Why Support Rigorous Learning?

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Not everyone likes the word rigorous. 

 

Why do we, as educators, need to support rigorous learning? It’s simple. Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning (SSRL) ensure high levels of learning for all students at all readiness levels through the integration of elements from the most important and impactful initiatives within public education. Those initiatives are:

  • Response to intervention (RTI)
  • Multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS)
  • Professional learning communities (PLCs)
  • Positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS)
  • Universal design for learning (UDL)
  • Special education, gifted education, and differentiated instruction

 

Most significantly, SSRL build upon RTI, a proactive, coordinated, and systemic approach to providing academic and behavioral supports for all students. Within SSRL, collaborative teams of educators ask:

  • What student needs can we anticipate? 
  • For what supports can we proactively plan and prepare?

 

Contemporary students deserve contemporary schools and educators. The very recent NAEP report reconfirms that most students are not ready for college and a skilled career and that a growing number of students are functionally illiterate and innumerate  (http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/). We must simultaneously increase the rigor and relevance of learning experiences and better support vulnerable students. 

 

The good news: We know more than ever what works best in schools.

 

While SSRL represent a set of supports for all students—one of the most highly-effective and researched-based practices in which schools can engage—the concept entered education through the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) in 2004. 

 

Whereas practitioners previously used the IQ-achievement discrepancy model to identify children with learning disabilities, the reauthorization allowed schools to employ a lack of “response to intervention” as an alternative method for determining eligibility and as a rationale for providing early intervention. 

 


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Using a lack of response to intervention for such determinations has implications for all of education. Systemically and successfully implementing RTI within a SSRL requires that all staff instruct and intervene and monitor the extent to which students are responding

 

From struggling students striving to meet minimum proficiency levels to gifted students striving to reach their potential, SSRL invite a collaborative effort among students, teachers, parents, and the community to prioritize students achieving positive outcomes. The system of supports that schools are increasingly scheduling into school days have the potential to provide more customized supports for every student. SSRL are a framework, a way of thinking, in which teams continuously ask, “To what extent are students responding to instruction and intervention?”

 

Challenge: Lack of Clarity

Challenges remain in our well-intentioned efforts to realize the full potential of this important endeavor, and they are largely due to a lack of clarity about the positive impact of a well-constructed approach to SSRL that can be realized by all schools. The critical components of an effective SSRL are:

  • Differentiated instruction and learning opportunities for all students
  • Timely, proactive identification of vulnerable students 
  • Increasingly targeted and intensive future instruction and intervention based on student response to present instruction and intervention
  • Coordinated and evidence-informed decision-making 

 

SSRL are equally impactful for students who are not identified as struggling, but who are considered at or above level, and whose needs are not being met. SSRL can and must be applied to all students; educators must work to ensure that every student has access to engaging learning experiences. 

 

Unfortunately, part of the confusion about SSRL has occurred because of a lack of clarity around the definitions and functions of each level of support for both academics and behavior. 

 

Core supports are differentiated—Teaching and learning cycles designed so that every student masters grade-level and course-specific behavioral and academic priorities for all students. Teachers respond to a student’s unique learning needs by making adjustments to process, content, product, and environments based on a student’s interests, learning profile, and readiness levels. These supports are often described as Tier 1. Key points include:

  • Teach less, learn more (quality, not quantity; depth, not breadth; mastery, not coverage)
  • Scaffolded, differentiated, respectful
  • Skills and content; verbs and nouns
  • Pro-social and pro-functional skills, e.g., self-regulation, executive functioning, social-emotional
  • 21st century skills, e.g., creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication
  • Commonly crafted and analyzed assessments to plan for instruction and inform interventions

 

More supports are individualized—timely and targeted supports for greater levels of student mastery of academic and behavioral priorities, so that students don’t fall behind (or further behind) and so that students can achieve reach greater depths of understanding. If differentiation is the how, then individualization is the when. 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. These supports are often described as Tier 2. Key points include:

  • Directly based on Benjamin Bloom’s work in the 1960s
  • Based on the “formula” – Time + Support = Learning
  • Informed by short-cycle assessments
  • More time—for both alternative supports and to gain mastery of the priorities – for intervention and enrichment
  • Provided during daily flex times or during “buffer” days
  • Students grouped based on specific skill needs
  • Other school staff may join grade-level and course-specific teachers, to reduce teacher-student ratios
  • Does not replace the core

 

Specialized supports are personalized—Intervention and enrichment to meet students at the forward edge of their zones of proximal development; intensive supports to meet significant deficits in foundational skills and opportunities for students to exercise choice over the what and how of passions into which they will dive deeply. 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. Students who are meeting and exceeding age and grade expectations dig deeper into areas of interest. All students’ experiences are tailored to preferences and interests; support is paced to students’ unique needs. Students are involved in the creation and monitoring of their learning path. These supports are often described as Tier 3. Key points include:

  • Proactive, immediate, intensive
  • Diagnostically-driven and targeted (e.g., on phonemic awareness, single-syllabic phonics, or multisyllabic phonics)
  • Address and improve significant deficits in foundational skills, or

provide personalized learning plans, giving students opportunities to exercise choice over the what and how of the passions into which they will dive deeply

  • For students who have been screened to be multiple grade levels behind their peers in foundational skills and for students who have not responded to core (Tier 1) and more (Tier 2)
  • Adjusted to match student needs and revised until the student is adequately responding to intervention (success is inevitable)
  • In addition to Tier 1 and 2; does not replace core or more supports

 

Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning are appropriate for all students and all educators and we are successfully transforming schools across the world by employing its principle and practices (http://www.chriswebereducation.com/). Success is dependent upon the enthusiastic and committed collaboration of all adults who are connected to students. Ultimately, an SSRL represent the ways in which we behave as educators and not simply a collection of things that we implement or buy.

To Provide Feedback, We Must Monitor Progress

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Providing timely and specific feedback to students is essential to promoting a growth mindset and ensuring that every student is future-ready at optimal levels.

