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Professional Books: Literacy Coaching: Developing Effective Teachers through Instructional Dialogue

Literacy Coaching: Developing Effective Teachers through Instructional Dialogue

by Marilyn Duncan

2006 pb 112 pages/with DVD
Item # 552
ISBN 9781572748651

Instructional dialogue is one tool literacy coaches can use to help teachers increase student learning. This book is designed to support novice and experienced literacy coaches in refining their listening and questioning skills, expanding notions of what it means to observe a teacher in action, and ensuring that coaching is a meaningful learning experience. A DVD of an instructional dialogue between a teacher and the author of this book is included.

Instructional dialogue is an opportunity for teachers through the mentorship and facilitation of a coach to think about their practice and ways to improve it.

Instructional dialogue is also a process of professional development. The teacher, with the support of the coach, identifies a challenge to instruction through the vehicle of an action plan. This plan is the teacher’s commitment to action. Together the teacher and coach determine how they will work together and gain information to provide quality feedback to the teacher. After the coach works alongside the teacher, they meet for a dialogue. The teacher commits to a change in classroom practice as a result of the dialogue. The impact of this change is expected to be evident through increased student achievement. Student achievement increases are measured by district, school, and classroom summative and formative assessments.

About the Author

Marilyn Duncan was a teacher for forty years. Her work was in the classroom with children and as a teacher developer. Marilyn was been the Trainer of Coordinators for The Learning Network®, the general editor for Inside Learning Network Schools (1997) and was involved in large-scale district initiatives in Colorado. While she worked in all areas of education she regards herself primarily as a kindergarten teacher. Marilyn is retired and lives with her husband Peter in Wanaka, New Zealand.

Other Books by the Author


Teachers are all too well aware that change is a real constant in their professional lives. For the most part, expectations for change have been about teaching practice. They are told it’s better to teach this way rather than that way or that one instructional program is to be adopted instead of another. Yet probably the most profound expectations for change in recent years are to be found in the assumptions that underlie No Child Left Behind (Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn 2001). To leave no child behind demands an emphasis on student learning as a measure of effective instructional practice.

Over many years I have been privileged to work with teachers and administrators who have always believed that the only measure of effective instruction is the extent to which it improves the learning of every student. In the early 1990s, I was introduced to The Learning Network This model of professional development included a component for training site-based teacher leaders, who became teacher developers or coaches. Their training was from a Learning Network coordinator, who had developed expertise in the processes of teaching and learning, content standards, and working with adults. This model was years ahead of other professional development opportunities.

For me, the approach The Learning Network took to professional development for teachers was a dramatic shift from what I had experienced earlier. Each school in The Learning Network assigned or chose a minimum of two teacher leaders. The goal of training teacher leaders was to provide professional development that was job embedded; that focused on improving student achievement by improving the effectiveness of classroom practice.

When working as a Learning Network coordinator, my colleagues and I developed a process for supporting coaches we called instructional dialogue. In effect, it was little more than a structured conversation that was a way of providing feedback and help for teachers to say more clearly what they were doing, why they were doing it, and how they might think about how they would change their practice to make their instruction more effective. The measure of this effectiveness was always student learning. The evidence was an increase in student achievement. Instructional dialogue proved challenging for many teachers. In an education culture that emphasized what to do and how to do it, it was disconcerting for many new teacher leaders or coaches to have a coordinator ask questions about what they were doing and why they were doing it. They felt that asking “why” was a suggestion that what they did was wrong or not good enough.

What I now understand is that teachers, like the students they instruct, are on a continuum of learning. There is no end point to learning for anyone at any time. The knowledge and skills teachers need are dependent upon the challenges they face with the next group of learners who walk into their classrooms. This book describes a type of professional support that is meaningful and provides appropriate feedback to teachers that can make them more effective teachers. Developed over a period of fifteen years, instructional dialogue has become an important part of a teacher development process that can and does lead to improving the learning achievement of all students. To give the reader an idea about how instructional dialogue can work, this book includes a DVD showing some classroom instruction and an instructional dialogue between a teacher and a coach. This is intended to be an example of an instructional dialogue. The style and approach will differ among different coaches and teachers. This video footage illustrates one of the ways I have learned to work with teachers.

