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Student Success Formula

Today’s schools face numerous, difficult challenges in preparing students for their roles in the world.

The Expansion of Information

Content explosion – the ever-expanding amount of information being added to world knowledge daily – can be overwhelming when content coverage is a priority. Combined with the pressures of state standards, mandatory testing, and school reform prevalent in today’s educational community, educators can feel ill-equipped to meet the needs of their students.

What, then, can schools and individual educators do to prepare students to successfully respond to heavy curriculum demands at the middle school and high school levels?

This article describes the “Student Success Formula” that has emerged from nearly 25 years of research. The formula combines interventions designed to help students master critical content in general education courses, a service delivery model designed to optimize the quality of services provided to students, and a professional development program focused on changing instructional practices. Underlying it all is a foundation of strong and active administrative support and coordination.

A comprehensive array of service

Low-achieving students with learning disabilities require a comprehensive, well-conceptualized array of services that are focused on developing independent learners and performers capable of meeting high expectations both in the general education curriculum and in life.

Successfully teaching subject-area content to students with learning difficulties is not a simple matter. The Student Success Formula requires a multifaceted approach by a team of well-trained and coordinated professionals. Students must receive daily instruction in the skills and strategies they need to succeed. Teachers must have clear responsibilities in the process.

Students must have access to instruction in multiple strategies, across multiple settings and academic areas, from multiple teachers, across multiple schools and grades, and in multiple instructional areas.

Foundational policy-level supports should include planning times that are conducive to teacher collaboration; sufficient budgetary support, supplies, and personnel; and continuing professional-development opportunities aligned with the goals of the service-delivery model.

Levels of intervention

We have developed two kinds of interventions to address the performance gap, the gap between what students are expected to do and what students are able to do.

  1. Teacher-focused interventions are directed at how teachers think about, adapt, and present their critical content in “learner-friendly” fashion.
  2. Student-focused interventions are designed to provide the skills and strategies students need to learn the content.

We have concluded that both types of interventions are needed if students, especially low-achieving students, are to succeed on state assessment tests and demonstrate real-world content literacy – fluent use of listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. To ensure that students attain content literacy and learn subject-matter content, teachers can intervene at five levels.

  • Level 1. General education teachers present content in “learner-friendly” ways. Teachers compensate for limited levels of literacy by modifying curriculum and teaching methods to promote understanding and mastery. The interventions at this level are designed to benefit all students, making it easier for teachers to embrace their use.
  • Level 2. Interventions focus on directly teaching students the strategies they need to successfully learn the content. Teachers embed strategy instruction in core curriculum courses through direct explanation, modeling, and required use on assignments. By teaching students the strategies that are relevant to their courses, teachers shift their emphasis, in part, from learning course content to acquiring learning skills.
  • Level 3. Students receive specialized, intensive instruction from someone other than the general education teacher. They learn to use a broad array of learning strategies that they can apply to a variety of tasks in multiple settings. To ensure that the strategies students learn are central to meeting the demands in a classroom, support personnel and general education teachers must work together closely.
  • Level 4. Students learn content-literacy skills and strategies through specialized, direct, and intensive instruction in listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. Reading specialists and special education teachers work together to develop intensive and coordinated instructional experiences designed to address severe literacy deficits.
  • Level 5. Students with underlying language disorders learn the linguistic, meta-linguistic, and meta-cognitive underpinnings they need to acquire the necessary content skills and strategies. At this level, speech pathologists deliver one-on-one or small-group curriculum-relevant language therapy in collaboration with other support personnel teaching literacy skills.

Service-delivery model

Because the five-level content-literacy continuum is comprehensive and involves several settings and educators, a well-designed and coordinated service-delivery system must be in place. The service-delivery system designed to provide this array of services is called the Supported Inclusion Model. In this model, many students with learning disabilities are enrolled in general education classes while their work in those classes is supported through a variety of mechanisms. The system consists of three components: individualized assessment and personalized plans, general education classroom instruction, and intensive personalized instruction.

Individualized assessment and personalized plans. In this component, an accurate portrait of a student’s skills and abilities is obtained through assessing curriculum-based measures of a student’s strengths and weaknesses; teacher, parent, and student reports; and student products. The general education settings the student will encounter are assessed to determine what demands are inherent in those settings. Based on these assessments, the student and his or her teachers work together to develop a personalized education plan.

General education classroom instruction. The general education teacher takes a central role as both the planner and the mediator of learning. The teacher carefully organizes and transforms the content into a form that is “learner friendly” before presenting that content using Content Enhancement Routines. In addition, the teacher considers the strategy or strategies that students need to learn the content and teaches those strategies to them while simultaneously teaching the content. The general education teacher creates a “learning apprenticeship” experience in which the teacher acts as the expert and students are the novices. The teacher explains and models how to learn the content, and the students imitate the expert’s models. All students are involved in the apprenticeship in a very meaningful way. The outcome of the apprenticeship is students who not only know and understand information but who also can learn information on their own.

Intensive personalized instruction. This component, in which Level 3 through Level 5 interventions take place, is carried out using Academic Achievement Centers. All students, including normal achievers and those with disabilities or low academic achievement, can receive the personalized services that they require in these centers.

Instruction in these centers takes place in three ways:

  • Small instructional groups, which may gather for intensive work on a complex strategy or to receive additional instruction on strategies being taught in their general education classes, can be organized for a relatively short period.
  • Strategic tutoring is an instructional process in which the expert learner (the teacher) teaches novice learners strategies while tutoring the subject-matter content. Strategic tutoring is different from traditional tutoring in that it is based on the apprenticeship notion and on teaching students strategies that they can apply both to the task at hand and to similar future tasks.
  • During peer tutoring, students instruct other students. The peer-tutoring structure most appropriate for Academic Achievement Centers is one in which students pair up and one student tutors the other outside the general education setting.

Professional-development programs

For the service-delivery model to be successful, continuing professional-development opportunities aligned with its goals must be available. These opportunities must be focused on teaching teachers how to use research-based practices that have been shown to affect the performance of students. Not only must a larger proportion of funds be focused on changing instructional practice, these funds must be focused on instituting research-based practices and programs.

Professional-development programs must be carefully structured with the goal being to bridge the gap between research and practice – to make validated interventions available to teachers in a way that will ensure their long-term use for the benefit of students. Professional development must be viewed as a continuous process in which everyone in the school engages and must involve at least four phases:

  1. Initiation (to give basic information to potential implementers to help them determine the degree of appropriateness and alignment between the attributes of an innovation and existing instructional needs)
  2. Learning and implementation (to give in-depth explanations, models, practice, and feedback)
  3. Follow-up support (to support implementation efforts through coaching, troubleshooting, support-team meetings, and implementation refinement)
  4. Maintenance (to routinize use of the innovation within the system)

Teachers must be given the materials they need to support their instruction. Those materials need to be organized and ready to use. Additionally, teachers must be afforded opportunities to meet regularly as support teams.

Furthermore, professional-development sessions must be conducted within a new paradigm that is founded on the notion of Partnership Learning, a method for planning and delivering professional-development sessions in which meaningful conversations take a central role.

Authors: Donald D. Deshler, Jean B. Schumaker, B. Keith Lenz, Janis A. Bulgren, Michael F. Hock, Jim Knight, and Barbara J. Ehren