Report from Winter Conference: Reading Apprenticeship for Students with a Range of Needs


The Reading Apprenticeship Winter Conference was held earlier this month near Philadelphia with 70 participants attending from 9 states.  I was honored to facilitate a problem-solving roundtable at the conference.  We tackled the issue of how to meet the needs of students with special learning needs within the Reading Apprenticeship framework. Our insights fell into two categories: classroom implementation and professional development connections.

Classroom Implementation

Our roundtable discussion was especially focused on the importance for students with special learning needs of classroom relationships, brain-considerate teaching, and pumped-up background knowledge:

  • Know Your Students: This goes beyond reading levels and past performance. What are their interests and hobbies? What makes them tick?
  • Build Relationships: Knowing students goes a long way toward building relationships. The consensus in our group was that teachers who have not developed relationships with their students will struggle with Reading Apprenticeship implementation; students have to feel safety and trust.
  • Don’t Double Dip: Brain research tells us our brain focuses on one thing at a time. Therefore, do not teach new content and new learning processes at the same time. Teach new content with familiar structures and new learning processes with familiar content.
  • Teach Expectations: My colleagues connected back to the “Rita Classroom Case” from their initial Reading Apprenticeship training and how Rita explicitly teaches key learning routines for six weeks before digging deeply into content.
  • Scaffold Background Knowledge: Build on and build up student strengths. Learning goals stay constant, but purposefully build in a variety of opportunities to build student background knowledge.
  • Go Visual: Visual images can be processed almost instantly. They contribute background knowledge in a safe, risk-free manner and build student confidence. Many schools have visual resources such as streaming video that can support subject area reading.

Professional Development Connections

In our roundtable discussion, the focus on classroom implementation gave rise to a discussion on implications for professional development. How can we facilitate teacher confidence and efficacy to meet student needs? One striking suggestion resulted:

  • Plan Your Own Problem-Solving Roundtables: Our opportunity to exchange ideas and collaborate led to new insights and seeds of solutions. We benefited from hearing the stories, experiences, and stumbling blocks of others. Overall, the conversations were both reflective and encouraging. Why not take the roundtable experience home, we thought?

Holding your own roundtable need not be a huge undertaking. In a short period of time, perhaps as little as 20 minutes, participants can feel the power of the Reading Apprenticeship framework: build on the social and personal dimensions to develop your knowledge and skills. Give yourselves the gift of time to dialogue and problem-solve with colleagues.

Make time to dialogue and problem-solve with your colleagues.

Kelly Pauling

Kelly Pauling

Blog Contributor Kelly Pauling

Kelly Pauling is Director of Curriculum Services at Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 (CIU20), and coordinates Reading Apprenticeship’s i3 grant in Pennsylvania. Previously she worked as a staff developer, curriculum specialist, and teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. She first attended Reading Apprenticeship training in 2003 and was immediately captivated by the RA framework. She has worked diligently to build RA capacity throughout her area. Current passions, in addition to Reading Apprenticeship, include integrating technology in education, school improvement, and chocolate.

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One Response to “Report from Winter Conference: Reading Apprenticeship for Students with a Range of Needs”

  1. Erick Haight Says:

    Hi there. I attended a WestEd conference in San Francisco in February, but it looks like I should have attended this one instead. Any information as to when another conference such as this might happen? Thanks much.

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