A group of elementary students listen to their teachers read a book aloud.

How Instructional Strategies for Reading Changed Due to COVID

How has Reading Instruction been impacted?

For educators everywhere, the COVID-19 global pandemic brought significant negative impacts to student and teacher attendance, student engagement and participation, physical and mental wellness, and thus the instructional strategies teachers would need to employ to promote academic growth.

Attendance plummeted as students and teachers alike battled personal and family illness, quarantine, and a stunted ability to interact in social settings due to roughly 14 months of isolation. As remote and hybrid instruction required academic participation in settings that for many were usually deemed as play and relaxation zones, despite encouragement and incentives, student engagement waned. Despite pulling out all best practices, the teachers’ need to modify and differentiate instructional strategies to meet the increasingly varied needs of students became much more critical.

Although teachers of all content areas faced these challenges, this deficit was most apparent for teachers of reading and literacy. According to The New York Times, it showed that, on average, students were roughly four months behind in reading by the end of the last school year.

Unlike some disciplines where skills may not necessarily need to be built upon, reading is developmental meaning certain fundamental skills must be learned for students to master more sophisticated ones and employ strategies for successful reading and comprehension.

Changes to Reading Instructional Strategies Since COVID

As a result, teachers were compelled to implement specific changes to instructional strategies for reading in response to pandemic-created issues to ensure student growth.

Learning Loss

For an entire calendar year and roughly three school years, virtual, hybrid, or remote learning necessitated by positive COVID-19 virus cases or close contacts, significantly impacted what reading educators could teach, how, and to what extent. For perspective, a current ninth-grade student’s last traditional year of school was as sixth graders.

This contributed to a significant loss in learning. As a result, teachers saw a wider diversity in student knowledge of critical skills, maturity levels, and motivation for learning, which all required more creativity and intentionality in reading instruction.

Although administering diagnostics to assess students’ needs has always been a best practice, this instructional strategy has become a necessary one. Determining students’ specific needs allows for appropriate grouping and enables teachers to focus on the fundamental skills students lack that would hinder the mastery of other skills. Diagnostics also allow for the continued use of guided reading groups that enable teachers to move students at their own developmental pace by explicitly teaching the critical skills they have not yet mastered.

For many teachers, this also meant:

  • Modifying curriculums making room for more guided reading groups
  • More opportunities to practice and demonstrate mastery
  • More time to remediate a deficit in executive functioning skills that could hinder students’ ability to access reading instruction

Guided Reading Groups

For many, virtual instruction made it almost impossible to provide differentiated group instruction. Attempts to utilize breakout rooms for groups often left the remaining students unattended or unengaged.

Once in-person instruction returned, efforts to maintain accuracy in contact tracing and attempts to limit student exposure made it difficult and, in some classrooms, impossible to move students as needed. Additionally, a required three feet of space between students became an added barrier to reading group instruction.

Despite these challenges, teachers found differentiated reading groups to continue to be the most effective way to address individual student needs and move students forward. As guided reading allows teachers to focus on specific skills with specific students, reading instruction is more equitable.

It provides students with the targeted phonological awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension instruction they need and more opportunities to practice, closing the learning gap widened by the pandemic. Thus, teachers found creative ways to conference with students and maintain distance while providing necessary group instruction.

Phonological Awareness

Essential parts of phonological awareness are oral language skills such as:

  • Blending
  • Syllables
  • Correct pronunciation of words

They require students to be able to hear clearly, the variations in sounds and to see the placement of the mouth, lips, teeth, and tongue during the production of sounds.

These skills are essential to building a foundation for reading. For many, wearing masks muffled sound, making it more difficult for students to hear or understand how sounds are pronounced. Additionally, the masks obstructed students’ view of a teacher’s mouth, making the physical modeling of how to produce certain sounds impossible. This, in addition to the lack of small group instruction, halted teaching these specific skills during the pandemic.

During remote learning, teachers utilized and encouraged various applications such as YouTube that allow students to see and hear the formation of words from an unmasked person. Teachers became creative in their approach to teaching these skills, focusing on the grouping and sorting of shared sounds.

With the re-introduction of in-person instruction and thus reading groups, teachers could build upon these skills, working on:

  • Decoding
  • Phonics
  • Reading
  • Writing

Despite the drastic changes brought on by COVID-19, the best practices for reading instruction remained the same. Teachers’ responsiveness to the needs of students, their ability to be creative and intentional in their approach, and their modification of instructional strategies that have proven effective have and will continue to make the difference in student learning recovery and growth moving forward.

Valuable Skills Learned in Concordia University Chicago’s Master’s in Reading

Through Concordia University Chicago’s reading program, I learned how:

  • Students acquire literacy knowledge
  • Environmental factors that enhance or diminish their ability to do this as well as some of their counterparts
  • To identify specific deficiencies and implement practical strategies to address them either as a reading specialist or within the context of the classroom

This helps me every day as my differentiation of instruction is intentional and focused. I feel better prepared to address the issue, allowing my students to swim towards proficiency and not just float through the year.

Ready to pursue your master’s in reading? Explore our program to get started today!