May 19, 2020
The ability read, write, speak and listen plays a vital role in helping us communicate and understand a full range of thoughts and emotions. Y4Y’s recent webinar series, “Literacy for Frontline Staff,” covers critical steps in arming your 21st CCLC program with strategies for improving students’ language and literacy skills. The three-part series can be viewed in the Y4Y archive. Guest speaker Meredith Fraysure shares her experience as an elementary teacher, literacy-based STEM curriculum developer and 21st CCLC program evaluator. Short on time? You’re in luck! Here’s a summary that hits the highlights.
The afterschool environment has benefits and challenges in presenting literacy learning opportunities. Students may be mentally exhausted at the end of a school day, especially if they’re English learners, yet it’s the perfect environment for low-pressure, fun and engaging activities. Meeting students where they are and using a tailored, small-group setting is best.
Keep in mind that low-income students may have few books at home, and they may be exposed to a more limited spoken vocabulary than peers from more affluent families. Those who struggle with the basics of reading are less able to access academic content, and poor reading skills can also impact areas of living such as understanding basic health-related information. In fact, Ms. Fraysure says the greatest challenge for young readers is taking that step from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” These concerns drive initiatives to improve student literacy. Building their skills and confidence inspires students to explore areas of interest and even passion, producing competent and knowledgeable citizens. Fostering a positive relationship with books that interest students is a good place to start.
Reading, of course is only one element of literacy education. Here’s a description of all four elements:
Reading is the process of simultaneously extracting and interacting with written text, and involves phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
Speaking is the communication of thoughts and ideas.
Writing addresses how we structure language.
Listening refers to how we actively filter information and respond appropriately. Owing to the brain’s ability to effectively create white noise, this can be a greater challenge for some brains than others.
Always Start With Data
Data are at the heart of all you do in 21st CCLC programming. You’ll look for quantitative data about literacy through statewide assessments and school-day assessments, including benchmarks, unit tests, reading assessments and progress monitoring tools. Without a doubt, your most successful activity designs will be well coordinated with the school day, especially around qualitative data about each student. Invite your students’ school-day teachers to share a list of student literacy needs and a “wish list” of supports your program might provide. To help you collect important needs assessment data, Y4Y offers tools such as a Literacy Focus Group tool, Comprehension Checklists and a Reader Questionnaire for Students.
To better understand the elements of literacy and reflect on what to assess, try these tools from the new Y4Y Literacy course: Developmental Stages of Reading, Literacy “I Can” Progression Ladders, Literacy Anchor Standards and Phonemic Awareness Continuum. You don’t need a background in literacy to use these tools or to help students improve their skills.
Let’s Get SMART
With your data at the ready, your 21st CCLC program will develop literacy SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable achievable, relevant and time bound. You’ll develop goals that apply to the program on the whole, and a separate set of goals for the literacy activities that you’ll design. Use Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool to ensure that your goals are addressing the literacy needs of your students on the whole and day-to-day.
Keep these tips in mind as you design literacy activities based on your SMART goals:
- Building “reading stamina” is an important goal for early readers. Be honest with students about why it’s important, especially as they switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Studies show that just 20 minutes of independent reading each day, of a student’s chosen material, makes a tremendous impact on academic achievement.
- Your middle schoolers may already find themselves behind in reading, which means being behind in other subjects at school as well. Don’t ignore the social and emotional component of building reading skills. Now more than ever, it’s critical that students have a voice in what they’re reading. Fostering a love of books is one of the best things you can do for young people at this age!
- Reading aloud to students at all grade levels has importance when it comes to literacy. Listening, after all, is one of the four building blocks of literacy, and hearing books means a different mode of appreciating the way language is structured.
Your next step is to design and facilitate literacy activities aligned to student needs. Use strategies to increase the time students spend reading and writing after the school day.
The Third Dimension
When intentionally designing literacy activities in an afterschool setting, consider three dimensions:
Logistics: Think about what your students’ needs and goals are. Then consider how to use available resources, time and space to address those needs and goals.
