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Structured Literacy PLD: Diving Deep After the $67 Million Splash

Updated: May 27

by Rebecca Thomas

(Image generated by OpenAI)

In the realm of education, the pursuit of effective literacy instruction is paramount, especially for marginalised communities facing systemic barriers. As schools embark on professional learning and development journeys for structured literacy, and as the Ministry of Education navigates the application and approval process for PLD, a critical question arises: How can we ensure that these initiatives are not just riding the surface but are deeply impactful for those who need it most?

It's essential for schools to anchor themselves to individuals whose convictions run deeper than the surface. Amidst the tide of lucrative funding, its important for schools to be able to seek support; schools must ensure they're not just handed a surface-level helper, but rather someone who authentically swims confidently in the deep, where conviction and commitment guide their every stroke.

To ensure that structured literacy PLD incorporates both the principles of the Science of Learning and maintains the relational aspect of teaching, providers could consider several key additions:

Integration of SoL Principles - Induction knowledge

PLD sessions should explicitly incorporate SoL principles into their content and activities. Teachers should be introduced to key concepts such as memory formation, motivation, self-regulation, and metacognition, and guided on how to apply these principles in their literacy instruction. This might involve engaging workshops, interactive seminars, or creative online modules that provide both theoretical knowledge and practical strategies for integrating SoL into structured literacy teaching. It is important that this induction knowledge doesn't come in the form of transmissive pedagogical approaches, or overly complex academic language - it needs to be delivered in a way where the knowledge is shared with pedagogical imagination and practical relevance in order for it to be truly effective and easily understood.

Experiential Learning Opportunities - Trialing

PLD providers should offer experiential learning opportunities that allow teachers to apply SoL principles in real-world teaching contexts. This could include classroom observations, peer coaching sessions, or collaborative lesson planning activities where teachers can experiment with incorporating SoL principles into their instruction. They need to know what the science looks like and sounds like in their context. By engaging in hands-on learning experiences, teachers can deepen their understanding of SoL and its practical implications for teaching practice.

Reflective Practices - Application

PLD should include opportunities for teachers to reflect on their teaching practice and its alignment with SoL principles. This might involve journaling, video reflections, group discussions, or reflective prompts that encourage teachers to consider how their instructional decisions impact student learning outcomes. By engaging in supportive reflective practices, teachers can identify areas for improvement and make adjustments to better align with SoL principles.

Emphasis on Teacher-Student Relationships

PLD providers should emphasise the importance of teacher-student relationships in structured literacy instruction. Teachers should be encouraged as part of the PLD process to create a supportive learning environment, and personalise instruction to meet individual needs. PLD sessions could include discussions, silent debates, student voice, case studies, or role-playing activities that highlight the impact of positive teacher-student relationships on student engagement, motivation, and learning outcomes.

North-East Meetings

PLD programs should offer regular coaching and mentoring support to help teachers effectively integrate SoL principles into their teaching practice while maintaining relational aspects. Coaches and mentors can provide personalised guidance, feedback, and encouragement to help teachers navigate the complexities of implementing SoL in structured literacy instruction. Through ongoing support, teachers can develop confidence in their ability to effectively apply SoL principles while nurturing positive relationships with their students.

Nurturing Creativity in Writing

While integrating the principles of the Science of Learning into structured literacy instruction is crucial, it is equally important not to overlook the role of creativity in writing. Effective PLD should emphasise the significance of nurturing students' imaginative thinking, self-expression, and unique voices. Teachers should be equipped with strategies to foster creative writing skills, such as drama, extended critical literacy discussions, storytelling, and literary devices. By striking a balance between structured literacy and creative expression, students can develop a well-rounded writing ability and a genuine love for the craft.

Inspiring a Love of Reading

Moreover, PLD should underscore the importance of cultivating a love of reading in students. Teachers should be provided with resources and techniques to inspire a lifelong passion for literature, such as book talks, reading clubs, and exposure to diverse genres. By fostering a positive reading culture, students can develop not only their literacy skills but also a deeper appreciation for the transformative power of written works.

Promoting Sustainability

To ensure the long-term sustainability of structured literacy PLD efforts, programs must incorporate robust monitoring and continuous improvement practices that their schools take ownership over. This could involve regularly collecting data on teacher implementation, student outcomes, and community feedback to evaluate the effectiveness of the PLD. Dedicated teams should analyse this data to identify strengths, areas for growth, and evolving needs.

Collaborative Approach to Comprehensive PLD

While the additions outlined above would create a well-rounded and holistic PLD program, it is important to recognise that a single provider may not possess expertise across all areas, including: structured literacy, the Science of Learning, creativity, reading inspiration, and sustainability. In the future, we may see a trend towards collaborative PLD models, where teams of experts from various disciplines come together to design and deliver integrated programs. Such collaborations could involve partnerships between literacy coaches, creative writing instructors, educational psychologists, reading specialists, and sustainability experts. By pooling their collective knowledge and skills under one roof, these diverse professionals can develop a comprehensive approach that blends structured literacy instruction with the relational aspects of teaching, while also fostering creativity and a love of reading. This collaborative model recognises that turning the story around for students requires a multifaceted effort, where competition gives way to cooperation among experts committed to providing the highest quality education possible.

In the pursuit of transformative literacy instruction, especially for marginalised communities, it is crucial to recognise that the path forward is not an either-or choice between the science of learning (SoL) and educational theory. Rather, the true power lies in the harmonious weaving of these two domains. A comprehensive and impactful PLD program should seamlessly integrate the empirical findings of cognitive science, neuroscience, and learning research with the time-tested pedagogical strategies and relational practices of effective teaching.

It is in the synergy of these two worlds that we can unlock the full potential of structured literacy instruction. The principles of SoL provide a scientific foundation for understanding how learning occurs, while educational theory offers a rich tapestry of methods and approaches for translating that understanding into practical, engaging, and culturally responsive classroom experiences.

Ultimately, the goal is not to prioritise one domain over the other but to create a cohesive, multidimensional approach that honours both the art and science of teaching. By embracing this duality, we can equip educators with not only the empirical knowledge but also the pedagogical imagination necessary to truly transform literacy outcomes for all students, especially those who have been historically underserved.

It is in this seamless weaving of science and practice that we can craft a narrative of equitable literacy achievement.

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