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Posted by on in All Means All

  Correlation of Reading Levels

 

Correlations-of-Reading-Levels.pdf

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Principals and their teams continuously address the following questions to design and maintain RTI-based systems of support

 

Tiers 1 & 2

 

What are the most essential academic & behavioral learning outcomes within units that teams commonly agree that students will master? What do we collaboratively agree it will look like & sound like when students master these most essential outcomes? 

 

How will we differentiate & scaffold teaching & learning so that all students can access essential learning outcomes & show us what they know, even students with significant deficits in foundational skills…even students with IEPs…even students learning English…even students from “disadvantaged” backgrounds? How will we extend, enrich, & deepen teaching & learning when students demonstrate mastery?

 

When will we provide intervention & enrichment during a dedicated buffer (Tier 2) time so that students don’t fall behind and so student learning is richer & deeper?

 

Tier 3

 

Which students are most at-risk…likely to have a significant deficit in the foundational skills of literacy, numeracy, & behavior? Why is a student significantly at-risk? What is the cause or most immediate area of need?

 

What support will most intensively & specifically target this area of need? What specific resources &/or programs will be used to meet a student’s specific needs?

 

When will the intensive (30 minute…Tier 3) support be provided? (What will students not do?) Which staff is available, & has received the professional development, to provide these supports?

 

How will we frequently monitor student response to this support & make necessary adjustments?

 

Behaviors

 

How will we successfully nurture behavioral skills, aligning the definitions, steps, & processes of Behavioral RTI to those of Academic RTI? How will we, like academic skills, prioritize, define, teach, model, reinforce, & re-teach (when necessary) behavioral skills? How will staffs assume collective responsibility for nurturing student behavior?

 

Systematic Leadership

 

When will our “Leadership Team” (or Student Study Team or Problem Solving Team) meet frequently (at least every 2 weeks) to analyze data, examine or re-examine student needs, ensuring students are adequately progressing, and make the adjustments necessary to guarantee that this occurs?

What evidence do we have that we’re not only DOING the things identified above, but that these things are WORKING to improve student outcomes?

7 Keys to Serving Students who are Gifted within RTI-MTSS

 

  1. Ensure that all students – including students who are gifted – have access to supplemental supports if and when necessary; don’t make assumptions about strengths and lack of needs.
  2. Meet students where they are and commit to accelerating growth from current level of readiness. 
  3. Learn more about differentiated practices such as compacting, and prepare to pre-assess to inform differentiation – commit to letting go of “normal.”
  4. Re-connect with researched-based practitioners from the past – particularly Piaget and Bloom – and the tools that they created that can support the teaching and learning of students who are gifted.
  5. Good curriculum and instruction for students are gifted begins with good curricular and instructional design . Students are students first. Best practices for students who are gifted are highly effective for all; best practices for all can be highly effective for students who are gifted.
  6. The pace, path, time, and place of learning is even more critical for students who are gifted – collaboratively think differently about these elements of the learning experience.
  7. As for all students, ensure that students who are gifted have frequent opportunities to engage with tasks that produce “productive struggle.”

 

Instruction & Intervention Systems ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important & impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions & supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, & differentiated instruction. 

Most directly & significantly, Instruction & Intervention Systems build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, & systemic approach to providing academic & behavioral supports for all students. Instruction & Intervention Systems are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Bloom, 1968; 1984; Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).

 

RTI is a verb, as in, “To what extent are students responding to instruction & intervention? To what extent are students RTI’ing.” To extend the metaphor, RTI is not a noun. There are multiple methods & approaches to designing systems of supports based on the principles & practices of RTI for each & every student. Each school has local, contextual needs that require local, contextual solutions. 

7 Keys to Serving Students Learning English within RTI-MTSS

 

  1. Students learning English are students first; support students based on their needs, not their label. 
  2. All students have rich experiences and background knowledge (it just may not match the traditional classroom’s curricula); honor, respect, and include students and their families, languages, and cultures.
  3. Learning a second language is not a deficit; it’s a potentially terrific asset. Bi-literacy and bi-lingualism should be our goal for all students. 
  4. We must explicitly teach English through the functions, forms, and structures of the language AND scaffold the teaching and learning within all content areas so that students learning English successfully access concepts and skills.
  5. All forms of language must be present in our classrooms, both receptive and expressive. Student practice and proficiency of written and verbal expression must be prioritized along with reading and listening.
  6. Collaboration and communication are particularly critical for successfully serving students learning English. 
  7. Proactively differentiated lesson and unit designs are even more critical when planning teaching and learning experiences for students learning English.

 

 

Instruction & Intervention Systems ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important & impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions & supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, & differentiated instruction. 

 

Most directly & significantly, Instruction & Intervention Systems build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, & systemic approach to providing academic & behavioral supports for all students. Instruction & Intervention Systems are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Bloom, 1968; 1984; Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).

 

RTI is a verb, as in, “To what extent are students responding to instruction & intervention? To what extent are students RTI’ing.” To extend the metaphor, RTI is not a noun. There are multiple methods & approaches to designing systems of supports based on the principles & practices of RTI for each & every student. Each school has local, contextual needs that require local, contextual solutions. 

7 Keys to Special Education within RTI-MTSS

 

  1. We initiate IEPs with the expectation that they’ll work – that students will develop skills & strategies that empower them to be successful without an IEP.
  2. Students with IEPs are students first & must be served within all tiers of support.
  3. Specifically targeting student needs, & not engaging in curriculum catch-up, should be the goal of special education teachers’ time with students with IEPs.
  4. When strategically assessing within the finite formal evaluation time frame, we ask, “What unique supports would or could students receive within special education that they are not receiving now? What evidence will communicate to staff, the student, & parents that special education supports are no longer necessary? 
  5. All students must have access to the core through scaffolded & differentiated supports within the least restrictive environments.
  6. Readiness for entry into a four-year college or a skilled career is the goal & expectation for every student with an IEP (with the understanding that enrollment in a four-year college will not be the pathway for all; it will be an option).
  7. Executive functioning, self-regulation, growth mindsets, & perseverance are critical skills for students with IEPs, as they are for all students, & development of these skills must be modeled, taught, & nurtured.

 

Instruction & Intervention Systems ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important & impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions & supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, & differentiated instruction. 

Most directly & significantly, Instruction & Intervention Systems build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, & systemic approach to providing academic & behavioral supports for all students. Instruction & Intervention Systems are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Bloom, 1968; 1984; Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).

 

RTI is a verb, as in, “To what extent are students responding to instruction & intervention? To what extent are students RTI’ing.” To extend the metaphor, RTI is not a noun. There are multiple methods & approaches to designing systems of supports based on the principles & practices of RTI for each & every student. Each school has local, contextual needs that require local, contextual solutions. 

7 Keys to Behavior within RTI-MTSS

 

  1. Behavior is as critical as academics; behavioral skills, also known as non-cognitive skills, include the categories of precognitive self-regulation, mindsets, social skills, perseverance, learning strategies, (such as metacognition, cognitive self-regulation, & executive functioning), & academic behaviors (such as participation, work completion, attendance, & engagement). 
  2. We will be most successful nurturing behavioral skills when we align the definitions, steps, & process of Behavioral RTI to those of Academic RTI.
  3. Like academic skills, behavioral skills must be prioritized, defined, taught, modeled, reinforced, & re-taught when necessary. 
  4. Staffs must assume collective responsibility for nurturing student behavior.
  5. Positive relationships lead to better student behavior (as well as greater levels of engagement & learning).
  6. Students in-need behaviorally lack skills that can & must be reinforced, just as is the case for students in-need academically.
  7. When students misbehave, punishment will not result in positive changes. We must guide students to behavioral change through reflection, reteaching, restitution, & restorative justice.

 

Instruction & Intervention Systems ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important & impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions & supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, & differentiated instruction. 

Most directly & significantly, Instruction & Intervention Systems build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, & systemic approach to providing academic & behavioral supports for all students. Instruction & Intervention Systems are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Bloom, 1968; 1984; Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).

 

RTI is a verb, as in, “To what extent are students responding to instruction & intervention? To what extent are students RTI’ing.” To extend the metaphor, RTI is not a noun. There are multiple methods & approaches to designing systems of supports based on the principles & practices of RTI for each & every student. Each school has local, contextual needs that require local, contextual solutions. 

7 Keys to Differentiation within RTI-MTSS

 

  1. Differentiation is a process through which teachers enhance learning by matching instruction & assessment to student characteristics; it’s not a single strategy, but an approach to instruction that incorporates a variety of strategies. 
  2. Differentiated instruction allows all students to access the same curriculum by providing entry points, learning tasks, & outcomes that are tailored to needs. 
  3. Learners differ in background knowledge, experience, culture, language, interests, readiness to learn, modes of learning, rate of learning, self-awareness as a learner, confidence as a learner, & independence as a learner.
  4. Differences profoundly impact how students learn & the nature of scaffolding they will need within the learning process. 
  5. We have a responsibility to ensure that all students master essential content, concepts, & skills; designing specific & continually evolving plans to connect each learner with key content will help fulfill this responsibility. 
  6. We must understand the nature of each student, in addition to the nature of the content they teach. 
  7. A flexible approach to teaching creates learning environments that respect & prepare for student variance; teachers continually ask, "What does this student need at this moment in order to be able to progress with this key content, & what do I need to do to make that happen?"

 

Instruction & Intervention Systems ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important & impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions & supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, & differentiated instruction. 

Most directly & significantly, Instruction & Intervention Systems build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, & systemic approach to providing academic & behavioral supports for all students. Instruction & Intervention Systems are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Bloom, 1968; 1984; Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).

 

RTI is a verb, as in, “To what extent are students responding to instruction & intervention? To what extent are students RTI’ing.” To extend the metaphor, RTI is not a noun. There are multiple methods & approaches to designing systems of supports based on the principles & practices of RTI for each & every student. Each school has local, contextual needs that require local, contextual solutions. 

7 Key Questions to Inform Tier 3 within RTI-MTSS

 

  1. Which students are most at-risk…likely to have a significant deficits in the foundational skills of literacy numeracy, & behavior?
  2. Why is a student significantly at-risk? What are the causes & most immediate area of need?
  3. What support will most intensively & specifically target this area of need?
  4. When will the intensive (30 minute…Tier 3) support be provided? (What will students not do?)
  5. Which staff is available, & has received the professional development, to provide these supports?
  6. What specific resources &/or programs will be used to meet students’ specific needs?
  7. How will we frequently monitor student response to this support & make necessary adjustments?

 

Instruction & Intervention Systems ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important & impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions & supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, & differentiated instruction. 

Most directly & significantly, Instruction & Intervention Systems build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, & systemic approach to providing academic & behavioral supports for all students. Instruction & Intervention Systems are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Bloom, 1968; 1984; Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).

 

RTI is a verb, as in, “To what extent are students responding to instruction & intervention? To what extent are students RTI’ing.” To extend the metaphor, RTI is not a noun. There are multiple methods & approaches to designing systems of supports based on the principles & practices of RTI for each & every student. Each school has local, contextual needs that require local, contextual solutions. 

7 Key Questions to Tier 2 within RTI-MTSS

 

  1. What are the most essential learning outcomes from the preceding unit of instruction?
  2. Which students have mastered these outcomes & which students have not? How do we know?
  3. For which outcomes is there evidence of need? Of these, which are most critical?
  4. When can we provide intervention & enrichment during a dedicated buffer (Tier 2) time?
  5. Which staff can provide intervention & enrichment supports during buffer time?
  6. What strategies (& pedagogies) will be used to meet the intervention & enrichment needs of students?
  7. How will we monitor student progress in response to these supports & measure the efficacy of our efforts?

Instruction & Intervention Systems ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important & impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions & supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, & differentiated instruction. 

Most directly & significantly, Instruction & Intervention Systems build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, & systemic approach to providing academic & behavioral supports for all students. Instruction & Intervention Systems are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Bloom, 1968; 1984; Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).

RTI is a verb, as in, “To what extent are students responding to instruction & intervention? To what extent are students RTI’ing.” To extend the metaphor, RTI is not a noun. There are multiple methods & approaches to designing systems of supports based on the principles & practices of RTI for each & every student. Each school has local, contextual needs that require local, contextual solutions. 

