Forgotten Narratives from Frontline of the Reading Wars

In this episode, hosts, Amanda and Trina, discuss the significant challenges of reading instruction in education. They delve into their personal experiences as teachers and parents, grappling with the complexities of teaching reading effectively and the impact on students. The conversation covers the history of reading, the disparities in instruction across socioeconomic lines, and the struggles faced by students with learning disabilities. The speakers call for systemic changes, emphasizing the need for high-quality curriculum, experienced teachers, and comprehensive support for struggling readers. They express frustration with the lack of resources and advocate for recognition of teachers’ expertise in advancing students’ reading skills.


Teachers are NOT the Problem, They are Part of the Solution

We are losing qualified teachers at a staggering rate. But, to be clear, teachers should never be blamed for the teacher turnover problems our country is facing. The shortage of teachers in America and the decrease in college students seeking a teaching career is a multifaceted and complex problem. 

The Teacher Shortage Crisis Series

In this limited podcast series, we discuss exactly what got us to this crisis point in the U.S. education system. Click the links below to be directed to that part of the series. We recommend listening in order. 

1. Pay Scales for Teachers are Oppressive and Outdated

2. A Discussion with a New Teacher Who Chose to Leave the Profession

3. The High Cost of Becoming a Teacher

4. How Red Tape is Exacerbating the Problems

5. Outsourcing Teacher Expertise to Canned Curriculum

6. An ESL Teacher’s Stand Against Canned Curriculum and the Shocking Consequences

7. True Educational Equity Reforms Aren’t Happening and the Repercussions are Severe

8. Gender Equity Issues in K-12 are Undervalued and Neglected

9. Courageous Teachers Speak Out Against a Serious Problem Being Overlooked in K-12 Schools

10. Forgotten Narratives from the Frontlines of the Reading Wars

11. The Revealing Reality Struggling Readers Face in the U.S. Public Education System

12. Our Public Education System is in Crisis and the Solutions are Obvious

Stay tuned for the last few episodes wrapping up this limited podcast series!

In this series, Trina, along with myself, and many other educators from diverse backgrounds will explain the many layers of what is really going on. The shortage of special education teachers and math teachers is impacting schools (especially in low-income urban areas) tremendously. But, it’s important for teachers to understand the extent of this crisis. We are losing teachers in all subject areas. 

We want to give teachers an extensive look at this problem from teachers’ perspectives. This is so teachers listening can share this series with other teachers, school leadership, the media, and even the governor of their state. The need to examine the causes of the national teacher shortage has never been more important.


Trina (00:00:02) – This episode. Well, these next few episodes are about something so complicated to talk about in education. Um, that. We’ve been really slow to want to jump into these recordings, and the topic is reading instruction and before we get into the details of how it’s leading to the teacher shortage and how poorly we’re executing reading instruction in the United States. I want to back up a little bit and just talk to you guys. Um. In a really broad way about what reading is. Reading and learning to read is a very foreign thing to our brains. We only invented writing rather recently, right? We invented writing almost 6000 years ago, 7000 years ago. We’ve been on this planet as modern human beings for 200,000 years. Reading only happened because we needed to write down records once we started living in civilizations. Our abilities to learn language and tell stories and remember them well was so vast, so considerable that we didn’t ever feel the need to invent a written language until our lives got extremely complicated and greed took a hold of us, and we started living in stratified societies.

Trina (00:01:41) – When we first began living in cities. Right. I mean, I teach anthropology. Well, I studied anthropology, I teach a little bit of it to my sixth graders, um, an ancient civilizations, uh, history. And I can tell you that I think we get confused about how hard it is and how phenomenal it is that we have a written language at all, because language itself is almost effortless for us, and our brains are hard wired to pick up language. They are exquisite at that task. Not so at all for reading, and it seems to us like one flows out of the other and they just don’t. Reading and writing has almost nothing to do with language acquisition and. We have decided to sort of double down on an approach to reading instruction, which only serves a very small subset of people, and we confuse being intelligent with being neurotypical in a number of ways. And we’re so. I don’t know. Ignorant about the ways in which we learn to read and write, that we have really oppressed our children in the process of learning it.

Trina (00:03:07) – And some of our worst social problems that are echoed and reverberated through our K-12 educational system are exacerbated greatly by the process we use to teach reading instruction in the United States. And as we’re going to uncover and describe in these next few episodes, reading instruction in the United States is extraordinarily poor. And our illiteracy problem in the United States is so much worse than anyone really knows. And. I stumbled upon it and so did Amanda together and started to dig into why we are so inadequate at teaching our kids how to read and write. Um, and uncovered that it intersects with all of the same problems we’ve already been describing in these episodes. The main thing is, is that we’re getting worse, not better, at teaching reading. And unless we figure this out, we’re not going to be able to effectively self-govern. And I would say this guy’s. I think we’re already there. Right. Look around. We’ve got people believing nonsense. We’ve got people confused and unable to assess the credibility of any of these sources.

Trina (00:04:36) – And I will tell you that I can see in my classroom I see. Constant everyday evidence that reading levels and writing levels are dipping. And this was happening, I think, before the pandemic, but the pandemic also just hastened it all considerably. The pandemic happened to have happened, though we were neck deep into some really bad instructional pedagogical approaches to reading, and we’ve never been great at it. But we got real bad at it and how we got there. The things we missed. The reasons why it persist. It’s so vast and scary. It really fucking creeps me out. How we got to this place. But I want you guys to keep in mind as you listen to this. That. Most of us struggle to learn to read and write. And that doesn’t mean anyone is stupid. It is a very foreign thing we’re asking our brains to do. And anyone can learn to do it if we’re just doing the right thing. Which is many different things. All done really well. I cannot emphasize enough how important this next few episodes are.

Trina (00:05:58) – We really need to fix this shit.

Amanda (00:06:00) – Welcome to the Empower Students Now podcast, a podcast about equity, neurodiversity, mindfulness and student engagement. There’s a lot that needs to change in our education system. The good news is teachers have the power to make these changes now. We have been procrastinating big time. Yeah, but we forgive ourselves because we have a lot on our shoulders, a lot of responsibilities as teachers and mothers and, uh, helpers and givers and doers. And I think we’re both very intimidated by this topic of this episode reading instruction. Yeah. And it is New Year’s Eve. It is. I think that’s fun to to mention that it’s about to we’re about to enter 2024, The Year of the Dragon. I think that’s pretty cool. Did you know that?

Trina (00:07:05) – No.

Speaker 3 (00:07:05) – That does that is cool.

Amanda (00:07:07) – It’s also a leap year. Is it?

Trina (00:07:10) – All right. Okay.

Speaker 3 (00:07:12) – Um, this episode, I think the reason why I’ve been so reluctant to get into it is because. It’s super triggering to to go back into the past and remember how hard this was for me personally, um, to see my children, my students.

Speaker 3 (00:07:32) – Um. My kids? Yeah. My children. Um. Be so oppressed by our practices. Um, but also, like I have to say this, right? Because they deserve that dignity of somebody telling their story or somebody telling this story correctly. And I think people might be in a place where they’re ready to hear it. Because when I first started trying to tell this story to people, um, like it was 2016, 2015 and nobody was ready to hear, but I think. I think people might be ready now because there’s been some whistleblowers. Um, and I don’t know, it just feels like a huge responsibility, doesn’t it?

Amanda (00:08:20) – Yes, but I feel prepared, and I feel like it’s important for teachers to have an opportunity to talk about what it’s like or what it has been like. To flounder when it comes to supporting our kids that struggle with reading and not knowing how to help them. Um, I think that it’s like there’s not many places or spaces where that’s really being discussed in this reading wars.

