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Best Early Literacy Activities for Teaching Foundational Reading Skills

Educators today are constantly seeking evidence-based activities that enhance student learning. But what distinguishes these activities, and how can they be effectively implemented in the classroom?

This article addresses these inquiries by elucidating the core practices that form the foundation of evidence-based literacy activities. It then explores their practical application in educational settings. 

Delving into three fundamental reading skill sets, it introduces and delineates evidence-based early literacy activities tailored to each skill. 

Whether you’re a seasoned educator or embarking on your teaching journey, this article advocates for the efficacy of evidence-based early literacy activities, whether through play-based learning or just explicit instruction in the classroom.


Evidence-based Early Literacy Activities. What Practices Are Used to Do them? 

Evidence-based Early Literacy Activities. What Practices Are Used to Do them?

Any teaching practice consists of many things that has to be done in the classroom, such as instructing, assessing, creating centers, etc.

The word activity can mean many different things. In the context of teaching early literacy, activities refer to teacher-designed and/or teacher-facilitated tasks aimed at student learning.

There are such activities in early literacy that are evidence-based. They have been validated to work using personal experience of teachers and research data from studies.

All of such activities involve one or more of these five early literacy practices: reading, writing,singing, talking and playing. 

These are the five broad categories of practices that lead to early literacy development. All evidence-based early literacy activities can be classified under one or more of these categories. 


How Should Literacy Activities be Used in The Classroom? Properties That Define Their Usage.

How Should Literacy Activities be Used in The Classroom? Properties That Define Their Usage.

While the five major types of literacy practices cover a lot of ground, in order for them to translate to student success, it’s good if they are specific and have a purpose.

Early literacy activities have these two properties– specificity and purpose.

Literacy activities should match the skills that are being taught in the classroom. 

So it begins with understanding what the foundational reading skill sets are in early literacy. 

Once these skill sets are identified, there are specific activities that have been used by educators which can be used to teach these skills. 

These activities are also backed by research, which is why so many teachers have adopted them in the classrooms. 

More on this in the next section, where it is stated what these activities entail (specificity), and which foundational reading skill sets they apply to. (purpose)


Evidence For The Most Effective Literacy Activity For Foundational Reading Skill Sets

Evidence For The Most Effective Literacy Activity For Foundational Reading Skill Sets.


Alongside using activities in the classroom for teaching purposes, the research consensus on evidence-based teaching recommends explicit instruction on the foundational skill sets. 

This means, providing a clear understanding of the concept being taught, and what role it plays in the reading development.

Once this explicit instruction has been provided, it can be demonstrated or reinforced through  many activities. 

But what are the most effective activities for each foundational reading skill set? Not all activities are created equal. 

Outlined below are three fundamental reading skill sets, each accompanied by research-backed activities that have been proven to be effective. 

For early literacy teachers eager to initiate classroom activities targeting the different foundational reading skill sets, these are for you!



Letter-Sound Matching: Letter-sound correspondence should be taught at the same time. It is an essential skill in both reading and writing. Knowing the letter sounds is crucial for developing decoding skills. 

After explicitly teaching students the sounds of letters with their proper pronunciations, we can supplement this learning with pairing letters with their corresponding sounds. 

Teachers can engage students in play-based activities to solidify their phonics knowledge. 

1. Kinetic Learning (in small groups): Set up letter flashcards or letter tiles on the ground. After saying the sound, have students walk, hop, or jump to that letter. This activity could also be done with throwing a ball at a letter after saying the sound. 

2. Involve familiar objects: Set up a table with the letter sounds that you are working on and have students sort familiar objects and toys based on the first letter of the word. If working with a small group or with a student 1-on-1, involve a toy that they know –      a Spiderman to teach ‘s’ and a toy car to teach ‘c’. 

3. Create the sound with different media: After saying the sound, have students create the letter with pencil, coloured marker, string, playdoh, trace in sand, or with sticks. 

4. Scavenger hunt: Create a scavenger hunt to search for objects that start with certain sounds. 

Through consistent practice, students reinforce their understanding of letter-sound associations, laying a solid foundation for proficient reading.


Phonological Awareness

Word Ladders (or Word Chains): An effective tool for teaching phonemic awareness skills such as segmenting, isolating and manipulating. The best way to start is by changing the same phoneme throughout the activity. 

Have students start by spelling the first word in the ladder; Show me “get”. Followed by “change a sound to make ‘bet’”, change a sound to make ‘met’”. If students are not quite ready to write each letter they can use letter tiles to manipulate the words. 

Breaking words into individual phonemes or sounds is a highly effective exercise for teaching phonological awareness. Students learn to isolate and identify the individual sounds in spoken words.

Teachers can engage students in interactive and playful exercises where they segment spoken words into individual phonemes. 

For example, the teacher could say a word aloud (e.g., “cat”) and students would use manipulatives or sound boxes to represent each sound they hear (/k/ – /ă/ – /t/). This helps students develop their ability to isolate and identify individual sounds within words. 



Predictions: Encouraging students to make educated guesses about what might happen next in a reading based on their understanding of the informational content, is a proven exercise for teaching reading comprehension.

This exercise prompts students to actively engage with the text, consider the characters, plot, setting, and other relevant details, and use their background knowledge and textual clues to make logical predictions.

