Monday, July 25, 2011

RTI Conference Notes and Reflections

Today, I attended the first of the two day Solution Tree's Pyramid Response to Intervention Workshop. Dr. Austin Buffum, an educator for 38 years, presented.  He presented with a respectful, knowledgeable tone and style using a combination of small group discussion, lecture and videos.

After the introduction, Dr. Buffum introduced the concept of norms, then teachers made decisions about the norms they’d use for collaboration and discussion.  I liked this approach better than approaches which identify the norms without teacher input.

Dr. Buffum presented the following norms:
  • start on time/end of time.
  • be present - no cell phones, texts and email during discussions.
  • ask questions.
  • honest/respectful (transparency - brutally honest about current reality).
  • don’t use “I think” or “I like.”
  • focus on what we can do.
  • dare to dream big.
Then, our large school group met to discuss norms.  After that, smaller-in-size grade level teams met.  We came up with more norms. Our combined list included the following:
  • take notes.
  • stay on topic.
  • make sure that everyone is heard/respected.
  • keep the lens of what’s best for children at the forefront of the conversation.
  • honesty.
  • don’t judge during brainstorming time.
  • open minded - think we can -- not worry so much about the reasons we can’t .
  • be aware as to how ideas relate to grade level and whole school change.
  • positive attitude.
  • spirit of making it better - progress to best serve students.
  • willingness to let go.
  • Letting Ellin Oliver Keene’s words guide us (from earlier conference):  Focus on few key concepts of great import taught in great depth over long period of time, applied in variety texts and contexts.
Next we discussed the definition of RTI (Response to Intervention).  RTI is targeted instruction plus time with the goal of learning for all.  To achieve success for all, educators have to determine what it is they are teaching -- what are the essential skills.  Standards’ lists are extensive, too big.  It’s important that educators short list the standards to make teachable lists of skills, knowledge and concepts for all children to master.  Unlike school systems of old which were characterized by professional isolation, an accepted failure rate, low college entry and efforts to sort students, school systems today need to work so that all students gain high standards of achievement.  Schools control many factors assuring that students master the core of the curriculum, and they need to determine what teaching practices are effective.  Instead of getting better at what’s popular, we have to get better at what’s effective.  Formative assessment, effective feedback and adequate time are all strategies that promote learning for all students.

Once essential skills, concepts and knowledge are established, RTI holds educators responsible for student performance.  We looked at factors that hinder optimal student success in our classrooms, grade levels and schools.  We discussed what’s working and what could be better.  Environments that are successful at reaching all students employ a collaborative culture and focus on learning rather than teaching.  These schools expect all children to learn at high levels.  To achieve this goal, schools need to focus on reculture rather than restructure.  To reculture, schools first need to understand what their current culture is, and then determine what changes are needed in order to make positive change.

Buffum posed further questions for our exploration:
  • How do teachers in your school collaborate?
  • What gets in the way of collaboration?
  • What do we expect students to learn?
  • How do we know when they have learned it
  • How do we respond when they don’t?
  • How do we respond when they’ve already learned the determined skill, concepts and knowledge?
Later, we discussed formative vs. summative assessments.  Buffum noted the power of formative assessments with regard to student achievement.  As a grade level we explored assessments currently used.  When students and teachers understand the learning path and progress including standards, goals, and achievement benchmarks, learning is enhanced.  Formative assessments, when utilized to promote student achievement and inform instruction, promote effective learning.

The day was beneficial.  I look forward to greater conversation about our current school culture and our desired culture.  After that I hope that we can work together to short list our essential standards, then work collectively to teach those standards to all children effectively.

Day Two Notes