The pandemic widened gaps in reading. Can one teacher ‘do something about that’? - WTOP News (2024)

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NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — Richard Evans makes his way through rows of his students in his third grade classroom, stooping to pick up an errant pencil and answering questions above the din of chairs sliding on hardwood floors.

The desks, once spread apart to fight COVID-19, are back together. Masks cover just a couple of faces. But the pandemic maintains an unmistakable presence.

Look no further than the blue horseshoe-shaped table in the back of the room where Evans calls a handful of students back for extra help in reading — a pivotal subject for third grade — at the end of each day.

Here is where time lost to pandemic shutdowns and quarantines shows itself: in the students who are repeating this grade. In the little fingers slowly sliding beneath words sounded out one syllable at a time. In the teacher’s patient coaching through reading concepts usually mastered in first grade — letter “blends” like “ch” and “sh.”

It is here, too, where Evans jots pluses and minuses and numbers on charts he’s made to track each child’s comprehension and fluency, and circles and underlines words that trip up a student a second or third time.

In a year that is a high-stakes experiment on making up for missed learning, this strategy — assessing individual students’ knowledge and tailoring instruction to them — is among the most widely adopted in American elementary schools. In his classroom of 24 students, each affected differently by the pandemic, Evans faces the urgent challenge of having them all read well enough to succeed in the grades ahead.

Here is how he has tackled it.

___

GOING FROM PANDEMIC TO ‘NORMAL’ IS HARD

It is a Thursday in October, early in the school year. Six students surround Evans at the blue table, each staring down at a first-grade-level book about baseball great Willie Mays. Many are struggling.

“What sound does ‘-er’ make?’” Evans asks 9-year-old Ke’Arrah Jessie, who focuses through glasses on the page. She puts “hit” and “ter” together to make “hitter.”

Next to her, a boy takes a turn. He pronounces “high” as “hig.” Evans grabs a pen and jots down “night” and other “igh” words for a sidebar phonics refresher on the letter grouping. Meantime, the rest of the class reads on their own. While some page through below-grade-level readers, others plunge into advanced chapter books.

Most of these students were sent home as kindergartners in March 2020. Many spent all of first grade learning remotely from home full- or part-time. Even after schools reopened full time for second grade, COVID-related obstacles remained: masking and distancing rules that prevented group work, quarantining that sent kids home for a week without warning, and young children by then unaccustomed to — and unhappy about — full weeks of school rules.

Says Evans, who came to teaching at age 40 after a career as a computer graphics designer: “All year long, I had kids ask me, `Why do I have to be in school for five days?’”

___

MOVING FROM ‘LEARNING TO READ’ TO ‘READING TO LEARN’

At the beginning of this school year, assessments showed that 15 of Evans’ initial 23 students were reading below grade level. Of those, nine were considered severely behind, lacking basic foundational skills usually learned in first grade. In a typical year, four or five students would be reading at the lowest level, he said.

“I know I have to do something about that. That’s my job,” Evans said, looking back.

There is no time to waste. Third-grade students are under urgent pressure to progress from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Studies show those who don’t read fluently by the end of this school year are more likely to drop out or fail to finish high school on time.

Among those starting out behind is Ke’Arrah, who spent more than a year learning remotely early in the pandemic. Her mother, Ashley Martin, could see the toll on her daughter’s drive to learn. So when Ke’Arrah was assigned to a new elementary school for this year, her mother re-enrolled her in third grade.

The pandemic cut first grade short for Ke’Arrah. To keep the family safe, Martin kept Ke’Arrah home in second grade, too, even when she had the option to return to school in person two days a week. She has four children younger than Ke’Arrah, including a son born just three days before COVID-19 shut down schools and businesses in March 2020.

“It was good for me, but not great for her because she’s on a computer,” said Martin, whose employer, a restaurant, temporarily closed.

Ke’Arrah, who likes math and wants to be a police officer, remembers the pull of her nearby toys as she tried to stay focused on her on-screen teacher.

“She was talking about boring stuff,” Ke’Arrah says. Last year’s transition back to in-person school was rocky, her mother said. She finished behind in math and reluctant to read.

Midway through her second stint in third grade, Ke’Arrah shows progress. Martin has passed her love of the Junie B. Jones series of books to Ke’Arrah, and the pair read them together at bedtime. Small moments become reading lessons, too.

“She’s on the phone, I’m like: ‘Read that to me. Tell me, what does that say?’ We’re out somewhere: ‘Read this to me. What does it say?’” Martin says.

___

DOUBLING UP ON KIDS WHO NEED IT MOST

While many students are behind, Evans also referred more candidates than ever — five — for the school’s honors program because of their advanced scores on early assessments.

He pulled aside students who were reading well above grade level as the year began and explained they might not get as much one-on-one time with him, something he had never done before. That has allowed him to double up on the time he could spend helping other students to catch up, working with some groups twice or three times a week. The advanced readers spend that time reading and working together.

