What is BSRI?
The Bay State Reading Institute (BSRI) partners with elementary schools to improve their outcomes, using a unique combination of research-backed methods and mentoring. BSRI’s experienced coaches help schools implement new teaching techniques, increase collaboration, and improve leadership. BSRI doesn’t tell educators what to do; it shows them how.
Since 2005, BSRI has worked with over 40 elementary schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In its high-implementing schools literacy and MCAS scores have risen significantly—even those with large populations of low-income and limited-English students. Because students work on assignments “differentiated” to their abilities, they are more engaged and successful, which leads to fewer discipline problems and reduced special-education referrals. The entire culture of the school improves. Teachers, specialists, and administrators regularly collaborate, and students accomplish things previously thought impossible. And compared to most other school-improvement options, BSRI does this at a fraction of the cost.
BSRI’s master coaches work with teachers and principals in their buildings, for as long as necessary. They demonstrate new techniques in the classrooms, and offer support and feedback while teachers incorporate these methods. They show how to collect data from quick assessments, then chart progress and match assignments to the abilities of each student. BSRI uses this same mentoring approach to help principals become experts in teaching and leadership, able to continually improve instruction and cooperation on their own.
The BSRI method has proved popular with students, teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, and tax-payers. Here’s some of what they’re saying:
Students are eager and excited to share their reading growth with me. Their level of conversational skills and engagement is truly impressive.Dan Rizzo
Our literacy rates are going up in the schools where BSRI is involved. I see it as an investment well-made for the students of Malden. I’m getting results.David DeRuosi
Fast Facts About Bay State Reading Institute
Barbara Gardner and Ed Moscovitch founded the Bay State Reading Institute (BSRI) in 2005 because they knew that the best way to improve schools is to provide teachers and principals with ongoing support and education in their classrooms and buildings.
Today BSRI partners with elementary schools across Massachusetts, producing benefits in many areas: higher state accountability levels, improving MCAS scores for low-income students at a much faster rate than the state average, fewer discipline problems, greater collaboration among staff, and better educational leadership from principals.
Who: The core of BSRI is its coaches. All of them are former master teachers and principals, experts at the coaching and professional development of their fellow educators. Executive Director Barbara Gardner was an Associate Commissioner of School Readiness for the Massachusetts Department of Education, and Chairman Ed Moscovitch has worked with schools from Alabama to Kazakhstan.
What: BSRI provides schools with long-term mentoring from expert coaches, who assist in the improvement of classroom methods and school culture. BSRI students work in small groups “differentiated” to their abilities, so that each student is working on the most challenging work possible. Quick assessments allow teachers to custom-tailor instruction and assignments to each student’s abilities, target their interventions, and measure the progress of each student and each classroom in real time.
Where: BSRI currently partners with 52 elementary schools in 13 districts across Massachusetts. BSRI has been particularly successful in districts with large populations of low-income and limited-English students.
Why: Reading is the foundation of educational success. Teaching reading, however, especially to struggling students, is a highly complex skill for which most teachers haven’t received sufficient training. BSRI provides high-quality professional development in the latest, science-backed methods, then supports its implementation long-term with coaches for teachers and principals.
How: BSRI is supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the Massachusetts Legislature, and private foundations such as the Tower Foundation, the Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation, and the Cummings Foundation.
How BSRI Transforms Classrooms
A BSRI classroom looks different from what most of us experienced in school. That’s because it works differently, using research-backed teaching techniques to improve education for all levels of students.
Anita Bala, at Munger Hill Elementary in Westfield, MA, had been teaching first grade for over 20 years when BSRI came to her school. She’d seen the various reform fads come and go, and says, “I was skeptical. I felt I’d had good success with the old way. Two years later, I am surprised at how well this new way works. The students are improving by leaps and bounds. It’s amazing.”
Anita Bala: “I used to stand in front of the whole group and teach. But every class has students with a wide range of instructional levels, so you run the risk of going too fast for some and too slow for others. Some of my students did fall through the cracks. They didn’t raise their hand, they’d hide, and you’d think they were progressing when they weren’t.
“Now I talk to my whole group for ten or fifteen minutes—just long enough to give an overview of new material and explain what they’ll be doing that day. Then they break up into five groups. Each group is based on their needs, and the groups are fluid, so a child can move from one group to another as their skills improve.”
