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Criteria and Considerations for Benchmark Assessments

Benchmark assessments, also referred to as universal screens, essentially serve two primary functions.  The first is to flag students for discussion in Collaborative Team Meetings.  The second is to provide some information to inform those discussions.  In this post, we share three resources to support schools in determining their benchmark assessments.

The first resource is a one-page overview of criteria and considerations to assist in the selection of a benchmark assessment.

Criteria and considerations with determining a benchmark assessment from Jigsaw Learning
The second resource is a template designed to note and examine assessments being considered for the purpose of benchmarking.
Examining common assessments template from Jigsaw Learning
The third resource is a Google Doc, which shares benchmark assessments currently being used in schools and districts.  A great big thanks to schools and districts that have contributed to the document.  Please continue to add to this growing collection of benchmark assessments being utilized in schools and districts.

School-wide Assessment Planning Template

When planning school-wide assessment practices to support a school’s Collaborative Response Model, it is important to keep asking the question “Is the assessment matching the purpose for which its implementation is intended?”.  We need to be ever mindful that the standardized assessments used do not replace professional judgment but rather serve to inform that judgment and flag students to be discussed in collaborative team meetings.  Three levels of assessment in school serve to inform teacher professional judgment and flag students in need of our attention:

  1. Benchmarks
  2. Diagnostic
  3. Progress Monitoring

This template was developed for a district workshop, to help categorize and assist further planning in establishing school assessments to inform conversations about students.  Please email us if you wish to receive a copy in Word format, or request to join our Google + Community, where templates and documents are shared in Word versions.

Assessment planning template from Jigsaw Learning

Importance of Administrative Involvement

We have shared in a previous post the power of maximum staff involvement for Collaborative Team Meetings, which includes assistants, counselors, learning coaches and teachers, as one element of a Collaborative Response Model.  Administrators not only need to ensure that the time is embedded to allow these meetings to occur.  Administration, whether principals or assistant principals, also play a valuable (if not critical) role in Collaborative Team Meetings when they are involved in these meetings, in a number of different ways.

Consideration #1: Participating in these meetings focused on the needs of students speaks loudly regarding what is truly most important in the school.  Administrators that set the myriad of other responsibilities aside to roll up their sleeves and actively participate in these meetings show true commitment to collaborative efforts and a laser-like focus on student needs.

Consideration #2: The meeting is yet another opportunity for administrators to continue to communicate the focus for the school and the priority placed on student growth and progress.  “When the administrator is actively involved in adopting the model and sends the message through ongoing meetings and discussions that it is a school priority, there is a greater chance of success” (Haager & Mahdavi, 2007, p. 260).  When administrators are truly part of the “we”, it galvanizes and recognizes the efforts of each staff member.

Consideration #3: Having administrators involved in the collaborative team meetings can provide an additional level of response when planning and coordinating interventions for students.  Picture the following scenario, related to addressing student behaviour:

Team Member 1 – “If we could take those three students together for ten minutes after lunch recess, we could debrief recess and discuss what positive choices they made when playing with other children”

Team Member 2 – “I’m supposed to be in the grade 5 class right after recess but they typically take about ten minutes for independent reading time.  I’m sure it would be all right with the teacher if I was a little late.  The only problem is that I have supervision at the other end of the playground during the lunch recess and it would be difficult to maintain that supervision and then dash to catch those three students at the other end of the school after recess.”

Principal – “No problem – I can make a supervision adjustment to put you at that end of the school during lunch recess.  I’ll take care of it and email you the adjustment.”

An administrator has the ability to make these adjustments and macro-level revisions, which can be tremendously beneficial when problem-solving to determine creative and responsive interventions and actions to support students in the collaborative team meetings.  Imagine the previous dialogue without the administrator involved in the meeting!  It would involve someone taking the responsibility of making the request to an appropriate administrator, who does not have the background information that was involved leading up to the request and adds another level of bureaucracy or the time involved to put what should be a very simplistic action in place.

Consideration #4: Perhaps the most important reason for administrators to be involved in the meeting is the knowledge that a they gain about individual students, staff collaborative efforts, individual teacher instructional responses and other vital information directly related to the most fundamental purpose of the school’s existence – student learning.  Principals who participate in collaborative team meetings are able to gain an intimate understanding of students in the school, as well as how staff worked together to meet those complex needs in the classroom.  Classroom observations, reading of report card comments or conversations with individual teachers can not have provide the same depth of knowledge and understanding that participation in collaborative team meetings assures.  Administrator involvement is critically important when establishing collaborative team meetings.

When first starting with collaborative team meetings, consider having the principal (or other designated administrators) serve as “chair” for the meeting.  Since we know that “the principal’s presence signals that the work being done is important, and teachers perceive this as an acknowledgement that their efforts are being recognized and appreciated” (Moller & Pankake, 2006, p. 80), playing this important role at the outset of establishing these meetings sends a powerful message.  In time, this role can (and should) shift to other members of the team as capacity is developed.  However, when a principal serves as the leadership model for how we collaboratively address and work to meet the individual needs of students, it firmly establishes the importance of these meetings in an overall Collaborative Response Model.

References:

Haager, D. & Mahdavi, J. (2007). Teacher roles in implementing intervention. In D. Haager, J. Klingner, & S. Vaughn (Eds.), Evidence-based reading practices for Response to Intervention (pp. 245-263), Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Moller, G., & Pankake, A. (2006). Lead with me: A principal’s guide to teacher leadership. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Evolution of the Collaborative Conversation

When staff working in schools first begin to talk constructively about students, focusing on their learning and supports that can be put in place to help them succeed, it is not unusual for this conversation to lack depth, focus or avoid the essential question “so what can WE do to support this student?”  When first beginning to engage in Collaborative Team Meetings, where students, not teaching, is the focus, it takes time and continued experience in communicating in this forum for the conversation to meaningfully evolve.

In an RTI framework that values collaboration and conversation, such as the Collaborative Response Model, we often encounter the following when teams (involving teachers, support staff, learning coaches and administration) first begin talking about students:

  1. Focus on a limited amount of students – when discussing individual students, team members generally have a lot of history and experiences to share.  When first engaging in Collaborative Team Meetings, conversations can go on tangents, as various team members share their countless observations and narratives related to the student.  We have witnessed initial meetings that lasted an hour and focused on the needs of 6-8 students, as people around the table took turns sharing their individual “war stories”.  As teams become more accustomed to the format of the meetings and the need for efficiency, it is quite possible to discuss the needs and supports of twenty or more students in the same time frame.  As the collective team gains experience working together, conversations become more focused and efficient.
  2. Focus on blame rather than action – consider this: assessments flag a student for discussion and the conversation turns to a litany of reasons (outside of the school) why the student is not experiencing success.  If only the student was reading at night.  If only the student arrived at school on time.  If only the student had more support at their last school.  And on it goes, focusing blame on the reasons the student is not experiencing success rather than what we can do to better ensure success.  As team conversation evolves, the emphasis is placed on what can we do during the time the student is at school to provide support and increased time for appropriate interventions.  Although there is a time when outside supports are needing to be considered, generally the focus of the team needs to shift to things within the school’s locus of control.
  3. Focus on deficits rather than strengths -when first beginning to talk about students, often the conversation quickly leads to everything the student can’t do rather than putting attention to what they can do.  Although it is important to focus on areas in need of improvement to ensure the appropriate types and levels of support, framing it in a strengths-based mindset takes time and an intentional priority placed upon it.  Two steps to help in this shift is using the start of the meeting conversation to focus on celebrations experienced (as noted in the collaborative team meeting record) and having leaders within the conversation ask explicitly about the student strengths when determining interventions, to ensure appropriate supports that consider the strengths of the child.
  4. Focus on programs not professionalism – in Hargreaves and Fullan’s text Professional Capital (2012), the authors value the collective professional knowledge of teachers and argue that schools need to develop processes and collaborative structures that allow professional judgment to thrive.  In the early stages of talking about students, it is sometimes easy to place focus on the programs to provide the “fix”.  Professional dialogue is limited.  In time, it is important to recognize the professional experience and knowledge that is at the heart of a Collaborative Response Model and allow the collective capacity of the team to determine what is best for students.  We have often said in Collaborative Team Meetings that “teachers’ gut trumps all”, meaning that professional intuition and experience is the best tool we have to collaboratively determine what is best for students.

