Want to help your students to love reading? Enter literacy interventions! Join us in conversation with Amanda Phelps, Assistant Principal of Wayne County High School, to learn more!

Amanda Phelps in Classroom Conversations

Want to help your students to love reading? Enter literacy interventions! Join us in conversation with Amanda Phelps, Assistant Principal of Wayne County High School, to learn more!


Ashley Mengwasser: Hello again. Welcome to Classroom Conversations. If you're an educator or administrator listening in, we're so glad you're here. I'm Ashley Mengwasser, your series speaker, inquisitive interviewer, exclamatory endorser, AKA host. The Classroom Conversations podcast series is presented jointly by the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Classroom Conversations is the platform for Georgia's teachers, and over this season we've happily developed our administrative listenership by featuring episodes on the topic of literacy leadership and we've hosted the vanguard of that effort in our episodes this season, just go back and listen to them. Well, today I've got another foremost literacy leader for you. You know, there are whole careers built on intervening when there is a problem. From my favorite two hyphenated family surnames, Merriam-Webster, the word intervention means to take action on something, to have an effect on its outcome. Firefighters run toward the blaze. Think about it. Epidemiologists go toward an outbreak. Surgeons toward the bleed. Taylor Swift's bodyguards on her 2023 Eras tour toward the screaming fans. In all of these situations we need brave, visionary leaders who will turn and face a challenge head on to affect a better outcome. Well, I've got one of these brave souls here today to discuss today's topic, literacy interventions for grades 4 through 12. It's my guest's 19th year in education and her third as assistant principal of Curriculum and Instruction for Wayne County High School. What does she enjoy most about her job as AP of C&I? Well, she says she still gets to be in classrooms all the time. From Wayne County School District, I welcome to the show Ms. Amanda Phelps. Hi there, Amanda.

Amanda Phelps: Hi, how are you?

Ashley Mengwasser: Good, how are you?

Amanda Phelps: Good.

Ashley Mengwasser: I'm so glad you came. So what is the commute from Wayne County to Atlanta, to our studio?

Amanda Phelps: Okay, so we're in the south, so we talk about commute by hours. So it's about four hours from Jesup to Atlanta.

Ashley Mengwasser: But you spent the night overnight, so you could be here this morning.

Amanda Phelps: I did, yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thank you for that. You had a long drive, but you've had a longer and rewarding career, I would say.

Amanda Phelps: Yes, absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, it's worth it in literacy education. You told me you were an instructional coach for K through five, and then you were a specialized LETRS trainer. LETRS being Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, that's the acronym, and it's the program that teaches literacy skills. How did you get into this line of work in the first place?

Amanda Phelps: Well, in our district, we realized that we had a large number of students who were struggling with reading foundational skills. As a third and fourth grade teacher at the time, I was not prepared from college. While my college was phenomenal, I was not prepared for how to teach phonics and basic reading comprehension skills in third, fourth, fifth grade and higher. So we realized we needed a program of study that would teach teachers about the science of reading and how to figure out why students are not understanding how to read and then how to discover which students were struggling, in what areas they were struggling, and what to do with it. So as I went through the program, I figured out, oh my goodness, this is amazing. This is something that really teaches me how to address the specific needs of our students. So we were given the privilege for some of us to become facilitators and I said, "Count me in," and we kind of went from there.

Ashley Mengwasser: Went from there. Did you always know you wanted to work in education back in your teacher days?

Amanda Phelps: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: You did?

Amanda Phelps: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh my gosh, from a young age?

Amanda Phelps: I did, yes. I had an opportunity as a middle schooler to be a peer mentor to another student.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, middle school.

Amanda Phelps: From then forward, I knew teaching was my thing.

Ashley Mengwasser: We hear that often. I love how easily and how divinely it seems to click in for people. What about your personal and family life? As usual with educators, your personal and professional lives intersect because you have a student in your school who is your child. Doesn't get more personal than that.

Amanda Phelps: That's correct, that's correct. I've been married to my husband for 18 years, and those of us who are in education know that education is a family commitment. All spouses have helped grade papers at some point in time.

Ashley Mengwasser: Really?

