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Early Literacy State of Affairs. 6 Major Ways to Make a Difference.

Literacy rates in the US were already dropping before COVID-19, but the pandemic has definitely worsened the situation. 

In Virginia for example, approximately one-third of K-2 students scored below the early literacy benchmark last fall. This is a record high in the 20-year history of conducting The Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening assessment in the commonwealth of Virginia.

This year, various states are reporting improvements in grade-level literacy rates as schools, for the most part, have returned back to normal. But in the majority of the states, the number of students at risk of not learning to read remains higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Data from over 1,300 schools in 37 states in the US using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills assessment suggests that a large share of the improvements have been made for Grade 3 to 5 students. 

K-2 students and students from marginalized socioeconomic backgrounds have been affected disproportionately by the pandemic. 

There is data to show that students attending schools in lower-income zip codes or in schools serving a higher portion of Black and Latino students faced the brunt of missed or disrupted learning opportunities. 

The above finding is also true when we zoom in on any particular region. In the Boston region, for example, the percentage of students in low-income schools who are at risk of reading failure doubled during the pandemic. 

This is a major concern because birth to age 8 (Grade 3) is a critical period for learning how to read. It reveals the issue of literacy inequity, which is a big thorn to achieving reading success for all.

Vulnerable groups, either due to age or background, are lagging behind on the road to learning recovery.


 6 Major Difference Makers for Early Literacy 

6 Major Difference Makers for Early Literacy

Given the current state of affairs for K-2 students, and for those from marginalized backgrounds, Sprig has identified six factors that make a positive difference in the learning outcomes of children. 

These six factors, when understood properly, can be used to make a difference for students who are: struggling to read, just beginning to learn how to read, or going to start learning in the near future.

Below, we’ve paired each factor with a recommendation for action. 


 1. Correlation of Schooling and Reading— Equip Teachers To Spend More Time With Students.

Stanford University conducted a study which showed that Grade 2 and 3 students were 30% behind in reading fluency last year, compared to a typical school year. As soon as school stopped in the spring of 2020, the students’ development of oral reading fluency did too, and remained stagnant during the summer. 

There was a strong recovery in the fall, which is a testament to the hard work of the teachers. But the resurgence in growth was not strong enough to make up for the earlier loss, which carried over to the next year.

The takeaway here is that in-person instruction, or its closest substitute, is still the best way to teach early literacy skills and concepts to young readers. 

Post-pandemic, there is a big rise in remote and blended learning. While it’s good to have such measures in place as contingency plans, one-on-one time between a teacher and a student is still irreplaceable, especially for our youngest learners. 

Such personalized attention can best be received in a classroom environment, where the teacher gets to know the student over time and builds trust. 


2. Teacher’s Knowledge of Foundational Literacy Skills— Offer Evidence-based Instruction.

20 empirical studies were reviewed to validate the positive effect of teacher preparation and training programs on elementary teachers’ knowledge of the science of reading (SoR), and also student outcomes in reading. 

When teachers are well versed on the SoR, their students achieve better outcomes in reading. 

In particular, training where teachers had the opportunity to apply their learned knowledge and skills under expert guidance resulted in the biggest growth in teacher knowledge. 

The next factor (Factor 3) in this article talks more about receiving the right guidance, but the first step is to have the right knowledge about reading instruction. 

Any time evidence-based instructional strategies are used, especially those that comply with the SoR, the early learner has a better shot at reading success. It’s why Sprig Reading uses an early literacy framework that is based on the SoR. 

3. Role of Literacy Coaching— Support The Teacher With Specialist Literacy Roles.

Literacy specialists make a big difference in the success of early literacy programs. Primary school teachers have many tasks to do, and it helps to have reading specialists in the team to work with to provide a more well-rounded educational experience to striving readers. 

In particular, the literacy coach role has had a great impact on the reading achievement of early learners. 

There are many examples, such as this one research paper from a large urban school district in southeast Ohio, where literacy coaches improved teacher’s sense of efficacy in literacy instruction in multiple survey items. 

Such as:

  • Using a student’s oral reading mistakes as an opportunity to teach effective reading strategies.


  • Using a variety of informal and formal reading assessment strategies.


  • Providing specific, targeted feedback to students’ during oral reading.


  • Provide students with opportunities to apply their prior knowledge to reading tasks.


