Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination

by Mary Howard

On 6/20/19, #G2Great culminated our 5-part intervention series as we highlighted a central feature of this process: Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination. I took great pleasure in writing this post since I also had the honor to write the first post in the series on 5/23/19: Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense. My writerly bookends status seemed fitting considering these features reflect two essential factors that hold the entire intervention process together and can ultimately become what will enrich or diminish this process. 

As I reflected back on our #G2Great chat and perused inspired tweets, I wavered in my quest to find a hook for this post. But the more I thought about the five descriptors in our title, the more I realized that intervention success is dependent upon our ability to understand each of those words individually. With this depth of understanding, we can then merge those words in a thoughtfully responsive way. Suddenly I knew it made sense to deconstruct the title word by word: Design, Flexible, BridgeCollaborativeCoordination. After all, how can we create a thoughtfully responsive intervention merger if we don’t understand the critical role each descriptor plays within that merger?

With this in mind and in celebration of the conclusion of our five-part intervention series, I’m going to depart from my usual #G2great post by discussing these five words individually in order to emphasize the importance of each within the intervention process and then reflect on how those words will work in tandem to create that thoughtfully responsive merger of collective commitment. 

Design

The word “design” brings to mind an active process of creating something that could support and enhance our vision for what we want to accomplish. One of the struggles that we have had in creating a powerful intervention process is that too many schools have been weighted down by a design based on flawed mandates and dictates that restrict our efforts rather than to afford us the freedom to create a design based on a wider vision unfettered by limitations. This design must begin with a clear understanding of our vision at a deeper level as we then to consider how we can bring a shared vision to life within a supportive foundation in that spirit. To do this we may need to get out of our own way by breaking down the ties that bind as we refuse to allow marketeers and warped ideas to blind us. What is possible in this design process will come into view only if we don’t let anything stand in the way of a design that would breathe life into possible. 

Flexibility

But creating a design that would bring a shared vision to life is only the beginning. No matter how good our design may be, that design will be compromised by the flawed belief that any one-size-fits-all intervention view will ever be adequate. The choices that we make within our design must maintain flexibility of purpose as we identify intervention opportunities that are student-centered rather than other-centered. If interventions are not based on the unique needs of that child at that time, we miss the point. Our design is the foundation but it is flexibility that affords us an instructional playground with room to make the richest possible professional decisions on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment and child-to-child basis. There is an inherent danger of losing flexibility if we are more concerned about what is easy, cheap or fast rather than what is in the best interest of the child. 

Bridge

I love the idea of a bridge that will maximize our design and elevate our ability to hold tight to instructional flexibility since it’s how we get from where we are to where we need to be. But a bridge assumes a two-way entry point from either end with ample room to meet in the middle and all points in between. Too often, schools create a design with a flexible view but then seem to believe that they have “arrived” and thus see no room for growth and change. The flexible decisions that we make within our design playground are always changing and growing as our children change and grow because our bridge allows for continued movement in any direction. Our success is dependent on our willingness to invest both the time and financial resources that supports long-term professional learning that will thus transform that learning into worthy instructional practices. But as teacher maneuver their way along our bridge, they need ongoing support, preferably through high quality coaching with respectful and timely feedback. Without this, our view along a pathway to a child-centered focus will always be blurred.

Collaboration

But even when we have managed to breathe life into a flexible design bridge centered on the child with the ongoing learning that leads us to professional empowerment, we’ll still fall short until we can invite respectful conversational dialogue to the thinking table. The collective impact of our intervention efforts can’t live in a professional vacuum so dialogue that revolves around the needs of our learners is essential. Interventions viewed from a lens of collaboration has the potential to transform our professional conversations into collective commitment for the greater good of our school, our teachers and the children we support, whether they are in interventions or not. Our combined professional wisdom requires us to embrace this shared learning as we grow into our best selves within a never-ending learning process. Our unwavering dedication to children is a reminder that we can find our way to excellence in the company of others. And as we grow as professionals, so our flexible design bridge grows with us. There is no end point of arrival for achieving this lofty goal. Rather we choose to courageously embark on a shared journey that is oft times riddled in the uncertainty that inspires even more passion-driven collaborations.    

