When Talia began fourth grade in September 2020, she often sat through classes with an idle pencil and an untouched worksheet before her. She was neither lazy nor defiant—she simply couldn’t read well enough to do her classwork.
Talia listened attentively in class and did well on tests because Ms. G., a special education teacher, read the questions to her. “All she did was listen, and she would get 100s on every test,” said Ms. G.
The bright, artistically talented student was capable of learning other subjects at her grade level but was below grade level in reading. Although Talia was not diagnosed with a learning disability, the school’s resource room teachers were aware of her situation and had a plan.
The previous summer, Ms. G. had attended a Just Words® workshop to learn how to better serve students like Talia, who need a nudge in the right direction to become successful, independent readers.
Ms. G. immediately began teaching Just Words to a group of three students. Talia studied Just Words three to four times a week for two years. She looked forward to the lessons and applied herself to the work enthusiastically.
The interpersonal aspect of small group and one-on-one instruction was key to Talia’s engagement in Just Words. “I had a good relationship with her,” Ms. G. explained. “She was very excited to do the program.”
When given a choice of beginning English Language Arts (ELA) lessons with Just Words or book time, Talia always chose Just Words. As she advanced through each Unit, Talia began to see the rewards of her hard work, which motivated her further. Ms. G. explained, “She saw herself make such remarkable progress that she was eager to keep working.”
“As we were reading a book in fourth grade, she read a sentence and stopped,” Ms. G. recalled. “She said, ‘I have tears in my eyes. I’m so excited!’”
The pacing of Just Words lessons was just right for Talia. “I found it phenomenal because she started reading multisyllabic words early on, so she did not feel like [the program] was for babies. By the time she reached January of fourth grade, she was reading two-syllable words. She felt like she was reading something substantial.”
Talia’s improvement was rapid. By the end of fifth grade in May 2022, Talia was reading chapter books on her own. The effects of Talia’s progress extended beyond reading class. She began to use her newfound skills in every academic subject. Her pencil was no longer idle during class; Talia was empowered to participate in every aspect of classroom activities.
“Her spelling improved immensely,” Ms. G. explained. “She wasn’t just spelling words correctly during Just Words dictation activities. When I looked at her writing and other classwork, there was carryover.”
By the end of fifth grade, Talia no longer needed someone to read her tests to her.
“It’s amazing to watch how these students can really achieve a lot just by having a teacher guiding them and helping them,” said Ms. G., impressed with Talia’s success.
Ms. G. knows that many struggling readers are capable of academic success. Her advice to schools is to find a program that really works, like Just Words. She also encourages teachers to build positive relationships with their students. A positive teacher-student rapport will improve students’ reception to learning.
Congratulations to Talia on her newfound reading independence!
Learn more about Just Words®: The Just Words program is designed for students in grades 4-12 and adults who have mild to moderate gaps in decoding and spelling but do not require intensive intervention. Is Just Words right for your students? Information about the program can be found on the Just Words page.