The greatest gain of working with a literacy coach was: matching differentiated reading materials to the accurate level for students in their classrooms.

The number of different ways in which specialist roles like that of a literacy coach can help primary teachers is quite amazing. What if a literacy coach is not available? In such an instance, a robust platform backed by learning resources can guide teachers.

But in an ideal scenario, both teachers and literacy specialists should collaborate in a team-based setting.  


4. Culturally Responsive Teaching— Ensure Diverse Student Needs are Being Met.

There are studies to show that when teachers’ self-efficacy for culturally responsive instruction increases, it increases the likelihood of early literacy success for English Learners. Not everyone starts off on an even playing field. In diverse communities, those from different backgrounds might require specialized teaching expertise or learning materials.

Sprig’s work with Indigenous communities in Canada is an example of combining high-quality early learning programs and adapting them to local traditions, language and customs. This truly helps position every child to succeed in early literacy. 


5. Appropriate Screening at the Right Time. — Diagnose Early.

Studies show that early literacy assessments in pre-kindergarten are correlated to literacy performance in kindergarten and beyond. These assessments are good at identifying students who may benefit from early literacy interventions as they enter kindergarten.

Sprig has highlighted the importance of early literacy intervention in a previous blog.

The K-2 group of students is especially vulnerable, because the type of educational experience they get in this formative period could either make or break their case for reading success in future years. 

Therefore, it helps to have some type of formative assessment in place, where a student is immediately assessed as they enter a program. This allows commensurate intervention to be applied if needed, which can unblock reading struggles and pave the road to reading mastery. 


6. Parental Involvement in the Early Years—  Communicate With Parents.

Early childhood learning experience, at home, or in any early learning program has a tremendous impact on future reading success. 

For example, one study determined that the number of words children hear by age 2, significantly predicts 16 language and literacy outcomes over the next 9 years. This includes letter identification, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and reading comprehension, which are building blocks of the Science of Reading. 

Learning begins at home, but then continues in school, as a child is introduced to a formal schooling system. As such, it’s so important to build that crucial nexus between parents and educators, so they can fill each other in on the particular needs, interests, strengths and weaknesses of the student when it comes to early reading. 

All of Sprig Learning’s platforms, including Sprig Reading, have this component built-in, whereby educators can share progress reports with parents. In Sprig Language, parents are invited to fill out surveys to build a broader understanding of the learning needs for their child. 


Take the Recommended Steps for Early Literacy Success

Steps for Early Literacy Success

The current state of affairs in early literacy is uncertain. Yes, progress is being made. But that progress is geared towards getting back to pre-pandemic levels of reading success, which was not ideal to begin with. Also, it’s not clear if the progress made is at risk of regression in the future. 

The good news is that more and more evidence is emerging which directly states what works in early literacy. The scope of the issue is large enough to deserve district-wide and state-wide attention, and indeed it has. 

By understanding these six factors and taking appropriate measures, it’s possible to provide adequate, sustained, and targeted supports which will usher us into a new era, where high-reading proficiency for diverse classrooms is the norm. 

Sprig Reading, Sprig Learning’s new platform for evidence-based early instruction for K-2 teachers, is going to be released on August 26th. Join the waitlist now to receive exclusive updates. 

40 Science of Reading Insights You Need to Know for Strategic Reading Instruction

The Science of Reading (SoR) is picking up steam in schools in North America. It’s a methodology consisting of evidence-based literacy practices that have proven to work in increasing literacy achievement for early learners. 

The SoR is informed by decades of research into what is most effective at teaching children to read. The knowledge of what makes a successful reader is taken from multiple disciplines and is an expanding body of research.

At present, there is enough evidence to support a shift towards teaching practices that are aligned to SoR. 

Sprig Learning wrote about the application of SoR in various stages of early literacy development. Indeed, SoR should be a part of every early literacy strategy. 

In this article, we look at multiple aspects of SoR to derive lessons that can be applied in the classroom. 

To do this, we rely on an assortment of 40 factual statements on SoR. They are grouped where appropriate, to offer valuable insights to educators, staff and leaders for improving reading instruction at schools. 

Using these 40 insights and other important realizations gained through research and experience, Sprig is committed to bring SoR into the classroom this fall with the launch of Sprig Reading. 

Improvement starts at a strategic level. Let’s see how SoR advises strategic reading instruction.


