Sunday, May 29, 2016

Three Sides of a Three-Sided Coin: Specialized Supports (Part 3)

This is the third guest post in a series on Response to Intervention (RTI) by Dr. Chris Weber, a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on the topic with the International Center for Leadership in Education. Check out all the posts in the series HERE.

Differentiation, special education, and response to intervention (RTI) are interrelated and interdependent; or, they should be. In our experiences in schools, we can more successfully implement these critical, research-based initiatives. They represent principles and practices essential to meeting all students’ needs and to ensuring that students graduate future ready. Comprehensive approaches to differentiation, special education, and RTI are more necessary than ever if schools will reach the goal of high levels of learning for all students. We recommend that schools strategically and purposefully blend differentiation, special education, and RTI within Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning that optimize the complex and critical processes under a singularly-designed set of structures. This third in a series of three posts describes early intervention (pre-referral services) within a System of Supports.

Image credit: https://hcosd.wikispaces.com

There will be students who require the most specialized supports that we can provide; students who have not yet responded to intervention and for whom special education supports may be necessary.

Strategically assess within the finite formal-evaluation time frame

There will be students who, despite are best efforts, are not yet adequately responding to tiered interventions. In these instances, we request permission to conduct a formal evaluation to determine eligibility for special education. But we intend that students will respond to special education supports such that they will no longer require them at some point in the future. We are committed to taking full advantage of the opportunity to gather vital information during the limited amount of time we have to evaluate student needs, make an eligibility determination, and if appropriate, collaboratively craft an Individualized Education Program plan. We must use all the knowledge that we have gained while scaffolding and intervening prior the formal evaluation period to ensure that this occurs.

Collaboratively craft the IEP

Again, we intend for special education to be a temporary designation for the vast majority of students who are determined to be eligible. Therefore, IEPs must be strategically written. Students must receive supports within the least restrictive environments possible – inclusive settings with all students, regardless of label. They must continue to access and gain mastery of core academic and behavioral priorities. Significant deficits in foundational skills must be ameliorated. Students must be equipped with coping mechanisms and work around strategies so that they will be successful in school, college, career, and life in the absence of special supports. 

Scaffolded access to core within the least restrictive environments

As noted repeatedly above, all students must successful participate in the core. Otherwise, the risk of failing to catching up will be great and sustaining progress will be compromised. To ensure that fully inclusive environments work for all students, some form of co-planning and co-teaching must be in place. 

Access to Tier 2 must continue

We can predict that some students will learn core priorities at different rates and in different ways. This may be particularly true for students with special needs. This is Tier 2: more time, alternative approaches. Ensuring that students with special needs have access to all tiers of supports will greatly increase the likelihood of their success.

Intervene in a targeted and intensive manner, in accordance with the IEP

This is critical. IEPs have specific goals and objectives based on areas of need. We must explicitly address and ameliorate these areas of needs. Time periods that serve as study halls and work completion assistance are not the answer. We must immediately and intensively focus on diagnosed deficits with targeted interventions, with the goal of eliminating these deficits. Within special education, the intensity of focus and resources that we are prepared to assign are greater than ever, as is the sense of urgency.

Behaviors

As noted above but with even more care, we teach, reteach, and reinforce key pro-social and pro-functional behaviors for students with special needs. Behavioral skills are doubly important for a student determined eligible for special education services.

Monitor

Measuring the extent to which students are responding to instruction, intervention, and in this, case special education supports, should be done more, not less, when a student has been determined eligible for special education services. There is not a moment to lose and we must make adjustments, in collaboration with the IEP team, when adequate progress is not made.

Exit when possible

Approximately 12% of students receive special education services and have an Individualized Education Program plan. Approximately 1% of students have been diagnosed with a severe or profound disability, meaning that their intellectual functioning will significantly limit their ability to live an independent adult life. They will have modified jobs and accommodated living conditions. We feel blessed to live in societies in which we provide care and support for these precious individuals. The vast majority of students receiving special education services, students who have an Individualized Education Program plan, do not have a severe or profound disability and will be expected to live an independent adult life, without modified jobs and accommodated living conditions.

When we do not expect high levels of learning for all, we significantly limit students’ future prospects with equally significant impacts on our societies. Students receiving special education services graduate from Grade 12 at rates that are demonstrably lower than their peers; they attend 4-year universities and colleges at equally lower rates. We must remove supports when students are ready, allowing students to learn and thrive within the least restrictive environments, and ensure they have access to any and every opportunity.

