On August 24, 2014, I posted the following comments on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, regarding an instructionally sophisticated way of managing, school wide, the range of skill levels students will always have within various grade levels. Another poster responds to my remarks. See below for the comments and the link to that thread on “Get Schooled.”
Mary Elizabeth to another poster: You are describing realistic groupings of students to address individual needs without undue burden on teachers. The public must be educated not to perceive in dramatic absolutes (as you had written yesterday) regarding what is involved in individualizing to students’ various needs. Many other instructional suggestions (other than those you presented) can also be exercised, and are. The key to understanding how individualizing instruction works is to perceive in instructional details, instead of in generalities, about the many ways to deliver individualized instruction. That would involve forming various groupings of students, using several teachers to team-analyze the best groupings within their overall jurisdictions of students they are responsible to educate, as well as funding more paraprofessional or mentoring support by well-trained instructional coaches and/or adult volunteers.
Thank you for your well-balanced and well-considered post.
Making all classrooms evenly composed and punting the “differentiation” to the teachers seems like the path of least resistance for the administrator who either does not have the logistical skills or won’t take the time to group students more appropriately.
What can be done by a school system to assist with this?
- Posted by MaryElizabethSings to the poster’s remarks, above:
- You are exactly right. In fact, I did not broach that need because I thought that most principals might not attempt a challenge that great, and the best I felt I could do, realistically, would be to suggest that teachers on certain grade levels might team and form groups which could more easily be workable to those teachers’ realistic workloads, while they still addressed their individual students’ needs.
When I was an Instructional Lead Teacher from the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s, what you have suggested, school wide from the leadership downward in the school, is exactly what I did as the Instructional Lead Teacher for the school, for a few weeks during the summer, along with the principal and the 4 lead teachers of each of our 4 pods of 5 classrooms each. Each pod was composed of multi-aged groupings of students by mastery of skill levels in reading and math (grades 1 – 7) rather than by pure grade level. Before students even started the school year, as an instructional leadership team, we had every student assigned to the exact placement where he/she was meant to be based on his/her mastery of previous skills in reading and math. No teacher in a pod of 5 classrooms, with students composed of 3 grade levels, had more than 3 instructional groups for these 150 students – which meant that 15 instructional groups were available in one pod for reading, and another 15 groups were available in math. If we could not find the appropriate level for a given student in one pod of 5 classrooms, a given student would walk a few yards down the hall to be served in another pod, which expanded the numbers of levels available, from 1 – 24.
How do we get principals on board with this type of detailed instructional analysis and work today? I was fortunate to have had a principal who knew instruction better than any educator I have known in my 35 years in education. He had been the school system’s Associate Superintendent for Instruction and he knew what he was doing, thoroughly, in instruction. He trained me, and all of his teachers, as to how to accommodate individual needs and not overwhelm teachers at the same time, with too many groups. It is a matter of instructional logistics, as you stated. Too many principals today do not have that kind of instructional expertise and training, themselves. To be more specific, I believe that each school in Georgia should fund, and be assigned, an Instructional Lead Teacher who does no actual teaching but whose job will be to know instructional groupings throughout the school at all times, including their movements, as I did. These Instructional Lead Teachers would work with all teachers, throughout the school, to accommodate flexible groupings in which all students’ individual instructional levels would be addressed precisely and in which teachers would not be given more than three groupings of students in their classes. Sometimes the teachers could teach to the whole class, with instructional techniques that would satisfy the skill levels of students over a range of multi-grade levels of functioning. Teachers could be trained by this ILT to know how to incorporate instructional strategies, within large group instruction, that would serve this wide range of instructional variances within their classes. On other days, teachers would be trained into how to subgroup their students into no more than 3 subgroups, varying whole group instruction with subgroups of instruction within a given week.
- Teaming with other teachers will always an option to refine instruction and make it more efficient and manageable, but a school wide coordinator, such as an ILT (who would be a 10-month employee) needs to manage all of the groupings for the school. On the high school level, some Assistant Principals do this or at least try to do this, but their roles are diversified into instruction, discipline, attendance, etc., so that some instructional professional, such as an ILT, should be hired to work under, and with, the Asst. Principal for Instruction, and with Counselors who place students, on the high school level so that students stop falling through the cracks of poor placement and bad instructional design. These ILTs would hold instructional “management” jobs that are critical to doing effectively what you and I have suggested on this thread.