7 Key Questions to Inform Tier 1 within RTI-MTSS

  1. What are the most essential academic & behavioral learning outcomes throughout the year…& within a unit or chapter?
  2. What will it look like & sound like when students master these most essential outcomes? What evidence gathering tools & processes will we use in common, within & by the end of the unit, to measure mastery?
  3. When & how will we collaboratively plan, learn from another, & share best practices?
  4. How will we differentiate & scaffold teaching & learning so that all students can access essential learning outcomes & show us what they know, even students with significant deficits in foundational skills…even students with IEPs…even students learning English?
  5. How will we extend, enrich, & deepen teaching & learning when students demonstrate mastery?
  6. When & how will we collaboratively analyze evidence of student mastery to learn from one another, continuously improve Tier 1 teaching & learning, & prepare for our collective Tier 2 supports?
  7. How will we collaborate, coordinate, & communicate with other grade levels, departments, with special education teachers, & with the administrative team?

Instruction & Intervention Systems ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important & impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions & supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, & differentiated instruction. 

 

Most directly & significantly, Instruction & Intervention Systems build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, & systemic approach to providing academic & behavioral supports for all students. Instruction & Intervention Systems are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Bloom, 1968; 1984; Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).

Posted by on in All Means All

7 Keys to RTI-MTSS

  1.  If we can predict it, we can prepare for it. RTI represents our proactive preparation for predictable needs.
  2. Students aren’t in tiers; needs & supports are in tiers. We support students based on their needs, not a label. Staff support students based on the staff members’ availabilities & expertise, not their job title or funding source.
  3. The best intervention is a targeted intervention.
  4. We passionately subscribe to the practice of teach less, learn more. The quantity of content threatens the mastery of critical skills & concepts.
  5. High levels of learning for all are inevitabilities & all means all – if a student will be expected to live a happy & productive adult life without accommodations & modifications (which is the case for 99% of students, including the majority of students with IEPs), then they are in the ALL category. When we identify a student with a significant deficit in foundational skills, must act with a sense of urgency & provide immediate intervention.
  6. All students must have access to all levels of support.
  7. There is no RTI if we cannot measure the extent to which students are responding to instruction & intervention. We must proactively plan for efficient & effective assessments that provide evidence of student progress and of our efficacy. RTI will not fail; evidence, analysis, and adjustments make RTI a self-correcting system.

Instruction & Intervention Systems ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important & impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions & supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, & differentiated instruction. 

Most directly & significantly, Instruction & Intervention Systems build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, & systemic approach to providing academic & behavioral supports for all students. Instruction & Intervention Systems are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Bloom, 1968; 1984; Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).

RTI is a verb, as in, “To what extent are students responding to instruction & intervention? To what extent are students RTI’ing.” To extend the metaphor, RTI is not a noun. There are multiple methods & approaches to designing systems of supports based on the principles & practices of RTI for each & every student. Each school has local, contextual needs that require local, contextual solutions. 

What is RTI?  Common sense, in fewer than 900 words

What if didn’t know the rules…or if we didn’t feel tied to the way we’ve always done things? What if we just used common sense? What if the guiding principle (our North Star) was giving students what they need most, right now? What if we prioritized that? What if we organized ourselves so that we could do more and more of that?

Here is one example. We did this when I was last a principal. The school served a wonderful community and student population, 80% of whom were English learners and eligible for free or reduced price lunch. For four years, 20% of students scored proficient or advanced on the state tests. After one year of “breaking the rules,” 40% were scoring proficient or advanced. After four years of “breaking the rules,” 80% were scoring proficient or advanced.

Here’s what we did differently.

We looked at each student. The process wasn’t burdensome or lengthy. If, for example, the student scored in the 6th percentile, we asked what we could do to target their needs tomorrow.

When students were mostly on track, we committed to improving engagement and depth. We focused on thinking, and attempted to strike a balance between teacher and student-led experiences. We constantly asked, “What’s most important for these students?” We asked, “What aren’t we doing enough?” and then committed to doing more of that, while making sure we then determined what we weren’t we gonna do or what do we needed to do differently? Finally, we believed in students. We encourage them to believe in themselves.

If, upon looking at each student, we found that the student wasn’t on track to graduate future ready, we asked: “Is there a need within one of reading domains (phonemic awareness, or more broadly phonological awareness when auditory processing difficulties seem to exist; single-syllabic phonics; multiple-syllabic phonics, fluency; comprehension)? Is it computational fluency? Is it behavior?”

We were not “diagnosing” to determine what was wrong with the student or to pinpoint the area of deficit. We were simply identifying their most immediate area of need so we could provide an intervention that meet this need. When there were multiple areas of need, we targeted the antecedent or causal set of skills. Then we initiated those supports immediately.

With behaviors, we identified the why(s). We targeted one behavior, and provided a strategy for teachers and the student that was research-based to improve that behavior. We checked in frequently and had students reflect. We provided lots of feedback throughout the day. We paid attention to progress and adjusted.

We had a singular mission: How do we give our most vulnerable students what they need…NOW?

We scheduled when to provide the support. We asked, “What can students miss? What’s the biggest priority for this student right now?” Or, what less-than-absolutely-essential times available? We need 30 minutes blocks (we can do a lot in 30 minutes if we’re targeted and emphasize intensity). We recognized that for highly vulnerable students, some things might have to take a back seat, temporarily. 

We asked, “Which staff able to support vulnerable students?” We repurposed staff. We re-evaluated the way we spent money.

We asked, “What cost-effective, research-based programs specifically target student needs? What do we have? What do we need to acquire?”

We knew we needed to address how we would intervene? It had to be “All hands on deck.” We trained staff well and often. Intervention sessions were intensive and directive, with frequent mini-tasks, frequent questioning, frequent checks for understanding, and frequent feedback. We limited group size to 5-7 students.

We also frequently monitored progress, checking in on the set of skills that most closely align to student needs and to the supports we provided. It wasn’t about graphs or even numbers; we determined efficacy using our professional judgment and collective response to these questions: “Is the students adequately responding to this intervention? Is the student on track to get back to where they need to be? Is this success transferring to other areas of their school life: behavior, attendance, work completion, attitude, motivation, participation?”

We created to system so that, to the extent possible, these supports took place automatically and with great efficiently. We worked hard, but we worked collaboratively and in a coordinated manner. And we communicated, communicated, communicated.

And we never, ever gave up. We passionately believed that high levels of learning are inevitable. It may take a few months or a few years. We’ll adjust, refocus, strive to learn more…but we will help students get back on track and stay on track to be future ready.

What would you call this? It is, by most definitions, response to intervention or multi-tiered systems of supports. There may be a few elements of RTI that are not found in the preceding 850 words (e.g., Tier 2 or buffer time) but let’s not overcomplicate it. RTI is common sense.

p.s. What about English learners and students with IEPs? We viewed them as students first, and while respecting the unique needs they may have, we expected them to be equally future ready and provided supports based on their needs, not their label.

Service to Country, Community, and Children

I’m a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and a former Air Force pilot (I flew C-141s, now-mothballed, but in its day amongst the most durable of cargo aircraft). Not a day goes by when I don’t feel immense pride in serving my country. My good friends who gave their lives, or who now live as disabled veterans, are likewise constantly on my mind. One thing’s for sure: I gained as much from serving alongside the finest women and men in the world in the US Air Force as my country gained from my service.

Nearly every time an education colleague learns of my prior military service I’m asked the same question: “How did you go from flying in the Air Force to teaching, to being a principal, to serving at the district office? That seems like a strange transition to make.”

I understand the question, but the answer is quite simple.

I feel called to serve, whether that service is to country, community, or children.

Education is the most important endeavor in the world. The impacts of increases in learning are profound. Improvements in knowledge and problem solving skills can empower children growing up in difficult situations to break the cycles of poverty. Improvements in literacies can empower nations to take reclaim their destinies. 

So what’s the purpose of this post?

Simply this: I beg you to consider that while service to country is the most noble of commitments, service to community and to children is equally noble.

Teaching, and the education profession, is a commitment. The preparation, the discipline, and the sacrifices involved in service to country in the military have parallels in service to students. And the need is as great. Change the trajectories of children’s lives and we will change the world. It will be a safer world, a healthier world, and a happier world.

 

Honor teachers, and if you are a teacher, feel honored that your service is amongst the most valued and valuable in any society. 

 

5 Reasons Why "Instruction and Intervention Systems" and Not Simply RTI?

Schools cannot simultaneously operate as loose accumulations of independent contractors and ensure high levels of learning for all students. Schools must behave as collaborative systems in which educators work interdependently on behalf of all students. The goal is high levels for all. The reality is that collaborative systems of support always outperform loose accumulations of independent contractors.

In this white paper, we’ll identify why Exceeding Expectations: Instruction and Intervention Systems represents the necessary, next-generation iteration of response to intervention. We’ll start with a recognition that the term response to intervention has made sense up to now.

Isn’t response to intervention (RTI) the name given to these principles and practices within policy, the literature, and the research?

The origins, the invention of RTI, date to the 1960s and the work of Benjamin Bloom and his proactive supports, based on need, in the following areas:

  • Core classroom experiences must include more depth and less breadth, with commonly designed and planned core curriculum and commonly designed and analyzed measures of learning. Bloom called this level of support Conventional; educators today call this Tier 1. 
  • More time and alternative supports (intervention and enrichment) must be proactively planned and embedded within the school year and school day, so that more students master core priorities more deeply, because we can anticipate that not all students will have reached mastery on our timetable and in response to our first best instruction. Bloom called this level of support Mastery Learning; educators today call this Tier 2.
  • Intensive and immediate supports must be provided to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students with significant deficits in foundational skills so that they can both more successfully access the core and close the gap with grade-level and age-level peers. Bloom called this level of support Enhanced Prerequisites; educators today call this Tier 3.

Gains in student achievement as a result of Conventional supports equated to an effect size of 0.4. Conventional + Mastery Learning equated to an effect size of 1.0. Conventional + Mastery Learning + Enhanced Prerequisites equated to an effect size of 1.6. The significantly positive impacts of proactively planned and provided systems of support have been replicated for decades since Bloom’s work. We have known for 50 years that a truly transformative and superior way of serving students exists. 

Response to intervention next and most prominently entered the educational discourse through the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) in 2004

IDEA 2004 altered the landscape for schools. Whereas practitioners previously used the IQ-achievement discrepancy model to identify children with learning disabilities, the reauthorization allowed schools to employ a lack of “response to intervention” as an alternative method for determining eligibility for special education and as a rationale for providing early intervention to children at risk for school failure. The discrepancy model had been discredited psychometrically (as a predictor of the presence of a learning disability) for a decade prior to the reauthorization. The 2004 law allowed school an alternative.

While the reauthorized law seems, at first glance, to relate to eligibility determinations for special education, using a lack of response to intervention for such determinations has obvious implications for all of education. Successfully implementing response to intervention within Instruction and Intervention System requires that we intervene (proactively and intensively and monitor the extent to which students are responding. IDEA 2004 encourages this intervention and monitoring to be done early—early in a student’s school career (in grades K–3) and also early upon the identification of a difficulty or deficit—and permits districts to use as much as 15 percent of their special education monies to fund these early intervening services.

Shortly after the reauthorization, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (Griffiths, Parson, Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Tilly, 2007) published a widely distributed, widely read, and widely used set of recommendations entitled, “Response to intervention: Research for practice.” This document, while primarily written to describe why and how RTI is a viable alternative to discrepancy-based models of determining eligibility, prompted the creation of RTI plans and policies in states and districts across the country. All 50 states have a requirement that the principles and practices of RTI be embedded within plans for early intervention and supports for vulnerable students; approximately one dozen states require that a lack of RTI be used to determine eligibility for special education, which is allowed under the 2004 reauthorization. States have adjusted the term (e.g., Multi-Tiered Systems of Support or MTSS, response to instruction and intervention or RTI2), but the principles and practices are fundamentally the same. I have had the great good fortune to support schools in nearly every province, state, and territory of Canada and Australia where RTI, while not part of a federal law, is a popular practice in wide use across districts and schools in both countries. Policies across all 50 states directly reference RTI is some way (Zirkel & Thomas, 2010):

  • 16 states explicitly or implicitly recommend RTI through guidelines
  • 10 states explicitly or implicitly require RTI through guidelines
  • 24 states explicitly or implicitly require RTI by law
  • 2/3 of states reference both behavioral and academic skills
  • 10% of states connect RTI/MTSS to general education interventions

Response to intervention is the name given in the research to the set of principles and practices through which collaborative teams of educators ask: What student needs can we anticipate, and for what supports can we proactively plan and prepare? (Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007). Here are the top 10 influences on achievement from Hattie’s Visible Learning research:

RankMost InfluenceEffect Size

1Self-reported grades/Student expectations1.44

2Piagetian programs1.28

3Response to Intervention1.07

4Teacher credibility0.90

5Providing formative evaluation0.90

6Micro-teaching0.88

7Classroom discussion0.82

8Comprehensive interventions for students with learning disabilities0.77

9Teacher clarity0.75

10Teacher clarity0.75

Response to intervention, then, is a perfectly defensible name. While some educators have (understandably) become tone-deaf to the term and acronym, while some believe that the term only refers to intervention (although the first of the three tiers is core instruction), and while misfires and missteps have jaundiced others, renaming and rebranding this powerful set of principles and practices should probably not occur in the absence of compelling reasons. Why, then, would response to intervention and related initiatives be rebranded? Why is Exceeding Expectations: Instruction and Intervention Systems a superior process and set of principles and practices?

