By Dr. Sumit Bangia, Supervisor of Humanities

Learning to read is a fundamental skill that guides student success both in and out of the classroom, as reading impacts all areas of learning, regardless of discipline. In essence, good readers lead to good learners. This is why it is critical to provide extra support to students who exhibit reading difficulties early in their education. Literacy coaches are specialized instructors who work closely with classroom teachers to review, reinforce, and support classroom reading instruction for struggling students with push-in and/or pull-out small group support. The primary focus of coaching is to develop student fluency and comprehension skills. Coaching has shown to make a significant difference in the long-term reading abilities and achievement of students. The Verona School District is fortunate to have two talented literacy coaches, Mrs. Claire Duffy and Mrs. Heather Andersen.

Mrs. Duffy and Mrs. Andersen work with identified students in all four elementary buildings. Mrs. Duffy works with students at Brookdale and Laning Avenue Elementary schools, and she brings a wealth of experience, having served as a special education teacher at Brookdale Elementary School for twelve years. Her extensive knowledge of small group intervention strategies and resources has been invaluable in helping her students grow as readers. Mrs. Duffy reported that she loves being able to work with students at every stage of their reading development. It gives her a unique perspective on where they are coming from and where they need to go in order to be successful readers.

Mrs. Andersen works with students at both F.N. brown and Forest Avenue Elementary schools. Mrs. Andersen’s background includes both general education classroom teaching and coaching. Her experience working with a diverse group of students enables her to develop lessons that best meet the varied needs of the students she works with throughout the day. The dynamic nature of the two coaches has resulted in students making strides in their reading abilities.

Both coaches work with identified students in a variety of settings, and they use a diverse array of strategies and resources to meet the differentiated needs of their students. Settings include both pull-out and push-in sessions. In the pull-out sessions, the coaches work with students in small groups that are organized by grade level at each school.

The lessons require a great deal of planning and resources due to the differentiated needs of the students in each group. Push-in support is also provided based on the needs of the students. Coaches assist the classroom teachers in reading instruction and model strategies to help the identified students.

Both settings have allowed the coaches to ensure consistency with regard to the strategies they use in the pull-out sessions and the work being completed with the classroom teachers.

Mrs. Pam Banta, a second-grade teacher at Laning Avenue Elementary School, stated, “Mrs. Duffy works very closely with the teachers to make sure these students are getting all the instruction they need and then some. I am able to do some of the work she does with them in her room and use it for small group instruction in my classroom. I have seen huge improvements in my students.” First-grade teacher at Forest Avenue Elementary School Mrs. Joan Weiss added, “The small group instruction that Mrs. Andersen is able to give my students provides them with more confidence in their reading and that confidence transfers into my classroom.”

Interacting collaboratively with classroom teachers to establish productive learning communities is a trademark of the literacy coach success. The coaches meet with classroom teachers throughout the school year to review the progress of shared students. Mrs. Andersen explained that the relationship provides a sounding board for teachers who are seeking new and different ways to help students. She went on to say, “The link between teacher and coach is crucial to the progress of each student; working collaboratively with teachers to problem-solve issues related to specific students and instructional strategies is an important part of the program. This allows the classroom teacher and coach to align instruction so that the teaching is congruent and of high quality. We support the needs of both teacher and student.” Teacher feedback has been overwhelmingly positive as well. Third-grade teacher Mrs. Megan Pellegrino said, “Mrs. Andersen and I discuss the progress and areas of growth for my students. We work together to hone in on the areas of growth necessary to provide effective instruction for my students to strengthen their reading.” Mrs. Victoria Cirigliano, a first-grade teacher at Brookdale Avenue, added, “It is so rewarding to see the smiles on my students’ faces as they become more confident, fluent readers! It helps to know that someone is there to help and support what I am doing in my classroom along with communicating the strengths and weakness we see, while offering support and strategies for students! It’s a team effort and it is working!”

Student progress is closely monitored by Mrs. Duffy and Mrs. Andersen throughout the school year to ensure students are showing adequate growth. Both coaches begin the school year with a diagnostic assessment to determine if students are meeting grade-level benchmarks in reading. This assessment identifies students’ areas of strength and weakness, and this information in turn enables the coaches and classroom teachers to design appropriate lessons. Progress monitoring is also continuously employed by the coaches on a monthly basis. Progress monitoring enables the classroom teacher and academic coach design appropriate lessons for the reading intervention student. The literacy coaches also provide progress reports to parents twice a year to inform them of their child’s progress.

Reluctant readers are now eagerly approaching reading with excitement and anticipation. A first-grade teacher shared, “Nothing warms my heart more than seeing the excitement my students have when the literacy coach stops in to pick them up. What was once a difficult and frustrating task has become a time where these little ones can shine! They love reading! Isn’t this what our job is all about?!” It is through the use of a collaborative approach, focusing on what the young reader can do well, and targeting instruction to meet a student’s specific needs, is what has made Verona’s Literacy Coaches successful.

Click here to read the digital newsletter.