News Today – Schools brainstorm new ways to teach reading amid pandemic-related challenges | Education

by Guwahati_City

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Crystal Ridley, a kindergarten teacher at Duneland School Corp., says that at the start of this academic year, it seemed some students were on survival mode.

Many had missed out on pre-school and had no understanding of a school environment. 

Duneland students read

Duneland School Corp. kindergarten students read at a small table. 

Teaching was difficult, she said, especially with subjects like reading. Students struggled with oral activities due to masks, as it was hard to understand and hear when language was muffled. Initially, there was limited ability to put books in students’ hands. 

“So much of where they are developmentally is hands-on. When everything is virtual, on a screen, their brains and bodies are not ready for that,” Ridley said. 

The issues Ridley faced were similar across the Region, as students in the area struggled to learn to read. 

A challenge amid the pandemic

Kimberly Ramsey, a kindergarten teacher for the Gary Community School Corp., said some students did not respond well to virtual learning and were missing crucial foundations. 

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“It was a struggle for (our parents) who were not tech-savvy, so a lot of our students did not receive virtual learning well,” Ramsey said. 

Betsy Kazmierczak, a kindergarten teacher in the Duneland School Corp., said early on one of the biggest challenges was the lack of interaction. Even when schools moved back in-person, there was limited ability to touch items or share.

Duneland students read

Students read in a classroom library at the Duneland School Corp.

Kazmierczak said when students are 5 and 6 years old, learning often comes in touching and feeling things like magnet letters, or writing out words in sand or shaving cream. She said over time the district has slowly been able to bring these types of activities back, especially by individualizing them or adding additional supplies. 

Esther Goodes, director of elementary education for Gary public schools, said absences due to COVID-19 are a huge challenge. She said in reading, one of the most important aspects is consistency. 

When it is unclear if a student will be there, it can be hard to get them caught up and continuing to read. Goodes said when students are home, to get them motivated to be online is a challenge. 

“They need routine and procedure,” Goodes said. “Reading needs to be an everyday event, as much as possible. When you have interruptions and are battling those inconsistencies, it is a big hurdle.”

Debbie Snedden, assistant superintendent for the Hanover Community School Corp., said the district was only online for the period of March 2020 to the end of that semester, allowing them to see less lag for students. 

She said teachers have been great at dealing with these issues through a very tough time for education. 

Angela Torabi, a first-grade teacher for the School Town of Munster, said it was difficult to teach reading last year, as a lot of strategies had to do with small group work — something the pandemic made difficult. She said one of the ongoing difficulties are students who are sick or out due to COVID-19, though the opportunity to teach virtually helps. 

Phonics is one of the major concerns teachers have dealt with. Phonics is a method of teaching reading that correlates sounds with letters. When a lot of schools had mask requirements, it was hard to have students connect sounds with letters, as it often helps to look at how a teacher’s mouth is moving. 

Students fall behind

According to the Indiana Department of Education, ILEARN results from spring 2021 show only 40.5% of students in grades 3-8 are proficient in English language arts. In Gary Community School Corp., only 7.8% of students in grades 3-8 are proficient. School Town of Munster sees one of the highest ILEARN scores in ELA in Lake County, with 58.4% of students being proficient in ELA in spring 2021. 

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only about one-third of the nation’s fourth-graders were able to read proficiently in 2019. And according to a multitude of studies, the pandemic made things worse. 

Duneland students read

Students in the Duneland School Corp. work on reading skills. 

Consulting firm McKinsey & Company indicated that U.S. students were behind on average four months in reading due to the pandemic. An analysis of test scores in California and South Carolina saw a learning lag for students in ELA during the 2020-21 school year. 

Kazmierczak said teaching reading is one of the biggest foundations students can have at a young age. She emphasized how important it is to prepare students from a young age to read, as it sets them up for success in future grades. 

Torabi said she has seen more students behind and struggling, especially those who were e-learning longer. 

“It was really hard to do skill levels amid the pandemic,” Torabi said. She said they could not use a lot of regular strategies and are now trying to close the gap.

Schools brainstorm solutions

Kazmierczak said kindergarten teachers across the Duneland district created a bank of videos to use for children who are quarantined, for any e-learning days and to enhance material in the classroom. She also said she makes use of more apps and technology to help teach students in new ways. 

For example, Kazmierczak said, she may use a virtual app to let children move letters around instead of having them move physical magnets.

Goodes said, especially for phonics, teachers use videos so children can see their mouths move. Some also may use masks that have plastic in the middle so lips can be seen. Goodes also said the school corporation works with the Gary Literacy Coalition, an organization that supports and coordinates accessibility toward reading opportunities. 

Goodes said kids are adaptable and may not struggle as much as adults think they will. She said she sees students reading with masks on with no concern, and they are rebounding from the issues caused by the pandemic. 

Duneland students read

A student in the Duneland School Corp. works with magnetic letters to learn reading.

Snedden said Hanover builds in enrichment and intervention into every school day, with students being pulled out if they need additional help. 

Ramsey, of Gary, said one of the major ways to find more success in reading is to encourage consistency. She said she makes students want to come to school and celebrate their success every week.

She said she has high attendance rates due to her method. She said this year has been tiring, but it is rewarding to see students’ success. 

“This is prime-time. The kids’ brains are like sponges,” Kazmierczak said. 

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