Literacy elements: Decide which element of literacy – speaking, reading, writing or speaking – you’ll focus on during each activity. Most activities will involve one or more of these elements, and that’s a good thing!
Explicit or embedded instruction: Now we’re really cooking! Is your activity an academic intervention (meant to help students catch up) or an academic enrichment (where you have the luxury of helping your student get ahead)? Generally, intervention activities include explicit instruction, whereas enrichment activities tend to use embedded instruction. Let’s dive a little deeper into intervention vs. enrichment activities.
Let’s say your program has discovered that you need to help students meet individual academic goals. Your activities are going to be explicit, or in other words, designed specifically to target needs and teach the elements of literacy. For example, if you have students who struggle with decoding words and reading fluently, an intervention might be to set up four literacy centers that focus on high-need reading skills. These centers might include an online learning program, a small-group literacy game, an independent practice activity and a small-group instruction center. Students could rotate through these centers in very small groups, doing activities at each center that are designed explicitly to build a single literacy skill.
The keys to intervention activities? Explicit design and small groups.
When your 21st CCLC program is poised to enrich the academic achievement of students, you are more likely looking for activities with embedded literacy learning. This can often be done by adding one or more literacy elements to an activity you’re already doing.
Some examples of enrichment activities might be asking students to interview each other during snack time or allowing students to follow through on their voiced preference to start a newsletter that involves research, writing, and using an online platform to tell about your program.
It’s much easier to embed literacy components into large-group activities than it is to modify small-group activities. If your program is more geared toward enrichment, you likely focus your attention on large-group activities already. If your program logistics don’t always align perfectly with students’ literacy needs, don’t lose sight of the fact that even small gains matter in the lives of the students who need them the most. Check out Y4Y’s Embedding Literacy in Enrichment Activities Training To Go for ideas and guidance on training staff.
Do I Have to Read the WHOLE Book?
Ms. Fraysure shared some of her favorite large-group, embedded learning activities around single chapters of favorite children’s books. This best practice entices students to finish books on their own after they’ve had a taste of a story — especially when they’ve become invested through the chance to do something fun. One example is to have students read Chapter 19 of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Ms. Fraysure asks students to visualize the elaborate machinery described when the characters first enter the candy-making room, then build their own “Rube Goldberg” machine. We’ve all seen a Rube Goldberg machine: they’re those multi-step contraptions that use a complicated process to perform a simple function. Using only items found in the room, students can employ concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as they work collaboratively and dive into all four elements of literacy with this fun activity.
On a smaller scale, younger students might look at Dr. Seuss’s “Sneetches” and present their ideas on how the machine might be applying stars to the bellies of these memorable characters. To illustrate how creatively children can think, Ms. Fraysure shared that one of her students proposed that the machine, in fact, is uncovering existing stars!
The before-during-after (BDA) framework is a great tool to keep in mind as you intentionally design reading activities. Check out Y4Y’s BDA Lesson Planner for practical steps to meet the objectives of making predictions, learning new vocabulary, demonstrating comprehension, participating in discussion, responding to text in a meaningful way, and developing work skills through collaboration and listening to others.
More Ideas for Literacy Activities
- Check out Y4Y’s Guided Oral Reading Tool to improve students’ fluency.
- Stage a readers theater. Speaking is an often-overlooked literacy skill, especially in younger students.
- Use fun repeated reading exercises such as trying out different voices.
- Arrange a writers workshop to hone skills in prewriting, drafting, revising and editing, and publishing and production.
- Journal! Let students start out with pictures that help them develop the practice of communicating their thoughts and feelings, then work their way up to a broader use of language.
- Use rich language to describe a painting or a piece of music with no lyrics.
- Write a reflection on a science experiment.
- Have students talk about how they used math in their everyday lives the previous day.
- Do you have a mix of native English speakers and English learners? Build confidence through hands-on activities that help level the playing field, allowing them to pair with each other if they’d like so that they can better communicate in a team project.
