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Matthew Okabe

EDCS 605

2 May 2018

Literacy Coaching Project

Introduction

Jen Carver-Hunter is a fifth-grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary in Salt Lake

City, Utah. She has been teaching fifth-grade for the last seven years. Prior to that, she taught in

Montrose, Colorado. She has had several different positions in Colorado including spending

several years as an interventionist. Her current position is unique in that she is the English

teacher of the Spanish Dual Immersion program. Her instruction time is divided in half each day

and she has two separate groups of students. She is responsible for teaching them the same

lesson. Her co-teacher, Mr. Marquez, teaches the two groups in Spanish. She currently has two

groups of between 20 and 21 students. In regards to the levels of coaching, Jen would fall under

the Level 2 or Level 3 tier. The majority of the work we did surrounded the Level 2 tier of

coaching.

Pre-Coaching Session

It was nerve racking to prepare of the meeting. Jen and I have worked together for the

past three years and have a very close personal relationship. However, I know that she and I have

some similarities and some differences when we approach our literacy instruction. A lot of my

own experience and expertise comes from tailoring the district purchased basal (Wonders) to fit

my needs in literacy instruction. Jen has a Master’s in curriculum design and focuses a lot of her

efforts on integrating science activities into her literacy instruction. I have used some of her units

and have found them helpful in addressing the needs of students in science. I have also had some
difficulty in implementing the with the same fidelity that she uses as I find it more difficult to

pinpoint skills being taught to students as skills are integrated. (Our coaching conversation

discusses some of this as well.)

As we sat down in our pre-coaching conversation, we were able to talk about the team

and how we felt literacy instruction was in general. We were able to compare literacy and math

instruction in our team – how assessing skills was (or was not) happening and what to do about

it. The noticeable advantage of this conversation versus one as an actual literacy coach was

twofold. First, the strong relationship and lack of judgement between us allowed for an open and

honest conversation. There was no hesitance to share any information or feelings (both positive

or negative). Second, as I am currently a member of the team, it made it easier to have this

conversation with specific attention paid towards what is going on as a grade-level (thus helping

us talk about future team meetings and things that should happen as a team).

Jen’s biggest concerns surrounded the feeling of not having enough time. This is

something that I feel as a general education teacher when I have my homeroom students all day.

It is difficult for me to imagine needing to hit all of the literacy standards with a reduction in the

amount of time. Jen described the Dual Immersion model in which she teaches some math and

some language arts in English, with the remainder of the day spent learning both math and

language arts in Spanish. It is expected that the skills instruction in Spanish (both in math and

language arts) will transfer to English as well. Jen also talked about how she felt like the team

had a fairly solid plan in math as we had used materials from our math program (Eureka) to

create common formative assessments across the grade level. Unfortunately she (and I would

agree) expressed concerns surrounding our use of common formative assessments in language

arts to gauge the progress of our students. Santos’s class uses the Spanish basal Calle, Jen uses
her integrated science units, Selene and Catherine (the other two fifth grade teachers) use their

own language arts materials (outside of Wonders) and I am the only teacher who uses Wonders

with a fair amount of consistency.

We ultimately decided that our coaching session would focus on the creating of materials

that can be used as a grade level to monitor progress in language arts. These materials would

come based on the materials that are provided within the basal Wonders. We would focus on

some skills based instruction and what that would look like – somehow creating and providing

quick mini lessons that would explicitly teach necessary skills. These mini lessons would allow

her to continue to teach integrated science units – something she was definitely NOT willing to

give up.

Coaching Session

Jen is no stranger to the use of a basal. Her general feelings are that the basal stories are

generally not relatable to our student population. I agreed with Jen that sometimes the content

and context of stories may seem foreign, but was quick to try and turn a problem into an

opportunity as I suggested that we have the opportunity to build some background knowledge for

our students as we read and discuss some of the texts.

As we discussed some of her current practices for language arts, we dove deeper into

what the integrated science units look like. Jen has found articles that specifically tie into the

science core and she has created questions and writing activities that accompany the articles –

with a large focus on writing. When I asked her to tell me about the pacing of literacy skills, I

found that the pacing was more centered around the science concepts than the literacy concepts. I

asked her if there were any pitfalls that she experienced without a clearer map of literacy skills

that she intended on covering. We then discussed how as a team, it can be difficult to administer
common formative assessments when we are all teaching different literacy skills. This difficulty

of course was not solely placed on Jen’s shoulders, rather it was more of a grade level discussion

as three of the five teachers on the team are more apt to use their own literacy units than the basal

purchased by the district.

