How Community Coach, Theresa Wills, and her co-teacher made Bookworms K–5 Reading & Writing accessible for ALL students
At the start of last school year, two things happened to me that impacted my life greatly. Four days before teachers were to report back to work, I was hit by a car during one of my daily morning treks. Then, I found out that I would be the inclusion teacher for my grade that year. Both events, though completely different, changed my outlook on some things in education and life.
As we all know, 2020 was a year that will never be forgotten, no matter how hard we try. It was the year of the pandemic, the year everything went to hell. And, because we were teaching in a pandemic, our district planned for a remote return, which meant all students with IEPs in 4th grade would be on my roster.
There would be no splitting of the hairs—all of them would be mine for the next 10 months. I would be teaching inclusion remotely. This is something neither I, nor many of my colleagues, had ever done before. Being an inclusion teacher meant I would have an awesome co-teacher, all-new technology to learn and navigate, and a total of 19 students—10 of whom needed extra support and guidance in a variety of ways. I thought, "Well, what could be worse? Getting hit by a car?" Been there, done that. If I could survive that hit, I most certainly could survive a year of implementing Bookworms K–5 Reading & Writing with students who needed a lot of extra support and scaffolding.
Bookworms K-5 Reading & Writing is an evidence-based reading and writing curriculum that is designed for differentiation, built to increase academic vocabulary, and uses full texts on multiple topics. The resource enables teachers and students to focus on building foundational skills, fluency, comprehension, and knowledge. If you are familiar with Bookworms, you know that the texts used are above grade level and can involve some heavy subject matter. Students that know rules about grammar, vocabulary, and comprehension from prior grades, continue on the path of knowledge when they reach the next grade.
Bookworms K–5 Reading & Writing is broken into three 45-minute blocks. Each block has its own flair and purpose; however, the main block, Shared Reading, is the train that drives the curriculum. Shared Reading is the part of the curriculum where students read grade-level or above grade-level texts out loud with support of the teacher to foster fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Everything flows from Shared Reading, and this was the block I was most apprehensive to teach with my students. I wondered how I was going to get non-readers to read novels—300 page novels at that! Questions ran through my mind: "How do I keep them engaged? How do we do this online? What if I fail? How can I help these students of mine understand the concepts and words?"
Once the year started, my co-teacher and I realized that remote teaching is much harder than how it was presented at the gazillion professional learning sessions given to us in the school district at the start of the school year. It took us many weeks, well into the curriculum, to teach the students how to navigate through the systems, submit work, and use Zoom properly. “I need you to share your screen so I can see what you are talking about” was something I heard daily. But then things began to change.
There are eight books on the list of Shared Reading for 4th grade. Last year was my third year teaching Bookworms K–5 Reading & Writing – this time virtually. I thought to myself, "I have to make the books interesting, especially when learning online with my students."
During read alouds, I would bring the characters to life by changing my voice, accentuating the punctuations, and providing many visuals to support the language in the book. Parents or guardians that were home with the students became interested in the stories and stopped to listen while we were reading the books. Shared Reading was a hit! These books were the springboard that made my inclusion students feel included.Shared Reading and the other parts of Bookworks K–5 Reading & Writing follow a structure, which makes it easier for teachers to know what is expected of them each day. Being online was different, but we were able to hit every mark and keep routines in place. One of the reasons for this is that we receive so much help and feedback from the academic coaches that work with the creator of Bookworms, Dr. Sharon Walpole. Dr. Walpole and her colleagues from University of Delaware have been instrumental in helping my school during this process.
Here are just a few of the things I implemented during the Bookworms block in the 2020-21 school year:
- At the end of the reading, I would choose three questions, cut-and-paste the part of the text that housed the answer, and paste pictures to describe each question on Google slides. Students would read over the paragraph that was on the screen, study the pictures and then share their thoughts. This taught them how to use the book as a resource and practice re-reading parts of the text (replacing the partner reading), as well as lessen their anxiety, while building confidence for those learners that needed support.
- Tied in real life events/characters that children are interested in to teach a concept, without pulling away from the script, still completing the lesson with integrity.
- Created themes with slides or in the classroom to help bring the book to life.
- Matched everything up! Made the background color on the slides match the color of the books, making it easier for those learners that needed support to find it.
- Always indicated page numbers, or used bookmarks, so students knew where to begin.
- Added maps, diagrams, or other visuals on slides to show personal connections. This also triggered background knowledge, which helped in all of the discussions.
- Students who had difficulty writing/typing were allowed to record their explanations on camera. (You can get great information, especially if they love to chit chat! And during the course of the year, those students will get better at writing._
There was a lot of work put in to make this happen, but in the end, it was well worth it. My students grew, not just in state standardized measures, but in their character. I was having discussions offline with students about the novels, Hatchet and Tangerine. They remembered vocabulary words, and they were using examples from the text to support their written or oral responses without reminders. They were not the same kids that I met in September 2020. As they learned, I learned. I was able to let down my guard, work with others closely, and ask for help. I needed help and support—broken foot and all. My students came ready to learn everyday. Who would have thought that an online, inclusion class would be one of my greatest joys after 9 years of teaching? And guess what? I am doing it all over again this year. The inclusion teacher—that’s me!
Meet more Open Up Resources Community Coaches in the video below:
Theresa Wills is a 4th grade teacher in Wilmington, DE where she has taught for 9 years. As an elementary teacher, Theresa has always had a love of education and sharing what she has learned with her students in the community. In her career, she has served as department chair, and currently works as a team leader, Robotics coach and a clinical educator for student teachers from University of Delaware. This year, Theresa was named 2021–22 Teacher of the Year, for her school, for the second time. Theresa is excited to be a part of the Open Up Resources team of Community Coaches and looks forward to working with educators in the Open Up Resources community.