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Kelsey Ramirez


Literacy Coaching Project


For my literacy coaching project I worked with Denise Gallagher, a teacher completing

her third year of teaching at Hickam Elementary. This school has a large population of children

from military families. Denise taught 2nd grade resource room for two years and currently

teaches 1st/ 2nd grade resource room. The coaching areas of instruction are both from Level 1 of

Beans chart: 1) Have a conversation with teacher to identify a literacy issue or needs, set goals,

and problem solve, and 2) Develop and provide literacy materials for or with a teacher. We

conducted three sessions including pre-coaching, coaching, and post-coaching.

Pre-coaching Session

To prepare for an initial pre-coaching session, I first set a date and time to conduct the

session. Next I looked for a graphic organizer to organize my anecdotal notes. I found and used

Guidelines for Teaming with Colleagues created by Erin M. Brown. During our session I used

the Brainstorming Planning Form to help guide my questions and responses. From this session

I discovered that Denise wanted to address the needs of a 2nd grade student who is in the process

of becoming eligible for special education services. Evaluation results determined that this

student has a low IQ and performed in the low average range for cognitive processing. Denise

has worked with this student during her Response to Intervention (RTI) group, which is

receiving Tier 3 supports. During RTI Denise uses Sound Partners and Wonders. Denise reports

that during lessons the student mixes letter sounds and shows some regression in phonemic
awareness. Despite receiving core Wonders curriculum, Tier 3 interventions, and after-school

tutoring, this student continues to have difficulties in vocabulary, fluency, phonemic awareness

(decoding), and comprehension. Denise expressed, Im not too sure where to begin. I already

have her in my RTI group, but it would be helpful to have more strategies that I can use to

address her needs. After discussing the different ways I could support Denise, we agreed to

focus on phonemic awareness. We also agreed to have a coaching session where I would

provide her with different strategies and resources that might help to address this students

challenges in phonemic awareness.

Coaching Description

During our coaching session we started by reviewing what we had discussed during our pre-

coaching session. Together we identified a literacy issue or need, set goals, and problem solved.

Denise shared background information and evaluation results about this student, which

determined that they struggle in vocabulary, fluency, phonemic awareness (decoding), and

comprehension. Before being assessed for special education services, this student was on the

bubble. This term is what Jennifer Allen uses to describe a student who is reading no more than

one to two years below grade level, has no serious behavior problems, and might not qualify for

special education services. (Allen, 2006, p.66) Denise expressed that she wanted more strategies

and resources so that she could better address this students needs. Although the school year is

about to end, it is important for Denise to determine what works and does not work for this

student. Information can be passed to next years teachers, and then the student can receive

intensive instructional support in their areas of need. The student has difficulties in different

areas of literacy, but we agreed to focus on phonemic awareness to build a foundation for other
literacy skills. The conversation to determine an area of focus reminded me of Tolls

questioning, Say something more about that, What do you think? and I dont knowLets

find out. (Toll, 2005) I found myself saying similar responses to steer the ideas and

conversation into something that would useful for Denise and her student.

To prepare for this coaching session I researched different ways to address phonemic

awareness. During our session I chose to share specific literacy strategies and materials that I

felt would be easy to implement in the current curriculum (Sound Partners and Wonders), and

are research-based. First I shared and explained Elkonin boxes. Elkonin boxes help students

build phonemic awareness by segmenting words into sounds or syllables. It teaches students

how to count the number of phonemes in a word and helps students understand the alphabetic

principle when decoding and spelling. I modeled different ways to use the Elkonin boxes and

showed Denise that WonderWorks (intervention version of Wonders) has a similar material and

strategy with the chips. Denise recognized this strategy from Sound Partners, and planned to try

it in her Wonders lessons. Second I gave Denise word cards. On each card there is a word with

three to four sounds. Under each sound there are touch dots and an arrow pointing in the

direction in which we read. I modeled how the student uses the dots to touch and segment the

sounds, and then trace the arrow to blend sounds together. Denise liked this tool and thought it

could be used independently for multiple students. Third I demonstrated how to do a similar

strategy using blocks. Students can use block manipulatives to segment by counting out and

lining them up while saying each sound. Then the student can use blocks to blend by running

their finger across, like the arrow, while saying the sounds together. I explained that I used to

have students keep a bag of blocks in their desks and had them take it out when they needed help

sounding out words when writing or reading. Denise was interested in this strategy as well and
asked if I could provide her with blocks, so I did the next day. Forth I gave Denise a copy of

Words Their Ways Elementary Spelling Inventory. This formative assessment helps to

determine what the students spelling stage as well as what principles (e.g. initial consonants,

short vowels, digraphs, etc.) they know and do not know. I explained to Denise how to

administer the assessment and determine results. Denise was interested in this assessment and

thought it would helpful in determining what this student does and does not know. Lastly, I

showed Denise Words Their Way word chips and modeled how to do word sorts. I explained

that the program has lists of words that she can use according to how the student scores on the

Elementary Spelling Inventory. Denise thought this was interesting, but was unsure if she would

be able to implement this in her classroom since there are other curriculums that she is obligated

to follow like Wonders. I told Denise that these are just options and tools that she can choose to

use or not use because she knows her student best. All strategies and materials provide multiple

ways for the student to practice segmenting and blending, while appealing to all learning styles.

I hoped that I had not overwhelmed Denise, but have given her various options to choose from.

Post-coaching Description

After implementing some of the strategies I suggested, Denise and I met again to discuss

results. Denise chose to try the Elkonin Boxes during a Wonders lesson. She reported that about

50% of the time the student was able to correctly segment words with five sounds. The student

was also proficient in segmenting words with up to three sounds. Denise explained that she

really like using this strategy and emphasized that she liked how she could use it in Wonders.

