Are We Listening?

Are We Listening?

Are We Listening?

Understanding and Supporting Children’s Complex Thinking Skills
Written By: Adrianne Blackwelder

What she said was..“I can’t do it”..”I don’t know how”..”This is too hard”.. She lacked the ability to explain her frustration, and I wasn’t really hearing her. We sat in my home office together, for what seemed like hours. We both became frustrated, often to the point of tears. I felt that she was being defiant .. she thought I was being unreasonable. 

Only one of us was correct.

I have spent the last year and a half researching and learning the ins and outs of executive function and its many connections to students’ success in school. As a PhD student, this is the area I have carved out for myself and I am entranced by the complexities of these relationships. But, I won’t bore you with that here. 

This blog will provide you with an overview of executive function and will explain how these skills (and skill deficits) often manifest at home and in academics. I am not a cognitive scientist nor am I a psychologist. I am an educator and a parent. My goal is to share a bit of what I have learned and how we have overcome executive function challenges to develop stronger habits of mind and more effective practices. 

First, let me give you a working definition. Executive function is most often described as a set of cognitive processes that help an individual organize, plan, attend, and persist. Often described as the brain’s “air traffic control center”, these skills are essential for setting and achieving goals. For a child, that may mean engaging in appropriate social interactions, cleaning their room, or completing a complex mathematics problem. 

Three subskills involved with executive function are:

Working memory. The ability to keep information in mind and use it successfully. 

Flexible thinking. The ability to think about something in multiple ways. 

Inhibitory control. The ability to control attention and impulse responses.

For the purpose of this discussion, this is as far as I will go. While I could write about these skills at great length, my goal is to provide practical insight and application. Check out the resources at the bottom of this post if, like me, research is your jam! 

Children use these skills from the time they wake up until they go to sleep. 

Consider how these processes impact the following tasks and activities. 

@ home @ school
  • Getting dressed for school
  • Interacting with siblings
  • Saving & spending allowance
  • Completing homework
  • Listening during instruction
  • Completing a complex math problem
  • Ignoring distractions
  • Contributing to group projects

Returning to the opening vignette, I wonder if you can guess who was correct ..

She was. My six-year-old daughter struggles with the skills I have invested so much time studying, and I missed it for sooo long. As parents and educators, when we recognize these challenges, we can provide appropriate and scaffolded support. 

Below I share some of the things we have had success with. Some seem like common sense, but intention and planning have made all the difference. None of these strategies or tools is a magic bullet, however, with a little planning, reflection, and discussion, these supports have drastically improved our effectiveness. 

  1. Break It Down

Break a task down into small, manageable steps or phases. If cleaning a bedroom causes frustration and requires an unreasonable amount of time, give your child tasks to complete. For example, “Clean up these blocks, then put up those books. When you are finished with those two tasks, come see me.” You can increase the complexity and number of steps as proficiency and confidence increase. 

  1. Think-Aloud

Modeling the way you think about a task or procedure can support a child to use similar metacognitive strategies. If a child is stumped by a mathematics word problem, model the way you identify necessary information. For example, “When I read that problem again, I realized that we are trying to find the total amount of money. Now I need to see what additional information I am given.” Again, modeling should be scaffolded as necessary and can gradually fade over time. 

  1. Set Goals

Since executive function skills are involved with goal attainment, offer support by collaboratively goal-setting then planning for success. If a child struggles to react appropriately in disappointing social situations, identify the unwanted or unacceptable behavior and discuss a more appropriate alternative. Try counting to 5 before responding. Act out and practice this skill together. As you supervise and support the child, the strategy may need to be modified. Set short-term goals and celebrate successes. 

