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Here's what literacy coaches do in the Buffalo Public Schools. They read this paper aloud to teachers at each grade level.

Independent Work Time for BPS

The Buffalo Public School district has been promoting a systematic literacy initiative over the past 18 months. The District's results-oriented approach taken to reach the goals outlined in the Three Year Academic Achievement Plan has been challenging. There are ongoing action items the District has taken in order to get solid, consistent growth in academic reading achievement. For example, sites in the District now share the same curriculum, aligned assessments and the same system for diagnosis and placement for all struggling readers. Students now have more focused time on reading.

The District recommends the following considerations and action items to help teachers create more focused independent work time for students:

Instructional Delivery

Teachers begin by working collaboratively and creatively together to PLAN, PREPARE, THINK, and REFLECT (PPTR) on instruction. Grade level meeting times are established by each school

Planning instruction aligned to the curricula: To create the best plans for independent work time, every grade level team meeting is a focused planning session in which teachers plan reading instruction for all learners. To begin the process, teachers should refer to their teacher's editions and other program components in their reading programs to formulate answers to these questions:

  • What am I teaching?

  • Why am I teaching this skill?

  • When am I teaching this skill?/li>
  • How am I teaching this skill?

  • Preparing materials for all learners: The reading programs being implemented in the Buffalo district provide teachers with lesson plans, a scope and sequence of skills and a variety of materials to help them successfully teach reading. Each school is staffed with a literacy coach (RFBC or RRT) to help teachers plan, prepare, and implement lessons effectively. The lessons and reinforcement activities planned for independent work time will be successful when followed with careful preparation. To ensure focused instructional delivery and purposeful, intentional independent work additional questions need to be answered:

  • How do I use the teacher's edition of Trophies and Reading Mastery to reinforce instruction during independent work time?

  • What components support independent work time? Do they need special preparation?

  • How can my grade level teachers work together and prepare Must Do and May Do activities for all my students?

  • Do the independent work activities reinforce instruction or is it busy work? How do I know? Is there differentiation?

  • After exhauting all of the materials in Harcourt Trophies, what additional solutions will I create using the resources I have to support the objective during independent work time? Whole group instruction? Teacher-led small group instruction?

  • How will the RFBC or RRT assist individual teachers and grade level teams in preparing for indpendent work time?

  • How will we utilize paraprofessionals to reinforce skills taught during independent work time?

  • How will I progress monitor independent work time when I am working with a small group of kids?

  • How will I support students who need to be challenged in my classroom?

  • Components in Harcourt Trophies support instruction for teacher-led whole group and small group instruction as well as independent work time. Teachers can meet the needs of all learners by evaluating components and choosing what is appropriate then preparing specific reading materials to help them get the job done. It is time-effective, builds collaboration, and gives the learning community an opportunity to impart creative focused reading instruction. It reduces a "one size fits all" approach and creates a shifting in thinking about instruction.

    Thinking about instruction: Each individual in the Buffalo School District is held responsible for continually improving his/her work, whether in the classroom or as an administrator. Analyzing the data and collaborating to determine what instructional direction is needed is critical to helping students learn to read. The data tell teachers what is learned and what was taught. Planning and preparing are major components of good teaching practices, but assessment will determine effectiveness. Teachers need to think about the results of each skill tested and determine what skills students need and how to teach the skill until it is learned. Teachers are encouraged to think about teaching practices, current reading research, input from coaches, and the vision of the school/District leaders to find the best solutions to the challenges they face in their classrooms when students are working independently. Thinking about instruction will also increase communication and alignment which will serve to increase effectiveness across the entire system.

    Reflection: To cultivate a learning community of professionals who have planned, prepared, and thought about the attributes of high-quality literacy instruction teachers must engage in reflection. Self-reflection can bring integrity to the work and lets a teacher know when there is equity in the classroom as well as focused explicity reading instruction for all students. Through daily reflection, teachers will determine if the plan worked and why, whether the prepared materials were appropriate for teacher-led or independent work time, and if the delivery of the lesson reached all learners not just some. The results will determine when it is time to celebrate learning.

    The following table is an EXAMPLE of some of the components (materials) teachers can consider when planning and preparing support activities for independent work time. Students can use these materials independently at areas while the DI teacher is working with another group of students during the 90-minute DI block. Many of the Harcourt materials listed below are used daily in the Harcourt classroom but can also be successfully used for intervention and independent work time.

    Reading Support
    using Tropies

    Pre-decodables and decodables (Take home version available.)

    Books for All Learners (leveled books)

    Little Book Collection (K)

    Independent Readers Collection (K)

    Additional leveled readers when appropriate

    Self-selected reading materials

    See Intervention Resource Kit

    Take-home books

    Listening Area Support
    Using Trophies

    Audiotext for Big Book collection

    Audiotext or literature cassettes that go with the Trophies selection

    Oo-pples and Boo-noo-noos CD

    Support for Skills using Reading Mastery, L4L, and Trophies

    Reading Mastery I and II
    Teacher Presentation Book (see the planning Pages with suggested activities for every 20 lessons.)

    L4L (see the front of each Teacher Presentation Book for expanded language activities that teachers can make.)

    Take Home Books (RM and Trophies)

    Write on-wipe off boards and Phonemic Awareness Disks (Elkonin Boxes) (Trophies)
    Intervention game boards (Tropies)

    Tactile Letter Cards

    High-frequency word cards (Trophies)

    After exhausting all materials in the reading programs and analyzing the data, teachers are ready to formulate the answer to the question, "What other solutions will I create as a teacher using the resources I have?"

    NOTE: Teachers who had bought audio tapes to go with enticing picture books over the years had to box them up and take them home. Only Harcourt materials could be used. Except when Reading Mastery is mandated. Originally developed for Special Education students, in Buffalo many students are forced into Reading Mastery. Here is how a teacher describes it:

    After MANY WEEKS of whole pages of aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
    worksheets, children get

    I am late. I ate ham on a hill.
    I ate and ate. and now I am
    late. I will run.

    There is no literature.

    Middle class kids in suburban schools get rich literature. Poor inner city kids get Reading Mastery. The Buffalo teachers says, "We can't even find time to read aloud good literature! Bush talks about soft bigotry???? This book and program for non-special ed children is HARD BIGOTRY!"

    — Official announcement
    Buffalo Public Schools


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