Amanda (00:08:57) – Um, and honestly, I think it’s just the pendulum swinging back to phonics. I think that’s what this reading wars is, you know, and I think we’re going to talk a lot about, uh, just what it takes to teach reading. In an effective way that makes a positive impact and a difference. In the lives of our kids, but we’re still like, I, this is my 15th year teaching and I’m still semi floundering, even with the amount of knowledge that I have and the amount of experience that I have.

Speaker 3 (00:09:31) – Mhm. Well, I think this problem also intersects significantly with the structural sexism in our profession. Um, just like us not being given, you know, particularly K through three teachers. Right. Not being given um, the abilities to lead and shape the work that we’re doing. Um, and being told from someone else who claims to know more than we do. I mean, this is so complicated and so layered, I don’t even know where to begin. So we decided.

Speaker 3 (00:10:02) – Yeah, we decided to, um, we decided to go with our personal narratives first. Right. Um, and I think that was your idea, man. And I think it’s a beautiful idea. Um, and so I started outlining my experiences, and I just felt like, okay, so first of all, today is the first day. And since the break that I feel like able to do anything other than just sit and stare at the ceiling. Right. That’s a lot. Right? And we’ve been talking about how, um. As teachers, like, we need support groups. We need spaces where we’re able to do exactly what you just said, which is like be vulnerable about what’s really going on in our classrooms because we hold so much trauma and have to put on such a brave face for our kids. I mean, if you’re not a teacher, imagine if you’re a parent, right? You you’re if you’re a parent, you understand this like you all day, every day, not just for 1 or 2 kids, but for 90, 150 kids all day, every day.

Speaker 3 (00:11:07) – Have to pretend like everything’s okay. And when you really get really good at stuffing your trauma. And it gets really hard to then pull it back out, look at it and name it and deal with it later when the time is right, when you’re alone with other adults. Teachers don’t do that, and we’re just so fucking exhausted all the time from that trauma. Um, but I’ve. I’ve been working really hard on resting this break. Um. And that is the first day I feel ready and I know you identify with. The exhaustion at this time of the year. It’s a hard time of year for teachers.

Amanda (00:11:50) – Yeah for sure. This is a much needed break and I’m really happy to be here with you. After a week of just resting and doing whatever the hell I want. Really? Like I’ve been just and saying, no, I’ve not done many things. Uh, you know, I didn’t participate in the potluck. I didn’t participate in the Secret Santa. You know, I didn’t really get people gifts, just my, like, immediate family.

Amanda (00:12:21) – And, I don’t know, like, I just opted out of a lot of things just in an effort to breathe. Um, because I know I need that, and because I know that I am holding a lot, um, in a lot all of the time. And, and I think it’s another layer of this is we don’t not only have to pretend that everything’s okay, we have to pretend we know what we’re doing. I know in these circumstances, you know, and like, I feel like my coping mechanism. And I think a lot of teachers coping mechanism is workaholism. Um, you know, and just like, constantly seeking information, um, constantly like reading, you know, educational literature, um, and talking to other teachers who are really passionate about teaching, reading and writing and like, how to do it. In the most effective way possible. And like, I feel like, yeah, it’s so complex because there is no one size fits all answer, as always, you know, it depends on the kids in front of you like what strategies you’re going to pull out of your toolbox.

Amanda (00:13:32) – But we’ll get more into that. Um, why don’t you start, Gina? Like, I know that you said that maybe you’re feeling really kind of overwhelmed with, like, where to start, but just start from the beginning.

Speaker 3 (00:13:46) – Yeah, yeah, we’re going to start with our narratives and then we’re going to. And like, I think this episode will just be that and then we’ll get into some technical jargony things about reading instruction. Um, uh, so I decided to start with my childhood. Right. Um. I started out like a lot of teachers, um, which is that I was quick to read. And I think a lot of people who’ve never I think all people who’ve never struggled to learn how to read do not fathom the depths of the shame associated with what’s it’s like for most other people. Most Americans struggle to some extent with picking up these skills, and a lot struggle as adults, and that is really not well known or understood by those of us who never struggled in this way.

Speaker 3 (00:14:50) – People get really, really, really good at hiding it. And then of course, we often don’t want to see it. And then we have a bunch of assessments which are bogus, um, which say that it’s fine. So we don’t want to dig into it. But for me, as a kid, I picked up reading easily. Um, I, you know, did not come to understand how bad the national illiteracy problem is here in the United States. Um, until I started digging into the problems I was seeing in my classroom. And it starts for me, really, during my credential preparation program, because I was teaching in a low income public charter school. Um, at the same time as I was completing my credential and I wasn’t being given any materials to help me with direct instruction in reading, I wasn’t being given, um, I wasn’t. There were no expectations around reading instruction. This was a self-contained sixth grade classroom, all subjects. Um, so there, you know, if you if you wind up teaching fourth through 12th grade, you often don’t ever learn because you never have to really practice the foundations of reading instruction.

Speaker 3 (00:16:13) – So you were kind of out in the dark if you were a fourth or 12th grade teacher who’s taught Ela or all subjects, um, and you’ve and unless you’re Sped, um, you definitely don’t understand this super esoteric world of reading instruction unless you choose to painfully force yourself to learn it, which is what happened with me. Um, so for me, I took two courses of Ela pedagogy, which I’ve mentioned in an earlier episode for my credential. Um, and I, in those two classes, I mean, when I have a multiple subject credential. Right. So I took one pedagogy class for every subject, right. One for social studies, one for science, one for math, one for PE. Uh, you know, Ela is the only one that gets to an Ela is really three subjects. It’s reading, writing, and understanding literature. Um, and in the elementary years, it’s a two hour block of time minimum, sometimes maybe only 90 minutes, but it gets more time than the other subjects, which is something we forget about a secondary level.

Speaker 3 (00:17:24) – And it’s something we should probably get back into thinking about, is that that’s not an hour. That’s three subjects that might even need to be more than two hours of time, if you really think about it. But so anyways, I then was expected to take this test called the Rica and the Rica is a test that every teacher in the state of California who wants a multiple subject credential has to pass, and everyone in the programs knows that it’s the hardest class. I’m sorry, it’s the hardest test to pass. Um, and I was really nervous because I had been told that it was super hard. Um, and I knew that I in those two classes I took, I don’t even want to mention the program I went through, because I don’t want to drag their names through the mud, but I absolutely got no instruction on how to teach reading. It was two classes of I don’t know what it was. Um, kind of chit chatting about this and that. Some strategies like, you know, teaching kids, but nothing locked solid like hair’s the foundations of reading.

Speaker 3 (00:18:31) – This is the sequence you teach. This is how you teach. This is what you do. If a kid is not mastering these foundations foundational skills, this is what happens at each grade level. Like it was none of that. And so I had to take an online class. Actually, I found a YouTube series. A friend of mine in my program was like, here, I found this guy and this guy, I don’t remember his name. He’s a professor. Um, in an education credential, like a multiple subject credential, um, course at Stanislaus State. Just some dude who put together these YouTube videos of him teaching his cohort how to get ready for the Rica test, and he took me all the way through. It was hours of these videos all the way through, from beginning to end, the entire foundations of reading instruction. I took copious notes. He talked about how to diagnose and treat deficits of skills like it was locked solid. This dude, and watching those videos on my own, and then being able to see what I was seeing in my classroom in real time.

Speaker 3 (00:19:43) – That is how I learned how to teach reading. And I’m just going to pause for a second and let you comment on that. What I’m like admitting this like, it’s shocking, isn’t it? In a future episode.

Amanda (00:19:58) – Yeah, it really is. And I wonder if that guy still exists. And if we want to put the link, the link in the show notes, because the way that you described what he does, it’s like, wow. And this is free on YouTube, like come on. But it’s just like shocking that teachers English teacher like we are both English teachers with so many years, decades of years like of experience and we need to go on YouTube. Well, I know this was at the beginning of your career, but I am like, I want to watch this.

Speaker 3 (00:20:29) – No, it’s really it’s really powerful. And so I would like I would sort of. To peripherally hear about teachers who got their credentials in other states and never had to take Rica. And then that makes me really scared.

Speaker 3 (00:20:43) – Like, who? Do you know how to teach reading? Do you know what these skills look like? Do you know what we’re supposed to be doing to assist the acquisition of reading skills after third grade? Do you understand the difference between foundational reading to learn and learning to read like these people did? Not like? The people around me don’t understand this if they only have a single subject English credential like folks, that’s that’s the deal. Like my husband will admit, he is an English teacher and he does not know how to teach reading like it’s not taught. You have to have the multiple subject credential.

Amanda (00:21:20) – And even that you’re not taught.

Speaker 3 (00:21:23) – No, I mean no. And now they’re getting rid of the Rica test. They’re getting rid of it. Amanda. Well, what does it mean.

Amanda (00:21:29) – Well, and I wanted to ask you so the Rica test, do you feel like studying for that helped you learn how to teach reading too?

Speaker 3 (00:21:35) – Yes yes, yes. If the Rica test had not existed.

Speaker 3 (00:21:41) – I don’t. I never would have learned these things, and I wouldn’t even know how to begin to enter a conversation about what I was seeing in a, you know, sixth or seventh grade classroom. Um, because, again, the foundations of reading. Well, I guess I haven’t said this. Not again. For the first time, the foundations of reading are a set of esoteric skills. Meaning. What I mean by esoteric is they’re not intuitive, and they’re only known by a small subset of teachers who have a lot of experience teaching first and second and third grade, particularly first grade teachers. Um, they are badasses. They hold so much important knowledge that is like not understood outside of K through three, um, education. And these women, let’s be real, they’re mostly women do not typically one up in positions of leadership. And so then you have decisions being made at district office levels about can curriculums for reading instruction, or just decisions about who and how we’re going to teach reading made by people who’ve never fucking taught reading.

Speaker 3 (00:22:53) – I’m sorry, I have to say that with as much anger as I can muster, because this is the problem, isn’t it?

Amanda (00:22:59) – Yes. So, okay, you took the Rica test? Yes. You were prepared in your teaching program. Now, what happened next? What? What happened in your first job at this charter school?

Speaker 3 (00:23:11) – Well, no. So no, wait a minute. Here’s the thing. Because I was an intern, I was teaching for a couple of years before I even took Rica. Right. Uh, so my first year, because the teaching shortage is so bad, my first year, I taught on an emergency permit. Oh, no. Just a sub credential. My second year, um, I taught in a very low income primary. There was absolutely no white students there. Very low income, um, neighborhood here in the Bay area. And I was on a emergency permit again, still had not taken the courses, still had not studied for Rica. And I was teaching seventh graders.

Speaker 3 (00:23:56) – Right. And so I didn’t have the knowledge I would later have, but I started noticing some things. Okay. So I started noticing that we were administering these tests, these benchmark tests that were giving kids a lexical level. Right. And. The kids who had the highest lexical levels at that school were being given special recognition, and the highest lexical levels were still below grade level. So I knew that the majority of the students in that school were reading below grade level, and there was no reading. There was no actual reading intervention class happening. What they were doing, because they didn’t have anyone with a proper amount of information like, you don’t have to have a reading interventionist credential, you just have to have the knowledge and experience of teaching reading under a good mentor, teacher, or just learning and figuring out on your own for a number of years. And then you can do it. But these kids were all being put on New Zella. Further reading. Intervention time, do you guys? Do you know what Newsela is?

Amanda (00:25:05) – I do, yeah, the leveled out news articles.

Amanda (00:25:08) – And then you take comprehension quizzes after you read them. And the teacher can view all this data about it’s all bullshit data.

Speaker 3 (00:25:16) – It’s all bullshit. I mean, I’m sorry, it’s not useless, but it is at the same time. Because if you read if your kids are reading below fourth grade and they’re in the seventh grade, there’s nothing you can do on a computer that will remediate those foundational reading skills. Like there’s a sequence of skills that kids need to learn, and you cannot learn by looking at pictures or skipping ahead or guessing at all until you’ve mastered those skills. And putting kids on a computer program is never going to fix it. But that’s what we did. That’s what we did. And I didn’t know any better at that time. You know, I didn’t know well.

Amanda (00:26:00) – And you spoke earlier too, in your story about, like, how some kids do learn reading so easily, you know, and don’t need that explicit instruction in reading and that esoteric knowledge that only a select few of like, you know, K through three teachers and you say K through three.

Amanda (00:26:19) – But I taught third grade. But we’ll get to that. Um, and what my experience was teaching third grade and being prepared to teach their grade. But um, but that like, I feel like a lot of times. We think we don’t need to know how to teach reading at the upper level, because kids already like, if you just, you know, that whole myth that if you just like, give kids lots of time to read and give them highly engaging books, which that definitely has its place in reading instruction, but that that’s somehow going to help them learn how to read. You know, Moses, and we know that that’s not true, but that some kids do that that does work for some kids very easily. But there’s also this other group of kids that needs explicit reading instruction. So and you went out and you’ve told me your story before, and I’m not there yet.

Speaker 3 (00:27:11) – I’m not there.

Amanda (00:27:12) – Well, you keep going off and like talking about like, stick to your story.

Amanda (00:27:16) – Like, sorry.

Speaker 3 (00:27:17) – I’m sorry. You’re right. See, like, I get and like I’m telling the story and it’s triggering. Like, I feel my blood pressure rising because I’m. So I haven’t even gotten to the part that was so awful. Okay, so you’re right. Like. What I have learned is that, um. There are a small group of kids that will learn reading by osmosis, and that number shrinks when you add the insults of racial and socioeconomic. Inequities, right? So if you have students who are experiencing socioeconomic and racial adversities, that number of kids who are going to quickly and easily pick it up by osmosis is and it’s not really osmosis. There’s still like a teacher in there who’s managing the space well, right. Like it may not be the best instruction, but like those kids are able to pick it up easily, have other advantages too. It’s like if you add too many insults into a child’s reading world, the foundations of reading opportunities, um, even the brightest kid who who would have possibly have picked it up easily is going to struggle, right? So what we wind up seeing are these huge racial and socioeconomic divides.

Speaker 3 (00:28:29) – But this the problem, I’ve learned, goes beyond just that, like what we are doing and how badly we are doing. It affects all of us. But I’m digressing. So anyways, I noticed this, right? So I was in this very, very socioeconomically disenfranchised school. Um, there were no white kids. And to be perfectly honest, I was the only white teacher at a certain point on the campus. Like this was a school that had been completely divested from, like the community had given up on it. The district had given up on it. There was massive declining enrollment. There were, like I would say, probably 3 to 4 boys to every female student, which is a big indicator of a serious climate and culture problem on the campus. When parents have decided it’s not safe for their female students to go, you know, this was a school really teetering on the brink of annihilation, right? So there were no, um, there were no reading intervention classes. All the kids got reading intervention time, quote unquote, on paper.

