#FlashbackFriday: The Greatness Talk

An anecdote from As I Took My Walk With God II: Greatness Was Upon Them

The Greatness Talk

Place: Greatness Room, Late In 2016-2017 School Year

Intro: Do Your Part

Opening the talk, I let the kids know that 16 of them would have passed the Math Benchmark if they had correctly bubbled in their fill-in-the-blank questions. That’s 76 percent.

I didn’t stop there.

One student made a 40 and didn’t even study. 

Me to Him: Would you have done better if you studied?

Him: Yes (Nodding his head)

There was another student who made a 45. He didn’t study, either, claiming that his phone didn’t work. (I know, the classic dog-ate-my-homework excuse.)

Me To Him: “Your notebook doesn’t work? I know we’ve had checkpoints, and you’ve left your math notebook on your desk. You even left your Writing STAAR binder on your desk before Spring Break.”

1st Principle: The Benchmark

After that, I transitioned to talking about the Reading Benchmark by thanking the kids for doing what I asked: putting a smile on Ms. Dixon’s face. She was happy with their improvement. And that’s saying a lot. She holds the same high standard that I do.

You’ve improved but 61.9 percent isn’t good enough. That means 38.1 percent of you failed. I don’t accept that.

No more writing stories or reading picture books for “When I’m Done” time. You need to read. Not comic books or magazines but chapter books.

2nd Principle: Friends Help Each Other

The conversation shifted to friends. I focused on two students. The students always bring up the fact that they go on playdates and hang out on weekends.

One is a strong speller but struggles with reading comprehension. The other does well with reading comprehension but isn’t a strong speller.

I asked: Why don’t y’all help each other? That’s what real friends do.

Then I highlighted two other students who facetime all the time but don’t have anyone at home to study with them.

Me: “Why don’t y’all Facetime and help each other study?”

At that point, I had a message for the kids who were upset that they failed the test.

Me: If you failed, why are you playing at recess? It’s ok to play for about ten minutes. The rest of the time you need to be reading or studying your vocabulary words.

Final Principle: It’s A Small Word

With all the talk about losing, I decided to share some more of my backstory with the kids. I told them that I worked security, but it wasn’t very secure. It’s a job that I quit after my last assignment. The decision wasn’t an easy one. I dealt with opposition from my family. I was told that I was lazy and didn’t want to work.

Also, I lived by myself and had bills. I couldn’t pay those or rent. Eventually, I was evicted. That all led to a point where I was homeless for a day. It was one of the worst feelings of my life. But I wasn’t just homeless because I didn’t have anywhere to stay. I had a bad relationship with my sister at the time. So, I couldn’t stay with her.

It was a tough situation but I vowed: “Never Again.”

I did get a job. Lost it. I kept on pushing, though. Then I got hired in education. Now, I’m here, and I know that I was meant to be here.

Why? I found out that a person, whom I struck up a friendship with at my last assignment as a security guard, is good friends and college classmates with one of their classmate’s dad.

Of course, they wondered which classmate. So, I told them.

One student opined: Small World.

I let them know that she has improved more than anybody.

Closing: Get Tired of Losing

At that moment, I got emotional. I didn’t cry, but I almost did.

Gathering myself, I kept with the talk on losing. I told them about my development as a writer. I started from the beginning. I was in Basic English my first year in college, because I didn’t score high enough on a college-entrance test(A.C.T.).

Even as a college student, I still struggled. I would get a 100 for content and get marked down for grammar and punctuation. The same stuff they struggled with, but I was grown. 

They’re in the 4th grade.

I struggled some more as I became a writer professionally. People clowned on me for my grammar…publicly.

Once people did that enough, I decided I was tired of losing. So, when my articles were published, I’d print out the edited version and compare it to my rough draft–identifying my grammatical errors.

Gradually, my grammar and punctuation improved. I wanted to take it to the next level, though.

I sent my articles to national writers. They gave me critiques, which took my writing to another level.

Focusing on the Benchmarks again, I brought up the theme of the week: “Don’t Worry About They.”

Whatever you make on the Benchmark, then that’s what you’ll make on the STAAR.

Students started grumbling…

Deadpanning: Who Is They? I don’t care about They. They don’t matter. We’re The Greatness Room. We’re Great.”

Chants are all good and stuff. But I don’t want you to talk about being Great. I wanted you to shh(finger on lips)…show me.

The speech was long (30 or more minutes) but necessary. I wanted my babies to understand Greatness and what it takes to reach it.

Epilogue: They Reached Greatness

Throughout the day, the kids displayed a different level of focus.

For example, as I reviewed vocabulary words and worked through a reading passage, they were energetic and engaged. 

I loved it.

Another example: Before the math lesson (Converting Measurements), I challenged the kids. I wanted 100 percent on the exit ticket.

What percentage of them got the exit ticket correct? 100 percent(Phenomenal).

Shortly after this speech, they reached greatness, and I fulfilled my promise to show them what Phenomenal looked like and turned my room into The Phenomenal Room. 

Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short


A Year In Bloom’s(Part 1): Word Power

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of educational objectives, which is based on the research of Benjamin Bloom and colleagues that was released in 1956. There are six classifications: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, evaluate and create/synthesis. (I prefer using the word Synthesis.)

Many of the skills that kids are taught are aligned to the rigor matrix and guide many teacher’s instructional practices. 

In this article, I’ll detail my experience using these classifications to create a Word Study routine called “Word Power” , and the impact that it had on my student’s growth during the 2019-2020 school year.

Intro: The Origins of Word Power

At the onset of the 2019-2020 school year, the focus was on phonological awareness. Understanding that kids need phonics and vocabulary instruction, as well. The challenge was finding a way to incorporate those components within a 25 minute block.

Throughout the first nine weeks, I brainstormed a system to integrate those other elements. Utilizing Bloom’s Taxonomy progression, “Word Power” was birth.

1. Purpose of Study: Meeting All Student Needs

This was not intended to be a study. I created this routine because I wanted to meet all my student needs. Aligning the cycle to Bloom’s Taxonomy accomplished that, though. 

*It should be noted that I’m not the first person to have a Word Study routine, but the components are traditionally done on different days of the week and not in concert with one another. 

2. Framework: Align To Bloom’s Taxonomy

Knowledge: Day 1

A. Phonological Awareness: What’s The Word? (5 Minutes)

In this part of the routine, I stand on a table and review the weekly words. For example, I say

The first word is park and then ask the scholars: What’s The Word?!!!

Kids then chant: Park!!! (And I repeat for the other 14 words.)

B. Phonics: Underline The Pattern (5 Minutes)

After teaching the words, I have the kids underline the pattern. The kids will say the word and then say the pattern and underline it. (I normally call them up using voices.)

C. Vocabulary: Teach Definitions/Vocab Trailers (15 Minutes)

Originally, I would teach the definitions to kids. After receiving advice from vocabulary expert, Joanne Billingsley, I used the Vocab Trailers technique on the first day to tie visuals with the word.

For this technique, I show a picture that relates to one of the weekly words. Then I give the kids a sentence stem: In this picture or This reminds me of…

The kids turn and talk and then share out their answer. (I’d do this with four images.)

Thanks Mrs. Billingsley.

Comprehension: Day 2

A. Phonological Awareness: Clap It Out (5 Minutes)

To start the day, I break the weekly words into syllables and clap out each word with the kids, which embeds blending into the Word Study cycle.

B. Phonics: Sorts  (10 Minutes)

This is quite simple. The kids sort the words according to the pattern. For example

Example of a table that you can make for Control-R Vowels.

C. Vocabulary: Picture This!!! (10 Minutes)

For this exercise, the kids draw pictorial representations of four of the weekly words.

Example of a Picture This!!! for Blends.

Application: Day 3

A. Phonological Awareness: Read and Build (5 Minutes)

On this day, I have the kids apply their skills. First, I call out words and have them spell it on their desk.

B. Phonics: Spell (10 Minutes)

Then, I call out words and have the kids spell them. While they’re spelling words, I walk around the room and assess what errors that they’re making. 

C. Vocabulary: Spell and Draw (10 Minutes)

For this portion, I’ll have the kids spell the words and draw a pictorial representation, as well.

Extension: Read Connected Text

I have this as an extension exercise but many times it was the main exercise. In the exercise, the kids read a short paragraph with words centered around the weekly words pattern. They underline the words with the pattern and sometimes answer a few literal comprehension questions. (Teacher Pay Teachers has some good Phonics Fluency Passages. If you’re not comfortable with TPT, you could use Decodable Text.)

Analysis: Day 4

A. Activity: “Conver” Stations”

This is an activity that incorporates all skills. In one station, the kids would sort the weekly words and explain why. One activity might have the kids write a paragraph based on the weekly word(s) and picture. My favorite activity is when the kids incorporated the words with a reading skill.

For example,

I would ask the kids to make a drama about a girl. It was a fun way to get the students to use their words in different ways.

Evaluate(Assess): Day 5

A. Phonological Awareness: Go Noodle Clap It Out

I didn’t assess Phonological Awareness but I would do “Go Noodle Clap It Out” as a brain break, so the kids can get that component.

B. Phonics: Incorporate In Other Disciplines

I didn’t assess spelling on this day, but I’d try to incorporate in the other subjects or disciplines.

C. Vocabulary: Context Clues Assessment (5 to 20 minutes)

To assess vocabulary, I’d give the kids a story and they’d have to fill in the blanks with one of the weekly words.

Create/Synthesis: Day 5

A. Vocabulary: Draw A Picture/Write A Story/Info Text/Poem/Drama/Opinion

After the assessment was completed, I’d give the kids several options. They could draw a picture with a self-selected weekly word or write a story, Informational Text, Poem, Drama, or Opinion using one or many of their weekly words.

