Sunday, January 20, 2008

Catch Them Before They Fall

Most educators you talk to, regardless of whether they are a Kindergarten teacher or a Grade 12 teacher would agree that all learners progress at their own rate. Some students get it before the words are even spoken, some get it after you've said it once or shown them once how to do something, and some need repeated exposure and on-going practice before they grapple with and grasp a skill or concept. Your room at any given time is filled with a heterogeneous blend of all types of learners.

And, though, we would agree that all learners progress at different rates, it is all too common that we offer students all the same instruction and miraculously expect everyone to master grade level standards. When in reality each student sitting in our presence may need something different to get there.
Because learners progress at different rates, some need interventions or safety nets to be successful. An intervention is defined as "the act of intervening, especially a deliberate entry into a situation or dispute in order to influence events or prevent undesirable consequences" and a safety net is "something that provides security against misfortune or difficulty."

One of my jobs as a data coach and curriculum/instructional specialist is to assist teachers in the identification of students needing safety nets. At Chets, this is most commonly done by the gathering and analysis of data including DIBELS assessment, our Chets Creek diagnostic assessement, and on-going common formative assessment. Then, as a resource provider and school leader I need to assist the prinicipal in making sure that research based safety nets are available and we have teachers running intervention programs before, during, and after school to make sure students' needs are being met. This is a time consuming endevour but one size does not fit all, therefore it is a critical part of our instructional work.

Because there are so many types of learners, educators need to understand the different levels of learners to most effectively provide the differentiated instruction.
  • Level 1 and 2 learners need the regular core curriculum. The Level 2 learner may need the teacher's support through asking a question or getting a clarification, but overall these students progress at grade level standard without any additional assistance.
  • Level 3 learners need the regular core curriculum and additional assistance in the form of homework help. They are almost grasping the skills and concepts in class but not quite enough to become independent learners without assistance on their homework. In general, they need about 5 to 10 minutes of out of class time before grasping the skill and concept.
  • Level 4 learners need the regular core curriculum and an intervention program. The safety net program must be focused and address the student's areas of need to produce successful results.
  • Level 5 learners are significantly behind, sometimes by two or more years, and the regular core curriculum is not addressing their needs. An intervention program that can accelerate them back into the regular grade level standards is what is needed so they don't slip further behind.

Every school likely has Level 1,2,3,4, and 5 learners in their midst. They need to address the needs of each of these learners because every year a child's needs are not met, they slip down into another level. If a Level 3 learner in the fourth grade does not get homework help outside of class time, then upon entering grade five, they will have developed into a Level 4 learner needing more support. As the levels fall, intervention becomes more expensive and time consuming.

As an educator, I'd take a few minutes to ask questions like:
What safety net programs are offered at my school?
What do the programs target? (math concepts, reading fluency, reading comprehension?)
What data needs gathered to place students in appropriate interventions?
When will the student attend the intervention?
Who will teach the intervention?
When will I know that a student no longer needs the intervention?

To get an idea of the types of safety nets we offer at Chets, stay tuned for the next post. I'll be sharing our intervention programs and when we offer them. Until next time...

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