How I Doubled my DRA Scores by December with 24 Boys, 9 Girls… and 18 FAR Below First Grade Level!

, , , ,
Katie Garner Secret Stories Reading Professional Development

So you know that moment when you get to meet that person who changed everything for you? Well, it happened to me! My name is Reneé McAnulty and I’m a proud first grade teacher at Cottonwood Elementary in Hesperia, California and this is my story…

It all started with me nearly pulling every single hair out of my head! First, let me start by saying that I am by no means a “new” teacher. Folks, I have taught in a classroom since I was 16 years old. I had my own classroom at the age of 18, teaching at a private school, and was hired as a kindergarten teacher at Cottonwood in 2001. I love my job! I love kids. I love teaching kids to read.

In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had a class like this year’s class. I was in shock. I have 24 boys and 9 girls. Of my 33 kids, 18 of them entered 1st grade far below grade level. From that group of 18 kids, 6 of them did not know any letter sounds or sight words. So, I had only 11 kids who could function as first graders… 11! 

I didn’t know where to start. What could I do to help these babies learn everything that they needed to know last year and keep the on-grade level kids moving in the right direction, too? The behavior was out of control in this class. It took two and a half months to train these kids in Daily 5 and Daily Cafe due to their behavior.

When we finally started to get things under control, I was able to start reading groups, but I was at a loss. I needed to do something different. My usual bag of tricks wasn’t working and we were all getting frustrated. I had parents telling me, “Well, in kindergarten my child made it to List 3 and knows how to read 75 sight words.” 

I would try to explain that regurgitating words from sight cards and seeing them in text were two different things. When they saw these exact same words in books, they couldn’t read them. I made it to mid-September and realized that I had to change it up… big time. I needed to find something that would challenge my high kids, make my grade level kids higher, and push my below-level kids.

One September day while at a district science meeting, I was on Pinterest searching for student-friendly science standards when I came across Katie’s free ‘Cutest-Ever’ Science Standard posters. As I scrolled down, I noticed her link to check out something called Secret Stories. She included writing samples and video clips from her classroom. I was blown away! I couldn’t believe her writing samples! I pinned the link, and as soon as I walked in my front door I sat down and started to explore.

I honestly could not believe that kindergarten kids could do that! I watched Katie’s YouTube vlogs and was speechless. With tears in my eyes, I ran to my hubby. I told him my prayers had been answered and that I had found the holy grail of reading/phonics!

Now, my hubby, being the supportive husband that he is, was used to me coming home in tears over this class. I had spent night after night crying myself to sleep, not knowing what I should do to help these kids.
I had spent hundreds of dollars on units, games, centers and activities, but they were of no use because my class simply wasn’t ready for them. Seeing my desperation, yet reluctant to spend $90 on yet another thing for my classroom, he finally agreed to let me get it. That was the best decision we ever made.
Let me put it this way, if my classroom were on fire, after safely removing all the children from the room, I would grab my “Secret Stories” book and posters! Of everything I have EVER bought for my classroom, this program has beyond proven its worth. It changed everything for me.
So after ordering it, I couldn’t wait for the package to arrive. In the meantime, I watched every one of her vlogs on YouTube, read the website from top to bottom, and stalked Katie on Pinterest.
Finally, my package arrived and I was one happy camper! I read it from cover to cover and told myself that I would try everything. Whether if it was new, different, or I something that I was unsure of, I was going to do it!
If my classroom were on fire, after safely removing all the children from the room, I would grab my Secret Stories book and posters!
I carried my book around with me everywhere ever I went. I was determined to learn these stories so I could teach them to my babies. And I quickly enlisted the help of my amazing hubby to put up my posters.
My kids are beyond engaged.... they are OBSESSED with the Secret Stories!
If my classroom were on fire, after safely removing all the children from the room, I would grab my Secret Stories book and posters!


My kids are beyond engaged.... they are OBSESSED with the Secret Stories!

My students instantly became excited about these posters. They were dying to know what these stories were all about and how they could teach them to read!