40 Insights to Inform Strategic Reading Instruction

40 Insights to Inform Strategic Reading Instruction

1. The SoR must not ignore language, identity, culture and other contexts that are important to the early reading experience. 


There is another side to SoR that probes deeper into the learning context of the young student. While offering direct, systematic and explicit instruction, it also understands the unique background and learning profile of each student. This can be done through holistic assessments


2. Studies show that computer-assisted instruction is valuable in improving the phonological awareness of 6-year-old children. 


Phonemic awareness is one of the major pillars of SoR, which in turn is a part of phonological awareness. It’s important to note that technology has the power to catapult the instruction of these concepts into another level of efficiency!


3. The simple view of reading equation (see image below) shows that reading comprehension is the product of decoding/recognition and oral language comprehension. It has been tested in over 100 studies and endorsed by many renowned reading experts.

Simple View of Reading 

Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC)


4. The Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading (see image below) states that  word recognition (which includes phonological awareness, decoding and sight recognition) and language comprehension come together to form the fluent execution of skilled reading. 

The Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading

Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading

Recommendation From 3 & 4

The simple view of reading is one of  the main models used when talking about SoR. Decoding is used in phonemic awareness and phonics, two of the main pillars of SoR. Oral language permeates in every pillar of SoR, but especially vocabulary and phonemic awareness.

Reading comprehension is the result of children recognizing letters and the sounds they make, and understanding the meaning of the words they form. 

The Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading also backs this notion of word recognition (of which decoding is a part of) and language comprehension (of which vocabulary is a part of) coming together to produce skilled readers.

So while the decoding bit is rather obvious to SoR,  oral language is also important to integrate in lessons. 


5. Research has identified poor phonological awareness as a major risk factor for dyslexia. Intensive phonological awareness instruction can be used as an intervention for readers with dyslexia.

6. Many readers struggle with reading fluency, which has been linked to poor ability in Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN). RAN is the ability to quickly name letters, symbols, words, or objects in a quick and automatic manner.

7. Relatively small difficulties encountered in the early months of learning how to read, such as problems with phonological processing or letter-to-sound matches, discourage students from practicing reading. For lack of practice, these early learners fail to grow their vocabularies, gain reading fluency, or acquire other background knowledge needed to comprehend texts. 

Recommendation From 5-7

Along with phonological awareness (this includes phonemic awareness), RAN, and Shared Reading and Concepts of Print are extremely important in building fluency in the early stages of one’s reading journey. This is why these concepts are a part of the Joyful Literacy Framework, used by Sprig Reading. 

Although not part of the original 5 pillars of SoR, RAN and Shared Reading and Concepts of Print have been deemed important enough to focus on separately, and should be a part of reading instruction. 


8. There are over 40 research centers in the US dedicated to examining reading-related brain activity. Research in these centers have been ongoing for more than three decades. 

9. 15-20 % of students are dyslexic. While dyslexia cannot be cured, intensive reading instruction can help improve the success rates of dyslexic students. 

10. Learning to read requires the involvement of several brain functions. The visual cortex recognizes printed letters and words. It is located in the occipital lobe. 

11. The auditory cortex builds oral word understanding. It is located in the temporal lobe. 

12. The angular gyrus associates letters with sounds. It is located in the parietal lobe. 

13. The inferior frontal gyrus produces speech and processes meaning. It is located in the frontal lobe. 

14. 56% of variance in reading outcomes are due to the increase in volume of brain white matter between kindergarten and Grade 3. The quality of instruction during this time period impacts the building of the neural pathways.

Neural Systems for Reading

Recommendation From 8-14

Ultimately, learning how to read is partly a biological process. It has to do with functions in the brain. 

Given the urgency and gravity of early language development, Sprig Learning always vouches for early literacy intervention, that is taking action, when the student is most conducive to learning concepts and building good habits. 


15. There are certain leadership practices that significantly raise the percentage of students’ reading at grade level by Grade 2. Schools that have been successful in raising this number share 5 behaviors. They:

16. Make literacy priority number one.

17. Treat reading instruction time as sacred.

18. Empower teachers to own and lead interventions.

19. Monitor processes and data closely.

20. Share granular data with students. 

Science of Reading Share Data

Recommendation From 15-20

Leveraging SoR for strategic reading instruction is not a task for educators only. They must be adequately backed by school and district leaders. 

