Successful Start closes the literacy achievement gap that exists for Kindergarten and first-grade children in low socio-economic backgrounds including those for whom English is a second language. Successful Start ensures that children in Kindergarten acquire literacy skills that prepare them for a literate and productive future.
The best investment for students is knowledgeable teachers—teachers who know how to adjust their teaching based on a child’s needs and abilities. Successful Start achieves unparalleled success with Kindergarten children through excellent and intensive teacher professional development. With Successful Start training, teachers learn how to design literacy lessons that accelerate children’s learning from the start of their formal literacy instruction.
Successful Start is a whole-class kindergarten literacy initiative designed to close the achievement gap between low performing schools in lower socioeconomic and high performing schools located in higher socioeconomic areas. The initiative is based on strategies developed by Dr. Gwen Phillips of New Zealand and the emergent literacy theory of literacy acquisition developed by Dame Marie Clay, also of New Zealand.
The Successful Start Literacy Initiative is comprised of four major literacy components, all delivered in a small group setting of 3-6 students. In addition, students will be engaged in independent reading and writing. All students receive instruction a minimum of 3 times per week in Instructional Writing, Instructional Reading and Word Work and Reading To. The fourth component, Re-creative writing is added later as teachers and children are underway with the learning. While the teacher works with a small group of learners, the other learners are engaged in self-managed independent literacy centers practicing previously introduced concepts and skills. Successful Start Literacy components are described below.
Reading To: The teacher selects the appropriate narrative or informational text to share with small groups of learners. The teacher focuses on delivering the message of the author and fostering the student’s comprehension of the author’s intended message. The teacher interacts with both the text and the learners in such a way as to support the learner’s development of expertise as a listener/reader.
Instructional Writing: The teacher designs a shared experience for the learners to have conversations around. Into the conversation, the teacher introduces a language structure that is related to the shared experience and common to early reading texts but possibly unfamiliar to learners. Learners then have the opportunity to use the teacher’s introduced language pattern and to create a related but independent pattern. The teacher selects a student-generated sentence that allows early writing opportunities. The teacher writes the entire sentence and judges which words or letters of the sentence would be productive for the students to write on their boards. Within this component, learners have the opportunity to hear and use literary language, build a writing vocabulary, hear and record sounds, clap multisyllabic words and reread a group generated text.
Instructional Reading: The teacher selects beginning reading texts for learners to independently read. The teacher supports the learner’s reading by selecting a text that the learners will be motivated to read. The teacher will provide an introduction to the text which will invite the learner into the world and language of the text. All learners will individually read the text while the teacher listens and prompts according to individual learner needs. In each instructional reading session, previously read books are reread and a new text is introduced.
Word Work: Word work occurs within the instructional reading component. Learners use magnetic letters and individual whiteboards to demonstrate their understanding of letters, sounds, and words. Particular word principles and/or letter features are highlighted during this instructional component. The words chosen for this work come from the text reading. The word worked on is written by the children at the end and it is here that letter formation is taught.
Re-creative Writing: The focus of this component is on helping learners capture small moments and experiences and attach descriptive language to the experience. In re-creative writing, the focus is on the craft of writing which includes observation and imagination. The teacher writes the children’s language so they are not confined by what they are able to write and therefore they learn to really capture what is important.
Successful Start Teacher Professional Development
The training for Successful Start takes place over a year and consists of 2 half days a month or one full day a month. Data from a pilot project in Tennessee over several years shows that the lowest schools now have about 80% of the children in Kindergarten reaching average levels on literacy measures at the end of Kindergarten. This was the system’s goal. During this time, the required reading level has been lifted and the lowest schools are achieving at similar levels to the higher socioeconomic schools in the system.
Successful Start teacher professional development is intense and ongoing. In the initial training year, teachers take two courses (six graduate credit hours) in Emergent Literacy Theory and Practice. In the training, teachers learn both theoretical and practical aspects of their teaching. There is a great deal of focus on teachers becoming keen observers of emergent literacy behaviors and subsequently teaching in response to those observations. Clinical coaching visits are made to the teachers in training by a Successful Start facilitator as they work with groups of children so that the teacher in training receives feedback on her teaching and can ask questions of the Successful Start facilitator in a one-to-one setting. Additionally, during these sessions, the Successful Start facilitator is able to model specific approaches that have been discussed in professional development courses. Each coaching visit lasts approximately half an hour and includes a pre-lesson discussion, teaching of children and a post-lesson discussion. Each teacher receives approximately nine hours of one-to-one coaching during each year of Successful Start professional development. If a teacher is struggling to implement a particular aspect of the Successful Start initiative, additional coaching visits are provided.
