ELA scores up 18 percentage points

This is the intended rigor for the standard, and we can’t back off just because it’s hard. Our kids can do this.

Lindsay Burns
Greensboro, NC
ELA scores up 18 points


At Sedgefield Elementary school in Greensboro, North Carolina, Lindsay Burns’ second-grade students often struggled to understand the main idea and supporting details of passages. Considering the high population of ESL students (10 of 16 students), they “really need the background building . . . that’s powerful for our ESL students,” according to Katrina Daniel, curriculum facilitator. There is no district textbook, and continuously searching for and creating resources herself was too time-consuming, so Ms. Burns used Total Motivation ELA during the 2016–2017 school year to help her address these needs.

Students read from Total Motivation ELA

Ms. Burns’ second-grade students read the week’s reading selection.


Sedgefield does not offer 1-to-1 technology, so Ms. Burns primarily uses the print format of Total Motivation ELA. She spends the early part of the week working through the Reading Selection using the Building Background Knowledge activity for whole group instruction, as outlined in the Teacher Edition (TE). She models a close read of the text with her students by projecting the text on the whiteboard and highlighting key parts of the text to address later in the week.

She also pre-teaches the vocabulary using the Vocabulary Focus provided in the TE to help students move to independent reading later in the week as they progress. “She is very explicit in her teaching,” Ms. Daniel remarks, commenting on how students mark the Student Edition (SE) books using colored markers to address every part of the questions. After students read the Selection in partners, they finally graduate to Independent Practice where she can review their answers for accuracy by assigning the Assessment later in the week.

Total Motivation ELA is even flexible enough for Ms. Burns to start a lesson with small group interventions suggested in the TE. Sometimes, Ms. Daniel points out, “that’s exactly what her students need.”

I used to have to take lots of time finding what I needed … now I can look at the TE and know exactly what I need to do.

Ms. Burns was encouraged when, early in the year, most of her students could read a given week’s selection independently—a major milestone. Then they were starting to answer questions independently and examine the questions prior to answering. “They did an amazing job at this,” she notes. They also began doing a “great job retelling the beginning, middle, and end” of stories. When Ms. Daniel sat down with a struggling reader and asked her to identify the beginning, middle, and end of the story, Ms. Daniel met with a surprising response. “Do you want me to write it or tell you?” the student wanted to know. As she wrote, the student even explained the steps she was following to arrive at her answers!

Student practices reading comprehension.

A second-grade student works independently on an activity in Total Motivation ELA.


Increased Scores

After using Total Motivation ELA 4 hours a week during the 2016–2017 school year, class scores improved by 18 percentage points based on pre- and post-assessments that measured student improvement in standards mastery from October to May. “I have seen tremendous scores from these kids, and that’s very exciting for me,” concludes Ms. Daniel.

Engaged Students

Within weeks of first using Total Motivation ELA, Ms. Burns noticed an unexpected benefit: how much her students love the text selections. Relatable stories about universal topics such as rainbows or pets make building background knowledge easier—especially in a diverse class like hers with cultural barriers. Before Total Motivation ELA, she says her students were “sick of the text in two days.” Total Motivation ELA stories have the staying power to capture their attention because they’re relevant to everyday life. “They’re relating these texts to everything they’re seeing,” says Ms. Burns.

Vocabulary Development

“It’s necessary for a school like ours to have as many different topics to read about as possible,” Principal Michele Simmons explains regarding instruction for ESL students. Ms. Burns’ students learn to identify text features and apply several strategies for unknown words. Ms. Daniel often sees Ms. Burns in the library selecting read-aloud resources from the TE’s recommended literature list, which Ms. Burns says she uses to “build up her lesson.” Ms. Daniel adds, “Deconstructing the standard at the beginning of every unit helps the ESL students especially. There is vocabulary right there to deal with content.” She adds that putting a “research-based resource right in their hands,” allows teachers to “anticipate issues.”

Oral Comprehension

Total Motivation ELA helps the students with oral comprehension questions, such as identifying and recalling character traits from a story. Ms. Daniel assesses the students three times a year. At the January assessment, she noticed that Ms. Burns’ class could now answer correctly in full paragraphs. She also noticed an increased ability to “read a test”—including “very detailed comprehension questions with multi-step answers.”

Flexibility and Quality

“Total Motivation ELA is something teachers can use to supplement or use as their core, but it is flexible enough that they can pull pieces out and supplement what they are already doing,” Ms. Daniel explains. “I’m excited when I walk into a classroom and see lessons that are using this material because I know my kids are getting quality.” Ms. Daniel also likes how Total Motivation ELA links texts with cross-curricular content in history or science. In a Title 1 school like Sedgefield, teaching ELA standards through other content areas helps her “feel we are getting more bang for our buck.”

A Week in the Classroom with Total Motivation ELA

Ms. Burns uses the wealth of instructional strategies and activities in Total Motivation ELA to build confidence and independence among her students, including 10 ESL learners.

Weekly Instructional Plans

Introduce Reading Selection (SE) to whole class using the interactive whiteboard feature. Use the Building Background Knowledge activity (TE), pre-teach vocabulary, and model a close reading by highlighting and talking about the text.

Partner students to read Selection and build comprehension before assigning Independent Practice (SE).

Assign unit assessment to evaluate standard mastery and reading comprehension. Use suggested Intervention activities (TE) to plan for small group instruction as needed.

TE=Teacher Edition / SE=Student Edition