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Early Literacy: Academic Return on Investment (ROI) For Schools

There are different types of returns when it comes to investing in early childhood education (ECE), which includes the early primary grades. A large part of ECE consists of teaching literacy in language and math, as they are fundamental subjects crucial for academic success. 

First, there is the societal return on investment (ROI).

ECE investment benefits the society at large. Professor Heckman, a Nobel Laureate and expert in the economics of human development, found that high-quality early learning investments can yield a 13% annual ROI per child, through better education, economic, health and social outcomes. 

After considering all benefits to health, education and development of young students, and the positive spillover effects to the society, such as increased employment and safety in the future, there is a 4 to 9 times ROI over the lifetime of the student. 

Almost 80% of prekindergarten and elementary schools in the US are public. By educating early learners, they do a lot of good for society.

But these schools are still compared against each other in student success metrics such as attendance, proficiency scores in assessments, and graduation rates. 

This is because, other than societal ROI, there is also the all important school ROI, which increases accountability on the part of publicly funded institutions. 

Education leaders do not seek a monetary return on their investments, but they do seek greater student learning and cost-efficiency. This is called the academic return on investment for schools. This article is about increasing the academic return on investment through early literacy initiatives. 

 

Correct Approach to Academic Return on Investment (ROI)

Correct Approach to Academic Return on Investment

It’s important to understand the expected return from any investment, because there is a limited budget and great opportunity cost for funds which could be used elsewhere to improve the school.

The academic ROI focuses ultimately on student and teacher benefit. 

Teachers instruct and manage students while they are at school, which is a huge factor in affecting academic performance.

Other major contributing factors to academic performance are the student’s learning environment and situation at home, and their unique characteristics as early learners. 

But even these two things can be shaped by teachers, by collaborating with parents and fairly assessing them at school respectively. 

Simply said, for high academic ROI, every dollar spent has to either benefit the student or teacher. 

Academic ROI seeks to maximize achievement for the greatest number of students. It is formulated by multiplying the learning gains for each student by the total number of students helped, and dividing this sum by the investment, or the total amount spent for the result. 

By calculating the academic rate of investment in this way, the former superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, reduced the number of K-5 students reading below grade level by 65%, and increased the proficiency rate of students with special needs by almost 25%.

When used correctly, the academic ROI equation leads to positive results. It makes school administrators take the following into account:

  1. The total academic gains by all students (gains maximization). 
  2. The total cost of such gains (cost-efficiency)

 

Adopting a Student-centered Viewpoint for Academic ROI by Improving Early Literacy Performance

Adopting a Student-Centered Viewpoint for Academic ROI by Impoving Early Literacy Performance

Often during ROI analysis, the district will evaluate and compare different initiatives such as professional development programs, investment in technology (e.g., iPads), and after school tutoring, etc.

This approach makes sense as administrators look to add and cut items from the budget at the end of the fiscal year. 

But it does not address the issue of academic return head-on. 

In order to do that, there needs to be a student-centered viewpoint which considers the overall impact on student academic gains and the associated costs. 

ER Strategies (ERS), the MA based non-profit partner to hundreds of school systems, recommends asking “which resources will meet this need”, instead of “which program is better”? 

The first step is the identification of the core need. 

In this case, because this article is about early literacy, the need is to improve student proficiency scores in language and math. These scores took a hit after the pandemic and are still in recovery mode. 

ERS encourages system-wide thinking that spans departmental boundaries.

By solely focusing on what will improve early literacy performance and its associated cost drivers, it is possible to come up with cost-efficient solutions that will maximize academic gains. 

 

Thinking About a Healthy Academic ROI

Healthy Academic ROI

In a study from small school districts, 7 superintendents unanimously said that the acceptance of out-of-district transfers was a strategy for maintaining the district’s financial well-being. 

Increasing the efficiency in personnel was another strategy everyone agreed upon. This was achieved via cutting and combining staff positions and recruiting and retaining high-quality employees. 

Adopting the student-centered view to ROI, and looking at the goals these initiatives are trying to achieve, we can come to the following conclusions.

  1. There is a need for enrolling more students. 
  2. There is a need for maintaining an efficient roster of teachers and staff that will deliver high-quality education to students. 

 

Having understood these goals, it’s now possible to think of alternate solutions, instead of only focusing on line items in the budget.

For example, the two goals can be summed up to ask, how can each teacher, staff and administrator be better equipped so they can handle the intake, management, instruction, assessment, and personalization of education for every student, old and new, that comes to the district?

