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Sustaining Reform as Steady Work: Fordson High School

By Linda Friedrich, Director of Strategic Literacy Initiative, WestEd

People often comment on how rare Reading Apprenticeship’s research base is in the landscape of education reform. Even more rare, however, is education reform that gets sustained over time.

In early May, I participated in a learning tour at Fordson High School in Dearborn, MI, home to the largest Arabic speaking population outside the Middle East. (1) Fordson’s faculty, staff, and students have accomplished something that few schools achieve – namely sustaining Reading Apprenticeship for nearly a decade.

Mature Reading Apprenticeship Classrooms
During the tour, I observed how the Reading Apprenticeship framework is woven into the fabric of classroom life.

In Julie Jamieson’s 10th grade English class, students wrestled with inference and metaphor using Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, historical photographs of lynchings, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Throughout the class, students worked collaboratively to interpret these texts. Ms. Jamieson asked metacognitive and cognitive questions: “Why do you think that?” “What does her voice add?”

In Sanaa Ayoub’s 11th Grade psychology class, students individually and collaboratively read about new experimental evidence related to the effects of marijuana on adolescent brains. The article’s intended audience was researchers. Together students answered their guiding inquiry question, “Should marijuana be federally legalized?” Ms. Ayoub modeled her own practice as a reader of psychology, noting terms she didn’t understand, sharing her how she chunked and analyzed words, pointing out features of research articles. By the end of the class, students had both identified the strongest evidence and added to their reading strategies list.

Steady Work: Deepening and Sustaining Reading Apprenticeship
So how does Fordson sustain Reading Apprenticeship as a core practice?

In 1988, researchers Richard Elmore and Milbrey McLaughlin posited that sustaining reform requires policymakers, administrators, and teachers to engage in steady work focused on daily life in classrooms. They wrote:

The steady work of educational reform, in other words, must be grounded in an understanding of how teachers learn to teach, how school organization affects practice, and how these factors affect children’s performance. (p.7)

Fordson High School exemplifies steady work.

  • Fordson invests in Amy Keith-Wardlow, a full-time Literacy Coordinator, who both coaches and supervises Fordson teachers. She is constantly in classrooms and asking questions that provoke teachers to consider how they can move from Reading Apprenticeship as isolated strategies to Reading Apprenticeship as an essential part of classroom life.
  • Fordson seizes opportunities to participate in ongoing Reading Apprenticeship professional development.
  • Both the school’s and the district’s administrators have committed to Reading Apprenticeship. They demonstrate how it connects and advances myriad initiatives to improve student learning.

How might your school or district engage in steady work to sustain reform?

(1) Fordson, housed in a building constructed by Henry Ford in 1928, serves 2,782 students of whom 42% are classified as English Learners and 87% are eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch.

Elmore, Richard F. & McLaughlin, Milbrey W. (1988). Steady work: Policy, practice, and the reform of American education. RAND: Santa Monica, CA.

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