In the coming year and beyond, educators and students will continue to deal with fallout from the pandemic, but as they look for effective ways to help students become proficient readers, instructional practices based in the science of reading will become more widely used.
At the same time, teachers will focus on assessing individual students to understand their unique learning needs. Here are eight predictions about changes coming to the reading classroom in the coming months.
1. Students who were in grades K-3 during pandemic shutdowns may be most affected.
I think students who were in grades K-3 during the height of learning disruptions are the most likely to have lasting effects on their reading proficiency from pandemic disruptions. The focus of instruction at these grades is on foundational skills like phonemic awareness, phonics, background knowledge, and vocabulary. If students did not learn these skills in the earlier grades, they are likely to struggle in later grades as they read text that includes larger words and more complex vocabulary.
I also worry that different students will have missed different parts of this foundational knowledge, perhaps based on when schools were open or doing great virtual instruction versus when they had to close down. We cannot assume that all students have achieved in similar ways.
2. Diagnostic assessments will be critical to delivering the instruction individual students need.
The key to mitigating lasting effects from pandemic disruptions will be giving each student what they need, both to make up for what they missed and to help them move forward now. The only way to do this will be using assessments that help identify exactly what students need. Teachers don’t have time to waste, and they can’t afford to teach the wrong skills. If they know what to teach and use explicit and systematic instruction, their impact will increase.
3. Teachers will continue to step up for their students.
The sense of urgency that comes from acknowledging that many students need help learning to read and that teachers are the key may be one of the only bright spots from the pandemic. Students can’t get back on track without the amazing work teachers do every day with them. Everyone in education should celebrate and support them now more than ever as they strive to help all of their students learn to read.
4. The science of reading will be key to helping students develop reading proficiency.
I hope to see more educators using the science of reading, those instructional practices that decades of research have proven to have the greatest success of helping students learn to read. First, that means assessing the critical, foundational skills like phonics. Second, we must teach phonics skills along with language comprehension skills to ensure students can read the words and understand what they are reading. Finally, it means monitoring each student’s achievement to be able to step in and provide supplemental instruction when it’s needed. Administrators are key when it comes to supporting their teachers in implementing the Science of Reading. Some ways administrators can do this is by providing professional development to ensure teachers know how reading develops, how to assess critical skills, and how to teach these skills to ensure all students become proficient readers.
5. Phonics will play a primary role in helping students to become proficient readers.
Among the primary components of the science of reading, phonics will take center stage. Most students have difficulty with reading because of undeveloped or underdeveloped phonics skills. They struggle with connecting the correct sounds to the letters to efficiently read words. If students master the sounds of the letters, they will be able to read nearly any word on the page. It is not the only skill they need, but it’s one of the most important. People might think that because phonics is so critical, their reading instruction should focus solely on phonics skills. This is a mistake. Reading instruction should include all of the skills students need to learn to be proficient readers. This includes vocabulary, language comprehension, writing, reading text, and building background knowledge, along with teaching the most critical phonics skills necessary to read words.
6. Technologies that make teachers’ jobs easier will rise to the top.
Technology is definitely a teacher’s friend when it can save them time, give them good assessment data, and engage students with meaningful instruction and practice—in short, when it helps them do their job easier and better. I think of it as the teacher’s little helper, and I think it will continue to play a larger and larger role in the classroom.
7. PD that focuses on why phonics is important, how to teach using evidence-based practices, and how to administer critical assessments will deliver the best results.
Teachers need PD to understand why they need to assess and teach foundational reading skills. Knowing why is the first step, but teachers also need to know how to use reliable and valid assessments, and how to implement evidence-based instructional practices to help students gain what they may have missed. There are some PD programs that are really well developed and have been around for a long time. Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) is one of these. The developers Louisa Moats and Carol Tolman built a very comprehensive program that touches on all aspects of reading and spelling. Another one is Consortium On Reaching Excellence in Education (CORE) Learning’s Elementary Reading Academy. They have extensive experience and knowledge supporting evidenced-based practices to help educators understand the necessary components of teaching reading.
8. Policymakers will work to ensure teachers have actionable data.
The current legislative trend involves states taking the next step after universal screening. Specifically, now that the majority of states have passed laws requiring universal screening in K-3 to identify students at risk for reading difficulties, states are focusing on providing very brief diagnostic assessments for at-risk students to ensure teachers have data to make next-step instructional decisions.
In 2023, students will continue to feel impacts from pandemic-related learning disruptions, but teachers will step up to meet them where they are with targeted assessments and evidence-based practices that will continue to improve literacy instruction for years to come.