Question of the Day: Is Retention the Answer?

I love answering questions and sharing them with you!  It’s always so interesting how I get very similar questions at the same time from opposite ends of the country…it reminds me that we’re not alone in this work that we do!

Today’s question comes from Shane in Chicago.  He writes:

I had a conference this morning with a student’s guardian and our principal concerning a student who is failing about every subject in fourth grade.  I know that my team met with you last week and this student was discussed, but we wanted me to e-mail you asking if maybe you had any additional suggestions on how we can better help him.

His guardian wants to see her child repeat fourth grade, in fact she didn’t want him promoted to fourth grade this year but he was.  Our principal stated this morning that studies show that retention after the second grade is not always the answer.   Last year he was pulled out of the regular third grade class and was worked with in a small group setting for many of his core subjects. This year he was placed in fourth grade without any accommodations other than those that I made for him.

This student’s reading fluency is good, but his skills in both reading and math are very low.  We have tried many strategies but none seem to work. We have shortened his assignments, he has gone to the after school program for extra help, we have helped him in a one to one situation.  Sometimes he works for us and other times he refuses. We have tried many of the reading strategies that you presented but nothing seems to work.  Math is extremely hard for him.  He struggles with simple addition facts. We have shown him on a daily basis how to use a times table and have practiced flash cards and given hints but he does not remember them from day to day.

If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.

Here’s my response:

Hmmm….here are some thoughts I had when I was reading your email.  I do remember talking about this guy!

I agree with your principal that retention isn’t usually a viable option for kids  – we just aren’t seeing (in the research or the reality of school life) that retention is a solution to kids who are struggling.  BUT, just passing him through doesn’t seem to be working, either.

I keep coming back to our conversation about this boy and it sounded to me that his issues were not necessarily academic alone.  He gets in the way of his own learning because he dramatically gives up if he gets one thing wrong – isn’t that the situation?

So, it’s not just an academic skill, but a behavioral problem that’s inhibiting his academics in addition to just needing academic support.

I think there has to be intervention on two levels:
1.    Behavioral/attitudinal
2.    Academic

As far as academic intervention, it sounds like he’s had a lot of support in the past, but is it possible that he’s had TOO much support – and that it was disjointed?  We have to look at how long the interventions/support have taken place before and whether we have jumped around and providing too much and too little and too disjointed?  We have to look at the quality and durability of the interventions in the past – who taught them?  Were they well-prepared?  (I know we don’t like to think about these things, but they provide us really solid clues so that we aren’t doubling up on efforts that didn’t work in the past or we are uncovering incomplete interventions that were administered in the past).

If he were my student, I would pull my team, Sped (even if he’s not identified), your coaches, your principal, your Title coordinator and his guardian together and I’d review all of the data that you have:

  • Weekly tests
  • Theme tests
  • Phonics diagnostics
  • AIMSweb results

I would come up with a plan that outlines the following:

  • 1-2 goals TOTAL for academics (A sample goal might be that we will pre-teach/rehearse the instruction for him daily and pre-establish with him the questions that he will be responsible for answering)
  • 1-2 goals TOTAL for behaviors (A sample goal might be that when he gets a wrong answer, he will not throw up his hands and huff and puff)
  • A way to monitor this plan (His teachers will have a 2- minute conference with him at the beginning of each morning to review the expectations and give encouragement or correction) + add in observations by outsiders once a week to see how he’s progressing
  • Timeline for delivering support (the team will meet back together in 4 weeks to discuss the results)

To me, if you can get a short-term plan for him that’s focused on small things, then maybe you can isolate where he’s having the most trouble PLUS you’ve pulled in a group of folks who can help you devise a simple plan and carry out a simple plan with him.

Then if that doesn’t work or if it does work, you can choose to extend the plan, assess for SpEd or bring in other support, determine whether there needs to be more academic support or whether there needs to be more behavioral support…

What I seem to remember is that he meets with a counselor?  Is that right?  If so, I’d definitely like to know what the counselor would suggest and what support he/she is offering – we want to make sure that we’re all working to the same end and that no one is allowing him to wallow in self-pity or whatever.  It sounds like he’s quite dramatic on his own, so we don’t want to be encouraging that or engaging in it, if you know what I mean!

Question for our readers:  What would YOU do?  What are we not considering that we should?  Leave your comments for us!

Question of the Day: How Do I Spice Up My Teaching When I Feel That It’s Gotten a Bit Robotic?

This question comes from Lisa in South Dakota: One of my colleagues has asked me for help in bringing the Oomph back to her teaching. This teacher explained to me that most of her daily routines (templates, vocabulary, discussion questions, etc.) are now on her Smartboard, so she feels she has become robotic with routines. Where do I start in helping her get recharged and excited about teaching reading? What do I look for when I spend time with her during her reading block? I have asked her to start reflecting about what typically goes wrong during her block, or at what point does she think she loses the students, or whether there are parts of the lesson where she is bored and that’s rubbing off on the kids. Please help me find a good direction in helping this teacher!

