Does Intervention Have to be a Pull-Out?

During a very informative Twitter chat on Professional Learning Communities (#atplc) led by John Wink (@johnwink90), I tweeted the following:

“Common misconception: Intervention is a pull out. Research shows interventions are just as successful in classroom (R Allington). #atplc”

I got a few questions after sharing, such as “Can the regular classroom teacher also administer an intervention?” and “What specific research actually supports this?”.

I discovered this information in the excellent resource Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write by Richard Allington and Patricia Cunningham. The authors provide a lot of practical ideas for improving student learning. A common thread throughout this book is schools don’t necessarily need more staffing and funding to get better. Rather, they should relook at what they already have and do things a little differently. (I just became aware that there is a third edition of this resource.)

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Take intervention blocks. Many schools are now required to insert 30-45 minute periods at each grade level for intervention. This concept is proposed by Dr. Michael Rettig among others. With the daily school schedule already broken up for specials, lunch, recess and more, this model may serve to further fracture an already disconnected school day. As another option, Allington and Cunningham suggest a more flexible approach: Have special program teachers provide all their instructional support in the regular classroom rather than in a location down the hall (74).

The research to support this method has been around for almost twenty years (Gelzheiser et al., 1992; Sharpe et al., 1994). The two authors summarize these studies by stating that in-class instructional support, whether remediation or special education, produces achievement gains at least as large (my emphasis) as the gains from pull-out instruction without having a negative impact on the achievement of other students in the room (75).

It is not suggested that all intervention should be a push-in model; teachers have to understand their students’ needs. What works best for each individual may be different, including location. For example, a student might be easily distracted in the regular classroom, or they may be embarrassed to be observed by peers reading easier books. In both situations a pull-out model probably works best. However, a positive of intervening in the regular education classroom is the potential for more and better academic collaboration between the specialist and the classroom teacher. The specialist sees the learning targets students are working toward in the classroom and can better connect the intervention to what their student is learning during regular instruction.

Here are more reasons for using this approach to intervention:

– The stigmatism of being pulled out for a “special class” is removed.
– Transitions can be emotionally difficult for some students.
– Each teacher can observe the other teacher instruct, which can lead to some informal yet powerful peer coaching opportunities, encouraged by many educators such as Regie Routman (2012).
– Less instructional time is wasted going back and forth to and from the intervention room. Allington and Cunningham estimate that, at a minimum, 10 minutes are wasted each day for a student during transitions (124), including getting work put away and back out in the regular classroom. This equates to about one hour per week, or almost four instructional days for an entire school year. What teacher wouldn’t want four more days of instruction to work with their students without having to extend the school year?

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Is the Change Worth the Messiness?

As with any significant change, doing things differently to try to increase student achievement usually involves altering the way we teach. It is uncomfortable, messy and is usually met with resistance. The way I may plan to approach this in my school is finding one or even two people who are willing to try this out, even on a very small basis. If positive results are observed, word will spread and more staff will be interested in giving it a shot. At the same, I am keeping an open mind by remembering that no one process works for all schools, including my own.

References

Allington, R.L., & Cunningham, P.M. (2002). Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write (2 ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Gelzheiser, L. M., Meyers, J., & Pruzek, R.M. (1992). Effects of pull-in and pull-out approaches to reading instruction for special education and remedial reading students. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 3, 133-149.

Routman, R. (2012). Mapping a pathway to schoolwide highly effective teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 93, 5, 56-61.

Sharpe, M.N., York, J.L., & Knight, J. (1994). Effects of inclusion on the academic performance of classrooms without disabilities: A preliminary study. Remedial and Special Education, 15, 281-287.

Intervention in the Regular Education Classroom

During a very informative Twitter chat on Professional Learning Communities (#atplc) led by John Wink (@johnwink90), I tweeted the following:

“Common misconception: Intervention is a pull out. Research shows interventions are just as successful in classroom (R Allington). #atplc”

I got a few questions after sharing, such as “Can the regular classroom teacher also administer an intervention?” and “What specific research actually supports this?”.

Fair questions. I discovered this information in the excellent resource Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write by Richard Allington and Patricia Cunningham. The authors provide a lot of practical for improving student learning. A common thread throughout this book is schools don’t necessarily need more staffing and funding to get better. Rather, they should relook at what they already have and do things a little differently.

20120901-134911.jpg

Take intervention blocks. Many schools are now required to insert 30-45 minute periods at each grade level for intervention. This concept is proposed by Dr. Michael Rettig and other scheduling experts. Unfortunately, with the daily school schedule is already broken out for specials, lunch, recess and more, this model may serve to further fracture an already disconnected school day. Instead, Allington and Cunningham suggest a more flexible approach: Have special program teachers provide all their instructional support in the regular classroom rather than in a location down the hall (74).

The research to support this method has been around for almost twenty years (Gelzheiser et al., 1992; Sharpe et al., 1994). The two authors summarize these studies by stating that in-class instructional support, whether remediation or special education, produces achievement gains at least as large (my emphasis) as the gains from pull-out instruction without having a negative impact on the achievement of other students in the room (75).

It is not suggested that all intervention should be a push-in model; teachers have to understand their students’s needs. What works best for each individual may be different, including location. For example, a student might be easily distractible in the regular classroom, or they may be embarrassed to be seen reading much easier books than others. In both situations a pull-out model probably works best. However, a positive of intervening in the regular education classroom is the potential for more and better academic collaboration between the specialist and the classroom teacher. The specialist sees the learning targets students are working toward in the classroom and can better connect the intervention to what their student is learning during regular instruction.

Here are some reasons for using this approach to intervention:

– The stigmatism of being pulled out for a “special class” is removed.
– Transitions can be emotionally difficult for some students.
– Each teacher can observe the other teacher instruct, which can lead to some informal yet powerful peer coaching opportunities.
– Less instructional time is wasted going back and forth to and from the intervention room. Allington and Cunningham estimate that, at a minimum, 10 minutes are wasted each day during transitions (124), including getting work put away and back out in the regular classroom. This equates to about one hour per week, or almost four instructional days for an entire school year. What teacher wouldn’t want four more days of instruction to work with their students without having to extend the school year?

20120901-135047.jpg

Is the Change Worth the Messiness?

As with any significant change, doing things differently to try to increase student achievement usually involves altering the way we teach. It is uncomfortable, messy and is usually met with resistance. The way I may plan to approach this in my school is finding one or even two people who are willing to try this out, even on a very small basis. If positive results are observed, word will spread and more staff will be interested in giving it a shot. At the same, I am keeping an open mind by remembering that no one process works for all schools, including my own.

References

Allington, R.L., & Cunningham, P.M. (2002). Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write (2 ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Gelzheiser, L. M., Meyers, J., & Pruzek, R.M. (1992). Effects of pull-in and pull-out approaches to reading instruction for special education and remedial reading students. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 3, 133-149.

Sharpe, M.N., York, J.L., & Knight, J. (1994). Effects of inclusion on the academic performance of classrooms without disabilities: A preliminary study. Remedial and Special Education, 15, 281-287.

My Teachers’ Checklist for the Beginning of the Year

I am sharing this checklist with my staff on Wednesday, six days before students arrive.

Within First Day

Give students a tour of the school
Know all their names and get to know each other
Explain school expectations and start to build classroom rules
Provide a classroom environment conducive for learning and success
– Physical (light, temperature, space, noise)
– Adequate Planning
– Structure
– Scheduling

By Friday of First Week

Build a community of learners (RC, Tribes, other team builders)
Teach Cool Tools, fire and tornado drill, Code Red and Yellow
Ensure success for all students on first academic activity
Set academic goals with students and/or families
Identify students’ strengths, interests, needs (Maslow)
Start content area instruction with pre-assessments

Before End of First Month

Post learning targets as a grade level
Structure classroom so kids are reading and writing 50% of the time
Differentiate instruction as needed so all students can be successful
Observe and practice collaboration skills (whole staff)
Communicate positively, two-way with your families
Plan to meet regularly on building teams (grade level and vertical)
Start developing classroom look-fors for literacy and numeracy
Build relationships with students, knowing their motivations and triggers
Develop a Plan B when students don’t respond to regular instruction
Read “Six Elements for Every Child” by Richard Allington

Questions I Have

What is missing?

What have I left out that should be missing?

Are my expectations too high?

Are my expectations not high enough?

What should be added?

What should be subtracted?

The Garden as a Classroom

This summer was the first time I involved my two kids in one of my favorite pastimes: gardening. Knowing how their personalities and interests vary, I decided to help my son raise a vegetable garden and my daughter to arrange a pot of annuals.

My son really wanted to grow a pizza garden. After we cleared up some misconceptions about where crust and pepperoni came from, we decided that our pizza garden would have peppers, three different types of tomatoes, some lettuce and onions (the last vegetable being my addition against his better judgment). To ensure everything grew well, we used a unique container and placed it by the front door.

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My daughter did not need as much of her dad’s guidance as she planned her arrangement. She took what she needed from the flats of flowers I had laying around and went right to work. In no time, a very nice combination of dusty miller, impatiens and cosmos was created. Where did she learn how to do that? My guess is she had watched me use the same steps planting other beds, and either followed my lead or learned what not to do. My daughter also was integral in keeping the other backyard plantings watered during a very dry July.