I then discussed with Jen the use of the district provided pacing map in language arts. The

Language Arts Department has gone through the entire Wonder’s basal and included dates/weeks

for each unit. The benefit of using this pacing map is that it allows teachers to look at the

calendar and know what skills are required for the week. Should a teacher (and I was able to be

an “expert” in using it) decide to administer the weekly test, all of the literacy skills will have

been taught throughout the week. We discussed how perhaps she doesn’t necessarily have to

adhere to the pacing map in that her main texts of the week may be different form the ones in

Wonders, but she could take the skills that are being taught that week and teach those

specifically to her students. When and if we could present this idea to the other members of the

team, it would unify our teaching across the grade level. It is not necessarily the text that is

important, but the skills being taught with the text. Also, I talked about how Wonders has texts

specifically for use with each weekly skill so she could assign these selections as independent

work – or even have them assigned as homework readings to encourage students to read more.

We then moved into a discussion about how she doesn’t necessarily have to re-create the

wheel with her science units. A major concern is finding the time to create additional curriculum

to hit these skills. I suggested that she add the skills to her science units as it made sense, but that

mini lessons have the potential to accomplish explicit skills instruction without a ton of

additional work creating curriculum. Wonders has an introductory story, a main selection, a

paired selection, and leveled readers for small groups. The introductory story and the paired
selection are generally pretty short and are still designed to hit the weekly literacy skill. Also, the

small text book includes explicit instructions on how to accomplish the weekly skill. These pages

could be taught to the whole class and then the skill could be tested.

Assessment of the skills doesn’t have to be tedious either! The district provides access to

the online assessment that accompanies the Wonders basal! There are really two options. One is

to cut and paste the questions from the weekly test that specifically assess the weekly skill – then

print this out and give it to students or create a custom test in the online assessment center of the

Wonders program. The creation of custom online tests seemed a little complicated as you had to

search for the individual questions, so making paper and pencil tests seemed to make the most

sense. Then, in order to compare the results, teachers could then quickly put their scores into the

district data management system called Illuminate. While it can be frustrating to be asked to do

one more thing, the results would allow stakeholders, from the principal to literacy coach to team

to quickly see how the grade level was doing. The system also allows us to pull data based on

certain criteria, such as: English language learners, gender, race, etc.

Jen and I spent a bit of time looking at and exploring the online resources available and

how to best make them work for us. We quickly learned to create and share assessments in the

Illuminate system that would allow teachers to input scores.

Post-Coaching Session

Jen and I were able to talk about our coaching session and share with our team. The team

seems amicable to following the district pacing guide (in terms of skills) to help generate better

data. Jen and I have talked about how she is using the texts available to her in the Wonders basal

to teach mini lessons in whole group settings based on the skill of the week. The mini lessons are

explicit and short. Any students she finds that is struggling works on another of the weekly
Wonders texts to reinforce the skill in a smaller setting. The team plans to continue the use of the

district pacing map next year as well. The huge benefit being that we as a team will be able to

think of, find, and share activities relating to that specific skill. Another huge benefit that I had

not considered prior to this experience is that the literacy coach will be better able to support us

as we are all working on the same thing.

Reflection

I loved this experience for the organic conversation that I may have never had with her if

I wasn’t completing this assignment. It created more of a bond between us as we discussed how

to best help her accomplish the explicit teaching of skills without having to recreate her language

arts instruction. It was not awkward and neither of us was afraid to share what we truly felt about

the subject matter. This reinforces the idea that the building of relationships with the teachers

that I work with is paramount in being able to complete this work.

The biggest challenge for me was getting over my feelings of inadequacy. I had to realize

that while I may not have all of the answers, I had enough to contribute positively to the

conversation. It is intimidating when entering the room (even with a friend) when she has many

more years experience and education than I do. But once I got over the idea that I had nothing to

offer, the conversation was fairly free flowing.

I learned that I’m not sure that coaching is where I would like to spend my time. While

easy for Jen and I to sit down and discuss our literacy instruction, I can imagine being on the

outside and trying to bring some of my ideas into the scenario. It is difficult to build relationships

with adults (for me) and without a solid relationship, it is pointless to attempt to make changes or

additions to anyone as they will not take the advice seriously. It may cause a teacher to pause for

a second and reflect, but not on the same level as if it came from a trusted friend.
I believe Jen and I were able to live my beliefs about coaching. Where the coach should

have some expertise to share but doesn’t necessarily have to have all of the answers. We had an

open conversation that was free of judgement and our end goal was only to be helpful. I

understood going into the conversation that my vision of what it could/should look like would

differ from Jen’s. That she would take what we talked about and apply it in her own style to her

students. While this coaching experience was challenging, it was definitely a positive overall

experience.

Appendix

Fig. 1 – Creating an English Language Arts Common Formative Assessment (CFA)


Fig. 2 – Aligning the Assessments to the core
Fig. 3 – Using the ConnectEd website