Impact & Stories

Success Stories

Teacher Leaders Key to Michigan Success Model

What makes for sustainable Reading Apprenticeship professional learning? Eight years down the road, it’s safe to say that district leaders in Michigan’s Washtenaw and Livingston counties have created a model that works.

In 2005 Washtenaw leaders first acknowledged the elephant in classrooms across their county’s middle and high schools: many students weren’t learning because they couldn’t read their textbooks. County leaders saw it as an equity issue. Lexile data from a sampling of 9th graders showed that nearly half of them couldn’t understand their history textbook. A quarter couldn’t make sense of the science texts.

After a year-long process of exploring available approaches, the county selected Reading Apprenticeship to meet the need it had identified for subject area-specific literacy professional development. In 2006, 18 teachers in Washtenaw County were trained in Reading Apprenticeship as a core implementation group. The next year, neighboring Livingston County merged their literacy initiatives under the Reading Apprenticeship umbrella. By 2010, 826 Washtenaw and 595 Livingston teachers in grades 4–12 had participated in Reading Apprenticeship professional development. But that was only part of the story.

Teacher Leaders and Learning Communities

The counties instituted a new level of local support to sustain and deepen teachers’ implementation of Reading Apprenticeship. Rather than letting teachers’ initial enthusiasm for what they were learning tail off in the midst of other demands, “Teacher Leaders” at each school site kept the learning going.

The Teacher Leaders met monthly with Reading Apprenticeship-trained teachers to exchange classroom experiences, problem-solve, and plan. In a 2008 survey, teachers confirmed that Teacher Leaders and the on-site teacher meetings they facilitated filled an important role. Ninety-seven percent of teachers agreed: “Our building-level Reading Apprenticeship meetings helped to sustain the Reading Apprenticeship work amid the numerous challenges of trying something new.”

In addition, the Teacher Leaders themselves met together monthly, sharing their leadership experiences and deepening their understanding of Reading Apprenticeship in a group facilitated by a county-level Reading Apprenticeship expert. This network of professionals was key for promoting and sustaining the schools’ literacy work. As one Teacher Leader put it, “This [teacher leader] group has kept me on the cutting edge of continuous learning about Reading Apprenticeship. At every meeting I have learned new things to strengthen my Reading Apprenticeship classroom usage as well as lead building- and district-level PD.”

Chelsea School District

Michigan’s Chelsea School District provides a clear example of the power of having professional development accompanied by this level of local support.

Since 2006, the Chelsea district has trained over 90 percent of its core content and special education teachers in grades 5–12 in Reading Apprenticeship. The superintendent and building administrators participated in the professional development along with their teachers and became strong and steady supporters of the work. Recognizing the importance of teacher meetings and Teacher Leaders, they increased the amount of Teacher Leader release time in step with the increasing number of teachers trained in Reading Apprenticeship. Starting from a single release period per month, which quickly increased to a half-day per month, the now full-time position provides Reading Apprenticeship-based literacy support for all teachers in the district.

At Chelsea High School, the effectiveness of this sustained model of teacher learning is reflected in students’ scores on the Degrees of Reading Power assessment. On the DRP test, in which 1 DRP unit of growth per year is the norm, Chelsea students gained 3 DRP units in the first year of testing and 5.5 units on the most recent test. Special education students have shown even more dramatic growth.

MI Success Model

Passing the Model Along

The early lessons from Michigan—to facilitate broad implementation of Reading Apprenticeship within and across schools and to sustain local support for Teacher Leaders and teacher learning communities—have now been built into the design of an ongoing national scale-up of Reading Apprenticeship professional development, the RAISE project. The U.S. Department of Education is funding the scale-up along with a randomized controlled study to document what a lot of people in Michigan think they already know. (Results will be available in 2015.)

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