Research indicates that prediction activities enhance comprehension by promoting critical thinking, inference-making, and active engagement with the text, thereby improving students’ ability to comprehend and interpret written material. Students are taught to actively engage with the text through predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. 

An activity to introduce students to predicting at the beginning of any unit or reading starts with making a list of keywords, characters, quotes, settings. 

Each student is provided with one item from this list. They then pair up with a ‘Prediction Pal’ and based on the items they have, they make a prediction about what they are going to learn about. 

Students then pair up with somebody else and make another prediction based on their items and the clues they had from their previous ‘Prediction Pal’. Pairings can be done 4 or 5 times before making a final prediction as a class. 


Need for Play-based Learning Alongside Evidence-based Learning. Possible Through Activities

How Should Literacy Activities be Used in The Classroom? Properties That Define Their Usage.

One amazing thing about activities is that they help to balance the rigorous nature of explicit instruction that is found within evidence-based early literacy. 

Despite instruction being direct, explicit and systematic, it is also made fun through the use of activities in play-based learning.

Guided play-based learning leads to success in early literacy for students. Multi-sensory activities, in particular, provide a rich and immersive experience. By incorporating elements of play through multi-sensory activities, educators can create dynamic learning environments where students actively participate and construct their understanding of literacy concepts. 

Oral and written instruction through worksheets and texts are great. But when instruction is also provided via multi-sensory activities, which involves not just sight, but other senses as well such as noise and tactile experience, it makes the learning process all the more powerful.


What About Other Skills and Other Activities?

What About Other Skills and Other Activities?

Play-based learning is vast, and it is definitely not limited to the activities mentioned in this article. There are other activities with supporting evidence that establish them as drivers of foundational reading skills. 

Determining the best activity for teaching each of the foundational reading skills to K-3 students can vary depending on factors such as student needs, learning styles, and instructional context.

With that in mind, one evidence-based activity each was selected in this article for the three foundational reading skill sets. 

However, it’s essential to note that other foundational reading skills also have corresponding evidence-based activities for teaching them.

If an activity is backed by evidence as an effective tool for teaching a specific foundational reading skill set, teachers should prioritize its use in the classroom. 

More such evidence-based activities aligned to the foundational reading skill sets are provided in Sprig Reading. 

Try it today to witness it firsthand.


Sprig Learning Apps are a Part of Apple’s Education Partner Program

Sprig Learning, a leading developer of evidence-based early learning resources and assessments is happy to announce its inclusion in Apple’s prestigious Education Partner Program.

The Sprig team was recently invited to Apple Playground at the Reading for the Love of It 2024. It was an opportunity for all participants to explore the innovative possibilities of Apple technology in education.

The event buzzed with energy as educators from diverse backgrounds engaged with Apple’s cutting-edge technology, particularly iPad, exploring its potential to enhance learning experiences for K-6 students. It was thrilling to witness firsthand how teachers are leveraging iPad capabilities to craft dynamic content and design immersive learning journeys.

Jarrett Laughlin, CEO of Sprig Learning says, “As a part of the Education Partner Program, we are committed to empowering educators and communities worldwide. Together with Apple, we strive to level the playing field for every child, fostering success through engaging and evidence-based educational experiences.”

With schools globally harnessing Apple technology to revolutionize learning, Sprig Learning is honoured to contribute to this transformative journey. 

The partnership underscores a shared dedication to equipping educators with tools that drive student success and promote inclusive learning environments.


What is the Education Partner Program (K-12)?

What is the Education Partner Program (K-12)?

Apple’s dedication to education shines through its motto, “Inspiring Every Kind of Mind,” prominently featured on its dedicated education page

This ethos, shared jointly by Sprig Learning, emphasizes the belief that each individual possesses unique learning styles and creative expressions. 

By leveraging Apple technology and resources, educators and students of all backgrounds are empowered to explore, create, and chart their paths to success.

Apple’s Education Partner Program showcases apps compatible with Apple’s tablets, laptops, and smartphones. 

In the classroom, the journey towards a better world begins with versatile, user-friendly tools prioritizing privacy, accessibility, and sustainability. Apple’s products and resources are meticulously crafted to foster personalized, creative, and inspiring learning experiences.


Collections of Apps In Apple’s Education Partner Program

There are two collections of apps in Apple’s Education Partner Program, the K-12 collection and the Higher Education collection. 

The categories in its K-12 collection are Accessibility, Foundational Literacies, Educator Capacity and Assessment, Workflow, College and Career Readiness, Coding for Early Learners and Social and Emotional Learning.


Categories Featuring Sprig Apps

Categories Featuring Sprig Apps

Sprig Language and Sprig Math are featured in the Foundational Literacies category. 

Sprig Math is additionally featured in the Educator Capacity and Assessment category. 

This recognition highlights Sprig Learning’s dedication to enhancing foundational literacy skills in both language and math, while empowering educators with robust assessment capabilities.


The Intuitiveness of Using Sprig Apps on Apple Products

The Intuitiveness of Using Sprig Apps on Apple Products

The iPad is very versatile. Its lightweight design and long-lasting battery life ensure uninterrupted connectivity throughout the day, empowering teachers to instruct, assess, and collaborate wherever they go. 

Meanwhile, Mac’s intuitive interface simplifies navigation and empowers educators to manage their classrooms with confidence and ease. 

With robust security measures in place, both devices prioritize the protection of student data, ensuring a safe and secure learning experience at every turn. 


