How to Provide Student Support for Varied Learner Readiness

Nov 03, 2023
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Intervention normally supported by a three-tiered student support approach has become a lot more complex. 

Readiness differentials caused by COVID-19 school closures took the ideas of reteaching and recovery and expanded them. Digital curricula are invaluable when serving the range of support needed for not only struggling students but also those who are in advanced academic courses.

While increased dependence on digital curriculum and formative assessments came quickly, a strong, flexible curriculum empowers differentiated student support.

Advanced Academics for Advanced Student Support

For the purposes of later comparison, let us establish the need for advanced academic and accelerated courses to ignite Advanced Placement and advanced academic enrollment.

Students demonstrating the gifted and talented or honors status in a subject may elect to accelerate forward in the subject’s sequencing of courses to reach their desired level of academic advancement. 

Yet, 36 instructional weeks is often too short to cover all tier-one standards in each course, let alone 1.5 or even two courses worth. 

To meet that timeframe, teachers and instructional teams pare down courses to the standards that are essential to the scaffolded development of the subject. These essential or power standards serve as the nonnegotiable bedrock of learning. Positioning the core standards as a backbone of curriculum design places districts in a more flexible position when shifts between online and hybrid options are required. 

Leveraging educational tools around the standards keeps learners moving toward the demonstration of the skill, as opposed to the adherence to a schedule.

Historically, instructional teams made these decisions by mapping the standards of the courses and the relative activities within teacher-led instruction and hard-copy texts. 

Today, instructional teams enjoy the efficiency and flexibility of digital curricula. Perhaps the digital curricular partner has predeveloped the power standards course versions, and then the interface provides the ability to maneuver the “blocks” of courses into a custom course curriculum. 

Teachers can use these resources to follow their primary instruction, precede instruction in a flipped environment, or make them available to students when they’re ready in learner-led or self-paced courses.

Accelerated courses combine the power standards of two courses: those in the on-level course, plus those from the course in the following level, in order to propel a student in a sequence of courses that increase trajectory (see the “math” example in the following chart).

Accelerate to Readiness

Keeping with the theme of time deficits, schools and teachers might feel as though their backs are against the instructional wall due to delayed school start dates, reduced instructional minutes from blended or virtual implementation, or increased emphasis on the social and emotional student support needs. 

Versioning and delivery of on-level courses into power standards or accelerated courses alleviate pressure on teachers and families to complete courses in the allotted time and give teachers discretion on enrichment and deeper Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) activities.

Likewise, the summer slide has always been a bane of educators, and now teachers across the world are seeing that the atrophy of learners’ readiness increased with the addition of COVID-19 school closures. Families displayed a great variance in their continuation of learning during closures, even within the same neighborhoods. 

Schools returned to virtual, as well as traditional, schools with increased deficits in student readiness. Many schools found that even top students dropped between 30 and 50 percentile points in normed screeners.

Connecting back to the established notion of power standards, schools with flexible digital curricula chose to support grade-level instruction with the power standards of the preceding grade or course. This practice serves to accelerate the readiness of the students to new, on-grade-level material. Teachers can enjoy the handiness of organized power standards of the preceding courses available to intervene and scaffold as needed. Further, teachers can utilize pretests as timely formative assessments to recognize which students need to interact with preceding standards.

The Re’s: Redo, Reteach, Replace, Recover

The gradient image above represents the spectrum of learners’ skills, gaps, and needs. All students will have pockets of standards-based misconceptions or skills that are underdeveloped.

We have noted some of the ways that digital curricula can proactively and efficiently aid teachers and instructional teams in meeting student support needs. Now, let us be even more specific in support of standards and skill mastery of individual students.

Power standards themselves are meant to equitably support all learners; thus, teachers using digital curricula have an organized wealth of resources (instruction and assessment) by which to facilitate mastery- or competency-based learning. 

With a repository of standards-aligned resources, teachers can easily flex to serve students’ development of understanding by allowing the redoing of system-graded activities, reteaching via the right lesson for the right student at the right time, replacing grades via differentiated activities, and recovering units on which students lack mastery.

The term “unit recovery” tends to be less common than “credit recovery,” but the idea is that a semester or an entire course is too long to wait for recovery when students’ learning is at stake. 

In the past, schools likely had a computer lab that students attended when they needed to recover a credit. Today, with the abundance of blended and virtual learning, recovery units or lessons can be served to students within the same interface as any other course on their schedule. 

Pretests, as discussed above, can then be utilized to determine not which standards need scaffolding but which ones students retain mastery in. Then, they can be exempted to expedite students’ return to their cohort.

In a dynamic time in education, the support of digital curricula, instruction, and assessment systems aids in the proactive designation of power standards. Once those standards have been organized, they can be more nimbly differentiated in courses or units for virtual and blended learners. Such flexibility is a true support for teachers aiming to identify and serve the needs of all learners, whether they are enrolled in advanced or accelerated courses or needing intervention to accelerate back to grade-level readiness.

Interested in learning more about the power of digital curricula? Explore six compelling reasons to embrace online learning for personalized instruction and student success.

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