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Grant continues successful IUPUI program for improving reading, writing instruction in K-8 schools

Beth Berghoff
Beth Berghoff View print-quality imageIPYW workshop with literacy expert Frank Serafini of Arizona State U.
IPYW workshop with literacy expert Frank Serafini of Arizona State U. View print-quality image

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February 5, 2013

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The Indiana Commission for Higher Education has granted the Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI $314,000 over two years to continue the successful IUPUI Reading and Writing Project. The project is in its sixth year as a partnership between Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Indianapolis Public Schools to help teachers develop more effective ways of teaching reading and writing.

Working through the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers, the program has been a definite success, said grant program officer Beth Berghoff.

“We know the teachers who have been involved the longest get the most gain per year out of the students,” said Berghoff, associate professor of literacy, culture and language education at IUPUI. Berghoff and Susan Adamson, project director, developed an evidence-based assessment tool that has shown positive results for schools committed to the program, generally low-performing schools.

“The schools that have been with us for at least four years are all now meeting their annual yearly progress,” Berghoff said. Annual yearly progress, or AYP, is the measure by which schools, districts and states are held accountable for student performance under federal law.

This is the fourth time the higher education commission has granted the IUPUI program two-year funding provided by the Improving Teacher Quality Partnership grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Under grant guidelines, the funded programs must partner universities with low-performing public schools.

The IUPUI program works with K-8 schools in IPS, providing professional development in the realm of literacy education. It uses a workshop model devised by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, a nationally recognized professional development curriculum. Through the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers, experts in teaching reading and writing come for a summer workshop and provide supplemental workshops year-round, in addition to other resources. Funding for the program also supports recruiting minority teachers and pre-service teachers to participate.

“We bring in the highest quality coaches in the nation and arrange for them to teach demonstration lessons in IPS classrooms,” Berghoff said. The program provides for substitute teachers so participating teachers can watch the experts, or “coaches,” teaching over three days. “After the coaches conduct a lesson with a class of students, they go off with the teachers and talk about what they did and why they did it. Each time the coaches come, they focus on something new like a unit of study on memoirs or punctuation, or literature selections for teaching writer’s craft, or new reading and writing strategies.”

Sixteen IPS schools have teachers who are part of the program in the latest round. Berghoff said teacher persistence in the program is most valuable for improving classroom learning.

“It takes deep, complex knowledge to be an excellent teacher of reading and writing. Many times we'll see teachers come for a workshop or two and they'll do the things that we're asking them to do, but they'll see no gain in their students’ literacy achievement,” Berghoff said. “It isn't until maybe the second or third year that they start to develop continuity in their reading and writing instruction across the school year and fine-tune their abilities to assess what students need to learn next. You just can't get that in one-shot workshops.”