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.

 

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/

Tips for Using a Systematic Data and Documentation Platform to Accurately Analyze Student Data

Tips for Using a Systematic Data and Documentation Platform to Accurately Analyze Student Data

At i-LEADR, Inc., our online data and documentation platform, RtI: Stored! streamlines the process of collecting, analyzing, and storing student data as part of an MTSS & RtI framework. However, the effectiveness of our platform is only as effective as its use, so we recommend the following tips for using it strategically and successfully:

Tips for Using a Systematic Data and Documentation Platform to Accurately Analyze Student Data

  • Check the adequacy of the data—While using documentation software, educators should ask whether appropriate screening measures were used to determine a student’s level of success with reading and mathematics. They should also determine if the screening measure aligns with the learning expectations for that year, and if any scoring was verified.
  • Plan adjustments—If large numbers of students are performing in the risk range, educators should analyze the adequacy of the core instruction. After certain adjustments have been made, the screening should be repeated to identify the effect of the adjustments.
  • Manage individual interventions—Before using individual data to make decisions about a personalized intervention, educators should investigate the effectiveness of the intervention for the group. Educators should also ask whether the intervention was implemented to fidelity, and if the intervention was adjusted accordingly to match student progress.
  • Use data to allocate instructional resources—If implementation steps are well-defined for classrooms and the school as a whole, and the platform allows educators to track the effects of interventions, any data can be used as a basis for providing additional resources in the classroom, small groups, or to individual students.
MTSS: A Closer Look at the Universal Screening Process

MTSS: A Closer Look at the Universal Screening Process

The screening process is a significant foundational element of any MTSS framework, and more specifically, universal screening is the process of consistently analyzing every student’s performance at certain points during the academic year. Universal screening helps identify students who are doing well with the core instruction and those who may require supplemental intervention and support.

MTSS experts recommend three screening periods

Most MTSS experts recommend three screening periods during the school year, in the fall, winter, and spring. These screening periods are recommended because many students can experience performance success or failure at a changing rate throughout the course of the year. For example, a student who needs additional support at the start of the year may no longer need additional resources come winter. Comparatively, a student who is on track at the beginning of the year may fall behind towards the end.

Any screening process should utilize tools that provide evidence-based information surrounding mathematics, reading, and behavior. The strategies used should provide data that predicts future outcomes, so teachers can maximize their resources and instructional time.

As part of the MTSS screening process, educators should also use normed benchmarks for the screening results by which they can determine students’ risk. These normed references can help educators quickly and easily determine if a student is staying on track or is at risk.

The MTSS Framework and the Role of Problem Solving

The MTSS Framework and the Role of Problem Solving

The MTSS framework is a series of evidence-based practices implemented across a system of learning to meet the varying needs of all students. Broader than a problem-solving process alone, it establishes a foundation of support focused on professional development, leadership, and empowering teachers to effectively assess and instruct. The MTSS process also consists of four essential problem-solving steps, which include:

MTSS framework is a series of evidence-based practices

1.  Defining the problem—The first step of MTSS involves determining the areas in which core instruction needs to be adjusted to meet the needs of at least 80% of the population. After core is analyzed and strengthened, PLCs (professional learning communities) should identify which students have gaps beyond what is being addressed in core instruction.  PLCs involved should determine what gaps exist and the services in which they have resources to provide.  It’s important early on to address any issues involving poor attendance, behavior, or other health barriers.

2.  Analyzing the data—MTSS is driven by data, so after defining the problem, data should be reviewed to solidify the cause. This cause could be a gap in certain domains of learning or a specific skill deficit. All relevant information and data should be gathered to determine any barriers that could inhibit progress towards the goal.

3.  Implementing an intervention plan—After identifying the issue and analyzing all relevant data, an intervention plan appropriate for the student’s unique needs should be designed and implemented. These interventions should be evidence-based and implemented to fidelity.

4.  Evaluating the intervention—It is critical that educators spend time with the intervention effectiveness evaluation. Educators should consider whether the intervention was successful and if the student responded effectively to the strategic or intensive instruction. If data showcases adequate progress of the group (tier 2) or individual (tier 3), the intervention can continue, but if the data does not indicate success, the PLC should carefully problem solve why desired results were not achieved.

This is a cyclical process that continues over a period of time until educators have created a system of support that positively impacts the students’ level of needs.

MTSS Professional Development: Common Questions About the MTSS Process & RtI Decision Making

MTSS Professional Development: Common Questions About the MTSS Process & RtI Decision Making

At i-LEADR, Inc., we often receive questions from teachers and district administrators about our MTSS professional development and what the process involves. Here are some of the questions we get asked most frequently and their answers.

MTSS framework involves a universal screening of all students

Does MTSS have an impact on all students?

An essential component of every MTSS framework involves a universal screening of all students. One aspect of an effective MTSS framework is a core curriculum where every student receives high-quality, differentiated core instruction backed by evidence and engaging instructional strategies. As a result, a student’s need for intensive intervention or a special education evaluation is ideally not related to poor classroom instruction. In a properly implemented system, the strong differentiated core would provide students who are not struggling with extension opportunities to take their learning deeper.  Students who need catch-up support also have access to differentiated core as well as appropriately designed intervention systems.  In a recent meta-analysis study, John Hattie found that Response to Instruction has an effect rate of 1.29.  “Hattie found that the average effect size of all the interventions he studied was 0.40. Therefore, he decided to judge the success of influences relative to this ‘hinge point’, in order to find an answer to the question ‘What works best in education?’”

What does a universal screening involve?

A universal screening should be a brief assessment that provides valid, reliable, and accurate results for determining which students may develop behavioral or learning problems. All students are screened to determine who is at risk of academic problems, so intervention strategies can be identified and enacted as early as possible.

How do teachers monitor student progress?

Progress monitoring is an important aspect of any RTI decision making process, as it measures the performance of all students, both in general and special education classrooms. The methods used must present reliable strategies for helping teachers cater their instruction to be more effective, and they should be enacted at least every month, or more frequently depending on the student need. Regular progress monitoring can also help educators identify students not exhibiting adequate progress, compare the effectiveness of different instruction forms, and design more individualized instruction forms.