Virtual Literacy: What is State of the Art Now?


We have come a long way since we taught readin’ and writin.’ But even with the amazing progress we have made in the science of literacy, it is still sometimes more of an art than a science. With the school lockdown and the sudden mandate of full-time virtual instruction, the art of literacy has become a little murky. The rules of the game have changed, and America’s education leaders are having to figure it out all over again. In this episode of the Learning Counsel’s Crossroads Virtual Discussion series, some of the top minds in delivering literacy instruction have come together to share ideas and give you the benefit of their experiences, both good and bad.

LeiLani Cauthen is the CEO and Publisher of the Learning Counsel. She shared an example of the workload teachers are experiencing, and how professional grade courseware can alleviate much of that work, so teachers can focus on teaching. “The teacher has little Johnny, who needs a unique plan. And Isabella, who also needs a unique plan, and then subgroups one, two and three for fast, medium, and maybe slower levels of the same, all the while having access to the correct resources for them. This is what it looks like to try to personalize. It looks like an air traffic control job and is too much work for the hours your teachers have.

“What happens if you're deploying the professional grade stuff, it's going to pick up some of the workload. So, when we talk about virtual, state-of-the-art, it all lends itself to a discussion around what you are doing to lessen the workload of your teachers. Every webinar that the learning council has had so far, people have brought up students’ social emotional needs; America's hurting right now. The students are hurting. We have a moment where perhaps the most critical work you're doing has to do with social emotional health. It doesn't have to do with the planning out of all your digital resources. The heavy lift that some of this pro-grade software could be doing for you is really what's center stage right now.”

Connie Kolosey, the Director of Media, Text and Digital Learning at Pinellas County Schools, serves a large district with 100,000 students and 7,200 teachers. She said, “We are a Microsoft district. My department had been doing some training on Teams. So the first thing we did was to push Teams out to every teacher and every student. Some of the really amazing things that have come out of that are communication among the adults and planning more vibrant PLCs between the teachers actually using the platform. Yes it's hectic to teach online, but in a real setting, you constantly have your 20 to 25 kids attached to you. It was hard to get a couple of thoughts headed in the same direction. In the online learning there has been the advantage of more time for collaboration. We have found that we are hearing from students that we did not anticipate. We are hearing more from students we have not heard much from in class. And so, in this new method, I would say the state-of-artness is really getting back to the personal interactions that we see taking place.”

Michael Batira, Staff Specialist at Dutches (NY) BOCES helps his districts from a tech perspective. “I should point out that effectiveness is critical for us all here,” said Batira. “It's not just a matter of having technology. As EdTech people, this is kind of like a revenge of the nerds syndrome. Because a lot of the tech people were doing what they needed to do and bring technology to the forefront. It seemingly might have come off a little passe. ‘Okay, yeah, that's nice. But you really need to be in the classroom.’ Now we really do have center stage, and we need to be that support to make the learning happen as concretely as possible.”

“There is an old adage that comes from special ed. ‘It's not what every child gets, it’s what every child needs.’ And that is so incredibly true, especially in this COVID-19 era that we're living in. It all comes down to the teachers’ usage of that technology in a way that is productive and meaningful for those students.”

Cori-Ann Dimagio is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment at Regional School District 13 in Connecticut. According to Dimagio, “What we've had to do is design our instructional videos for our students. For example, we use, we use Foundations for our word study program for the young ones. And the teachers are using that as a tool and they've developed some instructional videos using Foundations. And they are masterful at teaching those concepts to the students.

“It's not going to be the same as if you're in a brick and mortar situation. But I think the teachers have done an outstanding job teaching reading and teaching the writing at all levels. We have to make sure that our videos are a bit shorter at the end and engaging. The videos are designed with our coaches. We have a reading and math coach at every school. We also have tech specialists at all schools, so it's a team of teachers who are designing these lessons. And what we have also done is we have divided and conquered with our teachers. We have vertical grade level teaming across schools and there might be a couple of teachers who are designing those reading lessons while others are designing math lessons. They're able to really design quality lessons for our students at each grade level.”

Watch the video

As the group got into more of the specifics of literacy, the discussion focused on the meaning of state-of-the-art as it relates to teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, many things have changed, and what was best practice yesterday may no longer be relevant. As you watch this video, pay careful attention to the development of the discussion, and listen for all the strategies you can use in your own school or district. You may be taking notes furiously; there is a lot here for your learners.

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