At University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), we’re always researching and developing new techniques and interventions teachers can use in their classrooms to better educate our next generation of students.
We are furthering this commitment by taking steps to make sure that our leading research doesn’t stay within the walls of CEHD. That’s why we’ve created a unique website dedicated to providing teachers with the tools they need to help students become reading proficient by third grade. Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites (or PRESS) began as a partnership with the Target Corporation which led to the development of an educational improvement framework – and is now a website that offers educators in-depth information on the best practices for teaching reading.
Researching Techniques for Teaching Reading that Work
The PRESS project started a few years ago thanks to a major investment from Target. The corporation was focused on education, and it wanted to work with CEHD to help promote childhood literacy. We enlisted partners in the community, including the Minnesota Center for Reading Research and the Minnesota Reading Corps (a part of AmericaCorps).
We started out with a clean slate, holding brainstorming sessions where we discarded past practices and standard procedures to ask the questions: “In an ideal world, what would it take to get all kids capably reading by third grade?” Much of the educational framework that makes up PRESS is a product of these “dream sessions.”
Target was intent on funding action, not just research and theory, so we created a process for bringing the interventions we were creating into the hands of teachers in the classroom. We created a PRESS pilot program in six Minneapolis schools. Thanks to Target, we were able to hire literacy coaches to go along with University of Minnesota grad students and members of the Minnesota Reading Corps to conduct interventions, assessments, and in-class activities in the school. Target generously held support events and celebrations in the schools to help keep up student and educator engagement in the program.
Creating a Playbook for Literacy
PRESS is rooted in the concept of “Response to Intervention,” which means that classroom techniques and interventions need to be evaluated to see if they are actually having a positive effect with students in the classroom. To that end, we took steps to evaluate the classroom activities we were doing in the PRESS pilot sites.
We came away knowing that the PRESS framework was a powerful tool for teachers. It proved especially helpful with class-wide intervention created for teachers who have more than 50 percent of their students who need help in reading. Typically, having so many students in need of help would create a situation in which both the teacher and the school administrators felt overwhelmed and unable to make progress. We implemented several studies where we looked at class-wide interventions where, for 10 to 12 days, a whole group intervention is implemented in the classroom. After we collected the data again, the teacher usually had far fewer students who needed intervention.
Bringing PRESS Reading Interventions to a Wider Audience
We knew that the teaching materials we were developing as part of PRESS were powerful, but we faced a common problem that faces both privately and publicly funded educational projects: When the funding runs out, how do we bring this solution to a wider audience? Doing intensive in-school programs like we did in the six PRESS pilot sites would be impossible.
Due to the high level of interest from educators across the state, we started doing in-person professional development sessions with schools to help them implement the PRESS framework. We received good responses to these sessions; more people wanted us to come and help. To deal with the demand we hired more people, but we also realized that there was a limit to how far we could go due to budget and staff.
The solution came as a partnership with a new CEHD unit – Educational Technology Innovations (ETI). We wanted to come up with ways to spread the information and interventions that we’d developed through the PRESS pilot program to teachers across Minnesota and the nation. We can’t be everywhere at once, but with ETI’s help, we wanted to ensure that any teacher with access to the Internet could benefit from the knowledge we’d gathered.
A One-Stop Portal for Literacy Education
One of the most frustrating things for researchers is when we find something that we know but we can’t get it into the hands of the people who need it. ETI has created a digital environment and distribution channel for PRESS that makes it easy for people to access while maintaining the fidelity of the research.
One of the important things about this partnership is that it’s not a matter of just handing off a bunch of information to the development team and having them put it on the Internet. PRESS is the product of the magic that happens when content creators and developers work together to design a digital environment. This partnership means that the site presents and structures the information, materials and interventions of PRESS in a way that will be most effective – and enable teachers and administrators that use it to gain the most benefit.
We hope you’ll check out the results for yourself. At PRESScommunity.org, you’ll be able to access a wealth of classroom assets and interventions on a wide variety of topics including phonics, fluency, reading comprehension, and the basics of what makes a classroom intervention effective, like in this example below. The site’s video content is a great accompaniment to the online and downloadable materials we offer, and ensures that teachers can see examples of how these interventions are actually conducted in a classroom environment. You’ll even be able to save and rename your favorite videos and content in your online “locker” for future reference.
You can start accessing some of what PRESS has to offer with our basic membership, and we believe that you’ll see the value in our premium membership, which allows you to take advantage of everything PRESS has to offer and support its continued evolution. Also, remember to take part in our community forums – we intend PRESS to be an ongoing conversation with educators and we’ll be making changes to the site and curriculum based on your feedback.
We believe PRESS can be a powerful force in promoting childhood literacy. We know these interventions work because we’ve seen it – and we want to do everything we can to put these powerful tools into the hands of teachers.[sc name=”lori-helman”] [sc name=”ryan-warren”]
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