Teacher to Coach: A Shift in Perspectives, Not Priorities

When I interviewed for my new position as Technology TOSA, I had one question on my mind: “How will we measure our success in this role?” At the end of the interview I was given the opportunity to ask questions, and I immediately jumped on the opportunity to inquire about this pressing topic. “Well, we’ll look at student data across the district, along with teacher feedback.” Ok, this is a sufficient answer on the surface, but I was looking for more. As a teacher, it has been ingrained in me to constantly monitor my student data, from formative to summative, from minutia to the big picture. I have lived on a diet of specific and personalized data analysis. Now, as I enter this new role, I wonder how this top priority will look through the lens of a coach.

When I am requested to visit a classroom, my focus will be on the bigger picture. In my role, this will include how I can help the teacher develop technology skills to support his or her lesson and achieve increased student engagement, resulting in increased student performance. To do this, student data must be a central point as we discuss and plan future lessons. Student data will show me the direction in which I need to take the lesson, and where the gap lies between what is known and what needs to be developed by both the teacher and students (Duncan, 2006). Student data was a priority for me as a teacher, and will remain so as a coach. The question now is, how do I achieve this on a larger scale?

The only way to know I’ve truly made an impact through my coaching is through student data analysis.  It is up to me to identify realistic expectations as a result of my coaching and collect the appropriate data to demonstrate evidence of growth (Duncan, 2006). This data will look different in each classroom, and will change as I progress in the understanding of my role (L’Allier, Elish-Piper, & Bean, 2010). The specifics of this have yet to be determined; one of the many obstacles of coming into a position that has yet to be clearly defined. Student data confidentiality is also an issue, so it will be up to each school administrator to determine what summative and formal assessment data is appropriate for my review and what is not. This leaves me with formative data, a data type I have used frequently in the classroom as a teacher. I will use observation, discussion, questioning, exit slips, etc to determine my effectiveness. This data will be collected into a system which includes the action plan, conference records, lesson plans, and progress notes for each teacher, department, and/or school I work with. While my professional role does not require me to gather this data, I need a way to monitor my own growth and effectiveness as a coach. I hope to encourage my peers to do the same.

Though my title has changed, and my perspective has shifted, my priorities remain the same. Student growth is the ultimate goal of each action that occurs in our district, regardless of where that action happens. My hope is that this vision and purpose has not been lost on those near me at the district level. My expectation is that we will remain focused on the students and use our skills to increase learning through technology when appropriate, not just push technology for the sake of using something on which the district has spent funds. Student learning is the ultimate goal; let us not lose sight of that purpose as we define our new roles.


Duncan, M. (2006). Literacy coaching: Developing effective teachers through instructional dialogue. New York: Richard C. Owens Publishers.

L’Allier, S., Elish-Piper, L., & Bean, R. M. (2010). What matters for elementary literacy coaching? Guiding principles for instructional improvement and student achievement. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 544-554.


Relationships: Creating Change Through Trust

The role of coach can be interpreted in many ways. As the coach, I interpret my role as a second set of eyes in the classroom to identify strengths and areas of need, a colleague with whom to discuss ideas, and a mentor to assist in the development of processes. However, a teacher might interpret my role as an evaluator there to find what’s wrong, another administrator send to undermine their authority, or maybe an inexperienced academic with little ‘real world’ application trying to tell them how it’s done. Add to that the interpretation of the role through an administrator’s eyes. This may include test coordinator, additional evaluator, classroom “spy”, or data input clerk. Of course, these are extreme examples, but not far from what I’ve experienced or heard during my time in the education field.

To become a successful coach I must develop relationships with teachers “based on mutual respect and trust” (Duncan, 2006, p. 18). This relationship cannot be established if misconceptions about my role exist. As I enter my new coaching position, this issue has already been discussed, though no answers have been found. However, I will try to overcome this misconception by establishing trust, using effective communication skills, and practicing confidentiality (L’Allier, Elish-Piper, & Bean, 2010).

