As the Stage C READ 180 Educator of the Year, I had the privilege of attending the Model Schools Conference in Washington D.C. While there, I had the opportunity to attend some great workshops and hear some terrific speakers. After perusing the gigantic program of choices, I thought I would focus my attention on sessions revolving around implementing rigor (an area my department is working on improving) and increasing student communication (one of our teaching power components this year). Two stood out the most, and moved me to reflection. Akbar Cook’s outstanding session, A New Normal: Leading Kids with Love, spoke to me on a personal level. Then Day Two’s keynote speaker Linda Cliatt-Wayman spoke about how to Lead Fearlessly, Love Hard: Finding Your Purpose and Putting It to Work.
Both Ms. Cliatt-Wayman and Mr. Cook spoke about their “babies” and how they were able to change lives through building relationships, never giving up on their students, bringing their best selves to situations and making positive changes to the school community. I am not making the type of institutional changes or facing dangerous situations as they did, but I know I am changing the lives of my kids in my classroom and outwardly to those in our learning community.
My reflection began as I thought about the READ 180 transition from the Enterprise Edition to Next Generation to Universal. I realized that my thirteen year READ 180 journey actually began before I knew about READ 180. As a newer teacher I was at a loss with what to do with my strugglers and my self-proclaimed non-readers. My professors and supervisors told me I was a natural born teacher, but I was frustrated by the lack of tools and opportunities to provide real fixes for my neediest students without just providing easier work lacking rigor. Our curriculum was rigid, and there was no room for students who could not keep up. I was at a loss as to what to do with my students who fell behind.
I knew the way it was supposed to work. I was confident and comfortable in the classroom. I knew to keep the end goal in mind as I planned the lessons along the way. I knew building relationships was the key to my success. But I wanted students to want to be in my class, so I knew I needed to deliver lessons that were engaging and meaningful to them.
I became a team leader and professional development provider within my district. I was on the principal’s advisory committee, but I still felt an area was lacking within my classroom instruction. How could I reach the disengaged who refused to read the assignments? How could I get to the heart of why they do not read? How could I keep pace with the curriculum, without losing learners along the way? Many of my peers felt those students were choosing to fail by not reading and with that choice we could move on, leaving them behind without guilt.
But I couldn’t. I struggled with tremendous guilt. What more could I do? What more could I provide? How could I help those students to help themselves? How could I get them to care? My principal at the time encouraged me to get my masters as a reading specialist. That helped provide some insight and strategies, but I still felt like it was not enough.
Fast forward to three years into a new district, and my supervisor was preparing to introduce READ 180. I was going to loop up with my strugglers from the middle school to introduce them to READ 180 at the high school level. I sat through the Getting Started training and was skeptical that what they were prescribing would work with high school students – especially a particular group of disenfranchised boys who felt the system had failed them again and again.
My boys and I started the year in room 108 with this new program that was in between the small classes (resource room) and the large classes of traditional curriculum. They were the only English class gifted with a double period… although at the time they did not see it as a gift. They felt they were being punished with twice as much English as everyone else. They recognized that it was a different kind of class, but different must mean inferior. I had the daily challenge of convincing them that they were not in the “stupid class”. With READ 180, I was working on mindset before I even knew what that was.
By November, I was sold. The data proved that what we were doing was working, even if the boys didn’t quite believe it yet. They were still resistant – sometimes very much so – but the daily struggle of being in the “stupid class” eventually became a weekly one instead. The software provided my students practice and feedback without public shame. The independent books with time to read in class, gave them an opportunity they never had before - choice and time to read at their own pace. The routine helped keep them on track, limited the fake reading, and held them accountable. They read, completed the activities, conferenced with me and at times their peers, wrote and took the quizzes. Gradually, they began to believe that the data was right.
Once students began completing books and gaining points and recognition for achievements, others wanted it too. They mocked the anchor video and rBook activities, but it was clear that the personalized attention and focused strategies were working. When success began to come in our class, they began coming to me looking for help in other classes… classes that they had previously given up on. One student even asked me for help with his taxes. Working through READ 180, we were able to build a trust and a bond that I don’t believe could have been built otherwise. It was clear that my students’ lives were changing. They began to believe in themselves, and believe that they could succeed.
I was able to provide strategies that were needed. I had hard data that showed me what my students needed and proved what we were doing was working. We had a routine that was consistent but flexible. By April, many of my kids had read more than their peers in traditional classes. Their writer’s notebooks had evidence of more writing. And the biggest change were the Lexiles. They had concrete evidence that their effort was paying off.
School was no longer this trick that the “smart” kids had figured out. Good grades were no longer left to luck. The work presented at their level without being too simplified gave them the opportunity to be successful and to know that they had earned it. Then as the work became more challenging and they were still able to succeed, it began to turn the tide.
I truly believe that with the tools from READ 180, there is magic in room 108. One young gentleman in that first class would consistently find himself serving time in in-school-suspension, but would ask to be released for software time. Several students openly claimed to be non-readers but would slowly find a book that they would begrudgingly enjoy. More than once, previous students have assured the new class that they are in the right place if they want to succeed. I have seen “non-readers” recommend books they think friends would like. I had one student finish a trilogy only to cry because it was over. I have witnessed a high-level discussion about grit where the kids had to use evidence to prove their points and were disappointed when the period ended before they could share all the information they had prepared.
Linda Cliatt-Wayman said she regularly told her students, “If nobody told you they loved you today, remember I do.”, because many of them only hear it from her. I feel the same way. I find the greatest learning growths occurred when the students in room 108 realized they are loved – once my kid, always my kid. I am so proud of where life has taken these students, but I am most proud of the all the moments when they realize they can do it. I am looking forward to the start of the new school year and to continue celebrating the successes of my students.
Share what you are looking forward to at the start of the new school year in the comments.