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Systematic Intervention: The Antithesis of Enabling
In this paid column in Education Week, Richard and Rebecca DuFour respond to a concern they often hear: that providing additional time and support to struggling students has an “enabling” effect. Educators who raise this point believe that “students who fail to study, fail to complete their work, or fail to meet deadlines should suffer the logical consequence of their actions – failure.” The argument is that logical consequences will teach these students to be more responsible in the future.
The DuFours agree that self-discipline, a strong work ethic, time-management skills, the ability to meet deadlines, responsibility, and resilience are desirable qualities. The question is what approach is most likely to instill these qualities in students who don’t innately possess them. Some students in this category, when told, “You must do this work and turn it in on time, or you will fail,” are fine with failing. “Allowing them the option of not doing the work merely reinforces their irresponsibility,” say the DuFours. “When schools make working and learning optional, both students and educators can take the easy way out.”
No parent would say to a child, “You must mow the lawn by Saturday, and if you don’t mow it by Saturday, you will never have to mow it!” – yet this is basically what the do-it-or-fail approach in schools amounts to, say the DuFours. “It is illogical to argue that we teach students responsibility by allowing them to choose to be irresponsible, and we have a century of evidence that this strategy does not work!” Much more likely to teach responsibility are policies like these:
- If students don’t study enough, the school requires them to spend time with a tutor.
- If students don’t finish their homework, they are required to spend time in an environment where completion of homework is carefully monitored.
A school with policies like these, say the DuFours, “strives to teach students responsibility by insisting students act responsibly – even under duress – in the hope that students will ultimately internalize the lesson.”
Such policies send the following message to students: “We will not let you off the hook We will see to it that you do what is necessary to be successful. We won’t place you in a less rigorous curriculum, nor will we lower our standards for this course or grade level. We will give you the support, time, and structure to help you be successful, but we will not lower the bar.”
“Systematic Intervention: The Antithesis of Enabling” by Richard DuFour and Rebecca DuFour in Education Week, Jan. 26, 2011 (Vol. 30, #18, p. 11), no e-link available
Student Assessment Continuum
EdSteps, a website created by the Council of Chief State School Officers, aims to give teachers, parents, and students access to a large public library of student work samples in key skill areas on a continuum from emerging to accomplished. To sign in and access or contribute, go to http://www.edsteps.org
A Seamless Intervention System for Struggling Students
In this paid column in Education Week, author/consultant Richard DuFour addresses the common tendency to refer struggling students to special education as a first response rather than a last resort. “Student failure is often not a result of a disabling condition,” says DuFour, “but rather a function of student indifference to school, unwillingness to do the work, or a host of personal problems that interfere with a student’s ability to do what is necessary to be successful in school. If a school was able to identify every student who truly required special education services and did a wonderful job of providing those services, it would continue to face the harsh, cold reality that a number of its students were still not being successful.”
What’s the alternative? A multi-step intervention process that kicks in as soon as students experience failure, says DuFour: “If timely, directive, and systematic interventions are in place in a school, a student can be shifted from one level of support to another within minutes.” An effective safety-net system helps students learn what they’re supposed to be learning and weans them from support as soon as possible.
Response to Intervention, says DuFour, is all about educators taking responsibility for student learning: “RTI, like the pyramid of interventions we have advocated for years, operates under the assumption that whenever any student is having difficulty, it is a ‘school problem.’ Rather than designating students as at risk, which defines the problem as the student, the staff views the student as ‘under-supported,’ which puts the onus on the school.”
Special education is vital to a school’s success, concludes DuFour, but it can’t operate in isolation. “Rather than separating students into general education versus special education, or ‘my kids’ versus ‘your kids,’ professional learning communities create collaborative cultures and effective systems of interventions to convey the message that every student is considered ‘our student’ and should have access to all of our available resources (including human resources) to resolve the problem.”
“Intervention or Special Education?” by Richard DuFour in Education Week, Feb. 9, 2011 (Vol. 30, #20, p. C11), no e-link available
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How I Became a Convert to Online Learning”
In this Educational Leadership article, Missouri junior-high teacher Nick Kremer describes how teaching an online summer course in creative writing helped him overcome his previous resistance to online instruction. Here were his previous objections and why he changed his mind on each one:
• Objection 1: Online classes require less work. Contact time is difficult to regulate in online classes, and Kremer worried that students might not get as much out of the course. In fact, he was able to create lessons that engaged students at different achievement levels and found there was more time on task writing than in his conventional classes.
• Objection 2: Online classes lack meaningful interaction. Kremer thought students would miss out on face-to-face communication and might abuse online discussion boards by participating minimally. His solution was to stop counting the number of times each student contributed and instead rate them on the quality of their contributions. He also gave them more choice of discussion topics. He was surprised to find that interactions online were more focused and productive than conversations in the classroom. “Free of classroom distractions,” he says, “students were extremely interested in reading and responding to one another’s work on the peer revision board, a class blog where they published their drafts and received feedback from classmates.” Students also “caucused” in smaller groups to discuss drafts and get feedback. Kremer recorded podcasts of his comments on students’ papers and found “conferencing” considerably easier and more effective online.
