After receiving a 2018 Striving Readers grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Maryland began a large-scale, multi-year implementation of Reading Apprenticeship and other interventions in all 24 districts. Their goal was to improve instruction and student reading scores. First results indicate impact in academic achievement with 87 percent of students in Reading Apprenticeship intervention classes showing up to three grade levels worth of growth, as well as a slight increase on the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program in ELA proficiency. Initial reports from teachers indicate positive transformations in their classroom practice.
- To support Maryland’s middle and high school students struggling with literacy in science, social studies, and other subjects
- Build students’ reading capabilities statewide amid increasingly rigorous standards for students to be able read and comprehend more advanced texts in all subjects
- Ongoing implementation and sustained practice of professional learning within locally controlled districts
Implementation of Reading Apprenticeship
Answering an urgent call to build academic literacy statewide
In 2016, Cecilia Roe, the director of instructional assessment and professional learning for the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and formerly an English teacher, noted that the state’s middle and high school students were struggling with literacy in science, social studies, and other subjects and began to call to attention to the urgency of this issue.
When Maryland received a Striving Readers grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2017, Roe proposed a large-scale implementation of Reading Apprenticeship instructional approach to literacy across the curriculum. Maryland began offering summer and fall Reading Apprenticeship institutes for educators in all 24 districts in the state in 2018.
On the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the nation’s report card, grade 8 reading scores dropped in 31 states, in comparison with the previous NAEP administration. Such results highlight an urgent need for improving how secondary schools support students’ development of literacy skills, particularly as the ability to read is increasingly recognized as being fundamental to learning in all subject matters.
The Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) is just one of those systems that has widely implemented the model in its middle and high schools, with Reading Apprenticeship training for seven cohorts of 40 teachers. In fall 2019, BCPS principals also began professional learning aimed at becoming familiar with the Reading Apprenticeship model and learning how to transform teaching and best support teachers’ implementation of Reading Apprenticeship.
Phasing in a new approach to literacy across all subjects
Interest in Reading Apprenticeship in middle and high schools has grown with increasing demands on students to read and comprehend more advanced texts in nearly all subjects. Many of the most current academic standards emphasize the role of reading and writing throughout the curriculum, making the recent drops in reading test scores especially concerning.
“It’s a matter of urgency at the secondary school level,” which requires helping educators prepare students to meet these standards, says Sharon Sáez, a partnership development director with WestEd’s Strategic Literacy Initiative who has been working with Maryland and districts throughout the state implementing the model. As a new round of states are now receiving Striving Readers grants, Sáez notes it will be important for state and local leaders to have examples of how the Reading Apprenticeship model can be most effective.
One approach is the way leaders are phasing in the model in the Washington County Public Schools (WCPS), in the western part of Maryland. Just before the 2018/19 school year, administrators and counselors at South Hagerstown High identified 70 incoming 9th graders who were reading below grade level and, in addition to engaging teachers in professional learning, set up a 9th grade intervention course called Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy (RAAL).
One recent lesson in the intervention class involved using the “roadblocks” strategy to discuss words or terms that might stand in the way of comprehending Gary Paulsen’s “Winter Room.” For a passage with the word “oiled,” teacher Kate Kendernine asked the group, “What do you know about oiling something?”
“I guess it like, makes it like, work better,” one student responded, in a questioning tone of voice.
“You’re absolutely correct,” the teacher said, adding that it’s okay for them to “leave a roadblock behind” if they feel they grasp the overall meaning or action in the text.
Another student circled the word “harness” and drew a line to the definition: “used for dogs and horses.” A circle around “bucksaw” connected to “used to cut wood.”
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.
Jodi Smith — now the district’s secondary literacy achievement coordinator — previously worked in one of South Hagerstown’s feeder middle schools and so was familiar with many of the students assigned to the intervention class. As Smith has noted through watching the impact of the intervention, students that Smith never would have expected to participate actively were volunteering to help other students, telling them how to do things.
Says Smith, “For the first time some of those kids felt a sense of accomplishment — maybe even smart.”
