Research Base Underlying the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop’s Approach to Literacy Instruction

The Reading and Writing Project’s work reflects some core beliefs and values. One of the most important of these is that raising the level of literacy for children is an act of social justice. John Dewey, one of the founders of Teachers College, wrote: “I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.” Educators who are part of the TC community share that belief. You’ll know, therefore, that teachers’ involvement with the Reading and Writing Project is working if your students become powerful readers and writers who read and write for real reasons - to advocate for themselves and others, to deepen their own and others’ knowledge, to illuminate the lives they live and the world they are a part of.

Our work aims to prepare kids for any reading and writing task they will face or set themselves, to turn them into life-long, confident readers and writers who display agency and independence in their future endeavors. That is, our aims reach beyond state testing and fulfillment of tasks for schools. We aim to strengthen a generation of readers and writers.

To achieve these goals, the Reading and Writing Project supports teachers, administrators, and school change agents with professional development, curriculum, and instructional methods. The work of the Reading and Writing Project is informed by research in all of these areas as well as the more specialized categories of literacy.

Turning children into readers through an emphasis on a high volume of high-success, high- interest reading:

TCRWP reading instruction relies on research that shows that kids need to read a lot of texts, with high comprehension, in order to move up levels of text complexity. TCRWP reading workshops are structured to allow for students to read (eyes on print) every day for 35-45 minutes in the reading workshop. Volume is vigilantly watched.

There is research evidence which suggests that volume of reading is linked to attaining higher-order literacy proficiencies (Allington, 2012; Brozo et al, 2008, Cipielewski & Stanovich, 1992). Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1988) researched the relationship between the amount of reading done and reading achievement. They found that the amount of time reading was the best predictor of reading achievement, including a child’s growth as a reader from the second to the fifth grade. More recently, in her article, Independent Reading and School Achievement, Cullinan (2000) reviewed the research on the effects of independent reading for the purpose of informing policy makers, curriculum developers, parents, teachers, and librarians about the importance of independent reading and programs that support it. The review concludes that independent reading, defined as the reading students choose to do, supports learning and school achievement. Providing students with protected reading time is necessary in order to support their growth in reading.

In addition to providing students research-supported protected time to read, TCRWP practices are also aligned with the research base supporting the notion that students should be reading texts they can read independently, with at least 96% fluency, accuracy, and comprehension, and supporting students to move up levels of text complexity. Teachers re-assess (often with informal running records) in independent reading novels and many schools conduct more formal running records least 3-4 times a year. Teachers closely monitor both reading volume and progress up levels.

Multiple studies have found specifically that matching readers to texts supports growth in reading. For example, Ehri, Dreyer, Flugman, and Gross (2007) studied a specific tutoring program to support struggling first grade English Language Learners and after tracking the daily oral reading accuracy of the students, found that students who were tutored by a certified teacher made greater gains than students tutored by a paraprofessional and that “the reading achievement of students who received… tutoring appeared to be explained primarily by one aspect of their tutoring experience—reading texts at a high level of accuracy, between 98% and 100%” (p. 441). O’Connor, Bel, Harty, Larkin, Sackor, and Zigmond (2002) found that greater fluency growth was found with struggling sixth-grade readers when they were provided with texts they could read accurately versus when they were provided tutoring in the texts used in the classroom. “Across groups,” they found, “fluency was the strongest contributor to reading comprehension” (p. 482). O’Connor et al. concluded, “Our results suggest that students with very low fluency will not improve their reading ability if they are taught with grade-level materials” (p. 483).

There is little research available, however, to support the idea of readers reading texts which are too challenging for them. In a recent article “What research says about text complexity and learning to read”, Allington, McCuiston, and Billen (2014) raise specific cautions about students reading texts which are too challenging for them. The authors review research on text complexity and learning to read and come away with two major conclusions: 1.) increasing the complexity of texts as the best way to increase reading achievement (as recommended by the CCSS) lacks a base in available evidence from research and 2.) a number of research studies have shown that texts used for instruction that can be read with at least 95% accuracy produce greater gains than harder texts. The authors conclude by contending that in order for students to become proficient readers, they must read texts which match their independent reading levels.

To progress as readers, readers must have ample time to read a lot and they must have texts they can read independently. The following are some of the sources we recommend consulting to learn more about the research in this area:

Allington, R.L. McCuiston, K & Billen, M. (2014).What research says about text complexity and learning to read. Unpublished. The Reading Teacher, pp. 1-10.

Allington, R. L. (2012). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Anderson, R. C., Wilson, P.T., & Fielding, L. G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 285-303.

Brozo, W.G., Shiel, G. & Topping, K. (2008). Engagement in reading: Lessons learned from three PISA countries. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 51(4), 304-315.

Cipielewski, J., & Stanovich, K.E. (1992). Predicting growth in reading ability from children’s exposure to print. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 54, 74-89.

Cullinan, B. (2000). Independent reading and school achievement. School Library Media Research, 3, 1-24.

Ehri, L.C., Dreyer, L.G., Flugman, B., & Gross, A. (2007). Reading Rescue: An effective tutoring intervention model for language minority students who are struggling readers in first grade. American Educational Research Journal, 44(2), 414-448.

Hiebert, E.H. & Reutzel, D.R.(Eds.) (2010). Revisiting silent reading: New directions for teachers and researchers. Newark, D.E.: International Reading Association

Moss, B. & Young, T.A. (2010). Creating lifelong readers through independent reading. International Reading Association.

Guthrie, J.T. & Humenick, N.M. (2004). Motivating students to read: Evidence for classroom practices that increase motivation and achievement. In P. McCardle & V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (pp. 329-354). Baltimore: Paul Brookes.

O’Connor, R.E., Bell, K.M., Harty, K.R., Larkin, L.K., Sackor, S.M., & Zigmond, N. (2002).Teaching reading to poor readers in the intermediate grades: A comparison of text difficulty. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 474-485.

Supporting students in building a knowledge-base through nonfiction reading

The TCRWP curriculum is designed in alignment with the research base on students reading to learn to gain knowledge. The reading curriculum offers students a balance of reading literature and informational texts throughout the year. Each grade’s curriculum includes units which are entirely devoted to supporting students in reading to learn through nonfiction reading—about topics of high-interest to them as well as topics related to the content area curriculum. In addition, multiple reading units, such as Historical Fiction Book Clubs, Interpretation Text Sets, Social Issues Book Clubs: Applying Analytical Lenses Across Literature and Informational Texts, and others, provide opportunities to read across genres within a unit. The curriculum for these units supports students in learning to grasp major ideas and concepts as well as information and related to specific topics through focused studies. Moreover, these units, as all units, also support students in reading to acquire and use both academic vocabulary and domain-specific vocabulary.

Students reading to gain knowledge—about the world as well as about vocabulary and spelling—has a strong research base. One of several research studies that provides evidence for this is Cunningham and Stanovich’s (1991) research on “Tracking the Unique Effects of Print Exposure in Children: Associations with Vocabulary, General Knowledge, and Spelling” where it was concluded, “that print exposure, although clearly a consequence of developed reading ability, is probably (also) a significant contributor to the development of other aspects of verbal intelligence. Such rich-get-richer (and their converse, Table 7 poor-get-poorer) effects are becoming of increasing concern to educational practitioners (Adams, 1990; Chall, 1989)” (p. 271). Cunningham and Stanovich (1991) extend their discoveries stating “the analyses of ability-exposure discrepancies (Tables 7 and 8) seem to indicate that even the child with limited reading skills will build vocabulary and knowledge structures through reading” (p. 271). A similar study conducted by Krashen found that, “conscious language learning does not appear to be as efficient as acquisition from input” and that “spelling and vocabulary are developed …by reading” (p. 454).

For more information about students reading nonfiction to gain knowledge, these are some of the sources we recommend reading:

Anderson, J. (1981). Effects of prior knowledge on memory for new information. Memory & Cognition, 9, 237-246.

Cunningham, A. E. & K. E. Stanovich. (1991). Tracking the unique effects of print exposure in children: Associations with vocabulary, general knowledge, and spelling. Journal of Educational Psychology 83(2): 264–274.

Hirsch, B. E. D. (2003). Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge — of Words and the World. American Educator, 27, 10–29. Retrieved from

Krashen, S. D. (1989). We acquire vocabulary and spelling by reading: Additional evidence for the Input Hypothesis. Modern Language Journal 73, 440–64.

Recht, D. R., & Leslie, L. (1988). Effect of prior knowledge on good and poor readers’ memory of text. Journal of Educational Psychology. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.80.1.16

Stanovich, K. E., & A. E. Cunningham. (1993). Where does knowledge come from? Specific associations between print exposure and information acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology 85(2), 211–29.

