In looking at the work we had before us, we made the decision that we could not tackle all of it at once. The obvious decision was to begin with reading, which is what we did. Our biggest dilemma now was how were we going to provide quality interventions to students? We wanted to be able to provide interventions that were specific to individual student needs and not just "random acts of teaching." As mentioned before, I had the tremendous opportunity to listen to David Tilly last summer at the Teton Institute and he stated that even the best classroom teachers were only able to provide one maybe two quality interventions in the classroom. There are just too many individual needs and too many other responsibilities for the teacher. Recently at our state elementary principals' conference, I also had the pleasure of listening to Mark Calendar from the University of Oregon and he spoke about a way to alleviate these problems, which just so happens to be the way that we provide interventions in our school. We call the concept "flooding" and Mr. Calendar referred to it at "pushing in." Whatever you want to call it, it has a very positive impact on student learning. So here is how it works.
First we group our kids based on their skills. All kids that need development in a certain area are grouped with students that have the same instructional needs. Students that are proficient or better are also grouped with each other. We get this information from our DIBELS and MAP testing and also from teacher observations. Once we have these groups set, we are ready to "flood" that grade. Each one of our grades has a set block of time or, basically, a literacy block. These blocks are staggered so that only one grade is in a literacy block at a time. During this literacy block time, we "flood" the grade with teachers to work with kids on specific skills. We "flood" the grade with our reading specialist, our Title I teacher and our special education teacher. The students that need more intensive instruction are paired with one of these specialist teachers. We ensure that our Title I and special education teachers have at least a couple of these identified students in their groups so that we are not doing anything funky with these funds. Their groups also contain students that are not identified but still may need to work on the same skills as some of the other students. This is also how we provide a lot of special education services for reading to students; through the literacy block they are assigned to the special education teacher. In order to build skills and receive intense instruction, these groups are very small; no more than four students in each group. The students that are proficient or above in reading work with the classroom teachers. These groups are usually much larger but here the teacher is focusing on enrichment because these students do not need to fill any holes in their reading skills. "Flooding" is how we provide our Tier II interventions. Each student that is below the proficiency level in an area of reading receives specific small group instruction to help devlop this skill. I have provided a copy of our schedule to show how this works; it makes sense to us so hopefully it will make sense to you. Let me know if you have any questions.
You ask how do we fit everything in? The answer is that we don't. We prioritized and reading is our priority. We made the choice to focus on reading; we made the conscious decision that if a student can't read then we haven't provided them with the foundation to be successful later on. I want to emphasize that this literacy block and targeted inventions are provided in addition to the core literacy program. Every teacher still has a scheduled time in their day devoted to the core program. In grades K-2 we focus on reading, writing, and math. We build the foundation of social studies and science through a literacy approach by exposing students to different ideas through specifically-chosen literature. You will notice that 3rd and 4th grade do not have a literacy block on Fridays. This is so they can focus on more social studies and science during this time; they use this block of time for labs or projects.
So how do we provide Tier III interventions? Our literacy block is done by 1:30 in the afternoon. If there are students that need further interventions, they are pulled after this time from the classroom by either the reading specialist or the special education teacher and specific one-on-one interventions are given. You will notice in our schedule that many of our specials are in the afternoon and this is where these students are pulled from; we do not pull them from other core subjects. This is also the time that our Title I teacher and special education teacher provide some of their other support to students.
This approach has been very successful in our school. At first the teachers were a little hesitant because they were concerned about what they would do in the literacy block. We alleviated that concern by providing quality research-based interventions, which I will talk about in the next blog. Now, I would not want to be in the same room with the teachers if I asked them to give up their literacy block; they would run me out of town on the next stagecoach. This time has become sacred and we do not interrupt our literacy block time for anything — and I mean anything.
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