Reducing the Need for Intervention

Today is my last day of my first full year as a Reading Specialist. It’s been a year full of learning experiences and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve been working hard to see what my students need, as well as trying to figure out how my school can best serve all of the students. This section, “Reducing the Need for Intervention”, called to me as soon as I read the heading!

According to ASCD, the percentage of students receiving RTII Tier 3 interventions should ideally be 1-5%. Currently, my school has 7% of its students receiving pull-out services, with more students being referred. A phrase I like is “if everyone needs intervention, nobody needs intervention.” To me, this means that it’s important to look at data and trends to see in which  areas students need most support. If I’m being honest, a lot of what I did in my small groups this past year were not really Tier 3 interventions. They weren’t really even Tier 2 interventions – I taught students reading strategies, how to read text features, and provided graphic organizers.

So despite the number of students I had that made significant growth in my small groups this year, something bothered me a little bit. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but after I read this section in Regie’s book, I figured out what it was. In the book there is a section titled “Intervention Matters: Self-Evaluate” that presents some questions to ask ourselves. The second question in particular interested me – “Are we making full-out efforts to be responsive (differentiating instruction) to the needs and interests of every student?” Based on the kinds of interventions I was providing in my small groups, I’m not so sure that we were. Graphic organizers should be a part of good classroom instruction, and reading strategies should be embedded across the curriculum.

I realize this is all really easy for me to say – after all, my job title suggests that I have specialized knowledge of reading strategies. Without the dedicated time to share this knowledge with my colleagues, it really only benefits the students I have in my small groups. There wasn’t a lot of time this year for me to run professional learning groups around literacy, but I did meet with a few colleagues before and after school to talk about reading strategies. The students in those teachers’ classes made fantastic progress. It seemed like the students appreciated having consistent reading strategies across multiple classes – they were getting consistent instruction and were able to practice using those strategies in all subjects.

A number of those students exited RTII after having made over a year’s worth of growth over the past year. It (informally) showed me that with good instruction in all areas, students can make significant growth! I wondered if they wouldn’t have had to be in RTII at all had they been getting the consistent instruction from the start…?

So this section called to me because I can see a connection between good classroom instruction and a reduction in the need for intervention. And just like Regie writes about in this section, I truly believe that we need to be asking ourselves if all our students are being given the opportunities, they can succeed without intervention.

This post is part of a book study around Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018). Check out more resources associated with the text at this website (https://sites.stenhouse.com/literacyessentials/), including a free curriculum for teaching an undergraduate course using Literacy Essentials.

Data – Doin’ It for the Kids

I am a self-proclaimed data nerd. I admit that I have played around on Excel more than once, and I create spreadsheets just for fun. What can I say, manipulating and looking at data is pretty awesome!

Data has been on my mind a lot lately. My school is currently looking at different ways we assess students and collect student data. There is a lot of focus on Collecting The Data, and Having The Data to back up various decisions related to students, including whether or not they should receive intervention services.

I highlighted a LOT in the section of this book “Applying Responsible Assessment”, p311. I kept reading sentences and thinking “THIS is what I’ve been trying to get across to my administration!!!” The last sentence on page 311 reads “…standardized tests are big business, with publishers lobbying hard for their adoption.” I am SO skeptical about using ONE textbook or ONE assessment to determine students’ growth or knowledge. In my last post, I wrote about frontloading and how background knowledge plays such a crucial part in students’ learning. Using one test or “curriculum” limits what our students are being exposed to, as well as costing tens of thousands of dollars for often scripted lessons with assessments that don’t always tell us what we need to know.

One of my latest pet projects is trying to get a diverse set of guided reading books to use for benchmarks so that my kiddos have a more fair shot at success.

But back to data.

Ms. Routman wrote on page 312, “Question any assessment that does not ultimately benefit the learner.” How many assessments do I see given, only to flesh out a data wall or provide more “data points” for a progress monitoring form? I LOVE that in the next section, formative assessments are given the spotlight. Anecdotal notes! Conferences! Teacher-constructed quizzes! Gasp – all things that educated professionals know how to do, really well!

But can we be trusted to do that?

Sometimes I get the feeling that my anecdotal data isn’t enough – that my observations are less than acceptable, because a number can’t be attached to it. My notes can’t neatly fit onto a sticky note to fit on the Data Wall, something else discussed in this book. One of the challenges for my intervention department this year has been figuring out how best to organize student data; do we enter it into a spreadsheet, do we keep hard copies, do we share in on The Drive?

