April 10, 2017
UD partners with Maryland schools on literacy initiative
“We are building good little readers,” said Melissa Malesh, a first grade teacher in the Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS).
CCPS teachers, administrators, parents and librarians are noticing students’ growing enthusiasm for reading -- enthusiasm fueled by a partnership between this Maryland district and the University of Delaware.
All 17 elementary schools in CCPS are implementing Bookworms, a literacy curriculum developed by UD School of Education professor Sharon Walpole with her late colleague Mike McKenna of the University of Virginia. This represents the largest implementation of Bookworms in a mid-Atlantic district, and the first professional development partnership between CCPS and UD.
Walpole and McKenna developed Bookworms in response to the increased reading and writing expectations in the Common Core State Standards. The curriculum incorporates shared reading, interactive read-aloud or writing, and small-group instruction in 45-minute blocks. It uses fiction and nonfiction books to help students stretch their skills and build vocabulary on a daily basis.
Now in its fourth year of development, the curriculum has demonstrated promising results in Georgia and Virginia. Schools in Delaware began using it last year.
CCPS Associate Superintendent Jeffrey Lawson, a graduate of UD’s doctoral program in educational leadership, initiated the partnership to accelerate his district’s literacy achievement. Lawson was familiar with Walpole’s work and had heard from a number of colleagues, “if you’re interested in moving kids and improving achievement, Bookworms is the program.”
UD’s Professional Development Center for Educators (PDCE) is providing support for the partnership. Kimberly Wagner and Kendra China, who manage the kindergarten and grades one through five programs respectively, have extensive experience with Bookworms. China was a doctoral student of McKenna’s at UVA, and Wagner brought the curriculum to her school in Delaware before joining UD.
PDCE set out four goals for the year:
1. Provide Bookworms training to CCPS elementary staff
2. Support classroom implementation through bi-monthly coaching
3. Examine data with teachers to identify what is working and what adjustments are needed
4. Help CCPS develop capacity for program sustainability.
Walpole said she is gratified to see the success of this partnership. “The implementation of Bookworms at CCPS exemplifies the community engagement roles of the university being linked directly to the research roles.”
On Jan. 19, UD and CCPS project leaders hosted a daylong session for school administrators to answer questions and develop solutions related to Bookworms instruction, assessment and leadership.
Lawson said he has been impressed with the collaborative process. “If you call [PDCE], you get a response. If something’s broke, they’ll work to fix it.”
“CCPS is proving to be an ideal partner, willing to make changes, take recommendations and invest in supporting teachers,” said Jackie Wilson, director of PDCE.
CCPS and UD partners agree that shifting to a new district-wide literacy curriculum is a big change for educators, especially those accustomed to making independent decisions about texts or activities.
But Lawson said he felt there was a huge advantage to having a common language related to literacy. “Bookworms is helping CCPS establish consistency, fostering a professional learning community on a system scale.”
Positive results are already emerging in CCPS. According to fourth grade teacher Laura Valz, “for the first time in my 10 years of teaching, students are actually disappointed when we get to the end of the section they are supposed to read for that day. They beg me to keep going!”
China noted that momentum is key to implementing a program. “When teachers are able to see the success of their students, that’s the only way they will buy in to such a change.”
The students’ academic improvement has been noteworthy.
CCPS’ mid-year Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test data measuring student growth in reading from fall to winter, indicated that all 17 elementary schools outperformed last year’s data in grades 3, 4 and 5.
“We’re seeing students grow at a fantastic rate…. I can’t say enough from a school system leader’s perspective about the impact [Bookworms] has had for us,” Lawson said.
To read a related article about Bookworms, click here.