November Coaching Blog


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


Coaching as Questioning

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?

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

May 2017

Literacy Coaches

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

The Coach’s Role in Assessment: Voices From the Field

April 2017

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

High-Stakes Testing: What is the Coach’s Role?

As we begin the month of March, the anticipation (and sometimes dread) of the start of “testing season” is palpable in schools and classrooms. No matter how confident a teacher is in his/her instruction, little doubts start to creep up: Have I covered concepts completely? Will we get to all the materials on the tests? Will my students persevere for such a long period? In addition, teachers often feel pressure for their students to perform (Koretz, Mitchell, Barron, & Keith, 1996b), with negative impacts on morale and motivation, as teachers wonder if performance on the test is valued over their individual expertise (McNeil, 2002). In sum, this can be a daunting time of year. So… what can the literacy coach do to support teachers as they prepare their students for high stakes tests? We suggest taking both a long and a short view. Continue reading

Helping Students Learn to Self-Assess

In our posts this year, we have been examining assessment from several angles and exploring ways that literacy coaches support this important facet of effective instruction. We know that assessment can be misunderstood, associated with high-stakes testing, and reduced to little more than a record of student failure. But assessment can (and should) be a powerful tool for teachers and students to strengthen learning, understand progress, and measure growth.

We especially think that assessment is an essential tool for our students to understand and use, and we explore that idea a little further in this month’s blog. Continue reading

Literacy Coaches January 2017

Coaching for Change in the Writing Workshop

In line with our recent posts, this month we focus on another aspect of assessment – the coach’s role in writing assessment. The gift of coaching in a writing classroom is having an actual product to study collaboratively with a teacher, since it’s possible to set a goal and collect concrete evidence as to whether instruction is supporting students in meeting that goal. To make this work “stick” or pay off in terms of teacher practice and student achievement, two considerations are critical: making regular time for ongoing collaborative study and embedding oneself within the writing classroom. Continue reading

December Classroom Talk as Formative Assessment

December 2016

Classroom talk as formative assessment

Our blogs this fall have focused on assessment. We’ve argued for the important role that assessment can play, especially when it’s integrated into the overall cycle of teaching and learning.

When we think about the range and types of formative assessment tools available to teachers, one of the most effective is also one of the most accessible:  teacher and student talk.   Roskos and Neuman (2012) argue that an essential function of formative assessment is to “identify the gap between where students are and where they need to go” (p. 535); and the dialogic exchanges that occur during the course of routine instruction can yield information that packs a powerful punch to help teachers shape instruction and strengthen the learning experience for students.

In our work with teachers in clinic and classroom settings, we frequently observe how skilled teachers make use of their “dialogic exchanges” with students to determine their understanding and then to push them a little farther in their explorations of content. Continue reading

November Literacy Coaching

Formative Assessment

In keeping with the theme of our last post – using assessment in meaningful ways to support student learning – this month we take a closer look at formative assessment. Although often overshadowed by the high-stakes and public accountability of district tests and state mandates, it is in its role to inform teachers and students that assessment holds its greatest power.  In fact, the most highly visible and high stakes tests are actually the least effective for monitoring students’ learning; rather, it is through classroom-based, formative assessments, that teachers and students gain the greatest insight into learning and gauge students’ progress toward acquisition of content and achievement of grade level benchmarks (Valencia, 2011). Furthermore, the ability to assess student learning during instruction is a hallmark of effective teachers and often distinguishes more effective teachers from their less effective colleagues (Athanases & Achinstein, 2003). Continue reading