Literacy-Rich Environments: Understanding the Many Important Layers

Literacy-Rich Environments: Understanding the Many Important Layers

Throughout this school year, we have embarked on some very inspiring journeys with our partner school districts, with many exciting things happening within our Partners for Progress Professional Learning framework. As a theme, we are noticing that many educational leaders are interested in understanding how to establish a long-lasting framework that supports teaching, learning, and student improvement. In many cases, this requires truly looking inward, assessing current practices and resources, analyzing data, and sometimes, reimagining things from the beginning (which we find to be incredibly brave and inspiring!). 

 

We have led curriculum and professional learning practices audits alongside partners, and we are filled with optimism because of their willingness to do all of the aforementioned in order to set themselves and their students up for success. One area that we have emphasized, in particular, is creating a Literacy-Rich Environment. You’ve likely heard this phrase, but have you considered the many layers, or types of environments, that work together to achieve a literacy-rich environment?

 

In this blog, we provide these different types, corresponding themes, and some key questions or observations that we suggest considering.

 

The Physical Environment: Moving Beyond Design & Layout…Towards Agency & Independence 

 

Quite often, when we imagine surrounding our students with positive learning experiences, we may think of the physical environment first. School and classroom setup and “spaces” likely come to mind, like desk configuration, the teacher area, gathering areas, collaborative areas, the classroom library, and stations and/or centers.

 

We may also think about how resources are made available, like the accessibility of tools, paper, and pencils, technology access, word walls, anchor charts, and other tools that honor different learning styles or work habits. 

 

Beyond “spaces”, when considering a physical school or classroom environment, here are some key areas to think about: 

 

    • Agency: Does the environment promote student agency, independence, and curiosity?
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    • Access: Do students have visual and physical access to learning supports that are relevant and reflect best practice?
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    • Inclusion: Does the environment promote an inclusive, accepting culture in which students see themselves and their own experiences reflected, and can connect with others? (reflective of Windows and Mirrors) 
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    • Responsiveness: Is the environment itself responsive to different student learning preferences/styles?
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    • Presentation of Student Work: Is there student work present and visible, and is it notated with focused and student-friendly feedback?

 

 

The Student-Centered Learning Environment: Focusing on Community

 

Going a layer deeper, it’s important to look at how we can create student-centered learning environments (phrases like social-emotional or responsive learning environments may come to mind). There are several considerations in this category, so we will provide a few that stand out to us – many of which demonstrate a focus on creating an environment that supports ALL learners.

 

    • A strong sense of community and connection
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    • Representation of cultures, family structures, and differently-abled students within the classroom library
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    • Co-created anchor charts that encourage students to participate in their construction
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    • A space where students feel comfortable asking questions and feel empowered to take risks
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    • Opportunities for students to work at their own pace and explore their own interests, while also having VOICE and CHOICE with regard to things like books they want to read and topics they want to write about
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    • Conversations occurring in a variety of settings (whole-class, turn-and-talk, share time, small group, partners)

 

 

The Literacy and Learning Environment: Supporting Feedback, Collaboration, & Celebration

 

When we consider an environment that is both student-centered and sets students up for success in developing as readers and writers, there are even more specific areas that are important to address. While, again, there are many considerations we recommend, here are a few to get you thinking:

 

    • Progressions of Learning: demonstrating exemplars of proficiency for students to access
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    • Assessment Tools such as Checklists, Rubrics, Reflection forms, etc…
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    • Lessons that are responsive, current and relevant: connecting the curriculum to students’ lives, state standards, and interests
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    • Conversational moves are modeled, posted, and practiced by the teacher and students (stems to facilitate talk, lessons on listening to one another, speaking one at a time, looking at one another, responding to and building on each other’s ideas)
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    • Students Recognized as Readers and Writers: It is important for students to be recognized by teachers as readers and writers, while being reminded that they are part of a reading and writing community. It is our responsibility as educators, to inspire young learners to see the readers, writers, and authors inside of them. In addition to referring to readers and writers, we may also help students discover their identities as readers and writers by allowing them to explore and share “I am a reader who….” or “I am a writer who….”, and even more impactful, is when teachers and school leaders also participate in this exercise and share their reading and writing identities as positive models. 
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    • Mentor Texts are Used Often and are Made Visible and Accessible: Authentic literature is at the center of effective literacy instruction and serves as mentor models for students to learn from and enjoy. These diverse and engaging resources invite students to experience stories while also building their content knowledge and gaining the reading, writing, listening, and communication skills that they need to become literate individuals. Because mentor texts play such a critical role in student learning, they should be visible and accessible, always, for students to also explore and experience in their time outside of whole-class instruction or interactive read-alouds. 
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    • Continuous Feedback and Opportunities for Reflection and Growth:  A strong literacy-learning environment includes opportunities for students to experience growth in ‘real time.’  This means that teachers will have protocols for giving feedback and will provide ample time for reflection.  One of the best ways to give feedback to students is through one-on-one conferring or providing time for peer conferences. 
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    • Interactive/Shared Reading and Writing Experiences  There’s nothing like sharing the pen, or inviting students to share their oral reading experiences with the teacher.  Ensuring that your Literacy and Learning environment reflects collaboration and ‘sharing’ is a critical component of your instructional decision-making and will help to enhance a strong sense of community. 
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    • Celebrations:  One of the best ways to enhance your learning community is through providing opportunities for celebrations. Hosting publishing parties, creating a protocol with an ‘author’s chair,’ gallery walks, and celebratory graffiti walls are all examples of celebrating the efforts of your students.

 

 

Our team of literacy experts has hosted many vibrant sessions on this topic. If you are interested in understanding the important layers of building a strong and lasting literacy-rich environment, please contact us by emailing ProfessionalLearning@schoolwide.com.

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