Trust will be developed through respect of the teacher’s or administrator’s expertise and clear communication (L’Allier et al., 2010). An action plan will be used to collect the teacher’s or administrator’s perspectives, concerns, and beliefs (Duncan, 2006). This action plan will serve as a guide through the coaching process to ensure their voice is heard throughout. I will also clarify my purpose and reiterate that I am not there to evaluate the teacher. I expect this clarification of my role to be one of the biggest hurdles in my coaching future. This can be overcome by focusing on the students’ needs, not the teacher’s shortcomings (L’Allier et al., 2010).

Clear communication through written and verbal methods will also be a primary goal. Effective, clear, and honest communication will be key in establishing trustworthy relationships with teachers and administrators. As mentioned in a previous blog post, I will record conversations to monitor my communication skills, and will seek feedback from both administrators and teachers throughout my coaching development. Casey (2006) recommends collecting words and phrases that inspire, and noticing when negative reactions occur as a result of language. I must be wary of miscommunication and misinterpretation. This can lead to a breakdown in both communication and trust. By recording conversations, being an active listener, and focusing on the language I use I can reduce the occurrences of poor communication.

Finally, I must maintain confidentiality to establish trust. I am not in a classroom to evaluate or report back to administration every little thing I see. I am there to work with the teacher, be a sounding board, and help them develop skills and strategies that will result in student learning gains (L’Allier et al., 2010). I expect to encounter teachers who do not trust me based on this aspect alone, and this is most likely due to previous experiences with other coaches or administrators. I will strive to establish the relationships needed, and clarify my role with both administrators and teachers, to prevent this breakdown of trust from occurring. There will be times when I need to share coaching goals and strategies being used in the classroom with the administrator (Casey, 2006), but these discussions will be held with the teacher’s knowledge and with the focus on the students’ learning, not the teacher’s abilities.

I look forward to navigating the waters of coaching. I know I will make errors, but the importance lies in learning from those experiences and establishing methods to prevent them from occurring in the future. Relationships are not built instantly; I will have to work to establish trust, but I am prepared to take the steps necessary to get to the goal: improving student education.


Casey, K. (2006). Literacy coaching: The essentials. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Duncan, M. (2006). Literacy coaching: Developing effective teachers through instructional dialogue. New York: Richard C. Owens Publishers.

L’Allier, S., Elish-Piper, L., & Bean, R. M. (2010). What matters for elementary literacy coaching? Guiding principles for instructional improvement and student achievement. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 544-554.


Coaching: Steps Toward Improvement

As I begin my coaching career,  I will grow and develop much as I did as a classroom teacher. The combination of the Cambridge Schools Experience, knowledge gained through my master’s program, and my personal experience provides me with a foundation of strategies as I begin my role as coach.

My limited experience as a coach has provided brief insight into my personal areas of improvement. I have gathered strategies to overcome these areas through reading research and observation of more experienced coaches and mentors. These strategies include:

Record conversations with teachers for review and reflection.

An audio record of a conversation with the classroom teacher will allow me to review the discussion and gather key points, concerns, and areas to address as we move forward. Personally, I am not the most skilled at remembering discussions or recording thorough notes, but my experiences with audio recordings in the Cambridge Schools Experience allowed me to develop an alternate method of collecting details and preparing for future conversations.

In addition, the audio record will allow me to review my own behaviors during conversations and identify areas where I could have said less and allowed the teacher to guide the discussion. Specifically, I need to allow the teacher to share what he or she feels is important, then proceed to clarify items I may have noted based on what the teacher noticed in order to facilitate reflection (Gelfuso, 2016).  This is a major area of improvement for me, and only audio records will provide me the opportunity to reflect on this skill as I develop. Unfortunately, there is little emphasis in my coaching situation on best practices of coaching. I will not have a more knowledgeable other there to assist me in reflection. Therefore, I will need to rely on audio records and honest personal analysis to develop what I know to be best practice.

Record lessons on video for coach and teacher review.

Video recorded lessons provide a clear and accurate account of what happens during a lesson. I experienced the value of this strategy during the Cambridge Schools Experience and, while I was nervous about its use at first, I recognized its value in both my development as well as the teacher’s. In my specific role, video recorded lessons will allow me and the classroom teacher to identify areas of success and areas for improvement. I will be focusing on technology integration, and one of the biggest caveats with technology is material and time management. By using video, the classroom teacher and I will be able to identify what improves this area, and where we need to develop a better system. In addition, video recordings will allow me an accurate record to develop coaching goals and next steps with the classroom teacher.

