Many Canadian children struggle learning to read. We can do more to help them.

Opinion: Published in Toronto Start, 29 April, 2020

Many Canadian children struggle learning to read. We can do more to help them | The Star

We are failing our students. Despite living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, at least one-quarter of our children are struggling and vulnerable because they cannot read by Grade 3, a particularly critical stage in education when children move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

Shockingly, this has been the situation for over 20 years as Canadian literacy rates remain stagnant.

Most students who are struggling readers at the end of primary school continue to have learning problems into lower and senior secondary school and fall further and further behind. They are also prone to engaging in a range of risky behaviours, having low self-esteem, and experiencing anxiety and depression. Students who do not learn to read proficiently by the end of the third grade are less likely to graduate from secondary school.

Enter the pandemic, and its associated disruptions, including long absences from the classroom, and the question becomes: Has the pandemic made our children even more vulnerable?

Yes. We believe it has.

Although there is currently little data as to how the pandemic is affecting children and learning, preliminary information from the Toronto District School Board revealed a nine-percentage point drop in Grade 1 student reading levels for those learning online, and a three-percentage point drop for those learning in person.

Clearly, we need to look at our approach to how we are teaching kids to read in kindergarten to Grade 3. We need a new plan to help our students recover from the pandemic or they, and we as a country, will continue to fall behind.

The recently released Right to Read report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, initiated in pre-COVID times, was deeply critical of the way in which reading is taught in the elementary school system. The comprehensive report includes 157 recommendations to effect change.

It calls for a phonics-based approach, based on the science of reading, to instruction in which children sound out words rather than the current approach, “three-cuing,” in which students learn to read, mostly, by looking at pictures and guessing the word. It is the right call and is evidence-based.

The so-called “reading wars” – phonics versus “three-cuing” – have been fought for at least 50 years. It’s time for a truce. It’s time to develop a new plan. Let’s change our focus to phonics and support our teachers and school principals to help them adopt a new way of teaching reading.

But transforming schools requires more than a government edict. It requires a concerted effort by educational leaders to change the organizational practices of schools and strengthen teacher capacity. It requires the ongoing support of teachers to adopt new approaches of teaching and learning.

School districts that have embarked on large-scale programs to transform their schools have found that it usually takes three to five years. Transforming schools requires a singular focus on literacy skills during the elementary school years. Teachers need to be involved in the change process, and superintendents and principals need to drive that change. Students learn at a faster pace when parents and caregivers are engaged in their children’s literacy development.

A realistic and attainable goal is to reduce levels of childhood vulnerability in Canada from the current level of about 30 per cent to 20 per cent in five years.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s inquiry “is not just about an equal right to read – it is about an equal right to a future.”

The Right to Read report has set the right course for change.

And COVID has given us this moment. Let’s not waste it.

Doug Willms is the Founder and President of The Learning Bar Inc. and professor emeritus at the University of New Brunswick. Since receiving his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1983, he has published over three hundred research articles and monographs pertaining to educational reforms.

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Learning-to-Read

Access our new Learning-to-Read to Reading-to-Learn Research Paper

Discover the optimum scope and sequence of skills children need to learn to get them on track to read by Grade 3

The successful transition from Learning-to-Read to Reading-to-Learn during the first three years at school is critical to students’ long-term success and yet despite living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, at least one-quarter of our children are struggling and vulnerable because they cannot read by Grade 3.

Clearly, we need to look at our approach to how we are teaching kids to read in kindergarten to Grade 3. We need a new plan to help our students recover from the pandemic or they, and we as a country, will continue to fall behind.

Download this paper developed by Dr. Doug Willms and the research team at The Learning Bar to learn the process of how children learn to read, based on recent research on the science of reading. It follows a three-phase model presented by Castles, Rastle, and Nation.[i] It extends their work by delineating the scope of each phase, defined in terms of a core set of skills, and proposes a sequence for teaching these skills. It concludes with a discussion about how the proposed scope and sequence align with common curriculum standards.

We can change results and quickly get children back on track, but we must make the development of children’s reading skill during the primary school period a priority for all schools. It will also require concerted investments to support educational leaders and teachers.

[i] Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the reading wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19, 5–51.

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ACCESS WEBINAR: Support your educators to get students back on track

We know that educators are working tirelessly to ensure that students are learning as best they can, yet more and more students are disengaging. The question we need to answer immediately is “what can we do to support our educators?”

Check out our new webinar as Dr. Doug Willms discusses what we can do to change results, what is needed to support educators, and interventions that can be put in place to accelerate learning growth to get all our students back on track.

Click on the video below to find out more about the Confident Learners program

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ACCESS WEBINAR: Build your leadership capacity. It’s time to change the tide on student success.

There is an urgent need to build leadership capacity to improve children’s literacy success. Watch our webinar to learn how you can build principal leadership to create alignment, accountability and collaboration throughout school teams.

Hear Karen Power discuss the leadership skills that empower principals to drive change and transition to a student-centric and collaborative culture in their schools. Topics covered include:

Shared leadership and PLC’s
Collective Efficacy
Intentionality
Instructional focus
Accountability
Student-centered
Evidence-based decisions
Collaboration

Our speaker Karen is a consultant and former teacher, principal, superintendent, and senior advisor for professional learning and leadership. She has won multiple awards and authored books related to her work which focuses on leadership coaching in schools and districts, building collaborative practices through professional learning community (PLC) implementation, district strategic planning, and developing effective instruction, assessment and evidence-based decisions for long-term sustainability. Karen is now working as a consultant with The Learning Bar to support leadership development within schools and districts.

