To put it mildly, the COVID pandemic has been a game changer, a shake-up, a reset, and a force that has made us re-examine who we are, what we can do and a reminder of what we can overcome if we work together in education. Essentially, it has been one of the greatest teachers that has provided some of the most valuable lessons about life. It doesn’t matter where you teach, what grade level you teach or how long you have been teaching, the impact of the COVID pandemic has been felt in a multitude of ways. Although the goals of teaching and meeting the needs of students remain the same, the rules have changed, the challenge has upped its ante, and educators across the U.S. have discovered more about themselves than any other time before over the past year. The impact of COVID has come with some valuable lessons that could only be taught through our current climate in education. Like other trials and tribulations in life, COVID has served as a teacher, but it is our responsibility to embrace and learn the lessons as we expect our students to.
Lesson #1: The strong do not always survive, but the most adaptable do!
During COVID, having strength as an educator is an asset to navigate unfamiliar times and circumstances. But even the strongest educators still struggle to maintain a high level of teaching and a sense of purpose to effectively educate students. That is because it isn’t simply about how strong you are in your instructional delivery, classroom management or your knowledge of the curriculum. Even if we were great at these things, due to the challenges of COVID we must rethink how we serve students and families. The challenges to successfully educate students, maintain healthy relationships, motivating students for engagement and adhering to a host of other requirements requires such as “contact tracing” has required adaptability. Adaptability is defined as, “the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions”. That is simply what schools, teachers, leaders, students, and parents had to do if they wanted to be successful. You cannot typically fix new problems with old solutions because new problems usually require new ways of thinking and adapting to circumstances in new and unfamiliar ways. Essentially, we are dealing with challenges that years prior we never knew we would have. You must be willing and able to think differently if you want to experience success. In the end, when this is over and schools have been allowed to return to some sense of normalcy those teachers and leaders that remain standing strong will be those that had the ability to adapt to their circumstances whether familiar or unfamiliar.
Lesson #2: You are better than you think you are.
I am usually an optimistic thinker who sees the good over the bad in most situations. However, during the summer before the 2020-2021 school year I wasn’t as optimistic about school starting. With all the new guidelines and rules that we needed to follow, the requirement of wearing masks and practicing social distancing, I thought it would surely be a disaster! I envisioned me and my staff running around all day trying to get students to put their masks on, students would refuse to wear masks and we would be handing out hundreds of masks daily. Maybe it was only my thinking and for my school (I suspect not), but I was wrong. The students and staff in my school are doing an amazing job, better than I had imagined. Wearing masks is not a major issue and to be honest, only a handful of issues have occurred.
Many educators were like me, and questioned if the operations of schools would work, whether students would possess the ability to be engaged and would the essentials of learning take place through in-person learning, blended learning, or remote learning. The answer has been “yes” not only in my school but also in schools across the country. I know it has been far from perfect or ideal and there is not substitution for students engaging in face-to-face learning provided by a teacher, but I truly believe that educators are doing their best in spite of the circumstances. No one that I know has ever taught students during a global pandemic or led a school in one prior to COVID. So, current educators continue to come up with solutions without being able to draw from historical references. The research and data is still being collected, the rules and guidelines are still being created, and changes almost seem to come daily. However, from what I am witnessing we are doing better than we think. In fact, in education we are often doing better than we think we are when we consider our “locust of control”. The problems is, we don’t give ourselves a chance to grow because we think ourselves out of opportunities to become better from our challenges. Once you confront a challenge you should always envision a winning outcome and always remember it not about how strong you are but it is more about your ability to adapt!
Lesson #3: Creativity solves more complex problems than intelligence.
I am not one to tell you that intelligence is not important because honestly, I would choose intelligence over the opposite of intelligence anytime. However, intelligence and creativity serve different purposes. The intelligence of doctors, scientist and others have helped us understand COVID, the impact on the human body, how it is spreads, the nuances of the virus itself and most importantly how we are able to protect ourselves. Intelligence and research has served as a high degree of importance in these matters so we can be educated and learn how to protect ourselves and reducing the spread of COVID. However, once we begin to understand the virus, how it impacts our body then we can use our greatest asset, which is our creativity to think of solutions and appropriate responses. This is what we have been doing in schools and in classrooms since COVID has arrived. It is imperative that you can use creativity as a strategy in educating and providing services to students. Based on the information we receive, we will be better equipped as to what additional interventions are needed, which appropriate safeguards need to be incorporated and how we can efficiently meet the diverse needs of students. It will also take creativity to support students, teachers, and schools. Consider your school’s schedule, the use of technology, people working together, resources that have been created and new platforms of communicating with parents. You can even consider the creative designs of masks that people wear as a small example of the extent of our creativity since COVID. We as educators have become more creative whether we like it or not. We have used creative energy to solve challenges that are new and unlike we have experienced before. Therefore, it is imperative as educators that we never underestimate the power of our abilities and use our creativity to solve challenges as we face them in schools.
