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Need for Oral Language Development in Early Literacy

Oral language forms the bedrock of early literacy.

It is one of the greatest predictors of a child’s success in school.

Oral language development plays a critical role in early literacy because it provides the foundation for reading and writing. 

As children acquire more words and learn to use them in meaningful ways, they are better able to understand and use written language.

Beyond the foundational role of oral language, early language skills are in fact predictive of later reading comprehension development. 

Grade 5 students with poor reading comprehension despite adequate word-reading skills – showed weak language skills as early as 15 months of age

Studies show that children with unresolved specific language impairment in kindergarten are at a higher risk for reading difficulties, particularly in phonological processing and reading comprehension.

Given the crucial stature of phonological awareness and reading comprehension in evidence-based literacy, mastering oral language early on is key to reading successfully!


How is Oral Language Acquired?

How is Oral Language Acquired?

Babies begin to acquire language within months of being born and by age five, they can master basic sound system structures and grammar. 

Young children develop their oral language skills through conversations with their caregivers, exposure to a rich vocabulary, and opportunities to practice their language in different contexts. 

Thus, for the acquisition of oral language, It’s important to provide high-quality early learning experiences which contain such interactions, exposure and opportunities to practice. 

Oral Language is a skill practiced all the time with teachers, educators, parents, peers and members of the community. If well-supported properly, it encourages reading and writing.

Thus, there also needs to be a high-level of parental involvement and community participation, where adults in the child’s life are taking the time to speak to them and encouraging them to speak also. 

Cultural relevance can make a huge difference in strengthening early learning, especially in how it promotes oral language acquisition. Culturally responsive content helps students to see themselves in what they are learning. Connecting with words and concepts is easier, and learning is more fluid.

Having understood the need for oral language in early literacy and its acquisition process, how do the aforementioned practices translate into practice?


What Should your Early Literacy Program Look Like?

What Should your Early Literacy Program Look Like?

Since few children entering kindergarten can read words, early literacy programs should look at oral language skills that develop word recognition and/or decoding ability. 

When taught in combination with language comprehension, concepts such as communication and vocabulary leads to reading comprehension.

Thus, whether it’s a program for preschool, kindergarten, or the early elementary grades, it is very important that early literacy programs teach both word recognition and language comprehension. 

Besides the actual teaching content focusing on oral language, the following considerations should also be made for maximizing oral language growth. 


Holistic Learning for Constant Exposure to Oral Language

Early learners should be exposed to oral language activities holistically, in all aspects of life. 

It’s important that an early literacy program engages caregivers as well. Students that have caregivers actively engaged in their learning do better in overall educational outcomes, grades and academic achievement.

Holistic learning is a large topic which Sprig has covered previously in multiple blog posts. It should be used in early literacy where a child has more than one person to practice oral language skills with, and more than one environment where such practice can take place.


Early Assessments to Gauge Oral Language Requirements

Assessments of oral language skills are important to identify children who are likely to need more intensive instruction to achieve reading success.

By identifying and working with students across all literacy levels early, educators can be proactive in ensuring that students meet or exceed academic expectations.

Early and frequent assessment of children’s oral language abilities provides educators and caregivers with a clearer picture of student learning. 

Holistic learning also plays an important role in early assessments of skills which digs deep into each student’s needs, strengths and interests.

Such assessments conducted regularly early on as these traits are being formed, are called formative assessments. It’s another topic that is covered extensively by Sprig. Holistic formative assessments are great for assessing oral language skills early and frequently.


Making the Connection Between Oral Language and Other Foundational Reading Skills

Oral language is paramount for early literacy, not just on its own accord, but because it has such strong ties to other foundational reading skills that result in reading proficiency. 

For example,

Children learn to recognize and manipulate speech sounds through activities such as rhyming and segmenting words into individual sounds. 

This is phonological awareness, and its development can be encouraged by teachers by encouraging children to play with sounds in oral language.

Also, children develop comprehension skills through conversations, discussions, and storytelling, where they learn to understand and interpret the meaning of oral language. 

Teachers can support reading comprehension development by asking open-ended questions about the text  and encouraging children to make predictions about what will happen next. 

These language comprehension skills come in very handy for reading comprehension. 