Develop questions and guiding statements prior to coaching conversations.

One of the best strategies I observed during the Cambridge Schools Experience was the preparation of specific questions or statements intended to guide coaching sessions towards a goal. These were prepared in advance by the coach, but not always used. Often, the coach would not need to use these questions or statements because the preservice teacher addressed the areas through their own reflection. I will transfer this strategy to my own practice as I prepare for meetings with classroom teachers. I know it will take time and practice to develop the level of skill I observed, but this strategy will allow me to step in the direction of teacher reflection leading to growth, rather than me dominating the discussion.

Set goals for me as coach through the classroom teacher’s goals.

Throughout my development into a coach, I need to set goals and monitor my growth. To do this, I plan to reflect on two aspects of coaching: the language I use to coach and classroom teacher success and student data as a result of my coaching. To do this I will keep this blog as a professional journal of reflection and research. In addition, as part of my record keeping system for each teacher I work with, I will develop if/then hypothesis (Gelfuso, 2016) and reflect on the outcomes as I work in the classroom. I will consolidate these experiences into a single document, organized by technology platform or instructional goal, and reflect regularly on my successes and their causes, as well as areas for development. I will base my success on the success of the classroom teacher in meeting his or her goals with technology integration.

I look forward to experiencing growth as a coach, and I know I have a long journey ahead in that goal. I expect my professional path to be riddled with obstacles which try to stand in the way of best practices, but I will continue to do my best to overcome these, and move towards my goal of effective coaching.



Gelfuso, A. (2016). A framework for facilitating video-mediated reflection: Supporting preservice teachers as they create ‘warranted assertabilities’ about literacy teaching and learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 58, 68-79.


Language: Teaching without Telling

There is a time to talk and a time to listen. This is common classroom best practice. Students learn through direct instruction, but also through conversation, questioning, and verbally exploring ideas and concepts. This classroom culture and community is the foundation for development of new knowledge, reinforcement of concepts, and application of new skills. This safe space allows students to try on new identities and push the boundaries of their abilities. As we create these safe spaces for students, we must also develop this space for teachers to try on new ideas and pedagogies (Johnston, 2004, & Wells, 1999, as cited in Heineke, 2013).

However, sometimes this space is dominated by a well-meaning more knowledgeable other. This is the role in which I find myself. As a teacher, I am aware of the need for what Wegerif (as cited in Maine, 2014) calls dialogic space, but I am not currently adept at creating this space within my role as coach. This reflects my personal experiences with feedback and collaboration. I’ve been told to make changes and have received affirmation without the opportunity to come to my own realizations. As I now look in from the other side, I see the the need for silence and the growth that can be achieved by teachers when little is said by me.

Heineke’s (2013) research found a majority of coaches dominate discussions and provide most of the suggestions for future teaching implications. This type of discourse leads to less teacher learning. Through the Cambridge Schools Experience, I observe multiple experienced coaches as they work with preservice teachers in the field. These coaches do not reflect Heineke’s findings. The coaches provide specific prompts for dialogue, then let the preservice teacher guide the discussion. Each coach has questions prepared to help extend the discussion if needed, but these questions are often not needed as the preservice teacher bring up the points on their own. One coach shared his goals with me prior to a coaching session. He had specific pieces of feedback in mind and questions prepared to guide the discussion towards this feedback as needed. I observed the coaching session and counted no more than five interjections, prompts, or questions from the coach other than the initial prompt, yet the coach reached all of his goals for the session. A similar experience occurred later during a small group seminar. The discussions held during these meetings were rich, reflective, and covered all points planned by the coach, but without the need for direct telling or dominance of the conversation.

This practice of creating space for preservice and inservice teachers to work through experiences encourages ownership and buy-in for the next steps in educator development (Heineke, 2013). Ownership and buy-in will also develop trust between the coach and teacher, a topic I will explore in greater detail next.

