In this Q&A, Jan Richardson and Ellen Lewis, reading specialists and program authors of RISE—a powerful, short-term reading intervention—offer tips for engaging students in virtual instruction to accelerate reading success. Read the full interview below.
Q: What are the best ways to keep students engaged in learning to read virtually?
Jan: I have three suggestions. One is using multi-sensory strategies—magnetic letters, whiteboards, comprehension cards, including writing. These learning tools will keep students engaged. The second is pacing. When you’re teaching a lesson virtually, change to a different activity every five to seven minutes. For example, if your students have been reading, after five to seven minutes, shift to discussing the story. If they’ve been doing one word study activity for five minutes, then shift them to another word study activity. Their attention span isn’t much longer than that. My third suggestion is limit teacher talk. Students will start sliding under the table when you talk too much.
Ellen: I echo what Jan says in using a multi-sensory approach. When we present virtually, thinking of ourselves as performers helps shift how we might engage with students. They are used to being entertained on a virtual platform with the pace and activities that occur in most video games. Consider using simple props to capture their attention. For example, in one of the RISE Up guided writing lessons, students are asked to write a breaking news report. You might hold a microphone and imitate a newscaster when introducing the prompt. Although you’re presenting the same material, capturing their attention with visual aids can help maintain their focus.
Q: How can educators start the day in a way that will set students up to stay engaged?
Jan: It’s important to establish and practice a comfortable “virtual routine” before you initiate the actual online lessons. For example, teaching kids how to mute and unmute the computer and how to use hand signals to communicate.
Ellen: In this way, you assure a relatively flawless and productive teaching and learning experience for yourself and your students.
Q: How can administrators and curriculum supervisors help facilitate collaboration among intervention specialists while instruction is remote?
Jan: Administrators and curriculum supervisors can still meet regularly with intervention specialists through virtual calls. Include the classroom teachers and the school principal. If meeting daily isn’t feasible, consider weekly update calls to discuss the books that are being read and the skills that are being worked on so that everyone is on the same page. Classroom teachers can support the RISE students by having them re-read the RISE books in the classroom to improve fluency.
Ellen: Literacy leaders can have a virtual meeting with the grade-level team to provide feedback on how the virtual RISE lessons are going. Or the RISE team leader can invite the grade-level teachers to observe a RISE Roundtable meeting. While the classroom teachers watch, RISE instructors can debrief the day’s lesson, discussing what happened at each station and their decision-making for the next lessons. Build in a few minutes for questions and answers from the classroom teachers.
Q: How can educators maintain effective communication with students’ families?
Jan: I recommend sending home a weekly progress report. I also type the stories my students write during guided writing and email them to the parents. The stories contain the new sight words they’ve learned and some decodable words that allow the students to practice the phonics skill I’ve targeted. (If you do this, make sure that the font size is large and there is plenty of space between words. That way the students can read them easier.) The students love reading their stories to their parents—so they’re even more motivated to write a great story!
Ellen: I also recommend to the teachers I work with that they ask their students to tell their parents what they’re learning. When students think about what they are learning and verbalize it, they are reflecting and developing metacognitive skills.
Q: How can educators measure student progress during intervention while remote learning is taking place?
Jan: As part of the RISE program, we provide a sight word monitoring check list, which can be used daily. Teachers can also utilize daily mini records to monitor each student’s reading progress. There also are monitoring tools available on the website.
Ellen: Yes! The online monitoring tools and tracking available through RISE are very helpful. Teachers can view how many times students have read each assigned text digitally and track individualized growth in reading levels over time. Additionally, the RISE digital platform creates student and group reports for monitoring growth and planning next steps.
Q: What are the best ways to encourage students in this challenging time?
Jan: I think the very best encouragement is setting students up to be successful readers. I’m currently teaching some second graders who were Pre-A readers at the beginning of the school year. They didn’t know their letters and sounds, and I felt so sorry for them when they each told me they couldn’t read. Putting grade-level texts in front of those students would have demoralized them. Giving them texts at their personalized reading levels has fostered success and encouraged them to continue learning. I’m happy to say they’re making great progress and will likely be reading on grade level by the end of second grade.
Ellen: Keep your conversations positive. Even when we are correcting and guiding students, it should be framed with positive language.