For many students in Georgia, today is the first day of school, which is the case for my district. Thankfully, students are going into classrooms like my friend’s, McCall Grosso. McCall is one of the most talented language arts teachers I have ever witnessed. Her ability to build relationships with students and get those students to believe in themselves is unparalleled. I am so thankful she was able to write this guest post today that highlights the work she and another teacher are doing at their school. The program they have developed is necessary for growing literacy skills with students who face academic challenges and in most cases, simply haven’t found the right book yet. McCall’s innovative and collaborative approach is both inspiring and a model for what could and should be done to elevate every student and promote literacy across learning levels. Please read on–I promise you will end feeling inspired!
by McCall Grosso
August 6th begins my eleventh year in the classroom, and while it seems hard to believe that I have been teaching over a decade, I can hardly remember a time that the walls of my school did not feel like home. I can still recall after a few years in the classroom, I began co-teaching with various special education teachers and quickly realized that teaching students who struggle with reading and writing was truly my passion. Because of this love for these learners, I became certified in Special Education four years ago, and now more than ever, I LOVE what I do!
Beginning last year, my “teacher soulmate” Hayley Garner and I began teaching in an innovative structure that we endearingly refer to as “GarGro World.” We pitched the idea to have a double classroom in order to not only take ownership of all 10th grade language arts students in the co-taught setting (students who have the additional support of a special education teacher in the general education setting), but also to teach both 9th and 10th grade Language Arts small group (also known as Resource) classes. By creating this setting known as “supersource,” students with difficulty in reading comprehension and written expression have the same two Special Education AND Language Arts certified teachers in one room for their first two years of high school. Throughout this process, we have been able to build strong relationships with students and their families to build literacy skills across content areas while also developing a community of trust and mentoring. To say that the past year has been overwhelmingly rewarding is an understatement– we both truly believe that we were put together for a specific reason– and these kiddos are IT!
“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations– something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own” –Katherine Patterson
As we move forward with GarGro World, we have a newfound goal to promote literacy with our students like never before. We have many students reading well below grade level, and all of the research we have done points to one simple, and seemingly obvious, conclusion– if we want students to become better readers, they must READ. They must read each day. They must read independently. They must read with choice. They must read for pleasure. They must read for academic success. They must read and discuss the content. They MUST read.
This year, I have the honor of leading our language arts department with the goal of promoting literacy in our classrooms. We are introducing the idea of choice by having fifteen minutes of uninterrupted reading time in our classroom each day. While students are reading, Hayley and I will deliver weekly book talks (on our own, with guest speakers, with fellow colleagues, with author book trailers, etc.), and will conference with individual students to understand their reading process and troubleshoot ways to grow their reading stamina, lexile level, and most importantly, their love of reading. With the help of the work of Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, we hope to transform our students’ views of reading while increasing literacy both in our classroom and school-wide! I am eager to see how this goal turns out by the end of the school year.
No matter what path our students take when they leave our classroom walls, nothing will prepare them to be college bound, career ready, and/or kind, empathetic citizens like being well-read. Katherine Patterson summarized my philosophy for my classroom vision in one simple quote: “It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations– something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.”
To all my fellow teachers, I wish you a wonderful year, and please remember that they are ALL our children who deserve everything we have EVERY day. Now let’s do this!