Equity and Access to Reading in Distance Learning

Topics: Assessment and Accountability, Education Equity, Overcoming Challenges, Systems Change

As districts and states across the country are switching to distance learning in the wake of COVID-19, they’ve also been working to close gaps in equity. Without access to e-learning or public libraries, physical books and learning packets are necessary to continue education. The learning communities KnowledgeWorks has partnered with are solving issues in resourceful ways.

Hunter, North Dakota’s Northern Cass School District #97 Superintendent Dr. Cory Steiner recommended setting aside time to read a physical book as a wellness tip in a newsletter to families. “I sometimes feel when I’m reading, I’m not being productive. However, since the closure started, I have scheduled time to read every day,” Dr. Steiner explained. “It has been a game-changer for me, and I’m finding I have slept better and my memory seems to be improving. Take time and read for both pleasure and learning.” Here’s how KnowledgeWorks learning communities are ensuring their learners are reading for pleasure and learning.

Accessing books

Access to reading means that learning communities must have equitable systems in place that ensure each learner has access to material to read. States, districts and schools across the country have sent home digital learning devices and have set up internet access points around communities. Some, like Oakes Public School District #41 in Oakes, North Dakota, worked with local internet providers to provide WiFi to families.

In addition to providing digital resources and with schools and libraries shut down, Oakes is offering access to physical books, as well as meals, with curb-side pickup. Other districts, like Northern Cass School District #97 are deploying bookmobiles to designated locations, sometimes with meals. Educators in Kenowa Hills Public Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan, deliver books and meals to learners with busses deployed onto seven delivery routes. Kenowa Hills Superintendent Gerald Hopkins joins one of the routes every day.

Reading in the digital learning space

Sure, children can watch Dolly Parton or Reading Rainbow’s Lavar Burton read books, but it’s not the same as a familiar face who knows the learner or is a member of the learning community reading to them. Teachers from West Fargo Public Schools in West Fargo, North Dakota, are reading to their students live or pre-recorded over their learning management platforms. Julie Swanson, media center teacher at Farmington Elementary School in Farmington, Minnesota, reads books with impressive voices and sound effects on YouTube. Board Member of Dexter Community Schools in Dexter, Michigan, Jason Gold and his children recorded a fun, thematic video of him reading the book. Northern Cass Middle School Social Studies Teacher Taylor Diede reads a live chapter of illustrated Harry Potter three times per week.

Fun with reading

In Center Line, Michigan, Center Line Public Schools‘ Roose Elementary learners participated in a reading-centric spirit week to engage learners with reading and the learning community. It’s an inventive way to hold learners accountable from a distance. It’s also a great way to show that learners can read anywhere and with anyone, just as long as they are comfortable.

Oakes Public Schools offers another way of holding learners accountable with some fun and family engagement. Junior High English Teacher Kalynn Haafke and the Honor Society issued book challenges to the district’s elementary learners and their families. Every book read on YouTube videos by educators and Honor Society learners ends with a challenge for the learners and families, like sending in photos of reading a book with a pet or photos of learners helping a family member out.

In line with Dr. Steiner’s wellness tip, Northern Cass School District #97 issued a book challenge as well, not for the learners only but for the entire community. “For every book that is read, community members / parents will volunteer to match the number of books read with a $1 match.” The money raised during the book challenge goes to purchasing books for the bookmobile to donate to families. What a wonderful way to include the community, while advocating for books.

Reading during this time can be a great stress relief, as Dr. Steiner pointed out. Encouraging children and community members to read in places where they feel most comfortable and safe can reduce anxiety in a time when anxiety can run high. We are thankful for the ways in which our learning communities have developed systems that ensure learners have access to books, encourage a love of reading and hold them accountable for their learning in different ways.

How are KnowledgeWorks learning communities adjusting to distance learning by using SEL strategies and positivity? We rounded up some stories.