Believe Literacy is Possible: Strategies for Success

Empowering educators and students
By: | Issue: January, 2018 | Web Seminar Digest
November 30, 2017

We are entrusted with creating opportunities for all students to achieve their highest potential. Anyone can relate to this basic need: to be understood for our abilities, not categorized by our challenges. Let’s defy the stereotypes and see students for their potential, not their inability to read; let’s empower each teacher to change lives; let’s recognize each district for its ability to build a better literacy program.

In this web seminar, presenters discussed some research-based, district-level strategies for fostering literacy, and shared how they built an adolescent reading program that empowers educators and students alike.

Louisa Moats, Ed.D.

Literacy Instruction and Professional Development Expert

Author, LANGUAGE!® Live

Lee Vreeland, Ed.D.

Vice President of Academics

An Achievable Dream, Inc.

Newport News Public Schools (Va.)

Amy Runge, Ed.D.

Director of Curriculum and Collegiate Services

An Achievable Dream, Inc.

Newport News Public Schools

Louisa Moats: Reading failure is very common in the adolescent population, and when kids don’t read well, everything else about schooling is adversely affected. Often there are concomitant social and behavioral problems that come along with a reading deficit or disability. This gap and these problems widen and get worse yearly if nothing is done. Therefore, because the students are far behind, comprehensive remediation takes a lot of time and it takes intensive work in order for real gains to be made.

There are many different types of poor readers. Reading difficulty can occur because the student is an English learner, because they’ve had limited educational opportunity for various reasons, or because they have an intrinsic learning disability. We have kids just with poor language skills and limited intellectual ability who aren’t qualifying for special education necessarily, and we have kids who have just not been taught how to read who, if taught well and appropriately, could make very fast gains. In fact, we do see that with a certain sub-group who make their way into a program like LANGUAGE!¬Æ Live.

For poor readers, we not only have to make sure that they’re exposed to a wide and rich new vocabulary, but we also have to accelerate their growth. That vocabulary tends to be topic-specific and the words need to be low frequency. Also, we have to build a student’s stamina and persistence because these are students who are not used to reading several paragraphs, let alone several pages, and sticking with it and constructing the meaning as they go. All of these characteristics have to be explicitly addressed in a program that’s going to work.

Amy Runge: There were some challenges that we faced in implementing the program, particularly the scheduling and the time to make it work in our schedules. We have a certain teacher allocation that doesn’t take into account doing special programs such as this. So we typically have to get creative and schedule a separate block for our English teachers to use.

There’s also the resistance to change. If the district is using a particular curriculum and instructional tool, then why would we need something else? Why would we need an additional program? It is also a challenge to identify the students who need this the most, to ensure that they are getting the most intensive instruction to show the greatest gains.

The other thing that we seek is parent buy-in. Why does my child need this? If all children aren’t receiving this instruction then why would my child need this additional instruction program? But once parents see the benefits of it, they do understand why it is beneficial for their child.

We are a high-poverty school. One hundred percent of our students are on free and reduced-price lunch. We primarily have a general education population, but we most certainly face the challenge of having our students come to us—for kindergarten, first and second grade—anywhere from one to three years behind grade level in reading. That continues to be a constant battle for us in making sure that once we get them caught up that they stay caught up.

Louisa Moats: In designing LANGUAGE! Live, we took into consideration a number of realities. A comprehensive approach is necessary, and we can’t do it in a step-by-step way where we teach decoding first, and then we teach comprehension, because these kids are moving through middle school and high school. We have to bolster their mastery of various aspects of language, even while we may be teaching very basic skills. In order to do that, we combined the instruction that can efficiently be delivered on the computer with instruction that we thought is best led by a teacher.

We also had to build into this program continuous assessments so that it would be possible for a teacher to know where every child was in their progression through both the word study component and the language comprehension components. We gather data on students’ success rates the amount of time it takes them to engage the tasks and complete them successfully.

Amy Runge: This has definitely worked with our low-level readers. It has definitely turned them into successful readers. Our teachers just can’t believe the confidence that is prevalent in the students. The program is very user-friendly for the teachers and students, and help is always near. You can call in and get an immediate answer if you need assistance.

Louisa Moats: Data collected from a number of different districts shows that when the students who are taking LANGUAGE! Live were taught six units of the program or more, they gained almost two years in one year. So we were accelerating their growth rate, and in terms of Lexile levels there was almost twice the rate of gain that we see in comparison students.

One of the most remarkable results for me was the gain on the test of written spelling. In general, it’s very hard to get significant changes on a standardized spelling test with students who have a history of poor achievement in reading and spelling. But for them to gain 8 percentile points from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, is very, very significant because it’s one of the hardest things to remediate.

Usually people think of spelling as a visual memory task when it really is very dependent on kids understanding the structure of language and thinking about the structure of language as they learn to spell words, and we see a very significant effect in this area.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit: