As lifelong educators, my co-author and I have experienced a combined 50, yes 50 years in education! Spring semesters, planning, reviewing middle-of-year data, and targeting support before the final bell rings for summer. No matter what role we have held, including teacher, administrator, instructional coach, our instinctual goal was to ensure at least one year’s growth for every student.
With COVID-19 and all of its impacts still looming, we again find ourselves faced with an end-of-year deadline and, as always, evaluating student growth. Longstanding academic inequities continue to creep into our schools and classrooms as many students fall further and further behind meeting grade-level standards.
And who’s most at-risk for falling behind? Recent data suggests that our underperforming students are racially and ethnically diverse, are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and have individualized education programs (IEPs) (Methodology Studies - Achievement Gaps | NAEP). With the best intentions, after a thorough middle-of-year data review, our initial instinct is to group students to focus on remediating foundational skills only to risk excluding them from grade-level content instruction.
What if, instead of focusing on growth for every student (which potentially may be grade levels below), we focus on grade-level proficiency or bust for every student? Instead of focusing on identifying the gaps and moving backward to fill them, we accelerate our core instruction by strategically curating the grade-level standards-based instruction. That way, the student can spend time and attention on identified targeted skills to prepare for upcoming learning. Student outcomes change when accelerated instruction replaces traditional remediation strategies alone.
With traditional remediation, students identified as needing additional support typically receive intervention for skill gaps that may have little or nothing to do with the current, on-grade level material and/or instruction.
While it is certainly important to "backfill" for learning gaps, when that remediation is not closely aligned to what the student needs right now to be successful with current grade-level material, the student will only slip further behind. In contrast, acceleration provides immediate access to end-of-year expectations by strategically identifying prior years’ learning and learning gaps, AND providing just-in-time support along the way.
Considering our classrooms’ significant and diverse needs in 2022 and beyond, we can layer the strategies and principles of accelerated instruction as an equitable multi-tiered systems solution that ensures our Tier 1 core instruction is fluid, dynamic, responsive, and matches our diverse students’ needs. But, before we can jump into how to accelerate, let’s answer the first question that comes to mind…what exactly is differentiated core Tier 1 instruction, and what is acceleration?
Core instruction consists of all curricular materials and strategies used routinely with all students in general education. During core instruction, also known as Tier 1 instruction, teachers provide differentiated strategies to meet all of the documented areas of strength and needs of the entire class.
3 Teacher Moves to Accelerate Your Core Instruction and Make Your Tier 1 More Equitable
1. Prioritize Your Grade-Level Standards
As two former Professional Learning Community (PLC) coaches, we have had many discussions with grade-level PLCs regarding the misconception that all standards deserve equal attention. Teaching an inch deep and a mile wide or covering the curriculum has long been a topic of conversation.
The way to overcome this obstacle is to identify your “power standards” and then prioritize them. This thoughtful process helps educators develop a deeper connection and understanding of their teaching standards. In addition, through the selection and explicit teaching of power standards, you will gain additional time to target specific supports on skills that have a larger impact on student learning and progress.
The term “power standards” was coined by lifelong educator and Executive Director of Professional Development at the Leadership and Learning Center in Englewood, Colorado, Larry Ainsworth. He states that power standards meet the following criteria:
Learning Endurance: Does the standard offer skills or learning beyond one test on grade level? Is it essential beyond this unit, and can it be applied later in life? Examples such as learning to read or learning to use a map may come to mind, as they are skills that have endurance and will be used throughout life.
Learning Leverage: Is this standard relevant across other disciplines? When a standard has skills that apply in other content areas, it has leverage. An example of a skill that has leverage or holds weight in different contexts is learning to analyze data or engage in persuasive writing, as these are skills relevant in many disciplines.
Learning Readiness: Does this standard provide students with the tools and skills they need for the next unit, course of study, or grade level? When a standard has a skill the student needs in upcoming learning, it has “learning readiness.”
2. Utilize High Impact Strategies to Accelerate Core Instruction
Cultural, racial, geographic, religious, language, socioeconomic, and ability factors all play a role in our students’ access to education. To meet our diverse student needs, integrate high-impact practices into your daily core instruction to identify and build on foundational skill gaps that may exist discreetly.
If we wait for deficits to present themselves on assessments, our students may be placed in a position to receive instruction behind their peers. These targeted strategies provide the student a step-stool or boost to prepare for upcoming learning.
Progress Monitor: High-stakes assessments or universal screeners are often too broad to provide teachers with ongoing, critical feedback regarding a student's targeted skills to bridge the gaps from power standard to power standard. Instead, teacher collaboration develops frequent progress monitoring assessments between standards-based learning units to help diagnose missed or unfinished learning. As a result, ensure students meet the mini-goals on the pathway toward standards mastery.
