In this Making a Difference post, we feature a Q&A with Linda Friedrich, Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd, where she leads the Reading Apprenticeship team.

To begin, Linda, can you share how Reading Apprenticeship came into being?

Linda: At its heart, Reading Apprenticeship was created to raise literacy levels from middle schoolers to adult learners. This includes students from diverse cultural, linguistic, and experiential backgrounds. Reading Apprenticeship is an instructional framework and theoretical foundation for all work conducted by SLI.

To help students become more proficient in understanding complex and demanding texts, Reading Apprenticeship applies principles of metacognition, which includes integrating social and emotional learning into effective instructional practices.

After positive outcomes on large-scale randomized controlled studies and independently validated evaluations, Reading Apprenticeship has proven effective in meeting students where they are in their literacy development. It also promotes excellence in learning across disciplines.

How can teachers integrate equity into their classrooms through Reading Apprenticeship?

Linda: When I consider literacy and equity, all students must have access to and use high-quality, complex, grade-level texts so they can develop their identities as critical thinkers. From its beginnings, this has been a tenet of Reading Apprenticeship. And one significant impact of our approach is to raise educator expectations of what students are capable of reading.

Recent research shows that the bulk of middle and high school students engage in very little sustained reading. And, especially in sustained reading of the kinds of texts that set students up for success in college, future careers, and as active members of their communities. They need access to a wide variety of texts: primary sources in history; graphs and process diagrams in science; technical plumbing manuals; text, graphics and photos in newspapers, and much more.

Reading Apprenticeship’s success hinges on students productively grappling with these materials and learning the strategies to stick with them. Yet when faced with supporting students who appear to be reluctant learners or have a learning difference, many teachers will revert to explaining a text’s meaning or give students memorization drills rather than organize scaffolded text-based inquiry. This is problematic, because it means some students — often those furthest from opportunity — aren’t equipped with the strategies and background knowledge they need to read difficult texts.

Reading Apprenticeship makes a difference by ensuring students work with grade-level appropriate texts and reinforcing a resilient, growth-oriented mindset in all literacy-related activities.

Another critical piece of promoting more equitable literacy is student voice. Reading Apprenticeship works alongside teachers to shift the balance of talk and meaning-making in the classroom from teacher to student. This requires teachers to make some fundamental shifts in who speaks in the classroom and who produces knowledge.

Through activities such as Think-Alouds and Talking to the Text, students begin to experience equity of voice in their classrooms and have agency over how they choose to engage with increasingly challenging content.

What are some key ideas that school leaders seeking to increase equity in their students’ outcomes can keep in mind?

Linda: Identify instructional approaches with proven outcomes in terms of increasing literacy among specific populations of students and/or within similar learning environments. For instance, two “gold standard” studies have shown that Reading Apprenticeship classrooms can end up more than a year ahead of comparable students on academic outcomes. Whatever the framework a school or district may be considering from a technical development standpoint, be sure that there is an evidence base to support its instructional methodologies and practices.

When assessing “success,” in addition to looking at test scores, it’s important to consider whether students are shifting how they see themselves as learners and the skills they develop for working through learning tasks. When visiting classrooms, look for engagement on personal and social levels. Listen closely to what students say and how they are grappling with material across the content areas in substantive ways.

How does Reading Apprenticeship support educators?

Linda: Reading Apprenticeship engages educators through online and onsite professional learning opportunities. Our work is strengths-based for teachers as well as students, with an emphasis on what’s working as opposed to what’s not. With laser-like focus, Reading Apprenticeship’s framework empowers educators by reminding them of all the content expertise they do have, and gives them trusted tools to animate texts in accessible ways for students. Reinvigorating an educator’s thirst for learning is so important, because it models what is possible when you care deeply about what you are learning.

Teachers using the Reading Apprenticeship approach can demonstrate how the hard work of building academic literacy is a means of increasing autonomy and expanding future options. It also shows teachers what’s possible in terms of retention and achievement when students’ social and emotional learning are daily features of the classroom.

Reading Apprenticeship can help students and educators alike nurture lives of curiosity, discovery and critical analysis. Ultimately, being able to make connections between new information and the world, based on complex and challenging texts, brings joy back into the learning process.

Learn more about the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework, resources, and professional learning opportunities.