Teachers describe how literacy coaches changed their practices in the classroom

iStock_000026636782XSmallMany literacy coaches have their own game plan for changes they want to see in classrooms. But what do teachers say they did differently as a result of coaching? Did teachers carry out their coach’s recommendations?

A bigger benefit for teachers than changes in any specific practices, says a recent study published by Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse, was that coaching gave them the confidence to experiment with research-based practices on their own.

Teachers try new approaches

“Teachers had a new or renewed sense of themselves as professionals who took risks and who grounded their instructional decisions both in their knowledge of their students and in the knowledge of research and theory,” the researchers write.

“I think my whole way of thinking is like, ‘Well let’s just go for it, let’s just do it!’,” said one 4th-grade teacher, “and I think before I was very hesitant and now, you now, I’m just like ‘Okay, well let’s try this, this looks great, let’s try this, let’s see if this works.’ And you know, sometimes they pan out and sometimes they don’t.”

The study was based on interviews with 35 teachers who participated in the South Carolina Reading Initiative, known as SCRI K-5 Phase One, a multi-year professional development program designed to help teachers learn about and try out research-based literacy teaching practices.

For three years, SCRI K-5 Phase One literacy coaches held bimonthly study group sessions with teachers and their principals that focused on research-based best practices. Coaches also spent four days a week in the classrooms of the participating teachers helping teachers put into practice what they were learning.

“We found that while the 35 teachers mentioned new practices they tried in their classrooms (i.e. Read Alouds, Literature Circles, Writer’s Workshop, etc.),” the researchers write, “they focused more on the shifts coaches had helped them make in how they thought and acted as teachers.” Specifically, researchers found that, because of their coach, most teachers said they:

  1. were willing to try more things in their classroom,
  2. used more authentic means of assessing student needs,
  3. modified instruction based on students’ needs, and
  4. changed their beliefs and philosophies based on the educational theory and research they read.

What did coaches do that led to this increase in teacher agency? According to the teachers, the coach:

  • created ways for them to collaborate,
  • provided them with on-going support, and
  • taught them about research-based teaching practices.

Most of the teachers (28 out of 35) talked about how their coaches helped them learn about the research base behind particular instructional strategies and this led to their desire to consistently use research-based practices, the researchers report.

Teachers also cited the importance of on-going support by the coach, both in groups and on a one-on-one basis, for making changes in their classrooms.

“What Teachers Say They Changed Because of Their Coach and How They Think Their Coach Helped Them”, by Michelle Vanderburg and Diane Stephens, Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse, Jan. 2, 2009, accessed on website Jan. 19, 2009, www.literacycoachingonline.org.

Published in ERN January 2009

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