So why Instruction and Intervention Systems, and not simply RTI?

As is the case for so many initiatives, RTI has been misunderstood and misapplied. We prefer to implement (and define) the principles and practices of RTI as Instruction and Intervention Systems for the following reasons:

#1 – Collaborative practices must be much more prominently represented in traditional RTI: Instruction and Intervention Systems represent the logical connection between professional learning communities and response to intervention. There is no response to intervention without the foundation of collaborative professional practices. The research-based principles of response to intervention represent the necessary extensions to teacher-based professional learning communities; these principles define the cultural and practical commitments of all staff working on behalf of all students’ learning at high levels within an organized system in which the coordinated services to students are greater than the sum of their parts.

#2 – Instruction and Intervention Systems represent the integration of powerful and research-based principles and practices – response to intervention (RTI), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), professional learning communities (PLCs), positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), universal design for learning (UDL), special education, gifted education, and differentiated instruction. 

#3 – Instruction and Intervention Systems make the connection between academics and behaviors explicit: non-cognitive, pro-social, pro-functional skills, including:

  • Pre-cognitive self-regulation
  • Cognitive self-regulation
  • Executive functioning
  • Social-emotional learning

These behaviors have been well summarized by David Conley’s “Think, Know, Act, Go” (2014) and by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ (2015) 10 habits with which young adults must develop mastery:

  1. Creativity and innovation 
  2. Critical thinking and problem solving
  3. Communication and collaboration 
  4. Information and media literacy 
  5. Technological literacy 
  6. Flexibility and adaptability 
  7. Initiative and self-direction 
  8. Social and cross-cultural skills 
  9. Productivity and accountability
  10. Leadership and responsibility

In our schools, we have prioritized, defined, expected, taught, modeled, assessed, and provided feedback to students in relation to the following 16 skills:

  1. Cooperation – Interacting within learning environments and with others positively; collaborating responsibly with others in diverse teams
  2. Social respect – Complying with expectations; managing relationships; guiding and leading others awareness of emotions
  3. Physical respect – Demonstrating care and concern for the physical being and space of others
  4. Verbal respect – Using kind, positive and supportive words; communicating clearly and persuasively
  5. Self-control – Ability to control oneself physically and verbally; responsible decision making
  6. Attendance – Physical, cogntive, and emotional presence at school
  7. Honesty – Truthfulness in relationships and learning
  8. Resiliency – Techniques for regulating responses to situations; reflecting upon reasons of success or failure and seeking help; adapting to change; flexibility
  9. Empathy – Consideration of others’ situations; conscientiousness; awareness of social situations
  10. Metacognitive practices – Knowledge and beliefs about thinking; problem solving; thinking creatively and critically; self-awareness
  11. Growth mindset and positive self-concept – Viewing learning as continuous and intelligence as malleable; optimism; belief in oneself
  12. Self-monitoring/ internal locus of control – Ability to plan, prepare, and proceed; analyzing and evaluating findings and viewpoints; monitoring progress and confirming the precision of work
  13. Engagement/ motivation – Ability to maintain interest and drive; setting short-term and long-term goals; focusing on an interest or career pathway or major
  14. Strategy creation and use – Employing techniques for construction, organization, and memorization of knowledge; utilizing memorization techniques, study skills, technology skills, and problem-solving strategies
  15. Volition & perseverance – Efforts needed to stay motivated; managing progress toward goals, projects, effort, and time; self-directed learning; working independently
  16. Attention – Ability to focus, even when presented with distractors

#4 – Instruction and Intervention Systems emphasize that all students receive targeted instruction, intervention, and enrichment in the following areas (in other words, the principles and practices of response to intervention tangibly and practically apply to all students): 

  • Differentiated: Teaching and learning cycles for grade-level and course-specific behavioral and academic priorities for all students. Teachers respond to a student’s unique learning needs by making adjustments to process, content, product, and environments based on a student’s interests, learning profile, and readiness levels. This may require scaffolding, co-planning / co-teaching in preparation for full inclusion, and compacting / enriching for gifted and advanced students. These supports are often described as Tier 1.
  • Individualized: Timely and targeted supports for greater levels of student mastery of academic and behavioral priorities, so that students don’t fall behind (or further behind) and so students can achieve reach greater depths of understanding. If differentiation is the how, then individualization is the when. Learning progresses at different speeds; some students may need to review previously covered material, while others may be ready to immerse themselves in a certain topic. These supports are often described as Tier 2.
  • Personalized: Intervention and enrichment to meet students’ at the forward edge of their zones of proximal development; intensive supports to meet significant deficits in foundational skills AND opportunities for students to exercise choice over the what and how of passions into which they will dive deeply. Extending the metaphor, if differentiation is the how and individualization is the when, the personalization is the where – as in, where are students in their learning journey. Students who are not yet performing at expected levels, due to significant deficits in foundational skills, receive targeted and intensive supports at the leading edge of their zone of proximal development to close the gap. Students who are meeting and exceeding age and grade expectations dig deeper into areas of interest. All students’ experiences are tailored to preferences and interests; support is paced to students’ unique needs. Students are involved in the creation and monitoring of their learning path. These supports are often described as Tier 3.

#5 – Instruction and Intervention Systems place a priority on rigor, relevance, and relationships; an Instruction and Intervention Systemis the framework within which rigor, relevance, and relationships will become consistently embedded within every classroom, by every educator, on behalf of every student.

  • Horizontally – Staff within a grade level or course collaboratively define the prioritized skills and concepts that all students will learn.
  • Vertically – Staff from adjacent grade levels and courses collaboratively define the prioritized skills and concepts that all students will learn from grade-to-grade and course-to-course.
  • Interdisciplinary – Staff craft learning experiences that include the application of skills and concepts within multiple subject areas.
  • Rigor – Staff will ensure that the questions and tasks with which students are cognitively engages require rich thinking and authentic problem-solving.
  • Relevance – Ownership and empowerment are enhanced as students are given opportunities to more significantly exercise voice, choice, and agency, in pursuit of their passions, through personalized tasks for which they see a purpose. 
  • Relationships – Student relationships with peers and adults nurture growth mindsets within positive learning environments.

Instruction and Intervention Systems are simply a more comprehensive representation of the principles and practices of RTI, one the most research-based and impactful initiatives with which schools and staffs can engage. Instruction and Intervention Systems focus more on the development of successful supports for all students than on the creation of bell schedules, the acquisition of programs, and a simple documentation of efforts. Schedules, programs, and documentation are means to the end – the end is high levels of learning for every student whatever it takes; and high levels of learning are inevitabilities. Instruction and Intervention Systems commit to differentiated, scaffolded supports for every student at every tier or type of support, for both behavioral skills and academic skills, beginning at Tier 1. And of course, while a lack of response to high-quality, research-based intervention is a superior way of determining eligibility, Instruction and Intervention Systems are not only, or primarily, about eligibility determinations. Instruction and Intervention Systems are about creating supportive and guaranteed environments in which staff proactively prepare to provide students the supports they need, when they need them. 

Response to intervention – both the term and the principles and practices represented by the term – is among the very most positively impactful initiatives with which we can engage as educators. And yet, the education profession has, in some cases, applied response to intervention unproductively or views RTI in less-than-positive ways. Redefining, rebranding, and reminding educators of the key principles and practices of response to intervention are appropriate and necessary steps. Reimagining what schools can and should so, systematically, on behalf of every student, is a moral imperative. In this white paper, we have both attempted to connect response to intervention to its core foundations and provide justifications for the term Instruction and Intervention Systems as representative of an even more comprehensive set of services to all students, whatever it takes, so that high levels of learning and future readiness for all is a reality. 

 

 

 

References

Bloom, B. S. (1968). Learning for mastery. Evaluation Comment, 1(2). Los Angeles: UCLA Center for Study of Evaluation of Instructional Programs, 1–12.

Bloom. B. S. (1984, May). The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational Leadership, 41(8), 4–17.

Burns, M. K., & Symington, T. (2002). A meta-analysis of prereferral intervention teams: Systemic and student outcomes. Journal of School Psychology, 40, 437–447.

Burns, M. K., Appleton, J. J., & Stehouwer, J. D. (2005). Meta-analysis of response-to-intervention research: Examining field-based and research-implemented models. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 23, 381–394.

Conley, D. T. (2014). Getting ready for college, careers, and the Common Core. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Elbaum, B., Vaughn, S., Hughes, M., & Moody, S. (2000). How effective are one-to-one tutoring programs in reading for elementary students at risk for reading failure? A meta-analysis of the intervention research. Reading Research Quarterly, 92, 605–619.

Gersten, R., Beckmann, S., Clarke, B., Foegen, A., Marsh, L., Star, J. R., et al. (2009). Assisting students struggling with mathematics: Response to intervention for elementary and middle schools. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education Institute of Educational Sciences.

Gersten, R., Compton, D., Connor, C. M., Dimino, J., Santoro, L., Linan-Thompson, S., et al. (2009). Assisting students struggling with reading: Response to intervention and multi-tier intervention in primary grades. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education Institute of Educational Sciences.

Griffiths, A. J., Parson, L. B., Burns, M. K., VanDerHeyden, A., & Tilly, W. D. (2007). Response to intervention: Research for practice. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.

Partnership for 21st Century Learning. (2015). Framework for 21st century learning. Washington, DC: Author.

Swanson, H. L., & Sachse-Lee, C. (2000). A meta-analysis of single-subject-design intervention research for students with LD. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33, 114–136.

VanDerHeyden, A. M., Witt, J. C., & Gilbertson, D. A. (2007). Multiyear evaluation of the effects of a response to intervention (RTI) model on identification of children for special education. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 225–256.

Zirkel, P. A. (2011). State laws and guidelines for RTI: Additional implementation features. Communique, 39(7), 30-32.

 

Zirkel, P. A., & Thomas, L. B. (2010). State laws and guidelines for implementing RTI. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43(1), 60-73.

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“Teaching” Globalization

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) will begin assessing global skills in 2018. PISA is the assessment sponsored by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that assess student knowledge and application of skills and concepts at a deeper level than typical pre-PARCC and pre-Smarter Balanced tests. Students in the US score in the middle of the pack amongst the 40-odd nations, relatively better on reading, worse in science, and worse still in mathematics (OECD, 2007; 2009).

PISA’s plan raises several questions: What are global skills? How do we teach global skills? How can global skills be integrated into existing curricular and instructional successes? How can we formatively assess student learning of global skills?

I have intentionally left out the question, why focus on global skills, assuming (hoping) that question is unnecessary. 

The workplace and world is increasingly diverse and an awareness of different cultures and beliefs is fundamental for success, and even happiness. Globalization is a powerful economic, political, and cultural force.

So, let’s start with, what are global competences? The question is emotional and contextual. 

Globalization means innovation and higher living standards for some, and social division and economic inequality for others. Automation and a digital economy represent opportunities for entrepreneurism for some, or weakened job security for others. The desire to cross borders represents diversified and expanded product and service positioning for some, and escaping from poverty and war for others.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has defined next-generation skills in areas related to globalization. They define social and cross-cultural skills as interacting effectively with others:

  • Knowing when it is appropriate to listen and when to speak
  • Conducting oneself in a respectable, professional manner
  • Working effectively in diverse teams
  • Respecting cultural differences and working effectively with people from a range of social and cultural backgrounds
  • Responding open-mindedly to different ideas and values
  • Leveraging social and cultural differences to create new ideas and increase both innovation and quality of work

They define global awareness skills as:

  • Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues
  • Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions, and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts
  • Understanding other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages

Other countries have made these competencies part of their curricula. In the US, schools are increasingly (and appropriately, I think) focusing on the 4Cs: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. We should begin to begin to focus globally as well.