We fear that tragically lower expectations for students receiving special education services has led (and continues to lead) to their significantly lower achievement. Accommodations and modifications in support of successful educational experiences must not correspond with modifications to expectations. Students within Individualized Education Program plans who do not have a severe or profound disability will be expected to compete and collaborate with rest of the 99% for a purposeful and productive adult life, and we must urgently prepare for this reality.


Differentiation, special education, and RTI are not new processes and they continue to be identified as areas of need by schools and schools leaders. They should be. They are incredibly impactful and important sets of principals and practices and we have not yet done them well. We must, for once and for all, do it right. A comprehensive approach to differentiation, special education, and RTI, integrated into a System of Supports for Rigorous Learning, is possible and more necessary than ever. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Case for Case Studies: Success Stories for Continued Growth

Case studies provide a glimpse into how vision, strategic planning, and implementation drive results-oriented change. In education, they connect people to stories of how schools and districts have improved school culture and the specific steps that were taken. These detailed stories have the ability to provide great context through an explanation of the following:

  • Goals
  • Challenges
  • Solution
  • Success

Overall, a case study provides readers with details on how problems were solved, outcomes achieved, and how investments in professional learning led to a positive cultural shift. In a time when so many schools and districts are looking to technology as a means to improve student learning, case studies have become an essential tool to illustrate the benefits to stakeholders.

Image credit: https://www.dynbiz.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/case_study.jpg

No two schools or districts take on the same initiative in the same way. Every school and district, just like every student, teacher, and administrator, learns and grows uniquely. Tailoring professional learning so that it is accurately identifying a school's or district’s essential DNA and applying its understanding to meeting the particular needs for growth and change was achieved in two very different schools/districts in California. 

Shifting to a Culture of Student-Centered Learning Through Technology Integration

La Quinta High School, in La Quinta, California, aspired to a digital integration that would ultimately transform its learning culture into a more collaborative and student-centered one. As a result of a deep and sustained vision, the school culture is fast becoming one of confidence, engagement, and interaction.  Access the case study HERE.

Empowering Teachers and Students Through Effective Use of Technology

In Coalinga-Huron Unified School District in Coalinga, California, a digital initiative was also put in place, in this case, system-wide. Among the needs that the district had were a multi-year plan, a vision that understood the nature of its teachers who needed confidence in integrating technology, and help in establishing an understanding of what a high quality technology integration meant. The district has become empowered with technology to the extent that they have been recognized as being a national leader for its work with blended learning.  Access the case study HERE.

Case studies in education are a valuable tool for change. They tell a story, demonstrate success, and provide insight that can empower other schools and districts to embrace a framework for change. The combination of what, why and how aligned to results can be a springboard to focus on how to better implement technology at scale to improve student learning.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Three Sides of a Three-Sided Coin: Early Intervention (Part 2)

This is the second guest post in a series on Response to Intervention (RTI) by Dr. Chris Weber, a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on the topic with the International Center for Leadership in Education. Check out the first post in the series HERE on differentiation.

A Comprehensive Approach to Early Intervention within an RTI-Inspired System of Supports for Rigorous Learning, prior to a Referral for Special Education Assessment

Differentiation, special education, and response to intervention (RTI) are interrelated and interdependent; or, they should be. In our experiences in schools, we can more successfully implement these critical, research-based initiatives. They represent principles and practices essential to meeting all students’ needs and to ensuring that students graduate future ready. Comprehensive approaches to differentiation, special education, and RTI are more necessary than ever if schools will reach the goal of high levels of learning for all students. 


Image credit: http://images.pearsonclinical.com/

We recommend that schools strategically and purposefully blend differentiation, special education, and RTI within Systems of Supports for Rigorous Learning that optimize the complex and critical processes under a singularly-designed set of structures. This second in a series of three posts describes early intervention (pre-referral services) within a System of Supports.

Supports for students with special needs begin immediately. We cannot allow for failure and frustration to occur. Well before a request to conduct a formal evaluation or a determination of eligibility, we must: 

Screen 

The purpose of a screening process is to efficiently, and in a timely manner, identify students who at a grave risk of experiencing failure and frustration so that:

  1. Scaffolded supports can be immediately provided within Tier 1
  2. Intensive and targeted supports can be provided within Tier 3. This applies to all students, including students with special needs. 
We must not assume we know that needs within a domain or the antecedents to difficulties are known, and we must not assume that supports are already in place. We screen to ensure that we can proactively serve students who likely have a significant deficit in a foundational skill.

