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Today’s Topic: What’s Relevant Now: Redefining Literacy

(Excerpts from an article by Dr. Bill Daggett, Founder and Chairman of The International Center for Leadership in Education ICLE)

Today’s students will live and work their entire lives in a technologically based society, requiring them to develop advanced literacy skills. In the attached article, Dr. Daggett discusses two ways that future-focused schools are responding to the need to strengthen their students’ literacy skills:

  1. Teaching literacy in every grade and subject area

  2. Emphasizing reading and understanding data.

Teaching Literacy Everywhere

“Let's define literacy. It was once known simply as the ability to read and write. Today it's about being able to make sense of and engage in advanced reading, writing, listening, and speaking (Alber).”

It is common to believe that literacy instruction is solely the responsibility of language arts teachers, but  according to Dr. Daggett, “Today’s educators must make 21st-century literacy as much of a focus within science, mathematics, and technology instruction as it has traditionally been within language arts. Quite simply, we need to follow what the research tells us: every teacher in every grade must teach literacy. No exceptions!”

In all subject areas, students must be able to absorb and understand difficult content, unfamiliar vocabulary, and complex charts and graphs. Students who cannot understand the material in information-dense textbooks and other complex sources will fall behind and be unprepared for next steps in school or in the workplace. The challenge facing teachers is incorporating literacy skills into every lesson plan in a way that makes sense. For example, math teachers may tackle this challenge by encouraging students to write long-form answers and not simply jot down numbers. In science classes, teachers may require students to write detail-oriented lab reports that contain step-by-step processes.

Dr. Daggett is encouraging schools to prepare students for their futures and not the past by redefining literacy. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Richard Vaca, author of Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, states, “Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st-century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. (Alber)"

Emphasizing Data Analytics

According to Dr. Daggett, the amount of information available on the Internet has expanded significantly from 2005 to present by at least 3,900 times. We are dealing with a huge unit of computer storage known as an exabyte - one quintillion or one billion billion! “This growth will require our students to be proficient in data analytics. They will need to understand and analyze large data sets from multiple sources to find patterns, correlations and trends. They will also need to reduce, refine and manage information, while at the same time creating and reading charts, tables and graphs. (Daggett)”

Education World cited a new report by the Education Development Center, which stated, “The skills necessary for the data analytics jobs of tomorrow aren’t being taught in K-12 schools today....By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.” This report aligns with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is projecting a massive shortage in the IT workforce by 2020. "According to the agency, there will be 1.4 million openings but only 400,000 computer science graduates with the necessary skills to fill the positions. (Smith)"

What is Leicester Doing to Redefine Literacy?

In Leicester at each school, we use many practices to strengthen students’ literacy.  

Mrs. Hippert reports that at Leicester High School the Social Studies department continues to work hand-in-hand with the English Language Arts department reinforcing literacy. Both US History and World History classes employ primary source readings with the goal of strengthening students' ability to recognize the differences between 'cause and effect' as well as the role of 'perspective' when analyzing documents. The Foreign Language department incorporates reading into the instruction by developing reading skills, cultural awareness, and vocabulary expansion in context.  The reading sections of new textbooks develop reading skills such as getting the gist, recognizing word families, reading by phrase groups, inferring meaning, recognizing prefixes, understanding the context, recognizing (partial) cognates, and recognizing false cognates and figures of speech. They also encourage reading for pleasure.

At the Middle School, Mrs. Nelson highlights the work of the teachers in the following departments:

  • In English, students analyze fiction, poetry, drama, and literary nonfiction. The English teachers attended a Keys to Literacy full day workshop. They presented the “Answer Key to Open Response” to the full faculty and all teachers are expected to follow the same format for writing across the curriculum.

                    A: Analyze the question

                    N: Note the plan

                    S: Skim, read and select

                    W: Write the response

                    ER: End by reviewing

  • The library media specialist teaches research skills and integrated technology skills.

  • In math classes, students read and write how they derived their answer and communicate their problem-solving and thinking skills.

  • In music and band, students learn how to read music, interpret tone, and show understanding through performance.

  • In science students take a science-centered approach to language development. They experience the natural world around them and use language to inquire, process information, and communicate findings.

  • In STEM classes, students read and write technical specifications and communicate the design process.

  • Response to Intervention (RTI) for math and reading is ongoing through the STAR Reader and Math Assessment System. They test students several times over the course of the year. Teachers provide intervention to those falling below an established score and re-test until these students show growth.

At Memorial School, Mrs. Boss and the staff are in the second year of implementing reading and writing workshops, which provide opportunities to hold individual student conferences, choice reading, and student goal setting. Other areas of improvement are:

  • Professional development workshops have focused on analyzing complex texts to support the development of the necessary skills their students need to be successful as they progress through school and in later life.

  • Teachers are developing literacy in content areas:

    • Math

      • Developing mathematical writing through math journals and increased vocabulary work

      • Building flexibility with numbers through math talks

      • Using a building-wide problem solving strategy to increase critical thinking skills and develop students’ ability to explain their thinking

    • Science

      • Developing scientific writing through the use of science notebooks and vocabulary work

      • Incorporating nonfiction reading strategies into science lessons

  • There is an effort to develop technology literacy across grade levels through Google tools and specifically designed lessons to develop research skills.