Speaker 3 (00:29:33) – Right. And it was sitting in the computer lab, put them on Newsela newsela. Um, and so, uh, that, of course, didn’t work for them. And I just sort of plugged away. I was overburdened with my credential coursework. But right around that time, I think it was at the end of that year, finally, when I took Rica and I learned everything I learned, and I immediately got the heck out of that school and moved on up the hill, literally and figuratively to a more. Um, a higher socioeconomic school. So I was in the same district, but I’m up in these hills in a very wealthy neighborhood. But it’s extremely racially, socioeconomically diverse because it’s open enrollment and kids can be bussed around if they’re willing to get up at the ass, crack it on, and be bused all the way up to this school, they can go, right. They get a lot less sleep. Uh, but they can go. And they did. And so I had this opportunity to see this drastic divide between these socioeconomically privileged kids who, in the case of this district, it’s not the same everywhere, but in this district, they were white, um, sophisticated kids with parents who were very liberal liberally minded, who were exposed to a lot of culture.

Speaker 3 (00:30:55) – They were very sophisticated kids, for sure. And then these kids from the lower areas of my community who were from rich, really, really disenfranchised neighborhoods where the crime rates were high, their schools, they had fled, their schools. They fled, literally, the schools I had just taught in the year before. And what I saw was that the outcomes were exactly the same up there as they were down there. The kids who got bust up there were doing just as poorly as the kids who were down there in the flatlands, too. They were just going to a campus where there were other kids who were doing well, and they weren’t like, they’re privileged. The privilege of those white, wealthy kids wasn’t transferring on to these other kids, like, at all. And what I came to understand. Was that those kids from the lower flatlands, like the kids I’d had when I taught in the lower flatlands, had had just piss poor opportunities to learn to read. And they, um, would frequently, you know, not only not have a mentor like a teacher who was well mentored or a teacher was veteran in those really critically important years of kindergarten, first, second and third grade.

Speaker 3 (00:32:16) – Um, they often didn’t even have a teacher of record. So they would have like a parade of subs. And I’m saying this and it like, oh, God. It’s so fucking awful and unfair. They had a parade of subs, and I want to point out that, like, there’s no way you can teach reading. And learn reading in a classroom, and there isn’t even a teacher of record like I. I didn’t even know what I was doing until that third or fourth year. Right. And so at best, these kids are getting new teachers. Maybe they’re maybe they’re fully credentialed, maybe they’re not. But taking the Rica and learning how to teach reading that comes at the end of your credential coursework. So if you’re an intern, you’re teaching for a year or two, right. When not knowing what you’re doing. And in these schools where the teacher shortage is so bad, um, and there’s a very, very, very shitty understanding of how reading instruction should be delivered. Nobody is monitoring what’s going on in these classrooms.

Speaker 3 (00:33:22) – So year over year over year, these kids, these African American, racially disadvantaged, socio economically disadvantaged students are just being given no fucking opportunities to learn to read. Right. And so they come up to my school, um, and the sixth grade and I was seeing this drastic divide. So the white wealthy students were frequently reading well above grade level. I had a few kids reading kind of near grade level, and then a shit ton of kids from the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, mostly, and from my neighbor, my my part of the neck of the woods were black, and they were reading very far below grade level. And at my particular site where I was, there was no reading intervention class. Like, not even, uh, let’s try to make something look like we’re offering a reading intervention class. There was none. None. And I had finished the Rica prep and I knew what it meant. At least when you get spat out a score for a kid’s lexical level, and when they go to take these online bullshit computer adaptive tests, I mean, they’re all very like, inflated.

Speaker 3 (00:34:40) – And we’ll talk about that in a future episode. But even on the opportunities, you have to see that it could at least even according to these tests, is not thriving. When you see that a kids reading below the fourth grade level. That tells you that a child is missing foundational concepts, foundational skills in that continuum of learning how to read. We teach reading with a series of like, very sequential skills that we have figured out. I mean, yes, it’s esoteric. Yes, it’s hard, but this is some should we have figured out, like the teachers who know what they are doing, have this information. You cannot go. You cannot skip a step. Like if if you’ve left a kid behind on any of this sequence, they can’t properly pick up the next skill in sequence. So when you see that a kid is reading below the fourth grade level, there is nothing that you can do. There’s no they say scaffold, scaffold, differentiate. This is all code for make some magic shit up in your classroom to help kids who cannot read sixth grade content like if you’re fifth grade reader, a fourth grade reader, sure, yeah, I can do that.

Speaker 3 (00:35:56) – Those are kids who have the basic skills but are lacking some of that prosody. They’re lacking some of the vocabulary. I can I can do that. But I can’t make anything happen for the kids who were reading below fourth grade. And that was something I would say to my my leaders. I’m like, I reliably and I asked, I’m like, have we made any progress with illiteracy rates? And they would say illiteracy. No, no, no, these are struggling readers. They’re not illiterate. And so they covered this up to try to like, whitewash what’s really going on, which is that we’re matriculating students year over year over year who are not reading. In my district, where I was before, there were students who are graduating high school who were illiterate. And their parents, God love their parents knew fucking better. And they protested out in front of the schools, stop graduating. Our kids who cannot read. How are you not noticing that these kids cannot read? And so I was asking anyone I could, like, do we have any historical data on our literacy rates? Of course not.

Speaker 3 (00:37:05) – I couldn’t even get anyone in leadership to acknowledge that we had an illiteracy problem, much less any data on how we were doing with it. Right? And so, um, I started to try to notice myself, how bad is this problem? Right. So in my school every year, I had about five mostly black boys who could not read. Occasionally there’d be a female in there. Um, and I extrapolated based on what I was realizing was going on at my middle school. I was one of three sixth grade core teachers who didn’t Ela Humanities Core, and I realized what that meant was there were about six, about a hundred, right? I think that said, it was about 100 students on our school of about, um, 900 who could not read, who could not read, and nothing was being done. To help them at all. And so I said, oh fuck this. So I started digging into the problem even further. I thought, how do I help them? How do I do circles? Do I how do I have pullout time? How do I differentiate? How do I figure this out? Right? And then I got the Oakland Kids First fellowship program, right? I got that fellowship program to try out something that because I couldn’t get them to create a meeting intervention class, I couldn’t get them to even agree that we had a problem.

Speaker 3 (00:38:33) – I couldn’t get my leaders who’d never, ever taught, um, who were not multiple subject teachers, to understand what it means when you have a student that is reading below fourth grade, do you know what that means? No, they didn’t know what it meant, and they’re the ones making all of the decisions. So I tried out my own pilot and to explain what it was, gets into the weeds of what we will be talking about later. But the problem really, of course, is that there is no will. To to offer high quality reading instruction here, and there’s no knowledge about even what it is. So I’m going to pause and let you respond to that. Amanda.

Amanda (00:39:21) – Well it’s appalling. You know, it’s 2024 and I feel like you’re talking. You were talking about, I think you said I can’t remember. 2012 is when? 2013. Is this the time period you’re talking about?

Speaker 3 (00:39:38) – Uh, well, we’re up to about 2016 now.

Amanda (00:39:42) – Okay. So 2016 and now it’s 2024.

