The University of Florida Literacy Initiative (UFLI) and James Patterson Foundation have begun an ambitious mission to end the literacy crisis plaguing the state by doubling the number of Florida schoolchildren proficient in reading: the James Patterson Literacy Challenge.
The James Patterson Literacy Challenge provides school leaders and educators from under-performing schools empowering professional development tools, opportunities and experiences to build their capacity to effectively address the diverse, dynamic literacy needs of their students. In February 2018, author and philanthropist James Patterson announced a $3 million donation to the UF College of Education to launch the project, which has now begun serving five schools in two Florida school districts, Alachua County and Broward County.
The leading challenges underperforming schools face in improving their literacy outcomes are rooted in unpreparedness. If students enter the classroom already grade levels behind in reading, it is unlikely they will ever be able to meet the literacy standards expected of their current grade level. Although educators strive to bridge these gaps, they often do not possess the knowledge or resources needed to serve a large classroom of students each reading at a different skill level with varying challenges. For these reasons, failure in the classroom historically has been anticipated and even accepted. While some students are expected to excel, others are expected to lag behind.
But this does not have to be the case. Every child is capable of reading proficiently with the right support. The James Patterson Literacy Challenge is taking an entirely different approach to improving literacy outcomes by focusing on transforming the literacy culture that shapes these schools. Failure can no longer be an acceptable option when a child’s lifelong success is on the line. Partnering school districts participating in the James Patterson Literacy Challenge receive the support to implement better practices in their classrooms, the knowledge to identify their unique literacy challenges and the tools necessary to sustain success far past their completion of the project. School districts receive a UF-trained master teacher that leads individualized coaching and ongoing professional development activities designed to fit the needs of each selected school. UF faculty researchers and doctoral students collaborate with schools to review their current literacy practices and design plans to address their specific challenges. Master teachers also host a Summer Reading Academy at each school providing educators comprehensive sessions that focus on the fundamental aspects of literacy development specific to each grade level. Furthermore, participating districts have access to online professional development resources.
Developed by the UF College of Education’s Lastinger Center for Learning, the comprehensive online platform offers 40 models of content related to foundations, assessment, instruction and intervention in key areas of literacy. The platform also features an innovative application component that allows teachers to upload their instructional materials and videos to be reviewed by a literacy coach. All content is aligned with state standards for teachers and students.
The James Patterson Literacy Challenge expects to double the number of schoolchildren in current participating schools who achieve passing reading scores within two years of participation in the project. The project is also working to provide all Florida schools access to the online professional development resources by the completion of the first year and expand efforts to other school districts by the second.
Key partners in the project include the Lastinger Center, P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the Florida Center for Reading Research, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the National Center on Improving Literacy, the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast and the Center for the Collaborative Classroom.
Through the robust network of partners coming together to build brighter futures, the James Patterson Literacy Challenge will champion a tomorrow where every Florida child knows the joys of reading and has the potential for lifelong success