Effective teaching does not entail the provision of instruction alone. A highly qualified teacher will understand the ongoing relationship between the curriculum, his or her instruction, and ongoing formative assessment to monitor and adjust subsequent instruction. The latter is always preferred rather than merely labeling students as more successful compared to less successful. Effective teachers will be able to exhibit their competency regarding these relationships through ongoing professional development that increases classroom assessment literacy. As a result, standards-based curriculum will be embraced, exciting instruction will be aligned with a developmental scope and sequence, and student progress will be continually monitored through a diverse but reliable process of assessment for learning.
Providing the district’s elementary teachers with professional development that increases classroom assessment literacy will address every situation noted above. However, for early elementary education, it becomes difficult to address the principled need for classroom assessment literacy without first acknowledging the overall problems related to how best to address the delivery of reading instruction during foundational school years. As a review of this problem, the National Reading Panel report: Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction (NICHD, 2000) concluded that effective reading programs should include instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. By contrast, the National Research Council (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998) concluded that beginning readers need “explicit instruction and practice that lead to an appreciation that spoken words are made up of smaller units of sounds...‘sight’ recognition of frequent words, and independent reading, including reading aloud” (Snow et al., 1998, p.7). To promote a balanced approach to reading, the National Research Council sought to explicate an “integrated picture of how reading develops” (Snow et al., 1998, p. 2) and desired their report to “mark the end of the reading wars” (Snow et al., 1998, p.vii).
Leaders must address both the need for classroom assessment literacy and the school district’s high percentage of special education referrals prior to second grade due to reading concerns. The effective educational leader will allocate extensive professional development resources to promote the competency of the district’s early elementary school teachers in English language arts while also expanding their access to and familiarity with the tenets of an effective first-grade reading intervention program. Rather than getting lost in the forest of reading philosophy, an embrace of the Response to Intervention (RTI) approach recognizes children learn in diverse ways and often respond well to systemic, well-structured, and individualized approaches when the universal approach does not allow access to success commensurate to one’s peers. Therefore, during the early elementary grades, to advance the overall goal to promote classroom assessment literacy, it will be most effective to ground professional development endeavors in content that promotes reading instruction grounded in the philosophies and principles advocated by Marie Clay, Jeanne Chall, Richard Anderson, David Rumelhardt, Kenneth Goodman, and contemporaries in reading.
Based on results from reliable assessments and a documented lack of success using universal or small group instruction, students at-risk for reading failure will benefit from individualized, Tier 3 RTI. For teaching reading skills to their least proficient, most at-risk learners, early elementary teachers should be aware of how to use a research-based, multisensory and systematic approach that increases the student’s phonemic and phonetic-awareness. Typically, the Orton-Gillinghammethod grounds many of the available reading intervention programs. Specifically, the Reading Recovery® program provides a first-grade reading intervention based on the literacy instructional principles advocated by Clay (1985). These principles are evident in other programs such as, Reading Rescue®, Project Read®or Wilson Reading System®
A two-prong approach will address identified gaps in the early elementary teachers’ competencies related to classroom assessment literacy and their ability to provide multi-leveled reading interventions. Just as public schools need to establish metrics for accountability of their teaching and learning mission, so too must institutes of higher education (IHE) and teacher preparation programs establish better metrics for measuring the competencies of their graduates, including knowledge of systems and ability to think systemically. To address this, IHE and other teacher preparation programs must recognize the aim for graduating “instruments of systems change” rather than merely preparing individuals to administer curriculum. Therefore, IHE and teacher preparation programs must curriculum map their early childhood and elementary programs to ensure teacher candidates high levels of classroom assessment literacy by utilizing multi-leveled reading interventions.
To address competency gaps exhibited by in-service teachers, the district’s early elementary school teachers should have access to participation in a 60-hour professional development course during the summer intercession. The professional development course would be offered in two-parts. The course will be provided over a 10-day period for 6-hours per day. During the first week, part one of the professional development sessions would be comprised of instruction to promote greater teacher competency in literacy (English language arts) and RTI. At the conclusion of week one, staff that are positively evaluated for continued participation will be selected for additional professional development that will promote their competency in the awareness and utilization of a multi-sensory, phonemic and phonetic-awareness based reading intervention.