Similarly for vocabulary acquisition, children build their vocabulary knowledge by being exposed to a variety of words and phrases in different contexts in oral language.

Teachers can support vocabulary acquisition by using rich and varied language in their own speech and reading aloud high-quality books that use sophisticated vocabulary.


How to Ensure Oral Language Development for Early Literacy

How to Ensure Oral Language Development for Early Literacy

Children who have strong oral language skills are more likely to develop strong reading and writing skills, while children who struggle with oral language development may experience difficulties with literacy. 

Therefore, it is important to provide young children with rich language experiences and opportunities to develop their oral language skills to support their early literacy development. 

Oral language development is an ongoing process that occurs over time, and it is best supported through a combination of explicit teaching, rich language experiences, and opportunities for children to engage in meaningful conversations and interactions.

Sprig Learning offers two solutions that deal with oral language development. 

Sprig Language does a deep dive on the fundamentals of oral language for Pre-K to Kindergarten students, working on things such as pragmatics and syntax. 

Sprig Reading also covers the fundamentals of oral language, but dovetails this one component of early learning with other foundational reading skills that are needed to turn a child into a confident and proficient reader by Grade 3. 

Traditional Early Years Assessments VS Holistic Assessments

Student assessment is one of the most critical aspects of early learning. So critical in fact, that Sprig has dedicated an article to just assessments in early childhood education.

Educators who consistently use formative assessment strategies are shown to double the speed of learning for students in their classroom. 

While the link between assessment and early learning is clear, there is a lot left to be desired with the data that is being collected.

Traditional assessments only capture two perspectives: the teacher and the student. This leaves a gap in our understanding of early learning that occurs outside of the classroom unidentified. 

They are also prone to bias which has a negative impact on learning during the formative early years of learning.

There are many key people supporting student learning outside of school, so how can these perspectives be included and understood?

How can the potential of biased data be mitigated?

Holistic learning provides an answer to both of these questions, by way of holistic formative assessments.

Holistic learning integrates multiple learning components in its thinking, focusing on the whole learner. It pays significant attention to experiential learning and aims to help students reach their maximum potential. 

Holistic assessment engages key actors and can inspire communities and caregivers to participate in a child’s learning so that children can reach their greatest potential. This benefits both students and educators by promoting caregiver and community participation.


What Does Holistic Assessment Mean for Future Learning?

What Does Holistic Assessment Mean for Future Learning?

A child’s early life experiences are proven to have a lasting impact on their development and future learning success. For this reason, early years assessment data needs to be collected accurately and holistically.

Every stakeholder in a child’s learning benefits from comprehensive assessments. 

Caregivers are empowered to help their children learn well, and instructors benefit from caregiver and community support while receiving access to better data that enhances instruction.

True personalized learning can finally be realized with improved data, an ambitious goal that education institutions throughout the world are aiming to meet. 

With personalized learning still in its early stages, a comprehensive approach to assessments can hasten its progress. 

In order for personalized learning to be effective, accurate and comprehensive information is required to define the needs of the learner. 

A holistic approach to assessment enables this in three ways.


Increased Breadth of Information

First, by broadening its scope to identify learning in the home, community, land (and school), holistic assessment always provides new insights into a child’s learning. New information emerges about each learner that may have never been asked or identified, and supports instruction in the classroom.


Mitigation of Bias

Second, a holistic assessment provides more accurate information through its more natural and formative approaches. Through the provision of culturally enabling tools and implementation, holistic assessments are able to break down explicit and implicit biases during the assessment, creating a more natural and supportive environment for students to demonstrate their skills and abilities.


Coverage of All Foundational Skills

Third, holistic assessments not only include learning from multiple places and from multiple perspectives, but it also focuses on the essential skills, which greatly enhance student performance. 

Literacy and numeracy, for example, are foundational; thus, holistic assessments look at all of the foundational skill sets that go into language, reading and math acquisition.


What Research Supports Holistic Education?

What Research Supports Holistic Education?

The holistic approach is rooted in Canadian First Nations teachings and the lifelong learning model – both products of research from the Canadian Council on Learning

Indigenous people in Canada have long understood the role that learning plays in building healthy, thriving communities and despite significant cultural and historical differences, Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis people share a vision of learning as a holistic, lifelong process.


