Coaching Towards Implementing Guided Writing Groups

May 2019

Coaching Towards Implementing Guided Writing Groups


As coaches, we are constantly thinking about how to support teachers in making their instruction more robust, and so, more likely to have a positive impact on student learning.  In this post, we will focus specifically on the writing workshop and how using flexible, needs-based groups – or guided writing groups (Gibson, 2008) –  for writing instruction offers teachers the opportunity to further differentiate writing instruction and improve students’ writing achievement.

Despite a growing field of researchers and practitioners (Alston, 2012; Calkins & Hohne, 2015; Graham & Perin, 2007) calling for increased collaboration to boost student achievement in the writing classroom, flexible needs-based groups have not yet achieved widespread use in this context.  Flexible groups have been used to meet the individual needs of readers for quite some time.  We propose that teachers can better meet the needs of developing writers by capitalizing on the use of guided writing groups.  Differentiating instruction through grouping offers teachers the ability to:  1) Increase instructional intensity, 2) Increase collaboration, and 3) Increase access to needs-based, explicit instruction.

To start, decreasing group size has been shown to increase instructional intensity (Torgeson, 2004).  Any time we are instructing a smaller number of students, we provide greater access to instruction, while also creating an environment that is more likely to keep students engaged.  This is particularly important for students who are at risk for writing failure.  When using guided writing groups, teachers can more closely monitor student engagement and interact with students as they do the hard work of applying new skills and strategies to their writing.

Decreasing group size also offers students increased opportunity to collaborate with each other and the teacher.  In the Writing Next Report, Graham and Perin (2007) discuss the findings of their seminal meta-analysis aimed at understanding the characteristics of effective writing instruction (Graham & Perin, 2003).  They noted a relatively strong correlation between writing achievement and providing students with “instructional arrangements in which adolescents work together to plan, draft, and revise their compositions” (p. 4).  Further, guided writing groups not only offer students the opportunity to discuss and reflect together but allow students to discuss their decision-making with the teacher, while in the process of composing.

Lastly, a vast body of research points to the use of explicit strategy instruction to mediate some of the difficulties encountered by struggling writers (Englert, Raphael, Fear, & Anderson, 1988; Fitzgerald & Markham, 1987; Scardamalia, Bereiter, & Steinbach, 1984)  While whole class learning offers teachers the opportunity to teach skills, concepts, and strategies that are new to all students, implementing guided writing groups allows teachers to teach (or reteach) particular skills and strategies to students who need them most.  These groups offer the opportunity to assess students’ writing and explicitly address individual areas of need (Parr & Limbrick, 2010).

So… How can coaches support this process?

When coaching teachers towards implementing guided writing groups, we suggest the following.

Continue reading

Planning Professional Learning for Disciplinary Literacy April 2019

The MRA’s Literacy Coaching blog post for April has been written by Christina L. Dobbs and Jacy Ippolito. Christina is an Assistant Professor in English Education at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development where she teaches courses on English education, writing instruction, and English language learners.   Jacy Ippolito is an associate professor and department chair in the School of Education at Salem State University.  Both were members of the development committee and active contributors to the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) recent set of national standards for literacy professionals.  See

Planning Professional Learning for Disciplinary Literacy


By Christina L. Dobbs and Jacy Ippolito


We’ll continue the disciplinary literacy theme of recent blog posts by talking a bit about our own work designing professional learning experiences for teachers related to disciplinary literacy. Since literacy coaches are often called upon to plan and/or lead this type of work—a role that is reinforced in the new ILA 2017 Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals (2018)—we thought we would share a few key learnings from our own practice.