What This Means for Sprig Learning

Sprig LanguageSprig MathSprig Library

Sprig Learning celebrates its inclusion in Apple’s Education Partner K-12 program. As classrooms embrace technology like never before, the synergy between hardware and software empowers educators to enhance instruction and assessment for early literacy effectively. 

Sprig Reading is being developed as an iOS app for Fall 2024, joining Sprig Language, Sprig Math, and other apps that are a part of the app store. The aspiration is for all our apps to become part of the Education Partner Program.

This ensures visibility and accessibility for teachers seeking evidence-based early literacy solutions that seamlessly integrate with Apple devices, fostering efficient and secure learning environments for all students.

How to Improve Formative Assessments for Early Literacy?

So much has already been said and written about the practice of formative assessments. 

Let’s get reacquainted with its definition,characteristics, function in early literacy, and value, before exploring what can be done to improve them.


Definition, Function and Value

Definition, Function and Value

Formative assessments have been best defined in prior Sprig articles as assessments that monitor early learning to provide ongoing feedback.  Early literacy educators use them to adapt instruction and ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed. 

Its regular frequency sets it apart from other more standardized forms of assessments. In “Holistic Formative Assessments. The New Wave”, it was stated that formative assessments happen regularly in classrooms where a student’s progress is evaluated on a daily or weekly basis.

In “What You Should Know about Assessments in Early Childhood Education”, the regularity of formative assessments is further established as they deal with the day-to-day learning process as it unfolds. They are ongoing in nature and are integrated into the daily teaching practices. 

Examples cited include homework assignments, in-class activities and group work. In the same article, it is mentioned how formal formative assessments use well-defined grade rubrics, while informal assessments use methods such as observations, notes, etc. 

The function of formative assessments in early literacy is clearly stated inWhy Small Group Instruction is Needed For Assessments in Early Literacy”. These assessments help educators diagnose specific foundational skills and monitor the progress of each early learner in the classroom. They offer valuable insights into a child’s learning skills, abilities and challenges.

In “Traditional Early Years Assessments vs Holistic Assessments”, the value of formative assessments is highlighted. For example, how educators who consistently use formative assessment strategies double the speed of learning for their students.

Exploring the science and art of formative assessments is a vast and intriguing subject. It’s highly recommended to check out the referenced articles to gain a deeper understanding of formative assessments.

To answer the question, how formative assessments can be improved in the classroom, two approaches may be taken. 1) Understanding its Core Essence. 2) Understanding its Core Types.


 1) Core Essence of Formative Assessments

By tapping into what formative assessments actually are, it’s possible to further improve existing formative assessment practices in early literacy. It’s important to differentiate formative assessments from summative assessments and universal screeners.


How Are Formative Assessments Different from Summative Assessments and Universal Screeners?

How Are Formative Assessments Different from Summative Assessments and Universal Screeners

Summative assessments refer to standardized tests, which are also known as outcome evaluators. These assessments usually occur at the end of the year and are fixed.

Summative assessments are “of learning”, while formative assessments are “for learning”. 

Besides formative assessments, there is another category of assessments that is “for learning”, which is universal screeners. 

While universal screeners share similar characteristics with summative assessments in that they are also fixed in when they happen, these assessments are for measuring students’ proficiency in specific skills.  It is predominantly used to identify students that may be at risk for learning difficulties. In many ways, they are closer to formative assessments.

But formative assessments are still unique, because unlike universal screeners which are scheduled ahead of time, and happen a fixed number of times a year, formative assessments are ongoing and continuous, and can be expected to take place regularly throughout the school year.

Thus, consistency in regularity is key to improving formative assessments. Establishing this regularity is essential for achieving best-in-class formative assessment practices. 

When assessments are conducted infrequently, distinguishing them from universal screeners becomes challenging. Therefore, maintaining a consistent schedule of formative assessments is essential for their improvement.

Furthermore, in order to improve, formative assessments must find ways to better incorporate a differentiated instruction mechanism.  Without this feature, assessments risk being overly generalized, resembling summative assessments too closely. 

To maintain their formative nature, assessments should account for the diverse learning needs of students, integrating differentiated instruction seamlessly into the assessment process.


2) Core Types of Formative Assessments

By understanding the different types of formative assessments, it’s possible to provide specific improvements that considers the total scope of such an assessment practice. In order to do this, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what formative assessments actually entail.


What Are The Types of Formative Assessments and Their Differences?

What Are The Types of Formative Assessments and Their Differences

There are two major kinds of formative assessments, diagnostic assessments and progress monitoring assessments. They are both “assessments for learning”. Progress monitoring assessments in particular have the special distinction of being both “for learning” and “as learning”.

This is because in progress monitoring assessments, not only are teachers learning about  the students’ learning strengths and needs, but the assessment practice itself is designed to track students’ learning progress or growth across the entire school year, reflecting what skills require further assessment, practice, and/or intervention to support learning.  

Thus, in order to improve formative assessment in early literacy, it is very important to ensure that there is adequate teacher-student dialogue. The assessment is “for learning”, but there is also a scope for the assessment to be “as learning”. Such is the beauty of formative assessments.


Embracing the Essence and Diversity of Formative Assessments

Embracing the Essence and Diversity of Formative Assessments

Concluding this exploration into the realm of formative assessments in early literacy, it’s evident that these assessments play a pivotal role in shaping instructional practices and nurturing student learning journeys. 

