What does it mean to support literacy development?

This morning I am preparing to take the stage to facilitate a keynote speech at the National Scholastic Literacy Summit here in National Harbor, Maryland. I will address hundreds of superintendents, chief academic officers, and other district-level leaders concerned with an issue that plagues public education: illiteracy.

With only an hour to deliver the speech on such an important topic that could subsequently impact millions of children, I thought it would be worthwhile and meaningful to leave a memorial of the conversation informed by more than 20 years on the ground replicating significant gains in student outcomes.

As much as educators, business leaders, and philanthropic community purport to be advocates of literacy, we have yet as a nation to formalize and finalize two critical instructional leadership acts: (1) operationally define literacy and cement the constituent elements of a true, diagnostic and prescriptive literacy development program of study; and (2) make available to all teachers the tools and training they desperately need to help their students to read consistent with developmental expectations and beyond.

What does it mean to be literate? How is literacy being defined in your district? How do we describe the finish line that we want students to cross? How do we know when students have crossed it? And by the way, literacy attainment cannot be defined by Lexile score or a standardized test score.

Literacy is characterized by a set of behaviors. A successful reader demonstrates three distinct behaviors, with automaticity — without being prompted.

A literate individual can (1) decode or pronounce words fluently and encode or spell fluently; (2) go beyond decoding and encoding and make sense of words conceptually; and (3) consume a variety of informational and literary texts and consequently engage in a evidence-based conversations about texts through speaking and writing.

With literacy and literacy outcomes defined, I have just a few more questions. Has your district identified and provided teachers with the resources and training they need to successful get their students to the literacy finish line? We must. Too much is at stake.

What are these resources?

I strongly believe that teachers must have unfettered access to key “reading to learn” materials necessary to transfer knowledge related to: (1) the relationships between and among the 26 letters, 44 phonemes, 144 graphemes; (2) word families (3) sight words; (4) Latin and Greek word parts; and (5) point of use annotation. It is equally critical that teachers have access to “reading to learn” resources aligned to grade-level expectations so that students have opportunities to learn the universal concepts of literacy (i.e., citing textual evidence, inferencing, determining main topic, determining main idea, summarizing, identifying text structures, determining author’s purpose, analyzing author’s argument).

What about training? Teaching children to read is as much as science as it is an art. Once teachers understand the science that underpins the process of effective teaching of reading, their unique and artful approaches will emerge and children will not only meet expectations, they will exceed them.

If we want to build teachers’ knowledge and capacity relative to the science and art of teaching children to read, training cannot be episodic. It must be ongoing, personalized, and deliberative. America, let’s align our human and capital resources with our goals and objectives for literacy.

Are you ready to join a pragmatic, next-generation conversation about school improvement?

In my service to public education, teachers, school leaders, and superintendents have asked me repeatedly, “Where can I go to read a collection of your thoughts on improving student achievement, literacy development, and district effectiveness?” So I had an epiphany…Share my epiphanies (aha moments) with those interested in equitable access to high-quality  instruction for all children. A blog was born — Dr. Dickey’s Epiphanies!

You might ask, “Is this another education-related blog composed and published by a theorist or policy wonk, without the benefit of having practiced educational leadership in real schools, with real students, with real impediments to improving student achievement and other organizational outcomes?”

My retort is a resounding, “No.”

This blog will be different.

This next-generation blog will be authored by a practitioner of PreK-12 school leadership whose approach to instructional and organizational leadership is characterized by a paradoxical blend of theory and practice… an educator who understands how a healthy balance of both (theory and practice) must be used to catapult underperforming schools/districts to unparalleled gains in student achievement and effectiveness.

This blog will be different.

The foundation of the observations and recommendations for public educators presented in this blog will be rooted in my 20+ years of proven instructional and organizational leadership as well as my ability to help districts to replicate record-breaking gains in urban, suburban, and rural systems irrespective of factors related to race, English language proficiency, socioeconomic status, and exceptionality.

This blog will be different.

The foundation of the observations and recommendations presented in this blog will be rooted in my experience as a teacher (primary and secondary grades); school leader; assistant superintendent;  chief academic officer; and chief schools officer – of some of the nation’s most prominent school districts; as well as my experience as a national thought leader and thought partner for superintendents, other central office leaders, principals, and teachers on matters related to literacy, curriculum development, and organizational effectiveness.

This blog will be be different.

If you are interested in hearing more about my Educational Epiphanies and engaging in an ongoing, solutions-oriented dialogue with me about public education, subscribe to my blog — and follow me on twitter @DonyallD.