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North Carolina Awards $12 Million Dollar Grant to Improve Literacy Instruction

Some elementary school teachers in North Carolina will be getting additional help to teach literacy thanks to a large grant from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

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The three-year, $12.3 million dollar grant was awarded to a literacy program at North Carolina State University. Wolfpack WORKS, or Ways to Optimize Reading/Writing for Kids Statewide, is a program born out of a partnership between the university's College of Education and the state.

The grant will allow the program to provide additional training in teaching literacy to all first- through third-year teachers in grades K-2 in 16 high-needs school districts. The program received a one-year grant from the state last summer for $5.9 million to begin its work.

Jill Grifenhagen, an assistant professor of literacy education at N.C. State and the principal investigator of Wolfpack WORKS, calls early-literacy instruction "complex and challenging work." She says educators need to know so many things to teach it effectively, including phonological awareness, vocabulary, and fluency, that it can only help to have more training.

"Many of our beginning teachers in North Carolina enter the profession through alternative pathways where they have no prior coursework in literacy instruction before starting teaching," wrote Grifenhagen in an email. "Strong early literacy instruction is critical to setting students on a pathway to success, and all children deserve an excellent literacy teacher from day one."

The districts that participate in the program are primarily located in rural, low-income areas that provide fewer resources for professional development and struggle to attract and retain teachers.

"About 60 percent of North Carolina's 4th graders read at a proficient level; we want all 4th graders reading at a proficient level because we know how important early literacy is to lifelong success and opportunity," said Mary Ann Danowitz, dean of the N.C. State College of Education in a statement. "We also know that essential to improving early literacy is improving classroom instruction, which is exactly what Wolfpack WORKS does."

Grifenhagen and her colleagues worked with the state and literacy experts to develop the program, which utilizes literacy coaches to work with beginning teachers in person and online. The teachers are encouraged to videotape their lessons, which are shared with their mentors. This allows them to receive feedback and ongoing support even though they may be located far from the university. The teachers also take part in professional development workshops to sharpen their skills.

"We conceptualize Wolfpack WORKS as literacy-specific teacher induction," Grifenhagen wrote. "Research shows that teacher induction, particularly a multi-pronged approach including supports such as mentoring, reduced workload, collaboration, and targeted professional development, helps retain teachers, improve instruction, and increase student achievement. These are our ultimate goals."


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