You don’t have to totally revamp your 21st CCLC program or become a certified English language arts teacher to be successful at improving students’ literacy skills. You can accomplish a lot if you’re willing to scaffold learning and support the school day. If you’re trying a new strategy, don’t be afraid to ask for instructions to be simplified to be sure you’re implementing right.
To “nail the landing” in your literacy routines and activities, there are three things you can do: engage families in literacy, implement literacy activities with fidelity, and assess the impact of activities.
An Engagement in the Family!
You’re all too familiar with the barriers families face in engaging with your 21st CCLC program, yet we know how critical program engagement is to getting families’ support at home too. Parents and guardians might have limited access to transportation, multiple jobs, cultural or language barriers, younger children to care for, socioeconomic concerns or even their own scars and lack of confidence around literacy. To overcome such barriers, be consistent but accommodating and flexible in your expectations, and work to build trust with students’ adult family members. Don’t forget that adults like to have fun too!
One great family engagement idea is to host a grocery store scavenger hunt with sponsorship from a local merchant. Families get a clipboard with a list of inexpensive items that the store could donate as charity to your program. Maybe the items are presented in simple riddle form. Throw in some math, asking how much it would cost to buy three pounds. What would your total be at the end? The whole family activity takes less than an hour, but families come away with a better understanding of your role in their child’s life, quality time spent with their child, and maybe some free food. Some programs have developed partnerships with supermarkets willing to provide program snacks through the year.
How about a Living Wax Museum event? First, students research a public figure, past or present, and take notes so they can portray that figure in a Living Wax Museum. When the event starts, students “get into character” and take positions around the room. Families move from student to student, asking questions about the character each student portrays. It’s an opportunity for students to read, write, speak AND listen!
Themes are always winners. Camping, a picnic theme, or a cultural fair that celebrates the different backgrounds represented in your program all offer opportunities to have some fun and engage families.
Ms. Fraysure offered clever solutions to common barriers to successful family engagement. Are parents heading into second-shift jobs at pickup time? Try a before-school breakfast (with support from your grocery store partner). Another idea is to engage parents on their “home turf” by starting a lending library. Each week, a student takes home a different bag with a book and journal inside. Families are asked to read it together and jot down what their family discussed about the book. Or you could offer a “How It Works” seminar for families, perhaps given by a community college partner, to explain the literacy tools your program uses and how they can impact students’ lives.
Measure Your Success
The success of your family engagement efforts needs to be measured just like your in-program efforts. Walk around at events and get a sense of family response, directly and indirectly, by asking and observing. Do you see an increase in engagement at pickup after an event? Watch for signs, big and small, that you’ve earned families’ trust. Don’t forget: Y4Y offers customizable tools that can help, like the Family Engagement Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist and Family Satisfaction Survey.
Speaking of Measuring…
How will you know if you’re you implementing your literacy programming with fidelity? Keep those program and activity SMART goals close at hand throughout implementation. Be sure to “read the room” along the way, communicating consistently with your site coordinator or program director, especially when you’re trying something new. For the program to succeed, YOU need to believe in it too, which you will if you have a voice.
Fidelity has four measures:
- Adherence – Did you follow the steps of the activity design plan?
- Dosage – Did you spend as much time on the activity as was intended?
- Engagement – Did the students fully participate and show interest?
- Delivery – Did you engage students enthusiastically and guide them appropriately?
When you know going into an activity that these are the ways success is measured, you have a higher chance of implementing that activity with fidelity. Here are three additional strategies that will ensure that you successfully meet your program and activity SMART goals: (1) Create a decision-making process to guide your implementation. (2) Establish evaluation routines so that you’re making real-time observations and adjustments as needed. (3) Create guidelines for families’ progress — because 21st CCLC programming is a true success only when families play a big role in your outcomes.
Y4Y’s Implementing With Fidelity Guide is the perfect resource for addressing the right questions as you implement literacy activities in your program. Also check out the Continuous Improvement Planner to stay true to your SMART goals. Finally, be sure to check out the Discussion Board created for Y4Y’s three-part virtual series on literacy, where many more links and resources are housed.