Essential, Adaptable Strategies for Teaching Literacy

Essential, Adaptable Strategies for Teaching Literacy

Amid the seemingly endless back and forth over what school will look like in the near (and perhaps distant) future, teachers still have to teach—whether online, in the classroom, or somewhere in between. And, as always, one of the key areas requiring attention is literacy.

James Boss, director of the Givens Performing Arts Center at the University of North Carolina Pembroke, recently argued that literacy has become even more important during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly in the context of the country's ongoing drop in literacy rates.

"The effects of low literacy are damning," he bluntly stated in his opinion piece, before going on to note that those who lack functional or basic literacy skills tend to have limited access to jobs, further education, and healthcare. Moreover, he contended that the coronavirus pandemic is having a particularly significant impact on people with lower literacy skills, as these individuals often struggle to access and process information.

According to Boss, the answer to the nation's literacy predicament is to "promote and advocate for education that builds on critical thinking skills and deeper literacy engagement." Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, who serves as the UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development, echoed this viewpoint in a July blog post that encouraged the global community to embrace the "urgency of investing in literacy for everyone—young and old."

In the spirit of these sentiments, Lexia has put together a quick and informative guide to prioritizing literacy instruction while supporting teachers and students in any educational setting. Here are some highlights:


Acceleration


An acceleration framework can be applied in any situation and is built upon several guiding principles, including:

  • Personalized and explicit instruction

  • Scaffolding instruction for students who are struggling

  • Advancing students as they master skills 

Teacher and education consultant Suzy Pepper Collins dug deeper into the acceleration model in the book Learning in the Fast Lane, noting that this approach is more akin to targeted instruction than to having students plod through content at a predetermined pace when they would rather be ploughing ahead.

"Although the acceleration model does revisit basic skills, these skills are laser-selected, applied right away with the new content, and never taught in isolation," Pepper Collins explained. The goal: to keep students engaged and connected while ensuring they have the specific literacy skills they need to continue moving forward.


Social learning support


Prioritizing social interactions and collaborative learning is another key element of successful literacy instruction—and the fact that Lexia programs offer support for teachers and students navigating individual and group work online, offline, and in-person allows school communities to continue emphasizing the important social aspects of learning.

For teachers eager to structure group work in a manner that maximizes productivity, Miriam Clifford's February contribution to the TeachThought blog provides 20 collaborative tips and strategies, including scaffolding, debriefing, and establishing clear group goals.

Flexibility


In the COVID-19 era, flexibility has emerged as an essential tool for educators, students, staff, and parents. Indeed, many policymakers and observers have supported applying flexibility to federal education funding in order to help school communities more quickly adapt to the "new normal."

With this in mind, Lexia programs are designed to allow teachers and students to pivot from the "classroom to the cloud and back again" as needed, ultimately aiming to keep literacy instruction on track, no matter the circumstances.

A recent Edutopia post by North Carolina-based language arts and social studies teacher Kasey Short provided an example of what this might look like in practice. In the piece, Short described how she approached modifying lesson plans to be adaptable in any teaching situation (namely, in-person, hybrid, or online-only).


Dynamic assessments


In addition to upholding flexibility, Short has built her instructional practice around assessment—and in the age of the coronavirus, knowing students' strengths, challenges, and progress is even more important.

As Short explained in her Edutopia post, it will be "essential to assess students' skills quickly and effectively to meet them where they are and differentiate instruction as needed," particularly when teachers don't have the benefit of in-classroom interaction with learners.

For Short, this involves deploying pre-assessments that require communicating with students' previous teachers. This strategy is similar to that of Lexia's Assessment with Testing® program, which equips teachers with personalized information about students, including potential gaps in essential skills and what steps to take to address those gaps.

With many educators unsure whether they'll be teaching in person or virtually over the coming weeks and months, preparing lessons and assessments that can be delivered both in the classroom and remotely is key. As Short phrased it, teachers should be able to "determine where students are in terms of reading comprehension, writing, analytical skills, and applying grammatical concepts" regardless of setting. 


The bottom line


Educators can rise to the challenge of prioritizing literacy while teaching during a pandemic by applying an acceleration framework, providing social learning support, being flexible, creating dynamic assessments, and drawing upon the other recommendations presented in Lexia's Six Essential Elements of Literacy Programs.

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