For the record, PISA defines global competence as "the capacity to analyze global and intercultural issues critically and from multiple perspectives, to understand how differences affect perceptions, judgments, and ideas of self and others, and to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with others from different backgrounds on the basis of a shared respect for human dignity".

PISA aims to assess students’ knowledge and understanding of global issues and interactions with other cultures; their ability to communicate appropriately and effectively with people from other cultures or countries; comprehend other people's thoughts, beliefs and feelings, and see the world from their perspectives; metacognitively revise thoughts, feelings or behaviors to fit new contexts and situations; analyze, think critically, and scrutinize information; demonstrate openness towards people from other cultures; and behave sensitively toward, curiosity about, and a willingness to engage with other people and other perspectives on the world.

Global competences, according to the OECD, are shaped by three principles: Equity, cohesion and sustainability.

  • Equity: Income, education, opportunity inequalities make the equity and inclusivity of growth a pressing global topic. The digital economy raises the bar on the skills that people must acquire to be employable. This can represent liberation or a traumatic change in what it means to work.
  • Cohesion: We are witnessing an unprecedented movement of people in the world. Positive integration and isolated extremism are the polar possibilities.
  • Sustainability: We must meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, in the face of environmental degradation, climate change, overconsumption, and population growth.

I hope that US schools interpret the challenge represented by PISA’s plans to assess globalization as an exciting opportunity to continue to progress in creating more contemporary and engaging environments within which students become future ready. It will certainly be a challenge.

Self-assessing your schools RTI practices

We recommend that schools leaders and school teams assess their current levels of success in implementing a collaborative system of support as a way to determine next steps. Such as process can also help establish a common understanding around the elements of systems of support. How would your teams respond and rate their schools on the following descriptors, using a four-point scale?

4:  Consistent and effective

3:  Fairly consistent and generally effective

2:  Inconsistent and occasionally effective

1:  Not present or observable

 

  • We believe that all students can learn at very high levels.
  • We honestly discuss our biases and expectations for students.
  • We use evidence to challenge assumptions.
  • We are willing to do whatever it takes (altering schedules, teaching assignments, past practices) to ensure that all students learn at the very highest levels.
  • We have researched schools that have been successful with students like those we serve and we have analyzed lessons we can take away to improve student learning.
  • We have identified and celebrated the strengths of all staff. We have honestly acknowledged our collective and individual areas for growth.
  • We have collectively established team norms based on cooperation and compromise and the best interest of students. 
  • Our teams meet regularly to work on well-defined tasks. We collaboratively address the following question:
    1. What are the essential learning targets we expect students to master during the upcoming unit?
    2. What scaffolding and differentiation strategies will allow all students access the essential learning targets? 
    3. How will we measure our effectiveness as teachers? In other words, how will we informally and formally assess student mastery of essential learning targets?
    4. What collective supports will we provide to students when need extra time and alternative approaches to master essential learning targets?
    5. What collective supports will be provided to extend and enrich the depth and complexity of their mastery of essential learning targets?
  • We have scheduled regular lesson studies in which small groups of teachers “plan–practice–re-plan–practice–review” lessons with their students, with release provided by roving substitutes or by school staff.
  • Each grade level or content-alike team is crystal clear on the agreed-upon essential learning targets and is committed to ensuring that every student masters them.
  • Each grade level or content-alike team has clearly defined each essential learning target, ensuring that there is a common understanding about the rigor and format to which students will be held accountable.
  • Each grade level or content-alike team has backwards planned from common assessments to ensure that instruction matches the required rigor and format at which students will demonstrate mastery.
  • Resources and materials, including but not necessarily limited to textbooks, are collaboratively identified and shared to provide tasks that match the rigor and format of the essential learning targets.
  • Differentiation strategies are identified and shared that best help students master essential learning targets.
  • The school clearly identifies and articulates, teaches, consistently models, assesses, provides differentiated supports, and positively reinforces the pro-social behaviors that it expects all students to exhibit, including but not limited to the areas of:
    • Cooperation
    • Self-control
    • Respect
    • Resiliency
  • The school clearly identifies and articulates, teaches, consistently models, assesses, provides differentiated supports, and positively reinforces the pro-functional behaviors that it expects all students to exhibit, including but not limited to the areas of:
    • Motivation
    • Volition
    • Attention
    • Self-monitoring 
  • Every staff member at the school provides explicit instruction for the behavioral skills that they expect all students to exhibit.
  • Every staff member at the school consistently models, corrects, and positively reinforces the behavioral skills that they expect all students to exhibit.
  • Common (commonly created or selected, administered, and analyzed) assessments are continuously and vigorously used to inform, refine, and improve instruction.
  • Teams use evidence of learning on a regular basis to determine students who needs additional time and support, the areas in which these identified students most need the additional time and support, and areas in which all students will benefit from additional time and support. 
  • Each grade level or content-alike team draws on the successes of members of the team to continuously refine and improve teaching and learning.
  • The school has inventoried assessments to ensure that gaps and duplications do not exist.
  • An increasing percentage of all assessments given are used to inform teaching and learning. They include:
    • Pretests that assess the prerequisite skills that students should possess to successfully learn upcoming content.
    • Mid-unit tests that assess student progress part of the way through a unit, but well before the end of the unit, so that timely interventions can be provided.
    • End-of-unit tests that allow teams to know which students will continue to require support in mastering certain essential learning targets even though a new unit of instruction is set to begin.
    • Formal or informal checks for understanding including tickets-out-the-door and mid-lesson checks for understanding.
    • Progress monitoring that more frequently and validly monitor students’ response to intervention, and when errors are analyzed, can also diagnose students’ needs.
  • Screening, diagnostic, and monitoring tools are used to assess student needs in the areas of social and academic behaviors.
  • The principal and other administrators are constant participants in these analyses.
  • Every student has access to the time and/or supports (academic and behavioral) they need to learn at the very highest levels.
  • Grade level and content-alike teams have built time into their normal instructional day to provide additional supports (intervention and enrichment) to students on essential learning targets (academic and behavioral).
  • Grade level and content-alike teams have collaboratively identified and/or collaboratively created strategies and activities to meet the remedial and enrichment needs of their students.
  • The school has built times into the instructional day for students to receive more supports in addition to core instruction and differentiated instruction provided by grade level and content-alike teams.
  • The school has collaboratively identified and/or collaboratively created strategies, activities, and programs to meet the specialized needs of students who have not yet responded to instruction and interventions.
  • The school has inventoried all staff members’ availabilities and abilities and has assigned them to directly providing supports to students, with initial and ongoing professional development provided.

We use this self-assessment as a process much more than a product. The analyses and problem-solving that result ensure from conversations around a school’s success in meeting these critical elements of collaborative systems of supports can help focus the district and school on next steps.

The importance of Tier 2 supports

 

We are often asked the difference between a core support (Tier 1) differentiation strategy and a more support (Tier 2) intervention. The answer is: nothing, it simply depends when we are providing the support; wither within the unit of instruction in our own classroom or after the conclusion of the unit of instruction, based on evidence gathered within the unit, by our colleagues or by ourselves based on how we have collaboratively decided to provide intervention and enrichment. 

We are also often asked why we need to provide more supports separate from differentiated core supports; why, we are asked, cannot we simply provide this supported during the core block of instruction. We reply, you do not need to provide more supports…until every student has demonstrated a satisfactory level of mastery of prioritized skills and concepts by the conclusion of units of instruction. This has never occurred for us, so we prefer to be prepared.

We often hear, with which priorities do I provide intervention within more supports, or how much time do I spend on each essential skill? We certainly do not recommend that teams attempt to provide intervention in all the skills and outcomes that were addressed during core supports; we do not even suggest that all prioritized skills attempt o be remediated. Instead, we suggest that teams prioritize the priorities, and that students receive more support that allows them to master the highest priority skill or concept during more supports before the next priority is addressed.

We are asked how we will gather evidence of the impact of more supports; in other words, how will we determine that students are responding to this supplemental intervention or enrichment. It can be quite simple. For students receiving intervention because they have not yet mastered essentials, we re-administer those tasks (which reflect the priorities) on which students have not yet demonstrated mastery. We almost exclusively assign open-ended tasks and therefore re-administer the tasks with which students will need to show all work and justify their solution does not invalidate the re-administration. For those concerned about this possibility or when multiple-choice assessments are used, we recommend simply creating an alternative version of the assessment. For students engaging in enrichment because they have already demonstrated mastery of essentials, we do not assess their learning – we build the capacities of students to self-assess or to assess their peers.

Lastly, we are asked why we need to share students amongst are colleagues during more supports. First, all of us are smarter than one of us, and sometimes students will benefit from learning with another teachers, particularly a teacher who has had greater levels of relative success helping students master prioritized skills and concepts. This collaboration is also about mutual accountability. We have supported well-meaning schools in which teachers elect to keep their students for the buffer time during which more supports are provided; and then, things happen – a lesson runs over, students are really engaged in a core task, and students who desperately need this timely intervention to avoid falling farther behind do not receive more supports.

More supports are an essential element of a collaborative system of supports and a tangible representation of a schools commitment to a growth mindset and high levels of learning for all.

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A Forgotten Tier

Core supports represent the high-quality, differentiated instruction designed to meet the needs of all students. Teachers help achieve this goal by collaboratively examining evidence of student response to academic and behavioral instruction and identifying which instructional strategies met student needs. When a student does not respond to this focused, differentiated core instruction, educators supplement core instruction with more supports, whether the needs are academic or behavioral, or both. Whether this means additional time or the use of alternative strategies, supports are driven by the evidence collected and the collaborative planning and analysis by all staff members. Decisions to provide more supports are based on evidence of a student’s response to focused core instruction.

More (Tier 2) supports are fundamentally different than specialized (Tier 3) supports. In our experiences, most schools that have RTI-based systems of supports in place are not offering more or Tier 2 supports to students. They are offering Tier 3 and Tier 3-lite supports. But as we will describe in this chapter, more and specialized supports were recognized as far back as Benjamin Bloom in the 1960s as meeting unique and predictable student needs.

Simply stated, more supports prevent students from falling behind or falling farther behind; specialized supports provide the intensive supports necessary to catch students up. More supports provide additional time and access to alternative strategies for more students to master more core priorities at deeper levels – we can predict that this will be necessary for some students. Specialized supports provide the intensive, immediate supports that students will desperately need when significant deficits in the foundational skill areas of literacy, numeracy, and behavior are found to be inevitably contributing to frustration and failure – we can predict that this will be necessary for some students.

More and specialized supports are distinct, and schools must move toward a future in which all students have access to both, and receive both if the evidence indicates the need, along with differentiated core supports. The consequences of not providing specialized (Tier 3 supports) are easy to imagine; students who are highly vulnerable due to significant skill deficits will become increasingly disengaged and will continue to struggle to simply stay as far beyond peers as they currently are. But what are the consequences of not providing more supports, even if specialized supports are provided? 

Let’s begin answering this question by acknowledging a reality: we have never concluded a unit of instruction with all students achieving the depth of mastery that we desire and that students must attain. Students simply learn at different rates and in different ways. What can we expect if, at the conclusion of a unit, we simply move on? Students will be excused for feeling frustrated. In spite of the fact that the less-than-complete mastery of some priorities by some students was predictable, we have not prepared for this reality. Affected students' grades are negatively impacted. Their motivation for future success, and their engagement and sense of self-efficacy are diminished. The concepts and skills of many (if not most) subsequent units of instruction build upon the concepts and skills of preceding units. Students who have not yet mastered the preceding unit’s priorities, and are not given an ongoing opportunity to do, will experience predictable difficulties mastering the next unit’s priorities. When this situation befalls a student unit after unit, we can predict that a significant deficit in academic skills will develop in short order and that a student’s will to engage in their continued learning will similarly suffer. 

Importantly and significantly, we have never concluded a unit of instruction feeling that we sufficiently extended the learning for students who have attained mastery. As will be detail throughout this book, time for more supports must be embedded within the instructional day and will consequently be available for all students: timely and targeted supports for greater levels student mastery of academic and behavioral priorities, so that students don’t fall behind (or further behind); enrichment and opportunities to engage with tasks of greater complexity so students can achieve reach greater depths of understanding.

RTI and Blended Learning – A Perfect Pairing

 

Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2), designed to ensure high levels of learning for all through the integration of response to intervention, multi-tiered systems of supports, professional learning communities, positive behavior interventions and supports, universal design for learning, special education, gifted education, and differentiation, is one of the most research-based initiatives with which schools can engage (Hattie, 2012). Blended learning is transforming teaching and learning. RTI2 delivers on the promise of equity for all through differentiated, individualized, and personalized strategies; blended learning allows differentiation, individualization, and personalization to flourish through digitally-enhanced pedagogies and practices. 