We have found that it is common for conversations to evolve as schools grow more comfortable with Collaborative Team Meetings and high levels of sophisticated, efficient dialogue become more commonplace.  The most important element of this phenomena is that in order for evolution to occur, schools must start talking about kids, establishing formalized processes and structures for this conversation and professional problem-solving to occur.  Implementing a “Ready, Fire, Aim” mindset is critical, engaging in collaborative conversations and constantly refining the framework within which these meetings occur.  In time, schools can utilize and further develop their professional capital to really make a difference responding to the needs of students.

References:

Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. New York: Teachers College Press.

Consider a Four-Tier RTI Model

A few weeks ago, we posted a Four Tier Intervention Model overview, sharing the fundamentals of the model, the tiers of intervention articulated to respond to students and considerations when developing a response to intervention model in schools.  In addition, we also posted an Intervention Description Template, as well as a behavioral sample intervention description.

Four Tier Intervention Pyramid from Jigsaw Learning

So why consider a four-tier intervention model, when most conventional RTI models are built upon a three-tier model of intervention?  For us, the answer is in the power of collaboration for teachers in developing the school-wide pyramid of interventions.

Essentially, tier 3 and 4 of our model resembles tier 2 and 3 of a traditional RTI model, where students are involved in supports beyond the classroom, with supports at the upper tier of the model highly individualized and intensive.  In our Four Tier model, supports at the tier 1 and 2 level resemble the instructional typically defined in tier 1 of the standard three-tier RTI model.  Essentially, we subscribe to the power of articulating differentiation school-wide.

In our four-tier model, teachers work together to define the tenets of sound classroom practice (tier 1).  This does not involve all educators committing to a specific instructional approach or program in their classrooms but rather agreeing to what effective instruction should look like at the classroom level.  If the pyramid of interventions developed is specific to literacy, the school staff work together to articulate what effective literacy instruction looks like at the classroom level.  This is powerful conversation and commitment for the school community and becomes tier 1, the instruction that is in place for all students to succeed in each classroom.

In workshops, we have defined tier 2 as the place where teachers publicly open up their “instructional toolkit” to share the differentiated approaches they take to support struggling students in the classroom.  For instance, it may involve more regular involvement in guided reading groups (at one school where we’ve worked, a tier 2 intervention was “daily guided reading”, where the student was involved in a daily guided reading experience in the classroom, where other classmates had guided reading 2-3 times weekly) or individual fluency passages in a literacy pyramid of interventions.  It may involve a classroom behavior plan or checklist system for behavior-related pyramids.  It may involve basic fact practice pages for home for numeracy-focused interventions.  Whatever the focus of the interventions, this model pushes teachers to share the differentiated approaches that they deem most effective to develop a school-wide repository of tier 2 interventions.  Over time, tier 2 interventions are monitored for effectiveness and added to as other strategies and approaches are considered.  The school ensures the interventions are articulated (using a tool such as the Intervention Description template) and teachers work together to help each other implement them effectively in their classrooms.

By having tier 2 in place, there is always the discussion (in a Collaborative Team Meeting) of what tier 2 interventions have been tried/implemented without success prior to considering tier 3 interventions for students.  It ensures that we are doing all we can at the classroom level to support students and teachers are supported with a flexible list of interventions to consider implementing in the classroom for their students.  Without a solid tier 1 and 2 established in schools (through collaborative conversation and professional sharing), tier 3 and 4 interventions will be overrun with students in need of support, leading to an intervention model that will not be able to be sustained in schools.  If we can collectively work together in schools to ensure effectiveness at the foundational levels of our Response to Intervention models, we can ensure that supports at the upper tiers are most effective for the students most in need of them.

Intervention Description Samples

Related to recent posts regarding the Four Tier Intervention Pyramid, an Intervention Description Template and 5 Considerations for a Pyramid of Interventions, we have developed a sample of interventions that could be included in a school’s pyramid of interventions.  The sample shows how the Intervention Description Template can be used to articulate interventions for staff (and potentially the greater school community).  As interventions are identified and/or developed by a school, creating an Intervention Description allows for quick reference, as well as a resource for new staff members.

This sample has been added to our Resources section, as well as found on our Slideshare site.  Please email us at jigsawlearning@shaw.ca to receive a Word version of any document.

Intervention Description – Alternatives Program (behavior sample) from Jigsaw Learning

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