We are in a new dimension of educational services. However, although many things have changed, there are still many things that have remained the same. We are being impacted by a new variant of COVID, but students still need the support and engagement of caring educators and that will never change or go away. I encourage you to sue your creativity, adapt new ways of thinking and maintain a positive outlook and know you are capable. In education, we must reformulate old ways of doing business and devise new strategies to meet the needs and serve students in creative and meaningful ways. There has been a lot that has been lost but above all we must never lose our humanity and keep the people at the forefront of our decisions, actions, and intentions.
It’s no secret that we love books here at Kids Read Now. We love watching kids pick their own books. We love sending those books straight to their homes. We love seeing kids get excited to get new and exciting books in the mail. Most of all, we love how this process helps kids beat back learning loss and reinforces a future-changing lifelong habit.
But while we’re helping kids across the country form a love for reading, adults are reading fewer books on average according to a new Gallup poll. The new data on book reading reinforce that the popularity of reading is waning, with Americans reading an average of three fewer books last year than they did five years ago and had typically read for the past three decades. The poll speculates that adults’ reading numbers are down due to Covid-related restrictions and the difficulty of visiting libraries or bookstores, despite the ability to download and read eBooks.
Kids need to see adults reading. Kids who are around readers are more likely to read as well. The benefits for kids who read are pretty incredible, but did you know that adults need to read too? Just like kids, adults can improve their cognitive thinking skills, expand their vocabularies, deepen their levels of concentration, develop social intelligence and empathy, and help them reduce stress and take a break from the real world.
Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Their mission is to help people find and share books they love.
Sign up for a library card
Visit your local library or sign up for an e-card. Now you can request books from the library online, peruse the shelves in person, or download books to listen to or read without leaving home!
Set a reading goal for the year
Goodreads lets every user set a book goal for the year and tracks your progress through each book. You can do this easily on your own by creating a sheet at home to track the books you read.
Dedicate time to read every single day
Doctors agree that screen time before bed is a big no-no, but reading before bed can help your mind and body relax. Knowing that you have time every day to read can give you comfort in the constant.
Read with family and friends
Read a book aloud with your kids and make all the funny voices. Read the same books as your friends and discuss it. Read your favorite passages to your spouse or friends. Normalize reading and discussing books!
There’s this widgetsmith on the opening screen of my iPhone that reads, “As long as we’re creating it’s not too late to change our story.”
People’s stories motivate and inspire but they also connect us, help us grow. Throughout my years of being an educator, tucking in beside my fellow professionals, really hearing their journey, it has been transforming. Listening, truly listening, opens my mind and eyes to perspectives, broadening a reality that I was otherwise unaware. Stories also shape and expand our teaching blueprint.
Growing up a small town girl in the northern United States gave me loads of opportunity to get lost in stories. From listening to my grandparents share stories to being mesmerized by great readings at the local library, life opened up for me.
Given my best friend’s father was the town’s librarian, many evenings and weekends were spent lounged across soft rugs with giant pillows traveling to far away places through the pages of a book. As I breezed through the letters on the page that made words into sentences and sentences into adventures that fed my imagination, I was quite aware that the very experiences I found solace within offered great pain and sometimes discomfort for my friend. Needless to say, I did a lot of reading aloud.
My friend loved to hear stories and it was an incredible treat when getting to view stories playing out live on a stage. You see, the process of reading caused her great angst. She is dyslexic. Take it to the classroom and the print on the page represented very different things for the two of us.
