Impact & Stories

Success Stories

How A Large Urban District Focused on Literacy Instruction and Improved Student Learning

Since 2011, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) — the nation’s 16th largest school system — has seen its high school graduation rate rise by nearly 20%. While many initiatives were part of this improvement, literacy has been a key factor. This story begins in 2011, when Rebecca Graf joined CMS and was charged with improving students’ literacy performance across the district, particularly at the secondary level. Graf and other CMS leaders knew they needed an approach that would lead to lasting and meaningful impact in teacher practice—and better outcomes for students.

Having identified student literacy achievement as a keystone to district-wide improvement in 2014, CMS leaders embarked on a multi-year, phased plan to implement the Reading Apprenticeship model. Developed more than 20 years ago as part of WestEd’s Strategic Literacy Initiative, Reading Apprenticeship is not a curriculum, but an instructional model. It integrates four dimensions of learning—social, personal, cognitive and knowledge-building—and ties them all together with metacognitive conversation. Students and teachers learn text-based inquiry and collaboration routines which help create safe classroom environments and establish cultures of positive learning.

Building Literacy Focused Leadership & Coherence
CMS kicked off their literacy effort by convening secondary school principals and district leaders to participate in a three-day professional learning experience to see if they thought the approach was a match for their schools’ needs and professional learning goals. They also took several teams to Michigan to see Reading Apprenticeship in action, and integrated Reading Apprenticeship into their instructional planning via leadership teams.

CMS had established cross-role Instructional Leadership Teams (ILT), and teams from every school attended six ILT workshops in which they planned how they would carry the literacy work back into their particular school culture. “We were frontloading our instructional leadership teams with this [Reading Apprenticeship] framework,” Graf says.

“For a district our size to go to scale, it is difficult,” Graf adds. “I know I’m never going to reach every teacher through the training, but I can be very deliberate and have a core group with this knowledge. We can reach every teacher, however, with a few key routines and an adjusted mindset.” Graf also points out the importance of language: “The entire building has a common language that they are using to approach text.”

The ILTs are built on a learning and implementation cycle that helps schools embed Reading Apprenticeship in ways that would work for them. As part of the improvement cycle, all teachers learn about a specific instructional practice, such as thinking aloud, in which students work as partners to identify clues to the meaning of the text they are working with and share their emerging understandings and questions.

Then there is a safe practice phase in which teachers can try the routines and share their experiences with the other members of their professional learning communities. Finally, as they open up their practice, teachers learn from concrete observation and exchange. The ILT members might observe the classroom environment, with no teachers or students in the room, to look for evidence of the practice, for example. This process can also include structured school-to-school visits where established instructional leadership team can support capacity-building and best practices with newer teams.

Students Engage in Deeper Academic Conversation
Michael Miliote, the principal at Robinson Middle School in CMS, says he sees a difference in teachers’ response to Reading Apprenticeship compared to past approaches the district has implemented. “There wasn’t a whole lot of pushback,” he says, adding that more seasoned teachers blend the routines into practices they are already using, while newer teachers find that the model gives them purpose and direction.

Teachers, he says, are seeing growth in students’ level of critique and their ability to have strong academic conversations. And that’s the whole point of Reading Apprenticeship—that students will learn about themselves as readers and gain confidence in using their skills and knowledge to persevere with material they might have given up on in the past.

At Myers Park High School, Principal Mark Bosco says Reading Apprenticeship gives him a new perspective on students when they walk across the stage at graduation. “You know they have a skill set. They can read, write, listen and speak,” he says. “What these kids are graduating with is relevant to the world.”

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