6 Tips for Building Foundational Skills in Your District

Best Practices to Help Your Students Thrive

Foundational skills encompass the knowledge and abilities necessary to support the development of successful readers in your school or district. From phonics to decoding to fluency, all foundational skills work symbiotically to help students successfully advance to higher levels of learning. Though foundational skills instruction may be in complete alignment with state or district standards, that only represents one piece of the puzzle. The remaining, and most often forgotten, piece is the environmental factors that contribute to the student experience, and thus, the acquisition and retention of foundational skills.

Outside of being grounded in foundational skills, it is essential that the right environment is fostered for continued success. In order to do so, we have to lean on the most important resource in the classroom – teachers. Here are just a few tips to ensure your educators help to create an environment that makes students feel supported and empowered on their learning journey:

1. Assign Dedicated Time

Research shows that students need consistent systematic and explicit foundational instruction to thrive. Though most schools have a literacy block anywhere from 90-120 minutes, it can be quite difficult to fit all necessary skills into this block. For educators that are not as well-versed in the Science of Reading, everything but foundational skills is prioritized. Make foundation skills a priority by dedicating time to them within your literacy block. This can manifest itself in many ways, but it is ideal to balance group, peer-to-peer, and individual foundational work to ensure students are truly adopting foundational skills, practicing them regularly, and achieving mastery. To address the systematic portion of instruction, perhaps you can incorporate a spiral review process to all concepts within your standards that cater to foundational skills development.

2. Diversify Opportunities for Student Mastery

While exercising a muscle, one often has to engage in varied exercises to achieve the desired result, and learning is no different. It can be easy for educators to use the same activities and tactics to drive improved student outcomes, but the secret can be simply providing varied activities for student practice, mastery, and success. Focus on providing varied, hands-on activities to allow students to actively practice what they have learned, effectively contributing to foundational skills mastery. Here are a few examples:

  • Use tactile learning resources such as letter blocks or magnetic letters to easily spell out requested phonemes or dissect the word you give them into phonemes. This will truly reinforce their understanding of the different parts of the word and the letters that comprise that specific sound.
  • Provide students with signs featuring different phonemes, challenging them to correctly place them together to form specific words.
  • Challenge students to demonstrate the structure of a word they are learning by clapping out each syllable within the word.

3. Involve Students in Real Issues and Encourage Discussion

Engaging students in in-depth discussion has the power to help them not only develop their own, unique voice but also develop and refine their communication and problem-solving skills. To do so, your educators can pick an age-appropriate current event at the desired frequency to use for choral reading, ensuring all students are engaged as they read as a group, and provide time for discussion at the end. The act of reading the current event will assist students with their reading skills while the discussion will encourage their interaction and development of other foundational skills. When it comes to the bottom line, we know that engaged students drive more quantitative results, so it is no secret that engaging students further with real-world material can drive improved assessment data in your district. 

4. Knowledge is Power

Fostering foundational skills truly starts with your educators, as they act as your ambassadors for the myriad of concepts you’d like your students to master. As such, an essential part of fostering foundational skills in your district is providing professional learning opportunities. Foundational instruction is something many teachers struggle with, and can actually be quite convoluted. To ease this process, consider collaborating with consultants to offer book studies with your educators or enlisting the help of PD software such as Foundations A-Z. Professional development, at times, is overlooked but can make a large impact by making research-based best practices more palatable for the teaching community.

5. Incorporate Regular Assessments to Achieve Success

We’ve all heard the saying “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been." This saying can be directly applied to the world of education when you consider student data. Throughout the learning journey, the objective is always to learn, practice, and master the concepts students have learned, but what determines the level of mastery? As the learning journey continues, consider implementing regular assessments to evaluate learning progress and identify potential learning gaps your educators can fill. To aid in this process, resources such as Foundations A-Z provide assessments to support teachers as they gather information about student progress to help them:

  • Determine students’ strengths and areas that need practice.
  • Evaluate students’ progress throughout the beginning, middle, and end of the year.
  • Identify students’ learning needs through unit assessments.

Map out the foundational skills learning journey using student results along the way and keep your destination of student mastery in sight!

6. Encourage the Use of Meaningful Technologies

In this day and age, kids are constantly surrounded by technology, and that presence will continue to grow over time in other areas of their lives. Why not make learning fun with new, meaningful technology? It is no secret that technology tends to captivate kids, but with the right technology in place in your district, the development of foundational skills can become easier and help teachers differentiate instruction. For example, allowing students to use apps on school tablets that allow them to practice things such as print conceptsphonological awarenessphonics, and fluency help students to master foundational skills while typically allowing them to practice digital handwriting, keyboarding, and sentence building. These key technologies enable students to thrive, one letter at a time!

During the course of reading instruction, the goal should always be to remain authentic, creative, and aesthetic. When all three of these goals are fulfilled, students will feel as though they are truly reading real texts for real purposes, giving them the opportunity for the same emotional responses adults experience from reading while feeling that they are granted the freedom of choice as to how they learn. When educators are given the right tools to put these concepts in place, student outcomes will begin to soar!

Empower Your Educators to Teach Foundational Skills

Built on the Science of Reading, Foundations A-Z delivers an explicit, research-based, K-5 foundational skills solution.

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Scholastic Inc. (n.d.). Genius hour in the classroom. Scholastic. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/18-1...

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