And I carried my little book around like it was the Bible. I would refer to it at least 5 times a day. I would explain to my kids and parents and anybody who entered our room, that we were trying something new…. that Mrs. Mac was learning right along with the kids.

If my classroom were on fire, after safely removing all the children from the room, I would grab my Secret Stories book and posters!
And to prove how “well-read” my Secret Stories® Book was,
here’s what it looked like after just TWO MONTHS!

Within two weeks, ALL my kids knew all their letter sounds, AND long and short vowels! My kids started to CRAVE Secret Storytime. You could hear a pin drop when I was sharing a secret with them. They were finding Secret Stories everywhere!!! We couldn’t walk into a room without them finding a Secret Story “hiding” in words that they saw.

By December, my kid’s DRA reading scores had doubled. I actually had kids reading above grade level and all of my 0 DRA reading scores disappeared!

One day during Secret Story hour, my AP was doing a walk-through and my students immediately ‘shushed’ me, begging me to stop telling the Secret Story of oi/oy. The AP was not allowed to to hear our ‘secret’ ….. that was privileged information. We finally came to an agreement that if she promised not to tell anyone, she could hear the “Secret Story.” And the rest is history. She was blown away by how engaged they ALL were during the lesson, and how every student knew the sound for oi /oy and could easily tell its ‘secret!’

She told my principal, who then came into my classroom wanting to hear more about this “Secret Story” program. He was equally blown away by what my kids were able to do! They were beyond engaged…. they were OBSESSED with these stories.

If we had a ‘rough’ day, and had to miss out on a Secret Story, they cried. If students had to leave the carpet area because of bad choices and missed out on Secret Storytime, they were devastated. They would beg the other kids (behind my back) to tell them the ‘secret’ they’d missed. I couldn’t believe it.

By this time, Secret Stories had spread like wildfire. My principal had asked me to do a mini-presentation for our staff and even offered to buy it for all the teachers who were interested. I’m proud to say that ALL of our teachers from 1st through 5th grade wanted it!

I asked my principal if I could go to one of Katie’s conferences, but instead, he brought her to us! He was able to schedule Katie to come and work with the entire staff for a FULL DAY in-service! So five weeks ago, I got to meet the person who changed my entire reading philosophy forever, and it was one of the greatest moments of my life!

My students were just as excited to meet her as I was. They couldn’t wait to meet the lady who taught their teacher how to teach them to read! They decided to create a handmade Secret Storybook for her. They each chose a Secret Story, wrote about it, and drew a picture to match their writing.

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret! Do YOUR Kindergartners Know It?
Secret Stories® Sneaky Y®
Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret! Do YOUR Kindergartners Know It?
Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret! Do YOUR Kindergartners Know It?
Secret Stories Mommy E® Phonics Secret! Do YOUR Kindergartners Know It?
Secret Stories® Mommy E®
Secret Stories Mommy E® Phonics Secret! Do YOUR Kindergartners Know It?
Secret Stories Mommy E® Phonics Secret! Do YOUR Kindergartners Know It?
Secret Stories® "ous" Phonics Secret! Do YOUR Kindergartners Know It?

When she walked into our room, my kids literally jumped out of their seats and yelled, “KATIE GARNER!!!!”  which was immediately followed by ALL 33 of them talking simultaneously, trying to tell her their favorite secrets, as well as all of the other things they were learning about. She was essentially ‘mini-mobbed!’

I am proud to say that I now have a classroom full of readers…. REAL readers!  

Readers that can spend their time enjoying what they read, not struggling with how to read it. To put this in concrete form for my little ones, I had each of my students create their own personal growth charts, so that they could see for themselves how far they had come into the world of reading and writing! 

Just look at how MUCH progress they made!
How I DOUBLED My First Grade DRA Scores by December!
How I DOUBLED My First Grade DRA Scores by December!
How I DOUBLED My First Grade DRA Scores by December!
How I DOUBLED My First Grade DRA Scores by December!