Continued dialogue with the other poster on the “Get Schooled” blog, on August 25, 2014:
Sounds like this ILT position is exactly what Young Middle School needs. How would folks at that school lobby for this from APS and work with Mr. Middleton, Associate Superintendent for middle schools to ability group their students effectively without tracking?
And is APS capable of providing the sort of training you suggest?”
I am not familiar with the APS in any detail, but I worked with the DeKalb County School System, from 1971 – 2000 when I retired. I was the ILT in a school without walls in south DeKalb County for almost a decade (1975 – 1984) in which I functioned as the ILT, doing exactly what I have described on this thread. Please know that schools do not have to remove walls in order to form multi-aged groupings throughout the school and to be aware of every group formed within the school. Schools simply must have a sophisticated knowledge of instructional delivery in depth, led by an excellent Instructional Lead Teacher and/or Principal, hopefully both, working in harmony.
From 1984 – 2000, I was the Reading Department Chair, and Advanced Reading teacher of the high school in south DeKalb County which served 1800 students. I tested all of the students in that high school on reading vocabulary and comprehension skills, by means of an in-house Nelson (or Nelson-Denny) Reading Test (provided by the Reading Department of the DCSS in the Department of Instruction) through the help of all English teachers in the school. We did this testing for diagnostic purposes to better place and instruct all of the students in that south DeKalb County high school.
My suggestions to you in helping the students and teachers at the Young Middle School in the Atlanta Public School System:
(1) Get interested teachers, parents, administrators together as a lobbying group and have these people (the greater the number, the better) persuade Mr. Middleton to contact Instructional Coordinators within the DeKalb County School System who remember when the DCSS had hired ILT’s for most of its elementary/middle schools (grades 1 – 7) beginning with the 1978 school year when the ILT position was created until that ILT position was discontinued (because of money concerns?), if in fact it has been discontinued.
(2) Suggest to Mr. Middleton that some Instructional Coordinators from the APS be chosen to make an appointment in the DCSS central instructional area to speak directly with these older DCSS Instructional Coordinators about the role of the ILT when it existed in the DCSS. These older Instructional Coordinators/Supervisors from the DeKalb School System should be able to advise personnel from the APS as to how to get the ILT role incorporated into the APS, perhaps as a model for other schools in the APS in to how to serve the instructional needs of each student, very precisely.
(3) Hire at least one Instructional Lead Teacher (as a model, hopefully, to be implemented, later, in other APS schools), who will know instructional strategies and instructional groupings with great detail and expertise, and who will know how to work with, and communicate with, others, including parents and the whole community, in workshops after school hours. This ILT must be willing to go over and beyond to train teachers, parents, counselors, and administrators about how to place and correctly monitor the progress of all students in the school. This must be a community project to see Young Middle School succeed beyond all expectations. Train and implement. This will keep hope alive. I so hope that this instructional goal is accomplished.
(3) To help as I can, I have incorporated my thoughts (and yours) into my last post on my own blog. Any educator who wishes to read our words, here, can go to this link to read what we have discussed:
(4) Share with as many people in the community my thoughts on education, as I practiced them under the Associate Superintendent of Instruction in the DCSS beginning in the 1975 -1976 school year when he formed his open classroom, multi-aged groups, continuous-progress model school, and hired me to work directly under him. A beginning link to understanding part of what he had taught me, and what I learned about instruction, can be read at this link on “Mastery Learning”:
GOOD LUCK. I cannot tell you how gratified I would be to know that the APS would incorporate some of the instructional suggestions which I have shared here. I will pray for this to happen. Don’t give up. Be tenacious in your commitment to this happening. It happened before in the DCSS, and it can happen again in the APS. Who knows, Young Middle School, as part of the APS, might become a model school for other schools throughout Georgia in how to address individual needs of students without tracking.
Post Script: A simple way to get to my blog, through memory, is: