Classroom Practices, Education, Leadership, Learning, PLC, PLN, Uncategorized

Big Little Things

LittleThe sign you see here hangs in my living room. It greets me every morning as I stumble past on my way to the kitchen to get the coffee that starts my day. It welcomes me home every evening, that sign. Watches over us as we hang out, watching TV or eating or talking or reading. It hangs there, that sign. Right there it hangs as I start to do a little work or think about the things at school that I didn’t quite have time to do today. Or those big things I have coming up…..Yeah, like that thing. I really have to block off some time for that one tomorrow.

Where does it go, our time? I wonder that a lot. And as I wonder, that sign hangs, still and quiet. Reminding me to slow down. To notice the little things. The little things that hide inside our days, like tiny glass spheres filled with big, magnificent moments that we can only discover if we look for those little things first. And sometimes, when we are super busy or pressed for time and we just don’t stop to think about those little things….well, sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes one of those little things happens by, right smack dab in the middle of something there it is, right in front of us. And then just like that, right before our eyes, we see it. And we see the big, magnificent moment that is hidden right there…hidden just inside that one little thing. This is about one of those big little things.

I sat down at the desk just inside her classroom, paper and pen in hand as I prepared to take notes and capture data for this teacher’s annual evaluation. As I observed, this teacher let students know that for this particular activity, they would be using nonfiction text. That they would be selecting their own text from the stack of books and magazines that had been placed on the back table. Stacks and piles about all kinds of things, written at all kinds of levels. The students were to use their strategy for selecting a “just right” book and to find one that appealed to them, one that sparked their interest. And then off they went, these excited kids. Off they went to rummage through the piles looking, searching, hoping to find that one interesting book … that “just right” book…that book that fits them.  And then…..he found it. I watched as this student grabbed up a book, opened and scanned the pages to make sure it wasn’t too easy or too hard and then….once he discovered that this book was indeed just right for him, he clutched it to his chest and headed back to his desk, just to the right of where I sat. And as he walked toward his desk, clutching that book, I heard that teacher call after him, “Did you find one you liked?” As he excitedly held it up that teacher smiled and said, “Ah, yes! Wonderful! I thought of you as I was picking that one out.”

And as he turned back around to sit at his desk, I saw his face. And his whole face was smiling. Smiling because he had found a book on a favorite topic. Smiling because that book was just right for him, which meant he could take it.  Smiling, because his teacher had specifically thought of him when choosing that book to bring to the table for this ordinary lesson, on this ordinary day. Smiling, because his teacher had thought of him, period.

In the midst of the day, the life, the 20 other kids. In that moment, that “I thought of you when I did that” moment….his teacher didn’t just pick a book. His teacher picked a book for him. His teacher had said, “You matter”.  “You are important”. “You are unique”. “I know you”. “I love you”.

This teacher did much more than just choose a book. And that, I have a feeling, was the real reason behind that smile….that big, can’t hide it smile that was on his face as he returned to his seat and dove right into that book.  His book.  Chosen for him.

I think we educators have the greatest job in the world. We are surrounded by big opportunities that like to hide themselves inside all our little moments. And these moments, they move quickly. They weave in and out of our classrooms, up and down the halls, around and around our days like those fast moving hands that circle the clocks on our walls. The clocks that count off those little moments, one by one. Around and around they go, minute by minute. Hour by hour. Sometimes, we get so caught up in how fast those hands move past those little moments. In all those things we have to do, all those things our kids must accomplish and yes, indeed. Those moments do move fast. Time marches on and we march with it. We are stretched thin by big things like curriculum and TEKS and STAAR testing and standards and PLCs and parent conferences and meetings and … well, you know the rest. We have such. little. time. to accomplish all that we must accomplish. To make sure that which is supposed to happen, happens. Those moments go by so fast and there are so many things and… we just don’t have time. We just don’t have time, with all the big things on our plates, we just don’t have time to make sure they all happen. There just isn’t time.

Or … is there?

“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.”


Response To Intervention – A Collection of Ideas and Resources

One of my roles as Assistant Principal is to coordinate our campus Response To Intervention (RTI) program. This process can be confusing and sometimes seem a little daunting! Here is some basic information to hopefully help with understanding and navigating through RTI. I put this together for my staff in a flyer, but tried to take out the school-specific information for this blog post.

I will start with one of my overarching beliefs:

The Most Effective RTI Strategy is Strong Tier 1 Instruction.

In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how well thought out and structured your RTI program is-without good quality Tier 1 instruction, achievement suffers. So let’s back up. What exactly is RTI? Simply put, RTI seeks to map out a theory of action regarding how we respond to students who stuggle, and how we measure our students’ response to intervention.  You can think of it as a learning pyramid, labeled like this:

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All students are Tier 1 students. Tier 1 supports, then, are those things you would do in class, with any student, as part of meeting everyone’s needs. It’s differentiation. It’s creative ideas. It’s learning styles, reteaching, and presenting it “yet another way”. It’s how you develop, refine, and continually improve your craft so that all students are reached. This might be through weekly running records, small group lessons such as guided reading or guided math groups which target a specific skill, allowing students the use of graph paper to line up numbers, giving a student flashcards to practice with, having a student listen to a story on tape and scaffolding in comprehension questions…These are just a few differentiation ideas in place in your classrooms which support all learners. This is Tier 1. It is the most powerful and important piece of the RTI traingle and the heart of our work. It includes a heavy emphasis on feedback cycles, ongoing assesment, and rich learning experiences. It is where most student’s needs are found and addressed.

