Episode 11: School Change Models and the Reading Specialist with Christine Jacobs and Norma Craffey
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“Delving Into the Details: Implementing Multitiered K-3 Reading Supports in High Priority Schools” Michael Coyne, Ashley Oldham, Kaitlin Leonard, Darci Burns, Nicolas Gage
“Response to Intervention: Preventing and Remediating Academic Difficulties” Jack Fletcher, Sharon Vaughn
“Introduction to Response to Intervention: What, why and how valid is it?” Fuchs and Fuchs
For the Episode 11 Transcript, Click "Read More" below
00:11 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See Hear Speak Podcast Episode 11. In this Episode I talk with Christine Jacobs about her experience as a reading specialist and speech-language pathologist in US-based whole-school literacy change models. Christine shares how she has lead successful family literacy initiatives, the many roles she has in her school setting, and how she recently adapted to new administrative initiatives for literacy instruction.
This conversation is part of a series on leading literacy change that I have created for a course I teach online at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.
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01:21 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to SeeHearSpeak podcast. Thank you for joining us today, Christine Jacobs and Norma Craffey. And I'll have you start by introducing yourself, Christine.
01:32 Christine Jacobs: Hi, my name is Christine Jacobs. I'm currently working as a reading specialist in the Canton public schools at the John F. Kennedy Elementary School. And it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
01:44 Norma Craffey: Hi, I'm Norma Craffey. I'm a first-year doc student, working here in the SAiL lab with Dr. Hogan, and I'm a former reading specialist and a classroom teacher in the PreK-2 setting.
01:56 Tiffany: And Christine, what's your background in terms of how you got into your current role? What led you to that role?
02:01 CJ: So, I started actually at the MGH Institute as a graduate student in their Communication Sciences and Disorders program, and I became a speech pathologist first, and I was trained at the same time in literacy, particularly Orton-Gillingham methodologies, Wilson-based kind of methodologies, with a focus on phonics, and I became really interested in that, so I pursued that in my career as a speech pathologist first. Every place I went, where I worked, I pursued that and started working in middle schools as the speech pathologist, taking on literacy whenever I could. And then I actually went out of school-based therapy and worked in skilled nursing facilities with adults for a bit, but then got back to the educational setting and worked in Plymouth Public Schools again as a speech pathologist, and helping with reading cases. And then I actually went to the institute and worked as a clinical instructor and helped train future speech pathologists and literacy educators in the areas of literacy, and I loved doing that, it was a blast. And then I came back to the public schools, once my family started growing, and I've been working as a reading specialist for the past nine years in public schools.
03:24 Tiffany: Oh, that's great. What a journey.
03:25 CJ: Yeah, yeah, and wonderful.
03:27 Tiffany: Now, what is your current role then? What do you say that you do every day, if you had to explain it?
03:33 CJ: Yes. My title is Reading Specialist, here at the Kennedy School, and sometimes I feel like that crosses over to coaching a little bit, but primarily, I am pulling students or co-teaching in the classroom as a reading support for their struggling readers. And that, right now, is K-5, but slowly... Actually, K-4 this year, because I'm slowly trying to reduce my caseload in hopes of being more effective.
04:05 Tiffany: How's that going?
04:07 CJ: It's going pretty well, actually, because I think my administrators see how spread thin I am. There's 530 students and I'm the only reading specialist in the school, and we've evolved a little bit, each year changes. I've had reading tutors in the past who I supervised and managed, but often, they're not trained as certified teachers, so it's not often a great match for the kids because their training is limited. So I spend a lot of time training them. So, short story is I'm getting there. And next year, I'm... Actually have been talking to my principal about really trying to narrow my focus K-2 so that we just use the resource better, you know, my role. And I think she's responding to that. Right now, the plan is K-2. I guarantee it's probably gonna expand to K-3, but... 'Cause it's tough to take away something and not put something back in place of that.
05:08 Tiffany: That's why I was wondering, if you take that away, will they hire someone new or is that just going to be... Yeah, they won't hire anyone?
05:15 CJ: There's no money for that right now, but I've been getting resourceful with trying to train our para-professionals in certain programs. It's not ideal, because I have to use packaged materials, things that are often well-scripted for them because I just don't want them to feel stressed out, having to make a lot of planning decisions in the moment or knowing how to cue, sometimes, the kids. So I use a lot of packaged programs for that kind of stuff.
05:46 Tiffany: And then I know when you've talked to the course before, you've mentioned that you also have several other roles like teacher and parent resource, data-keeper, analyst, literacy cheerleader, problem-solver, liaison to principal, and administrator. Can you tell us more about all of those hats that you wear?
06:02 CJ: Absolutely. So, in the role of a reading specialist, you do... People expect you to be the expert in the building. So, you have to become very familiar with the curriculum that's in place. And that can be tricky because I came here, and they were using a curriculum I wasn't familiar with. We were using the Houghton Mifflin Journeys. But now that's changing, and we're moving over to more of a reading and writing workshop model. So, now I'm trying to get up to speed with that model because I've never used that either. So, they looked to me to be the expert, but I have to be upfront and say, "That's not my expertise right now." I'm not fully fluent in those methodologies, so I have to learn them. So, I'm doing a lot of summer training this summer, but I'm looking forward to growing. It just never stops. You're always growing. The other roles I play, of course, is a direct provider to students who are struggling. I do a lot of co-teaching, particularly in kindergarten, first, and second grade. That's been really fun. And I was just holding parent trainings today, preparing them for summer work, because I get nervous over the summer. So, I was training parents to use Read Naturally, which is one of those canned programs that I use. So, I had 15 parents come in and I trained them to use it.
07:18 Tiffany: Yeah.
07:20 CJ: Yeah. It's a great idea because it's there, and it's just sitting online. And we're paying for it. And the kids are familiar with it, so it's easy for the parents to take over as the teacher. And actually, many of them are teachers, the parents, they're a fabulous resource.
07:35 NC: I was a title one reading teacher, similar role, in a very similar-sized building. And for summer program, we had bought Lexia Core5. And that was something that I had tried to do, but I found the fidelity to it was difficult. So, I'd love to hear a little bit more about how you think that might go with Read Naturally, if you think that that's a better fit than something online, or if you've done anything in the past just to try to prevent that summer slide.
08:02 CJ: I actually tried it last year, and the response I get is usually 35% return on it, but I feel like that's worth it. But the challenge I give the kids is they have to do 10 stories within Read Naturally in order to get... They get a ice cream gift card at the end of the stories.
08:24 CJ: So that's my dangling carrot.
08:25 NC: That’s what I was missing.
08:28 CJ: I know.
08:30 Tiffany: No ice cream.
08:31 CJ: Yeah, they love the ice cream. As soon as they hear ice cream, they're like, "I'm in."
08:34 Tiffany: Who doesn't like ice cream?
08:38 CJ: And I give them a back-to-school goody bag.
08:40 Tiffany: Oh nice.
08:41 NC: Oh cool.
08:41 CJ: And they capped... Our parent resource group helps me buy those. So, last year, I probably spent $150 on that. It's a great return. And I'm hoping... This year, I almost tripled the amount of kids 'cause I have workbook challenges going on over the summer that I use, and I do the Read Naturally. So, I have quite a few kids involved, but, again, the return I'll probably get... They do some of it, but to meet the challenge, I usually get about 30, 35% of the kids.
09:12 NC: That's excellent.
09:14 CJ: It's something, right?
09:15 NC: It's something.
09:15 Tiffany: It's much better than zero.
09:16 NC: Better than nothing.
09:18 Tiffany: 1 or 2%.
09:20 CJ: And then the data keeper role, I was very happy to report that came off of my list of responsibilities this year, because I actually received a stipend to do it in the past, and that got removed this year. Although, I do gather and create many spreadsheets for data for grades one and two in particular. And analyzing the data has been slowing down this year because we stopped running our data teams, which has been another whole problem we can talk about.
09:50 Tiffany: Yes, please, 'cause that was one of the things I thought that you spoke very highly of last time. So I look forward to hearing about that transition, and what you think.
09:59 CJ: Yeah, I'll come back to that in a minute. The literacy cheerleader role I run is I have to run reading incentives. I usually do three a year school-wide. This year, we did a One Book, One School event. And I have a committee that I run that helps me with that. And it was a lot of fun. We read... Everybody read the same book together. And then we invited the author to come in. So that was great. And then we did a March Madness reading challenge, where we picked 16 books just like in the basketball tournament. There's 16 teams, and then they have to pair off against each other. The winning book moves up in the round, and then the kids love it.
10:39 NC: Did you think of that?
10:40 Tiffany: That's so cool. That's amazing.
10:42 CJ: Our literacy committee found it. I think it was a parent who brought it to us, and she helped me put it together. And it's so fun. So, we had...
10:50 NC: Amazing idea.
10:51 CJ: So, each week, we're announcing which... The kids have to vote on an online forum, and then they... We have a winning book each year. So, it's kind of fun.
11:00 Tiffany: That's the best.
11:01 CJ: Yeah. It was really fun. That's a Pinterest find, I'm sure.
11:07 NC: Always.
11:08 CJ: And then the last literacy challenge is actually not necessarily... It's loosely connected to literacy. It was a screen-free challenge, where we took a week and we asked the kids to go screen-free. And then we reminded them, if you're not looking at the screen, maybe you can read a book. So, that's what we did with that. And the winning team got a kickball game against their teachers. So, that was fun. And I'm happy to report the third-grade teachers beat those third graders again this year in the kickball game. We knocked them up.
11:43 CJ: So those are the literacy cheerleader, always trying to promote reading in different ways, to get the kids to buy into it. It used to be the least favourite part of my job. I've become better at running those kinds of events because I felt like it got in the way, but I've learned to understand that the kids really do need that, they need those cheerleaders cheering them on. So it makes my job tough 'cause it's a lot on my plate, but I do see the pay-off in it.
12:15 Tiffany: You think it... In terms of the literacy cheerleader, do you think the pay-off is that you create a school culture that values reading and literacy?
12:27 CJ: Absolutely. And I felt like the One Book, One school was probably the most effective way to do that. But even the March Madness, the different books, it got different titles in the kid's hands. They were all picture books too. So even the fifth graders were reading them, and it just got us all unified, talking about the same books. Kids would see me in the hallway, like, "Oh, I read that one, that's my favourite. I hope this one wins." And we were just able to have that connection as a school.
12:56 Tiffany: I'm embarrassed to say that, as a person who studies literacy and sees, intrinsically, the value as one of the most highly-valued skills, I rarely read before I joined a book club... Read for enjoyment, I read a lot of non-fiction but I hadn't read for enjoyment. And so it's actually... I definitely see the power, personally, of having a community and you have that... Almost like that peer pressure, in a good way, to read something, to go and discuss it, and it gets you thinking about issues you might not discuss normally. And I think adding that social context is so powerful. So that's fantastic and maybe kids will see that so early on.
13:38 NC: I really...
13:38 CJ: Yeah, it's critical.
13:39 NC: Like the screen... The third one, the screen one. And on the way in today, I was listening to chapter six in Maryanne Wolf's new book or... Not new, but sort of her latest, 'Reader, Come Home'. And it is about the digital reading versus print reading and...
13:52 CJ: Oh yeah.
13:54 NC: The neuro-development in our brain. So, it's so applicable, and it'd be really interesting to see, even just a week of without screens, the difference in the children.
14:03 CJ: And they really love that challenge. So many of the kids... We've done it now for three years, and the response rate gets better each year. So we're definitely hooking into that with them. The teacher response rate is not very good.
14:19 CJ: The teachers are not participating very well.
14:19 NC: It's hard to tune out.
14:22 CJ: What's that?
14:23 NC: I said it's hard to tune out.
14:26 CJ: It is.
14:26 NC: It's hard not to multi-task when you're reading and...
14:30 Tiffany: That is interesting.
14:30 NC: Definitely relate to that, but...
14:31 Tiffany: I know. I think there's... There's the movement now with deep thinking and this opposite... I think it also ties to the screen-free time, is that teaches children that they get... Not be constantly... It's a quick reinforcement that they can put it down, they can... I think book reading... And I have not read Maryanne's book yet, but I do think deep thinking occurs when you read a book, if you spend that time to just concentrate on one thing, and that just is not happening as much as it used to be happening.
15:00 NC: And the boredom piece.
15:01 Tiffany: Yes.
15:02 NC: That's what she talked a lot about, is that in that boredom is where... Well, in the boredom is where a lot of that creativity and thinking, and not necessarily just what she said in her book, but it gives you that time and that space to play and have imagination, and that's something that's definitely missing a little bit right now. So that's great that you're fostering that.
15:22 CJ: Yeah. And we did a lot of education around it, trying to tell the parents about what suggestions are for how to manage screens in their lives, 'cause they're gonna be there.
15:33 NC: Yeah.
15:33 CJ: So, it was good.
15:35 Tiffany: Yeah, and you just don't think... Maybe... Maybe you wouldn't think that would be your role when you trained to be a reading specialist.
15:41 CJ: Absolutely not.
15:44 CJ: That's why I said it was my least favourite part of my job in the beginning, but now I do see the value in it, and I am definitely a literacy cheerleader here at the building, in trying to promote that awareness. So it's all connected.
16:02 Tiffany: And your next role you said was problem-solver.
16:05 CJ: Yes, there are constant problems to be solved. So we all are constantly problem-solving here in the building, but I will say maybe... My principal will always come to me and the math specialist, often, first with a problem, and she wants to hear our perspectives. So that's part of the role, I think. Sometimes you get a preview to the issues coming up before she brings it to the whole faculty, 'cause she wants to make sure she is thinking more about the curriculum and thinking about issues. So that's a big part of my job too, helping with that stuff. I'm trying to think of some that's... Often, right now, it's all about managing materials. So we don't have anyone here that manages that stuff. So, again, that ends up falling on my plate. So my principal's often asking me to go through the work room, figure out who's getting what books, if we have a new teacher coming in, what can I put aside for them, what materials are they gonna need, making sure I put that together for them.
17:12 Tiffany: And then what is... In the same vein of your roles, how does your year play out? What is your year at a glance? What are you doing in the fall versus the spring and how does that play out?
17:23 CJ: So we're actually making some big transitions here in my school right now, and so I see my role changing a lot. We are moving away from a lot of assessment right now with some... We have new administration in place, and they removed quite a bit of our benchmark testing.
17:41 Tiffany: Oh.
17:41 CJ: So, in the past, the first month, I was often evaluating, entering data, getting information organized, selecting kids for RTI groups, but we're gonna be moving away from that for our particular school. I will still be doing evaluations, particularly on grades one and two and helping the older grades if they need it. But I anticipate being right in the classroom, starting up and helping with this workshop model now. Pretty much, I'll probably spend the first two weeks setting up libraries, making sure everybody has what they need for materials, and then I'll be right in the classrooms with grades one and two, helping run a reading and writing workshop model. So it's gonna be very different.
18:28 Tiffany: How do you feel about this change? How will you keep track of how the children are doing over time in the way that you used to do it? So maybe you could help us contrast what you used to do with data versus how you see it happening now.
18:41 CJ: It's already started to be a problem, I think, moving away from keeping close track of kids this past year because I didn't have databases set up, we weren't consistently meeting and talking about kids. So we started... I had to work twice as hard to make sure our kids weren't falling through the cracks. So it was a little bit frustrating but I do see the value. I feel like there's just so many things going on. We have to... Something had to come off the table.
19:13 CJ: So the new administration didn't like the assessments we were using. I know there will still be assessments, moving forward, we just haven't set up a plan for that. So it's just in an influx year. So I have to just work extra hard to talk with teachers individually often, to make sure I know, but I spend a lot of time in the grade one and two classrooms. So I'm keeping a close eye on those kids with them.
19:40 NC: Can you talk a little bit about what assessments you moved away from and whether or not they're considering? I know a lot of schools are moving to the online format of MAP or STAR or RAPID for universal screenings. Are you moving away from the RTI process or... Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
19:57 CJ: So my school is not a Title 1-funded school. So we are moving away from those processes, and I do not anticipate seeing something online because I think that my leaders now do not support online reading or online assessments like that. They want more authentic, in the moment, running records, things like that.
20:20 CJ: So we are currently using DIBELS in kindergarten and we were using the Journeys. We had our own reading comprehension tests where they would read passages and respond to questions, but those have gone to the wayside, and now teachers are just making up their own things and gathering their own data for grades one through five. And it's been a challenge for them. Their feedback is that they're not happy about it. So the teams are coming together. My fourth grade team, I sat with them, I said, "Why don't we do some kind of monthly reading checks?" So they're using... We call it a cold read, but it's...
21:04 CJ: They read a passage. Let's say I've created level one, it moved up in text level, and then they ask five questions after. So we're using that just to have some kind of similar assessment to gauge the kids on, and then select kids for supports. But the problem in my building is there's very few supports. There's one math specialist and one reading specialist, and that's it. So if you're not seeing me, then you're basically... Or the other pair of professionals I've trained to use things like Read Naturally, then you're with the classroom teacher.
21:38 Tiffany: I guess this brings up something that... When I talk to parents and those who aren't in the field of education, they always are a bit surprised at the amount of significant change that can occur with the change of administration, so as a new principal, a new superintendent. So, as you have new leadership, things can change quite a bit. But I'm also wondering, with those changes, what are they driven by? I can imagine... One answer I often hear is it's driven by the administrator's background and training, but another change...
22:13 CJ: Yes.
22:15 Tiffany: Would you say that's probably the biggest driver?
22:17 CJ: Yes, right now. That's my observation.
22:19 Tiffany: And then is another driver that there were parts of your past system that you didn't like, or the school didn't like, and so, therefore, you are changing to improve upon weaknesses that you've noted.
22:34 CJ: Absolutely. We were not... By any means, we did not have a perfect system. It had many flaws. The assessments we were using were constantly changing. Those benchmark tests we were given, we constantly had to update them, to revise them to meet the standards. It was an incredible amount of work for me and the other reading specialists. And it was frustrating to me because I didn't believe in them, per se. I didn't believe they were giving us the right information because, for example, we would give a benchmark passage, the same passage, to the whole grade four, and I knew there were 10 kids who couldn't even read it. So it was really ridiculous.
23:16 CJ: So we were happy to get rid of that practice. Even when we were doing that practice, I consistently... I would go to the Special Ed director and say, "Why are we doing this? Just give them a different test, give them an alternative. We'll get different information." We know those kids, but there were tears often around the test. It was not a great practice. So there were a lot of things that had to change.
23:38 CJ: I do feel like, with the changes, that I am not pulled away from the kids and the teachers as much. So not having to be the data keeper and creating these tests, and distributing the test, collecting the test, all of those pieces. So I have seen, actually, better response from particularly my grade one students this year and my grade two students. I think they made more progress this year because I wasn't pulled away as often, so I could help the teachers more. So I did see stronger gains across, particularly, my first graders. I worked real hard with them. I was probably working with 20 first graders this year closely, maybe more.
24:19 NC: That's great. So moving to workshop model, I'm wondering, given your background and just the National Reading Panel, what we know about research... As a disclosure, I'm trained in readers and writers workshop. I do see a place and a value in what they offer. Are you moving? I know they have a new phonics curriculum. Are you adopting that as well? Are you gonna maintain more of a systematic explicit, or did you have that before? What does that look like? And as someone with your background and training, both as an SLP and a reading specialist from the IHP, how do you balance what you know about evidence versus what you have to do because leadership has made those decisions?
25:06 CJ: It's a real challenge. I have tried to keep open-minded and really grow and take what I like from both scopes of reading instruction. So being so strongly phonics-driven and explicit and sequential in my background, it is... It's actually been a lot of fun to learn the opposite end of that spectrum, but I do... We're all worried about where that's gonna lead us. We have mediocre to, I'd say, average to above-average phonics instruction happening currently in the classrooms. It varies teacher by teacher, but we're all using the same program currently, we're using the Journeys, which has issues with it, so it's hard. I do see... We are gonna pilot the phonics version of Calkins and see how that goes with a couple of the kindergarten teachers. They're starting that next year. But I have other first grade teachers who are trained in Wilson, and they are gonna do Fundations next year. So it's actually gonna be tied to the teacher's knowledge base right now for the next year. But the year after that, the district plans to pick one and everybody's gonna have to learn it and go with it.