In an effort to avoid the ‘one and done’ workshops that we know have little impact on teachers’ practice, we have worked with schools to co-design embedded professional learning that uses more effective structures to help teachers as they refine their practice. We have relied upon structures like professional learning communities (PLCs) led by teacher leaders (often coaches or content-area experts able to coach colleagues). These disciplinary and cross-disciplinary teams have then engaged in collaborative inquiry cycles, digging deeply into their own practice while simultaneously exploring new ideas. We have found these structures to support each other in helping teachers make space to think about literacy in diverse disciplines. Here are a few key learnings from our work that might help if you are planning professional learning around disciplinary literacy:

  1. Resituate expertise. Teachers often have little training around disciplinary literacy, but they do have expertise. In-depth learning about literacy in the disciplines is still not a huge component of teacher training for most future secondary teachers. We recommend providing some literacy-focused training and professional learning for teacher leaders who are already experts in chemistry, math, psychology, or literature. These teacher leaders can learn a great deal about literacy on-the-job and then lead small team-based collaborative inquiry experiences for colleagues, in the position of ‘lead learners.’ If we think of PLCs as spaces to combine literacy and content expertise, we can generate lots of enthusiasm and find fertile ground for new ideas to try.
  2. Cross-content area groups can be quite valuable. In many secondary settings, it can be all-too-easy to work with only teachers who teach the same subject. But when it comes to disciplinary literacy professional learning, this can be useful but also hindering. Often when teachers decide to pursue a particular discipline, they spend so much time focused on the habits of mind and specific content of that discipline, that literacy practices can be a bit hidden. But cross-content-area collaborators are well-positioned to point out what can sometimes be hidden to disciplinary insiders. Cross-disciplinary conversations are a valuable way to see the disciplines through the eyes of people who aren’t experts by engaging with each other’s texts and practices.
  3. Advocate for structured time. Coaches often have regular meetings with school leaders in which they can advocate for particular initiatives or resources. Time is a most precious resource in schools, but without regular, consistent time to work on instructional improvement, it can be hard for initiatives to gain momentum. And, without time and dedicated structure, having rich cross-content-area conversations can be much more difficult. Take time up front in any disciplinary literacy professional learning initiative to advocate for the time needed to explore and refine new practices.
  4. Help each other collect data. As teams, with the support of coaches, identify and design new practices you’d like to try. Start with teachers’ interests and wonderings about student learning in a discipline. As those wonderings are explored, begin to help each other collect data about current student work and then what happens as teacher practice shifts. This might look like observing each other teaching, looking at student data before and after instruction, or engaging in collaborative planning and reflection. This collaborative work not only improves instruction in individual classrooms, but it also improves relationships between teachers who can support each other.

These are just a few suggestions about how to plan professional learning around disciplinary literacy that will result in changes to instruction. Over time, we have found that supporting teacher professional learning and collaborative inquiry often results in greater disciplinary literacy engagement for students too! As adults learn together, so do students.

If this resonates with you, and you are just starting or in the midst of a disciplinary literacy professional learning initiative, we’d love to hear from you. How have you handled this kind of professional learning about disciplinary literacy and beyond? What has worked for your teachers and their students? To hear more about our work, check out our books with our colleague and friend Megin Charner-Laird, Investigating Disciplinary Literacy: A Framework for Collaborative Professional Learning and Disciplinary Literacy Inquiry and Instruction.  Please feel free to contact us via email or Twitter:



Writing in the Disciplines March 2019

Writing in the Disciplines

Last spring, we took a look at Disciplinary Literacy and the varying approaches to reading and interacting with content that characterize each subject area, or discipline.  Disciplinary literacy is an important lens for us to use in coaching, particularly in our work with middle- and high-school teachers.  Thinking about how literacy is used in different disciplines helps us tailor our coaching ideas to meet the needs of content-area teachers.

In February’s blog, we posted about Disciplinary Literacy at the elementary school level.  This month, we continue the conversation with a look at disciplinary writing, or how writing is used in each discipline. Understanding the different forms and purposes for writing in each discipline helps us frame our coaching more specifically to teachers’ needs, regardless of the grade level they teach.   We can then provide more targeted ideas and tools for teachers to use, and so, help teachers integrate more writing opportunities for students in their regular instruction.