“We have constantly measured the wrong things against a different paradigm — leading inevitably to an assessment of failure.” – Canadian Council on Learning

Though developed with and for Indigenous peoples in Canada, the holistic approach can be applied to students of all cultural backgrounds. 


In fact, two of the top performing education systems in the world thrive using aspects of the holistic approach and lifelong learning model. 

Education systems everywhere are teaching a lifelong learning mindset so students can keep up in a fast-paced, digital world. It’s perhaps time learning systems adopt the same mentality for early years assessment.

Technology is an important component in ensuring that a holistic approach to assessment and learning is applied effectively. Technology makes it simple for teachers, caregivers, and community members to stay up to date on where and how their students are learning. Assessment findings may be aggregated and curated by technology, making them conveniently available to all learning influencers.

Furthermore, from the standpoint of a student, connecting with technology in early assessment is critical to establishing the digital literacy that is necessary for future academic, social and economic success.


Why Should Teachers Advocate a Holistic Approach to Early Years Assessment?

Why Should Teachers Advocate a Holistic Approach to Early Years Assessment?

With more comprehensive and accurate information available, a holistic approach assists in identifying each student’s learning strengths. 

It encourages instructors to help students in using their talents to overcome their obstacles in various educational settings. This enables instructors to differentiate instruction for every child.

A holistic approach to assessment yields better results and distributes the responsibility of educators by engaging caregivers. 

In fact, the positive impact of caregiver involvement has long shown to produce higher student achievement. 

By connecting caregivers and the community to learning in the classroom, caregivers are able to complement the child’s learning path with community and home-based activities.

For more information about a holistic approach to assessment or holistic education, send us an email at

How to Create High-Quality Head Start Preschools for Early Learning

Do high-quality preschools exist? Yes, but mostly for higher-income families. 

According to Emily Griffey, Policy Director of Voices for Virginia’s Children, there is a 19-point disparity between the percentages of high-income and low-income families that can afford preschool for their children.

There are many initiatives to expand accessibility to public Head Start preschools, but such accessibility has to be matched with quality, or there is a risk of perpetuating the cycle of inequity.

In this blog, Sprig argues the case for high-quality preschools, addresses the issue of accessibility, and then gives the indications and characteristics that would be required to create a high-quality public or private early learning program.


The Case for High-Quality Preschools

In her essay for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Taryn Morrissey narrows down the major reasons that warrant greater policy attention to early education.

To summarize, high-quality education:

  • promotes child development and learning, and reduces inequities for those in disadvantaged communities. 
  • helps parental employment by providing a safe and quality environment for learning for their kids. 
  • forms the necessary backbone of the economic infrastructure.


Thus, high-quality preschools have both a short-term and long-term impact on school children and their communities. 

The community is able to thrive knowing that the child is growing in a safe and excellent setting that is favourable to learning. 

As the child grows older, there is a net spillover effect, where they contribute to the larger economy.

A study of 22 longitudinal studies, conducted between 1960 and 2016, showed that the attendees of early childhood education programs were:

  • less likely to be placed in special education
  • less likely to be held back a grade
  • more likely to graduate from high school 


These positive outcomes demonstrate that, when available, high-quality preschools make a huge difference in early learning.


Are There Enough High-Quality Preschools?

It’s tough to say if there is a shortage of preschools. Invariably, every preschool classroom does not fill the capacity of the maximum of 20 children per two trained adults, as recommended by the Office of Child Care in the US. However, even when this happens, quality can be impacted as more children require increased teacher attention. 

In the US, state-funded preschool and Head Start programs serve less than 1 in 3 eligible early learners. 

The National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER) says that the quality standards remain “far too low” for these programs, and were only exacerbated by the pandemic. As low-income families weigh their options, homeschooling or daycare may seem like better alternatives if the quality of preschools garners a bad reputation. 

Which prompts the question….


What Does High-Quality Early Childhood Education Look Like?

High-quality preschools are both academic and play-based. A high-quality curriculum is specifically designed to present skills and concepts to schoolchildren in an order that matches their level of development.