What I noticed as a young child was that just because our brains worked differently, a common experience such as reading text had contrasting outcomes for each of us. Someone very dear to me once shared, “Teachers can change the way they teach but dyslexics cannot change the way they learn.” What this evolves into for an instructional design perspective on the diverse needs of learners: the secret strength I found in teaching through a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens. In the case of how I learned reading and how my friend learned reading: presentation of materials, or provisions of multiple means of representation as well as action and expression, were key but equally important was engagement.
Let’s take my friend for example. Given learning derived from her mainly through auditory (hearing) or tactile (touching), she learned by hearing or touching and then that information would process through her auditory or tactile memories. When you compare that to my approach to learning being mainly visual (through my eyes), I could comprehend problems, solve them and commit the solution to my visual memory. For me, everything I would ‘read’, both real and symbolic, would link to my perception center. Recognizing a word and processing the word to meaning didn’t require actually hearing the word. For my friend, visual symbols were compromised causing her to compensate by relying on what she heard in her head to associate meaning.
Ready to leverage my childhood story to expand your teacher blueprint to be more inclusive? The following visual provides some examples of building provisions within your teaching and learning to offer students with dyslexia agency in learning. Oh, and don’t overlook this included audio file reading the visual, it’s called inclusive design.
There is a lot to learn from stories. But just like my childhood story, there are often missed opportunities of great significance in the unheard. Stories change our perspective, open our minds and eyes, broaden our reality and shape and expand our teaching blueprint. Learning to truly listen in on the narratives of our profession has proven to be my greatest teacher and perhaps it can do the same for you, too.
Opportunities to sharpen our literacy skills are all around us. Unfortunately, due to a variety of reasons (lack of support/resources at home, irrelevant curriculum, etc.) students can often be disengaged with literacy learning early in life. Once that foundation is shaken, it is tough to rebuild and instill the skills, confidence, and attitude necessary to be successful in the journey to be literate.
There is a huge disconnect. However, our students explore language everyday—we must make them aware of it, and show them how their knowledge and informal language is not too far distant from the formal academic knowledge required in today’s classrooms. Teachers and the outside learning community can instill a love for literacy if they focus on clarity of learning, opportunity, value, and enhancement of lessons. With “L.O.V.E.” teachers, parents and students can get students to see the relevancy of literacy skills beyond their use for academic purposes.
What is L.O.V.E.?
Learning- Many parents lack knowledge in the academic skills required of today’s students as it relates to literacy. Educators often teach skills in isolation or at a “surface” level. Parents and teachers often times try to spark the passion of literacy learning too late for some students and not early enough for others. It boils downs to “do you know the basic skills that your students (or children) need to learn?” Literacy learning must include a combination of motivation and innovative repetition of skills. Learning should always be a chance to fine-tune knowledge. The challenge, is that it must be done in a manner than resonates with students (and parents in order to be able to support). Most important, learning should contain a variety of opportunities to explore concepts- new and old.
Opportunity- Students need the opportunity to transcend and explore the world and their surroundings. A strong literacy foundation promotes exposure to additional opportunities in education. A literate child is given the opportunity to be exposed to creative works, and is capable of producing and using their skillset to work in many different subjects and tasks. The improvement of literacy skills is always presents a learning opportunity (as literacy learning is truly complex). When building a literacy foundation, we should be in search of learning opportunities and resources that are simple to implement and put into practice. Improving student literacy and the process of “why” we read, write, and communicate is a learning opportunity in itself.
Valued- Students will retain information that is valued and applicable. Learning new literary skills must be an experience that students can have some ownership in. Making connections to their experiences and the importance of the skills they are learning is essential. Literacy should be a valued “stepping stone” to a vast field of knowledge in other content areas. Not only should the academic value of literacy skills be taught, but the manner in which literacy accompanies societal tasks and processes is how true value is expressed.
Enhanced- Lessons and skills related to reading and writing should always offer room to further explore. They should enhance and leave room to extend steps higher in order for students to grow, reach, and explore at another time. At times, it will be necessary for open-ended tasks to be encouraged in literacy learning. However, skills should never be introduced in solely in isolation without a clear path of guiding students to a place where they are motivated to improve.
Importance of Incorporating L.O.V.E.
This post stems from the book that I wrote for teachers and parents a few years ago, titled “29 Days to L.O.V.E. Literacy”. It was written with the hopes of building a world or readers, writers, and thinkers who appreciate literacy in all forms, and respect the importance of such a valuable skill. We must move beyond the process of sharing with students “how to read” (although very important), and share the value of “why to read”.
More Information on “29 Days to L.O.V.E. Literacy” and a FREE Resource with activities: http://drkchilds.com/2020/03/free29daystll/
Most students either really love to read and find joy in growing and sharpening their literacy skills, or they feel the opposite. Their experience depends on two things- the instructional decisions made and the environment in which they learn. Educators are often told to create a “literacy rich” or “print rich” classroom setting, but what does that really mean? R.I.C.H. should address four different aspects: Relevancy, Inclusiveness, Creativity, and Hands-On approaches.
Students, younger and older are often disconnected from the literacy skills and expectations that are required in standards-based instruction and assessment. This is because they don’t see the “bigger picture” of learning the skills and strategies that are often taught in isolation. The foundational stages of literacy involve building word sense, concepts of print, and lots of repetition and practice—but educators shouldn’t stop there. The students who often struggle lack the connectedness and relevancy of the materials shared. To gain sense of relevancy and what resonates with students, conversations, bookstack cultivation, and surveys should take place.
Relevancy and inclusiveness go hand in hand. Whether planning the instruction or the “look” of a space, students need to see themselves in the materials presented. Not only do students need to see themselves, but they need to see others who are not like them as well.
When thinking about inclusivity and literacy, one might think of diversity, and the representation of various racial and ethnic backgrounds and perspectives. This is crucial, but just a starting point. Representation can be present in literacy settings, and students still not understand the importance or value of a concept or idea. Therefore, it is important to know that in addition to representation, students need to be exposed to an environment that allows them to feel safe (with learning new skills and contributing), and take risks (with new strategies, with new resources), and be inclusive of families (inside and outside of the classroom).
Literacy learning is often repetitive and can be boring for some. The more creativity that is sparked within lessons—the better. Creative ideas for literacy learning involve using traditional skills and practical, everyday materials and happenings to get students to understand.
Example: Connecting technological and popular culture terms with academic literacy terms
We want students to read, but don’t give them enough opportunity to write (or see the correlation between the two). We ask students about other writers and authors’ ideas, but don’t challenge them to see themselves as authors. Writing centers, blogging opportunities, and spaces where students can critique and explore all facets of literacy (listening, speaking, reading, writing) is a climate that would provide hands-on learning in a “R.I.C.H.” classroom.
The literacy environment has evolved, just as education has changed. Teachers often create themes at the beginning of a school year, and it is to get students excited about being in their class. The literacy environment needs a R.I.C.H. environment that is tailored to the needs of the students who are being served, and the learning community as a whole.
When was the last time you wrote or received a handwritten letter? For thousands of years, handwritten letters have played a critical part in our lives. In this age of digital communication, handwritten letters are becoming a lost art. Emails and text messages can be sent instantly; however, the impact of a good old-fashioned handwritten letter can bring a lifetime of benefits and memories.
Encouraging children to write and read letters will improve their literacy and communication skills, as well as their social and emotional development. Writing can reduce anxiety and stress, as well as decrease depression. It’s especially important during this time of virtual learning and social distancing to provide opportunities for handwritten letters. Let’s explore the academic and mental benefits of being PenPals!
Handwritten letters improve writing skills. We know that reading and writing go hand in hand… but did you know that writing by hand is just as important as reading? By definition, literacy is one’s ability to read and write. Research confirms that integrating reading and writing automatizes those skills. From kindergarten standards of using a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts to twelve grade standards of producing clear and coherent writing, all learners must be able to write to communicate ideas.
Handwritten letters improve reading skills. Research confirms that writing by hand activates reading circuits in the brain that promote literacy. Additionally, research by McGinley and Tierney in 1989 confirmed that integrating reading and writing instruction leads to a higher level of thinking than when either process is taught alone. Providing opportunities to read a letter from a teacher or loved one will lead to improved reading achievement, better writing performance, and increased awareness of self, others, and the community.
Handwritten letters improve communication skills. It’s an old saying, but it’s true: Practice makes perfect. By habit, we mimic the voices around us – which is sometimes not the best grammar. Our speech is a direct reflection of our writing. Writing forces thought and articulation of main ideas while exploring main feelings. Letter writing provides an opportunity to improve vocabulary, knowledge, and sentence structure; and better writing creates a better speaker. What better way to practice and improve communication skills through writing than writing to someone you trust?
Handwritten letters improve self-awareness. Mental health and well-being are the core of who you are. Writing helps to clear the mind, recover memories and organization of thought, and refine ideas. Research confirms that a person can better understand his/her feelings more clearly when it’s written. Writing is a creative way to improve mental recall and well-being.
Handwritten letters improve relationships. In times like these, opportunities to connect with teachers and loved ones are important. Handwritten letters confirm the importance of relationships between educators and families with children. Daily writing opportunities provide deep connections while addressing reading, writing, and social development skills. Addressing the whole child is vital.
Use a dated notebook, versus loose paper, to keep track of how the conversation evolves. This notebook can serve as a journal, mental wellness check-in, calendar, planner, and keepsake for life (or not).
Do not edit children’s’ writings in the journal; however, provide additional opportunities to teach correct sentence structure, etc.
Always begin and end with something positive.
So go ahead, grab a pen and notebook, and begin creating memories while positively impacting literacy, communication, social, and emotional development, simultaneously.
It’s all about the hook. Find what is inspiring to the youth and you find the hook into reading. Take baby steps even if needed. Not interested in reading a book? Start with a graphic novel. Even the old school Baby Sitters Club books are coming back with a vengeance in graphic novel form! Boys! Who doesn’t love adventures about a dog!? Try Dog Man! The goal isn’t to read MacBeth in first grade. The goal is to simply love reading.
Why? Well, let’s start with imagination. We tend to quickly lose the essence of imagination as we grow older. Those dreams you used to have as a kid, gone. Now you dream you are at work, even when you aren’t at work!
Second, you gather information. Yes, you in fact can learn from reading. Try the Who was/Who is/Where is collection. Going out of town? Find out if an inventor came from the area you are traveling. Going to the Grand Canyon? Yes, there is a great Where is the Grand Canyon book full of facts geared towards kids, but in fact, adults can learn a great deal too!
Third, reading is an escape from the real world. I don’t know about you, but TV shows just aren’t the same these days. However, Wild Kratts is pretty phenomenal. Books can take us on some pretty outstanding adventures.
What’s next for you? Maybe take your book to the park, sit on a swinging bench and enjoy nature at its finest. Have a hammock? What better way to spend the afternoon far off in your imagination swaying away in your backyard.
Try it sometime. Your kids might even want to join in on the fun when they notice your joy!
Something that I’ve learned in my time as an educator is the power in providing students with choice. Choice to explore their learning, choice to figure things out on their own, choice to learn new things in a variety of ways. Literacy skills are the foundation of learning, and something that educators should get excited about, because there are so many ways to create and mold literacy instruction in the classroom.
The formative years for a child, let’s say ages 2-6, are critical for literacy development. Reading, rhyming, talking and singing are all ways in which children interact with both written and spoken language. When they are provided with experiences in literacy during those formative years, they are developing the foundation for their relationship with reading and writing that will continue throughout their lives. Healthy development of the brain requires children to have these experiences.
So, how do we give children in the classroom these rich, meaningful experiences that will shape their relationship with literacy?
Research and studies have shown time and time again that children learn best through exploration and problem solving, opportunities to work things out in a way that makes sense to them. So, what does this look like and how can educators incorporate choice into their literacy programs? One way to do this is designing structured, engaging centers that provide students with multimodal learning opportunities. While students may have specific “work with teacher” time, other time can be spent exploring other centers. One center could focus on consonants, having students use a stamp, sticker or other tool to indicate which consonant letter a picture starts with. Another center might have students create a pretend grocery list and find items that start with certain letters. A third center might be a letter-sounds listening game, where students listen to a word, and decide which sound they hear at the beginning of the word. Another center might be working with syllable cards, where the students look at a picture (ex. dog, banana, etc.) and match it to the number of dots – or syllables – on a card (ex. 1 dot for dog, 3 dots for banana). A final center could be a simple picture rhyming match.
That’s 5 interactive, differentiated center ideas! The point? Choice. Allow students to choose which center interests them. Create structured, timed rounds for students to explore each center, before going to a new center. Giving students the power of choice and the opportunity to explore a variety of ways to learn a concept is key to building a child’s relationship with literacy and promoting lifelong learning.