Sustaining and Expanding a K–2 Reading Initiative: Differentiated Instruction Through Classroom Learning Stations—Shallowater Elementary


Shallowater Elementary School (PreK–1)
Shallowater Independent School District 

Shallowater Elementary School (SES) serves a student population (total = 267) that is 38% Hispanic, 62% White, 52% economically disadvantaged, 5% Limited English Proficient (LEP), and 33% at-risk.

The percentage of SES Grade 1 students performing at the “Developed” level on the end-of-year Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) increased from 57% in 2004–05 to 73% in 2008–09. Staff reported that consistently high performance on Grade 3 reading TAKS at the district’s intermediate campus was additional evidence of program success (see Supporting Evidence for more information).

Based on high quality implementation of the Reading First (RF) initiative and high student performance outcomes, the campus was identified as a Reading First demonstration site grantee in 2009–10.

In this summary, find out how the campus:

  • Implemented key components of the RF initiative
  • Developed classroom learning stations to provide daily, tailored differentiated instruction
  • Supported staffing, professional development, and collaboration to sustain the initiative

Strategies that are aligned with research-based best practices in early reading and literacy instruction include (see Research Base for more information):

  • Integrating systematic instruction and progress monitoring of key literacy strategies, including phonics instruction, fluency, guided reading, vocabulary instruction, and writing practice
  • Screening students regularly for reading difficulty and monitoring those students “at risk” of developing reading difficulties
  • Implementing tiered interventions that provide differentiated in-class instruction for students at Tier I, frequent and systematic small group instruction and progress monitoring on foundation skills for students requiring Tier 2, and daily intensive supplemental support for students identified for Tier 3 interventions.
  • Providing professional development that helps teachers understand the course of literacy development
  • Use of specialists in providing interventions



  • SES serves Grades PreK–1. Grades 2–4 are served by the district’s intermediate campus, Shallowater Intermediate School (SIS).
  • In conjunction with the intermediate campus, SES received a Reading First (RF) grant in 2003–04 based on students’ 2001–02 Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) reading performance. Administered in Texas through the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in coordination with four additional university/agency partners, the RF grant program was designed to provide focused, data-driven professional development and site-specific technical assistance to local education agencies. Key components included leadership, assessment, fidelity to core instructional programs, interventions, tiered instruction, reporting and accountability, and sustainability (for details, see
  • In 2009–10, SES was identified by UT System’s Institute for Public School Initiatives as one of 16 model reading demonstration sites across the state and was awarded a non-competitive $300,000 Capacity Building and Demonstration Sites in Reading grant. Campuses that had previously received RF grants were selected to serve as demonstration sites based on high student achievement, fidelity of implementation, use of scientifically based reading research in instruction, and implementation of systems using and analyzing data to plan instruction. 

Demographics (2008-09)

Source: Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS)

Accountability Rating:
Recognized (2009–10)

Implementation Highlights: 
   Implementation Highlights: 2003-05 Initial Reading First training and implementation; 2005-07 Data meetings, differentiated learning stations; 2009-10 Demonstration site grant, technology enhancements, dissemination


