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Two boys reading together

The ABCs of Elementary Reading and Writing in a Digital Age

12/01/14

A year ago, Tyler was struggling with his school work. A first grader at Frank McCoppin Elementary School, he had only been living in the U.S. for two years. He had limited English mastery and found his school work challenging.

But in the fall, something changed for Tyler. He now works on a tablet loaded with educational software that provides text for his reading level—it even guides him in his native Mandarin if he needs help with the material. Behind him is a newly-stocked library of books. To his left is a basket with his name on it, filled with engaging “Just Right” books designed to increase his English proficiency.

Nearby, Tyler’s teacher reviews his recent test results on her own tablet and tweaks his lessons so he is constantly challenged. She is coached weekly and uses her training to assess all her students’ reading progress and to make ongoing adjustments.

Through a combination of programmatic changes and technology, McCoppin teachers are creating a structure that adapts to individual needs while also ensuring shared standards for every student.

To support them in this change, McCoppin’s literacy specialist coaches teachers every day on their delivery of the lesson. After school, she meets with grade-level teams to develop materials for the next lesson and to teach new material to teachers. Twice a month, she designs and delivers a professional development workshop on different elements of reading and writing. McCoppin Elementary teachers are learning new practices and tools and collaborating daily to develop lessons.

All the training is to foster change in the classroom: the learning environment at McCoppin Elementary is more student-centered than before. Today, you’ll see rugs for students to sit for mini lessons, comfortable areas where students engage in partner or independent reading, and book bins filled with those “Just Right” books that Tyler has. The classrooms are filled with even more books for all interests, with charts lining the walls to reinforce what they are learning and easels placed for teachers to use in lessons.

You can see the change in the students as well. They’re excited about reading and eagerly discuss what they are reading and writing with each other. One student was recently overheard saying, “I have never seen so many wonderful books! I could read forever!”

SFUSD’s goal is to foster independence and develop attitudes and habits about literacy and learning that will last a lifetime. Ensuring that every school has the right tools and learning environments and supporting teachers in implementing research-proven literacy practices takes financial resources. This transformation in Tyler’s education, and the education of all students at McCoppin Elementary, is made possible with a grant from the Kellogg Foundation. With the grant, SFUSD has been able to model what a “comprehensive approach to literacy” looks like at the elementary school level. StartUp Education Foundation recently joined the Kellogg Foundation to bring this comprehensive approach to literacy to even more elementary classrooms in SFUSD.