spacerThe New England Comprehensive Center acts on behalf of all students in New England by working with education leaders in each state to fulfill the promise of No Child Left Behind.

Promoting Student Literacy Through Comprehension: Enhancing Teacher Preparation and Professional Development

Educators and policy-makers confer on literacy comprehension at this two-day symposium

Comprehension is the whole purpose and joy of reading. What do beginning teachers need to know and be able to do to teach it effectively?

This and related questions animated educational leaders from higher education, technical assistance, and state and local education departments at a symposium on "Enhancing Teacher Preparation and Professional Development". Featuring literacy experts Michael Kamil and Nell Duke, the two-day symposium brought educators from New York and New England together to discuss scientifically based research in literacy, teacher preparation, state standards, and collaborations to strengthen teaching quality. It was held June 11–12 in Albany, New York.

Co-hosted by NECC and NYCC, the event built on symposia both Centers held last year on "Enhancing Teacher Effectiveness", featuring Catherine Snow. This year's symposium, "Promoting Student Literacy Through Comprehension," occasioned expanded, deeper conversations and collaborations among a larger number of participants. It also kicked off TQ Online, an online space for teacher educators, professional developers, and policymakers in New York and New England to share ideas and resources, brainstorm solutions, and build networks.

Keynotes by Michael Kamil and Nell Duke

In his talk, "A Call to Action in Literacy Education: What Should We Expect from Adolescent Literacy?", Michael Kamil urged participants to act quickly to raise the achievement of all readers. Kamil rejected timid goals: "Getting [struggling readers] a little bit better is irrelevant. We need to get them a lot better, and we need to do it in a hurry. In order to do that, we need to increase capacity."

Nell Duke reviewed recent research on supporting reading comprehension for early learners, emphasizing the need to teach reading comprehension explicitly to young children. "What we need to remember and what we need to help educators understand," Duke argued, "is that these other things—learning concepts of print, learning sound-letter relationships, developing phonological awareness, even vocabulary to a degree—are really means to the end of comprehension." She charged the audience to keep educators focused on comprehension. Michael Kamil joined her for a question and answer session that covered Reading First, content-area literacy, and comprehension.

Following the keynotes, participants worked in role-alike groups to discuss their key successes and challenges in incorporating scientifically based instruction in comprehension into teacher preparation and professional development programs. Invited guests Susan Smartt, of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, and Cheryl Wittmann, of the Maryland State Department of Education, shared two rubrics their organizations have worked on and engaged state-level participants in thinking about how to adapt these rubrics for their own states.

Capping the day off, Brooke Haycock, Artist-in-Residence at the Education Trust in Washington, D.C., performed Six Degrees of Preparation, her one-act play about current issues in teacher education.

Focus on Adolescent Readers

Critical reflectors Janet Angelis, of the Center on English Learning and Achievement at the University of Albany, and Denise McLurkin, of the City College of New York, opened the second day with summaries of the main ideas, concerns, and questions they heard during the previous day's keynote addresses and small-group sessions.

In "Comprehension for Adolescent Learners: What Do Adolescents Need to Read?" Michael Kamil described research on adolescent learners' reading comprehension and outlined the reading challenges, particularly with content-area textbooks and assessments, adolescent learners face. From time to time he invited discussion on the research's implications for teaching, teacher education, professional development, and policymaking. Calling for rigorous content-area literacy standards and rigorous preparation of teachers and coaches to teach to those standards, Kamil concluded by urging participants to act on the research that is already out there. Spirited discussions arose as participants shared views of research on enhancing comprehension and raised concerns about the quality of content-area texts.

In the afternoon, participants attended small-group seminars focused on research articles on comprehension in the content areas for both early and adolescent learners. Dr. Arnold Webb of the NYCC led a panel discussion on "Can We Mandate What Matters? Equity and Achievement in Literacy for All Learners" with Walter Kimball of the University of Southern Maine, Denise McLurkin of the City College of New York, Susan Rozen of Bedford (MA) Public Schools, and Anne Schiano, assistant director of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction, and Instructional Technology at NYSED. Panelists discussed the role of teacher preparation in eliminating the achievement gap; how states, districts, and schools of education could work together; and how to make pre-service training more effective, including ideas such as teacher residencies and training teachers to work with culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

The final session brought higher education faculty, professional developers, and state personnel together in small groups to brainstorm ideas for "taking it home" and moving forward, generating ideas about increased collaboration and inter-district communication among IHEs and states, state literacy plans, and the possibility of teacher residency programs.

Throughout the symposium, NECC and NYCC members captured ideas, questions, and thought-provoking statements for TQ Online, so participants could continue to develop new ideas and collaborations, even as they returned to their different regions.

"I hope to participate next year," reflected a participant, adding, "In the meantime, I will continue to post and reply on TQ Online. To date, it has been part of my daily routine and has greatly increased my professionalism, knowledge base, and interest. Your effort is apparent and has laid the foundation for deep discussion and sharing."