Amanda (00:39:46) – And, um, I still I mean, even though there’s this huge. Uh, just some schools, some districts, ours included, are really taking the science of reading more seriously at the first or K through third level. Right? But what about the kids that are already in, you know, fourth, fifth, sixth in high, middle and high school? And. You know, you’re saying no one’s even admitting there’s a problem, or even using the word illiterate and still going on like it’s 2024. It’s still going on in most elementary schools. What you’re describing. And it’s definitely like 100% going on at the, you know, upper elementary, middle and high school levels because we teach at a more progressive district. That’s like wanting to change or, you know, like. Paying attention to what’s going on and like wanting to do better. And yet it’s only being narrowly focused in, um, you know, K through three, right? What about all the other grades? And what about all the kids that are struggling as they continue on and are illiterate, like what you’re describing and kid right.

Amanda (00:41:14) – Like this is. Yeah. So that’s that’s what goes through my mind is like you’re talking about years and years and years ago, but this is all like still. And I mean, that’s why we’re so frustrated and why we’re here talking.

Speaker 3 (00:41:27) – About it better. It hasn’t it hasn’t gotten better. S.F. unified just had to admit that they’ve been using inflated benchmark reading tests, like parents in their gut and their heart. Like even students who have a have a special has an IEP for special education, right. We’re given assurances that their children were being given remedial reading and interventionist instruction and that these benchmark tests that they were paying for because the Khan curriculum comes with them. Remember, we talked about this evil, gross, slimy connection between Can curriculum and assessment data. They give us assessments that show us bullshit, that it’s working when it’s not like parents were literally saying to leaders in SF unified, no, this isn’t working. My kid cannot read. Kids were using pictures and schema to figure shit out. Which is, by the way, a good strategy for kids who have mastered the foundations of reading.

Speaker 3 (00:42:25) – We teach kids to use text features. We activate prior learning by using schema and scheme is just a fancy word for what you already knew about a topic.

Amanda (00:42:35) – Background knowledge. Yeah.

Speaker 3 (00:42:36) – Yeah, your background knowledge. But you. That’s not a substitute for kids being able to actually sound out and make meaning of words on the printed on the page.

Amanda (00:42:47) – Yeah. So, um, what so we’re talking about today and that it’s still continues to be this way today. And you kind of. So once you did the Rica test, I feel like you haven’t really gotten into like you tried your own pilot. Where are you going to talk more about that experience, or did you want to save that because it gets more in the weeds next time for next time. Yeah.

Speaker 3 (00:43:13) – What I want to say about that whole experience is this, like I would I got I was asking anyone who would talk to me, can we please talk about the fact that we have a bunch of kids here who can’t read? And it was like a taboo topic, like I even brought up I was in union leadership at the time and I not leadership.

Speaker 3 (00:43:31) – I was a site rep, and so I would go to people above me and say, guys, there is a reading. At that time I was calling it Achievement Gap, which is evil language. I know better now, but it’s an opportunity gap. But we have kids who can read in, kids who can’t, and there is some racially charged data going on here, like what are we doing? How can we say we are about racial justice and not notice or care about or do anything about this problem? And so I was I would stand up in staff meetings and they would have like we would have these PBIs trainings of, let’s look at this matrix that tells kids the behavioral expectations for the cafeteria. And it was like printed on the wall. And we would read it and I would say, but our kids can’t read. Our kids can’t. The kids you were having problems with, the kids that we for whom we’ve dug in deeply for PBIs because our school feels nuts. PBS is a schoolwide behavioral intervention plan, folks.

Speaker 3 (00:44:28) – The reason why we’re doing all this work is because the kids, these precisely these kids who can’t read, are acting absolutely chaotic and are taking the campus down with them. And why wouldn’t they if I couldn’t read, oh my God, I do the same thing, wouldn’t you?

Amanda (00:44:46) – Well, I mean, that brings me to, I think, my story. Which are you ready for me to. Because I feel like I have a very close family relative. Um, you know, and, like, are you ready for me to go into this or can I, can I can we kind of. Okay, because this doesn’t answer your question, what would I do or what would someone else do if they couldn’t read and like what the experience of a young girl with a learning disability goes through? Um, right, right. You know.

Speaker 3 (00:45:20) – Let me let me just finish, wrap this up.

Amanda (00:45:23) – Okay.

Speaker 3 (00:45:23) – Is that I, um, I learned a few things. Okay. So I learned there’s no computer program you can put a kid in front of to.

Speaker 3 (00:45:33) – Uh, remediate lost skills. The only thing that works is a highly trained veteran teacher who has access to high quality curriculum that they have the knowledge, self-possession, and ability to finesse and the ability to pivot with and like. One of the things I figured out, right. Um, and we’re going to talk about this later, too, is that, um, you have to come up with a mitigation plan for the for the teacher shortage. So you cannot let any new teacher touch reading instruction, tier one reading instruction until they are fully veteran. And because that’s the only way to mitigate the racial justice nightmare, which is the teacher shortage and the lack of veteran reading instruction in K through three for our historically marginalized kids. Right? So if you have just a ton of brand new teachers and the kids are getting a brand new teacher year after year after year like me, look what I did. I went into that economically disadvantaged school for that one year and took that experience and got the hell out.

Speaker 3 (00:46:39) – And that’s what they all do because it’s a nightmare to teach there, isn’t it? So you can’t let them touch tier one reading instruction. You have to take your mentor, highly trained veteran teachers, pay them a good salary, a higher salary to go into any classroom. If a teacher who is new, I don’t care if they’re credentialed or not, if they’re new and they haven’t proven that they know what they are doing, they will watch a veteran teacher provide the tier one reading instruction. The other teacher can teach math, the other teacher can teach, um, social studies and whatever else is going on, not reading instruction. It is esoteric and it is not intuitive. I’m sorry. We have to acknowledge right here and right now it is the hardest subject to teach. And when a mentor teacher goes in and offers that tier one instruction and shows the dynamic, homogeneous groups that you have to pull out for kids who are all not getting that skill that day and watches all of this beautiful, magical reading instruction happening in their classroom.

Speaker 3 (00:47:45) – They are learning from a mentor teacher how to do it. That’s the only way you can learn. It is not tolerable. We should not be tolerating that any child should have to suffer through in first or second grade a year with the teacher that is new. That is an insult to their education that they cannot recover from. We have to be smart about this, and if we don’t acknowledge how essential the high quality veteran teachers are, if we don’t center that, we’re fucking it all up. And of course we are, because people above us in the leadership world who’ve never taught reading and don’t value teachers as experts, are buying canned content that they think can mitigate away any newness of the teacher. And that’s just not going to happen. You cannot mitigate the loss of a highly skilled teacher in those classrooms. There is no way to do it, folks. So stop fucking trying. All right? Now I’m done.

Amanda (00:48:49) – Amen. We’re done. Yes. And I think that that that is, uh, how we need to just in the whole series.

Amanda (00:49:00) – I’m just kidding.

Speaker 3 (00:49:01) – I also later I want to talk about. Yes, we’re in a highly privileged district now, but I still see problems like we don’t have a dyslexia screener tool there. 25% of our population folks is dyslexic, and reading English is a subject that is fraught with problems like speaking our language. Sure it’s easy. Our verb conjugations are simple. You eat, we eat, they eat. If you speak another language, you know verb conjugations are hard in other languages. English not so much. Easy to speak, impossible to learn to read or write well without high quality instruction. And so reading our language is really fucking hard. But other places like Canada and England and Australia that also teach their students to read English are doing much better. And I want to say this our country. I said before I was trying to find the data about how my district at that time, the historical data on illiteracy rates and if they were getting better, getting worse, staying the same. That data did not exist.