In addition to having an intervention class focused on academic literacy, these students have had general science, English, and social studies classes led by teachers trained in the Reading Apprenticeship framework, providing additional reinforcement of routines and strategies that support comprehension yet make it clear how texts and evidence differ by subject area. For support, the teachers participate in a monthly professional learning session to reflect on and share ideas for lessons and reading strategies, Smith says.
Smith is also seeing growth among teachers. During this fall’s follow-up institute, a veteran teacher with 22 years of experience told Smith of having been “transformed” as a teacher by Reading Apprenticeship and, instead of always having be the one leading instruction, has learned how to “step back and let the kids do the work.”
Remarkable initial academic gains and ongoing expansion
According to the results of a reading comprehension assessment, by the end of 2018-19, 87 percent of the students in the Reading Apprenticeship intervention class showed growth over the school year. Some gained as much as three grade levels worth of skills.
Nearly 90 percent of 9th graders responding to a survey found Reading Apprenticeship to be more helpful than their middle school reading interventions. Participants also reported an increased sense of efficacy. One reflected on her experience this way: “Being in this program/class has helped me understand what I’m reading and makes me want to read more books.” Teachers corroborated this impact. One noted, “The program is especially meaningful to social studies instruction. Never before have I seen the kind of engagement, deep discussion and collaboration amongst my students at this point in the year until I started using this program.”
By starting with a coherent focus, the Washington County team spurred fellow educators’ enthusiasm for Reading Apprenticeship. This past summer, an additional 52 teachers voluntarily participated in the professional development, and the district intends to gradually expand the program with five additional schools conducting pilots during 2019-20. Kathleen Maher-Baker, MSDE’s acting English language arts coordinator, notes this district’s gradual approach — moving from one school to four — allows interest and willingness among teachers to grow.
See how Reading Apprenticeship is transforming engagement, learning communities, and confidence for Washington County students and teachers
In addition to county-level implementation, there are individual teachers in schools across the state implementing Reading Apprenticeship. While it is more challenging to be the only teacher in a school using new strategies, rather than having an interdisciplinary team of teachers working together, Maher-Baker encourages such educators to introduce Reading Apprenticeship materials to their colleagues, perhaps as part of a professional learning community or book study, or invite them to the next Reading Apprenticeship institute.
Roe points to initial signs of progress in the state, including a slight increase on the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program in ELA proficiency — from just under 40 percent in 2018 to just above 41 percent in 2019, which Roe attributes at least in part to Reading Apprenticeship.
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
Districts in Maryland will determine how to evaluate their own progress, Roe says, but adds that state officials also will be looking for evidence of changes to teacher practice, based on observations and reviewing student work examples. And a solid evidence base from previous large-scale research indicating the effectiveness of Reading Apprenticeship is part of what led Roe and others to take up Reading Apprenticeship in the first place. Over the past 20 years, multiple rigorous studies have demonstrated that students whose teachers are trained in Reading Apprenticeship gain more knowledge and score higher in areas such as comprehension than students in control groups.
Nonetheless, as with most professional learning related to shifts in instruction, the demands on teachers’ time and the competition from other priorities are among the biggest challenges for teachers trying to implement Reading Apprenticeship.
Because Maryland districts have local control, MSDE officials don’t prescribe how districts should move forward after a Reading Apprenticeship institute. But the districts that implement Reading Apprenticeship “know they are investing in their students and teachers, and time is an important issue,” says Maher-Baker. Like WCPS, many have scheduled weekly or bi-monthly planning sessions to provide extra support for teachers.
For Mary Stump, Associate Director of WestEd’s Strategic Literacy Initiative, the takeaways from Maryland so far reinforce experiences of Reading Apprenticeship implementation in other sites across the country. When teachers fully engage in implementing Reading Apprenticeship and have support from school leaders, Stump says, “We see teachers lecture less and students’ collaboration and confidence increase, and studies have shown that the test scores tend to follow, especially when districts support this work over time and across subject areas. Lecturing is easy. Facilitating text-based knowledge making and dialogue in every discipline is more challenging, but ultimately yields remarkable results.”