  1. Encourage Creativity

Allow your child to think creatively in less structured and low-stakes environments. Summer is the perfect time to ditch the devices, get outside, and find things to do. As the parent or guardian, avoid the temptation to orchestrate what your child does in their play time. You can support initiation by providing open-ended ideas. For example, “It is a beautiful day. You could go on a scavenger hunt, pretend you are doing a special job, or create a new tool”

  1. Use Graphic Organizers

These tools offer external support for internal cognitive processes and support planning and organization. If a child struggles to manage time effectively, provide a visual schedule and give prompts as necessary. (Here is the one we developed. Slide it in a page protector and use it as a checklist. Feel free to download and modify.)  For goal setting, a graphic organizer may support a child’s ability to backwards plan and monitor progress. In writing, these tools help a child think of the big picture and break the task into manageable sections

  1. Be Intentional 

This is the most important strategy! Make your concerns transparent in a calm and reassuring way. Allow the child to see you as a partner and collaborator. Discuss the importance of the skills you are working on and make personal connections. For example, “I know that it really helps me to focus when I can keep my hands busy.” (We love these for busy hands!) .. “When I can’t focus, it helps me to listen to soft music to drown out background distractions.” 

Monitor progress and celebrate successes.

 

Strategies To Promote At Home Learning

Strategies To Promote At Home Learning

These strategies are provided by Mindprint Learning, LLC for its clients only. You may copy and distribute with Mindprint logo for non-profit educational purposes only unless with express written permission. 
www.mindprintlearning.com

  • Strategies can be printed front/back. If you have note cards, you can paste the front and back to a 4 x 6 note card and keep them in a stackable pile
  • We encourage you to customize these strategies for personal use, particularly the Student Checklists. Go to File/Make a Copy to make an editable copy.
  • Strategies are organized in the following categories

Get Organized. We strongly encourage you to start here to ensure no student is left behind. Best for: Elementary Students, Students with weaker Attention or Working Memory

Modifications to Instruction. Online learning requires a greater awareness of learner differences. Great teachers naturally compensate for some amount of variability as they interact with students and respond to their words and body language. One big challenge with online learning is that students might not tell you they’re struggling or need help. Best for: Students with weaker Verbal Reasoning, Memory, Attention or Working Memory

Student Checklists. Students must be more responsible to be as successful with online learning as they are in traditional school. The great news is that remote learning will develop these skills. Help students along by giving them checklists to use while they are doing assignments. Best for: All students, particularly those with weaker Verbal Memory, Attention, or Working Memory

Social-Emotional. It can be hard to tell how individual students are processing this new reality. Some are feeling a sense of loss, others might be angry, and others might be feeling anxious about their grades, performance, or not seeing their friends. When students are emotional it reduces their capacity to learn so help them manage those feelings. Best for: Students with Anxiety or weaker Flexible Thinking

Parenting. Parents can be confused about their role in remote learning. Communicating to parents how they can help their students be successful can empower parents while ensuring students have both the support and independence they need. Best for: All Parents, especially students with weaker Attention or Working Memory

Link to All Strategies

Please join us every Tuesday at 12pm EST for an open Q&A on these and related topics

 

Stop the Stigma of Labeling Students

Stop the Stigma of Labeling Students

By: Drew Polly
Labels and categories are everywhere in America. The fad has spilled over into education with the labels “low”, “medium”, and “high” or other common labels as we talk about data, student performance, and differentiating instruction. Some may wonder, “why does it matter how I talk about or refer to my students in PLCs or planning?” or they may comment, “I am referring to their data not themselves as people.” Regardless labels and categories are crippling to even talk about and there is a need to change the way we talk (and think) about our students. Students sense their academic ability compared to their peers and we need to avoid any potential stigmas based on academic performance. 

Suzette (pseudonym) was a fourth grader in my class during my second year of teaching 20 years ago. She was curious about all things related to make up, fashion, culture, and shopping. She would fight for equity, fairness, and was loyal to all of her classmates. Suzette, though, was currently working on first grade reading concepts and first and second grade mathematics concepts. Through the processes and systems of social promotion, whole group balanced literacy, and district commitments to whole class mathematics teaching Suzette was not yet able to do things that her peers and classmates could. I knew from Day 1 of the year that Suzette needed more than the typical “core” teaching that my district was focused on. The concepts of MTSS and RTI were foreign to me, but I knew in my heart that there was a need for me to break the mold and do something different. So I did.

To my entire class in math, I posed more open-ended tasks. Everyone had access to manipulatives, graph paper, and lined paper and was graded by how they represented and set up problems, wrote equations, and their answer. Students solved tasks and showed their work in ways that made sense to them. For those students like Suzette who were still working on concepts from previous grade levels there was no stigma of being pulled with similar ability students or being the only students using certain manipulatives or doing certain activities. When I posed tasks whole group students worked in mixed ability pairs and groups of three. When I pulled small groups students the groupings were not ability grouped but represented a range of learners. 

When I was teaching with division with remainders students explored this task, “There are 82 students in 4th grade. They are put in groups of 6 on the field trip. The remaining students are added one at a time to different groups. How many groups have 7 students?” Students used base ten blocks and pictures to set the problem up. Eventually students wrote an equation and found the answer to the task. Suzette worked with a partner to make the set of 82 using base ten blocks and start to divided the blocks into 6 equal groups. She could access the task and contributed to the partnership. 

For students like Suzette there was still a need to support her learning with concepts from previous grade levels. In addition to exploring grade level content, there was also time during the core math block for her to work with peers, an instructional assistant or myself on math games and activities to support her learning. During this time, all students were playing math games and activities in groups. Again, there was no stigma that she and her peers were doing “different” activities. Suzette’s academic needs were being met without the label or the stigma that she was different. 

Strategies to help avoid the stigma: 

  1. Whole class math tasks should be low-floor, high-ceiling tasks that allow all learners to have access to them. For more information check out this article and tasks here from YouCubed.
  2. When teaching small groups look for opportunities and ways to avoid grouping by performance and instead teach a range of learners. While at times it is appropriate to work with specific students on their specific needs there are plenty of opportunities for learners with differing data to participate in the same small group. This includes small group lessons on new content.
  3. Plan for opportunities and reflect on opportunities for ALL students to engage in mathematics. Check out this blog post from my friend Kaneka Turner about this idea.

    Look for ways to get more time into your math block for problem solving and exploration. Here is a lesson framework to consider.

Contact Drew: @drewpolly on twitter 

MTSS | Beyond the Textbook

MTSS | Beyond the Textbook

By: Janna Sells

Are you sick of feeling the MTSS implementation burnout?  Has MTSS become a four letter word where you serve? Tired of the theory not matching practice?  We were too.  Welcome to our roadshow.  A group of educators who were charged with the job of making MTSS work to close gaps and raise student achievement.  In our journey we’ve uncovered the tools needed to build an effective 3 Tiered Model. Let us start off by first saying, it was not easy.  We made tons of mistakes, but we eventually got it right. We continued and will continue to lean into our own learning and improve what we know to be faithful and true about implementing this highly effective total school improvement model.  

5 Critical Components of MTSS 

There are 5 critical components, or pillars, that have to be carefully and thoughtfully crafted prior to implementation of MTSS.  Without these 5 essential inputs, an MTSS model is simply impossible.

1) It all begins with LEADERSHIP |
Leadership knowledge and reinforcement are the driving force behind a strong implementation model.  What does that mean?  

  • Leaders equip themselves with the knowledge they need to lead teachers through implementation  
  • Leaders LEAD MTSS PLCs – know the data, lead the discussion, and equip teachers 
  • Leaders help align the arrows between the work teachers are doing in PLCs to their School Improvement Plan  
  • Leaders are active problem-solvers and strong advocates who support teachers so they may best serve students

2) Clear and consistent COMMUNICATION & COLLABORATION |
More times than we are excited to admit, we’ve coached and supported sites with the best implementation intentions, but they failed because of the lack of clear communication.  The same factor for the leading cause of divorce in the United States is killing MTSS implementation across our country. Why do we continue to ignore the impact of good communication? Likely, because it is an art.  Knowing when and how to say the right things can make or break the culture around implementation. It’s equally important that you bring teacher leaders in with you as you build your MTSS model. Their boots on the ground feedback is immeasurable and will help you stay ahead of potential threats.

3) Capacity and Infrastructure build sustainability
Invest in your people.  Not programs. Work to build capacity in ALL of your staff to create a model that lasts.

  • Invest and equip all the people in your building to help them see the strong role they play in the MTSS model.  
  • It’s an all hands on deck approach.  Every person in your building should see how their role impacts and aligns the arrows towards total school improvement.