About 85% of students should be successful and on a forward learning trajectory with regular Tier 1 supports that all students receive from classroom teachers. Here is a neat video which captures a few teachers sharing common RTI Tier 1 instructional strategies, or “Core Instruction” if you are thinking of our tiangle above:

What if Tier 1 interventions are not enough?

This is our “Supplemental” group if thinking about our triangle above. When it becomes a concern; when data from the classroom and/or universal screeners indicates that more support is needed, you want to go ahead and fill out Tier 1 intervention logs and initiation forms and request a meeting with the RTI team. The team will meet and examine classroom data, assessment results, and student work samples. We would then brainstorm and develop additional strategies which might help close the gaps for the student, based on presenting data and best practices research. These Tier 2 inteventions might include things such as before or after school tutoring, chunking, more visual supports, graphic organizers to structure writing, word lists, word banks, sentence stems, digital learning avenues….It just depends on the student, needs, and resources we have available at the time. They are in addition to Tier 1 instructional components.

The student would now be considered as being on “Tier 2” in our RTI system. The teacher would go forward with the interventions decided upon by the Tier 2 team, monitoring the student’s progress for 4-6 weeks with those new Tier 2 interventions in place. Every other week, you will upload documentation on the Tier 2 progress monitoring log. For approximately 90-95% of students, we can expect those interventions to be successful.

What if Tier 2 interventions are still not enough?

Going back to our triangle above, we are now talking about our “intensive” group. If after a period of time (usually 4-6 weeks) the student is still not successfully progressing, you will request another RTI meeting. The team will again examine data, Tier 2 intervention logs, and student work samples. The team will now consider even more targeted interventions for this student. That might be things like a pull-out literacy group, or 1 on 1 targeted interventions both within and outside of the classroom, etc. We would also look at curriculum resources and additional intensive and appropriate pedagogical strategies and / or programs. Again, these depend on the student, needs, and available resources and are employed in addition to Tier 1 and 2 approaches. Because this is a more intenstive list of interventions, these are classified as Tier 3 interventions and the student is now considered to be on Tier 3 in our RTI system. As noted above, very few students will need this level of support when Tier 1 and Tier 2 supports are being implented with fidelity.

Going forward, the teacher would keep and upload Tier 3 progress monitoring logs into Aware. This should now be done weekly due to the more targeted and intensive nature of the interventions. Again, these supports are put into place for 4-6 weeks depending on student needs. Research indicates that Tier 3 interventions should be put into place for a longer duration and monitored more frequently, due to the nature of the individual, intensive focus. For most Tier 3 students, these more targeted interventions are enough to move them forward.

What if Tier 3 interventions still aren’t enough?
This might be the case for less than 5% of student population. Another RTI meeting would be requested. The diagnostician would be present, along with other specialized teachers. In this situation, we have exhausted all other avenues and there is a strong consensus that further evaluative measures need to be taken.

Here are some common FAQ’s which I thought might be helpful to touch upon:

Is the purpose of RTI to place a student on a path to ultimately get tested?
No. The purpose of RTI is to identify interventions that successfully close gaps and move students forward when what is being done in the classroom is not enough.

What types of things might I list on progress monitoring logs?

  • Running records, results of “quick checks” or exit tickets
  • Student journal samples which show patterns of thinking/understanding
  • Teacher observations/notes
  • Classroom assessment scores/ district assessment scores
  • Rubrics
  • Fluency checks/wpm
  • Graphic organizers used for writing
  • White boards/markers for “quick checks”
  • Graph paper for lining up problems when multiplying

Did they work? Did they not work? Share the intervention methods as well as the student’s performance/resulting score/data using progress monitoring logs.

What should I bring to an RTI meeting?

  • Student work samples
  • Current scores on classroom assessments and recent district assessments
  • Information regarding the student’s strengths
  • Specific challenges (“Fluency”, “Context Clues”, or “Subtracting w/regrouping” – as opposed to “Reading” or “Math”).

If I use these interventions, doesn’t this skew grades and not give a true reflection of where a student is?

We want to keep the focus on learning and closing achievement gaps. If a student requires certain interventions to reach mastery, we want to implement them. That being said, you can document on student work “with manipulatives” , “with teacher assistance”, or some other notation to indicate to parents that there are interventions which are being used to reach mastery. You will also have your RTI documentation logs for reference. Communication with parents is key here. If they do not hear from you and they see only grades, then yes, there will be a skewed view. If information is not entered and updated in Aware, there will be a skewed view for future teachers as well. Parents should be continually informed and involved in the process through ongoing conversations and conferences with you – both prior to and throughout the RTI process.

Some of you might also be asking…

Why do we have to wait so long during each Tier?

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Research has shown that in order to determine if an intervention is successful, a period of about 4–6 weeks is needed to capture data and track progress effectively. Heavier interventions require a little longer to develop and allow us to gather evidence of effectiveness. For some, though, we can and do accelerate the process.  All of our students are unique, and so our approach to identifying and meeting individual needs within this structure can look different at different times. And that is okay.

Back to our beginning quote.

Keep in mind, the goal of RTI is to close the gaps through effective, research based interventions and ultimately be able to discontinue them. Therefore, as noted at the beginning:

The most effective RTI Intervention is strong Tier 1 instruction.

If you want to explore RTI a little further, two great places to visit are here and here.

If you are looking to do some reading on the topic of intervention, I can recommend the following 3 books as good reading for teachers and administrators alike. Click images to be taken the the Amazon ordering page:

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