Literacy for ME: Maine's Comprehensive State Literacy Plan
V: Local Level Literacy Plan Guidance
In order to systemically plan and implement high-quality literacy education for Maine’s learners, local learning communities (i.e. public schools, school districts, community-based early childhood providers, etc.) across the birth-adult span should collaboratively develop and implement comprehensive literacy plans. Local level learning communities may be organized at the city or town level, or may encompass several regionally connected communities within a school system or county. Comprehensive local literacy plans should be organized around the six components detailed in this section. The significance of each component is explained below, and a matrix of action steps that local learning communities should follow to develop, implement, strengthen, and sustain that component of their plan can be found in Appendix A. The matrices are set up so steps can be read in vertical and horizontal fashion, helping educators to identify the steps to take at particular points in the development and implementation of a comprehensive literacy plan. As each component is explored, it may be helpful to reference the matrices of action steps for a more thorough understanding. Embedded in each component are links to resources that local communities can draw upon as they develop and implement their plans, as well as references to materials contained in an electronic toolkit that accompanies Literacy for ME.
V-A: Strong Leadership
Leadership is paramount to the successful implementation, maintenance, and sustainability of a comprehensive literacy plan at the local level. Research has demonstrated that effective school leadership is positively associated with student learning (Center for Educational Policy Analysis, 2003). Leadership should enable the learning organization to set clear goals for teaching and learning, and should constantly support, through deliberate decision-making, the ability to attain these goals. Those serving in leadership positions must also be knowledgeable about the standards, instructional practices, and assessments that serve as the foundation for teaching and learning. Strong leaders assist organizations in determining which variables (e.g., time, materials, and personnel expertise) the organization controls, and how to utilize those variables to fully support teaching and learning. Strong leadership demonstrates collaborative commitment to the established vision for teaching and learning, sets high expectations, and recognizes successes. Finally, leadership should not be the responsibility of one individual, but should be distributed across multiple roles, including administrators and site directors, literacy coaches and interventionists, grade-level and content-area educators, parents, and community members.
When preparing to develop and implement a comprehensive literacy plan, communities should identify potential sources of leadership that already exist, and should establish a literacy leadership team that works with stakeholders to develop the plan. The leadership team should be composed of representatives from community-based organizations who have collective expertise related to literacy learning, represent a variety of stakeholders that need to be included in literacy-related decisions, and demonstrate investment in improving literacy achievement for all learners. As Jim Collins notes in Good to Great (2001), “the right people will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great” (p. 32). Members of the literacy leadership team will vary across communities, but should include early childhood and school administrators, educators from representative age/grade spans and content areas across the birth-adult span, literacy coaches (if applicable), special educators, English learner specialists, literacy interventionists, public librarians or school media specialists, technology integrators and coordinators, school board members, parents, and learners. The size of the team will also vary, depending on the size of the community, and team members may represent multiple roles in small communities (e.g., principals may serve as curriculum specialists, interventionists may also be special educators). Teams should meet regularly to engage in their work.
A local literacy leadership team’s initial activities should center on the following activities:
- Utilizing the definition of literacy provided in Literacy for ME (see Part III) to establish a vision for what a comprehensive literacy plan should accomplish related to learning and teaching. This should include understanding that literacy is not a discipline, but a shared responsibility that enables learners to develop knowledge, construct and communicate meaning; participate in society; and achieve goals.
- Reviewing the components of comprehensive literacy plans outlined in Literacy for ME and investigating the collective and individual roles team members can contribute to the development and implementation of the local plan.
- Conducting a needs assessment (see toolkit for examples) to determine the current status of literacy instruction and the literacy climate in the local community. The needs assessment should involve opportunities for input from a variety of stakeholders, and should include data analysis that identifies current strengths and needs.
- Engaging in professional learning as a team related to system change, leadership of literacy initiatives, research-based literacy standards, instruction and assessment practices, and digital literacy.
- Fostering relationships with partners across the learning communities, such as parents, libraries, schools, early learner and development programs, adult educators, and community literacy organizations.
Once these initial tasks are completed, the team should use the literacy plan components detailed in Literacy for ME as a guide for drafting a coherent and comprehensive plan. Specific areas of concern noted in the needs assessment should be addressed in the plan with evidence to support their inclusion, and strengths noted in the needs assessment should also be utilized as supports to the ongoing work. Questions that teams should consider when developing the plans are included in Appendix C.
Once a comprehensive literacy plan has been drafted, the leadership team should share it with school faculty/staff, community programs and other interested stakeholders to gather input, before revising and finalizing the plan. Once finalized, the literacy leadership team should develop a clear timeline for plan implementation and decide which levels of leadership are responsible for oversight of each plan component, what action steps need to be taken to implement the plan, who will be involved at each step, and what resources will be necessary.
As the plan is implemented, the literacy leadership team should provide ongoing support and oversight. Leadership team members will have specific responsibilities related to the plan’s implementation, but the collective team needs regular updates on these activities so it can determine the impact of the plan on teaching and learning and make regular adjustments to plan implementation to ensure the best results possible. Ongoing responsibilities of the literacy leadership team are included in Appendix C.
V-B: System-Wide Commitment and Partnerships
A comprehensive literacy system fosters a commitment to coordinating a shared vision that involves families, educators, children, and a representative segment of community members. Comprehensive literacy systems result in well-articulated goals that enable children to develop strong language and literacy abilities. Communication and partnerships must be fostered that connect community efforts at all levels along the birth-adult learning continuum.
Capable children are the basis of a prosperous and sustainable society. Maine’s future prosperity is dependent on their success. Literacy development begins in infancy and is the underpinning of all future growth. Engaged families, family supports, and strong early childhood programs provide the foundation for language and literacy growth during the early childhood years. Weak early language and literacy skills negatively impact later academic outcomes. Schools, as part of the literacy learning community, must be prepared to understand language and literacy research across the birth-adult span, community demographics, and existing capacity and resources to help build and foster relationships with families and community programs. Literacy learning community partners across the birth-adult span should respect and foster the multicultural nature of their communities as part of the literacy learning experience.
When children’s families and educators interact and communicate regularly, children from all backgrounds are more academically successful and they are more likely to attend school consistently, graduate, and enroll in higher education (Henderson, A. and Mapp, K., 2002). These findings underscore the need for committed partnerships between families, learning organizations, and the broader community.
According to the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP), which conducted a federally funded, comprehensive review of research on early literacy in 2008, there are particular early literacy variables that strongly impact later literacy skills. Local learning community leadership must establish collaborative community and school efforts that build a strong foundational base for all children. The call for collaborative partnerships among schools, families, and community organizations has been made repeatedly by state- and national-level organizations, including the Maine Department of Education in its A Solid Foundation (2000) and Promising Futures reports (1999), the National Middle School Association in its This We Believe report (2003), and the Maine Commission on Middle Level Education’s Bright Futures report (2009). The foundation for these partnerships must be built upon evidence-based research and data. Partnership efforts should:
- Establish needs based on data;
- Be inclusive and transparent, maximizing both capacity and resources;
- Be seamless across all developmental levels; and
- Result in sustained literacy improvement across all content areas.
Leadership efforts must foster commitment for sustained collaboration across community literacy learning partners, and dedicate time for ongoing professional learning to support partnerships. A supportive, collaborative environment will result in families and children who feel respected, connected, and engaged with partners in their learning communities (Michaels, 2011).
V-C: Standards and Aligned Curriculum
No comprehensive literacy plan would be complete without accounting for the role of rigorous standards and curriculum aligned to those standards. Standards define the knowledge and skills literacy learners should know and be able to do. In a standards-based system of learning, standards hold learning as a constant while treating other traditional factors (e.g. time, location, instructional materials) as variables. Standards:
- Set uniform high expectations and present a clear learning path for learners, educators, and parents to follow;
- Provide a basis of equal opportunities to learn;
- Provide constant learning targets from which curriculum can be developed to guide instruction;
- Ease transitions for students from school to school and age span to age span; and
- Specify assessment content to track student achievement.
In Maine, content area learning targets or standards are in place for children from infancy through secondary graduation. With respect to literacy and language development in early childhood, two sets of learning guidelines help inform parents, caregivers, and educators. At the birth-age 2 span, the Infant and Toddler Learning Guidelines, and at the age 3-Kindergarten entry span, the Early Childhood Learning Guidelines, contain standards that guide language and literacy development. Beginning in Kindergarten and running through grade 12, the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts are mandated by state law. Adult Education also has content standards for English Language Arts. All four of these standards documents can be located in the toolkit that accompanies this plan. Additionally, standards for other content areas exist that include connections to literacy, such as A Framework for K-12 Science Education.
Maine’s standards reflect the best available evidence regarding what learners will need to know and be able to do for entry into higher education and the work place. The standards are researched, evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, and rigorous. They are also presented in developmental increments for each age span/grade.
In a comprehensive literacy plan, there should be overlap and agreement among assessment, instruction and intervention, leadership, and standards and curriculum. Early language and literacy standards that guide learning from birth to school entry serve to provide a strong foundation for literacy development. The English language arts standards that begin in Kindergarten include reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language - content critical to developing lifelong literacy skills across content areas. Educators are responsible for helping learners meet the targets set forth in the standards by providing explicit and systematic instruction and using assessment systems to inform instruction. Instruction and assessment should be directly tied to literacy curriculum that is research-based and closely aligned with the appropriate learning standards. A comprehensive literacy system bridges all content areas and addresses student learning and achievement in a way that is responsive to the literacy needs of each student. Comprehensive literacy plans should demonstrate understanding of language and literacy standards and should support the alignment of curriculum to those standards. In other words, standards-based literacy learning should be learner-focused, developmentally appropriate, and continuously improving.
V-D: Instruction and Intervention
Instruction is at the heart of comprehensive language and literacy planning. When explicit, systematic, and engaging, instruction helps children to acquire the variety of literacy knowledge and skills that will enable them to be productive citizens, workers, and family members. The challenge of language and literacy instruction is to organize and differentiate instruction in ways that meet the needs of all learners - those struggling, those showing competent development, and those performing at advanced levels (Carnegie Foundation, 2010). To meet this challenge, literacy instruction should include a number of key qualities (Carnegie Foundation, 2010). It should be:
- Linked to clear learning standards for reading, writing, listening, speaking, and language at the appropriate age/grade spans birth-adult;
- Tied to research-based skills and strategies across content areas;
- Well-sequenced and planned so that learning builds over time;
- Direct and explicit in its delivery, moving learners toward independence through gradual release of responsibility;
- Responsive to learners’ individual needs as determined through ongoing assessment;
- Provided in positive environments with a variety of grouping patterns over adequate daily time spans; and
- Integrative of technology resources.
Instruction should be delivered responsively through a tiered delivery system in which learners move flexibly. High-quality instruction and intervention, also called Response to Intervention, is key to improving literacy achievement for learners (Kamil et al, 2008). Response to intervention is a multi-level prevention system in which students receive instruction based on their level of needs. Instruction or intervention is delivered through levels or tiers of increasing instructional intensity. All learners should receive core literacy instruction in Tier 1. In early childhood settings and elementary classrooms, Tier 1 or core instruction should be provided by regular classroom educators. As learners transition to content-specific classes in middle school and high school, literacy instruction should be integrated into all classes and provided by each content area teacher. The next level of intensive instruction, Tier II instruction, should consist of strategic instruction for learners who, as determined through ongoing assessment, need additional instruction to reinforce core literacy instruction to meet grade level standards. Tier II is typically delivered to small groups of learners with similar needs. The most intensive level of instruction, Tier III instruction, consists of intervention to meet the needs of learners who are significantly at-risk of not meeting grade level standards, and/or for whom Tier II instruction has not been enough to accelerate literacy learning. Group sizes at Tier III should be smaller or individualized. The time span during which learners will require additional tiers of intervention support will vary with the learner and intervention approaches, but the goal is to move learners back to needing only Tier I instruction as soon as possible. Instruction provided through special education and English Language Learner services should be well integrated within the tiered delivery model. At all tiers, learners’ progress should be monitored regularly to ensure that instruction is adjusted to meet their changing needs. Instruction should also be learner-centered across each tier. Learners should be assisted in setting goals and helping to plan their instruction so that they grow to be advocates for their learning.
Instruction should utilize researched-based materials and methods aligned to standards and curriculum that meet the needs of learners. An important task in building a comprehensive literacy plan is reviewing, evaluating, and adopting instructional materials and methods at all tiers of instruction. Instructional materials should also foster learners’ interests in content such as science, music, art, and sports. A variety of technology resources should also be integrated in ways that support and extend literacy learning. Additionally, scheduling should accommodate adequate time for each tier of instruction/intervention. Personnel should be highly qualified, and their expertise should be matched to the needs of learners. Educators should be engaged in timely and ongoing professional learning opportunities, and should receive regular feedback on their teaching based on observations and learner assessment data.
Parents should be well informed about instructional targets, and provided with opportunities to learn how to support and extend their children’s learning. Extended learning opportunities should also be a part of the comprehensive literacy plan, whether they provide additional instruction for at-risk learners, or chances for all children to learn more about topics that motivate them.
A critical element of a comprehensive literacy plan is a well-defined and implemented assessment system. Assessment should be viewed as an ongoing process that involves the use of multiple methods to observe, gather information, and make decisions to inform instruction and enhance student learning. Assessments will take different forms across the birth-adult span, and may include not only academically based tools that measure attainment of literacy skills, but also physical and language development measures that help inform children’s overall development. Assessments should be conducted in early childhood and school settings by educators, but may be performed in other settings by professionals such as physicians, school psychologists, and speech and language pathologists. Assessments need to be reliable and valid, and aligned to literacy and language development targets, learning standards, and curriculum. Evidence gathered from multiple measures can be analyzed to:
- Set learning goals for individuals as well as schools/agencies;
- Plan and refine instructional practices to meet learning goals;
- Determine effectiveness of instruction;
- Monitor and document learner growth over time and progress in meeting goals; and
- Set new goals and identify additional instructional practices to support goal achievement.
A well established assessment system includes both formative and summative assessment measures. Formative assessment is ongoing. It is used to provide information about learner progress and to make decisions about adjustments in instruction. Summative assessment is used to evaluate programs and for accountability purposes (Stiggins, et al., 2007).
Formative assessments help educators check and track learners’ progress toward grade-level standards throughout the school year, and can serve as powerful tools for students to monitor their own learning. Formative assessments are generally time-efficient and directly linked to the type of literacy instruction learners are receiving. They align with daily learning targets and are helpful in determining what learners know and what they need to learn next. Formative assessments can serve a variety of purposes, as detailed in Table 4.
Type of Formative Measure
Sample learners performance on key literacy and language targets to determine if learners are demonstrating appropriate developmental or grade-level performance or whether they might be at risk.
Progress Monitoring and Informal Classroom Assessments
Provide evidence of the impact daily instruction is having on literacy and language learning and help determine if learners are making progress toward achieving standards.
Provide in-depth information about learners literacy and language abilities and needs to help refine instruction and inform decisions about tiers of intervention support.
Formative measures are critical to the design of a Response to Intervention framework, as they enable educators to make decisions about the tiers of intervention learners should be receiving to achieve literacy standards.
Summative assessments, sometimes referred to as outcome measures, include state-mandated tests, end-of-year exams, end-of-unit tests, and common school/district assessments. They should also be used to measure how well learners have met performance standards. These measures should track student growth over time against established benchmarks, inform program evaluation, and be used by schools/agencies for accountability purposes.
An effective assessment plan should also include information that will help the school or early childhood program organize its assessment resources and implement its assessment schedule in a timely, but not time-consuming, fashion. A master schedule should be developed to articulate when specific assessments will be administered and by whom. Appropriate training should be provided to educators and assessment teams to ensure proper administration and scoring. Leaders should be appointed to ensure proper coordination of assessments and entry of assessment data into systems that will enable educators to analyze the data.
High-quality assessment systems also ensure that assessment data are analyzed in a timely manner and in a collaborative fashion. Teams of educators who will be using the data to inform ongoing instruction should have regularly scheduled opportunities to examine and discuss the results of assessments. Decisions can be made about tiers of instruction/intervention, and learning patterns across classrooms and subgroups can be disaggregated to inform planning, identify instruction and professional development needs, and to monitor program implementation. Additionally, methods of sharing assessment information with parents and community stakeholders should be determined.
A well developed assessment system will involve learners, as appropriate, in assessment of their own learning. Learners should be able to identify the standards they seek to achieve, be well informed about their progress toward reaching those standards, and be involved in planning next steps they can take to reach these goals.
Finally, use of learners’ literacy achievement data is a critical component for planning ongoing professional learning. Learners’ literacy data should guide decisions about professional learning opportunities, and should be used to monitor growth of teacher skills and to sustain continuous improvement (National Staff Development Council, 2001).
V-F: Professional Learning
Student learning is dependent on the quality of educators (Task Force on Teacher Leadership, 2001), whether those educators are early childhood teachers and practitioners, K-12 teachers, or literacy leaders. Ongoing and job-embedded professional learning is crucial to furthering all educators’ knowledge of literacy and language development, standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices and their application of this knowledge to daily practice. For this reason, a comprehensive literacy plan must include attention to professional learning. To make the best decisions about the focus of ongoing professional learning that will lead to improved language and literacy outcomes, data about children’s learning should be at the heart of the process. Additionally, whenever expectations for the implementation of new practices are set, professional learning related to the planned change, the role of leadership, and collaboration needs to be provided. Professional learning should be focused on evidence-based content appropriate to the birth-adult span, and directly linked to established literacy targets and identified learner needs.
In a research-based cycle of continuous improvement for literacy learning, a professional learning plan for educators should include the following elements:
- Collection and Analysis of Data to Set Goals
The key to data collection is a focus on the learner. Data can be divided into roughly two categories: those data that indicate the status of skill development in a defined area and those data that explore hypotheses to explain that status. Local literacy leadership teams should collect and analyze data about students’ language and literacy learning in order to determine strengths and needs related to language and literacy achievement, set goals for improved language and literacy outcomes, and make decisions about professional development that advance them toward those goals. These goals may be specific to particular age spans and should be aligned with broader state and federal expectations. Additionally, the analysis of these data must be well communicated so educators can determine how they will respond.
- Involvement of Multiple Stakeholders
Because a comprehensive literacy plan involves multiple stakeholders (e.g., teachers, administrators, parents, community members, etc.) in the analysis of literacy data to determine learner needs, it is critical to the entire improvement process that data be classified and shared in ways that are clear to both education professionals and the public. The added benefit from broad participation at the data analysis and goal setting stages is the building of a shared understanding of educators’ needs for continuous learning aimed at addressing student learning needs. Stakeholder involvement in the planning and design of professional development greatly increases the level of buy-in and commitment to the plan. Teachers and the literacy leadership team, along with parents, learners and community members, should work together to determine needs, decide on a course of action, and implement and support a plan that will lead to improved teaching and learning (Guskey and Huberman, 1995).
- Evidence-Based Content Selection
Content selected for study must be supported by evidence that it can accomplish the goals set for language and literacy learning. A learning community should be confident that the content they choose to study has been found to benefit learner outcomes. A process for selecting content should include:
- A review of research on curricular and instructional innovations with a history of success in language and literacy outcomes;
- A review of current knowledge and practices in the community program/district/school;
- Documentation that the practices are evidence-based; and
- Alignment with Maine’s Teaching Standards (Chapter 114).
Through implementation of evidence-based practices and programs, educators will have greater confidence that their instruction and assessment practices will have the greatest likelihood of improving learner performance. Part of the challenge will be to accept the research and be prepared to change policies and practices to reflect it. Educators must examine what is taught, when it is taught, and how it is taught.
- Deliberate Process Design
In designing the process for professional development, Literacy Leadership Teams must ensure opportunities are in place for professional training, ongoing learning opportunities, and activities that have been shown to result in changes in teacher behaviors. When the objective of learning opportunities is to develop the skilled use of new material, the specific design of professional development must enable participants to practice the new learning. When the material to be learned represents significant departures from existing practice, time for training that includes theory, demonstrations, and early opportunities to practice will need to be allotted (Joyce & Showers, 1981, 2002). Learning opportunities must be designed in ways that enable participants to develop skills with new curricula, instructional strategies, and job-embedded assessments if implementation is to be successful.
- Components of an Ongoing, Collaborative Cycle
Professional development is a continuous process rather than a one-time event. To be able to transfer new learning into any setting, educators need multiple opportunities to see demonstrations, plan together, work out problems, rehearse new lessons, develop materials, engage in peer coaching, and observe each other. The collaborative routines necessary to support these actions must be planned, supported and monitored so they can be effective at all stages of an educator’s career (novice, intermediate, advanced).
Educators working to implement changes in their teaching practice need the benefit of collaborating with peers to solve the problems inherent in learning new behaviors. Moreover, teachers who collaborate with peers become interested in and learn from each other’s practices.
Effective, coordinated support initiates or augments collaborations among local community learning partners to provide more broad-based interactions and greater support for all learners. Together, schools, families, and communities facilitate learning by alleviating barriers, both external and internal, that interfere with learning and teaching.
- Meaningful Program Evaluation
The quality of the evaluation is contingent upon having clearly stated goals for child and student outcomes. A professional learning plan is successful when it achieves its student learning goals.
While ongoing data collection (formative evaluation) entails frequent measurement of targeted outcomes and guides training decisions and program adjustments, program (summative) evaluation addresses the question, “Does this program work?” Measures of program effectiveness generally occur at greater intervals - perhaps yearly, or on whatever schedule a program or district/school has established for taking stock of its progress. Regardless of how the program is evaluated, these data are used in decision-making to plan next steps.