The range highlights the varied experiences during the pandemic, where some had more support at home than others.

“Were they read to? Was there someone to support them to do assignments and homework when they were not physically with the certified teacher and having direct instruction?” says Marcia Capone, assessment administrator in the district, which provided devices and internet hotspots to families.

In Niagara Falls, about one in four people live in poverty, and 80% of the district’s students are economically disadvantaged, state data shows. Despite swarms of tourists to its namesake falls, the Rust Belt city has been scarred by an exodus of heavy industry and population that began in the 1960s.

Districts like Atlanta have sought to address learning losses by adding time to the school day. Others, like Washington, D.C., have pursued “high-impact” tutoring. Niagara Falls City Schools have doubled down on remedial work and differentiated learning, customizing students’ lessons to keep each student moving forward. The district has used federal pandemic relief money to put 12 reading specialists to work with first graders in its eight elementary schools, Superintendent Mark Laurrie said.

Using assessments to identify students’ individual needs is the top strategy American schools are using to help kids catch up from the pandemic, followed closely by remedial instruction, according to a federal survey.

___

WITH THIS STUDENT, IT WORKED — FOR A WHILE

Evans invested his own time in one of his neediest students, a boy who is repeating third grade at Evans’ urging. He started keeping him after school once a week for an hour of intensive reading intervention.

“He’s like my little experiment,” Evans said after one tutoring session in November. “With intense intervention, can you turn this around?”

The two had just slowly worked through a phonics worksheet that had the student circle words that began with the same letter as pictures. In one problem, “candy,” “open” and “after” followed a picture of an ant. “Open?” guessed the fidgeting student.

Evans had him close his eyes and say the words, thinking about the first sound of each. The trick eventually led him to the correct word, “after.”

In other lessons, the student struggled to identify rhyming words and consonant blends. Each problem revealed another concept not yet mastered.

“Very good!” Evans said after the boy correctly added the missing “rd” to the end of lizard. He responded with a satisfied smile.

In a matter of weeks, the boy went from knowing just 11 sight words — common words like “because” and “about” that students should instantly recognize — to 66 of the 75 on the district’s third grade list.

“I want to be able to read chapter books, and I want to read big old dictionaries!” the boy said after a one-on-one tutoring session that had him working on what sounds letters make when together, like “sp,” and “sn.”

Then, midway through the school year, the child stopped staying after school. Evans said his student lost interest; without a parent’s nudging, there is only so much he can do.

Earlier in the year, the child’s mother had described pandemic remote learning as fraught. The family had internet connection issues, and it was difficult to schedule school sessions around her work as a nursing home aide.

“I have a younger daughter at home and it was just a mess. She’s screaming. It was just a whole thing,” she said by phone.

When the tutoring stopped, she did not respond to follow-up calls or texts.

___

SHOWING LEARNERS ‘THERE’S A CONCERN FOR YOU’

Halfway through the school year, a new set of assessments suggests Evans’ strategy is, overall, working. He loads results into an Excel spreadsheet which, combined with his own running charts, lets him evaluate growth from September to January and regroup students based on where they need help most.

“Thank God for paper and sticky notes,” Evans says.

What he saw in the charts arrayed in front of him was encouraging. Fifteen of his students had met or exceeded their scoring goals for this round of tests. Several who are receiving targeted help showed the biggest gains.

Ke’Arrah leapfrogged from a bottom level to the upper middle — to the relief of her mother, whose decision to have her daughter repeat third grade appears to be paying off.

“I know it’s going to be embarrassing when she gets older: `Oh, you’re a grade behind,'” Martin said. “But she’s going to have that knowledge.”

Despite the students’ progress, even some who see another big jump by the final assessments in May could finish behind typical third-graders. Evans has arranged for extra services for next year for three of his neediest students, including the boy he was tutoring after hours. But they will be far enough along to move on to fourth grade.

For the first time in his seven years teaching third grade, everyone improved, Evans says. “I don’t know if it’s the programs we’re using or if it’s the fact that everybody is more invested in it right now.”

Maybe, he said, having so many students behind has made everyone in the building more invested in catching them up — “making them aware, `You know what? There’s a concern for you.’”

___

The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright ©2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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The pandemic widened gaps in reading. Can one teacher ‘do something about that’? - WTOP News (7)

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The pandemic widened gaps in reading. Can one teacher ‘do something about that’? - WTOP News (2024)

FAQs

How were teachers impacted by the pandemic? ›

found nearly 60 percent of teachers report they are burned out , compared to 44 percent of other workers. The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, reported that more than half of their teachers in 2021 said they were more likely to quit or retire early because of ongoing job stress.