26:21 Tiffany: Alright. One thing we've been talking about in class, and as you know, you taught the course with me, reading and writing in the schools, and one thing that I've been speaking of is this idea of the pendulum, back and forth, right? And you're... You're living in now.
26:36 CJ: Absolutely.
26:37 Tiffany: And there's a valid reason for it, in the sense that if you go too far to the phonics, then you exclude language comprehension aspects. If you go too far to the language comprehension, and then you exclude phonics. But if you look at the research, developmentally... And I'm just telling you what you already know too from co-teaching with me too, is that finding that match where you're covering both of those critical components and then thinking about how they change maybe in weight or time spent on each one is what I've been teaching the students too. I know that's easier said than done, and that's why it's so helpful to get your perspective of what's actually happening in the schools. Because, again, I think that these things... The changes occur for reasons, and... But, at the same time, the kids could be kind of moved around in the sea of change, just kind of back and forth.
27:27 CJ: Absolutely. And we're trying to make sure we all collaborate and talk about it. So, already, I've been having several meetings with my grade one team, which we have teachers shifting grades next year, so that's another stressor happening, but they're already getting prepared, and thinking about it. And the first question they were all asking is, "What are we doing for phonics? We need to make sure." And I think they're very focused on that, so it's nice to see.
27:54 Tiffany: Yeah, 'cause I think actually you could have the best of both, because you need both of those components. I mean, that's a critical part.
27:59 CJ: Absolutely.
28:00 Tiffany: Right?
28:01 NC: And it is such... I mean, I will say the one thing that I've always loved about writers and readers workshop is the opportunity to have that rich, authentic mentor text where you can have exposure to the language and the vocabulary and background knowledge and be modeling all of those metacognitive strategies that that's really an opportunity to give that explicit language comprehension lesson and then find time within the workshop or however you model it to give the explicit phonics instruction too.
28:28 CJ: Right. Yeah, it's gonna be a balancing act, just like you said, Tiffany. It's good that you're teaching them, your students, now, about managing that, and you have to stay on top of it. And that's where the progress monitoring comes in, because it's gonna guide you to realize, "Okay, wait. My students are definitely needing this work more." If their writing isn't moving, you know you have to put more time into that. So that's where we have to get really good at. And my grade one team has adopted some... I won't call them benchmarks, but they have adopted frequent phonics survey checks that have helped them create and sight word checks, so that list. And then we do our DRAs three times a year as well, so that is another tool we're using.
29:11 Tiffany: Yeah, is that...
29:11 CJ: We're just getting it antiquated, but...
29:14 Tiffany: I think it is an interesting perspective to have trained as a speech language pathologist and a reading specialist, 'cause you see both those components. And I just published a paper with a colleague, calling for early and often language screening within the multiple assessment model, and I think that's because we focus so much on testing for the phonics, right? The phonics kinda check the early grades, but we're trying to argue that you need to assess language skills too through those early grades, that both of those components need to be assessed, because, in our longitudinal studies, we find that kids could have one or the other problem, as you see, I'm sure, in practice. But that's not... I mean, that didn't really... I always say to people, when we did those papers back in the day, it wasn't that we were just automatically going to find these sub-groups. It could have been every child who had word reading problems always had comprehension problems, but we actually didn't find that. So I think that's the tricky part, is that if you only assess for phonics, then you're not gonna find kids who have language comprehension problems. If you only assess for language in these kind of models or think more about the comprehension, you're not gonna find the kids that can't decode.
30:27 CJ: Right. Right.
30:28 Tiffany: And so, it is... I mean, I think that you're in such a unique position, having training in both of those domains, to see...
30:35 CJ: But I still... I have to admit, I feel like I still have so far to go with helping the teachers understand it, and monitor it, 'cause I've been so spread thin for so many years that I'm really excited about next year, but I feel like... Every year, I think, "Okay, it's gonna happen next year." So it's just... But I do have to work on that, particularly teachers and myself too not getting caught into that whirlwind that just happens. We have to step back and take the time to really sit and look at the kids, developing some oral language assessments, so that we can better recognize those kids who will struggle, because we're often thinking, "Alright. Well, they didn't read it and understand it, but... They do understand when they hear it, but we don't have anything to formalize that for ourselves." So we have to... It'd be nice to have something like a recalling sentences activity that they're doing or listening to passages and just responding, and add that to our battery, because we'll understand the children so much better.
31:40 Tiffany: Yeah, absolutely. There's really not much out there. So even though we called for this... One of the big parts of that paper was also calling for research and test development around these measures, because not only... You could give, for instance, a self-screen, but that's a one-time thing, and that doesn't flow to the RTI approach or even just multiple monitory. It doesn't have to be within the tier approach, but just if you wanna test a child pre and post tests, or two or three times a year, it's not... Using those methods, it's not accurate, and so we need to... I think that's on test developers.
