Friday, May 23, 2014

So you know that moment....

Katie Garner Secret Stories Reading Professional Development

So you know that moment when you get to meet that person who changed everything for you? Well, it happened to me! My name is Reneé McAnulty and I'm a proud 1st grade teacher at Cottonwood Elementary in Hesperia, California and this is my story...

It all started with me nearly pulling every single hair out of my head!  First, let me start by saying that I am by no means a "new" teacher.  Folks, I have taught in a classroom since I was 16 years old.  I had my own classroom at the age of 18, teaching at a private school, and was hired as a kindergarten teacher at Cottonwood in 2001. I love my job! I love kids.  I love teaching kids to read.

In all my years of teaching, I've never had a class like this year's class.  I was in shock.  I have 24 boys and 9 girls.  Of my 33 kids, 18 of them entered 1st grade far below grade level.  From that group of 18 kids, 6 of them did not know any letter sounds or sight words.  So, I had only 11 kids who could function as first graders...  11!  I didn't know where to start.  What could I do to help these babies learn everything that they needed to know last year and keep the on-grade level kids moving in the right direction, too?  The behavior was out of control in this class.  It took two and a half months to train these kids in Daily 5 and Daily Cafe due to their behavior.

When we finally started to get things under control, I was able to start reading groups, but I was at a loss.  I needed to do something different.  My usual bag of tricks wasn't working and we were all getting frustrated.  I had parents telling me, "Well, in kindergarten my child made it to List 3 and knows how to read 75 sight words."  I would try to explain that regurgitating words from sight cards and seeing them in text were two different things.  When they saw these exact same words in  books, they couldn't read them.  I made it to mid-September and realized that I had to change it up... big time.  I needed to find something that would challenge my high kids, make my grade level kids higher, and push my below-level kids. 

One September day while at a district science meeting, I was on Pinterest searching to find student-friendly science standards and I came across Katie's free 'Cutest-Ever' Science Standard posters.  As I scrolled down, I noticed her link to check out something called Secret Stories.  She included writing samples, and video clips from her classroom. I was blown away with her writing samples!  I pinned the link, and as soon as I walked in my front door I sat down and started to explore.

I couldn't believe what those kids could do!  I watched Katie's YouTube vlogs and was speechless. With tears in my eyes, I ran to my hubby.  I told him my prayers had been answered and that I had found the holy grail of reading/phonics!  Now, my hubby, being the supportive husband that he is, was used to me coming home in tears over this class.  I had spent night after night crying myself to sleep, not knowing what I should do to help these kids.  I had spent hundreds of dollars on units, games, centers and activities, but they were of no use because my class simply wasn't ready for them. Seeing my desperation, yet reluctant to spend $90 on yet another thing for my classroom, he finally agreed to let me get it.  That was the best decision we ever made.  Let me put it this way, if my classroom were on fire, after safely removing all the children from the room, I would grab my "Secret Stories" book and posters!  Out of everything I have EVER bought for my classroom, this program has beyond proven its worth.  It changed everything for me.  

So after ordering it, I couldn't wait for the package to arrive.  In the meantime, I watched everyone of her vlogs on YouTube, read the website from top to bottom, and stalked Katie on Pinterest.  Finally, my package arrived and I was one happy camper!  I read it from cover to cover and told myself that I would try everything.  Whether if it was new, different, or I something that I was unsure of, I was going to do it!  I carried my book around with me everywhere ever I went.  I was determined to learn these stories so I could teach them to my babies.  And I quickly enlisted the help of my amazing hubby to put up my posters. 

Secret Stories Reading Posters

My students instantly became excited about these posters.  They were dying to know what these stories were all about and how they could teach them to read.  And I carried my little book around like it was the Bible.  I would refer to it at least 5 times a day.  I would explain to my kids and parents and anybody who entered our room, that we were trying something new.  That Mrs. Mac was learning right along with the kids.  

Within two weeks, ALL my kids knew all their letter sounds, AND long and short vowels!  My kids started to CRAVE Secret Story time. You could hear a pin drop when I was sharing a secret with them. They were finding Secret Stories everywhere!!!  We couldn't walk into a room without them finding a Secret Story "hiding" in words that they saw.  By December, my kid's DRA reading scores had doubled.  I actually had kids reading above grade level and all of my 0 DRA reading scores disappeared!

One day during Secret Story hour, my AP was doing a walk-through and my students immediately 'shushed' me, begging me to stop telling the Secret Story of "oi and oy."  The AP was not allowed to to hear our 'secret' .....  that was privileged information.  We finally came to an agreement that if  she promised not to tell anyone, she could hear the "Secret Story." And the rest is history.  She was  blown away with how engaged they ALL were during the lesson, and how every student knew the sound for oi /oy, and could easily tell its 'secret!'

She told my principal, who came into my classroom wanting to hear more about this "Secret Story" program.  He, too was just completely blown away with how involved the kids were.  They were obsessed with these stories.

If we had a 'rough' day, and had to miss out on a Secret Story, they cried.  If students had to leave the carpet area because of bad choices and missed out on Secret Story time, they were devastated.  They would beg the other kids (behind my back) to tell them the 'secret' they'd missed.  I couldn't believe it.

By this time, Secret Stories had spread like wild fire.  My principal had asked me to do a mini presentation for our staff and even offered to buy it for all the teachers who were interested.  I'm proud to say that ALL of our teachers from 1st through 5th grade wanted it!  I asked my principal if I could go to one of Katie's conferences, but instead, he brought her to us!  He was able to schedule Katie to come and work with the entire staff for a FULL DAY in-service!  So five weeks ago, I got to meet the person who changed my entire reading philosophy forever, and it was one of the greatest moments of my life! 

My students were just as excited to meet her as I was.  They couldn't wait to meet the lady who taught their teacher how to teach them to read!  They decided to create a handmade Secret Story book for her.  They each chose a Secret Story, wrote about it, and drew a picture to match their writing.

When she walked into our room, my kids literally jumped out of their seats and yelled, "KATIE GARNER!!!!"  which was immediately followed by all 33 of them talking simultaneously, trying to tell her their favorite secrets, as well as all of the other things they were learning about.  She was essentially 'mini-mobbed!'

I am proud to say that I now have a classroom full of readers!  Real readers.  Readers that can spend their time enjoying what they read, not struggling with how to read it.  To put this in concrete form for my little ones, I had each of my students create their own personal growth charts, so that they could see for themselves how far they had come into the world of reading and writing!


I am just so proud of these students and can't wait to share more about our amazing journey!  
                                                         Sincerely,  Reneé McAnulty

A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO RENEE MCANULTY for taking the time to write this post and share all that you do in your classroom with your awesome kiddos! It was such a pleasure getting to visit your classroom! Seeing student gains on a graph is exciting, but nothing beats seeing the what what kids can actually do in real life! 

And I just had to share this pic of Mrs. McAnulty's Secret Stories® book, as she really MUST have carried it around with her everywhere.... as this is how it looked after only TWO MONTHS!  LoL!

Secret Stories® Reading/ Phonics Book

     Until Next Time,

Katie Garner Educational Keynote Speaker Reading Professional Development