3. Methodology: T.P.R.I./Classroom Discussion/MAP Growth

To gather data. I used T.P.R.I., a Texas-based assessment which measures the kids foundational growth in Word Reading(Decoding), Graphemic Knowledge (Spelling), Vocabulary, Fluency and Comprehension. In addition to that, classroom discussion was used to measure vocabulary development. 

MAP Growth was used as a measurement too, as well.

Below you will find the results.

4. Interim Results: Phonological Awareness and Phonics Growth

Phonological Awareness

Figure 1.1

*I was able to test for phonological awareness virtually at the End of Year.

From the BOY(Beginning of Year) to the EOY(End of Year) my students grew 19.74 percent in their Phonological Awareness. Students who tested 90 percent or above in Word Reading don’t have to test again. They’re considered developed, so students could have grown five or ten percent more.

There were several glows.

  • One student grew from 25 to 90 percent.
  • One student grew from 30 to 80 percent
  • As a class, only one student didn’t finish the year under 80 percent in Word Reading, but that student grew from 0 to 55 percent.


Figure 1.2

*I didn’t test my kids spelling in 4th nine weeks due to Covid-19 and not being in formal classroom.

In this graphic, you’ll see that my students grew 31.57 percent in Graphemic Knowledge (Spelling). The biggest jump was from the BOY to MOY–where the kids grew 19.21 percent.

There were several glows here, as well.

  • One student grew from 15 to 80 percent.
  • Another grew from 30 to 80 percent.
  • Six students grew 40 percent.
  • 11 out of my 19 students spelled at 80 percent proficiency.

5. Overall Results: Growth Above The Norm

Figure 1.3

To get a complete picture of the success of the “Word Power” routine, you have to look at my kids BOY 2019 to BOY 2020 MAP Growth. (Due to Covid-19, there was no MAP Growth assessment at the EOY.)

Desegregating the data, the students grew 24 points, which equates to 2.4 years. As a class(198 average), they were a full year above the Norm (nationally average).

Naturally, there were glows here, too.

  • One student grew 38 points(close to four years)
  • Another grew 35 points.
  • Nine students grew 20 points or more.
  • Four students grew 35 points or more

*I took a sample size of 15 students–as a few students moved.

6. Discussion: Enhancing My Knowledge

Evaluating the routine and year, the main limitation was my lack of knowledge of the proper scope and sequence for Word Study instruction, which resulted in weekly words being a little random. Also, the age of the students(2nd Graders) didn’t allow me to embed writing as much as I would have preferred to do. 

Additionally, if there were school assessments, I could have measured the kids vocabulary development through mastery of TEKS/Skills.

7. Conclusion: New Way of Doing Word Study

Based on the data, the “Word Power” program is an effective one. It can be improved, though, by following the proper Scope and Sequence for Phonics instruction, adding more activities and tracking data weekly. To further validate the method, I’ll use other educators from different grade-levels and environments. 

This much is certain: Word Power is a new way of doing Word Study. It naturally embeds phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, writing, fluency while building reading skills. (All of the Daily 5 that the Reading Panel suggested in 2000.)

If you’re interested in learning more about “Word Power” or would like professional development conducted on the routine, email thephenomenalstudent@gmail.com

Jeremiah Short, Educator

Up Next: A Year In Bloom’s(Part 2): Reading

Phenomenal Review: Building Better Writers

Last month, I received an advanced reader copy of “Building Better Writers”  by Natalia Heckman, a Seidlitz Education consultant. In the offering, she provides practical writing instruction to teachers of Emergent Bilingual, ESL, and traditional students. 

I poured through the resource in two weeks…highlighting and making notes. After finishing it, I’d like to provide insight into why you should purchase Building Better Writers. 

1. Readability: The first thing that struck was the book’s readability. It’s a high-level resource that’s digestible for the novice teacher but practical for the expert teacher. As you can see in the picture above, Heckman clearly diagrams a sentence…explaining the importance of syntax in a sentence.

2. Follows Logical Progression: One of the things that I love about Building Better Writers is the book follows a progression to the writing process from sentence to composition with ideas and strategies to properly teach each component. 

3. Phenomenal Strategies: Building Better Writers is littered with easy-to-use, high-outcome strategies, which will improve any ELA(English/Language Arts) teacher’s instruction and engage students. 

Here are a few.

A. Cohesive Tie Strategy(Pictured Above): Good writers never use the same word twice unless it’s for effect but Heckman’s supplies a sound strategy to teach it to students. 

B. Sentence Live: For this routine, students race to build a sentence using tiles. This strategy fosters collaboration, scaffolds instruction and increases engagement. 

C. Attack The Prompt: With this strategy, students use a three-step process of annotating a writing to determine the purpose for writing. I found this routine particularly timely with Extended Constructed Responses becoming a Texas S.T.A.A.R. (State Assessment) expectation from 3rd-8th grade. 

If you’re a new teacher, one with a few years of experience, or the resolute veteran, Building Better Writers will help you enhance your practice and transform your writing instruction. 

