A report on the “Literacy for All” initiative for the Waunakee School District indicated that it is having a positive effect.

“We’re happy with the results,” said Assistant Director of Instruction Amy Johnson, who gave a presentation on the program’s efforts at the Jan. 8 school board meeting. “It speaks to the longevity of the project and the professional development.”

Writing in the K-6 grades is an area that will be receiving scrutiny in the coming months, as educators mull over which of two writing programs to use in to teach the subject in the future.

Teachers in those grades are currently piloting “Units of Study,” published by Heinemann and written by Lucy Calkins/Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project, and “Being a Writer,” published by the Center for the Collaborative Classroom. A decision is expected in April.

Johnson said the plan originally was to have teachers use both books to teach writing. She explained that the schedule wouldn’t allow it.

“We had a lot of eager pilot-ers,” said Johnson.

Johnson said students in all grades are getting a lot of experience in writing.

There will be an update for the board on literacy efforts in the K-6 grades this spring. A report on literacy in grades 7-12 took place last spring.

Literacy coaching is a big part of the district’s efforts in this area. There are six literacy coaches in the district, including one at each elementary school. There will be one in each of the 7-12 schools beginning in 2018-19. All six have earned Coaching Certificates from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It took 180 hours of coursework for them to receive the certificates.

Literacy coaching takes place in cycles.

According to Johnson’s report, “Student-centered coaching includes setting specific targets for students that are rooted in standards and curriculum and working collaboratively to make sure targets are met. Cycles can include any of the following components: planning sessions, observations, co-teaching or modeling, data collection and analysis.”

As the cycle is happening, coaches and teachers monitor students’ data to check on their progress toward certain goals. Surveys of staff are also conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of their work.

Coaches also work with teachers in the district’s Professional Learning Communities and serve as a resource to teachers, while also offering before- and after-school workshops.

Teachers who participated were asked to reflect on the coaching cycle and what kind of impact it had on their instruction and the growth of their students. A total of 97 percent said it had either a very positive or positive effect, while 95 percent said they would either strongly recommend or recommend the coaching cycle to other teachers.

Additionally, 70 percent of those teachers said that after a cycle is finished, they continue with the changes stemming from the experience on their own “a great deal,” while 30 percent said they use them “somewhat.”

Co-planning and co-teaching are also part of the district’s literacy efforts in grades K-6. Johnson reported that the anecdotal and initial academic data is yielding positive results from this English Language Arts pilot, involving seven special education teachers and eight regular education teachers.

Under this program, the co-teachers share planning, instructional delivery and assessment responsibilities. The partnerships plan weekly and have a half-day planning session quarterly. It allows teachers to learn about various instructional methods using two teachers in a classroom. Literacy coaches provide ongoing support.

Another area of emphasis is disciplinary literacy in grades 7-12. Johnson reported that she and 7-12 ELA Liaison Marcy Peters-Felice have been meeting with 7-12 ELA leadership. They identified a need for renewed focus in this area.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction, “In Wisconsin, disciplinary literacy is defined as the confluence of content knowledge, experiences, and skills merged with the ability to read, write, listen, speak, think critically and perform in a way that is meaningful within the context of a given field.”

Johnson reported that Middle School staff have gathered baseline survey data from various departments, with an eye toward planning the next steps. Staff are also looking to attend UW-Madison High School to College Symposia series workshops on writing across the curriculum.

Looking ahead, literacy educators want to expand literacy coaching to grades 7-12 and complete the K-6 writing pilot in order to implement its plan. The K-6 ELA curriculum presentation to the school board will take place in May, as ELA educators, literacy coaches and building coordinators continue to work on initiatives at different grade levels.

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