Advice for Literacy Leaders in Disrupted Environments

By Jacob Williams | March 3, 2021


“You don’t have to know everything; you just have to know enough to work out solutions or methods of attack.” -John McNichol

As students, we all wondered why we never covered the final third of our textbooks during the school year. As teachers, we feel the stress of never having enough time to cover the standards that are expected. The feeling is so common that “power standard”—the standards we have to prioritize above others—has become part of the normal education lexicon.

Never has this challenge of moving through the content been as difficult as during the unprecedented 2020/21 school year. On top of typical challenges, teachers and students have faced the added stress of virtual learning, limited on-site instruction, start-and-stop schedules due to COVID-19 exposure guidelines, and the general circumstances of living through a pandemic. As we move past this school year, it will be impossible and unproductive to attempt and remediate students in every piece of content that was not covered due to the year’s learning disruptions.

Moving forward, we must focus on providing students with the best instruction possible, regardless of the instructional environment, and accelerating their learning in the foundational skills and knowledge that they need to progress through grade levels and into their future. For literacy, this means making sure our students can fluently read the words in text and comprehend the text they read.

To support educators in these essential tasks, a national work group made up of Comprehensive Center regions 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, and 17 has developed two guides to support literacy leadership teams in grades 1–3 and 4–8. The first guide, for literacy leaders in grades 1–3, focuses on helping teachers adapt to working in multiple modes with increased flexibility and inventiveness. It outlines how literacy leadership teams can model and encourage collaboration among all school staff to deliver instruction in modified ways. The guide highlights strategies to:

  • Help teachers plan efficient use of instructional time
  • Centralize support for parents
  • Relieve some of the time burden from teachers
  • Use community and staff resources to extend reading practice opportunities

The second guide, which will be published in the coming months, focuses on the unique set of challenges faced by literacy leaders in grades 4–8. This guide will provide concrete ideas on how literacy leaders can support teachers' instructional decision-making, coordinate teams of teachers, and communicate effectively and meaningfully with families and students. More specially, the guide will help literacy leaders address challenges related to missing skills, skills within content, instructional alignment and cohesion, and learning optimization.

The guide will help teams identify priorities through a focus on assessment and differentiation, highlighting the importance of comprehension, engaging learning activities, and opportunities for students to practice writing skills. With a focus on late elementary and middle school, the guide will suggest ways to work with content teachers to integrate literacy skills in authentic learning environments. Finally, reflecting on the extraordinary challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the guide will address ways that literacy leadership teams can prioritize relationships, support continuous communication with parents, and incorporate social and emotional support not just for students, but for families and teachers as well.

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