Teaching Reading: The Connection Between Student Literacy and Professional Development

Preparing teachers for the challenging work of literacy instruction
By: | Issue: January, 2019 | Web Seminar Digest
December 19, 2018

Learning to read can be challenging, and many reading teachers do not always know how to help students master the foundational skills that lead to lifelong literacy. When teachers are more fully prepared, they can help all learners overcome challenges and improve reading achievement.

In this web seminar, literacy experts Dr. Mary Dahlgren and Michelle Elia explored how teachers need to be smarter than their programs; detailed effective solutions and interventions; and demonstrated how to supplement and strengthen core programs and to adapt pacing for individuals.


Mary Dahlgren, Ed.D. is National LETRS® Trainer Literacy Consultant at Tools 4 Reading.

Mary Dahlgren, Ed.D. is National LETRS® Trainer Literacy Consultant at Tools 4 Reading.

Michelle Elia is Regional Early Literacy Specialist and Special Education Consultant at State Support Team Region 5 (Ohio).

Michelle Elia is Regional Early Literacy Specialist and Special Education Consultant at State Support Team Region 5 (Ohio).

Mary Dahlgren: Educators are given lots of directives that can distract them from keeping up to date with research and effective teaching practices. Our vision is to provide access and support to collaborative processes that lead to high rates of reading and writing success for all students.

Michelle Elia: To define high-quality PD, we must take a look at our beliefs. We give teachers PD so they change their beliefs, attitudes and practices, and then, hopefully, we change student outcomes. But recent research indicates a different path that challenges this. First we have PD for teachers. Then we change teacher practices. From there student outcomes will change. Then we get a change in teacher beliefs and attitudes.

There are multiple PD service delivery models, including coaching. It could be one-on-one or small-group. But we need to think of PD beyond that entire group of teachers with one expert in front.

Mary Dahlgren: Whether it’s one-on-one, or a small- or large-group workshop, having and working with a coach is only as beneficial as the recipient makes it. For a coach to have an impact, the person who’s being coached needs to be transparent and not shy about asking questions and learning. The coach has to be transparent, too.

Michelle Elia: The three most significant components when we’re trying to make systemic changes in literacy are the quality and quantity of our instruction and what is taught.

Mary Dahlgren: The focus on the code-base skills include word recognition in the early years. Then we shift to language comprehension for the rest of our lives. But the idea of how language comprehension is instructed early on is very different from those components and their instruction as we become proficient readers.

Michelle Elia: In kindergarten, we need to have more emphasis on phonemic awareness. Those are the tadpole skills that are required for students to become fabulous frogs. Every student needs access to rigorous curricula based on the science of reading. Quality instruction and appropriate teaching materials are critical to closing the achievement gap and to ensuring equitable access for all kids.

Mary Dahlgren: A core curriculum that provides components to develop vocabulary can ensure equity and close the gap with underperforming subgroups. But we need to have explicit vocabulary instruction. This involves thinking beyond word lists or dictionary definitions.

Michelle Elia: Within the data process, learning is a continuous cycle, and data-based decision-making requires us to look for patterns. That’s why PD isn’t just about the content, but how to assess it. That needs to be revisited constantly, so teachers know how to find these patterns in the data and then how to plan for evidence-based interventions. This is the intersection of PD and curriculum.

Mary Dahlgren: We must also apply what we’ve learned about instruction, assessment and data analysis to determine interventions and then if growth has occurred. If it has, we move on to LETRS, a research-based PD that leads to improved student achievement and intentional instruction. 

Michelle Elia: After LETRS, the growth in teacher knowledge, the change in classroom practices, and the student growth we saw in Ohio was profound. 

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit districtadministration.com/ws102518