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The South Carolina Partnership to Implement Professional Learning Community: Emergent Literacy (PLC-EL)

Southeast | April 27, 2022

Research- and evidence-based content are only part of the story 

Mother reading to child

Young children begin to develop language and literacy skills long before they enter formal school. They learn through interactions, conversations, experiences, and relationships with the caring adults in their lives. Preschool teachers play a pivotal role in creating these learning opportunities by teaching emergent literacy skills, using effective practices, and supporting all domains of learning and development. In 2017, the REL Southeast School Readiness Partnership developed the Professional Learning Community: Emergent Literacy i (PLC-EL), a suite of materials designed to improve teacher use of evidence-based practices to support emergent literacy development in the areas of print knowledge, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and oral language. The materials are grounded in three areas of research and evidence:

  • Emergent literacy skills children need when formal reading instruction begins (print knowledge, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and oral language)ii;
  • Professional learning communities for teachers that provide a collaborative, practice-relevant, and reflective learning cycle with trained facilitatorsiii; and
  • Evidence-based instructional practices.

The REL Southeast shared these materials widely, trained facilitators,  developed supporting resources , and published a systematic review of literature on the effectiveness of early literacy instruction. But questions remained: What is the effect of PLC-EL on teacher knowledge and practice? What are the effects on student achievement and school readiness rates? We know other driving forces impact the uptake of new initiatives—what can we learn? Cue, South Carolina.

Exploring implementation in a new partnership

Beginning this year, the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) is partnering with the REL Southeast to explore the implementation of the PLC-EL and learn about its impacts on teacher practice and child outcomes. The partnership will:

  • Create a collaborative culture where stakeholders and REL Southeast staff bridge contextual knowledge and expertise with the generation and use of research- and evidence-based practices that support language and literacy development in the preschool years.
  • Engage in interrelated activities, including a coaching project and an applied research study.

The partnership includes early childhood leaders from SCDE, PLC-EL facilitators, and representatives from preschool centers to better understand what it takes for teachers to enact change in their classroom practices that lead to better outcomes for children. The PLC-EL facilitators and representatives from preschool centers will work intensively with REL Southeast to implement PLC-EL, operate as a community of practice and discovery, examine implementation drivers, establish a feedback loop, advise and support an applied research study, and support state leaders as they plan to scale across the state. REL Southeast staff will work with preschool center PLC-EL facilitators as they conduct sessions to strengthen practice, learn about implementation challenges, troubleshoot, and capture strengths. At the same time, REL Southeast will support the preschool center administrators and teachers as they work through implementation challenges related to infrastructure and resources, and support classroom application. The partnership is also seeking approval for an applied research study that will evaluate the impact of PLC-EL on teachers’ knowledge and instructional practices, on children’s print knowledge, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and oral language skills, and on children’s school readiness. Additionally, the study will explore the conditions, facilitators, and barriers that impact the implementation of PLC-EL at prekindergarten sites to leverage practice-to-policy opportunities.

"The PLC-EL model has the potential to be the foundation of our work in South Carolina…to be part of our continuum of support."

Wendy Burgess, SCDE

South Carolina is well positioned to thoughtfully examine implementation facilitators and barriers, develop practitioner readiness, and engage in capacity-building. The SCDE’s Office of Early Learning and Literacy (OELL) has developed a supportive and collaborative relationship with the field over several years and provides consistent and meaningful professional learning opportunities and site visits with a spirit of support. As Wendy Burgess, Team Lead of the OELL at SCDE, recently noted, "the PLC-EL model has the potential to be the foundation for our work in South Carolina…to be part of our continuum of support." These infrastructure and capacity-building improvements at the state level set the stage for a more intensive focus on the drivers and improvement cycles that local teams need in the early stages of implementing evidence-based practices in early learning sites in South Carolina. One clear indicator of the trust Wendy and her team have created is that when they began sharing information about the REL Southeast project, early childhood center leaders immediately volunteered to participate in the project. Clearly, everyone is ready to dive in!

The REL Southeast is thrilled to engage in this meaningful work with South Carolina and is looking forward to sharing what we learn!


i Kosanovich, M., Phillips, B., & Willis, K. (2020). Professional learning community: emergent literacy (Modules 1-4). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.

ii Kaplan, D., & Walpole, S. (2005). A stage-sequential model of reading transitions: Evidence from the early childhood longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(4), 551–563. Sparks, R. L., Patton, J., & Murdoch, A. (2014). Early reading success and its relationship to reading achievement and reading volume: Replication of "10 years later." Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 27(1), 189–211. 

iii Wald, P.J., & Castleberry, M.S. (2000). Educators as learners: Creating a professional learning community in your school. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes

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