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Teacher Success: Rising Above the Challenges

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The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) Level I Certification is an intensive professional learning program designed to prepare teachers to effectively implement WRS Steps 1–6 with students who are reading and spelling significantly below grade level, as well as those diagnosed with a language-based learning disability, such as dyslexia. Paul Nichols can tell you that the program requires a commitment of time, preparation, and energy but is well worth the effort.

Paul was hired to teach in a school resource room designed for students with moderate learning disabilities, but realized that he didn’t truly know how to explicitly teach reading. He wanted to best serve his students by improving his reading instruction while gaining in-demand career skills with quality professional training. When his school offered to send him to WRS Level I Certification training in 2021, he jumped at the chance to dive into the world of multisensory structured language (MSL) instruction.

As many educators will understand, his days were full and began quite early, but he was determined to get the most out of the one-on-one training experience. He and his trainer, Deb Hillemeir, worked together virtually, logging in for their regular meetings at 7 am.

Deb said, “I was fortunate that I was in the position that I had retired the previous June. My availability was very flexible. He arrived early to the building every day, just like I did when I was teaching. We both enjoy coming to school before the students and having that time to prepare.”

Paul felt comfortable asking questions and seeking clarification. Deb immediately noticed that some of Paul’s strongest traits were “thoroughness, attention to detail, and wanting to always do his best.”

These strengths would serve him well as he encountered the challenges and victories of his WRS Level I Certification practicum. Finding the right practicum student is one of the first tasks a WRS certification candidate faces. As Deb explained, it’s tempting for teachers to want to help the students who have the most difficulty and are the furthest behind. However, a practicum student needs to meet specific criteria; this allows each certification candidate to have a similar starting point.

“I’m that much better of a reading teacher because of [WRS Level 1 Certification]. Even though it was stressful at times, it was completely worth it.”

Paul Nichols, Level I Certified Teacher

Practicum students must be in grades 4–12 with average cognitive ability and reading between the 5th and 30th percentiles with a minimum reading score of 2.0. In addition, a practicum student should:

  • have poor decoding and encoding skills with a listening comprehension ability that’s higher than their independent reading ability
  • be new to Wilson programs
  • have consistent attendance and no overriding emotional or behavioral issues
  • have time to receive two full WRS lessons per week

After testing several students who didn’t meet the criteria, Paul identified a fourth grader who met a sufficient number of the criteria. Once testing and school records confirmed the student’s appropriateness for WRS, he and Paul began their lessons.

“Paul is an extremely thorough and conscientious teacher. That’s what makes him an excellent Wilson Reading System teacher,” Deb said.

As Paul continued to work with his student, he faced a challenge in his WRS Certification practicum: pacing.

“It isn’t uncommon for pacing and progression through the WRS program to be challenging for teachers who are learning WRS,” Deb explained. “Our collaborative focus was on learning to diagnostically monitor his student’s understanding of new language concepts for reading and spelling, and understanding his student’s trouble spots that need ongoing review.”

Paul kept a sticky note that reminded him to consider, “Is it a trouble spot, or does my student not understand the concept?”

Although his practicum student moved successfully through each substep, the pace was slower than Paul expected. Nevertheless, the pair persevered, meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes after school most days and during summer school.

“I applaud my student because I can’t imagine how hard it was for him to do all this after a full day of school.” Paul said, “It benefited both of us even though it was hard for him at times.”

At the beginning of WRS instruction, Paul’s student was reading at the first-grade level. After eleven months of hard work, the student was reading on the cusp of the third-grade level. The improvement was unmistakable; the practicum had been a success for both of them. 

“I wanted it, and I knew it would make me a better teacher,” Paul said.

Paul is glad he continued his WRS Level I Certification practicum even when it was difficult. He added, “I’m that much better of a reading teacher because of it. Even though it was stressful at times, it was completely worth it.”

Paul, who works with students in both reading and math, quickly applied what he learned in his WRS training in his classroom. “I’m doing WRS with every single one of my students who needs support in reading on their IEP, every single day. It’s been wonderful,” he said. “Using WRS, it’s been so much easier to plan where I go next in lessons, what concept I’m teaching next.”

To other teachers working through WRS Level I Certification, Paul says, “Keep pushing through.”

Deb, a Wilson® Credentialed Trainer (W.C.T.), found her experience working with Paul to be invaluable.

“As a teacher, you always learn the most from your students,” she said. “I learned so much as a Trainer working with Paul, meeting adults where they need to be, and connecting with them. I feel like it was a great experience for both of us.”

Congratulations to both Paul and Deb on a job well done!