The Educators’ Exchange: The Final Check-in with Keewatin-Patricia’s Evidence-Based Literacy Journey

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The Educators’ Exchange: The Final Check-in with Keewatin-Patricia’s Evidence-Based Literacy Journey

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Jump to the post written by Shannon Elliott, Instructional Coach
Jump to the post written by Ainsley and Laurie, teachers
Jump to the post written by Shannon Bailey, Superintendent of Education

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 Ainsley and Laurie, teachers
Jump to the post written by Shannon Bailey, Superintendent of Education

Structured Literacy One Year Later

Written by Shannon Elliott, Instructional Coach, KPDSB

My board is now one year into its shift to structured literacy—starting with K-3 and moving into grades 4-8. Although it has been a mountain of learning for many teachers, it is exciting to hear them talk about their learning and to see the effect it has had on their students. 

phonological awareness umbrellaAt the start of our journey into structured literacy, we joked that it would be helpful to have the phonological awareness umbrella tattooed onto our arms so that we could keep track of all of this new terminology. Luckily, this was not necessary. Now, terms like phonemes, graphemes, and morphemes are coming up regularly in professional conversations. In my discussions with teachers around phonics, I will often hear exclamations like, “Did you know there is a rule for when to use “c” or “k” for the /k/ sound? It makes so much sense, why have I never learned this until now?” I think we need to start a Facebook Page titled, “I was today years old when I found out (insert phonics rule here)”. 

While working in primary classes, it has been amazing to hear students share their knowledge about what makes a vowel a vowel, their understanding of different types of syllables, what digraphs are, and what certain morphemes mean.  Many teachers were never taught this during their schooling or in their teacher training. So, it is understandable when I say that there are some Kindergarteners that could teach a thing or two to me and some junior-intermediate staff and students about phonics. I am excited to see how these students develop as readers over the next few years, considering all the foundational literacy knowledge they now have. 

As we take this shift to structured literacy into grades 4-8, the learning continues. But now we have the benefit of all of our primary educators being able to support their junior-intermediate colleagues in their learning journey. Teachers in the later elementary grades have often been faced with the challenge of supporting struggling readers in their classes but were often not sure what the specific student need was. I have noticed that since we completed our universal screening using Acadience there is more discussion around whether a student needs support in decoding, fluency, vocabulary, or comprehension.  Grades 4–8 teachers are also looking for resources to support these skills, and some have started using decodable texts and Lexia for some of their students. As we implement resources such as Morpheme Magic and Lexia and trial others, we continue to work on what an effective junior-intermediate literacy block should look like.  I think this will be evolving for a few years to come as students who are now receiving structured literacy instruction in primary move up into junior-intermediate.  We are moving in the right direction, though. 

Jump to the post written by Shannon Elliott, Literacy Coach
Jump to the post written by Shannon Bailey, Superintendent of Education

Written by Ainsley Norlen, Grade 1 teacher and Laurie Carambetsos, reading intervention teacher, King George VI School, KPDSB

A Shift to Using Screeners

Laurie: In the spring of last year, our board began conversations around universal screeners. I started reading about what exactly a screener is, how it is implemented, and what exactly to do with the data. They chose the Acadience screener, which is free to download and print. We ended up purchasing the Acadience Learning Online (ALO) system, and let me tell you, it is worth every penny. Although it took some time to adjust to moving from pencil and paper to technology, in the end, it proved to be way less prep work, much faster, and after a bit of practice in the end, was definitely easier. This fall, we implemented the Acadience screener for all K to 8 students. We first had the reading intervention teachers, as well as other staff from the board, complete the online training workshop. We then had a team of trained people work alongside teachers as we administered the beginning of the year and mid-year screeners in order to begin building their knowledge and understanding of administering the assessment. As we approach the end of the school year, we will still support our schools and teachers during the last assessment, although we have many teachers who are now capable of doing their own screeners. 