Amanda Phelps: Yes or heard our conversations about all the different ways we could use a plate to teach fractions while we're in the grocery store. My husband, of course, is wonderful and has helped with all those things. I have a daughter who's six, and she's in kindergarten this year, and a son who is 14 as a freshman. So I have one child on the entrance.

Ashley Mengwasser: Early learning ages, yeah.

Amanda Phelps: Yes, and one at the beginning of entering school, and one who's a freshman on the cusp of moving into adulthood as he finishes our school career in Wayne County. So it's fun to get to experience that on both ends of the spectrum.

Ashley Mengwasser: That is fun. How does he feel about it, though? How does he feel about mom being in the building?

Amanda Phelps: It depends on the day. Normally he kind of gives me the small wave and is like, "Mom, please don't come in my classroom."

Ashley Mengwasser: The subtle wave.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah, just kind of the guy wave, but he's pretty okay with it.

Ashley Mengwasser: I feel like the guy wave, is that a thing? That needs to be a thing. Let's market this, the guy wave. I know exactly what you meant when you said that. Have you ever had to call him out over the PA speaker at school?

Amanda Phelps: No, I have not, not yet, but I did go into an observation in one of his classrooms not too long ago and his eyes were as big as saucers like, oh my gosh. He gave me the look across the room, mom, do not say anything to me in this classroom.

Ashley Mengwasser: Most students are thinking the assistant principal is here and he's thinking, my mom is here.

Amanda Phelps: That's exactly right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Different experience.

Amanda Phelps: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Do you have any Phelps family traditions when it comes to literacy? I know you say your husband's been involved in supporting your career of course, and I'm sure that your literacy work kind of bleeds into the home.

Amanda Phelps: It does. Our family, all four of us are very avid readers. My daughter and I like to read picture books and novels in the traditional sense of reading. My husband and son are more nontraditional readers with researching articles on sports or sciences or social sciences, but I think my favorite tradition in our family revolves around Christmas. So as we get closer to Christmas, we start bringing out the picture books that everyone knows about that we like to read as we lead up to it. But on Christmas Eve, after we've gone to our candlelight service and we've had our finger foods that we eat at home and watched our movies, we all come together in the living room, and my husband sits in his chair and my daughter climbs into his lap, and my son sits on the edge of the chair, and we go through and we sit together as a family and we read all these Christmas stories. We read Twas the Night Before Christmas and How the Grinch stole Christmas, and there's a little story called Snowmen at Night that's really cute. We read-

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, I don't know that one, Snowmen at Night.

Amanda Phelps: Oh yeah, it's a good one. Yeah, it's not really Christmas-related. It's more winter-related, but it's a lot of fun. We read Luke Chapter 2 from the Bible and we just have that time to sit together as a family and really think about, through the literature that we've read, the meaning of Christmas and what it's really about. It's a beautiful time that I hope my children will go back and share it with their children. It's just-

Ashley Mengwasser: Carry that torch.

Amanda Phelps: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: That is such a cozy tradition.

Amanda Phelps: It's so much fun.

Ashley Mengwasser: I'm glad I asked you that. Amanda, or Ms. Phelps as your students call you, you're great at the three L's. You're a great listener, I loved chatting with you when we first met on the phone. You're great listener, you're great at literacy, and you are great at the LETRS program. You told me LETRS, L-E-T-R-S, truly changed the way that you train. How is that?

Amanda Phelps: It did. Before we started looking at LETRS, we used more of a balanced literacy approach, which was a way to kind of delve into comprehension and kind of learn as you do. But LETRS told us that you really need to approach it from a foundational perspective, kind of like playing a basketball game. You can have a player that jumps into the game and immediately starts playing, and you're having to teach them as you go through the process and they're just trying to figure it out. But LETRS showed us that we really need to teach those skills, how to dribble, then how to pass the ball. In literacy terms, how do we understand letters? Letters as an L-E-T-T-E-R-S. How do we understand symbols and language, and how does the brain absorb that and how does it process it? How do we teach students to use basic phonics skills and decoding and fluency, and all those nuances that go with the language, that buildup so that when they go and start comprehending texts and really trying to read, or as if they were going into the basketball game, they already have the skills and knowledge they need to be more successful.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. To continue your metaphor, the game's important, but the skills are what make the win.