Overall, these observations and experiences allow me to see a different approach to coaching. The sit-and-get method commonly experienced in the field is not supported by research, nor is it conducive to creating reflective experiences and supportive teacher-coach relationships. I will continue to develop my ability to listen and respond in ways that allow the teacher to reflect, discover, and develop, rather than place my knowledge in their hands without any sense of ownership.

Heineke, S. F. (2013). Coaching discourse: Supporting teachers’ professional learning. The Elementary School Journal, 113(3), 409-433.

Maine, F (2014). ‘I wonder if they are going up or down’: Children’s co-constructive talk across the primary years. Education 3-13, 42(3), 298-312.


Teacher as Coach: Transitioning from Teacher to Coach

As a classroom teacher, my focus is on the students. Their interests, abilities, and goals are constantly at the forefront of my mind. Each moment is planned around where they’re at and where they’re going next. My teaching is student centered and revolves around what is best practice in helping them reach their potential.

As a coach, my focus shifts, yet never loses sight of the students. I must be teacher centered, but also student centered. Just as it is with my students in the classroom, my choices need to reflect the goals and desired outcomes for the teacher I am coaching. My coaching should lead to discussions that result in student gains (Duncan, 2006). It is not solely about what I am doing, it is about the goals of the teacher, and as a result, the outcomes for the students.

I have recognized this growth in myself through my work in the Cambridge Schools Experience. Through video reflection, I noted that I am more concerned with my actions as a coach than the outcomes for the pre-service teacher I work with. In a planning discussion, I led the conversation rather than create dialogue and guide the pre-service teacher towards her goals. As I reflect on this, I realize I need to release control of the conversation and scaffold the experience rather than take over it. In that moment, I lacked the ability to take advantage of opportunities within the conversation to build her personal knowledge (L’allier, Elish-Piper, & Bean, 2010).

This reflection led me to realize that many of the skills I have as a teacher transfer to the role of coach. Creating dialogue, guiding students to discover their own knowledge, and student centered instruction are all applicable in this new role. I need to step out of the authoritative and evaluative role and into the coach role. Not “sage on the stage”, but “guide on the side” as I used to say in the classroom. This is the only way to develop a teacher’s abilities to take a new skill and apply it on their own.

When I enter a coaching situation, I need to have a plan. I don’t go into a lesson in the classroom without a plan. However, just as in the classroom, I need to remain flexible and responsive to the teacher within this plan (L’Allier et al., 2010). This plan must reflect the goals of the teacher and in turn, the desired outcomes for the students. In my previously mentioned planning session with the pre-service teacher, I returned to her goals and the student objectives several times as a reminder of what the lesson should look like. I modeled this with her, explicitly referring back to her goals and the student objectives several times during the planning session. This practice not only helps her remain focused on her objectives, but allows me to do a ‘temperature check’ on our progress towards her goals. As a result, she completed a successful lesson that brought her closer to her goals.

Each time I coach I’m reminded of my first days of teaching. There is a constant reflection that occurs in my mind. The list of things to improve upon increases dramatically, but I am also seeing growth within myself. The gap between teacher and coach gets smaller with each experience.




Duncan, M. (2006). Literacy coaching: Developing effective teachers through instructional dialogue. New York: Richard C. Owens Publishers.

L’allier, S., Elish-Piper, L., & Bean, R. M. (2010). What matters for elementary literacy coaching? Guiding principles for instructional improvement and student achievement. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 544-554.




Coaching: My Journey Begins

The classroom has always been where I want to be and where I feel comfortable. As an educator, the classroom is the center of my world, where the action is, and where I feel most useful and effective. As I begin this journey into my role as coach, I find I struggle at times with my focus, language, and purpose. Casey (2006) describes this as a feeling of uncertainty and inadequacy; this feeling like everything changes overnight. Am I ready? Will I make a difference? Do I have the knowledge and experience to guide others?

I start this reflection with a title reminiscent of my current experience. I’ve jumped into this journey feet first by participating in USF’s Cambridge Schools Experience. For four weeks I live with nearly twenty other educators, all at varying stages in their personal and professional journeys, as we immerse ourselves in the Cambridge education system. I bring to this experience three years of classroom teaching, two years of working with preschool children, various professional leadership experiences, an interest in classroom technology integration, and a pedagogy founded in developmentally appropriate practice and student centered learning.