After the initial training year, ongoing professional development is provided through a half-day monthly professional development session and a monthly clinical coaching visit with each teacher. This ongoing monthly support is provided to prevent drift from the teaching procedures learned in bi-monthly training sessions and continues for each year that a teacher is implementing Successful Start.
Kindergarten Academic Knowledge and Skills
The following section provides a description of Kindergarten knowledge and skills. It also includes how the various components in Successful Start address those areas.
A – Reading Literacy Text
Students read a range of increasingly complex texts. A list of leveled texts along with a gradient of difficulty serves as a guide for teachers.
Students read at least two texts within the instructional reading component three times per week. They are additionally introduced to three additional texts three times a week in the reading to component. In each instructional writing group; learners construct and reread the group generated message. These texts cover a range of familiarity, complexity, text type and style.
Students and teachers have the opportunity to converse about characters, settings, events, main ideas and text structures. This occurs in each reading to session and with the introduction of each new text in instructional reading. Within the instructional reading component, students also have the opportunity to reread familiar text which fosters the development of both reading stamina and fluency.
Students learn the role of the text illustrations as they are engaging with texts. Through conversations, teachers can call attention to differences and similarities across texts and characters.
B – Reading Informational Text
Informational texts are included within the reading to and instructional reading components. The book list that serves as a teacher resource includes informational texts.
In the reading to and instructional reading components, students and teachers have many opportunities to converse about key ideas and details, word meaning, text features and text illustrations. Students are encouraged to notice, comment and ask questions about text language, content and meaning.
Students have the opportunity to talk about how texts on the same topic are similar and different from one another.
C – Reading Foundation
Foundational skills (phonological awareness, phonics and word recognition, print concepts and fluency) are essential for progress in early literacy learning and are addressed in each of the components within Successful Start. Students have massive opportunities for reading, writing and learning how words work within a continuous text.
Phonological awareness. Within the instructional writing component, students learn to hear parts in words and sounds in words. They learn to clap the syllable breaks when they hear parts. They learn to say words slowly in order to hear sounds within each word. They also practice breaking words into various units that support spelling and word recognition. They learn to hear rhyme and provide a word that rhymes with another word.
Phonics and word recognition. Within Successful Start, attention is given to building a core of known words in both reading and writing. In instructional writing, students learn about symbol-sound relationships in order to write unknown words. In instructional reading, students use letter and word knowledge to segment words into parts in order to solve unfamiliar words as they learn more in reading. Students learn the regularities and irregularities of the English language. During the word work component of Successful Start, explicit attention is given to letter sounds, letter formation and word building.
Print concepts. Directionality, orientation and sequence are carefully attended to through the word work. Attention is also paid to spacing, directionality, punctuation and capitalization in the instructional writing.
Fluency. In reading to, the teacher reads with phrased and fluent reading. Texts are selected intentionally to allow learners to develop an understanding of what reading should sound like. Within instructional reading, students reread familiar texts and these experiences allow for accurate, phrased, fluent and expressive reading. The teacher teaches for phrased and fluent reading as appropriate.
D – Writing
Students have the opportunity to generate messages in each instructional writing lesson. The messages generated vary in type including narrative, informational, explanatory and opinion.
Students are taught how to monitor the composition and coherence of their message and to clarify, expand or extend their message as needed in the instructional writing component.
Vocabulary and language syntax is enhanced in both writing components in Successful Start.
The expectation for writing complexity increases as students are involved in message writing over time. Writing volume, varied syntax and vocabulary are all given attention within instructional writing and the re-creative components.
E – Speaking and Listening
Within each Successful Start lesson component students have the opportunity to speak and to listen. Conversations take place between students and between a student and the teacher, who is an expert user of language. Lessons provide a social context for learning which strengthens the students’ capacity for speaking and listening around a shared task.
Both teachers and students engage daily in conversations about books and/or written messages. Students are invited to ask questions about the meaning of texts and messages and to clarity details or confusion as needed. Comprehension is enhanced through dialogue about texts.
F – Language
When students are conversing with the teacher in small group instruction, the teacher supports a student’s command of standard grammar usage.
During the instructional writing component, attention is given to capitalization, punctuation and spelling.
In instructional reading, the teacher fosters learners’ use of a strategic activity to solve unknown and multiple-meaning words through context and word analysis.
In instructional reading and word work, students and teachers explore word relationships and connections as well as nuances in word meanings.
In conversation within the various Successful Start components, students have the opportunity to use new words and phrases from previously read and written texts.
Outcomes of Successful Start
- Increases the number of children achieving at expected levels.
- Reduces the number of children requiring intensive intervention or remediation in first grade.
- Together with Reading Recovery and other systems of early intervention at a particular school, 90% of the children with opportunities to be engaged in the various interventions will read at appropriate levels provided that the child has attended the school and has received instruction by a Successful Start teacher on a consistent basis.