With the Common Core standards comes an increasing focus on literacy across subjects: today, 77 percent of educators believe developing students’ literacy is one of the most important parts of their job, a new survey found.
“It’s much more widely understood today that every educator has a responsibility to improve student literacy, which is the gateway to learning in all disciplines,” says Kent Williamson, director of the National Center for Literacy Education, which conducted the survey of 2,400 educators nationwide.
To implement schoolwide literacy plans, teachers need time to collaborate with colleagues and decide on best practices. Co-planning with colleagues is the top rated professional learning experience for teachers and administrators, the survey found, over participating in workshops or conferences. However, the time for structured collaboration has dropped in the past 10 years: in 2009, 41 percent of teachers reported having two hours or more per week for structured collaboration, while in 2012, that number dropped to 24 percent. And 28 percent say they have less than 30 minutes a week.
Principals have a key influence on how school time is structured, Williamson says, and those pushing for schoolwide change in literacy practices must provide time for teachers to collaborate on how to support literacy across subjects. Administrators can make up this time by reducing teachers’ administrative duties or even by reducing instructional time, allowing students to work more often in peer groups, for example. “It’s making a commitment not just to individual teacher planning periods, but to collaborative planning periods—time when teams can meet to share notes, make plans, and make commitments of how to work differently,” Williamson says.
For example, at Westlane Middle School, part of the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township in Indianapolis, teachers are using novels to draw students into subjects that would usually be taught with textbooks, such as science and history, to reach those who may be initially put off by informational texts. Teachers meet twice a week, with both those who teach the same subject and those from other subjects, and develop themed units so students can learn from different perspectives and literacy can expand outside of English classes. “This provides students multiple opportunities to practice around a content theme in multiple areas,” Williamson says, “which leads to deeper student learning and more coherence.”