“It’s been a hard year,” said Monica Taylor, first-grade teacher at Eagle Crest Charter Academy. Like many teachers over the past year, Ms. Taylor has worked beyond her normal workday to help her students who are both in-person and virtual succeed.
But she has a secret weapon: Becca Till, her paraprofessional.
Ms. Taylor has been with Eagle Crest for about 15 years, and Ms. Till is in her third year, though this is her first year working with first grade. And while this is the duo’s first year collaborating, that doesn’t stop them from being an incredible team.
“Ms. Till is great to work with because of her commitment to the students,” said Ms. Taylor. “She has a sincere interest in all the students she works with. I hear her laugh with them often when they are sharing good news and during instruction.”
One vital component the two have in common is their passion for teaching students to read. In fact, Ms. Taylor always says to her students: “My number one job is to keep you safe, and my number two job is to teach you to read!”
When Ms. Taylor learned she would be teaching virtual and in-person students, she was overwhelmed knowing that in a normal year, students come in with a wide range of reading skills. However, she soon learned how talented Ms. Till was and what she could offer their students.
“When I met Ms. Till, she shared her background with Reading Mastery and how she worked with individual kindergarteners online during the early months of COVID-19 to help them with their reading,” said Ms. Taylor. “I saw right away her commitment to students and her willingness to go above and beyond. She is my best resource for reading. We decided to figure out a way for her to work with as many students in Reading Mastery as our schedule would allow.”
In the first trimester, Ms. Taylor’s split-instructional model included 33 students, with 26 virtual and seven in-person. At the beginning of the trimester, only 30% of the students were reading at grade level, but within three months, 55% of the class was at grade level. Additionally, her class’s median words per minute growth was 24 from September to December.
It’s no secret they make a good team. One element that makes the duo so strong is that they treat each other as equals who work together to help students achieve.
“The best part of working with Ms. Taylor is she has always included me in every decision,” said Ms. Till. “I have never felt like my opinion did not matter. She gave me a place to work effectively. We have always felt like we have the same goals and expectations for students.”
The duo also works closely together to assess students, analyze their data, and personalize and differentiate their instruction to meet individual learning needs.
“Ms. Taylor differentiates for all students and carefully plans to meet the needs of all,” said Louise Moore, principal at Eagle Crest. “She teaches first-grade standards and pulls from kindergarten standards to fill the gaps that exist for some students. She has truly done an amazing job this year, assuring that all students have the opportunity to succeed. Ms. Till has partnered with her on this, and she too has carefully planned to meet the needs of our students through small group intervention and support.”
Ms. Taylor and Ms. Till soon found that because of the school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were learning gaps and loss. The section of kindergarten their students missed last year included a large chunk of reading topics.
“Oftentimes, this is when I would see the biggest growth in student reading in kindergarten,” said Ms. Till. “Since our students missed those months in kindergarten, they did not get the opportunity to apply pre-reading skills to text. This resulted in our on grade-level students in first grade having deficits in basic reading skills.”
Though the team isn’t able to spend much time together, they find ways to communicate via phone, texting, and emailing to talk through observations, assessment data, and strategies. Even now, communication between the two is essential to ensure their scholars are progressing.
“Our virtual and in-person students have had so much success because we have an amazing partnership between parent, student, teacher, and paraprofessional,” said Ms. Till. “Our students have given up a lot this year. Ms. Taylor and I did not want virtual learning/global pandemic to be the reason why our students were not successful in first grade. We wanted to give our students and parents every opportunity to be successful by giving them the tools and resources they needed to succeed.”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Taylor and Ms. Till!