There are many answers to the question, of course. 

This type of thinking allows the decision maker to consider the maximum benefit that can be achieved for the students with the smallest input. In other words, it’s very conducive for a healthy academic ROI. 

 

How to Increase Early Literacy Academic ROI

Increase Early Literacy Academic ROI

It helps when the core need of students is identified from the start. 

In the following case, one big public school district had already set out to improve academic ROI by increasing early literacy performance for their students. 

Philadelphia’s public school system posted among the largest gains in English and Math proficiency scores out of all the big urban school districts. 

They achieved this by standardizing the curriculum. All students would learn what was agreed to be the best curriculum at the time for early literacy success. 

Such wide-implementation of a standard curriculum also led to greater collaboration practices, whereby knowledge could be easily transferred between schools. 

Elementary school students doubled their time spent on English and Math, two hours on English and 90 minutes on math respectively. 

Benchmark testing was performed every six weeks to help teachers identify what subjects required more instruction time, or more advanced instruction. 

Class sizes were reduced in over 2,000 classrooms and over 200 academic coaches were added to the roster to handle deficiencies in literacy and numeracy.

Thus, by focusing on early literacy from the beginning, they were able to cost-efficiently invest in:

  1. standardizing the curriculum.
  2. increasing instruction time.
  3. instituting more benchmark testing.
  4. reducing class sizes.
  5. employing reading specialists.

 

Challenge question to you (the reader) to inspire student-centered academic ROI: Working with a tight budget, and having narrowed down these 5 investment items, is there a way to be more cost-efficient? 

 

Early Literacy Performance for Increasing Budget

Thus far, we have focused on cost-efficiency, and rightly so, as it’s one half of the academic ROI equation and is more short-term oriented. Schools have to work within the framework of budgets, which makes them super mindful about maximizing the benefit of every expense. 

When trying to seek the best improvements with a limited budget however, the question has to be asked, what type of investment will best yield long-term returns, such as expanding the size of the budget altogether? 

Improving student academic gains early on, such as raising the early literacy performance, is one of the ways to ensure both short-term and long-term gains to the school. 

The budget can be increased for a school district if there are more students, or if more people buy properties in that school district. But this influx of population into the area will not happen unless people see that the school is in fact renowned for delivering student success.

We already know that early literacy is the single biggest driver of student success in the early grades, but also throughout kindergarten to Grade 12. 

So it’s a matter of prioritizing early literacy initiatives in the budget.

Even for schools in low-income districts that receive federal grants, the goal should be to attract new residents in the community, because only 8% of a public school’s funding comes from federal programs like Title 1.   

 

Investing. Not Spending.

Investing.Not Spending.

 

To recap, there are many superintendents who favor an academic ROI approach to make decisions about spending. The three most important metrics stated are effects on student learning, number of students served, and cost per student. 

A study of 50 school districts showed that the dual goal of increasing student learning while also increasing cost-effectiveness is achievable. 

In early childhood and elementary education, calculating ROI is an essential step to increasing accountability for student success.

For private schools which are funded by tuition fees, there is a greater impetus to track where the money is being spent. In the public sector, however, there are many streams of funds at both the state and federal levels. So it can be overwhelming to do a proper ROI analysis that forecasts what results are to be expected.

At times, it can feel like just spending money, and not investing it for an expected return. But when the funds are invested specifically for a certain return, such as raising early literacy performances, it’s good for both short- and long-term student success as well as the district’s financial well-being.

Sprig Learning is a purpose-built company that develops holistic and inclusive early learning programs. Sprig Reading is currently being developed for teachers, which streamlines a Science of Reading based curriculum for easy teacher application. 

To discuss the cost-effectiveness and return potential of such a solution, please get in touch with us. 

Early Literacy Instruction for Primary School Teachers/Elementary Teachers

Primary school teachers (or elementary teachers) are the heart and soul of early literacy efforts in schools. 

Not every school has the necessary budget for a specialist literacy role, such as a coach or a consultant, but they all have homeroom teachers in preschool, Kindergarten and the early elementary grades. These teachers are responsible for teaching all the core subjects, which includes oral language, reading and writing. 

Therefore, they have immense influence on the early literacy outcomes of their students. They set up the environment, plan the lessons, and use their knowledge and experience to teach the language arts curriculum.

