The ability to read, and read well, is a skill that follows students for the rest of their lives and yet it’s shocking how many children lack the early education support they need to develop this essential competency.
Providing proper literacy instruction in my district, the Northern Lights School Division in central Canada, has its own specific challenges. We serve more than 4,300 students spread out over half the entire province of Saskatchewan, and 87 percent of our students are of Indigenous descent, often speaking English. However, due to only being second-generation English speakers with some family members who still speak the Indigenous language, many of our students are not proficient in either language.
About a year ago, Northern Lights found itself with the lowest reading levels in the province, and we resolved to change this.
To give our students every opportunity to improve their literacy rates, we first acknowledged that teaching language arts in one class alone wasn’t enough. Instead, we set out to provide our students with a complete literacy support system that would follow them to every class and every subject, reinforcing reading instruction alongside their math, science, and history lessons.
Teaching literacy in all subjects put a greater level of responsibility on the shoulders of all of our teachers, asking them to broaden their instruction in a way they weren’t used to.
On top of that, Northern Lights has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the Saskatchewan province. What we needed was a professional development plan that could get all of our teachers on the same page quickly and effectively. Here’s how we made it work.
Literacy PD for All Teachers
As Vice Principal at Gordon Denny Community School, I was part of the leadership team that led our transition to a school-wide literacy model.
At the time, 32 percent of our students were testing below grade level in literacy. Once we assessed the situation we learned, as so many schools do, that a large part of the problem was that many of our language arts educators were not equipped with the skills to teach early foundational reading. This, of course, didn’t even begin to cover the members of our staff who weren’t providing any reading instruction at all!
We decided to teach our teachers first, to guarantee they would be ready with the knowledge and tools necessary to provide our students with the best possible literacy instruction in all subjects.