Reading Instruction and Interventions in School: Science, Policy, and Practice

Josiah Brown, a volunteer member of the board of the Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven, sent this account of an event in which the Coalition was involved.

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David Braze, Nicole Landi, Joanne R. White, and Waltrina Kirkland-Mullins

The Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven collaborated with the New Haven Free Public Library on an October 24 forum that the Public Library hosted on “Reading Instruction and Interventions in School: Science, Policy, and Practice” (which followed by a decade a Literacy Forum that had featured Margie Gillis on teachers and reading research).

The October event had been previewed, along with other literacy news, in an earlier Independent story — and preceded by one night the annual spelling bee to benefit New Haven Reads, a key Coalition participant. (As Lucy Gellman’s coverage of the Oct. 25 spelling bee noted, “While New Haven Reads tutors 550 kids a week, an all-time high of 234 more remain on the waitlist” — so additional volunteer tutors are needed!)

The importance of this work was underscored days later by the release of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores. On average nationally, both 4th-graders and 8th-graders saw declines in reading proficiency since 2017. In Connecticut, 4th-graders’ reading skills showed a slight decrease — while average gaps among various groups remained troubling. In a Connecticut Mirror account, Ajit Gopalkrishnan of the State Department of Education was quoted saying that though he doesn’t regard it as an “excuse … we are working on improving language acquisition for our English learners, who are a substantially bigger proportion of our population than even five years ago.”

(The NAEP’s “proficiency” standard is stiffer than that of virtually every state’s interpretation of “proficient.” According to the NAEP website, “… reaching the NAEP Proficient level is not necessarily the same as reaching a state’s standard for proficient performance at a given grade level.”)

Moderator Dave Braze, a Coalition board member long affiliated with Haskins Laboratories, introduced three panelists on October 24:

*Waltrina Kirkland-Mullins, a career classroom teacher, now of grade 3 at Davis Academy in New Haven, who embodies lifelong professional learning. She was the New Haven Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year for 2003–04 and has served in many teacher leadership roles.

*Nicole Landi, Professor of Psychology at UConn and Senior Scientist at New Haven’s Haskins Laboratories.

*Joanne R. White, the Language Arts Consultant in the Academic Office at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

Dyslexia and Reading

Following brief comments from each panelist, moderator Braze (speaking during October, Dyslexia Awareness Month) presented an overview including the following points:

Dyslexia is defined (by the International Dyslexia Association) as a specific learning disability, characterized by:
* Difficulty in accurate or fluent word recognition (decoding), or poor spelling; and
* Deficit in the phonological component of language, that is unexpected in relation to other abilities and assuming effective instruction.

He noted, “a secondary consequence” of these issues can be “problems with reading comprehension.”

For context, he invoked the broader question, “What is reading?” For part of the answer, he cited “the simple view of reading” (1990): that reading comprehension is a product of language ability and decoding ability (R = L X D). As for “What is decoding?” (or the basic knowledge that learners need to acquire, in order to read), he cited the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000) as an early synthesis of reading research.

While emphasizing that the NRP report was not primarily focused on early reading, he explained that in a review of more than 200 research papers, the report had identified several areas that were consistently related to development of skilled reading, including two that were especially important for beginning readers:
*Phonemic awareness; and
*Phonics instruction.

Other important factors include:
*Oral reading fluency;
*Comprehension strategy instruction;
*Encouraging students to read; and
*Access to a range of challenging but age-appropriate reading materials.

Given the urgency of aiming to ensure that schools, teachers, parents, and others help all students to learn, Dave Braze asked Waltrina Kirkland-Mullins in particular to speak from her experience about how early (K-3) reading instruction works in practice.

A Third-Grade Teacher Integrating Disciplines, with Books that Resonate

Waltrina Kirkland-Mullins

Mrs. Kirkland-Mullins, over some two decades at Davis, has gone well beyond any textbook to develop a range of curricular resources for students in areas from science and math to social studies and the arts, as well as reading and writing. As an example of how she systematically builds’ students’ oral language and vocabulary skills, she discussed “loquacious” as the kind of word she introduces to 3rd-graders. In addition, she displayed a dozen books to make vivid her use of literature that appeals to students and instills in them a desire to learn more.

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Examples of books in the classroom library of Waltrina Kirkland-Mullins at Davis

Student choice in her classroom library is central, and she has collaborated with teachers across her school, the district, and beyond (from People Get Ready and Yale locally to West Africa and South Africa) to bring extra stimulating learning opportunities to students.

From the Laboratory to the Classroom

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Nicole Landi and Joanne R. White

Nicole Landi conducts research on language and reading development in typically developing children, and children with developmental disorders, including dyslexia and Developmental Language Disorder. Among her UConn colleagues are some working to detect dyslexia earlier — a topic that arose in the questions and discussion that followed the panelists’ remarks.

