Inside the Classroom: Frenship Teachers Work to Complete 11 Month Texas Reading Academy

According to the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, “Only 58% of students currently come to school Kindergarten ready, and in 2018, only 4 in 10 students met the state’s 3rd grade reading standard. In 2017, Texas children ranked 46th in the country in 4th grade reading proficiency.” In addition, according to the TEA website, “All K-3 teachers, including special education teachers, and principals are required to complete the HB 3 Reading Academies by 2023. This includes literacy specialists who see K-3 students in small groups and K-3 departmentalized teachers.”

“Participants in the comprehensive and blended models engage in literacy focused professional development delivered with the Canvas learning management system. Throughout this process, teachers will participate in ongoing formative assessment through checks-for-understanding and will complete summative artifacts.”

Last July, Frenship created the District-level Early Literacy Specialist position that was filled by Jamie Bennett. Bennett was previously a teacher for over 22 years, but she now oversees the teacher’s completion of this project, as well as the integration of what they learn into their classrooms.

Bennett said the Texas was seeing that reading in the earlier elementary grades was not where it needed to be across the state. She said that more and more, as students progressed to the next grade, they were not reading at the level they needed to be or were not reading at all.

“We have had ‘academies’ for years,” Bennett said of past required TEA professional development. “None of them were ever about the real science of teaching reading like, how the brain works and how if you teach kids with explicit and systematic instruction and you have those routines in place, that research says that 95% of kids should be able to read.”

Bennett said that TEA started putting systems in place this year to start getting students reading and on-level, which is the sole purpose of the new Texas Reading Academy program.

Bennett explained that the Texas Reading Academy program seemed like a large undertaking to teachers originally, but the teachers that are currently in the program are utilizing it well in their classrooms.

“It is basically a college class,” Bennett said. “Just this semester, from January to May it is 30 hours of professional development (PD) online. We will do a little interaction, like discussion and responses, and that kind of things too, and I meet with them during our District PD days to help them work through the artifacts that they have to submit to the State.”

Tiffany Myers is a Kindergarten teacher at Legacy Elementary. She said it has been exciting to see the progression in her students through this school year.

“I have enjoyed learning some new strategies for teaching high-frequency words,” Myers said. “I love that these strategies are based on research, so I can use them with confidence. I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment with something called heart words. It was something I had never heard before and has helped me changed the way I introduce and teach high-frequency words to my Kindergarteners.”

Myers said many of the suggestions for learning that are made in the modules are things she knows our District is already implementing.

Sara Simpson is a Kindergarten teacher at Oak Ridge Elementary. She said she has taken a lot of new information away from the Academy and that module five has been the most meaningful for her so far.

“Module five was about the importance and benefits of oral language development,” Simpson said. “Oral language is the foundation of literacy development.  This module reminded me that providing time for my students to have both social and academic conversation is imperative for their success later in school and in life.”

Simpson said it is sometimes easy for teachers to get caught up in the idea that kids are only doing meaningful work when they are producing something tangible, but the Texas Reading Academy has reset her thinking.

“I have been teaching for 14 years and it becomes easy to get away from best practice and instead fall into habits,” Simpson said. “Sometimes habits, whether good or bad, can cause us to become less intentional. This course has helped me to reset my focus and make sure that the things that I am spending time on are intentional, purposeful, and meaningful to the literacy development of every child.”

Taryn Lackey is a Kindergarten teacher at North Ridge Elementary. She said she has embraced pairing what she is learning through the Texas Reading Academy with the Frenship curriculum.

“The requirement is that the teachers successfully complete the Texas Reading Academy with a score of 80 or above, but the requirement itself isn’t what has changed my classroom,” Lackey said. “Instead, I now recognize that it is more about being explicit with what we already do within Frenship, as well as take into consideration the science behind what we do.”

Lackey said she might be in a different type of teaching situation than many of her counterparts because she is a virtual teacher this year.

“I have found that the Texas Reading Academy sets you up for success no matter what learning environment you are in,” Lackey said. “For example, while I always knew reading groups were an imperative part of the classroom, I hadn’t yet imagined a way to incorporate virtual reading groups into the kindergarten virtual setting. That being said, module after module, video after video, I knew in my heart there had to be a way to make it possible. Long story short, I am now hosting virtual reading groups and my students are loving every second – as am I!”

Lackey said she believes that the Texas Reading Academy has brought her Frenship Kindergarten team closer than ever.

“We see the value in what we are doing and what our colleagues are doing,” Lackey said. “We treasure the training we have received together within Frenship that truly backs, not only the Texas Reading Academy, but also the science behind enabling children to succeed. We know we are all in this together and there is nothing more beautiful that coming together and watching everyone succeed, both faculty and students alike!”