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
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 Review, 85(2), 254-278.
Moje, E. B. (2008). Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and
learning: A call for change. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(2), 96-107.
Pearson, P. D., Moje, E., & Greenleaf, C. (2010). Literacy and science: Each in the
service of the other. Science, 328(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?
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
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).
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.
What do Pre-service Teachers Understand about Literacy Coaching?
Our recent posts have focused on what we perceive as a lack of understanding of the role of a literacy coach – in particular, the tendency for teachers, both novice and veteran, to view this role with suspicion and link it to evaluation. We have, instead, advocated for understanding literacy coaching as a collaborative relationship between a teacher and a coach that is focused on joint study of student performance.
In September, we discussed the responses that Evelyn received when she asked a group of practicing teachers about their understanding of literacy coaching. Given their tendency to view the coach as having an evaluative role, we began to question what the experience of preservice teachers was with literacy coaching. We asked: Continue reading
Literacy Coaches October 2017
Coaching as Questioning
“Judge not a person by their answers, but by their questions”
Last month, we wrote about our insights after posing the question, “What is a literacy coach?” to a few of our colleagues. Most notably, we found that teachers’ understanding of the role of a literacy coach varied greatly. Further, we were concerned with responses that indicated viewing the role of a coach as judgmental, rather than supportive. In light of this, this fall we plan to further explore some of our goals as coaches to clarify the coach’s role in the classroom. This month, we are thinking specifically about questioning.
One of our goals as literacy coaches is to strengthen the professional environment in a school to support optimal adult learning. Coaching in this environment becomes a shared endeavor that focuses on instructional practices that improve student learning. We agree with Toll (2017) that to be successful, we must take a problem-solving approach in our work with teachers to move beyond trial and error to a more systematic analysis of problems-of-practice that get in the way of students’ learning and academic growth. Within this coaching paradigm lies an essential understanding that we don’t need to have all the answers, but instead, we need to ask the right questions.
By and large, adult learners are self-regulated and self-directed (Knowles, 1980). When teachers work in a professional environment that fosters learning and favors reflection, they are granted the “space” to admit their problems, to analyze their instruction, and to adjust their practice. One of our goals as coaches is to facilitate this process by engaging teachers in a careful, judgment-free examination of teaching and learning. Continue reading
What is a literacy coach? We posed this question to several colleagues, and not surprisingly, the answers varied greatly. Here are a few of the responses: “Someone who helps teachers improve their literacy instruction in the classroom;” “The person who helps teachers use reading and writing to learn content;” “The person in charge of analyzing school-wide data;” “The person in our school who runs grade-level meetings;” “The person who observes me in the classroom and gives me feedback about what I’m doing right and wrong;” “The person I go to with questions, because I know she won’t think I’m incompetent;” “Someone who plans and helps with implementation of curricular initiatives.”
What we took away from our tiny, informal survey was 1) there is little agreement on what a literacy coach is or does; and 2) the coach’s job is diverse and requires deep, professional knowledge that includes (among others) literacy development, assessment, and instruction; principles of adult learning; school-based policies/procedures; and data analysis. Continue reading
Our blog posts this year have looked at assessment from different angles and perspectives. We’ve argued the importance of making assessment meaningful, and helping teachers and students see assessments as valuable tools to inform instruction, provide students with feedback about their performance, and advance students’ learning.
So how might principles of formative assessment apply in our work with teachers? Although literacy coaches do not evaluate teachers, we do work closely with them to support and strengthen their practice. In this post, we consider how we might use principles of formative assessment in this work.
We think of formative assessment as a dynamic process through which teachers gather insights about what students know and can do and determine next steps in their instruction. Embedded within these dynamic teacher-student interactions is teacher feedback that allows students to adjust their performance and supports students’ increasing independence in the learning task.
The coaching process is similarly dynamic. We use our coaching interactions with teachers to gauge where they currently are in terms of knowledge and skill; together with the teacher, we identify areas of strength and need; we provide ongoing feedback; and we promote teachers’ increasing independence in “owning” new ideas and approaches and adopting them to their specific instructional contexts and the particular needs of their students. Continue reading
Over the past months, we’ve explored the literacy coach’s role in assessment from a variety of angles – ranging in topics from high-stakes and informal assessment to student self-assessment. This month, we reached out to coaches and reading specialists we know and respect and asked them to explain their favorite assessment tool to use with students or teachers. Their answers are both interesting and varied – ranging from tried and true assessments to brand new tools we’d never heard of. The range of responses gives voice to depth and breadth of the coaching role and the flexibility that coaches must maintain to meet the ever-changing demands of this position. Continue reading