I come back to the the sentence on page 322, “…but the key is the data must ultimately lead to improving learning…” THAT is the statement that I feel should be guiding discussions about student data. After all, the students are why we teach. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, particularly when it’s PSSA time, or the “Bigwigs” are coming to visit, or the charter is up for renewal. But it really is all about the kids.

Last week I created a spreadsheet to do Miscue Analyses on benchmark assessments. It figures out the percent of word ending miscues due to a missed inflectional ending, and the percentage of times a student self-corrected a meaning-changing miscue. I’m very proud of it, and it’s been very helpful for me in determining what I need to work on in my small groups, as well as to figure out how far “below grade level” my students actually are. (I’m less concerned about my students missing a few inflectional endings than I am if they are unable to decode long vowel patterns in 6th grade.)

For last year’s book review blog, I titled my data post “Data, Not Just Another 4-Letter Word”. I still feel that way. Data is awesome. It’s so helpful, collected in a meaningful, deliberate way. And just like anything in education, it all comes back to the “why” – we do it for the kids.

Frontloading: The Great Equalizer

For years, one of my favorite subjects to read and study about has been the effect of background knowledge on reading comprehension and student achievement. In one of my graduate level ed psych classes, I did a presentation titled “School is So Boring” about how students come to school with different schema and that, depending on what they know, it does not always line up with the expected or assumed background knowledge they would have to have in order to be successful in school.

I’m now a reading specialist for grades 4-6 in Northeast Philadelphia, where my students and I bring varied background knowledge to the table. I’ve actually been thinking about background knowledge and frontloading a lot lately as I recently administered the last F&P Benchmark Assessments of the year. (My school uses these benchmarks to determine which students receive intervention services, and the levels also go on the report cards, but that’s a blog post for another day).

As I read through the section “Excellence 2 – Expert Teaching Through Frontloading”, I highlighted three phrases that stood out to me.

Make no assumptions

You know the saying “you know what happens when you assume…” and I think that this saying holds true in the classroom. Just through observation, it seems to me as if teachers (including myself) make assumptions about what our students know. “They are in ____ grade, so they should know _____.” When we find out they actually don’t know _____, we wonder “well why don’t they know this, they should??!?” But the truth is, it doesn’t really matter what we think our students should know; rather, it matters what they actually *do* know.

In the book, Regie writes that “make no assumptions” applies to our instruction as well. I agree with her thoughts that we should be constantly assessing our teaching to make sure that our students are getting the most out of our instruction. Just because something worked before with another group of students doesn’t mean that it will work with another group of students, or even with the same group of students on a different day!

Make it smart to ask questions

Through informal talks with my students, I have discovered that many of them are hesitant to ask questions in a large group setting for fear of being embarrassed, or because they feel as if they “should” know certain things that they don’t, for whatever reason (which is irrelevant, in my opinion, because our responsibility is to meet students where they are, not where we think they should be).

Asking questions is so smart! I mean, what do adults do when we don’t know something? We get on our devices and Google it! From correct pronunciation of a word to knowing when to use “i.e. vs e.g.”, information is incredibly easy to access. So why should it be different for students? Why create a stigma around asking questions? Asking relevant questions shows that our students are engaged in the material – they want to know more about what they’re reading. That hunger for learning should be encouraged.

Check to be sure students understand the purpose

Like the previous point, I considered this phrase from an adult perspective. If I am being asked to read something or do a task, I like to know why I’m doing it. Bonus points if the reason benefits me. I think it’s the same for our students. If students can see the value in why they’re doing something (Regie writes “‘…Then I want you to do the same kind of thinking when you read ______, so you can become an expert reader.’”) they take ownership of the task and are seem more likely to put effort into the task. My students love when I call them “good readers”! They know that reading is the key to so many things, so they have that buy-in when I ask them to do a task like read through the whole word or use sticky notes to jot down facts and information from a non-fiction text.

I know that I can be cynical about posting SWBAT, IOT on my board, but since I’ve started rephrasing it for the students (rather than administration), I feel much more focused on actually letting my students know why we are doing something.

