The Strategy

Professional development must be initiated strategically by leaders who have a strategic vision based on the needs of their schools and the principles of adult learning.

Our course, Action Planning for Disciplinary Literacy, ensures that every district-based Reading Ways site leader has been introduced to our coaching approach and developed a strategic plan for supporting cross-disciplinary literacy at his or her school. Dr. Jacy Ippolito developed this course around the concepts set forth in Cultivating Coaching Mindsets: An Action Guide for Literacy Leaders (written with Dr. Rita Bean).

Our mental models and frames shape how we think about our work and how we think about change processes. Much of coaching work is about helping colleagues, other adult learners, to become more reflective practitioners and shift their instruction slowly to improve outcomes for students. However, if the work of coaching is viewed through a purely technical lens (Heifetz et al., 2009) or as single-loop learning (Argrys & Schon, 1974, 1996), in other words, learning that simply requires detection of a problem and implementation of a known solution, then this frame for coaching will likely not produce the deep, systemic changes that most literacy leadership work is meant to provoke.  –  Bean and Ippolito

Our course introduces some of the big ideas in adult professional learning and provides guidance, examples, and specific tools for school leaders as they set out to determine the literacy needs in their schools and develop plans to meet those needs.

AdLit Common Core CoverIf after completing this course your team determines it is time to become a Reading Ways Partner School, we step into action. We work with your school’s leadership team to refine and implement the plan developed by the RW site leader. Most schools use our book, Adolescent Literacy in the Era of the Common Core, as a key text. Depending on the plan the site leader develops, we may use some or all the following:

  • Kick-off events featuring members of the RW team
  • Daylong or multi-day workshops
  • Leadership consultations
  • Online course participation for teachers (for graduate credit or not)
  • Print materials (posters, strategy guides, reading text sets)
  • Printables (hundreds of online materials that can be altered and adapted)

If you want to get started, contact us now. We will follow up immediately to get you or a member of your staff enrolled in Action Planning for Disciplinary Literacy.

The Team


Every team member has been a teacher, literacy coach, and researcher. We work exclusively with middle and high schools to help content-area teams meet adolescents’ literacy needs.

Proven tools and approaches for Purposeful Instruction.

We have created hundreds of resources in for teaching math, science, history, world languages and more. More importantly, they are clearly organized and labeled, alterable, and clearly aligned with our online and in-person courses. Our goal is to help you share your passion for learning in your discipline by making text more accessible for your students.

Course descriptions of each high quality course are available through links on the right.


In this course, we first provide an overview of the domains of disciplinary literacy that we focus on in our work—disciplinary literacy, vocabulary, discussion, digital literacy, multiple texts, and writing to learn. We explore both the unique and shared challenges that disciplinary texts present for readers. We explore how we use disciplinary thinking when we interpret maps, charts, magazines, poems, and primary source materials to help authenticate the content and bring it to life. Next, we examine the simple view of reading and examine what this view means for reading and learning in and across content areas. Last, we present our vision for using expert texts with novice readers, and by examining texts written by experts across the disciplines, we illustrate how disciplinary habits of mind are realized through language.


Key readings: Chapter 1

Key concepts: disciplinary learning, simple view of reading

Learning activity


So, what can be done to support students to better comprehend disciplinary texts? In this course, we suggest the use of disciplinary literacy pedagogy, which makes use of texts written for both expert and novice audiences, as one method of bringing outsiders into the language of the disciplines. Our intention is not to suggest that teaching language is the end goal of disciplinary instruction. Rather, the goal is to begin to teach students to understand disciplinary approaches to knowledge by making transparent the practice and habits of mind in our discipline. We believe that as the language of each content area is demystified, students are provided with the resources to express their opinions, ideas, and understandings, as well as master disciplinary content when reading in the content-area classroom.


Key readings: Chapters 2 and 3

Key concepts: disciplinary pedagogy, three levels of literacy skill (basic, general, discipline specific), strategy adaption

Learning activity: Adapt a reading strategy to help students adopt a key habit of mind.

In this chapter, we argue that teaching academic words is one of our essential responsibilities as content-area teachers, as doing the work of historians, mathematicians, literary critics, and scientists in the real world requires the ability to comprehend challenging texts. This does not mean teachers should halt the curriculum in their classes to teach word definitions, but; rather, they should utilize research-based supports and content-specific uses of words when they occur naturally in their texts. We critically analyze one freely available program, Word Generation, as a starting point for thinking about how to better support general academic language in our classes and across content areas.


Key reading: Chapter 4

Key concepts: general academic words, content-specific words, Word Generation program, signal words, text structure

Learning activity: Text analysis using Word Sift

This course proposes a tripartite approach to teaching vocabulary. Each of the three components of the framework support each other. This course provides readings and resources to support each of the three legs, which are: 1) create a language-rich, word-curious classroom; 2) teach word-learning strategies; and 3) strategically choose which words to teach. We use the Flanigan and Greenwood framework for determining which words to teach and how long to spend on each.

Key reading: Chapter 5

Key concepts: Frayer model, foot-in-the-door words

Learning activity: Identify and adapt one vocabulary strategy.

Students will disagree with each other. That’s fine. But they need to be taught how to disagree: The phrase, “I see it so differently,” invites difference and clarification; “That’s stupid,” shuts off conversation. According to Erdmann and Metzger, “Discussion is the queen of lesson plans: an essential, prominent, but often under-taught tool for the classroom teacher. Although discussion is the most difficult classroom format to plan and to manage, it is also the ultimate bridge between reading and writing. Nothing in the secondary classroom is harder to plan and lead effectively, except perhaps differentiated instruction. No one is born knowing how to lead discussion; it took us years in the classroom—but it can be learned.” In this course, we provide specific tools and resources to help your students shorten their learning curve toward rich discussion.

Key reading: Chapter 7

Key concepts: protocol

Learning activity: Identify and adapt a discussion protocol, create a plan for gradual release of responsibility, develop accountability and assessment plan.

High-quality academic discussions that contribute to student learning are reciprocal, typically collaborative, sometimes exploratory, and usually open-ended. In the classroom, such discussions encourage students to share their perspectives, so that comprehension of a text or concept becomes a process of reconciling potentially competing perspectives to illuminate each other and helps generate deeper student understanding. In this course, we look closely at the ways that teachers use their instructional talk to strengthen student learning and provide assessment rubrics to help students understand the importance of oral presentation in your content area.


Key reading: Chapter 6

Key concepts: IRE, teacher talk moves

Learning activity: Self-evaluation of teacher talk moves, selection and adaption of oral presentation rubric

How do we determine what level of difficulty will be appropriate for our students, especially those who are struggling? This short course provides a quantitative framework for measuring text complexity (which considers aspects of text, such as sentence length and the number of infrequent words) and a qualitative rubric developed for informational and narrative texts. Additionally, we explore how readability formulas are arrived at, explain how they can be useful but also misleading, and provide online tools that teachers can use if they want to determine a text’s readability level.


Key concepts: general service list

Learning activity: Analyze a lesson text using alternative methods.

While textbooks can be important sources of information in middle and high school classrooms, teachers wishing to encourage critical thinking and strategic reading often introduce multiple texts to students—at different reading levels—to promote understanding and engagement with content-area concepts. In this course, participants will explore the various text types available in their disciplines, as well as how different text types might be used to support student learning. Participants will be introduced to the notion of text sets—groups of texts related to the same content-area topic. We will examine example text sets and create an example that leads students to use key disciplinary habits of the mind.

 Key concepts: key central text, sourcing, entry points

Learning activity: Create a text set for one of your lessons.

Ways of Thinking and Working Like a Coach.

Our courses introduce some of the big ideas in adult professional learning, and provide guidance, examples and specific tools for school leaders as they set out to determine the literacy needs in their school and develop a plan to meet those needs.

Please explore the course descriptions to learn more.

Why is it powerful “to think like a coach when beginning to design a literacy professional learning project? In this module, we overview the field of disciplinary literacy and introduce the four-part coaching framework that can effectively drive your capacity building work with teachers. You will also be asked to think about the current state of literacy teaching and learning in your context and then determine the next steps needed to build a strong disciplinary literacy professional learning initiative.


  • Participants will begin to think about the rationale and goals of a disciplinary literacy professional learning project and identify a target team of teachers who will participate in this initiative.

Core Tasks:

    • Watch brief video introduction and course overview, by Jacy Ippolito (Introduction)
    • Read Chapter 1 of Adolescent Literacy in the Era of the Common Core (Lesson 1)
    • Read Chapter 1 of Cultivating Coaching Mindsets (Lesson 2)
    • Complete Part 1 of the Literacy Leader Action Plan Template (Lesson 3)


Why is an effective literacy assessment necessary in designing professional learning? This module will introduce you to the six critical steps in designing a literacy needs assessment that will inform you of the literacy teaching and learning strengths and areas of need in your school or district, which is essential to know in designing a strong disciplinary literacy professional learning initiative. We also provide access to the Carnegie Content Area Literacy Survey, which is an easily alterable online survey tool that you can use with teachers and students. Analysis of this survey data can help you determine the next steps in the design of your professional learning project.