As this experience unfolds, I find themes in my growth towards becoming a coach. It is within these themes that I will reflect on my strengths and areas for future development. I will use these themes as a map through the unknown and the intimidating. These themes will guide my thoughts and research as I work towards the goal of effective coaching.

A Cambridge classroom teacher describes his students’ learning paths as a journey. He says they are at different places at different times, but all where they need to be. I, too, find myself on a journey. A journey into the unknown where I will be pushed to extend my knowledge beyond its boundaries, encouraged to examine my personal beliefs about education, required to take on multiple perspectives in global communities, and establish productive relationships with various personalities. Through honest reflection, careful guidance, and personal determination I hope to find my journey never truly ends, but rather continues to branch out into unknown directions and down paths I have yet to imagine.



Casey, K. (2006). Literacy coaching: The essentials. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Professional Learning Communities – Focusing on the Greater Good

Professional Learning Communities  (PLCs) are commonly found in schools. I have encountered them in the various schools I’ve worked at or visited, but how many of these PLCs are truly effective? Reading Baccellieri (2010) brought to mind many ineffective practices I’ve seen and am currently experiencing in my own school.

“Concentrating on what matters most creates a professional learning community, not just a learning community” (Baccellieri, 2010, p. 18).

What I’ve experienced in my school is isolation. Baccellieri (2010) routinely mentions this isolation, this tendency to shut our door and do our own thing, as a detriment to the learning outcomes of students. Yet, this is what I work in. It may not be across all grade levels, but I wouldn’t know that because even at the grade level, we go to our hallway and teach our own way. The desire exists to become more collaborative, to have an effective progression of outcomes and expectations, and effort has been put forth to obtain this ideal, but it continuously ends in failure or lack of acceptance.

Fisher and Frey (2010) shared that teachers need to look at their core instruction if they want to see improvements in student data. Baccellieri (2010) states the same concept, but adds that we must also look at the school’s instructional practices as a whole, not just in our own classroom. The framework for improvement begins with investing time in data and teaching methods. Going back to Boudett, City, and Murname’s (2013) model, a cyclical approach to improving data must be taken, beginning with identifying areas for improvement and focus areas. Starting from the bottom up is a common thread with the researchers. Baccellieri (2010) lays out the process for establishing effective practices in using data and PLCs, including cross-grade level collaboration to identify benchmarks and creating “I Can” statements. Then, formative assessments can be created, assessed, and monitored in grade level meetings to identify areas of need and effective teaching practices. However, all of these practices involve opening our doors, coming out of our classrooms, and trusting each other.

Trust is a component that repeats itself throughout Baccellieri’s (2010) writing. Admittedly, I lack trust in my colleagues and even in myself. I don’t trust my colleagues to have the best practices because I’ve heard their approach to education (“I’ll do what I want, I have continuing contract!” or “I’m so ready to retire!”), and I don’t trust myself because I know I don’t have the perfect solution or answer. Our grade level meetings routinely turn into complaint sessions where I’m left sitting there feeling like I have better things to do that would actually benefit my students. If I could trust my colleagues, and if they could trust me, PLCs would be a beneficial component. But without trust, the meetings become complaint sessions, the data focus is negative, and teachers are left feeling defeated and even more isolated.

How can this change? Personally, I feel strong administrative leadership is key. Include with this: time, patience, and establishing trust. An understanding that change takes time, that nothing will be perfect immediately, and that mistakes will be made. What really resonated with me in Baccellieri’s (2010) writing was a constant understanding and acceptance of the pitfalls, setbacks, and struggles that came with creating a climate of change and data focused instruction. Can this happen in every school? Being the optimist, I think so. But big change takes time, patience, and trust. We need to trust ourselves to be the agents of change, to make the mistakes, and to have the answers.


Baccellieri, P. (2010). Professional learning communities: Using data in decision making to improve student learning. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education

Boudett, K. P., City, E. A., & Murname, R. J. (2013). Data Wise:  A stepbystep guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA:  Harvard Education Press.

