Despite the school closure, William O. Schaefer Elementary School’s Reading Team–Elizabeth Barsanti, Bridget Incognoli, Lucia McCahill and Catherine Mulvihill–are making sure that struggling readers get the support they need to succeed.
“In our Google Classroom, we create weekly Google Slides based on grade level and type of reading instruction that students can use to practice word work skills, reading strategy skills, reading comprehension strategies and sight word automaticity,” explains McCahill. “As a team, we collaborate to make distance learning effective for our lowest readers. We have a real love for our students and want them to have the most beneficial distance learning experience that they can.”
Reading support itself is differentiated to serve students with diverse needs, including English Language Learners, as well as students with and without Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). In addition to the Google Slides, the team uses individualized, 1:1 strategy sessions, small group live instruction and prerecorded, five-minute screencasts to sustain students’ progress. Since Fountas & Pinnell expanded its digital access two weeks ago, students are able to see the books and characters they are familiar with online.
“We make every effort to mirror the structure of virtual reading support sessions to the predictable, in-person reading support sessions our students know well,” Incognoli says. “My once-weekly, 30-minute, 1:1 sessions begin with a quick check-in with the student and family to connect about their literacy learning for the week and to check-in on a social emotional level, too. Then, we move into a word work warm-up and focus on snap words, phonemic awareness, and/ or a phonological concept.”
The team’s goal is to promote problem-solving and self-monitoring as students read independently. Students are presented with a new text at their instructional level and guided through it with questions before, during and after reading. As they read, they may practice a strategy they know or learn a new strategy. “The post reading comprehension conversation is super important. As all of our growing readers know, reading is thinking–not simply decoding words,” notes Incognoli.
For students who require multisensory phonics instruction, small groups are effective. “Normally, this type of instruction involves using touch and movement with auditory and visual cues. The trick is how to do it through a screen,” says Barsanti. “We’ve worked hard on the back end to design remote, live instruction lessons that are interactive and engaging. We use games, manipulatives (such as magnetic tiles and sand trays)…and I incorporate our dogs sometimes to sustain interest.”
Despite the challenges of remote learning in a global crisis, the team has discovered new tools and strategies. “Using five-minute recorded lessons for direct teaching is a huge benefit. Screencastify (a screen recorder) lessons can be uploaded to Google Classroom and YouTube so that students can go back and review…it’s a huge benefit,” McCahill notes. “Microsoft Translator and Google Translate have been incredibly helpful with the increased communication with families for whom English is not the primary language.”
“One of our goals has always been a parent outreach piece,” Barsanti explains. “What’s been really cool with distance learning is that parents can see for themselves the language that we’re using and what their kids are doing in school. Their support has been really instrumental. We’re reiterating to parents to do the best they can and not to worry about every lesson being executed perfectly.”
Here’s what a few parents had to say:
–“Mrs. McCahill supports Luke’s reading needs by implementing a multi-sensory approach, which is not easy to do virtually…She has gone above and beyond to ensure that Luke still receives the reading support he needs. Plus, her encouragement keeps him focused and motivated.” – Kathryn Girardi, WOS parent
–”We are so grateful for the remote reading support that Ms. Incognoli has created and customized to Angelina’s needs as the setting for student learning has changed. Angelina continues to progress and benefit from in-person Zoom sessions and Ms. Incognoli has been flexible with scheduling as I balance working from home with Angelina’s schooling from home. We are happy to be a part of a great school like WOS during this difficult time because the teachers and staff have managed to go above and beyond to ensure Angelina’s learning continues!” – Joy Gallagher, WOS parent
–“Using her multi-sensory approach to phonics and reading, Mrs. Barsanti brings the learning and fun right to us. In addition to the Zoom sessions, she records multiple videos and provides additional engaging activities each week for practice. My child especially loves the sand tray activities where he can trace letters and words in the sand with his finger. I have been amazed at all he is learning! I am thankful to have been able to watch first-hand as my child learns from Mrs. Barsanti and all of the wonderful teachers at WOS.” – Kim Inayat, WOS parent
–“SOCSD has done an amazing job transitioning the children into Distance Learning. The support my daughter, Charlotte, has received from both the classroom teacher and her Reading RTI teacher has been nothing but supportive and appreciated during this extremely difficult time. The fact that her RTI teacher, Mrs. Incognoli, has dedicated her time to give individual instruction to my daughter shows the level of commitment our teachers have for our students. I know my daughter will be where she needs to be in September…And with the teachers’ expertise, she will become a better reader.” – Cynthia Palladino, WOS parent
–“This remote reading support has challenged our girl, in a good way. We are appreciative of the help, this period has been so challenging, and these one-on -one zooms keep Scarlett happy and focused while making strides with reading. The challenges have been for me to keep her engaged and learning, while balancing my son’s online learning and the other day-to-day things. I take care of my mother, who suffers from advancing Alzheimer’s, so this has greatly alleviated the stress I feel in keeping Scarlett moving forward in her learning.” – Michelle Contreras-McNerney, WOS parent
“Virtual teaching has been a great learning experience for me personally,” says Incognoli. “Although I can’t wait for the day to have a small group of students at my kidney table with a real text in their hands, I think we have a good plan in place to continue to support our growing readers.”