By CRISTINA ROMEO COMPTON
When you’re caring for children who are participating in remote learning, it can be challenging to identify and understand their progress and growth as readers. You’re likely wondering: Am I doing this right? Are we making progress? How will I know? When children are in the classroom and engaged in in-person learning, the responsibility for these questions largely lies with their teachers. However, the new normal for teaching and learning requires equal — if not more — participation from parents, in order to support and ensure the advancement of students’ reading skills.
Given how busy we are trying to balance our own work responsibilities along with the needs of our children, it can often feel easiest to default to tools like reading comprehension quizzes, multiple choice tests, or even worksheets to help recognize and assess reading progress at home. While these measures can be helpful, they certainly don’t tell the whole story. We could be missing out on identifying areas of growth and celebration, as well as a robust understanding of our children’s areas of struggle.
But there are promising — and practical — strategies that parents can utilize to help monitor and track the growth of their children's literacy skills. Don't feel as though you need to create your own assessments, rubrics, or projects to achieve this — that is, unless you have the time, capacity, and energy! Instead, consider some quick, informal strategies to monitor students’ growth. These strategies can tell you a lot about a child’s reading behaviors, habits, and progress.
Habits & behaviors of good readers
In her book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Readers, Joanne Kaminski explains, “Kids who are highly effective readers and score high on their state exams seem to have similar habits.” She goes on to explain that she has seen these habits in her own children as well as children she’s taught and tutored. The seven habits she describes are:
This list can be helpful to parents as they look for evidence of their children's reading behaviors. When these behaviors are present, you can feel good that your young learners are on the right track!
As we level up our understanding of a child's reading progress, we can turn to Mosaic of Thought: The Power of Comprehension Strategies, in which the authors Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmermann outline a list of habits that are more reflective of the kind of work students are doing while reading, including:
For parents, a list like this can feel daunting. You may not know how to look for these specific skills, and are likely asking yourself questions, such as: How do I know they are inferring? How can I prompt them to determine what’s important? Identifying skills that children are exhibiting during reading is often left to teachers.
Knowing what to look for
There are ways to simplify the identification of reading habits and skills so that you can determine what children are doing before, during, and after their reading. We can break down more complex reading habits into observable actions, behaviors, or concrete examples that signify the deeper learning that is taking place. When it comes to reading, we can look for the following:
If your child is reading for long(er) periods of time, this is great! Interest and stamina are very important, especially as books increase in demands and complexity.
Have your child read to you! This can be a great way to monitor fluency, decoding, and self-correction strategies on the part of students.
Comprehension and thinking skills:
A simple set of questions can be very telling when it comes to a child’s predicting, inferring, and comprehension skills. You can use these same questions each time they read, and students can either answer for you, or as part of writing and drawing exercise. Here are some suggestions for what you can ask a child before, during, and after they read:
Thoughts about reading
Talk to your child about what they are reading. Ask them about the kinds of books they are reading, what they're enjoying (or not enjoying), and why. This can help you gain insight into your child’s general attitude toward reading, the kinds of books they gravitate toward, and the types of books that they find easiest to read.
When you've got young learners in your home, you deserve a lot of credit for balancing work, at-home learning, childcare, and household tasks. What you’ve been able to do during this unique time has been nothing short of remarkable. Remember that when it comes to supporting learning at home, we can monitor a child's reading progress with simple strategies that make the process feel useful and manageable for everyone involved. Start with a strategy that feels feasible and accessible, and build from there. Happy reading!
By LAURA RIGOLOSI
Although I have been teaching via Zoom for several months, I don’t know if I will ever truly adjust to speaking to my computer and seeing the faces of my muted students in little boxes. But Zoom etiquette, as we have all come to learn, is to mute when someone else is speaking so everyone can hear the speaker. Herein lies my main discomfort as a Zoom teacher: to speak to my students and to not hear their little sighs, mmhmms, and quiet huhs?, has been my biggest unexpected challenge. It’s hard to get a sense of what my students are thinking or reacting to without hearing these small sounds. And while I know I can’t rely on these impulsive responses as a form of assessment, they’ve always helped me take a quick pulse of my class to check for understanding.
I’m not suggesting that we use the impromptu reactions of our students as a way to assess them — but as teachers, hearing students’ reactions nudges us to wonder, Is this a good place to stop? Do I need to check in with a few students? I miss that.
