Provision of evidence-based professional development to partner schools is a key dimension of Write to Read.
Professional development is provided onsite and sustained over a number of years. Professional development is delivered by a Write to Read Associate (a current classroom teacher with a master’s degree in literacy and experience in implementing workshop approaches to literacy).
Professional development is customised to the needs of the teachers and children. Teachers have ownership of the change process from the outset and are active in shaping its direction. High levels of collaboration between associates and teachers, between teachers within and across class levels and with the Special Education team are cultivated and expected. Therefore, professional development is not pre-packaged; rather associates and teachers work together to design and implement a cognitively challenging balanced literacy framework suitable for the particular school and classroom contexts.
A key focus of the professional development is the enhancement of teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) in relation to the research base on essential skills of literacy (phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, writing). Professional development also looks at how to translate skills into practice in ways that are suitable for children’s stage of development and most importantly, in ways that capitalise on their interests, agency and creativity. Emphasis is placed on the theory and philosophy underpinning approaches so teachers can see how research influences practice.
An essential component of Write to Read in building PCK is the provision of relevant, research-based professional readings which illustrate the efficacy of the approach in research studies and, critically, contains classroom vignettes of real teachers implementing the approaches in real classrooms. These are provided prior to sessions with the associate and form the basis of the first half of the session with the associate. Occasionally, DVDs are used so that teachers may reflect on an actual lesson in action. Sessions with the associate are critical to moving the change process forward. New strategies and approaches are introduced incrementally and on a phased basis.
An inquiry-as-stance approach is cultivated. Teachers experiment with new approaches and review the efficacy of changes made to their literacy programme by gathering and interpreting useful student assessment data on a daily basis. Based on this analysis they consider the next step for the change process and set new goals. The starting point for the change process is the analysis of students’ achievement data in reading, spelling and writing. Other data that inform the direction of the change process are data on student motivation and engagement derived from questionnaires administered at the outset of the process. These tap into students’ perceptions of themselves as readers and writers and their level of engagement in literacy practices outside of school. Progress is rigorously monitored throughout through the gathering and analysis of a range of formative and summative assessment data.
Research shows that teachers who experience collaborative approaches to professional development involving classroom coaching, observation and feedback have stronger beliefs in themselves and their power to change things compared to those who haven’t or who have experienced it purely as a measure of accountability. Write to Read associates demonstrate lessons in classrooms as each new approach is introduced; as teachers experiment with it, they observe and coach in order to help teachers to hone their practice.
Over the course of the partnership, a 90-minute framework for literacy is collaboratively designed and implemented. This framework will be flexible enough to honour the creativity and autonomy of each teacher, while also ensuring essential skills for literacy are taught systematically and in ways that capitalise on student interest thus building their motivation and engagement.
Recognising the value and importance of professional development in supporting teachers’ lifelong learning, accreditation is available at various levels, including, certificate, diploma and master’s level. Teachers’ research is disseminated across partner schools through cross-cluster learning communities.
All together this multi-faceted professional development contributes to a spirit of experimentation, risk-taking and inquiry as together, the school staff and Write to Read associates negotiate the change process in the reality and complexities of real classrooms.