#274 – Empowering Young Readers: The Science of Reading and More, with Sara Frater

Unpacking Education March 27, 2024 29 min

In this episode, we are joined by Sara Frater, a second grade teacher from Prairie View Elementary in Otsego, Minnesota. Sara helps us unpack the balance between the science of reading and the art of teaching. She shares her experience integrating components of the science of reading into her classroom while continuing to offer empowering, creative, and tech-rich learning opportunities for her students.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

. . . Literacy is arguably the most important competence to teach. A student who can master reading comprehension will not only have high chances of becoming an avid reader and cultured person but also be a higher-achieving professional in nearly all areas of knowledge.

Eastern Washington University, from The Impact of Reading Comprehension on Learning

Fitting It All in

Our guest, Sara Frater, admits that it can be a challenge to fit everything into the school day. There are so many demands pulling on teachers: curriculum requirements, research-based best practices, technology, student choice, and the desire to be creative.

To manage these challenges, Sara and her second grade team work together. They brainstorm together, divide up the workload, and carefully plan out each week to maximize the time that they have with students. They also utilize a thematic approach to reading, so they can bring in potentially neglected content areas like science and STEM. Technology is integrated regularly and used to guide students during station and independent time. It allows students to be self-directed, giving Sara the opportunity to work with small groups of students at her teacher station.

These key elements—and more—have helped her team implement new science of reading strategies into their classrooms. Tune in to hear the full conversation. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:

  • About Our Guest: Sara Frater is a second grade teacher at Prairie View Elementary School in Otsego, Minnesota. This is Sara’s 20th year in education.
  • The Importance of Reading: Reading opens doors to learning about whatever passion you might have. Sara believes, “To go forward and enjoy your life, it’s an essential skill.”
  • The Science of Reading: The science of reading is a collection of research around best practices in teaching and learning the skill of reading. Elements include phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Sara has had the opportunity to complete the extensive LETRS training, and she explains, “You learn how to look at phonemic awareness, and you learn how to look at phonics, and then you learn comprehension, and then it gives you strategies to put it all together.”
  • Scarborough’s Reading Rope: Sara and her team map out the year to make sure that they can give ample time to each element of reading instruction. For instance, she says, “For second grade in LETRS, they say you should have both sides of the reading rope. There’s this reading rope that has word recognition, and it has language comprehension. So for second grade, our time is supposed to be split pretty 50/50.”
  • Keeping Learning Active: Sara says, “Kids are never sitting and just listening to me talk over Google Slides.” Her team uses a program called UFLI, which is an acronym for the University of Florida Literacy Institute, to help keep learning active. In the program, as Sara explains, the students “have to decode [and] encode. They have to write. We use little stamps, and they stamp out the words. So they’re busy, the whole time engaged. But it’s not just that. It’s like when you read a book, they need to have a graphic organizer, or we use sticky notes.” She adds, “I think part of the reason it works so well is that we’re having kids do things with reading the whole time.”
  • A Thematic Approach: To find time to get everything worked into the school year, Sara’s team takes a thematic approach. This allows them to integrate content areas like science and STEM into the reading process. Sara says, “On Fridays, we make it a little more fun and do a path where they do those STEM things and those science things that integrate all their learning.”
  • Routines: While Sara and her team consistently find space to be innovative and creative, they also find value in routine for many of the basic components of the science of reading. She says, “We stick to some really routine, research-based things that work.”
  • Challenges: Every instructional approach brings challenges, and the science of reading is no exception. Sara says that her team has had to work hard to make sure existing curriculum expectations mesh with new approaches. She says, “It doesn’t always go together as perfectly as you want.” Sara also points out that lack of time is a continual challenge. With every minute being so valuable, she says, “If I’m pulling a group, my kids are doing something super purposeful.”
  • Technology: Sara says that technology has made the teaching of reading a lot easier, and she integrates a wide variety of tech options into her lessons. Some examples include Boom Cards, Osmo, Seesaw, Nearpod, Lumio, and Epic. Most recently, Sara has been exploring Curipod, and she says, “That’s really good for vocabulary skills because you can have kids draw your words, and then they vote on the one that matches it the best. They have loved that. That has been super cool.”
  • A Balanced Approach: Sara says that she uses technology in stations, independent work, and whole-group settings. For instance, the class might use a whole-group Lumio lesson first, read a book independently on Epic, and then work either alone or collaboratively to create a poster or PicCollage on Seesaw to share with families.
  • Teamwork: Sara and her team collaborate on lesson design and material creation. “We all kind of work together to make it work,” she says. “I work with really great ladies.” If someone discovers something new, they bring it to the group, and they look at it together.
  • A Growth Mindset: Sara admits, “We’re not perfect. We’re learning this together.” She adds, “We fall down lots, and then we try it again.” She feels that it’s important for her students to see that she is a learner as well. She says, “I think seeing an adult kind of struggle is a really powerful thing.”
  • Lifelong Learning: Reading is a portal to lifelong learning. Sara says, “I model lifelong learning.” She adds, “When you learn things, that’s the prize in life, right? Discovering joy in learning is the biggest gift you can give to kids.”
  • Fun Fridays: Sara shares how much she enjoys Fun Fridays for her students. “Kids love ‘em—super fun. They work really hard to get to the end to make, and create, and do all the fun things.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What do you know about the science of reading?
  • What role does reading play in your classroom?
  • How can you actively engage students in the reading process?
  • How can technology be leveraged to engage students in reading?
  • What are the benefits to a thematic approach to reading?
  • How can you bring fun and creativity into your classroom?
  • What is the value of a growth mindset?
  • What is something you learned in this episode that you’d like to try?

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