 

To provide accurate feedback, we must gather evidence about where students are and set goals about where they’re going. This evidence gathering is sometimes called checking for understanding, formatively assessing, or progress monitoring.

 

Progress monitoring, appropriate for all students, measures the extent to which students are responding to instruction, and when necessary, interventions. Here are a few keys to gathering the evidence we need to continuously inform teaching and learning:

 

  1. Involve students

Students can self-assess, and doing so can give kiddos a feeling of ownership over their learning journey. Plotting progress on a simple graph gives students practice with this important skill and makes their growth visible. After plotting a current score and extending their progress line, we ask students to plot a target for the future.

 

  1. Choose simple tools and readily available scores

Simple is best. Scores such as words correct per minute (from oral reading fluency probes), digits correct per minute (from math fact fluency quizzes), Lexile values (from a variety of computer-based reading assessments), and behavior points (from daily check-in / check-out procedures) are typically part of schools’ existing data world. Of course, anecdotal evidence of progress can provide richer information and should also be gathered, but easily quantifiable indicators of performance can provide students and teachers a snapshot of where we are now.

 

  1. Monitor student learning within each lesson

Tickets out the door and exit slips are popular and powerful ways of informing future instruction. Using index cards or scratch paper, teachers can pose a simple question to students during the closure of a lesson that matching the lesson’s learning objective. Teachers can then efficiently analyze how the lesson went, which students may need more time and/or an alternative sets of supports, and where misunderstandings may exist. We also recommend mid-lesson checks for understanding. Here’s one idea: 

About halfway through a lesson, after a teacher’s metacognitive modeling of a new concept and some initial student practice, with a gradual release of responsibility to students and opportunities for students to process new learning through think-pair-share, ask each student to respond to a quick question and respond via a small white board held aloft (“1-2-3, boards on me”) or through padlet, kahoot, or another digital resource. The mid-lesson information that is gathered can inform which students complete which tasks and which students need small group time with the teacher, before frustrations can occur and before students fall behind.

Making informal and frequent progress monitoring a part of the daily habit of the classroom can empower both teachers and students to make timely shifts.

 

  1. Frequently and accurately monitor student response to intervention

RTI is a verb…to what extent are students responding to intervention…to what extent are they RTI’ing. We have found that an absence of progress monitoring is one of the major difficulties that is negatively impacting the success of schools’ RTI and MTSS efforts. There is simply no RTI unless we know the extent to which students are responding so that we can make the timely adjustments that vulnerable students so desperately need. This need not be complicated. We must, however, a plan. Who will monitor progress, when within the day will progress be monitored, and how frequently will progress be monitored? Of course, we must also determine which assessments or tools to use, and this task tends to present the greatest challenge. We have found that a difficulty selecting the right tool with which to monitor progress often indicates a lack of intervention focus. The best intervention is a targeted intervention. The best progress monitoring tool is one that measures student progress in mastering the skill that the intervention is targeting. For example, if the student’s reading need is best targeted through a phonics intervention, then measure progress in phonics; if the students’ reading need is best targeted through a comprehension intervention, then measure progress in comprehension. The best intervention is targeted intervention; the best progress monitoring is targeted progress monitoring.

 

  1. Use student progress to adjust teacher practices

Any evidence gathered for individual students (whether classroom wide unit/chapter tests, tickets out the door/exit slips, or the simple tests described above) can be combined to determine the success of our teaching efforts. Progress monitoring allows students to reflect and revise their efforts; the same goes for us. When evidence indicates that students are not adequately responding to instruction or intervention, we must reflect on the appropriateness of our strategies and make informed adjustments.

 

Progress monitoring has most typically been associated with RTI, providing the information needed to determine the extent to which a student is responding to supplemental supports. But progress monitoring applies to all students. Whatever tools we chose to use, morning student growth provides an opportunity for students to have a voice in their learning journey and for educators to begin a feedback conversation. 

 

Working With Students, Not On Students

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We open this blog by asserting that the greatest challenge facing schools is the inequities of achievement among ethnic, socio-economic, and linguistic subgroups. In other words, we’re humiliated by the fact that the achievement of subgroups of students at the beginning of school years can be predicted with unfortunate certainty based on the subgroup of the student. This is not the fault of teachers or administrators.

Likewise, the most critical goal – the only goal – for schools is ensuring the equities of achievement among ethnic, socio-economic, and linguistic subgroups. In other words, we.must.disrupt.inequities. This is the primary responsibility of teachers and administrators today.

Increasingly, we have evidence – evidence that we will describe in future blogs – that a primary cause of, or contributor to, inequities is negative mindsets, or self-efficacies, or the absence of non-cognitive skills, among students who are not yet experiencing success. And, like it or not, although certainly not an intentional outcome, our practices, policies, actions, and words contribute to a student’s mindsets, self-efficacies, and the possession or absence of non-cognitive skills among students who are not yet experiencing success.

We suggest that one of the – but certainly not the only – contributors to this phenomenon is the ways in which educators are prepared for the profession. We propose that the philosophy of learning that governs and guides our work should represent a better balance of Behaviorism and Humanism. First, let’s review the transformational work of B. F. Skinner: Behaviorism.

  1. F. Skinner and Behaviorism

The theoretical and practical foundations that most educators received within teacher education programs were grounded in Behaviorism and the work of B.F. Skinner. The work of Skinner was transformatively important and, perhaps, a bit misunderstood and misapplied as it relates to managing student behavior within K-12.

Skinner considered that free will is an illusion and that human action is dependent on consequences, or reinforcements, of previous actions. If the consequences are bad, there is a high chance the action will not be repeated; if the consequences, or reinforcements, are good, the probability of the action being repeated becomes stronger.

According to Behaviorism, positive reinforcement is the strengthening of behavior by the occurrence of some event, whereas negative reinforcement is the strengthening of behavior by the removal or avoidance of some aversive event.

Skinner believed that effective teaching must be based on positive reinforcement, which he believed to be more effective at changing and establishing behavior than punishments. He suggested that the main thing people learn from being punished is how to avoid punishment. 

