Links to Leadership

Rationale for this Website for Teachers of Beginning Reading Instruction

As I was thinking about the final assignment for our ECED585F course, one of the most interesting documents I found while researching leadership in relationship to language and literacy came from the Ontario Ministry of Education. Paying Attention to Literacy: Six Foundational Principles for Improvement in Literacy K-12 (OME, 2013) is "a framework for conversations about processes and strategies that will help improve literacy learning and teaching in Ontario schools. It offers ideas under six foundational principles as a basis for dialogue and collaborative planning for future directions of literacy learning in classrooms, schools and boards" (p. 2). Although limited in varied references (i.e.: most of them were from the Ontario Ministry of Education), I really enjoyed the idea of collaborative efforts to discuss classroom practice.

This document reminded me of Biesta's (2013) notion of the multidimensional nature of the purpose of education. He refers to three kinds of focus that we place on education:

1)  "Qualification" (knowledge and skills);

2) "Socialisation" (culture and traditions); and

3) "Subjectification" (thinking about students in terms of their actions and responsibility, rather than how we may intervene and influence them) (p. 39).

 

He notes that "there is always something to learn, there is always the question of traditions and ways of being, and there is always the question of the person — then it means that the judgements teachers need to make about the aims of their activities are always 'composite' judgements, that is, judgements about priority and balance between the different domains of educational purpose (Biesta, 2013, p. 39).

As I think about my own perspective on literacy - mainly scientific knowledge and skills focused -  I thought this OME (2013) document was a good way to bring all three of these dimensions into balance in a practical way. So rather than coming across as trying to "transcend place, culture and particular historical experience, and abstract the individual from his or her context" (Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 2013, p. 20), I think that collaborative efforts like this OME (2013) document outlines offer important opportunities to "[look] to interaction and cooperation, reflection and discourse, based on procedural rules, as the means to construct foundations" (Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 2013). So, it is my hope that this website will contribute to the scientific knowledge about beginning reading instruction, and that I may use it as a reference in consultation with others who have expertise about different purposes for literacy, and who want to collaborate.

Below, I have taken each principle from the OME (2013) document, and practised the pedagogy of questioning and "[l]iving the questions" (Shagoury & Power, 2012) as a way to improve my own leadership skills, and contribute effectively to balancing the conversation about the multidimensional purposes of literacy. 

The first principle noted that a focus on print-based literacy does not take into consideration the multimodal ways that we are now accessing print. It noted that literacy is a shared responsibility including everyone from the student to the community. And so, after reading this, and that "focusing on literacy involves engaging all partners in the belief that all learners can develop the literacy skills essential for life-long learning" (p. 4), I felt inspired by what I may be able to contribute in this regard. I am curious to know what the conversation was around being able to engage in "multimodal, multimedia world, through a wide variety of texts and technologies" (p. 4). I wonder, is an assumption being made that students who struggle with print will have more access to print due to technological supports? Is relying on assistive technology enough for students who struggle with reading? Is it possible for all students to be able to read effectively without assistive technology? In what ways may technology help them become more independent and proficient at reading and writing? I hope that this website will be a way to open the conversation about what is possible for students who are learning in a digital age.

The second principle, "build understanding of effective literacy instruction" (p. 5) was mainly focused on student-centred engagement and honouring multiple means of representation and action. There was no direct mention of the diversity of reading and writing abilities among students, nor how much this impacts access to the curriculum. No matter how much we offer multiple ways of engagement, action, and/or expression, I think that reduced access to print limits students' freedom to express themselves in multiple ways. I wonder, in what ways may we address the challenges that many students face in accessing print? Will this website contribute to this building more understanding of effective literacy instruction?

The third principle, "designing a responsive literacy learning environment" (p. 6) asks us to imagine an ideal learning environment. It is focused on co-creating environments with students through inquiry, reflection, and discussion. I really appreciate the responsiveness to student interests, strengths, and sociocultural diversities, especially as it pertains to offering "stimulating and engaging experiences that promote critical and creative thinking" (p. 6). Yet again, there are so many students who are limited by what and how they can communicate. Could the content of this website be a resource for supporting educators in designing environments that support equal access to the curriculum? How can we incorporate students' interests and strengths alongside systematic and explicit instruction in literacy skills?

 

The fourth principle was about fair and equitable assessment practices, such as planning and co-constructing assessments with multiple means of representation in mind, peer and self-assessment/monitoring, and balancing curriculum with being responsive to individual needs. As one of the goals in the second principle was to "foster community partnerships that support achievement in literacy" (p. 5), I wonder if the content in this website will engage educators in reflection about what fair, transparent, and equitable assessment practices may look like. How may we include students in assessments that are measured against their own growth rather than only standardized assessments?