Coordination

That brings us to our final descriptor that could further enhance our efforts. We can have the most instructionally powerful flexible collaboration design bridge, but this is irrelevant until we consistently coordinate our intervention efforts within and across tiers. The first four descriptors will offer a common professional lens that makes it possible for every educator who is supporting this child to coordinate their efforts. But success is dependent upon cumulative knowledge of literacy research and our knowledge of the child in front of us. This child-fueled understanding has nothing to do with narrow data points but the daily informants that support our shared decision-making. To know the child assumes that we know the same child and not the one we purport to know individually. Our responsibility to this child will require our efforts to be inseparably intertwined so that we can use that cumulative knowledge to offer interventions based on intensive “in addition to” coordinated support. The minute we create a divide and conquer mentality, we are doomed since our professional choices must be mutually supportive and not at cross purposes. Through this coordinated effort along our collaborative flexible design bridge, our interventions will lead to the accelerated progress our students need.

THE INTERVENTION MERGER

And so, we come full circle as we bring our descriptors together in order to initiate the thoughtfully responsive merger our children deserve. Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination is but an empty promise based on isolated words until we bring each descriptor to life in joyful integrated harmony in the company of children. This is the turning point where we are able to elevate our intervention impact within and beyond the intervention process. For too long we have celebrated narrow ideas based on the shallow terminology that gives us nowhere to go. No matter how grand that terminology may be, those words are meaningless until they come together in celebration of student learning. And we owe that level of dedicated commitment to each and every child.

But now we need to blend the key components of the intervention process one step further. My two writerly bookends reflect only the first and last chats in our series, but the term “series” implies that one topic cannot stand alone. This is certainly true in this case and thus the reason we have three other topics that are all equally critical. If we look to our umbrella title in the series: Rethinking Our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative and then reflect on each of the five topics in combination, we can again see how each of our parts work in combination for the greater good of the whole:

Intervention Series

5/23/19 (#1): Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense written by Mary Howard 

 5/30/19 (#2): Embracing Books as our Strategic Intervention Heart and Soul written by Jenn Hayhurst

6/6/19 (#3) : Framing Increasing VOLUME as Our Central Intervention Goal written by Fran McVeigh

 6/13/19 (#4) : Creating a Common Lens Across Tiers for Explicit Instructional Interventions written by Valinda Kimmel

6/20/19 (#5): Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination written by Mary Howard

All five of these important topics are key considerations within any thoughtfully responsive merger that has the potential to translate into intervention excellence. I believe that this spirit of excellence is the only option we have and one that is worth fighting for in our schools.

MY FINAL REFLECTIONS

Before the chat began, we shared one of my favorite Seth Godin quotes that seems like a perfect closing to this post. Our intervention efforts have resided on shaky ground since IDEA 2004 made RTI our intervention reality. Given the research on our lack of success within this process, we need a new reality – a vastly improved reality. We have focused our intervention attention thus far too heavily on the chocolate and as a result have ignored the oxygen that would put us back on terra firma. The oxygen we need will only come when we can refocus our attention on the intervention process from a broader lens. Bringing our new intervention reality to life will require us to know our WHY from a much deeper level so that we can use this to translate our WHAT and HOW in the most purposeful and yes, thoughtfully responsive merger. It is my deepest hope that we will be able to make this reality transformation in our schools in the name of our children. 

In the end, that’s the only intervention outcome that matters!

Creating a Common Lens Across Tiers for Explicit Instructional Interventions

by Valinda Kimmel

Please check out the entire #g2great chat, Creating a Common Lens Across Tiers for Explicit Instructional Interventions from 6/13/19 captured on Wakelet here.

I don’t often start a blog post with analytics from a social media platform, but I’m going to do that very thing right here.

Uh, you think we touched a nerve? 24,153 times this tweet showed up in someone’s Twitter feed. It doesn’t mean it was read, but look at the engagements. Almost 580 people engaged with this tweet.

I’ll ask again. Do you think we touched a teacher nerve?

The focus of our discussion in Part 4 of the series Rethinking Our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative was on creating commonality in thinking and practice across tiers. That’s a lot of educator-speak, so let me say what I believe that means.

In regard to intervention, every person who interacts with students in a learning environment on a campus must own a shared vision of what it means to support our most fragile readers.

OK.

When we’re about to launch into such a critical issue of a shared vision of intervention across a campus, I want to hear from someone who is an expert in the field. Dr. Richard Allington has written much about this and so I want to take the liberty of quoting him here in this post. The following quotes come from an interview of Allington at Ed Week.