I am just so proud of these students and can’t wait to share more about our amazing journey!  

Sincerely, Reneé McAnulty
A special THANK YOU to Renee McAnulty for taking the time to write this post and share all of the wonderful things she is doing in her classroom! It was such a pleasure getting to visit it in person, and while I LOVE seeing her student gains on the graphs, nothing beats seeing what her kiddos can actually do in real life!
If you would like to read another post by Ms. Mac (which will honestly have you rolling on the floor laughing!) click here.
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-)

Never Miss a Secret! Subscribe to the Newsletter! 

Katie Garner Secret Stories LinkedIN pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram
Secret Stories Banner
Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Sample Poster Pack!


For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here. 


Katie Garner Secret Stories Linkedin pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram

Secret Stories Banner Bottom

43 replies
  1. Kimberly Love says:

    Already a follower on TPT and Facebook…just started following you on Pinterest!!!! My kiddos and I love Secret Stories and would love our very own copy!!! Thank you!!!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Katie! I have subscribed to your TPT, and am already following you on Facebook. This was my comment: "I subscribed to all three! I am so excited and crossing my fingers for a win. My school is 100% free and reduced lunch and we have a 97% ELL population. They need and LOVE their secrets!!!"
    Thank you Katie! I hope we can figure out what's wrong because I see you post a lot of freebies! Happy Memorial Day weekend!

    Nicole Beasley |

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Katie!!! I follow all FB, TPT, and Pinterest already and just started to follow your blog. I m excited!!! I hope I win. I took your workshop at the California Kinder conference a few years ago… 2009. It was great. LOVE your products. Have a fabulous weekend, Frances Grasso

  4. Lindsey Desormeaux says:

    Hi Katie! Our school is asking us to implement your awesome secret stories Pre-k – 3rd grade next year! We can't wait. I saw you in Lafayette, LA at the LRA conference a few years ago and have wanted to implement the stories ever since! I am a follower on TpT, Facebook and your blog! Keeping my fingers crossed :) Lindsey Desormeaux

  5. Dru says:

    I am excited to learn more about your program. It looks amazing and I am now following you on TPT, Facebook, blog, and bloglovin. I would love to try this with my students.

  6. Margaret Dismukes says:

    Hi Katie! I was so thrilled when I happened to see your stuff on Deanna Jump's Blog. I was instantly hooked and couldn't stop talking about it. I love your Secret Stories, my kids love your Secret Stories and one kiddo just told me today that "he needed to hear another Secret Story." It was music to my ears! Their hooked too! The proof is that they remember it and look to the posters when writing and reading. I will never teach without it again! I'd love to win!!

  7. Nicki says:

    I can really relate to Mrs McAnulty's post. This year has been my most challenging year as a teacher. I'm excited to learn more about the secrets. I am now following you on facebook, TPT, pinterest, through bloglovin and also subscribed with my email.

  8. amy mich says:

    I follow your blog, TpT, Pinterest and Facebook. I also LOVE your You Tube channel! I am even asking my principal to go to your session at the TEXAS Elem. Principal's Conference in June. So jealous though – I wish I could take his place!


  9. Melissa says:

    I so wish I had found this at the beginning of this school year. It looks like it could have really added to their learning and their brain power. It looks amazing! I am now following you on TPT, Facebook, and bloglovin. I would love to try this with my students.

  10. Katie Garner says:

    Wow, it sounds like you can really relate to this post!! I'll have to get you and Mrs. McAnulty together for a pow-wow!! LoL!!
    So glad to hear that your kids are using and enjoying what they have been able to get, thus far, of the Secrets!!

