No More Silos

Here is the master schedule I shared with my staff before everyone left for break:

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This is driven mostly by Response to Intervention. Starting December of this year, all schools have to ensure that interventions that may lead to a special education referral for reading or math take place outside of that respective subject area. Where you see “I/E” stands for Intervention and Enrichment. Kids that are either below the line or above the line should receive additional support in their specific area of need. This is based on a template by Dr. Michael Rettig.

I had a number of teachers come down and speak with me after I sent this out. “So, reading and content should be taught separately?” was one of the more common questions. I explained that, no, this is just a schedule that your grade level should do their best to adhere to over the course of the year. Integrating the subject areas is highly encouraged. We only want to ensure that students’ needs are being met through Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. Scheduling in an intervention block is the best way we know how to make sure this happens. There has been good discourse about this, and we will continue to talk.

Yet I bring this up here because I have concerns. Not about Response to Intervention (RtI). Besides soon becoming law, John Hattie, researcher and author of Visible Learning, has found that RtI has one of the largest effect sizes on student learning. I take comfort knowing that “grey area” kids, those that don’t qualify for special education services because their cognitive abilities are too low, may now get the necessary support. In addition, RtI has been called “the last, best hope” for literacy education by Richard Allington.

No, I am more concerned that all of these initiatives coming at us – Common Core, Smarter Balanced Assessment, and new teacher evaluations based on students’ test scores (on top of RtI, but without the research base) – will further fracture our already chopped up days at the elementary level. Many secondary schools already suffer from this. “They are everybody’s kids”, and therefore nobody’s kids. Leaders thinking in black-and-white terms might start to believe that continuing to departmentalize the core areas will lead to better gains in student achievement. Specific interventions can be used to zero in on targeted literacy and numeracy skills. Words such as “hard” and “rigorous” are often used to describe these interventions.

But this is not what kids, or most adults, comes to school for. They want to be engaged. They want to see the connections between their lives and what they are learning. Making connections throughout the day will only enhance instruction. The thinking required for this type of work comes before the instruction actually happens, as well during the teaching-learning process using ongoing assessments. It doesn’t happen when we are inputting progress monitoring results into a spreadsheet. It doesn’t happen when we are solely aligning our instruction with standards instead of with our students’ needs. It doesn’t happen when we are forced to think about our own livelihoods instead of our students’ futures.

Giving students the best opportunity for success starts with engaging and evidence-based classroom instruction. Separating subjects and skill areas into silos is not natural. The further we pull away for learning as an authentic experience, the more we risk disengaging our students because it doesn’t represent what is real and what is meaningful.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

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