Amanda Phelps: That's exactly right, absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: You're looking at each disparate skill, I think that's really good. Well, let's talk about high schoolers. Now that you're assistant principal, Wayne County High School, any aha moments about high school students, things you've realized about them?

Amanda Phelps: I think the most important thing that I've realized about high school students is that, and this is going to sound crazy, but they are people. They're not just kids, they are individuals who want to be respected. They want to be mature, they want to be adults, and they want to be spoken to as an adult, but they have this lack of experience. So they're really right there on the edge. They want to be adults, but sometimes they don't quite know how. So we as leaders get an opportunity to really teach them life skills. So when we're dealing with discipline with a student, we really get a chance to say all right, "Why did this go wrong? What happened in your situation?' When we talk to them with respect and say, "Listen, I'm not here to yell at you or anything, I just want us to figure out what's going on here and how we can get you in a better place," of course there has to be discipline, but students respond so well to being respected.

Ashley Mengwasser: They just want to be heard.

Amanda Phelps: They want to be heard, and they want to be listened to, and they want to have an opportunity to express themselves. Most of the time, when they have that moment to get it out of their system, you can just watch their body deescalate and just the tension relaxes most of the time, not all the time. But most of the time, through that, you also get the opportunity to build those relationships with the kids.

Ashley Mengwasser: Do they take something away from that interaction with you? Can they self-reflect and move ahead and make change in their own lives?

Amanda Phelps: Most of the time. It's never perfect. Sometimes it takes multiple times to fail and have to learn again. We have a really amazing administrative team. There are four of us as assistant principals, because we have over 1,400 students in the school.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh wow, big school.

Amanda Phelps: We have one principal. So between the four of us as assistant principals and the principal, there's somebody that has a connection with almost all the students in the building and those relationships that we get to build. So it's really a lot of fun, we have a great time

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, that matters, building those relationships. Tell us about your school story, particularly a little bit more about the literacy story there. You mentioned it in the beginning.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah, of course. So like all or most high schools, when we begin our journey, we addressed literacy or interventions... Let's talk about that first. We addressed interventions through academic performance, behavior or discipline, and course completion. That worked and it was a great thing, but we decided we really need to look at the root of a problem. Our principal is amazing and really tries to delve into what's really causing problems within our building when it comes to literacy and how do we fix it instead of just put a band-aid on it. So we said, "Well, you know what? We're seeing data that says our students are struggling with standards-based misunderstandings." So then we approached it that way and said, "Okay, let's look at standards-based review and remediation with our students." But as we began to look more closely at our data and talk to the teachers and really see what was going on, we realized we had a much deeper concern, particularly with a specific group of students when we realized they did not have foundational reading skills. So for me, coming from an elementary background, I'm like, yes, I know what to do with this.

Ashley Mengwasser: I know what to do here.

Amanda Phelps: Yes. But for the typical high school teacher, when you say, "Hey, we're going to teach phonics to our students," they are thinking-

Ashley Mengwasser: What?

Amanda Phelps: What? I don't even know what that is. Which our teachers are amazing, but we had to really go back and completely regroup. So what we did was we began to look at the eighth grade students coming up before they even entered high school and we looked at their reading diagnostic data. We used the i-Ready program for diagnostics and STAR reading assessments coming into high school and we said, "All right, where are they scoring here?" Then we strategically placed them in intervention classes with teachers, well these are regular ninth grade lit classes, but we placed them in classes that had intervention teachers that were trained in LETRS. So we have block scheduling, which means we have four, 90-minute blocks per semester, and they complete a whole course in a semester. The next semester they move on to another set of four, 90-minute classes. But we scheduled and we planned our ninth grade lit class to be a support year-long course. So these students that we found out had these most intensive deficiencies in reading, we strategically placed them in these classes and we said, "If we can target ninth graders and really fill in those gaps and kind of clear up those misunderstandings in foundational reading skills before they move forward, then as 10th, 11th, and 12th graders, we can continue looking at academics, behavior, and course completion."