Elementary school teachers need support given the additional work, besides actual teaching, that they do in their busy daily schedules. Also, there are other challenges at play, such as the lack of professional development and resources, which can impact teachers. Sprig has written about such endemic challenges and presented various solutions to them. 

Recently, there is more awareness about the immense value of early literacy. Studies continue to be published from various states showing that roughly a third of all K-2 students are missing early literacy benchmarks. 

It’s a collective responsibility to ensure that the early literacy experience for children is optimized. Apart from parents, teachers spend the most time with kids in their daily lives during the school year. Their role in young students’ early literacy development is paramount to student success.

This article, Part 3 in our series, is dedicated to classroom teachers in early elementary grades who have a permanent seat at the early literacy dream team table.  (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

 

How Elementary School Teachers Play Their Part in Early Literacy

Elementary Teachers Play Their Part in Early Literacy

Elementary teachers’ knowledge of foundational literacy skills is critical to the success of grade-level literacy achievement. In a meta-analysis of 20 empirical studies on the impact of teacher preparation and training programs, it was found that such programs increased teacher’s knowledge of the Science of Reading, which resulted in successful reading outcomes for their students. Teachers who applied the learned skills under expert guidance demonstrated the largest growth in teacher knowledge. This is a testament to the type of fruitful collaboration that can happen between reading coaches and teachers. 

Indeed, one of the greatest roles of elementary and primary school teachers is to coordinate with others regarding the needs of the child. It can involve keeping parents in the loop to encourage active participation, and referring to specialists like speech language pathologists as necessary.

It’s often the teacher who determines the next step for the student. Besides being adequately versed in the application of the Science of Reading and coordinating with other teachers and staff, how does a classroom teacher make a daily impact for optimum reading success?

We outline 5 critical teacher responsibilities below which, if performed well, lead to desirable early literacy outcomes.

 

1. Creating a Print-Rich Environment

Early learners need access to books, writing materials and signs in the classroom to motivate them to practice literacy. The teacher creates their own and buys many supplies, sometimes even out of their own pocket, if they feel that the learning environment requires it. 

Children need to see uses of literacy around them in order to try it for themselves. A big part of this is having a print-rich environment. High-quality early learning materials are needed such as decodable texts and leveled readers. Concepts of Print is important enough to be recognized as one of the 7 foundational pillars of early literacy success. 

 

2. Developing a Positive and Nurturing Relationship

For early learners in school, their teacher is often their first point of contact when problems arise or when they want to express themselves. Thus it’s important for teachers to be understanding of their current needs and interests, and sensitive to their current level of language development. 

Teachers are entrusted with building one-on-one relationships with their students to support their oral literacy development. It’s the first step of many in the road to reading proficiency. Oral language is one of the recognized foundational skill sets in early literacy. 

 

3. Making Learning an Interactive Experience

In the early years, it’s important to make learning a two-way experience, where the teacher models speaking, reading and writing behaviors, and the students reciprocate. Teachers are there to talk to, play with, sign to and partake in other early literacy activities. It’s usually the teacher that commands the room, and they direct what should be done. 

Teachers are amazing in that they have so many interactive activities to teach important concepts and skills to their students. Shared reading in the classroom is especially important, as it also has its own category in the foundational skill sets needed for reading success.  

 

4. Differentiating Instruction for Students

On average, there are 22 students in a self-contained classroom in the US. It’s highly unlikely that all 22 students are on the same wavelength when it comes to learning everything in the curriculum. 

Some students may need more work on a certain topic, while others may cruise ahead only to stumble upon a future lesson/skill. It’s the teacher’s job to vary teaching strategies according to the needs of students. The Unrivaled Miniguide to Introducing Differentiated Instruction in Early Learning is a must-read for using targeted learning in an early literacy context.

 

5. Being Culturally Responsive

Classrooms are increasingly diverse in North America, reflecting a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and languages. It’s important to feel supported in one’s first language, in order for students to succeed in English-language acquisition. 

Elementary teachers have a huge role to play in embracing the child’s culture and language, so they feel comfortable enough to open up to learning a new language. Indeed, studies show that bilingual assessment and teacher-training programs on cultural responsiveness have led to significant increases to teachers’ self-efficacy for early literacy instruction.

It’s clear the teachers are ready to do their best, and they know exactly where they need help in order to best serve their students. 

 

Priorities Going Forward- How to Best Help Elementary Teachers

How to best help elementary teachers

Classrooms are set to get more diverse with students from different backgrounds and of different abilities. Calls in many states to incorporate the Science of Reading in instruction are becoming more common, as the right approach to teaching reading gives every student an equal chance to succeed.

