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May 18, 2020

The 3 R’s of Teaching Reading Remotely

A Guest post by Dr. Courtney Pepe

When reflecting upon the changing educational landscape that is taking place during Remote Learning, there are many challenges and dilemmas facing educators.  Fortunately,  educators are creative, dynamic and resourceful professionals who have the ability to turn challenges into opportunities.  

One notable challenge facing educators during Remote Learning is how to teach reading and literacy from a distance.  The following literacy quote from author Kyleen Beers comes to mind ““Rigor is not an attribute of a text but rather a characteristic of our behavior with that text.” Educators all over the globe are creating rigorous reading remote lessons online.  

Some of the big ideas that are supporting this pedagogical shift are: 

  1. designing activities that capture the joy of reading;  
  2. remembering that teaching reading is part art/part science;  and 
  3. putting digital supports in place that can increase the level of independence that special education students and English Language Learners experience when they encounter a digital story or text.  

To summarize: rejoining reading, rigorous and creative literacy activities, and receptiveness to digital tools to promote possibility are the 3 Rs of teaching reading remotely.

Digital Story Hour Offered in COVID-19

Rejoicing Reading Remotely

In times like this children crave some sense of routine and normalcy.  Across the nation public libraries have been finding ways to curate digital story hour opportunities for children and families.  Having a librarian read and engage in the act of storytime or story hour remotely provides a Mr. Rogers type of consistency for young learners.  

In late March the Cleveland Public LIbrary kicked off a series of digital read alouds on their website, Facebook page, and YouTube Channel.  One day virtual storytime featured a former Cleveland Cavalier reading The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstin.  A recent May virtual storytime featured staff reading Mo Willems’ The Thank-You Book.  The New York City Public LIbrary has also created guides for families to do storytime at home.  

These guides follow themes such as friendship and family and are available in English and Spanish.  The guides contain video read alouds, songs, and recommended extension activities for families.  Examples of recommended extension activities include virtual snacktime and photo storytelling.  Public libraries are finding ways in this pandemic to promote literacy skills and rejoice in the act of reading books remotely.

Rigorous and Creative Literacy Activities 

Teachers Find Creative Ways to Ensure the Fidelity of the Orton Gillingham 3-Part Drill Approach Reading During COVID-19

Teaching reading remotely is part art and part science.  The art of teaching reading involves a creative mindset when addressing the pedagogical “how” to deliver reading instruction from a distance.  The science of reading involves the “what” of online reading instruction and using literacy based methods and the instructional technologies that support them.  

 A common approach to the “what” of teaching literacy in the elementary grades is the phonics based Orton Gillingham 3-Part Drill Approach.  This multi-sensory approach to the teaching of reading involves visualization, a kinesthetic/auditory portion, and then blending of the sounds.  This prescriptive approach to teaching reading is often done in small group settings.  So when COVID 19 hit, reading specialists were faced with the challenge of how to sustain this specific and rigorous methodology of literacy instruction online.  

Reading specialists use tools like Google Meet and Zoom to digitally invite small groups of learners into a newer iteration of the OG learning experience.  Tools such as the Smartnotebook software depicted above assist teachers in delivering lessons on topics like digraphs remotely with some added bells and whistles for elementary children like sound effects and engaging game-based visuals.  

Portable Docs Cams Allow/Give Teachers the ability to record video and sound and save movies locally, email or upload to YouTube, annotate images and snapshots

Lightweight and portable document cameras have also become the remote learning version of the traditional classroom doc camera.  This allows reading specialists the ability to zoom in on reading passages and drill with phonics cards.  

Florida elementary educator Ms. Leurer uses tools like Seesaw to have students record themselves pronouncing different CVC words to build their phonemic awareness.  Ms. Robey, an Ohio Reading Specialist, has developed a digital morphology Boggle Board for students in Google Slides that integrates with Google Classroom. The elements of rigor and creativity ensure that children are able to practice explicit skills they need while remote and continue to build a lifelong love of reading.  

Receptiveness to Digital Tools that Promote Possibility

Some of the most resourceful people in our profession are teachers of English Language Learners and Special Education Students.  There are many tools that increase the accessibility of a text which are being used in COVID-19.  

One tool is the Microsoft Immersive Reader tool in Nearpod.  With this integration students can change the size, font, and color of a text.  Also, students learning a new language can use the tool to translate words within the text or a block of text.  The feature allows text to be read aloud to students as needed and they can also isolate different parts of speech.  During virtual spirit week, Nearpod gave students the challenge of writing lyrics and songs about social distancing with built in Flocabulary rhyming lessons. 

All students can be empowered to access and interact text within their reading zone of proximal development when working remotely with the right tools.

Another instructional tool which offers possibility when reading remotely is Newsela, which offers teachers content that is automatically differentiated in five different lexile levels.  Each article also includes a quiz to check for comprehension.  The five reading levels and quiz are available with the English and the Spanish content.  Also Newsela holds on-demand office hours to support Teachers of ELLs and Teachers of Special Education.  They also have digital articles available to support social, science, and SEL, promoting literacy skills across all content areas.

COVID-19 has stripped us of many things we previously took for granted as educators and as human beings.  One thing that remains unharmed is the active imagination of our children.  Childrens’ author Roald Dahl once stated:  “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”  The 3 Rs of Reading Remotely illustrate that educators are still able to teach the subject of reading to a diverse audience.  Librarians, reading specialists, and teachers are using books, stories, and media to keep the imaginations of children and hope alive during this global health crisis.


Dr. Courtney Pepe is an Adjunct Professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Kean University and a Lifelong Remote Learner.