She believes that if they were to practice using the Elkonin boxes to segment words the student

will definitely show improvement in the future. Denise also used the word cards with the
student. First she taught the student how to use them, and then she had the student practice

independently. Denise felt that the student enjoyed using the word cards because it was less

intimidating and easy to use. Denise did not get to administer the Elementary Spelling Inventory

(ESI), or try the word sorts or blocks yet. We began discussing possible next steps for Denise

and her student. I asked Denise to identify what is practical and emphasized that she doesnt

have to use everything. Since it is so late in the year we agreed that it would be appropriate to

introduce the blocks strategies since it is similar to the procedure of the Elkonin boxes. Also,

Denise plans to not use Words Their Way this year, but instead save the ESI and word sorts in

her toolbox for future use.

During this process of identifying, planning, and implementing a personal professional

development plan, I was reminded of brainstorming conversations Denise and I have had as

colleagues especially during our first years teaching. We would organically come together, talk

about problems and situations happening in our classrooms, and share ideas. Comparing these

candid conversations to a more formal session where I sustained the role of a coach, I felt like I

was helping her with purpose and yet it wasnt I an expert. This process also reminded me that

these steps of coaching are ongoing. During our post-coaching meeting I found myself repeating

the same Toll questions Say something more about that, what do you think? I dont

knowlets find out. (Toll, 2005) From this meeting there were more questions, which would

require another follow up meeting to answer these questions. It hit me that the coaching process

never ends.

Since this was my first coaching experience I felt proud that I was able to provide Denise

with multiple materials and guidance. I felt that our conversations were productive and that my

suggestions were helpful. I was able to coach Denise into determining her own needs, asking for
what she felt like she needed, and determining what suggestions would be applicable to her

student. One area I would like to improve upon is my feedback. I would have wanted to provide

Denise with more feedback on her instruction by analyzing how she was using the strategies. I

also could have had Denise give herself feedback by evaluating her own instructional

performance. Another area to improve upon is providing fewer options for the teacher to choose.

I felt that I gave Denise too many suggestions, so she felt pressure to use all of them. Next time I

would want to narrow down my suggestions to two to three so that Denise can focus on teaching

a strategy before trying a new one. Although my first experience coaching didnt go as smoothly

as Id like it to, I feel more confident in my ability to work with and provide resources for



Overall I felt that this coaching project went well because together Denise and I identified

an area of need, and I was able to provide her with different resources both practical and

appropriate. I also think this went well because Denise was open to my suggestions and actually

tried some. During our post-coaching session Denise said, This was really helpful Kelsey,

thank you! One of the challenges we had was narrowing down the focus of the strategies. This

student had difficulties in different areas of literacy. Denise initially wanted to focus on more

than one. We ended up choosing phonemic awareness because it is a foundational area for

literacy skills. Another challenge was narrowing down the supportive resources I provided

Denise. There are so many different materials and strategies out there that help to address

phonemic awareness. I thought I had narrowed down the list, but Denise only got to use two out
of the five. Denise also felt pressure to use all five of them, which isnt what I was inferring. I

realized that I should have narrowed down the list even more.

From this process I learned a lot about being a literacy coach and about myself taking on

the responsibility of a coach. The first thing I learned is that coaching is an ongoing process.

Coaches and teachers are constantly checking what works and doesnt work. During our post-

coaching meeting Denise and I discussed what she would keep using and what wouldnt work

for this student. It would make sense to have another follow up meeting to see if the same

strategies worked or if the student would benefit from different strategies. I also learned that

teachers need suggestions to be practical. Denise explained that although she felt that the Words

Their Way assessment and word sorts would be great to use, she didnt feel like would be do-

able in her classroom. Teachers need strategies and materials that can be integrated in their

designated curriculums. Denise liked the Elkonin boxes because it was a quick strategy that

could be used with the Wonders curriculum.

From this experience my beliefs about coaching have grown. Initially I thought a literacy

coach is an expert and a leader. I also thought this was not a job for me since I am inexperienced

and I am sure no one would follow me. But now Ive figured out that coaching is really about

teamwork and a literacy coach is very similar to any sports coach. A coach leads a team by

teaching, lending a hand, and providing wisdom and guidance. A coach is the expert not a

dictator. They facilitate professional development. . coaching is about relationship, sharing,

and mutual respect for the purpose of helping one another to grow. (Toll, 2005, pg.56) A coach

is the expert because they are knowledgeable and resourceful, but they do not have the final say.

I still feel that I am not ready to be a literacy coach, but I feel more confident in my own

experiences these past four years in the classroom. Toll (2005) believes that is important that
coaches are genuine and say I dont know lets find out. I agree and believe that it is the job

of a coach to know where to look or who to ask when they dont know themselves. A coach is

not the final say, but the guide.

I really enjoyed working with Denise and I felt that our trust grew not just as friends but

as colleagues. As a coach I didnt tell her this is what we are going to work on or I want you

to do this by next week. She didnt need me as a literacy expert in her room. She needed a

colleague, sounding board, and friend to take the plunge with her in this new teaching

assignment. (Allen, 2006, p.94) Instead I didnt force anything, instead I followed her lead and

supported her by challenging her thinking and providing her with different ideas. This

approach mirrored my beliefs as a coach because I believe it is important for the coach to build

trust and provide a positive team experience. At this point in my career and in this program I am

still asking How will I coach someone who might not want my help? and Is this profession

something I would want to do? If not now, when? To answer these questions, I think of a

quote a principal recited once, as long as youre not standing still. There are many

unanswered questions about being a literacy specialist or a literacy coach, but as long as I am not

standing still and am moving forward in my career I feel confident in my future.