What are Virtual Platforms?

Online learning has been an educational option, especially in higher education, for more than two decades. Virtual learning for K-12 education, however, has become increasingly popular for elementary school students within the past five years. This year has forced teachers and students around the country to experience the teaching and learning process through a number of virtual platforms at home. From Google Classroom to Canva and Zoom to Google Chat, educators and families are connecting through a variety of online platforms to support communication and education.

These virtual platforms connect classmates and their teachers through conversation and interaction. The platforms also help teachers to organize and often simplify the use of direct instruction and assignments. Despite the convenience and the accessibility of these various online tools, the virtual learning experience has not been the best experience for our youngest learners, especially in reading, this school year. There are simple instructional practices that can be implemented online to engage young learners in reading on virtual platforms.

Effective Reading Instruction on Virtual Platforms

Reading is a developmental process, and while reading takes place in every subject at every grade level, the foundations of reading are primarily taught from kindergarten to third grade. Differentiated reading instruction is essential in helping children become successful, independent readers.

Whether in-person or online, effective reading instruction must incorporate the five pillars of reading to ensure literacy success for all readers. These components include phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Each one can be implemented in whole group instruction, small group lessons, and offline experiences. How many experiences a day are you giving your students opportunities to work on these skills?

As educators, we must be flexible and innovative when implementing quality reading instruction for our youngest learners virtually. Incorporating at least one daily read aloud experience so that children can enjoy listening to books while increasing listening comprehension is one example of effective reading instruction.

A simple whole group lesson involving a developmentally appropriate text, questioning, graphic organizer, and writing is another way to provide effective reading instruction. When we understand that word work makes the biggest impact in reading development, we can focus on providing a variety of experiences designed around playing with and working with words. Activities may include decoding words in text, encoding or spelling words correctly in writing, sorting words based on patterns, and reading poems based on word families and rhyme schemes.

We also need to consider how we are differentiating reading instruction online for our students. The shift from traditional learning to virtual learning has unfortunately led to significant gaps in literacy rates, especially for our youngest learners. Just like in the classroom, we should try and provide as many one-on-one or small group reading groups as possible through virtual appointments or breakout rooms.

We can also consider providing differentiated offline instructional practices for students while we teach a virtual reading group with targeted students. Offline assignments may include activities like independent reading, phonics games, writing prompts, or completing a graphic organizer. As teachers, we need to remember the best practices in reading that lead to literacy growth and find a practical, engaging, and innovative way to present the same knowledge and instruction online.

Strategies to Engage Students in a Virtual World

In addition to reading research and the five pillars of reading, motivation and engagement are two additional and essential factors necessary to help students increase reading success. Even though students are not physically working together in the classroom, there is no reason that student engagement should not exist. We should be more innovative in creating an engaging classroom in a virtual world. Online tools including chat boxes, breakout rooms, Google Docs, and Google Slides were developed to increase collaboration and engagement online. Teachers can also be more creative in how to use the instructional time in the virtual world. Elementary school teachers can implement ideas like “Books for Breakfast” or a “Lunch and Learn” to use children’s books or literature to increase student engagement.

Virtual field trips can be used to take a trip to a setting of a book, a landmark in history, or a museum to explore a science objective. Virtual gallery walks can be used to introduce book genres or a unit on explorers. Including online games like Kahoot, movement, and music can also increase enthusiasm and engagement. Creating slides for children to play popular games to support reading skills like Bingo, Reado, Boggle, and Scrabble are also options to implement throughout the instructional day to engage students in virtual learning.

Communicating with parents to provide suggestions and feedback to make the remote learning experience at home both beneficial and enjoyable is key, especially as parents have instantly become teachers for children around the country. Implementing virtual incentives and a virtual reward system to increase engagement are also helpful in keeping children excited about staying on task and focused while learning at home. When we teach parents how to engage children both online and offline, we are increasing student motivation and literacy success.

While opinions around the virtual teaching and learning process differ, we as educators should have the flexibility and innovation needed to provide engaging literacy instruction for every single child in our class.