Becky Davis: Literacy Tools Support English Language Acquisition at Samuels Elementary School

For Becky Davis, being a teacher wasn’t what she set out to do in her career. While working as an interior designer, she volunteered weekly in a DPS elementary school classroom. It was there she discovered she had a talent and love for teaching. That was more than six years ago. Becky launched her career in teaching by participating in the Denver Teacher Residency program.

She is now in her third year of teaching third grade at Samuels Elementary School. Becky’s classroom is orderly and her students are respectful of her and one another. Becky attributes the positive atmosphere to the focus on the school’s values. “As a school, we focus on building community and relationships, which really helps set the tone. Our staff and students are uplifted and celebrated and you can tell the kids are happy,” she said. She attributes a large part of that to the way students are valued at Samuels. She shared, “Each year, we start the school year with a celebration of cultures where students wear their native clothing, share food and participate in a parade. Celebrating the unique cultures of students and school values really creates a positive atmosphere for students to learn.”

Working at Samuels is not without its challenges. With more than 30 languages spoken at the school, they have a significant number of second language learners. In Becky’s classroom alone, she has students from Somalia, France, Mali, China, Mexico and Sudan. With a strong focus on literacy, she starts each year assessing every student using Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) — a reading assessment. Becky then uses that data along with Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) progress monitoring to form and adjust reading groups. “DIBELS is a great tool and our books are leveled at DRA, so it aligns well,” she shared.

Using multiple bodies of evidence has made it easy to monitor student progress and make adjustments. “I assess each student regularly; however, for students who are behind grade level, I complete a running record more frequently and enter the data each month,” said Becky. “We have a strong guided reading plan, and combined with rigorous tasks, it helps students continue to improve.”

Becky depends on guided reading and running records to reveal what areas kids need to focus on. “If I read with a student, I can tell right away what area they need help with, whether it’s fluency, comprehension or accuracy, and I can provide instruction to support them in those areas.” Becky is also able to tell at a glance what level her students are at and if they are growing by using a color-coded tracker tool based on the DIBELS assessment which was created by literacy specialist Kira Withrown.

The data collected as part of the literacy body of evidence has been instrumental in helping students move off of READ Act plans. Becky shared how one student in particular has benefited from the individualized instruction she was able to provide as a result of having strong data to work with. “I have one student who missed the majority of second grade. He started the year at an instructional DRA 12; which is first-grade level and his STAR test indicated he was reading at a first-grade reading range, between 1.0 and 2.0 as well,” said Becky. Assessments also revealed that this student had huge gaps in phonics.

He began to make improvements with the help of a targeted guided reading plan and daily interventions with a literacy specialist. “Based on the most recent assessments, he is now reading at an independent DRA 24,” said Becky. And she fully expects by the end of the year he will have achieved one and a half years of growth. “Although he will still be slightly behind, that is significant growth to make in one year. At the beginning of the year, I couldn’t read his writing, and now, he can write a five paragraph essay,” she said.

Becky believes giving kids options for how they learn also contributes to their excitement about learning and growth. “Each day, we have quiet work time we call Choice and Voice, when students can dive into literacy in any way they choose. They can read, research, do a project, type —the only requirement is that they take an Accelerated Reader quiz.”

Samuels was also the first K-5 elementary school in DPS to have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program and lab. Students visit the lab as part of their specials rotations that changes six days, which allows students to dive into hands-on projects and fully explore and apply the concepts they learn.

Becky is convinced she made the right decision to change careers when she sees students achieve success and get excited about learning.

Becky Davis is a third-grade teacher at Samuel Elementary School located in southeast Denver. The principal is Cesar Rivera.
Becky Davis is a third-grade teacher at Samuel Elementary School located in southeast Denver. The principal is Cesar Rivera.