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Reading Apprenticeship Professional Development Online?!!!

April 29, 2011

If you had told me a year ago that I would think of online Reading Apprenticeship professional development as a good step, I would have thought you were crazy. A hybrid of face-to-face and online? Maybe. But online only? Never!

Last year, standing at a WestEd booth at the Title I Conference in Virginia where I’d just made a presentation, my colleague Mark Kerr said to me, “In 10 years there will be NO face-to-face professional development.” When I gasped (this being the core of what we do at the Strategic Literacy Initiative), he amended it a bit and said, “Well, there will be no professional development programs that don’t INCLUDE a web-based component.”

Fast forward to spring 2010. One of the most energetic faculty leaders of our far-flung network of community college teachers — Michele Lesmeister — calls me and says, essentially, “We MUST develop a course on Reading Apprenticeship for our faculty!” In response, I recite all the reasons why it can’t work: “People won’t have the personal and social connections that are crucial to the professional development we do.” “People won’t really be able to practice with and learn from each other.” “People won’t experience all the varied ways different readers make sense of varied disciplinary texts.” “People won’t….”

Michele patiently explains to me that on her campus, instructors are eager to learn more about supporting students with Reading Apprenticeship routines, but they don’t have time to come to workshops for more than an hour, maximum. And, as someone who has taught many online courses, she assures me the medium is more flexible than I imagine for learning. I remain skeptical but am persuaded that we should give it a try.

This Monday, April 25, 2011, almost a year after Michele’s insistent phone call, we launched a pilot version of the first Reading Apprenticeship online professional development course, and I have to say my mind is changing in a big way.

We’ll know more as the course goes on, but in just the first week, I’ve seen 25 community college faculty at Renton Technical College dive in and try Reading Apprenticeship practices in a way that doesn’t usually happen after people come to one workshop. I have been very impressed with the focused and rigorous text-based discussions people are having on the discussion board, and I am eager to see how they will interact with the streaming videos and models of metacognitive conversation routines that will be introduced during the 30 hours of this 3-unit course.

For now, Reading Apprenticeship online PD is available only at the Renton campus as a pilot for a community college course. In the summer of 2011, we will offer the course to other community college faculties on a first-come basis. Beyond that, plans for other courses are in development. Stay tuned.


Blog contributor, Ruth Schoenbach

Ruth Schoenbach is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. She taught and led reform initiatives in the San Francisco public schools in the 1980s and early 90s as an ESL teacher, curriculum developer, and professional development support provider in literacy. Since the mid-90s she and Cynthia Greenleaf have led the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd in developing the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework and its parallel professional development model.

What Makes a School “Distinguished”?

April 15, 2011

Dixon High School, in California’s rural Central Valley, was just named a “California Distinguished School” in recognition of its sustained delivery of “rigorous education for all students and progress in narrowing the achievement gap.” For those of us who have worked with the Dixon faculty and administrators to implement Reading Apprenticeship, the award hardly comes as a surprise.

Since 2001, Dixon High has made Reading Apprenticeship its signature professional development initiative. Every teacher learns how the Reading Apprenticeship framework applies in disciplinary instruction. Literacy instruction is a shared responsibility across the school.

The difference this schoolwide commitment makes was immediately palpable to Dixon faculty. After the first year of Reading Apprenticeship implementation, English teacher Lisa Krebs observed the changes in this way:

It’s interesting, all the benefits of reading. You never really connect reading with the litter on campus, or reading with attendance. Even my desks were cleaner, like there wasn’t time to doodle. There’s physical evidence that they were more mentally engaged. It starts with reading, but it’s really about how kids feel about themselves, and their own abilities and their own power.”

In 2000, Dixon High School had been labeled “underperforming” by the state. In 2011, Dixon cited the ongoing importance of Reading Apprenticeship in the school’s application for “distinguished” status:

Reading Apprenticeship permeates our academic curriculum, from humanities courses to the electives. Most teachers, regardless of field, see themselves as reading teachers and work diligently to help their students access complex and pertinent texts.

For nearly the past decade, Reading Apprenticeship has enabled Dixon High School students to become more proficient and confident readers throughout their studies.”

Gayle Cribb, a Dixon history teacher who helped draft the school’s application, describes the steady growth in student achievement for all students at Dixon, and especially for Latino and low-income students, as a concerted effort by teachers to respond to students’ potential and to make good use of the support they were able to draw from Reading Apprenticeship:

As a school, we were highly motivated to turn things around. We cared about our students and we had pride in our own professionalism. Together, the faculty and administration decided to make literacy a schoolwide focus, so then it was a question of finding a literacy approach that felt right. We were drawn to the Reading Apprenticeship framework because it really honors who students are and can become. The professional development worked for us because it has parallel respect for teachers, it takes us seriously.”

Dixon High School is what we like to call a Reading Apprenticeship “classic.” It is a gratifying example of how a powerful vision of students and teachers can result in powerful learning.

To read more about Dixon High School or to view a video excerpt from one of Gayle Cribb’s history classes, see Dixon’s story on the Success Stories page of the Reading Apprenticeship website.


Blog contributor, Ruth Schoenbach

Ruth Schoenbach is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. She taught and led reform initiatives in the San Francisco public schools in the 1980s and early 90s as an ESL teacher, curriculum developer, and professional development support provider in literacy. Since the mid-90s she and Cyndy Greenleaf have led the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd in developing the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework and its parallel professional development model.