But whether they ultimately succeed depends on what happens in and out of the classroom. In classrooms, elementary teachers will require a thorough knowledge based on early literacy instruction. 

As demonstrated in this article, primary classroom teachers are already engaged in wonderful initiatives and efforts on a daily basis to improve literacy scores. With greater organization and guidance on each task, their efforts can be better aligned with the Science of Reading.

Sprig Learning is extremely passionate about literacy equity. We have written extensively on this subject before, highlighting obstacles which exist such as bias, and espousing numerous solutions such as inclusive early intervention.

We have recently partnered with Joyful Literacy Interventions to develop Sprig Reading, a proven Science of Reading-backed early literacy teacher app. 

It’s our most powerful and comprehensive solution to date, to achieve early literacy for all. See what it’s all about, and feel free to join the waitlist by scrolling to the bottom of the page. 

Sprig Learning Partners With Joyful Literacy To Develop a New Evidence-Based Early Literacy Teacher App

Post-pandemic, there are sporadic glimpses of learning recovery across Canada and the US. But progress is slow. Many young learners in preschool, kindergarten and the early elementary grades are still struggling from missed or interrupted learning opportunities. Now more than ever, research indicates that many students are not reading at grade-level. It is estimated that 25% of Canadian students, and 65% of American students, are not reading at grade level by the end of grade 3 and 4, respectively. Low literacy rates are even higher for marginalized students and the last few years of the pandemic have exacerbated the low literacy challenge.

Sprig Learning was purpose-built to help provide every student with a fair shot at success. To date, we have worked with schools across North America to improve the assessment process in the early years, support teachers and provide all young learners with the chance to succeed in both school and in life. We have helped thousands of early learners acquire the fundamentals of early literacy and numeracy.  

Sprig Learning’s early literacy tools are built around the Science of Reading. To take the next big leap in early literacy innovation, Sprig is excited to partner with Dr. Janet Mort and her Joyful Literacy team to bring you Sprig Reading: Powered by Joyful Literacy! Joyful Literacy is a proven, evidence-based literacy framework that has consistently improved classrooms to 90% grade-level literacy achievement. Wherever it is implemented, the results soon follow! 

Dr. Janet Mort, founder of the Joyful Literacy Framework says, “Our team spent eight years developing and implementing the Joyful Literacy Intervention Framework to prove we could achieve literacy proficiency for struggling early learners. Partnering with Sprig Learning allows us to take the next big step in advancing the cause for early literacy, making it easier for teachers to support a classroom full of diverse learners.”

With Sprig Reading: Powered by Joyful Literacy, teachers will now be able to assess and track all of the Foundational Literacy Skills required for JK to Grade 3 learners to become strong and confident readers. The early literacy platform makes it easy for teachers to formatively assess students and differentiate them into groups according to their need for practice or instruction.

“All students across the world deserve the right to read. When we learned about the Joyful Literacy methodology, and its repeated success locally in British Columbia and in Washington State, we immediately saw the potential to integrate our holistic learning technology, provide scale to the solution and bring this opportunity to all young learners across the world”, says Jarrett Laughlin, Founder and CEO of Sprig Learning. 

Sprig Reading will be available for purchase for the 2022-23 school year. 

 

Why Now? Impetus for Action.

Why Sprig Reading Now

The pandemic has widened the literacy gap, but it is not responsible for the great divide in reading skills between students reading at grade level and those students falling behind reading standards.

Literacy inequity and access to high-quality early learning education is at the core of the literacy gap that has emerged.

Not enough early learners have access to the type of reading content, instruction, environment and assessment that will increase their likelihood of becoming proficient readers.

With Sprig Reading, teachers will be appropriately equipped to take immediate action. 

With the power to track every foundational reading skill over the course of a student’s early learning experience, every young learner’s potential to ready successfully is maximized, including those who need the extra help, and students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

 

What Makes Sprig Reading Special? Time-tested Proven Strategies That Improve Early Literacy.

Why Sprig Reading in Special

Sprig has often written about how to help struggling readers. Topics range from the keys to literacy development in the early years, to thoughtful considerations for building early literacy skills in schools.

Ultimately, there is consensus on what works in achieving early literacy. 

To summarize, there are three main strategies that have proven to turn children into successful readers by the time they complete Grade 3. There are subsets, but these are the three most important strategies. 