Rating: 10/10(Phenomenal)

Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short

Phenomenal Reflection: “It’s New But I Like It”

Science of Reading vs. Balanced Literacy has caused debate in homes, academic, and social media circles. SOR proponents have lamented the effectiveness of Balanced Literacy. Balanced Literacy advocates have argued that SOR focuses too much on phonics. 

While I’ve never stated a side in the debate, I didn’t realize until recently that I was a Science of Reading(Structured Literacy) teacher my entire career. 

Let me explain my journey. 

2017-2018: The Origins

In the middle of my second year of teaching, my students were doing well on assessments, but for them to achieve mastery, they’d need to improve on smaller TEKS(Standards). To instruct on these skills, I decided to teach them “explicitly” a week at a time. 

The result: 91 percent of my students passed the Reading S.T.A.A.R.(State Assessment). 64 percent were proficient and 25 percent mastered.

In addition to the explicit teaching of skills, I asked my students to engage in Repeated Reading(Fluency) throughout the year. Fluency was embedded in my instructional block, as well. My students actually led choral reading routines. Unbeknownst to me, fluency is a core part of a proper literacy block. 

2018-2020: The First Criticism

Building on my second year, I kept with the same practices–Fluency and Explicit teaching. That approach again yielded high outcomes…83.4 percent of my students met their MOY(Middle of the Year) MAP Growth measure. 

Around the same time, I received my first criticism. In a meeting, I was told: “You need to do more groups.”

Me: “I have the best scores on the grade-level”

Admin: “We’re not talking about data.”

3rd year Mr. Short was confused. 7th year Mr. Short empowered with the knowledge of the various methods of teaching reading understands that they were Balanced Literacy proponents. (We used The Units of Study.)

The next year, I taught 2nd grade and evolved my literacy practices…incorporating all components of that the National Reading Panel outlined for a functional Literacy Block. 

The Components

  • Word Power(Explicit Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary Instruction)
  • Repeated Reading and Choral Reading(Fluency)
  • Intentional Read-Alouds, Explicit Skill Teaching, Writing About Reading(Comprehension)
  • Showing Videos Before Reading Passages(Background Knowledge)

Adding to that, I created an intervention structure(T.I.D. E.)built around screening kids for decoding, spelling, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and then intervening, developing or enhancing them. (All the articles are on my website.)

By the end of the year, half of my students read above grade-level. Two read a Level T(5th Grade). According to MAP Growth, they grew 2.0 years in Reading and 2.4 years in Vocabulary.

Even with the accelerated growth, I was told: “You’re engaging in bad practice.”

2020-2021: Coronavirus and Discovering Myself

After that experience, I didn’t teach most of this year but spent time researching and recovering. It was during this time that I grew to understand why I faced so much opposition…I was a Structured Literacy teacher working in a Balanced Literacy environment. 

Eventually, I got back to the business of educating…tutoring and simultaneously experimenting with a structured literacy intervention method. The student(a 2nd grader) who I tutored went from a non-reader to excelling as a reader in five months. She’s still doing well.

2021-2023: Fully-Formed Structured Literacy Teacher

At the beginning of the 2021-2022, I accepted a Reading Interventionist position(although I taught as well the first semester).

Utilizing a structured literacy approach, my intervention students grew exponentially…2.0 years on average. Several students grew six and seven levels. That’s in only 20 weeks of intervention. 

Following that school year, I created a resource: Phenomenal Intervention(The Playbook). 

During the middle of the next year, I presented my method for the first time at Lit Con 23(The National K-8 Literacy and Reading Recovery Conference). Showcasing a Structured Literacy approach at a Balanced Literacy conference was nerve wracking but I received a tremendous response. 

Attendees raved about my presentation. One group of people went so far as to say they’d fly me out to present to their district. They’re doing so and I’ll present on May 26th. 

A comment from my presentation sums my structured literacy journey up best: “It’s new but I like it.”

I’m a Structured Literacy teacher and proud of it.

Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short

Phenomenal Instruction: Conduct A Video-Aloud

A couple of weeks ago, I released a #TalkingThursday: Be Intentional About Your Read-Aloud. 

While read-alouds are an effective tool to introduce or review skills, a video-aloud is an effective option, as well.

You may ask: What’s a video-aloud? Video-Alouds consist of playing a commercial, YouTube, Live-Action, Pixar or Disney clip for your students. Throughout the course of this routine, you can engage in think-alouds, ask students to respond in writing, and foster critical thinking.

There are several other benefits, too.

  •  Content Differentiation: Students receive information in a different way than normal.
  •  Increases Engagement: Using cartoons and live-action clips sparks the interest of students
  •  Accessible To All Students: Whether a student is below, on, or above-level, they can access the lesson and learn the skill.

Here are a few examples as to what it looks like. 

Summary: Soar

Mini-Lesson: To introduce a summary, I go over a B.M.E.(Beginning, Middle, End) anchor chart…explaining that the beginning is the setting/problem, middle is the events(or steps to solve the problem), and the end is the solution and resolution. 

After introducing the concept, I play Soar. Then I model how to find the summary of the short film. 

Beginning: A young girl is on a farm when a small boy crashes his plane and gets lost from his family. 