From understanding their core essence to delineating their various types, this article has explored the nuanced landscape of formative assessments to offer suggestions on how to identify improvements  in the classroom for early literacy. 

Do you require assistance on how to be more intentional and regular with your formative assessment practice, connect it to differentiated instruction, and use it for “as learning”, alongside “for learning”?

Supporting Struggling Readers in Kindergarten: Transforming Existing Practices Into Evidence-based Practices

Kindergarten marks a critical juncture in a child’s academic journey, where the foundation for literacy skills is established. But often, it’s a phase that is marked with many challenges.

Recognizing these challenges is crucial, given the various factors influencing the struggles some kindergarteners experience in developing early literacy skills.

From diverse developmental timelines to limited exposure to print and vocabulary gaps, each challenge demands attention. This is especially true at a time when there are curriculum/standard mandates for kindergarten being introduced at various jurisdictions.

Educators in kindergarten need help to transform their teaching practices.

In this blog, we delve into the specific challenges kindergarteners may encounter, shedding light on how evidence-based practices can transform traditional teaching methods to provide enhanced literacy support for struggling readers.


Understanding the Challenges: Why Kindergarteners Struggle with Reading

Understanding the Challenges- Why Kindergarteners Struggle with Reading

Kindergarten is a crucial phase in a child’s academic journey, and while many thrive, many also encounter challenges on the path to reading proficiency. 

Several factors contribute to the struggles kindergarteners may face in developing early literacy skills.


Diverse Access and Opportunity for Learning:

Kindergarteners enter school with varying levels of pre-literacy skills. 

Factors such as access and exposure to books, language-rich environments, and individual cognitive development can influence a child’s readiness for reading.


Phonological Awareness Development:

The acquisition of phonological awareness, the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds in spoken language, is a cornerstone of early literacy. 

Some kindergarteners may struggle with distinguishing individual sounds, which can impede their ability to decode words.


Limited Exposure to Print:

Children who have limited exposure to books, vocabulary-rich conversations, and print materials at home may face challenges when introduced to reading in a formal educational setting. 

Lack of prior exposure can impact their understanding of print concepts.


Vocabulary Gaps:

Kindergarteners with limited vocabulary may find it challenging to comprehend and engage with written text. 

Vocabulary gaps can hinder their ability to make connections between spoken and written words.


Attention and Focus:

The transition to a structured learning environment in kindergarten introduces new expectations for attention and focus. 

Some children may struggle to maintain concentration during literacy activities, affecting their engagement with reading materials.


Social and Emotional Factors:

Social and emotional development plays a crucial role in a child’s ability to learn. 

Kindergarteners who face challenges in these areas, such as anxiety or difficulty with peer interactions, may find it challenging to fully engage in literacy tasks.


Variability in Home Literacy Practices:

Disparities in home literacy practices can impact a child’s preparedness for reading. 

Kindergarteners exposed to consistent reading experiences at home may exhibit greater confidence and proficiency compared to those with limited exposure.


Help is Available: Transform Existing Practices Into Evidence-based Practices

Help is Available- Transform Existing Practices Into Evidence-based Practices

As kindergarten is such a crucial period for laying the groundwork for a child’s literacy journey, it is very important to put our best foot forward.

While early reading struggles are a reality, addressing early reading challenges becomes simpler with innovative additions. 

While existing teaching practices are in place, the incorporation of evidence-based strategies can significantly enhance early literacy support for struggling readers.

In the following passages, let’s explore the transformation of widely used kindergarten teaching practices into evidence-based approaches that bolster literacy skills.


1. Storytime and Read-Aloud Sessions:

Traditional Practice:

Storytime is a common practice, fostering a love for books and language. It aims to instill a love for books and language among young learners.


Elevate storytime by incorporating interactive elements. Pause to discuss story elements, engage in predictive questioning, and emphasize phonological awareness during shared reading. 

This transformation ensures that the storytelling experience not only captivates but also fosters essential and foundational early literacy skills.


2. Letter Recognition Activities:

Traditional Practice:

Letter recognition games and activities are commonplace to introduce the alphabet.


Revamp letter recognition by incorporating multisensory approaches. Introduce activities like tracing letters in sand or using textured materials to reinforce letter-sound connections. 

This transformation adds a tactile dimension, making the learning process more engaging and reinforcing the foundational link between letters and their sounds.


3. Sight Word Instruction:

Traditional Practice:

Memorization of sight words is a standard practice for building early reading vocabulary.


Approach sight word instruction more like learning high-frequency words (and not those we need to learn by sight) and incorporate into your phonics lessons.  Students can use their phoneme knowledge to map the regular part of the words, then only have to learn the sounds that are irregular in the word.   

This transformation complements structured literacy approaches and makesinstruction, the learning more meaningful for young readers.


4. Phonemic Awareness Games:

Traditional Practice:

Phonemic awareness games focus on auditory skills through rhyming and sound recognition.


Transform phonemic awareness games by incorporating a broader range of activities. Introduce sound blending and segmenting exercises to enhance foundational skills crucial for early reading. 

This transformation expands the scope of auditory skill development, providing a more comprehensive approach to phonemic awareness.


5. Interactive Learning Centres:

Traditional Practice:

Learning centres offer a diverse range of activities to reinforce various skills. These activities, while diverse, may lack a specific and structured approach to literacy development.