  1. Explicit, Systematic and Sequential Instruction.
  2. Extensive Practice With Literacy Skills and Shared Reading Experiences
  3. Assessment and Tracking

Sprig Reading is fully immersed in all three. 

The following three paragraphs address Sprig Reading’s connection to each strategy. 

 

Explicit, Systematic and Sequential Instruction

Research shows that in order to teach reading, actual reading concepts and skills must be taught in a system that is explicit, systematic and sequential. Such skills and concepts have been identified by researchers in renowned literacy journals.  Organizations like The National Early Literacy Panel have published reports listing all the foundational early literacy skills. 

Sprig Reading focuses on the following seven Foundational Skills that require mastery: 

  • Phonics.
  • Phonemic awareness.
  • Shared reading and concepts of print.
  • Rapid automatized naming.
  • Vocabulary, oral language and word study.
  • Fluency.
  • Comprehension.

In this interactive teacher platform, the act of reading is broken down to its various components, and those components are assessed and taught by the teacher. This is also referred to what is known as the Science of Reading. Hundreds of essential literacy skills are presented in foundational skill-sets and in a science-based sequence.

Explicit, Systematic and Sequential

 

Extensive Practice With Literacy Skills and Shared Reading Experiences

Without the actual habit of reading, the lessons taught about reading do not blossom into the ability to read. The skills and concepts taught in class must be practiced, assessed and practiced again, so the child improves on all Foundational Skills. 

The application of reading skills is also related to studies which say that early learners must be exposed to a certain number of words growing up, and their parents must be involved in their education and read to them. It’s when children get this combination of practice and exposure, that they begin to flourish as readers.

Sprig Reading ensures that every student gets enough practice in all of the skills in the foundational skill-sets. Educators are able to effortlessly track all these skills and celebrate progress with parents. They can recommend activities that work on certain reading skills to parents, which can be practiced at home with their children.

 

Assessment and Tracking

Assessment and Tracking

Children must learn hundreds of reading skills by the end of Grade three to read fluently.

The Sprig Reading App, powered by Joyful Literacy, allows teachers to readily assess and track all essential skills and group children for targeted instruction.

Formative assessments and targeted instruction have been two major pillars of success when it comes to early learning. Sprig Learning has written extensively on both. 

Sprig Reading’s circle charts empowers educators to both formatively assess and differentiate instruction. In the app, they are given instructions on how to assess students for each skill, and they are able to plan weekly, organizing children according to skill mastery, need for more practice, and need for explicit instruction

It’s a complete reading skill curriculum based on the Science of Reading, packed into a powerful app that can be accessed anywhere at any time. This data-driven tool allows educators to digitally plan, assess and track skill mastery for diverse classrooms. Learning is accelerated and interventions are applied as necessary. Every child makes progress, even those vulnerable in preschool and kindergarten. 

 

More Reasons Why Sprig Reading Is Unique

Why Sprig Reading is Unique

Sprig Reading is a comprehensive early literacy teacher app, designed by educators using both practical classroom experience and academic research experience. 

Dr. Janet Mort packs years of invaluable experience designing a Science of Reading-based curriculum into the creation of the Sprig Reading app. Dr. Mort was awarded the Order of BC for her early learning literacy achievements. Teachers feel confident about the connections between the existing research-based best practices and their instruction in the classroom.

Every last Foundational Skill is thoroughly defined and teachers are provided instructions for teaching strategies and follow-up assessments for those foundational skills. 

What previously needed the purchase of several instructional materials and resources, can now be digitally implemented for schools and classrooms with a subscription only. Further training in the form of professional development is available to those who require it. 

Sprig Reading takes the direct, explicit, sequential and diagnostic way of teaching, and simplifies it into an intuitive ready-to-go solution that benefits both the teacher and the student.

The end result is that every child makes meaningful progress. They are given access to a state-of-the art reading program based on the Science of Reading. The educator is also put in a position to help every struggling reader, including those with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, leading to what we hope is true literacy equity. 

Sprig Learning is thrilled to partner with Joyful Literacy to provide teachers with the tools that help solve this all-important issue of reading mastery. More details, announcements and exclusive previews will be released over the next several weeks.

Signup up to stay updated. Let’s provide every child a fair shot at success!

 

Further Resources:

To access further information about the Joyful Literacy framework, see Dr. Mort’s books as listed below. 

The Joyful Literacy Interventions Framework: Closing Literacy Skill Gaps

Joyful Literacy and Parent Power: You can teach your child at home.

