Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A SPECIAL SECTION ON READING: Managing the Complexities of a Statewide Reading Initiative

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A SPECIAL SECTION ON READING: Managing the Complexities of a Statewide Reading Initiative

Article excerpt

Working with the National Council of Teachers of English, South Carolina has taken the bold step of focusing professional development in reading on teachers, rather than programs. And the decision is paying off.

SOUTH CAROLINA is taking a bold step in professional development for reading teachers. Instead of focusing on programs -- e.g., basal reading series or computer-based reading programs -- the state department of education, in conjunction with state universities and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), is focusing on teachers' knowledge base. The department is doing this because it wishes its efforts to be grounded in research, and what the research overwhelmingly makes clear is that it is the teacher, not the method, that makes a difference.1 The goal then is to deepen and broaden teachers' knowledge base about reading as a means of improving literacy instruction and literacy scores in South Carolina. To achieve this goal, the state created the South Carolina Reading Initiative (SCRI), a multi-year, research-based professional development model. Funded by an annual $3.2-million appropriation from the state, teachers and principals in 121 South Carolina schools work together to examine and discuss the latest research in the field of reading and the implications of this research for their instruction.

While large-scale, long-term professional development efforts are more complex than the one-shot professional development offerings traditionally associated with education, Roland Barth has argued that "unless adults talk with one another, observe one another, and help one another, very little will change."2 Furthermore, he has pointed out that the best way to foster these conditions is through the establishment of long-term collegial groups. The SCRI model ensures long-term collegial conversations by stipulating that teachers and administrators meet bimonthly in site-based study group sessions. In these sessions, teachers and administrators read research and critically question both the research and literacy programs. They then use their increased understandings and their knowledge about children to inform instructional and assessment decisions in their school. Literacy coaches facilitate these study groups under the guidance of university professors and state department liaisons. The coaches also work in participating teachers' classrooms, giving demonstration lessons, observing lessons, and providing feedback.

Because South Carolina was the first state to implement a professional development model with the features just described, there were many complexities encountered along the way. In the first three years of this initiative, much was learned about both the difficulties and the benefits of such a large program. We understand, for example, that what made the implementation particularly complex were the diverse expectations that stakeholders held about the job description of the literacy coach and about support for coaches, study group experiences, the roles of school and district personnel, and the change process.

Staff members at the state department had a vision of how these aspects would unfold within the model; these visions gave way to multiple realities as the model was implemented throughout the state. In this article, we share the vision and the realities as they have been lived in South Carolina. We then offer some insights into how we have used this information to adjust and modify subsequent versions of SCRI.

Job Description of the Literacy Coach: The Vision

The envisioned literacy coach was to act as a consultant, a knowledgeable person who would be available in a school to help teachers and administrators better understand how children learn to read and write. Literacy coaches would help teachers examine their current instructional and assessment practices and introduce authentic, research-based practices that could be incorporated into their literacy instruction. …

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