When there is a system in place where educators are given the time to focus on literacy instruction, formative assessments and interventions, accountability is increased for all. 

Teachers and administrators are aware of what is working, and the student also knows what areas they need to improve on. This information can also be shared with parents, who can be more actively involved. 


21. 90- 95% of students have the cognitive capacity to read.

22. 30% of students are capable of reading regardless of instructional quality.

23. 50% of students are capable of learning how to read from explicit and direct instruction in foundational skills.

24. 15% of students will need additional time and support to meet their reading potential. 

25. 5% of students have severe cognitive disabilities. 

Recommendation From 21-25

While it’s true that there will always be a certain percentage of students who will continue to struggle to read because of cognitive impairments, the vast majority of students should be able to read with varied levels of support.  

The biggest segment from this group of students is those who will need help using SoR in order to boost their literacy scores. By first implementing SoR in the classroom and following it up with tiered intervention support, the overwhelming majority of students (90-95%) can be helped. This is a far cry from the average of 35% of students who are currently reading at grade level at Grade 4 in the US.


26. A randomized controlled longitudinal study conducted by Vanderbilt University shows that preschool education improves reading outcomes, but the effects are not sustained beyond kindergarten. 

27. 79% of the variance in high-school reading ability is explained by the intensity of foundational skills instruction in Grade 1. 

28. There is a thing called the Grade 4 slump, where 20% of Proficient Grade 3 readers drop down to Basic  by Grade 5. 55% of advanced readers in Grade 3, are no longer advanced readers in Grade 5. There have been 90 research studies which say that the absence of foundational phonics and phonemic awareness instruction in the early grades impairs students’ reading growth in the later grades. 

29. Research from the University of Chicago has found that for 85-90% of struggling readers, intervention programs implemented before Grade 3 can increase reading skills to an average level. However, if the interventions come after Grade 3, then 75% of those students will continue to struggle with reading. 

Science of Reading Intervention

Recommendation From 26-29

High-quality early literacy instruction is extremely important to literacy growth, but it has to be consistently applied, beginning in preschool, and especially in kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. If not, then the early efforts are not sustained to achieve maximum reading potential.

Plans to improve  kindergarten and primary school programs are as important as the need for high-quality preschools and early childhood programs.

Instruction early on in kindergarten and Grade 1 has to be intensive, in order to give kids their best shot at success in the later grades. It is absolutely crucial that any literacy interventions are applied before Grade 3. If these interventions are started at preschool, it’s important that they are not stopped after preschool. 


30. The concept of spoken language was invented over 200,000 years ago, however the concept of written language was invented only 5,500 years ago. 

31. 87% of words in the English Language are either fully or easily decodable. 

32. Approximately 80% of elementary teachers do not adequately teach phonemic awareness to their students, if at all. 

33. 95% of early elementary classrooms spend inadequate time providing direct instruction on all the English phonemes. 

34. The National Reading Panel (NRP) established the 5 pillars of reading instruction in 2000. To meet the NRP recommendation of more phonics instruction, schools adopted balanced literacy. But in balanced literacy, phonics is taught only briefly. 

35. In a study of 32 elementary schools in Rapides Parish School Board, the percentage of kindergarteners reading at grade level rose from 46% to 99%  because of science-of-reading training, data summits, skills-based grouping and summer learning focused on literacy.

36. In a study of 16 elementary schools in The Bethlehem Area School District, the percentage of kindergarteners reading at or above the DIBELS benchmark composite score increased from 47% to 84% due to science-of-reading training, new curriculum, skills-based grouping and summer learning focused on literacy.

37. UP Academy Holland, which is a part of Boston Public Schools, shifted from balanced literacy to a high-quality English language arts curriculum that was built to support the Science of Reading. Ever since its implementation, they have noticed a decrease in behavioral issues in language blocks, greater confidence from students in responding to questions and reading, and more enthusiasm from both students and teachers!

Science of Reading Literacy Achievement

Recommendation From 30-37

Reading language was a human invention and so it requires a specific methodology for teaching it. As long as that methodology is applied, as demonstrated in numerous case studies, the likelihood of increasing literacy scores rises.

Phonemic awareness and phonics have to be incorporated into lesson plans. It’s not the case currently in many schools where educators are underprepared. A good SoR should have adequate professional development support so educators can be quickly upskilled on how to teach phonemic awareness and phonics. 


