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Case Study

Penn Literacy Network: A Case Study Implementation in Three Schools

The Penn Literacy Network (PLN) is primarily a non-prescriptive professional development model focused on training individual teachers in literacy strategies. PLN does not focus on changing a school’s organizational structure or directly changing school culture outside the classroom; instead, it targets individual teachers who are interested in improving their knowledge and skills around literacy instruction. PLN focuses on teacher change and works to create reflective practitioners who are adept at teaching literacy skills across the content areas. By increasing the capacity of teachers to engage in literacy instruction, PLN seeks to have a transformative effect not only on instruction and student achievement in reading and language arts, but in all subjects. PLN workshops and courses are intended to introduce a framework for building literacy instruction strategies, provide professional development that links literacy and student learning, and support teacher efforts to try out new ideas in the classroom. PLN staff maintain that as teachers become believers in PLN, they are apt to share their experiences with colleagues and thereby enlarge the PLN network at the school.

In the three high schools that comprise this case study, awareness was widespread. However, participation reflected the form of PLN being implemented at the school: traditional or schoolwide. In its traditional form, cohorts of teachers enroll in school-based PLN courses and/or workshops, and expanded interest is to stem from teachers who have taken PLN sharing their experiences with other teachers. The schoolwide version of PLN was developed more recently in response to the changing school accountability environment, and its form depends on the needs of the school desiring to implement PLN schoolwide. At the two early implementing schools, where PLN was in its traditional form, a limited number of teachers (seven at each school) enrolled in PLN courses. Whereas, at the mature school, PLN was being implemented schoolwide; all teachers were exposed to PLN strategies through schoolwide workshops, and about one half enrolled in PLN courses.

Changes in teacher behavior and practice, as well as the sustainability of PLN, also reflected the form of PLN being enacted at each school. Only the subset of teachers at the two traditional form schools described changes in their behavior and instructional practice. In contrast, almost all teachers at the mature school reported making changes as a result of PLN. The limited nature of participation at the two early implementing schools, where PLN was in its traditional form, impacted the sustainability of the reform. At one school, a PLN course was not offered the second year of our study, and at the other school teachers expressed concerns about whether or not PLN courses would continue to be offered. At the mature school, teachers and administrators expressed far less concern about the sustainability of PLN, reporting that PLN was fairly entrenched due to its schoolwide presence. Despite the likelihood of school-level sustainability of PLN, individual teachers across all three school said that they would continue using PLN strategies in their classrooms whether or not PLN continued at their school.

Although the scale of implementation reflected the form of PLN enacted at each school, at times each school’s experiences with the reform were quite similar. Five main variables help to explain both overall implementation as well as the variation across the three schools, including the reform’s design, district role, school leadership, the existence of feedback loops, and communication. Overall, the role played by the district, leadership around PLN at the school level, and the sense of urgency to change instructional practice carried implications for how PLN played out at each school.

Publication Date

February 2007