Reading High School serves a diverse student body of more than 3,500 students. After implementing Reading Apprenticeship school-wide in 2013, Reading High saw a significant jump in the percentage of students reaching proficiency levels—from 37 percent to over 60 percent in literature and to almost 60 percent in math. The school also experienced a dramatic increase in school performance scores from 65.2 percent to almost 73 percent and graduation rates rose from 53 to 71 percent.
- Impact Keystone exam failure rates, overall academic performance, and graduation rates within a population of largely reading adverse students striving to attain the literacy proficiency required for academic success.
- Motivate teachers to commit to implementing Reading Apprenticeship after insufficient success of multiple previous initiatives and programs to effect lasting change.
- 2012—State Literature score (PSSA) was 37%
- One of the lowest proficiency rates in Pennsylvania
- FRL 95%
- Special Ed 25%
- ESL 25%
- Latina/o 85%
A trusted approach to building student success: Reading Apprenticeship is a model of teacher professional learning that helps teachers shift their practice in ways that result in deeper student learning, achievement, and engagement. It integrates four dimensions of learning—social, personal, cognitive, and knowledge-building—and ties them all together with metacognitive conversation. Students and teachers learn text-based inquiry and collaboration routines which help create safe classroom environments and establish cultures of positive learning.
Implementation of Reading Apprenticeship
Building students’ identities as readers
In 2013 Reading High School in Pennsylvania began their journey to impact literacy and academic performance, beginning with 5 teachers participating in Reading Apprenticeship professional learning. The initial challenge at Reading High was to successfully introduce to a student population primarily made up of reading-averse and striving readers a new approach for breaking down text and developing deeper learning.
Nicole Dysart, an 11th grade American literature teacher at Reading High remembers the moment when she knew this new literacy approach was working. Not long after Veronica Roth’s Divergent was released, Dysart recalls a girl breaking the silence in the classroom by slamming her hand down on the desk and exclaiming “Oh no! That girl better not.”
The student’s emotional response to the character’s actions set off what Dysart describes as a “firestorm” of demand for the book and demonstrated to her that building students’ skills to read challenging academic texts was increasing their desire to read for fun.
“That book became the hottest commodity,” she remembers. “They openly read. They carry their books with them. It wasn’t always that way.”
Now librarian Janet Trate can’t keep up with the demand for books that students want to read. She sells school spirit wear to staff members to supplement her annual $3,000 book budget and bargains with flea market vendors for more selections.
Dysart says this shift occurred due to Reading Apprenticeship’s instructional approach where teachers make the reading process more transparent for students by demonstrating the strategies that “expert” readers use to make sense of something they don’t understand.
Dysart is one of three English teachers from the school who first attended a Reading Apprenticeship workshop in 2013. The three also teach students who failed on their first attempt to pass the Keystone end-of-course exam in literature—a graduation requirement.
At our Reading Apprenticeship training we saw how we could turn this community of nonreaders into readers, without them even realizing it.”
— Nicole Dysart, 8th Grade Literature Teacher, Reading High School
These teachers’ students use the same curriculum and read the same literature as the other eleventh graders. The difference is the amount of reading their students do, in class. “We read pretty much the entire time,” Sindy Goodhart, another 11th grade English teacher says.
To build students’ personal identities as readers, the English teachers introduced “silent sustained reading plus” in their classrooms and give students the freedom to read what they want, even if it’s about vampires or baseball skills. The “plus” addition to silent sustained reading is that students keep a metacognitive log, where they record what they think about as they read, how it relates to their own lives, and what they might do if they were in the character’s situation. It can also include student-led discussions about their books and their reading processes following silent reading time.
As Dysart explains, “We started small. I would say to the class, ‘We’re going to read for two minutes.’ Initially, they would say, ‘That’s so long!’ We’d read, and I’d call time. They’d be, ‘It’s done?’ They were astounded that was two minutes. As we progressed, they wanted more. ‘Well, can’t we read for five? Can’t we read for 10?’”
Teachers observed that writing in their metacognitive logs resulted in improved student engagement. Goodhart says, “It wasn’t just, ‘The main character went to the mall.’ They wrote about where they got confused, or what word confused them, or how they figured something out. They were interacting with the text.”
“It actually increased our students’ vocabulary and reading stamina exponentially,” Dysart says.