Knowledge and Vocabulary Activation: Background knowledge and vocabulary have much to do with the experiences our students have. Since each of our students is different, we should expect their background knowledge and understanding to differ. Activating knowledge and vocabulary through acceleration is not pre-teaching or frontloading learning. Instead of offering learners the same lesson ahead of their peers, build in activators, like pictures or photographs, infographics, and multi-media like recordings or music, that students can connect to challenging learning.
Scaffold Instruction: A scaffold is a temporary support used to elevate the learner. Scaffolding doesn’t change the expectation or reduce the standard the student is expected to learn. Instead, it provides an ongoing, fading level of support that allows the learner to build confidence before attacking learning independently. Incorporate scaffolding by modeling first for students. Then, allow students autonomy to practice new learning providing support as needed and waning supports as students develop the confidence to meet grade-level standards independently.
High Impact Strategy Tip: Share the responsibility of any high-impact strategy by engaging students in goal-setting and self-monitoring. Goal setting and tracking progress help ensure students know what they need to know and do before progressing toward the next big rock. Giving your student’s agency will help you identify what experiences and strengths they can bring to the learning table and help you better understand how to apply supports. Learn more about student agency here: Giving Students Agency With a Seat at the MTSS Table
3. Integrate a Positive Behavior Support (PBIS) System Into Your Classroom
Employ positive reinforcements in the classroom immediately! Within the MTSS framework, Positive Behavior Supports (PBIS) is an evidence-based strategy that provides a framework for educators to create effective educational environments that are positive, predictable, and safe. The CASEL Core Competencies draw upon a strong link between social-emotional and behavioral competencies to academic success.
To best honor our students’ diverse strengths and needs, as well as your own, it’s imperative to prepare your classroom so that any learner can enter at any moment and experience social-emotional and behavioral success. We ensure that our classroom environments are prepped and ready to meet every learner’s unique needs through explicit teaching of social and behavioral skills and positive behavioral supports.
High Impact Strategy Tips: Here are a few Positive Behavior Supports that will help create a Tier 1 classroom environment that allows the students to feel comfortable taking risks and seeking challenges.
Have a method to provide and receive feedback (and make it positive and focused on strength and forward movement);
Increase student opportunities to respond to promote equity and engagement among all student groups within your classroom; and
Engage students in learning about behaviors and executive functioning through collaborative circles and discuss non-academic skills to promote a sense of belonging within the classroom walls.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the inequities, unfinished learning of COVID-19, and challenges surrounding education presently. But, as we move forward together this semester, we can choose to lean in on the opportunity that the pandemic created and build accelerated Tier 1 core instruction.
We can determine the most critical skills our students need by collaborating with our fellow educators. Employing high-impact strategies that prepare students for upcoming learning and encouraging positive reinforcement and student agency, we can bridge gaps between prior standards and this year’s expected and stretch growth. Accelerated instruction places ALL students in the fast lane to success.
Ainsworth, L. (2003). Power Standards: Identifying the Standards that Matter the Most. Advanced Learning Press.
On-demand webinar on accelerated learning: Recharging Core Instruction and MTSS
In this webinar, we unpack the significance of “recharging” core instruction in an MTSS framework to match accelerated learning needs, especially following such a tumultuous year. We focus on specific strategies for accelerating learning, review key concepts, and stress the importance of reframing discussions on “learning loss.”
The most comprehensive and instructive library of evidence-based learning supports of any MTSS platform
Branching Minds has the most comprehensive and instructive library of evidence-based learning supports of any MTSS platform. Our supports include hundreds of paid evidence-based intervention programs, as well as nearly a thousand free evidence-based strategies, activities, and resources. For each of these supports, BRM helps educators understand what the support is, why and for whom it should be used, how it should be delivered, and connects them to the supporting research and additional material.
Our learning science team has curated these resources from the most trusted and respected hubs of evidence-based supports, including the Florida Center for Reading Research, What Works Clearinghouse, Evidence for ESSA, Intervention Central, the IRIS Center from Vanderbilt University, Harmony SEL; and, each one has been reviewed and categorized based on the ESSA tiers of evidence guidelines.
Brittany Shurley is a Branching Minds Educational Consultant. Brittany has served students, educators, and leaders in various roles throughout her career including as a classroom teacher, learning disabilities specialist, school-based leader, and district level administrator. Brittany has extensive experience in facilitating the implementation of an MTSS at the district and school levels. She is passionate about ensuring teachers have the tools to promote safe, healthy, and engaging learning environments where students are experiencing success. Susan Long is one of the Branching Minds consultants. Her passion is working with school leaders and teams to implement high-quality curriculum and transform systems (RTI/MTSS). She loves strategic planning and compensates for that with beach-combing and occasional oil painting.