Ashley Parker is a PDK Emerging leader (2012-13) and a literacy expert who teaches literacy coaches. She is pursuing a Ph.D. at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Mississippi is known for presenting tough challenges to educators, but through the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction you witnessed some real successes in literacy.
While there were tremendous challenges to tackle, working in my beloved Mississippi Delta — one of the most poverty-stricken areas in America — was a life-changing opportunity. I was able to witness firsthand the power of hope and the importance of diligence. Job-embedded professional development and individualized instructional support were game changers for teachers who initially had little confidence in their potential for success. The Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction didn’t provide a miracle cure or quick fix; we diligently supported teachers in their efforts to use research-driven strategies and student data to make better instructional decisions, differentiate instruction appropriately, and to believe in themselves and their students.
Modeling instructional techniques, creating literacy workstations, providing meaningful feedback related to observations and lesson plans, celebrating success (great and small), all while being positive, honest, and transparent — all of these components made for a successful partnership, which had a tremendous impact on the academic outcomes of children. (Editor’s note: Parker and her colleagues, Angela S. Rutherford, and Tamara Hillmer, wrote about their work in “Overcoming the education challenge of poverty in the Mississippi Delta,” Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (3), pp. 40-43.)
Being a literacy expert, do you worry that our digitally driven society is having a negative effect on children’s reading and writing development?
The digital world has given children more access to text and more opportunities to write than previous generations. To me, the negative effect is that technology is becoming a toy instead of a tool. We’re all responsible for teaching children how to be critical consumers of what they read and to use proper academic English when writing to communicate. There is much to be gained from using digital resources and technology, however teachers and parents must not forego critical instruction on how these devices should be used.
When “evidence-based education” is more than a slogan, what does it look like and do?
Evidence-based education should not be viewed as simply another fad or buzzword. Evidence-based education empowers teachers to use instructional techniques and programs that are grounded in research, combined with their professional knowledge and experience to better meet the needs of students. When you’re in a school that believes in evidence-based education, you see teachers who continually monitor student progress and use evidence in the form of data to inform instructional decisions. You see principals who provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate and discuss data and seek to bring research-driven resources into staff meetings and professional learning settings. You see students who are engaged and motivated because they know and understand their goals for learning. Evidence-based education is a platform to elevate the opportunities for successful academic outcomes and our profession should rise to the occasion. No longer is it acceptable to rest on tradition and experience alone — research is powerful when one has the tools to critique and use it.
— Greg Patterson