How to Use this Book

This book is divided into three parts. Part 1, Laying a Foundation for Reflective Teaching, is designed to answer the question, “What is instructional dialogue?” Introduced in Chapter 1 with a scenario of a teacher and coach working together, this provides the reader with an opportunity to see the process of instructional dialogue in action. Chapter 2 contains a definition of instructional dialogue, a description of how the process works, and an articulation of the roles of both the coach and the teacher involved in the process.

Part 2, Implementing a Process for Instructional Dialogue, is designed to support the reader in understanding how instructional dialogue works. Chapter 3 describes the action plan, a tool the teacher and coach use to determine the focus for the work they will do together. Chapter 4 explains the thinking of the coach as he or she works “on the job” with the teacher. Chapter 5 depicts the role of the coach during instructional dialogue. Chapter 6 puts the action plan, the job-embedded work, and instructional dialogue together in a description of the process that is depicted in the DVD that accompanies this book.

The book concludes with Part 3, Ensuring That the Process of Instructional Dialogue Works, which explores the why behind instructional dialogue. Chapter 7 describes the need for a school to develop agreements in order for the process to be transparent. Finally, Chapter 8 shares the research that supports the concept of instructional dialogue. In one sense, this is a handbook; a book that is a reference for those supporting teachers as they develop as more competent professionals. But it’s not a typical handbook. The difference is that this handbook is about people who are learning at different rates and in different ways, not things that are pre-programmed to work in particular ways if the right actions are taken. And one thing we know about adult people is that as diverse learners they learn more effectively when they learn together.

An underlying theme of this book is collegiality; the idea that a group of colleagues share responsibility toward achieving a common goal. This book supports the goal of developing teachers to become more confident, competent professional educators. It may work well for small groups of coaches and teachers to study this book and the accompanying DVD, try some of the suggested approaches for working together and instructional dialogue, and regroup periodically to share experiences. What is critical to this process is how the collegial environment supports adult learners, who when asked “why?” are often tentative and reluctant to expose themselves to the scrutiny of others. Since the need to work together is an essential component of this kind of professional learning, there is a real responsibility on the part of those who lead these group experiences to develop quickly the kind of respect and trust within the group that again is an underlying theme of this book. Whether study groups form as a district initiative, at the school level, or from small groups of colleagues simply wishing to work together, respect and trust are crucial to success.

To consider this handbook as a resource and a guide, that together with the kind of leadership in the local district or school that inspires colleagues to become better at what they do best, is how I would like to think Literacy Coaching: Developing Effective Teachers through Instructional Dialogue could be most helpful.

Table of Contents

Preface: Beginnings of Instructional Dialogue 



Chapter 1        A Coaching Scenario

Chapter 2        Developing a Process for Instructional Dialogue

Developing a Relationship between the Teacher and the Coach

Roles and Responsibilities for Instructional Dialogue



Chapter 3        Using the Action Plan

Building on Strengths

Finding the Focus for the Action Plan

Analysis of an Action Plan: An Example

Gathering Information for Potential Action Plans


Chapter 4        Focusing on Job-embedded Work

Planning for the Job-embedded Work

Success Criteria

Effective Note Taking

Analyzing the Notes

Planning for Instructional Dialogue


Chapter 5        Conducting Instructional Dialogue

A Structured Conversation

Listening and Questioning Effectively

Listening and Questioning in Action

When to Listen; When to Question; When to Tell

Improvement in Student Learning

Colleagues Learning to Do Their Jobs Better


Chapter 6        Putting it All Together: Jan and Marilyn

Jan’s Action Plan and Marilyn’s Note Taking

Working with Jan on the Job

Preparing for Our Dialogue

Jan’s Instructional Dialogue



Chapter 7        Setting the Stage for Successful Literacy Coaching

Setting the Stage for Success

Being Transparent

Reaching Agreements

Establishing an Agreement

Frequently Asked Questions about the Process of Instructional Dialogue


Chapter 8        “Why Are We Doing What We’re Doing?” Principles of Effective Instructional Dialogue

Research that Supports the Concept of Instructional Dialogue

Qualities Linked to Effective Instruction

Job-embedded Professional Development

Making Choices about Learning

Reflection: Thinking about the Work

Feedback on Instruction Leads to Student Learning Gains