How has education changed during the COVID 19 pandemic? ›

The pandemic meant that many of the most common kinds of education data were suddenly unavailable or less useful. In 2020, state standardized tests were canceled, and in 2021, participation was spotty. Attendance data was muddled by students learning virtually.

What is instructional relevance? ›

In education, the term relevance typically refers to learning experiences that are either directly applicable to the personal aspirations, interests, or cultural experiences of students (personal relevance) or that are connected in some way to real-world issues, problems, and contexts (life relevance).

What are the challenges of teachers in the new normal? ›

Teacher interview: Top classroom challenges for teachers in 2022
  • Parental support. ...
  • Behavior management. ...
  • Lack of effective communication. ...
  • Too much administrative work. ...
  • Balancing different learning styles. ...
  • Changing in educational trends and technology.
Jul 19, 2022

What is the gap effect in learning? ›

The Gap Effect refers to the delay in initiating an action when a visual gap or space is present, and the Spacing Effect refers to the finding that learning is more effective when studying is spread out over time, rather than being crammed into a single session (Cepeda, Pashler, Vul, Wixted, & Rohrer, 2006).

What changes should be made in education system? ›

15 Things that Need to Change in Education According to Teachers
  • Implement higher wages for all educators now. ...
  • Respect for the profession should be a given. ...
  • Parents should enable their kids less and hold them accountable more. ...
  • Teach life skills. ...
  • The administration needs to be more hands-on and proactive.
Sep 16, 2022

What are the 4 key instructional skills? ›

What are learning skills? The 21st century learning skills are often called the 4 C's: critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating, and collaborating. These skills help students learn, and so they are vital to success in school and beyond.

What best practices should the teacher apply to make teaching learning more meaningful? ›

How can Teachers make Learning “Meaningful” to Students?
  • Debates. This active learning technique helps develop critical thinking and logical reasoning skills in students. ...
  • Brainstorming Sessions. ...
  • Case-based Problem Solving Exercises. ...
  • Group Discussions.

Why is it important for teachers to make learning meaningful to their students? ›

Making learning meaningful is important to children's understanding of the learning concepts and the world around them. Teachers make learning meaningful when they, link new learning to children's previous experience, relate concepts to children's lives and provide children with hands-on learning.

How can teachers overcome challenges in the classroom? ›

Practical Ways to Overcome New Teacher Challenges
  • Make alliances. ...
  • “Need to Knows” ...
  • You're a teacher, not a professional decorator. ...
  • Set boundaries. ...
  • Prioritize family partnerships. ...
  • Systematize your instructional planning. ...
  • When in doubt, play a game. ...
  • Leverage Technology Like ChatGPT.
Jan 21, 2022

What is the biggest challenge facing education today? ›

Underfunding is one of the biggest challenges in education. It is also one that gives rise to a host of other problems.

How do you identify gaps in learning? ›

Knowledge gaps can be identified by means of questionnaires or review of test scores from in training or board examinations. Correcting gaps in knowledge is important, but usually has the least impact on improving competence or performance and outcomes for patients.

What causes education gap? ›

There are many causes of Achievement Gap – from racism, lack of acculturation, and socioeconomic status, to sexism and availability of technology. To make things even more complex, these factors all interact with one another, and often it's impossible to differentiate between their effects.

What is an example of a knowledge gap? ›

Performance Gap. As we know, a knowledge gap occurs when an employee doesn't know the information needed to complete tasks in their role. Take changing a tire for example. A knowledge gap would be not knowing that cars have tires to begin with.

What are some ideas to improve a school? ›

Clearing weeds, pruning hedges, planting flowers, and picking up garbage in fields and parking lots are all student-friendly methods to improve the appearance of a school's campus. Another great way to engage students is to organize campaigns.

How can you teach effectively in the classroom? ›

12 effective teaching habits
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  2. Create a positive learning environment. ...
  3. Connect with students. ...
  4. Be prepared. ...
  5. Manage a weekly schedule. ...
  6. Use clear language. ...
  7. Set reasonable expectations. ...
  8. Adapt to different circumstances.
Mar 30, 2023

What are the issues which I need to teach effectively? ›

10 Challenges Of Teaching & How To Overcome Them
  • Understanding the different learning challenges amongst students. ...
  • Student family problems & bullying. ...
  • Lack of funding. ...
  • Lack of effective communication. ...
  • Being encouraging and motivating under challenging times. ...
  • Disciplining students. ...
  • Endless paperwork & extended working hours.

What are the 4 C's in teaching? ›

The four C's of 21st Century skills are:

Critical thinking. Creativity. Collaboration. Communication.

What are the 5 instructional teaching strategies? ›

Consider the five categories of instructional strategies (direct, indirect, experiential, independent and interactive).

How can teachers maintain a focus on teaching and learning? ›

Guidelines include having the teacher decide what to teach, use key strategies, focus on high-level thinking and develop quality summative (end of unit) and formative (informal) assessments.