4) Data-based problem-solving | 
We would never expect a doctor to begin writing a treatment plan for an ill patient without data based indicators suggesting the treatment is exactly what the patient needs.  We would also expect that the doctor has a strong line of research to support the treatment plan he or she chooses to help the patient recover. The same is true for educators.  To teach without using a data-based, problem solving protocol is malpractice. 

5) Data Evaluation drives continuous improvement | 
Life is a constant cycle of continuous improvement.  We evaluate success in many different measurements, but nonetheless, we drive towards improvement.  MTSS implementation is no different. 

  • There are many tactical tools to measure whether or not your implementation model is having a positive, negative, or neutral impact on students’ growth and achievement.  
  • It’s important that you triangulate your implementation data to get a true measure of impact.  
  • You must listen to your current indicators and humbly reflect and improve on them until your desired implementation is achieved.  
  • Remember, this a marathon, not a sprint.  Be present. Be strategic. Be consistent. 

A Three-Tiered Approach to Academics, Behavior, and Social Emotional Supports

i-LEADR, Inc. coaches a three-part, three-tiered model (see image above).  We believe in order to truly serve the whole child, educators must systematically measure the effectiveness of tier 1 core supports in all three areas: academics, behavior, and social emotional.  There should be strategic core plans in place that identify grade or school-wide deficits in these major areas with a strategic improvement plan. 

Once the school begins acting on core areas of concern, they should start to identify students outside and perhaps within those areas who need strategic tier 2 and/or intensive tier 3 supports.  Intervention plans should be written to address the needs of these students and document support services provided. Educators should measure the impact of students’ response to instruction by using frequent progress monitoring. 

The life blood of this model – Professional Learning Communities.  None of this work should be done in isolation by a single teacher. These conversations, data-analyses, and service planning should be done inside a strong professional learning community model.  These PLCs should be facilitated by a strong leadership team and should be communicated through School Improvement Team work. A comprehensive model, but not impossible.

Just remember, tradition does not make best practice when it stops being best for kids.  Change is hard. Failure is unavoidable. How you rise from your failed attempts will determine the impact and effectiveness of your leadership.  It’s ok to ask for help when help is needed.

To learn more about how i-LEADR coaches and supports MTSS implementation visit us at: https://ileadr.com/service/

The Positive Contributions of Dyslexia to Improved Reading Practices for All Students

The Positive Contributions of Dyslexia to Improved Reading Practices for All Students

By: Dr. Mark Shinn

Let me start with a disclosure. I remain a consultant to Pearson for their aimsweb product and was instrumental in the early development of what became DIBELS (1988-1998).

Now, let’s start with a broader perspective than dyslexia. I am well aware that more than 30 states have responded to the advocacy effort of parents and passed dyslexia legislation, typically an unfunded mandate. The good news in this advocacy and political action is that it has (powerfully) renewed attention to the huge gap between reading science and reading curriculum and instruction that results in reading instruction/programs to be based on appealing, but unsupported theories. Inadvertently, the use of these practices creates students with reading difficulties and assign the blame to them—and their “ disability.” The information about the science-practice gap is not at all new and in part because of dyslexia legislation, as well as analytical reporting by Emily Hanford, and the continued press by reading scientists (e.g., Seidenberg, Moats, and the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), the gap is drawing attention every day. Yet, despite continuing evidence of a reading achievement gap in general and between subgroups in particular, the pace of progress is too slow. I liken our schools’ and colleges of educations’ failure to stop teaching teachers reading myths to climate deniers.

The downside is that dyslexia advocacy and legislation promotes it as a common (e.g., prevalence rates of 20%), yet unique type of reading difficulty, with specialized assessments and specialized treatments. I’m not denying that there are some children/students with dyslexia, but in no way shape or form to they rise to the level of %s promoted by advocates and media. However, what DOES rise to that level is reading difficulties. I’ll come back to that shortly. 

