Sunday, February 24, 2013

RTI and SBG Reflections: 6 Lessons Learned

photo credit: MyTudut via photopin cc
LESSON 0: All kids can learn. (RTI)

Additionally, I believe different kids learn differently, and that has classroom implications. (RTI)

Struggling learners can achieve mastery of standards.  The students I have that aren't doing well don't see the point of what I have to offer.  Or they don't come prepared to class.  Or they have had repeated illnesses and that has affected their attendance.  What motivates kids is a belief that they can accomplish a task and apply it with the proper supports.(RTI)

I have control over what is important in my classroom.  And because of that I no longer feel the need to travel in a lock-step fashion for each student through each and every unit I teach.  Some kids need more practice than others.  Others need visual cues or mathematical models rather than a lot of text.  This realization has evolved my classroom to the point that standards-based education/competency-based education now makes sense to me.

That wasn't always the case.  I started (Round 1) with an assumption that SBG meant that I had to retest kids again and again, and if they passed the test, they had mastered the content.  Back in the day, that was called,  "O-B-E-ing the test" because the outcomes-based model lacked finesse.  LESSON 1:  Traditional tests do not equal mastery.  I shifted to a project-based model back in 1994, because a kid that missed the project had to redo the project over, and with each successive attempt, my expectations went up. Kids finally realized what I had to offer was steps towards a goal.  Struggling learners need a blueprint. (RTI)

Next, I moved to Understanding by Design and the 5E learning cycle, combining the work of Roger Bybee and Grant Wiggins (Round 2).  This forced me to put away the textbook and focus on the national standards.  Suddenly, there was a lot less busy work and a lot more checking for understanding.  Rick Stiggins and his Toolkit for Assessment introduced me to the difference between summative and formative assessment early on, but Understanding by Design clarified my purpose.   LESSON 2:  Assessment tells me if kids 'get it' and I need to define what the students need to  'get'. This is true for all students, not just those who struggle.

The next model was Mastery (Round 3).  During this round, a new wrinkle for SBG appeared at my district.   The semester grade was not complete until a child had passed all unit assessments.  If a child did not pass assessments, they were given an incomplete for up to a semester.  This was to help the struggling student, but getting together with said students was often difficult.  Here I learned  LESSON 3:  When a student is in my room, I can pull them out and work with them.   LESSON 4:  To do this, however, my classroom must fundamentally evolve.  Lecture became replaced with student-centered reading, hands-on activities and processing to meet the needs of all students.

As I became more and more versed in RTI, I realized that there would be kids who struggled in a unit, but just struggling in one unit did not automatically mean that they would struggle in the next.  Relevance played a great part in what I was doing, so going back to my universal design was critical, and a review of my assessments with an eye to application mattered.  Blended learning, with videos, sample problems, and multiple tools, led me to beef up my website for student-friendliness.   LESSON 5: Content knowledge matters for lesson design; it does not exist to make me a spouting fountain of knowledge.   My student needs to figure out concepts and connections, and it my job to help him or her critically think about that job.

The most current wrinkle in the RTI/curriculum standards universe where I work is the #PLC, which is designed to help teachers collaborate.  Time is a factor.  Personal belief and exposure to current research is a factor.  The role a PLC plays in helping students who struggle is a factor.  I find myself wondering if these district-centered groups are really Communities of Practice.  LESSON 6:  Collaboration works best when people are united by a purpose in which they believe.  Is our purpose for meeting resulting in students who are more engaged in learning?

I had a great discussion on Twitter about standards-based education this weekend with dedicated teachers who are frustrated by poorly executed standards-based education.  And I can't blame them.  The lessons above are a radical paradigm shift from a lecture-centered, rows-of-desks classroom to a constructivist approach that relies on metacognition.  The shift takes time, study, work, buy-in---all of these are necessary before we drop a mandate onto teachers.  How do we plan to equip our teachers with the tools necessary to learn these lessons?

If we don't, this becomes another near-miss in education that forces us back to that factory model with a grade stamp rather than allowing schools to transform.

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