September 28, 2020

4 keys to teaching the science of reading in a virtual setting

This article was originally published on eSchool News.

Here's how educators can use evidence-based best practices for literacy lessons—the science of reading—no matter where students are.

virtual-reading-science

More and more educators are being trained in the science of reading. Backed by a body of research amassed over five decades from disciplines including linguistics, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience, the science of reading has provided some baseline guidance for teaching all students.

Of course, as is always the case in education, the implementation of evidence-based best practices is not always simple—and the school closures caused by COVID-19 have added a new complication.

With the 2020-2021 academic year upon us, educators are facing different logistical issues, but they’re all facing a similar challenge regarding distance learning. No matter how your district is handling back to school 2020, major adjustments will be required in every aspect of the learning process. To help ease educators’ strain, here are a few ways to apply the science of reading, no matter what the setting.

Providing a reliable connection

From an equity standpoint, making sure every student has access to video or the internet to use a phonics-based, science of reading-approved reading program is essential. Of course, students could take advantage of their school’s internet, but now many schools are offering hotspots to students who don’t have internet access at home. Schools are getting inventive about how to build equity in a way we have never seen before. Coming up with a plan B to support all students from all backgrounds is going to be vital to the success of a student’s virtual learning experience.

Maintaining consistency

We can only trust the validity of that data if we know the controls. One of the greatest challenges in literacy education is consistently gathering the right data to drive instruction. With students at home, we can’t ensure that validity because it’s hard to gain a sense of engagement. A question educators need to ponder is “Can we make sure we are disseminating explicit instruction in a way we can control?” One of the advantages of implementing an online reading program is that students tend to engage with it better than with paper materials. Plus, most reading programs offer an analytics tool that provides insight into student progress. Measuring engagement might entail more observant measures based on video lessons and discussion posts.

Differentiating student learning

Along the same lines, coming up with different ways to differentiate learning to implement effective teaching methods is another way to keep students focused. For instance, a student might need more peer engagement than independent study, and educators will need to know if their students need some interaction in order to dive deeper into a concept. It’s about creating the time to provide small-group instruction online, or doing anything else we can do to ensure fidelity of reading instruction so that we can differentiate from there.

Online reading programs help students master foundational reading skills and gradually help students build their reading skills as they demonstrate mastery. Many programs offer different options for instruction, whether it’s virtual or not. Students can complete video lessons or worksheets, use guidance from the software—or whatever combination of these works best.

“Blended learning” is a term that’s been around for a while, and research has shown that there’s a certain autonomy that comes with bringing in all the amazing things technology and face-to-face instruction bring to a student’s learning process.

There are many options coming in that are proving to be powerful and I imagine, as educators have more experience in the virtual space, there will be some amazing, out-of-the-box ways students will gain engagement in reading that we wouldn’t expect.

Reframing the fear of failure

The additional stresses that all educators are facing can quickly put us into the fight-or-flight response. Processes will need to adjust in order to meet the needs of individual students. Not only do educators need to teach reading using the science of reading, but now we need to figure out how to do it in a virtual setting. One of the biggest things teachers can recognize is that it’s okay to take one thing at a time and take on some mental flexibility. We will all need to give each other time and grace to accommodate all the moving parts of teaching reading.

Things are not going to be perfect in the first week of school—or even in the first month of school! With open-hearted collaboration, we can help ease the burden and carry it together by coming up with innovative ideas as we go.

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