Implementation of key components of the Reading First (RF) initiative 

  • Through the RF grant, the campus hired a reading coach to serve both the elementary and intermediate campuses. Additionally, SES already had a reading interventionist, who supported grant implementation. As part of RF, staff participated in professional development and purchased computers for reading classrooms (approximately two per classroom).
  • The district chose a core reading program based on criteria identified in A consumer’s guide to analyzing a core reading program, grades K-3: A critical elements analysis (2006) from the Center on Teaching and Learning, College of Education, University of Oregon (for details, see A team composed of reading teachers for Grades K–3, the reading coach, the district assistant superintendent, and the principal reviewed several curriculum packages and adopted the Voyager Universal Literacy System curriculum to guide reading instruction K–3.
  • The master schedule was adjusted to provide 90 uninterrupted minutes of reading instruction per day. Previously, teachers taught reading throughout the day but on no formal time schedule, with a typical time allotment of approximately 60 minutes sometimes spread throughout the day.
  • The campus adopted a 3-tier reading model that focused on the core reading program for all students (Tier 1) with more frequent progress monitoring and supplemental instructional support as needed in Tiers 2 and 3 (for details, see
  • Tier 1 was focused on delivery of the core reading program.
  • Students were identified for Tier 2 interventions based on Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) results. Tier 2 students were pulled out of class in groups of 4-6 students with similar needs for small group work with the reading interventionist. The schedule for these sessions varied, but students were not allowed to be pulled out of reading or mathematics instruction. The interventionist worked on strategies using the TPRI Intervention Activities Guides, interventions associated with the core curriculum, and other supplemental activities. Exit criteria included indication of mastery of skills through TPRI progress monitoring (Progress Monitoring for Emergent Readers, Progress Monitoring for Beginning Readers), which was conducted every two weeks, as well as teacher recommendation and/or the next TPRI benchmark test (for details, see Teachers reviewed Tier 2 student data on a weekly basis during weekly data review meetings to measure progress or adjust strategies. Groups were fluid based on performance.
  • Students not progressing after 24 weeks of Tier 2 interventions were considered for Tier 3, which might include placement in Special Education or the district’s dyslexia program.
  • The campus purchased a TPRI web-based data management system using Tango educational software and handheld assessment devices for teachers, which reported individual TPRI results linked to recommended differentiation activities. All teachers were trained by the reading coach in the use of the handheld assessment system. The reading coach prepared reports for teachers (classroom and student level), which teachers used to design learning center activities and independent student assignments.
  • After administration of the assessments, all teachers met by grade level with the reading coach and reading interventionist to review data by objective and by student. Each teacher was given a data notebook with a summary sheet of student performance on the most recent assessment as well as end-of-year results from the previous years. Grade-level teachers set goals for the next administration of the test, with emphasis on changes the teacher needed to make to adjust to student needs. From this analysis, students were identified for Tier 2 and 3 interventions as well as Tier 1“intervention groups” or groups of students needing support in specific skill areas measured by the assessments. These groups were used to plan differentiated instruction in identified areas of need during regular daily instruction.
  • Based on the data analysis, teachers also created “on-the-spot” intervention cue cards. These cards had the student’s name and skill area(s) needing work printed on them and were easily accessible to the teacher, so that teachers could use the cards for impromptu reinforcement exercises in needed skill areas.

Development of classroom learning stations to provide daily, tailored differentiated instruction

  • To provide differentiated instruction, teachers developed a strategy of using literacy “learning stations” in the classroom. Stations were aligned with TEA guidance on differentiated instruction, which recommends approaches that provide flexible, data-driven small group instruction using activities and materials matched to student needs (for details, see Activities at the learning stations targeted an objective or skill area in which the assigned students needed extra support. Areas of need were based on performance on TPRI, which was administered at the beginning, middle, and end of year.
  • Daily reading instruction was formally structured, opening with whole-group instruction led by the teacher focused on the introduction of a reading skill aligned with the curriculum. Students then broke into groups of 3-5 students, determined by student needs, and rotated through four stations. One group worked with the teacher at a teaching station for a 15-minute period, while the other students worked on differentiated activities at one of three learning stations. The learning stations were the listening station, the computer station, and the hands-on reading station.
  • At each of the learning stations, students first worked on a group activity for 5-7 minutes, then for another 5-7 minutes on individualized independent assignments developed by the teacher for each student based on his/her individual need. All students were assigned to serve as group leaders with a daily schedule indicating which students would lead which group for the day. Assigned group leaders ensured that students stayed on task.
  • Teachers prepared learning station activities on a daily basis. Activities at each station were based on a variety of materials addressing individual student needs and included group exercises, skill-based games, and hands-on activities. Many activities were based on resources available for free from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) (for details, see The reading coach trained teachers in using the FCRR library.
  • At the computer station, students logged in to complete individual assignments through a web-based program called “Ticket to Read,” an extension of the Voyager curriculum.
  • At the end of each reading period, teachers conducted a five-minute, whole-class student debriefing of learning station activities, calling on students to share what they did, describe their favorite activity, and reflect on their learning. The debriefing provided an opportunity for students to express themselves, develop their oral language, and practice memory skills as well as reflect on what they had learned. Staff reported that the debriefing also added an element of accountability for students focused on reading goals and brought closure to reading time.
  • Staff reported that the costs of setting up the learning stations were minimal. Most software used was included with the textbook adoption and most activities (from the FCRR, the regional education service centers, and elsewhere) were free.  