RTI2 and blended learning are certainly not incongruent and incompatible; they are complementary and interdependent. Making purposeful connections between RTI2 and blended learning isn’t simply nice, it’s necessary.

The speed at which a school can respond to a student’s responses to instruction and intervention is critical. Traditional models of RTI2 respond and adapt to a student’s responses every few weeks. The potentialities of blended learning and digitally-enhanced learning environments promise to allow schools to respond and adapt every few moments. 

Furthermore, the power of devices, 24-7-365 connectivity, digital learning applications, and contemporary pedagogies, principles and practices will significantly improve all tiers of supports of students – from differentiated Tier 1 core instruction to supplemental and increasingly individualized and personalized Tier 2 and 3 interventions and enrichments.

Combined, RTI2 and blended learning have the power to transform teaching and learning and deliver on the promises of equity of opportunity, equity of achievement, and college and career readiness for all.

To achieve these aims, we must behave more like the hedgehog than the fox (Collins, 2005). We must focus the initiatives that we invite or require schools and staffs to implement. Initiative fatigue, or in its most severe form, death-by-initiative, is a very real concern in education. Let’s embrace the wisdom of the Pareto Principle (McKeown, 2014) and focus on one or two improvement efforts for which we have evidence of need and for which there is a high likelihood of profound impacts; other areas not directly impacted by the improvement effort will, in our experiences and based on the Pareto Principle, similarly improve. For example, students with more well-developed behavioral skills learn more academic skills; students who can comprehend texts more confidently and competently are likely to perform better in the sciences and social sciences; students with more mature behavioral and academic skills will probably been more engaged and less likely to exhibit less asocial behavioral skills. Instead of new initiatives, let’s continue to work together, systematically, to enhance the significant improvement efforts to which we have, after gathering evidence, researching, collaborating, and planning, dedicated ourselves.

Two of the most important and popular initiatives with which schools have engaged in the 21st century are RTI2 and blended learning. Both are powerful and research based. Both are often misunderstood and misapplied. We must integrate the operational and practical elements of these two high-leverage initiatives, for the sake of schools, teachers, and students. And we can. It’s not a stretch. In fact, we believe that the introduction of blended learning principles and practices into schools may represent a tipping point in school’s efforts to truly serve all students within their RTI2 framework.

Our ultimate vision is to create and support personal learning plans for every student. We are beginning to deliver on this vision, with education and technology partners, in schools and districts across the country. Through a strategic integration of RTI2 and blended learning, we believe that students will authentically engage in their learning journey as never before, with experiences that are personalized, allowing them to explore passions and pursue tasks for which they genuinely see a purpose.

What is a System of Supports for Rigorous Learning?

Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning represent a purposeful integration of research-based principles and practices. A System of Support ensures high levels of learning for all students, at all readiness levels, through the integration of elements from the most important and impactful initiatives within public education: response to intervention, multi-tiered systems of support, professional learning communities, positive behavior interventions and supports, universal design for learning, special education, gifted education, and differentiated instruction. 

While response to intervention is the most significant element of Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning, we employ to term Systems of Support tointegrate the powerful features of RTI, MTSS, PLCs, UDL, Special Education, Gifted Education, and Differentiation into a cohesive whole that is great than the sum of its parts, with efficiencies and without duplicated or uncoordinated efforts. Below are the key attributes of Systems of Support:

  • Differentiated, individualized, and personalized (or if you’d prefer, Tiers 1, 2, and 3), can and should be provided for all students. All students means both students at-risk and students on-level; students with IEPs and students without; students for whom English is a first language and students for whom it is not. All students have access to the core; all students receive more support based on evidence of mastery of core priorities, and all students receive targeted supports at the leading edges of their ZPDs. Ethically and logistically, designing a system of supports that serves every student is the right thing to do.
  • If it’s predictable, it’s preventable. We can predict some students will need more time and an alternative set of strategies to learn at high levels. We can predict that deficits in prerequisite skills will present a challenge for some students in their learning journey. Let’s be ready. Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning represent proactive and planned for supports for predictable needs. We can anticipate student needs; we must not be surprised.
  • The best supports are focused and targeted. Whether academics or behavior; whether a student is struggling to master a grade-level priority or a student is struggling to master a skill that was a priority several grade levels ago; we must determine the causes (or antecedents) of student difficulty and focus our initial supports to a student's’ most immediate area of need. An effective intervention will never be represented by a group for students in a classroom working independently on a packet of worksheets with an instructor available to answer questions that may arise. Interventions are intensively delivered and intensively targeted. The sense of urgency is too great; there is not a moment to lose.
  • Systems of supports are self-correcting. They will not and cannot fail, because they are adaptively driven by evidence. When evidence indicates that students (or a student) are not responding to instruction or intervention, then changes are made until the right type of support is found.
  • Systems of support are inclusive of academics and behaviors; they are inextricably linked. We have not encountered many students with significant deficits in foundational academic skills for whom years of academic failure and frustration have not led to significant behavioral needs. We have not encountered many students with significant deficits in behavioral skills whose behavioral challenges have not contributed to academic difficulties. And for all students, the behaviors, habits, and attributes known as 21st century skills, self-regulation, social-emotional learning, or executive functioning are as critical to success in college, career, and life as academics. Unfortunately, behaviors have been under-represented within classrooms and teaching and learning cycles. 
  • Systems of support are based on the inevitability of high levels of learning for all. Our mentality cannot be that we provide supports for six weeks with the hope that deficits will be ameliorated. Our mentality must be that we will serve and support as long as it take, because progress will be made and gaps will be close. We have high expectations for students, for our colleagues, and for ourselves. Don’t bother with Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning if you don’t believe high levels of learning for all students are inevitable. Don’t go through the motions so that you can compliantly satisfy a policy or mandate. There is compelling experiential and neurological evidence to confirm that all students can learn at high levels and it’s our professional obligation. There is no one else who can or should serve students academic, pro-social, and pro-functional skill needs. We must simply continue to adjust and revise…to identify the causes, antecedents, or explanations…we need to find the right support. It’s just a matter of time. If the current support is not yielding a satisfactory response, we’ll try something else. High levels of learning for all are inevitabilities. 
  • Systems of support ensure that schools deliver on the mission statement: “We believe that all students can learn and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.” Designing structures that ensure that all students receive the supports that they need is a moral imperative. And education is a civil right. It’s social justice. Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning are the concrete representations of the imperative.
  • Systems of support allow educators to be predictive, proactive, and planned: We can predict that some students will require differentiation and scaffolds to access learning opportunities, to optimally succeed and grow within core environments. We can predict that students will need additional time and alternative supports at the completion of units of instruction, as revealed by evidence, to master core priorities and others will be ready for greater levels of complexity and will greatly benefit from opportunities to delve into priorities at greater levels of depth. We can predict some students will be in desperate need of immediate, intensive, and targeted supports to ameliorate significant deficits in foundational skills and other students will benefit from opportunities to dive deep into a passion – highly specialized supports to meet students’ at, and nudge them from, their zones of proximal development (what is commonly known as Tier 3). If we can predict it, we can prepare for it. Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning represents our proactive preparation for predictable needs.
  • Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning are based on the principle of teach less, learn more. We must favor depth over breath; mastery over coverage; quality over quantity, learning over teaching. Students deserve more rigorous and relevant learning opportunities. They deserve opportunities to practice 21st century skills. They deserve differentiated, individualized, and personalized learning paths. To give students what they deserve – to meet the mission statement of so many schools (“We believe that all students can learn and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.”), we must challenge the inch-deep, mile-wide mentality of our curricular programs. We must favor: Depth over breadth; verbs (skills) over nouns (content); integrated disciplinary tasks over tasks related to singular content areas; quality over quantity; and mastery over coverage. 
  • Within Systems of Support, we serve students in need with a sense of urgency. Students need not fail within core environments for 6 weeks and then receive core and more supports (Tier 1 + Tier 2) for 6 more weeks before they received intensive and targeted supports; students at great risk for experiencing failure and frustration immediately receive highly-specialized (Tier 3) supports. When we identify a student with a significant deficit in foundational skills, must act immediately. 
  • Systems of Support are based on evidence. There is no System of Supports for Rigorous Learning if we cannot measure the extent to which students are responding to instruction and intervention. We must proactively plan for efficient and effective assessments to fulfill the following evidence-gathering needs:
  • Which students have significant gaps in the foundational prerequisite skills of literacy, numeracy, or behavior? 
  • To what extent are students learning the core content we teach during initial, differentiated instruction? 
  • What are the antecedents of, and/or the reasons that explain, the difficulties of students who are at risk? 
  • Assessments are evidence-gathering opportunities. Evidence is the engine that drives Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning. The only System of Support is an effective System of Support – it’s a self-correcting system. 
  • Systems of supports recognize that instruction and intervention must be intensive, differentiation, engaging, with sound pedagogies, strategies, and practices, and with a “growth mindset” approach. How is more significant than what. As we have written before, RTI is a verb, and RTI is the central set of principles within a System of Supports for Rigorous Learning. 
  • Systems of supports rest on inclusive environments. For a highly vulnerable student with significant deficits in foundational skills, the following are non-negotiable:
  • They must successfully and fully participate in inclusive and scaffolded core and more experiences.
  • They must receive immediate, intensive, and targeted highly-specialized supports.

As we have often written, RTI (and therefore, Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning, which draw most heavily on RTI) is a verb. In other words, educators ask, “To what extent are students (or is this student) responding to instruction and intervention. To what extent are they RTI’ing?” If we systematically and relentlessly ask and answer this questions, then we will remain faithful to the principles and practices of Systems of Support.Extending the metaphor, a System of Supports is not a noun. We will further explore what a System of Supports is not in the next section.

What isn’t a System of Supports for Rigorous Learning?

A System of Supports will not be successful if over-engineered or under-engineered; if too much is tight or too little is tight. Imagine you’re holding a handful of sand. Squeeze too tight and it rushes from your hand; too loose and it slips through your fingers. The same concept applies relative to Systems of Support. In the previous section, we described the attributes that ensure that efforts are coordinated and also responsive. In the bullets that follow, we will experiences from our schools and our colleagues that can unintentionally undermine and compromise a school’s success in successfully implementing this research-based sets of practices:

  • Systems of support are not rigid in terms of time frames. Students are not expected to make adequate gains in six weeks or any other fixed period. While six weeks may be an appropriate time to check on a student’s response to intervention (although we advocate for more frequent check-ins), and while approximately six data points may need to be gathered and plotted for a trend to be determined to exist, interventions need not be stopped and changed at six week intervals. Teams of educators may, for example, note that the support that has been prescribed for a student is simply not targeted antecedents to student difficulties after two weeks of intensive support; we should then alter the focus of the intervention to better match the diagnosed need. Or, teams of educators may note after a few weeks that the student’s difficulty results from a simple misunderstanding that can be supported and ultimately ameliorated through less intensive intervention; we should make a change in the nature of the support. Or, consider a student with a significant deficit in a foundational skill - perhaps a student in grade eight who experiences difficulty decoding and making sense of single-syllabic words, and consequently, of multi-syllabic words. Chances are quite good that this student will require much more than six weeks of support. Again, we should check on the student's response to intervention very frequently and support students with a great sense of urgency, but there is nothing magical or research-based about six weeks. Flexibility and adaptability are key elements of Systems of Support and RTI. 
  • Similarly, Systems of Support are not rigid in terms of supports. All students who are screened to, in all likelihood, have a significant deficit in reading due to scoring below the 9th percentile on a nationally-normed reading assessment should not all be served with the same reading intervention program. This is rigid and inefficient. The best intervention is a targeted intervention. Reading is more than phonics; it is a complex set of skills and processes. We must ask why the student is experiencing difficulties in reading and target the most immediate areas of need and antecedents to difficulties. There are easily half-a-dozen explanations for a student scoring below the 9th percentile on a standardized reading assessment and each explanation can best addressed with a unique set of supports...perhaps a unique reading intervention program. We regularly listen to students read to us who have scored below the 9th percentile whose rate, accuracy, and prosody (fluency) are appropriate, but who can neither recall nor infer; and fluency are not these students’ most immediate area of need and programs that do it all are not efficient. These students will most positively and dramatically improve when supported with a comprehension intervention. We regularly listen to students read who struggle with inaccuracies, self-corrections, repetitions, and lack of fluency, but who surprise us with their relative strengths in recall and inferential meaning-making. Comprehension-based or all-in-one interventions will neither targeted immediate areas of needs nor efficiently support students so that they dramatically respond; a specific phonics or fluency intervention would be more appropriate. Systems of Support do not rigidly assign students to an intervention based on general difficulties in a broad domain.
  • Systems of support within schools will not look the same. There is not a single bell schedule, or coordination plan, documentation protocol, intervention program, or staff allocation process that will work in all buildings. There are multiple bell schedules that will allow for embedded supports (although some type of modified schedule will undoubtedly be required. There are multiple alternative strategies and targeted research-based programs that will meet student needs (although identifying these programs and ensuring staff are confident and competent in providing them is necessary). Systems of Supports are not One-Size-Fits-All. However, the goals are the same - every student is responding to instruction and intervention. We can predict that given supports will need to be proactively planned given predictable student needs. Students will not all learn at the same rate or in response to the same first, best, core instruction, so we build in buffer times for more supports, commonly known as Tier 2 intervention and enrichment. Some students will struggle to keep up and will have major gaps in prerequisites due to significant deficits in foundational skills, so we build scaffolds into Tier 1 and immediately and intensively provide specialized supports, commonly known as Tier 3. The purpose of a System of Support is the same; the types of academic and behavioral supports that we can anticipate students needing are the same. How we fulfill this purpose need not be the same, and in all practicality, cannot be the same. Let’s not make the mistake of mandating specific practices and processes. Instead let’s empower schools, school leaders, and all educators to design a System of Support that backwards plans from the goal of all students learning at high levels, whatever it takes. 
  • It’s not about – it’s never about – moving students through the tiers. Students aren’t in tiers; needs and supports are in tiers. We do not move students through tiers for the purposes of justifying a referral for a formal evaluation. In fact, a mentality of moving students through tiers represents a significant misunderstanding or Systems of Supports and RTI. For example, it is entirely likely that a highly vulnerable students will begin school year with scaffolded Tier 1 supports and intensive and targeted Tier 3 supports in place, because they school screened for these needs before the conclusion of the prior school year. However, while time for Tier 2 supports will necessarily be proactively planned, Tier 2 supports may not be provided at the very beginning of a new school year. Tier 2 and 3 supports serve a different need. During the first few weeks of the school year, we will not need have gathered evidence regarding student mastery of essential skills, and Tier 2 supports provide more time and alternative approaches so that students gain mastery of these essentials and so that other students (who have demonstrated mastery) can delve more deeply. Tier 2 prevents students from falling behind or farther behind; Tier 3 catches students up when they are significantly behind. They may both be necessary, but the notion of moving students through tiers is anathema for Systems of Support. We support students with tiered supports because they will be effective. Systems of Support are not a pathway to special education. Tiers are not checkboxes to fill so that we can justify a referral for a formal evaluation. Some students will determined eligible for special education, but these most intensive of services must represent a seamless continuum of a school’s Systems of Supports. We refuse to allow special education to be a destination. Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning (and RTI) are not pathways to special education; special education is simply the most intensive set of supports that we can provide. But the plan must be to intensively and successfully support students and then exit them to less restrictive environments. There will definitely be students for whom special education supports are necessary and appropriate. And yet, we have historically over-identified and mis-identified students for these supports and the success receiving special education services has been lower than desired. To ensure greater successes for students who may receive special education services, we ask the following before requesting permission to conduct a formal evaluation to determine eligibility for supports:
  • What will we be doing differently if and when an eligibility determination is made? Could we be doing that (or could we begin doing that) now?
  • What’s the exit strategy – what will it look like and sound like when (what evidence will reveal that) students no longer need special education supports.
  • Preparing for the success of special education supports will make the likelihood of success much greater.
  • Systems of Support are not protocol driven and documentation cannot represent obstacles to services to students.  As noted in the bullets above, Systems of Support are not rigid. Student study teams should become involved earlier; they should not be the gatekeepers to a formal evaluation. These expert teams should collaboratively inform highly-specialized supports. Students should not need to rely upon a specific teacher to advocate for their success. We have all the data that we need to identify students who are at grave risk of failure. We must act. And, documentation, or lack thereof, should never be the gatekeeper to a child receiving support.
  • There must be no general education and special education divide, regarding neither students nor staff. We support students based on their needs, not a label. Staff support students based on the staff members’ availabilities and expertise, not their job title or funding source. We will reach our full potential as educators, professionals, and schools when we flexibly and collaboratively serve every student...toward high levels of learning...whatever it takes...no excuses.

Defining what a System of Supports isn’t is as important as defining what it is, although we acknowledge that several attributes from each of the past two sections were simply two sides of the same coin. We will apply the same “what is it” and “what isn’t it” methodology to blended learning the next two sections before examining making a side-by-side comparison between blended learning and Systems of Supports.

What is Blended Learning?

Google the phrase, “What is blended learning?” You’ll find some very well-known institutions providing some very troubling answers. Some will tell you that blended learning is simply the addition of modern technologies to traditional classrooms. Others will tell you (almost verbatim) that blended learning is a style whereby, some portion of traditional face-to-face instruction is replaced by web-based online learning. These definitions are enough to make even the most masterful educators fearful. Add more to a full plate?! Replace me?! How can I advocate for a methodology that seeks to replace me, either in whole or in part? These concerns are legitimate. We challenge you to embrace an alternative understanding of blended learning. It is not a methodology that seeks to replace face-to-face instruction, but rather to enhance it...to elevate it to a place of importance we couldn’t have imagined before, and to extend its reach beyond the walls of the classroom and the hours in the school day. Blended learning seeks to bolster the number one most valuable resource in any classroom - the teacher. In doing so, blended pedagogies, practices, and strategies create environments in which differentiation, individualization, and personalization are no longer idealistic concepts. They become very real elements in our instructional processes. Nonetheless, there are still not commonly agreed upon definitions for blended learning. As such, here are the key elements associated with blended learning:

  • Blended learning is a process. That process necessitates planning, orchestration, and execution on the part of all stakeholders. Furthermore, it’s systemic in the sense that those stakeholders work collaboratively with technologies and one other to achieve results. In the same way we wouldn’t look at a wheel and call it a bicycle, we can’t look at a tablet in a classroom and call it blended learning. It’s bigger than that. It’s more comprehensive than that. Impactful blended practices require an evolution beyond the introduction of tools. In the most successful classrooms/districts/schools, this evolution involves variables that include but are not limited to: devices, infrastructure, content standards, instructional strategies, rigor, assessment, data analytics, relevant performance tasks, and relationships. Creating synergies amongst these variables does not happen by accident. It happens only as a byproduct of professional learning, collaboration, and commitment to success. Remember, the goal isn’t simply to create isolated moments of successful blended learning. The goal is to cultivate school and district-wide habituated patterns of success relative to blended practices. If we honestly examine less successful blended learning attempts, we find either poor or no professional learning opportunities included in support of this goal. The result is a scenario whereby pockets of successful blended learning are observed, but systemic change is unlikely. In the same way Systems of Supports require everyone’s effort and execution to account for the growth of the proverbial forest and the individual trees, so too does blended learning. When we leverage training and expertise to build cohesion and execute the processes (not just the practices) of blended learning, the picture of transformative schools become less a mirage and more a reality.
  • Blended learning is inclusive. Yes, it can work with your students. Yes those students. Irrespective of age, content area, competency, socioeconomic status, native language, or any other variable perceived as an obstacle on the path to proficiency, blended pedagogies provide opportunities for differentiation, individualization, and supports when skill gaps exist. The same can be said for teachers. Blended learning is as much a veteran teacher’s greatest asset as it is a first year teacher’s. It can support the AP teacher to the same extent that it supports the teacher of students with special needs. What other classroom tool, in the hands of a masterful teacher, offers immediate feedback on student performance, elicits authentic excitement in kids, allows access to the entirety of humanity’s collective knowledge, and links students effortlessly to their teacher, peers, and nearly every other person on the planet? Show me a worksheet that does that. It doesn’t take long to see that digital tools and resources, combined with levels of support, provide innovative ways to enhance the learning experience and promote student achievement. Digital assessments can be created, administered, and analyzed with efficiency so that we can identify learners who need additional support and differentiate our instruction (Tier 1). Students can access rich multimedia supports and Lexile appropriate text at the click of a button to bolster a teacher’s ability to offer more individualized instruction matched to their needs (Tier 2). Teachers can leverage technology and blended models of instruction to provide small group and personalized support to all students according to their skills, deficits, and particular needs; the teacher can meet the students where they are and provide intensive, focused, and immediate support when significant deficits in foundational skills exist (Tier 3). We support all students, with all levels of support, while using all of the tools at our disposal. 
  • Blended learning experiences are a necessity. If we claim to care about preparing students for success in school, college, career, and life, blended pedagogies must move from the periphery to the forefront. According to the most recent census data and survey results from the US Department of Commerce, “96% of working Americans use new communications technologies as part of their daily life, while 62% of working Americans use the Internet as an integral part of their jobs” (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2008). We cannot dismiss educational technology as the “flavor of the month” and thus unworthy of our investment of time and money. But let’s exercise caution; we should not and cannot abandon the successful practices of the past in favor of the teaching of the “future.” Putting a computer in front of a student without great planning, and the incorporation of engaging and differentiated strategies will produce no greater success than placing a book in front of students (some of whom may not be able to making meaning of the text). Our goal is to cultivate a culture in which traditional and blended pedagogies work in tandem, with the support of digital tools, to help students develop the skills they’ll need to be successful in any future endeavor. 
  • Blended learning prioritizes mastery over coverage. So often in schools we confuse the passage of time with evidence of progress; the two are not necessarily correlated.  A student’s arrival at the conclusion of a unit does not guarantee progress along the proficiency spectrum. As teachers we know this all too well. It simply signifies teachers’ arrival at an arbitrary (but necessary) point in time whereby they’ve decided (based on the scope and sequence they designed prior to the beginning of the year) to initiate a unit of instruction. Blended instruction, a framework of RTI, encourages teachers to focus on prioritized behavioral and academic skills and concepts and differentiate, individualize, and personalize so that all students grow. Blended practices support RTI through in-the-moment evidence-gathering capabilities (see: Google Forms, Poll Everywhere, Kahoot, etc.) to both enhance instruction and provide concrete data to inform future teaching and learning. Digital tools enhance our abilities to gather and analyze data, optimize time, and gather and deploy resources. In successful blended schools, students progress from one skill set to the next as opposed to simply moving from one day to the next. 
  • Blended learning is joyful. Need proof? Stand in a 6th grade classroom and watch students get their hands on a tablet for the first time. Then watch them the 5th, 15th, and 55th times. The exhilaration lasts. Does it dissipate slightly? Of course it does. But when devices are coupled with transformative teaching practices, and students use them to experience academic success, the excitement students experience has staying power. Curiosity is the root of engagement. As students wonder what experience their teacher has created for them, the inherent joy associated with that curiosity and engagement descends upon the most blended of classrooms time and time again. Think back to when your elementary teacher would hand out personal whiteboards or chalkboards to every student. I’ll bet you remember being excited! Now imagine you can ask it a question, use it to create your own movie, design your own website, or hangout with peers on a different continent.
  • Blended learning involves a blend of old and new. We call it blended for a reason. It’s not exclusively “Tech Learning.” The point is to combine the best of both and to offer students choices. Don’t throw away those hard copies just yet. If we are sincere in our pursuit of greater degrees of differentiated, individualized, and personalized instruction, student agency must be respected and included. The fact is, some students will prefer hard copies of text for some tasks. Furthermore, blended learning accounts for direct and inquiry based instructional models. Many teachers worry that blended learning modalities solely favor inquiry based models of instruction, and require that teachers move unequivocally away from direct instruction. The truth is that masterful blended teachers are able to integrate tech with both instructional models to promote academic success. In short, we encourage teachers to do what works. Embrace the culture of and as opposed to the culture of or. If kids stand to benefit, utilize tech and direct instruction. If it fulfills the purpose of differentiation, personalization, and individualization, use tech and inquiry based practices. Choose to adopt a repertoire of high effect size strategies and tools as opposed to narrowing your practice to fit a rigid ideology that is centered more on ego than academic achievement for all.
  • Blended learning is: Student to Student, Teacher to Student, Student to Device, and Teacher to Device. These are the four cornerstones of any blended learning environment. In fact, I would challenge any teacher venturing into this space to self-reflect by checking for each of these elements in their blended lessons. If one of these interactions is missing, we are probably missing a critical opportunity to make the experience more robust and meaningful. Blended learning should not be an isolating experience. The notion of kids silently click-clacking away on computers for hours at a time is as frightening for me as it is for you. We don’t wish for this from a teacher’s perspective, and we certainly would never advocate for it as parents. Blended learning should be a more collaborative learning experience than has previously been possible for kids. No longer are they bound by the knowledge that exists in the room. They are now free to access the contributions of humanity (past and present, known and unknown to them) both synchronously and asynchronously at any time. 
  • Blended learning allows for differentiated, individualized, and personalized supports. We’ve referenced this idea considerably in the preceding pages, but its importance makes it worthy of another mention. In lieu of discussing Tiers 1, 2, & 3, we believe it’s more productive to describe the implementation of RTI and blended learning through these lenses:
  • Our first line of defense in eliminating the opportunity and achievement gaps is differentiation. How can technologies equip educators with tools to plan for different learning styles and preferences and provide a multitude of experiences through which they can achieve mastery? Instead of asking why students don't learn the way we teach, we should ask ourselves how we can teach the way students learn. Let’s increasingly adapt to students, instead of expecting students to adapt to us. What different text sources can we utilize to improve engagement? How can we improve access to rich multimedia and make it a vital part of our learning experiences? Where opportunities can empower staff and students to utilize social media platforms for academic collaboration? It is far more important for students to leave our classrooms more masterful at a thing they’ve never done, than it is for teachers to leave more masterful at a thing they’ve always done. 
  • Individualization plays a critical role within the system of supports that schools must define to meet all student needs and to ensure that all students learn at high levels. Blended learning pedagogies include models for whole group instructional experiences that serve heterogeneous groups of students; and, individualized supports during which teams provide more time and alternative ways for students to master priorities with which they are struggling. Individualization requires evidence. But assessment, done right and collectively analyzed, takes time. Enter technology tools. Educational technology gives us the opportunity to generate in-the-moment data analytics that were previously unavailable. Kahoot, Google Forms, Poll Everywhere, Padlet, Google Docs, and dozens of other digital resources provide feedback on students’ responses to our instruction and intervention. When we collect, and more importantly, use this information to inform future teaching and learning and individualized experiences based on students’ responses to first, best instruction, we begin to realize the full potential of the perfect pairing of blended learning and RTI.
  • Differentiation leverages social learning to build student mastery of essential skills and concepts; individualization and personalization targets specific student needs and passions. With precision, we can utilize digital assessments and resources to provide targeted supports for individual students in ways that are efficient and effective. We have the capability to use YouTube, Khan Academy, Apps, game based learning, widgets, and an assortment of other tools to provide engaging asynchronous instruction for kids. This allows teachers to extend their own capacity within the walls of the classroom. Technology is a force multiplier; when coupled with progressive pedagogies and practice, digital tools and resources enhance both intervention and enrichment, expanding opportunities to provide students at various times, in various, spaces, at various rates, and in various ways.
  • Blended learning is adaptive and dynamic; so are digital tools and resources. This concept is hard for a lot of folks. Think about the last time your online bank changed its layout. What about the last time Facebook changed formats. Heaven forbid your email provider moves a button! Truth be told, we don’t always adapt well to change. At the risk of getting all Who Moved My Cheese on you, we have to be ready and eager to adapt to changes as they occur. Not only that, we have to be comfortable using a variety of tools to account for the needs of a variety of children. In the space where Padlet is unsuccessful, perhaps Google Docs can be. Now, some teachers may scoff at this notion. “What’s the difference?” one might ask? "Both are designed to promote in-the-moment collaboration." This is true. But, are we tied to our tools, or are we tied to our outcomes? In this dynamic world, we can no longer major in minors. What’s major is academic success. What’s minor is the tool we prefer. If you only have one way for kids to collaborate asynchronously, find two. If you only have two ways for kids to analyze text, find three. And if you have one reason why kids should use the tool you like; make it zero.