The Annenberg Foundation has created a useful website with resources for teachers that focus on disciplinary literacy: They describe some of the disciplines-specific uses of writing in the following ways:

How Historians Use Writing

    • To establish claims and support them with evidence from the historical record:
    1. Summarizing and describing historical events, people, and phenomena
    2. Corroborating sources
    3. Interpreting historical events, people, and phenomena
    4. Developing evidentiary base to support claims
    5. Making arguments and supporting with evidence
    • In History classes, students are expected to summarize and analyze historical events, people, and phenomena, identify patterns across time, and engage in research.

How Mathematicians Use Writing

    • To document their thinking processes as they work toward a solution or a proof and to clearly and compellingly present these solutions or proofs to others
    • To record and keep track of their calculations and “mathematical thinking,” through note-taking and analyses to record their thoughts as they tackle difficult problems or attempt new proofs
    • To consolidate and communicate their ideas to others
    • To interpret mathematical proofs and argue for their accuracy
    • In Mathematics classes, students are expected to record operations, analyze mathematical problems, and explain mathematical problem-solving

How Scientists Use Writing

      • To record data, including observations and results
      • For the scientific record, including research report and annotations about findings/observations
      • To annotate documents as they read, noting important or new ideas and approaches to problems and responding to the ideas presented in text
      • To support/defend their findings and argue for the “correctness” of their interpretations or importance of their observations or test results
      • To carefully document hypotheses, calculations, and experimental procedures
      • To describe and analyze data and observations
      • To provide interpretations, often including alternative explanations
      • To succinctly summarize data, observations, and/or hypotheses
      • To analyze, critique, or provide commentary on the ideas of others
      • In Science classes, students are expected to record scientific processes and procedures, document observations, generate hypotheses, analyze data, record and interpret findings, and engage in research.


How Professionals Use English Language Arts:

      • Proficient writing and communication skill in English cut across all professions and socio-economic lines. The ability to effectively write and communicate has become imperative for successful participation in our information-loaded world.
      • Most professions require the ability to describe, summarize, request, explain, evaluate, analyze, and persuade with clarity, competence, and confidence.
      • Professionals are also expected to be able to annotate documents as they read, noting important or new ideas and approaches to problems and responding to the ideas presented in text
      • In ELA classes, students are expected to engage in literary analysis, journalistic writing, contrastive analysis, and various forms of genre study and narrative writing.


As coaches, we can gather information about writing in the disciplines and help teachers integrate more writing into their regular instruction. When we understand what characterizes writing in each discipline, we are better able to help teachers identify what strategies each discipline demands and determine teaching points accordingly.  Supporting teachers’ implementation of disciplinary writing gives students more opportunities to engage deeply with content.


Teachers are sometimes hesitant to include writing tasks because they lack confidence in teaching students how to write. Teaching practices that are specific to each discipline can be even more daunting.  We can offer support through co-planning, modeling, and providing examples of student work. We can also gather and/or co-create resources like graphic organizers and specific checklists for teachers to use during their instruction.  Additionally, we can help teachers create rubrics to qualitatively evaluate the writing that they assign.

We all know the incredible value of writing as a tool for learning.  Supporting teachers in integrating disciplinary writing into their instruction is an important component of our coaching.

Join the conversation!  How have you helped teachers think about incorporating more writing into their instruction?  Have you coached teachers in disciplinary reading and writing?  What has worked for you?

Disciplinary Literacy in Elementary School February 2019

Disciplinary Literacy in Elementary School

In recent posts, we’ve talked about Disciplinary Literacy as a framework for coaching teachers in middle- and high-schools.  But what about teachers in elementary schools?  Where does disciplinary literacy enter the picture for them?

Disciplinary literacy refers to the specialized ways of reading, writing, understanding, and thinking that characterize content areas, or disciplines, such as science, history, or literature. Each field has its own ways of using text to create and communicate meaning, and there is growing recognition of the importance of teaching children how to use text and interact with ideas in discipline-specific ways.  For example, a historian would read a text with a different eye than a mathematician might, and as such, we need to teach children to read in discipline-specific ways, as well.

