In this “Change Agents” post, we speak with Ashley Parker– a PDK Emerging Leader and a literacy specialist. She explains how she is helping schools hone their methods for teaching students how to read and write.
PDK: Can you share an example of how a literacy specialist, such as yourself, can help improve the teaching of reading and writing in the classroom?
Parker: Let’s take, for example, the vocabulary lesson. Some teachers take a “skill and drill” approach to vocabulary. They ask students to copy a list of vocabulary words, look them up in the dictionary and copy the definition. Children need more than this to grasp a word and its meaning. They need multiple exposures to a word and they need a personal connection to it.
I help educators help students to make these connections. Let’s take, for example, the word “persist”. I encourage teachers to explain that persist means “to keep trying” and then to encourage students to think about times in their lives when they have had to persist. I encourage teachers to share their own personal examples of when they have persisted at something. Students need multiple exposures to words to grasp meaning.
PDK: You coach literacy coaches who then go into classrooms and coach teachers. Can you share how this works?
Parker: I help literacy coaches plan their professional development, evaluate and interpret student data, and support teachers in their efforts to monitor student progress. I also model how to craft reading intervention strategies for students that are based on research and evidence.
PDK: Is this a one-time workshop you present to coaches? How do you deliver this support?
Parker: The support is job-embedded and I work closely with the literacy coaches over a several month period.
PDK: What did you take away from your experience mentoring literacy coaches?
Parker: If we expect a literacy coach to be an instructional leader, we need to give them the time to truly be an instructional leader. We can’t take literacy coaches away from their time with teachers and students to do cafeteria duty or to plug holes in the school schedule. Literacy coaches have to be treated like the professionals that they are and administrators must understand and value the coach’s role in order to maximize his or her potential.
PDK: Common Core is drawing a lot of attention to literacy initiatives. What does Common Core mean for public schools and their efforts to improve students’ reading and writing skills?
Parker: It means that everyone has to come to an understanding about what reading and writing should look like at each level. It also means that literacy instruction will now go hand and hand with content instruction. Science teachers, for example, will need to incorporate literacy strategies. If we want students to think like scientists then they will need to have the necessary literacy skills to analyze rich texts and written material. We shouldn’t have one without the other.