So with our students on mute (unless they are speaking), formative assessments are as essential as ever in online teaching. James Popham, the assessment guru, explains that “formative assessments help students learn” because they are “assessments for learning;” not “assessments of learning.” In other words, formative assessments gauge how much our students are understanding or processing information; the purpose is not an assessment for teachers to grade for accuracy, but for teachers to use to adjust their lesson planning. After all, formative assessments are often linked to effective teaching practice. The Black and Wiliam Research Review, from over 20 years ago, “shows conclusively that formative assessment does improve learning.” (Black and Wiliam, 1998a, p. 61).
Recipes for success
I have used a variety of formative assessments in online teaching, and they each serve a different purpose. Here are the formative assessments I am currently using while teaching online:
Consistent breakout groups
As Courtney Brown mentions in Discussions During Distance Learning, it is best to keep students in the same small groups throughout the semester, instead of randomly grouping them. When students are online, they have no chance to get to know each other — there is no partner share, no turn and talks, no walking into class together and making conversation. To implement this with my students, I put them in small groups using the breakout rooms feature on Zoom, and then used the polling feature to ask students whether or not they were okay staying in these same groups throughout the semester. This would allow them an opportunity to form deeper connections within their group, and feel more comfortable interacting with one another. Thankfully, they all answered “yes.”
Once students are in the same groups, they are able to visit our class Google Drive folder where they can find folders for each week we meet. For each class, I create a simple note taking template that changes depending on our topic of the day, and students use these templates to capture their small group discussion ideas. When students return to the main group, they share these documents with all of us by sharing their screen in Zoom.
While students are in their groups, I can assess how they are doing in two ways — first, by popping into each breakout room, to hear moments of their conversations and to see if they have questions; and second, by viewing their Google documents to see how they are progressing. This is my favorite way to check in on my students’ learning in real time — viewing their writing as it happens helps me determine who may need some more scaffolding or assistance, as well as which group is already finished with the note-taking document and may be ready to move on. It is also my way of noting which students are writing in these documents, thanks to Google’s editing feature.
To vary how students discuss their learning, I turn to Flipgrid as a way to hear students’ takeaways from class. First, I create my own video to model what they might say in theirs, using a text or discussion topic we have already discussed previously. This way I don’t steal any of their good ideas! By demonstrating how I would like them to respond to a text (by discussing quotes, or connecting the text to a real-world connection), I help them craft their Flipgrid video. To ensure my students watch others’ videos, I ask them to reply to at least two other classmates’ videos on our class discussion board. Using Flipgrid as a formative assessment is a way to assess student learning, using an alternative genre.
I often use Padlet as a type of “exit slip,” or as a way for students to give me feedback. When asking students for the latter, I make sure to update our Padlet’s settings so that participants can submit their responses anonymously. Both types of Padlets will include a direct prompt, such as: What did you learn today about ____? What questions do you still have? Students can see each others’ responses, and they, too, can get a pulse on how our class is doing and what their classmates are thinking. When I ask for feedback, I might prompt them by asking, How is our class going? Or What suggestions do you have? This is a great way for me to receive feedback directly, and because it is anonymous (a must for this kind of teacher feedback!), I trust that students can be more honest. Using a Padlet board as a formative assessment is a way for me to check for their understanding, confusion, and gather overall suggestions for our class.
Teaching online has pushed me to become even more intentional about how I informally assess my students, and how I use those assessments to adapt my instruction. I will continue to find more ways to include formative assessment in my classroom, not only because these types of assessments lead to more effective instruction, but because I know it makes me more responsive to my students’ needs — especially when I can’t rely on hearing their in-the-moment responses during class. When we return to normalcy, I can’t wait to hear their thinking sounds again.
By G. FAITH LITTLE
The sunlight is still Summer while the breeze feels like Fall. Teachers stream in, eager to find their names at check-in and chat with colleagues on their way to hear the keynote speaker frame the day, “It’s not that differentiation is part of the work. Differentiation is the work itself. We all can make progress and we can all grow. Each student deserves a goal that they can work hard to achieve!"
This excerpt from a previous post about bringing a series of in-person professional development workshops to life evoked memories that seemed to stand in stark contrast against our current teaching and learning situation.
Adapting our plans
We began our Spring 2020 workshops series on a cold day in February. At the end of the day-long sessions, facilitators reviewed feedback from participants, noted adjustments they would make to their plans, and tucked away sign-in sheets in folders, ready for their next session — a month away. A few weeks later we found ourselves siloed, setting up spaces at home where we could work, on screens, day and night. It felt as if we were living in a snow globe that someone picked up, shook, and set back down, leaving our environment sloshing around us, debris floating through the air, settling at our feet.
