Elementary Educators' Frequently Asked Questions at the EdWeek Summit
Supporting Struggling [Elementary] Readers: Challenges and Strategies for Educators
Educators who attended EdWeek’s Online Summit brought plenty of questions about the challenges of supporting struggling readers, and they were eager to brainstorm solutions with peers in the education community.
Audience questions reflected the deep concern teachers have about giving every student an equal shot at becoming a successful and confident reader.
Questions also reflected the new reality educators are facing as we try to boost learning recovery for all students. Everyone is looking for answers about how they can help students across every demographic, despite their overloaded plates.
In this two-part blog series, we’ll be highlighting the most-frequent and urgent questions from our session and the insight literacy experts Kimberly Stockton and Alexis Treat shared about the topics.
PART 2: Current Challenges in Elementary Reading Classrooms
Summary of Concerns
In elementary school, students are learning to read so they can read to learn. Setting up students as capable and confident readers is a primary concern for elementary-grade educators. Teachers fear they lack the time to provide the personalized instruction each child needs, and there is special concern for students with reading difficulties due to dyslexia and other factors. Teachers are looking for proven and efficient ways to accelerate learning for those students.
The aftermath of interrupted learning has only exacerbated existing opportunity gaps. Teachers with a diverse mix of students are looking for solutions that advance educational equity and feature culturally responsive pedagogies.
A school principal from Michigan asked about lost instructional time and how literacy learning can be accelerated.
The question in every classroom after two years of interrupted learning is: “How quickly can we recover?” The reverberations of the lost instructional time have permeated every grade level, and without accelerated learning, the amount of time that it may take to “normalize” to standard trajectories for learning is estimated from three to eight years.
For learning recovery, accurate and effective assessment is critical. By investing time in diagnosing/assessing all students, you have a baseline of relative strengths and weaknesses. With that knowledge, educators can better provide differentiated instruction that efficiently targets exactly what students need. Literacy edtech programs like Lexia® Core5® Reading provide that assessment and differentiated instruction all in one.
In choosing an edtech solution, the experts recommended school leaders make sure the curriculum is based on the science of reading. That means it should apply the principles of Structured Literacy, which are research-proven to accelerate learning. A reading curriculum should cover the five essential areas of early reading: Phonemic awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary and Comprehension as identified by the National Reading Panel and recommended in the Center for Instruction’s Effective Instruction For Adolescent Struggling Readers.
Given the urgency of the challenge, educators are understandably looking for reassurance that any edtech solution they chose will aid in learning recovery and acceleration. Core5, for example, was successful in maintaining and accelerating progress even during the pandemic. A study during the 2020-2021 school year showed that Core5 was able to deliver significant gains in grade-level attainment across all student populations: 80% of Core5 students did not have learning loss and 40% had accelerated learning.
A number of educators asked about specific support for students at risk for reading difficulties due to dyslexia.
Our literacy experts noted that students with dyslexia often struggle to make the connection between the phoneme—the basic sound of speech—and the letter symbol for that sound. Interventions that are appropriate for students with dyslexia share four characteristics:
1. Explicit introduction of concepts
2. A structured, sequential, and cumulative order of presentation
3. Multisensory techniques (visual, auditory, and tactile modalities)
4. Intensive review and practice
Because students with dyslexia can have various profiles and areas of general strength and need, it is important to use data to drive instructional priorities. Stockton and Treat stressed the value of real-time progress monitoring to empower teachers to differentiate instruction for each student. For example, Lexia’s embedded Assessment Without Testing® technology can help educators identify what exact skills each student needs help with, so teachers can provide targeted, explicit instruction to accelerate learning.
An Urban Teaching Residency and Field Coordinator Educator from New Jersey asked about how to ensure reading interventions supported educational equity and were culturally relevant.
True educational equity demands that all children have access to effective reading instruction. That requires teachers to be able to identify the source of a student's struggle and be empowered with the knowledge, skills, and tools to meet the individual needs of each student.
Our literacy experts emphasized that the science of reading helps teachers be laser-focused on identifying reading strengths and weaknesses to inform learning recovery. Students can struggle with any one skill, and unless you can identify and specifically teach to that need, the student will continue to struggle in a “one-size-fits-all” classroom. Differentiated instruction like Core5’s, which is informed by data, scaffolds students so they have their own personalized, and equitable, path to literacy.
Culture, identity, and context play a critical role in learning and, therefore, principles of culturally responsive and sustaining instruction are critical in literacy products. Lexia’s language and literacy programs seek to convey equitable and multidimensional representations of people across lines of diversity including race, culture, language background, gender, ability, socioeconomic status, community, and national origin.
Research-based tools like the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecard, developed by NYU Metro Center, can help parents, teachers, students, and community members determine the extent to which their schools’ materials are, or are not, culturally responsive.
The analogy that National Council of Teacher of English member Rudine Sims Bishop uses is that culturally responsive literacy instruction should include "mirrors" that allow the student to see themselves and their culture, reflecting their own lives and experiences; a “window” that gives the student an opportunity to view and understand other cultures; and a "sliding door" that affords a student the opportunity to enter a new way of being in the world.
Previous: Encouraging Adolescent Readers
In Part 1 of this series, we addressed audience questions focused on challenges teachers face supporting adolescent learners struggling with reading.
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