Teaching comprehension skills and strategies to support reading achievement

One of the principles that inform the TCRWP Units of Study for Teaching Reading, is a strong emphasis on students gaining the practices and skills of reading comprehension, and encouraging teachers to model the strategies that will help their students to acquire and draw on a repertoire of skills. That is, instead of assigning students tasks to complete during reading workshop, the TCRWP stands behind the mountains of research that supports teaching students’ developing a repertoire of strategies that proficient readers use so that they can draw on them whenever they are reading in order to successfully navigate the text.

There is specific research to support this practice. In Dole, Brown and Trathen’s (1996) study on “The Effects of Strategy Instruction on the Comprehension Performance of At-Risk Students,” the results of the study “demonstrates the value of strategy instruction in comparison to other effective instruction and the specific value of strategy instruction for far transfer.” Their study on strategy instruction was unique in that “previous research on strategy instruction has not compared the teaching of strategies to other effective instruction.” The results “demonstrated the value of strategy instruction when the goal was to understand particular texts and especially when the goal was to understand independently read texts.” (p. 82).

Duke and Pearson (2002) also recommend teaching comprehension skills and strategies to support achievement, but with an important caveat, in “Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension,” stating, “it is important that neither the teacher nor the students lose sight of the need to coordinate or orchestrate comprehension strategies. Strategies are not to be used singly—good readers do not read a book and only make predictions. Rather, good readers use multiple strategies constantly” (p. 210). Allington’s (2002) research yielded similar findings, noting that “exemplary teachers in our study routinely gave direct, explicit demonstrations of the cognitive strategies that good readers use when they read.” (p. 743)

There are additional reviews of literature and studies below that further suggest the importance of teaching student comprehension skills and strategies to support reading progress.

Allington, R. L. (2002). What I’ve learned about effective reading instruction. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 740-747.

Almasi, J.F., Garas, K., & Shanahan, L. (2005). Qualitative research and the report of the National Reading Panel: No methodology left behind? Elementary School Journal

Dole, J. A., Duffy, G. G., Roehler, L. R., & Pearson, P. D. (1991). Moving from the old to the new: Research on reading comprehension instruction. Review of Educational Research, 61, 239-264.

Dole, J. A., Brown, K. J., & Trathen, W. (1996). The effects of strategy instruction on the comprehension performance of at‐risk students. Reading research quarterly, 31(1), 62-88.

Duke, N. K., & Pearson, P. D. (2002). Effective practices for developing reading comprehension. What research has to say about reading instruction, 3, 205-242.

Kamil, M.L. (2004). Vocabulary and Comprehension Instruction. In P. McCardle and V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (p. 213 - 234). Baltimore: Paul Brookes.

Kim, W., Linan-Thompson, S., & Misquitta, R. (2012). Critical factors in reading comprehension instruction for students with learning disabilities: A research synthesis. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 27(2), 66-78.

Guthrie, J. T. (2004). Differentiating instruction for struggling readers within the CORI classroom. In J. T. Guthrie, A. Wigfield, & K. C. Perencevich (Eds.), Motivating reading comprehension: Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (pp. 1–24). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum

Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (1997). Best practices in promoting reading comprehension in students with learning disabilities. Remedial & Special Education, 18(4), 197-216.

Pearson, P.D., & Fielding, L. (1991). Comprehension instruction. In R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research: Volume II (pp. 815-860). White Plains, NY: Longman.

Pressley, M., & Block, C. C. (2002). Summing up: What comprehension instruction could be. In C. C. Block & M. Pressley (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices (pp. 383-392). New York: Guilford Press.

Emphasizing the Value of Interactive Read Aloud

Reading aloud is the best way we have to immerse children in the glories of reading, showing both how and why one reads. For this reason, interactive read alouds are the lifeblood of TCRWP classrooms. In most TCRWP classrooms, although texts are read aloud throughout the day for multiple purposes, there is one time, several days a week, that children refer to as read-aloud time, and this is an instructional, interactive read-aloud. This is often at an entirely different time than the reading workshop—and it generally lasts at least twenty minutes and often more like half an hour. Interactive read alouds are also conducted across the curriculum—during social studies, for example, when appropriate. The interactive read aloud provides students with opportunities to talk and respond to texts, fosters a love of reading, and gives them additional opportunities to practice learned skills and strategies. It also provides teachers with opportunities to demonstrate and model through think alouds the practices, strategies and habits of proficient readers.

The research is clear that reading aloud to children has enormous benefits for their intellectual and academic growth. In his article, “Interactive Read-Alouds—An Avenue for Enhancing Children’s Language for Thinking and Understanding,” Lennox (2013) reviews the research literature on interactive read aloud and concludes, “there is little doubt about value of well-planned, engaging interactive read-alouds as one of the key avenues for supporting young children’s language for thinking and understanding.” (p. 387) This is not just true for young children as Flint discovered in her 2013 study entitled “The Social Construction of Literary Understanding in a 3rd Grade Classroom During Interactive Read-Alouds,” where she states that, “allowing the students to converse with each other, their teacher, and the text during the read-aloud resulted in more responses that demonstrated a more advanced literary understanding and a better understanding of how the text was crafted for the reader” (p. 77). Bauman and colleagues (1993) also support the importance of think aloud as a tool for teaching students to self-monitor and comprehend while reading.

There is also research supporting the importance of interactive read aloud for middle school students. According to Ariail and Albright (2006), “Although the practice of reading aloud to older children is less well-researched, a few studies have shown that the benefits of reading aloud to middle school students are also significant. Among the benefits are increases in students’ accessibility to texts, motivation, engagement in learning, positive attitudes toward reading, background knowledge in content areas, and fluency” (p. 69). In a survey of more than 1,700 middle school students, Ivey and Broaddus (2001) found that along with independent reading time, read aloud by their teacher was what students said most motivated them to want to read. Bolos (2012) also argues that interactive read aloud may be especially important for middle school students who are English Language Learners, as a review of the research suggested interactive read aloud to be an effective instructional strategies for middle grade English Language Learners (the other two being comprehension strategies and vocabulary enrichment).

For further information and research on the importance of the interactive read aloud as an instructional vehicle to support reader’s growth, please consult the following texts:

Baker, S. K., Santoro, L. E., Chard, D. J., Fien, H., Park, Y., & Otterstedt, J. (2013). An evaluation of an explicit read aloud intervention taught in whole-classroom formats in first grade. The Elementary School Journal, 113(3), 331-358.

Baumann, J. F., Jones, L. A., & Seifert-Kessell, N. (1993). Using think alouds to enhance children’s comprehension monitoring abilities. The Reading Teacher, 184-193.

Cummins, S., & Stallmeyer‐Gerard, C. (2011). Teaching for Synthesis of Informational Texts With Read‐Alouds. The Reading Teacher, 64(6), 394-405.

Davey, B. (1983). Think aloud: Modeling the cognitive processes of reading comprehension. Journal of Reading, 44-47.

Ecroyd, C. A. (1991). Motivating students through reading aloud. English Journal, 76-78.

Fisher, D., Flood, J., Lapp, D., & Frey, N. (2004). Interactive Read‐Alouds: Is There a Common Set of Implementation Practices?. The Reading Teacher,58(1), 8-17.

Flint, A. (2013). The Social Construction of Literary Understanding in a 3rd Grade Classroom During Interactive Read-Alouds. In BSU Honors Program Theses and Projects. Item 17. Available at:

Lennox, S. (2013). Interactive Read-Alouds—An Avenue for Enhancing Children’s Language for Thinking and Understanding: A Review of Recent Research. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41(5), 381-389.

Oster, L. (2001). Using the think-aloud for reading instruction. The Reading Teacher, 64-69.

Sipe, L. R. (2002). Talking back and taking over: Young children’s expressive engagement during storybook read-alouds. The Reading Teacher, 476-483.

Stead, T. (2014). Nurturing the Inquiring Mind Through the Nonfiction Read‐Aloud. The Reading Teacher, 67(7), 488-495.

Wilhelm, J. (2001). Getting kids into the reading game: You gotta know the rules. Voices from the Middle, 8(4), 25-36.

Incorporating Instruction on Foundational Skills/Phonics Within Balanced Literacy Curriculum

The thought collaborative that surrounds the TCRWP is focused on developing reading instruction which combines teaching higher order comprehension strategies with explicit, direct instruction in foundational skills. Across the year in each grade, and in the primary grades especially, there is instruction in foundational skills such as concepts of print, determining the meaning of unfamiliar words and using a variety of strategies as well as fluency work to support students’ reading growth. In some cases, there are entire reading units of study devoted to word solving and other foundational skills such as: Bigger Books, Bigger Reading Muscles (Kindergarten), Readers Have Big Jobs to Do: Fluency, Phonics, and Comprehension (1st grade), Bigger Books Mean Amping Up Reading Power (2nd grade) and others.

