Two memos from Harvard’s Lead for Literacy series offer suggestions for making professional development more effective in promoting young children’s development as readers.
“While most educators receive professional development (PD) focused on literacy skills and strategies, at scale current efforts aren’t working to improve children’s literacy,” one of the memos states. “If we are serious about training educators to deliver instruction that will boost literacy rates, then we need to make PD for educators more directly connected to children’s needs and more intensive.” (See “Designing Professional Development for Instructional Change.”)
The key, the memo notes, is to use data to design professional development that targets children’s needs. In addition, professional development must be ongoing – rather than one-time workshops – and tied to a long-term plan for improvement. It should integrate theory with practice-based activities, such as lesson designs, case studies, demonstrations and analysis of data. “A PD plan is not complete if all students’ needs are not addressed, particularly those students who are at risk for later difficulties,” the memo notes.
The second memo focuses on implementation. Even in well-designed professional development programs, educators may struggle to implement new approaches and may lose momentum. Educational leaders, the memo advises, must support teachers and early educators and ensure that “structures are in place to facilitate the link between professional learning and actual practice.” (See “Implementing Professional Development for Instructional Change.”)
“PD will only be effective if leaders organize learning communities so that educators have opportunities to encourage each other and discuss implementation issues on an ongoing basis,” the memo states. “PD sessions need to be interactive, with time for collaboration and reflection, and with actionable take‐aways for educators.”
The Lead for Literacy memos are an initiative of the Language Diversity and Literacy Development Research Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The research group is headed by Professor Nonie Lesaux, author of “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” which we commissioned in 2010 and which informs the memos.