Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vertically Align your Interventions & Instruction Simultaneously

On our campus, we don't have faculty meetings.  I don't like them because what I need to announce, I can do through an email or a flipped video.  Instead we have Vertical Alignment Team (VAT)  meetings on the 2nd Monday of every month.  This is our time to come together and vertically align instruction, curriculum, assessments and anything else that needs alignment. 

Our focus this year is aligning interventions and collectively answering Question 3, "How Will We Respond If They Don't Learn It?".  This month we had a VAT where our teachers worked in teams to improve their interventions. Our teachers brought with them the high leverage skills that they were focused on for the first six weeks of school. Teachers from the same grade level worked in pairs to identify one high leverage skill taught during the six weeks, find the most common mistakes that students made in learning the skill, and prescribed possible interventions to eliminate the mistakes.  The purpose of this activity was to proactively address 80% of the reasons that kids fail to learn the given skill, so that they could have time in planning meetings to respond to the unexpected reasons that kids fail to learn the skill (the other 20%) after the instruction was delivered.

Meet with the Grade Level Below

Before the teacher pair could finish designing the intervention, the pair had to meet with the grade level below to ensure that the intervention prescribed was aligned with the way that the skill was taught in the previous grade. The two grade levels had discussions about methodologies of instruction as well as the learning styles of the students from the previous year to ensure that the intervention would be aligned with the method that the students learned the concept the year before. Prerequisite skills were also discussed to ensure that the foundation for learning and intervening was aligned.

The most important point for meeting with the grade level below is that intervention for the current grade level must be aligned with the instruction from the previous year.  Otherwise, your intervention will come out of left field and not from the instructional experiences that the student was exposed to in the prior year.

Meet with the Grade Level Above

After the teacher pair finished meeting with the grade level below, the pair then met with the grade level above to ensure that the interventions that they were prescribing would help the student be prepared for the next grade level. The interesting thing about this discussion with the grade level above is that the discussion was more about instruction than intervention. This great conversation helped make sure that what is taught in the current grade level will set the stage for the teachers in the next grade level. The importance of the conversation is that grade levels understand that what they are teaching must build schema in the way that students learned the prerequisite skills in the previous year.  Conversely, the current grade must be cognizant of the way that skills will be taught next year.  Failure for both grades to recognize instruction from both perspectives will result in more students failing to learn.

The most important point to consider from meeting with the grade level above is that dialogue must eliminate bad habits that students learn in the current year, so that the next grade doesn't have to lose value instruction and intervention time breaking those bad habits.  For you math teachers, I give you the best example possible, to cross multiply or not to cross multiply...

Considerations & Reminders

There are two important things to consider when having a VAT intervention meeting. First, we need to be clear in our understanding that Tier 1 interventions are for all students and that intervention begins where the student begins to have difficulty in learning a given concept. In addition, Tier 1 interventions should be tried frequently over a period of time to gauge whether or not the intervention is effective.

The second point to consider in a VAT intervention meeting is that we must ensure that our instruction is as effective as possible. We ensure that by having discussions about the methodologies and what quality instruction and student work look like and sound like from grade to grade. This discussion ensures that what we're doing in one grade directly leads the students to a solid foundation of how they will learn it in the next grade.

The most important reminder is that these meetings are not about the grade level below and what they didn't do to prepare kids.  The grade level below does the very best that they can to educate every child, and our discussions should always make both grade levels betterMutual respect, trust, and commitment to helping one another must always be the goal of a VAT meeting.

Put What We Learn to Work

The result of a VAT meeting should be answering question three for our weekly planning meetings, how to respond when students are not learning. This activity makes planning each week easier as teachers are able to draw upon the intervention plans that they created in VAT meetings. These plans must be in front of teams to guide the discussion weekly and make lesson planning more focused and efficient.

In addition, the result of a VAT intervention meeting should also create strong lines of communication from grade to grade so that when teachers or teams are having difficulty teaching a particular concept, they can have a conversation with the grade below to see how they taught the prerequisite skills.  Then, they can have a conversation with a grade above to ensure that the instruction that they plan to deliver will prepare all kids for the next grade.

Vertical alignment is usually put to the back burner for most schools.  Schools that excel make vertical alignment a priority and more important schedule it on the calendar regularly, so it does not get move to the back burner.


  1. Thank for you your thorough and practical advice and procedures for creating a system for vertical alignment, especially as it relates to Tier I instruction. We need a better response to why aren't some students understanding as opposed to blaming the student for not achieving--s/he was not listening, never does her/his homework, lacks motivation, etc. Deciding on essential skills, methods of instruction, and intervention horizontally and vertically helps create a collaborative culture whereby teachers and administrators are responsible for all students mastery.

  2. The science department in my district has been increasing their focus on this important practice; however, I do find myself amazed at how much content in the lower grades students have been taught, but it's still tough to build upon when they've seemed to forgotten any trace of this knowledge by the time they have gotten to high school! Lol!