In all TCRWP primary classrooms and in a growing number of upper grade classrooms, balanced literacy components such as shared reading, shared writing, and interactive writing are incorporated into the curriculum, as appropriate, in addition to minilessons addressing foundational skills. These structures further support students in developing the skills needed to decode and compose texts drawing on an ever-growing knowledge of phonics and word analysis skills. TCRWP workshop teachers teach students how to draw on multiple sources of information when reading or composing text, including meaning, structural and visual cues. That is whether sharing the pen, writing aloud, or having all eyes on the text, teachers provide students with multiple opportunities for guided and independent practice to support gradual release, and encourage student acquisition of the foundational skills of reading.

There is research to support students learning phonics within a balanced literacy curriculum. Allington (2012) suggests that schools that want to foster the development “of phonemic segmentation” need to “ensure that classroom lessons feature activities that foster [its] development such as daily invented writing with application of ‘sound stretching’ strategies’ in addition to setting up an early warning system (such as monitoring students’ invented spelling development) to identify those students who are having difficulty in this area and a targeted intensive intervention plan that can be put in place “by the middle of the first-grade year” (p. 176). There have been studies conducted which have compared reading growth between classrooms where students engage primarily in learning phonics, and classrooms where students are engaged in authentic reading and writing which have concluded that the students in the classrooms who were engaged in authentic activities made more progress.

For example, Kasten and Clarke (1989) conducted a year-long study of the emerging literacy of preschoolers and kindergarteners in two southwest Florida communities. They compared two preschool classes and two kindergarten classes that implemented strategies such as daily shared reading and weekly opportunities to write freely with matched comparison classes where there was more of a focus on letter-sound activities. Both groups were pretested and posttested with qualitative and quantitative measures. The authors found that the preschool experimental classes performed significantly better than comparison groups on the Goodman Book Handling task, the story retelling inventory, and on subtest C of the ESI. Kindergarten experimental classes performed better than their comparison groups on the Goodman Book Handling task, subtests B, C, E, and F of the Metropolitan ESI, and the Metropolitan Readiness Test. Experimental subjects not only knew more than their comparison peers on meaningful aspects of reading, but exhibited enthusiasm for books and stories, and were observed developing attitudes toward literacy that are not measurable (pp. 2-3).

Similar results were also found by Cunningham (1990) who compared kindergarten and first grade children’s learning of phonemic awareness between two instructional programs—the first a program in which children received “necessary procedural knowledge of how to segment and blend the sounds of words” and the second a program in which “children received the same procedural knowledge as well as a metalevel knowledge of when, where, and how to use phonemic awareness within the reading context” (p. 431). The authors found that phonemic awareness is causally related to reading achievement at the beginning stages of reading development. Furthermore, although a significant improvement in reading achievement was observed for both experimental groups in kindergarten and first-grade children, the degree of improvement in reading ability of the first-grade children depended strongly upon the type of instruction received. That is, the children who reflected upon and discussed the value, application, and utility of phonemic awareness for the activity of reading at an explicit level performed significantly better on a transfer measure of reading achievement than the skill and drill experimental group” (p. 429).

Shared reading, interactive writing, shared writing within workshop/within day to support development and growth of foundational skills

Other research studies demonstrate specific benefits of individual balanced literacy components. In their research to discover which practices best supported emergent readers and writers, Beckett and Hankes (2006) observed that “small group Interactive Writing instruction enabled the children to transfer the strategies and skills learned to their independent journal writing. Small group Interactive Writing therefore positively impacted the children’s writing fluency.” (p. 22). Fisher, Frey and Flap in their study entitled “Shared readings: Modeling Comprehension, Vocabulary, Text Structures, and Text Features for Older Readers” quote researchers such as Coyne, Simmons Kame’enui, and Stoolmiller (2004) who “demonstrated the positive impact that shared readings had on kindergarten students’ vocabulary.” (p. 548) They also reference Ukrainetz, Cooney, Dyer, Kysar, and Harris (2000) who “showed how shared readings could be used to improve students’ phonemic awareness” (p. 548). These researchers along with many others support the fact that shared reading has positive effect on student’s growth as readers.

Please refer to the citations below for further research that supports these practices.

Beckett, A. M., Education, E., & Hankes, J. (2006). How can I Best Support my Emergent Readers and Writers in their Literacy Development?.

Brotherton, S., & Williams, C. (2002). Interactive Writing Instruction in a First Grade Title I Literacy Program. Journal of Reading Education, 27(3), 8-19.

Coyne, M.D., Simmons, D.C., Kame’enui, E.J., & Stoolmiller, M. (2004). Teaching vocabulary during shared storybook readings: An examination of differential effects. Exceptionality, 12(3), 145-162.

Cunningham, A.E. (1990). Explicit versus implicit instruction in phonemic awareness. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 50, 429-444.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2008). Shared readings: Modeling comprehension, vocabulary, text structures, and text features for older readers.The Reading Teacher, 61(7), 548-556.

Kasten, W. C. & Clarke, B. K. (1989). Reading/writing readiness for preschool and kindergarten children: A whole language approach. FERC Research and Policy Report, 2-87.

Shaver, S. R. (2013). UALR Center for Literacy Technical Report Spring, 2013 A Study to Investigate the Effectiveness of Interactive Writing with At-Risk Kindergarten Students.

Ukrainetz, T. A., Cooney, M. H., Dyer, S. K., Kysar, A. J., & Harris, T. J. (2000). An investigation into teaching phonemic awareness through shared reading and writing. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15(3), 331-355.

Williams, C., & Lundstrom, R. P. (2007). Strategy instruction during word study and interactive writing activities. The Reading Teacher, 61(3), 204-212.

Other great sources which offer teaching support for this work:

Kesler, T. (2010). Shared reading to build vocabulary and comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 64(4), 272-277.

McCarrier, A., Pinnell, G.S., & Fountas, I.C. (2000). Interactive writing: How language & literacy come together, K–2. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Parkes, B. (2000). Read it again! Revisiting shared reading. York, ME: Stenhouse.

Patterson, E., Schaller, M., & Clemens, J. (2008). A closer look at interactive writing. The Reading Teacher, 61(6), 496-497.

Wall, H. (2008). Interactive writing beyond the primary grades. The Reading Teacher, 62(2), 149-152.

Turning students into writers through an emphasis on a high volume of writing and daily protected writing time in which to engage in the writing process

As with reading, the TCRWP advocates for long stretches of time where students are engaged in the act of writing at least four days a week for 45 minutes or longer each day. In Children Want to Write edited by Tom Newkirk and Penny Kittle (2013) Donald Graves is quoted as saying, “when writers write every day, they begin to compose even when they are not composing. They enter into a constant state of composition” (p. 58). When students have time to write each day it leads to greater fluency and proficiency. This is well-supported by Hattie and Gladwell who both maintain that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time we spend in pursuit of a habit, goal or skill and our individual growth in relation to that habit, goal or skill. In order for students to improve as writers, and build stamina, it important for them to have long stretches of time to practice.

Hertz and Heydenberk (1997) concluded based on their research “that process writing instruction allowed them [the students] to show appreciable, measurable gains in their writing skills.” (p. 212) In “A Meta-Analysis of Writing Instruction for Students in the Elementary Grades” Graham, McKeown, Kiuhara, and Harris (2012) performed a meta-analysis of the writing intervention literature to identify effective instructional practices for teaching writing to elementary school-aged children. They located 115 true or quasi experimental studies which met their criteria for analysis. The authors found that, “Both typically developing students (Grade 4) and struggling writers (Grades 2–6) benefited when they were taught how to apply self-regulation procedures, such as goal setting and self-assessment, to help them manage the writing strategies they were taught.” In TCRWP writing workshop classrooms, students are encouraged to use student facing checklists aligned to learning progressions in order to support goal setting and self -assessment, which is supported in this meta-analysis.

Graham, McKeown, Kiuhara, and Harris (2012) also found that when students were taught and applied “strategies for planning, drafting, or revising different types of text (average weighted ES 1.02). All 20 studies where writing strategies were taught to both typically developing and struggling writers in Grades 2–6 resulted in a positive effect.” (p. 889). The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project was borne out of a writing revolution that began in the 1970s around a process approach to writing instruction, which helped educators recognize that we can teach students to progress through the authentic experience of composing that emulated that of published authors. While our work around writing instruction has developed over the past three decades, the underlying principles around the ideas that writing is process remain constant. Graham, McKeown, Kiuhara, and Harris’s meta-analysis of multiple studies (2012) revealed that effectiveness of this approach in stating that, “implementing a process approach to writing had a positive impact on writing quality in typical elementary grade classrooms” (p. 890). In our writing workshop curriculum, each unit of study provides young writers with multiple opportunities to move through the different stages of the writing process in order to take their pieces from rehearsal to publication.

