Curriculum and Methodology at the Literacy Centers


Struggling readers experience great difficulty in reading and comprehending everyday work documents, textbooks, websites, and other media. Dr. JoAnne Caldwell and Dr. Molly Shiffler designed an intervention model reflecting the complex nature of literacy acquisition.

Dr. Caldwell served as Associate Dean of the College of Education and Leadership and former Chair of the Reading Language Arts Department at Cardinal Stritch University. She has actively participated in state task forces involving changes in teacher certification and standards implementation. She and Dr. Molly Shiffler developed the highly effective CLIFFTOPS model for literacy intervention used at the Stritch Literacy Centers. Both received Wisconsin Association of School District Administrator awards; Caldwell was named Wisconsin Educator of the Year. She has authored numerous books and articles in the literacy field.

Dr. Shiffler is former director of the Urban Literacy Centers. She is currently Professor Emerita following 11 years of teaching and writing undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. classes as a Language and Literacy faculty member at Cardinal Stritch University. She received a Wisconsin Teacher of the Year/Special Services in 1995; was part of an Early Childhood/Literacy Delegation to Cuba in 2000; was selected for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards teacher portfolio pilot of K-3 Literacy: Reading-Language Arts certificate; and was appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to the Standards-Setting Panel for the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations. She is also a recipient of the 2012 Graduate of the Last Decade Alumni Award for her distinguished accomplishments and service to the community.

Caldwell and Shiffler's model is titled CLIFFTOPS, an acronym for the plan's primary components:

Language (scaffolding),
Phonological layers, and (metacognitive)
Semantics and Syntactic Development


Although highly adaptable to individual student needs, our lesson formats are grounded in, and are developed from, the CLIFFTOPS model and include the well-researched components of successful literacy intervention. This model is unique because not only is it research-based, but the individualized instruction "is built around inquiry and what the student wants to learn. Our curricula are based in part on engaged motivation, through inspiring self-confidence and success as a reader." (Dr. Shiffler)


The current intervention formats use basics from this model but, depending on the results of initial clinical literacy assessment, they provide more specific instruction in phonemic segmenting and blending (Hatcher, Hulme, & Ellis, 1994), flexible metacognitive processing (Cartwright, 2008), fluency (Kuhn & Stahl, 2000; Wolf, Miller, & Donnelly, 2000), and writing research (Baker, Gersten, & Graham, 2003).

Data collected (in 2012) indicated that after 20 hours of individual tutoring, students' reading comprehension increased at least one whole grade level and their word recognition and accuracy increased almost two grade levels.

Learning to Read

When students are learning to read, we stress the building blocks of successful lifetime literacy: rich language, sound play, rhyming, word study skills including phonics, fluency, vocabulary comprehension, and writing.

At these stages of reading, we choose fiction and nonfiction materials based on the student’s interests.

Lessons include research-based comprehension strategies, word study, and spelling activities to ensure reading progress.

Reading to Learn

We help maturing readers understand how to gain information from all forms of electronic and paper print.

We teach thinking strategies, word analysis, and study skills students need to read for information, study more effectively, learn content, and read for pleasure.

Students learn to recognize how textbooks are organized, take notes, identify unfamiliar words, analyze new information, and derive word meanings, learn content, and read for pleasure.

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