Reimagine interactive learning centers by aligning activities with structured literacy approaches. Ensure a focus on phonics, decoding, and comprehension skills within these centers, while supporting play-based and joyful learning activities

This transformation brings a targeted and intentional approach to the learning centers, maximizing their impact on essential early reading skills.


Traditional to Transformational: Supporting Struggling Readers in Kindergarten

Traditional to Transformational- Supporting Struggling Readers in Kindergarten

By transforming existing kindergarten teaching practices into evidence-based approaches, educators can provide more targeted and impactful support for struggling readers. 

These evidence-based strategies create a solid foundation, fostering a love for literacy and ensuring that every child receives the necessary lessons and practice sessions for early reading success.

Transforming existing teaching, assessment, and differentiated learning practices is no small task. 

Streamlining this process is made easier with interactive, evidence-based activities aligned with the latest research on early reading success.  

Sprig Reading contains all of these strategies and learning activities for each foundational reading skill set, with an assessment methodology to monitor progress weekly. Try it today for free!

3 More Common Situations in Early Literacy Leadership and How to Respond

In a recent article, Sprig brings attention to crucial aspects of early literacy leadership with “11 Common Situations in Early Literacy and How to Respond”. 

It’s a must-read, if you haven’t done so already. Going beyond case studies and researched best practices, Sprig revisits previous blogs, extracting valuable insights that can pose challenging situations to early literacy leaders and presents their corresponding responses. 

As discussed, those initial 11 scenarios were not exhaustive by any means, and so Sprig expands the discourse in this article by introducing three additional common situations faced by early literacy leadership. 

Each situation is followed by an appropriate response. 

This approach taps into the wealth of experiences encountered by early literacy leaders, providing actionable learnings.


Situation 1. Needing Interventions Becoming the Norm.

Situation 1. Needing Interventions Becoming the Norm.

Amid the aftermath of the pandemic, numerous students grapple with significant setbacks, extending beyond their initial challenges. A concerning trend emerges—a flipped three-tier pyramid, wherein more students now require special assistance than those who do not. 

In classrooms facing this scenario, it becomes crucial to implement targeted actions that address the increased demand for support without overwhelming resources typically designated for tier 3 students. Balancing intervention strategies becomes paramount to ensure equitable and effective assistance for all students navigating the complexities of post-pandemic learning.


How to Respond:

The optimal approach involves integrating these interventions seamlessly into tier 1 and tier 2 instruction, as much as possible, both in core classroom teaching and small-group differentiated instruction. 

The issue at hand underscores the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of intervention strategies embedded within regular classroom practices, as opposed to relying on intensive programs that cater to too few students and often come into play when it may be too late for effective assistance.

Situations 1 taken from:

The Science of Teaching Reading: Effective Reading Assessment, Explicit Reading Instruction and Targeted Reading Intervention.


Situation 2. Lack of Access to Early Childhood Education Centers and Programs.

Situation 2. Lack of Access to Early Childhood Education Centers and Programs.

The scarcity of accessible early childhood education centers and programs poses a significant challenge for school leadership dedicated to fostering high-quality early learning. Recognizing the pivotal connection between preschool attendance and kindergarten readiness, institutions face the ongoing challenge of addressing this gap through independent initiatives or collaborative partnerships.


How to Respond:

When faced with a lack of access to early education centers and programs, there are several strategies that early literacy leaders can consider:

 Community Collaboration: Encourage collaboration between educational institutions and community organizations to establish state-of-the-art childcare centers, similar to the initiative taken by Reading Area Community College in Pennsylvania. These centers not only provide early childhood education but also serve as valuable training grounds for educators.

Nonprofit Initiatives: Nonprofit organizations, such as the Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning, can play a pivotal role by launching early learning centers focused on providing free high-quality education to children from low-income families. This model demonstrates the potential for philanthropic efforts to address educational gaps.

Transitional Kindergarten (TK) Expansion: Following the example of Oakland Unified School District, districts can anticipate enrollment increases and take proactive measures by expanding transitional kindergarten facilities. By adopting a TK curriculum and making it universal, as planned in California, districts can accommodate more students.

Repurposing Educational Facilities: In instances where new elementary schools are built or existing ones are renovated, like the case of Fordham Early Learning Academy in Ocala, Florida, consider dedicating space for early learning programs. This proactive approach supports early literacy goals and provides a solid foundation for young learners.

Situation 2 taken from:

5 Emerging Themes in Improving Early Literacy


Situation 3: Pressure of Mandatory Curricular Reforms

Situation 3- Pressure of Mandatory Curricular Reforms

Schools often encounter pressure or mandates to undergo curricular reforms, demanding thoughtful strategies for seamless implementation. This involves prioritizing professional development, integrating lessons seamlessly, ensuring accurate assessments, and adeptly adapting to new curricular frameworks. 

Delving into the measures adopted by schools and districts, this section explores the challenges inherent in curriculum updates and the strategies employed to meet these demands effectively.


How to Respond:

 Effectively navigating the challenges of curriculum reforms demands a multifaceted strategy, as illustrated by successful initiatives in various schools and districts:

Professional Development Focus: Wolf Creek Public Schools in Ponoka allocates three full days of professional development for elementary teachers, ensuring thorough preparation for the impending curriculum changes.

