Bethany Lutheran College Professor of Education Dr. Carrie Pfeifer is keenly interested in literacy education. It’s a subject she cares deeply about. So much so, that she regularly offers to share her expertise with teachers and schools looking to enhance their own literacy knowledge and offerings.
Rachel Moeller is the Mankato Area Public Schools (MAPS) Literacy Coordinator. She had been noticing some changes in literacy outcomes in Mankato schoolchildren beginning in early 2020.
“As we looked at MAPS elementary reading trend data, we observed a slow decline in reading achievement over the previous few years. We sought to understand what was strong about our reading instruction and what research-based shifts we could make in practice to improve student outcomes,” said Moeller.
Pfeifer, to enhance her own literacy knowledge, often looks for opportunities to learn more about the subject. Coincidently, in 2020 she had completed a literacy professional development course facilitated by the Minnesota Department of Education. Without any knowledge of the weakening literacy outcomes in Mankato schools, she reached out to MAPS Superintendent Dr. Paul Peterson to offer her time as a resource for the District. Peterson connected Pfeifer with Moeller which has resulted in ongoing collaborative professional development work in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) – literacy education.
Pfeifer explained more about the serendipitous collaborative effort.
“I was really just excited about the professional development I had received from the Minnesota Department of Education and wanted to share what I had learned.”
Moeller remarked, “In my role as Mankato schools Literacy Coordinator, I was exploring teacher professional development in literacy that could support our instructional efforts to improve student literacy outcomes. The opportunity to partner with Dr. Pfeifer and BLC came at just the right time, and we’ve been very appreciative of this collaborative work. Dr. Pfeifer has deep literacy knowledge and brings her expertise to our professional development sessions.”
Pfeifer began working with a cohort of fourteen Mankato Public School elementary educators during the 2021-22 school year. The work was well received, and now Pfeifer and Moeller are collaboratively facilitating LETRS professional development for a second cohort of 32 MAPS elementary educators, which began in the fall of 2022.
The group of teachers taking part in the LETRS training serve Mankato elementary students in grades K-5. The cohorts are primarily made up of classroom teachers, special education teachers, reading interventionists, teachers of multilingual learners, instructional coaches and principals are also participating.
Moeller explained, “Training begins with a focus on sound awareness and phonics, so this is where teachers are currently seeing the most growth. However, the cohort that is in their second year is currently applying their learning to vocabulary and comprehension instruction. The teachers are actively implementing their learning and observing growth in students’ reading skills.”
The partnership is also benefiting Bethany education students who had already been involved with clinical placements and student teaching in Mankato schools.
Pfeifer explained, “I also wanted to find opportunities to put our students into clinical placements and student teaching situations where the classroom teacher was knowledgeable and practiced with the science of reading. It’s especially helpful for our students to be supported in those classroom learning experiences.”
Moeller is thankful for the opportunity to work with Pfeifer.
“Dr. Pfeifer commits two evenings a month from September to April for MAPS literacy professional development, and the MAPS cohorts have benefited from Dr. Pfeifer’s deep knowledge of literacy development and her support of the work we are engaging in. We are grateful to Dr. Pfeifer and BLC for the opportunity to collaborate—it is timely and meaningful work. She is a true advocate for all students.”
Moeller and the Mankato schools are gathering teacher feedback and analyzing student data to determine the lasting impact of this professional literacy development on student outcomes.
“We want to ensure this literacy work and professional development is making a difference in teacher practice and most importantly, in our student outcomes. The most important goal is to develop skilled readers and writers.”