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.

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.

Literacy, Leadership and Walkthroughs

I recently attended the Literacy and Leadership Institute in Madison, WI. It was hosted by Regie Routman, creator of the Reading-Writing Connection professional development series (which my building uses). This may have been the best conference I have attended. Everything was connected to best practices. A lot of what the presenters at this conference shared is based on research and publications by Richard Allignton and Peter Johnston.

Summarizing all that I learned into one post would be like trying to stuff an elephant into a foot locker. Instead, I attempted to synthesize my thinking by creating a walkthrough checklist connected to best literacy practices. It is based on an article published by Richard Allington in Phi Delta Kappan in 2002, titled “What I've Learned About Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers” (a straightforward if not catchy title). I condensed his findings about what exemplary teachers do into twelve statements.

 

Time

  • Students are actually reading and writing around 50% of the time.
  • Students are reading independently, meeting with the teacher for guided reading, and/or reading and writing in the content areas.

Texts

  • Students are reading texts that allow for high levels of accuracy, fluency and comprehension.
  • Classroom texts reflect a broad range of interests, diversity and levels.

Teaching

  • Teacher gives direct, explicit demonstrations of thinking strategies that good readers and writers use when they read and write.
  • Teacher assigns work that is responsive to students' needs and fosters a transition of thinking strategies to independent use.

Talk

  • Teacher facilitates lots of purposeful dialogue – both teacher/student and student/student.
  • Classroom talk is more conversational than interrogational.

Tasks

  • Teacher assigns activities that are substantial, challenging and complex.
  • Students are allowed some choice and autonomy in work to promote ownership and engagement.

Testing

  • Teacher evaluates student work based on effort and growth rather than just achievement.
  • Students take responsibility for their scores with the help of clear and visible academic expectations.

Using this checklist as a Google Form on my iPad, I could walk through classrooms and document how often best practices are occurring. Teachers are already used to me being in the classroom to read aloud or just observe. Is this a logical next step? It was suggested that if a checklist is used to document frequency of best practices, it needs to be sandwiched with positive feedback, probably in the form of a written note and verbal praise before leaving the classroom. I will defintiely need to reference Choice Words and Opening Minds by Peter Johnston often as I begin providing feedback. A hybrid of both a checklist and a written narrative may work best for my staff and me.

If I was the teacher, would this checklist along with a short observational narrative have the potential to help me improve my own practices? Would I feel defensive and nervous, or wonder what my principal's motivation is?

As the principal, will this type of walkthrough give me a reliable set of data to help determine where we are growing and where we need to grow? Could I eventually expect the teachers to use this process and observe each other, using a peer coaching format?

 

I need to sit on this draft of an idea and come back to it later. I would welcome any feedback!

iPads as Tools for Engaging Students

(This is a summary I shared with a community foundation that funded two iPads in my building, about my observations when using iPads with reluctant readers.)

GRANT PURPOSE AND OUTCOMES

Description
Howe Elementary School requested and received two iPad 2s. The purpose of these tools for learning is to engage young learners, especially those who struggle in school and need support, or for those who require more enrichment in their education.

Start Date and End Date
I started using the mobile devices as an intervention tool for two upper elementary students in early October. We ended the intervention in late December. The two students and I met for approximately one and a half hours per week (two 45 minute intervention sessions). Both students were put in more intense interventions for reading after the winter break, and I will be picking up two more students who have made strong gains in a more intense intervention. See the attached lesson plan to see one example of an intervention session, which corresponds to the photo submitted.

A diversion from the intent of these devices was to use the iPads for Able Learners, students who were labeled Gifted and Talented in the past. One 1st grade teacher has been allowing her four able learners to use some critical thinking apps such as Casey’s Contraptions and Rocket Math as a way to challenge them. I’ve asked this teacher to reflect on how it was working for her students. We are also now looking at using iPads because the Able Learner program has been cut to only one position for the district. These devices might provide the classroom support needed at a minimal cost.

Parent and Community Partnership
Using these devices to support diverse students’ learning needs has spawned some innovative ideas at Howe Elementary School. Based on the success observed with the two devices you have allowed us to purchase, the following initiatives are planned for the second part of the year:

Three special education teachers will be using district funds to purchase an iPad in order to accommodate students with learning, emotional and language disabilities.

Fourteen teachers will be implementing an iPad in their classroom to a) discover ways to use the device to increase their teaching capacity, and b) provide another tool for differentiating instruction and facilitating interventions in their classroom.

The Parent Partnership Team at Howe will be hosting a series of Technology Nights in the spring once teachers become proficient at using the iPads. Parents and community members will be invited to explore the devices with teachers and students. The objective will be to share how the school is using them to a) support student learning and b) communicate with families more regularly.

Four iPads will be replacing four desktops in a kindergarten room. This pilot will assess whether these mobile devices are better suited for primary students when compared with personal computers.

Making the Case for Better Meetings

For many, the word “meeting” has a negative connotation. Ask anyone to conjure up images and they may think of piles of paperwork that will end up in the recycle bin, pointless PowerPoints, and styrofoam coffee cups stuffed with candy wrappers, evidence of last ditch efforts by staff to load up on caffeine in order to remain focused.

As someone new to leading a school, a focus of mine is to make meetings more meaningful. Here are some strategies that I have learned from others, along with other tips I have discovered the hard way.

1. Have an agenda and stick to it.

This comment was reiterated at my PBIS training today, and it cannot be said enough. For me and many others, it is nice to see the topics ahead of time so I can plan my thinking. Also, the only topics to be discussed are limited to what is written means there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

2. Use data in a visual format.

Throwing a bunch of numbers in front of unsuspecting staff is just that, a bunch of numbers. Putting those same numbers in an arresting display catches the eye and solicits engagement. Once you have their attention…

3. Provide a framework for discussion.

I like to use a five step data analysis process to guide our discussions. It keeps the language consistent and our feedback objective with each other, especially helpful when we are looking at teacher’s assessment results of their students. We try not to judge, just listen and ask for clarification to promote reflection.

4. Let the teachers do the talking.

My role is to start, facilitate and guide the discussion, not to flaunt what I think I know. The best answers come from within. As long as the discussion is about kids, generally positive and constructive, and uses evidence to support decisions, I see no need to interfere.

5. Follow up with minutes.

This is an area that I am slowly getting better at. Handwritten notes are fine, but I find myself placing them on my pile of things to do when I get back to my office. How big is your “To do” pile? Bringing my laptop and typing what was said during discussion ensures that the minutes will be ready for immediate delivery to all staff with one click of the Send button.

One of my favorite positive quotes about meetings is from Todd Whitaker, who stated, “One goal of every faculty meeting is that teachers should be more excited about teaching tomorrow than they were today”. This advice, along with the strategies mentioned above, are all ideas I have gleaned from other educational leaders that work for me. What works for you and your staff?