In the process, formative assessments are used to address achievement gaps in underperforming students. It increases student engagement and leads to greater teacher satisfaction.

Hence, high-quality preschools do not merely focus on providing the best early childhood education experience, but also have innate differentiated instruction to cater to the needs of every child in the classroom. 


High-Quality Indicators

There are scales available to measure the quality of preschools such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS).

The ECERS contains 35 items organized into 6 categories of Space and Furnishings, Personal Care Routines, Language and Literacy, Learning Activities, Interaction and Program Structure.

The focus is on building oral language as foundational literacy concepts and moving to reading when appropriate. 

The Language and Literacy category includes “helping children expand vocabulary”, “encouraging children to use language”, “encouraging children’s use of books” and  “becoming familiar with print”. 

Also, under Learning Activities, the promotion of diversity and the appropriate use of technology are suggested. Tools like Sprig Library combine these recommendations into one effective and culturally responsive learning experience.  The app offers interactive story books that support oral language development, while introducing Indigenous themes, illuminating diversity.

An equal mix of self-learning and group learning is ideal for high-quality preschool programs. 

As seen in the ECERS scale: to address self-learning, “space for privacy” appears under the Space and Furnishings category, and “individualized teaching and learning” appears under Interaction. 

To address group-learning, peer learning is recommended under Interaction, and “whole-group activities” is listed under Program Structure.


The High-Quality Checklist

The NIEER recommends the following considerations when building a high-quality preschool program. A high-quality preschool Head Start program must:

  • cultivate positive relationships between teachers and children.
  • adequately equip the classroom with sufficient materials and toys. 
  • ensure regular communication that involves mutual listening, responding and encouragement to use reasoning and problem solving.
  • offer opportunities for multiple kinds of play.
  • provide materials and activities to promote understanding of diversity.
  • nurture parental involvement in the program.


Additionally, The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends a staff to child ratio of 1:10 for preschools, with a maximum class size of 20 students. 

Furthermore, the fair compensation and professional development for all teachers and staff are very important components of administering and maintaining a high-quality preschool program. 

Wherever they are not compensated adequately and on equal terms with K-12 educators, there is a higher risk of turnover


Need for Consistency and Assurance


Consistency of Early Educational Experience

Literacy assessment data from the US show that almost half of kindergartners were falling below grade-level benchmarks partway through the 2020-2021 year. The setbacks were more pronounced in marginalized communities. 

This is a case where the quality of preschools fell short of expectations. The data shows that preschoolers need consistent in-person interaction with educators.

Whenever this consistent learning environment is uprooted (due to any natural calamities or a global pandemic), it’s important to have a contingency plan in place that uses hybrid or remote learning, depending on how soon it’s safe to go back to school. 


Assurance of High-Quality

The rate of return on human capital investment is at its highest from birth to age 5. When children attend any sort of structural school system for the first time, it’s important that they receive the best education and are assured of continuing in the program.

There can be a trade-off sometimes between targeting skills and the whole child. While it’s true that targeting specific skills such as literacy and numeracy increases achievement in those areas, a whole child curriculum is often better at ensuring quality of classroom processes.

It doesn’t have to be either-or. With holistic learning, you tend to the whole child by involving their teachers, parents and the community to support their needs and safety. But you also focus on particular academic skills by offering leveled activities that are fun to do. 


Looking Ahead

There is help available to build high-quality Head Start preschools or transform existing preschools into a high-quality Head Start program. However, while there is more funding to increase accessibility, it must be matched with increased quality. 

Sprig believes that the indications, checklist, and considerations described in this article can be used to establish both new and upgraded high-quality preschools and head start programs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Correct Approach to Academic Return on Investment (ROI)

Correct Approach to Academic Return on Investment

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

The academic ROI focuses ultimately on student and teacher benefit. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first step is the identification of the core need. 

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

ERS encourages system-wide thinking that spans departmental boundaries.

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


Thinking About a Healthy Academic ROI

Healthy Academic ROI

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

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

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

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


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

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

There are many answers to the question, of course. 

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


How to Increase Early Literacy Academic ROI

Increase Early Literacy Academic ROI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Early Literacy Performance for Increasing Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Investing. Not Spending.

Investing.Not Spending.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.