Here was my response to Lisa: Thanks for your question…here’s where I’d start: videotape her and then sit down and get a “baseline” of where she currently is. Have her teach “business as usual” in the video (not doing anything fancy that she wouldn’t do on an ordinary day) and then sit down with her AFTER you have both viewed the video separately. This will allow you to calibrate what she’s feeling and what you’re seeing. Then watch the video together and comment and discuss what went well, what needs adjustment and what needs to be discussed in future talks. Discuss the areas (Management? Engagement? Pacing? Fun Factor?) that she sees as robotic and then set out to brainstorm together how she’ll fix it. Give her a week to implement a couple of ideas (I try to keep it at two ideas to implement maximum) and then get back in there and videotape again. Then get together and discuss the “before” and after.” The goal is to help this teacher see that SHE has FULL CONTROL over the robotic nature – it’s all in the palm of her hands.

The great news is, that if this teacher is reflective enough to realize that she’s getting robotic, she’s likely to be reflective enough to see what she can improve upon and take the bull by the horns! Keep us posted, Lisa!

Follow Up Response to Question of the Day from January 12th Post

In my January 12th post response, I answered Penny’s question: How Do I Know I’m Asking the Right Questions When I Coach? Darlene from Wyoming asked this follow up question: What if questions listed above do not prompt a response that causes teacher introspection? How do you elicit a conversation about a needed change?

And here’s my response:

Thanks for your question, Darlene! It depends…if the teacher is UNWILLING to work or reflect, then the coach needs to talk with the principal and let him/her know that the teacher is resistant to working with the coach and unwilling to reflect or try new techniques. In this case the principal will have to address it and put the teacher on notice that it is a non-negotiable that each teacher work with the coach and there will be consequences if the teacher fails to do so.  If the teacher is just UNPRACTICED in reflection (which is common), then maybe looking at a video of a teacher teaching together and joint-critiquing would be a good starting point. If that doesn’t work, then perhaps hooking that teacher up with another teacher who can model reflection (and who is good at it) would be helpful. It’s just like kids: if they don’t know how to do it, we need to teach them.

Question of the Day: How Do I Know I’m Asking the Right Questions When I Coach?

Penny from Virginia asks this question: I sometimes have difficulty getting teachers to reflect on their lessons when I’m debriefing them and it makes me insecure in my coaching. How do I know that I’m asking the right questions during coaching so that I’m making teachers feel comfortable and helping them reflect on the lesson?

My response: Penny – this is the age-old question about coaching – how do I know that I’m doing it ‘right?’ There is no such thing as coaching ‘right’, but there are ways that you can ensure that teachers are more likely to reflect on their teaching.

First of all, reflection begins with expectation. This means that I provide the teachers I’m coaching with three quick reflection questions BEFORE we begin the coaching and BEFORE I even go in to observe or demonstrate.

So, the conversation might sound something like this: Heather, I’m really excited for us to look at your small group instruction in fluency. Before we even get started, I want to let you know that this whole coaching thing is about an exchange of ideas between you and me and the success of our time together relies heavily on both of our reflection of the lessons. So, I’m going to let you know that the first three questions I will ask you are these:

1. What went as planned in the lesson?

2. What didn’t go as planned?

3. What would you keep and what would you do differently if you had a re-do?

Obviously the questions you ask the teacher to reflect on will vary based upon the outcome you’re hoping to get, but you get the idea. Sometimes I’m even really sneaky and I give a (not to excited to reflect) teacher an index card with those questions on it and ask them to jot down some ideas.

So, it’s less about the ‘right’ questions and more about the ‘right’ set-up that prompts reflection.

Keep the questions coming – share your comments in the section below…I really want to hear from you!

Question of the Day: How Do I Measure the Impact of My Coaching?

The Question of the Day comes from Erin from Sioux Falls, SD. She asks me: How do I measure the impact of my instructional coaching if we are not seeing immediate results in student scores?

Erin, I think it’s important to remember that when you are working with people there are tangible results of the work (like the affect on student scores) and there are also the intangibles which, in the beginning, can be quite easy to measure if you’re looking for them. For example, consider this list when you’re measuring your impact on teachers:

  • Are teachers asking more questions related to teaching rather than logistics or materials?
  • Are teachers staying after the official end of a meeting to continue conversations?
  • Do you hear staff members talking more about instruction in the office, on the playground, at break times?
  • Is your coaching calendar filling up more quickly?
  • Are your most resistant teachers beginning to make eye contact? (Sad but true!)

These questions will help you measure those trick intangibles of coaching and help you continue to work toward the ultimate goal: when you can measure your affect on teachers by their students’ increased scores.