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Read by the 3rd Grade: 10 Features to Look for in Online Literacy Programs

Read by the 3rd Grade: 10 Features to Look for in Online Literacy Programs

Establishing a strong foundation in literacy is absolutely essential to future academic success, and a growing number of states are formally recognizing this reality with initiatives related to reading by the 3rd grade. This has put renewed focus on literacy instruction methods, including how digital tools and programs can be incorporated.

Whether you’re an administrator making districtwide curriculum decisions or a teacher searching for new classroom resources, it’s important to make sure that you choose an online learning solution that fosters lifelong literacy in your students and streamlines the process of providing high-quality instruction. Take a look at these 10 best practices (partially inspired by the MAISA GELN Early Literacy Task Force) to keep in mind when choosing an online literacy solution:

1. Research-based lessons that foster motivation and engagement in literacy

Encourage learners to see reading and writing as enjoyable activities rather than purely as assignments by providing practical applications for literacy that encourage agency, curiosity, and excitement. Foster young students’ confidence in their reading and writing abilities, and be cautious with the use of non-reading-related incentives.

Look for online programs that:

  • Provide scaffolded lessons that are personalized for each student and include real-world examples
  • Offer extensive, appropriately leveled digital libraries that allow students to select reading and activities based on their interests
  • Incorporate reading-skills-based gamification to reward student progress and increase motivation

2. Age-appropriate read-alouds and other materials, print or digital

Make regular time spent reading aloud to your students a priority in order to model fluency and comprehension strategies, facilitate reading experiences (and the associated learning) that students aren’t yet ready for independently, and encourage meaningful discussion.

Look for online programs that:

  • Include lesson plans and other teacher support materials to provide a framework for read-aloud activities
  • Feature consistent characters and stories that serve as a bridge between lessons

3. Small-group and individual instruction opportunities to develop fluency

Balance time spent on small-group and individual instruction to make sure that each student has opportunities to develop fluency (e.g., through partner reading) and receive the unique coaching required, especially in regard to word recognition, comprehension, text structure, and writing strategies.

Look for online programs that:

  • Provide instructors with assessment data that can be leveraged to group students according to skills and needs
  • Feature personalized lessons and printable options that students can work on independently to reinforce the skills they need to build

4. Activities that build phonemic awareness skills

Make development of critical phonemic awareness skills a priority, especially in grades K and 1, by engaging in regular explanations, demonstrations, and games related to individual words and specific sounds within words.

Look for online programs that:

  • Build upon foundational skills and require active engagement from students to progress
  • Provide instruction in multiple learning modalities, including written passages, audio, and video

5. Specific instruction in letter-sound relationships

Don’t overlook foundational instruction focused on letters, including their names, the sounds associated with them, and later, more complex letter-sound relationships like digraphs, blends, diphthongs, common spelling patterns, construction of multisyllabic words, and unique characteristics of high-frequency words. Incorporate instruction in multiple modalities, and be sure to reinforce recognition of letter-sound relationships when children are reading. 

Look for online programs that:

  • Incorporate regular formative assessment to ensure that students are gradually mastering skills
  • Provide instruction with careful scaffolding via various activities and approaches and intentional repetition to build automaticity

6. Writing instruction aligned to research and standards

Reading may get more attention, but writing is an equally important component of literacy. Provide students with daily opportunities to practice writing, expose them to different types of texts, and offer formal instruction on the writing process (e.g., research, planning, revising, and editing).

Look for online programs that:

  • Include teacher-graded writing items that encourage students to write for a variety of purposes and audiences, including opinion-based, explanatory, and narrative formats
  • Incorporate explicit grammar instruction, including letter formation, spelling strategies, capitalization, punctuation, and sentence construction 

7. Opportunities for students to build vocabulary and content knowledge

Push your students’ boundaries when it comes to vocabulary. Regularly introduce new words and meanings during reading and instruction, help students make connections with existing vocabulary, and provide plenty of opportunities for them to make use of new words in class discussions and other meaningful contexts. 

Look for online programs that:

  • Include instruction on common word roots, inflections, prefixes, and suffixes to help students identify unknown words
  • Scaffold vocabulary instruction with lessons that build on previous vocabulary with new word meanings and nuances
  • Feature dictionary tools to help students decipher new vocabulary

8. Literacy-rich reading material and reading opportunities in the classroom

Every classroom should be a literacy-rich environment. Make sure that books and other reading materials that appeal to students’ wide-ranging interests are easily accessible and available for children outside of the classroom. Additionally, ensure that there are comfortable, welcoming spaces throughout the classroom for students to read independently and with one another.

Look for online programs that:

  • Feature extensive digital libraries organized by subject and reading level
  • Include reading selections that are available as audio recordings and printable packages
  • Provide teacher guides, connected lessons, and other support materials to go along with reading selections 

9. Ongoing formative assessment of students’ language and literacy development

Regular observation by instructors is key to understanding what each student needs to support the development of literacy. Formative and diagnostic assessments guided by understanding of literacy development and state standards should be implemented to monitor progress and identify students who may need additional interventions.

Look for online programs that:

  • Offer curriculum aligned to state and national standards (like the Common Core and ISTE) for English language arts
  • Feature diagnostic assessments to determine students’ baseline knowledge as well as growth
  • Include short, regular measures of mastery to formatively assess progress
  • Present assessment data in a clear, easy-to-understand manner to help teachers inform instruction and target specific needs

10. Collaboration with families to promote literacy

Literacy development shouldn’t stop when students leave the classroom. Engage with students’ families to help them understand the importance of literacy, and provide resources and strategies to encourage reading at home (including books, magazines, and information about local literacy-focused library and museum events).

Look for online programs that:

  • Allow students to access their individualized lessons, activities, and reading materials at home
  • Provide immediate feedback to support students and their parents working on assignments at home

Edmentum is proud to offer research-based online programs to support effective instructional practices for literacy. Exact Path provides adaptive diagnostic assessments and individualized learning paths aligned to state and national standards to meet all students exactly where they are in their literacy journey. Our dynamic, two-in-one literacy solution, Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress, is designed to build and reinforce foundational literacy skills through rich, interactive lessons and activities. Ready to learn more? Get a quote today!

References:

Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators General Education Leadership Network Early Literacy Task Force (2016). Essential instructional practices in early literacy: K to 3. Lansing, MI: Authors.

mark.radcliffe@edmentum.com's picture

Mark Radcliffe is an Implementation Consultant for Edmentum, and has been with the company since 2015. Previously, Mark held several roles in e-learning training and professional development, including at the Blended Schools Network and Pennsylvania Department of Education. Mark received his B.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of Manchester and an M.S. in Instructional Technology from Bloomsberg University of Pennsylvania.

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