The most important diagnostic step for dyslexia and other reading difficulties is powerful, appropriately intensive reading intervention driven by (a) simple and sound universal screening and (b) sufficient frequent progress monitoring to ensure growth and development toward reading proficiency. We need to carefully focus on what is already known about reading assessment growth and development and screening rather than seeking out specifically designed dyslexia test(s).

How about this for an “assessment plan:”

1. Ensure ALL students are met at the school door with research-based CURRICULUM that promote (a) academic English, (b) print awareness, (c) phonological awareness, (d) high quality and explicit phonics instruction, (e) vocabulary, and (f) comprehension strategies. Ensure also that there is an effort for extensive reading practice with corrective feedback and efforts to support “wide reading.” I’ve promoted the idea of EWW for a long time. Read EARLY, WELL, and WIDE(LY).

2. Ensure that school engage in a systematic process of reading “well checks,” much like physicians do with babies’ height and weight charts. Benchmarking–repeated assessments—are NOT designed for repeated SCREENINGS! I should know. We started doing this in the early 80s!

We know what these well checks should include:

A. Letter Names–Entry K and MAYBE a Jan Follow Up. See Marilyn Adams’ work in this area.

B. Letter SOUNDS–typically early K.

C. A SIMPLE oral reading test that is heavily weighted toward highly decodable text that increases the % irregular or grade-level words, starting at end of K typically (or earlier) and Grade 1.

D. Limit growth and development tests to the essentials and not everything we can assess such as phonemic awareness and nonsense words. These tests are generally reliable and valid, but are not required for all students. They are best used judiciously as diagnostic tests when students are NOT growing and developing.  

E. Once kids should be reading text (i.e., Grade 1), to me, that’s my primary Growth and Development Indicator! REPEAT. I Benchmark to (a) ensure ALL kids are growing in their reading skills to enable them to be successful readers. 

3. Use these Growth and Development Indicators as your universal screener. 

4. As soon as possible, I would add a general outcome measure of Spelling (Spelling CBM is one of THE best indicators or LANGUAGE ARTS/Reading risk) and Written Expression CBM in Grade 2. A student cannot hide their challenges with the “code” in spelling and writing.

Bottom line. Dyslexia legislation strengthens our efforts to use:

1. Reading science for better prevention by using validated, research-based reading programs–not leveled readers, reader’s workshops, Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers–but programs that include reading MATERIALS and INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES aligned with reading science.

2. Simple, CHEAP, time efficient, and scientifically sound and PROVEN measures for purposes of measuring reading GROWTH and DEVELOPMENT

3. That Benchmark data designed for Growth and Development as a Screener (and subsequent more frequent progress monitoring test) for reading DIFFICULTIES, including dyslexia

4. More intensive, research-based interventions to reduce the reading achievement gap, set goals that reduce that gap and monitor progress frequently to ensure the intervention is working and enabling students to get back on the path to being a successful reader.

Professional Development Training: The 3 Tiers of Support in an MTSS System

Professional Development Training: The 3 Tiers of Support in an MTSS System

Part of our professional development training solutions involves helping teachers to not only effectively implement the tiers of support within an MTSS framework, but also to fully understand the power of layering the support and how they can help struggling students. Here is just a brief overview of the tiers we will cover during our MTSS professional development trainings:

Professional Development Training: The 3 Tiers of Support in an MTSS System

  1. Tier 1: (All Students) –Teachers deliver high-quality instructional routines supported by research and proven to be effective to all students. All students in a class are screened to see who is and who isn’t responding to these instructional routines. Depending on different areas of need and strength, students may be broken into smaller groups.
  2. Tier 2: (Small Groups)—In a smaller group setting, students can receive more targeted support. The keys to the success of these small groups are scheduling and determining area(s) of need based on data. Although they receive support in a smaller group, students should not miss out on receiving core instruction.
  3. Tier 3: (Individualized Support)—Students who require this level of support still continue with Tier 1 differentiated core instruction, as well as targeted small group support in Tier 2. The groups used to provide intensive, individualized support at this tier are smaller than in Tier 2, and have an increase duration, frequency and intensity of support provided.

Helping teachers and administrators develop a positive learning environment that helps all students succeed is the primary focus of our professional development training sessions. If you have questions or would like to enroll, please reach out to us today!