When a new text starts popping up on school leaders' desks everywhere, we take notice. Enter Teaching Advanced Literacy Skills: A Guide for Leaders in Linguistically Diverse Schools. This book is important for New York City educators and school leaders for a number of reasons. In the forefront, it is the product of research done in New York and it explicitly addresses the shifts in instruction essential to reaching and teaching the diverse set of learners that attend New York's schools.
What it does not have is explicit guidance for the leaders of high schools. So last month we convened a group of some of the sharpest high school leaders around to do some strategic thinking around what Advanced Literacy leadership and instruction should look like in their schools. It turns out that their findings are relevant to all schools working for a more coherent and responsive literacy program.
Big Idea 1: Vertical and horizontal alignment matter now more than ever. Carving out time for your teachers to meet and articulate strategies that focus on the literacy progression are key to maintaining a student centered focus on literacy. Whether you are developing and sharing implementation strategies for school wide protocols or selecting engaging, culturally responsive texts , teacher coordination across grades and across disciplines is critical to ensuring students a coherent and integrated learning experience.
Big Idea 2: Everyone is a vocabulary teacher. There is no place for magical thinking or murkiness about student academic vocabulary acquisition. In order for students to acquire vocabulary to build breadth and depth of knowledge (Hallmark 4), each school needs to have a coherent theory of action around how vocabulary is taught, acquired, practiced and assessed. Word banks and walls, flash cards, structured discussion tasks, cognate study and other explicit word learning strategies are no longer just the province of the lower grades, or English classrooms. Across disciplines and grades, the largest stumbling block to student success on high stakes tests from elementary math to the Living Environment Regents is , bar none, knowing the words. That is far from the best reason to focus all teachers on vocabulary instruction, but it's a good reason to start today.
Big Idea 3: "Talking is learning, teaching is listening." The volume of opportunities students have to express themselves authentically, both orally and in writing, needs to be turned up to eleven. Fifteen to twenty years into preparing students to thrive in the knowledge based economy, we understand intellectually that teaching should look different, but changing practice is hard and uncomfortable. When a kid sitting on the steps with a phone outside school can access petabytes of information (and mis-information), less "professing" and more "coaching" is clearly in order. At the practical classroom level, students need to be the primary talkers and writers, frequently and consistently rehearsing and refining their language skills. Engaging students with meaningful texts and working towards published writing is not just practical pedagogy but also essential cultural responsiveness. For teachers, that means honing their observational skills by grounding their assessment of student verbal and written language in tools that are rigorous, iterative and designed to give students the most effective feedback possible.
As our principals discovered, unpacking Advanced Literacy leadership requires us to ask critical questions about where we focus our improvement efforts, how we structure our schools, and most critically, how our students find authenticity and meaning in their time there.