We moved quickly, collaborating from our siloed spaces, pushing one another to reframe our thinking:
Through connection and communication, we were able to find ways to support teachers who were going through the same process themselves: expanding their classroom from inside the walls of a school building out in the city, across the state, and around the world.
The phrase we're in this together became a mantra not only when it came to wearing masks, washing our hands, and social distancing, but also when it came to our own teaching and learning. Stay-at-home restrictions created an environment in which we needed to open our minds to as many options to meet as many students in need as possible.
As teachers — from early childhood education to graduate school — revised and remodeled their plans, many began to ask, “Why didn’t I think of this before? I could have a distance learning component for each of my lessons.” At CPET, we realized that we could not only offer each of our workshops in an online space, but we could make all of our offerings available at no additional charge to our participants. The limitation of being in a specific session at a specific time was gone, and what was left was the opportunity for teachers to experience as many of the asynchronous offerings as they cared to.
Our Spring 2020 asynchronous offerings; view upcoming opportunities here
Utilizing practical strategies
Of course, after plans are adapted into a new space, the work again becomes customizing to our students. What do our first graders need to connect during distance learning? What about our sixth graders? Our seniors? As our snow globe settles and our vision clears, we see that trusted strategies are a foundation we can still hold on to. We can identify practical and adaptable tips we’ve used in the classroom and integrate them into our remote teaching and learning.
So, we end where we began: differentiation is not simply part of the work — it is the work.
Each student deserves the opportunity to grow, demonstrate progress, and work hard toward an achievable goal.
Each teacher deserves the same.
By ROBERTA LENGER KANG
Differentiation can happen in many ways, with varying levels of complexity. Our Differentiating Like a STAR resource, designed to help educators consider entry points to differentiation, offers strategies in four categories: data, task, text, and grouping. Within each category, we outline three levels of instruction — the more stars included, the stronger the differentiation. By identifying pathways to expand differentiation, you can add depth and complexity to your lessons.
When teaching in person, we differentiate tasks by dividing content material, offering multiple processes to fit students’ learning styles, or varying the product to ensure interest and engagement. Differentiating at a distance may change our communication methods, but it doesn’t need to change our commitment to student choice. In fact, it can enhance it!
Pathways for differentiation
One classic way to differentiate instruction is to create different paths for students to demonstrate their learning. There are three ways that educators can differentiate based on the assigned task: content, process, or product.
As you develop your curriculum, you may identify a series of content strands that students should be familiar with, and that are representative of a larger concept or theme within your instruction. When we differentiate content, we can identify some concepts and examples that are necessary for all students to know deeply, and other concepts that students should be familiar with, but may not be required to know in-depth. Differentiating this content allows educators to present a wide range of examples or scenarios as a means to teaching towards a larger concept. When differentiating content, every group takes the same steps to complete the same final product — but they begin with different content information. For example:
Sometimes, it is in students’ best interests to focus on the exact same content, particularly when content strands are essential to students’ understanding of a discipline, or are represented on mandated assessments. In these cases, we can keep the content the same, but invite students to represent their learning in different ways.
By giving students choice in how they demonstrate their learning, we help them to tap into their natural creativity, curiosity, and intrinsic motivation. When differentiating products, it’s important to develop a scoring guide that focuses on the key content concepts that need to be represented, and to align each product outcome with those expectations. For example, you might present your students with three project options: a three-page essay, a PowerPoint presentation consisting of 10 slides, or a three-minute video. Each project can be evaluated based on the same content information and should demonstrate the same application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, or collaboration skills.
When preparing students for rigorous, high-stakes assessments, you may not have the freedom to pick and choose the content or the final product. In these cases, you can look at opportunities for differentiating students’ processes.
Consider differentiating through process by providing various supports for students. Perhaps some students receive a glossary of key terms & definitions, while others receive a word bank, and others receive no vocabulary assistance at all (because they don’t need this additional support to make sense of the content).
You can also use student notes to support process differentiation — consider inviting some students to make use of outlines, while offering two-column note taking, webs, and bullet points to others. Whether they’re working individually or in small groups, giving students a choice of how to engage in their learning process can feel highly personalized, which will enable them to walk with their best foot forward.
Making the most of online learning
When working in the world of remote teaching or blended learning, our typical teaching strategies may seem difficult to translate, which leads to defaulting to whole-class instruction that does not leverage student choice or differentiate based on student needs. But the online space offers just as many — if not more — opportunities to differentiate the task.
