A Guide For Creating Sustainable Change In Secondary Schools
Supporting the growth process of teachers requires professional development that reaches beyond one-shot seminars or half-day trainings. In Literacy Learning Communities: A Guide for Creating Sustainable Change in Secondary Schools, ReLeah Lent offers a professional development guide to literacy learning communities (LLCs), groups of teachers guided by shared goals, inquiry, and literacy learning. Lent notes that “federal and state bureaucrats have been so insistent that everyone get on board the literacy train quickly that whole districts often leave the station without knowing where they are headed” (p. x). In the three sections of this book, Lent provides direction and resources for creating sustainable change through LLCs.
The first section of the book explores creating an environment for literacy learning. Relationships, central to this process, are encouraged through collaboration that is focused on a shared vision, peer feedback Vibram 5 Fingers opportunities, and collective learning. In this context, learning is at once personal and social, connecting both to knowledge and to other learners (Senge et al., 2000). Lent notes, “We must remind each other that the essence of community lies within our collective humanity, and the very qualities that give it life are those that are difficult to quantify, standardize, categorize, or assess” (p. 13).
To sustain a literacy learning environment, trust must be cultivated by establishing expectations and providing members with the time and space they need to grow as a community. Lent’s suggestions for developing trust include making time to meet for professional study, restructuring faculty meetings to include work sessions, and seeing tension as part of the change process. Ultimately, a culture of trust is vital, as “it immerses all its members, including students, in an environment where relationships have the potential of turning knowledge into wisdom” (p. 26). This potential makes the work of LLCs compelling. Literacy knowledge, the final element of a literacy learning environment, is more than one-dimensional school activities and narrowly focused reading strategy lessons. Lent argues that teachers must engage in their own learning process to meet the changing needs of students and to address the characteristics of 21st-century literacy learning (Warlick, 2004). By focusing on relationships, trust, and literacy knowledge, teachers and administrators can create an environment for literacy learning that sets the stage for LLCs engaged in sustainable change.
In the book’s second section, Lent presents a three-year action plan for building a community for literacy learning. The first year is for creating an initial community, assessing students’ learning needs, and developing a plan to meet those needs. Efficacy “results when a group assumes control over its own decision making and believes that it can improve teaching practices and student learning”. Engagement develops energy, social contact, and flow. These two elements help teachers develop a working definition of LLCs that emphasizes literacy learning, shared goals, and inquiry. To help with the first-year action plan, Lent shares examples of how an LLC should appear in terms of participation, members, tasks, and Five Fingers KSO literacy learning. She also provides resources, such as an invitation to join, a list of potential members, and a set of guiding principles. The plan for the second year expands LLCs to include study groups, peer coaching, and action research. A reflective cycle of inquiry is called for as teachers work to assess the literacy learning needs of the school and to focus on necessary changes for providing effective instruction. Lent suggests collecting data from a range of sources, including surveys, attendance records, and test scores. This reflective cycle informs the action plan and strengthens the work of the LLC.
The third year focuses on sustaining the LLC process. Lent provides an action plan template for framing the ongoing inquiry work of the LLC and asks a series of questions to generate discussion: “What factors or data led the group to determine the focus How, specifically, will the group’s study improve student learning How will the group know that their action has been effective in improving student learning” (p. 80). She also shares examples of developed action plans that are focused on literacy learning and designed to meet the needs of the teachers and students involved.
The third section of the book examines three tools designed to help teachers in LLCs. The first is study groups, defined as “small groups of people who come together for a common purpose, learning that will directly benefit their students” (p. 98). Roles for study group members are explained and example study group topics are provided, including content area knowledge, reading and book clubs, and current events. Study groups are appealing in their immediacy of application and variety of topics.
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