Ari Smith | Reading Specialist, Cohort 2

1. How has the reading specialist certification program impacted your practice? Or has it impacted your practice?

The Reading Specialist Certification program has definitely already impacted my practice. It has helped me to be more conscious of my work with students, and ultimately make instruction more targeted. Before, I might have just said that a scholar cannot read. Now, I am able to dig deeper into what it means that a child “can’t read”, and more specifically, why that might be the case. Is it because of a fluency struggle, a decoding deficit, or possibly because of their processing ability? I can now better target students and serve them by giving them exactly what they need. Even in my work with teachers, I feel more prepared to empower them in their classrooms and make those informed decisions with research-based strategies.

2. How has being able to pinpoint and target student deficits made you feel?

It seems like a lot of the time, reading has been framed as this mystery. A teacher is able to identify that a child is struggling to comprehend or write, but beyond pulling them in a small group, we don’t really know what is happening. My new learning has demystified literacy, which has made me feel more productive, effective, and that my work is more meaningful. I became a teacher to help children learn how to read and be successful adults. I feel like now I am actually able to fulfill that in a more constructive and fruitful way.

3. What do you find most valuable about your experience in the Reading Specialist program?

The combination of classes and practice has been incredibly valuable. The opportunity to go through the LETRs component online has been enlightening, but then we’re also pairing that with time spent discussing and diving in deeper to new knowledge. My peers and I complete a portfolio piece as well, which is taken back to our practice to implement. Chunking pieces of what I’m learning in the portfolio and implementing it in real time has made my practice that much more effective. 

4. Can you share an anecdote of how your Reading Specialist experience has impacted teacher outcomes? 

I have been able to take teachers’ learning a step further in our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). It is easy to get stuck in a cycle during these where there are protocols for looking at student work, data, and deliberate practice. These are good and beneficial, but I’ve been able to push teacher thinking by putting our new learning about research back on teachers. I challenge them by saying, “We talked about Scarborough’s Rope last week, I want you to point out where this lives in your classroom work.” I am able to help teachers make those connections before even looking at their practice or the data. Teachers are proactively making those research-based connections now, which is ultimately pushing student learning forward. 

5. What would you say to someone considering the Reading Specialist program?

The sooner you do it the better. While there is progress in Tennessee, teachers need to be equipped with this knowledge in order to really change the outcome for our students. We truly need to get to the root of what it means to teach reading, and the Reading Specialist program does just that. Once in the program, I’d encourage the next cohort to always be thinking about how they can apply their new learning to their craft. If you join the Reading Specialist program, know that the feedback and learning you acquire will be deeply beneficial to your students in the end.

Ari Smith is in her 9th year as an educator in Memphis. Ari Smith is a current Reading Specialist in Cohort 2 with the goal of graduating in the summer of 2023. She is an ELA Instructional Coach at Power Center Academy Elementary School Southeast and has been serving there for four years.