Literacy Initiative Changes the Equation
Resources Support Literacy Initiative
Posted on 09/04/2016
Linda-Bishop

At Cristo Rey Kansas City, everyone knows that literacy – reading, writing, speaking, and listening – is fundamental for college readiness. Aiming for ambitious instruction, Cristo Rey began a fresh approach to literacy across the curriculum with initial support from Hall Family Foundation, H&R Block Foundation, Royals Charities, Stuppy Family Foundation and Joseph and Campsidell Euans Foundation last school year.

This year, a strategic partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is providing essential literacy resources to support the development of teachers and learning environments. To change the equation, the time was right to appoint a Literacy Consultant.

Linda Bishop is a seasoned urban core educator with 25 years of teaching experience in private, parochial, public and charter schools. Bishop brings the force of those experiences to her new role as Cristo Rey’s Literacy Consultant. Equipped with a master’s of education with an emphasis in literacy, she stepped up to teach juvenile offenders in a lock-down facility in the Kansas City Kansas School District.

Bishop’s vocational focus rests on three pillars:  literacy, citizenship and hope. “I am committed to inspiring literate young adults who are interested in the world around them and can effectively communicate their ideas,” said Bishop. “I want them to know that citizenship comes with rights and responsibilities, and that they must question, seek, and problem-solve.”

To better understand the literacy initiative, we sat down with Linda Bishop, Cristo Rey's Literacy Consultant, and asked a few questions.

1.  What influenced you to focus your educational career on literacy? 

Early in my teaching career, I read Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities. He inspired and  challenged me to consider how kids, families and communities - that struggle with literacy - also struggle with day-to-day living. It struck me how choices and opportunities were limited because of literacy challenges, and because of that, I framed literacy education as a social justice issue. I not only wanted to tackle this in my own education but also in my classroom. I firmly believe that literacy education can be transformative for individuals, communities, and for society as a whole.

2.  Most people think of "literacy" as the skills people need to read or to become readers. Do you think it is more?

Although literacy can be synonymous with the skills people need to read or become readers, it is so much more. Literacy does not necessarily mean reading and comprehending complex text. Instead, it is a farther reaching ability to make sense and meaning of the complexities of the world around us, including reading and comprehending complex text. Literacy is the capability to read, think, write, speak, and understand the enormous amounts of information we encounter each day, and thus function successfully in society.

3.  What's the role of literacy in college prep?

The role of literacy in college prep is to prepare students with the reading, writing, and analytical strategies, academic stamina, and personal grit so that they have the necessary tools for a successful college experience, which in turn opens more opportunities for a greater quality of life. Literacy in college prep not only concentrates on increasing comprehension and analysis of challenging academic concepts and text, but also focuses on shaping a young adult who is literate in life skills such as civic and financial responsibilities.

4.  Isn’t ‘literacy’ the responsibility of the English teachers?

“Literacy” is the responsibility of every adult, for every child, every day. In high school, teachers are not teaching students how to read. Skills are taught and learned from Kindergarten through 4th grade. From 4th grade forward, students are learning FROM reading. So, literacy is not just reading skills, but thinking and analyzing, speaking and sharing, and writing and expressing thoughts. It is the expectation that all content teachers focus on these skills, with every child, every day.

5.  What strategies are you going to use with all of the teachers and nearly 400 high school students!?  How do you measure progress?

One of our first priorities is to concentrate professional development on the use of data-driven instructional practices. I will be working with teams of teachers to identify the strategies that will work in particular content areas and at the various grade levels.

We also will use data from a recognized tool called the SRI Reading Inventory, as well as the national standardized tests published for each grade level by ACT. Insights from these tests will inform our teaching practices and strategies. Cristo Rey is fortunate to have a cadre of academic coaches for students who need additional support to develop literacy skills.

Another priority will be to create a process by which all members of the school staff participate in collaborative learning communities that meet formally and informally on a regular schedule and use student achievement data to make instructional decisions. These professional learning communities will work to support each other with ongoing coaching in differentiating instruction so that all types of learners are addressed. All teachers will have the instructional resources at hand to enhance literacy education in our classrooms, including one-to-one technology.  

We will measure progress as students improve their SRI/Lexile Reading Inventory scores, as well as improve their ACT scores over two years.

6.  What does this mean for teaching and learning?

This Literacy Initiative will have great impact on teaching and learning at CRKC. With this framework of data driven instruction and cohorts of teachers working together in collaborative learning communities, instruction will improve dramatically across all content areas. This, in turn, will strengthen academic outcomes for our students as they prepare for college and their future lives.