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Murray Journal

Grant Elementary offers targeted literacy support to students over Zoom

Mar 17, 2021 10:17AM ● By Julie Slama

Through Grant Elementary’s online Target Time intervention program, students are independently able to connect with a paraprofessional or teacher to get the literacy instruction at their level from their home or from their classroom seat. (Whitney Morris/Grant Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Last spring, when schools were put on soft closure, many teachers went scrambling to ensure student learning continued.

This fall, Grant Elementary Principal Mindy Ball and instructional coach Whitney Morris put their heads together to find a way to support virtual learners as well as in-person students in their literacy intervention program. 

The result was to adapt Target Time intervention into an online platform.

Target Time literacy intervention involves the kindergarten through second-grade students who need to focus on phonics, fluency and comprehension. Teachers and reading paraprofessionals work with small groups of students at the level they need to master skills, such as blending, segmenting, learning beginning sounds of words or more advanced skills, Morris said.

“These grounds are critical to student growth and success, and can be the difference between reading fluency and reading frustration,” Ball said.

Traditionally, they have worked with students in group sizes of three to eight, in-person around a table for 30 minutes per session. 

However, following safety and health guidelines surrounding COVID-19, students can’t be pulled from multiple classes to be grouped nor can they have close exposure for that period of time. Instead, they are tested by a paraprofessional aide every couple weeks, grouped with other students at that level, and then each day, click on a Zoom link—whether in-person or at home—to meet with an aide or teacher, Morris said.

“The aides are scattered throughout the building, so they don’t have their mask on and students in-person wear headphones, so we are able to provide the same support for those on a hybrid schedule or quarantined, just digitally,” she said.

Ball said that the intervention groups still takes place, just in a different method than in previous years.

“The intervention then takes place—using digital materials, screen sharing, and a plethora of other methods. Once a group has made it through that skill, they are then again tested and see if they are ready to move on or if more instruction is needed. Groups can be shifted, and new links given out. Not only does this allow students to ‘bloom where they are planted,’ but can give those students who need extension the opportunity to be challenged,” she said.

It also is able to be done without the “stigma of attending a class with students two grade levels below where they are—because on Zoom, no one knows. Everyone gets what they need,” Ball said.

Morris said that her staff tests students “on a consistent basis so we’re able to see where kids are” and therefore, she is able to change the student groups to best fit their abilities. For students, it’s as simple as clicking on a link she provides, and they are able to join a teacher or aide to get the instruction and support they need.

This year, Morris said she has seen a greater need for intervention both because of the impact COVID-19 had on student learning last spring as well as the summer slide.

For example, in fall 2019, she had 23 second-grade students who needed literacy intervention. This past fall, there were 41 of the 48 second-grade students. 

However, currently only 18 of those 48 are still needing the boost up—and last year, nine— meaning that the online support intervention has been successful in helping about the same percentage of students in their growth.

This approach also has helped student-learners in grades three through six who are needing a boost up, Ball said.

“Not all students in grades three to six took part in a phonics or reading intervention, (so) it was difficult to meet together in reading groups. In this system students are able to meet wherever they are—in their own classroom or at home online. Technology and Target Time (together) has been extremely helpful as students have found themselves in many different situations this year, and that most likely will continue,” she said.

While Morris sees younger students returning to in-person intervention once the pandemic passes, she said it may continue this way to support third- through sixth-grade students.

“I really like that these kids can stay in their room and are able to do work in their classroom and get the help they need from their aide. I’m seeing the same growth as far as those kids as I did last year,” she said.

Morris also pointed out that students are excited to log on and have still been able to develop relationships and bond with their peers in other classrooms as well as with the faculty and staff while being supported through this method of intervention.

“We definitely see them having a good time, we see them talking to each other and getting to be good friends,” she said.

Ball said through the online interventions, teachers and aides have learned new skills and procedures while supporting students.

“Overall, the idea of online interventions took a lot of planning and perspective shifting but has been worth it,” she said.