Research and Reflections

Transforming Literacy Instruction

An opportunity to equitably accelerate students’ literacy development

2020 presented drastic challenges to the education community. The global pandemic upended every aspect of instruction. It also revealed that a one-size-fits-all approach to school is failing too many students—disproportionately those students from historically marginalized groups, including Black students, students learning English, or students whose families are experiencing prolonged economic hardship. 

We are proud to publish a new report, “Reading as Liberation—An Examination of the Research Base” that explores how three components—literacy accelerators, equity, and personalization—can interact with one another to produce powerful literacy outcomes for students, particularly students who are too often marginalized or underserved in schools. The report provides research-backed, actionable tools, tips, and strategies for educators, content creators, grantmakers, and others. 

After months of analyzing research from over 500 sources and consulting experts and educators, here are six key learnings we share in the report:

  1. There are five literacy accelerators that lead to strong readers and writers. They are mutually interdependent and when activated, work together to produce results for students.
  1. A research-based comprehensive set of instructional materials should drive literacy learning in schools. The best of them integrate these literacy accelerators in powerful ways. 
  1. Personalization approaches have potential to accelerate literacy outcomes when they are employed equitably and in direct service to the literacy discipline. Some literacy accelerators are more conducive to personalized learning approaches than others.
  1. More research is needed to discover where the power of personalization is and for whom. Empirical research in what constitutes effective personalized practices in literacy is thin.
  1. Literacy learning inescapably grows out of the larger social context of the classroom. Quality of the instructional materials and approaches aside—including personalization—students need to feel safe, seen, and respected in their school environments to thrive.
  1. Equity can’t work as an afterthought or superficial gesture; equity needs to be baked into instructional materials from the start, whether for whole-class, small group, or personalized learning.

The time to change how we approach literacy at all ages is now, as students, families, and teachers face a school year profoundly shaped by the disruption of the pandemic. Our report provides guidance on how to activate the five literacy accelerators within a specific program-type, with practical applications—including personalized approaches—for both remote and in-person learning, As we continue to navigate remote learning and start preparing to return to the classroom, it is critical that we understand which strategies work and when, and how tech-enabled programs, coupled with in-person instruction, can have a transformative impact on achieving grade-level literacy. 

With deep gratitude to the core team for their contributions to this report: 

  • Shani Bretas
  • Emma Cartwright
  • Jeffrey Imrich
  • David Liben
  • Meredith Liben (lead author)
  • Douglas Ready
  • Tanji Reed Marshall
  • Susan Pimentel (lead author) 
  • Alexander Specht
  • John Young

And many thanks to the content experts, educators, and advisors who made the report stronger and sharper with their input. 

You can download the full report and access our new tools for teachers, grantmakers, and developers here.

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About the Author: Amy Briggs is the President of Student Achievement Partners. Prior to joining Student Achievement Partners in 2012 as Chief Operating Officer, Amy served as Vice President at Kaplan K12 and College Prep, with responsibility for implementation of college and test preparation programs in large urban districts. Amy also served as Vice-President at The Grow Network overseeing the program management of district, state, and international assessment reporting programs. She was formerly a management consultant with Bain and Company. Amy holds a bachelor's degree in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University and a master's degree in business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and three children.