Curriculum Consultants Support: Edmonton Catholic Schools increase the number of curriculum consultants, providing crucial assistance to teachers and emphasizing the value of additional support structures.

Teacher Collaboration Emphasis: Black Gold School Division in Leduc underscores the significance of teacher collaboration as a preparation strategy, recognizing the power of collective efforts in adapting to curriculum changes.

Strategic Investment in Education: The Ministry of Education in Ontario invests $109 million, introducing new screening requirements, standardized tools, additional specialist teachers, and a language curriculum overhaul to enhance young students’ reading skills.

Phonics-Centric Approach: Fort Worth Independent School District shifts its focus to a curriculum emphasizing phonics, supplementing it with professional development to address potential issues stemming from a lack of exposure to grade-level texts.

Situation 3 taken from:

5 More Emerging Themes for Success in Early Literacy


What About Hidden Challenges?

What About Hidden Challenges?

In the dynamic landscape of early literacy leadership, schools may encounter unforeseen challenges that could impact student performance and hinder the realization of their full early literacy potential. 

Identifying and addressing these latent issues is crucial for fostering a robust learning environment. Conducting a thorough audit of current practices in core instruction, assessment, and differentiated instruction becomes imperative to unveil hidden obstacles. 

For actionable steps on uncovering and surmounting these challenges, Sprig’s blogs offer valuable insights. A particularly relevant resource is the article titled “Navigating Back-to-School Challenges: Improving Reading Strategies for School Leaders,” where detailed strategies empower leaders to enhance their reading programs and proactively address potential hurdles. 

By staying informed and proactive, schools can fortify their early literacy initiatives and overcome all challenging situations.

11 Common Situations in Early Literacy Leadership and How to Respond

Navigating early literacy leadership challenges in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and early elementary grades can be complex. As students embark on their educational journey, success in these formative years hinges on various factors. 

While situational challenges may arise, the reassurance comes from insightful case studies that shed light on similar scenarios and effective responses. 

This article covers 11 common situations, drawing from valuable knowledge shared in previous Sprig blogs.

Explore a wealth of information covering a spectrum of topics, all neatly compiled in this article. 

If you seek greater context for specific situations or a broader understanding of the early literacy dynamics at play, the referenced blogs provide in-depth insights. 

Let’s look at each situation, followed by a response recommendation.


Situation 1: Large Number of New Students Requiring Continuous Assessments and Additional Support

Situation 1- Large Number of New Students Requiring Continuous Assessments and Additional Support

The situation at Cornell Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa, posed a formidable challenge due to the continuous need for accurate assessment of new students who might necessitate additional support. 

This challenge is particularly tough because it demands a reliable and efficient system to promptly identify and address the diverse learning needs of each incoming student. 


How to Respond:

To address this challenge, Cornell Elementary School implemented a three-tiered responsiveness-to-intervention model. 

Kindergarteners’ initial sound fluency and phoneme segmentation fluency, as well as Grade 1 students’ nonsense word fluency and oral reading fluency, were assessed at different intervals. Students scoring below benchmark levels were then provided with tailored support. 

This included more systematic instructional sequences, precisely targeted instruction at the right level, and increased opportunities for corrective feedback. 

The school’s commitment to progress monitoring and personalized interventions led to its recognition by the United States Department of Education as an exemplary implementer of the responsiveness-to-intervention model.


Situation 2: Widening Gaps in Access and Achievement 

Situation 2- Widening Gaps in Access and Achievement

Boston Public Schools (BPS) faced the challenge of addressing access and achievement gaps among students from diverse racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds. 


How to Respond:

To overcome this challenge, BPS initiated a Pre-K to Grade 3 initiative. This program introduced a new curriculum emphasizing vocabulary development, differentiated instruction, and professional development for educators. 

The early elementary grades saw the integration of developmentally appropriate instructional materials, including storytelling in preschool and student-centered instruction in grade 1.

By tailoring learning activities to match individual needs—utilizing visual aids, manipulatives, or smaller group settings—the initiative provided a more personalized learning experience. 

The outcome was a noticeable improvement in students’ critical thinking and collaborative skills. The use of higher-level vocabulary and the early introduction of personalized education from pre-K to grade 1 contributed significantly to the observed positive outcomes. 

Boston Public Schools’ commitment to high-quality early learning for all students, regardless of their background, successfully narrowed the achievement gap, promoting equity in education.

Situations 1 & 2 taken from:

High Performing School Improvement Plan. 3 Actual Cases from Early Learning.

Situation 3: Overly Program-Centric Budget

Situation 3- Overly Program-Centric Budget

Many school districts face a common challenge during return on investment analysis, where the evaluation and comparison of various initiatives like professional development, technology investments (e.g., iPads), and after-school tutoring are undertaken. While this approach aids budgetary decisions, it falls short in directly addressing academic returns.


How to Respond:

To address this issue, ER Strategies (ERS), a Massachusetts-based non-profit partner to numerous school systems, advocates for a student-centered viewpoint. Instead of comparing programs, they recommend asking, “which resources will meet this need” rather than “which program is better.” 

This student-focused approach involves identifying the core need, particularly relevant in the context of early literacy to improve proficiency scores in language and math.

ERS emphasizes a system-wide perspective that transcends departmental boundaries. 

By concentrating on improving early literacy performance and understanding its associated cost drivers, districts can formulate cost-efficient solutions.This approach ensures a more targeted and impactful allocation of resources for educational initiatives.

