In this unprecedented year, when we have – maybe – 40% as much time with students as normal, prioritization and focus is more important than ever.
A Focus on Coverage
In the United States, each state has attempted to define what all students must learn, and as a result many American schools and districts have abdicated their responsibility to define essential learnings to the state. Unfortunately, in their well-intentioned attempts to create academic content standards, states have identified far more than can possibly be learned in the amount of time available to teachers. After studying and quantifying this problem at McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning), Marzano came to the following conclusion: “To cover all of this content, you would have to change schooling from K–12 to K–22. The sheer number of standards is the biggest impediment to implementing standards” (2001).
The process used to create state content standards might help shed some light on this problem. James Popham (2005) describes the process as one of convening subject-matter specialists and asking them to identify what is significant and important about their subject. This typically results in a document that concludes that almost everything about their subject is important. Popham adds, “These committees seem bent on identifying skills that they fervently wish students would possess. Regrettably, the resultant litanies of committee-chosen content standards tend to resemble curricular wish lists rather than realistic targets” (2005).
In too many schools, facing an overwhelming amount of content they must cover, teachers pick and choose the standards they believe will be most beneficial to their students—or even worse, the standards that they like to teach. In other schools, realizing that this haphazard approach to determining what students must learn may negatively impact student performance on high-stakes tests, teachers frantically attempt to cover all of the standards equally—even if this means that many students can never truly understand what they are learning or demonstrate mastery of a standard. When everything is important, nothing is. Both of these approaches are disastrous for student learning.
A Focus on Learning
In his book Accountability for Learning, Doug Reeves asserts a compelling alternative vision:
We can wait for policymakers to develop holistic accountability plans, or we can be proactive in exceeding the requirements of prevailing account- ability systems. If teachers systematically examine their professional practice and their impact on student achievement, the results of such reflective analysis will finally transform educational accountability from a destructive and unedifying mess to a constructive and transformative force in education. (Reeves, 2004, p. 6)
Rather than frantically trying to cover everything in the textbook, or treating every standard with the same sense of urgency, teacher teams must be given the time and training to clarify exactly what every student must master. This philosophy, in part, led McKinsey and Company (Barber & Mourshed, 2007) to identify the Singapore school system as one of the best in the world, based primarily on results from the Programme for International School Assessment, which directly compares the quality of education across systems and countries. Rather than identifying an impossible number of standards, the Singapore Ministry of Education adopted “Teach Less, Learn More” as its framework.
Effective core instruction cannot merely cover what is on the state test or plow through the pages of a textbook. In attempting to frame this discussion of “learning more” for educators, Rick DuFour, Becky DuFour, and Bob Eaker have repeatedly suggested that every collaborative teacher team ask and answer the following four questions:
- What is it we want our students to learn?
- Howwillweknowifeachstudentislearningeachoftheessentialskills,con- cepts, knowledge, and dispositions we have deemed most essential?
- How will we respond when some of our students do not learn?
- How will we enrich and extend the learning for students who are already proficient? (DuFour et al., 2010)
It is difficult, if not impossible, for schools to attempt to answer questions 2, 3, and 4 if they have not sufficiently answered the first question. Schools that attempt to build an intervention program before they have clearly identified what is essential for all students to learn are placing the cart before the horse. Therefore, we advocate that teacher teams work together to establish what, exactly, Tier 1 instruction must include for each student to succeed in school and life.
Schools are seeking guidance and supports in organize and monitor their efforts in these crazy times. The search is over.
In these unprecedented times, our students need our best and we need the best tools to serve them. Mr. Elmer’s Intervention Compass is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Intervention Compass can help:
- The universal screening of mindsets is available within Intervention Compass.
- Data from these screeners can be organized and analyzed within Intervention Compass’ Data Walls.
- Research-based strategies, found within Intervention Compass’ Intervention Library, can be used to promote more positive mindsets.
- Students’ mindset needs and staff response to these needs can be documented within Intervention Compass’ notes section.
- Progress monitoring can be scheduled, administered, and data plotted within Intervention Compass’ assessment support system.
We can be prepared to meet students’ behavioral needs. We must. Mr. Elmer is the best solution to help us in this critical work.