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Jump to the post written by Karyn Bruneel, Superintendent of Education
Jump to the post written by Candice Zonneveld, teacher

In February 2022, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released the findings of the Right to Read inquiry and their recommendations for improving literacy instruction in Ontario (click here to access the OHRC Right to Read Executive Summary and Key Recommendations).   Since then, educators across Ontario have been working to better understand and implement these recommendations to improve student success and improve best practice.

LD@School asked a group of educators from Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board to share some of their journey into evidence-based literacy. Our bloggers include classroom teachers, instructional coaches, and superintendents.

We are grateful for the teams from the school board for sharing their thinking and experiences regarding the change in literacy instruction in Ontario.

Jump to the post written by Candice Zonneveld, teacher

Written by Karyn Bruneel, Superintendent of Education, Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board

Reflecting on a Year of Progress: Advancing High-Quality Reading Instruction for All Students

As a superintendent of education for the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board, I am thrilled to share the remarkable progress we have made this year in implementing a comprehensive system of instruction and intervention focused on evidence-based reading instruction. We are engaging in a significant paradigm shift for instructional equity and targeting our core instruction to those who need it most instead of differentiating for them after the fact. Our collaborative efforts between the curriculum and special education teams and business services are paving the way for a coherent and rigorous multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) that prioritizes the needs of all students. I am so proud of our educators and students and want to share with you their accomplishments as well as outline the next steps in our journey. 

Building a Strong Foundation:

We recognized that to design a rigorous Tier 1 instructional model, we needed a clear understanding of what the highest intensity of instruction looks like, sounds like, and feels like. By setting this vision, we provided clarity to our educators and developed a robust Tier 1 reading instruction model that ensures high-quality teaching and learning for all students. 

Fidelity Checklist for Tier 1 Reading Instruction:

To further support our teachers and principals, we will be working on creating a fidelity checklist for Tier 1 reading instruction. This valuable tool will provide a clear vision and specific indicators of the rigour required at Tier 1, helping educators maintain fidelity and consistently deliver effective instruction. 

Progress Monitoring and Decision-Making Tools:

In our commitment to personalized support, we have begun implementing progress monitoring and outcomes assessment within our Tier 2 and 3 interventions. This data-driven approach enables our special education teachers to closely monitor student progress, make informed decisions about intervention intensity, and ensure targeted support is provided. To support this work, we are planning to develop a decision-making tool for school teams that will aid in identifying the appropriate tier of intervention for students and guide decisions regarding increasing intensity within or across multiple tiers. 

Blending Math and Reading Intervention:

As we expand our math intervention programs to more schools next year, we also plan to develop guidelines within our decision-making tool to address students who may require both math and reading intervention. This will help schools determine whether a sequential, concurrent, or blended intervention approach is most appropriate, ensuring a cohesive and comprehensive support system for our students. 

Note: a sequential approach would prioritize completing intervention in one area before addressing the other so students can build skills in one subject area at a time; a concurrent approach provides intervention in both math and reading simultaneously; a blended approach has elements of both sequential and concurrent, whereby the student may receive intensive intervention in one area while receiving supplemental small group intervention in the classroom in another area. 

Positive Impact and Student Engagement:

Throughout this year, we have witnessed the positive impact of our efforts. Our students have wholeheartedly embraced Tier 1 instruction, finding it engaging and meaningful. Contrary to initial concerns about potential boredom among non-struggling students, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Students report enjoying explicit and systematic instruction, feeling more successful than ever before, and teachers report experiencing improved behaviour and regulation in the classroom. 

Celebrating Progress and Looking Ahead:

As we gather our end-of-year screener benchmark data, we eagerly anticipate celebrating the progress our students have made. This year, our focus was on program implementation, and it is heartening to see teachers becoming more proficient in delivering the high-quality instruction we have been supporting. The feedback from teachers and students has been exceptional, reinforcing our belief in the power of evidence-based instruction and intervention. 

The strides we have taken in advancing high-quality reading instruction have laid a solid foundation for the continued growth and development of our multi-tiered system of support. By focusing on Tier 1 instructional rigour, developing fidelity checklists, utilizing progress monitoring, and refining decision-making tools, we are building a comprehensive framework that will empower all our students to thrive academically, socially, and behaviourally. Together, we believe we are transforming the instructional equity our students experience and unlocking the potential of every learner in our board. 