“And since we teach literature skills such as theme or characterization, with the metacognitive logs, we could say, ‘Today when you’re reading your SSR (“silent sustained reading”) book, you’re going to focus on characterization. Tell me how this character changed and why.‘
“Then we would shift into the piece of literature we had for the curriculum that day, and I’d say, ‘Just like in your metacognitive log, we’re going to focus on characterization.’ It was an easy transition from one thing they were really invested and interested in, to something that — not so much. But they know about characterization, because they just did it in their metacognitive logs. That helped a lot to build their confidence in their reading and in their skills.”
This burgeoning confidence continued to be bolstered by Reading Apprenticeship routines such as “talking to the text” where students learn to make notes about what they’re reading and underline words or sections they don’t understand and “think alouds” where students read aloud and share with a partner the clues they are picking up in the text
When it came time for Dysart and Goodhart’s students to take the literature exam, students themselves recognized how much Reading Apprenticeship helped them. As Goodhart recalls, “They kept asking before the test, ‘Can we write on the books, can we talk to the text?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. Please do. Circle things that are confusing to you, go back to them. Identify words that you’re unsure of, then use the context.’ I said, ‘Mark those books up!’ When they came back from the test, they were so excited, ‘Oh my god, I used talking to the text, and I did this, and I did that.’ It was such a moment for me, ’Okay, I think we’re on the right track here.’”
Increasing learner dispositions, changing minds
While the English teachers at Reading High were the first to implement Reading Apprenticeship, teachers across the content areas followed suit and also began seeing how the approach helped their students dig into more complex texts.
“Our students traditionally are sub-par readers, and science texts are written at a higher level than most other subject areas,” says Jeanne Gochnauer, who teaches human anatomy and physiology at the school. She says now her students “are more comfortable tackling the text because they practice all the time. They don’t depend on me to tell them everything anymore.”
Modeling this process of “making thinking visible,” including sharing the questions or connections that enter their minds as they read, can be uncomfortable for teachers, especially those accustomed to using a lecture format. “It felt unnatural at first; scary and vulnerable. But it’s amazing how now it’s just automatic,” says Lisa Comly, whose 11th grade honors American literature students also need to pass the Keystone exam. “It has kind of flipped the way we do things,” Comly says. “The beauty of it is giving up some of that control.”
When the school year starts, Comly says she has “frank and open” discussions with her students about reading, with many of them complaining how much they don’t like to read. But at the end of the year, she asks them to write her a letter about what they liked and didn’t like in her class. Most of them talk about the skills they gained from Reading Apprenticeship and even express that reading helps them to relax.
“Reading for them can be such an escape once they learn to handle it on their own,” she says. “Those are not the same kids in May and June when they are writing that letter.”
To further reward and encourage students’ reading, Principal Eric Turman began offering trips to Barnes & Noble for a few classes at a time, which he covers out of the school budget. Each month, classes are selected to visit the store and are told they can choose a book, as long as the cost isn’t too high. “That is a coveted trip,” says Goodhart. She described one student who initially wasn’t interested in reading, but after having the opportunity to pick out a brand-new book with the school’s support, the student talked about saving money from her job to go back to the store and buy another.
Goodhart remembers students initially pushing back at her efforts to get them to increase their reading and to think about the process. One boy even said, “There is nothing you can do to make me read.” Months later, he thanked her and admitted that until her class, he had never picked up a book on his own.
Naturally there was also some resistance from other staff members, but Goodhart believes that was because in the past, teachers had seen so many initiatives or programs come and go. When their own colleagues began to see improvements in students’ test scores, however, “that kind of changed some people’s minds,” she says.
“I believe the students are more trusting of the teacher and therefore more willing to take the risks to learn the new material,” he says. “I have more A’s and Bs than I did before [Reading Apprenticeship]. I have fewer Cs, Ds, and Fs.”
— Eric Knorr, U.S. History and Psychology teacher, Reading High
Eric Knorr, who teaches U.S. history and a psychology elective at Reading High, said he did think at first that Reading Apprenticeship would be a “passing educational fad,” but he says Turman hasn’t allowed that to be the case by incorporating it into the school’s goals. The English teachers, he adds, demonstrate how the framework can be integrated into a teacher’s existing lesson plans. “Reading Apprenticeship is practical,” he says. “You don’t have to reinvent the educational wheel.”
Knorr says he especially likes how the metacognitive log puts the responsibility for comprehending and analyzing on the student, and then he reviews the logs to see where they might still have questions. Because the students are using Reading Apprenticeship routines in other classes, he says he knows they have a process for handling something new that they don’t understand.
Reading High biology teachers Christine Pelligrini and Marietta Crossley are also seeing a boost in students’ ability to grasp main ideas and an overall increase in engagement in class when they use Reading Apprenticeship routines. Pelligrini says her students “seem to be more comfortable reading for meaning and asking questions when they don’t understand the content.”
Reading Apprenticeship is rated “strong” in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) evidence rating system and meets What Works Clearinghouse standards.
Multiple studies show that Reading Apprenticeship produces:
- Standardized test scores over a year ahead of control students
- Significant impact on students’ reading comprehension scores – up to 63% improvement
- Substantial improvement in students’ grade point average in core academic classes
- Positive shifts in students’ identities as readers, problem-solvers and independent learners
- Statistically significant impact on student literacy in science classes
Impact in the library
Trate, the school librarian, remembers the first year of Reading Apprenticeship as “when my world changed forever.” As a former gym teacher, she sees similarities between her current job and her past efforts to influence and improve students’ physical fitness. “My role is to take the kids from reading aversion to toleration to appreciation,” she says.
Because many students have now moved beyond the aversion phase, she has implemented changes to keep them headed in the direction of appreciation. She no longer charges fines for unreturned books during the school year, and she has moved popular graphic novels near the doorway to lure students into the library. She also created another “quick pick” section for books that are popular with students.
Before the school implemented Reading Apprenticeship, Trate says she circulated about 4,000 to 6,000 books per year. By the 2015-16 school year, circulation had climbed to roughly 13,000. This year it dropped back to about 9,000, but that’s because she has worked with the teachers to build up their own classroom libraries. She does have one piece of advice for Reading Apprenticeship facilitators, however: provide a short orientation for school librarians so they’ll know what to expect when students start clamoring for books!
What she enjoys most is watching one student urge another to check out a specific book. “That kid is doing my job for me,” she says. “That brings a tear to my eye.”
Closing the achievement gap
Not long after implementing Reading Apprenticeship professional learning, the school began to see a significant jump in the percentage of students reaching proficiency levels—from 37 percent to over 60 percent in literature and to almost 60 percent in math.
Reading High’s School Performance Profile score—an overall academic score for the school—has increased from 65.2 percent to almost 73 percent, exceeding the state’s benchmark of 70, and the graduation rate has increased from 53 to 71 percent. In 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Education named Reading High a Distinguished Title I School for making progress in closing the achievement gap, and U.S. News and World Report gave the school a bronze medal in its annual high school rankings. Principal Eric Turman attributes much of that growth to Reading Apprenticeship.
“I’m not an initiative guy. I’m not a flavor-of-the-month dude,” he says, adding that Reading Apprenticeship “is not someone coming in and selling a program. It’s how to scaffold instruction for a kid. When it is done with fidelity, it works.” Reading High’s long-term planning and sustained efforts at implementing Reading Apprenticeship schoolwide – scaling up from 5 to over 105 staff participation in Reading Apprenticeship professional learning over five years – has clearly resulted in improved student outcomes.
Reading High after Reading Apprenticeship Implementation:
- 2013 and next 3 years—State Literature scores (PSSA) were between 60-64%
- 400% increase in library; books “flying off the shelves” of library
- More students enrolled and successful in AP
- Building-wide support for kids in reading
Officials at the district level have also taken notice of the school’s improvement. “I am extremely proud of what we, as a district, are accomplishing,” former board President Robin Costenbader-Jacobson said in a statement. “On behalf of the school board, I thank Mr. Turman, our leadership team and our staff members for working tirelessly to begin to close the achievement gap, and I congratulate them on this great achievement.”
State leaders also recognize how teachers have been able to use Reading Apprenticeship to change the school’s culture.
“With principal leadership, literacy became the overarching theme in every classroom,” says Jean Dyszel, an educational consultant with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. “[Reading Apprenticeship] is simply embedded in subject-area learning, and well-trained teachers scaffold the learning and serve as models and guides. As students’ skills and confidence increase, they become more independent learners. “