It's All About Literacy

Those of you who have heard me speak know I believe literacy is the single greatest key to student success.

A literate student will thrive today, and more importantly, thrive in the future – a future we cannot even envision. There are multiple ways to approach best practices for literacy. Here are several:

Best Practice 1: Literacy for All
Brockton High School in Brockton, Mass., was forced to address why students performed so poorly on a state standardized test. They assembled a committee of faculty and administrators who asked this question: “Is this the best we can be?” The answer was a resounding “NO!” From this came an epiphany: The school was not teaching students literacy, specifically reading, writing, speaking and reasoning. The committee concluded that literacy must be taught in all classes – including physical education and the arts. Furthermore, literacy would be applicable to all students, from the most gifted to those most in need.

The committee created four charts, called literary charts, to provide visual representation of skills and competencies. The charts listed the corresponding skills for each of the four components of literacy: reading, writing, speaking and reasoning. The charts were posted in every classroom to serve as a constant reminder of literacy’s link to all subject areas and the school’s vision of literacy for all.

As a result, student performance improved dramatically, resulting in higher test scores across the board.

Best Practice 2: Close Reading
Central Dauphin School District, Harrisburg, Pa., developed a step-by-step process to bring literacy and reading comprehension to every subject -- in other words a close reading strategy:
1.)  The teacher chooses an article that relates to his or her unit’s current topic. The article must be at a high enough Lexile measure to warrant chunking and rereading.
2.)  The teacher selects vocabulary to pre-teach, chunks the text for students and creates text-dependent questions that increase in complexity as the lesson progresses.
3.)  The teacher uses a Frayer model after completing an activating strategy or hook with students.
4.)  The teacher distributes the article and reads it aloud; students read the article to themselves.
5.)  The teacher asks students to reread the first chunk on their own. Then the teacher asks the pre-planned, text-dependent questions.
6.)  This process continues, and discussion may ensue as the questions increase in complexity.
7.)  When students have read each chunk twice, they then reread the entire article to themselves.
8.)  The teacher gives students a summary writing assignment (written in the style of a prompt), along with a generic rubric. The question must be structured in a way that requires students to use evidence from the entire text to answer the prompt.
9.)  A performance task may be assigned, depending on time and/or student interest.

Best Practice 3: Literacy Workshops to Improve Literacy Across Subjects
Brockton High School, Brockton, Mass., equipped its faculty to teach literacy wherever possible by creating Literacy Workshops. Faculty members were appointed to guide teachers through a systematic and results-driven approach to teach a certain literacy skill. The workshops were particularly important because by improving literacy skills, students would gain the reading comprehension and language skills to improve in all subjects.

Finally, I’ve included here a few examples of ICLE model lessons around literacy to help guide your instructional efforts, and offer practical resources related to the best practices I mentioned above:

At this year’s 25th Annual Model Schools Conference from June 25-28 in Nashville, we will showcase schools that focus on literacy for all students.

Next week’s blog will focus again on literacy, but this time literacy for the 21st century.

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I would love to know what was on the posters in best practices #1.

Hi Kevin, thanks for the note. I recommend "Transforming Brockton High School", by Sue Szachowicz for more information; in Chapter 3 she outlines these charts and delves deeper into the Brockton literacy initiative: