Forum 4: Literacy Coaching in Reading First

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Michael McKenna, Tue April 03, 2007, 08:19 PM MDT

Reading First has added substantial impetus to the literacy coaching movement by requiring that a coach work in virtually every funded school. Because the Reading First program sets specific expectations, the issues that pertain to Reading First coaches may not apply to coaches in other settings. Chief among these expectations are (1) a protected block of at least 90 minutes, (2) a commercial core reading program, (3) a K-3 focus, (4) a formative assessment system involving screening and diagnostic measures, (5) a commitment to scientifically-based reading instruction, and (6) extensive professional development for teachers.

In this forum we offer educators a chance to discuss the issues related to coaching in the context of Reading First. We do not wish to narrow the topic too much for fear that we may avoid important issues. However, to start things off, we want to suggest a few questions that seem relevant:

What are some of the successes and concerns that Reading First coaches wish to share?

How should Reading First coaching evolve in the next few years (assuming that funding for the program continues)?

How can Reading First coaches learn from other models of coaching and from coaches in other contexts?


Joshua Mull , Thu April 12, 2007, 08:55 AM MDT - Reading First: Steps in the right direction

I am not a Reading First coach, but a parent of a student in a Reading First school. Currently, I have been doing observations in the school as part of my graduate studies and have observed the reading coach and school specialists. As a teacher of reading myself, I know, as I quote Reading Theorist Frank Smith, “… there is not a wrong or right way to teach reading.” I do agree that some methods work well for most students, but not for all!
As I have observed in the school, the Reading First Program has been embraced by all. I imagine that some teachers rebel against parts of the program, but the effort to make it successful is present. I am also sure there are many success stories as well as failures and these will hopefully bring about change in the program; such is the process of effective education.

My biggest praise for reading first is early intervention. As Marie Clay says in her book, An Observation Survey, “Deaf babies, our blind and cerebral-palsied preschoolers and others with handicaps got special help to minimize the consequential aspects of their handicaps. Yet a child with reading difficulties had to wait until the third or fourth year of school before being offered special instruction. By then the child’s reading level was two years behind that of his peers. The learning difficulties of the child might have been more easily overcome if he had practiced error behavior less often.” This program is taking the steps to identify reading difficulties early and provide the intervention needed to create and welcome students as card carrying members of the “Literacy Club.”

I firmly believe this early intervention is going to help reduce the number of reading difficulties, but never will it prevent them completely. I look forward to reading what people want to change about the program and hope that funding continues. Steps in the right direction, even if they are small, help educators to bridge the “gap.”

Kenya Sadler , Fri April 13, 2007, 10:10 PM MDT - Kenya Sadler, Coaching in Reading First

One success of the Reading First Coaching model is that it provides a concrete model for coaching. There are some aspects of Reading First that I am firmly committed to, such as; the 90 minute block, commitment to scientifically research based reading instruction, extensive professional development and a formative assessment system.
Future Reading First models should include more of an emphasis on the current Response to Intervention (RTI) efforts because RTI is a general education responsibility. Reading First should embed problem solving models that use progress monitoring models to gauge the intensity of intervention in relation to the student’s response to intervention. Future Reading First models should integrate a multi tiered model of intervention. I believe that my district is on a quest to better define the role of the coach. As the role evolves, so should the role of the Reading First coach.

Jessica Hudec , Sat April 14, 2007, 03:50 PM MDT - Reading First

I am not very familiar with the Reading First program. I was glad that Michael McKenna listed the six core components of the Reading First program in his introduction. I think that most reading programs have some elements of these core components in their reading instruction. The two expectations that are lacking in most reading programs are length of time designated for reading instruction and extensive professional development in reading instruction. If you are not implementing the Reading First program, I am wondering how long you devote in your schedule to reading instruction. I would guess that most reading sessions run about one hour in length. However, it is usually interupted by the inevitable pull-outs. The Reading First program claims for "extensive" professional development. I think that participating in a literacy coaching cycle would be important to include in this category of extensive professional development.

I really like what Joshua wrote about how the Reading First program focuses on early intervention. The examples he gave really make sense. Unfortunately, I come across students in the regular education classroom that are 10, 11, and even 12 years old and have such difficulty with reading. Thanks Joshua for your insight!

Gena Tokar , Sat April 14, 2007, 07:32 PM MDT - Reading First

I do believe that early intervention is key to catching students. Of course there are always going to be students who can not keep up with their peers no matter how much added instruction is given. I know that in the school were I observed the reading coaches position was undefined. She told me that she had to create her own job details. So I think that the defined role of a reading coach in Reading First is what school districts need so that they know what it is that they should be doing. I think that the 90 minute uninterupted reading block is a positive aspect of Reading First, but I know that it would be a difficult to balance the schools schedule with specials and activities. I do think; however, that much of the students school day is spend on reading and related activities.

Amanda Errington , Mon April 16, 2007, 04:04 PM MDT - What happens after Grade 3?
I am not familiar with the details of Reading First but understand the main idea. The concept of early intervention is of course key to successful reading instruction. The 90 minute block of time is exciting but I’m sure frustrating for some teachers who wonder how they are going to fit everything that goes along with a day of school in grades K-3. Yet, my main concern is that we are concentrating on early intervention which includes phonics, word recognition, and the basics of reading. Is there anything in the Reading First program or in the schools that adopt it that continue reading instruction for students beyond 3rd grade? I am completing my practicum in a junior high setting and the problems teachers are faced with at the 7th and 8th grade level is that students are struggling with reading in the content areas. These students are having trouble reading informational texts especially in the area of how to use their textbook. Another huge dilemma is the use of the basals in the elementary program and then once they reach the upper grades they are not sure how to read novels and other pieces of literature. Is there a continuation of instruction past the early grades or do we just give up after grade 3? I look forward to discussion from those of you who are in the thick of this.
Sharon Walpole , Tue April 17, 2007, 02:30 PM MDT - Reading First World

It is so strange for me to read the responses above -- coming from outside of the RF world; Mike McKenna and I spend almost all of our time thinking about coaching inside that world that it is easy to forget that coaching is a much larger and more diverse movement than that which occurs in RF.

That said, I am relieved to hear some of you resonating with many of the most salient features of the model -- the fact that there is a protected block of time for instruction, a focus on early intervention (consistent, in many ways, with the basic concepts of RTI). Remember that Reading First is a very specialized program and that no one should credit it with addressing ALL issues in improving reading instruction. I wonder whether there will be significant progress in crafting additional models to address the needs of older struggling readers. Thanks to all for participating in this strand so far; we look foward to more ideas and questions.

Sharon Walpole

Jaime Harkins , Wed April 18, 2007, 02:21 PM MDT -
This is the first time I have heard about some of the components of Reading First. Having literacy coaches play a role in the program has the potential to make a tremendous difference. It will also be interesting to see if this program continues to be successful how it will affect other schools implementing reading coaches to help develop literacy. Do many of you work in schools with a literacy coach?
Miss Kay , Wed April 18, 2007, 08:39 PM MDT - Reading First teaches to all BUT Direct Instruct teaches to one!!!

I am extremely excited about this topic; currently I am a second year (K) teacher. Although, I am not a literacy coach, I am a graduate student in the Reading, Literacy, and Language Arts program. This year is the 1st year for my school to be a Reading First school. I am a huge fan for reading first, I agree with the 90 minute block, scientifically based reading instruction, and professional development for teachers. The professional development is completed through book studies and presentations, which provides a time for teachers to share and learn from each other. From what other veteran teachers have told me, in the past my school has implemented many of the characteristics of reading first. However, through time and changes of administration, the school has drifted from these traits. Therefore, being a reading first school was a great opportunity for my school to get back on track.

A concern for me is the scientific based reading instruction program that we have is Direct Instruction. Many teachers are frustrated because we feel that the two do not compliment one another. Direct instruction being such a systematic manner of teaching with scripts and hand signals, yet, on the other hand, reading first provides a wealth of activities and suggestions to use during reading.

Reading First coaches should continue to evolve as a valuable instrument for teachers. I hope that the literacy coaches particularly at my schools become more accessible to teachers instead of continuously juggling demands from Direct Instruction.

I look forward to comments on, how literacy coaches and teachers can successfully teach reading with Direct Instruction at a reading first school?

Kristi Tomayko , Thu April 19, 2007, 01:06 PM MDT - Reading First
I’m hoping that the Reading First program’s literacy coaching movement reaches many/all of the districts. It sounds like their ideas about literacy coaching as well as effective reading instruction are right on the mark. Does anyone know how they are funded or what makes a school eligible for a Reading First teacher? My district has only one reading coach and with eleven elementary schools, a junior high school, intermediate school, and a high school, it’s just not possible for her to achieve everything Reading First sets out for their literacy coaches to accomplish. I think my district could really benefit from a Reading First teacher.
Michael McKenna , Fri April 20, 2007, 02:13 PM MDT - Professional Development
I was interested to read Jessica Hudec's comment that coaching is really a form of professional development. This is such an important point! Many educators think primarily of the professional development that occurs outside the classroom (presentations, conferences, book studies), and these are useful, but coaching adds an inside-the-classroom dimension to developing teacher expertise.
Jessica Hudec , Sat April 21, 2007, 08:41 PM MDT - No Child Left Behind...
Is it true that Reading First developed from President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act? Is Reading First only available to Title 1 schools OR is it available to all elementary buildings? I am also wondering how schools are able to fund this program. One thing I do like about Reading First is the various types of assessments that are utilized. How much training do the reading specialists and/or reading coaches have before they were able to implement this Reading First Program? I bet it was challenging teaching the teachers all of the components to this program.
Kristi Tomayko , Thu April 26, 2007, 07:24 AM MDT - Response to Jaime Harkins
In response to Jaime Harkins’ question, “Do many of you work in schools with a literacy coach,” I just found out this year that my school does have a reading coach. Actually my school district has hired one reading coach for the entire district. She services all eleven elementary schools, the junior high, the intermediate, and the high school. Needless to say, she’s stretched pretty thin. She does an amazing job, though, for just one person. She works primarily with the new hires and the principals. Some of her responsibilities include working with the principals to determine which skills to target in order to improve standardized test scores, presenting workshops, working on the Language Arts part of our district’s Edline service, and working with the new teachers to help them with their reading instruction. Unfortunately, she does not have any room left in her schedule to coach experienced teachers in the classroom. I would love to have a literacy coach in each school, but I doubt there’s enough funding for that. I’d be curious to see if Reading First has any plans to increase the number of literacy coaches in the schools, and if so, which ones are eligible.
Cathy Chapman , Mon April 30, 2007, 07:33 PM MDT -
I am a regional coach with the SC Reading First Initiative. We have a literacy coach in each of our Reading First Schools. The coaches work with K-3 teachers. As a regional coach, I have several coaches that I am responsible for. Each coach is responsible for conducting study groups twice a month for the K-3 teachers. Each coach attends two days of professional development at the state level each month. Coaches also meet monthly with other coaches within their region for professional development. SCRF has definitely made a positive impact on the children of South Carolina.
alexa contes , Tue May 01, 2007, 11:13 AM MDT - literacy coach
In response to Jaime Harkins’ question, concerning whether or not our districts employ literacy coaches, ours does not. We do, in fact, have two reading specialists in each of our elementary schools. They work primarily in the classrooms with the students in small groups. They only work the students who qualify for Title 1, (with the exception of all kindergarteners). They seem to keep themselves very busy, especially around PSSA time. Is this common practice in other districts, or are the reading specialists working primarily with the administration, and educators?
alexa contes , Tue May 01, 2007, 11:13 AM MDT - literacy coach
In response to Jaime Harkins’ question, concerning whether or not our districts employ literacy coaches, ours does not. We do, in fact, have two reading specialists in each of our elementary schools. They work primarily in the classrooms with the students in small groups. They only work the students who qualify for Title 1, (with the exception of all kindergarteners). They seem to keep themselves very busy, especially around PSSA time. Is this common practice in other districts, or are the reading specialists working primarily with the administration, and educators?
Amy Peterson , Wed May 02, 2007, 01:18 PM MDT - Reading First
I am also a teacher in a Reading First school with a Reading First Coach. I agree with many of the components of the program. I have two concerns though. I teach 5th grade students. Many of my students are still not on grade level. Does the intense intervention stop when the student reaches 4th grade? I know for a fact that these students are not receiving 90 minutes of direct reading instruction. Secondly, being that Reading First requires the primary grades to use a commercial core reading series, how do the students transition into a Balanced Literacy approach? Are those transitions more difficult for the students who were receiving intervention at the end of 3rd grade? I struggle with these questions daily, while trying to do my best to meet the needs of all of my students, struggling or not. I am sure there are many others out there with the same concerns.
Erika Shavulsky , Wed May 02, 2007, 05:24 PM MDT - Roles of Reading Specialists/Literacy Coaches
Several postings have been asking about how the reading specialists/literacy coaches role is implemented within a school district. In my school district, we definitely have room for improvement in the area of communication. Our school employs 2 full time Title 1 reading specialists and 1 Block Grant reading specialist. Their primary focus is on the remediation of skills in the primary grades. Students in grades 4-6 get little or no remediation of skills, and if they do, it is provided by an inclusive Title 1 aide. When I questioned the reading specialists about the literacy coach position, the only person who knew anything about this role was the Block Grant teacher. I was surprised that a position as versatile and as embedded as a literacy coach had been hidden from fellow reading specialists. The literacy coach that we do have works with all 10 elementary schools and the junior high school. Her primary focus is working with new teachers and helping them with the implementation of the reading curriculum, as well as assisting administration in the PSSA focus areas. This is the first year that our district has had a literacy coach, and the role is still being defined. It does seem like an awful lot of schools and material for one person to cover. With all the research about how effective literacy coaches can be in schools, I’m surprised that as large a district as we are, we only have one.
Laura Mumaw , Wed May 02, 2007, 08:26 PM MDT - Reading First
I was also curious as to how Reading First is funded. I am not very familiar with the program, but it sounds like it could really make a difference in literacy instruction. As a primary teacher, I am fully aware of the importance of early intervention. This program could really help catch kids up before the reading gap gets too broad. I would love more information about what a school needs to possess to be eligible for Reading First coaching.
Gayle Pavone , Sun May 06, 2007, 05:28 PM MDT - Reading First
I am currently a reading coach in a Reading First school. We have found it to be quite successful. We have really created a community of learners. My role as a coach varies from day to day. I do go in and watch teachers teach reading, and I also model lessons. I also provide professional development several times a month. Once a month, for two hours, we focus on a topic like comprehension, vocabulary etc. Then two times a month I meet with each grade level. We really look closely at our data and think about how our instruction is impacting the data. Our K and 1 students are showing such growth--this is our 2nd year in Reading First. We find the role extremely valuable and wonder if we need the same kind of position for Math. Developing a learning community has been they key--without that we would not be seeing the progress that we are.
jennifer spence , Mon May 07, 2007, 12:20 PM MDT - Reading First
I am not very familiar with Reading First, but I am very appreciative of all of the information that has been provided. I am currently a graduate student in the Reading Specialist program and am always interested to learn about different programs. The 90 minute block of uninterrupted time for reading sounds too good to be true. I have been observing reading specialists and teachers as part of my course work and from what I have seen, teachers cannot make it through 15 minutes without one or more students being pulled out of the classroom or returning from being pulled out. I also think the professional development is key. Having the opportunity to learn from and with your colleagues can make such a difference in keeping teachers from becoming discouraged and burned out.
Heather DeMedio , Wed May 09, 2007, 01:42 PM MDT - Reading First Program
As many that have responded, I do not know much about Reading First. I can see many important components that all programs should use such as a 90-minute block of time, a focus on K-3 for intervention purposes, formative assessments, and extensive professional development. As I was reading down through some of the responses, I know I would have a hard time with a scripted reading program or a lack of focus on intermediate grades...since I am a fifth grade teacher. I just do not see the benefit of having a scripted program as if to say that all of our children are some how the same or need the exact same direct instruction. If there is someone out there that knows why it is direct instruction with little or no differentiation, please tell me why???
Sarah Merante , Sat May 26, 2007, 09:46 AM MDT - Early intervention
I agree with Joshua about giving students with reading difficulties the same attention we give other students with disabilities. I think that in addition to that, we must have early signs that all parents have access to so they are able to recognize these signs. In order to help, they must first recognize that their child is having trouble or is behind. Attention needs to be placed on troubled readers as much as attention is placed on other disabilites.
Amy Dickson , Sun May 27, 2007, 01:34 PM MDT - Reading First??
A few weeks ago was the first time I had ever heard of Reading First. I am a substitute teacher, so I have seen many different ways to teach literacy/reading and have also seen a number of different reading specialists. I would like to know more about Reading First. So far, I know that it begins with Early Intervention (K-3), Professional Development, and 90 minutes of uninteruppted reading. Am I missing anything? I am also curious as to any core curriculum changes in Reading First, are the students learning more in depth/advanced material or still learning the basics but thoroughly. Also, what happens in 4th and 5th grade? I read in someone's response about scripted reading lessons as well, is this part of Reading First? How can you script lessons when you have students of different abilities in your class? Someone please clarify all this Reading First for me!!
Jessica May , Mon June 11, 2007, 03:12 PM MDT -
I taught at a district which one of the elementary schools dealt with Reading First. My concern is that the books are basic and that lessons are too scripted. I think that structure is great. I have not had a first hand experience with Reading First but have a number of success stories. My problem would be if differntiation is utilized in the program.
Sarah Merante , Tue June 12, 2007, 02:06 PM MDT - core reading program
I read the article from the library about teachers depending too much on commercial reading programs. Then I read about Reading First, which does consist of a core reading program. I am unfamiliar with the core reading program but I'm curious to know about it. So many schools pay big bucks to get the best reading program based on what they've read/heard, but I liked how the article stated we need to rely on teaching tactics and what characteristics teachers have. I think sometimes, what's the point of having a reading class in school? I had a 6-credit course to teach us how children learn to read, and now at my district I teach at, we are told to use the program they spent all the money on. It doesn’t leave too much time left for me to be able to implement my own activities and ideas.
Amy Odorczyk , Thu June 21, 2007, 08:48 PM MDT -
I was unfamiliar with the Reading First program before reading this article. I think it sounds like a great program and reinforces good reading skills at an early age. After reading Amy's posting, I have a similar question...what is suggested for students at the high school level? I feel that there are a lot of great elementary reading programs and even some in the middle school. What happens to students when they are at the secondary level? I know that an actual "reading" class has been eliminated at this level, but feel that there should be more supports out there for high students. I am a special education teacher and have students that are still reading at the 3rd and 4th grade level. It is very rare to hear about reading specialist at the high school level. I think school districts need to work on addressing the needs of all students within their district. Are there any reading specialists out there that meet with high school teachers during professional development days? We could benefit from your ideas!!!
Cassie Headley , Wed June 27, 2007, 09:27 PM MDT - Literacy Coaching-Reading First

I have worked in a Reading First school district. Unfortunately, although the school district was a Reading First district, there were many things not being implemented correctly, which ultimately can lead to less students becoming successful readers. When I think of Reading First, I think of the RTI model that is talked about so much now, and on the verge of being implemented in many school districts. From my experience, the elements of Reading First are SO important, but they do have to be implemented correctly. I read an article that researched the success of Reading First schools who have implemented the model successfully, and they did see success. However, if not implemented effectively, I have seen the unfortunate results of not much progress being made. An assessment plan is so important for all four areas of assessment, and I have also seen first-hand the importance of having a comprehensive SBRR core curriculum. It is important to have a scope and sequence as a road map for the different grade levels. There is not a perfect core curriculum, but having that road map in order to make sure that all of the important components of literacy are taught explicitly, is necessary. From my experience in the Reading First School that was not implementing effectively, it makes me feel as if more accountability, necessary.

Nancy Shanklin , Fri July 13, 2007, 01:44 PM MDT - Learning More About Reading First

I have been reading this discussion thread this week. It seems that obtaining more information on specifics of Reading First would be helpful to people who would like to know more about this federal effort. Sharon Walpole and Michael McKenna, the hosts of this LCC forum, have written what is considered one of the best sources of information for Reading First coaches - The Literacy Coach's Handbook published by Guilford Press. There is a full review of the book in the library section of this website.

Also, the IRA publication Understanding and Implementing Reading First Initiatives provides much helpful information. It is also reviewed in the library section of this website.

In all fairness, people should also look up recent articles in the popular press about Reading First. There are both pro and con reviews. A good source for information is issues of Education Week from Spring 2007. Both the IRA and NCTE websites contain information as well.

Kirstin Sheppard , Wed July 18, 2007, 10:15 AM MDT - Reading First Investigation

I just read an article on the NCTE website titled, "NCTE Praises Reading First Audit: Calls for Further Investigation". This article explains how some of the programs approved by Congress for use with Title 1 funds are corrupt. These corrupt programs are not actually scientifically based and review panels stacked with people that had direct ties to certain commercial programs voted to approve these programs. This explains why some of the previous responses had negative opinions of the programs being used in a few Reading First schools. Possibly, these scripted programs without any differentiation are some of the programs under investigation.
I think it's great that U.S. Department of Education is investigating these corrupt programs and people are not getting away with this injustice. Students deserve the best reading programs available and it's the struggling readers who are being harmed by these corrupt reading programs. If teachers don't feel that a reading program is effective, even one that has been approved by Congress for Title 1 funding, why don't they have any power to reject the program? Teachers are the ones who always put reading first, so isn't it time that others listen to their opinions?

Kirstin Sheppard , Wed July 18, 2007, 10:23 AM MDT - Reading First Evolution
In response to Michael McKenna's question asking, "How should Reading First coaching evolve in the next few years (assuming that funding for the program continues)?", I think it should extend beyond 3rd grade. I've always taught 5th or 6th grade and there are many students in these upper elementary grades with reading difficulties. There has been either a reading specialist or reading coach in every building where I’ve worked, but the reading specialist in the elementary school worked only with K-4 and the reading coach in the middle school only worked with teachers. Even though there was a reading coach/specialist in the school, they aren't necessarily providing direct help to students. I think that Reading First should extend to upper grades because it takes some students longer to learn how to read. If they get help in K-3, it doesn't mean their reading problems are solved. Direct reading instruction for struggling readers needs to be provided for as long as the students need it.

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