Joyful Literacy Interventions: PART ONE Early Learning Classroom Essentials

Putting on the Blitz: Our Breakthrough Methodology!: Joyful Literacy Interventions – Part Two

How Literacy Coaches Help Reading Achievement 101

Sprig Learning creates early learning programs that build early literacy skills and ensure every child reads confidently by Grade 3. Sprig’s holistic approach sets it apart from most programs, in that it involves multiple individuals in supporting the success of the child.

This includes teachers, specialists, education administrators, staff, parents, caretakers, etc., all of whom coordinate their efforts to give the child the best early learning experience.

All of these early learning roles can be put into two categories. In-school and out-of-school. 

Last article, Sprig focused on the reading specialist, an extremely important role in any early literacy team. 

This week, we turn our attention to the literacy coach. Like the reading or literacy specialist, it’s another in-school role that plays an invaluable part in teaching school children how to read.

 

Who Is a Literacy Coach?

Who Is a Literacy Coach

The literacy coach, or reading coach, is someone trained in early literacy and who is aware of all recent developments in reading research. They use these skills to show teachers how to more effectively help students learn to read.

The role of a literacy coach is multivarious. It involves planning for coaching, reviewing teaching and assessment practices, and organizing resources for early literacy instruction.

With literacy specialists, the focus is more on directly instructing students and supporting teachers where appropriate. With literacy coaches, the focus is more on the planning and collaborative process. It is constant co-creation in every aspect of teaching.

The literacy coach meets with teachers to listen to them and learn about their efforts, needs, strengths and concerns. They co-review the assessment data, student goals and student characteristics to set priorities. They also co-plot the teacher’s schedule to match teaching goals to time allocations. 

 

The Literacy Coach in Action

The Literacy Coach in Action

​​Indeed, because of the diverse nature of the literacy coach role, it helps to understand what is expected of them.

A lot is expected from the literacy coach. The International Reading Association outlines the following five criteria for literacy coaches.

  1. Excellent classroom teachers.
  2. In-depth knowledge of reading, instruction and assessment.
  3. Experience working with teachers in professional development.
  4. Excellent presentation skills.
  5. Experience in modeling, observing and coaching. 

 

All five criteria are equally important. To gain further clarity on how these expectations are executed everyday in the school, let’s look at a qualitative study of literacy coaches in Ontario, Canada. 

The study found that literacy coaches served three major roles in their schools. Namely, school literacy program organizers, school leaders and support providers.

 

Program Organizers

As school literacy program organizers, literacy coaches perform organizational tasks such as following up with the ministries of education, corresponding with school board members, updating school evidence binders, organizing book rooms, and consulting with teachers to order new resources. 

 

School Leaders

As school leaders, the literacy coaches adopt new literacy initiatives and lead the way in conducting professional development sessions for teachers and guiding professional learning communities. 

 

Support Providers

As support providers, the literacy coaches act as the support person for content knowledge and resources. Teachers regularly seek advice from them about assessments, lessons and professional reading materials. The literacy coaches also provide emotional support, which consists of encouraging, thanking and rallying the teachers.

 

The Need for Literacy Coaching

The Need for Literacy Coaching

​​It’s hardly surprising that given everything literacy coaches do for teachers and early literacy programs, they have a tremendous impact on literacy achievement. 

In large urban school districts, literacy coaching has led to statistically significant improvements in student learning, teacher practice and classroom literacy environment. 

Children’s Literacy Initiative did a review of nine studies that show that teachers who receive 14 hours of sustained literacy coaching show positive gains in their students’ literacy scores. 

Furthermore, these gains are larger for teachers who receive 30 or more hours of literacy coaching throughout the whole school year. 

 

Keys to Effective Literacy Coaching

Keys to Effective Literacy Coaching

Given the importance of literacy coaching, how can they be better supported?

The research on effective literacy coaching points to several factors that influence the effectiveness of the literacy coach:

  • Coach’s accessibility.
  • Teachers’ ability to have one-on-one interaction with their coach.
  • Inclusion of teachers in the coaching planning process.
  • Adjustment of coaching model to meet local needs.
  • Principal’s support for the coach.
  • Expertise on coaching material.
  • Adherence to the coaching model.
  • Resistance to the coaching model.
  • Respect for teachers.

 

These factors can be broadly summarized to state three findings. In order for literacy coaching to be effective, there needs to be:

  1. Adequate collaboration between the literacy coach and the teacher.
  2. Acceptance of the literacy strategy implemented in the school or district by all (strategy will include model and resources).
  3. Appropriate modification of the literacy strategy, as needed.