Ainsley: This was the first year I didn’t complete benchmark reading assessments on every student in my room at the start of the school year. It was an adjustment to move from using Benchmarks to using the Acadience screener; it took time to read the assessment manual and to understand how to implement it. However, the data that Acadience revealed was much more helpful for me as a classroom teacher in understanding the needs of my students and helping with planning for whole group instruction as well as intervention. 

Using the Information from Screeners

Laurie: Once we had completed the screeners, the ALO system displays the data for us in colours that allows students to be easily flagged and graphs that show growth and skill areas for us to analyze and start digging deeper. We were able to quickly map out Ainsley’s entire class to determine who was at risk for reading difficulties and would require extra support. 

Ainsley: The Acadience data showed specifically what each of my students needed to move forward. Some students were still struggling with quick recall of letter sounds, while others needed to continue to work on blending. A small pocket of students needed to back up to the phonemic awareness level; they were not yet ready to blend and read at the grapheme level. These were the students that were pulled for intervention. 

Laurie: Ainsley and I created a schedule to get us up and running. We sorted out who we would see during her small group instruction time during the literacy block each day. We then scheduled those who needed to be seen again outside of literacy time for more support. This type of scheduling requires us to talk and touch base regularly to keep up with the ever-changing needs and growth of her students. This is when we quickly realized how important progress monitoring was going to be in order to continue to meet the needs of our students and to make sure what we were doing was working. 

Ainsley: We decided to progress monitor using the printable booklets from Acadience. Once every 4 weeks, we would spend less than 2 minutes per student, quickly assessing their nonsense word fluency. By analyzing how a student read a nonsense word, we were able to see what letter sounds or word structures they were having a hard time with. Within no time we had a few students who no longer needed to be monitored or pulled for extra support in the areas of alphabetic principle and blending. The core instruction being provided during my literacy block, as well as the extra dip of help during intervention time, pushed these students to where they needed to be. We again rescheduled and regrouped and continued pushing forward. Our groupings were very flexible, and Laurie and I had to communicate often to share updates about student growth. 

Seeing Results

Ainsley: In the middle of this year, I had 72% of my students flagged as at-risk (red) in Acadience, specifically in whole word reading of nonsense words. Looking at our data today, we now have only 28% flagged as at risk in whole word reading of nonsense words.

acadience data

Due to all of the work and the structures that we have in place, the progress made by our struggling students has been much more visible. In the past, we would have a group of Grade 1 students stuck at Benchmark Level 5 for most of the year. We would not know what to do with them, and we wouldn’t change our instructional focus. With the Science of Reading tools that we have been using in the classroom and during intervention, we are actually seeing students learn how to read and make steady, visible progress. Next year, because of the work that our Kindergarten teachers have been doing, we anticipate that we will have a more homogeneous group of literacy learners in Grade 1, and fewer students coming out of Kindergarten at risk.

What does this look like for September? As a classroom teacher, I will continue to use Acadience data to determine exactly what each student needs, and I am hoping that I will have fewer reading groups with less of an academic spread between each group. Ideally, lessons taught to the whole class will target what most students need, and at-risk students can be pulled for further instruction as required. I feel like this year has been really challenging with all of the new learning for me, but I am really excited to see where this new learning takes us next year! 

Jump to the post written by Shannon Elliott, Instructional Coach
Jump to the post written by Ainsley and Laurie, teachers

Taking the Next Steps

Written by Shannon Bailey, Superintendent of Education, KPDSB

This serves as our final blog post in our series about the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board's (KPDSB) literacy reform that has taken place over the past 2+ years, moving to a model of structured literacy. We have shared our efforts on making change across the district, with a strong focus to date on kindergarten to grade 3.  In this post, we'll look at the exciting next steps KPDSB is taking to make change for students in grades 4 -12. We are thrilled with the progress that is being made for students at the primary grade level, and how we have the ability to better measure student outcomes, including looking carefully at which students are not moving, and how we can make changes to the core (Tier 1) instruction in the classroom. It is critical that this change continues to happen for students in all grades across the system.  Here are some of our next steps… 

Developing a Comprehensive Core Instruction Framework:

Recognizing the importance of a strong foundation in literacy (and now numeracy and other content areas) at all grade levels, KPDSB has begun developing a comprehensive framework for teachers in kindergarten to Grade 12 teachers. This framework aligns with the Ontario curriculum (including the revised Language Curriculum) and aims to support educators with a roadmap for quality core instruction, assessment, and intervention. 