Scaffold

Students should not fail a class because of a deficit in a foundational skill. Students in an Algebra class who lack fluency with computation must receive intensive, highly specialized support to ameliorate this significant deficit; they should not, however, fail Algebra. Teachers can and must scaffold instruction so that these students can still access and master algebraic concepts. We maintain that all students can think critically and problem solve. They’re “smart.” 

Similarly, students who cannot decode text at a grade nine level must receive intensive, highly specialized support to ameliorate this significant deficit; however, they should not fail the grade nine English class. Teachers can and must scaffold instruction so that these students can still access and master the comprehension-based concepts that are the likely the priories of the course. A significant deficit in a specific skill area must not limit a student’s ability to access core learning. We must differentiate to ensure success in the core and provide intensive, highly-specialized supports that address the significant need. 

Behaviors

We find that students who have experienced frustration and failure in schools, who have not been supported in a timely and focused manner within a system of supports, often lack a growth mindset and have internalized a sense of learned helplessness. Therefore, nurturing the development of behavioral skills – such as self-regulation and executive functioning – while important for all students, is absolutely critical for vulnerable students. This process requires that we:

  • Identify the priorities that all students will master.
  • Clearly define what mastery “looks” and “sounds” like.
  • Explicitly teach, model the habits and skills that we want to see and hear displayed and employed, with differentiated supports prepared.
  • Assess student mastery of prioritized behavioral habits and skills so that we can determine the efficacy of our instruction and identify the areas of need for intervention.
  • Provide feedback regarding students’ success and setbacks as they relate to achieving mastery.
  • Intervene in a targeted manner if necessary.
Intervene

We commit to supporting vulnerable students’ most immediate area of need proactively, immediately, and with intensity. We strive to target the antecedent or causal factors that are most contributing to difficulties and vulnerabilities and that lead to significant deficits in foundational skills. All students will learn at high levels, but when a significant deficit in a foundational skill is present, frustrations and challenges highly compromise learning. While the significant deficit exists, or until we have identified and empowered the student to employ sustainable coping mechanisms, the student’s chances of success in school, career, and life are significantly at risk. The most critical, customized, highly specific support for a vulnerable student will undoubtedly involve addressing foundational skills. Without these foundational skills, meaningful experiences with, and mastery of, the 4 Cs and other 21st century skills will be compromised. We define foundational skills as:
  • Literacy – If students cannot access content and participate in learning opportunities (the majority of which are presented in textual form), they will perpetually experience significant difficulties in any course. If students struggle to demonstrate their understanding of content and mastery of skills (the majority of these demonstrations will require written expression), they will perpetually experience significant difficulties in any course.
  • Numeracy – Skills associated with pre-computational numeracy impact a student’s ability to succeed in all subject areas, not only mathematics. A “sense of number” impacts a student’s ability to identity and interpret part-whole relationships, to sequence, to understand and interpret timelines and graphs, in addition to more obvious connections to mathematics and the sciences.
  • Behaviors – Respect, responsibility, and safety are completely appropriate behavioral goals to establish for students; and, there are many other critical pro-social and pro-functional skills that are foundational to success. When a student has a significant deficit in behavior due to social, emotional, or cognitive factors that result in a severely angry, withdrawn, inattentive child or young adult with few coping mechanisms, self-regulatory strategies, or executive functioning skills, little learning will take place. More immediately, students with significant deficits in behavioral skills are truly at-risk in their right to be a healthy human.
Monitor 

We must monitor student response to instruction and intervention and learn from the evidence that is gathered: As we scaffold to ensure student access to learning at Tier 1 and provide specific interventions that target immediate areas of need within Tier 3, we learn about what works and what does not work. Moreover, we view progress monitoring as a logical task with which to meaningfully involve students. Progress-monitoring assessments measure the extent to which students are responding to supplemental interventions. Progress monitoring is feedback:
  • Feedback for educators: How well have we matched the support to the diagnosed need?
  • Feedback for students: How much growth am I making? Where are my strengths and where do I still have needs? What are my next goals? What can I do? What support do I need?
Repeat

If we find that students are not responding to the interventions that we are providing, 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 may not 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. 

In the third post in the series, I will describe the effective and necessary elements of Special Education within a System of Supports.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Paradigm Shift

The world continues to change as a result of technological advances.  Just a few years ago it would have been near impossible to predict some of the paradigm shifts we have experienced.  It all began around 2003 when the smartphone wars started with Blackberry, but was quickly taken over by the Apple iPhone in 2007.  At this point change began to happen at a rapid pace. Disruptive innovations, such as Uber and Netflix, have begun to dramatically alter consumer behaviors, in many cases for the better. Make no mistake about it; technology is shaping the world in ways that we could never have imagined. The types of disruption we are seeing are improving effectiveness, efficiency, and results. It's a dog eat dog world in the digital age. Either adapt and evolve or become obsolete and extinct. The dying taxi industry and Blockbuster provide stark reminders of this fact.


