Anatomy of an Outstanding Educator

The 2016 Outstanding Educator Award Season is here.  We are all outstanding educators.  We teach students who, for a variety of reasons, have difficulty making sense out of text.  Yet, the ability to comprehend, to analyze, and organize ideas is essential to success as an adult.  As READ 180 teachers, we are responsible for helping students with a variety of text-related issues: intellectual limitations, a multitude of learning disabilities, English as a second language learners (ESL/ELL),  students with low motivation, difficult home lives, poverty, societal consequences, e.g. Flint, MI, parental substance abuse before and after birth, abuse, and many more.  With the help of READ 180 and System 44's proven success strategies and programs,  we are the bastion of success for our students.  

Karen Bram is one of the most dedicated teachers I know.  I've known Karen for more than ten years, starting when she was in her last year or two of college.  She would come into my husband's  education store and we would shoot the breeze about college, classes, practicum experiences, teachers, students, and more.  Since then, I have been blessed to watch Karen grow into her position as an Eighth Grade READ 180 Teacher in New Jersey.   This is her third year teaching READ 180. Karen has worked hard to give her students her best.  She has worked hard to learn the intricacies of READ 180 so she can better serve her students. As you can see by the pictures, Karen's classroom is small, yet she manages to fit dedicated spaces for Whole Group, Small Group, Independent Reading, READ 180 Computers, rBook and notebook storage, and even a Writing Center.  

Karen is committed to helping her students find success.  Last year, her Eighth Grade READ 180 Students showed the highest growth of all the other READ 180 teachers' classes in her school.   She has been acknowledged as an example of READ 180 excellence.  Karen exemplifies excellence, dedication, and is, in my eyes, a truly outstanding READ 180 Educator. 

Following is an interview of Karen  about her thoughts and experiences with READ 180. 

 Me: Why do you like teaching READ 180?

  • Karen: I like teaching READ 180 because it works.  I can see students' Lexiles increase.  I can see their confidence increase.   I know that their success with me will help them in their transition to high school.

Me: Where do you find your motivation for teaching READ 180?

  • Karen: My motivation comes from the students because they want to learn if given the right opportunity,  They want to improve so they can move into an Inclusion, or Regular Education class.  I get to see how happy they are when they reach their Lexile goals after working extremely hard in READ 180. 

Me: What are some ways you motivate your students to do their best?

  • Karen: I acknowledge students in class everyday with verbal praise, stars, snack coupons, pencils, pens, and school zaps for monthly school-wide group activities.   These rewards help me to motivate my students to try their best.

Me: What are some ways you innovate instruction?  Why?

  • Karen: Read 180 is a structured timed program that I follow.  I have made a few changes within the Independent Reading area, but the time remains the same.  I tried Literature Circle Roles within the 20 minutes Independent Reading time with a small group of student who read on the same lexile levels.  The students were begging me to let them read more.   Then, I let the students compete with other classes for rewards.  First, second, and third place rewards where given to classes who finish the book in that order.  Students were running in and out of my classroom all day to check the charts!

Me: How do you differentiate instruction in your classroom?

  • Karen: like to use different types of instruction to challenge myself and students.  I think change is good.  Students applied themselves more to interaction, cooperation, and socialization among each other using the Literature Circles.  Furthermore, I work on publish writing pieces for the Writing Zone with my students.  I meet with each student once a week to discuss their writing.

  • I differentiate instruction by following the students SRI Lexile.  I implement READ 180 to help each student individually.  Students read books in their Lexile range, work on software at their level, and work on rBook skills with teacher scaffolding.

NOTE: I remember Karen's concerns about her students' writing.  We would often talk about the difficulty they had in writing complete sentences that made sense.  She read one of my blogs about using the Writing Zone and individual conferences with students to help students improve their writing.  Her students love their one : one time with Mrs. Bram.   Students often clamor, "Mrs. Bram, is it my turn to write with you now?"

Me: What does it mean to you to teach READ 180 with fidelity?

  • Karen: Teaching READ 180 with fidelity to me means teaching the program the way it's intended to be taught.  I see the power of the READ 180 Program every day in my students' successes.  I feel responsible for the students learning, but also to the parents and administrators who trust me to do my very best.

Me: What factors have led to your success?  

  • Karen: The factors that led to my success was seeking out individuals who could support me and teach me the READ 180 program.   My supervisor, the READ 180 Classroom Support Rep., and the Educator Community Blogs have all helped me learn how to best support and teach my students.

Me: What are some of the ways you help your students become successful?

  • Karen: I work on helping students feeling and seeing the own success.  Conferencing regularly with each student help this process.    Students know that I'm watching them, and I hold them accountable for all work.

Me: What are some of the challenges you have faced as a teacher?  As a READ 180 teacher?

  • Karen: The most challenging part of Read 180 is the Independent Reading area.  Sometimes students seem to think they can slack-off (sleep, talk).  But I have enlisted my classroom aide to keep students reading and to check reading logs daily for summaries.  

Me: This year, you began the school year with two READ 180/ELA classes and one non-READ 180 ELA class.  Explain what happened to the non-READ 180 ELA class and why.

  • Karen: My periods 2/3 and periods 4/5 students were enrolled in READ 180 at the beginning of the school year, but my periods 7/8  began as a Resource Room.  The text book I was required to use was extremely difficult for periods 7/8 to read, and I saw that their writing was lacking in capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and grammar.  Comprehension was a major problem.  The text was over their heads.  So, I contacted my supervisor and asked if I could change this class to a Read 180 class.  I plead my case about my observations and provided samples of their work, to support my case.  

  • After the Christmas holiday, I was able to switch the class over to READ 180.   I saw the relief on my students faces, because they were no longer forced to work in a book that was beyond their capability.  Now, after two months,  periods 7/8  students are less stressed and showing progress.

Me: In what ways have you improved and enhanced delivery of the READ 180 Curriculum to better all students

  • Karen: Consistency has been my biggest improvement over time.  The longer I teach READ 180, the better I understand the curriculum and how it is important to be consistent in all of the classroom procedures and routines.   Additionally, I spend after-school checking data in SAM, their Independent Reading Folders, and rBooks so that I can provide students with feedback regularly. I try to make contact with each student once a day, which has enhanced my students' success.

In my eyes, Karen has all of the factors necessary to be a 180 Outstanding Educator: She believes in the power of READ 180, she is always working to improve her knowledge and delivery of the READ 180 curriculum, she motivates her students to do their best, her students are motivated and successful, and she teaches READ 180 with fidelity.  Her individual conferences keep her students informed about their progress, help students stay motivated, and shows students that Mrs. Bram cares about their success.

For more information about the 180 Outstanding Educator Awards, check out: 

Stage C READ 180 Educator

Debbie is a READ 180 Stage C teacher based in New Jersey.