How Starting Small Can Lead to Something Big

Newark Student ReadingA few weeks ago, AIR Institute Fellow and chief scientist for literacy, Terry Salinger, wrote a guest blog for CLI explaining how the preliminary results for CLI’s i3 funded Model Classroom Project stand out in the field of early reading interventions. The fact that CLI has been proven to have statistically significant results on kindergarten reading achievement and teacher practice is something we are all very proud of, but this type of impact does not happen overnight. Sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the small incremental changes happening daily to really understand the significance of our efforts.

At the core of CLI’s work is the belief that through quality instruction in literacy, we can help set students on the right academic path towards graduation and post-secondary success. But we can only offer the tools – it is the teacher who serves as the craftsman. One teacher from South Street Elementary School in Newark, New Jersey explains how with the supports CLI provided, she has created a routine in her classroom that allows students to interact with quality literacy, gives her time to work one on one with students, and helps build student’s reading stamina and range: “During Reader’s Workshop, my students check the Book Nook Schedule and find their reading spots, grab their reading bag and start reading right way. I am conferring with other students, discussing their reading goals and listening to them read. Students have 50% fiction and 50% nonfiction books in their bags. Everybody knows what to do. They read for 30 minutes every day.”

“My students feel safe; they know taking a risk is part of the process of learning. They help each other, and respect each other…The classroom is their second home, it is inviting and kid friendly.”
~ South St. School Teacher

While we love celebrating these small wins, CLI’s vision goes beyond changes in the classroom. We also work with school leaders and grade level teams to leverage these small wins for broader systemic change. As the principal at South Street said “My teachers were always collaborative, however now they are more focused on sharing best practices and supporting each other. They take ownership for their own professional development, visiting each other’s classrooms to observe strategies that work.”

It is these small adjustments in instructional procedures and school culture that lead to big victories. Over CLI’s four year partnership with South Street, we have witnessed the percent of third grade students at South Street reaching or exceeding proficiency on the NJASK increase by 15 percentage points, to where in 2013/14 they were outperforming the district average.

Newark, South Street NJASK

While the results we are seeing both through AIR’s study and at the school level definitely are affirming organizationally, it is this idea of starting small that keeps us grounded and focused on the day to day job of supporting teachers in becoming master’s at their craft.

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