As children progress in school, they benefit from literacy instruction that includes not just general strategies and approaches for making meaning with text, but also the more specific strategies that different disciplines employ.

Disciplinary literacy instruction that begins in elementary school improves students’ later academic performance and ability to access the complex, discipline-specific texts that they encounter in secondary school and college (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2014).   As AnnMarie Palincsar (2005) explains:

Children who are exposed to text have opportunities to acquire knowledge of vocabulary, background knowledge, and knowledge regarding how reading material is structured that children who are not exposed to text do not have. Students with this richer knowledge base experience a bootstrapping of further vocabulary, real-world knowledge, and knowledge of and comfort with the structure of texts. (p. 3)

In order to provide students with discipline-specific tools, teachers need both subject-matter, or content, knowledge and knowledge of effective practices for teaching that content, including strategies to help students navigate the types of text structures, text features, vocabulary, and uses of language that predominant in a given subject area.  As coaches, we also need to be well-versed in the texts and instructional approaches that will support teachers’ classroom practices and instructional decisions.

Coaching teachers in how to frame their instruction in disciplinary ways helps students in several important ways. First, disciplinary approaches extend students’ reading comprehension by providing scaffolds for thinking.  Juel et al. (2010) write that, “If a student knows that studying the natural world entails careful observation and thinking, then the student is more likely to observe and think about what he or she sees or to wonder about the causes of particular phenomena” (p. 14).  If students know that scientists make claims and collect evidence to support or refute those claims, they will be more inclined to question information and look for alternative explanations, particularly if teachers set that up as a purpose before students begin to read.

Juel et al. (2010) also argue that the predominance of technology creates another important reason to support a disciplinary stance in instruction and to begin that instruction early: “No longer do students jump to a set of printed encyclopedias; rather, they jump on the Internet. To understand how to evaluate all the information that is readily available online, students need to know the standard for evidence in a given arena… Understanding how to think like a scientist, to think like a writer, and to think like a historian can provide students with direction as they read particular texts” (p. 15).

As coaches, we can encourage teachers to integrate more instruction in the ways of reading, writing, and speaking that characterize different disciplines. Although viewing a text from a disciplinary perspective does not compensate for a student’s lack of vocabulary or conceptual knowledge, it can give readers an idea of what to expect from a text and how to proceed with a text, especially if teachers have previously taught relevant structures and features. This disciplinary stance is particularly recommended for teachers working with English language learners (ELLs) (Brock, Lapp, Salas, & Townsend, 2009), since such a focus explicitly teaches language structures, vocabulary, and concepts that will assist ELLs in accessing content.

Through our coaching, we can also help teachers locate a range of texts that represent different text types (e.g., biography, scientific explanation, letter, or speech), modalities (e.g., picture, map, graph/ chart or prose—online or on paper), and purposes (e.g., to explain/inform, entertain, or argue) and then assist them in planning instruction that addressees the strategic approaches that will help children access these text types and attributes.  We can promote teachers’ creation of text sets and coach them in how to guide students’ reading of multiple texts on the same topic, much as experts in history, science, or English think about and evaluate what they read across sources.   Similarly, we can encourage teachers to pair narrative and informational texts on the same topic so that students learn content through the lens of different genres and consider the different ways that information is structured and conveyed in each genre. Alternatively, we can help teachers find narratives that students could read in tandem to compare and contrast the perspectives provided in each.

The bottom line is that we should make efforts to introduce teachers to the idea of integrating more disciplinary literacy into their classrooms and then provide ongoing support in their efforts.  Shanahan and Shanahan (2014) argue that, “The disciplines pose specialized and unique literacy demands…teachers can help ensure that students will be ready to negotiate these gateways to college and career success. It is never too early” (p. 638).

