2nd grade reading interventionist using ‘critters’ to help improve reading skills of students

Teacher Spotlight: Jenni Hagdorn teaches at John J. Ciavarra Elementary

In this week's teacher spotlight, we highlight Jenni Hagdorn, a second grade reading interventionist.

DEVINE, Texas – For about 45 minutes a day, four times a week, Mrs. Jenni Hagdorn welcomes a total of 57 second graders to her classroom. First, the students must grab their red folders and, before breaking out into pairs, they head to their favorite corner of the classroom: the critter corral.

“I came up with the critter keepers and it kind of spurred their interest, and it’s gotten them reading,” Hagdorn said.

Hagdorn, an educator with 21 years of experience, is a second-grade reading interventionist at John J. Ciavarra Elementary.

“I’ve been here for (the past) 12 years as the reading specialist,” Hagdorn said.

In between her fluency program lessons on topics including reading and phonics, students also focus on “critters” to help them improve their skills. The critters are tiny erasers that students earn for their hard work in her classroom. The critter keepers are small tin cans that serve as a reward system. Each student has a tin can with their name written on it and inside are all the critters they collect and display. Hagdorn said it’s a reward system the kids are crazy about.

The challenge is to nail what Hagdorn refers to as a cold read.

“Each week when they come in to me and they read the material for the first time, that’s what we call a cold reading,” Hagdorn said.

Every addition to the fluency farm is proof of growth and confidence of students like Kelvey Cortéz.

“It helps my reading a lot,” Cortéz said. “When I started (this school year) I couldn’t pronounce some words in (my) reading, I still can’t, but we’re working on them.”

Hagdorn started the program after Christmas break this school year to spark interest in young readers who may struggle.

“There was a 50% drop in our reading scores at the beginning of the year from what they traditionally come to me being able to do,” Hagdorn said. “So, it wasn’t any surprise. I knew kids were going to be behind coming in this year because of the lack of instruction from the previous year. So, I knew we had a lot of ground to make up and lots of challenges throughout the year.”

Hagdorn credits the daily improvement of reading scores to the critter program.

“They were creating these (entire) little communities within their little critter keepers, and it’s just kind of started this craze with the kids,” Hagdorn said. “It’s very popular for them. They want to see what everybody else got.”

Hagdorn is confident this program has given students a stronger push to move them further along and help close the reading gap while being prepared for intermediate school.

“Second grade is the last grade level at this campus before they go on to the intermediate school, and we really try to send them as (strong) readers so that they can begin to read (and) use reading to learn things rather than just learning to read,” Hagdorn said. “So, if we haven’t created that foundation here, they’re going to just continue to struggle because the workload increases, especially with testing and state standards. So, our job here at the elementary (level) is to really get them a good foundation, have them be very competent readers before they leave us.”

The program has been so successful that Hagdorn hopes to expand the reward system to include more of her teaching plan. Her biggest task now is to keep the tiny erasers in stock.

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.