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ACCESS WEBINAR: Capacity building – the key to enhancing classroom practice and transforming instruction

Find out how capacity building and data informed decision-making can enhance your classroom practice and transform instruction.

30% of children are still leaving school with poor literacy skills. This number increases to 60-80% in areas of vulnerable lower SES populations. Recent research and major scientific advancements into literacy acquisition help to explain why. Our current curriculum and teaching practices have not yet aligned with science. So a key question now is ‘what can we do to better meet the needs of our students?’

Check out our new webinar as we discuss three elements that educators can focus on and develop to improve the learning outcomes of every child.

Click on the videos below to find out more about the Confident Learners program and Professional Learning courses we have available.

We will shortly be announcing our next webinar. Standby for new details!

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ACCESS WEBINAR: Teaching Children to Read – Common Questions Answered

Check out this webinar as we address common instructional questions related to teaching reading and strategies to support students at different stages of reading development. Common questions discussed include:

What are the differences between phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics and why are they important?
How do children learn to automatically recognize words and read fluently?
How do we teach children to comprehend texts they read?

These questions and many others around phonics instruction are addressed using the Confident Learners reading and intervention program. One of the key elements of the program is a structured and systematic literacy program, which guides educators through teaching children to read. The other key elements incorporated into Confident Learners are professional learning and leadership development, instructional coaching, and a simple assessment program, all designed to build educator knowledge and skills to improve the reading skills of all children.

  

About the presenter

Connie Freeman is the Senior Instructional Literacy Consultant at The Learning Bar. She has a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education and has over a decade of experience in the classroom. Connie’s philosophy of education is grounded in a fundamental belief in the importance of equitable education for all and the critical role literacy plays in ensuring success for all students. As a literacy support specialist, Connie has experience supporting students and teachers in the classroom, as well as building professional learning communities in schools. She has been teaching for 10 years and previously used the Confident Learners program to bridge the early literacy gap for her students.

We will shortly be announcing our next webinar. Standby for new details!

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ACCESS WEBINAR: Bridging the early literacy gap: Working hand-in-hand to build educator capacity and improve efficacy of instruction

Access our webinar to hear Neil Debassige, former principal of Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng First Nation and award-winner of the Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General of Canada, present how he bridged the gap in early literacy. Using a three-year intervention and reading program he put education back in the hands of educators; empowering them with the knowledge, skills, assessment tools and resources to reach more children effectively.

Find out how the Confident Learners program is supporting school districts across Canada to:

advance capacity building for educators through aligning the science of reading, teaching and assessment with classroom practice;
implement a systematic and explicit step-by-step approach to literacy development; and
employ a structured assessment and monitoring system to ensure full visibility of student progress.

Schools can meet the goal of teaching all children to read by the end of Grade 3. Working together we can help you transform the lives of your students, and give all children the opportunity to thrive. 

 

NEW WEBINAR: Teaching Children to Read

The next webinar in our early literacy series takes place on Sept 20th, 4 PM EST. Join us as we address common instructional questions related to teaching reading and strategies to support students at different stages of reading development. 

Common questions to be discussed include:

What are the differences between phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics and why are they important?
How do children learn to automatically recognize words and read fluently?
How do we teach children to comprehend texts they read?

Find out the answers to these questions and more!

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ACCESS WEBINAR: Getting all children on track to read by the end of Grade 3

Access our webinar as we discuss some of the key challenges facing the public school system and the priorities school districts can adopt to overcome these.

Our speaker, Lorna Cameron, administrator and teacher for over 20 years discusses what our education system looks like today; are we meeting our students’ needs? Look at some of the key factors that school districts can target to get all children on track to read by the end of Grade 3. Finally she provides an overview of Confident Learners, a reading and intervention program developed by The Learning Bar that is being used to create a better future for our children.

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Let’s work together to change the status quo in K-12 education and ensure that all children have the opportunity to thrive. Contact us now to learn more. 

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Becoming a reader in 75 days

Learn how to strengthen your childs’ reading skills in 75 days!

We are proud to announce a new course for parents and caregivers of children aged 4 to 6 who want to learn the core strategies for supporting their child in becoming a reader. 

This course ‘Becoming a reader in 75 days’ equips caregivers with the knowledge and sequence of foundational reading skills and provides fun and engaging activities for teaching children at home.

Click here to find out more.

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Overcome the impact of COVID-19 within your school community

Stronger together

Are you prepared to support the well-being and learning of staff and students as they return back to the classroom?  As schools reopen, getting a pulse of students’, caregivers’ and educators’ experiences during this time will be essential to re-engage the school community and drive student learning. We know that you are facing a pivotal point in education and we want to ensure that you have the information necessary to start the school year prepared. 

In June we reached out to parents, students, and educators to get a complete picture of what they were experiencing and received valuable feedback. Using this information and the limited research available we have created the new OurSCHOOL ‘Transition Back to School’ module.

Click here to find out more.

Be informed.

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