The fifth principle was about literacy leadership, and this inspired me the most. It started out with a quote about traditional reading and writing skills as they pertain to accessing print, and asks, "[i]s it not far more important to develop the skills and habits of mind required to proficiently communicate in the literacies of the culture in the terms of mathematics, technology, science, language and the art? (p. 8). Then, it states that literacy leaders "are committed to action based on research" (p. 8). I wonder how many leaders have knowledge about the research that may inform literacy learning in its most basic/traditional sense? Especially in K-2 classrooms. Could we do better in our beginning reading instruction practices for the purpose of building the foundation of freedom to communicate more effectively in the literacies of the culture? Should we add a new strand to to Scarborough's Reading Rope? (Scarborough, 2001) (see post about this on the "What do we Know?" page of this website) If so, what would this strand be called?

 

I felt inspired by the description of effective leadership in literacy as it included valuing literacy as foundational, valuing professional development, reflective practice for what may be effective literacy practices, collaborative learning, providing "a safe environment for educators to talk about learning and practice with respect to literacy" (p. 8), and planning using a variety of evidence. I cannot think of a better example of ways that we can improve literacy. I just watched a humorous video in a tweet from a teacher about a rat simply climbing right over the maze walls to reach her destination. The connection being made was that teachers simply shut their doors and do what they know works best rather than be subject to yet another new mandate about how they must teach. I have known and used the information from this website for many years, however the intensity of the discussions about it often stop the conversation as much of it goes against practices that have been used for decades. I hope this principle of "creating the conditions for open-to-learning conversations" (p.8), will engage literacy leaders in discussions that produce more supportive classroom environments for young children, and that we learn together to be culturally responsive, engaging, and critical and creative leaders in the field of literacy.

The sixth principle, "support collaborative professional learning in literacy" (p. 9), is pivotal for the changes that are required in beginning reading instruction practices. While we know what needs to change, simply telling teachers and leaders what they need to do has proven ineffective time and time again, and is not in alignment with "parallelling practice" (OME, 2013, p. 19). However, "[w]hen professional learning is job-embedded and inquiry-based, it contributes to a culture of ongoing learning for classroom educators and students alike and builds the capacity of the entire system for change and innovation" (p.9). I appreciated this principle's focus on literacy pedagogy, high-quality research and instruction, student thinking/demonstrations of learning, inquiry, including students and one another as co-learners, flexibility, and "differentiated in response to readiness and need and informed by evidence of learning" (p.9). I wonder what it would look like to "openly explore ways of teaching literacy" (p. 9)? Would teachers and administrators be open to professional development that resisted the dominant practices of the past 30-40 years? How open would teachers be to the evidence from this website? Are the ideas here new? Inspiring? Energizing? If not, what would it take to motivate educators to try something new, given the high-quality evidence?

This was a meaningful experience. By posting questions rather than research, I felt a sense of lightness, openness, and hope that changes needed for the equal rights of every child to receive effective instruction will be met with curiosity, openness, and enthusiasm.

Rationale for the Course for Teachers in Beginning Reading Instruction

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) produced a comprehensive document called Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading (IDA, 2018). The second edition of this covers every aspect of learning to read and write, "including how these abilities interact, how they are influenced by experience and instruction, and how the relative importance of various abilities tends to shift across development" (p. 28). Although I have known about this document since it was first released in 2010, I have not looked at it carefully, nor explored how to use this document in my work.

As my goal is to teach pre-service teachers, I wanted to create a course that was in alignment with the IDA's Knowledge and Practice Standards. However, I quickly realized that creating a course was far more time consuming than I had time for in this final assignment, and the Knowledge and Practice Standards were far more complex than I imagined. Still, I was able to create a course outline and begin to organize my thoughts about this, and in the future, I hope to integrate more of the standards into this course, or in future courses. To view the course outline, Click Here.

 

The intent of this website is to ease into the conversation with teachers and administrators about a course for teachers (preservice, or general classroom) that was based on sound scientific knowledge about how we learn to read. There is a dominant discourse in the field of beginning reading instruction, namely, balanced literacy and its 3-cueing system for word recognition, and although widely accepted and used, there is little research from any discipline to support it. As more and more teachers are gaining access to high quality research and structured literacy practices, they are calling me and asking for more information. I hope to reduce the lengthy emails that I send out in response to teacher inquiries (and even parent inquiries), and also to provide an opportunity to learn more through either my training, or training listed in this website. 

In the end, if this provides a place to share, collaborate, reflect, and discuss ways to give children equal access to print, I will consider it a worthwhile endeavour.

References

Biesta, G. J. J. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35-49. doi:10.29173/pandpr19860

 

Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., Pence, A. R., & Taylor & Francis eBooks A-Z. (2013). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care: Languages of evaluation (Third ed.). Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

 

International Dyslexia Association (2018). Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading. Retrieved from https://www.idaontario.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/FINAL-KPS-FOR-PUBLICATION_May2018.pdf

 

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). Paying Attention to Literacy: Six Foundational Principles for Improvement in Literacy. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/paying_attention_literacy.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education (2013). Think, Feel, Act: Lessons from research about young children. Toronto: Author. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/ResearchBriefs.pdf

Scarborough, H.S. 2001. Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities. Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for Research in Early Literacy (pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Shagoury, R., & Power, B. M. (2012). Living the questions: A guide for teacher-researchers. Stenhouse Publishers.

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