As the sole literacy director and reading specialist for our entire district, I work with students—including those with low-level reader challenges–in elementary, middle, and high school, and I also help out at other district schools—one of which is five hours away.
Our district encompasses seven schools and 1,350 students spread across a rural area in Kanab, Utah, where I’m in charge of reading intervention programs and early literacy assessments right now. Thanks to changes in our state’s grant programs, that role continues to evolve and incorporate new responsibilities.
Related content: Supporting struggling readers during distance learning
In 2018, I received some relief in the form of a personalized learning platform that’s now being used by 10 districts in Utah. We’re using it in all of our schools now, and these platforms help us provide differentiated instruction in a way that meets the needs of all of our students.
Here’s how we used the platforms to overcome low-level reader challenges and ensure that all of our learners received the personalized reading help that they need, even during our remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1) Support secondary teachers who don’t teach reading. Since I started in this position four years ago, we’ve tried to address some of those needs on the higher grade-level end. With these students, I’m using Lexia Power Up Literacy right up through grade 12. It’s an evidence-based intervention tool for secondary teachers who don’t have backgrounds in reading instruction (e.g., phonics, phonemic awareness, and other lower-level literacy skills).
2) Target specific needs head-on. Using technology, I can target a low-level reader’s needs and address the deficits head-on instead of saying, “Okay, let’s practice reading.” Instead, we can zero in on a skill that the student is lacking, pick the right intervention tool, and then deliver it in 20-25 minutes. I have access to pretty much any lesson on any subject at our fingertips and can print it out in a minute.
3) Closely monitor progress remotely. I’ve had some of my aides conduct the Acadience Reading progress monitoring and found we were holding our ground during this time of remote learning, which is pretty exciting. A few of her students had even progressed to reading 15-20 words per minute since school went to remote learning in March, which I really didn’t expect. It was great to see that even though they weren’t in class, they were maintaining their successes and not backtracking.
4) Help aides leverage the platform. When you hire paraprofessionals to work in the reading lab, most aren’t certified teachers (especially in our small town), nor do they have much experience with reading instruction. With the literacy program we use, I can train them and get them up to speed quickly. I can get on a Zoom call, for example, and work on a specific skill with them. That’s definitely been a game changer for intervention, and it’s really helped the teachers and aides to be more precise and more effective and use their time wisely.
5) Use video conferencing when you can’t meet in person. During remote learning, my four reading lab aides held 20-minute Zoom meetings with individual students who needed intervention. They would start around 9:00 and continue throughout the day. My paras get online with those kids and either work through Lexia or with Assisted Reading. (It’s a program we do through the University of Utah that my aides have been trained in.) My intervention kids are assigned specific times when they meet with their tutor.
While school was out for the summer, all of our reading lab aides continued to meet with students one-on-one, working through units via videoconferencing and intervening when kids get stuck.
As we look back on this year, we’ve done really well despite the obvious challenges of having to teach remotely, and fortunately, our students were already using Chromebooks in their classrooms and knew how to log on and start working independently. That was another huge advantage and something that’s helped our students maintain their progress through this challenging time.
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