Ashley Mengwasser: But not until-

Amanda Phelps: But not until, that's right, not until we shored up those reading deficiencies. So we strategically placed them, we decided we're going to focus on ninth grade students for reading literacy interventions. Then once they got into those courses, we began doing additional diagnostic testing and we looked at the Dibbles Fluency Test and said, "All right, which ones of our students are struggling with basic fluency?" We delved a little deeper and said, "Okay, well let's look at the STAR reading Comprehension Test again after the summer slide and get a real true baseline for where they are now." We also completed the Informal Decoding Inventory, which helps us analyze and see what phonics skills our students were struggling in. Did they know all the seven syllable types plus schwa? Could they break apart and read multi-syllabic words? From there, if we needed to, we continued backwards in testing, and I don't want to say backwards in a negative way, but moved into a little bit lower level testing to see if we needed to go back to possibly an Informal Phonics Inventory, which amazingly enough we found out we did have to do on several students. We even had to back up for a couple more students and give the PAST assessment, which is the Phonemic Awareness Screening Test, because we realized we had some students that came up that not were not comfortable with basic letter sounds in words, initial sounds, medial sounds, and ending sounds. Then from there, once we found the root of the problem for each of these students, we were able to plan interventions moving forward to meet those needs. So it's been a process and it's been a couple of opportunities where we've had to stop midstream and say, "Whoa, this is not working quite the way we wanted. Let's make some course corrections and adjustments and move forward." But we've got a plan in place now where we're really beginning to see a lot of student growth and it's a beautiful thing.

Ashley Mengwasser: It sounds like this process, you said it is a process and it's iterative, you've got to go back and try some things and then keep them moving ahead, and if you lose one person, go back a little earlier and get them on board, on the ship. I feel like this must promote a real unity in the school. You said you have such great administration and your principal. You told me a great story about the culture at Wayne County High School that involves the principal. Would you share that with our audience?

Amanda Phelps: I'm trying to remember which story we talked about.

Ashley Mengwasser: Something about the announcements.

Amanda Phelps: Oh yes, okay.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love this.

Amanda Phelps: So, Wayne County is strong in what we call Yellow Jacket Pride. We are the Wayne County Yellow Jackets, that's our school-

Ashley Mengwasser: Mascot.

Amanda Phelps: Mascot, yes. So we have five elementary schools, two middle, and one high school. So all the students in the county at some point in time funnel through Wayne County High School.

Ashley Mengwasser: They swarm in.

Amanda Phelps: They swarm in. So every day our principal, and like I said, he's amazing, he reads the morning announcements because he wants the students to be able to hear his voice and make that connection, and goes back through the rules again. He always ends with, "It's a good day to have a good day, it's a great day to be a Yellow Jacket, and as always, go Jackets." So what's funny is I'll be walking down the hallways, going to see a class or talk to a teacher or check on something, and I'll hear kids walking down the hallway beside me and they're whispering those last few things together, "And as always, go Jackets."

Ashley Mengwasser: Go Jackets, go Jackets.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah, and so you've got that sense of the Yellow Jacket pride in there, and it's really cool because that sense of pride also filters out into the community. So we have citizens in the community and generations of Yellow Jackets who come in and they support our athletics and academics. We've got kids in the elementary and middle settings that come to our high school and they watch plays and they participate in camps because they all want to be like the high school students. We have high school students that go to the elementary schools and out into the communities and they read books to kids and they go do service projects.

Ashley Mengwasser: Go Jackets resonates with me. I also think about if you do have students who are going back to review their phonemic awareness or they're taking some of these inventories and kind of working on that, they master that test, that's a go Jackets.

Amanda Phelps: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: You did it. I feel like that could kind of help pull students up by their bootstraps. As we're thinking about how your students are reacting to these types of literacy interventions, even the name of the course, Lit Support, is there any piece of them that you see from within the students receiving the support that is self-conscious, or even from their peers? Is there anything they're getting feedback-wise in their environment that makes them feel less than for being in this sort of an support capacity with their reading?

Amanda Phelps: Initially, we do have students that will say, "Oh, I'm in Lit Support, this is yearlong. It's taking away from an opportunity, I think, to participate in one of my other electives."