Image credit: http://quantumleapalchemy.com/

With all the change the world is now experiencing it is quite dumbfounding, to say the least, as to why schools and education remain static when it comes to change. All one has to do is walk into a school and for the most part they will see the same structure and function that has dominated for the past 100 years. The pressure to conform to a world that solely equates school success to standardized metrics is, for all intents and purposes, the reason why we are not seeing disruptive innovation at scale. However, if schools and leaders do not take cues from history it is only a matter of time before they suffer the same fate of obsolescence. The domino effect here could be catastrophic to our economy and the world, as we know it.


Maybe evolution is not the right approach for education, but rather a concerted focus on paradigm shifts to professional practice.  As Thomas Kuhn (1970) argues, scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a "series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions", and in those revolutions "one conceptual world view is replaced by another". Thus a paradigm shift constitutes a change from one way of thinking to another to spur a revolution that transforms learning and professional practice. This sounds great in theory, but it won’t just happen. For a paradigm shift to occur and be sustained it must be driven by change agents who are willing to disrupt the status quo embedded in the global education system.


Paradigm shifts need to be driven by change agents in classrooms, schools, districts, and other educational organizations across the globe.  In a world where technology is becoming more and more embedded by the minute, it is incumbent upon leaders, regardless of position, to replace the conceptual view of school with a more meaningful one. This is where the concept of digital leadership really comes into play. By carefully analyzing current components of professional practice, educators can begin to make the necessary paradigm shifts to replace existing practices with more effective and relevant ones. The following are some specific paradigm shifts in relation to the Pillars of Digital Leadership:


Student Engagement, Learning, and Achievement


We can ill afford to teach and lead in the same ways we were taught and led. It is important to sift through the fluffy ideas that abound as well as the allure of the tools and begin to integrate technology with purpose when appropriate. Success is contingent upon sound instructional design, quality assessments, and an improved feedback loop. To validate this paradigm shift, the concept inherent in this pillar should be aligned to actual results that exhibit improvement not just in terms of engagement and learning, but also achievement as evidenced by a Return on Instruction (ROI). When implemented correctly, digital tools can transform education.


Learning Spaces and Environments


Desks in rows, LCD projectors used as glorified overhead projectors, uncomfortable furniture, poor lighting, and inflexible arrangements have to go. To prepare our learners to think and solve problems in the real world and beyond, they need to learn in spaces and environments that most emulate this reality. Research has shown that redesign can impact student learning (Barrett et al., 2013). More importantly, it can empower our learners.


Professional Growth


Traditional forms of professional development such as “sit and get”, one-size-fits-all, a few isolated days in the school calendar, and trainings lacking accountability are all a waste of time and money. Technology now allows for professional learning to take place anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. Combining improved professional learning experiences with the power of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) sets the stage for meaningful improvement that can be transformational.


Communications 


Schools still rely on traditional means (email, newsletters, phone calls). The shift here is to begin to meet stakeholders where they are at and engage them in two-way communications. This blended approach will result in more transparency, exposure, and message amplification.  


Public Relations 


If you don't tell your story someone else will. Do you really want to roll the dice and take a chance with this? Everyone has access to the same free video, picture, and text tools to become the storyteller-in-chief. There is such power in stories that focus on student successes and staff accomplishments. No longer does any educator have to rely on the media alone to share the daily awesomeness that occurs in classrooms and schools. 


Branding 


Here is a simple equation: Communications + Public Relations = Branding.  This is not a business-minded concept focused on selling, but instead telling stories and consistently sharing a positive narrative about education. The focus on telling and sharing work in concert with one another to build powerful relationships with all stakeholders. This results in greater support and appreciation for the whole child approach that many schools are focused on.


Opportunity 


As the saying goes, if opportunity doesn’t knock then build a door. The digital world allows us to open doors like never before. The paradigm shift here will naturally result with a sustained focus on the other six pillars.


A paradigm shift in learning, teaching, and leadership is needed to improve our education system. Opinions, talk, and ideas alone will not do the trick, especially those not connected to research and evidence. Let’s raise the bar for schools and ourselves so that a scalable paradigm shift occurs and holistic improvement becomes the norm, not an exception.


Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat,J., Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils' learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689


Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.