In an upcoming issue of the International Dyslexia Association’s Examiner, Professor Landi and colleagues discuss the neural bases of reading skill, and describe the development of a new program bringing together neuroscience researchers and teachers at the AIM Academy in Philadelphia in order to promote better communication between neuroscience researchers and educators and to improve the research-to-practice pipeline.

Bringing Science and Practice to Policy

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Joanne R. White

At the Connecticut State Department of Education, Joanne R. White is responsible for implementing state reading policies and serves as project manager for the statewide K-3 literacy professional learning series, ReadConn. She talked about how to apply what is increasingly understood about the science of reading not only to individual classrooms but across systems of schools and districts, and emphasized the role of strong professional development for in-service teachers and school administrators.

The October 24 audience included teachers, the New Haven Public Schools’ supervisor of reading and literacy instruction (Lynn Brantley), the head of a foundation (Kim Healey of NewAlliance) that has worked to improve reading through initiatives such as “READy for the Grade” (a partnership with the New Haven Public Library among other library systems), the executive director of New Haven Reads (Kirsten Levinsohn), and a LEAP staffer who has authored a children’s book (Abdul-Razak Zachariah) — among other Coalition board members.

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Abdul-Razak Zachariah and Waltrina Kirkland-Mullins

A version of this piece first appeared in the New Haven Independent.

The Literacy Coalition, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization with a mission to promote, support, and advance literacy in the region, was established in 2003 by a board led by the late Christine Alexander, who also founded New Haven Reads.

The Coalition sponsors events such as the Literacy Forum series. Beyond this convening function, the group connects people and resources informally, and serves as a mechanism for exchange of information across communities, organizations, and individuals.

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While the LiteracyEveryDay website is undergoing an update (its fourth iteration since the Coalition’s

While the LiteracyEveryDay website is undergoing an update (its fourth iteration since the Coalition’s founding in 2003), see the Twitter page at @LiteracyGNH. (Facebook: literacy.everyday)

Once the revamped website is online, the organization will again have a LiteracyEveryDay site with portals to Get Help, Volunteer, Donate, and Learn More, as well as a listing of News/Events. For now, the Coalition invites inquiries, announcements, and forum topic suggestions via board secretary davebraze[at]gmail[dot]com.

There is a need for additional volunteer tutors and mentors at such organizations as the Boys and Girls Club, Jewish Coalition for Literacy, Junta for Progressive Action, LEAP, Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven, New Haven Public Schools, New Haven Reads, and Solar Youth.

Neighbors are invited to visit the Literacy Resource Center on Winchester Avenue, in space at 5 Science Park donated by Science Park Development Corporation. The Literacy Resource Center, or LRC, represents a partnership among Concepts for Adaptive Learning, the Coalition, New Haven Reads, and Literacy Volunteers. Around the corner, in the same complex at 4 Science Park, are the offices, classrooms, kitchen, cafe, and art gallery of ConnCAT.

You can help by:
• Reading in the home, promoted by libraries such as the New Haven Public Library — and involving grandparents as well as parents, and free books from sources including Read to Grow and New Haven Reads;
• Encouraging friends, family, and others to seek literacy assistance whenever useful;
• Volunteering as a tutor or mentor;
• Bolstering literacy in other ways, such as through donations of money — whether directly, via the Community Foundation or the United Way — or of books and by advocating and voting.

Articles on the Coalition and Its Events:

“Literacy Forum Oct. 24 at Public Library; Literacy News”

“Young Voices on Reading, Writing, and Learning”

“Youth Forum April 25 at Public Library; Literacy News”

“Equity and Digital Literacies”

“Language and Learning: Home, School, and Community”

“Literacy Coalition News”

“Philanthropy, Literacy, and Youth Development Explored”

“Language, Bilingualism, and Literacy — in School and Beyond”

“Literacy Coalition Welcomes New Colleague, Previews Forum”

“Early Literacy Experiences, the Brain, and Child Development”

“Literacy Coalition Welcomes New Board Members; Forum Approaches”

“Why Is Math Important?”

“Libraries in the 21st Century”

“Literacy Coalition Welcomes New Board Colleagues”

“Why Read?”

“It’s about WORDS”

“Literacy Paths Plotted”

“Literacy, Every Day”

“Learning in the 21st Century, in Ways New and Old”

“Reading, Culture, and ‘Quality Time’ at Home”

“‘Empowering Teachers,’ Reading Research, Instruction, and Supports”

“Margie Gillis Discusses Using the Latest Research on Reading”

“Early Reading, Community Action, and Catalytic Philanthropy”

“Literacy Coalition Forum: State Legislative Update and the Big Read”

“A Day for Literacy”

“Commissioner Ted Sergi: Their ‘Second Chance’ Starts with Reading”

Dad, husband, nonprofit professional, volunteer youth coach, eclectic reader and writer, #citizen…. @JosiahBrownCT

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