So back to frontloading, and why I am so interested in it. The benchmark assessments are limited, in my opinion, because they ask for very specific background knowledge in order to be scored as proficient. There is one passage in particular, about hawks in the city, that my students seem to bomb every benchmarking season, regardless of their reading level. It took a while, but I finally came to the conclusion that my students were bombing it because the entire comprehension section was based on the assumption that students knew hawks typically lived in the country. My urban students have never seen a hawk in their lives, so they don’t know this. When I told them “hawks typically don’t live in the city,” it changed almost their ENTIRE response to the comprehension questions and understanding of the passage.

Interesting.

By simply providing students with this little piece of information, their understanding of the text improved so much! And this took less than one minute to do this simple frontloading. Imagine if I would have spent even more time frontloading! Until textbooks and educational materials become more diverse and representative of all our students, frontloading will be one of the most important ways that we can prepare all of our student for success, regardless of their background or experience.

This post is part of a book study around Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018). Check out more resources associated with the text at this website (https://sites.stenhouse.com/literacyessentials/), including a free curriculum for teaching an undergraduate course using Literacy Essentials.

Data – not just another 4 letter word

I have to admit, I haven’t always been so keen on data. In my earlier years of teaching, “data” was just another 4-letter word, simply results of standardized tests. Our students are more than a test score, right? Now that I’ve been through a few districts, a couple graduate programs, and a number of administrators, I can say that my view of data has changed. What I came to realize is that I was using data all along; the data just weren’t the test scores that I came to associate with the word.

Now that I’m in the position of being able to guide teachers to looking closely at data, I don’t want to think of it as just another 4-letter word. Data is actually pretty awesome! I could get lost in miscue analyses – where is the student missing words? What is going on with them that their comprehension varies so much between fiction and non-fiction? What is their background? Could they be more successful with a different text? What strategies would work best with their strengths?

So being smart about data is not only about knowing *what* to focus on, but also keeping in mind that behind the data is a living, breathing human.

New Responsibilities

I am pretty excited about how my job will look this year. Four days a week I will be focusing on small group instruction with students receiving Tier 3 intervention. On our half-days (Friday afternoons are reserved for PD) I will have time to do progress monitoring and meet with teachers about students, do some coaching/strategy sharing, and take a close look at data to plan instruction. Jennifer shared a story at the end of this chapter that I anticipate will stay with me throughout my career. Reading about her listening to a colleague after being asked to advise on LLI procedures was very powerful. I believe that this kind of data collection is so important! Jennifer affirmed, for me, the value in listening to colleagues and observing behaviors to drive instruction.

I appreciate my school’s commitment to professional development and the recognition of the importance of data analyzation to drive instruction. The time that I’ll have will allow me to keep in mind that the student is the most important part of the equation, and be able to plan instruction based on what they need most.

I call that smart!

Designing Intentional Spaces

I’m a new reading specialist coming from a background in music education. I taught K-8 music for nine years before I chose to make the transition to literacy. I jumped on the chance to read Becoming a Literacy Leader, to learn from Jennifer Allen’s journey. The program I went through was fantastic, but there’s nothing like experience and learning from others’ experiences to really teach the nitty gritty stuff.

My current position was vacant for just shy of a year before I started. Students weren’t receiving reading intervention services, and classroom teachers weren’t getting literacy support. If I look at the silver lining of the situation, I have a lot of autonomy in what I do. Since nobody was in the position, it wasn’t all that established what it should look like. I kind of get to write my own job description! That said, I am looking forward to utilizing my classroom space and the time in my schedule in a smart way to support students and teachers.

One of my favorite parts of being a teacher is getting my space ready for the new school year. New storage! Coordinated supplies! How many times have I succumbed to the dollar bins at Target and came home with 5 or 6 cute little buckets, or a seasonally-themed storage container having no idea what would become of it once I got it into my classroom?

So, despite having studied interior design for two years, reflecting on Chapter 2 was kind of like a lightbulb moment for me. Of course, I should think about the room’s purpose first. Isn’t that what all my beloved design books and websites tell me, too?

I love the reading room as a resource for classroom teachers – somewhere they can come to get ideas or to chat about literacy stuff while also being an inviting space for students to receive intervention services. One of my core beliefs in education is that for anyone to learn, there has to be a sense of comfort and trust. The physical space reflects that – do children and adults feel comfortable coming into the room? It is inviting and warm? I think of how I feel when I walk into an unfamiliar place – if the space is inviting, I can relax and better take in what I need to, whether it’s in a doctor’s office or a gym. My room is small, but I think with some ingenuity and strategic planning, I’ll be able to make it work.

What are the best parts of your classroom? What designs have worked well for you? I look forward to getting some great ideas!

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