Blended learning is, very simply stated, technologically-enhanced differentiated, and its principles and practices may finally allow us deliver on the promises of differentiation and response to intervention. Let’s now look at what blended learning isn’t.

What isn’t Blended Learning?

Blended learning methodologies cannot flourish in environments where educators are not aligned. As such, it is equally as important to understand the pervasive misunderstandings that exist relative to blended learning. While these are certainly not all of them, the following are amongst the most common when we look at what not to do in the blended space:

  • Blended learning is not as simple as distributing devices. This seems obvious, but great school districts and smart educators all over the country have made this mistake. Please, adhere to the wisdom of Simon Sinek upon which we elaborate later: first why, then how, with what (distributing devices) to follow. We can’t deposit devices at a school and expect teachers to be transformative. That expectation has led to massive (and expensive) failures across the country and around the world relative to the learning transformation that is inevitably underway. We shouldn’t be surprised. Nobody rolled MRI technology into hospitals with the expectation that doctors would simply “figure it out.” The device was introduced, and a succinct training program with clear outcomes followed. Blended learning and Systems of Support are no different. It takes professional learning opportunities to be masterful. It takes time. It takes commitment to do things differently than you’ve always done, to achieve results you’ve never seen. Consider what you want kids to do with technology and what outcomes will be achieved long before you start asking questions about what technology to buy. Let that conversation guide your infrastructure requirements, your device selection, and your PD goals.
  • Blended learning isn’t as complicated as you fear. It is only as complicated as you allow it to be. The most common mistake educators make when they venture into blended learning is the error of “too much too soon.” We don’t give ourselves time to be learners. We think we immediately have to design lessons that redefine teaching and learning every day. We think we have to develop lessons that provide differentiation, individualization, and personalization for every child, every day, all day long. That expectation is a recipe for failure. It is ironic that inside a building where learning is encouraged, so few teachers allow themselves the time necessary to authentically learn and develop. The result is often a feeling of frustration and failure that leads many to abandon their technological pursuits altogether. Set manageable goals and expectations for yourself, your school, and/or your district. Decide the one, two, or at most three things you want to accomplish as a learning community in the first year. Work diligently to collaborate, plan, execute, evaluate, share, and replicate to achieve those outcomes.  
  • Blended learning is not successful when we force devices or digital content into traditional lesson design frames. Most design methodologies do not account for digital tools. As such, classroom teachers have to design a lesson in its entirety, and then figure out after the fact where modern resources fit into the equation. When we approach digital learning in that way, the result is not a succinct learning environment in which teachers and students flow in and out of interactions with technology with fluidity and purpose. It becomes a traditional lesson with an extraneous “technology part.” Let’s commit to utilizing design principles that account for digital tools and resources, combined with blended pedagogies and practices, at the outset. Consider content standards, problem-based learning and project-based learning, high-effect instructional strategies, digital tools, blended models, and digital assessments as equally critical parts of the collaborative design of learning experiences.
  • Blended learning is not isolating. Digital tools can and must connect students with teachers, peers, and outside resources in ways that weren’t previously possible. We should neither abandon the elements of classroom instruction that allow us to cultivate meaningful relationships with kids nor isolate students from one another. Successful blended classrooms are flush with collaborative interactions, feedback cycles, meaningful dialogue, Socratic questioning, debates, and numerous additional opportunities for human connectivity. We frequently tell teachers, if students haven’t had the opportunity to engage with you and one another during a given lesson, head back to the drawing board to create opportunities for each.
  • Blended learning is not age or experience dependent. There’s a common misconception that digital learning is a young teacher’s game. After literally hundreds of classroom observations, be assured there is no truth to this perception. Veteran teachers and first-year teachers alike will regularly experience success given the appropriate training and preparation. The common denominator of success is neither age nor experience. Success rests on support and one’s willingness to step into the world of the unknown.
  • Blended learning is not compatible with teacher-centered pedagogies. Blended instruction must be learner-centered. The role of teacher in the educational universe is evolving. Successful blended environments don’t require the teacher to be the focal point of the classroom and can often be more effective when teachers are not the focus of instruction. In blended learning models, the teacher becomes a facilitator and guide, while also providing the knowledge and insight into the course material that they always have. Teachers will be coaches and model learners, with experiences of concepts and skills. A successful transition to an effective blended model is one in which educators know, based on student needs, when and how to fulfill their various roles as teachers, guides, and facilitators. If we compare the traditional classroom model to our solar system, the sun around which all things revolve is the teacher. While we may want to say the student is at the center, if we look honestly at our traditional education models, it is teachers, not students, who are front and center in the academic solar system. Teachers, not students, exert the most energy in the classroom. Teachers still view themselves as the primary source of academic light. The prevailing thought is that without the teacher’s wisdom shining as the central focus of our classrooms, our students, much like earth’s organisms without the sun, will not grow. This is a model that has been accepted and replicated for generations, and with good cause.

For centuries educators have been our most valuable sources of knowledge, information, and insight. Now, in the digital age, students increasingly won’t see teachers as heliocentric in the classroom solar system. They are now used to finding information themselves or figuring out how to research and do things on their own. Not only does the digital learning transformation create a shift in teaching and learning, but it also shifts the delivery style of instruction. The educator’s role in a blended model is to provide student-centric experiences that bolster this new type of learner. Ideally, these shifts will deepen the level of learning with which all students engage.

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning and Blended Learning – A Side-by-Side Comparison

Neither RTI and Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning nor blended learning are new concepts. Systems of Supports date back to the 1960s (Bloom, 1968) and one could argue that the pedagogies and practices of blended learning are grounded in Carol Ann Tomlinson’s work from the 1990s - blended learning is in many ways simply digitally-enhanced differentiation.

In this section, we propose that the tiers of Systems of Supports and RTI map nearly perfectly onto the goals of blended learning and provide a tabulation side-by-side comparison.

In guiding schools’ blended learning practices, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has described the similarities and differences between differentiated, individualized, and personalized instruction (Grant & Basye, 2014). Their descriptions are remarkably to the principles and practices that we have employed when operationalizing Systems of Support for Rigorous Learning (are comments are in parenthesis):

  • Differentiation with Core Environments: Teachers respond to student needs by making adjustments to process, content, and product, based on how students learn best (traditionally known as Tier 1).
  • Individualized Supports, Based on Evidence of Mastery of Core Priorities: If differentiation is the how, individualization is the when. Learning progresses at different rates; some students may need to review concepts, while others may be ready to immerse themselves in those concepts (traditionally known as Tier 2).
  • Personalization and Specialized Supports, at the Leading Edge of Students’ Zones of Proximal Development: If differentiation is the how and individualization is the when, then personalization is the where – as in, where are students in their learning journey. Students who are not yet performing at expected levels, due to significant deficits in foundational skills, receive targeted and intensive supports at the leading edge of their zones of proximal development. Students who are meeting and exceeding age and grade expectations dig deeper into areas of interest (traditionally known as Tier 3).

How are Blended Learning and RTI closely aligned? We tabulate a few important similarities below:

 

Blended Learning 

Popular

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Mandated

 

Blended Learning

Digitally-driven

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Could be

 

Blended Learning

Contemporary schedules needed

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Contemporary schedules needed

 

Blended Learning

Classroom environments

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Should be

 

Blended Learning

Differentiation

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

At all tiers, particularly Tier 1

 

Blended Learning

Growth-based 

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Are students responding to instruction and intervention?

 

Blended Learning

Heterogeneous and homogeneous

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Tier 1 is heterogeneous; tier 2 and Tier 3 are more homogeneous

 

Blended Learning

Analytically-driven

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Diagnostically-adaptive

 

Blended Learning

Algorithms

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Problem-solving

 

Blended Learning

Inclusive of entry point and current readiness levels

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Inclusive of all students, readiness of label

 

Blended Learning

All assessments are formative 

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Are students responding to instruction and intervention

 

Blended Learning

Assessment as learning

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Should be (visible student learning – Hattie)

 

Blended Learning

Collaborative staff practices

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

PLCs

 

Blended Learning

Multi-grade

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning

Tier 3 could be, often is

 

We’re both idealists and pragmatists. We fiercely believe in the ideal of education, in education as a civil right, as high levels of learning for all a moral imperative, and of schools as instruments of social justice.

As pragmatists, we recognize (and celebrate) that both Systems of Supports and blended and learning as popular, and in some jurisdictions, mandated. They should be; both are grounded in research and evidence. 

A frustrating practice too often occurs in schools that erodes any hopes of systematic and coordinated approaches to serving students. Initiative fatigue – the condition in which a school and staff lose their way and struggle to implement any one effort well – plagues our schools. Frustratingly, we miss a powerful opportunity to powerfully enhance a collaborative system of support when we do not make connections between potentially effective sets of practices, that when introduced and implemented separately risk more than simply failing to deliver optimal results; the risk is that they will individually and spectacularly fail.

