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Pandemic Highlights Reading Gaps for Tennessee Students

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Pandemic Highlights Reading Gaps for Tennessee Students

Tennessee kids are struggling to read on their grade level, and the pandemic has exposed many issues.

Tennessee Tech College of Education Assistant Professor Amber Spears said the pandemic could widen the gaps between the most and least proficient readers. Spears said it could show the struggles kids face when they must read independently.

Spears said the pandemic might force the state to reassess its reading goals for Tennessee students for when they reach third grade.

“COVID has had a pretty significant impact on that goal. I think that goal was targeted to be achieved by the year 2025,” Spears said. “So, certainly we’ll have to reassess that and take another look at that and foster a few new approaches.”

Spears said during this time parents should take advantage of the benefits electronic books can bring. While still striking a balance between hands-on reading and electronic reading. She said the most important thing a parent can do to have their child prepared to read on their grade level is reading early and reading often.

“The book can be read aloud to the child, the book can highlight words as they’re being read, which of course helps with 1:1 correspondences,” Spears said. “Tracking print, decoding texts and then some eBooks even have a feature that allows you to click on an unknown word and hear the definition being read aloud to you.”

Spears said expectations for students entering kindergarten are not particularly high. She said recognizing and spelling their name, knowing letter shapes and letter sounds are some skills kindergartners should have.

“The most important thing that adults or caregivers or family members can do to prepare children for kindergarten or school entry is just simply to read early and read often,” Spears said. “I would say that it’s never too early to begin reading to children.”

Spears said how reading is taught has transitioned from using one current approach to knowing all the approaches and applying them where they fit. The goal is to have kids be able to overcome a challenge they run into while reading

“Anytime they encounter a reading problem, they can say, ‘oh yes, I can look at the picture for help or I can take this huge word and I can break it down into syllables,” Spears said. “I think that’s what we’ve seen a big shift in, is from focusing from one method to another and here we are at this place where we’re just saying, lets give kids every single thing we know, that has worked.”

Spears said it is still early to know the exact effects of the pandemic and reading skills, but there were preexisting issues that could get worse. She said taking advantage of apps like Libby and TN R.E.A.D.S can help during this time.


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