Since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010, MCPS has approached literacy at the secondary level as a responsibility of all subject areas. Professional learning and curriculum development has emphasized literacy as the entryway to the deeper learning required in each content area. After a review of the secondary literacy program in 2013-2014, the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs (OCIP), in collaboration with schools and all other central services offices, has been pursuing multiple approaches to improving literacy outcomes for all students.
A Definition of Literacy for All Content Areas – The Core Literacy Practices
Literacy is critical and creative thinking through reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing. Drawing from the rich research base of the CCSS and the Next Generation Science Standards, MCPS created a simple 10 point expectation for literacy instruction in all content areas called the MCPS Core Literacy Practices. The Core Literacy Practices have also been the central organizing feature of the Literacy Observation Tool all schools can use in all content areas to monitor literacy instruction. To meet this shared definition of literacy and ensure that all teachers participate in literacy instruction, it is important that these practices be authentic to the content. The Core Literacy Practices and Literacy Observation Tool create the common expectations but also have sufficient flexibility to be authentic in any classroom.
Since literacy is the process by which students learn everything and the way through which they communicate that learning, the approach to literacy needs to align with the advances in content and technology. All of the former reading classes are being revised in a multi-year roll out plan. Next year, starting with Reading 6, sixth grade students will enroll in Digital Literacy 1, a problem based approach, which extends on the inquiry projects students have experienced in Curriculum 2.0. Students will learn to define a real-world problem, research it through various digital sources, evaluate the sources for credibility, and create a solution to that problem based on the conclusions they drew on that research. These inquiries will not only develop their literacy skills, they will also develop their use of technology, collaboration, and engagement with learning.
A New Approach to Interventions
When a student does not reach the required level of literacy development, it impacts their ability to learn the content in all of the classes. Matching appropriate interventions to students’ needs can help accelerate them back to their grade level peers, and back into the core and elective courses free to explore broad new concepts. There are also reading intervention programs that have been found to be effective. Read 180, that MCPS currently uses and plans to expand to the Next Generation Read 180, is one of the few interventions validated through independent research. More importantly, these interventions must be a comprehensive school-based effort, not an off-the-shelf solution. Current MCPS efforts are focused on using data to match the appropriate approach to each student’s developmental reading need.
Professional learning across MCPS has focused on the Core Literacy Practices, including their use with the new technology initiatives. Professional learning planned for this summer is focusing on the new courses and the continued focus on literacy in all content areas. Professional learning and key instructional leadership positions are needed to develop all teachers’ literacy instruction skills.
There are many other elements to literacy in MCPS, including use of assessments and technology, changing curriculum in non-literacy courses, developing consistency across classrooms and schools, and organizational structure, and community outreach. The MCPS approach to secondary literacy will be discussed in greater detail at a presentation to the Board of Education in May.