School closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have launched educators headlong into unchartered territory. We’re quickly attempting to translate our best practices into remote learning. Even though we can’t see those little faces in person every day, individualized knowledge about our students still matters when we’re teaching reading remotely.
Continue to provide young readers with personalized learning experiences.
Our youngest students need to know that their teachers still care deeply about them as people: from the student who adores pandas to the kiddo who moves at a snail’s pace until you turn a task into a game. We know them as readers, too: the phonics patterns they’ve mastered, the high-frequency words they’ve learned, and how they tackle challenging text.
Even when we’re teaching reading remotely, we must continue to deliver high quality, personalized literacy instruction, and prioritize books, as well as provide clear guidance and student appeal.
Here are some practical tips to consider.
Make sure kids and families have access to a variety of books.
When teaching reading remotely, we can still provide guidance about which books will best fit our students’ needs and interests—like animal books for that panda enthusiast. Give tips for families about how to navigate books together by sharing sample prompts or brief videos that provide modeling. Dr. Catherine Snow touts reading and talking about text with family members as a top way to promote literacy learning at home.
Provide children and adults with plain language in bite-sized portions.
Adults without teaching backgrounds will be most successful at supporting new readers if teachers eliminate the guesswork. Don’t say, “Work on short vowel sounds.” Say, “Remember, short a makes the sound /a/ like in apple. Practice reading and writing these short a words: sad, pat, map, tan.”
Leverage the small group instructional models you already have in place—virtually.
At school, you group students with similar needs to deliver targeted instruction; extend the same model to remote teaching to keep instruction personalized but manageable. Share targeted guidance with different groups of students and their families (think high-frequency word practice tasks, phonics lessons, or an e-Book with an introduction tailored to their reading needs) on a rotating basis using your small group plans from school as a guide.
Set realistic expectations about practice. (And make it fun!)
Learning at home can be frustrating for children and adults if they have unrealistic expectations for mastery. Make sure everyone knows that repetition is necessary and expected to solidify skills. Offering plenty of simple, but appealing, options for practice activities and games makes it more likely that adults at home will be successful in getting kids to engage without protest.
Set up feedback systems to help you let families know where (and when) to go next.
As literacy expert Nell Duke emphasizes, “Ultimately, developmentally responsive instruction is teaching the right content at the right time. You can deliver systematic and explicit phonics instruction, but if the content you are teaching does not intersect with what a student needs, it will not work.” Just as you’d use formative assessment at school to plan your next move, try to gather information from home about how students are doing. Let parents and caregivers know when students should work on a task independently so their performance shows what they know. Ask specific, rather than general, questions when collecting thoughts from families. Make use of data collected via online learning programs.
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