In the teaching world, we LOVE to drink the Kool-Aid. Depending on the week and school, you can get it in all sorts of flavors.
Cherry – Response to Intervention
Grape – Conscious Discipline
Fruit Punch – Backwards Planning
Orange – Learning Focused Schools
No matter what the school or flavor, I believe schools are coming from a good place. We all go into education with the belief that all students can learn and want to help them to achieve this. The Kool-Aid has been tested in factories (ie. schools) and the ingredients (ie. training, curriculum, etc.) are all listed. So we drink it. Rarely do we just have a cup. We dive head in and guzzle the whole pitcher without really thinking.
Yes, each practice is research-based. Yes, it is at least working in some schools. What we forget is that EVERY school is different. We are different in terms of our student populations, available resources, teacher strength/weakness, administration, and so much more! Teacher are constantly told to assess students and make changes when we do not see our expected results, but sometimes this is forgotten when we work on a larger scale.
One of the most popular flavors right now in teaching in Response to Intervention. Of course, this practice is research-based. The idea is to find out where students are lacking and target those specific skills. By doing this you are able to fill in the deficit before it becomes too big of a problem that is simply never addressed or requires support outside of the general education classroom.
Unfortunately, in the two schools that I have been in I have seen few results from RTI. While I’m sure there are some good things that come of it, here are some of its downfalls.
-Once again we point out who the smart kids and dumb kids. We don’t have to say it. The smart kids get to do some fun activity while the dumb kids are stuck with a boring activity about short vowels.
-We say it is all about “skill and drill.” Well here’s the thing, even if students progress, if they end up hating reading, haven’t we actually made a much bigger, much WORSE problem?
-We want kids to read faster and faster and faster. I’ll be honest. For most of my life, I have been a fairly slow reader. If I am reading a textbook, I take forever making sure I am comprehending what I am reading. Only when I read for pleasure where the text isn’t so taxing do I speed up. Reading is about comprehension. In the real world, that is ALL that matters.
-Lastly, so much time is wasted transitioning kids from one place to the next and back. Time that we could be using for instruction.
I have a proposal! After all it does no good to complain on and on without having a solution in mind. At my school we do RTI for 30 minutes every other day. I’d ideally like to designate a room in the building as the play room. Of course, we will call it something more academic. We could have centers set up just like a preschool or kindergarten classroom. There would be a drama center, building center, book center, arts center, the possibilities are endless. We can sculpt children’s learning by what materials we provide and what amount of choice they are given. Kids would be learning and wouldn’t even know it. With little effort we can embed literacy, math, science, and social studies into the centers. They could develop much needed social and oral language skills. Students of all strengths would be mixed together and could learn from one another. The child struggling with academics can be the King of the Legos and feel pride when others OOOH and AHH at his tower. Students could finally experience how learning can be fun and goes far beyond 1 minute fluency checks and completing graphic organizers.
We need to begin evaluating our practices and seeing which are truly helping our students and which simply aren’t working. It is OK when you try something and it doesn’t work. It happens on the classroom level ALL THE TIME. It is not a flaw in one’s teaching ability or a district’s quality, it is the reality of the job.
What’s this year’s Flavor of the Year at you school?