At Literacy How, we continuously refine our expertise by applying and conducting research in schools and classrooms to answer the question, “What should teachers know and be able to do to effectively teach reading?”

Ours and others’ studies shape the content and pacing of our professional development, impact the selection of evidence-based assessments and instructional practices, and influence how our mentors teach and motivate adult learners.

Our Ongoing Studies of Connecticut Teachers Demonstrate that:

  • Many teachers lack research-based disciplinary knowledge about reading development, assessment, and language structure and, in fact, “don’t know what they don’t know”.
  • Teachers acquire this kind of knowledge when it is taught in pre-service preparation or in-service professional development.
  • Developing teacher knowledge has the potential to improve children’s achievement.
  • Teachers’ attitudes play an important role in increasing their knowledge as well as improving their instruction.
  • It takes time and practice, practice, practice for teachers to consolidate the application of knowledge and effective instruction.
  • Mentors make a difference in teachers’ ability to hone their instructional practices to raise student achievement.

Current Research


Connecticut K-3 Literacy Initiative (CK3LI)

CK3LI (2012-present), a study funded by the CT State Department of Education, is working with HILL for Literacy to develop a comprehensive school-wide reading plan and to build internal expertise and capacity in schools. In addition, students at risk for reading difficulties have been identified and provided with small group intervention.

More than 1,000 students in 50 classrooms in five schools in Hartford, East Hartford, New Haven, and Windham have been exposed to the model for the past four years. While outcome data revealed successes early on, schools that participated for three years or more showed the most dramatic improvement, schools adopting the945af72241b683884c5eaed7_560x314 CT K-3 Reading Model for three years or more had more than doubled the number of students meeting grade-level literacy goals, while also reducing the number of students at significant risk for reading failure by more than half.

In our role in this partnership with Center for Behavioral Education Research (CBER) at UConn, HILL for Literacy, the Commission on Children, and the Connecticut State Department of Education, Literacy How Mentors deliver embedded professional development to K-3 teachers in Alliance schools.  Literacy How is also on the management team and helped to create Parent Engagement curriculum used at Family Literacy Nights.

Early Language and Literacy Initiative (ELLI)

Early Language and Literacy Initiative (2011-present), is a partnership among Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Norwalk Community College, Norwalk Housing Authority and Literacy How.

ELLI applies research to successful programmatic and classroom practices. It brings together evidence that is positively associated with children who have low language skills and from low-income families becoming competent, if not skilled, readers and addressing their achievement gap.

ELLI fortifies its programs with research-based practices in five areas:

  • Language and literacy experiences and interactions
  • Sensory- and language-rich places for play and learning
  • Teachers and learning partners prepared and supported to engage in their children’s literacy development
  • Parents and families motivated and supported to engage in their children’s literacy development
  • A comprehensive research and documentation agenda.

ELLI’s research and practice will be integrated into the professional training of early childhood educators across Southwestern Connecticut and beyond.

As of 2017, ELLI has a lab school at Stepping Stones Museum for Children, PreK classrooms in Fox Run School, Naramake School, Tracey School, and ELLI at Fairfield University.

The Talking Fingers Project

Talking Fingers (2015-2016) is being funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) as part of a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Grant. NICHD-SBIR provided funding for the development of literacy apps (Talking Shapes) for pre-school and kindergarten children that were developed by Talking Fingers and Dr. Jeannine Herron. The current research study, testing the efficacy of those apps, is being conducted by Literacy How.

The research study will examine the effects of two different approaches to teach young children to read. Both approaches will use apps on iPads as well as teacher-led activities in small group instruction.

The first—Talking Shapes—is a ‘speech-to-print’ approach that teaches children how to read by associating the sounds that they hear in words with the symbols or letters associated with those sounds. This instruction will focus on the development of phoneme awareness (noticing the movements of the mouth as it makes the sounds of a word) and phonics skills (linking those sounds to the letters that represent them). In small groups of five, children will use the Talking Fingers apps for 15 minutes and then work with teachers for an additional 15 minutes. The 7 Talking Fingers apps provide stories and instruction in drawing letters, spelling words, and reading the words that use the sounds they have learned. Instruction includes all of the sounds in English, not just the 26 letters of the alphabet. As part of the teacher-led instruction children, will use the iPad camera to view themselves saying words and they will sound-out and spell words on a white board.

books_iconThe second approach—Book Talk—is a ‘print-to-speech’ method that will teach children how to recognize sight words and content-based vocabulary words by noticing the way the words are spelled and reading them as ‘whole words.’ In small groups of five, children will listen to storybooks read on an ipad app for 15 minutes and interact with that story as they listen and discuss what’s happening. In addition, they will work with teachers for 15 minutes to learn and discuss the selected words from the stories. Words have been carefully selected from the interactive read-alouds to include both sight words and robust vocabulary words. Students will also respond to literal and inferential comprehension questions during the read-aloud to support their receptive and expressive oral language skills and to develop their comprehension abilities.

