About four years ago, a speech pathologist and dyslexia therapist identified low reading levels among our school’s student population as a key concern. “You have to figure this thing out; your kids don’t know how to read,” she told us. “They’re not dyslexic, but they are low in many reading areas.”
As the school’s principal and assistant principal, we turned to that speech pathologist to help educate us on the five components of reading, and we asked her to develop a package of tools to help our students get back on track. She also found the Barksdale Reading Institute, its scientific reading approach and training, and urged us to go. Taking that advice, we got involved with the Institute and began learning more about the science of reading, including phonics, phonemic awareness, comprehension and other elements.
Knowing the struggles that we were facing with reading instruction, the Institute also offered to purchase Lexia Core 5 Reading for our school in 2019. When we saw how the adaptive blended learning program could accelerate the development of literacy skills for students of all abilities — something we were aiming for anyway — putting the platform in place was an essential step in our journey to improving our students’ reading scores, which rose from a B to an A before the pandemic and haven’t fallen below a B since the pandemic began.
Here are five ways our online literacy platform helps our young learners succeed:
- Identifies struggling readers before they advance to the next grade. The platform helps teachers readily identify struggling readers and then intervene as needed. For a long time, many of our kids were going into the upper elementary grades still struggling with phonemic awareness and phonemics. That doesn’t happen anymore.
- Gives teachers the data they need to be able to bridge the gap. After two years of using the platform, our teachers have gotten very good about looking at and assessing the data that the platform generates. They also know how to use the platform in different ways and based on the needs of individual learners. For example, the Lexia charts help our teachers determine a student’s current status and progress. And the platform itself is very adaptable to the needs of struggling students and identifies those who need intervention and extra support to help bridge the gap with teacher-led, small-group lessons.
- Encourages a high level of parental involvement. We understand the value of parental involvement. This is a mission that our platform supports very well. If a fourth-grade student should be reading at level 16-18 but is only at level 11, for example, parents can easily review the related data and then spend 20 minutes per night working with their children on lessons and skill builders. When we can offer that to parents, it’s both tangible and prescriptive for them and for their children. We’ve seen kids level up through this school-home partnership.
- Allows students to catch up, tackle challenges or level up. Going a step further, the platform also helps us improve our students’ reading comprehension – a milestone that can only be reached if their phonemic awareness, phonics and language fluency are where they should be. To make sure all students benefit from the reading platform, we allocate one 50-minute block of time to work on interventions every day and across all grade levels. This intervention time can be used to catch up, tackle challenge areas and/or move up to a higher level in the program. For example, several kids can go from level 4 or 5 to the middle school version (PowerUp), while others work to achieve grade level. Other students may be struggling below grade level, which makes intervention time an even bigger must for them.
- Adapts to remote learning. During the pandemic shutdowns we gave personalized reading packets to every child. If a student was on level 12, for example, we gave him levels 11, 12 and 13 to work on. Or if she was on level 14, we handed out 13, 14 and 15. We included all of the lessons and skill builders and viewed this as a very prescriptive approach that helped a lot during that time of uncertainty.
Reflecting on that time four years ago when our school’s reading issue was brought to light, we’ve definitely come a long way. We’re very blessed to have a reading platform as a resource for our students, teachers and parents. It’s helped us in many ways by providing a prescriptive approach to each child’s level of reading, beginning with phonics and phonemic awareness.
Ryan Powell is the principal and Steven Holifield is the assistant principal at Southeast Elementary School in Meridian, Miss.
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