Let’s embrace and implement the principles and practices of Systems of Supports and blended learning  - in an integrated and coordinated manner that aligns their powerful attributes for the good of both students and staffs.

Disruptive vs. Sustaining Innovations 

Excitement around systems of support and blended learning, as far as we are concerned, is a fantastic thing. In our minds this excitement represents a desire to utilize digital tools and the principles and practices of RTI in tandem to improve the academic experience for all children. It represents a desire to utilize what Dr. Clayton Christensen calls “disruptive innovations” (Christensen, 2014) to forge a more successful future in our schools. But we should be cognizant of our realities as we move enthusiastically toward this outcome. 

While striving for the revolutionary, it is critical to proceed in an evolutionary manner. That is to say, we can’t expect to place disruptive technologies in the hands of students and teachers and immediately see the landscape change forever. Innovation that truly transforms (and positively disrupts) takes time, proceeding through a series of steps that are necessary to build proficiency and confidence; these steps in the process cannot be overlooked for the sake of wanting to move fast. Look at the past fifteen years as an example of what this means for us. Fifteen years ago we taught in a school that went one-to-one. One laptop for every student in the school. We were thrilled. We were innovators. 

We were going to change the face of academics in our school and in our country. Fast forward fifteen years; innovators like myself and others have not significantly disrupted the status quo relative to blended learning environments. Instead, we’ve seen these methodologies and ideologies take hold slowly and methodically as sustaining innovations. Are we happy about the pace? Of course not. But that certainly doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. We are thrilled that every day more and more stakeholders are developing the confidence and experiencing the successes needed to move blended learning from a sustaining innovation to a disruptive innovation. 

At the classroom level, sustaining innovation means systems of supports and blended learning work in tandem to change the continuously improve teacher practices and student outcomes. Digital tools and resources combine with contemporary pedagogies and practices with an organized system of support to meet students’ differentiated, individualized, and personalized needs. But perhaps the classroom itself and the school’s daily schedule and infrastructure, remain largely intact. This is not a bad thing. In fact, this is a great thing! It represents that evolutionary movement from good to great that is necessary to support the innovative mindsets that need time to take root. 

The innovation becomes disruptive when digital tools are used to differentiate, individualize, and personalize, and the school itself looks, sounds, and feels different than it ever has. Classroom seating accounts for small group and individual remediation. Bell schedules account for mastery instead of minutes. Student hangouts accommodate technological needs. Teachers congregate as a means of collaborating. Learning for communities, staffs, and students occurs whenever and wherever and always. Making this vision a reality unequivocally requires that we take our time, and move forward with a more gradual based approach to innovation. Failure to do so means we will potentially leave teachers and students running to catch up with the ambitious changes taking place around them. It’s hard enough for students to learn to ideas and concepts. Imagine the challenges they would face if, in a moment, we changed everything about their learning environment. Would it be ultimately for the better? Absolutely. But we can’t sacrifice a cohort of teachers and students in the immediate present for the sake of fulfilling our desires to be disruptive innovators right this minute. 

To provide a sense of measured urgency around blended learning and systems of supports, we need leadership that is able to see the benefits in sustaining innovations while pushing the collective toward disruption. These leaders will consistently push all stakeholders toward disruptive technologies and work diligently to promote the evolutionary cycle that has been absent in our schools for far too long. 

Leadership for Systems of Support and Blended Learning

Leadership of all kinds and at all levels is absolutely essential to drive, support, and sustain continuous improvement. We will describe two types of leadership:

Leadership as a Position: The visible leadership of school principals and other site leaders is essential to ensuring success for students and staff, and greater outcomes for schools. For any effective work to take hold in a school, it must be fully supported by the school leadership team, must become part of what a school believes, and it must be communicated to all stakeholders that the work will lead to better outcomes for all students. Schools that behave as PLCs (and as collections of PLCs) have clarity of purpose and a collaborative culture, are able to turn collective inquiry into a best practice, examine current reality, are action oriented and committed to continuous improvement, and have a strong principal who empowers teachers to be leaders (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Karhanek, 2004). The school principal matters. We firmly believe that leadership is a disposition, not a position, but this does not mean that the school principal isn’t incredibly significant within all aspects of a collaborative system of support. The principal is present in meetings, assists in gathering and interpreting evidence, participating in core, more, and specialized learning environments, supporting and gathering supports for staff and students, and generally motivating the process. The principal is the lead learner, and the goal is high levels of learning for all.

Leadership as a Disposition: Distributed leadership is not an option. All educators are responsible for leading the work required to transform teaching and learning. We will describe a few of the specific tasks for which leadership is necessary below. First, let’s describe what is needed for all educators to assume and exercise their professional responsibilities:

  • Time: Educators must have protected time within the professional day during which focused and impactful collaboration can occur with this goal: continuously improving student learning through continuously improving teacher practices.
  • Trust: Collaboration and coaching rests on the principle of co-learning. We cannot violate the promise and power of collaborative learning through even the slightest hint of evaluation and judgment. We must also strive to leave ego and defensiveness aside and strive for a...
  • Growth Mindset: We must model the continuous improvement habits that we expect of students. Leading change requires openness, humility, and patient persistence.

As we lead the learning transformation that today’s students and their futures demand, we must have a plan that respects and guides the changes that will be necessary. We borrow Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” to analyze ways in which the power Systems of Support and blended learning can be harnessed on behalf of progress (Sinek, 2009).

Why Systems of Support and blended learning?

  • To achieve the lofty goals that we must embrace for ourselves and our students, our efficiencies must improve and our reach must extend beyond any single classroom.
  • Now more than ever, we must continuously improve in ensuring that more students are more prepared for life.
  • Research-based principles and practices exist. We know what to do. We must eliminate the knowing-doing gap.

How

  • Collectively with your colleagues, explore the elements of response to intervention, blended learning, differentiation, the Rigor/Relevance Framework (Daggett), the SAMR (Puentedura, 2006; 2009) continuum and integrate them into a new set of practices within your school that are greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Teach less, learn more: Focus on the most critical concepts and skills that student need for success in school, college, career, and life so that there is time to deeper into critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and the nurturing of self-regulatory, executive functioning, and social-emotional skills.
  • Educators must talk less; students must do more of the thinking and working. I
  • More assignments is not the goal. Higher quality tasks with which students engage is our objective.
  • Let’s not let perfection be the enemy of progress. Action...not only ideas. However, don’t confuse movement with progress, by ensuring that we...
  • Measure our progress. Success breeds success, and more stakeholders will be more committed when the progress of students is visible. What gets measured gets done. Authentically and creatively measure changes in outcomes, then celebrate and adjust.

What

  • Logistics matter: Ensure that time and personnel is allocated in new and logical ways that match the needs of students and in support of the goals of schools today.
  • Develop efficient systems for coordinating and communicating
  • Provide the tools and resources that staffs and students need AND the ongoing coaching so that investments are guaranteed to return gains in student learning.

We can do this. We must. We’ll leave you with our favorite quote from an educational hero. It dates from 1979; it still applies today:

How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of all children? If your answer is more than one, then I submit that you have reasons of your own for preferring to believe that basic pupil performance derives from family background instead of school response to family background. We can, whenever & wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us; we already know more than we need to do that; whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.

Edmonds, 1979, p. 23

 

References

 

Bloom, B. S. (1968). Learning for mastery. Evaluation Comment, 1(2). Los Angeles: UCLA Center for Study of Evaluation of Instructional Programs, 1–12.

Christensen, C. M. (2003). The innovator’s dilemma. New York: HarperCollins.

Collins, J. (2005). Good to great and the social sectors: A monograph to accompany good to great. New York: HarperCollins.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Karhanek, G. (2004). Whatever it takes: How professional learning communities respond when kids don’t learn. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Edmonds, R. (1979). Effective schools for the urban poor. Educational Leadership, 37(1), 15-24.

Grant, P., & Basye, D. (2014). Personalized learning: A guide for engaging students with technology. Arlington, VA: International Society for Technology in Education.

McKeown, G. (2014). Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less. New York: Random House.

Pew Internet and American Life Project, Most Working Americans Now Use The Internet or Email at Their Jobs, Sept. 24, 2008, http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Networked-Workers/1-Summary-of-Findings.aspx.

Puentedura, R. R. (2006). Transformation, technology, and education. Online at: http://hippasus.com/resources/tte/ 

Puentedura, R. R. (2009). As we may teach: Educational technology, from theory into practice. Online at: http://tinyurl.com/aswemayteach

 

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Penguin Group.

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Getting Tier 1 Right

As long as schools continue with the traditional emphasis on breadth over depth, coverage over mastery, and teaching over learning, we will continue to have students requiring intervention, students receiving failing grades and being retained, and students being identified with a disability who have, in fact, simply been denied a guaranteed and viable curriculum. We can and must think differently and do better. The foundation of any school must be a belief in all students, a belief that working together is the only way to get it done, and a belief that in highly effective schools teaching and learning are inextricably linked. It starts with carefully and completely defining this guaranteed and viable curriculum (the “need to know” essentials for all students) and core instruction accessible by all students. Why must we define this key content?  Here are some thoughts from key researchers in our domain:

  • Learning, and the curriculum we determine is most essential for students to learn, will only be guaranteed and viable if teams of educators define it clearly (Marzano, 2001).
  • There are too many standards, even in light of new or proposed initiatives (DuFour & Marzano, 2011; Schmoker, 2011).
  • Standards must be unpacked so that educators and students know what mastery looks like, so instruction can match these expectations, and so teams of educators can backwards plan (McTighe & Wiggins, 2005).

The deeper our understanding of content and the more collaboratively we unpack and unwrap standards, the better our instruction and assessment of student learning. This should lead to more accurate identifications of the needs of students, more specificity in diagnosing these areas of need, and more targeted interventions to close the gaps.

Given the needs of students and realities of schools, it is highly unlikely that that we can cover all of the content on hand in any curriculum guide or standards document. Moreover, we cannot intervene and provide more time and differentiated supports on all standards with students at risk. We must identify essential learning (prioritized standards and outcomes) for both behaviors and academics; how do we systematically, carefully, and completely define key core content? We must harness the power of collaboration. By collaboratively prioritizing the behavioral and academic learning most critical for all students, unpacking these standards so all teachers and students understand the level of rigor and format associated with mastery, as well as the types of learning that logically precede and follow mastery of the essentials, and unwrapping standards to ensure that we are assessing student mastery as accurately and authentically as possible, the curriculum and related instruction – unit by unit, grade by grade, and ultimately to the next phase of their lives post secondary school.

When core instruction focuses on depth over breadth, all students benefit. Students with lower levels of prerequisite skills will have time to receive pre-teaching and re-teaching within the unit of instruction. Students currently performing on or above grade level have more opportunities to engage with complex tasks of greater complexity. More students will be responding to a greater degree to initial instruction.

Collaborative systems of support more generally, and core supports more specifically, will only result in high levels of learning for all when staff frequently and cooperatively collaborate. Common units of study and common assessments (assessments from which we backwards plan and assessment results that we analyze to continuously refine our craft) are simply not an option. They are a research-based moral imperative.

Fundamentally, core supports, and the teams that the take the lead on the teaching and learning of academic and behavioral priorities for all students, focus on the following elements. School teams will go a long way toward ensuring that all students are on track to graduate future ready by addressing these key elements to craft a highly differentiated set of supports all learners:

  • Identify the behavioral and academic priorities that all students will master.
  • Clearly define what mastery of these behavioral and academics skills and concepts “looks” and “sounds” like.
  • Architect learning experiences that nurture these skills and concepts and identify proficiency scales, pedagogies, practices, and strategies that will promote deep learning.
  • Explicitly teach and model – and strategically facilitate learning experiences – that guide students to develop the thinking habits and skills that we want to see and hear displayed and employed.
  • Prepare and plan for differentiated supports, because we know that some students will need additional time and alternative supports to master priorities; others will have mastered priorities before instruction begins and deserve enrichment.
  • Assess student mastery of prioritized behavioral and academic concepts and skills so that we can determine the efficacy of our instruction and identify the areas of need for intervention.
  • Frequently check for student understanding to provide immediate and specific corrective feedback regarding students’ successes and temporary shortfalls as they relate to achieving mastery.
  • Involve students in self-assessment, so that they take more and more ownership for their learning journey, and so that we all move from assessment of learning (through assessment for learning) to assessment as learning.

In our experiences, systematically applying (and revisiting) these steps to design learning experiences for both behavioral and academic concepts and skills will lead to better teaching and better learning.

© 2016. Chris Weber Education. Design by Cleverbirds.