This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Last week, nearly 700 Philadelphia K-3 teachers proved their commitment to improving their students’ literacy.
They attended a weeklong institute at Martin Luther King High School and gathered teaching methods and resources for their classrooms.
The workshops covered a number of practical topics: phonological and phonemic awareness instruction; read-alouds and shared reading; guided reading groups; classroom organization and routines for an effective literacy block; independent reading; and leveled libraries.
The professional development session was underwritten with grants from the Lenfest and William Penn Foundations and is part of the city’s READ! by 4th initiative, which aims to have all students reading at grade level by the end of the 3rd grade.
Attendees said they were happy that they got “actual strategies and resources … as opposed to just theories,” as one teacher put it.
For instance, even if they did not teach English language learners or students with disabilities, all teachers were scheduled to attend sessions on techniques useful with those groups.
Not only do all teachers come in contact with students learning English and with special needs, but those techniques can also work with other students, said Diane Castelbuono, the District’s deputy chief for early childhood programs.
“I’m glad that all teachers had to attend the ELL workshop,” said Jeanne DeVine, a 3rd grade ELL teacher from Lewis Elkin Elementary. “Everyone should know the best practices for working with ELL students. And I’m pleased that we are getting all of this information now, instead of right before school [starts]. This way we can talk about it and actually implement it.”
Harris Gaffin, an assistant principal at Elkin, found that the workshops offered teachers a chance to collaborate. “This is a great opportunity for our teachers. It’s informative, and the interactive team-building is giving them a lot more to walk away with,” he said.
The workshops were led by representatives from the School District and partner organizations, such as the American Reading Co.
“This week has been organized and it’s been especially beneficial that teachers are getting the same information across all sessions,” said Tiffany Halsey, a literacy expert with the American Reading Co. “Everyone is on the same page.”
Pauline Cheung, a multilingual manager who works in schools, presented the session about oral language development for students learning English.
“I am happy to have had the chance to work with teachers this week. They are engaging one another and are asking great questions,” she said.
On Thursday morning, the institute attendees showed their resolve when they were left in the dark after a neighborhood transformer blew out.
Educators congregated in the hallways under emergency lights and remained hopeful that power would be restored. This was a collaborative moment as teachers formed clusters and discussed what they’d taken away from previous days.
Some also helped students who were also in the building attending an extended-year program. “Teachers are troupers,” said Castelbuono. “They deal with the toughest situations.
Ultimately, the power outage cut the day short and teachers were dismissed early.
Jennie Bogoni, the new director of the city’s READ! by 4th initiative, said that the campaign can’t be successful without high-quality teachers who are trained to do this work.
“The K-3 teacher population is diverse, with educators of various backgrounds,” Bogoni said. Bringing them together with each other, and with their principals and other administrators, is “groundbreaking,” she said.
Bogoni also noted that the institute was unique because it was open to community partners. For example, members of After-School All-Stars of Philadelphia and EducationWorks were present for training.
“These community members were being trained in the same strategies, so this means that when a child attends an afterschool program or a summer program, professionals there will be promoting literacy,” she said.
Bogoni emphasized the importance of the broad coalition that is working with READ! by 4th.
“The District was able to rally partners to provide volunteers, get the support of generous donors, and design a program on short notice. This kind of effort is fundamental to us in moving forward with READ! by 4th. We’ll be speaking the same language and using the same proven strategies for our students across the city.”
Fabiola Cineas is an intern at the Notebook.