As an educator, you know that literacy is an integral part of student success. You also know that literacy can be one of the biggest struggles in the classroom. As the requirements for literacy success grow, it’s more imperative than ever that we set students up for high achievement from a young age.
At HMH, we conducted impact studies in Asbury Park School District, New Jersey, and in Troup County School System, Georgia, on increasing K–3 literacy and the efficacy of varying teaching practices. We pulled together three tips from what we learned in these case studies to help you increase literacy in your district.
1. Use Data to Create Student-Centered Education
Students need rigor and relevance to keep them engaged, and of course, each student has different needs. Focusing on the needs of today’s student is the first step in determining how best to reach students, especially those that are struggling with literacy.
Data is an important tool in monitoring what students need. Anonymous student surveys regarding factors such as learning environment and quality of instruction can give you insights on how to better meet students’ needs. For example, students in Troup County were interested in real-world relevance. However, surveys showed that students saw far less relevancy in the lessons they were receiving than their teachers thought!
Data-driven progress monitoring can identify perception gaps like the one in Troup County so that they can be addressed immediately to increase classroom efficacy. The more engaged students are in the curriculum and in what they’re reading, the better their literacy learning. This can work on an individual level too; for students who are struggling with literacy but show interest elsewhere, combining literacy learning with something else they’re excited about can create a student who is excited about literacy learning.
2. Engage Your Local Community
Learning starts at home, but there are only so many hours in the day, and you only see your students for a handful of them! Your best allies in your pursuit of student success are your community members.
Parent engagement is a key part of student success, but we all know that parents don’t always have the time or resources to dedicate to academic support. With the advent of social media, however, it’s easier than ever to keep parents engaged in their child’s life at school. When parents can see online how their kids are performing academically—or see stories of positive student achievement—it opens the door for conversations at home about academic achievement. These tools also help those parents who are already engaged keep a finger on the pulse of school life.
But parents aren’t the only community members to leverage. Work experience has become part of college readiness. Reach out to community leaders and small businesses near you to find out about any potential professional development opportunities for students. This could be a summer mentorship and internship opportunities, or even informational interviews. Any little bit can help and can compound classroom lessons to increase student achievement by implementing their literacy skills outside of the classroom.
3. Establish a Positive Vision and Culture
When you believe that your students can succeed, they believe it too. When both faculty and staff are excited about learning—and have both high morale and high expectations of each other and students—schools perform better as a whole.
What’s less emphasized is the importance that environment holds in classroom culture. School facilities that are clean, safe, and centered on student learning go a long way in creating an environment where students are excited to learn. The goal is to create a safe, engaging learning environment, where relevant instruction is buoyed by strong student-adult relationships.
Sometimes budgetary concerns can get in the way of creating the kind of learning environment that you want. Grants are one way to alleviate the issues that lack of funding in local schools can cause. In addition, engaged community members can go a long way in helping to create a fertile learning environment too. This can take traditional formats such as fundraising or a book drive to grow your school library, but it can also look like using some good old-fashioned elbow grease to turn an unused lot into a learning garden. Get creative and brainstorm together with students to get them engaged! A common, district-wide focus on student achievement and success is, ultimately, what’s best for your community, your students, your school, and you.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.
Looking for ways to advance the literacy skills of all students in your district, including children living in poverty, English learners, and children with disabilities? Learn more about how HMH can help you achieve the goals of the Comprehensive Literacy State Development, a five-year federal discretionary grant awarded to 13 states.
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