Local teachers outline closing “COVID reading gap”

·3 min read

Teachers of the youngest grades at New Sarum Public School reported to Thames Valley District School Board trustees at their December meeting on what’s being done to close the “reading gap” created by almost a year of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

(The board at every monthly meeting invites a school to present such a report on efforts being made to meet TVDSB’s “strategic goals,” in this case improving literacy levels in elementary schools.)

NSPS Principal Nicole Shewan said New Sarum had in recent years been laying the groundwork for improving early literacy learning.

“We have developed a safe and nurturing learning environment for our students,” which has led to improvements in closing a literacy gap in general and, in recent months with a return to in-person learning, an additional gap created by remote learning forced by COVID-19 public health restrictions, she continued.

Grade 1-2 teacher Jennifer Russell said the teachers of the youngest grades at the school, along with a speech pathologist and a learning resources teacher, had joined forces and implemented learning aids, such as a “sound wall” in classrooms, where children could learn how to make the sounds involved in speech in their mouths.

Early diagnostic assessments for every pupil in September had also helped guide the effort, she added.

Kindergarten Teacher Stephanie Scott said the sound wall in her classroom was used to “bridge the connection we hear when we’re speaking, and when we see them in text.

“In our classroom, it is a whole-body experience. We are cheering words to hear sounds, we are chopping words into chunks, and we’re punching them out to identify the sound that’s at the end.”

Learning resources teacher Alice Golding said every Friday the literacy team came into classrooms with awards for those who had made progress and cheering for those achievements.

Pupils as young as 5 or 6 “are setting their own goals for learning, and they’re excited to move up to the next level.”

Principal Shewan said parents were also involved, and teachers were beginning to see an increase in the confidence level of children in their reading.

Elgin St. Thomas Trustee Meagan Ruddock asked what would be used to measure the success of pupil learning when new assessments were conducted in January.

Ms. Scott said teachers would be looking for children to have advanced along the “literacy continuum” and developed reading skills. If they hadn’t, teachers would circle back and repeat lessons.

Ms. Russell said her Grade 1 and 2 pupils were proud to come up to teachers to show what they learned every day, but more formal diagnostics would also be implemented.

Part of the key was to make learning “a real party for the kids,” so they could celebrate their growth in literacy.

She saw the gap in how well children could read narrowing every day, returning them to where they should be if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.

Elgin St. Thomas Trustee Bruce Smith said, “Both Trustee Ruddock and I are bursting with pride at their (teachers’) presentation.”

He asked what factors contributed toward the success of the literacy program.

Principal Shewan credited “a really dedicated group of staff members really committed to improving the lives of their students.”

Rob Perry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express

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