Ashley Mengwasser: Something else.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah, and when it says support, the title of it kind of throws kids on occasion. But we really don't have a lot of students that antagonize other students because of that, that's just really not a big part of our culture. Our teachers work so hard to talk to students about, "Okay, listen," and this is a one-on-one conversation they'll have with students, not necessarily in front of the whole class, but I told you earlier that they're very real with the kids and they will sit one-on-one with a student if a student is struggling with being in this class and say, "All right, remember what we talked about with your goal? This is what your diagnostic data showed us, that you have this reading concern. Buddy, if you want to not be in this class anymore, let me help you. Let's work together and let's get you to a place where you're reading more confidently." What we've seen is that that builds a sense of motivation in students. It also-

Ashley Mengwasser: And agency.

Amanda Phelps: Yes, it does. They want to get better. They want to get better anyways, but for those that don't want to be in that class, they want to get better so they cannot have to necessarily be in a support class. What we also see is the students helping each other in those classes, so it builds this sense of collective efficacy within the classroom, which we know research tells us that collective efficacy builds self-efficacy.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow, I would think it would be the opposite.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah, right? But it really does, and we've seen it in our classrooms and our teachers kind of help motivate students and say, "All right, remember you said earlier you want to get out of this class? Man, I need you to focus. Let's get this done." They're like, "Yeah, I got it," most of the time. They are teenagers.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love the caveat from the assistant principal.

Amanda Phelps: They are teenagers. Well, that's life. But overall, they really dive into it and want to do better.

Ashley Mengwasser: We're going to talk about the word interventions and some more of the ones that you have just kind of taken us through during this episode. But the word itself, interventions, can sound maybe a little vague if we don't know exactly what mechanisms we're referring to, but could you just start us with the definition? What kinds of approaches or what do we mean when we say interventions in a school setting when we're talking about literacy?

Amanda Phelps: When we say interventions, we are meaning providing what each student needs in order to be successful. For intervention purposes, most of the time that comes down to a gap in understanding. So whether it's a gap in literacy understanding, like a foundational reading skill that we talked about before, or even if it's something that is standards-based, that we see the teachers are teaching main and details and we realize, oh my goodness, this student does not necessarily understand this, how to find a supporting detail that's non-extraneous, then that would be an intervention that we provide. From an administrative level, we focus our interventions primarily on those foundational skills we talk about.

Ashley Mengwasser: I got you, okay. What kind of training have your intervention teachers received to address the needs of struggling students?

Amanda Phelps: Each of our intervention teachers have been through LETRS training, and we talked about that just a few minutes ago, where it's focused in the science of reading. So, one of the things we pull from that training a lot that we talk about is Scarborough's Reading Rope, and Scarborough's Reading Rope tells us the different levels and different skills that students have to be able to perform and effectively mentally complete in order to be skilled readers. So in our intervention program at the high school, and in the middle and elementary for that matter, one of the things that we start with is that bottom level of Scarborough's Reading Rope where we look at decoding, and phonics, and phonemic awareness, and those words skills because we know that's the foundation that they need in order to move into the higher level of Scarborough's Reading Rope, where we can then work on building their background knowledge and their comprehension and understanding, building those tier two and tier three vocabulary words, looking at syntax in texts and being able to move forward that way. We know from Scarborough's Reading Rope and our work in LETRS training, that we have to be able to address all these things, both elements of that research, for our students to be skilled and effective, not just in school and in high school, but as effective citizens. We want them to be able to go out into the community and be able to read a newspaper or read an article on their phones.

Ashley Mengwasser: On their devices, exactly. I knew where you were going with that.

Amanda Phelps: There you go.

Ashley Mengwasser: How have these interventions and what your teachers are doing with students created then a safe space for literacy learning with high schoolers?

Amanda Phelps: I would attribute 100% of this to the dynamic teachers in those classrooms. They have an open classroom mindset, so students know that if they're struggling in reading in let's say their biology class, they can come to their reading intervention, their ninth grade lit teacher, and they can talk to them about it. It's just that open environment that they can come to their teacher with whatever reading deficiency they're having across the building. The teachers also maintain a growth mindset with the kids. So they are very real with their students at the beginning of the year. They take the diagnostic data and they sit down with the students and say, "This is where you are right now, and we know that you have the potential to grow, so here's what I'm going to do to help you. I'm going to help provide these interventions. What are you going to do as a person who's almost an adult?"

Ashley Mengwasser: Almost an adult and wants to be treated like one.