Anita Bala: “I have four centers around my room, and a chart on the wall tells each group which center they should go to next. During our two-hour literacy block, one center is devoted to working with our vocabulary words, another to writing, another to working on reading fluency.”
The Teacher Table
Anita Bala: “Because of the centers, now I can work with each group individually at my teacher table. This has helped me to be more aware of what their successes are, and what they need to work on. When they sit with me in a group of four, there’s no place to hide. Plus, the group is intimate enough that they feel comfortable. I know my students so much better now. Nobody’s falling through the cracks.”
Anita Bala: “The work at the centers matches the students’ ability. Every group covers the same overall subject at the same time, such as Ancient Greece or soils. But I’ve picked the texts they read to match their levels. My lower group is not doing the same kind of work that my middle group is doing, and my middle group is not doing what my top group is doing. Differentiation is not the same thing as tracking.
“Before, we would give the high-fliers more work, not harder work. We thought it made sense, but now I realize that it doesn’t. If they can already write a good sentence, why aren’t they learning to write a paragraph? I want those kids to keep stretching.”
Success and challenge at the same time
Anita Bala: “Because I’ve been able to differentiate the work for the ability of each group, nobody’s doing work that’s too hard, and nobody’s doing work that’s too easy. That makes everyone feel successful and challenged, and that keeps the children more interested and engaged.”
Turn and talk
Anita Bala: “I used to be the one who did most of the talking. But talking is the foundation of literacy. It also helps children with comprehension and writing, and it’s an important skill in and of itself. My students talk much more now. For example, they talk at the centers with their partner. We call it ‘pairing and sharing.’ But they’re not just chatting; they’re on-task. Depending on the center, they might have questions they ask each other about the reading: ‘What’s the setting?’ or ‘Who are the main characters?’
“We can make these questions harder depending on their ability, such as ‘Why do you think this character did this? What do you think will happen next?’ They discuss what’s fact and what’s opinion. They find evidence in the text to support their argument. They’re learning to summarize. And because of all this talk, now they’re not afraid to go up in front of the class and present.”
Anita Bala: “We’ve gotten away from worksheets, worksheets, and more worksheets. Now they’re doing more work together. Sometimes they do work independently, but in life you also have to collaborate. So now, when I do give them a paper, it’s often one for every two students. That way they are solving the questions and writing the answers together as a team.”
Anita Bala: “When BSRI first came here, I thought having these centers with six-year-old children working in pairs would cause discipline problems. It has actually reduced them. Children like the responsibility, challenge and the feeling of success. Many discipline problems come from them trying to cover up what they can’t do. The busier they are, the more challenged, and the more success they feel, the fewer the problems.”
More reading aloud
Anita Bala: “It was hard for young students to sit still and listen while the teacher reads aloud, the way we used to do it. Now we’ve got them reading aloud much more, in their pairs and all together at my teacher table. When they finish in other centers, they buddy-read. They read aloud all the time. This creates more active participation, so they enjoy it more.”
Anita Bala: “In the old system, teachers could miss reading problems. Some students would fall behind starting in kindergarten, and keep falling farther and farther behind until it was almost impossible for them to catch up. Students who are struggling are also more likely to have behavior issues. It was a downward spiral.
“With the BSRI model, we’re using quick, in-class assessments to catch reading problems much earlier. Now, I’m either fixing these problems on my own or getting those students extra time with the reading specialist. This keeps more kids in the classroom with their peers and helps them to succeed.”
Coaches for Teachers
Anita Bala: “It used to be, when teachers did get training it meant sitting somewhere and listening to an ‘expert.’ But making real changes in a classroom takes an awful lot of work, over years. Now we have a coach to support us. She provides us with a lot of the materials in the centers. And whenever I have a question about something she’s right there to help. And she’s not going away.”
Anita Bala: “This new way of teaching is working for us. I see my students doing more advanced work and higher-quality work. I’d like to see it spread to other schools. People would be surprised. I was surprised. My students are learning more of what they need to learn—and that’s who I really work for. I work for those little smiling faces in front of me.”
How BSRI Improves Schools
To improve schools, BSRI does more than advance classroom instruction—it also changes the way the entire building functions.
Teachers and support staff work together as teams. They constantly seek out ways to improve. Principals become educational leaders, guiding the progress. To make significant improvements in student literacy, schools have to make many changes all at the same time. And as Fitchburg, MA, superintendent Andre Ravenelle says, “You can’t do this alone. You need outside partners.”
