CPRE : Consortium for Policy Research in Education

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Research Report

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Thinking about Literacy, Learning Progressions, and Instruction

Previous work that CPRE’s Center on Continual Instructional Improvement had undertaken, with support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, evaluated the significance of the concept of “learning progressions,” and existing research and development based on it, for the fields of science and mathematics instruction. Working groups of experts in those two fields produced reports that concluded that there was empirical and theoretical support for the idea that the ways children learn some of the concepts and practices of science and mathematics could be characterized as typically advancing through identifiable levels or steps of growing understanding and skill (see Daro, Mosher, & Corcoran, 2011; Corcoran, Mosher, & Rogat, 2009). There also was support for the notion that children typically encounter identifiable difficulties or problems along the way which may hinder their movement from level to level on the progression.

CPRE found that there was reason to hope that knowledge of these levels and problems would support teachers in adopting the practices of “adaptive instruction,” a process that requires teachers during teaching to gather evidence on where each child might be in their learning, and to react contingently based on that evidence to modify instruction in ways intended to help each child keep moving ahead. CPRE also argued that it might be possible to develop assessments that would directly reference where students were located in terms of the levels the progressions identified. Doing so would provide more useful evidence for informing instruction than is provided by most of the explicitly or implicitly norm-referenced achievement assessments now used by schools for accountability or for interim feedback on students’ progress. CPRE’s nuanced assessment was that the promise of the construct for use in these ways was modest, and it implied the necessity of a great deal of further empirical design and development work, but it was hopeful (cf. Mosher, 2011). This report extends CPRE’s prior work on science and mathematics progressions to the idea of learning progressions in literacy.

Publication Date

July 2017