…the promise has been held that we’re going to teach all kids to read. The good news is that, in the past five or 10 years, we’ve had large-scale demonstrations that show that in fact we could do that if we wanted to. We have studies involving multiple school districts and hundreds or thousands of kids demonstrating that, with quality instruction and intervention, 98 percent  of all kids can be reading at grade level by the end of 1st or 2nd grade.
So it’s not a question that we don’t know what to do. It’s a question of having the will to develop full literacy in this country, and to organize schools and allocate money in ways that would allow us to do that. Instead, we’ve tended to come up with flim-flam excuses for why it’s not possible.

Richard Allington states that with robust instruction, we can virtually ensure that most students can be reading on grade level by end of 1st or 2nd grade. He offers the solution to that, too. We can and must create literacy instruction and practice with the funds to support teachers to meet the needs of all readers. Can I just say here that once we’ve done that, we will see dramatically fewer students who require some kind of separate support, or in other words, intervention?

We’re not done here because Dr. Allington has more to say–

For the first time in many years, the federal government wrote a law that is not very prescriptive. It simply says: Take up to 15 percent of your current special education allocation and use that money instead to prevent the development of learning disabilities or reading disabilities. And do it in a way that, while there’s no mention of specific intervention tiers, incorporates increasingly expert and increasingly intensive instruction. It’s just telling schools to stop using money in ways that haven’t worked over the past half-century and start investing at least some of that money in interventions that are designed to actually solve kids’ reading problems.

It’s clear from Allington’s statement that we have choice in how to intervene for fragile readers, but he qualifies that by saying, “…incorporates increasingly expert and increasingly intensive instruction.” I understand that to say that our most highly qualified individuals should be using the most effective research-based methods and materials to meet the unique needs of students reading far below grade level.

More from Allington–

For me the most important part of the proverbial three tiers is the first one: regular classroom instruction. In my view, RTI works best if it’s started in kindergarten and 1st grade—we know how to solve those problems. A lot of them (teachers) assume that if a kid is struggling and is way behind in reading, he must have some neurological problem, and therefore it’s not their job to teach him. So you can do a lot by strengthening instruction. The evidence is there in the research literature. We can reduce the number of kids who have trouble in the 1st grade by half just by improving the quality of kindergarten. And by 2nd grade, we can reduce the number of kids who are behind by another half just by improving the quality of 1st grade instruction.

The problem of a packaged reading program doesn’t have any scientific validity to start with, because we know that if you take 100 kids or even 10 kids, there are no prescribed programs that will work with all of them. What kids need are teachers who know how to teach and have multiple ways of addressing their individual needs. And the evidence that there’s a packaged program that will make a teacher more expert is slim to none.

It’s so simple, really. When districts spend time and money on allowing knowledgeable people to write a clearly aligned curriculum and provide their teachers with top tier instructional materials, followed up by systematic training and support for those teachers, then we can ensure kids get the foundational reading instruction that leads to mastery.

I’m currently working as a consultant with a district in my home state as they write curriculum for the upcoming school year. In Texas, we have new state ELA standards and it’s also the year for new ELA adoptions. Imagine my absolute delight when the teacher writers I’m supporting are copiously studying the specific behaviors young readers need to tackle leveled texts as K-2 students, then aligning phonological awareness and phonics resources to the instructional guides. They are also aligning their curriculum documents to include interactive read-aloud and shared reading texts that will engage and model a robust reading life. The district purchased additional classroom libraries for teachers so students will have plenty of texts to choose from as they read independently and with a partner.

This district’s ELA department vision statement includes three powerful words: choice, authenticity, independence. Would you agree that their values align with their practice?

That’s what Part 4 of this series was all about. What can you do on your campus, or in your district to promote a shared vision of what it means to be responsive to every reader’s needs?

Join us next week for the final chat in the series.

Rebora, Anthony. “Responding to RTI.Education Week, 25 Feb. 2019 ww.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2010/04/12/02allington.h03.html.

Framing Increasing VOLUME as Our Central Intervention Goal (3/5)

by Fran McVeigh

The June 7th, 2019 #G2Great chat was the midpoint of five chats scheduled under the title: Rethinking our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative and and it was momentous as the Twitterverse was filled with wisdom about increasing volume.

Before we can begin, what exactly are we talking about?