Staffing, professional development, and collaboration to sustain the initiative

  • The district committed to continue support for staffing for the reading coach and reading interventionist positions using funds generated from participation in a wind turbine-based energy conservation program.
  • Paraprofessionals were scheduled to support teachers in PreK for the entire day and kindergarten classes during the 90-minute reading instruction period. Support for reading teachers in Grade 1 was provided by parent volunteers or juniors and seniors from the high school participating in the Ready, Set, Teach class,  a high school course designed for students who are interested in careers in education (for details, see
  • The campus reading coach participated in ongoing training in reading instruction, primarily provided by Reading Technical Assistance Specialists from the Institute for Public School Initiatives, University of Texas System (UT System), an RF partner, and Education Service Center Region XVII. The reading coach then provided this training to teachers based on the data and specific instructional needs of students. The reading coach also provided mini-professional development modules during daily meetings, typically one topic per six weeks, to provide ongoing on-site training for teachers. For example, if the reading coach attended a training on fluency development, she would prepare a campus training in three one-hour blocks that she could then deliver over a three-week period during grade-level teams’ daily one-hour planning periods. Staff reported that while the process took longer, teachers weren’t required to be away from their classrooms and the process of delivering, implementing, and providing feedback and follow-up was built into the regular school day and was more connected to actual classroom practice.
  • The reading coach also continued to provide in-class support to teachers, visiting each classroom regularly and informally to assist teachers with activities, work one-on-one with students, and observe and support instruction in a non-threatening manner.
  • The reading interventionist participated in data meetings but was unable to participate in daily planning due to her student intervention schedule. The interventionist did participate in training on specific intervention topics and other instructional meetings whenever possible.
  • Staff reported that daily one-hour common planning periods for each grade level facilitated ongoing communication and collaboration around individual student needs.
  • PreK teachers met with teachers in K–1 three to four times a year to collaborate on teaching strategies and participate in joint trainings. Staff reported that teachers in the PreK program introduced small group work, learning stations, and other classroom strategies students would encounter in kindergarten.
  • In addition, PreK teachers met to review middle-of-the-year kindergarten assessments of students they had taught the previous year to discuss necessary adjustments to instruction. Staff reported that assessments taken later in the year, rather than right after school started, were a better gauge for adjusting foundational instruction because the beginning of the year was a stressful time for students and teachers, and sometimes students “forgot” what they had learned the previous year over the summer and needed a refresher.
  • Staff also reported that with curriculum adoptions, alignment with available PreK curricula was a key consideration. 
  • All PreK teachers used the state’s PreK guidelines to drive classroom instruction (for details, see 

Dissemination of strategies

  • The campus used RF demonstration site grant funds to disseminate information about its program and strategies and enhance capacity to integrate technology into instruction.
  • The campus developed a reading demonstration site link on its website, providing information about its reading outcomes, principles of program implementation, faculty reflections, and research, lessons, and resources in key reading areas. The campus also developed a DVD that highlighted leadership, implementation of best practices in teaching and learning, and data-driven instruction. The DVD included classroom footage to demonstrate the implementation of differentiated instruction as well as strategies for management and pacing of literacy learning stations. These resources are available at:
  • Technology updates funded through the grant included the addition of classroom computers so that each computer learning station had up to five computers for students, interactive whiteboards in each classroom, and teacher training on integration of technology into instruction.


  • Training provided through RF included
    • use of data management systems and handheld assessment devices
    • use of student learning center materials
    • integration of technology into instruction
    • differentiated instruction
    • data disaggregation
    • implementation of best practices in reading instruction

Resources, Cost Components, and Sources of Funding: 

The practice was implemented and continued with RF and reading demonstration site grant funds and campus/district funds, including funds for continued staffing from participation in a wind turbine energy conservation program. Cost components included the following: 

  •  Staffing
  • Professional development
  • Classroom computers and some reading materials  