In our minilessons, we teach writing strategies that will help students move independently through the writing process while we teach responsively in small groups and individual conferences. Graham, McKeown, Kiuhara, and Harris’s meta-analysis (2012) also supports this practice stating “writing strategies and knowledge play an important role in students’ growth as writers. When students receive instruction designed to enhance their strategic prowess as writers (i.e., strategy instruction, adding self-regulation to strategy instruction, creativity/imagery instruction), they become better overall writers. Likewise, when students are taught specific knowledge about how to write (i.e. text structure instruction), the overall quality of their writing improves (p. 891).” They determined that “increasing how much students wrote improved writing quality.” (p. 890) However, practice alone is not enough. At a recent speech at the August Writing Institute 2014, Calkins asserted that, “perfect practice makes perfect,” which means that students need long stretches of time, along with specific feedback aligned to next steps for them as writers, in order to progress.

The importance of supporting volume and stamina as writers is further supported in the reference materials and professional texts below.

Atwell, N. (1989). Coming to Know: Writing to Learn in the Intermediate Grades. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Atwell, N. (1998). In the Middle, 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Bomer, R., & Laman, T. (2004). Positioning in a primary writing workshop: Joint action in the discursive production of writing subjects. Research in the Teaching of English, 420-466.

Calkins, L. (1994). The Art of Teaching Writing, 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Graves, D. (1983). Writing: Teachers and Children at Work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Graves, D. (1994). A Fresh Look at Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Guthrie, J. (2004). Teaching for Literacy Engagement. Journal of Literacy Research 36 (1), 1-30.

Hertz, M., & Heydenberk, W. (1997). A kindergarten writing workshop: How kindergarten students grow as writers. Reading Horizons, 37(3), 3.

Jasmine, J., & Weiner, W. (2007). The effects of writing workshop on abilities of first grade students to become confident and independent writers. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35(2), 131-139.

Juel, Connie. "Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades." Journal of educational Psychology 80.4 (1988): 437. (?)

Murray, D. (1985). A writer teaches writing, 2nd ed.. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin.

Newkirk, T., & Kittle, P. (Eds.). (2013). Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children’s Writing. Heinemann.

Stein, M., Dixon, R., & Barnard, S. (2001). What Research Tells Us about Writing Instruction For Students in the Middle Grades. Journal of Direct Instruction, 1(2), 107-16.

Troia, G. A., Lin, S. C., Monroe, B. W., & Cohen, S. (2009). The effects of writing workshop instruction on the performance and motivation of good and poor writers. Instruction and assessment for struggling writers: Evidence-based practices, 77-112.

Literacy-rich content area instruction

The TCRWP community of practice is focused on developing literacy-rich content area instruction to support students’ growth in knowledge and in literacy practices across the curriculum. The TCRWP has developed a curricular calendar for content area instruction for grades 3-8 which fuses supporting students in learning content with practices in literacy. We have explored how to integrate reading and writing in the content areas through our work with schools, yearlong study groups and even a weeklong institute for the past several years. Recently, the TCRWP collaborated with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation through a generous grant that allowed educators to work with staff developers from both organizations on-site at Colonial Williamsburg to draw on the collective knowledge base to learn and create new and innovative methods for content area instruction.

There is specific research that supports the importance of literacy rich content area instruction. In “Shaping Literacy Achievement, Integrating Literacy and Science, The Research We Have,” Cervetti and colleagues (2007) found that an approach that “enabled students to make connections between experience and reading, strategies and content, literary and scientific texts” led to “increased student’s strategy use, conceptual learning and text comprehension” (p. 159) when compared to those students who received instruction through more traditional models. In addition, Pearson, Moje, and Greenleaf (2010) state that “science provides a setting in which students are intellectually obligated to make sense of data, draw inferences, construct arguments based on evidence, infer word meanings, and, of course, construct meanings for text—the very dispositions required as good readers and writers” (p. 460). While their research applied to science learning in particular, one could argue that it could be applied to any content area.

For more sources on infusing content area instruction with literacy practices:

Cervetti, G. N., Pearson, P. D., Barber, J., Hiebert, E., & Bravo, M. (2007). Shaping Literacy Achievement, Integrating Literacy and Science, The Research We Have. In M. Pressley, A. Billman, K. Perry, K. Reffit, & J. Morrehead-Reynolds (Eds.), Shaping Literacy Achievement, Integrating Literacy and Science, The Research We Have (pp. 157–173). New York, New York: The Guilford Press. Retrieved from Integrating Literacy and Science.

Hapgood, S., Palincsar, A. A. (2007). Where literacy and science intersect. Educational Leadership, 64(4), 56-60.

Freidus, H. (2010). Finding passion in teaching and learning: Embedding literacy skills in content-rich curriculum. The New Educator, 6, 181–195.

Fisher, D., & Ivey, G. (2005). Literacy and language as learning in content area classes: A departure from “every teacher a teacher of reading”. Action in Teacher Education, 27(2), 3-11.

Richardson, J. S. (2008). Content area reading: a 50-year history. In M. J. Fresch (Ed.), An essential history of current reading practices (pp. 120-143). Newark, NJ: International Reading Association.

Jewett, P. (2013). Content-Area Literacy: Recognizing the Embedded Literacies of Science and Mathematics. Journal of Reading Education, 38(2), 18-24.

Pearson, P. D., Moje, E., Greenleaf, C. (2010). Literacy and science: Each in the service of the other. Science, 328(23), 459-463.

Engaging Students in Argumentation Across the Curriculum

The Common Core State Standards has brought argumentation into the spotlight. In Appendix A, of the CCSS document, theorist and critic Neil Postman is cited to demonstrate the importance of argument’s role in twenty-first century learning. He calls argument the “soul of education” because when composing an argument, students need to read and think critically, evaluate multiple perspectives, in order to measure the strength of their own claim, and draw conclusions. Newell, Beach, Smith, & VanDerHeide (2011) would agree, asserting “a successful reader or writer will be a person who can argue effectively using current or perhaps new rhe¬torical styles and structures to make his or her own ide¬ational contributions to significant conversations within and across domains, and who can read thoughtfully and write with authority in ways that others will find interesting and convincing” (p. 298). This vital role that argument writing holds in a student’s future academic achievement is further supported by Hillocks (2010) who in “Teaching Argument for Critical Thinking and Writing: An Introduction” asserts that “argument is at the heart of critical thinking and academic discourse, the kind of writing students need to know for success in college” (p. 24-25).

To read more about the importance of teaching argumentation to students, here are few of the sources you can consult:

Beach, R., Thein, A.H., Webb, A. (2012). Teaching to exceed the English Language Arts Common Core Standards: A literacy practices approach for 6-12 classrooms. New York: Routledge.

Hillocks, G. (2011). Teaching argument writing: Grades 6-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Hillocks, G. (2010). Teaching argument for critical thinking and writing: An introduction. English Journal, 99(6), 24-32.

Kuhn, D. (2005). Education for thinking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Newell, G. E., Beach, R, Smith, J. & VanDerHeide, J. (2011). Teaching and learning argumentative reading and writing: A review of research. Reading Research Quarterly, 46(3), 273-304.

The TCRWP curriculum across all areas fully embraces the research on the importance of teaching argument and places a strong emphasis on teaching students how to engage in argumentation and compose and evaluate arguments. We have studied learning progressions on supporting the development of argumentation in a think tank composed of a cadre of classroom teachers from grades K-8 as well as researchers from CBAL, the research arm of ETS and TCRWP staff. Through the learning of this group, in addition to advanced summer institute sections and study groups, the TCRWP developed argument protocols for arguing about texts as well as ways to weave argumentation across the curriculum. In 2013, the TCRWP held its first annual Argumentation Institute, where hundreds of participants came together to hone their argument reading and writing skills in order to launch and sustain the work in their classrooms.

You can see evidence of the TCRWP’s work around written argument in our Units of Study in Opinion/Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing A Common Core Workshop Curriculum for Grades K-8 which contain writing units which support students in how to craft strong, clear and sound opinions/arguments. As early as Kindergarten, students craft petitions, letters, and signs to tackle problems faced in their classroom, school, and even the world. As students move across the grades, the TCRWP writing curriculum extends their work with argument, providing students with multiple opportunities to engage in argument writing so they can develop a host of skills, which will empower them to take a stance and convince others to join their side. By the time they reach the upper grades, students ramp up their work in argument by writing research-based argument essays in which they lift the level of their work, in line with the CCSS, learning how to consider different perspectives, and crafting powerful arguments based on carefully selected evidence, analysis, and rebuttal of counter-claims. The TCRWP has designed an argument writing curriculum that is grade-specific and positions students to progress along a path of development acquiring the essential argument skills needed, not just for college and career readiness, but to prepare students to be involved citizens who want to play a role in making the world a better place. This curriculum is informed by research, including argumentation learning progressions based on reviews of literature (see Song, Deane, Graf, & Rijn, 2013). We have also brought argument into the content areas, encouraging students to debates issues in science and to analyze informational texts, historical documents, and pictures to debate, for example, whether Columbus was a hero or villain.

