It was like deja vu, except it wasn’t.

I had been here before, just two years prior, as a first-grade teacher at a charter school here in KC.

In my first go-round, another teacher informed me that they had differentiated reading groups. Students would go out, according to their reading levels, to different classrooms. I inherited the lowest group. They were severely struggling – and had been for a while, as there were second-graders in my group too. So I knew that I had to do something different. I didn’t ask permission because I didn’t have time. The third quarter was quickly approaching. It was crunch time.

When I arrived, they were reading out of black and white decodable readers (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but it was apparent this was not working. So I came in, packed away the black and white decodable books and replaced them with real books.

Not only did these kids need to improve their reading skills, but they also needed to get excited about learning to read and build a positive connection with books.

So, I read aloud. Every day. They practiced reading from real books that I had copied. We played word games. I showed them that reading could be fun. And I sent books home, so they could have books to read. Many of them did not have the books at home that I knew they needed to practice – the only way their reading would improve.

And after six weeks, 85% of them had increased their reading skills by two or more levels, with several of them testing out into higher reading groups.

I was on to something.

Two years later, I got a job as a reading interventionist for the same school. This time, I was over-the-moon excited because the principal gave me the autonomy to create whatever type of program that I wanted. Because this was a newly created position, the principal told me that he didn’t care how I did it. He just needed me to “fix them.” At the time, I was not too fond of that word, and, still, I’m not too fond of that word “fix.”

What exactly was broken?

Their spirits and confidence were broken. Several students could not read simple words like ‘the,’ ‘and,’ or ‘cat.’ Some of them couldn’t even write their names.  I wanted to help repair what their low reading skills had left broken. If I could show them that they could succeed with reading, it would spark inside them.

So, I took hold of those reins, and I went for it!  I deep-dived into learning about children’s literacy and pored over textbooks and articles, spent thousands of hours learning as much I could. I was determined and committed for their sake.

Even though I didn’t have an office, we traveled back and forth, like a nomad, with my mobile office finding any spot that we could to have our reading group. It was a real reading adventure! Again, I read aloud; we played with words; we had fun; we connected with the story; they practiced reading real books.

At the end of six weeks, the payoff was worth it.  Seeing them excited about reading made my heart light up.

I will never forget watching Angela (one of my students) after she read a couple of lines in a book that I gave her as a gift. She turned, looked at me, and said, “I can read?” I responded, ‘Yes, Angela. You can read.” She threw her hands up in the air and shouted, “I can read! Now I can read to my baby brother!”

I never allowed what I did not know to stop me from what I knew was my responsibilty, help students succeed.

I learned more, created, and tweaked a system and committed without excuses. They were my why so I figured it out.

Let what you don’t know become your motivation for figuring things out.

Happy (And Much Successful) Reading!

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