Speaker 3 (00:50:04) – I had a hard time trying to find it for us as a nation, as a nation. We hide that data. The CIA puts together a World Factbook every year, and they used to be from quality of life indicators, and it includes stuff like infant mortality rate, life expectancy rate. Um, you know, all these indicators, right. The United States, no surprise. Low on every indicator even though. We’re the wealthiest nation in the world, but even some of the poorest nations in the world have 80% literacy rate, 90% literacy rate. Like these other countries that teach English, which is a hard language to teach, to read and write. Um, Canada. England, Australia. Not near 99% literacy rate. I couldn’t even find reliable data, um, for the United States that the CIA World Factbook doesn’t even publish it. They hide it. And when Donald Trump took office, he got rid of the easy index table to simply go over to, like a spreadsheet to say which which country is reading at which level and hid the data.

Speaker 3 (00:51:14) – Guys, go, we’ll link it, go to the CIA World Factbook and you can see it is hard to compare and contrast different countries quality of life indicators, the way that they are showing that data. Now. It used to be an easy to read spreadsheet and when it wasn’t easy to read spreadsheet, you could see clearly that they just didn’t put the literacy rates for the United States in their own country. Our own intelligence agency didn’t publish that data. The US Department of Education thinks were it something like 5,660% literacy rate, you guys, that is the bottom quartile in the world. We suck. Okay.

Speaker 4 (00:51:58) – Uh.

Speaker 3 (00:51:59) – Please talk about your story now, Amanda.

Amanda (00:52:02) – I will, um, I’m not sure how to how to transition here. Um.

Speaker 3 (00:52:11) – Talk about the little girl that struggled to learn to read.

Amanda (00:52:14) – It wasn’t me. It was a family member of mine. Um, because I learned to read like you, you know, and like you said, most teachers pretty easily. But there was one in third grade.

Amanda (00:52:27) – I was put in a special class with another other kids from my class. So I was pulled out. This was in Texas. And I noticed the kid I actually wrote like a personal narrative about this, like a mentor text, um, called Red Robin, because all the groups were like different birds or something like that. And so my group was my reading group was pulled out to this special class. And like all the other kids in this class, I like, looked around and they seemed, you know, like the special ed kids, kind of they just seemed I felt embarrassed to be seen in this class. And I still, I think that I did struggle a little bit, and that’s why I was put in that class. Um, and it’s interesting, you know, because I was in third grade, so in third grade, you know, you’re like eight. And even at age eight, you know, kids get embarrassed and know and wonder, why am I being pulled out and put with all these other like, quote unquote weird looking kids or weird acting kids, you know, um, yeah.

Amanda (00:53:39) – And so and but but other than that experience in third grade in Texas, I did pretty well in school. And it was my sister, uh, who who’s two years younger than me, who really my parents had to work, like, every night helping her with her homework. Um, they bought, like, uh, that really fit their really, really popular phonics program. The name escapes me, but it’s super popular. I don’t even remember what it’s called. I’ll have to look it up later. And. And I remember her watching these videos and, like, the program was huge. It was like this giant kit that, like, took up a quarter of our living room. And there were all these, like, books and, um, and I just. Yeah. So my sister, she was diagnosed, um, with a learning disability and, uh, and now she knows as an adult that she has dyslexia. So she’s like, self-diagnosed. But they didn’t they don’t diagnose that in schools, you know, like schools do.

Amanda (00:54:49) – Their assessments and the terms they use aren’t the same terms that like psychiatrists use, you know, and my parents, you know, I grew up in kind of a lower middle class family, um, and my both my parents were in the Navy, so they just they just relied a lot on the school, you know, and like the tools and the resources that the school provided, which wasn’t enough because my parents had to go out and spend their own money on this, like, phonics program and like, force my sister to constantly practice. And like, I just remember fights every night, you know, and like, just my parents being so overwhelmed, constantly trying to figure out how to help my sister, you know, and it’s like, what was the school doing? Well, the school was placing her and one of these special classes where she was the only girl, and she was surrounded by a bunch of rowdy boys. And she felt, you know, like, really alone and isolated and, and, and struggled the entire time, you know, to try and pass her classes and, um, and with just being feeling ostracized and like she doesn’t belong and, um, and I was just a terrible sister.

Amanda (00:56:09) – I didn’t help her, and I just. Yeah. I mean, it was sad. And so, like, I. Uh. That experience. I look back on it and I feel like we were all so helpless. My sister, my parents, me and we were all like, really, really impacted by all of this, you know, like, and and my parents, they just didn’t know what to do, but they did everything they could. And she graduated high school and she ended up going to, uh, technical school for welding. Um, and then, uh, and then she, she got really tired of welding, and it was really kind of dangerous and a lot, a lot like, really hard on the body. And she realized that, like that this is not a healthy career, even though it was a really amazing creative outlet for her. Like she did this welding rodeo. And like my, we were so proud of her. Just the things that she was doing.

Amanda (00:57:13) – And like this competition where she’s building like these really cool designs out of metal, you know, and just she’s so artistic. Um, and that was not harnessed, you know, in school. Uh, and it wasn’t really prioritized at all, uh, in our family. But as an adult, as a young, uh, young adult, my sister really discovered her creative side. Uh, she taught me how to knit. Like, she was really into knitting, and now she she paints, and she has her own Etsy shop, and she has. She’s, uh. But she changed jobs to from welder to, uh, she works for the State Patrol now, uh, and she’s she’s great. Like, she’s doing so well, but everything that she went through, you know, it really scarred her. And I think it scarred me. Um, and I know that there are stories of kids who go through school and don’t graduate, you know, and and who don’t have parents who can buy these big phonics kits, you know, and, like, do all of these things to try and, like, boost their kids self-esteem with their in various ways or whatever.

Amanda (00:58:29) – Um, and so then, you know, like segueing into, like, my college experience, uh, you know, I was like the first in my family to go to college. I mean, my parents did end up graduating college, both of them. But while being parents and like in the Navy at the same time, which is crazy. So, like, I was the first one to, you know, go to college when you’re supposed to go to college, right? Um, and so there was a lot of pressure there. And, um, and, you know, my parents, I was always like writing came very naturally to me. And we both process a lot out loud, like speaking communication. I don’t know, like those are strengths that I have. And I’ve always had them. So like, struggling with school wasn’t I struggled socially, you know, I didn’t struggle with like academics. And I went to school to teach high school English. I went to a really very, very reputable, like, I don’t know, expensive teaching school that kind of has a like a really amazing reputation, which made it so that they could like, charge way too much money.

Amanda (00:59:42) – Um, but I did take multiple classes that got me super excited about reading just edgy stuff with kids, um, and and helping kids develop a love of reading through Y.A. literature. And so that was super exciting. But then when I got my first job, it was at the elementary level teaching fourth grade. And so that was a shocker. Like, I didn’t, you know, I looked for jobs to teach English, but I couldn’t. I applied to many, but I didn’t get any offers. And they were desperate in Salt Lake City for elementary teachers. So I just, you know, I started teaching fourth grade. And it’s interesting you started in the flatlands, so did I, and my school was mostly made up like white students were the minority. Black students were the minority as well, uh, mostly Hispanic, um, students and a lot of like English language learners and things like that. And we had a canned curriculum that we were supposed to teach to fidelity. And I just that, you know, that’s like the exact opposite of what I learned in my teaching program, like, use really engaging books to teach reading.