So what do you think?  Have you looked at instruction through a disciplinary lens? How have you integrated disciplinary literacy into your own instruction or helped your colleagues implement more of these instructional approaches?  We’d love to hear your ideas. Join the conversation!

References we cited in this post:

Brock, C., Lapp, D., Salas, R., & Townsend, D. (2009). Academic literacy for English learners. New York: Teachers College Press.

Juel, C., Hebard, H., Haubner, J. P., & Moran, M. (2010). Reading through a disciplinary lens. Educational Leadership, 67(6), 12-17.

Palincsar, A. S. (2005). Reading in science: Why, what, and how (Brief). Washington, DC: National Science Resources Center. Retrieved from

Shanahan, C. & Shanahan, T. (2014). Does disciplinary literacy have a place in elementary school?  The Reading Teacher, 67(8), 636-639.




Making Our Coaching Responsive, Part 2 ~ January 2019

Last May, our post focused on the importance of making our coaching responsive and considering where teachers are on the continuum from Novice to Expert.  We noted that even very experienced teachers may be “novices” when new curricula or instructional ideas are introduced.  And although it’s important to honor the years of experience they bring to our coaching interactions, we also have to acknowledge that even experienced teachers may feel vulnerable with new ideas.  New teachers also may feel vulnerable and are often overwhelmed by the responsibilities and instructional challenges they encounter in the classroom.

So where do we begin?  How do we engage teachers across the continuum in coaching that will help build their instructional capacity and fuel their professional growth?  An important component of our coaching is a focus on the needs of individual teachers to reduce any inclination to fall back on a “one-size-fits-all” coaching plan. This brings us back around to the responsive coaching and its importance as a framework for all of our interactions with teachers.

As it turns out, a focus on responsive coaching has strong support in the research, with relationship building often emerging as an important factor for coaches’ effectiveness. In fact, positive relationships between coaches and teachers are an essential component that can fuel pedagogical capacity-building to the benefit of students’ literacy learning (L’Allier, Elish-Piper, & Bean, 2010).

The relationship-building aspects of coaching are also evident in a group of studies that centered on the relationships among coaching actions, teachers’ participation in coaching, and student achievement. Among the major findings, researchers reported that specific coaching behaviors (e.g., affirming teacher knowledge, demonstrating empathy toward teacher experience, directing dialogue toward teacher expertise) influenced teachers’ willingness to participate in coaching (e.g., Jayaraman, Marvin, Knoche, & Bainter, 2010).  Coaching talk aimed at building relationships and actively supporting teachers’ professional growth also strengthened teachers’ positive identities (e.g., Hunt, 2016; Hunt & Hansfield, 2013), mediated possible power imbalances, and positively influenced coaching interactions (e.g., Heinke, 2013; Jones & Rainville, 2014).  Moreover, an emphasis on trust and relationship-building during coaching interactions supported improvements in students’ literacy outcomes (Matsumura, Garnier, Correnti, Junker, & Bickel, 2010; Matsumura, Garnier, and Spybrook, 2013). As one might expect, the frequency of coaching interactions was also found to be positively correlated with student achievement (e.g., Bean, Draper, Hall, Vandermolen, & Zigmond, 2010).

Of course, relationship-building in the workplace takes time. So this is not a quick fix.  In our coaching work, we’ve identified several tiers of support that help us respond to teacher need and build the trusting relationships that are so critical to coaching success.

The first, and most flexible, of these tiers, we have defined as “Corridor Conversations.”  While we always advocate for a coaching relationship that is ongoing and deliberate, there are times when quick, more informal conversations, can also be effective – particularly with more experienced teachers.  These are the conversations that happen in the lunchroom or hallway or during a quick stop by the classroom.  From these conversations we can learn about student needs, assessment results, upcoming units, etc.  These conversations can help to answer teachers’ immediate concerns and provide the coach with information for future planning. These conversations can also lay the groundwork by helping coaches establish a friendly, professional relationship with colleagues that leads to more intensive coaching down the road.