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2010)Enhancing RTI: How to ensure success with effective classroom instruction and intervention. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


RtI – Action from Assessment

If assessment is the question, RtI is the answer. Assessment asks, “What does this student know, and what does this student lack?”  Response to intervention and instruction is the answer to that question.

Going back to Boudett and Murname (2013), classroom instruction must be analyzed to determine effectiveness. Tier 1 of the RtI system is classroom instruction. What can be done in the core instruction program so most, if not all, learners can be successful? Core instruction should be meeting 75-85% of learner needs (Fisher & Frey, 2010). If not, analysis of this level must be completed. I keep this in mind constantly as an indicator of my instruction and the need for reteaching of skills. If 80% of my class is not meeting expectations, the problem doesn’t lie with the learner, it lies with the teaching methods and materials I’ve used. I can monitor the “temperature” of my classroom through constant formative assessments so that I’m not running into a shocking low average on a summative assessment.

Tier 2 instruction is that extra bit of scaffolding for a small percentage of students who just don’t grasp the content through regular instruction. Tier 2 is a constantly evolving group in my classroom based on formative and summative assessment data. Some students need just that little bit of an extra boost, some students have larger gaps to fill. However, just like core instruction, if a student is stuck in tier 2 with no growth, the instructional methods must be analyzed and adjusted. Tier 2 is there to compliment the core instruction of tier 1. Unfortunately, I have witnessed teachers, coaches, and even administrators viewing tier 2 as a “catch all” location for low achievers. Students get stuck in the intervention process, never showing growth. Tier 3 is never addressed for these students, instead they continue to receive ineffective core instruction and ineffective intervention instruction. They’re not receiving additional help, they’re receiving the same poor instruction, just in larger amounts due to their intervention times.

Another caveat I’ve witnessed is the use of irrelevant assessment data to place intervention students. Just because a student was above a certain cut off on an assessment doesn’t mean they don’t need tier 2 interventions for some skills. This is where relevant and appropriate assessments should be used to place students in interventions (Fisher & Frey, 2010). In addition, high achievement interventions are rarely put in place or supported due to lack of time and resources. The hope is that teachers will scaffold their core instruction enough to help these higher learners grow. This is not addressing ALL needs.

Finally, intervention instructional methods must meet the needs of the learner. Too often, I see students placed into programs that are not addressing the areas of need for that student. It is an inappropriate learning prescription that gets the student nowhere. Instruction must be meaningful and provide authentic opportunities for reading and writing, not ‘skill and drill’ (Fisher & Frey, 2010).

RtI is a wonderful tool if used correctly. It provides the additional instructional time that some students need. Being placed in RtI is not an indication of inability or low learning levels; it is an opportunity to close a gap or build a bridge to success for each student.

Boudett, K. P., City, E. A., & Murname, R. J. (2013). Data Wise:  A stepbystep guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA:  Harvard Education Press.

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2010)Enhancing RTI: How to ensure success with effective classroom instruction and intervention. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Data Analysis

Gathering and analyzing data to guide instructional decisions is a crucial part of providing highly effective educational experiences for our students. However, the process can be daunting and stressful for educators. It’s not that teachers don’t know how to look at data or how to use it effectively. The issue really lies in using the data collaboratively as a school to address the learning needs of all students, creating a global support system from the bottom up. In order to begin this collaborative approach to data analysis, effective organizational procedures must be put in to place. Boudett and Murname (2013) suggest beginning the process with setting clear objectives, creating a system in which all voices are heard, and taking an inquiry stance to create an open dialogue environment. The idea is not to create blame, but to create questions. To do this effectively, careful consideration must be used in both the selection of and display methods for the data. The goal is to create conversation among the teachers. What patterns of student thinking can be identified? What can be done to correct patterns of errors? How can classroom instruction be enhanced or improved to address these areas? It’s not about what the teachers CAN’T do, but rather what they CAN do. Focus should not center on lack of time, resources, or support, but rather move towards what can be done with what is available and what is reasonable. The smallest changes can have great impact. Developing a school action plan as a team creates buy-in on everyone’s part. Every person in a school must be on the same page when it comes to areas of need and what defines quality instruction. The school must regularly revisit the action plan developed, assessing and acting on needed changes as growth or challenges occur. In a sense, the cycle of data analysis at the school level is identical to the cycle in the classroom. Analyze the data, identify patterns and areas for growth, develop a lesson or plan to address these needs, re-assess and repeat. The difference is, if a school can act as a whole unit in the process, the effects become global, increasing every student’s chance for success, not just the ones within our own classroom walls.