Without knowing the science underlying the teaching and learning of behavioral (and academic) skills, teachers often rely on practices for which there is little (or no) evidence of success:

  • Using aversive techniques 
  • Relying on telling and explaining 
  • Neglecting to adapt learning tasks to the student’s current readiness levels
  • Forgetting to provide positive reinforcement frequently enough

In other words, there is a lack of effective differentiation practices, a reliance on lecturing as a content-delivery system, a focus on control and negative reinforcers, and even in the best of situations, a teacher-centered learning environment.

Skinner offered steps for the teaching of academic and behavioral skills:

  • Clearly specify the action or performance the student is to learn
  • Break down the task into small achievable steps, going from simple to complex
  • Let the student perform each step, reinforcing correct actions
  • Adjust so that the student is always successful until finally the goal is reached
  • Shift to intermittent reinforcement to maintain the student’s performance

The steps are, not coincidentally, very similar to the lesson designs of Hunter (1982), Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2008), Fisher and Frey (2008), and Hollingsworth and Ybarra (2009). While teacher-centered (and in the worst situations, didactic), these pedagogical approaches (termed direct instruction by Hattie) have been shown to be effective (Hattie, 2009).

And yet, in light of inequities that most certainly exist and the proven potential impact of mindsets on disrupting inequities, we recommend that educators consider another philosophy of learning and teaching.

We recognize that the teaching and learning of academic skills, and the management and correcting of student behaviors, that is often attributed to Skinner and Behaviorism may very well be a bastardization of this -ism and of this individual’s work. And yet, even when viewed in its best light, Behaviorism tends to work on students and not with students. There is another school of thought that may serve as a complement to the principles of Behaviorism.

Carl Rogers and Humanism

Carl Rogers, like B. F. Skinner, was an incredibly significant psychologist, both within and outside the United States. We have found, however, that Rogers’ influence within schools has not been nearly as impactful. Make no mistake, though; what Skinner is to the important field of Behaviorism, Rogers is to Humanism. And, as we note in the beginning of this blog, we strongly recommended a better balance between Behaviorism and Humanism. We’ve reminded ourselves of Behaviorism; let’s introduce Humanism.

Rogers’ philosophy of student behavior and motivation rested on his belief that all students naturally strive to actualize, maintain, and enhance their learning experiences. Therefore, the most productive perspective for understanding the behavior of students is from the internal frame of reference of the student. Behavior is basically the goal-directed attempt of students to satisfy their needs as they experience them in any given situation. 

For Rogers, a student’s emotions accompany, and facilitate, all behaviors. Behavior is communication. As a student experiences life, the student either, a) organizes the experience into some relation to self, b) ignores the experience because there is no perceived relationship to self, or c) rejects the experience because it is inconsistent with the self. Most of the ways that a student behaves are directly connected to a student’s concept of self.

Humanism, according to Rogers, rests on presuming the positive in students – having an unconditional positive regard – and accepting students without negative judgment about their life conditions and background.

According to Rogers, and significant to the topics of mindsets and non-cognitive skills, self-concept is the perception of the characteristics of ‘I’ or ‘me’ and the perceptions of the relationships of the ‘I’ or ‘me’ to others and to various aspects of life. The development of the self-concept depends on conditional and unconditional positive regard. Students who experience – in and out of school – an environment of unconditional positive regard have the opportunity to fully actualize themselves. Those raised in an environment of conditional positive regard feel worthy only if they match conditions that have been laid down for them by others. Students who believe they can learn at high levels, and behave in positive ways, are much, much more likely to do so.

Educators who put Humanism into practice:

  • Inspire students to adopt an openness to experience. 
  • Encourage an increasingly existential lifestyle – living each moment fully.
  • Do not force experiences to fit a specific personality type of or rigid concept of self, but allow personality and self-concept to be shaped by the experience, resulting in excitement, daring, adaptability, tolerance, spontaneity, and a lack of rigidity.
  • Practice trust – educators trust students and students trust their own judgment and their ability to choose behaviors that are appropriate for each moment – they do not rely on existing codes and social norms but trust that as they are open to experiences they will learn and grow.

Choice is a fundamental concept in Humanism. Students believe that they play a role in determining their own behavior and so feel responsible for their own behavior. Choice and freedom promote creativity. They feel trusted to act constructively. Within Humanistic environments , students live a rich, full, exciting, and more intense life.

To achieve optimally Humanistic environments, Rogers proposed five hypotheses:

  1. “A person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning” (Rogers, 1951). What the student does is more important than what the teacher does. 
  2. “A person learns significantly only those things that are perceived as being involved in the maintenance of or enhancement of the structure of self” (Rogers, 1951). Relevance, and a student’s experiences, are essential.
  3. “Experience which, if assimilated, would involve a change in the organization of self, tends to be resisted through denial or distortion of symbolism” (Rogers, 1951). Being open – feeling safe and possessing a positive mindset – to consider concepts that vary from one’s own is vital to learning. 
  4. “The structure and organization of self appears to become more rigid under threats and to relax its boundaries when completely free from threat” (Rogers, 1951). Intellectually, emotionally, and physically safe learning environments are foundationally fundamental, and must be actively designed and maintained, for affective filters to be low.
  5. “The educational situation which most effectively promotes significant learning is one in which (a) threat to the self of the learner is reduced to a minimum and (b) differentiated perception of the field is facilitated” (Rogers, 1951). The teacher is always learning from the student as the student learns from the teacher; feedback is a two-way street.

To close, we have based our traditional school practices on a heavy dose of Behaviorism, and it has served us pretty well. To achieve total equity, however, a balance is needed, with a deliberate infusion of Humanistic beliefs and practices. 

We submit that a primary cause of inequities is negative mindsets within students who are not yet learning at high levels or experiencing success and we accept that we – educators – are contributing to these negative mindsets, albeit unintentionally. We are the answer we’ve been waiting for. To disrupt and eliminate inequities, we must actively practice, promote, and teach positive mindsets.

