American students find it difficult to read. Experts share what they know that can help

Students across the United States have struggled to read for some time, and new studies show the pandemic has only made things worse for some children.

But new state policies, teacher training programs and classroom practices are showing signs of success in helping some children catch up.

This month, more than a dozen journalists and editors across the United States have teamed up to cover these new challenges and solutions in K-12 literacy. This partnership includes The Christian Science Monitor, The Hechinger Report, Solutions Journalism Network and Education Labs at, The Dallas Morning News, The Fresno Bee and The Seattle Times. You can click here to read these stories.

On Tuesday, the Times’ Education Lab hosted a live virtual roundtable on implementing science-based strategies and data-driven policies to address reading rates with experts and educators across the country. Dallas Morning News Education Lab engagement reporter Emily Donaldson moderated the program.

“There is no question that the pandemic has had an impact on our students,” said panelist Paul Gordon, superintendent of the Wenatchee School District in central Washington. “But for me, it’s about moving forward.”

He said now is the time to equip educators with the tools, training and administrative support they need to “deliver the best possible education.”

During the hour-long discussion, experts stressed that improving literacy and reading comprehension depends as much on legislative, administrative, school and family support as on students’ acquisition of foundational skills. such as phonemic awareness – how to identify and manipulate sounds when speaking words – and expanding vocabulary. (You can watch the entire conversation in the video player above.)

“The only thing I’ve learned about what it takes to help students read is that teachers need to have knowledge of structured literacy instruction and need to have data to guide them on how to read it. how to tackle students’ reading challenges, ”said Kymyona Burk, a senior policy researcher at ExcelinEd and former executive director of the teaching and learning office for the Jackson Public School District in Mississippi.

She described the delay in reading skills not as “a children’s deficit” but as a “lack of opportunity” issue.

“A lot of our children don’t have the same access to the same opportunities, if it’s a highly qualified teacher, if it’s a high quality program, if it’s support with interventions. Many of our students miss these opportunities, ”said Burk.

States like North Carolina, Tennessee, and Delaware are among those passing new laws that address early literacy and include teacher training in reading science.

“So when states pass laws, it is to ensure that all children, all teachers, all parents and families have the same opportunity. We need to hold them accountable for doing these things in our districts, ”said Burk.

Here are some other key points from the roundtable:

Literacy is a systemic problem

“It takes a whole system to make this work,” Gordon said. State funding and laws help make training and classroom materials a reality. Training staff, from administrators to para-educators, helps build district-wide membership to use and maintain available best practices.

“Successful improvements in the three [of our] districts are directly linked to creating and sustaining systemic educational approaches that meet the needs of students, ”he said.

Gordon said it was essential for district staff to visit school buildings and classrooms to support teachers and see work in progress. These visits can help them better understand and support the growth and needs of students. He also urged families to ask questions about the program and the formation of a district to assess whether their children have the best opportunities to learn to read.

Partnerships help

Becki Krsnak, executive director of programs and education for the Midlothian Independent School District in Ellis County, Texas, entered her district six years ago. There she found high performing students with stagnant reading scores. His approach began by training special education practitioners and teachers with strategies related to the science of reading approach. The training was supported by a pilot program at the Children’s Learning Institute at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.

“The teachers were so excited to start learning more and then it started to spread,” she said.

Family engagement is important

Danielle Moore, a first-grade teacher at Baxter Elementary School in Midlothian, said conversations about a child’s reading level start early in the school year at family conferences.

“One thing I always tell parents is to read with their kids,” she said.

As a mom who works with a 4 and 5-year-old at home, Moore said she knew it can sometimes be difficult to schedule reading into a bedtime routine, but said it can help children. families to better understand if a child is making earnings and where they might be struggling.

“The biggest impact you can have on your kids is showing your love for reading,” Moore said.

Burk agreed and said schools and districts should also make it clear to families what literacy screening reports mean and the language used in teaching reading.

“We need to be able to recognize how we can help our parents learn the language, but also how we can help them understand what it means when we send these reports home and what they can do about it.” , she said. “We have to involve them early and we have to involve them often and let them know that we are partners in this work. ”

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