This article was written by Kyle Gnagey and Gerri Allen and originally appeared in LeaderBoard, a magazine published by MASB.
“I can read!”
“For my son, it was a big thing for him to be able to put sentences together and read. He called his auntie, he called his mama—he called everybody, like, ‘I can read, I can read! Listen!’” A Detroit father recounted his son’s reaction after they completed an activity from a “Read, Write, ROAR!”1 episode, an early literacy program that airs on the Michigan Learning Channel.
Each episode is designed to be viewed by early learners and their families. It includes a literacy lesson taught by a Michigan teacher and an accompanying activity for viewers to complete.
“He’d been asking me, ‘Daddy, I want to learn how to read. All of them can read, and I can’t read.’ He’s in kindergarten, his brother is in fifth grade. . .everybody’s reading but him. When he did it, he was just so happy,” the father said.
The learning program was created through a partnership with Michigan’s public television stations, intermediate school districts, the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators and teachers from across the state. It is available on all Michigan Public Television stations and can also be found on MLC’s website on demand.
Setting the Stage
When Michigan schools closed on March 12, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many took quick action to support at-home learning. “By the following Monday, we were meeting weekly with educators, asking how we can support them as a TV station,” said Georgeann Herbert, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Community Engagement at Detroit Public Television. “Teachers were saying they needed a different solution to try to bring school into the students’ homes. By April, it became clear the pandemic wasn’t going away any time soon, so we started talking to funders and legislators.”
With the help of Tina Kerr, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, and William Miller, Ph.D., then-Executive Director of MAISA, MLC received enough funding to air a four-hour pilot—with reviewed content from another state—in Detroit in November. By Jan. 4, 2021, MLC had 20 full episodes of English Language Arts programming. After securing additional production funding, DPTV sought to create enough new programming to cover a full school year with content that met Michigan’s ELA Academic Standards.
Connecting With Michigan's Early Literacy Essentials
During that time, Herbert connected with Susan Townsend, MAISA’s Literacy Project Director and Co-Chair of the Early Literacy Task Force, the team responsible for developing and helping teachers use “The Essential Instructional Practices in Literacy: Grades K to 3,”³ known as the K-3 Literacy Essentials. The task force began in 2015 thanks to an Early Literacy Professional Learning grant from the Michigan Department of Education designed to address Michigan’s declining third grade reading proficiency. Under Townsend’sdirection, the K-3 Literacy Essentials were completed in 2018 through a partnership with MAISA’s ELTF, MAISA’s General Education Leadership Network, MDE, Michigan Virtual, Michigan ISDs, and lead researchers from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
The ELTF ensured that the initial MLC pilot program’s content aligned with the K-3 Literacy Essentials and the Michigan ELA Academic Standards. “This partnership gives families, educators and children statewide access to on-demand literacy lessons created by Michigan’s own teachers and literacy coaches using the Literacy Essentials,” Townsend said. “We are very fortunate to have such a strong partnership with MLC.”
Producing Michigan's Early Literacy Lessons
Following the successful pilot, the ELTF provided DPTV with access to literacy coaches from various ISDs to assist 17 Michigan teachers from eight of Michigan’s 10 ISD regions4 with writing and recording their own lessons for each episode of “Read, Write, ROAR!”
“We created 224 episodes over 18 months,” said Annie Spear, a Literacy Coach and Project Director for MAISA’s ELPL. “We had to ensure that when the lessons aired, they contained the type of material typically covered during that time in the school year.”
To aid in the process, two teachers and one literacy coach were assigned for each grade level, kindergarten to third grade.
“The teachers wrote the scripts for each lesson, including materials and prompts, and the literacy coaches reviewed every episode and identified the exact K-3 Literacy Essentials and ELA standards that were covered,” Spear said.
Teachers recorded themselves in their own homes using equipment MLC producers sent to them. The producers provided guidance to ensure quality lighting and footage, and they also reviewed all submitted recordings to maintain high-quality programming.
Reading Future Literacy Needs
“We made these lessons not only for families, but also for teachers to use during the pandemic to enhance remote learning,” Spear said. Now that in-person instruction has resumed in schools, the ELTF and MLC have partnered to create professional learning sessions for Michigan’s K-3 teachers to help them incorporate “Read, Write, ROAR!” lessons and the early literacy instructional practices into their classrooms today.
Additionally, MLC has produced pre-kindergarten episodes of the program. The six-episode pilot used MAISA’s “Essential Instructional Practices in Early Literacy: Pre-Kindergarten” and ISD literacy coaches to ensure the lessons follow research-backed, data-driven instructional practices for early literacy achievement. MLC intends to produce at least 24 episodes to support this younger set of learners.
“It’s too important not to get it right,” DPTV’s Herbert said.
Bringing the literacy essentials to early learners through public television is one of the many ways MAISA and Michigan’s 56 ISDs are delivering these foundational resources to schools and communities. Those who have been involved in this unique effort are ready for the next phase.
“We look forward to continuing and building on our relationship with DPTV and the Michigan Learning Channel in support of early literacy,” said John Severson, Ph.D., MAISA’s new Executive Director. “We highly value their partnership and collaboration in support of all Michigan learners, and we will do our best to further expand these resources to families and educators across our state.”