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The seven features of the Comprehensive Literacy Model

Today, education has to be viewed as evolving from the education of the past. Educators, parents and children know more and are required to do more in different social and professional contexts.

What this means for schools is that the approaches and resources we use in literacy instruction must be relevant to what we know about children's development and how best to facilitate and build on the learning they have acquired before coming to school.

We must let go of the notions that "all children should enter school on the same page" or "that there must be a readiness for learning". I will venture to say that as educators we must be astute observers of what children already know when they enter school and work alongside of them to extend the learning that they bring. We must know about how a reading and writing process develops over time and design lessons to facilitate children's learning.

So how does this look for literacy instruction in our schools? Emerging with great success is a "Comprehensive Literacy Model". This model sees children as active learners and teachers as keen observers and responders to children's learning.

There is modelling, coaching, scaffolding and a fading back once skills have been learned. There is less emphasis on worksheets and endless drills, instead there is a workshop approach that values where children's strengths and needs are. It is in this model that teachers design whole lessons, small group lessons and individual lessons to support the varying competencies of children.

There are seven features of a 'Comprehensive Literacy Model':

1. A curriculum for literacy

2. High standards

3. Model classrooms

4. Coaching and Mentoring

5. Accountability for student progress

6. Professional Development

7. A well-designed literacy plan

1. A curriculum for literacy – is at the heartbeat of a "Comprehensive Literacy Model". Reading and writing must take priority in the classroom. At least three hours is devoted to reading, writing and spelling literacy including whole groups, small groups and individual conferences. Essential components of a curriculum for literacy include:

¦ Phonological awareness – children learn how to hear the sounds of language; it is the foundation for phonics. Children learn to listen to the fluency, phrasing, and sound patterns of language.

¦ Phonics – a necessary part of reading-involves understanding the relationship of letters and sounds, sound letters analysis and segmenting of phonemes in left to right sequence.

¦ Vocabulary – children acquire word knowledge in text reading instruction both explicitly and implicitly. There is a direct link in vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension.

¦ Comprehension – the goal of the reading process where children excess deeper meanings from text. There is a link between vocabulary meanings and comprehension.

¦ Fluency – students apply knowledge of language systems to the reading process-using books they can read independently. Teachers prompt for fluency as children learn how to read in phrases and use the punctuation and this carries over into the writing.

¦ Writing process-supports the reading process and vice versa. It involves students learning how to edit, revise and publish their writings.

2. High Standards – Standards provide teachers and schools with tools for studying student progress over time. Standards allow problem solving around how much new learning is needed by students to meet particular standards, the need for supplemental help from reading specialist, additional classroom support and attention is focused on the relationship between teaching and learning.

3. Model Classrooms – are exemplary teaching classrooms where teachers can see the good instruction and clear models of delivery. These classrooms are learning labs. Literacy coaches model and are observed by teachers in these model classrooms, creating a literacy learning lab.

4. Coaching and Mentoring – is all about teamwork – teachers working together. This creates systemic change within the school culture while building internal capacity for supporting the change. Literacy coaches are critical to helping other teachers learn literacy approaches from seeing them in action and having support for implementing new learning with a more expert other teacher. The coaching and mentoring pieces are critical elements of a "Comprehensive Literacy Model".

5. Accountability – assessment and accountability go hand in hand. Assessments are used to evaluate effectiveness of literacy programs, screening of students for additional services, to inform instruction and to monitor the progress of all students.

6. Professional Development – is related to teaching, learning issues in the classrooms-it is continuous, and school based.

Teachers work on curriculum, instruction and assessment to create mini-lessons and use professional materials to support learning.

Schools with a 'Comprehensive Literacy Model' have professional libraries to support new learning, including video portfolios of lessons from model classrooms.

7. Well-Designed Literacy Plan – includes short and long-term goals that are well-articulated. Just as students are assessed, schools need a set of benchmarks that enable them to monitor their own progress according to standard expectations.

Plans for the school should span over a three-year range, with benchmark indicators and timelines for implementation of specific components. This will allow for monitoring and assessment of progress against goals and expectations.

Administrators play a key role in a 'Comprehensive Literacy Model'.

They support a climate for change; school embedded professional development; assessments that guide instruction; collaboration and problem solving and teacher willingness to take risks.

They see success by what team members do and what children are able to do.

Essential to their role is ensuring ongoing assessment; knowing the link between standards, curriculum and assessment and the link between teaching and learning.

Administrators must understand the literacy process and invest in their own personal professional development.

Administrators must create a safety net for teachers to be risk takers; use teachers as literacy leaders and they must be an active participant in literacy professional development in the school.

Administrators in a 'Comprehensive Literacy Model' provide opportunities for teachers to coach, mentor and to learn together.

As parents and educators review what schools provide-a good place to evaluate is whether our literacy programmes include the key elements of a Comprehensive Literacy Model:

¦ A curriculum that includes the essential components of a balanced literacy programme

¦ Assessment of change over time in reading and writing progress

¦ Colleague coaching and mentoring teams in the classrooms

¦ School-embedded professional development

¦ Built in accountability for assessing students (and program) performance.

Adapted from the work of L. Dorn.

Next Month-Literacy Matters-Assessing Change Over Time in Reading and Writing Assessment literacymaters@logic.bm