An initiative that saw teachers tailor literacy instruction to fit each student's unique learning needs had a big impact on Grade 2 students at École Forest Grove School.
When classroom teacher Laura Kalinocha and resource teacher Mirissa Dimnik identified early in the 2020-21 school year that a number of Kalinocha's students were reading below grade level, they knew the embedded literacy programming approach, which had been part of the school division's professional learning for teachers, could benefit students.
"Literacy is embedded in every teacher's professional practice. The main difference between that and an embedded literacy intervention, is just that, it is an intervention. It's not more intensive as far as student workload, but it is tailored specifically to each student's unique needs and current skill set," Dimnik said.
The Grade 2 students were first evaluated through several literacy assessments to ensure teachers had an overview each individual's skills and to determine the next stepping stone. Based on this data, students were grouped with others with like abilities and materials were selected based on their specific instructional level.
The embedded aspect created a special focus for the program which ran for approximately 75 minutes per day, three to four days each week from January to May. Groups of students had the opportunity to engage in learning centres led by teachers and educational assistants that focused on phonological awareness, building and manipulation of words, and one-on-one reading. The goal was to give students more of those foundational reading skills that they could then apply to their reading.
"For many students that meant improving reading levels, and for some students that meant showing great growth in their phonological awareness. It was completely dependent on where they began their journey with us. We definitely noticed that many students became more confident in their literacy abilities," Dimnik explained.
"Students displayed beautiful metacognition of why and how they were learning, as well as how a specific skill might transfer to larger scope skill such comprehension, decoding, or fluency. At this age I was so impressed with how students were connecting their learning."
Dimnik said students needed to adjust to the structure and longer period of time involved with literacy centres. While they embraced certain activities, student feedback on those activities that weren't as enjoyable allowed teachers to refine their approach and boost interest and engagement during the course of the five-month period.
The approach saw each student receive personalized programming based on the skills they were demonstrating. They were reevaluated every four to six weeks and programming and groupings were adjusted based on new data. Adjustments were also made between testing periods for individuals who were showing readiness.
Research shows early intervention is essential for literacy growth, and that means recognizing need and providing intervention during the years from kindergarten to Grade 3 in order to have the greatest impact. The students in Grade 2 were at a perfect junction in their learning to benefit from the literacy focus, according to Dimnik.
"During this age and developmental stage in children we receive the most return for student growth to time spent," she said. "As students get older the leaps in growth are still possible, but generally intervention must be for a longer period of time and the leaps are, in general, smaller for the time spent."
The focus on literacy had measurable results according to data collected by the teachers. Students averaged growth of two reading levels, with the greatest growth being six reading levels. Sight word recognition also increased significantly, and there was an average 20 per cent improvement in decoding skills and the ability to identify patterns of specific letters as words. Increased phonological awareness was also recognized among students.
The opportunity to focus teacher and staff time with the embedded approach was a first for the school. The data collected as part of the initiative supports the goal of the Forest Grove's administration, data team, and resource team to use the same approach in more classrooms during the 2021-22 school year.
Beyond the student improvement data, the additional instructional support along with the time and energy commitment it took to have the program running in Kalinocha's classroom paid dividends in other ways as well
"Classroom teachers work so hard to connect with each individual student on a daily basis, but it is extremely challenging feat. I remember very specifically something the classroom teacher said to me after the first three or so sessions of our programming, 'Wow, I can't believe it, but I think I got to hear every single one of my students read to me already this week. I am not sure that has ever happened before in my career,' " Dimnik said.
"Teachers in our division do a wonderful job of differentiating but having the support of another trained teacher in the classroom who could devote their preparation time to this type of program was huge in being able to provide the intervention we did. Because of this individuality of programming for students, we saw growth in each and every student's literacy skill set."