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Case Study: Bethlehem Area School District Extends Literacy Shifts into the Adolescent Level

by Shauna Cotte | 1 | 0 Comments

The Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) has done extensive work in grades K-3 to shift to evidence-based reading instruction, and now that they are producing stronger readers in the primary grades, instruction needs to adjust in grades 4-12. Kim Harper, Supervisor of K-12 Literacy and Humanities, pointed out, “Once students have the foundational literacy skills, reading becomes every teacher’s responsibility, not just the reading teacher. The demands in vocabulary and text structure vary by content. If our goal is to have students graduate with disciplinary literacy, we need to be sure that we have solid content area literacy strategies in all subjects.” And that is precisely the work they began in 2021. 

Bethlehem Area School District set out to focus on high-leverage, research-based content area literacy instructional practices that are clear and applicable for all teachers. Through a partnership with Keys to Literacy, Bethlehem Area School District established a multi-year, strategic plan that provides teachers in grades 4-12 with tier 1 instructional practices for comprehension, vocabulary, and writing. Educators across grade levels and subject areas are collectively participating in literacy professional development delivered as core classroom instruction embedded into the content material they are currently utilizing (e.g., primary source documents, textbooks, short stories, and multimedia).  

A key component of the district’s success is the leadership of the administrative team. By design, before any professional learning is delivered to Bethlehem Area School District’s teachers, principals and supervisors participate in the training first. They not only learn the content in advance of the teachers, but they also learn how to lead their teachers through the training: What part of the training do teachers typically find to be challenging? What are the things to look for to experience successful implementation? How can leaders support the implementation beyond the day of PD? 

This leadership-first approach was employed with the rollout of the Keys to Comprehension Routine and the Key Vocabulary Routine, the first two trainings in a three-year cycle that will also include Keys to Content Writing. Principals, supervisors, and even the Assistant Superintendent/Chief Academic Officer attended training in advance of teachers and taught lessons to classes of students so they could experience what the implementation was going to be like for teachers.

Administrators were required to partner up and teach a lesson using the Keys to Literacy instructional practices. They then had to give each other feedback on their lesson, and the leadership team debriefed the experience as a whole group. This approach has several benefits, but most importantly, administrators are put in the shoes of their teachers. They learn what it takes to plan with the literacy practices in mind and have the experience of teaching content with the suggested strategies. Kim Harper notes, “Teachers see their administrators learning and trying – and sometimes, the lesson goes sideways! But that’s real. Administrators are in it with the teachers. The experience also helps them be better observers of the routines in action.”

In addition to the strategic and key role administrators played in the successful rollout of Keys to Literacy’s initial training, administrators participated in monthly half-day principal meetings focused on their professional learning. Last year, a full year of learning secondary literacy research, change management, and how to lead a literacy implementation was an essential component of building the knowledge and confidence of the administrative team. This year, BASD implemented vertical PLCs where administrators from every level are grouped together to do learning walks four times a year, visiting elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. Prior to learning walks, teachers feel supported through ongoing implementation coaching provided by Keys to Literacy as part of the KTL professional development model.

Bethlehem Area School District has earned a well-deserved spotlight on success! Keys to Literacy is proud to partner in continued efforts to make adolescent literacy an important area of focus in order to elevate student achievement for all learners.

Shauna Cotte

Shauna Cotte Shauna has been a Keys to Literacy trainer since 2007. She began her career in education as a literacy specialist before spending time as a classroom teacher at both the elementary and middle school levels where she taught U.S. history as well as reading and writing.

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