Secondary Schools:

Our commitment to inclusivity also extends to our secondary schools, where we have been diligently working to implement full access to universally provided accommodations, which we refer to as 'universal accommodations.' Our approach to inclusivity recognizes that when a student requires an accommodation, it often reveals a systemic barrier. To address this, we are dedicated to removing these barriers and creating an environment where every student has equitable access without the need for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). By proactively eliminating barriers, we foster an inclusive culture that supports the success of all students. 

In line with our efforts to provide tiered interventions, we are excited to introduce a new initiative in our secondary schools. We have designed a full-year, 2-credit destreamed English course that offers tiered intervention opportunities. During the first half of the period, students will participate in a Tier 2 intervention program tailored to their specific needs. This targeted intervention will be followed by destreamed Grade 9 English instruction during the second half of the period, encompassing the entire school year. By combining intervention support with inclusive classroom experiences, we create an environment where students receive personalized assistance while also engaging in grade-level content. 

Recognizing the importance of comprehensive support, we are also integrating Tier 2 and 3 intervention programs into our locally developed Grade 9 English and Math programming. By incorporating intervention strategies directly into these core subjects, we provide students with increased opportunities for repetition, chunking, and visual supports at a pace that optimizes their progress in reading and math. This approach ensures that students receive the support they need to be literate and numerate and to increase their independence as adults. 

I am so proud to be a part of the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board. Our school and system teams, including our business services, are aligned and committed to creating an inclusive and supportive elementary and secondary education system. It is so exciting to be a part of this teamwork. By removing barriers, providing universal accommodations, and offering tiered intervention opportunities, we empower all students to thrive academically and develop their full potential. Every staff member plays a role in making a difference for our students. Our focus remains on ensuring equity, promoting academic growth, and fostering a culture of inclusivity throughout our school board. #Blessed #BGCDSBProud 

Written by Candice Zonneveld, Grade 2 teacher, St. Basil’s School, BGCDSB 

Reflections and Planning

As I approach the end of my first year using a structured approach to teaching literacy, I now feel I have a much better understanding of the process. Switching from Balanced Literacy to evidence-based literacy instruction (sometimes referred to as Structured Literacy) was a lot to wrap my brain around. The high level of explicit teaching of the 5 pillars of literacy (phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) was a shift. However, once put into practice, there was such a natural flow. Comments made by my second-graders really helped put things into perspective and provided validation: 

I like learning like this. It helps me understand why we do things.”

Mme., can I read it a few times to really use my code? Then we can focus on understanding what it means together.

There were two aspects I struggled with throughout the year that I could not find effective solutions for, planning and documenting for my small groups. I adapted old tracking sheets, created new tracking sheets, and checklists, and referred to data from universal and diagnostic assessments. However, nothing really helped when it came down to ‘what should I do with this specific group?’ and ‘How am I going to record and track it?’

structured literacy

Figure 1. Retrieved from (https://dyslexiaida.org/what-is-structured-literacy/)

I knew my students' strengths and weaknesses and created small groups based on data which identified student needs within the different literacy elements. I felt that I was applying evidence-based principles and bringing it all together (as best as I could). Despite my efforts to maintain an effective method for planning, recording and collecting daily work, I was most often left with scribbles on a notepad and a mountain of sticky notes, which my type ‘A’ nature had a really hard time with.

It wasn’t until recently, in reflecting upon the year and beginning to plan for next year, that I stumbled upon the Literacy Acquisition Model (figure 2.). I know I have seen it before, but this time it really made me think. Since mastery in these three domains indicates a student is successfully literate (in both reading and writing), then my small group cycles should include aspects from all three areas: word reading, language comprehension, and metacognition.

Literacy acquisition model

Figure 2. Retrieved from (https://inclusive.tki.org.nz/guides/dyslexia-and-learning/learning-the-code-and-literacy-acquisition/)

Going forward, I plan to further break down the areas of literacy acquisition and choose specific focuses for groups based on what the data reveals as specific student needs. This will give me a solid focus and key points to reflect upon and document. It would also be measurable and still follow our grade level scope and sequence.

This year has been about learning and re-learning a lot of basics for me. During my 10 years as a primary classroom teacher, many of these basics have not been part of my teaching tool kit. And as with learning anything new, there have been ups and downs, highs and lows. I’m excited with the incredible progress my students have made, and I’m proud of sending them forward with a higher level of understanding and competencies.

Candice Zonnefeld has been teaching primary French for 12 years at her current school, St. Basil’s. She is a mom of two young boys, a crazy dog and soon-to-be a few hundred bees. She grew up in the French Immersion system and has been a passionate French learner her whole life, even completing part of her undergraduate degree in France.