At Primary School, Mrs. Soltysik and her staff are implementing programs to build literacy.

  • In Kindergarten, the Wonders phonics system is used to address the needs of students. There is an initiative to explore different programs such as Letterland, Lively Letters, Project Read to help supplement the current program. Mrs. Soltysik hopes to pilot a new program in late February and, if effective, purchase the program for the 2018-2019 school year.

  • Grade 1 teachers will be looking at the overview of phonics and decide whether adjustments need to be made, particularly, they will focus on skill building. They will do an analysis and make sure that skills align with state standards.

  • In Grade 2, some teachers report that phonics and reading fluency are concerns. There is an effort  to reach out to the community and see if there are consistent volunteers that can utilize the Great Leaps program to help increase fluency rates in Grade 2 students.


In the next few months, the Professional Development Committee and the Administrative Team will be developing a plan for 2018-2019 which will emphasize a district-wide writing initiative. More information will follow as we devise a plan.  If you want to read more about Literacy, please see the links below.


Go Deeper

Click on the following links to read the full articles cited in this blog.

Alber, Rebecca. “Deeper Learning: Defining Twenty-First Century Literacy.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 21 Jan. 2013

Alber, Rebecca. “How Important is Teaching Literacy in All Content Areas?” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 4 Aug. 2010

Daggett, William. “What’s Relevant Now: Re-Defining Literacy.” HMH Blog: The Spark, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 26 Sept. 2016,

Granata, Kassondra, “Should Students Learn About Data Analytics in the Classroom?” Education World,

Smith, D. Frank. “Should Big Data Skills Be Taught in K-12 Classrooms?” Ed Tech: Focus on K-12, 30 Dec. 2014

Varlas, Laura. “Why Every Class Needs Read-Alouds” Education Update, January 2018 (Vol. 60, #1, p. 2-3, 6),

Posted by berthiaumej  On Feb 08, 2018 at 2:19 PM

Welcome to my new blog. With this forum, my mission is to enlighten people about the larger issues facing public education and why they matter to the Leicester School District. As we strive to improve our schools, I invite parents, educators, and the wider community to join me in exploring these issues.

Over the next few months, I will refer to the work of Doctor William Daggett, Founder and Chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) whose mission isto challenge, inspire, and equip today’s educators...and to prepare students for lifelong success.”

Today’s Topic: Characteristics of Model Schools

Dr. Daggett first developed the concept of Model Schools in 1991, defining them as “schools that are experiencing rapid growth in student achievement; schools that are deliberately working to shift the culture to one of high expectations for ALL students; or schools that are working through challenges…and are beating the odds.”

Schools that meet the Model Schools criteria:

  1. Use credible data to make significant improvements.

  2. Turn their passion for teaching and learning into actions that result in student success.

  3. Focus on what matters most - the students - their social-emotional development through strong positive relationships.

  4. Always look forward to meeting the challenging demands of an ever-changing world.

  5. Use specific and adaptable strategies to create a positive learning environment with high expectations.

  6. Publicize success beyond the walls of the school by using modern channels of communication including social media.

  7. Apply the concepts of rigor, relevance, and relationships to all students, creating equitable learning opportunities for everyone.

  8. Celebrate diversity and actively work towards closing opportunity gaps among various demographic groups.

Since 1991, Dr. Daggett and ICLE have brought together many Model Schools from around the world to attend conferences in which they showcase their journey towards becoming Model Schools and share best practices with schools pursuing the Model Schools designation.

What does this have to do with Leicester?

According to Dr. Daggett, the schools that experience rapid growth teach ALL students and experience remarkable results in teaching and learning. Through rigorous lessons, students become creators, designers, inventors, and researchers. They are able to build their ideas using higher-order skills. As I visit classrooms around the district, I see lessons that ask students to tackle real-world problems and that require students to collaborate with one another, to use technology, and to use data to make informed decisions.

Student engagement is visible in classrooms where students are working together to solve real-world problems.  Technology is a staple; students are collaborating with each other using 21st Century tools including Google classroom to extend education beyond the four walls of the classroom.

In June of 2017, a group of Leicester educators attended the Model Schools Conference and heard Dr. Daggett’s message firsthand.  They attended workshops such as, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, Transforming Your School:  Reimagining Flexible Learning Spaces, and Transforming Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century.  The group brought back the concepts and are working with teachers and administration to integrate these best practices into classrooms across the district.

Richard Riley, Secretary of Education under President Clinton noted, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . using technologies that haven’t yet been invented . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet”. Like Daggett’s Model Schools, our district strives to set high expectations so that we can offer ALL students a relevant and rigorous education. We have our challenges, but we continually “beat the odds” because we have strong, creative teachers and staff, willing and capable learners, and the support of the people of Leicester. These winning elements foster an environment where students are ready for next steps and a future that is at once uncertain and intriguing.

Go Deeper

Learn more about Dr. William Daggett HERE.

Get Dr. Daggett’s article on Model Schools HERE.

Posted by berthiaumej  On Dec 12, 2017 at 10:32 AM
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