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Nell Duke shares how educators teaching remotely can leverage best practices in literacy instruction

October 02, 2020

Professor Nell Duke was quoted in two Education Week articles about early literacy instruction in a remote setting: “How to Teach Reading with a Digital Mindset: Researcher Nell Duke's Advice” by Mark Lieberman and “Schools Already Struggled to Teach Reading Right. Now They Have to Do It Online” by Benjamin Herold. Both articles explore the challenges of teaching reading online, but also how educators can adjust their practices and recalibrate their priorities to ensure students are gaining fundamental reading skills.


Benjamin Herold wrote that even before public schools shut their physical doors to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, many educators were struggling to teach young children to read in the absence of scientific pedagogical approaches. Now, with thousands of schools reopening virtually or using a mix of online and in-person instruction, reading instruction is largely being conducted remotely. Educators have turned to software programs and digital apps to support their efforts. These technologies vary widely in their quality, and none of these platforms were meant to completely replace instruction from a teacher. 

The pressing question is whether human teachers can provide high-quality reading instruction over videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet. “The question is, can we maintain the integrity of the techniques that we know work, while dealing with the affordances and constraints of the digital environment?” Duke said.

Duke produced a series of videos in the spring showing what good remote instruction in foundational reading skills looks like. “There are a lot of research-tested instructional techniques that can be used through videoconferencing. They need to be modified somewhat to make sense for that context, but versions of them are similar enough that they would still work. You can still do phonics instruction by videoconference. You can still listen to children read and use information from that to plan future instruction. You can still work on more phonological awareness. You can still read to them and do an interactive read-aloud. It’s a little more awkward, it’s a little clunkier [than in-person instruction],” said Duke. 

Many challenges exist even for teachers who use evidence-based practices online but Duke stresses the importance of shifting one’s mindset. “The key is to not take a deficit perspective on remote teaching. It’s probably not healthy, and it’s certainly not productive, to constantly focus on what these remote teaching contexts can’t do.”


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Professor, Marsal Family School of Education

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March 06, 2020
Nell Duke and colleagues co-published a commentary piece in the Chicago Tribune calling for improvements in the education of Black male youth.
February 28, 2020
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February 14, 2020
Michigan is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve literacy as part of its third-grade reading law but the architects of the law now say that’s not enough money.
December 18, 2019
In an article for The Michigan Daily, reporter Alex Harring wrote about U-M students who are advocating against a controversial state reading law. Among them is Educational Studies student Gabriel DellaVecchia.
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Professor Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar is the 2019 recipient of the P. David Pearson Scholarly Influence Award, which is presented annually by the Literacy Research Association for a single contribution to research that has demonstrably and positively influenced literacy instruction and/or policy.