Content Coverage and Coffee Cups

February 4, 2011

OK. I enjoy alliteration. Guilty. But I heard something today I have to share. Picture an audience of community college faculty gathered to hear about an approach to supporting students’ reading comprehension in academic courses.

Coffee cup, oil painting detail by Jana bouc

Painting detail, Jana Bouc

Now picture an experienced English faculty member addressing the group. She has been leading a campus-wide effort to use this method for a number of years and has seen it make a real difference for students in her classes. She is talking to the group about something she has heard many of her colleagues express: nervousness about “content coverage,” the need to get through the whole textbook whether students actually understand the concepts by the end of the course or not.

She holds a coffee cup upside down. With her other hand she holds a pot of coffee and begins to pour coffee on the upside-down cup. (She has warned the people sitting up front.) Now she asks the group about what happens to students when we just “pour the content on” but the students aren’t prepared to “receive it.”

I can’t begin to count the times my colleagues and I hear teachers worry that they won’t “get the students through the book” if they stop to work on having students do the hard close reading and thinking necessary to create understanding. I know that in some cases teachers really are threatened by “pacing-guide police,” people with authority to tell a teacher, for example, not to have students reading whole books in an English course because their class won’t be on target with the selected excerpts in the required anthology. But it seems to me that in many more cases, teachers themselves are making decisions to sacrifice comprehension, depth, and student ownership of texts for the notion of doing one’s job by marching students through a textbook.

What’s your experience? How real are the “coverage cops” in your schools and districts and colleges? What guesses do you have about how the new assessments based on the Common Core Standards (coming on line in 2013 in some states) might shift educators in our country toward teaching “depth” instead of “breadth”?

Any sense of increased support for helping students learn to make their own coffee?


Blog contributor, Ruth Schoenbach

Ruth Schoenbach is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. She taught and led reform initiatives in the San Francisco public schools in the 1980s and early 90s as an ESL teacher, curriculum developer, and professional development support provider in literacy. Since the mid-90s she and Cyndy Greenleaf have led the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd in developing the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework and its parallel professional development model.

Happy New Year, Happy New Blog!

January 6, 2011

As we all return from the holiday break into our regular lives—back to school, back to offices, choir rehearsal, sports practice—I am happy to welcome you to our “New” Reading Apprenticeship blog.

Many of you who are long-time colleagues read our blog when it started last January. After six months of posts, our creative and thoughtful colleague and blog-pioneer Gina Hale,  turned to other pressing work, and our blog took a vacation.

Now, in the new year, the Reading Apprenticeship blog is back with a group of regular contributors: Kelly Pauling, statewide coordinator of our i3 grant for Pennsylvania; Michele Lesmeister, Reading Apprenticeship coordinator and Adult Basic Education instructor at Renton Technical College, where their “RATs” Website keeps instructors across the curriculum in touch with new developments; Gina Hale, blogging from her new home state of South Dakota; and yours truly.

We invite any of you who would like to share observations, stories or questions from your work with Reading Apprenticeship to submit them to Jana Bouc, who will be coordinating our blog.

As I said in my first blog post, the stories I heard from teachers in Salt Lake City, Ann Arbor, and Indianapolis give me great hope for the power of person-to-person transformation; transformation that leads far beyond individual classrooms and individual lives. May we all find opportunities for those kinds of transformative exchanges in this coming year.


Blog contributor, Ruth Schoenbach

Ruth Schoenbach is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. She taught and led reform initiatives in the San Francisco public schools in the 1980s and early 90s as an ESL teacher, curriculum developer, and professional development support provider in literacy. Since the mid-90s she and Cyndy Greenleaf have led the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd in developing the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework and its parallel professional development model.

What I Learned About Reading Apprenticeship: 4 States in 2 Weeks

December 16, 2010

I just returned from a two-week whirlwind of kick-off events for three of the four Reading Apprenticeship Improving Secondary Education (RAISE) sites. As you may know from our website announcement, “Reading Apprenticeship® Wins i3 Grant!,” we were selected as one of 15 “Validation,” or scale-up, grants in the Investing in Innovation grant program—part of the Obama administration’s education ARRA stimulus package.

I knew as we were writing the scale-up proposal that we couldn’t have even contemplated it without knowing there were strong teams of people on the ground with years of experience implementing Reading Apprenticeship in their local contexts. I also knew that the idea of having a significant impact in the teaching and learning lives of 2800 teachers, 300 high schools and 400,000+ high school students over the coming five years was ambitious.

What I knew, but didn’t really experience until these past two weeks in Salt Lake City, Ann Arbor, and Indianapolis, was how much the new Common Core standards adoption would “prepare the ground” for people being eager to learn more about and participate in what Reading Apprenticeship has been doing for years.

And what I really didn’t know—though it was part of our aspiration for these kick-off events—was how interested people from each of the state Departments of Education would be in what we are about to embark on, building on what is already happening with Reading Apprenticeship in their states.

I was also really moved by stories from teachers…including of course the words of their students…but that’s for another blog post or two.

Blog contributor, Ruth Schoenbach

Ruth Schoenbach is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. She taught and led reform initiatives in the San Francisco public schools in the 1980s and early 90s as an ESL teacher, curriculum developer, and professional development support provider in literacy. Since the mid-90s she and Cyndy Greenleaf have led the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd in developing the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework and its parallel professional development model.


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