During the 60-hour intensive professional development, it will be beneficial to present research in the following eight areas:
1. Identifying students “at-risk" for reading failure
2. Embracing and utilizing professional teacher development (andragogy)
3. Assessment for reading readiness
4. Administration and interpretation of benchmark assessment of reading progress
5. Strategies for integrating decoding and spelling skills
6. Teaching critical reading skills
7. Response to Intervention: Multi-leveled, formative assessment
8. Awareness and utilization of a multi-sensory, phonemic and phonetic-awareness based reading intervention (Project Read®Reading Recovery®, Reading Rescue®or Wilson Reading System
Teachers, researchers, and policymakers consistently indicate that the greatest challenge to implementing effective professional development is lack of time (Abdal-Hagg, 1999). Teachers’ needs include time to understand new concepts, learn new skills, develop new attitudes, research, discuss, reflect, assess, and then integrate new approaches into their practice. Of essential need is time to self-reflect upon their professional development (Cambone, 1995; Corcoran, 1995; Troen & Bolles, 1994; Watts & Castle, 1993; Weiss & Cambone, 1994).
Considering the implications of traditional scheduling patterns for implementing effective professional development, Abdal-Hagg (1999) shared some approaches that various schools and districts have taken to finding time for professional development. Effective professional development addresses the flaws of traditional approaches, which are often criticized for being fragmented, unproductive, inefficient, unrelated to practice, and lacking in intensity and follow-up (Bull, Buechler, Didley, & Krehbiel, 1994; Corcoran, 1995). Watts & Castle (1993) found professional development generally was not seen as an intrinsic part of making teachers more adept and productive in the classroom. Their conclusion was grounded in findings that indicate school schedules do not normally incorporate time to consult or observe colleagues or engage in professional activities such as research, learning and practicing new skills, curriculum development, or professional reading. Administrators, parents, and legislators often view with disfavor anything that draws teachers away from direct engagement with students. Teachers themselves often feel guilty about being away from their classrooms for restructuring or staff development activities (Cambone, 1995; Raywid, 1993).
The American view towards professional teacher development contrasts with approaches found in foreign countries. In China, Japan, and Germany, time for collegial interaction and collaboration, is integrated into the school day (NECTL, 1994). In many Asian schools, which generally have larger class sizes than U.S. schools, teachers facilitate fewer classes and spend 30-40% of their day out of the classroom, conferring with students and colleagues or engaged in other professional work. Donahoe (1993) suggested that such set-aside time is particularly important when significant school improvement plans are underway and advises states or school district to formally establish “collective staff time,” just as they set minimums for class time and teaching days. Raywid (1993) identified three broad approaches to finding time for teachers to collaborate:
1. Adding time by extending the school day or year,
2. Extracting time from the existing schedule,
3. Altering staff utilization patterns.
Based on a survey of schools, Watts and Castle (1993) identified five types of time created for professional teacher development:
1. Freed up time using teaching assistants, college interns, parents, and administrators to cover classes; regularly scheduled early release days.
2. Restructured or rescheduled time lengthening school day of four days, with early release on day five.
3. Better-used time using regular staff or district meetings for planning and professional growth rather than informational or administrative purposes.
4. Common time scheduling common planning periods for colleagues having similar assignments.
5. Purchased time establishing a substitute bank of 30-50 days per year, which teachers can tap when they participate in committee work or professional development of activities (p.309).
The most formidable challenge to institutionalizing effective professional development time may be due to the prevailing school culture, which “generally considers a teacher’s proper place during school hours to be in front of a class and which isolates teachers from one another and discourages collaborative work” (NECTL, 1994).
“It is a culture that does not place a premium on teacher learning and in which decisions about professional development needs are not usually made by teachers but by state, district, and building administrators. Paradoxically, implementing a more effective pattern of teacher professional development requires struggling against these constraints, but it may also help to create a school climate that is more hospitable to teacher learning” (Abdul-Hagg (1999, p.4).
An effective professional development program that invites and empowers teacher learning must:
· Be ongoing;
· Include training, practice, and feedback; opportunities for individual reflection and group inquiry into practice; and coaching or other follow-up procedures;
· Be school-based and embedded in teacher work;
· Be collaborative, providing opportunities for teachers to interact with peers;
· Focus on student learning, which should, in part, guide assessment of the instruction’s effectiveness;
· Encourage and support school-based and teacher initiatives;
· Be rooted in the knowledge base for teaching;
· Incorporate constructivist approaches to teaching and learning;
· Recognize teachers as professionals and adult learners;
· Provide adequate time and follow-up support; and
· Be accessible and inclusive (Abdal-Hagg, 1999, p.2).
The success of the district’s goal for optimizing classroom assessment literacy and a program of early elementary multi-tiered reading interventions will be contingent upon the effectiveness of the provided professional development, the ensuing opportunities to utilize the provided skills or strategies, and the level of accountability for expecting the implementation of the presented skills and strategies. Action research on reading instruction and specifically effectiveness of interventions continues to evolve. Therefore, effective professional development is a necessary and ideally a highly desired foundation of the highly qualified instructional leader.
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