Middle: To fix the plane, the girl tapes sticks together. That doesn’t work so she puts a parachute on it. With a little boost, the boy begins to fly again.

End: At the end, the plane is fixed and the small boy rejoins his family. As a thank you to the girl, the little boy lights a star.

Following the modeled instruction, I release students to practice summary with a partner and then independently.

Character Change: The Selfish Giant

Mini-Lesson: Before playing “The Selfish Giant”, I tell students to pay attention to the character’s traits at the beginning and the end. Think about why he changed. 

Modeled Instruction: Once the video concludes, I model how to analyze the character change in the story. 

Beginning: Selfish

End: Caring, Loving

Why did the giant change? He realized that the kids were important to the garden.

Following this, students practice character change with a partner and then independently.

Author’s Purpose(Explain): How To Floss

Mini-Lesson: Explaining Author’s Purpose comes on the 2nd day of my Author’s Purpose Unit. So, I review the terms and then guide students through several pictures and video clips. One of those clips is “How To Floss.”

We(Do) or You(Do): While watching the video, students do “The Floss” dance. After it’s over, I ask them to determine the Author’s Purpose, which is Explain. 

Conclusion: Utilizing video-alouds, instead of read-alouds is a mindset shift but it meets students at their level, not ours.

Conduct a Video-Aloud.

Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short

Phenomenal Instruction: Don’t Teach In Isolation

Last week, I wrote about Teaching With Backwards Design, which was a piece of advice given to me by a friend and fellow educator, Khaleel Lott, during the 2017-2018 school year. Another comment from him resonated with me that year, as well: “I don’t teach anything in isolation.”

The words ring true because you can’t teach any standard/skill without taking others into consideration–especially if proficiency on State Test is the goal. 

Admittedly, I taught set skills early in my career without knowing how they interrelated. All I knew was Main Idea is “four questions” on the S.T.A.A.R.(Texas State Test) and Theme was “two questions.”

I didn’t realize how students needed to know several skills before mastering others. I’ll provide a few examples.


To master Theme or Lesson Learned, students need to master…

  • Vocabulary
  • Elements of Plot
  • Analyze Characters
  • Inference

Why are these skills important? If you can’t comprehend a story, you can’t tell me the message. If you can’t interpret how the character changed, then you won’t get the message. If you can’t infer from details, then you won’t get the message. If you lack the vocabulary, you won’t be able to properly express the Theme. 

Author’s Purpose

To master Author’s Purpose, students need to master…

  • Vocabulary
  • Key Details
  • Main Idea
  • Text Features

Why are these skills important? Before you can determine an article or story’s purpose, you have to find the key details. Before you can determine the purpose, you have to know its Main Idea. Before you determine the purpose, you have to know how the Text Features support it. Again, you the vocabulary-Tier 2 and 3–to properly articulate the Author’s Purpose. (Many times on State Test synonyms are used for Author’s Purpose terms.)

 Literary Non-Fiction

To master Literary Non-Fiction(Biographies and Autobiographies), students need to master…

  • Analyze Characters
  • Theme
  • Main Idea
  • Point of View
  • Author’s Purpose
  • Poetry

Why are these skills important to Literary Non-Fiction? 

Those are a litany of concepts, but Literary Non-Fiction uses fictional and non-fictional components. Instead of analyzing a fictional animal, you’re analyzing a real human. Instead of identifying the moral of a fable, you’re identifying the moral of a real person’s life. 

Adding to that, Point of View and Poetry elements are embedded within the genre, as well. Of course, you have to determine the Author’s Purpose of Biographies or Autobiographies.

Critical Reading Teacher: That’s why you spiral.

Me: True, but you can’t spiral what you haven’t explicitly taught yet. When you do teach it, makes sure kids master it because you “Don’t Teach In Isolation.”

Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short

Phenomenal Instruction: Teach With Backwards Design

Khaleel Lott, a co-worker and friend, bellowed to me(a 2nd-year teacher): Short, you’re good at teaching with Backwards Design.

Me(In My Head): What the heck is Backwards Design? 

In the years since, I’ve learned that it’s planning lessons with the goal of reaching a desired objective. 

For example, let’s take this TEK(Texas Based Standard): 3.8(C) analyze plot elements, including the sequence of events, the conflict, and the resolution ®. 

R stands for readiness standard in Texas, so that means it’s tested on the S.T.A.A.R.(Texas State Assessment). Making sure that students master the skill is vital for them to achieve success. 

Here’s how you’d teach it with Backwards Design.

Analyze Plot

Day 1: I can identify the problem and solution in a text. 

While conducting a read-aloud, the teacher guides students through identifying the problem, events and solution in a text. After guiding them through that process, they practice with a partner and then independently. 

Day 2: I can summarize the plot of a story. 

For this lesson, introduce Summary with a song and BME(Beginning, Middle, End) anchor chart. 

Then model finding the summary with the students. Students will work with a partner to find the summary. To close the lesson, students will independently find the summary. 

Day 3: I can make a prediction about a text using multimodal approaches. 