 

Explainer

 

Carl Rogers and Humanism

Carl Rogers, like B. F. Skinner, was an incredibly significant psychologist, both within and outside the United States. We have found, however, that Rogers’ influence within schools has not been nearly as impactful. Make no mistake, though; what Skinner is to the important field of Behaviorism, Rogers is to Humanism. And, as we note in the beginning of this blog, we strongly recommended a better balance between Behaviorism and Humanism. We’ve reminded ourselves of Behaviorism; let’s introduce Humanism.

Rogers’ philosophy of student behavior and motivation rested on his belief that all students naturally strive to actualize, maintain, and enhance their learning experiences. Therefore, the most productive perspective for understanding the behavior of students is from the internal frame of reference of the student. Behavior is basically the goal-directed attempt of students to satisfy their needs as they experience them in any given situation. 

For Rogers, a student’s emotions accompany, and facilitate, all behaviors. Behavior is communication. As a student experiences life, the student either, a) organizes the experience into some relation to self, b) ignores the experience because there is no perceived relationship to self, or c) rejects the experience because it is inconsistent with the self. Most of the ways that a student behaves are directly connected to a student’s concept of self.

Humanism, according to Rogers, rests on presuming the positive in students – having an unconditional positive regard – and accepting students without negative judgment about their life conditions and background.

According to Rogers, and significant to the topics of mindsets and non-cognitive skills, self-concept is the perception of the characteristics of ‘I’ or ‘me’ and the perceptions of the relationships of the ‘I’ or ‘me’ to others and to various aspects of life. The development of the self-concept depends on conditional and unconditional positive regard. Students who experience – in and out of school – an environment of unconditional positive regard have the opportunity to fully actualize themselves. Those raised in an environment of conditional positive regard feel worthy only if they match conditions that have been laid down for them by others. Students who believe they can learn at high levels, and behave in positive ways, are much, much more likely to do so.

Educators who put Humanism into practice:

  • Inspire students to adopt an openness to experience. 
  • Encourage an increasingly existential lifestyle – living each moment fully.
  • Do not force experiences to fit a specific personality type of or rigid concept of self, but allow personality and self-concept to be shaped by the experience, resulting in excitement, daring, adaptability, tolerance, spontaneity, and a lack of rigidity.
  • Practice trust – educators trust students and students trust their own judgment and their ability to choose behaviors that are appropriate for each moment – they do not rely on existing codes and social norms but trust that as they are open to experiences they will learn and grow.

Choice is a fundamental concept in Humanism. Students believe that they play a role in determining their own behavior and so feel responsible for their own behavior. Choice and freedom promote creativity. They feel trusted to act constructively. Within Humanistic environments , students live a rich, full, exciting, and more intense life.

To achieve optimally Humanistic environments, Rogers proposed five hypotheses:

  1. “A person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning” (Rogers, 1951). What the student does is more important than what the teacher does. 
  2. “A person learns significantly only those things that are perceived as being involved in the maintenance of or enhancement of the structure of self” (Rogers, 1951). Relevance, and a student’s experiences, are essential.
  3. “Experience which, if assimilated, would involve a change in the organization of self, tends to be resisted through denial or distortion of symbolism” (Rogers, 1951). Being open – feeling safe and possessing a positive mindset – to consider concepts that vary from one’s own is vital to learning. 
  4. “The structure and organization of self appears to become more rigid under threats and to relax its boundaries when completely free from threat” (Rogers, 1951). Intellectually, emotionally, and physically safe learning environments are foundationally fundamental, and must be actively designed and maintained, for affective filters to be low.
  5. “The educational situation which most effectively promotes significant learning is one in which (a) threat to the self of the learner is reduced to a minimum and (b) differentiated perception of the field is facilitated” (Rogers, 1951). The teacher is always learning from the student as the student learns from the teacher; feedback is a two-way street.

To close, we have based our traditional school practices on a heavy dose of Behaviorism, and it has served us pretty well. To achieve total equity, however, a balance is needed, with a deliberate infusion of Humanistic beliefs and practices. 

We submit that a primary cause of inequities is negative mindsets within students who are not yet learning at high levels or experiencing success and we accept that we – educators – are contributing to these negative mindsets, albeit unintentionally. We are the answer we’ve been waiting for. To disrupt and eliminate inequities, we must actively practice, promote, and teach positive mindsets.

“Diagnosing” student needs – It’s critical – It need not be complicated

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The best intervention – the best support – is a targeted intervention. Particularly for students with significant deficits in foundational skills, worksheet completion and broad-based reviews of a subject area are simply neither effective nor efficient. We have had dramatically impactful successes closing gaps quickly when we have focused on specific skill deficits. We’ve been able to provide these focused supports because we have conducted simple diagnoses.

Diagnosing the antecedents, causes, and explanations behind a student’s difficulty is a fundamental task of collaborative systems of support. It is unproductive to over-simplistically conclude that students perform poorly because they cannot read, and unproductive to then provide them with hours of daily reading intervention that focus on all domains of literacy. Diagnosing gets to the why. Perhaps the student reads fluently, with accuracy, prosody, and expression, but derives little meaning from the text. Or perhaps the student comprehends text quite well in spite of labored, error-filled, and disfluent reading. Determining the why behind student difficulties allows us to target supports.

We often hear from colleagues that they do not feel qualified to conduct diagnoses – that only trained specialized using validated instruments can adequately. We say poppy-cock! I’m a former mathematics secondary teacher and was an elementary school principal. The most common need amongst students with significant deficits is typically related to reading. Thus, as a lead leader, I committed to assist in determining the why behind students’ reading challenges. Through interviews and conversations, using simple protocols that we often created, we not only accurately determined the primary causes to a reading challenge; we were able to match a specific support to the identified cause and start the student on the road to reading improvement (all in about 15 minutes…true story).

We have developed “interviews” with our staffs, available online, that are intended to make diagnosing student needs more efficient, and to make regular educators like us more confident and successful (Hierck and Weber; 2015a; 2015b). 

Like screening, diagnosing is much more a process than an event (e.g., a test). While we hope that these resources assist in your efforts to serve our most vulnerable students, we are conscientious of too much assessment. We lament that some schools administer assessments of this depth to all students; we do not believe that this is necessary. We conduct these in-depth diagnoses to learn about the causes of student difficulties so that we can provide specific and focused support.

We must determine the why; students are counting on it. It cannot be overly burdensome or time-consuming. We must act. My colleagues and I can help…

 

Getting to the WHY of student difficulties

 

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As we relentlessly strive to find the right support for students in need – supports that will lead to positive responses to intervention – we are guided by several factors:

 

  • We are seeking causes of student difficulties. We must look beneath the symptoms and determine the why. For example, when striving to determine to appropriate behavioral support when a student is behaving, we look beneath the symptom (perhaps inattentiveness) to identify the function, purpose, or cause of the symptom: Why is the student misbehaving? We then do our very best to match a support to the cause.
  • The more precise and focused we can be in making this match, the more immediate the positive response. Research has continually validated this targeted approach  (Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, & Linan-Thompson, 2009).
  • As we will note below, in addition to the learning benefits (students respond more quickly to interventions), there are logistical benefits. When focusing on targeted causes, we can effect a significant change in 30 minutes per day. If we instead provide broad, unfocused supports that do not address the underlying causes of difficulties, much more time per day will likely be required. Again, this is validated by the research (Burns & Gibbons, 2008; Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice, 2008). We (schools, staffs, and students) simply do not have time within the school to spare. And, students surely do not have time within their learning journeys; gaps must be addressed, ameliorated, and /or sustainable work-around plans must be identified and practiced immediately.

 

If we find that students are not responding to the interventions that we are using, we suggest that we do not simply seek a new intervention; we may need to better identify the causes of student difficulties and better match a support to the diagnosed antecedent skill. This process may be iterative and we will not always be right the first time. But we never give up. In fact, we expect that we will learn quite a bit about the underlying causes of student difficulties through the very act of prescribing and providing an intervention.

 

A few more notes on prescribing targeted interventions: Several colleagues have lamented that they cannot provide all of the supports to meet all of the deficits in foundational skills with which a student may currently be working to overcome. We get it. The constraints on time (not to mention staff) will make providing multiple, intensive, highly-specialized supports in a day difficult if not impossible. However, here’s a contrarian point of view to consider: We may not need to provide multiple intensive supports. Instead, let’s identify the students most immediate area of need and intensively focus on that area:

 

  • Students who experience more academic success behave better.
  • Students who develop more positive and productive behavioral skills are better prepared to learn academic skills.
  • Students who read more accurately and fluently comprehend better.
  • Students who comprehend better and make better meaning of what they read tend to perform better in all academic areas: mathematics, social studies, sciences, and writing.

 

Secondly, our colleagues often lament that they do not have the right resources to provide interventions. We will address this further later in the chapter; a few resources that we have created and found to be productive for a very common and critical area of need, comprehension, is available online.

 

We cannot express this point often enough: The best intervention is a targeted intervention. We believe that interventions would dramatically and immediately improve if educators focused with laser-like intensity on specific foundational skills, because those skills were deemed to be the underlying causes that explain the symptomatic difficulties that the students were experiencing and that staffs were observing.

We never give up; we never stop providing intensive supports for our most vulnerable students – not until we have found the right support, until the student is adequately responding, and until we have ultimately closed the gap. Even if and when an eligibility determination is made, and the student receives special education supports, we continue to provide and adjust intervention supports until success is achieved. It’s inevitable.

Assessment as evidence-gathering

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Assessment has become perhaps the most controversial issue within schools. We understand – the resistance exhibited by frustrated educators was inevitable when:

  • The content, critical thinking, and problem-solving that we strive to include within our classrooms is not matched in assessments.
  • The ways in which we expect students to demonstrate mastery in the classroom is not matched in assessments.
  • The roll-out of new assessments from national, state, and district leaders has been less than respectful, collaborative, inclusive, or clearly explained.
  • Assessments are used for high-stakes purposes (student and staff evaluation) that are supported by neither research nor common sense.

And yet, we must assess student progress. We must gather evidence regarding the efficacy of our efforts, we must use evidence to inform future teaching and learning, and students must be involved in assessing their performance and take increased ownership over their learning. 

Effective use of formative assessment, developed through teacher learning communities, promises not only the largest potential gains in students’ achievement but also a process for affordable teacher professional development.

Wiliam & Thompson, 2007, p. 57

Evidence is the engine that drives learning. We must take-back and take control of assessment. Evidence gathering must be a central element of collaborative systems of support.

Reviews of accountability data from hundreds of schools reveal the schools with the greatest gains in achievement consistently employ common assessments, nonfiction writing, and collaborative scoring by faculty.

Reeves, 2004

It’s not enough for staff to simply assess and gather evidence as individuals. Common assessments, used to inform teaching and learning must be our goal. 

Assessment for learning…when done well…is one of the most powerful, high-leverage strategies for improving student learning that we know of. Educators collectively at the district and school levels become more skilled and focused at assessing, disaggregating, and using student achievement as a tool for ongoing improvement.

Fullan, 2005, p. 71

If we do not have common evidence gathering opportunities scheduled at common times, we cannot:

  • Collaboratively design effective tasks
  • Collectively analyze student work to determine students and staffs’ relative strengths and needs
  • Ensure continuity of expectations, both horizontally within a grade level or course and vertically within adjacent grade levels and courses

We propose a new model of education, in which teaching and learning cycles are iteratively informed by frequent evidence gathering opportunities – cycles in which both teachers and students play an active role. We acknowledge that we all struggle with a perplexing paradox: there is a perception that we assess too much and a simultaneous desire for more information to strategically inform supports for students. To resolve this paradox, we recommend that we commit to the following:

  • Evidence that emerges from any and all assessments that are administered is used by teachers (and ideally, students) to inform future learning. We do not administer assessments solely to determine a grade, to earn points, or to rank and sort (teachers or students). This is necessitate the timely availability of evidence.
  • We inventory the tests and assessments that we administer to check for gaps and redundancies in the following areas (with a commitment to add or subtract as appropriate):
    • We frequently, proactively, and efficiently screen to identify students with significant deficits in the foundational areas of literacy, numeracy, and behavior so that intensive, ameliorative interventions can be provided.
    • We assess student mastery of the prioritized skills of a grade level or course at depth, so that we can provide feedback, we can provide more time and alternative strategies when students have not yet demonstrated mastery, and we can provide opportunities involving more depth and complexity when students have demonstrated mastery.
    • We diagnose students’ specific needs when difficulties are identified.
    • We frequently monitor the progress of vulnerable students who are receiving targeted supplemental supports. 

