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Highlighted session: Coaching to improve early grade reading instruction: evidence on effectiveness and sustainability

Wed, April 17, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Pacific Concourse (Level -1), Pacific F

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


Instructional coaching—“onsite, job-embedded, sustained professional development for teachers” (Bean, R., 2014, p. 7)—has been identified as an important feature of effective teacher professional development in many highly resourced country contexts. This is due to consistent evidence that suggests that coaching, when combined with formal training, can have a greater impact on teacher change and student achievement than training alone (Neuman, S. B., & Cunningham, L., 2009; Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M., 2017). This finding has been recently confirmed in a recent meta-analysis of 44 studies of diverse coaching programs—primarily from pre-kindergarten and elementary school literacy programs in the U.S.—that found that coaching is an effective means of improving both teachers’ instructional practices and student academic outcomes (Kraft, M.A., Blazar, D., Hogan, D., 2018).

Given the recognized potential for coaching to facilitate teacher change and improve learning outcomes, current efforts to improve early grade reading (EGR) instruction and children’s reading outcomes in low- and middle-income country contexts are increasingly incorporating coaching into their teacher professional development efforts (Kim, Y.-S., G., Boyle, H. N., Zuilkowski, S.S., & Nakamura, P., 2016). However, evidence regarding the effectiveness of these efforts—and specific aspects of a given coaching initiative—is limited. A recent randomized control trial (RCT) in South Africa found that on-site pedagogical coaching as part of a structured learning program was more cost-effective in increasing students’ reading comprehension skills than providing workshop-based training alone (Republic of South Africa Basic Education Department, 2017). A study of literacy outcomes of more than 8,000 students in Kenya whose teachers received support from a coach found that teacher coaching can improve literacy outcomes in both public and non-formal education settings (Piper, B. and Simmons Zuilkowski, 2015). Another study of an EGR pilot in Northern Nigeria found a positive relationship between the number of years a coach spent teaching and serving as a School Support Officer, a position which includes visiting schools and supporting teachers. The research from Nigeria also found that recruiting coaches who have more experience teaching as opposed to serving as a school administrator is more likely to lead to more effective coaching.

As education programs generally and early grade reading improvement efforts in particular strive to expand nationally and become sustainably embedded in a country’s education system, it is critically important to take stock of existing evidence about the effectiveness of coaching activities in the LMIC context. Recently, Reading within Reach (REACH), an initiative funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support early grade reading improvement globally by providing them with resources, professional development opportunities, and opportunities for collaboration, has begun to do so. In collaboration with the Global Reading Network (GRN), REACH is currently drafting a “white paper” on coaching in early grade reading programs that aims to take stock of research, program experiences and best practices with respect to coaching. In so doing, REACH has identified significant gaps in the evidence base regarding the cost-effectiveness of coaching generally, as well as context-specific assessments and evaluations regarding the outcomes of different coaching approaches and activities. It has also identified promising approaches and new evidence regarding the effectiveness and impact of coaching.

Based on these findings, REACH and colleagues have organized a two-part panel series on coaching. This submission describes the first panel, Coaching to improve early grade reading: Emerging evidence on effectiveness and sustainability. A second panel, Scale and sustainability of ICT-supported teacher coaching and mentoring: Addressing costs and complexity, is being submitted separately by Rachel Christina from Education Development Center (EDC). The purpose of this panel is to share new applied research on instructional coaching aimed at improving teachers’ instruction of early grade reading in low- and middle-income country contexts. The presentations capture coaching programs from diverse countries from Western to Eastern Africa, including Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya and Madagascar. The research explores a range of issues regarding the effectiveness of coaching in these and other similar contexts, including:

• the effectiveness of utilizing certain personnel (e.g., school directors) as coaches;
• the use of appropriate protocols and instruments to support coaches in feasibly and reliably monitoring teachers and providing them with useful feedback;
• implications of using ICT and data to support coaches and coaching efforts; and
• findings on the quality of teacher instruction from coach-collected lesson observations.
Because the programs for which the research was conducted aim to embed coaching in government systems for teacher professional development, the sustainability of instructional coaching is a key issue addressed in all presentations.

The impact and sustainability of instructional coaching is a timely and relevant topic for the broad and diverse CIES audience, for several reasons. First, substantial financial resources are being invested in the LMIC contexts to improve the quality of education, and the fundamental skill of literacy in particular. This is evidenced by the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” for which a primary indicator is the proportion of children in grades two and three and at the end of primary who achieve at least a minimum proficiency level in reading (United Nations, n.d.). Coaching plays a fundamental role in helping teachers to provide quality and equitable instructive to learners. To that end, USAID’s draft policy for international basic education highlights the important role of teacher professional development, including coaching, in improving the quality of education, of which the improvement of literacy instruction is a priority (USAID, 2018).

The overarching focus of this panel on the impact of coaching and its sustainability in the LMIC context also directly relates to the 2019 CIES conference theme and global efforts to support sustainable development. This includes both the SDGs and the U.S. Government’s recently released Strategy on International Basic Education for 2019-2024 (USG, 2018). Finally, the panel touches on a diverse range of issues relevant to several CIES Special Interest Groups, including the Global Literacy, Teacher Education and the Teaching Profession SIGs, and thus we anticipate it will be of interest to numerous conference attendees.

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