[Editor’s note and disclaimer: This is Part 2 of our discussion with educator and reading specialist Leah King. The content for this two-part post came from an interview conducted by Miriam Ruff on October 4, 2020, and it has been edited somewhat for length and fluency.]
To read Part 1, click here.
MR: Like everyone else, your classroom has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. How have you been dealing with distance learning these past few months? How have you needed to adapt your teaching strategies? If so, how?
LK: It’s stressful, but I have been focused on adjusting the curriculum to online presentation options. It’s hardest for the students who are higher in needs learning-wise. There is a disconnect through learning on a screen. Modeling is a lot harder, and my students are often visual learners.
I tend to use a scaffolds approach in general, but now the scaffolding has to be embedded in the visual presentation and structure. For example, in teaching main idea, I started with pictures, maybe even circling a clue to encourage them to figure out what the picture is about. I would also repeat that main idea meant what the pictures/story was about. Then, I would begin to fade those visual supports, increase to words underneath the pictures, and fade the explanation of the meaning of main idea. If I had to circle parts of the pictures, I would start there by maybe just altering the picture to make it brighter in that area and not circle it, then slowly fade that away as well. Then, I would add a small phrase under the picture. Next, I would work up to sentences. Once I got to 2-3 sentences and the student was still successful, I would start making the pictures smaller. Once the student no longer needed the pictures, I would increase to up to five sentences. Then I would take away the explanation of what main idea means. In this way you can isolate a skill down to its base level and slowly build the student’s ability as you remove the scaffolding supports.
[I’ve adapted by] isolating and modeling using video, or breaking down the skill. For instance, over the summer I reduced main idea to starting with pictures and repeating “what is the main idea, what is it about?”
MR: Do you feel it’s effective? Do you have any way to measure student response?
LK: It seems to help. I was able to help a student recoup 40% of lost skills in this area over the summer with just 4-5 weeks at 1 hour a week. I measure by making multiple choice answers.
MR: Do you feel that this past year’s first graders will be more disadvantaged with reading than their peers from previous years? If so, how can we make up for the lost effort and time, or can’t we?
Yes! The 1st graders I worked with over the summer showed about a 30-40% regression. I think the best way is to give parents more resources that aren’t dependent upon their support, i.e. online programs that are structured but interesting for students.
MR: Even if you don’t feel the kids are disadvantaged, do you see them needing some form of remedial work when they start back up in the fall? What would that look like?
LK: Definitely I think, regardless, there has been a higher rate of skill loss than is typical because [during] the lockdown time education opportunities were not required, consistent, or equitable.
[We need a] review and breakdown of skills taught last year, almost to the point of re-teaching.
MR: Now that students are continuing with distance learning this fall, or at best using a hybrid format, what will be the repercussions for emerging readers? Can they learn to read successfully in this environment?
LK: Emerging readers will struggle to get the in depth and isolated learning opportunities they would normally have. They will not be getting enough of the small group/one on one teacher time that they might normally be getting.
MR: Will they ever catch up to their peers?
LK: I don’t know if I can answer this well. I believe recoupment is possible, but I think they will need more learning opportunities with a high level of support to do so.
MR: For in-person sessions, how can you effectively teach phonics and phonemic awareness when you’re behind a mask?
LK: I suggest using pictures, videos, and/or looking into some type of sign or gestural representation like visual phonics.
MR: For remote sessions, how can you ensure students observe and learn correctly when you can’t physically guide them?
LK: By using an iPad, smart board, or other technology with scaffolding embedded to guide them, similar to how I described the main idea learning. Breaking down skills in isolation might also help, i.e. looking at one phonetic sound by itself. Having the student emphasize that sound via Zoom, comparing it to your pronunciation, then adding it in context of a simple word. For example, if you’re working on a vowel sound, start with the vowel by itself with a visual and repeated practice over Zoom. Then use it in a simple word with visual supports and practice as well. Slowly increase variety of words and difficulty with successful uses consistently.
MR: What parent-student interaction do you think is important for students engaged in learning to read via distance learning?
LK: I think parents need to observe some instruction in order to model for their students when needed. I think students should also get to see their parents reading for enjoyment.
MR: Can assistive technology be of any help in remediation? How would you use it, and what features do you think are necessary to aid instruction?
LK: Yes! It depends on the tech being used, but it can be used to limit student response options and thus encourage correct learning. Then you can slowly integrate more answers so as to scaffold and structure learning. Also, an app that could measure and adjust lessons based on student performance would be helpful. For instance I’ve used a program that would teach reading by repetition specifically for students with autism. The digital curriculum would adjust the lesson based on student performance. [Editor’s note: The AceReader program both measures student proficiency and adjusts lessons based on performance.]
MR: Thank you so much for your time and your insight. I’m sure this will be of great value to many of our readers.