Well-designed assessment practices are an absolutely integral element of a collaborative system of support. 

Studies have demonstrated assessments for learning rivals one-on-one tutoring in its effectiveness and that the use of assessment particularly benefits low-achieving students.

Stiggins, 2004, p. 27

Simply stated, we cannot fulfill our professional obligations in the absence of evidence. Only by frequently, accurately, and efficiently checking for understanding can we meet all students’ needs and ensure that they are future-ready. 

One mark of schools that make headway on the achievement gap appears to be their propensity to promote and organize conversations based on evidence of student progress.

Little, 2006, p. 10

Collaborative systems of support will not be sustained or successful if we do not collectively determine the extent to which all students are responding to instruction and intervention. We must design organized systems of gathering, analyzing, and employing evidence to drive teaching and learning.

Reframing Behavior Instruction: A New Framework – Part II

two girls doing school works
Photo by Pragyan Bezbaruah on Pexels.com

 

Transformation Begins With…

Transformation cannot occur until we apply researched-based ideas to schools and classrooms. We must close the knowing-doing gaps. Transformation can’t occur until we see the significance – until we enthusiastically accept the responsibility. Now it’s time for us to act and collaboratively tailor the foundational of Tier 1 for each of our unique contexts; it’s time to build something transformative. 

What it is not

We recognize and respect that we did not invent the RTI triangle or the concept of the integration of academics and behavior. We did not intend to invent a new, prescriptive behavior program.  

Prescriptive behavior programs built on a system of rewards and consequence, and a concept of scale and functionality will not fully meet educators’ expectations because we do not own them. We have attempted to address the functions of behavioral Tier 1, respecting that teams of educators will necessarily craft the forms that match their realities. The realities about the pitfalls of behavior programs have become the signpost of our story because it addresses the problem we want to solve, and sets forth the journey we want to grow together in. 

What it is

We have attempted to re-conceptualize the challenge and redefined the opportunity. We have reconnected to those priorities and principles to which we should have been connected from the beginning. We created a framework and approach that enables us to meet the comprehensive needs of students. Our goal was to create new schemas for integration. New schemas require a new set of “engagement rules.” Looking at behavior from the EFIB approach is more than just the process of connecting academic pedagogies and practices to behavior. It’s about clearly seeing where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we must go. It’s recognizing the opportunity that exists in our current reality. There is an opportunity to meet students right where they are, growing learners academically and behaviorally. 

Beyond preparation

We all want our students to live a full, positive, and productive life. But we want more. We want them to thrive, succeed, give, connect, and change the world. As we continue on this most important of journeys, our society will rely even more on schools and educators to prepare the next generation of citizens for an increasingly more connected and collaborative world. We count on educators to provide every child with an education that nurtures both the academic and behavioral skills. 

All stakeholders, not only our dynamic teachers, must be involved in sustaining holistic, comprehensive learning. Leaders must equip and build capacities to guarantee that every child receives a high quality education every day. As instructional leaders and guides, administrators can collaboratively craft high-quality professional development for all educators, consistently and with fidelity. Like any new skill learned, the EFIB approach must be continually promoted, communicated, supported and refined as we progress through this journey. 

Support in discovery

We will succeed in this journey because we journey together. So many educators have contributed and are contributing to the need to craft a systematic set of behavioral supports for all students, beginning with Tier 1, as we have referenced throughout this chapter. We hope we have continued to ask the questions that prod, poke, uncover, disrupt, and diverge. 

Building community

Just as we must build a sense of community in our classrooms, we must build a collaborative culture amongst educators. We cannot be successful in building a comprehensive and impactful Tier 1 behavioral system without trust and belief in one another. In the midst of high takes testing, accountability measures, progress monitoring, and data disaggregation, there exists an even more heightened focus to create deeper connections and genuine relationships with our students and our fellow colleagues. The power of these relationships will always transcend any RTI intervention strategies or pull out program. The more tangible metrics become a part of our educational and society reality, the more we must purposefully seek those intangibles: care community and connection that increases collaborative capacity. 

Billy

We began our conversation with a peek into Billy’s world and that’s where we will conclude. A bit of Billy’s story resides in all of us. There is an aspect of being unheard, undervalued, and misunderstood in each one of us.  If education is going to truly transcend academics, we must refocus our sense of empathy. Transformative and empathetic learning requires that we view realities through our student’s eyes, and through one another’s eyes, seeking to understand human behaviors and how they fit into our educational schemas. Our students have unique needs, beliefs, and worldviews, and they are waiting for us to appreciate this fact. Their futures and our future depend on it. 

 

Reframing Behavior Instruction: A New Framework – Part I

Imagine this scenario…

Billy is struggling in mathematics with division problems that focus on dividing three-digit numbers by two-digit numbers. The teacher notices this struggle and tells Billy that he has one more chance to demonstrate his ability to solve the problem. Billy is no further in his capacity to solve the problem after this additional chance and continues to struggle. The teacher tells Billy he has run out of chances and will now need to receive a punishment or negative consequence as a result of his difficulty dividing multi-digit numbers. 

You undoubtedly note the absurdity of this situation. You’re thinking that Billy needs to be taught (or re-taught) strategies to solve this problem. You might recognize that Billy would benefit from Tier 2 support – more time and alternative strategies to master this essential mathematical skill. You might even predict that Billy’s difficulties with division stem from deficits in foundational mathematics skills – little sense of number or difficulties with basic computation – which will require Tier 3 supports. Yet if the same scenario was attached to a behavioral challenge, many of those same voices would be muted, and others would suggest the outcome described for Billy was reasonable. We too often, and inappropriately, view behavioral struggles differently than academic struggles, and it is this very dichotomy that we believe requires our full attention. Behavior and academics are inextricably linked and the teaching, learning, assessing, and differentiated support of behavioral skills and academics skills must be processed identically.