 

Looking at literacy coach evaluations from 15 states, the vast majority of principals and teachers agree that the literacy coach is a helpful, knowledgeable and valuable resource for effective instruction. 

There seems to be enough support for the literacy coach role in its ability to collaborate with others and dictate the literacy strategy. It’s the quality of implementation of the finer details of any literacy program that deserves a closer review.

It can be difficult to manually keep track of a literacy plan. With so many students and teaching roles involved, the right tools can make a world of difference.

 

Technology’s Potential in Literacy Coaching

technology's Potential in Literacy coaching

Picture: Report that shows learning activities completed by class and by student. *Sample*

 

Like most literacy related positions in school and elsewhere, the literacy coach has to evaluate the extent of technology use in teaching early literacy skills and concepts.

In a phonics-based reading program, it takes numerous repetitions to train the formative brain to access new information accurately. The right digital literacy program can systematically offer these review activities to a group of early learners. The teachers supervise these activities for one group of students so they learn the concept being taught, while engaging with another group for more direct instruction.

These groups can then be alternated, with the latter group practicing what they have been taught under supervision, and the former group being assessed for their new skill level for that particular reading exercise. 

Phonics instruction stresses the connection between written letters and spoken sounds. Direct, explicit and multi-sensory instruction of new phonemic concepts teaches literacy to students in line with the Science of Reading.

Such structured literacy programs are best delivered with the help of technology that keeps track of all lessons learned and organizes all lessons sequentially. 

Given all the hats the literacy coach has to wear, it definitely helps to have an evidence-based program in place where collaboration and instruction adjustment can occur.

The literacy coach and the teacher can co-plan for a class of students by looking at every essential reading skill that needs to be tackled throughout the year. By formatively assessing each student using the same program, they can discuss appropriate interventions when necessary.

 

Literacy Coaches Are Here to Stay

Literacy Coaches Are Here to Stay

​​Building early literacy skills and supporting learning recovery require high-skilled teachers in every content area. In literacy especially, schools need language professionals. 

Literacy coaches are becoming essential at a time when new approaches are being tried to improve literacy scores. The school relies on coaches for their collaboration, leadership and support.

Literacy coaches are in a partnership with teachers for ongoing job-embedded professional learning that increases teacher capacity to meet students’ needs. So there is a potential to make long-term gains as well, where teachers’ skills are leveled up from year-to-year. 

Literacy coaches greatly amplify teachers’ reflection on students, the curriculum, and pedagogy. Such an enhanced and deliberate thought process leads to more effective decision making, characterized by data-oriented student and teacher learning.

This is part of an ongoing blog series on important early literacy positions. Sprig is all about doing whatever it takes to achieve literacy for all early learners. If you have any questions or ideas about how we can take further steps to bring forth literacy equity, please do get in touch.

The ABCs of Supporting Reading Specialists

Reading specialists, or literacy specialists, undergo specialized training that enables them to help struggling readers. They work with classroom teachers in the early grades to support and supplement reading instruction. 

They also have the added responsibility of assessing students and analyzing data. This is to identify students who may need further help and to monitor their progress. 

Reading specialists work on specific skills that are essential on the path towards reading mastery. They help reinforce these skills which the general curriculum may or may not cover. 

In the US, there are approximately 19,000 reading specialists. 

Approximately 4 million students are enrolled in Grade 3 in the US in 2022. We regularly read reports from different states about the percentage of Grade 3 and Grade 4 students scoring below the state assessment level for reading proficiency. It ranges from 20% to as much as 60%. 

Even if the lower quartile is considered, that means 1 million students are struggling to read in the US. It’s quite a daunting task for reading specialists, with each reading specialist, on average ,responsible for supporting 52 students!

In this article, we look at the nature of the job that is done by reading/literacy specialists, evidence of their effectiveness, and put forward ways in which we can better support them. 

 

Understanding The Role of Reading Specialists

Understanding The Role of Reading Specialists

In order to support reading specialists, it’s important to understand their role.

Though at times used interchangeably, the reading/literacy specialist, the reading teacher, and the reading/literacy coach are different roles. 

The reading teacher is the primary classroom teacher in the early elementary grades. They are responsible for teaching the language arts curriculum. 

