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Preparing for the 2021-2022 academic year and beyond, school and district leaders must navigate an ever-changing educational landscapeMany questions remain, including how to employ different modes of instruction - remote, hybrid, and in-person – to ensure all students are learning. These questions are often framed with a deficit mindset from what has been lost this yearInstead, we recommend starting with the assets gained over the past year:  Schools have new infrastructure, capacity, and use case for technology in the classroom. Implementing blended learning programs – in which electronic and/or online materials and instruction are used in combination with traditional, paper-pencil instruction  is more possible than ever. The question we should be asking is how we can best leverage the assets gained during this time and where blended learning can have the greatest impact.

Nowhere is this more important to consider than for elementary-grade students in literacy. An analysis of grade level reading data by Amplify Education, Inc. found that children in first and second grade experienced the greatest decline in foundational reading skills in 2020 compared to previous yearsForty percent of students are entering this school year at risk of needing intensive intervention, an increase of 13% from the previous year.  

As summarized in this article by The Hechinger Report, experts and educators alike have proposed several strategies to tackle the problem, including: 1) “high dosage” tutoring, 2) an extended school year, 3) a focus on grade-level reading, 4) academic partnerships with community organizations, and 5) working on literacy skills at home. However, leaders must still determine how to put the pieces of this puzzle together to support a coherentaligned, and manageable system of learning not just in the short-term but in the years to come. One promising practice to meet this need is the use of blended literacy model of instruction. 

Defined by the Robin Hood Learning & Technology Fundblended literacy refers to the intentional integration of high-quality, content-rich literacy curriculum and instruction designed to build students’ word and world knowledge with blended learning, utilizing technology with intention to tailor learning experiences to students’ individual literacy needs in order to deepen learning and advance achievement.  

This approach to instruction has shown great promise through a blended literacy initiative with Community School District 19 in Brooklyn, NY. Along with their universal implementation of high-quality literacy curriculum, Wit & Wisdom®the district has integrated personalized learning programs and different models for instruction that leverage technology to support students’ individual literacy learning, particularly in foundational literacy skills. In partnership with CenterPoint and Learning Forward, this model has supported the district throughout the pandemicwhile allowing their leaders and teachers to build capacity in developing a data-driven and strategic approach to blending literacy instruction. To do so, each school was supported in identifying what they already had in place as process drivers for implementation. For other schools and districts engaging in this work, we believe they can be best positioned for success if they too take this asset-based approach. 

To thaend, CenterPoint has designed a Blended Literacy Implementation Rubric to support school and district leaders as they assess the degree to which they are currently implementing a blended literacy model and establish goals for strategic improvement. The rubric reflects our core belief that coherent system of curriculum, assessments, and implementation support boosts teacher effectiveness, maximizes student learning, and advances equity.  

The rubric includes six fundamental components of a quality blended literacy model:  

  1. Instruction - Instructional Content: Are all students working with literacy content that aligns with grade-level standards, high-quality curricula and/or instruction, and students’ individual learning goals? 
  2. Instruction - Instructional Design: Does the timing, type of delivery, and degree of independence in literacy lessons facilitate knowledge and skill acquisition? 
  3. Student Learning - Culture of Learning: Are all students actively engaged in lessons from beginning to end?
  4. Student Learning - Demonstration of Learning: Do all students have ample and rigorous opportunities to demonstrate that they are learning in lessons? 
  5. Assessment – Design and Implementation: Are there frequent and different types of opportunities for educators and students to reflect on academic progress using data?
  6. Educator Learning - Culture of Collaborative Inquiry: Are all educators engaged in ongoing data driven, collaborative learning time to solve specific student learning challenges and improve teaching and learning? 

The rubric allows leaders to consider the essential question for each component, reflecting on their current assets and opportunitiesLeaders can then use the guidance section of the rubric to help them set priorities and goals for implementation and establish a transition plan as well as metrics for gauging success. 

The Blended Literacy Implementation Rubric is part of a comprehensive educator toolkit and transition playbook to guide schools and districts on their own continuous improvement journey toward a literacy instructional model that reflects the 21st century and post-COVID shifts necessary to meet the current and future needs of their students.  

To learn more about the rubric and model for blended literacy implementation, watch our webinar with Learning Forward recorded on May 25 as we re-envision literacy instruction in the 21st century.