Teachers need to build their repertoires and have flexible literacy programs in order to stay proactive and adapt to students needs, says literacy expert Sharon Callen.
The ‘real time teacher’ is a key phrase for Sharon in her work with schools, leaders and teachers. It is the difference between an educator who simply follows the script versus someone who is observant, proactive and constantly evolves their literacy program to suit their students’ needs.
On Episode 56 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy, Sharon talked about how an effective literacy program is one which is supported by teacher observations.
“We teach according to those in front of us and we pace it at their speed. So you need to tune in to what every child in your class needs and then adapt, design, create and notice,” Sharon said.
“If we’re not keeping students at the centre and thinking about what they need, the program will suffer. Like how long do we go with a program before we realise this isn’t working. Or we might observe that this is working for this child, this child and this child, but it’s not working for these children because they don’t have an entry point.”
Because of this, teachers should draw from different resources, programs and strategies to build their literacy toolkit and accomodate for the entire classroom.
“This isn’t an all or nothing approach. Building a repertoire is one of the key pieces for us as teachers and what we feel programs can take away from us,” Sharon said.
To support these programs, teachers also need to provide ample opportunities for students to develop all of their literacy skills.
“Real time instructional decisions matter tremendously,” Sharon said.
“Students need developmentally appropriate, precise, explicit instruction about every strand of literacy, not just one strand. And when we talk strands of literacy, we are talking about their reading, viewing, writing, speaking, listening etc.”
This can be achieved by teachers remaining critical of their programs and asking certain questions.
“My list of really critical questions are; is it developmentally appropriate? Is it precise? Is it explicit across the strands and not just in isolation? Does it include clear modelling? Is there opportunity for students to have plenty of practice? And am I giving my students specific feedback on that practice?” Sharon said.
“And explicit instruction means is it clear enough to explain and for you to demonstrate what that looks like in action? Because if you’re not showing it in action as a reader would use it or as a writer would use it, then it’s not explicit. It can’t just be on the page or just a PowerPoint that says you add this at the end of words.
“These are global things that we’re talking about, not to do it at every point. But I think we need to have these kind of questions that we can ask ourselves so that we get more critical of what we are using or what we are learning from. So we’re getting better and doing the hard work to get ourselves to be that more precise, on-target teacher with that rich repertoire of things we can use.”
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