The University of Iowa

Implementing a Shared Reading Intervention for Kindergarten Students During Remote Learning

Q&A with Anna Canton

Posted on: December 8, 2020

As a part of the remote learning happening for many children this fall, the Iowa Reading Research Center conducted an evaluation study of an after-school reading intervention for kindergarten students conducted via videoconferencing. The intervention used a shared reading approach consisting of an interventionalist reading aloud storybooks carefully selected for their focus on science concepts in order to teach students key vocabulary words in those books. After taking pretests of their vocabulary knowledge, the students participated in the shared reading intervention every day for about 20 minutes for five weeks.

In each session, the reading interventionist read aloud the storybook and stopped on the pages where a targeted vocabulary word appeared. She used the following sequence to teach that word:

  • repeat the storybook sentence containing the vocabulary word
  • provide a student-friendly definition of the word
  • use the word in a more familiar sentence
  • ask the student to relate the word to a real-life experience

The same storybook was read two days in a row, following the same instructional sequence, to offer students more exposure to and practice with the vocabulary words. Two new books were read each week, and three vocabulary words from each book were chosen for instruction. On the fifth day of each week, the interventionist tested students’ knowledge on a random selection of five vocabulary words.

As many teachers have experienced, delivering reading instruction remotely presented new opportunities and challenges for the evaluation’s interventionist, Anna Canton. Anna is a kindergarten teacher at Coralville Central Elementary in the Iowa City Community School District. She earned a master’s degree in education and has 15 years of experience as an educator. However, this year has been like no other. In addition to the after-school intervention she delivered as part of our evaluation study, she is also a virtual instructor for a regular class of students. Her work in our project involved students who were not in her regular class, so Anna has had a range of virtual teaching experiences with different students. We asked her to share some of her ideas about virtual instruction, and she offered encouraging insights into the nature of virtual classrooms.

Iowa Reading Research Center (IRRC): How Does Implementing a Literacy Intervention Virtually Compare to Implementing an Intervention in Person?

Anna Canton: When I am implementing an intervention in a virtual setting, I need to get more creative, deliberate, and planned. I need to think about how it would be done in the classroom and figure out how to do it via videoconferencing. Supplies are limited when doing the intervention this way, but overall, it is not much different from teaching students in a classroom.

IRRC: What Are Some Advantages and Disadvantages of Monitoring Students' Progress in a Virtual Classroom?

Anna Canton: Progress monitoring in a virtual classroom has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that my students are completing more work this year than students in previous years. The students who usually get pulled from my face-to-face class to receive other services or students who struggle to finish daily assignments have submitted more daily work for the virtual class. Students can see their daily tasks online and can work at their own pace. That is an advantage because students are practicing their skills more, and I have more completed student work to make an accurate evaluation of students’ progress. However, one disadvantage of remote learning is providing meaningful and immediate feedback on assignments. I can give feedback by commenting online, but I have to provide it during small groups if I want to give students feedback directly. Determining how to balance when students need feedback and reteaching is something that I work on each day.

IRRC: How Do You Encourage Students to Participate in the Shared Reading Lessons Like Those in the Intervention?

Anna Canton: I really try to use everyone’s name when I give feedback or reinforce their learning and behavior. I try to get my students to buy in to the activities they are doing. But the biggest thing I have to consider is the pacing of my instruction. I keep in mind the different ability levels of students in small groups, so I plan the pace of my lessons accordingly. In my 20-minute small groups, there is not an activity on which students spend a lot of time. Each activity is only 1–3 minutes.

Even with this pacing, I notice that students are easily distracted in a virtual setting, whereas in a classroom setting, students are more willing to wait for me to give the next instructions. This is one limitation to remote learning because all I can do is call the student’s name and hope the student returns to the virtual classroom. To help keep their attention, I increase the opportunities to respond in a virtual classroom by asking students to say the answer, write their answers on a whiteboard, or face their computer screens down so that I can see their work as they write.

IRRC: What Kind of Technology Did You Use to Implement Shared Reading, and Did You Experience Any Limitations to the Shared Reading Lessons Due to Virtual Instruction?

Anna Canton: During the intervention, I decided to hold the books up to the camera so the students could see me and the books simultaneously. I find this more effective than using a document camera. Even when teaching in my classroom, I think students are more successful and responsive when they can see me and read my body language and facial expressions. I have noticed that students have gotten good at using their nonverbal communication skills because they are often muted during videoconferences. I also think that wearing face coverings and remote learning has caused students to rely on the eye contact and body language of the person who is speaking so that they understand the context of the conversation or of the book being read to them. Students are highly expressive with hand signals, facial expressions, and body language during virtual class. I think it is because students feel they must make big expressions for people to understand them.

IRRC: How Did You Build Relationships With the Students in a Virtual Setting?

Anna Canton: This was one concern I had when I found out that I would be an online teacher. My typical in-person classroom is filled with hugs, back scratches, and lap readings. But in a virtual classroom, none of those things are possible. It occurred to me that if adults can meet online and fall in love, then I could establish rapport with my students online. At first, I had to be very intentional about letting each student have a chance to talk about themselves in morning meetings. This time was invaluable in building friendships and trust in my class. I was amazed at how fast students caught on to what their new friends liked or did not like. For instance, one student brought a book about insects because the student knew how much a classmate loved reading about insects, even though the two have never even met each other in real life. Another student said to a classmate, “You look beautiful today.” This showed that students are noticing their classmates as well as listening to them describe themselves. I think my relationships with students are equally as strong, if not stronger, than my relationships in a typical classroom setting—without ever giving a hug. I get a glimpse into students’ homes every day. It is a unique experience to be able to see what their homes are like and for parents to be more involved. This was something that surprised me the most. I think if we all went to school in person tomorrow, we would not miss a beat.


Anna’s work as a remote instructor is expected to continue this spring, but our after-school shared reading intervention ended in November. All students involved demonstrated some improvement in their vocabulary knowledge. This was not only apparent in their learning of the words Anna taught while reading the storybooks, but also in standardized tests of vocabulary. With the proper preparation and dedicated instructors like Anna, remote learning can be successful for even young children.