Strengthening Reading Instruction:

KPDSB is committed to nurturing lifelong readers, and they understand that reading proficiency is crucial to success across all content areas. To support this goal, the district is implementing evidence-based reading strategies and interventions that cater to the diverse needs of students in all grades. By extending the work that we have done in our primary division, teachers are equipped with evidence-based, explicit instructional resources, including a universal screen for students in grades K - 9, diagnostic assessments and direct instruction programs to help provide each student with the core or intervention instruction to meet their needs.   

Enhancing Writing Pedagogy:

Resist the temptation to think of reading and writing as separate processes that should be taught separately. Students who get plenty of chances to write in conjunction with reading strengthen skills in both areas, including critical thinking. (Quote from The Writing Rope, by Joan Sedita). 

Writing is a vital component of the Language/English Curriculums, and KPDSB recognizes the significance of empowering students to express themselves effectively. By increasing students’ decoding capabilities with decoding, we see how that directly impacts their ability to encode.  Planning for the instruction of each of the “strands” of Joan Sedita’s The Writing Rope (critical thinking, syntax, text structure, writing craft and transcription) has become an important next step in our planning. As Sedita says with regards to the skills she identifies in speaking about the Writing Rope, “multiple components are necessary for skilled writing—a ‘rope’ metaphor can be used to depict the many strands that contribute to fluent, skilled writing. It should be noted that instruction for many skills that support writing also supports reading comprehension.” 

Continued Professional Learning and Collaboration:

To ensure educators are well-equipped to implement the new literacy initiatives effectively, KPDSB prioritizes ongoing professional learning and collaboration. Teachers receive targeted professional development opportunities, where they are supported in learning about the board-supported programs and (more importantly) the targeted skills within each program.  Although it is very challenging to provide educators with professional development during a time when occasional teachers are difficult to hire and retain, we look for creative ways to provide the necessary training for teachers to be able to effectively deliver evidence-based, explicit instruction to their students.   

As one of the inquiry boards for the Ontario Human Rights Commission Right to Read Inquiry, it has been critical that the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board be committed to implementing the recommendations of the report.  To date, we have begun implementing many of the recommendations aimed at school boards and will continue to work hard to ensure that changes are felt throughout all grades, school communities and previously underserved demographics. 

The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board puts students first by creating a culture of learning. 

About the Authors:

Ainsley Norlen is a Grade 1 teacher and Laurie Carambetsos is a reading intervention teacher. Both work at King George VI School in Kenora. Together, they share 35+ years of experience in elementary education and have worked closely together for the last 7 years.

Shannon Bailey is a Superintendent of Education for the Keewatin-Patricia DSB.  Some of her portfolio responsibilities include the Elementary Program, Indigenous Education, Leadership Development, Human Resources, and supporting a family of schools across the vast region of the board.  As a primary teacher for most of her 25-year career, the work of literacy is near and dear to her heart.  Having experienced frustration over the years in not being able to move all readers in her classes, she is committed to making changes that meet the needs of all learners. She lives in Kenora, Ontario with her family on the beautiful lands of Treaty # 3. 

Shannon Elliott is an Instructional Coach for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board in northwestern Ontario. Over the past 19 years, she has had experience teaching students from K-8, with the last 2 years of her career being an Instructional Coach, where she supports teachers across her board in literacy and numeracy.  She is grateful to live and play on the shores of Eagle Lake, in Treaty #3 territory, with her husband, daughter, and pets.

By |July 12th, 2023|Categories: Literacy|Tags: , , |Comments Off on The Educators’ Exchange: The Final Check-in with Keewatin-Patricia’s Evidence-Based Literacy Journey