32:13 NC: Even when you do, 'cause part of the RTI process, in the school that I was at, SLPs did use the CELF screener. And kids that had that language impairment profile and had the decoding, they might have come up first. But after a little intervention, they were fine, and then, they sit around, they wait 'til the end of first grade to be evaluated, and you look at the self-scores...
32:34 CJ: Absolutely.
32:35 NC: And you're like, "Oh my God. There's serious language deficits here." So, even though we do have screeners, you're right, there's not a lot there. And that's definitely something that would be so helpful. That's why I really am excited about the RAPID, and what I've seen improve the RAPID in working with schools, because it does identify both of those profiles with what seems to be a good precision.
32:59 Tiffany: Yeah.
33:02 CJ: Are you guys developing that tool? The RAPID?
33:04 Tiffany: No. RAPID's been developed and that's sold by Lexia, but we are developing a language screener.
33:10 CJ: Oh, nice.
33:10 Tiffany: So we'll see how it goes. It's such a long process of development.
33:14 CJ: I know.
33:14 Tiffany: I mean, shocking. It can take a decade or more to develop a really good assessment.
33:20 CJ: I know.
33:20 Tiffany: And the need is now, so it's really frustrating 'cause you're like, "I need it right now. Don't wanna wait... ".
33:24 CJ: I know.
33:25 Tiffany: I mean it’s like a whole generation of kids, I mean it’s a very frustrating situation, but you also wanna do it right, and it just takes a long time to do. So, it's tricky.
33:37 CJ: I think of Charlie's classes, where he trained us to just listen to the children in their natural context. We have to get really good at doing that, and trusting your instincts with that.
33:48 Tiffany: Yup.
33:49 NC: And also training that... I think what you were saying is training the teachers. I'm going from having that integrated special ed, early childhood certification before I was a reading specialist. And I was lucky to be trained here at the IHP, where I did have that language component to it. But so many teachers, the simple view of reading was an incredible lightbulb moment for me, to understand the profile of those language-impaired kids that struggled with comprehension. One thing I found an awful lot about is, even with the DRA or VAS or running records, when we're asking those comprehension questions, and the kids who... They read perfectly, and then you ask them to recall, and it's either scattered, or they'd say nothing or... That profile. And instead of saying, "Wow, this might be a kid who's at risk or has a language impairment," oftentimes, we explain it away that they weren't paying attention or their parents are getting a divorce or there's this or there's that. Instead of training our teachers that no, this is the profile, like big red flags. If a child reads a story, can read it well, the words, they're lifting the words off the page, but then they can't tell you that even if there was a boy or a girl in the book, let's get going on looking at this kid more, and I think so much of... We don't have the tools, but how can we use the tools that we already have in a way that might be effective to find those kids.
35:18 CJ: Yeah.
35:20 Tiffany: Yeah. I think that... I'm hoping that's our next frontier, is to get past some of these arguments, and get past the changing of the guard phenomenon that you're going through too, where it's like what we're trained on, as opposed to all giving on a common set of evidence that's out there. And I think the next step, and you just mentioned it, Christine, is that it's implementation science too. So even if you have the best model, it's like how do you get to the implementation part? How do you get everyone on the same page, how do you get fidelity, how do you assess your fidelity, how do you adapt to really change when change is needed in personalizing the instruction? I think that's our next frontier. I hope we can get there sooner than later. But you're living it now, of how to hold on to what you know is evidence-based and has worked, but also make changes that occur from above or that are needed.
36:21 CJ: Right. I do find that that data team process was effective, and it's a shame that we lost it this year. I think we're all feeling that in our students because it was just an opportunity for us to really problem-solve together and look at the resources we had at each grade level. So we would meet with each grade level, and directors would be there, principal was there, we would have... We only did this twice a year, but still, we had that shared data to look at and problem-solve for individual children. We looked at almost every single kid in the grade and said what do they need? What do they need? We'd go to the next kid, what do they need for their literacy instruction? Even if they're already meeting our benchmarks, how are we gonna push them forward? Do they need a book club? What should the classroom teacher be doing? They're not a reader, so how do we hook them in? Maybe they need somebody to just conference with them around books, to match them up to text. So that was really effective, and I think that was the first time I felt like we were really starting to make some changes. So I hope that comes back.
37:29 Tiffany: Do you think it will come back? And if you do, what do you think it'll take to get it back? And what will it look like?
37:33 CJ: I think we just... I don't know if it'll come back from the... Right now, from the top down, so it's gonna have to come from the bottom up. We're gonna have to just meet collaboratively. And you see models like that out there online. Teams meeting together and saying, "Listen, I'm really good at teaching this topic. Why don't you send your kids to me? I'll do this... If that's what they need." And really sharing the students, so getting to that ownership and helping to support all of the kids in the school. So I think, if we do that... And I'm hopeful, again, next year, where I have a focus on fewer grade levels, I wanna just get it rolling with grades one and two, and say, "Let's all meet together, what can we do?" We were there, and then I feel like we took a couple of steps back with the change.
38:20 Tiffany: Yeah.
