The first round of professional development began in January 2015. Javier Garza, principal of Keller, Delma Perez, Dean of Instruction at Keller, and all fourth and fifth grade teachers actively participated in two days of professional development. Throughout the spring semester, the group met regularly with the research team to discuss future implementation.
When the intervention was first introduced, many teachers were doubtful.
“When I first heard about it, I thought ‘well, it’s another thing for us to do,’” explained Claudia Gonzales, a fifth-grade teacher at Keller. “When we got our hands in, it wasn’t easy. It was complicated to understand because this program is embedded in everything instead of the normal programs that tell you to teach this way and that’s it.”
Everything changed once implementation began and the teachers saw how committed the administration was to this program and to teacher and student success.
“[Javier and I] both wanted to learn it just as much as the teachers did. We both attended all the professional development sessions and we both asked for the support. We sat with teachers if they had questions,” Perez explained.
The teachers recognized the administration’s team mentality and quickly began working together to share ideas and collaborate on what worked and what did not.
“Teachers need teachers. In order to be successful, you need to be collaborating with your peers,” said Perez. “If you’re on your own, this is tiring. But, if you’re a team and you’re working it together, there’s no stopping you. In fact, you can just build and build and it’s not going to stop.”
And that teamwork resulted in success.
“We were a middle of the road campus. Within two years, we were able to see a nine percent jump in test scores,” said Perez. “We are one of the few campuses in the district that met all indices with the TEA and we got a six-star distinction. We’re very proud of our teachers and our students.”
“When you empower the students to be able to understand what they’re reading, it becomes a lot easier. I think that’s what happened with our teachers. They started to see that,” added Garza. “The first year we showed increase. But this last year was astronomical. We showed increase to the point where people are noticing what Keller’s done. We’re now one of the top five schools in the district in just two years. It’s really phenomenal.”
Because of the success at the fourth and fifth grade level, teachers in lower levels are wanting to get involved.
“They understand that when kids read systematically, there is a structure to the way that they read and there is comprehension that follows. They get that now and so they’re exposing these students as well,” explained Perez. “In first grade and kindergarten, if you walk the halls, you’ll see the text structures in their work that’s displayed. They want to make sure that they’re ready for the next grade level.”
Aside from the professional development provided for the teachers and administration, Dr. Wijekumar and her team participated in several in-school coaching days where they co-taught with the teachers. The goal was to provide the teacher with an opportunity to see the intervention in action in their content areas.
During the intervention, there were concerns from teachers about how to implement certain aspects of text structures along with teaching the textbook. Based on those questions, Dr. Wijekumar and her research team reviewed the textbook and other materials used in the classroom and developed a supplement for each chapter to show teachers how text structures could be utilized. The team also developed additional lessons for teachers to use as reference materials in their classrooms.
The students also used Dr. Wijekumar’s Intelligent Tutoring for the Structure Strategy (ITSS) software for one class period each week, approximately 45 minutes, for 40 lessons. ITSS was designed to improve reading comprehension for students in fourth through eighth grade – a time when students are expected to read and process information on their own in every area of the curriculum.
ITSS, with a combination of lessons in the classroom, have increased confidence of students at Keller.
“I’ve seen the growth and the understanding and the willingness to participate when we’re doing this program. Students are not hesitant to go ahead and shout out what they think,” added Sierra Pilar, a fifth-grade teacher at Keller.