Back to School Tips for Structured Literacy Teachers
Late summer means cooler evenings, and back to school. Even for the most seasoned teachers, back to school this year presents many new challenges. Nerves and uncertainty dull the shine of freshly sharpened pencils and new sneakers. The excitement of seeing friends is confused by social distancing requirements, separated cohorts, and face coverings. And holding it all together are teachers who suddenly find themselves as front-line workers in a worldwide health crisis.
So, what tricks does a structured literacy teacher need up their sleeve under this new normal?
- Stay true to multi-sensory instruction, even though that may look different. Everything we know about how students with dyslexia learns best requires the use of multisensory techniques, skilled practitioners, and structured sequential instruction. While COVID presents some challenges to these criteria, they are not insurmountable. Use “How To Explain Multisensory Instruction to Families” for lots of tips when communicating to parents. “How To Keep Your Orton-Gillingham Lessons Multisensory” has a ton of ideas to help you stay true to the approach.
- Plan instruction by cohort to ensure that all your students are receiving the necessary instruction without gaps. If your school is following a hybrid model and it is possible, provide remote instruction to your students via an online platform on their school-from-home days. If it is necessary for you to be in direct instruction with students as part of two different groups, try providing independent practice activities such as reinforcing worksheets for them to complete at home. Make the valuable in person time about direct and explicit instruction. This may mean that less material will be covered, but it is important to teach to mastery.
- Create individual multisensory kits. An ideal kit would be available for students to take with them in the event that schools move to a remote learning model. Individual multisensory kits need to be compact, inexpensive, and ideally able to be disinfected. These same multisensory kits could be provided to students doing fully remote learning either through a contactless pickup by parents or through the mail. Some items you might consider including are:
- A lap sized white board
- Dry-erase marker
- Small eraser or cloth
- Flat plastic food storage container for tracing
- Something to fill that container. (Rice and salt are inexpensive enough to be disposable. Spelling beads or microbeads will withstand disinfecting.)
- Plastic canvas
- Small container of playdoh (This is useful for use as a fidget, letter formation, or other phonemic awareness activities)
- A red crayon/pen/pencil for practicing learned words
- An individual notebook or dictation workbook
- Materials for games (a die, a couple of pawns, a laminated generic game board) These can allow kids to experience the fun parts of reinforcing games while staying safe.
- Felt squares or plastic counters
- Consider individual sound walls/reference notebooks
Watch this tutorial for tips when making multisensory toolkits.
- A trauma-informed approach with students: I personally have gone through many stages of grief during this pandemic. For our children, it is so difficult to understand and also very frightening. Some children may have experienced the illness or even death of a close friend or family member. Others may be dealing with a parent that has lost their job or is having ongoing health challenges after being ill with COVID. Students have all experienced intense disruption to their routines, learning, and lives. Events and activities that are important to them have been cancelled. They’ve gone months without seeing close friends or needing to solve social problems. As teachers, it is crucial that we understand the link between emotions and learning and memory. Students must feel a sense of safety in order to be able to learn, retain, and retrieve information. It isn’t a choice. It is biology. “Navigating The Emotional Response to School Closing” is a helpful read when considering the social-emotional needs of your students.
- Be prepared for changes. Plan how you will manage if things shift to all in-person or all remote instruction. Be aware of how you might need to alter things if a student or you need to quarantine.
- Be a proactive and curious learner. Learn remote platforms thoroughly, seek out advice and guidance. Learn how different student devices work with this platform. When in doubt, restart the remote meeting. It solves a number of odd problems.
- Spend time developing and practicing a routine for students with handwashing, setting up and putting away materials and disinfecting spaces. These are new procedures of everyone and are going to require modeling, guided practice, and independent practice just like any sort of taught procedure.
- Incorporate extensive review. Whether students finished the year with multisensory instruction remotely or with an absence of structured language teaching, they have been out of school mode for an extensive period of time. This long hiatus in conjunction with the emotional stress of the situation may lead to a significantly larger summer slide than we would see in a typical year.
- Be prepared to offer guidance and support to parents in how to effectively help their striving reader and writer at home. Consider newsletters, instructional videos or even virtual coaching sessions. In the section called, “Tips for Parents”, I have lots of posts to assist you.
There is one last tip that may be the most important of all. It is something that doesn’t come naturally to parents or teachers.
Take care of yourself.
Stay healthy by drinking plenty of water, taking time to exercise, eat healthy meals, and find a way to unwind. You can’t help students become competent and successful readers if you are burned out and exhausted. There is a reason that flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first. Fine a way to nourish your physical and emotional self so that you can continue to help students become proficient readers. While school and multisensory instruction may look very different this fall, dyslexia’s toll on the learning and well-being of kids is as fierce and unrelenting as ever. In “Tips If You’re Overwhelmed by Teaching Online”, Nancy Young gives advice from her years of experience.
If you need additional support with the logistics of teaching online…
Tutor Success Academy has affordable courses and resources to walk you all aspects of teaching and tutoring online.
Wishing you all a school year that is filled with tiny victories. Celebrate them when they happen!