38. In a survey of Pre-K to 3 teachers, there were three types of challenges faced in literacy instruction. These were time, resources and materials, and diversity of student needs. There was not enough time to work individually with students. This included both struggling and accelerated learners. It was difficult to find reading materials in multiple languages, and appropriate leveled texts for older students who would not be embarrassed to read them. Regarding diversity of student needs, teachers found it difficult to manage striving readers, where they would get pulled out of class, but then miss out on other instruction in class. 

39. The common causes for reading instructional failure include: inadequate or non-existent review and repetition cycle, lack of real reading and writing experiences, inappropriate reading materials to practice skills, loss of time due to transitions, and limited teacher knowledge of research-based phonic routines. 

40. Multi-sensory approach to reading enhances phonics instruction. Manipulatives, gestures, and speaking and auditory cues improve early learners’ acquisition of phonics skills. Multi-sensory activities also provide the necessary scaffolding to beginning and struggling readers. They include visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile activities to enhance learning.

Recommendation From 38-40

These last three statements offer insight into what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to using SoR in the classroom for strategic reading instruction. 

We can summarize many of the points to say that differentiated instruction is key to the success of early readers. SoR is amazingly effective, but not if everyone practices the same things at the same pace with the same intensity. 

Also, the need for high-quality instructional materials and resources that drive engagement is highly beneficial. Books need to be appropriate for different skill levels, and the learning environment should be stimulating enough to sustain learning motivation.

All the various components of SoR have to be taught, but in accordance with what each student needs. Differentiation can take up time and extra resources, which are common challenges. But, differentiated instruction has a host of advantages which can offset these challenges and ultimately ensure that every kid has their best foot forward in reading. 

Any tool that makes it easy to differentiate lessons and monitor individual students in a cost-effective manner,  will save teachers percioustime. And if those tools also include guidance on SoR-based teaching practices, plan lessons for their students, and review any progress made, those time savings become truly significant.. That newly freed time can be used to help struggling readers who require further support. 


Applying These Lessons 

Science of Reading Applying Lessons

That wraps up this article on the 40 SoR insights. Sprig hopes that the guidance offered here is used to strategize reading instruction in line with SoR. 

Want help bringing SoR into your classroom? Get in touch with us. 

Educators are the heartbeat of the education system. They have a lot on their plate. At this time when there is increasing consensus around SoR, it’s important to be strategic about how reading instruction is delivered across schools and districts. 

Sprig Learning is developing Sprig Reading, which will be released in the fall and change the face of SoR-based early literacy instruction. 

Having the right plan to begin with will save teachers time, and ensure students have enough support. 

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 8 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. 

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. 

Early Childhood Teachers— Creating the Perfect Team

Today is National Teacher Day in the US! Where would we be without teachers and the lasting contribution they make in our lives?

To mark this special day, we want to highlight the team aspect of teaching. 

There are many studies that suggest teachers think highly of collaborative teaching and consider it a valuable and effective use of their time.

As the teaching profession evolves, there are new roles created that focus on a single specialty or help manage a number of different activities.

All of such roles ultimately have an unified purpose of providing the maximum benefit to the student. 

The goal is always to raise student success and ensure student well being. 

Despite all the challenges commonly faced by teachers, they are committed to the teaching profession to help students.

It takes an enormous amount of effort and dedication to teach preschoolers, kindergarteners and students in the early elementary grades. That’s why Sprig Learning supports the teaching cause by designing holistic early learning programs for Pre-K to Grade 3. 

For this year’s National Teacher Day, let’s take time to understand each teaching role to truly appreciate them! 


The Most Essential Early Childhood Teacher Roles in Pre-K to Grade 3

Most Essential Childhood Teacher Roles

The foundational years are absolutely critical to a child’s long-term educational success. Listed below are the customary and indispensable roles in early childhood education. 

All early childhood teachers contribute tremendously to the assessing, teaching and evaluation of early learners. 


Pre-K Teacher

Preschool or Pre-K teachers both instruct and care for children typically aged two to four years old. They have to prepare their young students for kindergarten.

At this stage, it’s crucial that all early development milestones are reached. 


Kindergarten Teacher

Kindergarten is considered to be the start of formal education. It is the starting grade level for the majority of elementary schools in North America.

Kindergarten teachers have to plan and implement lessons for children generally aged five years old. They have to supervise their students, keep them motivated, and guide their development as they develop the foundational early learning skills.