What is one thing that can make teaching more effective? ›

Keep your students engaged with a positive attitude. Teaching is most effective when students are motivated by the desire to learn, rather than by grades or degree requirements.

What is the most effective method of teaching and learning? ›

Experiential learning is a great teaching method because it encourages creativity, helps students learn from mistakes, fosters reflective thinking, and prepares students for future experiences. It can be effective for several subjects, especially during science experiments, sports coaching, and group projects.

How can a teacher teach better? ›

8 Essential Teaching Tips from Someone Who Has Seen It All
  1. Don't Grade Everything. ...
  2. Let Students Know What's Going On. ...
  3. Explain Procedures and Expectations. ...
  4. How You Treat Students Matters. ...
  5. You Don't Know Every Kid's Home Life. ...
  6. Keep Your Sense of Humor. ...
  7. Socializing with Colleagues Is Good for You.

How do I make my lessons more engaging? ›

7 Strategies for Connecting in the Classroom
  1. Really Get to Know Your Students. ...
  2. Establish Expectations for Participation. ...
  3. Answer the “So What?” in Everything You Do—and Say. ...
  4. Create Meaningful Prework. ...
  5. Pace Your Lessons Well. ...
  6. Make Learning Experiences Active and Varied. ...
  7. Show Students That You Care.
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Is it important to have a good teacher to improve students learning experience? ›

The most important role played by a teacher is to understand their students and help them develop their skills. A teacher is the one who spends more time with kids and hence knows them better than parents. They know each child and what they are good at.

How do you make instruction relevant? ›

How to Make Learning More Relevant for Students
  1. Personalize Learning for Each Student.
  2. Make Learning Fun and Interesting.
  3. Encourage Students to Ask Questions and Explore New Ideas.
  4. Connect Learning With the Real-World Setting.
  5. Meet the Individual Needs of Each Student.
  6. Allow Them to Choose What They Want to Learn.
Sep 1, 2022

How do you make instruction relevant to students? ›

Thinking about how the skills that are being taught and how students would use those skills is the key to making lessons relevant. The content may not always be immediately relatable, but the skills that are being taught should be. An excellent example is teaching the skills of argument development.

What is an example of relevance? ›

Relevance is simply the noun form of the adjective "relevant," which means "important to the matter at hand." Artists and politicians are always worried about their relevance. If they are no longer relevant, they may not keep their job. Someone without relevance might be called "irrelevant."

What are the four types of relevance? ›

Method. Based on the role a piece of information plays in the overall structure of an argument, we have identified four topical relevance types: Direct, Indirect (circumstantial), Context, and Comparison.

What makes good reading instruction? ›

Effective reading instruction: encompasses systematic and explicit teaching of phonological awareness and phonics. Both of these elements are essential for learning how to read print-based texts.

What is the most important thing when giving instruction? ›

Make Sure Your Students Understand

After giving them directions, ask your students to repeat or rephrase what's expected of them. Ask them specific questions about the requirements. Clarify any confusing points. Provide students with feedback that can help them comprehend and complete the task.

How do you keep students focused in class? ›

Seven strategies to help students focus in the classroom
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  3. Make your lessons goal-oriented. ...
  4. Give students only one assignment at a time. ...
  5. Organize breaks often. ...
  6. Use contrasting colors.
May 13, 2021

How can a teacher maintain a focus on teaching and learning? ›

These include:
  1. Essential questions, which are used to determine the goal of lessons.
  2. Activating strategy, which is a method teachers use to get students excited about and connecting the content to their own lives.
  3. Relevant vocabulary, which refers to using vocabulary that students understand.
Oct 11, 2021

What is a good sentence for relevance? ›

They have very little relevance to our problems. Character is an old idea with contemporary relevance. They all see very little relevance in the politics of national life. It brings the old tale a new urgency and relevance.

Why is relevant information important? ›

Relevance considers the importance of the information for your research needs. A relevant information source answers your research question. To determine relevance, the purpose and bias must be understood. In fact, all aspects of evaluation must be taken into consideration to determine relevance.

Why relevance is important in communication? ›

Relevance Theory argues that the hearer/reader/audience searches for meaning in any given communication. Having found meaning that fits their expectation [of relevance, the hearer/reader/audience processing] the communication is complete and valued.

What is the 2 types of relevance? ›

Relevance views come in two flavours: Local Relevance and Global Relevance.

What makes up relevance? ›

Relevance is the concept of one topic being connected to another topic in a way that makes it useful to consider the second topic when considering the first. The concept of relevance is studied in many different fields, including cognitive sciences, logic, and library and information science.

What are the 5 types of relevance? ›

It incorporates the five topical relevance types (direct relevance, indirect/ circumstantial relevance, context relevance, comparison relevance, and pointer relevance) and was applied by four judges to items in the MALACH test collection in Summer 2003.

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