Dutchess BOCES brought together 48 literacy leaders from across the region Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, for the first ever New York State Education Department Literacy Symposium. The event, held at BOCES locations throughout the state, came the day after Gov. Kathy Hochul put the focus on literacy in her State of the State address.
In her speech, Hochul specifically referred to the science of reading – an evidence-based approach to reading instruction, which symposium participants discussed in-depth through a series of briefs. The hybrid webinar brought together every BOCES in the state, the NYSED team, and Dr. Nonie Lesaux, the author of the briefs, to work collaboratively and strengthen literacy education for all students.

This all day event allowed literacy leaders to hear Lesaux speak about each brief before reflecting on them in small groups with colleagues and a facilitator, listening to takeaways from other BOCES sites on the call, and engaging in a statewide Q&A about the briefs.

“There is a lot of power in just looking at the audience in each of those rooms and knowing that this information is being disseminated to such a wide group of literacy leaders,” said Jennifer Hammond-King, director of elementary operations, at Arlington Central School District. “It’s really helpful for us as district leaders to be taken through the briefs, by the author, so that we can really understand the intent behind them and think about how we can share this information with our staff.”

Lesaux, the Roy E. Larsen Professor of Education and Human Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, described the science of reading as “a term that reflects a dynamic interdisciplinary body of research that continues to evolve.” She continued, “It has been with us for 50 plus years and describes literacy development at all ages, provides guidance for instruction and intervention, and is also intricately tied to other frameworks.”

The briefs address literacy instruction from pre-K to the secondary years. One aspect that is emphasized throughout all age groups is the importance of developing the “Big 6” - oral language, phonological awareness, phonics, comprehension, fluency and vocabulary - through high impact practices.

One way to accomplish this is through purposeful play. Following the local discussion, Dutchess BOCES spoke on the call about the importance of purposeful play being recognized in the briefs for all ages, and other BOCES agreed with the sentiment.

“Today was about providing resources and information,” Deputy Commissioner Angelique Johnson-Dingle said. “We now want you to take this information, have conversations at the local level, assess where you are within your own schools, and then, if necessary, make the adjustments that are needed.”

NYSED will provide companion guides to support the briefs as well as a Q&A document based on the literacy leaders’ questions during the event to all districts. Johnson-Dingle shared that a curriculum review tool will also be released this spring.

“The briefs help confirm the changes that we are already making since I've been in the district,” said Alicia O’Connell, principal at Millbrook’s Elm Drive Elementary School. “There was a lot of groundwork already laid that really speaks to a lot of what we're doing today, and being able to further develop these skills with specifics, and know that they’re being done across other districts, is great.”