Amanda Phelps: That's exactly right. So they set goals with the students and they say, "Okay, so where do you want to be when we do our next diagnostic or where do you want to be when we do our next progress monitoring?" After they complete those interventions and they have that next piece of data, they sit down with them again and say, "All right, did we make the growth that we wanted to make? Why or why not? How are we going to keep growing?" Most of the time it's celebrations, and they see a lot of growth very quickly at the beginning because they're shoring up little skills that they need to complete, but they kind of hit a little bit of a rut normally towards the middle of the semester because now they're getting to the point where it's a little bit harder to make that growth. So they have those positive conversations and celebrations with their students and say, "Hey, listen, I am so proud of you. Don't stop. Don't give up. Let's keep going. Stay with me and we're going to get you there." They provide a lot of and routine, which helps the students feel safe in that positive learning environment. I think the most important thing that they do in building these relationships with students is they maintain high expectations for these children. A lot of times that kind of goes against the grain for what we naturally would think, that if people are struggling, you want to kind of lower the bar a little bit so that-

Ashley Mengwasser: Take off the pressure, ease up.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah, but that's not how they work, and it's a great thing because they provide these high levels of expectations, but they also provide high levels of support. So they're helping the students reach that high level of success. As the students reach success, they begin slowly pulling back on those scaffolding and those levels of support, so it's almost like the learners are being able to stand on their own legs.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, leave the hive.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah, absolutely, and so the students trust that.

Ashley Mengwasser: They trust it. How are they reacting to this? I mean, you told me exactly that they know what mechanisms are in place, they can go to their teachers, their support. Does this culture of fear around this, or is there ever a fear of failure if they feel like they're behind with reading that can melt away as a result of this approach?

Amanda Phelps: There is a sense of hesitancy more so than fear for our students when they come into their ninth grade Lit Support class and the teachers sit down. Like I said, they're very real with the students and they say, "Listen, this is where you are, buddy."

Ashley Mengwasser: This is Lit Support.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah. "You're here because we want to help you and you have some gaps in your understanding." So there is that sense of hesitancy, but over time, being able to build those relationships with the teachers, they really begin buying into the process. Our teachers have found high interest, low Lexile level texts, so the students in the high school don't feel like, oh my goodness, I'm looking at something from an elementary school student. I will say, that was one of our big failures to start off with, and I will own a lot of that because I told you earlier, whenever we saw these deficiencies, I was like, yes, I know what to do with this.

Ashley Mengwasser: Elementary.

Amanda Phelps: Let me bring in some elementary stuff. The skills we brought in were great and they fit the need, but the resources we brought in were very immature for our high school students. That's where we had to say, "Okay, wait a minute. These skills are great, but we are losing these high schoolers." So, we found those high-interest, low Lexile texts. We began using multi-syllabic tier two words, those are words that students will see across multiple contents, that they will see a lot, and used those when we started practicing decoding. We would have students come back and the teachers would tell me, "Oh my gosh, this kid came back to me and they're so excited because they saw a word that we decoded today in their biology and they knew the answer, and they were able to raise their hand and confidently communicate in their biology class because of what they had done in ninth grade lit." Those are things that warm my heart, that we're really building capacity in our kids and in our teachers from these interventions.

Ashley Mengwasser: It underscores the significance of this learning because it is applied. They see it in their texts in the upper grades, that's wonderful. What is the multi-tier system of support, MTSS, process that your school uses to place high school students in a given intervention? How do you go about that?