Principal Jodi Gennodie has been working with BSRI at the Lincoln Elementary School in Revere, MA, since 2011. “Whether you’re running a wealthy suburban school or a needy urban school,” she says, “you have a variety of students, and you have to figure out how to meet all of their needs at the same time at an engaging level. BSRI helps you to do that, and a lot more.”
Principal Gennodie: “Principals today face so many demands, and it can be a lonely job. Who are we going to call if we’re not sure how to handle a particular issue? For most principals, there’s really nobody, which makes it hard to improve your school.
“BSRI provided my school with a coach for our teachers and a coach for me. Working through problems with someone who’s already a master is much more efficient than figuring it out on my own.
“Their professional development workshops helped me to understand many foundational aspects of education, so I can make wise decisions. My coach has taught me how to have conversations with staff that provide constructive feedback and help them grow.
“And BSRI connected me with a network of other BSRI principals. The best ideas I’ve used haven’t always come from the BSRI coaches. They’ve also come from other principals I’ve met through BSRI.”
Better Professional Development
Principal Gennodie: “At most schools, teachers go to a professional-development workshop for one or two days and learn a little something about a new teaching method, often without enough time to ask the questions that would personalize it to the unique needs of their school. Then they are supposed to go back to their building, hope they remembered it correctly, and figure out how to make the new teaching method work while juggling all their other demands. Professional development becomes a lot of extra work, with very little support. Oftentimes, it doesn’t get very far.
“BSRI provides professional development that’s on-site and ongoing. The coaches are like having tech support right there. Now everybody in my building has the same background knowledge. The teachers, specialists, and I are all on the same page. There’s no more mystery. BSRI helps teachers make the change to best practices by supporting them every step of the way.”
“I know that data is a dirty word for some people, but the right kind, used well, really changes the instruction and the culture of a school. BSRI has helped us to use quick assessments, like the DIBELS and GRADE. They only take a couple of minutes to administer. I get these scores twice a month, so it’s very clear where there is or isn’t movement in time to do something about it.”
“Now we have data meetings several times per year, with the teachers, specialists, interventionists, coaches, and me. We look at the data and see where we’re hitting the marks and where we might not be. We then plan together how to improve. We can customize plans for every student. This helps me get buy-in from my teachers. When they see data that proves that students are progressing, they agree that the changes in the classrooms make sense.”
Consistency, Teamwork, and Collaboration
Principal Gennodie: “Now we use data meetings and common planning time to help teachers and specialists work as a team. Each grade collaborates, and there’s coordination between grades. It pulls everybody into that village mentality: We’re all in this together to help students.
“Bringing BSRI into my building created collaboration and collegiality. We’ve become more open to each other’s ideas. Teachers are going into each other’s classrooms to pick up new techniques. They feel able to reach out for help because BSRI took the stigma away.”
Fewer Managerial Problems
“With BSRI in my building, a lot of things I wouldn’t have suspected got easier. Because all students are doing differentiated work that’s matched to their ability, they all feel successful and challenged. It used to be that I could barely get up from my desk to visit classrooms because I had to address another discipline issue. We really don’t have a lot of that anymore.”
More Educational Leadership
Principal Gennodie: “With that extra time, now I can be less of a building manager and more of an educational leader. I believe that you need to visit classrooms every day in order to be an effective leader. BSRI taught me how to get a lot of information from my classroom visits, which helps with every other aspect of my job: evaluations, staff meetings, and professional development. BSRI gives principals the tools they need to help teachers.”
“Principals today are inundated with initiatives, mandates, and outside companies promising miracles. BSRI didn’t come in and tell us what to do. They respected us and worked with us. They were always willing to discuss and find solutions that built on our strengths and fit the unique needs of our building.”
Principal Gennodie: “Most school-transformation programs come in for a year if you’re lucky. I’ve been working with BSRI now for three. School change takes time and patience. I don’t know a principal who used BSRI who didn’t have a challenging first year. It requires a lot of work to get the school working in a different way. But the outcomes are worth it.”
Principal Gennodie: “Today my staff is teaching better than ever. We’re collaborating and working towards common goals. Our scores are going up. Students are coming in to first grade stronger because of what was taken care of in kindergarten. There’s improvement from year to year.
“BSRI has been outstanding. I recommend them to other principals one hundred percent.”
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