The project will involve working with all the children in the classroom for one hour during the Language Arts period. Each classroom will be divided into two groups: half the students in the class will receive instruction with the ‘speech-to-print’ approach and the other half will use the ‘print-to-speech’ method. These groups will be reversed in the spring so that everyone gets the advantage of both approaches. There will be pre and post testing for all students in the study in order to evaluate the impact on students’ reading skills in the two different approaches.

See results.

Turning the Curve on Connecticut’s Achievement Gap: K-3 Reading Assessment Pilot Study

Funded by the Grossman Family Foundation (2011-2013), this pilot study examined the efficacy of an alternative assessment to the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA2).  From 2012 to 2014, the Connecticut State Department of Education continued the funding of the Turning the Curve pilot. The Center for Behavioral Educational Research (CBER) conducted the external evaluation to determine the efficacy of the assessment.

Reading 3D includes two assessments – the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) Next foundational skills assessment and the Text Reading and Comprehension (TRC), a DRA2-like assessment that collects a running record of students’ reading behaviors, including comprehension, with leveled text. Fifteen schools from five priority school districts piloted the mCLASS Reading 3D (R3D) alternative technology-based reading assessment.

Year two results support the effectiveness of Literacy How Mentors:

  • Students in 2nd and 3rd grade who were below benchmark early in the year, performed significantly better in schools using Reading 3D who also had a Literacy How Mentor.
  • Schools with Literacy How Mentors progress monitored an average of 75% of students in need of intervention (between the beginning and middle of the year).  Fewer than 8% of eligible students were progress monitored in the same period at six schools using the assessment for the first time.
  • Students in the treatment plus Mentor schools performed significantly better on the Connecticut Mastery Test than students in the treatment-only schools.

Pre-K RTI in CT:  Building Teacher Knowledge About Language and Literacy for Dual Language Learners

This pilot study (2010-2011) mentored teachers in the implementation of PreK Scientific Research-based Intervention–SRBI (CT’s framework for RTI) and focused on what teachers need to know and be able to do to identify at-risk PreK students and to deliver research-based interventions focused on improving the language and pre-literacy skills of dual language learners.  By using assessment data, the most skilled PreK teachers were able to differentiate instruction for 4-yr-olds to provide early intervention to help prevent reading failure. This study was funded by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.


A History of Research

Literacy How’s evolution began in 1999 at Haskins Laboratories, when Haskins Senior Scientist Anne Fowler assisted in assembling Connecticut’s Early Reading Panel. This group produced “Connecticut’s Blueprint for Reading Achievement,” which identified professional development required for K-grade 3 teachers to improve reading instruction.


ERS LogoEarly Reading Success Institute (ERSI), a research-to-practice feasibility study by Drs. Fowler and Susan Brady, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Connecticut State Department of Education and the University of Rhode Island, 2000-04.

ERSI applied reading research in Kindergarten-grade 2 classrooms, trained over 30 internal and external mentors, and worked with over 200 teachers in 20 schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Haskins researchers and mentors developed professional development models and tools for teacher training and established three CT model schools to serve as demonstration sites.

MRIn LogoMastering Reading Instruction (MRIn), a study of first grade reading instruction by Co-Principal Investigators, Drs. Margie Gillis and Susan Brady, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, 2003-07.

First grade teachers’ primary responsibility is to teach children to read, so MRIn focused on first grade reading instruction, studying the relationship among what a teacher knows about reading, how reading is taught in the classroom, and how students perform on a variety of reading assessment measures.

Professional development and classroom support in 37 schools in nine districts with more than 120 teachers took place over two academic years, 2004-2006. All teachers received the same professional development (PD) in phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency. Half benefited from a Haskins-trained mentor in the classroom to help translate reading research into effective instructional practice and also received a second year of PD in oral language, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Both models yielded larger gains in teachers’ knowledge than often obtained. However, in-class mentor support resulted in even more substantial gains in teachers’ knowledge in the two main areas of instruction (phonemic awareness and code), demonstrating the advantages of modeling, feedback, individualized support, and extra instructional time.

See Brady, S., Gillis, M. et al. (April 2009). First grade teachers’ knowledge of phonological awareness and code concepts: Examining gains from an intensive form of professional development and corresponding teacher attitudes. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 22(4): 425-455.

HLI Logo

Haskins/Hartford Literacy Initiative, a three-year project with a goal of strengthening reading in the early grades, funded by Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, 2006-09

Kindergarten-grade 2 teachers in five schools received job-embedded professional development from Haskins Literacy Specialists. Students in all three grades made significant gains from fall to spring. Kindergarten students whose teachers had the most support made the greatest gains and finished the year with the highest scores. Among grade three students whose teachers had the most support, higher percentages scored at Advanced, Goal and Proficient levels in Reading on the Connecticut Mastery Test and fewer at Basic and Below Basic than students whose teachers had less or no mentor support.

*Bos et al., 2001