Idaho Takes Steps to Improve Adolescent Literacy

By Kimberly Barnes | November 6, 2020

The Idaho State Department of Education (ISDE) is committed to ensuring every student knows how to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively.

To that end, when ISDE determined that most of its schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement were intermediate or middle schools with high percentages of English learner students, it reached out to the Region 17 Comprehensive Center (CC) for support.

Specifically, ISDE requested assistance in building the capacity of coaches and other instructional leaders to deliver highly relevant, evidence-based trainings across the state.

Together, ISDE and the Region 17 CC used the recommendations in the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guides to develop two sets of trainings (each with a corresponding evidence-based facilitator guide)—one focused on adolescent literacy and the other focused on teaching academic content and literacy to English learner students.

Educators Across the State Receive Training

Once the training materials were created, the Region 17 CC staff partnered with Carrie Cole of Side-by-Side Educational Consulting and literacy expert Deborah Hunsaker to provide trainings across the state to improve literacy skills among middle school students.

Early this year, in Pocatello and Idaho Falls, over 40 literacy specialists, instructional coaches, school improvement coaches, and teachers participated in the trainings.

Cole and Hunsaker, both highly experienced literacy trainers in Montana, Idaho, and other states, said participants had an overwhelmingly positive response to the trainings.

“[They] were hungry for this information,” Cole said.

In addition, participants appreciated the many instructional strategies the consultants modeled. According to Cole, they also valued the integration of scaffolds for English learner students, the opportunity to practice and plan, and the facilitated time for new trainers to think of ways to engage teachers in learning the content.

Trainings Go Online

Although the pandemic has put face-to-face trainings on hold, the PowerPoint slides, facilitator guides, and handouts from the adolescent literacy training are all available to download.

Intermediate Literacy Training Toolkit

Specifically, materials are available for each of the following evidence-based strategies:

  • Provide explicit vocabulary instruction
  • Provide direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction
  • Provide opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation
  • Increase student motivation and engagement in literacy learning

Participants were motivated to dig into the evidence based underlying practices, says Hunsaker. “Each of the four strategy guides is extensive,” Hunsaker said. “Even under just the vocabulary strategy, several big chunks of content are covered. We developed implementation plans to help participants navigate the various sections.”

Participants will use the online resources to disseminate strategies and approaches to educators across Idaho. The strategy handouts may also be helpful to individual teachers and leaders looking for powerful teaching tools.

That said, Cole and Hunsaker, along with the Region 17 CC staff, are eager to bring educators together again to learn this valuable content.

Region 17 CC staff members, Cole, and Hunsaker have just begun delivering the adolescent literacy training virtually. They also expect to have tailored the training for two audiences—teachers and facilitators (such as literacy coaches and principals).

More on this change soon!

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