Last post I shared with you the commitment of our school to deliver on the promise that all children have the right to read. In that piece I noted that there were three key components to making that happen for kids: the systematic application of the science of reading to the learning process; the application of cognitive load theory to direct instruction; and, the application of distributed learning strategies to ensure mastery.
First off then, let's take a look at how we use the science of reading to strive to make all of our students proficent and effective readers. I should note, that at KGMS we have established a framework of instruction based upon Universal Design for Learning. Before you mentally roll your eyes, you have to understand that if you want every child to be the best reader that they can be, you need to structure your school to provide universal supports, teaching and reinforcement approaches, and assessment strategies that will meet the needs of every learner. Our approach is to take the student from wherever they are on their learning journeys and help them get to where they need to be.
The first step in this journey is to provide every student in the school with 45 minutes of direct, one on one instruction every single day with a qualified Orton-Gillingham (systematic phonics) tutor. Logistically, how does this work? Our class size is maximized at 18 students. Each core group of 18 is led by two qualifed teachers who share the instructional load. One block, each day, the entire class goes to tutoring. They leave their classrooms, walk to the tutoring wing, and each student goes into an individualized tutoring office to meet with their dedicated, trained instructor. This is where one facet of universal design comes in. Although every student is doing the same thing - meeting with their individual tutor - every single student is doing something different, depending on the stage of their personal reading development - decoding, morphology, comprehension etc. Some are learning to read, others are reading to learn. No-one is being pulled out of class (and missing other instruction) and no-one is being centered out because they don't read as well as their peers. Instead, every student gets a daily dose of face to face, personalized interaction with an adult who is focused entirely on their needs. That attention alone, from a social/emotional standpoint, is worth its weight in gold. From the student perspective, tutoring is a shared daily activity where everyone is doing the same thing. From a teaching and learning perspective, it is the ultimate in differentiated instruction that is the core of universal design.
While they are in their tutoring sessions, their core teachers co-plan, review IEPs, meet with specialized support staff or just have some down time for a coffee and chat together. By the time their students return, everyone is recharged and away they go. Our teachers all have basic OG training as well so classroom language arts instruction is consistent with the approach taken in tutoring, and when report cards and parent interview times come around, the teachers and appropriate tutor write reports and meet jointly with parents. Everyone is on the same page.
A key part of this process is the ongoing use of assessments (DIBELS, DRAs, Foundation Skills Assessments, etc.) to track progress, inform where ongoing modifications to approaches might be needed, and to establish benchmarks that tutors, teachers, parents and students can see and understand as the learning process takes place.
Currently in British Columbia the principles of inclusion are highly valued and remain an aspirational goal for parents and school systems. The reality of the ground however is that supports for a wide number of students is highly dependent on a few individuals in each school - special ed resource teachers, educational assistants, and a few outside district resource staff who visit on a rotating basis. As a result, (as was painfully obvious during the last two years of COVID restrictions), if any of the specialized resource personnel are absent from school, there is no back-up to provide the necessary supports for students with exceptional needs. This has often resulted in students being asked to stay home from school until their teacher or SEA returns.
In our case, the entire school is the support system. If one member of the student's school team is away, the supports don't change, but the person delivering them might.
In tomorrow's third and final post. We will take a look at how our classroom teachers use cognitive load theory to inform their practice for direct instruction and how the teachers and tutors, in partnership, apply distributed learning practices to ensure mastery of skills and content.