November 2008 Evaluation
Below is a summary of findings from a comprehensive evaluation of our programs, conducted by Dr. Rob Horowitz of Arts Research and Columbia Teachers College.
Program Implementation and Partnership
• Behind the Book is an effective and well-run program that develops students’ interest in reading and writing.
• School teachers responded very positively to survey items about collaborating with Behind the Book. They overwhelmingly reported that Behind the Book “was an effective partner for their classroom.” They reported that authors were successful at engaging students, effective at working with the students’ age group, and that they aligned their activities with the teachers’ curriculum.
• School administrators believed that the Behind the Book program was a strong and effective partner because it helped get students excited about reading and “brought literacy to life.”
• Administrators reported that they would strongly recommend Behind the Book to other schools. They believed the program was a positive and rewarding experience for teachers, parents, students and the school community.
• Administrators told us they supported the program because it addressed English Language Arts standards and fit in with other initiatives, such as the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop. Principals felt that the program offered their students a unique opportunity for self-expression and exposure to authors that they otherwise would not have.
• Teachers told us they valued the program because the authors visit gave a personal perspective on the writing process, empowering students to develop their own skills.
• Behind the Book was flexible in its implementation, coordinating with the schools’ schedule and aligning the authors’ work with teachers’ ongoing curriculum. Teachers and administrators reported that the books and authors were well matched with their classes and that Behind the Book made an effort to accommodate teachers’ needs and interests.
• The program established a classroom environment that valued thoughtful reading, questioning and rich discussion. The program helped develop a culture of reading in participating classrooms.
Student Participation and Development
Teachers responded very favorably to survey items about program effects on students:
• 91% of teachers reported that students gained new insight into books and stories through Behind the Book (when combining “strongly agree” and “agree” ratings.)
• 82% of teachers reported that students who were struggling with academic performance took on new roles in Behind the Book projects.
• 82% of teachers reported that students who were struggling with academic performance were helped by Behind the Book experiences.
• 91% of teachers reported that students were better able to interpret and understand books and stories through Behind the Book.
• 55% of teachers reported that Behind the Book helped struggling readers become more fluent readers.
• 73% of teachers reported that Behind the Book helped fluent readers improve their reading.
• 82% of teachers reported that their students better understand the meaning of books and stories due to Behind the Book.
• 82% of teachers reported that their students are more verbally expressive due to Behind the Book activities.
• 82% of teachers reported that their students are more engaged and motivated to read because of Behind the Book.
• 82% of teachers reported that their students improved their literacy skills because of Behind the Book.
• 55% of teachers reported that their students improved their reading fluency because of Behind the Book.
• 73% of teachers reported that their students improved their reading comprehension because of Behind the Book.
• 91% of teachers reported that their students enjoy reading more because of Behind the Book.
• 73% of teachers reported that Behind the Book improved their classroom environment.
• 82% of teachers reported that Behind the Book helped develop a culture of reading in their classroom.
• 80% of teachers reported that students enjoyed talking with each other about books and authors because of Behind the Book.
• Authors brought a rich and authentic learning experience to the classroom. Students’ personal contact with an author made learning “real” and developed their interest in reading and writing.
• Teachers told us that the authors brought an authenticity to learning about reading and writing that they could not provide on their own.
• Working with the authors increased students’ motivation to succeed at reading and writing.
• Students became more motivated to read, more deeply involved with books and more willing to express themselves through writing.
• Students developed a greater appreciation for reading and writing through personal interaction with authors and illustrators. Meeting an author as “a human being behind the book” helped personalize and demystify the writing process.
• Students gained insight into the reasons why a book was written. They began to look beyond the end product of a written work and to understand the process of writing.
• Students learned elements of style and genre, vocabulary, characterization and interpretation, and writing skills.
• Students began to understand the effort that the authors made in conceptualizing, drafting and revising their work. Consequently, they began to put more time and effort into revising their own drafts. Students’ writing improved because students invested more time in editing and revision.
• Students benefited from publishing, presenting and celebrating their written work. They were proud of their accomplishments and eager to share the experience with their families and peers.
Role of Teachers
• Behind the Book provided teachers with new ideas for teaching reading and writing. Teachers gained insights into how to engage their students.
• Teachers, in response to surveys, reported that Behind the Book improved their ability to teach reading comprehension and literacy skills. Almost all teachers responding to surveys were able to extend the work of Behind the Book into their regular classroom instruction. Most teachers reported that Behind the Book changed the way they taught. All responding teachers “would recommend Behind the Book to other teachers” and “would like to collaborate with Behind the Book again.”
• Teachers incorporated instructional concepts they learned from authors and illustrators.
• A few teachers felt that it was difficult to align the program’s goals with their own curriculum. Some teachers were also concerned about their ability to fit in the program with an already overburdened schedule.
• Continue the current planning process with teachers and strengthen it where possible. The planning sessions we observed were successful. However, some teachers we interviewed still seemed unsure of their roles or uncertain of when, or how, they should finish projects. Some teachers likely need extra help to successfully incorporate the authors’ visits.
• Support inter-visitations between new Behind the Book teachers and experienced teachers. Consider this as the beginning of a larger Behind the Book network of participating teachers with understanding of how the program works best. Some teachers/schools might grow into demonstration sites for professional development or funder visits.
• Consider strengthening relationships with other professional development initiatives in participating schools. This could help relieve pressure on teachers who are required to participate in potentially competing initiatives.
• Allow some high schools to have only two author visits, instead of three. Establish baseline requirements for these schools to ensure that the experience is of sufficient depth and that teachers fulfill related classroom activities.
• Consider conducting Family Nights workshops in shifts, have families pre-register, and orient teachers and other adults who volunteer to help facilitate the event.