What is volume? This question whirred in my brain for the week leading up to the chat as I thought about my answers to the chat questions and this follow up blog post. Some answers: Not the volume on the TV. Not the “speak louder” for volume in fluent reading. Not the first “volume” in the Harry Potter series. Not the volume measurement in liters.

How do you define volume in reading? In search of a definition of volume, I consulted some reading texts, Google Scholar, and some real life literacy scholars. There are several definitions available. Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis define it as “Access + Choice + Time.” Those three elements were present in the pre-chat quotes shown here.

Although literacy gurus agreed that volume was critical to student success in reading and writing, everyone also had just a little different twist that added depth. Allington said it most succinctly when he talked of time spent reading and number of words read.

Scholastic. June 2015

Others chimed in with “meaningful” and “engaged” reading as well as “across the day” although a commitment to time remained constant. Both Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher tell us that if students are not reading AT school then we know they are not reading at home either.

But is Reading Volume more flexible and fluid than JUST time and words?

Yes, there must be a commitment to time but a small part also says access means a lot of texts as well as the engagement factor or rapture of being “lost in a great book” and then the meaningful conversations that come from conferring and dialogue about books.

How do we measure Reading Volume?

In the past many have tried to measure reading volume with book logs and lists of books read. Questions and concerns arose from those practices: Were the books chosen by the students or the teachers? Were the lists accurate? Did the lists include some “fake reading” titles?

Accountability may have won the battle and lost the Volume War as students did the “bare minimum” or perhaps less only in the name of compliance or completed logs. Time is surely one factor.

But does time only count when provided by teachers?

What about the time when students are “sneak reading”? And HOW would time be counted? Minutes? Pages? Books? If we value time spent reading, there is no time to be wasted “counting” words so we could use “The Google” to find out some word counts. (Try googling Harry Potter and number of words just for fun.) As students build up stamina, how could/should those counts increase?

One way to consider the flexibility and fluidity of time is shown in this table from Simple Starts by Kari Yates. The differences between the fall and spring show the expected growth in time and also reflects the increased difficulty of texts throughout the course of the year.

Heinemann link

A commitment to access to quality books (chat #2) and quality Tier 1 (chat #1) are a great beginning to improving interventions for striving students. Where do we find Access, Choice and Time that are necessary for reading VOLUME? We will need to continue to say NO to programs that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to continue to say NO to interventions that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to say NO to “magic bullets” that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to say NO to spending money on resources that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read.

How can these tweets add to your knowledge bank?

Tweets curated from Wakelet

What conversations do YOU need to have about VOLUME?

#G2Great Embracing Books As Our Strategic Intervention Heart & Soul

By Jenn Hayhurst

May 30, 2019, marked the arrival of Part 2 of our 5 part series, Rethinking Our Intervention as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative. We had an inspired conversation about how we might embrace books as our strategic intervention heart and soul. When teachers use excellent trade books as a centerpiece for a classroom intervention, they are rewarded with authentic reading experiences with children. Good books combined with responsive teaching is just what is needed to bridge student gaps.

What is it about that word, intervention? To me, it gives off this negative connotation that students need something overly complex when what they really need is good teaching. So when our #G2Great team thought about having a chat that focused on using books as an intervention tool, it just felt right. The #G2Great PLN also seemed to agree:

We refer to books as a strategic intervention heart and soul because connecting with books is life changing. Literacy changes who we are in very real ways by influencing what we think about and even who we aspire to become. When teachers know who their students are they have this immense power to put students in touch with books that will resonate and reflect their identities and values back to them. It may sound lofty but as I read these tweets I see that this is inherently true:

There is so much potential for growth if we were to make a commitment to embrace books as our strategic heart and soul. Think about it. An intervention program that is built on good books and thoughtful teachers is one to celebrate. Invest some time getting to know students, add in a teacher’s expansive knowledge of books, and now there is real potential. There is the potential not only to improve a child’s ability to read but also to shape the identity of the reader. I think that Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly say it best in their book, Reading to Make a Difference:

Teachers build their bridges for their students one book at a time. Truly, the most effective interventions are both elegant and simple. A teacher, a good book, and a student with an open mind can change the world. Believe it.

On a personal note, I’d like to welcome, Brent Gilson to our #G2Great team. Welcome, Brent! What was once only three dedicated teachers has grown into a bigger more vibrant team.