Situation 3 taken from:

Early Literacy Academic Return on Investment For Schools

Situation 4: Teachers Not Having Adequate Resource And/or Personnel Support

Situation 4- Teachers Not Having Adequate Resource And:or Personnel Support

The primary challenge here is the overwhelming workload faced by primary school teachers in managing various tasks, leaving limited time and resources for effective literacy instruction. Without sufficient support, teachers may struggle to provide a comprehensive and individualized educational experience for struggling readers.


How to Respond:

Literacy specialists and literacy coaches play a pivotal role in mitigating this challenge. By collaborating with teachers, literacy coaches contribute to a more well-rounded educational experience for striving readers. 

The impact of literacy coaches is highlighted through examples from a research paper in a large urban school district. The coaches enhance teachers’ efficacy in literacy instruction by addressing specific areas, such as utilizing students’ oral reading mistakes as teaching opportunities, employing diverse reading assessment strategies, offering targeted feedback during oral reading, and providing opportunities for applying prior knowledge to reading tasks.

The greatest gain observed when working with a literacy coach is the ability to match differentiated reading materials accurately to students’ levels. This tailored support ensures that students receive materials appropriate for their individual needs. 

Also, there is great value in a robust platform supported by learning resources to guide teachers. Such technology tools help the teacher become more efficient without necessarily hiring other specialist positions, even though having more such positions in an early literacy team is always desirable. 


Situation 5: Lack of Mechanisms to Track and Encourage Parental Involvement 

Situation 5- Lack of Mechanisms to Track and Encourage Parental Involvement

The main challenge here is the insufficient involvement of parents in the early childhood learning experience. Despite the significant impact of early learning on future reading success, there can be a lack of parental engagement during this period.


How to Respond:

To address this challenge, the collaborative effort between home and school becomes essential. Establishing a cohesive nexus between parents and educators is crucial for understanding and meeting the specific needs, interests, strengths, and weaknesses of each student, particularly in the context of early reading. 

By fostering a collaborative approach, information exchange becomes a powerful tool to ensure a seamless transition from early learning experiences at home to the formal schooling system, thereby enhancing parental involvement in the child’s early literacy development.

Situations 4 & 5 taken from:

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

Situation 6: Inconsistency Between Classrooms and Grade Levels In Practices and Performance

Situation 6- Inconsistency Between Classrooms and Grade Levels In Practices and Performance 

The identified challenge here is about the narrow focus on early literacy success within educational institutions. Achieving collective ownership of literacy goals is crucial, but there may be resistance or a lack of alignment among teachers, staff, and administrators. 

Without a unified commitment to a coordinated set of standards, the vision for early literacy success may face hurdles, especially when dealing with a diverse group of educators with varying levels of experience and perspectives.


How to Respond:

The proposed solution is to establish collective ownership of literacy goals by fostering a culture of buy-in among all teachers, staff, and administrators. This involves careful hiring practices that prioritize individuals willing to commit to a coordinated set of standards that become part of the school’s family. By ensuring that everyone shares the vision, there is a higher likelihood of success in implementing early literacy initiatives.

Additionally,  adopting a school-wide literacy plan to broaden the scope of literacy skills beyond language classes. Administrators play a pivotal role in guiding teachers across subjects, such as math and science, to incorporate evidence-based literacy skills into their lesson plans. 

An illustrative example from Cedar Valley Community School showcases how a literacy intervention specialist expanded the literacy program, allowing students to practice essential skills throughout the day and across various classrooms. This holistic approach ensures that literacy is integrated seamlessly into different subjects and becomes a collective responsibility, enhancing the overall success of early literacy initiatives.

Situation 6 taken from:

10 Actions Schools Can Take Today to Increase Early Literacy Equity.

Situation 7: Lack of Kindergarten Readiness Creating a Domino Effect

Situation 7- Lack of Kindergarten Readiness Creating a Domino Effect

The challenge presented involves issues related to kindergarten readiness, specifically the alignment of prekindergarten standards with each state’s K-12 standards. Kindergarten readiness is a crucial factor influencing early literacy equity. 

However, there may be obstacles in achieving this alignment, potentially leading to literacy inequity and inadequate preparation for kindergarten among young learners. This, of course, has ramifications for subsequent learning in kindergarten and the following early elementary grades.


How to Respond:

The suggested solution revolves around improving kindergarten readiness through data-driven measures and outreach efforts. The National Conference of State Legislatures recommends aligning prekindergarten standards with K-12 standards, and Sprig has created an evidence-based early literacy map for the US to assess this alignment. One of the questions addressed in each state profile is whether states connect birth to age 5 data with K-3 education.

To address literacy inequity at its root, collaborative efforts involving schools and the community to support parents. This assistance can take the form of providing knowledge or learning resources to enhance parental involvement, a significant indicator of early reading success. 

By facilitating the connection between prekindergarten and K-12 standards and fostering community support, the goal is to improve kindergarten readiness and, consequently, advance early literacy equity.


Situation 8: Persistent Lack of Interest and Engagement from Students

Situation 8- Persistent Lack of Interest and Engagement from Students

The challenge at hand concerns fostering interest and engagement in literacy among young learners. 

Progress toward literacy equity requires instilling a sense of curiosity and motivation in students, ensuring they actively participate in discussions about effective teaching approaches. If this is not the case, it is very difficult to teach them the foundational early learning concepts.


