Literacy coaches build skills

What if you had to go through life
with a huge ball and chain tied around your ankle? It would impact every single
thing you did. It would prevent you from taking part in simple tasks, and make
others many times harder. It would draw attention, even teasing. In your own
mind, you would feel less and less confident about your abilities, even if
there was nothing wrong with you.

Literacy advocates say that is the
same burden poor literacy skills place on young learners. But unlike a ball and
chain, it’s an invisible burden. What’s worse, it’s a burden that children may
not be able to express to their teachers, though thoughts like “I’m not smart,”
might pass through their minds.

Recognizing the impacts of this
invisible burden on young students and its farther-reaching implications, the
Cayman Islands Department of Education is working on improving literacy. One
way is through help from literacy coaches like Anne Briggs.

“Literacy is of extreme importance
and low levels of literacy have been tied to crime, drug addiction, teenage
pregnancy and lower life expectancy,” said Ms Briggs,

She notes that in school, poor
literacy poses a major problem for learning because children aren’t good enough
readers to absorb the information they are being taught via reading.

The literacy advocacy organization
Children of the Code argues that reading is the skill that matters most to
success in school, noting that poor reading skills lead to a cycle of shame,
embarrassment and ongoing poor academic performance.

The Department of Education has
three dedicated literacy coaches working in Cayman’s primary schools, where the
concept of balanced literacy is emphasised.

“Balanced literacy is built upon
the premise that all students can learn,” she said.

“One of the key components is that
students must read books that are an appropriate level, as books that are too
hard hinder reading progress. Also, during Guided Reading teachers will guide
students through books that are slightly above the students’ reading level, but
with the teacher’s support it is comprehensible.”

Cayman’s literacy coaches plan with
teachers, model lessons, and provide feedback to teachers. “Improving the
quality of teaching has by far the most impact on students, more so than
curriculum and facilities,” said Ms Briggs.

“Research has shown that after
three years of ineffective teaching, students hardly ever recover,” said Ms

Ms Briggs says while the coaches do
not work with all teachers, they do try to support all teachers who have
questions. The coaches also run after school training sessions on subjects
pertaining to literacy, and offer advice on leadership.

She points to studies which have
found that building better teachers has been found to be the most productive
investment for schools and far exceeds the effects of teacher experience or
class size. Other research has found that exposing teachers to new learning
over extended periods of time and giving them the opportunity to practice under
the guidance of a more knowledgeable coach is the most effective way to improve
a teacher’s effectiveness.

“For successful students we must
have effective teachers,” says Ms Briggs.

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