In all of our argumentation work, there is a focus on debate and dialog as a way of rehearsing and developing the ability to engage in written argument. This emphasis is supported by research. There is a specific research base which holds that oral argumentation and dialog supports students being able to develop written arguments (see, for example, Kuhn, 2005; Graff, 2003; Kuhn, 1991). In her newest book, Deanna Kuhn, a leader in argumentation research, and her co-authors Laurie Hemberger and Valerie Khait (2014) argue, “Rich practice in dialogic argumentation with peers is a fruitful path to the development of skill in the more traditional forms of argument—notably, individual expository writing—emphasized in school and critical to academic achievement beyond the early grades” (p. 16). Debating and engaging in argumentation with peers directly supports individual writing of arguments.

Please see the following sources for further consideration of dialog and debate supporting the development of written argument:

Felton, M. K. & Herko, S. (2004). From dialogue to two-sided argument: Scaffolding adolescents’ persuasive writing. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(8), 672-683.

Graff, G. (2003). Clueless in academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Kuhn, D., Hemberger, L, & Khait, V. (2014). Argue with me: Argument as a path to developing students’ thinking and writing. Bronxville, NY: Wessex, Inc.

Kuhn, D. (2005). Education for thinking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kuhn, D. (1991). The Skills of Argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McCann, T.M. (2010). Gateways to writing logical arguments. English Journal, 99(6), 33-39.

Song, Y., Deane, P., Graf, E.A & Rijn, P.V. (2013). Using Argumentation Learning Progressions to Support Teaching and Assessments of English Language Arts. R & D Connections, 22, 1-14.

Boosting Vocabulary Acquisition Across the Curriculum

In Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards (2012), it states that “it is widely accepted among researchers that the difference in students’ vocabulary levels is a key factor in disparities in academic achievement.” The TCRWP acknowledges that expanding a child’s vocabulary is critical to his/her academic success.

Our work with schools reflects our recognition of the need to raise the level of vocabulary instruction in classrooms. In our work, we have found that teachers who create print rich classrooms, provide multiple opportunities for reading and writing, and create opportunities for multiple interactions with vocabulary across their day support children in developing their knowledge of vocabulary. In his article, “Building Word Consciousness” Jeff Barger (2006) notes that, “engaging kids in word play activities has been cited by many researchers as a crucial strategy in boosting student vocabulary growth” (p. 279). He goes on to affirm that, “creating opportunities for children to play with words is vital not only to enhancing their vocabulary but also to increasing their comprehension” (p. 279). The TCRWP has hosted experts, such as Ken Pranksy, who specializes in helping striving learners and ELLs develop stronger academic language skills, and showing teachers different ways to adapt text based on a child’s academic language proficiency.

Stanovich and Cunningham (1996) concluded, “inadequate exposure to print prevents children from building important knowledge structures, such as vocabulary, metalinguistic knowledge, and general world knowledge. These knowledge sources are necessary for efficient reading comprehension at the more advanced levels” (p.29). After citing Stanovich, Allington (2012) concludes, “so expanding volume of reading, as suggested in the previous chapters, is a good first step to increasing knowledge of word meanings.” In “10 Research Tested Ways to Build Children’s Vocabulary,” Duke and Moses (2003) outline ten research based practices that will support vocabulary development drawing on the work multiple researchers to support each of the strategies outlined. One that stands out aligns closely with Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project’s approach is that, “in school we need to involve children in rich, meaningful conversations whenever we can” (p.5). The TCRWP places a strong emphasis on talk to support student learning and embeds talk into most of their teaching structures from mini-lessons, to reading and writing partnerships, book clubs, to whole class conversations around texts read aloud. It is clear that the TCRWP values talk, not just as a way to build vocabulary, but to support overall learning. In the TCRWP Overview of the Year for Readers document which accompanies our curricular calendars for each grade, our recommendations are aligned with the research that, “the single most important thing you can do to enhance your children’s knowledge of words is to lure your children into lots and lots and lots of reading. If children read a diverse range of books, they’ll encounter a wider range of words” (p. 23). Please reference this and other resources below for additional support on how to boost vocabulary for all learners.

Allington, R. L. (2012). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Barger, J. (2006). Building word consciousness. The Reading Teacher, 60(3), 279-281.

Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2013). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. Guilford Press.

Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (2007). Increasing young low‐income children’s oral vocabulary repertoires through rich and focused instruction. The Elementary School Journal, 107(3), 251-271.

Brassell, D. (2012). Dare to differentiate: Vocabulary strategies for all students. Guilford Publications.

Common core state standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Common Core Standards Initiative, 2012.

Elley,W. B. (1989). Vocabulary acquisition from listening to stories. Reading Research Quarterly, 24, 174–187.

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2008). Word wise and content rich, grades 7–12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Moses, A. M., & Duke, N. K. (2003). 10 research tested ways to build children’s vocabulary.

Stahl, S. A., & Fairbanks, M. M. (1986). The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysis. Review of educational research, 56(1), 72-110.

Stanovich, K. E., West, R. F., Cunningham, A. E., Cipielewski, J., & Siddiqui, S. (1996). The role of inadequate print exposure as a determinant of reading comprehension problems. Reading comprehension difficulties: Processes and intervention, 15-32.

Wilfong, L. G. (2013). Five-Minute Vocabulary Strategies for the Common Core.

A Workshop Approach: A Curriculum Designed to Offer Access to All Students

The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s approach to instruction is designed to support individualized learning. Since its inception, the TCRWP has recognized that a “one size fits all approach” does not match the realities of the classrooms and schools in which we work, which is the reason that the instruction that is happening inside of a workshop classroom at any given moment is tailored to the student, or group sitting in front of the teacher. The structures of workshop teaching calls for teachers to adapt a responsive stance to instruction, taking their cues from children and planning instruction that articulates next steps or goals that address their needs. In fact, we offer the following advice to teachers in schools in which we work, which can be found in the Overview of the Year for Readers/Writers document, which accompanies each of our yearlong grade-specific curricular calendars for reading and writing workshop, “This curricular plan lays out one suggested order of units, and also includes a few alternate paths. You’ll want to, and need to, collect and study your data on your readers (or writers), and then sit together with colleagues to plan your on-site adaptation of the curriculum.” (p. 2). That is, the most important thing a teacher can do for any student is to study that student’s data and plan instruction which is responsive to that child’s strengths and needs.

The TCRWP has also found the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) framework to be an excellent tool for supporting teachers in designing instruction that provides access to the curriculum for all learners. Brand and Dalton (2012) explore the potential of UDL for breaking down barriers to literacy learning in a recent article entitled “Universal Design for Learning: Cognitive Theory into Practice for Facilitating Comprehension in Early Literacy” in which they conclude that, “the process of eliminating barriers to literacy learning for all students is best supported by a universal design for learning curriculum with embedded provisions, including technology” (p. 17). All of the principles of UDL such as utilizing different methods to teach students, giving them access to different digital tools or supports to express their learning, and engaging students through providing opportunities for choice and self-assessment to engage students are just a few examples of where workshop teaching and principles of UDL intersect.

The TCRWP’s work has been informed by leading experts in the education field whose work is focused on supporting specific populations of students in accessing the curriculum. In many cases, these experts come to the TCRWP to work with our community. For example, this coming year, the community will learn with Dr. Marilyn Friend, Professor Emerita of Education in the Department of Specialized Education Services at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the Past President of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), and the author of numerous books including: Special Education: Contemporary Perspectives for School Professionals, Interactions: Collaboration Skills for School Professionals (co-authored with Dr. Lynne Cook), Including Students with Special Needs: A Practical Guide for Classroom Teachers (co-authored with Dr. William Bursuck), and Co-Teach! A Manual for Creating and Sustaining Classroom Partnerships, as well than more than 50 articles on collaboration, inclusive practices, and related topics will be coming to TC to add to the community’s knowledge base. In addition, the Project will offer several other conference days specifically designed to support the teaching of children with IEPs, including collaborating with service providers, developing data-based toolkits, and preparing children for the demands of state exams.

