One of the most significant obstacles to progress is the idea of seat time and the ways in which time is allocated within traditional daily schedules. If we continue to view whole group instruction, and not smaller group and more targeted supports, as the only time during which legitimate teaching (and hopefully, learning) is taking place, we will not fulfill the promise of core, more, and specialized supports.
As in most states, in the state of California in the US, home of 1 in 8 US students, students in grades 9-12 are required to sit in classes for specific amounts of time (64,800 minutes a year or 360 minutes a day). These time constraints can inhibit schools’ abilities to customize learning experiences for students within a collaborative system of supports. Other US states, such as Michigan and New Hampshire, are loosening these constraints, in the interest of better preparing students for college and career.
In the sample schedules below, the amount of yearly time devoted to supporting students within secondary schools is 64,800 minutes within an 180 day school year; however, only half of the those minutes are dedicated to core support, with the other half dedicated to more and specialized supports. In the past, policy officials have indicated that more and specialized supports do not count as seat-time, and yet they are most definitely connected to both curricular priorities and readiness for careers. Until we break through the status quo regarding topics such as seat time, our abilities to truly transform teaching and learning and students’ educational experiences will be greatly constrained.
Our colleagues around the world have designed innovative daily schedules, such as these below, that provide staff and students with the flexibility to experience differentiated, individualized, and personalized supports.
In guiding schools’ blended learning practices, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has described the similarities and differences between differentiated, individualized, and personalized instruction. Their descriptions are remarkably similar to Tiers 1, 2, and 3, and are applicable and beneficial to our application of collaborative systems of support (Grant & Basye, 2014):
- Differentiation: A teacher responds to a student’s unique learning needs by making adjustments to process, content, and product, based on a student’s interests, learning profile, and readiness levels (we have traditionally known this type of support as Tier 1; we call this core supports).
- Individualization: If differentiation is the how, then individualization is the when. Student learning progresses at different speeds; some students may need to review previously covered material, while others may be ready to immerse themselves in a certain topic (we recognize this type of support as intervention and enrichment at Tier 2; we are suggesting more supports).
- Personalization: Extending the metaphor, if differentiation is the how and individualization is the when, the personalization is the where – as in, where are students in their learning journey. Students who are not yet performing at expected levels, due to significant deficits in foundational skills, receive targeted and intensive supports at the leading edge of their zone of proximal development to close the gap. Other students’ experiences are tailored to preferences and interests and support is paced to students’ unique needs. Students are involved in the creation and monitoring of their learning path (we recognize this type of support at Tier 3; we suggest specialized supports).
Within a System of Supports, my colleagues and I have organized our schools around the following types of supports…each provided to all students:
- Core Supports: Differentiated Teaching and Learning for All: The need for, and the tools for, designing teaching and learning cycles for grade level and course-specific of behavioral and academic priorities for all will be described in detail. These supports have traditionally been described as Tier 1.
- More Supports – Individualized, Timely, and Targeted: The need for, and the tools for, designing timely and targeted supports for greater levels student mastery of academic and behavioral priorities, so that students don’t fall behind (or further behind) and so students can achieve reach greater depths of understanding, will be described in detail. These supports have traditionally been described as Tier 2.
- Specialized Supports: Highly Personalized and Proximal: The need for, and the tools for, designing supports to meet students’ at their zones of proximal development The need for, and the tools for, designing highly individualized supports to meet students’ at their zones of proximal development will be described in detail. These supports have traditionally been described as Tier 3.
Achieving this level of customized supports for all students will require shifts in long-held practices and policies. Core + customization will also require a system. The teams, coordination, and communication required to integrate the essential elements of professional learning communities, response to intervention, multi-tiered systems of supports, and other popular and proven practices must be organized within a System of Support.