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Filling the COVID Literacy Gap

Teachers around the nation are preparing for the start of school. Some even started today! As we begin to prepare for the 21-22 school year, I would like to share some advice on filling the COVID literacy gap. 

Many students have not received in-person education in over a year with limited or no access to leveled readers or phonics instruction. Therefore as a nation, we see regression in reading, especially in the early years of elementary school. Along with this, the emotional and social needs of our children are very high. 

So how can we quickly begin reading instruction, but also meet the needs of our students socially and emotionally as the school year begins?

Fostering Relationships & Community

Building relationships needs to take priority as we begin the school year, but this is also a prime time to get to know your readers. Students desire inclusion, attention, and 1-1 learning experiences. Here are 5 easy ways you can learn about your readers while investing time in building authentic student-teacher relationships.

  1. Interest Inventory: This is an easy, quick whole-group activity to learn about your kiddos. These can be simple; Use choice menus for students to evaluate their likes and dislikes. Click here for an editable example.
  2. Small-Group Moments: Take time to meet one-on-one or in small groups with students. This is a great use of time to establish routines and structures for small group instruction. You can begin training students on your expectations of independent time and/or stations while you are working with other students in small groups. As you pull one or more children into a small group, you can spend time building that student-teacher bond. Here are some various activities you could do in small groups:
      • Read a story to them. Ask questions to assess their comprehension level. I would rotate all students through this group throughout the week.
      • Ask questions about their reading habits. Sample Questionnaire 
      • Word games to assess phonological awareness. 
      • Choral read leveled readers within their zone of proximity. 
  3. Read Alouds & Share Time: Give students time to build a sense of community through a shared reading experience. Bring students together for a cozy, fun time reading as a class. Pick a high-interest book, read the book aloud, and discuss together. Giving students time to talk about the book and share their thoughts will build a close classroom community. This is a perfect time to teach your discussion structures and routines as well. 
  4. Book Talks: Give students a little time each day to share a favorite book they’ve read at home! If you have the access to purchase the book, I recommend buying the shared book and placing it in your library for others to read! Book Talk Structure
  5. Partner-Share: Let students bring a favorite book to share with a partner. This could be a book from home or school. Let students share something “favorite” from the book. It could be a picture, a page, an event, etc. 

Getting to Know Your Readers

After you’ve spent 1-2 weeks building a classroom community of readers, it’s time to get to know your readers more in-depth and plan for purposeful instruction. Here are 3 tips to gather reading data on your students if your campus/district does not have a mandated reading inventory assessment.

  1. Running Records: A quick assessment to assess the reading level of your student
  2. Writing Assessment: Writing assessments allow you to see the phonological abilities of your student which usually relates directly to their reading level. 
  3. Phonics Assessment: See what phonics your student knows in order to find their zone of proximity for reading. 

Remember that assessments are not always definite. It’s a good practice to be flexible with your grouping of students as you monitor and adjust their progress. Reading groups should be fluid and adjustable as you progress through the school year. Frequent, quick assessments can easily assess the progress of students as they move from level to level in-between more in-depth, comprehensive testing that occurs during benchmarks periods. 

Building Literacy Instruction

After you have a true sense of your students as readers, it’s time to intentionally build instruction based on their immediate needs. Through assessment, you will begin to notice trends among your class. These trends will drive your whole group instruction, learning experiences that all students need. With some students, you will notice skill gaps and/or skill advancements that others do not possess within your class. This is your opportunity to build your one-on-one and small group learning experiences.

As you are planning instruction, you will need to take into consideration any curriculum already adopted by your district. You will most likely have a developmentally aligned curriculum to follow as a scope and sequence. I recommend using your data to guide your classroom instruction within this system. As you follow the curriculum, there may be a lesson that meets the needs of all students. Use your whole group instructional time to teach that lesson. You may also encounter lessons that only a small majority need. Use those lessons as small group opportunities. Day to day may vary based on the skills and needs of your individual class. 

To understand more about using your time intentionally, let’s dive deeper into the various modes of instruction.

  1. Whole Group is prime time to teach a skill that can be explicitly taught in less than 15 minutes. Students have a short attention span, so exceeding more than 15 minutes will lose their interest and engagement. The teacher should model the skill explicitly and ask students to practice. This skill should be spiraled throughout the year during read-alouds, small groups, independent practice, and/or station activities. Most likely not all students will grasp the skill the first time during whole group instruction. I would expect up to 50%+ mastery on the first introduction of a skill. 
  2. Small-Group is a time that you will have more attention from the student(s). There is less distraction and more engagement. This again is a great time to explicitly teach a skill. Again, model the skill explicitly and allow students time to practice. I usually assign students opportunities to practice the skill during independent time and homework following our small group instructional time. I would then check in with students periodically in 1-1 conferences to assess their progress of this skill and re-teach if necessary. 
  3. 1-1 Conferences allow time for the teacher to quickly assess and teach skills that are spiraled skills, or enrichment skills. When I say spiraled skills, I’m referring to the skills students have not yet grasped. For enrichment skills, I’m referring to skills that students have exceeded expectations and need the next goal to tackle. Conferences allow the teacher time to meet the individual needs of these students and provide adequate differentiation. 

If you are using these instructional strategies in the most intentional way based on data, each day may look different in your classroom. Some whole group lessons may take a little more time than others. Some days may have more small groups than others. Students’ goals will all be different and more individualized, and small groups may change day-to-day. Like I said before, reading instruction should be fluid and flexible. 

Always keep in mind a sense of urgency as we begin to fill these literacy gaps, yet keeping in mind the social and emotional wellness of each child. Students who love to read will grow. Build a community of learning and growing together. Build enthusiasm with your readers; show them reading is fun, and we can do it together!

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