  11. Katie Garner says:

    That's such a great conference! I was there again this year, but my presentation is vastly different now…hopefully for the better! I plan to be out there again this year, although if conflicts arise with the dates, I might just have to lasso Mrs. McAnulty into presenting there for me! ;)

  12. Katie Garner says:

    I love presenting there, but was unable to do so this year. Hopefully I will make it next year though! That's wonderful about your school implementing across the primary grade levels and into grade 3, as that is definitely the ideal! If I am doing any school or district in services out your way this year, you might want to talk to your principal about letting you (and maybe a few of the grade chairs from your school) to go and sit-in! Other schools and districts are usually very good about allowing teachers from neighboring districts to do so, and I'd be glad to try and help in any way if I can :)

  13. Katie Garner says:

    What a great comment! And yes!!! The proof is most definitely in the pudding with regard to how the kids just suck everything up so quickly!! I absolutely love posting on Mrs. Jump's Blog as it allows me to reach out and share the Secrets with teachers I might otherwise never see at conferences, no matter how frequently, far, and wide I might travel!! So so glad to know you've found them and have been able to share them with your kiddos!!!

  14. Katie Garner says:

    That's why I asked Mrs. McAnulty to share her experience here. Her insight is completely different than mine, and provides for a more three-dimensional view for use of the Secrets within the classroom…. especially those with skewed boy/ girl ratios, extreme variation in population, socio-economic differences, etc…
    You will be hearing more from her here, for sure!!!

  15. Katie Garner says:

    Thank you!! And by 'updated' I'm guessing you mean the black on red version of the posters! Lol! If you do win, I always advise teachers who have the old set to make a big book out of their posters for students to take home and share with their parents on a rotating basis. It's such a great way to foster the home/ school connection, and really provides an easy and effective means of educating the parents on what the Secrets are and how the kids are using them to read and to write!

    Thanks so much for following, and I wish you the best of luck :)

  16. Katie Garner says:

    Just some food for thought….. but I always tell teachers when I do 'end-of-year' in-sevices (which are usually during the final week or so of school) not to wait, but to go ahead and toss out a few Secrets in the final days, as every one you share will be one more reading and writing 'tool' they will have in their pocket for next year. They really swallow them down THAT fast….. so go for it!!! (And if you win, you'll be able to toss out a whole bunch ;) LoL!

    PS As for increasing their brainpower, that is actually the target of Mrs. McAnulty's next post- the higher level of thinking (especially seen among early learners) when thinking within this new 'thinking-construct' that knowing all the Secrets provides….. as THAT'S when the fun can REALLY begin!!

  17. Katie Garner says:

    Thanks so much, and I will actually be at the National Elementary Principal's Conference in July, but I don't think I'm scheduled for the Texas Principal's Conference…. hmmm… maybe it's posted incorrectly on the website? I will have to check and and let you know for sure :)

  18. involveme says:

    I just found out that I am moving from K to Second Grade next year, I am both excited and nervous. As I was looking for ideas for my class next year I came across your program and I am very excited! I think that I have watched every video that you have posted. I would love to have your program in my bags of tricks!

  19. Mrs. Settle says:

    Thanks for such an awesome resource. I used it this year and loved it. I even talked the kindergarten teachers into purchasing it for their classrooms. Love it!
    First Grade

  20. Anonymous says:

    I would love the chance to use this in my classroom. I am stalking you (LOL) on pinterest, facebook, and blog! I have promised my family I would limit my spending because of many reasons (home repairs, college, band trips etc) so winning this would be awesome!! I had to post anonymous so my email is Happy Memorial Day and summer break when we get there!!

  21. Katie Garner says:

    I'm so glad to know that the videos have been useful… I need to get on the ball and continue where I'd left off but I keep putting it on the back burner :(
    Thanks again for following and keep an eye out for some new vlogs to come shortly :)

  22. Katie Garner says:

    That's so great to hear!! And I'm thrilled to hear that your K teachers are now using it as well…. THANK YOU!! And thank you also for following :)

  23. Katie Garner says:

    And the winners are……….. Kim Laird & Amy Mich!
    Congratulations to you both, and please email the office at with the mailing address where you'd like it to be sent!

    And for all those who didn't win this month, stay tuned…. as next month's drawing is just around the corner!! I want to thank everyone who took the time to post and share comments, as well as follow, and I hope that everyone had a blessed and fun-filled Memorial Day!

Comments are closed.