Teacher training puts focus on pre-K to 3rd-grade reading

QCSD is the first in Bucks County to take district-wide LETRS training, which aligns teacher and student learning.
Posted on 10/07/2021
Approximately 100 QCSD employees, including pre-K to third-grade teachers, English Language Development teachers, coaches, interventionists and administrators are taking a course in LETRS training.

By Gary Weckselblatt

It’s well known in education circles that if a child struggles to read by the end of third grade, there’s a good chance they’ll be falling behind in other academic areas as well.

“All research makes that point clear. It’s an important milestone,” said Kelly Cramer, the instructional coach for grades pre-K to 6 and K-12 Literacy Specialist for the Quakertown Community School District. “Children don't crack the code to reading naturally. They need to be taught how letters represent speech sounds.”

To help QCSD students do that, the district is having approximately 100 employees, including pre-K to third-grade teachers, English Language Development teachers, coaches, interventionists and administrators take a course in LETRS training.

LETRS, which stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, was developed by renowned literacy experts Dr. Louisa Moats and Dr. Carol Tolman. It is a flexible literacy professional learning solution for pre-K to 5 educators, and provides teachers with the research, depth of knowledge, and skills to make a significant improvement in the literacy and language development of every student.

LETRS contains:

  • In-depth knowledge based on the most current research regarding what, when, and how language skills need to be taught
  • Ways to assess student language development for prevention and intervention
  • Guidance on how to plan and balance word recognition and comprehension instruction

The first QCSD course was taught by Alexis Lewis, a Certified LETRS Trainer with the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. “It provides teachers with a solid foundation of knowledge based on the science of reading, to help them make very informed, sound, instructional decisions on the students’ behalf,” said Ms. Lewis, who has been teaching the course since 2010.

She said Quakertown is the first district in Bucks County to provide this training district-wide. “It’s a three- to five-year process, and what Quakertown is doing is very impressive. Learning is never stagnant. We’re all informed and up to date with the most current and valid research. This is where you want to be invested. Instructional practices based on data that back up decisions with data.”

QCSD is spending just under $70,000 for the course. To limit staffing challenges when teachers are out of their building taking the course, teachers have been broken up into four groups, and most of the scheduled classes will be on Non-Instructional Days.

“Professional development enables educators to develop the knowledge and skills they need to address students' learning challenges,” Ms. Lewis said. “I have received resounding feedback from educators saying what they have learned has been meaningful and impactful. They have taken this content and started to apply it to the classroom. That’s really important.”

Mrs. Cramer said the sessions she’s taken “have ended with applause and whistles. It says a lot about our teachers and their mindset about learning and growth. They have been so responsive to learning about this research and the science and principles of learning to read.”

The inspiration for the LETRS training came from Mrs. Cramer and Dr. Erin Oleksa-Carter, Supervisor of Elementary Programs. Each year, Dr. Oleksa-Carter has worked with the Quakertown Community Education Foundation to supply each first-grader with a book of their to take home after finishing first grade. Mrs. Cramer earned a $25,000 QCEF grant that went to “Knowledge Building Classroom Libraries,” focused on fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, which had been departmentalized.

LETRS helps QCSD students build on their passion for literacy. “We’re increasing the depth of teacher knowledge to make the right decisions for each student,” Dr. Oleksa-Carter said. “We’re following the latest research in how kids learn to read. We’re following case studies that show how teacher learning and student learning are tightly aligned.”

Said Mrs. Cramer, “Bringing brain science and research into our classrooms is very exciting and is really a nationwide topic. I’m on a mission to ensure that we are aligning our practices and our programming and instruction to current research. Years from now, as our students are graduating this will really be impactful for our community.”

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].

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