For many school systems, assessments also start at this level. There are best practices to design assessments for early childhood education.


Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 Teachers

Early primary teachers (namely in Grades 1, 2 and 3) help children transition into the elementary grades. They ensure learning progress in all the core subjects: language, math, science and social studies. 


Teacher Aide/ Teacher Assistant

The teacher aide assists preschool teachers in their work. They perform a variety of tasks such as preparing classroom materials and completing administrative tasks. There are teacher aides in preschool, kindergarten and the early elementary grades.


Remediation Teacher/Intervention Specialist

Remediation teachers help children who are struggling with early reading and/or math. They work alongside the student’s regular teacher, and work one-on-one with those students who require the most help.


Reading Specialist/Literacy Specialist/ Elementary Math Specialist

Reading specialists teach kids that are struggling with reading and/or writing. They work with students in small groups, and like homeroom teachers, they also plan, teach and evaluate instruction.

Reading specialists have advanced training and experience in teaching reading. They assess literacy performance of readers in general, and struggling readers in particular.


Literacy Coach/Literary Coordinator

Literacy coaches work with educators and students to improve literacy scores. They help to develop lesson plans, conduct lesson demonstrations and evaluations, and analyze student literacy achievement data. The coach can also observe the teachers as they present lessons and make suggestions for improvement. 

Sometimes the role can also include leading professional development and collaborating with all teachers to improve literacy for an entire grade or the whole school. 


Director of Elementary Education

The Director of Elementary Education formulates and implements a vision for the district’s instructional programs from Pre-K to Grade 6. 


Don’t Forget The Home


Learning happens both in the school and at home. Parental involvement is critical for student success. Parents and other caregivers are able to support the learning journey of the child as they go to school everyday and come back home. 


The Need For Collaboration in Early Childhood Education

Need for Collaboration in Early Childhood Education

At a school level, the administrators always want to understand the role of each educator in creating a successful learning program. It’s important for them to understand the relationship between the members of the team.

In kindergarten classrooms that have an educator team consisting of more than one role, it’s seen that the team members have complementary skills that allow them to address individual student’s needs and ensure meaningful learning opportunities. 

In its full-day kindergarten programs, Ontario pairs teachers with early childhood educators, who are trained in child development, observation and play-based learning. 

There has been a lot of research done on the positive influence of teacher collaboration on student achievement. While teacher quality alone is a big factor in determining student performance, working collaboratively enhances teacher effectiveness and expertise.

In light of all the emerging evidence that advocates for teacher collaboration, there is a rise in early childhood educator teams where collaborative planning is a part of the agenda. 

By respecting the unique skill sets each teacher brings to the table, it’s possible to optimize high-quality early learning for every child. 


All for One. One for All.

Early Learning Dream Team

Early Learning Dream Team

Sprig Learning is a purpose-built company that provides early learners, educators and parents with access to the tools needed to build a foundation for lifelong learning.

We produce early learning programs that are culturally relevant, teacher developed, and curriculum aligned. 

Any teacher can quickly be set up with an account on Sprig Language or Sprig Math. They can begin managing their class in no time at all. 

They can access holistic assessments, personalized activities targeting learning areas, and surveys from others to get a better perspective of the student.

When every teacher onboards on the platform, the teaching experience transforms into something even more magical! 

The homeroom teacher, or main classroom teacher in preschool, kindergarten and the early primary grades, can keep track of all students from one platform. They can assign activities that work on all the different learning outcomes outlined in the curriculum. 

The reading specialist or elementary mathematics specialist can closely monitor performance in the different learning domains in language and math. They can group students accordingly to deliver differentiated instruction.

Those students who need even more support can be looked at by the remediation or intervention specialist. They can formulate a one-on-one learning strategy, and take help from classroom resources available in the program, or look at survey results from caregivers for more insight into the early learner’s educational environment. 

The director of elementary education, or any assessment director at the elementary level, can compare classroom performances to see what is working and identify teacher collaborative planning strategies.

Team work really does make the dream work, especially in early learning! To learn more about how Sprig Learning can facilitate team work to raise student achievement, simply reach out!

Again, let’s take this time to celebrate all the different teachers working every day for our early learners. 

To show our gratitude, we have slashed prices at the Sprig Store by 20% for all products. Simply use the promo code Sprigforteachers at the checkout cart.