Amanda Phelps: That's a great question. So our multi-tier system of support process is kind of a little bit like what we talked about earlier. We start with the end of year eighth grade data and we look at the students that they've identified and we take that... Let's talk literacy, particularly. We take that comprehension data from their STAR Reading Assessment and their i-Ready Reading Diagnostic, and we strategically place them in those classes. Then again, we go back through, and we test them again at the beginning of the year in the Informal Decoding Inventory, Dibbles Fluency Assessment, and STAR Reading Comprehension again, just again to make sure we fill in and see where they are as they come in our building. Then for the students who are more intensive, that need more intensive intervention, we place them in one of our year-long support classes where that first semester all they look at and all they work on are basic reading interventions for decoding fluency, comprehension, phonics, phonemic awareness. That's all they do with a little bit of work in our Power Standards that are vertical across the reading curriculum and reading standards for the state of Georgia, like main idea and detail, inferencing, identifying theme and mood, those that they need to have already in place as they move into the regular ninth grade lit curriculum second semester. We have another ninth grade Lit Support class that's a little bit higher level that still does some work with basic foundational skills, but that class is more intended to be heavy on those Power Standards, main idea, detail, writing, inferencing, those skills, and a little less heavy on the basic foundational skills. Then we have our traditional, regular ninth grade lit class that are for our tier one students or maybe those students that just need consultative check-ins. We really try to strategically place them in a class where they can get the most support based on whatever that individual student needs.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right, so that is a class, it's not an after-school program. It happens during the school day, so it is supporting and undergirding their learning.

Amanda Phelps: Correct, yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Very good, that makes sense. Okay, you've told us some amazing things today, Amanda, that the process of intervention and literacy is intensive. There's a lot of work, it's intensive, it's iterative. I'm trying to think of what other I words I can come up with, but it's also illuminating because with that data, you're able to place them exactly where they need to be on the path so that they can get caught up. What advice do you have for other high or middle schools later in their learning of reading for developing literacy interventions because these are older students? What do you have advice?

Amanda Phelps: One piece of advice that we have been through and have learned from experience is to make sure when you're developing your intervention and your program, that you look at the root of the problem. What is truly the problem in your literacy capacity within your building and your students? We have great tier one teaching best practices across the state of Georgia, but so many times we have these great practices that our teachers are teaching their heart out, but they're not addressing what the student actually needs at that moment. We have teachers that are teaching all about inferencing, but the student can't read. So the first thing that I would suggest is to make sure that you, as you're developing your program, you have processes in place to find out what the true need of each individual student is. The second thing that I would suggest is to make sure, just like we said a moment ago, that your interventions match the need. As you're training your teachers on those interventions, make sure that it's an ongoing process. We noticed that for a while we would try this skill or try this practice, and part of my fault as a new administrator was I didn't follow up as much on it. I found one my teachers later that said, "I just don't know what I'm doing." I was like, "Oh, wait, we have this great strategy. Yeah, you got it, girl." She's like, "No, I don't. I don't."

Ashley Mengwasser: I don't got it.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah, I don't got it. So make sure to provide ongoing professional development and practice for your teachers that are in this intervention process. I think the third thing that I would really suggest is to complete that plan, do, check, act model where you plan your program, you plan your interventions and your diagnostic, then you enact it, of course.

Ashley Mengwasser: Do.

Amanda Phelps: Do it. Then don't forget to stop and check periodically and look back and say, "What is our data telling us? Are our students learning? Is this program effective? Are the interventions we are using moving students?" I can tell you from our experience, our first year that we were trying all this stuff out, we went a little too far before we stopped and checked, and we looked back and said, "Okay, that's great. Our students are growing, but they're not growing as much as we thought." So go ahead and plan those pulse checks in the middle of your process and your year to make sure that you can see that it's all moving effectively and you're growing students. That's what it's all about. Then if there needs to be course corrections in the middle, make those course corrections and act on those changes, because at the heart of everything we do, it's all about student achievement and making sure that we're building students' capacity to be effective citizens through their ability to read and comprehend. So we want to make sure that we go back and check and make sure that everything's moving effectively.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right, reading leads to effective citizens.

Amanda Phelps: Yeah, it really does.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, no more poetic words to end on than that. Thank you so much, Amanda. You are a firefighter, an epidemiologist, a surgeon, and a Taylor Swift bodyguard all rolled into one.

Amanda Phelps: Thanks.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thanks for being here today.

Amanda Phelps: It's been a pleasure.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thank you for being on the front line of literacy education for our leaders listening, making waves to improve literacy in Georgia. You're a great leader. If you're working with students one-on-one in the classroom on this, you're a great teacher, we believe it. I think we need the wise words of a boxer right now. How about float like a butterfly, sting like a yellow jacket, to quote Muhammad Ali and adapt him? I'm Ashley. Goodbye for now. We're back soon with more enriching education topics on Classroom Conversations. Goodbye. Funding for classroom conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.