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Changing the Standards and Our Mindsets

After Mississippi adopted and implemented the MS College and Career Readiness Standards, there was a huge shift in mindset about text. The standards emphasized that all students deserve to read and be challenged by rich, complex text.  As a second-grade teacher, I have always known that students needed to have exposure to foundational skills as well as challenging text. But support for struggling readers seemed to only include simple phonics-based reader books. The implementation of the standards changed that. In my opinion, this is one of the most positive changes I have seen as a result of the standards.

As I read the research, participated in district-wide professional development, I also worked with our district ELA Curriculum Specialist who helped me to understand the reasons why I needed to modify instruction. For the first time, I was pushed to work on exposing all students to rigorous and complex text while still teaching foundational skills to struggling readers. Getting to understand the “why” and the reasons behind the push for more rigorous text for all students allowed me to see the magic.

Currently, as an instructional coach and interventionist, I work closely with groups of students who are performing below grade level.  Our curriculum for reading includes a sequence for each reading standard.  The lesson begins with the teacher modeling the skill and progresses toward an independent practice. Rather than allowing students to struggle through the complex selection alone, we work in small groups so that students are provided opportunities for independent reading and practice., I also provide my students with a mentor guiding them if they struggle.

Students understand that they must struggle to build their stamina and skills, and as they circle unfamiliar words, use context clues, and summarize what they’ve read, they are building confidence in their ability to read and understand rich text.  Students discuss their annotations and what they’ve read with their partner. If they are off track, rather than the teacher correcting them, it is often their peers that point them to a specific section of the text and help them reflect, rethink, and revisit their understanding.

Strategies designed to support struggling readers should focus on both decoding and phonics as well as comprehension instruction. For far too long that was not the case, and these students were excluded from the opportunity to read and comprehend complex text, Since implementing the MS College and Career Readiness Standards, struggling readers are now learning and mastering the strategies they need to access these texts, and are for the first time, being held to the same high expectations as their peers.

Trish Stoll has served as an educator for over 15 years.  She is National Board Certified in Early and Middle Childhood Art.  Her instructional roles include 1st and 2nd-grade teacher, PreK-5th-grade visual arts instructor, reading interventionist, and literacy coach.  She is currently serving as an instructional mentor with the Gulfport School District in Gulfport, MS.