About Us


  • 1988-1995

    The Backstory

    The Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd began in 1995, growing from an earlier project for the San Francisco school district to improve high school students’ oral and written language. That project, led by SLI co-founders Cynthia Greenleaf and Ruth Schoenbach, illuminated foundational and widespread reading comprehension challenges that were not being addressed.

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    The Eureka Moment for Reading Apprenticeship

    As Cynthia Greenleaf tells it, when she and Ruth Schoenbach made a foray into project-based learning, many years ago, the result shocked them. Students could not read the tantalizing texts assembled to engage them. The pair’s response was to found the Strategic Literacy Initiative and begin developing Reading Apprenticeship.

  • 1995–2000

    First Efforts and a Startling Success

    From a new base at WestEd and with funding from local foundations, Greenleaf and Schoenbach worked with a small group of teachers as research partners to investigate the perplexing questions of how and why students struggled with content area texts. This research produced a set of student literacy cases that became the heart of a new, inquiry-based form of literacy professional development. A network of Bay Area middle school and high school interdisciplinary teams helped to further develop and test this emerging model of Reading Apprenticeship.

    One of these teacher partners was chair of the English department at a San Francisco high school and proposed building out the Reading Apprenticeship model into an academic literacy course for all freshmen at her school. Called the Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy (RAAL) course, the pilot implementation yielded student test score gains of two years growth in seven months. The story of this remarkable effort became the fulcrum for the 1999 edition of Reading for Understanding, by Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, and Hurwitz. The book introduced RAAL and the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework to a welcoming audience.

  • 2000–2005

    Expanding from One School to Hundreds

    The period from 2000–2005 was one of significant expansion in scope and scale. At the middle school–high school level, SLI developed a program for training school and district literacy leaders to facilitate professional development based on the materials and methods that were being refined locally. New senior staff and professional developers were hired, including teachers who had worked with the Reading Apprenticeship framework in their schools. Three more books were published—two supporting the Academic Literacy course, and one related to Reading Apprenticeship work with pre-service teachers.

  • 2005–2010

    Proving Effectiveness in Three High-Stakes Trials

    A series of three rigorous research studies from 2005 to 2010 validated the results seen earlier with the RAAL course and brought new attention to the use of the Reading Apprenticeship approach in subject area instruction. These studies, funded by the federal Institute of Education Sciences and the National Science Foundation, all found positive, statistically significant effects for students whose teachers participated in Reading Apprenticeship professional development. On standardized tests of reading comprehension, high school biology, and high school U.S. history, effect sizes ranged from the equivalent of a 63% improvement over and above expected year-to-year gains to gains of more than a full year over and above expected year-to-year gains.

    During this same period, nascent interest from community college faculty encouraged us to begin working at the post-secondary level. A three-year evaluation of this early work by the RP Group for the California Community Colleges reported many promising impacts on students, instructors, and classroom dynamics when instructors participated in Reading Apprenticeship professional development.

  • 2010–2015

    Scaling Up, Building Out, and Looking Ahead

    With solid results from three earlier randomized controlled studies, SLI has been highly competitive in winning federal grants. Four recent awards support the continuing development of our work.

    Through the RAISE i3 project, Reading Apprenticeship is reaching 400,000+ high school students of English, biology, and U.S. history in five states. With the related iRAISE i3 project, SLI is developing online Reading Apprenticeship professional development for high school science teachers. The Reading Apprenticeship: Writing Connections SEED project is developing blended face-to-face and online professional development for middle school teachers of English, science, and social studies.

    SLI is also major player in a consortium of research agencies funded by the federal government to improve secondary school subject area reading comprehension. SLI contributes expertise in disciplinary literacy research, teacher professional development, and the development of instructional materials to Project READI, a five-year effort to design instruction that builds secondary students’ reading comprehension through evidence-based argumentation.

    Moving ahead, an important goal is to build on several ongoing Reading Apprenticeship initiatives at the community college level. SLI’s strengths-based model of literacy learning finds unusually dedicated advocates among faculty who have the opportunity to try it out. SLI staff are determined to expand this circle and the number of community college students who will immediately benefit.

boys working

“We began two years ago at the high school level, and we saw the successes of what was happening. So I said, ‘Let’s mirror this opportunity for our middle school teachers.’ We have done that.”

—Stacey Morettini, School District Curriculum Supervisor

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