Friday, October 7, 2016

Principles of Literacy Learning

Just about a year ago, I was part of a team that reviewed the research and evidence base in order to develop a set of principles to provide a foundation for our work with Kindergarten professionals across the state. We came up with five principles and ways they support learning and literacy development:

1. A strong culture of community spirit exists in the classroom.

  • Build a strong community of learners - provoke curiosity and inquiry. 
  • Literacy is the heart of communication and learning.
  • Critical thinking follows from purposeful facilitation of collaboration and inquiry.
2. Each student is empowered to learn and work with others, and has opportunities for choice and authentic voice in their learning.
  • Self-directed learning supports creativity and higher-level thinking.
  • Purposeful, content-driven discourse (speaking and listening) is an essential skill for school and for life.
  • Providing real student choice evokes true engagement with content and peers.
3. Foundational literacy practices are intentionally interwoven with authentic, meaningful contexts.
  • Foundational skills require a combination of direct instruction and opportunities for students to use those skills in reading, writing, and thinking.
  • Through authentic settings students develop speaking and academic vocabularies. Students require at least 12 productive opportunities to own a word and its meaning.
  • Grammar and syntax support understanding of all forms of communication.
4. Each student actively engages in meaningful ways to understand, retain, and integrate new knowledge.
  • Student learning passes through three stages - surface learning (the introduction to something new), to deep learning (making connections and relationships, organizing information), to transfer of learning (self-regulation that allows the learner to apply knowledge to novel situations; to be creative; to use what they know and can do).
  • Everything students learn supports additional learning and in turn supports understanding of what is read or heard.
  • Increased learning promotes independence and joy in the process of learning.
5. Each student's progress in literacy skills, concepts, and strategies is monitored and adjusted so that instructional decisions are timely, and appropriately accommodate student differences and needs.
  • Classrooms are language and print-rich. 
  • Consistent monitoring leads to facilitation of growth and on-the-spot corrections of misconceptions throughout the day.
  • A culture of data-driven decision making supports the achievement of all students.
The changes I witnesses last year in classrooms incorporating these principles even for a couple of months were extraordinary. Teachers I worked with, though skeptical and in some cases, nervous at first, enjoyed the work and reported real growth in their students. The unit concluded with a showcase for families. I heard remarks of surprise over and over that students could accomplish so much in such a short time. As observer and coach, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the principles in practice and experiencing the growth of adults and students alike. 

As we expand our work into the early elementary grades, we encourage our educators to intentionally incorporate these principles into their instructional days. These principles and the ways they support literacy and learning are front and center in all of the work we do with teachers and administrators. You can find the principles and more information here. Please try them out in your work and let us know how they work for you and for your students.

Good luck!