Differentiating, guide students through a Google Slide where they will apply their knowledge of elements of plot to make predictions about what the book or movie will be about. 

Day 4: I can analyze the plot for sequence, problem, events and solution. 

All the scaffolding builds towards this day in the unit. The teacher will read a text with scholars and ask questions which require the students to analyze and write a response. 

Sample questions.

1. Why is paragraph 2 important to the text?

2. What event led to the problem being solved?

3. How was a secondary character important to resolving the conflict?

With this method of instruction, students write about reading while allowing the teacher to determine mastery of the standard. 

Day 5: I can demonstrate mastery and synthesize the elements of plot.

To end the unit, students are assessed with a five to ten question quiz. Also, they’re asked to synthesize the text by answering a question-such as: How would you have solved the problem?


In Texas, teaching with backwards design in Writing has heightened importance–as students are assessed for Reading and Writing(3rd-8th grade). 

A simple lesson progression alleviates the stress of helping students master the Writing standards.

Days 1 and 2: Front Load Grammar

On these days, teachers should front load grammar to ensure they become proficient in the conventions.

Day 3: Apply Grammar Conventions

Students apply their grammar knowledge by writing a draft–whether they’re responding to a text or penning a typical composition. 

Day 4: Revise and Edit Drafts

Teachers will instruct on revising or editing a draft with the previously taught skill. Students will confer with peers to revise and edit their rough draft from the day before. 

Day 5: Assess On Skill or Compose Final Draft 

To conclude a writing unit, the teacher should assess the weekly skill and ask students to compose a final draft with corrections. 

In addition to teaching the concepts, teachers have other considerations, as well.

1. Students must become proficient at keyboarding. (State Tests in Texas are on a computer.)

2. Teach students the new question types. 

Meeting state standards is difficult and taxing but with sound planning…It can happen.

Begin With the end in mind by Teaching With Backwards Design. 

Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short

Phenomenal Instruction: Add A Student(Do)

Traditionally, the gradual release follows this structure: I(Do), We(Do), You(Do). It’s a simple but efficient method to teach multiple subjects. A few years ago, I added an additional component to the model: Student(Do). 

What is a Student(Do)? It’s where a peer, after initial instruction, models how to answer the question or correct a sentence. To illustrate, I’ll share a sample lesson for Common and Proper Nouns. 

Intro To Common/Proper Nouns

I(Do): 10-12 Minutes

Hook: Common/Proper Noun Song(3-5 Minutes)

To begin the lesson, play a common/proper noun song. It’s great to engage and tap into students with auditory learning styles. Some will think it’s corny…others will sing along.

Intro: Common/Proper Noun Anchor Chart (3-5 minutes)

After catching students attention, project a common/proper noun anchor chart and then introduce the concept. It’s a good idea to have students read the information instead of you to ensure 100 percent participation. (Kids will listen to their peers better than you.)

Model: 1-3 Common/Proper Noun Sentences(3-5 Minutes)

Model identifying if the underlined noun is a common or proper noun. (Give evidence as to why)

Then read the next two sentences aloud and ask them what the underline word is: common or proper. Once you complete this step, you’re ready for the Student(Do).

The Student(Do): 3-5 Minutes

Modeling(Student-Led): 3-5 Sentences

Allow student volunteers to come and model how to identify if the underlined word is common or proper. Make sure that they share they’re evidence to support their answer. This is a Phenomenal time to assess mastery of initial instruction. Even if students are demonstrating for peers, you’re there to clear up any misconceptions.

We(Do): 5-10 Minutes

Guided Practice: Reveal and Answer

Following the Student(Do), you’re ready to move into guided practice. Read out the sentence and ask students to identify if the underlined word is common or proper. Normally, I give students a time limit and decrease as the guided portion of the lesson progresses. 

When it’s time for them to answer, say: Reveal!!! (I typically do voices.)

You(Do): 10-12 Minutes

Independent Practice(Review): One Sentence

One way to make sure that there aren’t any misconceptions is to conduct a You(Do) review is to identify a word in a sentence as common or proper. If 80 percent or more students are correct, move forward. If not, then re-teach or clear up any misunderstandings.

Independent Practice: 4-5 sentences

Have scholars complete 4-5 and identify the underlined word is common or proper. 

Letting students review the final sentences or questions with their classmates is an excellent way to build leaders and increase engagement. (Also, a way to see how students view you as a teacher)

Close out the lesson with an exit ticket to ascertain final mastery.

Utilizing a Student(Do) isn’t an innovative but easy way to foster classroom community and make school inclusive experience.

Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short

Jeremiah Short is a seventh-year teacher who is the author of Phenomenal Intervention: The Playbook and host of The Phenomenal Student Podcast.

Phenomenal Intervention: S.T.A.A.R. Prep

Using A Structured Test Prep Model To Boost Performance

Jeremiah Short


STAAR test performance is critical to student’s confidence and informs accountability for K-12 schools in Texas. This article details the six-week model used to boost performance of scholars at a Title I school in Houston, Texas. To illustrate the structure, I (a) state the purpose for the intervention, (b) explain the interventions utilized over a six week period, and (c) share results of the intervention. 

