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Teacher Stories: Brandy Chase

Meeting Students Where They Are

4th and 5th grade teacher Brandy Chase talks about how she uses recorded video lessons and printed Reading A-Z books with her students to enable greater flexibility for students and caregivers while learning remotely.

After teaching for 15 years a certain way with kids in front of you in small groups, it was so challenging to try to put that in a digital format, and try to reach the children, and try to teach the same standards that you're teaching in the classroom. My name is Brandy Chase, and I teach 4th and 5th grade title reading in Weatherford, Oklahoma, and this is my teacher story.

Some of the things that we tried when we pivoted to distance learning was back in March, we shut down, but at the time I was teaching kindergarten. And some of the things that we tried were SeeSaw. And I had a YouTube channel; my kindergarteners could listen to me and see me. And of course we did Zoom, we had fun with Zoom. But my kids that did not have access to technology, the one thing that was critical for them was my Reading A to Z books that I made. I would make those and send them home, and they would still have access to books. So some of the things that we did in kindergarten obviously didn't translate over into 4th and 5th grade, except for the consistency of the books that I made, and those were amazing to get those in the hands of kids.

We returned back to school in August, so some of the kids had to be gone because of quarantine, or for various reasons. We are still incorporating some distance learning things. So some of the things that I kept were my YouTube channel and, of course, my Reading A to Z books that we use. So those were some of the things we tried in the very beginning, and were successful.

Some of the things we did to support our parents that have various jobs that aren't 9:00 to 5:00 jobs; they may be working nights, they may be working third shift, second shift -- some of the things I did was just video lessons, that way they could watch it when they had time. I did send home the paper pages, the worksheets and things, and Reading A to Z makes it so easy because I have the lesson plans, I have the papers. I can monitor it, adjust as I need to. And the parents really appreciated that they could do the same work they were getting at school, but maybe on their time when it was easier for them to sit down in a calm way with their kid, instead of feeling so stressed out that they had to be at a certain place at a certain time with the Zoom meeting. All of the lessons were already uploaded, and they could really work at their convenience. So for us, in the part of the country where we're at, we have medical professionals, we have ranchers and farmers, and they do not have 9:00 to 5:00 schedules, so it was extremely helpful that I had those lesson plans, and I could monitor and adjust as we went.

After teaching for 15 years a certain way with kids in front of you in small groups, it was so challenging to try to put that in a digital format, and try to reach the children, and try to teach the same standards that you're teaching in the classroom. That was the biggest challenge. And then when I started reaching out to other professionals and my fellow teachers, that became non-existent after we figured out how to do that, and how to keep the kids in the standards altogether, and not feel like we still weren't reaching our kids -- that was my biggest challenge -- not being face-to-face with my kids. You have to remember, I teach Title 1, so my kids are already a year behind. They are typically one to two grade levels behind. And I would say one of the things that I felt success was being totally terrified that we shut down in March, and I hadn't seen these kids, and they had all of the summer, and then August. And when they came in, because the school supported them from March to May, and then they had support through the summer, I would say they really weren't behind. And Reading A to Z really allowed me to meet them where they were at. And that was my -- I have to keep in mind, they really aren't behind, they're going through a pandemic -- we've never had this before. So they really aren't behind, however, I felt like they were so successful, all of them. When we did our testing in January -- we just had it -- all of them had growth, every single one of them. I did not have one child that stayed flat, I didn't have any that fell behind. They all had growth. And to me, that was just a success with all of the children. And about half of my kids are English language learners, so not only are they learning English, they're still learning how to read English. So I would say with the support that we have, and all of the tools that we have in place, that would be our biggest success, is having growth for those kids.

My children, especially if they're in 4th grade and they're reading at a 2nd grade level, they get a 2nd grade -- some other, from the library, a 2nd grade book -- it's babyish. And they will tell you, they're a 4th grader with a 2nd grade book, and they're saying, "This is really babyish." However, it's at their reading level. And some of my 5th graders that are reading at 3rd grade or 2nd grade levels, they're embarrassed if they have to go to the library and check out a book. But if I get on Reading A to Z, those books, for some, whatever reason, they think are -- "Oh, I can read this," and they feel successful. But it doesn't look babyish. I know that's a terrible thing to say, but that's what they say. But my kids that are two grade levels behind, they're doing ABC Mouse, and they're, like, ooh, I don't -- so I don't even put them on that, because it looks babyish. However, they don't have that phonics base. So it's trying to teach them the phonics, but it's doing it in a baby way. So I like the Reading A to Z, the curriculum, because I can go across, I can look at the state standard, and I can still get those kids on the state standard, but yet adjust their reading level. So they're still meeting the state standard, but they're on their reading level. And they don't complain about, "Ooh, this is a baby book," because I always hated that, because how do you fix that?

The kids love that they can take those books home. And Title 1 is -- we're Title 1 because we meet that threshold with kids below or at the poverty line. So those kids, yeah, they can go to the library, but they don't get to keep those books. So they think it's really cool that at the end of the week, when we finish all of our lessons, I'm, like, "You can take those books home." I mean, they are so excited to take a book home. And I try to tell them, "Read it to someone at home." But that is why this -- I actually bought Reading A to Z with my money the last two years, because I knew it was worth it for my kids, and it was so important. My son was benefitted from reading, I mean, he's a success story, too. He loved Reading A to Z with his classmates, and Raz, and all that -- Raz-Kids was his favorite. The teacher that he had was the teacher I student taught under, so she was the one that introduced me to Reading A to Z and Learning A to Z, and all that. And I used Head Sprout when I taught 2nd grade, it was great. But the kids love that they can take these books home, they love it. They think it's so cool. Even my 5th graders act like it's not cool, but they like it.

My son is now in 6th grade. When he was in kindergarten, his teacher, who was an excellent kindergarten teacher, she was an excellent guided reading teacher, I told her, "You're the reason he loves to read and loves books to this day, in 6th grade," and it's all because of guided reading. He learned the phonic skills, he learned the reading strategies. He learned how to decode, he learned how to answer test questions. So he learned test-taking strategies, he learned to just purely enjoy a book. He learned vocabulary, writing -- all of those were incorporated. And he has never stopped wanting more books, wanting to read; he has that love of reading. When he left kindergarten, he was reading on a 2nd grade level, and I could not buy enough books. So his 1st grade teacher, when he went on to 1st grade, she had Raz-Kids. Well then, that just -- oh, he could read on my phone, he could read at home on the tablet, he could read anywhere, and loved it. She just opened up this love of reading for him. And so I really attribute a lot of that to the guided reading strategies that she used, because he became an excellent writer, he became a critical thinker, and he was able to transfer those skills in guided reading over to his other subjects. So I feel like he is the huge success story.

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