To design and conduct a literacy needs assessment to determine your areas of strength and need in literacy teaching and learning.

The six critical steps to assist those involved in conducting a needs assessment, as outlined by Bean and Ippolito (2017) are:

  1. Identify the needs assessment goal(s).
  2. Design or select the needs assessment tool that aligns with your goal(s).
  3. Determine sources of data.
  4. Determine how data will be collected.
  5. Decide on the audiences to be consulted.
  6. Analysis of data.

Core Tasks:

  • Watch a brief video where Jacy Ippolito outlines the importance and process of needs assessment in designing an effective professional learning project (Introduction).
  • Read Ch. 9 of CCM about school-wide literacy and needs assessments (Lesson 1) and answer the reflection questions.
  • Using the Carnegie Content Area Literacy Survey (Lesson 2), think about how you might alter this tool to fit your goals and context.
  • Complete Part 2 of the Literacy Leader Action Plan Template (Lesson 3)

Why should we differentiate learning for adults? In this third module, you will learn the importance of differentiating the learning for the adults in your school. You will learn enough about Constructive Developmental Theory to understand how learning might look different for instrumental, socializing and self-authoring learners and when and how each type of learning might have a place in your professional learning project. You will also learn about human and social capital distinctions and how this might influence teams, departments and the school culture in which you work, and ultimately how these distinctions might influence the design of your professional learning initiative.


To learn about adult development and differentiating adult learning in your school or district.

Core Tasks:

  • Watch brief video Jacy: Two ways of understanding adult learning needs and course overview (Introduction)
  • Read Ch. 2 of CCM about differentiating professional learning with attention to adult development theory (Lesson 1)
  • Read Ch. 4 of CCM focusing on Social/Human Capital distinctions (Lesson 2)
  • Complete Part 3 of the Literacy Leader Action Plan Template (Lesson 3)


What will your professional learning design look like? By the end of this module, you will be ready to complete a draft of your literacy leadership action plan. You will read a case study of a recent disciplinary literacy professional learning project, consider its relevance to your context, and decide which elements you might borrow or adapt for your own professional learning initiative. You will learn about and decide which professional learning structures and routines will help you reach your goals. You will also think about who will participate in this initiative, the timing of various action items and the scope and sequence of the learning over months or years.


Complete a draft of your Literacy Leadership Action Plan that outlines the scope and sequence of your disciplinary literacy professional learning project, the collaborative, inquiry-based professional learning structures you will use, who will participate and who is responsible for what.

Core Tasks:

  • Watch brief video of Jacy: Bringing together coaching and professional learning structures into a final draft action plan (Introduction)
  • Read/Skim Ch. 5-7 of CCM about coaching and professional learning structures, use of discussion-based protocols, and working with individuals and groups of teachers (lesson 1).
  • Read/Skim CCM 12: Case 2: Learning, Leading Learning, and Enacting Disciplinary Literacy at Brookline High School (pp. 212-217) (lesson 2).
  • Complete part 4 of the Literacy Leader CCM Study Guide (the reflection questions at the end of lessons).
  • Complete Part 4 of the Literacy Leader Action Plan Template (lesson 3).



  • Explore the most commonly used discussion-based protocols on the Reading Ways website under SHOP:
  • If the above link does not work, go to SHOP: Under “discipline,” enter general, under “product,”enter printable, under “learning focus,” enter discussion.
  • Explore the wide array of discussion-based protocols hosted (for free) by the School Reform Initiative:
  • Read Ch. 14 of Adolescent Literacy in the Era of the Common Core – “Professional Learning as the Key to Linking Content and Literacy Instruction” by Jacy Ippolito
  • Form study group and read together the book Leading for Powerful Learning (2012) by Breidenstein, Fahey, Glickman, and Hensley – it contains lots of practical suggestions for how to build and sustain professional learning routines in your school and district
  • Explore other resources on the Reading Ways website under both “COACHES CORNER” and “SHOP.”
  • Skim additional materials, research, and suggestions from the School Reform Initiative:

Literacy leadership at the School and District Level.

We have developed a set of guidelines and resources for district leaders who have prioritized literacy through partnership with Reading Ways. We have tools to help select instructional leaders for the role of Reading Ways Site Leader, and for working with these leaders to develop a multi-year strategic plan. We have also developed our own Disciplinary Literacy Professional Learning & Coaching Standards which align with our course materials to ensure that leaders at all levels have the same expectations for learning and professional growth.

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