From Theory to Practice: Rochelle Lee Awardees Share How Study Groups Impact Their Classrooms

By: Shawn Bush and Eric Coleman

Teachers at Lavizzo Elementary School meet as part of a Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Study Group.

One of WITS’ strategy for growing students as readers is supporting teachers through professional development and by providing classroom resources. The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Study Group program aims to enhance the culture of literacy in entire schools through cross-grade-level teacher collaboration and increasing student access to books.

Each year, WITS selects a cohort of more than 120 educators to receive the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA). Awardees are invited earn continued professional development credit at the RLTA Summer Institute and ultimately receive a classroom library grant to select books for their classrooms. At the Summer Institute, Awardees a sense of build community while attending teacher-led workshops that are designed to enhance teacher’s literacy best practices.

Alfreda Smith works on reading aloud with a small group of first grade students at Lavizzo Elementary School.

Teachers in the RLTA program are given the opportunity to form a Study Group by applying to the program with other RLTA educators at their school. RLTA Study Groups are school-based learning communities that meet monthly to discuss their instruction and implement new practices in their classrooms. RLTA Study Groups select a literacy goal to develop across grade levels and center their shared exploration around a group selected professional development text. Additionally, RLTA Study Groups receive year-long support from a WITS Study Group Coaches to help them meet their literacy goals. Mid-way through the school year, Study Group members receive a second classroom library grant to provide additional books for their students. In the 2017-18 school year, 80 teachers formed RLTA Study Groups at 15 Chicago Public Schools.

At Lavizzo Elementary School, the RLTA Study Group is using the text Scaffolding Young Writers: A Writers’ Workshop Approach to develop a writing practice that complements in-class reading time for their students. “I am organizing mini-lessons and preparing for writing conferences, and I use mentor texts to introduce and build background knowledge for students.” said Alfreda Smith, a 1st Grade Teacher. Throughout Lavizzo, writing is becoming a focal point of classrooms and, in tandem with reading, a driver of student literacy. “I am including writing daily in my classroom,” said LaTonya Gordon, a Pre-Kindergarten Teacher. “[Through] a morning message, end of day wrap up, or in the classroom centers, writing is [being] implemented everyday in every way!”

LaTonya Gordon with her class of pre-kindergarten students at Lavizzo Elementary School.

At the end of May, WITS will convene RLTA Study Group members to share best practices learned in their year-long literacy initiatives with peers and members of their school communities. Through collaboration, RLTA Study Groups at Lavizzo, and around the city, are taking a systematic approach to increasing student literacy at their schools and beyond.

To learn more about the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award, visit