• Objection 3: Cheating runs rampant online. Kremer remembered an online course in college where some students hired a math major to log in and take quizzes and tests for them. His way of forestalling this was to give personal, in-depth assignments that students couldn’t easily plagiarize. For example, in a nonfiction unit, students had to create a memoir map to brainstorm possible autobiographical writing topics, submit character sketches of real people they knew, and compose written self-portraits. With quizzes, Kremer was less stringent, allowing students to use reference materials and take the quiz multiple times if they didn’t do well at first.
• Objection 4: Online classes are discriminatory. In Kremer’s school, a number of students didn’t have access to computers, and he worried how this – and some students’ weak computer skills – could be overcome. It turned out to be quite simple. At the beginning of the course, he held a live class in a computer lab, had all students log into the ANGEL program they would use for the course, and walked them through the process of working online. To deal with access issues, he arranged for any student who didn’t have computer access at home to use the school media center lab. It turned out that no students needed this option since those without home computers were able to walk to their neighborhood library.
With all of these problems solved, Kremer had a successful experience with his online course. He appreciated the lack of classroom management issues, not having to copy materials or spend money on supplies, not worrying about scheduling time in the computer lab, and being able to grade students’ work instantly and have access to a permanent record of all student work and correspondence.
“How I Became a Convert to Online Learning” by Nick Kremer in Educational Leadership, February 2011 (Vol. 68, #5, p. 63-67), http://www.ascd.org; Kremer can be reached at email@example.com.
Making the Shift to Learning-Based Gradebooks
In this Principal Leadership article, Tennessee high-school educators Andy Fleenor, Sarah Lamb, Jennifer Anton, Todd Stinson, and Tony Donen describe a typical parent/teacher/student meeting in which a female student, who had a failing grade report, was exhorted to work harder. This approach was ineffective. “Instead of a ‘work harder’ treatment,” say the authors, “she needed a ‘come in for extra help on solving equations’ treatment. When told to focus on specific areas, students will succeed at a much higher rate than when they are offered overly general and nonspecific feedback, such as ‘You need to pay more attention in class.’”
The best way to get teachers and students focused on specific areas that need improvement is a learning-based gradebook. Conventional gradebooks provide information that’s almost entirely behavior-based, for example:
- Doesn’t do homework (behavior)
- Cheats on homework (behavior)
- Doesn’t study (behavior)
- Misses a lot of school (behavior)
“Students should be assessed on what they know and can use rather than on their behavior,” say the authors. A simple way to accomplish this is to make the gradebook reflect students’ proficiency on each domain of the curriculum.
Let’s consider two students, Tommy and Mary, both of whom currently have a 78% in their Honors Precalculus course. Mary’s teacher uses a conventional gradebook that lists chapter test grades, chapter quiz grades, and homework grades. Mary scored poorly on the Chapter 1 test and the Chapter 4 homework assignment. Tommy’s teacher uses a learning-based gradebook that lists grades on class assignments on Functions and 1-to-1, Inverse, Domain and Range, Transformations, Asymptotes, and ten other areas of the curriculum. Tommy scored poorly on Domain and Range and Graphing Trig Functions. Clearly, we know a great deal more about Tommy’s performance than Mary’s. If Tommy wanted to bring his grade up, he’d know exactly where to apply effort, whereas Mary would be in the dark.
The authors contend that creating learning-based gradebooks is quite easy. Teachers just need to replace the tests, quizzes, and homework lines with curriculum units and knowledge and skill goals. “This simple modification creates radical changes in and out of the classroom,” they say. Outside the classroom, conversations become more specific and detailed, pointing to areas in which the student can work. “‘Work harder’ becomes ‘work harder on understanding the causes of World War II’ and ‘pay more attention in class’ becomes ‘you need to be able to discuss the steps of photosynthesis.’ These changes foster an environment of assistance and learning, rather than resentment and frustration. No one wants to fail, but no one wants to guess as to how to pass.”
Inside the classroom, modified gradebooks require teachers to look at their assignments and grades. “If an assignment is to graded, it must be categorized according to learning,” say the authors. “If the assignment cannot be properly categorized, the teacher must reconfigure the assignment so that it can. This change in thinking is subtle but dramatic. Over time, teachers learn to think about individual questions on individual assessments and what category each should be recorded in… Under the new system, one assessment might have several individual grades because the test covers topics in multiple categories.”
“The Grades Game” by Andy Fleenor, Sarah Lamb, Jennifer Anton, Todd Stinson, and Tony Donen in Principal Leadership, February 2011 (Vol. 11, #6, p. 48-52), no e-link available; Fleenor is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.