Friday, October 8, 2010

District Literacy Action Planning

One of the big projects that the Office of Literacy and many of our districts in the southeast region have been developing lately is the District Literacy Action Plan. It is a rigorous and rewarding process. The district forms a team of truly representative staff members. The team meets about ten times to participate in a brief but thorough self-study and the courageous conversations that will lead to a narrow set of measurable and actionable goals. The goals are intended to be accomplished within several months to a year. This is not "your typical three-to-five-year strategic plan".

Using a process developed by the Office of Literacy and one of its partners, Public Consulting Group, districts define literacy, assess the current conditions K - 12, and set goals in four major, interrelated areas. The four areas are assessment and data use, standards-based curriculum, tiered instruction, and family and community involvement. A goal map outlines the resources and time needed to accomplish that goal. The process is designed to integrate the aligned plan with every existing district initiative. The literacy vision matches the district's vision and those expressed by each of its schools. It is because the plan matches existing goals and initiatives, that it immediately lives and requires action.

The District Literacy Action Team not only shepherds the development of the plan but the members of the team assume the responsibility for checking-in periodically to monitor the progress needed to accomplish its goals. In addition, they create a Public Service Announcement that provides a message alerting everyone in the community to the importance of literacy learning to every student's life and to the responsibility that we all have in supporting the education of all of our students.

The goal that supports community and family involvement can be especially challenging. It requires a mindset of partnership rather than invitation. One of the books that I recommend is Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships by Henderson, Mapp, Johnson, and Davies. The book makes the case for partnerships, reports on those places that have made partnerships work, and provides many tools and resources to help schools start to develop the relationships needed for true partnerships with families and the community.

November is Family Literacy Month. You may want to think about some activities that will begin or forge even stronger partnerships with families around literacy. Visit our resource page at for partnership ideas and ways to help you get the word out that successful literacy development depends on collaboration. All learning is served on the literacy plate!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Responding to Text

Recently I have been asked about responding to the open response items on the ELA MCAS. Scoring of MCAS open response has not changed. Some teachers advise students to restate the question as they start to respond and some have heard that a point is lost when this is done. Rather than subtract a point for restating the question, that statement is simply discounted (no points lost). The major misunderstanding that I encounter regarding response to text is the idea that it is a writing exercise as opposed to a comprehension question.

Responding to text requires 4 important cognitive activities:

  • Closely reading the selection, understanding what it is about and sometimes why it is written.

  • Analyzing the question: What am I being asked?

  • Organizing thinking: What do I think the answer is; express that thinking.

  • Support that thinking with ideas from the text; provide evidence.

Items are scored holistically; was the question answered concisely and precisely with the appropriate evidence cited? The answer may be expressed as sentences, bullets, or any way that serves good expression of the answer. Form does not matter; conventions do not matter unless the lack or overuse of them interfere with the understanding of what was written.

We have developed an instructional routine to support proficient response to text: Coaching to Proficiency. I hope this information is helpful.