Education should have always been about more than academics. Students may earn acceptance into universities and skilled careers through academic achievement, but college is successfully completed and careers are sustained through the application of behaviors that are too infrequently prioritized and taught in our schools. 

Teaching behavioral skills doesn’t reside inside of a program or exclusively siloed inside of a Tier II or Tier III pull-out environment. It resides right where it should, alongside of academic instruction, with the classroom teacher. We have purposefully gleaned valuable conclusions and concepts from respected education research surrounding behavioral instruction. We have deconstructed, reconstructed, and reframed those strategies inside of a new framework (we call this the EFIB) to continue supporting students in their learning journey. A journey that has no finish line, as we all continue to learn and grow, adapting to our environment, while also proactively changing it.  

A new framework: EFIB

The Enhanced Focused on Integrated Behavior (EFIB) framework supports behavior from an integrated, systematic, and parallel perspective, with an enhanced focus on behavior that intertwines and complements academic engagement. The EFIB Framework address the inadequate attention currently placed on behavior, and builds a foundation that supports students’ academic and behavioral growth. EFIB is not only integrated in terms of behavioral skills with academic skills, but also within the behavioral domain itself, pro-social skills integrated with pro-functional skills.  

EFIB systematically and directly impacts all classrooms, all staff, all stakeholders, all behavioral skills, and is a comprehensive all-in-one approach. From Tier 1 content, instruction, assessment, & differentiation to Tier 2 diagnosing, strategies, and progress monitoring to Tier 3 educator-friendly FBA and BIP – we’ve got you covered with research-based, evidence-based resources

The thinking, planning, and operationalizing of EFIB occurs in parallel for academics and behavior, with both afforded equal importance. 

Significance

There is a strong significance of the connection between academic and behavioral learning outcomes. A framework for Tier 1 behavioral instruction must mirror the approaches educators use to design academic instruction. We have provided strategies, supports, templates, and guides. We have provided an approach that supports behavior from a whole child perspective, with an enhanced focus on behavior skills that support and enhance cognitive processes. Our approach rejects the deficit model to addressing misbehaviors, building a foundation that reinforces students’ academic and behavioral growth. 

We must apply the integrated and parallel framework beyond content acquisition so that we can explicitly address the pro-social and pro-functional behaviors that we want all students to exhibit. We sometimes hear from very well-meaning colleagues that certain behavior – like motivation – cannot be taught; students either have it or they don’t. it comes from within. We respectfully reject this position. Consider this: we cannot teach “reading.” Instead we teach students to: identify the 44 phonemes (sounds) within the English language; recognize initial sounds; discriminate sounds to identify letters; make letter-sound connections; blend phonemes when presented with graphemes; attack words; read fluently (with accuracy, appreciate rate, and prosody); employ appropriate and high-leverage skills and strategies to explicitly comprehend what they read; employ appropriate and high-leverage skills and strategies to inferentially comprehend what they read; and much, much more. We don’t teach students to read; we teach them to independently employ strategies intended to ensure that they can make meaning of what they read. Similarly, we do not teach motivation. We teach skills (see above) that enable in a student be self-motivating and engaged when learning, particularly when the learning process is uncomfortable or complex.

The paradox continues inside of differentiation. Inside of Academic Tier I, differentiation strategies have been well-defined for academic skills, but we must also provide the same level of application to the teaching and learning of behavioral skills. Illuminating this paradox forces us to redefine and reframe how we will provide differentiated instruction comprehensively and equitably to both academic skills and behavior skills. 

Assessment and feedback are also cornerstones of this integrated approach. All students need feedback, to reflect on the behavior that will contribute to success. We conceptualized the feedback process as a Reverberation Cycle. This cycle is unique in that the student has a major role in the feedback, hence the “reverberation.”  This cycle is built on trust, and allows students to analyze and synthesize feedback at the highest “meta” levels. 

Transformation Begins With…

Transformation cannot occur until we apply researched-based ideas to schools and classrooms. We must close the knowing-doing gaps. Transformation can’t occur until we see the significance – until we enthusiastically accept the responsibility. Now it’s time for us to act and collaboratively tailor the foundational of Tier 1 for each of our unique contexts; it’s time to build something transformative. 

What it is not

We recognize and respect that we did not invent the RTI triangle or the concept of the integration of academics and behavior. We did not intend to invent a new, prescriptive behavior program.  

Prescriptive behavior programs built on a system of rewards and consequence, and a concept of scale and functionality will not fully meet educators’ expectations because we do not own them. We have attempted to address the functions of behavioral Tier 1, respecting that teams of educators will necessarily craft the forms that match their realities. The realities about the pitfalls of behavior programs have become the signpost of our story because it addresses the problem we want to solve, and sets forth the journey we want to grow together in. 

What it is

We have attempted to re-conceptualize the challenge and redefined the opportunity. We have reconnected to those priorities and principles to which we should have been connected from the beginning. We created a framework and approach that enables us to meet the comprehensive needs of students. Our goal was to create new schemas for integration. New schemas require a new set of “engagement rules.” Looking at behavior from the EFIB approach is more than just the process of connecting academic pedagogies and practices to behavior. It’s about clearly seeing where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we must go. It’s recognizing the opportunity that exists in our current reality. There is an opportunity to meet students right where they are, growing learners academically and behaviorally. 

Beyond preparation

We all want our students to live a full, positive, and productive life. But we want more. We want them to thrive, succeed, give, connect, and change the world. As we continue on this most important of journeys, our society will rely even more on schools and educators to prepare the next generation of citizens for an increasingly more connected and collaborative world. We count on educators to provide every child with an education that nurtures both the academic and behavioral skills. 