Small group work and conferring are what a teacher spends a bulk of the workshop time engaged in, which provides the teacher with multiple opportunities to personalize instruction. The routines and structures of a workshop are kept simple and predictable, as mentioned, so that the teacher can focus on the complex work of teaching in a responsive manner to accelerate achievement for all learners. This practice is well-supported by Dube, Bessette, & Dorval (2011) whose research demonstrated “the positive effects of the combination of flexible grouping, associated with the explicit teaching of writing are particularly clear in the subgroups of students with learning difficulties or severe learning difficulty in writing” (p. 181). In fact when comparing the error rate variation from the beginning and end of the experiment, “the percentage dropped from 16.22% of all errors for students with severe learning difficulties to 7.83% of all types of errors, for the students with severe learning difficulties” (p. 181) in regard to different writing competencies. Also, the volume of student writing increased with students producing more in the time allotted.

Ford, (2005) and Perkins & Cook (2012) also support the use of flexible grouping to support responsive instruction. The learning progressions and student facing checklists are important tools that promote self-assessment and goal setting so that instruction is tailored to each individual learner

Look below for additional references that speak to supporting all learners in accessing the curriculum. We also want to note that some of the studies which we referenced in other categories included studying populations of students who were considered part of the special education population. We encourage you to also refer to these studies for more information about how the curriculum offers access to all learners:

Brand, S. T., & Dalton, E. M. (2012). Universal Design for Learning: Cognitive Theory into Practice for Facilitating Comprehension in Early Literacy. In Forum on Public Policy Online (Vol. 2012, No. 1). Oxford Round Table. 406 West Florida Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801

Dalton, B., Proctor, C. P., & McNamara, D. S. (2007). Reading as thinking: Integrating strategy instruction in a universally designed digital literacy environment. Reading comprehension strategies: Theories, interventions, and technologies, 423-442.

Dubé, F., Bessette, L., & Dorval, C. (2011). Differentiation and Explicit Teaching: Integration of Students with Learning Difficulties. US-China Education Review B 2, 167-184.

Ford, M. P. (2005). Differentiation Through Flexible Grouping: Successfully Reaching All Readers. Learning Point Associates/North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL).

Graham, S., Harris, K. R., MacArthur, C. A., & Schwartz, S. (1991). Writing and writing instruction for students with learning disabilities: Review of a research program. Learning Disability Quarterly, 14(2), 89-114.

Perkins, J. H., & Cook, C. D. (2012). Addressing the literacy needs of striving readers. Using Informative Assessments Towards Effective Literacy Instruction, 1, 325.

Proctor, C. P., Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. L. (2007). Scaffolding English language learners and struggling readers in a universal literacy environment with embedded strategy instruction and vocabulary support. Journal of Literacy Research, 39(1), 71-93.

Radencich, M. C., McKay, L. J., & Paratore, J. R. (1995). Keeping flexible groups flexible: Grouping options. Flexible grouping for literacy in the elementary grades, 25-41.

Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 25, 71-86

Supporting English Language Learners

TCRWP classrooms as mentioned, are structured in ways that are predictable and this is especially supportive for students who are developing English—emergent bilinguals. With clear, predictable structures, children become more comfortable participating. The predictability of the workshop provides reassurance to a child who is just learning English, and this is amplified if workshop structures repeat themselves across subjects. In addition, workshops are characterized by a consistent instructional language, making it easier for a child who is just learning English to grasp the unique content that is being taught that day. The workshop gives language learners not only a space for language learning but a place to practice. Each day, where a child is advanced her knowledge of the English language or an beginning speaker (or else on the progression of language learning), that child will have the opportunity to work on language skills in addition to skills in reading, writing, etc. English Language Learners need to expand both their receptive language skills—their listening and reading—as well as their expressive language skills—their speaking and writing. The workshop provides a place where these skills can be practiced.

The workshop is structured to allow for individualized instruction but for English Language Learners, this instruction must consider not only their literacy skills but also their language development. The TCRWP encourages teachers to collect language samples both written and oral from students and study these to identify and plan next steps for the learner. There is no such thing as the English Language Learner. Each child has unique strengths and needs. For students who are learning English as a foreign language, two important factors to consider are the child’s strengths and needs in literacy in his/her primary language as well as his/her strengths and needs in English.

In her article for Principal, in which she synthesized and reported on the results of reviews of research concerning instruction for English Language Learners, Protheroe (2011) asserts that there are three key findings worth noting: 1. “teaching students to read in their first language promotes higher levels of reading achievement in English,” 2. “what we know about good instruction and curriculum in general holds true for ELLs, and 3. “when instructing ELLs in English, teachers must modify instruction to take into account students’ language capacities, needs, and limitations” (pp. 27-28). Interventions which work for other students have a somewhat weaker effect on ELLs. Therefore, instructional strategies are needed which specifically support the needs of ELLs. According to Protheroe, research suggests that the following instructional strategies are particularly supportive for ELLs: “A focus on oral language development, such as opportunities to practice English in the classroom, building on students’ background knowledge; cooperative learning: explicit instruction in the elements of English literacy; differentiated instruction; the use of graphic organizers as a comprehension strategy; and a focus on academic language” (p. 28).

In her 2009 study, O’Day also found that although structures of instruction which are set up to support individualized instruction offer potential to support ELLs, teachers must apply specific interventions and strategies tailored to the specific student’s language needs. In her three year study of the implementation and effects of a balanced literacy approach in San Diego City Schools, O’Day (2009) took qualitative data from two of the years to consider what might have been missing from the approach and how the strengths that were developed during the district’s literacy reforms might be used to address some of the issues were found. O’Day does first note the importance of engaging in meaningful conversation for learning language: “In addition, it would appear that EL students benefit from opportunities to engage in conversation and discussion in literacy lessons, most likely because such interactions provide practice for oral language development in a context of meaningful communication” (108-109).

O’Day also noted the potential positive benefits of a balanced literacy program for English Language Learners, and says: “I noted earlier the likely benefits of a balanced literacy program for EL students, in part because instructional differentiation is so integral to the approach. Grouping strategies, text selection, and specific activities to scaffold instruction (e.g., read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading) were to be designed and implemented to respond to the needs of individual learners as they progressed toward independence in increasinglymore complex texts. Moreover, the emphases reported across the case study schools on teachers knowing their students well and documenting student progress was to provide the bases for matching instructional strategies to the needs of specific children at specific points in their development. (p. 111). Although, Day does note these potential benefits of a balanced literacy approach to support English Language Learners, she also cautions that teachers need to develop and strengthen their own knowledge base in specific areas in order to specifically address the needs of their ELLs within the model. She draws upon Fillmore and Snow (2000) and Lesaux and Crosson, 2005) and says, “[Educators] must also know enough about texts, literacy instruction, and second language acquisition (a) to analyze potential barriers to EL comprehension of a given text, and (b) to diagnose and monitor their students’ particular language needs and progress. Only then will teachers be able to design and implement effective strategies for helping their EL students engage sufficiently with the text and literacy-related activities to actively construct meaning and become proficient readers (Fillmore & Snow, 2000; Lesaux & Crosson, 2005). (p. 112)

The TCRWP continues to work to support the development of such a knowledge base for the community. In addition to on site development in schools, conference days are offered at Teachers College for teachers to attend to hear about working with and supporting English Language Learners. This fall the TCRWP will also hold its first National Think Tank on Supporting English Language Learning in Reading and Writing Units of Study. A cadre of teachers and teacher-leaders with special expertise in working with students who are learning English will join senior leaders and other members of the TCRWP community to share ideas and resources designed to best help students who are learning English within our reading and writing workshops. The information and insights learned will then be shared with the Project community at large.

For more information, please refer to these sources:

Calkins, L. (2013). Supporting English Learners (pp. 78-85). In L. Calkins A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Celic, C. (2009). English language learners day by day, K-6: A complete guide to literacy, content-area, and language instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cummins, J. (2005). ELL students speak for themselves: Identity texts and literacy engagement in multilingual classrooms. Educational Leadership Journal.

Fillmore, L.W., & Snow, C. E. (2000). What teachers need to know about language, Washington, DC: Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.

Freeman, D. & Freeman, Y. (2008). Academic language for struggling readers and English language learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Gibbons, P. (2009). English learners, academic language, and thinking: Learning in the challenge. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching second language learners in the mainstream classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lenski, S. D., Ehlers‐Zavala, F., Daniel, M. C., & Sun‐Irminger, X. (2006). Assessing English‐Language Learners in Mainstream Classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 60(1), 24-34.

Lesaux, N. K., & Crosson, A. C. (2005). Addressing variability and vulnerability: Promoting the academic achievement of English learners. In F. M. Hess (Ed.), Urban school reform: Lessons from San Diego (pp. 263–282). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

O’Day, J. (2009) Good instruction is good for everyone—Or is it? English Language Learners in a balanced literacy approach. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 14(1), 97-119.

Protheroe, N. (2011). Effective instruction for English-Language Learners. Principal, 90(3), 26-29.

Swinney, R. and Velasco, P. (2011). Connecting content and academic language for English learners and struggling students grades 2-6. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals - This resources describes ways that ELLs are supported in workshop (see pages 55, 77, 115).