Many educators working in communities with on-demand access to technology are able to differentiate a task through content, process, or product using their online platform. Whether you’re using Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, or your own website, you can offer options at key points along the learning journey. In fact, it’s even easier to provide task options through distance learning, since there are no printing requirements! Within each lesson, we can create opportunities that maximize student choice. In high-tech spaces, we can post multiple assignments, graphic organizers, or focus topics and invite students to choose which they’d prefer to work with. Students can even work across class periods and be grouped with students who have shared interests, levels, or thinking processes. Students can also meet virtually through video conferencing, create small group videos, or share their process notes through pictures, video reflections, and digital artifacts.
Some students have access to technology, but experience limitations due to time on their device, internet access, or support with using advanced features of applications. In these situations, the differentiation of content, process, or product should be made clear to students in their assignment. They may benefit from having their assignment personalized for them, and they may need flexibility if they are able to mix online and offline work. This can mean posting the task so it can be downloaded for later use (rather than just existing on a website), and creating materials that students can complete using their computer, but that don’t require internet access.
Students in the “no-tech” access category likely have less than one hour per day to access the internet, and may be logging on from a phone or tablet that isn’t connected to a printer or scanner for managing hard copy printouts.
Teachers can offer entry points for these students by creating custom materials using picture models or short videos that explain what and how to complete a task with the materials they have on hand. Keep in mind that no-tech assignments can ask students to write out their responses by hand and submit assignments using photos. These assignments might also include packets of strategies or resources that can be picked up at school (and for convenience, can be picked up/dropped off during the same hours as food distribution), phone calls or text messages to students, or the option to send/receive materials by mail.
Differentiating tasks is one way we can increase student interest. Students are drawn to tasks that are personally relevant and challenging — creating multiple pathways for students to approach their learning (process), demonstrate their learning (product), or customize their learning (content), will allow them to deepen their understanding and increase their personal and academic engagement.
By CRISTINA ROMEO COMPTON
Distance learning can be challenging, especially for our young, emerging readers. In the classroom, young students are exposed to print-rich environments, and are supported and guided through a multitude of literacy activities such as phonics, guided reading, shared reading, and direct reading instruction. Now that learning is taking place in the home, there are growing concerns about the deficits young students will experience, particularly when it comes to reading. What can we do? How and when should we do it? And how can parents prioritize reading practices at home?
As a Master’s student, the focus of my thesis included understanding and improving the reading habits and attitudes of my third grade students. I launched my study by administering a survey, and provided them with a number of statements including, I like to read, I prefer reading to watching TV, and I read more than I watch TV. I had students read each statement, and then circle an emoji that best matched their feelings about the statement (ranging from positive to negative).
My students’ responses, along with my observations, were pretty discouraging. I noticed many of my students didn’t want to read, or would read for a few minutes before putting their book down and saying, “I’m done.” I was determined to do something. In the next phase of my work, I reached out to parents of those students with particularly negative responses to the survey, and asked if they would be willing to participate in my study. Their participation included signing a contract in which they agreed to engage in three specific literacy practices at home: reading aloud, shared reading, and independent reading.
It is these three literacy practices that I think parents should prioritize, as I believe they are simple, effective, and particularly helpful when it comes to supporting reading development outside of the classroom.
Reading aloud promotes fluency and exposure. Exposure plays a significant role in reading development and cultivating a positive attitude towards reading. The parents who participated in my study agreed to read to their children for 20 minutes a day, at least three times a week. I would encourage all parents to do the same. If you can do nothing else, read aloud to your child! Expose your children to as many books as possible, and regularly engage in read alouds. This can be incorporated into a lunch break, added to a bedtime routine, or even occur first thing in the morning — whatever works best for you. If this feels too difficult, there are many read aloud resources available online that can support you, such as Epic, which offers a massive digital library for children aged 12 and under, and YouTube, which offers free access to a variety of voices and titles to choose from.
If you’re ready, interested, and able to step up your read aloud game, you can engage your children further by asking simple questions: What do you notice? What does this make you think? What are you learning about ____? This kind of work promotes comprehension and inferencing skills.
The tried and true think-aloud protocol — in which you share what you’re thinking and what you’re predicting — can also be a powerful model for children. I even do this with my 8-month-old. As her mother I know she’s brilliant (of course!), but can accept she is clearly too young to do deep thinking work on her own, so I point to the pictures and the words in each book, narrating what they are, for as long as she lets me. It’s never too young to cultivate a love for books!
