Literacy in the Classroom…Empowering Community Partners

Nov 13th, 2018 | Category: Columns, Literacy In the Classroom
By Samantha Lazich

It is imperative that those responsible for teaching children to read have a deep understanding of a theoretical framework supporting this process, along with the content knowledge, and instructional strategies that sustain this development in young children. In fact, studies have highlighted consequences for students placed in classrooms of teachers who lack critical content knowledge (Lane, Hudson, Leite, Kosanovich, Strout, Fenty, & Wright, 2008; Swerling & Zibulsky, 2013). One investigation found that first-grade students placed in classrooms with teachers who knew more about the importance of reading fluency, the skills that contribute to fluent reading, and instructional methods for improving fluency, finished the year with greater fluency than students placed in classrooms with teachers who were less knowledgeable (Lane et al., 2008).

Theoretical frameworks such as Chall’s Stages of Reading Development (1983) provide a structure for teachers, and the context for understanding how readers move through various stages as they learn to read and begin to use reading as a tool for learning. Approximately 20 years ago, the United States made a commitment to provide support in various capacities to ensure that all children learn to read. This commitment resulted in the influential reports of Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (1988), the National Reading Panel (2000) report and the No Child Left Behind Act (2002). The report of the NRP is especially important for those responsible for teaching children to read, as it defined five areas critical for effective reading instruction with a clear deadline (third grade) established through later legislation (No Child Left Behind, 2000).  Conclusions drawn from Chall’s Stages of Reading Development (1983) support third grade as a developmentally appropriate time to expect children to have mastered the skills necessary to read. Theoretically speaking, this is a time when children make the shift from learning to read to reading to learn. 

Given the importance of having adequate disciplinary knowledge, the Center for Literacy at Concordia University Chicago along with faculty from the Department of Literacy and Early Childhood Education, came together to support local Lutheran school teachers who were seeking to deepen this knowledge.

In keeping with findings of investigations attempting to increase disciplinary knowledge among teachers, our team provided research-rich professional development opportunities, supported by highly knowledgeable mentors (McCutchen, Green, Abbott, & Sanders, 2009; Brady, Gillis, Smith, Lavalette, Bronstein, Lowe, North, Russo, & Wilder, 2009; Martinussen, Ferrari, Aitken, & Willow, 2015).  Chall’s (1983) model was used to provide a theoretical framework of how individuals learn to read. A total of five sessions were offered, dedicated to each of the essential elements of effective reading instruction (i.e. phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) as suggested by the NRP.  Opportunities to explore instructional strategies aligned to each element were also provided. Participants experienced visits to their classrooms by a literacy coach to support the implementation of newly- learned strategies.

As a former teacher who once felt overwhelmed with the task of teaching young children to read, it is with great pride I share our efforts in support practicing teachers. The Center for Literacy, along with faculty from the Department of Literacy and Early Childhood Education, continues to empower our community partners through various programming.  We look forward to future endeavors with our Lutheran school partners. LEJ


Brady, S. Gillis, M., Smith, T., Lavalette, M. Bronstein, L., Lowe.,E. North, W., Russo, E. & Wilder, T. (2009). First grade teachers’ knowledge of phonological awareness and code concepts: Examining gains from an intensive form of professional development and corresponding teacher attitudes. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 22(4), 425-455.

Chall, J. S. (1983). Stages of reading development. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lane, H., Hudson, R., Leite, W. ,  Kosanovich, M. ,  Strout, M. , Fenty, N. &  Wright, T. (2008). Teacher knowledge about reading fluency and indicators of students’ fluency growth in reading first schools. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 25(1), 57-86.

Author Information

Samantha Lazich, is an assistant professor in the Department of Literacy and Early Childhood Education at Concordia University Chicago. She is also the coordinator of a university partnership with a local educational foundation supporting a network of Lutheran schools in Chicago.