All stakeholders, not only our dynamic teachers, must be involved in sustaining holistic, comprehensive learning. Leaders must equip and build capacities to guarantee that every child receives a high quality education every day. As instructional leaders and guides, administrators can collaboratively craft high-quality professional development for all educators, consistently and with fidelity. Like any new skill learned, the EFIB approach must be continually promoted, communicated, supported and refined as we progress through this journey. 

Support in discovery

We will succeed in this journey because we journey together. So many educators have contributed and are contributing to the need to craft a systematic set of behavioral supports for all students, beginning with Tier 1, as we have referenced throughout this chapter. We hope we have continued to ask the questions that prod, poke, uncover, disrupt, and diverge. 

Building community

Just as we must build a sense of community in our classrooms, we must build a collaborative culture amongst educators. We cannot be successful in building a comprehensive and impactful Tier 1 behavioral system without trust and belief in one another. In the midst of high takes testing, accountability measures, progress monitoring, and data disaggregation, there exists an even more heightened focus to create deeper connections and genuine relationships with our students and our fellow colleagues. The power of these relationships will always transcend any RTI intervention strategies or pull out program. The more tangible metrics become a part of our educational and society reality, the more we must purposefully seek those intangibles: care community and connection that increases collaborative capacity. 

Billy

We began our conversation with a peek into Billy’s world and that’s where we will conclude. A bit of Billy’s story resides in all of us. There is an aspect of being unheard, undervalued, and misunderstood in each one of us.  If education is going to truly transcend academics, we must refocus our sense of empathy. Transformative and empathetic learning requires that we view realities through our student’s eyes, and through one another’s eyes, seeking to understand human behaviors and how they fit into our educational schemas. Our students have unique needs, beliefs, and worldviews, and they are waiting for us to appreciate this fact. Their futures and our future depend on it. 

Schools will make great progress when we stop focusing on THIS

black and white photo of clocks
Photo by Andrey Grushnikov on Pexels.com

 

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.

Screen Shot 2020-01-22 at 1.01.40 PMScreen Shot 2020-01-22 at 1.01.55 PM

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.

BEYOND BEHAVIOR: THE NEXT GENERATION OF BEHAVIORAL RTI

boy in brown hoodie carrying red backpack while walking on dirt road near tall trees
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Educators have long recognized the importance of student behavior as a necessary foundation upon which the “real work” of academics can be completed. Most educators now appreciate that behavioral skills are as important as—and perhaps more important than—academic skills. Whether we label them non-cognitive skills, self-regulation, executive functioning, social-emotional learning, grit, self-control, or social intelligence, student mastery of these behavioral skills better predicts success in school, college, and life than test scores and measures of intellectual ability. We must collectively embrace this reality and better nurture these skills within our students. But the question is, how? 

The principles and practices of Response to Intervention (or Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports), that are dedicated to the nurturing of behavioral skills are most impactful and efficient when processes mirror the ways in which we have successfully served students’ academic needs. We have developed and implemented a blueprint to help schools prioritize, define, teach, model, nurture, and reinforce positive behavior to achieve better student outcomes and create productive school cultures. (We must honor and acknowledge the debt that we owe to Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports , or PBIS. As described below, our work addresses a broader range of behavioral skills in a slightly different manner, but our starting point for behavioral RTI has always been PBIS.) 

We must gather evidence regarding the extent to which students are mastering behavioral priorities and diagnose the needs of students who are not yet meeting behavioral-skill expectations, so we have designed and employed simple evidence-gathering tools. Research-based strategies exist to target specifically diagnosed needs and can be used at all tiers and with all students, so we have created a library of instructional, differentiation, and intervention strategies that match likely areas of student need.

There is a great need for behavioral supports for students, and a great need to build our capacity to support student needs. As educators, we have simply not been well enough equipped and prepared to support students’ behavioral needs and to help students develop mastery of critical behavioral skills.

 

The Power of Motivation

At ICLE, we passionately believe that the most important principles and practices for student growth are inextricably related—including differentiation, growth mindset, student self-assessment, metacognition, and perseverance—and are mutually reinforcing concepts that will improve student engagement, nurture non-cognitive skills, and lead to better academic performance. We should celebrate these similarities and encourage staff to interpret and implement best practices as connected sets of supports for students.

There is as much research in the specific behavioral area of motivation as there is in mathematics: Dweck (2010), Duckworth (2016), Ericsson and Pool (2016), and Farrington, et al. (2012), have described the interconnectedness of non-cognitive factors, or behavioral skills, and report that they are “teachable” and “changeable.” We have recreated Farrington’s framework in diagram-form below; this flowchart has influenced our identification of essential “behavioral skills.” As noted above, while we are indebted to Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) —and PBIS’ processes are as sound and as relevant as ever—schools’ implementation of PBIS has focused on social skills. We know that there are other domains of behavior that are critical to student success and that we can and must nurture them if all students are going to ready for success in school, college, career, and life. We must commit to ensuring students learn these skills—by modeling, teaching, reinforcing, nurturing, assessing, providing feedback, differentiating, and intervening—so that they are optimally prepared.

From Research to Reality

There may be educators who feel that a focus on behavioral skills is unnecessary, given the rise of facilitated learning experiences, project-based learning, the maker movement, and competency-based education. They may hope that more contemporary pedagogies and practices (present in a growing number of future-ready schools) represent the answer to the question, “How do we nurture non-cognitive factors within students?” 

But while these next-generation teaching strategies may be more facilitative and learning may be more experiential, students still need to be guided, habits need to be modeled, and behavioral skills need to be taught. 

So, how do we do it? What magic formula will support teachers and schools in helping students develop these habits? While there may be yet untapped strategies, the practices that will most likely develop critical behavioral skills are the very same research-based best practices we’ve read about but may not have found time to implement—such as rigorous and relevant teaching, collaborative learning, differentiated instruction, and most comprehensively, the principles and practices of Response to Intervention.

The research is clear. The realities are understood. The nature of the future for which we are preparing students is undeniable. And, we as a profession know what to do; we already have the answer within our reach.