How data can inform and supercharge your reading instruction strategies

There’s a good reason we put books in front of young children so early and often. We’re eager for kids to begin perceiving those mysterious shapes on the page as meaningful letters and words, opening the door to a life of curiosity and learning.

Science backs up our intuition on the importance of early reading and shows us how much literacy matters. One study found that students who lack reading proficiency in fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school before graduating. A UK study took an even longer view, showing that students with solid reading and math skills at age seven were in a better socioeconomic position at age 42 than their peers with delayed skill development.

If you’re a reading teacher, the stakes of literacy are clear—but the best strategies for your own classroom may not be as apparent. With some students ahead of their peers and others lagging behind, you need reliable data on what your students know and what they can do. That’s especially true at this fraught moment in education, when students have faced major disruptions to their learning process and we’re seeing larger opportunity gaps.

Science backs up our intuition on the importance of early reading and shows us how much literacy matters.

A recently published guide from NWEA, “5 data-powered strategies for literacy development,” explores the key role that high-quality assessment data plays in meeting the entire range of learning needs that reading teachers are seeing in the classroom these days. Let’s preview these strategies below, with the understanding that your situation is unique and your mileage may vary. Which strategies resonate the most with you?

1. Spot the reading areas where students need help and create personalized learning responses to support them

If you were able to kick off your school year with good baseline data on your students’ literacy levels, you saw the difference data can make in tailoring instruction to each student’s ability and needs. An assessment tool like MAP® Reading Fluency™ gives you a clear look at how each student is developing, allowing you to create just the right instructional groups and lesson plans for your classroom. As the school year unfolds, interim assessment data helps you continually refine your strategy, keeping it refreshed and relevant for your individual learners.

2. Spot opportunities to scaffold individual second-grade learners to proficiency

By second grade, emerging readers should have the phonological awareness and beginning phonics skills they’ll need to stay on grade level and achieve their proficiency goals. But “should” doesn’t always make it so, especially at a time when we’re seeing more interrupted learning than usual.

To choose the right scaffolds for students who need the extra help, look to the data. Once you have the complete picture of a student’s reading skills that a good assessment provides, you can use that data to put the right supports in place, whether it’s guided reading sessions, phonological awareness exercises, or at-home activities that students can do with their families.

3. Help third-grade students with unfinished learning improve their reading comprehension and accuracy

Third-graders are asked to read, understand, and accurately discuss more complicated texts. For kids reading at grade level, this is a walk in the park; for others, it’s a high-wire act that may trigger anxiety and self-doubt. But nearly all students can eventually demonstrate reading comprehension as long as you can get a clear look at their challenges and devise the best supports for them.

This is where an in-depth assessment tool like MAP Reading Fluency shines. For example, you might find that a student has a high oral reading rate but low comprehension scores, with further analysis showing difficulty with multisyllabic words in particular. Combine these kinds of granular insights with your own intuition, and you’ll be in a much stronger position to nudge all of your readers toward proficiency.

Focusing on multisyllabic reading and structural analysis can also help. Read “How to reach older struggling readers” to learn more.

4. Help all students successfully connect with grade-level text

While some students are gifted readers and others have some catching up to do, giving them equal opportunities to work with grade-level text is the name of the game in reading instruction.

Even students who aren’t yet reading at grade level deserve a shot at the same material their peers are seeing. It’s a matter of equity. Of course, identifying and delivering the right scaffolds to an entire class at the same time is no small feat, but reliable assessment data can make this task manageable.

If you have a box of leveled readers in your room, they can help greatly with this effort when you approach them in the right way. Get tips in “How to use leveled readers.”

5. Help Spanish-speaking emergent bilingual students build phonemic awareness in English

With the number of US public school students who speak languages other than English rising fast, reading teachers in many districts have a special set of challenges and concerns. In addition to busting popular myths about emergent bilinguals, teachers need to find the best ways to help these students build phonemic awareness within the programs and frameworks their districts have adopted. Approaches could include combining data from both English and Spanish reading skills assessments to see where students are coming from—and to begin leveraging their existing skills while helping them build new ones.

Read more

The five strategies above certainly don’t cover every facet of reading instruction, but they’re an excellent start. For lots of illuminating details and scenarios that show these strategies in action, check out the complete guide.

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