Fountas and Pinnell define shared reading as a reading experience in which children and their teacher engage in multiple read alouds of an “enlarged version of a text that provides opportunities for students to expand their reading competencies. The goals of the first reading are to ensure that students enjoy the text and think about the meaning. After the first reading, students take part in multiple, subsequent readings to notice more about the text.” From there, students discuss the text, and parents or educators determine next steps for support.
Ideally, parents would be able to put on their teacher hat while reading with their children, tracking and pointing to the words together, sounding words out along the way. Shared reading like this can help improve the rate at which children read, increase their fluency, and add to their enjoyment for reading.
Don’t be discouraged if this feels outside of your reach. Shared reading can also mean simply engaging in shared reading time, without any additional components. Each family member can select a text of their choosing, and read near each other. Whether this happens first thing in the morning, as you read the newspaper or your favorite magazine and enjoy a cup of coffee, or before bed, as you are winding down the day and in search of some quiet time. Being exposed to others who are reading can have a positive effect on a child’s attitudes and habits around reading, as it did for my young readers.
The final activity in my study involved an agreement from parents to provide quiet and uninterrupted time and space to engage in independent reading for at least 20 minutes a day. One of the biggest challenges to reading at home, according to my third graders, is the lack of space and opportunity to read alone. Children are often sharing rooms, household tasks and chores need to be done, and child care responsibilities need to be managed. This, I’m sure, has only been exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis, as everyone is now living and working from home. Home can feel even more chaotic than before, and quiet time can be a challenge. However, if you can find a calm space where children can engage in independent reading even for even small periods of time each day, it can have a positive impact on reading abilities. This space might be the corner of a room, on a bed, or even in the bathroom. We have to get creative!
If you’re ready to level up your independent reading game, task your child with practicing one simple strategy while they read. This might include asking them to jot down questions as they read, notice and note (What do you notice? What does this make you think?), or it could involve a challenge to find words that start with certain letters or that contain certain blends, such as Bl or Cr. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just one strategy that will allow children to practice on their own, and then share with you.
The last tip I’ll leave you with is: if it feels like these strategies aren’t working for your readers, be prepared to throw all these strategies to the wind. Put the book down, and try again later. This is a challenging time — stress and emotions are running high — and we all know that the dynamic between parents and children, when it comes to learning, can be difficult and unpredictable. Some days our children want our help, and sometimes they don’t want anything to do with us! Give yourself some grace and flexibility. Trust that what you’re doing is enough, and remember that one day will not create lasting, negative implications for your child’s reading abilities. Be kind to yourself and to your children, and remember that tomorrow is another day.
By JULIA BROACH
Balancing teaching your curriculum with finding time to discuss with students what they are experiencing and how they are feeling can be challenging. Yet staying connected with them and what they are going through is essential in order to continue supporting them. Students are dealing with many significant life changes and a range of emotions, many of which can be traced back to the shifts they've experienced during the pandemic — worrying about their own health and that of their family members and friends, feelings of loss about missed experiences, navigating a new form of learning, and being confined to their homes with their family members.
Bringing low-tech self-reflection practices into your classroom can be a helpful way to address the social-emotional needs of your students. Developing social-emotional skills can help students of all ages better care for and advocate for themselves and others.
One way of incorporating at least a few minutes of self-reflection into lessons is by using social-emotional prompts (download a full set of our SEL prompts here). Our prompts are organized into several categories, drawn from the core social-emotional competencies identified by the educational research organization the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Prompts fall into the following categories:
Using these prompts with your students
These prompts can be sent out over email, posted on a class’s online feed, or shared aloud during a real-time class. Students can respond to them in a variety of ways — using tech-free (drawing or writing in a journal), low-tech (typing in a document, making a video recording, making an audio recording, taking photos), or high-tech options (posting responses to a shared classroom file, such as on Google Drive).
Before using these in your classroom, give yourself time to engage in your own self-reflection practices (through these prompts or other means) — this will support you in more thoughtfully facilitating social-emotional learning exercises for others.
Take the time to introduce the idea of the prompts to your students. You may contextualize the prompts by sharing that they’ll help with self-reflection during this strange period of confusion and uncertainty. For students to fully express their answers, they may not be comfortable sharing any or all of their responses — determine what you think would be best for your students. There is still significant value in students responding to each prompt, even if they choose not to share with others.
Below are a few ways that you can use these with your students in your online classes:
TAGS: REMOTE LEARNING, RESOURCES, SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING