Communities of Practice: Alaska’s Reading Playbook Arrives

Throughout the past quarter, each of the Communities of Practice throughout the member states of the R16CC has made strides in addressing developmental and equity opportunities for the students they serve.

While there are multiple tasks Alaska’s Communities of Practice are attached to, the big breakthrough last quarter was Alaska’s Reading Playbook. The year-long project has been published and is ready to be distributed across the state.

The project involved a teacher task force from across Alaska. It also included Joel Isaak, the Tribal Liaison at the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development; Dr. Marybeth Flachbart, the primary author; and Amy Jo Meiners, the Project manager in charge of moving it from concept to a physical publication.

“Amy Jo deserves a big gold star,” says Alaska Center Director Tamara Van Wyhe. “She actually cried a little bit the day the first copies came off the press.”

Almost as quickly as it came off the press, the playbook is finding its way through the Alaskan education system.

Meiners hand-delivered copies of the playbook and a R16CC cover letter to state representatives and senators involved in an education or finance committee. In total, 30 legislators received it directly.

One of the lead professors at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks has already picked it up as part of her coursework in training teachers.

“I think one of the areas where we’ve really been lacking is in teacher preparatory programs and giving teachers the resources for how to teach reading,” said Meiners.

“We cover a lot on the history of how reading has been taught. But this is the practical application of what it looks like through the stages, based on research and inclusive of a focus on our Alaska Native students. So, I am really looking forward to the changes at the university level in teacher prep programs.”

R16CC co-hosted the Alaska Science of Reading Symposium with the State Department from April 29 – May 1. All 1,000 of the registrants received a printed copy of the playbook.

The playbook is a vital part of achieving Alaska’s goal to have all students reading at grade level by the third grade. Reading is the top priority of the five priorities in Alaska’s Education Challenge.

COVID provided a delay in meeting these goals, but now instruction is back at the forefront. Because of that, projects like the Reading Playbook moved forward once more.

“We wanted to create a playbook that was very specific to our state,” Van Wyhe stated. “That way, there could be references to the native languages that are spoken all across the state and just recognition of how Alaska is different.”

“There’s more research on reading than any of our other areas,” says Meiners. “And yet, there’s really not a whole lot for indigenous peoples even across the US, but particularly Alaska Native students. So, we dug for what there is in the research and also partnered with Joel [Isaak] and worked with the teachers in the task force currently practicing in remote regions.”

Making the playbook specific to the state was the only way to serve the student population properly. Meiners mentions typical materials like phonics printouts are only so helpful in really teaching a student.

Instead, the Alaska Reading Playbook incorporates things like the Alaska Native oral traditions of learning. Teachers will be able to identify how to build reading comprehension through listening comprehension skills.

Another unique feature of the playbook is its setup. It is not divided by grade level.

Instead, the structure is based on the Big Five components of reading. These are Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.

The focus on the Big Five makes the playbook adaptable to any grade level and even multi-age classrooms at any time, as struggles and achievements are not defined by grade.

“It’s really meant for a very practical, in classroom or in intervention use by practitioners,” notes Meiners.

Back in the fall, as schools were re-opening, DEED and R16CC co-hosted a webinar series giving an overview of the playbook. This was followed by a six-session deep-dive that focused on each section of the playbook.

There will be another deep dive look to assist educators in using the playbook around August and September. These will be split and tailored to classroom teachers and paraprofessionals. There will also be training for principals on how to use the playbook.

“Now that it’s out there, it’s kind of taking on a life of its own,” says Van Wyhe.

“The governor’s office had a press release that went out to announce the Science of Reading Symposium, and in the background information in that press release, it specifically noted Alaska’s Reading Playbook as a key piece. It’s already being seen as kind of a seminal text, and it was just released. The feedback we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Published May 4, 2022

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