The literacy coach role has many overlaps with the reading specialist, but one important differentiator is that the literacy coach provides in-class literacy coaching to the teachers. They are often involved in the planning process of how to raise the literacy achievement for a whole classroom. As such, they are more involved with teachers.

The reading specialist works more closely with students, and acts as a resource for teachers. They assess and instruct students, provide personalized instruction as required, and create literacy activities for the teachers. 

Due to their close proximity to students and knowledge of early literacy instruction, they have a special significance in any pre-K to 3 education team. 

 

Success of Reading Specialists

Success of Reading Specialists

​​Reading specialists are well versed in structured literacy approaches. 

As more schools are shifting towards the Science of Reading in their early literacy strategies, the knowledge and training the reading specialist possesses has become a valuable commodity. 

Literacy specialists are able to combine their skillset with assessment tools to provide science-based reading instruction to the whole classroom, but also work on specific skills for those students that need the extra help. Thus, they are an ideal fit for early literacy intervention programs in schools. 

There is evidence to suggest that early reading interventions work best when facilitated by technology. In a study of seven schools in southwestern US in rural low-income communities, groups of students who received technologically facilitated early reading intervention outperformed their peers in all reading outcomes.

The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy think tank, recommends the U.S. Department of Education give competitive preference to educational programs that provide teachers opportunities to work with certified reading specialists. 

This highlights the invaluable position of reading/literacy specialists in their ability to positively influence outcomes in early reading programs. 

 

Reading Specialists’ Principles That Unlock Student Potential

Reading Specialist Principles That Unlock Student Potential

Sprig Learning aims to provide every child a fair shot at success. 

To maximize every early learner’s reading potential, it’s imperative we support our reading/literacy specialists. 

Reading specialists follow these four principles to raise literacy performance. These four important conditions have to be met in order to support our reading specialists.

1) Provision of resources and professional development opportunities that focus on the latest evidence based approaches.

Reading specialists need to use the right content and practices to teach reading to their students. 

Proven practices and educational materials should be chosen in order to empower reading specialists. With support from administrators, the most accurate and effective instruction can be provided to the students that is conducive to literacy achievement.

Professional Development should also focus on science-backed content and instruction. It can include grade-level meetings, workshops, professional learning communities, teacher collaboration, and conference attendance. 

 

2) Student assessments throughout the year for implementing effective differentiated instruction.

Reading specialists benefit from assessments that are formative, reliable and efficient. It’s best when these assessments are easy to implement and are paired with a progress monitoring mechanism. 

With an intuitive assessment and monitoring system, reading specialists have more time to adapt instruction and deliver it to students. 

Taking the dual administrative burden of assessment and tracking off their shoulders, allows them more time to spend with early learners and work on those critical early literacy skills and concepts.

3) Immediate adjustments when interventions fail.

Every student is unique. It’s possible that they fail to understand the instruction that is provided to them based on initial assessment. The reading specialist should be ready to adjust the:

  • number of learning activities in daily lessons (too many or too few).
  • level of direct and explicit instruction (more direct).
  • pace of instruction (slowing down the rate).
  • duration of each lesson (more or less minutes).
  • frequency of lessons (more or less in one week).
  • level of difficulty (appropriateness of the instruction level).
  • number of students in a learning group (more or less students).
  • educational materials used (appropriateness of the educational material).

 

4)  Setting comprehension as the ultimate goal.

There are two main goals at play here. First, the student needs to be able to read. Second, the student must be able to understand what they read. 

The Science of Reading takes a systematic approach to this, tackling the most fundamental reading skills first such as phonological awareness and phonics, eventually reaching fluency, and ultimately working all the way up to comprehension. 

Everything is done sequentially and systematically, so the basic building blocks of literacy are covered and no child gets left behind. It puts reading specialists in a strong position where they do not have to remediate years or months worth of missed learning. Rather they can work to unblock whatever difficulty the early learner is facing at present.

 

Supporting The Whole Early Literacy Team

Supporting The Whole Early Literacy Team

It’s not only literacy specialists that need support, but other members of the early literacy team as well. This includes the primary classroom teacher, the literacy coach, the literacy coordinator, speech language pathologist, and others. 

Literacy inequity is a challenge big enough to warrant the joint efforts of all. Sprig hopes to do its part.

By understanding the fine details and principles of success for each role, it’s possible to bring everyone together for optimum collaboration. 

This is the beginning of our early literacy team series.The series will be continued next week, where the focus will be on literacy coaches.

If you have any questions about using technology for assessments and early literacy science-based instruction, do not hesitate to contact us.