UW Professors Develop Collaborative Learning Process with Big Piney High School


LARAMIE, WYOMING (June 5, 2020) — A collaborative effort by the University of Wyoming’s Literacy Research Center and Clinic (LRCC) and Big Piney High School has fostered a new participatory culture of reading at the school in western Wyoming.

The project involved Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chairs in Literacy Education Leigh Hall and Cynthia Brock; Big Piney High School (BPHS) Principal Jeff Makelky and his staff; and UW School of Counseling, Leadership, Advocacy and Design Assistant Professor William Holmes.

They recently published an article describing the collaborative professional development process in the April 2020 edition of Principal Leadership magazine.

Makelky sought out the expertise of Hall and Brock through the LRCC, hoping they could help improve the abilities of the students at his school to read and comprehend informational text.


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He understood that both he and his staff would need to learn new techniques to help them foster a participatory culture of reading, and he knew the UW professors could provide the expertise that would be required to implement these new teaching practices.

“What made the work powerful is that all of us worked together to meet the specific needs at BPHS,” Brock says.

“A central aspect of our mission at the UW LRCC is to meet the unique needs of each school we work with and to collaboratively construct the framework we develop with the educators and administrators at each school.”

The LRCC group first collected information from students and teachers to assess how reading was taught at the school.

Online micro-courses designed by Hall guided the professional learning for the educators and served as the backbone of the project.

Courses were crafted to be completed in one to three weeks, and each course was aligned with the professional learning needs of the teachers at the school.

“Micro-courses are short, focused courses on a very narrow topic. They can be completed in five to 15 hours,” Hall says.

“Teachers did a pre- and post-survey for each course. They also had optional challenges they could complete, which allowed them to apply what they were learning to their instruction. They could then share what they learned and experienced with their colleagues as part of that work.”

The teachers had access to 15 courses on topics including disciplinary literacy, vocabulary instruction, participatory culture, relationships for literacy development and dialogic teaching.


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Each course presented the teachers with new methods and ideas to incorporate a participatory culture of reading into their classrooms.

As principal, Makelky’s charismatic and team-oriented leadership style played a huge role in the success of the collaborative work.

Not only did he take the courses alongside his staff, but he also set aside time to meet with the teachers and discuss their learning.

“I felt it was important to learn along with our teachers, as I had not received any formal training in literacy practices and strategies,” Makelky says.

“And, of course, if I wanted to assist and give my teachers feedback, it was important for me to understand what I should be looking for.”

Makelky was recently named the 2020 Wyoming State Principal of the Year by the Wyoming Association of Secondary School Principals.

The organization cited Makelky’s collaborative work with the LRCC as a reason for him winning the award.

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