Using Learning Progressions to Lift the Level of Literacy Instruction and Accelerate Student Progress

The TCRWP assessment system has learning progressions at its center. In writing, there are three intertwined K-8 learning progressions, one each in opinion/argument, information, and narrative writing. In reading, there are two intertwined progressions, one in reading literature and one in reading informational texts. The TCRWP learning progressions have been developed based on the TCRWP’s decades of work in thousands of schools across the globe as well as from the latest research and have been piloted, with other tools in the TCRWP assessment system, in tens of thousands of classrooms. The TCRWP assessment system with learning progressions at the center of the system, is not only a way for teachers to engage in formative assessment; it is also a way to lift the level of the actionable feedback you provide to students and it powers students’ learning and provides for clear goals as well as accessible ladders for reaching those goals.

This assessment system is first and foremost a performance assessment designed to accelerate students’ progress. There is research that suggests that the use of performance assessments that are embedded into curriculum can support building higher-order complex skills and can improve instruction (Goldschmidt et al., Educational Assessment, 227 (12): 239-66; Pellegrio, Chudowsky, and Glaser, Knowing what Students Know, 2001; Wood et al., “Refocusing Accountability: Using Local Performance Assessment to Enhance Teaching and Learning for Higher Order Skills”, 2007 available at

In addition to the body of research on performance assessments, there is growing body of research supporting the use of learning progressions to guide and raise the level of instruction. Research has demonstrated that learning progressions have important potential for educators, policy makers, curriculum and assessment designers, etc. Multiple policy documents and research reports published recently (see, for example Daro, Mosher, Corcoran, 2011; Corcoran, Mosher, and Rogat, 2009; Mosher, 2011) related to learning progressions, argue that the development of the Common Core State Standards have created a strong need for learning progressions. In order for students to have hope of meeting these standards, teachers will need to monitor student progress and know when and how to intervene to support students in reaching the standards. They will need to be aware of when students are encountering difficulty in working to reach these standards and of how to support students in getting back on track. In short, teachers will need to know “when to teach what to whom” (Daro, Mosher, Corcoran, 2011, p.). Learning progressions, as research-based maps or pathways, can help offer that sense of where to go next.

To read more about the potential of learning progressions, here are some of the policy documents and research reports we recommend reading:

Corcoran, T., Mosher, F. A., & Rogat, A. (2009). Learning progressions in science: An evidence-based approach to reform (CPRE Research Report #RR-63). Philadelphia, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

Daro, P., Mosher, F.A., & Corcoran, T. (2011). Learning trajectories in mathematics: A foundation for standards, curriculum, assessment, and instruction (CPRE Research Report #68). Philadelphia, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

Mosher, F.A. (2011). The role of learning progressions in standards-based education reform. (CPRE Policy Brief RB-52). Retrieved from

National Research Council (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten through eighth grade. R.A. Duschl, H.A. Schweingruber, & A.W. Shouse (Eds.). Washington DC: The National Academies Press

Assessment-based conferring and small group work

TCRWP workshops have the same characteristic structure. Workshops are deliberately kept simple and predictable. Students can approach any day’s reading or writing (or content area) workshop, planning to continue with their important ongoing work. The bulk of students’ time is spent engaging in their independent work, drawing upon a growing repertoire of skills, tools, strategies and habits. The structure of the workshop allows for students to take ownership over their work and in addition, these predictable workshop structures allow for teachers to engage in the work which is really the heart of the workshop—conferring and small group work— intimate, intensive, responsive teaching of groups and individuals.

For any learner to grow stronger, that learner must be provided with informative, responsive targeted feedback. Hattie’s (2008) research perhaps best supports this claim. He reviewed 180,000 studies involving 20 to 30 million students and found that of 100 factors that contribute to student achievement, providing learners with feedback rates in the very top 5%-10% of influences. The feedback is especially valuable if the teacher helps the learner know where he is going, what progress he has made so far, and what specific activities he can do next to progress toward the goal. Ideally, learners also receive help in refining and seeking more challenging goals. This is what conferring—working one-on-one with an individual child is—listening and looking to understand a child’s work and intentions and then helping a learner take all of the instruction that is in the air and use it in ways that connect precisely to the learner, making sure the learner is working with direction and feedback.

The TCRWP recognizes that different kinds of small group work offer teachers opportunities to make their instruction more effective, but also more efficient grouping (for a time) students with similar needs, and tailoring support to meet those needs. The whole-goal of small group instruction is responsiveness. Teachers can tailor their instruction to what a group of students needs, rather than to the whole class. In TCRWP classrooms, observers will see different iterations of small group work based on the teacher’s purpose and the students’ needs. From guided reading groups to supporting readers in transitioning to new levels of text complexity, to strategy lessons on accountable talk, to extending the work around a writing goal, to coaching book clubs and so many other methods and purposes, small group instruction allows the opportunity for the classroom teacher to be responsive to what students need. Teachers who we work with are encouraged to be flexible in their approach to small group work recognizing we are teaching a class of individual readers – with varied strengths, needs and goals.

The effectiveness of this approach is supported in Denton, Vaughn and Fletcher’s (2003), “Bringing Research Based Practice in Reading Intervention to Scale,” which concludes that effective teachers are able to identify struggling readers and modify the nature and intensity of instruction to address their needs, basing instructional decisions on information gathered from frequent assessments and monitoring of student progress” (p. 202) Similar findings demonstrated the importance of small group work. In “Instructional Grouping for reading for Students with LD: Implications for Practice,” Vaughn, Hughes, Moody, and Elbaum (2001) further explore the implications of small group instruction on developing readers and noted that “a descriptive study of the teacher-student ratios in special education classrooms (e.g., 1-1 instruction, 1-3 instruction, and 1-6 instruction), smaller teacher-led groups were associated with qualitatively and quantitatively better instruction.”(p. 133). Additional support can be found in Spörer, Brunstein, & Kieschke, (2009) study “Improving students’ reading comprehension skills: Effects of strategy instruction and reciprocal teaching,” where it was revealed that “intervention students attained higher scores on an experimenter-developed task of reading comprehension and strategy use than the control students who received traditional instruction. Furthermore, students who practiced reciprocal teaching in small groups outperformed students in instructor-guided and traditional instruction groups on a standardized reading comprehension test” (p. 272).

There is strong research to support the effectiveness of small group instruction in promoting achievement. There are several references below, but also be sure to reference other categories in this document, such as providing access for all readers, working will ELLs and comprehension strategy instruction, which further confirm the effectiveness of small group instruction.

Denton, C. A., Vaughn, S. and Fletcher, J. M. (2003), Bringing Research-Based Practice in Reading Intervention to Scale. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18, 201–211.

Elbaum, B., Vaughn, S., Hughes, M. T, & Moody, S. W. (2000). How effective are one-to-one tutoring programs in reading for elementary students at risk for reading failure? A meta-analysis of the intervention research. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(4), 605.

Pressley, M., & Wharton-McDonald, R. (1998). The nature of effective first-grade literacy instruction. The National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement. Retrieved from

Spörer, N., Brunstein, J. C., & Kieschke, U. (2009). Improving students’ reading comprehension skills: Effects of strategy instruction and reciprocal teaching. Learning and Instruction, 19(3), 272–286.

Swanson, H. L., & Hoskyn, M. (1998). Experimental intervention research on students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis of treatment outcomes.Review of Educational Research, 68(3), 277-321.

Taylor, B., Pearson, P., Clark, K., & Walpole, S. (2000). Effective schools and accomplished teachers: Lessons about primary-grade reading instruction in low-income schools. The Elementary School …, 101(2), 121–165.

Vaughn, S., Hughes, M. T., Moody, S. W., & Elbaum, B. (2001). Instructional Grouping for reading for Students with LD: Implications for Practice. Intervention in School and Clinic, 36(3), 131–137.

The value of demonstration teaching as scaffolding students toward greater independence

In “What I’ve Learned about Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers,” Allington (2002) notes that there is specific research that supports the fact that reading is an active meaning-making process, and that exemplary teachers engage in “active instruction - the modeling and demonstration of the useful strategies that good readers employ” (p. 743). Palincsar and Brown (1984) concur based on the results of their study entitled “Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and Monitoring Activities” where “instruction provided during reciprocal teaching sessions involved extensive modeling and practice in four strategies that were deemed to be ideal comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities” (p. 168) led to “quantitative improvement on comprehension tests” (p. 167) with students demonstrating improvement. There was even evidence that they were able to transfer the strategies learned to other contexts. In “Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know” Rosenshine (2012) found that “the more effective teachers do not overwhelm their students by presenting too much new material at once. Rather, the most effective teachers only present small amounts of new material at any time, and then assist the students as they practice this material.” (pp. 13-14). This harmonizes with our approach in which that students learning is scaffolded providing the student with just the right amount of support to experience success with less support over time moving students toward independence with the skill or strategy. This practice is evident in our minilessons during the active involvement (the part of the minilessons where students are practicing what the teacher modeled or demonstrated, and the teacher is coaching into their work, providing explicit feedback and support). This is also true for individual conferences and small groups where students have opportunities to practice what was taught, receiving feedback on their work to provided support when needed. Minilessons, conferences and small groups end with a link, where teachers further support a gradual release of responsibility by linking the teaching/learning interaction to the student’s on-going work.

It is a common practice in TCRWP classrooms to find teachers engaged in brief periods of explicit instruction, demonstrating the practices and habits of reading and writing as a model for students to follow. During a minilesson, conference or while teaching a small group in reading or writing workshop, or while reading aloud, a teacher is apt to pause in the midst of the act, and make their thinking visible to the students to model the active use of the strategy and skill. The teacher often debriefs following the think aloud to name out the steps of the strategy so that students are able to see that the steps are replicable and can be applied to their own reading and writing work. The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s approach encourages teachers to draw on several different methods of instruction in their teaching during whole class mini-lessons, small group work, and individualized conferring. While there are multiple methods to draw on in our teaching, a method that teachers tend to access when introducing a new skill or strategy that requires a good deal of scaffolding is demonstration. When teachers first learn the the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s approach, a good deal of time is spent in helping teachers craft explicit teaching points that help them to communicate the reading skill along with a replicable strategy to access the skill, and the reading context where it would make sense for students to apply the strategy. After learning how to craft explicit teaching points, teachers will spend a good deal of time practicing a demonstration of the skill in order to make the invisible mind work of reading transparent.

For further discussion and research around the effectiveness of demonstration as method of teaching, which scaffolds students toward greater independence with learned skills and strategies, here are some of the sources we recommend reading:

Allington, R. L. (2002). What I’ve learned about effective reading instruction. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 740-747.

Berkeley, S., Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (2011). Reading comprehension strategy instruction and attribution retraining for secondary students with learning and other mild disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44(1), 18-32.

Duke, N. K., & Pearson, P. D. (2002). Effective practices for developing reading comprehension. What research has to say about reading instruction, 3, 205-242.

Hoffman, J. V., Afflerbach, P., Duffy-Hester, A. M., McCarthey, S. J., & Baumann, J. F. (2014). Balancing principles for teaching elementary reading. Routledge.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2013). Better learning through structured teaching: A framework for the gradual release of responsibility. ASCD.

Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1, 117-175.

Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. American Educator, 36(1), 12.

Rupley, W. H., Blair, T. R., & Nichols, W. D. (2009). Effective reading instruction for struggling readers: The role of direct/explicit teaching. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 25(2-3), 125-138.

Taylor, B. M., Peterson, D. S., Pearson, P. D., & Rodriguez, M. C. (2002). Looking inside classrooms: Reflecting on the" how" as well as the" what" in effective reading instruction. The Reading Teacher, 270-279.

Emphasis on staff development creating a culture of learning

Our organization prides itself on being a learning community focused on reflecting on, and refining our own best thinking and learning around best practices to support literacy achievement. In his article “Improving Relationships Inside the Schoolhouse” Roland Barth (2006) states that, “One incontrovertible finding emerges from my career spent working in and around schools: The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else” (p. 8).

Central to the mission of the TCRWP is to help schools create communities of practice where teachers are working together to learn from each other’s best practices in order to position students to develop into skilled, proficient, expert readers and writers. DuFour (2004) outlines in his article, “What is a Professional Learning Community?” what is required to support teachers in this effort: “The professional learning community model is a grand design—a powerful new way of working together that profoundly affects the practices of schooling. But initiating and sustaining the concept requires hard work. It requires the school staff to focus on learning rather than teaching, work collaboratively on matters related to learning, and hold itself accountable for the kind of results that fuel continual improvement” (p. 6).

The TCRWP works hard to help teachers create this culture of collaboration in their buildings through on-site staff development, individualizing coaching, assessment-based feedback, implementing research-based practices, and working together with students, teachers, building leaders, and schools to ensure that each individual in the building is at the top of their learning curve. In her effort to “marshal research evidence that can be used productively to enhance professional learning and thereby to nourish such a school” (p. 1), Little (2006) found that, “schools that exhibit a high level of success with students, sometimes against considerable odds, tend to supply consistent portraits of work environments conducive to teacher learning” (p. 22). She further noted in her conclusion that, “in these schools, teacher learning arises out of close involvement with students and their work; shared responsibility for student progress; access to new knowledge about learning and teaching; sensibly organized time; access to the expertise of colleagues inside and outside the school; focused and timely feedback on individual performance and on aspects of classroom or school practice; and an overall ethos in which teacher learning is valued and professional community cultivated” (p. 22). In our on-site work with schools, TCRWP staff developers work with small groups of teachers on a grade level in “labsite” classrooms to model best practices and observe, research, and teach in response to students’ needs. Following the labsite, teachers meet in study groups to debrief and engage in professional conversations around the shared experience to provide each other with feedback, and discuss goals and next steps for themselves, their grade levels along with implications for the work across the school. Principals and other building leaders often participate in these experiences to make their own learning public in effort to communicate to their teachers that the school is focused on the learning of all. Participation also allows building leaders to assess how the work is progressing across the school and determine next steps in terms of professional development. Our work with schools, inside classrooms with teachers and children is central to our mission, but the TCRWP, as mentioned throughout this document, offers a vast amount of opportunities to sustain a culture of learning in a school including, but not limited to, offering 100+ workshops each year to keep teachers, literacy coaches, parents, and building leaders current on best practices to support literacy instruction, leading study groups that help the TCRWP continue to grow its knowledge base around specialized areas of instruction, and holding week long institutes across the year around content area literacy, argumentation, literacy coaching, and of course, reading and writing workshop. All of these structures are designed to support teacher education and schools as communities of practice.

Below are sources that demonstrate the importance of turning schools into learning communities to support student growth and achievement.

Barth, Roland S. (2006). Improving Relationships Inside the Schoolhouse. Educational Leadership, 63, 8 - 13.

Duffy, G. G., & Hoffman, J. V. (1999). In pursuit of an illusion: The flawed search for a perfect method. The Reading Teacher, 10-16.

DuFour, R. (2004). What is a" professional learning community"?. Educational leadership, 61(8), 6-11.

Devlin-Scherer, W. L., Devlin-Scherer, R., Wright, W., Roger, A. M., & Meyers, K. (1997). The effects of collaborative teacher study groups and principal coaching on individual teacher change. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 32, 18-22.

Fang, Z. (2013). Learning to Teach Against the Institutional Grain: A Professional Development Model for Teacher Empowerment. In Preparing Teachers for the 21st Century (pp. 237-250). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Fullan, M. (2014). The principal: Three keys to maximizing impact. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Garet, M. S., Porter, A. C., Desimone, L., Birman, B. F., & Yoon, K. S. (2001b). What Makes Professional Development Effective? Results From a National Sample of Teachers. American Educational Research Journal.

Grodsky, E., and A. Gamoran. 2003. “The Relationship between Professional Development and Professional Community in American Schools.” School Effectiveness and School Improvement 14(1), 1–29.

Hargreaves, A. 1993. “Individualism and Individuality: Reinterpreting the Teacher Culture.” In J.W. Little and M.W. McLaughlin (Eds.) Teachers’ Work: Individuals, Colleagues, and Contexts (pp. 51–76). New York: Teachers College Press.

Hargreaves, A., & Fink, D. (2012). Sustainable leadership (Vol. 6). John Wiley & Sons.

Harris, A., Day, C., Hopkins, D., Hadfield, M., Hargreaves, A., & Chapman, C. (2013). Effective leadership for school improvement. Routledge.

Little, J. W. (2012). Professional community and professional development in the learning-centered school. Teacher learning that matters: International perspectives, 22-46.

Mitchell, C., & Sackney, L. (2011). Profound improvement: Building capacity for a learning community. Taylor & Francis.

Musanti, S. I., & Pence, L. (2010). Collaboration and teacher development: Unpacking resistance, constructing knowledge, and navigating identities.Teacher Education Quarterly, 73-89.

Showers, B., & Joyce, B. (1996). The evolution of peer coaching. Educational leadership, 53, 12-16

Swafford, J. (1998). Teachers supporting teachers through peer coaching.Support for Learning, 13(2), 54-58.

Taylor, B., Pearson, P., Peterson, D. S., & Rodriguez, M. C. (2003). Reading growth in high-poverty classrooms: The influence of teacher practices that encourage cognitive engagement in literacy learning. The Elementary School, 104(1), 3–28.