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High-Leverage Literacy Practices: Redefining Literacy Instruction in Diverse Contexts

By Kindel Nash, Etta Hollins, and Leah Panther
 | Jun 21, 2017
High-Leverage Literacy Practices

The term “best practices” has become ubiquitous in educational policy due to legislation and reports related to the National Reading Panel, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The original intention of best practices was to involve teachers in making experience- and evidence-based decisions. These legislative acts mandated teaching practices that demonstrated positive academic gains using scientific research studies. 

However, the studies informing best practices often minimize the strengths of urban communities. The concept of high-leverage literacy practices (HLLPs)—which we studied in the context of high-performing, urban schools—attempts to fill gaps in the current literature on best practices.

HLLPs build upon and extend what the learner already knows, and are characterized by a purposefully sequenced, interconnected, and iterative progression of experiences that support cumulative and increasingly complex understandings of language and literacy protocols and usage.  

High-leverage literacy practices are always concerned with questions such as: What does the practice mean in terms of supporting a child’s learning? How is the practice connected to learning theory? To date, HLLPs have been identified in math, science, foreign language, and secondary language arts but, until our study, no HLLPs had been unearthed in early childhood literacy contexts.   

Kim, a high -performing, urban first-grade teacher from our study, enacted instructional decisions to create her classroom library that exemplify the three principles of HLLPs: purposefully sequenced, interconnected, and iterative progressions of experiences.

First, the student-created label system was purposefully sequenced. Kim carefully planned the learning experience, paired students, and provided challenging text sets with varying levels of complexity.

Second, the labeling activity was interconnected. Kim drew from multiple literacy skills to create an authentic learning experience. Students employed background knowledge, text features, and context clues to identify a common theme linking each text, and also designed, drew, and wrote the labels.

Finally, the student-created labels were part of an iterative progression of experiences. Kim offered multiple opportunities to authentically apply new knowledge, such as continual revising of the labels as new text sets were introduced.

This example highlights how HLLPs can be measured, sequenced, altered, and adjusted for other academic and personal outcomes. Teachers can observe and identify the points where students struggle within the activity. Additionally, the HLLP builds from one skill to another and can be repeated at various levels and progressions.

Kim’s use of authentic, student-created labels in the classroom library facilitated student ownership of their classroom and academic and socioemotional growth.  

Kindel NashKindel Nash is an assistant professor of urban teacher education and the coordinator for the language and literacy master’s program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She earned her doctoral degree from the University of South Carolina. Her current research explores high-leverage early literacy instruction and its intersections with culturally sustaining pedagogies and critical race theory. Her work can be found in Teachers College Record, Equity & Excellence in Education, Language Arts, and The Urban Review.

Etta HollinsEtta Hollins is the Ewing Marion Kauffman Endowed Chair for Urban Teacher Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She was previously professor and chair of Teacher Education at the University of Southern California. She served on the prestigious Teacher Education Panel for the American Educational Research Association and has been an invited speaker for the American Educational Research Association, the Association of Teacher Educators, National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, the Council of Great City Schools, and the International Literacy Association. Hollins is regularly called upon as a consultant on the preparation of teachers for diverse and underserved students by colleges and schools of education, state departments of education, and school districts.

Leah PantherLeah Panther is a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her research interests include high-leverage literacy practices, urban religious schools, and adolescent literacy. Her current research project involves high-leverage literacy practices in urban religious middle schools.

Kindel Nash, Etta Hollins, and Leah Panther will present a session titled “High-Leverage Literacy Practices: Researching and Defining Literacy Instruction in Urban School Contexts” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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