How to Respond:

To address this challenge, it is suggested to actively involve young learners in discussions about what is being taught. By incorporating their perspectives and interests into the learning process, educators aim to kindle a sense of excitement and engagement. 

The What Works Clearinghouse supports this approach, emphasizing the significant association between motivating and engaging instruction and improved reading comprehension.

The proposed solution underscores the importance of explaining the purpose of each lesson and the utility of various comprehension strategies to students. This not only enhances their understanding but also cultivates a genuine interest in literacy. 

By fostering a culture of literacy that aligns with students’ interests and motivations, educators seek to overcome the challenge of insufficient engagement, thereby contributing to the advancement of literacy equity among young learners.

Situations 7 & 8 taken from:

7 More Actions Schools Can Take Today to Increase Literacy Equity

Situation 9: Static Teaching Habits and Practices That Are Difficult to Change

Situation 9- Static Teaching Habits and Practices That Are Difficult to Change

The challenge here is regarding the effectiveness of school improvement plans in changing teaching practices. 

According to a RAND Corporation survey, a significant percentage of teachers and principals express skepticism, with only 44% of teachers and 67% of principals believing that these plans lead to a transformation in teaching practices. 


How to Respond:

Teachers must be involved in the strategic planning process, emphasizing the importance of collaboration. The lesson drawn is that for school improvement plans to be effective, they must incorporate the insights and perspectives of educators, making strategic planning a collaborative endeavour. 

This collaborative approach aims to enhance the likelihood of meaningful change in teaching practice

Here are some trends observed in various educational settings that have successfully transformed teaching practices.

Reallocating Time Blocks Based on Need: Highlighted by Tennessee’s Haywood County Schools, reallocating time to focus on foundational skills led to a significant improvement in Grade 3 reading proficiency levels.

Aligning Intervention with Curriculum: Ethel I. Baker Elementary School in Sacramento City Unified School District demonstrated success by implementing daily structured literacy intervention classes, emphasizing a curriculum rich in phonological awareness, phonics, and sight words.

The lesson derived is that effective intervention strategies, aligned with curriculum goals, can positively impact reading proficiency. 

By implementing these trends and lessons, educators aim to bridge the gap between school improvement plans and meaningful changes in teaching practices.

Situation 9 taken from:

Evidence Based Early Literacy Trends With Examples

Situation 10: Tug of War Between The Science and Art of Teaching

Situation 10- Tug of War Between The Science and Art of Teaching

Holistic development plays a major role in the overall success of a child, particularly in the context of integrated reading instruction. The challenge is to strike the right balance between direct and systematic instruction in alphabet knowledge and phonics, while also providing ample opportunities for conversations and reading sessions.


How to Respond:

To address this challenge, Dr. Gina Cervetti emphasizes the need for an integrated approach to reading instruction in the early years, incorporating the critical elements of learning the written language code, including phonics and phonological awareness, alongside fostering enriching conversations to enhance students’ oral language and vocabulary.

She advocates for a holistic strategy that combines explicit and systematic teaching of alphabet knowledge and phonics with activities promoting enriching conversations and reading sessions. Solutions like Sprig Reading emphasize the interconnectedness of these components, ensuring a well-rounded development in early literacy. 

The lesson derived is that holistic reading development involves a synergistic approach, where explicit and systematic instruction in foundational literacy skills coexists with activities that foster oral language development and vocabulary. 


Situation 11. Weak Core Instruction Increasing Dependency on Specialized Resources, Incurring Time and Cost Constraints.

Situation 11. Weak Core Instruction Increasing Dependency on Specialized Resources, Incurring Time and Cost Constraints.

The challenge lies in avoiding the premature removal of students from the classroom, highlighting the significance of inclusive practices for students in grades PK–2. When students are swiftly pulled out for additional support, such as with literacy coaches, it results in increased costs and time constraints on these resources. This allocation might have been more effectively utilized for those students requiring more urgent assistance.


How to Respond:

To address this challenge, one tactic could be a co-teaching arrangement as a strategy to provide greater support. In this approach, a specialist teaching role is pushed into preschool and kindergarten classes to assist any students who need support. The emphasis is on push-in strategies, where professionals co-teach with homeroom teachers inside the classroom. 

This approach aims to make early literacy recovery or acceleration efforts more serious and inclusive by involving both the homeroom teacher and specialist professionals in the classroom setting.

Another approach involves enhancing core instruction by continuously monitoring progress within the classroom, such as is the focus and success of  Sprig Reading. This allows for the early and frequent identification of specific interventions within the classroom setting. By addressing challenges promptly, the need for students to be pulled out and work with a literacy specialist can be minimized, preventing issues from escalating over time.

By prioritizing the presence of both homeroom teachers and specialist professionals, schools aim to create an environment where every student can benefit from inclusive teaching practices, particularly in the context of early literacy recovery and acceleration efforts.

Situations 10 & 11 taken from:

5 Hidden Gems for Teaching Reading in Schools


Require Further Insights, Recommendations and/or Support?

Require Further Insights, Recommendations and:or Support?

While the solutions provided in this article offer valuable insights, they are not exhaustive or one-size-fits-all. 

Every school’s situation is unique, and tailored solutions can be developed based on specific needs. 

If you or your team are grappling with challenges outlined here, Sprig is here to help. Reach out to us for more in-depth information and customized support.



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