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I also found some time this summer to garden for myself. The best results I got were from my flower bed in the front of the house. The nasturtium (orange flowers, circular leaves) self-sowed from last year, coming back this spring to climb the wall once more. When deciding what to plant with it, a local expert at a greenhouse informed me that nasturtium do not like to grow in healthy soil. In fact, the poorer the better. She directed me to some companion plants such as verbena and marigolds, which prefer similar conditions. This saved me a lot of work in tilling the bed and adding fertilizers.

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Having over an acre to work with where I live, there is always room for new ideas and innovation. Opportunity knocked when my wife decided that the old raspberry patch had to go. After we cleared out the plot, I decided to prepare the soil for next year (vegetables are going there and would require better soil). To remediate the barren earth, I planted clover seed. This ground cover would serve as “green manure”, by putting nitrogen back into the soil as it grew. In the spring, I’ll till the clover into the bed.

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The Garden as a Classroom

The way we approach our favorite hobby and share it with others seems similar to how effective teachers help their students learn. For example, we understand that students come with different backgrounds, interests and abilities. Just as I tailored the gardening activity for my kids, teachers also find different ways for everyone to be successful. The goal we had didn’t change (to plant and care for a garden, and to find joy in the activity). The same is true for the students in our classrooms. The learning target is visible and attainable, and we differentiate our instruction so everyone can attain mastery. However, we don’t alter our instruction so much that we lose sight of what we set out to accomplish. And like a hobby, learning should be an engaging experience, something our students will enjoy so much that they will pursue it independently.

As the growing season starts to wind down, my family and I are enjoying our harvest of fresh veggies and blooms. My kids know they were successful by the literal fruits of their labor. Teachers also consider more authentic ways to check for understanding beyond the paper and pencil test. This concept applies to formative assessment as well as summative assessment. During the summer, if the plants would wilt, we would water them. I didn’t probe the soil to measure the water content to determine how much moisture is needed. We could tell we needed to water because we saw the immediate symptoms of something wrong. Teachers also know when their students need support, and they respond strategically even if a diagnostic assessment isn’t readily available or timely.

Summers are like mini-sabbaticals for me, getting out of school to take time for myself, to be with family and friends, to think, to recharge. Time spent on other interests also helps me gain perspective and make connections between the classroom and other endeavors. A good example is my flower bed. I could have said, “The soil is poor, so I need to fix it and grow the plants I want”. However, this was the path of most resistance. Instead, I took what nature gave me and found success with the hand I was dealt. I connect this concept to some of the kids who come to our schools, those whose soil is also poor (i.e. lack of background knowledge, basic needs not met, etc.). We shouldn’t try to “fix them”, and then throw in the towel with sympathy and excuses when they don’t respond to our mismatched instruction. Teachers take them from where they are at and constantly try to move them forward, doing whatever it takes to ensure learning success.

Educators continuously reflect on current practices and search for better ways to teach to keep their skills sharp. Just as I am trying out green manure, I consider new ideas learned from others that might replace my present day strategies for teaching. One example that has been around for a while is integrated units of study. Taking different subject areas and creating concept-based curriculum units that ties it all together is more authentic and puts the learning in a real-world context. Plus, it seems like a more efficient way to address the Common Core State Standards.

Back in the spring I encouraged my staff to read a few books, take time for themselves and think about ways to better their instruction. As a leader, I need to follow my own advice and lead by example.

Our School’s 21st Century PD Plan

After much thought, lots of professional reading, and many conversations with practitioners and experts, I felt ready to put together this coming year’s professional development plan. I find it helpful to create a visual of the goals. Using Grafio on the iPad, I was able to develop a snapshot of what this year’s learning will look like:

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What I Feel Good About
“Year 3” in the middle just signifies that we are in the third year of our three year professional development cycle. We are using the Regie Routman in Residence series Reading-Writing Connection. The Optimal Learning Model (OLM) is a framework of instruction similar to the gradual release of responsibility process. (Last year our main focus was implementing the OLM; the year before was an introduction of the OLM).

The three main components of the plan are continuations of where we are at and where we want to be. Example: Last year half the staff had iPads for instruction and intervention; this year all staff will be using them. If we don’t set aside time to learn how to effectively use these powerful teaching tools, we aren’t tapping into their true potential.

I also like that all learning is supported by our foundation, the Optimal Learning Model. Anything we set out to learn as a staff, as a grade level team or as an individual comes back to this framework. It is the coatrack that we can hang our instructional hats on. Teachers have autonomy within this framework to pursue specific interests they believe will best address their students’ needs. At the same time, we all move together toward the same vision of ensuring students receive the best learning experience possible.

The Unknown
At first glance, it looks as if this plan does not address some of the pressing topics out there in education, such as Common Core and Response to Intervention (RtI). However, as Prego states, “It’s in there.” We will address the new standards when we agree as a group what is essential to see in the classroom during instructional walkthroughs. Likewise, RtI is embedded in our plan, whether through PBIS or strengthening our core instruction.