Keywords: Intervention, S.T.A.A.R., Reading, Data, Test Prep

Intro: Making A Plan

Following a disappointing STAAR Simulation performance, the ELA(English Language Arts) team convened to determine the proper intervention for students in danger of failing the upcoming Reading S.T.A.A.R. test(State Assessment). 

We decided to…

1. Provide 80 minute Intervention for 3rd and 4th Graders

2. Use Assessment Data to Drive the Intervention

3. Method of Intervention Differentiated By Grade Level

I was asked to intervene with 30(Became 29 4th graders) in four different groups. To eliminate “Ability Grouping”, I requested that the groups be collapsed into two groups. 

Purpose of Intervention: Boost Test Performance

Of the 29 students that I’d be providing intervention to for six weeks, 16 failed the S.T.A.A.R. Simulation. My goal was to reduce the 16 to 0 failing the actual S.T.A.A.R., although 8-10 was more realistic. If I “recovered” the requisite number of students, then the actual pass rate for the grade-level would increase from 59 to 80-plus percent. 

Pre-STAAR Prep

Figure 1.1: Daily Skills Tracker

Week 1: Main Idea and Elements of Drama

Evaluating the data from the S.T.A.A.R. Simulation, Main Idea and Elements of Drama were the two TEKS(Standards) where the 4th grade students displayed gaps. 

As a scaffold, I taught Key Details, which is a prerequisite for Main Idea and enhances scholars ability to find Text Evidence, on Day 1 of the intervention. Both groups exhibited varying levels of proficiency with the skill.

On Day 2 of the Intervention, students were introduced to the Elements of Drama(Characters, Dialogue, Acts, Scenes, etc.). Teaching this concept helps scholars analyze Dramatic Literature. Both groups displayed proficiency with the skill. 

Upgrading the rigor, students were shown how to determine the Main Idea of a text and use Key Details to support the Main Idea. I was encouraged that both groups built upon the previously learned skill–Key Details–and combined it with the Main Idea to become proficient. 

With students knowing the necessary skills to analyze, I modeled answering questions and taking notes on a Drama and Main Idea passage.

Friday, the students were given a quiz on Main Idea and Drama.

Skill FocusGroup 1: PerformanceGroup 2: Performance
Day 1: Key Details52.2777.27
Day 2: Elements of Drama76.1586.64
Day 3: Main Idea84.0987.5
Day 4: Drama/Main Idea77.3/65.3880/70
Day 5: Quiz68.4674
Figure 2.1: Week 1 Average score By Group

Week 2: UNRREAL And Author’s Craft

Coupling Test Prep with Skills, I taught students the test prep strategy: UNRREAL.

U:nderline the title and Make A Prediction

N:umber the paragraphs.

R:ead the questions and label them.

R:ead the passage and annotate.

E:liminate Wrong Answers.

A:nswer the question.

L:ook for evidence

I focused on Author’s Craft Skills: Author’s Purpose, Author’s POV, Text Organization, and Persuasive Text. The students displayed a level of proficiency with Author’s POV but struggled with Text Organization and Persuasive Text. Text Organization was a glaring weakness, so I emailed the results to their classroom teachers, in addition to resources for small groups.

Skill FocusGroup 1: PerformanceGroup 2: Performance
Day 1: Author’s Purpose50.756.9
Day 2: Author’s POV60.472.9
Day 3: Persuasive Text59.37556.6
Day 4: Persuasive Text/Text Organization60.41/56.2555/36.66
Day 5: Author’s Craft Quiz63.6155.6
Figure 3.1: Week 2 Average score By Group

Week 3: Text Analysis

In the final Pre-STAAR Prep week, I decided to focus on building comprehension and reader’s response by using Text Analysis. The method of instruction is rigorous but effective.  (Explanation of Text Analysis)

Throughout the week, students used their critical thinking skills. They were primed to begin “Test Prep.”

Skill FocusGroup 1: PerformanceGroup 2: Performance
Day 1: Fiction94.1692.66
Day 2: Persuasive Text84.1689.33
Day 3: Info Text8290.58
Day 4: Quiz5657.76
Figure 4.1: Week 3 Average score By Group

Figure 5.1: Example of Daily TEKS(Standard) Mastery Tracker


Now that the students had acquired the necessary skills, I moved into Test Prep utilizing my self-created structure. It’s intensive but effective.

The Structure

1. Skill Review(15-25 min.): Pre-Teach one key skill. 

2. Lesson Within A Lesson(5-10 min.): Pre-Teach key words, vocabulary, activate or build background knowledge, and one or two minor skills.

3. Daily Passage(30-45 minutes): 6-10 question passage where you model test taking strategies.

4. Exit Ticket(5 min.): Multiple Choice question on daily core skill. 

Week 4: Fiction

Fiction was the focus in week one of Test Prep, which was a short week. I hit on the three core genres: Drama, Realistic Fiction, and Poetry.

