Utilizing purposeful, standards-driven literacy stations during the daily reading block is so important because stations provide an opportunity for kids to practice skills that have been previously taught. But as challenging as it is to launch effective literacy stations at the beginning of a “normal” school year, implementing stations during the COVID era can seem especially tricky.
During our professional development with teachers, it has been exciting to pinpoint ways that educators can maintain this important part of the reading block, regardless of whether school is occurring remotely, or in person, or a hybrid of both. Remember, aside from practicing skills previously taught in whole-class mini-lessons, literacy stations play a key role in helping kids develop the skills and behaviors they need in order to work independently. Developing that independence early will pay dividends as we anticipate a mix of in-person and remote learning all year long.
The first station for students to master is always classroom library. It’s during this station that kids learn to work independently and follow procedures, but it is also where they begin to develop stamina for reading appropriate texts on their own. During the pre-pandemic era, we would recommend that a particular area of the classroom be designated as the classroom library. Kids would select their books and then choose a place in the room to read independently—always at least one arm’s length from another person.
As we shift to prepare for social distancing, the classroom library can still occur but will require 6 feet of separation from the next student. And instead of having the liberty to choose a new reading location each day, a safer approach may be to assign each student to a specific location in the room and then have them return to that spot each day.
The key takeaway from the classroom library station is reading stamina. So, when and if remote learning is the mode of operation, it will be important for parents to understand their role in challenging their child to read independently for longer and longer periods of time. For younger students, it could be that the assignment is to read uninterrupted, with eyes on the book, for just two minutes.
This type of parent involvement focusing on reading stamina could happen now, even if classes are meeting in person, paving the way for an easier transition should an at-home pivot be required.
With all of the audio books available online, the listening station is one that is a little easier to pull off if you have the technology to support it. Using free platforms like Epic, teachers can direct students to specific texts to cultivate skills in both comprehension and fluency. For this station, in-class work will require everyone to have their own headphones or earbuds. For at-home practice, students will need a computer or mobile device along with an internet connection.
Traditionally, during the word-work station, children would share manipulatives and supplies in order to practice building words. Nowadays, however, it will be important for kids to have their own supplies in order to practice this skill.
Consider providing each student with his own set of alphabet letters printed on card stock. Provide multiple e’s, multiple g’s, multiple l’s and o’s. Cut the letters apart and place them in individual baggies. Have the baggies ready to send home with kids for remote learning, or provide the template to parents so they can make them at home.
The writing-about-reading station is definitely one that can be part of the equation whether we are meeting in person or remotely. Using individual writing notebooks (digital or paper-pencil), students can practice comprehension skills. During this station, we want to engage the youngest students in drawing, labeling, and listing and older students in descriptions of characters, setting, problem, solution, or whatever the comprehension skill is.
During our professional development for teachers, we often describe this station as one where students sit elbow to elbow, knee to knee in order to read out loud with a peer. Obviously, that guidance won’t work for the foreseeable future, but in the meantime, we still need to arrange for students to read to an audience. As an alternative to the traditional approach, students can read to a stuffed animal. Or, with the right technology, they could use software like Flipgrid to record themselves reading out loud and then share that video with a classmate or adult.
Even under the current circumstances, the fluency station could still focus on paying attention to font, format, and punctuation so that students work on prosody and expression. They could read different types of text like poetry or reader’s theater or books that are rich with expression conveyed by voice-filled conventions.
In the end, remember this: literacy stations are an effective way for students to practice what they’ve learned about reading. This slice of the daily reading block is just as important today as it was pre-pandemic. With that in mind, it’s worth the effort to make literacy stations work, whether we are teaching in person or remotely.