A new shift to note is giving technology as much of a focus as it has, being one of the three main goals for the building. We have allocated a significant amount of our Title I dollars into purchasing iPads and apps. It’s a bit scary when I think about investing in this yet-to-be proven tool for instruction as we have. However, the potential that this technology has to engage students and make the learning tasks more relevant for them is too strong to ignore.

What are your thoughts? Have I missed anything, or have I given something too much focus? Your feedback is appreciated.

Should Twitter Replace Professional Development?

I have been on Twitter for nine months and I love it. The network of colleagues I have developed has been instrumental in my success as a first year elementary principal. I hope I have done the same for others through my feed and blog posts. It is one of my go-to resources for learning.

That said, I have a few concerns about some of the comments made in this article from The Huffington Post.

-“Many times professional development is like herding cattle: We’re taking everybody in the same direction. We’re going to learn the same thing.”

Is that necessarily a bad thing? I am not referring to what professionals do differently as teams to address specific student learning. Teachers should have autonomy and freedom to make instructional decisions and use the best tools both they and evidence deem most effective. They are closest to the kids and have the vantage point. What I am looking at is the overarching teaching framework a school or district is using to guide their own development. At my school, we use the Optimal Learning Model developed by Regie Routman. All of our instruction, curriculum and assessment go back to this powerful process for teaching all students. We are moving forward as a team, but we still have room to be creative.

– “Little research exists on what types of professional development for teachers work best.”

Actually, a lot of research exists on what works best for teachers and professional development. For example, Linda Darling-Hammond summarized what the three best professional development activities are based on research, in her resource The Right to Learn: PD must center on the critical areas of teaching and learning, investigations of personal and local practice must predominate, and substantial and sustained conversations about these investigations must take place. Twitter definitely has a place in this discussion, but it is only one way to communicate and not the preferred way for some educators. I would also reference Rick DuFour and Robert Eaker’s Professional Learning Communities At Work, which bases a lot of their evidence-based practices on research by Peter Senge, Michael Fullan and Peter Drucker.

– “Twitter And Facebook Might Soon Replace Traditional Teacher Professional Development”

Going back to the prior statement, Twitter actually lacks the definitive research to make assertions like this, even though others and I find it very helpful. Education and educators (including me) are notorious for jumping on the next big thing without thinking it through first. Does anyone’s school have their house so in order that professionals having in-person conversations about their own students would be trumped by a 140 character discussion with someone with a different community, population of kids and building dynamic? Eric did end the article by stating that he values his face-to-face conversations more than his virtual ones. I appreciate his perspective as he is a leader in 21st Century learning. My kids would be fortunate to attend his school.

Education always seems to be looking for the magic bullet, when in fact it comes back to the same concepts: best instructional practices, collaboration, formative assessment and accountability, among others. I would hate to see Twitter made to be more than what it is – an excellent tool for learning.

Summarizing a Book Study with Prayer Cards

If you are Catholic, you may have recently noticed the changes in our prayers and responses. To help remember these changes, my church created double-sided laminated cards with the revised language.

In one of those rare moments when I was not totally focused on the homily, my mind began to wander back to these prayer cards, thinking, “Would something like this be useful after reading an educational resource?”. Everyone is different in how they curate the important information they glean from a worthy text. Some educators like me write in the margins while others highlight. A few people I know are so careful about leaving the book as they found it that you would not find one underline or a note in the entire volume. The difficulty I find with all of these methods is teachers have limited time to go back, look in a book and pull out what is needed for their instruction and planning.

What I believe matters most when doing a book study, either school wide or in a small group, is that we are applying what we learned as a group directly to the classroom. All staff should be making a concerted effort to improve as a whole building so that students receive consistently effective instruction year after year. As chance would have it, my school just recently finished the book Teaching Essentials by Regie Routman. Using my church's prayer card as a model, I lifted the most important/talked about/thought-provoking/necessary statements from Regie's book and put it in these cards. Much of what I took is based on the staff book discussions I observed, along with concepts we needed to keep at the forefront of our minds.

At one of our last staff gatherings, I distributed these “Prayer Cards” as a way to celebrate our learning.

I see a number of benefits to providing this document as part of our professional development book study. First, everyone has the important concepts at hand so they can be transferred from mind to action more easily. Learning lost is nothing gained. Second, staff know it is expected we apply this knowledge to the classroom. It's not enough to sign off on a plan saying we completed so many hours of professional development; we as educators need to put our plans into action. Lastly, I believe it is important that kids see these cards in the classroom. As an example, some of the teachers taped them down to their desk, while others posted them on their personal bulletin board or made bookmarks out of them for their lesson plan books. However they are visible, students seeing a product of their teacher's growth sends a strong message about how learning never stops.