Name: Jason Buckingham
Role: Literacy First Senior Bilingual Program Coordinator
Years with Dana Center and/or in this field:
10 years with the Dana Center; 26 years in education
Name: Mary Ellen Isaacs
Role: Literacy First Director
Years with Dana Center and/or in this field:
23 years with the Dana Center; 41 years in education
Can you give a brief overview of the teacher training pilot from Literacy First?
For 26 years, Literacy First has been working with schools in Central Texas to ensure that all students are proficient readers by third grade. We have developed an effective bilingual early literacy intervention program that uses a response-to-intervention (or RtI) framework, focusing on Tier 2 support for young striving readers.
The need for this work is great.
Only 39 percent of students living in homes with a low income in Central Texas are reading on grade level by third grade, and students who do not hit this metric are four times more likely not to complete high school. We have supported Central Texas school districts by engaging and training full-time AmeriCorps tutors; because of the intensive ongoing hiring, training and supervision needed for tutors, however, we have found that this model cannot scale to meet the real need in our region and beyond.
Over the past three years we have partnered with Del Valle Independent School District to build the capacity of district staff to replicate our program in K–3 by training the district’s paraprofessionals to deliver our interventions, as well as by training instructional coaches to manage the data-informed tutoring model at each campus. For the 2020–2021 school year we will also begin to provide professional learning to first-grade teachers on how to use our model with small groups in their classrooms.
The results have been as strong as in our core Literacy First model that trains AmeriCorps members, proving that well-trained paraprofessionals are effective in advancing reading skill development.
As we begin year three of this initiative with Del Valle, our project vision of district and community empowerment is evident. With continued support, many of our coaches are taking the lead in program administration, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19 and teaching in virtual environments.
What issues in education does this teacher training pilot address?
With the pressure of standardized testing, the emphasis in teaching has traditionally been focused on reading in third grade, with less attention to closing any reading gaps from earlier grades. But by third grade it’s too late for many students to catch up to their peers in reading. Refocusing efforts and resources on early intervention—that is, as much as possible, before grade 3—is a critical investment in our students.
Our work builds the capacity of schools by increasing classroom teachers’ ability to meet the needs of their students and to use data-informed practices and evidence-based “high-dosage” (i.e., daily) interventions to accelerate the acquistion of reading skills for all students.
Early reading intervention provides a way for schools to parse out which students need just a little boost in reading skills, and which students need a more intense intervention. Early identification can help ensure that students who need the most help receive that help years earlier than has been the standard practice, and it can help prevent the overrepresentation of students living in homes with a low income or students of color in special education.
Through our Literacy First–developed bilingual materials, our field-tested practices, and our intensive approach to instruction, we affirm and celebrate biliteracy. Using our Spanish phonics intervention curricula ensures that our Spanish-speaking students build a strong foundation in their first language, and it supports dual-language teaching and learning strategies in partner districts.
Why does the teacher training pilot provide more equitable opportunities for students?
Because of historical and current forces in our country, impoverished communities and people of color have been systematically marginalized, resulting in a lack of access and opportunity. These are the communities in which Literacy First members have served for over 20 years in an effort to address this inequity.
In the teacher training pilot in Del Valle, Literacy First is embarking on a partnership to supplement and expand classroom teachers’ knowledge of early literacy instruction and intervention. Through our work in schools, we have seen a lack of the training and support to enable classroom teachers to work with students who are struggling with foundational skills in reading.
Considering the relatively small window we have in a child’s life to set them on a path of reading success, we see this work with Del Valle as a natural extension of our work with tutors and as a way to develop more young readers. By sharing the Spanish intervention curricula that Literacy First has developed with a broader audience, we foresee schools becoming better equipped to meet all students’ needs equitably.
What makes you excited about the future of the teacher training pilot?
We believe that when teachers can build their early literacy knowledge and add to their teaching toolkit, they will be able to provide—in addition to their core instruction—Tier 2 “response to intervention” support to small groups of their students. Our hope is that this knowledge and toolset will also have a positive impact on teachers’ core literacy instruction.
We look forward to the opportunity to extend our program past a one-to-one context and into a small-group format so that even more children can benefit from the quality reading instruction and intervention for which Literacy First is known.