When it’s possible to engage in more planful and deliberate coaching relationships, we have defined three additional tiers.  During Tier 2 we suggest setting aside time for an informal classroom visit and introductory interview.  Information gathered during this time allows the coach to begin to understand teacher needs, and how much coaching support is necessary, given the teacher’s experience, pedagogical knowledge, and instructional repertoire.  After this visit and initial conversation, the teacher and coach can decide whether they would like to continue to check-in informally or proceed with a classroom observation, Tier 3.

Tier 3 involves a more formal classroom observation.  We advocate for viewing this lesson through two lenses.  First, are lessons in the given classroom structured in alignment with what we know about best practice instruction (i.e. inclusion of mini lesson, guided practice, and independent practice)?  If the structure is not supportive of student learning, that needs to be addressed before more nuanced aspects of instruction can be considered.  If the structure is solidly in place, we suggest “digging deeper” and looking for areas where fine-tuning instruction can pay off in learning gains for students.  Examples might be to increase students’ opportunities for collaboration by working in small groups or with a partner, to create choice in reading and writing tasks, or to increase the explicitness of teacher talk in the classroom.

The final tier (4) incorporates a debriefing session after an observation. During this session, we suggest engaging the teacher in a discussion about the outcomes of the lesson – using student evidence to guide the conversation.  Together, the teacher and coach can jointly reflect on the lesson and consider possible next steps.

By considering coaching as formative assessment, occurring in flexible tiers of support, we can better meet the needs of individual teachers and begin to establish relationships with teachers with whom we have not yet worked.  Rather than being prescriptive in terms of support or expectations, this model offers teachers the opportunity to consider what level of coaching is right for a particular task, at a particular point in time.

References cited in this month’s post:

Bean, R. M., Draper, J. A., Hall, V., Vandermolen, J., & Zigmond, N. (2010). Coaches and coaching in Reading First schools: A reality check. The Elementary School Journal, 111(1), 87-114. Retrieved from

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

Hunt, C. S. (2016). Getting to the heart of the matter: Discursive negotiations of emotions within literacy coaching interactions. Teaching and Teacher Education, 60, 331-343.
Retrieved from

Hunt, C. S., & Handsfield, L. J. (2013). The emotional landscapes of literacy coaching: Issues of identity, power, and positioning. Journal of Literacy Research, 45(1), 47-86.

Jayaraman, G., Marvin, C., Knoche, L., & Bainter, S. (2015). Coaching conversations in early childhood programs: The contributions of coach and coachee.
Infants & Young Children, 28, 323-336. doi: 10.1097/IYC.0000000000000048

Jones, S., & Rainville, K. N. (2014). Flowing toward understanding: Suffering, humility, and compassion in literacy coaching.
Reading & Writing Quarterly, 30, 270-287. doi: 10.1080/10573569.2014.909270

L’Allier, S., Elish-Piper, L., & Bean, R. M. (2010). What matters for elementary literacy coaching? Guiding principles for instructional improvement and student achievement.
The Reading Teacher, 63, 544-554. doi: 10.1598/RT.63.7.2

Matsumura, L. C., Garnier, H. E., Correnti, R., Junker, B., & Bickel, D. D. (2010). Investigation the effectiveness of a comprehensive literacy coaching program in schools with high teacher mobility. The Elementary School Journal, 111, 35-62. Retrieved from

Matsumura, L. C., Garnier, H. E., & Spybrook, J. (2013). Literacy coaching to improve student reading achievement: A multi-level mediation model.
Learning and Instruction, 25, 35- 48. Retrieved from


Multilingual Spaces for Multilingual Students

This month’s post has been written by Dr. Chris Leider. Chris Leider is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Language Education and Program Director of Bilingual Education and TESOL-Licensure in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University; she is a former ESL Teacher and earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Boston College. Her research examines bilingual language and literacy practices and re-conceptualizing the field’s understanding of how we assess measure, and understand bilingualism & biliteracy.

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

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.


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.