38:21 CJ: Changes. I think the changes are well-intended, and it does go back to administrators' comfort, familiarity, their training, but I do think they have a balanced approach, I think they have really good intentions, and I think it's gonna get there. I think when you're dealing with masses of people, we have four of us... At least 16 teachers teaching one grade level in our district, first grade teachers, maybe more. When you're dealing with those kinds of numbers, it's hard not to just try to get some consistency going across, but... So it's a challenge.
39:05 NC: Yeah. So I guess my burning question is that you're moving away from data collection and universal screening, how is that going to look? Has there been any talk about the new dyslexia screening legislation that's supposed to start in Massachusetts, in the fall? Has the district addressed that, or are they just...
39:25 CJ: Nope, that is news to me.
39:30 CJ: Yeah, we have not heard or discussed that. I think we're still... It's upon the classroom teacher now, it's upon us to do that right now.
39:41 Tiffany: And the state hasn't pushed guidelines out, so I know many districts are waiting for guidelines, but as they come down... So the law now says that, in the fall, kindergarten schools are required to screen children for hearing vision and dyslexia in kindergarten, but there's no guidance on how to do that, and there's no guidance on what it means to be compliant with that law. So I think pre-schools are waiting, but I do think the models that go away from testing will have to reconcile the need to comply with this law, as related to data collection, 'cause I think it would be very difficult to comply with the law without data.
40:24 CJ: Right.
40:25 Tiffany: So... Yeah, so that will be an interesting challenge as you move forward. What are some of...
40:30 CJ: I feel like...
40:31 Tiffany: Oh, go ahead.
40:33 CJ: I was just gonna say the kindergarten students, we do gather the DIBELS scores on them, and those, I do feel, are reliable indicators for us, not particularly the first time they're assessed, but starting by the second or third time they take it, we have a good handle on who's struggling. And those... When I look back to the kids still struggling in fifth grade, those are the kids who had the low DIBELS scores.
40:57 NC: Do you use... Just... 'Cause I know this is always a question, do you use former or the recommended? Are you using the...
41:04 CJ: I got fancy, I made my own.
41:08 NC: Do you export the data and make your own cut-points?
41:11 CJ: I do, yeah.
41:12 Tiffany: Oh, great.
41:15 CJ: Because...
41:16 NC: Where did you decide to cut it? And was it based on your school or national norms?
41:19 Tiffany: Yeah, that's great.
41:20 CJ: Yeah. We took the district percentiles and then I cut off at 25th percentile and below, and then I did 40th... 25th percentile and below is intensive, and then I did, 40th to the 25th percentile, I considered strategic.
41:37 NC: Okay.
41:37 CJ: And then, above that, we said... In our district, percentiles are significantly higher than the national norms, because we're in a... We're positioned pretty well, we have probably an average to high average median income in Canton, being so close to the city. There's a lot of working families, but... So we have a good cohort here. So it's... At this particular school I'm into.
42:09 NC: Yeah. What did that look like, let's say, in kindergarten? If you were cutting at the 25th percentile, how many kids would you have?
42:18 CJ: I'm trying to remember the numbers... By classroom, there were still probably four kids in each classroom below. Yeah, it wasn't... And those were the kids I would start to work with. So I've been... But my interventions have been not as heavy in kindergarten. We have a little more support with the kindergarten classroom, so the classroom teachers manage a lot of that. But, by January, I have a really good handle on which kids I think are gonna be probably learning-disabled, so start working hard with them.
42:53 Tiffany: And then, when you took those scores, you said you made them based on the district, so you took the scores down and then you did the percentile based on the district mean and standard deviation.
43:06 CJ: I didn't get that fancy.
43:09 Tiffany: You ranked them somehow.
43:10 NC: They do.
43:11 CJ: Yeah, I just conditionally formatted it for the kids who...
43:16 Tiffany: Okay, the DIBELS will allow you to do that.
43:18 NC: Yeah, you can do that.
43:20 Tiffany: Oh, that's interesting, okay. And it's gonna have the district. That's great. Okay.
43:24 CJ: Yeah.
43:24 Tiffany: That's great.
43:25 CJ: Because we were struggling. We felt stuck between the former and the recommended goals.
43:31 Tiffany: Yeah.
43:32 NC: Yeah. I wish that's something that more people did, 'cause I think so much of the argument over over-identifying or under-identifying can be solved by doing something just like that. I didn't do it based on our district, which, looking back, I wish I would have used the district data, because there'd probably be a lot less kids, so you can really target those kids. But I think that that's such a great idea, and I wish that's something that more schools or more reading specialists knew about and did, because it really allows you to hone in and not just throw DIBELS out, 'cause there are some really good qualities to that assessment.
44:06 CJ: Absolutely. Yeah, it's just hard for people to interpret if they don't understand the information.
44:11 Tiffany: Well, yeah, 'cause it's tricky... 'Cause, in your district, if you have better scores compared to the national norms, by doing the district level, you're actually gonna get children... More children that are allowed those... Not more children, but you're gonna use the resources for children that need it. Whereas, if you use the national norm, and you're higher, then maybe you only have one kid that looks like they need help. If you do district level, you could have two.
