In an optimal learning environment, content and instructional delivery align with students’ learning readiness and needs. When there is a disconnect between these elements, both teachers and students may become frustrated. Due to the pandemic, we are entering our fourth year of an unprecedented school year for teachers and students alike! It is more important than ever to have structures and supports in place to optimize student learning.
In a northern New Jersey PreK-12 district, the leadership team and faculty recognize this and are gearing up to implement MTSS at elementary (reading), middle school (math), and high school (math). I am excited that I get to work with the high school math teachers! I recently had the opportunity to talk to and listen to high school math teachers about MTSS in math. Here are a few of my take-aways from our time together.
We are charged to predict the unpredictable.
The teachers reminded me that the last time incoming 9th graders had a normal, interrupted school year was 5th grade! That is a lot of interrupted learning! What does that have to do with predicting the unpredictable? 1. We know that incoming students have had their learning interrupted and are likely missing or weak in skills that students from pre-pandemic years had mastered. 2. We don’t know, however, what students are missing what skills. 3. Recognizing and anticipating these unknown gaps from interrupted learning will let teachers prepare for ways to address student needs when they arise. In conclusion, we need to suspend our expectations (and any judgment) of students’ learning readiness, be prepared to meet students where they are and teach prerequisite skills while scaffolding student learning to meet grade-level standards. So, how do we do this?
We need Prevention before Intervention!
Working with the teachers reminded me that teachers are already doing a lot of great things in the classroom. Effectively implementing a MTSS framework requires that we harness the great things that teachers are already doing and revisit, revise, or retire things that may not be as effective, given the current learning environment. Successful Tier 1 instruction is based on quality instruction with flexibility to scaffold learning and differentiate as needed. Additionally, Tier 1 requires teachers make changes based on ongoing evaluation, observations, and- yes- assessment.
We need to Assess the Assessments
I am not going to condemn assessments- as a researcher, I love (useful) assessments and the data they yield. In a previous blog, I discussed the different types of assessment, so I am not going to repeat it all here. I am excited to work with the district administration to assess their assessments. Essentially, we are going to look at all the different ways student learning is assessed- from teacher-made exit slips to state-required exams – and explore how to use the data to optimize student learning and allow teachers to make meaningful changes to instruction.
I am excited to work with such dedicated educators and share our process with you all!
Till next time,
Dr. Elizabeth Murphy-Hughes - Elevate Educator Consultant