I have been reading Regie Routman's book, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners. The book is divided into three sections: "Engagement", "Excellence", and "Equity." I previously read and wrote a blog post about the first section, "Engagement" here. The second section of the book, "Excellence," is brimming with as much practical and insightful knowledge as the first section.
The idea of teacher excellence is something I have strong beliefs about. I have seen programs come and go in the different school districts I have worked in. Some of these programs were abandoned after only a couple of years. The remains of these programs often get tucked into the back of storage closets, gathering dust, as the components of a new, shinier model take its place. Sometime the materials connected to these programs were never even opened because teachers were unsure how to use them within the program or they were never necessary to begin with. None of these programs have been the quick-fix that it seems many educators, administrators, and other stakeholders seem to be looking for. Unfortunately that quick-fix will never exist because programs won't work for all students all of the time.
Ensuring that there is an excellent teacher in every classroom is a fix, although one that takes a greater investment of time than the implementation of a boxed program. In the first chapter of the "Excellence" section of Literacy Essentials, Routman explains that professional learning must be a priority if the goal is teacher excellence and the high achievement of all students. I wholeheartedly agree with this. Programs don't make excellent teachers. The recipe for excellence includes a commitment to professional learning in which teachers delve into understanding the reading and writing processes, how students learn best, and the best practices for literacy instruction. This recipe also needs to include time for collaboration in which teachers have opportunities to problem solve together, share what works in their classrooms, and discuss ways to improve student learning. Excellent teachers make the difference in students' achievement.
There is much more within the pages of this section of the book, but here are a few of my takeaways about "Excellence."
- Ongoing, collaborative professional learning is crucial to ensuring that there are effective teachers in every classroom. Professional learning that involves conversation about shared beliefs related to literacy instruction and empowers teachers to implement best practices based on those beliefs will have long-lasting effects on students' achievement.
- Let students talk. Learners deepen their knowledge when they engage in conversation. Supporting students as they learn to actively listen and increase their conversational skills will help to make discussions more effective. When teachers talk less and listen more, students have more opportunities to engage in talk themselves.
- If students are to get better at reading and writing they need to read and write a lot. Share great literature with students and make the connections between reading and writing. Show students that readers can learn about authors' craft by reading and trying out this craft in their own writing.
- The end goal in teaching readers and writers is independence. When students are allowed to do the authentic work of readers and writers, they build a sense of agency that will support them as they read and write more challenging text over time. Conferring is an opportunity to name students' strengths and provide feedback that will nudge students forward in their reading and writing.
- Be a teacher who reads and writes. By reading and writing and sharing this with students, teachers model a literate life. Teachers also gain an understanding of the reading and writing processes that students are being asked to engage in. When teachers read what their students read, they become more knowledgeable about children's literature and have more expertise about books they can share with students and can make recommendations for students.
Look for my thoughts about the final section of the book, "Equity," next week.