44:35 CJ: Right. But if they're competing for a job in Massachusetts...
44:38 Tiffany: Yeah. I like that, Christine, but I think the downside could be if you're in a district that's much lower.
44:46 NC: Yeah.
44:46 CJ: Yeah.
44:47 Tiffany: You use it, then you're going to make many children that actually need it, based on the national norms, look like they don't, right? So I think, in a district that's performing higher, that actually works.
45:01 NC: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's why I did that in our class, 'cause we had more kids, but... And, at the same time, the kids that... It's such a balance because the kids that are falling lower don't necessarily get the intense services that they need.
45:14 Tiffany: And when it's also... I think you're right about... It's a resource game too. So if you're in one of those districts and then it shows that more children need the services than you can provide, then you have the choice of lobbying for more resources. That's ideal, but it's not always the option in that moment, then you have to figure out who needs it, and so the local could help, but I do think it's... As you said, Christine, it's... You have to have the knowledge, and that's a tricky skill to have, that a lot of people don't have, 'cause we need sort of training. It's not part of the training programs, unfortunately. So, that data analysis piece, I think it's... I see it creeping into stellar education programs, and I hope to see it more and more, of how do you analyze data, and what's this mean for your classroom? I think that would be the important...
46:05 CJ: I think that's where the coaching comes so critical. And I've worked with my teams on it, and I've done... We're getting there, we're getting there, so...
46:18 Tiffany: We have about 10 more minutes, and so I was thinking, in that time, five to 10 more minutes, I was thinking I would love for you to talk to us about what are some of the lessons you've learned in your career so far? What would you bestow as wisdom on students that are coming out that are going to start as reading specialists?
46:39 CJ: First and foremost, understand that you're not going to have all the answers when you arrive. Just because you have completed your training, and you're finished, and you actually have the degree in hand, you have the title, I think it's important not to... I don't know, personally, you feel like you have to have all the answers, and answers don't come out of a vacuum, they come out of collaborative work with teams. So just trying to stay open-minded and working collaboratively, I think, is the key to real success in any school-based... If they go into a school-based setting, because you can't really push any agenda forward without strong relationships with people. So those are probably my two things, is don't think you have all the answers, you probably don't, and that you have to work with teams of people with different perspectives, and that's how problems get solved, and that's how kids learn, ultimately, from teams of people working together.
47:44 CJ: That's hard because you have to be open-minded, and your ideas won't always bubble up to the top, but if you build the relationships and show what you know over time, that will come to the top. So I feel like that's how I've approached it. I don't know, it might not work for everybody, but that's how I feel like I've been most successful, is that I build relationships with teachers, and then we share our knowledge together. I learn from them, they learn from me. I've never been a classroom teacher, so you can imagine how many things I'm missing from my teacher basket, I just have never had to manage that, so I have no idea what that life is like day-to-day. I'm here in the school, I'm with them every day, but that's never fully rested on my shoulders, so I always appreciate and value their input and what it's like to manage a full class, and not get to leave when you need to go to the bathroom.
48:37 Tiffany: Right? I know.
48:37 CJ: Because they're like trapped in there. So just battling that, I think it's really important, you have to be a team player and stay open-minded, and just keep the kids at the front of everything you do. Because if you keep the focus on their learning, that's gonna guide you the right places.
49:00 Tiffany: It gives you that sheer purpose and open-minded understanding. And then, it takes a village, right? So it takes a village for these children, and to have everyone focusing on the child makes a huge difference. So I appreciate your time, Christine. Thank you for your words of wisdom and your experience, and I very much appreciate it. Thank you so much.
49:23 CJ: You're welcome. It's always a pleasure. And just to not give up, don't get down. People are really being hard on teachers... No, I think teachers are being hard on teachers right now, and it seems like a never... That you can't win, but there's many wins every day. My children, my students are learning, they are feeling successful about themselves, I'm getting beautiful letters from families about how much I've helped their children. You know you're doing the right thing when you're getting... You're seeing those kids. I had a student come in from a different district this year, and he said, "This is the first place anybody's even cared about my reading." And it was just really amazing. And he's been in some pretty good districts. He bounced around a little bit, but he said this is the first place that... And he's been by my side almost all year, working a lot. And it's just nice to hear those stories, where parents saying, "They love reading now, it's not as hard for them, and they just see themselves as successful." So you have to hold on to those moments, because you see the Facebook things about why people should leave reading... Or leave teaching. It's just so hard, you're never gonna make a difference, but we're making a difference every day, and you have to celebrate that, because it's easy to get negative.
50:46 Tiffany: Yeah, thank you so much for what you're doing.
50:48 CJ: Yeah, no problem. I love it.
50:53 Tiffany: Thank you so much.
50:54 CJ: Okay. Thanks, ladies.
51:00 Tiffany Hogan Check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com for helpful resources associated with this podcast including, for example, the podcast transcript, research articles, & speakers bios. You can also sign up for email alerts on the website or subscribe to the podcast on apple podcasts or any other listening platform, so you will be the first to hear about new episodes.
Thank you for listening and good luck to you, making the world a better place by helping one child at a time.
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Tiffany P. Hogan,