I created a bit of competition between the two groups by reviewing and posting data daily. Students cheered when their group did well on specific TEKS and Exit Tickets. 

Genre FocusGroup 1: PassageGroup 1: Exit TicketGroup 2: PassageGroup 1: Exit Ticket
Day 1: Drama90608686
Day 2: Realistic Fiction1008810094
Day 3: Poetry/Paired Passage91557176
Day 4: QuizN/AN/AN/AN/A
Figure 6.1: Daily Passage/Exit Ticket Pass Rate By Group for Week 4

Week 5: Informational Text

In week two of Test Prep, I focused on Informational Text, which is typically the toughest genre for multiple reasons.

1. Requires high-level of background knowledge

2. Heavy on Tier 2 and Tier 3 words

3. Students have to re-read and look back into passages for answers. 

As the week progressed, the students understood the importance of finding and citing their evidence. I embedded it within instruction–as students weren’t allowed to answer without “showing their proof.”

If they showed adequate proof, they were given a reward. After a while, it became a habit, which was my goal.

Genre FocusGroup 1: PassageGroup 1: Exit TicketGroup 2: PassageGroup 1: Exit Ticket
Day 1: Info Text75N/A74N/A
Day 2: Lit. Non-Fiction9283.38478.9
Day 3: Historical Fiction/Paired Passage501005959
Day 4: Info Text9063.68872.2
Figure 7.1: Daily Passage/Exit Ticket Pass Rate By Group for Week 5

Week 6: Paired Passages

Closing out Test Prep, I focused on Paired Passages, which are two passages from different or the same genre. The question set asks students to determine similarities and differences.

Both groups didn’t master the skill but they did show that they were approaching proficiency with the skill.

Test Prep concluded. I was confident that the students would transfer their new skills to the Actual STAAR Test.

Genre FocusGroup 1: PassageGroup 1: Exit TicketGroup 2: PassageGroup 1: Exit Ticket
Day 1: Realistic Fiction831007277.7
Day 2: N/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Day 3: Historical Fiction8358.39589.4
Day 4: Info Text/Paired Passage9191.691N/A
Figure 8.1: Daily Passage/Exit Ticket Pass Rate By Group for Week 6

Results: Benchmark To STAAR 

Overall, the students improved from 45 percent passing the Benchmark to 79 percent passing the STAAR Reading 2022 test. It helped the grade-level improve from 59 percent to 78 percent pass rate with 54 percent Meets/Masters.


  • 6 students improved 30 points 
  • 10 students improved 20 points
  • 15 improved 15 points
  • 5 students Mastered the STAAR
  • One students went from Did Not Meet to Masters
  • Group 1 Improved from 49.66 to 60.41 average score
  • Group 2 improved from 53.76 to 69.76 average score

Limitations of Study

  • Friday assessments were inconsistent
  • Approach varied by grade-level
  • More fidelity needed
  • Not enough synergy with classroom teachers and small groups

Conclusion: My findings weren’t shocking but confirmation of the structure that I developed in my 3rd year of teaching. In this iteration, Pre-STAAR Test Prep was added, to go along with proper administrative support. 

It’s gratifying to help students grow from Did Not Meet to Meets with some Mastery. The Test Prep model gives a blueprint for Test Prep cycles and ensures success on future State Assessments. 

Jeremiah Short, Reading and Writing Interventionist

Up Next: Phenomenal Intervention(The Playbook)

#WisdomWednesday: “Hone Your Skill Set”

Last week, I took part in two training sessions. One on Adobe applications and another strengthening my knowledge of data and how to use it properly. 

Monday, I looked to grow my skills further by attending a Google L1/L2 certification training. I’m pretty good with a few Google Workspace applications(Sheets, Docs, and Drive) but I didn’t know much about utilizing the others productively. 

Also, I thought: Why not? It’s free.

Quickly, I saw the value of the training–as I started to learn about the other Google Apps: Drawing, Forms and Sites. In addition to that, the training facilitator made us aware of Grouping Tabs…a cool little feature. (I actually used the feature that night with a few of my Google Sheets)

By the end of the day, I finished all the Level 1 coursework.

Day 2: Level 2 Coursework

To start the day, I completed the Level 1 certification exam. I passed. Nice little confidence boost. 

Once that was done, I got started on the Level 2 coursework. I made it through all the challenges, although it was a little tasking sitting still for hours on end. I see what the kids are going through. It wasn’t easy but I finished all the coursework.

Later that night, I actually applied some of the newly-learned skills by starting a Google Site for my upcoming resource Phenomenal Intervention: The Playbook.

 Day 3: Google L2 Certification Exam

The day started off on a positive note. I passed the L2 practice exam. So, I felt pretty good about the certification exam. After I registered for it, I took the 35 question test. Then, I submitted. 80 percent was needed to pass. I made a 75…two questions off…boooo.

Disappointed…yes. Deterred…no. I can retake in three days. Not gaining that certification was a reminder that you have to “Hone Your Skill Set.”

Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short