The University of Iowa

Sioux City Principals See Improvement in Student Literacy Outcomes and Engagement as Small-Group, Skills-Based Instruction Implementation Continues

Denney and Henderson Q&A

Posted on: January 31, 2017

Director's Note: In our last blog, we introduced you to the work of the Sioux City Community School District through an interview with two building principals, Amy Denney of Perry Creek Elementary School and Stacie Henderson of Liberty Elementary. These instructional leaders represent the ambitious and dedicated efforts of the district administrators as well as the faculty and staff of five elementary schools implementing dramatic changes to their literacy curriculum and instruction. We are fortunate to have them sharing their insights with you in this second installment of our Q&A.

This is the second of a multi-part series of Q&A posts with Sioux City Community School District faculty on the implementation of small-group, skills-based literacy instruction in elementary schools. 

Deborah K. Reed, Ph.D.
Director, Iowa Reading Research Center

Q: How do you work with your assistant principal and instructional coaches to use teacher and student data in evaluating your progress and determining your next steps?

Stacie Henderson (SH): We collected implementation data by visiting classrooms at various stages of the 21-day phase-in. This was done in order to get baseline implementation data. After gathering this data, our leadership team (administration and consulting teachers) met to review the data. We provided general feedback and additional professional development based upon this information. We have continued to provide weekly professional development focused on small-group, skills-based instruction and student engagement.

Our next step is to observe full 90-minute literacy blocks. The plan for this is twofold. First, we will gather trend data on implementation to determine next steps for professional development. Second, we will gather individual teacher data to provide feedback and plan for individual support. This will happen in February and will include a debriefing with every teacher after the observation.

Amy Denney (AD): My assistant principal and instructional coaches have been instrumental in supporting me and supporting our teachers. We meet at least once each week to set goals, plan professional development, review needs of each PLC, monitor student data, and reflect on where we are as a building and what our students need at every level. We also have had grade-level representatives that have met regularly with us to receive professional development at a district level, plan and lead professional development in the building, and be leaders among their grade level and professional learning community (PLC).

Q: Do you have any success story examples resulting from this transition, either individual examples of trends you have seen in the data, or other anecdotal stories you could share?

SH: In terms of quantifiable data, we examined our grade-level common assessment data and compared it to last year. In all grade levels but second grade, we saw an increase in the percentage of students proficient on at least one measured standard. Although the increases were slight, we are just beginning implementation. With continued focus and support, we expect to see increases in the data again second semester and throughout the year.

terms of teacher implementation, we have several teachers who have wholeheartedly embraced this as a way of business for literacy instruction and are driven by the success they are seeing in their students. As we enter classrooms, we see students focused on meaningful literacy activities that are extensions of their small-group lessons. We are working as a staff on defining a set of non-negotiable commitments to continue moving toward the most powerful, meaningful literacy instruction possible.

AD: Students take their jobs seriously during the rotations and completion of the must-dos and may-dos. Students like the routine nature and structure of the literacy block, as it is predictable and they know they will get small-group time with the teacher. They are focused on improving as readers and writers and are able to see the connection with the activities in which they are engaged.

Our staff had a ceremonial ending before we left for winter break in December. Staff brought old worksheets and activities that they formerly used in the classroom which were not meaningful and were mostly busywork activities. We had a bonfire and made s’mores to signify the end of meaningless instruction and commitment to using the time we have for only meaningful instruction. Everyone enjoyed seeing what was being thrown into the flames, and it felt great to know that we were all committing ourselves to providing the instruction that our students need.

Q: What advice do you have for other districts/schools that are embarking on a similar literacy instructional transition or change?

SH: It is important to set clear expectations and provide a vision of what you would like to see. The staff needs to see the demand for change and believe that they will be supported along the way. Just as we need to fill in gaps in our students’ learning, we need to take into consideration that all of our teachers come from different places and have varied understanding of the reading process. As a leadership team, we have had many conversations about the expectations we have of implementation, and we meet weekly to discuss what supports are needed to keep us on track. We communicate the things we are tight about and where there is some flexibility. Implementation monitoring is crucial, so that staff realize that the expectation is real. The administration cannot do it alone. A strong building leadership team with loud positive voices championing for students is critical. After we gather our next round of implementation data, we will provide feedback individually and in general. Our next steps after that will be for teachers to observe other teachers during the literacy block and have collaborative conversations before and after to strengthen practice. We will, of course, carry this over into our plan for next school year as we still have more to go.

AD: It is so important to support your teachers and increase their confidence in providing high-quality reading instruction to students. We started this work in August and are participating in two different studies of implementation during the month of January. All teachers will be collaborating and peer coaching with a partner from within their PLCs around small-group, skills-based instruction and then they will be videotaping a lesson for their own growth and reflection. We have learned so much—and still have so much to learn—but we are committed to our journey of improved literacy instruction. We expect that our student achievement will increase as a result of our efforts.