Amanda (01:00:55) – And so I very quickly, uh, discovered a hate for canned curriculum, you know, like, I like a hatred for it, but there was Brava, Brava. But there was like, um, you know, phonics and things in it, and that was vocabulary and spelling and like, all of these aspects. But it was like one story that you read like multiple. Times throughout a week, and then you would use words from the story to teach vocabulary. Then you would use words from the story to teach spelling. You would use, uh, like a writing prompt to teach writing. Right. And like the writing, um, um, stages of writing. And so, yeah, it just got really kind of boring. And the kids were disengaged and like, there were behavior problems. And so I started secretly reading, I think I Hatchett, like, I started reading novels out loud to the students, and I felt like I was breaking rules doing it, you know, and but that was when the behavior problems stopped.

Amanda (01:02:06) – And that’s when kids, even kids that said they didn’t like reading would go, oh my gosh, I love that book. And and I felt like, wow, okay, I this is it. This is the answer. Like I knew it all along. Like books. And why aren’t we reading more books and just became really obsessed with engagement. And then I ended up teaching at that school for five years, and then I went to a charter school. Uh, and this charter school was mostly white kids. And one day a week they had homeschool with their parents. And so, um, and so for days of the week they were with me. And then one day a week they were with their parents. And it was like a project based learning school and a reading and writing workshop school. So they really prioritized those, those ways of teaching. And so I continued my passion around reading and writing workshop. But there was a kid and I taught third grade that came to my class that didn’t know how to read at all.

Amanda (01:03:16) – And the reason was because he did Waldorf for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, and he was in my class. And Waldorf, they don’t I don’t know if you know how much you know about Waldorf, but they there’s like a big belief that kids will learn what they need to learn when they’re ready to learn it. So forcing them to learn to read is not something that’s done. So if the kid is not interested in reading, then they aren’t forced to learn to read, right? So this kid is in my classroom and this is like my sixth or seventh year teaching. And, uh, this is third grade, right? And and I by then had my multiple subject credential. Still never taught how to learn. How to teach. Reading. Like I wasn’t even in my role because I got my multi subject credential right. And so I have this kid, I’m like 6 or 7 years experience teacher and have no clue how to help this kid. Yeah.

Speaker 3 (01:04:20) – What state was that in?

Amanda (01:04:21) – Uh, Utah.

Speaker 3 (01:04:23) – Okay. So in Utah, you’re not required to take a test like Eureka.

Amanda (01:04:26) – No.

Speaker 3 (01:04:27) – So okay, so this is really important. Like, we have so much we have to learn and do. If we don’t, if we’re not forced to take a test like Rica, we’re going to just be we’re going to end up being like Utah. Like I understand why we got rid of Rica, because a lot of teachers were failing it, and it was like getting rid of some of the teachers we want most in the profession. But like, we still desperately need to be taught this information and we need to be assessed on it. So come up with something else, folks. Sorry.

Amanda (01:04:55) – Um, yeah. So, like this kid, as time went on, I just felt so inadequate, you know? And honestly, the kid taught himself. I mean, he really did. He wanted to read. He saw everyone else around him reading. And so every day, like during reading workshop time, silent reading time, you know, I’m like, asking him, like, what are you interested in? And, like, what topics would you be interested in reading about and like giving him? Like just write books, you know, and things like that.

Amanda (01:05:26) – And, and like, he would read with this other girl and I swear she taught him to read because she knew how to read. And so just this he was one of those kids that it came fairly easily and quickly. So I just kind of breathed a sigh of relief like, ah, but over and over again, like, even as a six year teacher that year, every year there were kids that during workshop couldn’t ever find a book they liked and were constantly wiggling around, complaining, like, not able to actually sit down for a sustained amount of time and read, and who couldn’t write very well, and who. And even to this day, my 15th year of teaching, I have kids who I don’t understand why they’re struggling so hard in school. Like what is it? And I am the intervention teacher. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that either, but like, I’m the reading intervention teacher. I’m supposed to know this. This is my 15th year of teaching no one in high school now.

Amanda (01:06:34) – And there’s kids that still, um, you know, are struggling and, and and we’re just continually, like, pushing them. And I don’t agree with holding kids back.

Speaker 3 (01:06:45) – No, I know, but.

Amanda (01:06:46) – But.

Speaker 3 (01:06:47) – Okay, wait, can I interject?

Amanda (01:06:49) – Yeah.

Speaker 3 (01:06:49) – Your story is phenomenal. You are so brave and so many teachers are going to relate with what you’re saying. I relate with what you’re saying and I didn’t really get to chance to talk. I’m sorry about that pilot program that I put together. Yeah, yeah. So here’s what I learned by the time a kid’s in sixth grade, if you pull them out of regular Ela time to offer reading intervention or any kind of remedial coursework. Um, the stigma you talked about, stigma you noticed when you were in the low reading group in third grade. Yeah. But it becomes so significant it actually yields negative learning outcomes. They are so fucking embarrassed. It is so shameful to be in a low reading group by the time they’re in secondary.

Speaker 3 (01:07:34) – It’s humiliating. So I stopped with trying to figure out what to do with those kids during my regular class time, and I asked, please, I beg, please give me an intervention class. Please have it be their elective class on top of their other class. Don’t pull them out of regular Ela time. Um, but my school was trying to keep the white kids happy, and because they were fleeing, because we had a growing climate and culture problem. Because if all these kids from the flats coming up with these behavior problems, because they have experienced racial and socioeconomic injustices and they have trauma and we didn’t know how to deal with it. So what they did to keep the white kids from fleeing was they turned us into an International Baccalaureate school, which could have been the which definitely actually was the worst thing that they could have done, because in an IB school, the kids are required to take extra electives and you know they’re not going to make the school day longer. They can’t do that. So they took those instructional minutes they needed to allocate for their extra electives from the core subjects.

Speaker 3 (01:08:39) – So, you know, like, I lost over 3000 instructional minutes a year with my kids when we switched to IB. You know, as a core teacher, because you’ve been a core teacher, core means, at least in the district in which we teach now, we just say core. We know what that means in other districts. You have to say Ela Humanities core, because there’s math and science core. Core refers to what we do with education in middle school. We’re not really sure what we’re doing. So we’re trying on a number of things with middle school kids, one of which is to have them lumped with a multiple subject teacher for Ela and history. Right. So, you know, because we teach five classes that we have one, what we call split core, right? So we have the same kids for early history, same piece for early history. And then you have a third group of kids. So you have two whole cores and then a third group, the split core because you need a prep in there.

Speaker 3 (01:09:28) – So you share that group with another teacher. We call it a split core. The amount of instructional minutes I lost when we switched to an IB school were so significant, they were able to give me three full course. Amanda. Three four course because they’re able to put it all in in a school day. So the kids who needed more Ela instruction time got less at that school. And this was all in an attempt to keep the white kids from fleeing their own neighborhood school to make it look good on paper that were an IB school. So the guided reading model was what I used with my pilot. I got my hands on, like you were saying, just write books. And it’s really hard to find high quality books that don’t insult older kids that are leveled, right, that are leveled. So I, I found out about read 180 books. Not the pedagogical approach, not all that crap, just the actual books. They’re high quality books that are interesting. Not the interest level of older kids, but they’re leveled, right.

Speaker 3 (01:10:31) – And so I taught myself how to do the guided reading model, which is having a kid read out loud to you. Right, or you take turns reading back and forth and you quickly correct for accuracy issues and you notice prosody. You notice, you notice, notice fluency. So for those of you who aren’t reading teachers, the things that we’re trying to notice are how accurate are the words? Are they omitting words and they saying the wrong word? Um, how fast are they reading and what is the tone like of their speech as they’re reading? Is it rising and falling like it should, or do they sound like a robot? Right. And so I couldn’t teach it because I didn’t have the time in my schedule. So I got volunteers to come to my site. I trained them how to sit down in pairs with these kids who were reading below the third grade level with these books, and they would take turns reading back and forth, asking questions about it, talking about it, and then moving on to the next book.

