Literacy Framework Pays off Big for North Carolina Middle School


Over the last several years, Hawfields Middle School in North Carolina has experienced extraordinary growth and results. For three years in a row, HMS has been in the top four in the state for academic growth.

This is a testament to the leadership of Principal Greg Hook, who won Principal of the Year in 2022 (as did his Assistant Principal). Hook credits much of the literacy growth to the Learning-Focused literacy framework.

Bringing In Learning-Focused

When Hook first came on board as Principal at Hawfields Middle, he observed the following literacy needs right off the bat:

  • They didn’t have continuity across the grade levels about how students work text
  • He wanted his kids to develop cognitive confidence to develop cognitive competence

Hook became familiar with By the end of the day, he had a wish list consisting of the following:

  • Frequent use of extended response passages
  • Text organizers put into place
  • Levels of learning and elevating question asking
  • Higher order thinking
  • Writing in response to reading

Hook met with his two assistant principals and academic coach and presented his list. He hired a Learning-Focused consultant who became a regular at his school.

Five years later, the rest is history.


Deploying Literacy Strategies and a Literacy Framework

The school began using Learning-Focused Strategies in Action series to create a laser-like focus on the literacy strategies of Writing to Raise Achievement and Using Reading Comprehension and Text Structures Across All Content Areas. They also trained in Higher Order Thinking Strategies.

Implementing the Literacy Framework Across Content Areas

Over time, as reading results began rolling in quickly, the staff became believers First, in Language Arts (LA). The following year, they pushed science and social studies into staff development.

Teachers and staff have gotten very good at looking at data, using digital resources with text, and selecting the right organizer. A Social Studies teacher models how to use a text organizer just like LA, so they understand its importance everywhere. The literacy model has supported reading growth beyond LA.

Classroom tactics that have changed include:

  • New goals: when students take an assessment, identifying if they answer the questions from the text organizer (and not the text) correctly and well.
  • Previewing: Ensure kids take a peek at the questions before they read to know what they are looking for to get in front of it, and employ strategies like jotting down keywords.
  • Collaborative planning: Teachers set up critical questions planning for next week’s work and are asked, “how frequently are you using text,” “are the questions at the correct level of learning” and “are we using text organizers every time with non-fiction text?”

“When there are 36 weeks of school, we are using our strategies all 36 weeks.”

Greg Hook


Condensed School Improvement Plan, Better Classroom Walkthroughs & COVID Recovery

Modifying the school improvement plan, having more efficient walk throughs, and doubling down on strategies during COVID have paved the way to consistent implementation and continued results.

Literacy and the School Improvement Plan

  • The school improvement plan was stripped down to a handful of areas. Facets were put right into the plan for literacy right away, including calling for using text 40% of the time. This means using text by and large and moving away from lectures, movies, and note-taking. This helped administration be able to watch for those pieces, particularly during walk throughs.

“Teachers weren’t getting overwhelmed.”

Greg Hook

Improved and More Effective Classroom Walkthroughs:

  • The modified school improvement plan made walk-throughs more focused and gave teachers peace of mind. They stripped away looking for behavior aspects, the anatomy of a lesson, and steps in a lesson plan and instead looked for components that matched what they used from Learning-Focused. It implied the other pieces had to be in there.

Literacy Framework and Strategies Maintained Through COVID

  • The educators and administration stayed true to the course through COVID, remote, and hybrid learning. Before COVID, the school exceeded growth and met growth goals five years in a row. (The year they went virtual, there was no testing.) When school went remote, teachers continued doing the same things through Zoom remotely as they would’ve done in person. The school is big on small groups, regrouping, and using that to support students struggling during COVID. Where remote couldn’t benefit, they have put it back together since schools returned in person.

Reading didn’t come back as quickly as math, as reading instruction was suppressed, with deficits in comprehension and decoding. Learning-Focused came back in to conduct a reset and reinforce the framework and strategies.


Text Organizers as Evidence of Learning with Digital Programs

Hook points to the usage of text organizers as one of the essential tools the school uses in its Literacy framework.

When they started, it was lots of paper/pencil/paper. As the school has purchased digital programs, such as Achieve3000, this has meant more extended response passages. What they have found going from pencil/paper to digital is what’s critical is the kids continue to do text organizers on paper. For example:

  • If a student is in class doing Achieve3000 articles online, they are presented with text and then questions all completed online. There is no evidence of learning to evaluate. However, if they have a text organizer lying on the desk, now they do have evidence even though kids are working a digital framework. Teachers can walk the aisles, look at organizers and evaluate: if kids are completing it, and completing it correctly.
  • On a paper text organizer, teachers can make affirmation marks or redirect. Conversely, a digital text organizer takes away the power of teachers walking and seeing evidence of learning on the desk. Kids are used to not fully reading online. By nature, they scan and skip around; a text organizer locks them into it. For a reluctant learner, this has been instrumental. When kids turn in their work, they must turn in the paper organizer as well.

To continue reinforcing year-to-year:

  • Most 6th graders come into middle school never working with text or graphic organizers. As a result, the 6th grade spends the first month of school teaching different types of text and text organizers, helping students to understand what that means, how to choose the right ones, and creating and completing a text organizer.
  • 7th and 8th grades go through a similar routine: for the first few weeks, they review all six text organizers to refresh and reinforce understanding.

The usage of organizers along with digital products allows his teachers to see what kids are doing: setting up and showing their work. This, Hook says, is the bread and butter to cognitive development. It goes their kids to think along with the author and what the author is trying to share.


The Results

For the last several years, HMS has been at the top of the state for academic growth. In 2022, Hawfields ranked third out of all North Carolina schools regarding the academic growth index.

And in particular, Hook is proud of their Reading growth. “When looking at the value-added Reading index numbers, it doesn’t mean much on its own without context,” he says. “Anything above a 2, you exceed expected growth. Hawfields more than doubled that. For a school that is 50% free and reduced lunch, that means real growth, not proficiency. And that score is reflected by every demographic group.”

MS literacy school growth scores

Hook points to the following as contributing factors to ongoing growth:

  • The usage of text organizers in conjunction with digital frameworks and tools is instrumental to success. Everybody lost during COVID. With the move to digital text, the evidence of learning piece goes with learning recovery. “I attribute this to everything; the score came from the work that surrounds that piece of text and how our kids read it.”
  • There is very little staff turnover, which is not typically the case with a high free and reduced lunch enrollment percentage
  • Everybody grew together, the school got results, and everyone is now a true believer. “The self-efficacy piece creates more self-efficacy. They believe it works, and by doing it together, it works. Even the kids became believers.”

“Everybody grew together. Even the kids became believers.”

Greg Hook

Hook has the following advice for school leaders and administrators: “The literacy framework works for everybody. When you believe in what you do, feel supported, and believe in each other, growth happens.”

He concludes, “Make it important, and make it a big deal.”


Would You Like to Learn More About Literacy Support At Your School?

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