As teachers implement the Adolescent Literacy Model, they are learning many strategies that provide practice for students in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing across multiple content areas. In addition, there are certain conditions that, when actively embedded, allow teachers to maximize ALM execution and classroom literacy experiences. Here we provide a brief overview of what we call the
Conditions for Success:
- Classroom Culture,
- Focus on Feedback, and
- Collegial Collaboration.
Both neuroscience and practical experience validate that when students feel safe and supported, their ability to learn and thrive is greatly improved. Therefore, one of the most important responsibilities of any teacher is to build positive relationships with students, as well as a positive and inclusive classroom community. This is especially true in the ALM classroom as students learn to deepen, challenge, and express their thinking through discussion and writing. This work requires constant intention, patience, and reflection, in which all teachers – from rookies to veterans – should regularly plan, adjust, and attend to the classroom culture.
Students want to know and understand the routines and expectations of the classroom and that the teacher is able to manage student behavior. They want to feel physically and emotionally safe. By establishing and frequently reviewing expectations, focusing on engaging instruction, clear routines, and positive reinforcements, and responding to misbehaviors consistently and without anger, teachers demonstrate their care for students. Student participation in class is improved when there is a positive relationship with the teacher. Especially significant for students who live in poverty, success “depends upon a theory of action that privileges relationships over all other aspects of teaching, and an understanding that relationship building must be the paramount consideration if learning is to occur” (Budge & Parrett, 2018). Hattie (2009) found that positive teacher-student relationships have an effect size of .72 on student learning outcomes. Several factors contribute to a positive teacher-student relationship, such as trust, a sense of fairness, communication, high expectations, and a commitment to repair relationships when someone causes harm. These factors are especially important in the development of literacy skills as students are striving to read, write, speak, listen, and think at high levels – they need to have trusting relationships with the teacher and other students in the class (Fisher et al., 2016).
Effective questioning strategies are known to have a positive impact on student learning (Hattie, 2009; Marzano, 2017; Fisher et al., 2016; Saphier et al., 2018). However, although questions are being asked regularly in every classroom, it is often not an intentional practice. To push student thinking and deeper learning, questions must be planned in advance to align with unit goals and drive mastery of grade-level standards. During planning, efforts are made to ensure that students are asked open-ended, higher cognitive level questions. The language and structure of questions should be clear so that students spend more time crafting a response than making meaning of the question. Moving from questions with one possible answer to questions that require students to think more deeply to apply learning, make connections, or break apart a concept is a sure way to increase the rigor in any classroom.
Another planning consideration for teachers is how they will implement questioning strategies. Structured time to think, share, and refine thinking prior to responding to questions in front of the whole group allows all students the opportunity to actively participate and provide more than cursory responses or memorized answers. Teachers will want to manage questioning activities in a way that all students have an opportunity to truly think about their responses, communicate them, get feedback, and improve.
Focus on Feedback
Another powerful high impact practice on student learning, as identified by Hattie (2009), is feedback, with an effect size of 0.75. There are many opportunities to provide quality, usable feedback as students engage with content literacy through the ALM strategies. To be most effective, teachers must attend to the types of feedback employed, the established practices and expectations in the classroom around feedback, and how students receive and give feedback.
Teachers must be consistent and deliberate in providing feedback on student work beyond a letter grade or percentage. They should also attend to the type of feedback needed in a given context to spur student reflection and improvement. When students engage in a new activity or are confused about the learning objective, then process-oriented feedback is appropriate to inform students about how to approach a given task. This kind of feedback ensures that students know what to do and how to do it. As students understand the process, then the teacher can focus on comprehension, mastery of objectives, and/or accuracy. Narrative feedback and probing questions offered along the way allow students opportunities to improve on their thinking and work for a more powerful learning experience. If “students receive feedback at multiple checkpoints…Thus, students (and teachers) have numerous opportunities to ‘get it right’…” (Hope, 2020). Both kinds of feedback – process and mastery – are about the work and not the student as an individual. It is tempting to give praise to keep students from giving up, but there is little evidence that vague, subjective complements increase student learning. However, there are still productive ways to offer positive feedback to students, which is important for the classroom culture. Positive recognition of a student’s improvement and progress “further builds a learner’s sense of agency as he sees the relationship between his success and his actions” (Fisher et al., 2016).
As a school-wide model, successful implementation of the ALM requires a collective commitment to learn and try new strategies, use time and resources creatively, and collaborate in different ways. Teachers, teacher leaders, coaches, and administrators work together to develop open, trusting relationships in the service of a school-wide culture of literacy. The shifts will happen gradually, and as students grow in both their literacy skills and specific content mastery through literacy, teachers’ hard work will be validated and momentum will grow.
As schools implement the ALM, opportunities for collaboration are built into the model. After the foundational training, coaches (CTL, school-based, and/or district) work with individuals and small groups of teachers to plan units and lessons, debrief when new strategies are tried, and reflect on student work. The Professional Learning Community (PLC) model is practically ubiquitous in schools now, so PLC meetings are a natural and essential setting for teachers and coaches to regularly collaborate on content literacy. However, there is a need for other collaborative groupings in addition to those teaching the same grade-level content. In order to ensure a full literacy experience for students, it is beneficial for cross-content teams of teachers to meet, both to support each other as they implement new practices and to intentionally plan together. Working together, teachers of the same students but different contents can ensure that students not only have many and varied opportunities for speaking, listening, reading, and writing across their classes but also that students are experiencing the same strategies in different classes to support their ability to make connections and to generalize and adapt their understanding across contents.