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Several big ideas undergird the new K-3 literacy framework, said Stacy Beardsley, District 65’s interim executive director of Curriculum and Instruction at the March 21 School Board meeting.
She presented the Literacy Framework for students in kindergarten to grade 3, which she said is designed to be used by English and Spanish language arts and special education teachers, specialists and coaches “as the primary document for expectations and guidance in instructional planning.”
Among those big ideas are a growth mindset; culturally responsive pedagogy; and reading, writing and language workshops integrated in to the curriculum.
“Growth mindset,” a phrase and concept used by Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, is a belief that intelligence can be developed through hard work, dedication and determination. A growth mindset can help develop a love of learning.
Culturally responsive instruction draws on students’ cultural, linguistic and personal strengths to involve them in rigorous academic work, with high performance expectations.
The three types of workshops are the central components of a balanced literary block. A language workshop will help students develop their speaking and listening skills. They will explore the nuances of language by studying various genres, such as literature, non-fiction and poetry. As students learn that their knowledge of the world is connected to the language they use, they expand their vocabularies.
Building comprehension skills is the focus of the reading workshop, as students learn to become active, thoughtful and critical readers. In a reading workshop, students will have the opportunity to write and talk about their reading in such activities as book clubs, small-group reading instruction and partner work.
In a writing workshop, students will be able to develop their writing skills through planning, composing drafts, revising and editing their work. They will also learn to synthesize content from their research and learn that writing has an impact on others.
A Look at Learning
The literacy framework represents collaboration and a work in progress, Dr. Beardsley said. Its purpose is to “define the components of high-quality early instruction (speaking and listening, language, reading and writing) and to describe how these components interact in the context of teaching,” she says in the 36-page description of the literacy framework.
The Common Core State Standards in Literacy mandate three changes or shifts, according to the framework. Those mandates include “regular practice with complex texts; reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from informational and literary texts, and building knowledge through content-rich non-fiction.”
Students acquire literacy not through “disconnected instruction of discrete skills that are isolated from authentic, academically and culturally relevant experiences. Rather, students must develop confidence with asking questions, taking risks and setting their own goals in a cohesive, text-rich learning environment, so they can flourish in their journey of becoming literate,” said Dr. Beardsley’ in the framework document.
The framework contains 15 guiding principles, among them: learning is dynamic and occurs in flexible structures; learning is social, supporting oral language development and vocabulary; and learning draws on the strengths, skills, literacies and cultural experiences children bring to the classroom.
Applause from the audience of about 20 people, as well as smiles from the Board members, greeted the end of Dr. Beardsley’s presentation.
“If this is an example of how you’re going to approach other aspects of the curriculum, it’s an A+,” said Jennifer Phillips.
Suni Kartha and Claudia Garrison agreed. “This is really incredible work, especially the language workshop,” said Ms. Kartha. “The language workshop is so exciting,” said Ms. Garrison.
“I echo the accolades,” said Candance Chow. She also said she appreciated the flexibility allowed by the framework and asked how much flexibility a teacher would have on any given day.
Dr. Beardsley said the total number of minutes specified for a session – a workshop, as an example – is less than the total number of minutes allocated for that content area, so a teacher would have the wiggle room to add a few minutes to a writing session.
“The enthusiasm – people applauded. Clearly, there is so much support for this framework. That bodes really, really well,” said Richard Rykhus.
Ms. Chow and Board President Tracy Quattrocki each expressed concern about the growing numbers of students who enroll in kindergarten insufficiently prepared.
Ms. Chow noted the shift in kindergarten-readiness, with “kids coming into the District with zero-to-one” of the five skills that constitute the measure of kindergarten readiness on the Illinois Snapshot of Early Learning (ISEL) test, a standardized test given to kindergartners. Those five skills are alphabet recognition, phonemic awareness, one-to-one matching, letter sounds, and story listening.
District figures show that in 2012 6.2% of kindergartners who were enrolled at District 65 had none of the skills needed to be kindergarten-ready; and 6.3% had one requisite skill. By 2015 the number of students who had none of the requisite skills had increased to 10.6% and those who had one skill, to 8.1%. On the high end of the scale, the percentage of kindergartners who had all five skills decreased from 38.7% in 2012 to 32% in 2015.
“That’s a big jump – a downward jump,” said Ms. Chow.
“Ten years ago, when kids came into kindergarten, they would do the ISEL, and kids who didn’t have the foundational skills would be immediately targeted for intervention. I’m wondering if all of our efforts need to come earlier to get kids ready when they arrive at school. We’ve had some drop-off in our achievement. I’m wondering whether we should be looking at earlier interventions, starting, when we need to, at the very beginning,” said Ms. Quattrocki.
“We do do a lot of interventions in kindergarten and first grade. Part of the framework is to look at what the right interventions are and look at the interventions that best implement instruction,” Dr. Beardsley said, so students can grow at differing levels during the year.
Mr. Rykhus asked about writing workshops and whether there is a way to ensure that grammar is taught consistently across the District.
“You do a lot of work on grammar in middle school,” Ms. Garrison said. “I also know [the kids] need to come into middle school having some kinds of grammar fundamentals.”
“I’ll expand upon that,” said Ms. Quattrocki. “I know grammar is embedded in writing workshops, which means you have 20 different lessons. For grammar, you don’t have, like in math, a common lesson that kids learn and go out and try on their own.”
“There are independent applications,” said Julia Emig, a resident in the leadership program at University of Illinois at Chicago. “There is the dynamic of whole-class instruction, small-group work and independent applications, such as learning to combine sentences. There are shared activities and opportunities to apply what has been learned.”
“Is there any assessment in place to show we are actually teaching kids these grammar skills?” Ms. Quattrocki asked.
“We do have writing rubrics attached to our writing workshops,” said Dr. Emig. “If students just get tested on the skills separate from the work they’re producing, this is not going to move us forward.”
“We have had students arrive at high school with absolutely very few grammar skills. They may be able to express themselves and the writing may be authentic but not very good if they do not have the mechanics to do it effectively. I just worry that unless we’re explicit, the writing may be authentic but [the students] just may not have some of the conventions down,” said Ms. Quattrocki.
“The Common Core Standards say eighth-graders should know the difference between active and passive sentences. Yet I think unless you do a lot of work, you’re not going to be able to recognize [the difference]. There’s a difference between being a good writer and not being a good writer – if you write everything in the passive voice,” said Ms. Garrison.
“We do have that in mind,” said Dr. Beardsley. “There are sections that do call out grammar skills.”
Ms. Quattrocki referred to the urgency of working to close the achievement gap and the problems associated with race and poverty in the District but added that another concern is that, over the past four years, there has been an 11% drop in meeting expected growth for students performing in the top quartile.
“Expected growth” is, as it sounds, the growth a student is expected to make, without either an increase or a decrease in his or her academic trajectory.
Dr. Beardsley said, “The intersection of reading, writing and language” will help students achieve through small-group activities, one-on-one reading and individual instruction based on the student’s achievement during the year. Decisions will be made based on the student’s progress, not on the calendar, she said.
The next steps toward implementing the framework are defining a professional learning plan and a resource-purchasing plan for the framework and collaboratively developing the tools and resources to implement the plan, Dr. Beardsley said.
“Frameworks are always a work in progress,” Dr. Beardsley said. “This is the beginning of collaboration, not the end of a collaboration.”