Thursday, November 8, 2012

Simplifying The Complexity of Question 3

In my earlier post, Vertically Align Your Interventions Simulataneously, I outlined how principals can carve out time to replace faculty meetings with collaborative discussions on interventions.  In these meetings, grade level teams come to the meetings with intervention strategies for the high leverage skills that they plan to teach in the upcoming grading period.  Teachers meet with teachers from the grade level above and below  about the interventions and offer suggestions to make interventions even more targeted and specific.  At the end of the meeting, every grade level walks away with a deeper understanding of why kids fail to learn and more importantly a more detailed plan of action to address kids when they fail to learn.  Attached are an agenda and graphic organizer to guide teams through the process of designing interventions that align with the grade level below's instruction and lead to the grade level above's standard.

Below are dropbox links to an agenda and worksheet to help teams prescribe Tier 1 interventions collaborative and vertically.
Vertical Alignment Meeting Agenda
Vertical Alignment Intervention Worksheet

So now that we've met and created our specific intervention, what do we do with all this information?

Question 1 & 2 Must be Answered

Once teams have agreed what the standard looks and sounds like at the expected level of proficiency, they must agree on what instructional activities and strategies they will use to guide learners to the standard. Teams must also design common formative assessments that are aligned to the standard and the rigor of instruction that was provided.  Without a common formative assessment developed collaboratively by the team, teachers will have no baseline to identify who really learned the content and who is still not proficient.  Thus, there is no reason to begin answering our next question, #3. 

Special Note - This topic is extremely complex and my basic explanation hardly does any justice to the importance of developing common instructional and assessment practices.

Before Question 3 - Use your Student Work

Assuming that your PLTs have developed a common understanding and agreements for instruction and assessment, teachers are ready to evaluate formative assessment data.  Teachers must come to the table with student work in 3 forms.
  1. Struggling Student Work - Bring student work of a student or students that you cannot find an intervention that help them learn the concept.
  2. Average Student Work - Bring student work of an average student to gauge if your instruction is pushing all students at the same level of rigor as your teammates' instruction.  This is a great way to evaluate if Question 1 is challenging all students at the appropriate level.  This conversation should also allow teachers to gather new instructional ideas.
  3. Exceptional Student Work - Bring work of a high student that you need ideas to push them to deeper level of complexity.  This is a great way to collectively answer question 4.

Question 3 - Struggling Student Work

Why bring the lowest student to the table?  If you can design interventions that will help the student that struggles the most, you are designing interventions for most of the students that fail to learn.  It is easy to discuss a student that is mildly behind, but your collaborative time is precious.  You must spend it with your team discussing the hardest to accelerate and hardest to reach.  Use student work to show what specifically is the problem with the child's learning. Analyzing the student's work will help team members see problems and habits that the teacher may not be able to see yet. It is also very important to have intervention personnel in the meeting to share their strategies and to make them aware of the child's struggles. This conversation must turn into a plan of action that is specific to the largest skill that is preventing the child from learning. The plan must also specify the detailed actions that will be taken and identify the personnel, time and frequency of the intervention.

If your team is able to spend 10 minutes per child designing targeted, specific and prescriptive interventions for the lowest child, they will have just designed intervention strategies that every teacher can employ with other students who are failing but not at the severity of the lowest student in the class.

So What about the Vertical Alignment Document?

Teams must be purposeful in using the document from the vertical alignment meeting.  If they put a lot of effort into making the document and then getting input from the grade level above and the grade level below, they have just answered question 3 for all of their upcoming planning meetings.  Teams will be able reference the input and suggestions from the grade levels above and below each week.  From there, they ensure that the child receives interventions that begin from their prior year's learning and lead to a solid foundation for the next year's instruction.

Now there is a caveat to the perceived simplicity in the above paragraph.  Just because your team wrote interventions and got vertical input does not necessarily make the intervention good.  Teams must review the interventions and be thoughtful and committed to determining if the interventions are prescriptive enough to meet the  unique and specific issues that are preventing students from learning.  In essence, the preplanned interventions need to be reviewed and discussed to ensure that they will meet the needs of kids where they are currently failing to learn. 

Hope this helps.  I would enjoy your thoughts, feedback and questions to this post.  Good luck.

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