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MONTREAL, JANUARY 26,  2015–  Literacy rates  continue to climb at the English Montreal School Board, five years after a considerable investment was made in an effort to ensure that 90 percent of students would be reading at level by the time they graduate from elementary school.

Results from standardized testing done last spring of the original cohort of students—those who were in Grade 1 when the balanced literacy plan was launched in 2009-2010, and who are now in Grade 6—showed more than a 20 percent  increase in the number of students reading at level. By the end of Grade 5, fully 90 percent of the cohort of over 1,500 Grade 5 students were reading at or above grade level. To get an idea of how strong these results are, the average percentage of students at level across the country is approximately 78 percent.
In September 2009, the EMSB introduced a comprehensive plan to improve students’ literacy levels at the elementary level. This significant special budget allocation was used to support a three-pronged strategy, which included fostering a balanced approach to literacy instruction, providing improved material resources to schools, and ensuring ongoing, sustainable professional development for teachers. Stated EMSB Chairman Angela Mancini:  “Put simply, the intention of the plan was to create environments in which students received the explicit instruction they needed, but were also provided with increased opportunities to practice their learning by reading, writing and conversing more—as well as ensuring they received regular one-on-one instructional time and developed a greater level of independence.”

Several specific actions were taken to support these goals. This included developing a partnership with Concordia University, which has conducted a survey of all involved teachers, administrators and consultants each year to monitor the process of implementation. Another critical element of the plan was the part-time release of one teacher in each of the EMSB elementary schools to work as a literacy facilitator. These individuals worked in collaboration with their colleagues in the process of implementing a balanced literacy approach to the teaching of reading and writing. Their work included everything from acting as in-house experts to becoming collaborative partners. 

Schools also received a comprehensive set of books to support guided reading: focused, small-group instruction aimed at the individual needs of each student. To put practices such as these into place, the balanced literacy plan involved a significant amount of professional development for facilitators over several years. It also meant the language and literacy constants from the school board became regular visitors and collaborators in schools where they were able to support teachers individually or present to entire school teams. Another vital element in the plan has been the orchestration of inter-school visits in which classroom teachers and literacy facilitators have been able to visit classrooms in other schools on several occasions over a three-year period. According to EMSB Literacy Consultant Paul Kettner, “this inter-school sharing has been a very positive addition to the professional development of teachers and the school change process at many of our schools.”

Even with some strong indicators of improvement, literacy instructional practices and ongoing teacher learning remain a central focus at the EMSB. Work in schools, and sharing between schools, continues in an ongoing effort to bring pedagogical best-practices to schools so that student learning continues to grow.


Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213