Speaker 3 (01:11:29) – And it was an after school program that I created from scratch. And I also followed up at home with parents, so they would take the book home with them that they’d just read with their reading buddy, their adult trained guiding reading partner. Um, they would take that book home with them and read it at home. Now, is that offering direct instruction in phonics? No it’s not. There was no way I could do that. There was. That was not an option. So it was going to help as much as it could help. And it helped for some. Like I had these like ten kids who were reading far below grade level, who were behavioral nightmares in the classroom, driving, driving teachers away from our campus. Right. Um, I would say a quarter of them showed measurable gains that just in that first year. So even that shows us even the benchmark data we were getting on them wasn’t totally accurate either. Right? So like, I don’t even know how where they were, where they really were on the continuum of reading skills, um, that continuum, because I had not been able to sit there and assess them, nobody knew exact because they were not spend.

Speaker 3 (01:12:32) – They were Gen N, nobody ever sat down and really looked at these kids to see why can’t they read? So I just through high quality and I had to grab those books. By the way, those read 180 books. I dove into the libraries of many schools in my district during summer vacation because they were abandoned. Books that were just collecting dust and libraries jumped into these old libraries, collected these books, drove all over town to get them, recruited. The volunteers train them on the guided reading process of how to correct train. The parents had to talk to the parents at night, every night on the phone, and also met with the kids. I just donated copy and copious amounts of my free time. That’s what we did. Guided reading. And it was nominally successful. I think it was really only helping the kids who were below grade level, but probably not as low as we thought they were because some kids just bombed those reading tests, don’t they?

Amanda (01:13:32) – Yeah, they do for various reasons, and we’re not quite sure why sometimes.

Amanda (01:13:38) – Um. But because sometimes it can be because they can’t read or because of motivation issues or other reasons. But, um. Yeah. I’m glad you were able to share what you ended up doing when you piloted and, like, how you kind of, um, piecemeal, like a program to support your kids all by yourself. Um, and I mean, I feel like I did that in a lot of ways, too, like I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, like I read, um, a lot of books about, like, how to teach reading and actually even recently read some really eye opening books, like The Knowledge Gap by Natalie Wechsler, which is about the importance of background knowledge in in terms of like what you’re actually reading and the importance of kids being exposed to, like, cultural information, you know, and like news and, um, non-fiction, um, information science, um, and that like in those upper grade elementary and middle school years, um, how amazing it can be for kids to be able to not only increase their reading skills and comprehension and analytical skills and discussion skills, but also to learn about, like scientific concepts or to be able to talk about the world, you know, in like an articulate way.

Amanda (01:15:04) – And that’s what I mean. That’s what the knowledge gap is about. And then, uh, reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov. Um, he really helped me understand the importance of reading aloud with students and, and like that we shouldn’t feel like bad about reading out loud in our classrooms, not just us reading out loud to our students, but having student volunteers read out loud. And I say student volunteers. Like Doug Lemov. He talks about cold calling, which that’s one of the like, are I still I don’t I still don’t necessarily agree with that. That’s like really hard. I don’t do to kids, you know, I don’t do it.

Speaker 3 (01:15:47) – I don’t do it. But I know that I’m I should listen to them all read. But it’s humiliating.

Amanda (01:15:52) – Yeah. Well especially if you don’t know how to read or you’re. Yeah. You have you’re an introvert and like, it’s it’s scary. And I feel like that is like kind of mean. But he does talk about how it like really raises the engagement, you know because kids are like really paying attention and don’t want to get lost in the text, you know? And that’s one of the reasons that he does it.

Amanda (01:16:15) – And just like rigor and like high expectations for everyone and kind of that like holding the bar high for all kids, no matter who they are. But one more thing about Doug Lemov is and reading reconsidered that he talks about is the importance of when you do read novels with kids or even articles that they’re advanced, you know, that they’re above grade level, because if you’re reading it out loud, um, you want it to be a little bit higher level because you’re processing it with the kids. You know, you’re, you know, totally.

Speaker 3 (01:16:50) – I completely agree, they.

Amanda (01:16:51) – Need to be exposed to advanced texts and be able to unpack that. Mhm.

Speaker 3 (01:16:57) – Mhm.

Amanda (01:16:57) – So taking time, you know, to to do those things and even elementary school classrooms you know like um so I feel like we’ve just kind of solved the reading problem from K to 12 right now, just in what you just suggested and what I suggested, but also what you said, like getting volunteers that you trained to those books with kids.

Amanda (01:17:23) – I feel like we could get like retired those like dope retired teachers, kindergarten teachers that have the esoteric knowledge of teaching phonics to come in, you know, and teach phonics and but that’s like, like one on one or like a tutoring program for those kids that we know are illiterate, you know.

Speaker 3 (01:17:43) – Well, okay, so, so in our district that we’re at now, right. We don’t have we have high quote, quote unquote high reading achievement. I think it’s some of it’s highly disputable, to be perfectly honest. Um, part of the problem is that a lot of our students show up on the first day of kindergarten already knowing how to read why their parents have paid for expensive reading instruction programs. But what that means is our teachers. Are not busy with the hard work of learning how to teach reading to the to their students. So there are still kids, like our dyslexic kids who show up, not who are ignored and not are not getting that instruction, or kids with specific learning disabilities who are not getting that instruction.

Speaker 3 (01:18:31) – We still have the exact same achievement gap in our district we have now that we see nationwide with reading. With reading achievement. We’re not doing a fantastic job in our district either, like you. What we need is high quality reading instruction from well vetted, proven teachers who know how to start from the beginning with the foundations of reading skills, and go through that sequence offering that direct instruction for tier one. And then nobody who’s not a proven entity should have any have any access to reading instruction until they’ve been properly mentored by these highly trained, highly paid. I mean, these would be a Tosa, right? A teacher on special assignment that. God, it’s got to be paid commensurate with that knowledge. You can’t put them in these high responsibility jobs, these veteran first or second grade reading teachers, um, and then not pay them more than a regular teacher salary. Like it’s ridiculous. Like, we have to honor that. This is hard. We have to honor that these women hold esoteric knowledge.

Speaker 3 (01:19:38) – We have to pay them for it. And there’s no substitute. There’s no quick fix for any of this. We don’t have a good reading instruction game in this country, because we don’t empower our teachers to lead what we’re doing. That’s really it. We don’t trust these women to tell us what to do with ourselves. And that’s how we’ve gotten into this mess. It’s an embarrassment.

Amanda (01:20:00) – Yeah. Um, and I, I just appreciate, you know, your vulnerability. And I appreciate myself as well, like, admitting, you know, that this has been challenging in our teaching careers and it’s been, um, yeah, it’s defeating when you see a kid struggling and getting bad grades and you don’t know how to help them, you know, or you don’t have the space or the time or whatever to support them. Yeah. It just seems wrong. So I think, yeah, but we should probably wrap it up because I think we’ve been on for like an hour and a half.

Speaker 3 (01:20:43) – Oh, God.

Speaker 3 (01:20:44) – Sorry, everybody. And we weren’t supposed to get into the weeds of the technical stuff. And we did anyways because we don’t want to not do that. And I didn’t say everything. So there’s more to say in another episode.



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