Struggling Readers: 4 Reciprocal Teaching Strategies

by | Dec 14, 2021


Learning Loss During COVID-19

With the ongoing coronavirus numbers, districts, and schools there is a lot of uncertainty about whether they will have to pivot to virtual or hybrid learning for the remainder of this school year.

The research is clear about the impact on literacy and extended periods of time that students spend outside of the classroom. For example, the ‘summer slide’ is a popular term used by educators in elementary classrooms to describe the reduction in the reading ability of their children after they have been out of school for a couple of months. During this time, kindergarten up to second-grade students may experience one month of learning loss.

In 2020, 2021 moving into 2022, we have faced many educational challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, and now, researchers from Yale University and the University of Connecticut are planning to study the impact the pandemic has had on the reading levels of over 2000 K-2 students.

Data Tells the Story

The latest research that is available about the impact on student social-emotional learning states that about 6% of students in grades K-2 did not have consistent face time with their teachers and 19% interacted virtually on an occasional basis.  Experts believe that due to this, students have lost an estimated 30% of their learning when compared to a normal school year. It is expected that the long-term impact will particularly be felt in poorer communities, or in children with special needs.

During school, closer equity and access were no longer just words but a reality for students in poorer communities.’  There were students who did not have internet service or hotspots which meant that access to online learning and instructional support was not available to them.

While there is a loss of learning across the board, this is particularly concerning when it comes to students not learning to read at proficient and advanced levels can become a barrier to accessing many different aspects of the curriculum as students progress to the next grade.

Supporting Literacy Instruction in Virtual and Hybrid Literacy Classrooms

Online learning or even social distancing in the classroom makes it increasingly difficult to teach young children to read, as usually this is done in a social manner within a classroom. With phonics being taught by listening, visualizing, and engaging in reading activities to master this skill.

Literacy Instruction and Parent Engagement

Teachers should encourage parents to establish or build on reading routines that they have in the home. Parents should start with ten minutes and work up to 30 minutes of reading aloud to their child each day.  Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word. Even after children learn to read by themselves, it’s still important for parents to read with their children.

Literacy Instructional Strategies

Teachers should implement strategies that parents can implement at home to support their child learning to read or reading to learn.  Studies have shown that reciprocal teaching is an easy strategy for parents to implement at home.  Teachers should embed reciprocal teaching practices into their literacy lessons to use with students at least two to three times per week.  This strategy provides opportunities for students to engage, discuss and comprehend the text that they are reading.  In a few short months, students learn new vocabulary words, become more fluent readers and their comprehension skills improve.

The Fab Four Method is a reciprocal teaching instructional strategy that has four different steps:

  • Predict – Students are asked to read the title and then they use this information to predict what the book might be about.
  • Read – The text is read either silently or aloud.
  • Clarify – Reread and work on any difficult words and meanings and ask any questions.
  • Summarize – Students try their best to summarize the information they have just read.

This approach provides students with the opportunity to use this skill independently when reading a new book.  Parents can easily implement this framework when introducing a new book to read and discuss with their children.

A great example of the Fab Four Method literacy practice can be seen in some New York City public schools. Andrew Fletcher, senior executive director of early literacy launched the Let’s Learn NYC program, which included lots of online lessons that children could access at home in order to supplement literacy instruction. What is even more impressive is that this program was made available in both English and Spanish – meaning that learners who use English as a second language can still access materials to support their literacy.

Prevention and Intervention

This school year we have quite a few students in grades K-3 who did not have consistent access to core literacy instruction during school closure.  Unfortunately, we can’t just begin with grade-level literacy instruction without assessing what skills the students have not mastered and then we must build in time for students to learn the prerequisite reading skills that they were not taught.

Teachers must establish instructional goals for grade-level content and prerequisite skills that students have not mastered.  In order to narrow and close the achievement gap is by teaching students the literacy skills that they will need to become proficient and advanced readers.