Lessons Learned


  • Staff reported that prior to implementation of RF teachers used a “shotgun” approach to guide instruction and address achievement gaps.
  • Staff reported that the campus had been successful in guiding teachers to implement very purposeful, research- and skill-based activities in classroom learning stations and eliminating use of filler activities, such as cutting and pasting or drawing, without a reading objective in mind.
  • Staff reported that the design and delivery of professional development on an ongoing basis integrated into the school day was an important component in successfully training teachers. Additionally, through participation in daily grade-level planning and weekly classroom observations, the reading coach was able to provide relevant and tailored professional development to teachers.
  • Staff reported that with the implementation of the RF grant in 2003–04, interest in the district’s PreK program increased, and the campus expanded its offerings from a part-time program serving only students eligible for free PreK to a full-time program open to the broader community serving approximately 70 students. Tuition was charged for those students not qualifying for free PreK.
  • Staff reported that some initial challenges included getting staff on board, eliminating instructional focus on teacher-favored units and topics, and moving to a sequential, research-based curriculum. Staff said initially many teachers had negative, very personal reactions to the results of data analysis. However, as teachers bonded as a team and realized the focus was on prescriptive student instruction, data analysis became accepted.
  • The amount of preparation and planning required to provide the individualized activities for each student at each learning station was intensive for teachers.

Supporting Evidence

BPC Evidence Type:
Established Best Practice

Overview of Evidence:
The campus began tracking performance data on the Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) beginning in 2004–05 for students in Grades K–1. Since that time, the percentage of students performing at the “Developed” level on the end-of-year TPRI in kindergarten increased from 42% in 2004–05 to 81% in 2008–09. The percentage of students performing at the “Developed” level in Grade 1 increased from 57% in 2004–05 to 73% in 2008–09. No state comparison data were available. Chart 1 shows trend data for the percentage of SES students in Grades K–1 performing at the “Developed” level on the end-of-year TPRI from 2004–05 to 2008–09. 

Staff reported that TAKS reading outcomes in Grade 3 at Shallowater Intermediate School (SIS) provided additional evidence of success of the program. The percentage of SIS students passing reading TAKS in Grade 3 increased from 92% in 2004–05 to 96% in 2008–09. Chart 2 shows trend data comparing the percentage of SIS students passing reading TAKS in Grade 3 to the state average from 2004–05 to 2008–09.

Chart 1: Percentage of SES Students "Developed All Areas" on End-of-Year TPRI in Kindergarten and Grade 1 Across School Years. In 2004–05, 42% of the school's Kindergarten students "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI and 57% of the school's Grade 1 students  "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI. In 2005–06, 88% of the school's Kindergarten students "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI and 80% of the school's Grade 1 students  "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI. In 2006–07, 65% of the school's Kindergarten students "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI and 75% of the school's Grade 1 students  "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI. In 2007–08, 95% of the school's Kindergarten students "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI and 84% of the school's Grade 1 students  "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI. In 2008–09, 81% of the school's Kindergarten students "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI and 73% of the school's Grade 1 students  "developed all areas" on the End-of-Year TPRI.
Source: Campus-reported data  

Chart 2: Percentage of Shallowater Intermediate Students Passing Reading TAKS Compared to the State Average Across School Years (Grade 3). In 2004–05, 92% of the school's Grade 3 students passed Reading TAKS compared to the state average for Grade 3 students of 89%. In 2005–06, 89% of the school's Grade 3 students passed Reading TAKS compared to the state average for Grade 3 students of 90%. In 2006–07, 85% of the school's Grade 3 students passed Reading TAKS compared to the state average for Grade 3 students of 89%.  In 2007–08, 96% of the school's Grade 3 students passed Reading TAKS compared to the state average for Grade 3 students of 89%. In 2008–09, 96% of the school's Grade 3 students passed Reading TAKS compared to the state average for Grade 3 students of 90%.
Source: TEA Student Assessment TAKS Aggregate Data System  

  •  Diller, D. (2007). Making the most of small groups: Differentiation for all.  Portland, ME: Stenhouse.  
  •  Gersten, R., Compton, D., Connor, C.M., Dimino, J., Santoro, L., Linan-Thompson, S., Till, W.D. (2009). Assisting students struggling with reading: Response to Intervention (RtI) and multi-tier intervention in the primary grades: A practice guide. (NCEE #2009-4045). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from:  
  •  National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Retrieved from   
  •  See also the best practices identified through the Texas Reading Initiative at   

Contact Information

Shallowater Elementary
Shallowater Independent School District
1100 Avenue K
Shallowater, TX 79363
(806) 832-4531