Boudett, K. P., City, E. A., & Murname, R. J. (2013). Data Wise:  A stepbystep guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA:  Harvard Education Press.


Matching Readers to Text and Instruction

Reading is an experience that is unique to each individual who embarks on a journey with text. To put reading skills into a series of linear steps, where skill based instruction becomes the basis for the reading classroom, robs young readers of the experience of discovery and growth in and with text. As educators, we must be aware of this occurring in our classroom. As I read over the literature focused on matching readers to text and instruction, four key points come to the forefront of my mind:

  • Interest and readability of text must be considered when selecting instructional materials.
  • The textbook must be considered an additional tool in the content area classroom, not the basis of instruction.
  • Instruction must be student focused, not program focused.
  • Independent reading must be highly valued and treated as a vital component of the reading block.

As we design lessons and gather materials, we must be aware of our students’ reading levels. If content area text is too difficult, students will be hung up on decoding and comprehension, never reaching the level of synthesis required to fully understand the text. In an inclusive classroom, where the teacher is responsible for differentiation, a one-size-fits-all text will not work for a diverse group of learners (Allington, 2002). With textbooks typically being at least one or two years above grade level, we need to view the textbook as a resource, not the cornerstone of instruction (Allington, 2002). Supplemental instructional materials that are of interest to students and aligned with their reading levels ensure success in the content area classroom. While reading instruction can, and should, occur across all content areas, we need to focus on making our students successful in the content area. This success leads to confidence gains and reading level improvement, which allows students to move themselves through their ZPD to higher level texts. Success equals more success.

In selecting reading and instructional materials for the classroom, we must consider the students we are teaching, not the program that came in a box (Allington, 2002). Reading programs are full of passages that are of little interest to students and at inappropriate reading levels. In a study of 153 reading programs conducted by the What Works Clearinghouse, only one program was found to have “strong evidence” that it improved reading skills in students (Allington, 2013). So why do educators continue to use these basal reading programs, ignoring the students in front of them who are drudging through the text and being taught to hate reading? These programs push the teaching of isolated skills, not the broad idea of reading. Lower level readers are forced to spend more time with worksheets and isolated skill tasks, while higher level readers are offered more time for independent reading, the one activity which actually does improve overall reading abilities (Allington, 2013). This leads to continuous struggles for lower level readers, while the higher level readers continue to soar. The reading curriculum needs to contain more meaning focused lessons for all levels of readers, using interesting and accessible text on the student’s level, not just isolated skill lessons (Allington, 2013). This change will increase performance and success of all learners.

As we examine the changes needed in the classroom in relation to reading instruction and text selection, one common theme continues to surface: opportunities to read. Allington (2009) states that independent reading has the ability to self-teach students all of the major reading components (as cited in Allington, 2013). Why then do we limit, or even eliminate, the process of independent reading in the classroom? This element of the instructional day should be given top priority. If we expect struggling readers to improve, we must give them opportunities to practice. We must give readers the opportunity to read without concern for error or “right ans wrong” answers. We must teach students that reading is an opportunity for discovery and exploration, a door through which they can learn new things and experience fantastical journeys. Applegate, Quinn, and Applegate (2006) inspire this change in how we approach reading by stating “to teach literature as a series of questions with right and wrong answers is to treat it as content rather than as a literary work to be thought about and interpreted” (p.48). Let us teach students how to be thoughtful and use their experiences to interpret what they read, synthesizing it with their schema, to create new thoughts and change the world.

Allington, R. L. (2002). You can’t learn much from books you can’t read. Educational Leadership, 60(3), 16-19.

Allington, R. L. (2013). What really matters when working with struggling readers. Reading Teacher, 66(7), 520-530.

Applegate, M. D., Quinn, K. B., & Applegate, A. J. (2006). Profiles in comprehension. Reading Teacher, 60(1), 48-57.