literacy method, or literacy coaches, before entering the field.

      Continue reading