New Year Resolutions: 8 Ways to Advance PreK-12 Academic Intervention and Prevention

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A new calendar year provides the chance to stop looking back, and consider forward-facing strategies and ideas based on the prior year’s predictions. Addressing the trends now reaching critical mass for specialized education can help overcome the school midyear blahs, generate new excitement for educators, and encourage discovery and success for kids at-risk, struggling, and striving to gain ground academically.

A fresh take on some recent innovations can help fuel your district’s initiatives and objectives for addressing academic intervention and prevention—so all students can catch up, keep up, and move up. Taking even small steps toward curriculum innovation can make a big impact toward driving higher achievement and ensuring academic equity.

In 2016, expect to see new ways to optimize student engagement, deliver personalized learning experiences, foster creativity and intellectual curiosity, and help all students develop skills for life-long learning. According to a Digital Learning Now report, “Engagement is even more important than in a traditional model—lack of engagement is directly related to lack of achievement.”

Education leaders will continue to manage change at a hectic pace as schools move from a model designed to prepare most students for factory work to one focused on college and career. Here are eight significant movements and trends on the horizon for 2016 and beyond.

  1. Mind the gap. Many forces acting on educators and students have perpetuated the gap between students who are keeping up and moving up, and those who are falling behind. And with the movement toward competency education—also known as mastery-, performance-, or proficiency-based—educators and administrators are focused on ensuring students demonstrate broad, solid learning, before advancing to the next level.
    • Evaluate and adjust remediation and intervention staffing levels, to ensure all students have equal access to high-quality teachers with appropriate instructional support and coaching
    • Implement flexible grouping periods to allow students to engage in small-group intervention for content support, remediation or proactive backing; whole class group curriculum extensions; and enrichments for experiential curriculum activities
    • Ensure a greater share of resources and efforts are pointed toward intervention and prevention in the earliest grades including kindergarten and preschool, to mitigate self-perpetuating achievement gaps
    • Use federal funding to acquire new resources and tools to fill in achievement gaps, and deliver stimulating curriculum and instruction.
    • Look at new assistive technologies to better address the needs of students with learning differences, from autism to dyslexia, to language impairments.
  2. Personalize paths. No two students absorb information the same way. Personalized learning improves student academic outcomes by guiding students through the curriculum according to needs, skill levels, passions, and achievement. Adopting customized pathways ensures that students are academically capable, and successfully prepped for both the job market and further education. And, technology in education has reached a tipping point where digitally enabled instruction and personal devices in the classroom are revolutionizing every part of the student experience, and driving improved engagement and confidence.
    • Utilize adaptive technologies to pinpoint where a student is in their learning, track the progress of individual lessons, find out where they’re spending the most time, determine the challenges they need to move forward, and tailor the learning approach and pathway
    • Assess readiness for next levels by developing a feedback loop to capture and analyze student outcomes data—apply learning analytics and learner profiling to gather and analyze large amounts of detail about individual student interactions
    • Empower students with voice and choice as they take an active part in learning—create a longitudinal portrait of strengths, weaknesses, achievements, reflections, and ideas over time
    • Increase literacy training to set high expectations and open the door to a variety of personalized educational opportunities
  3. Assess to impress. Data-driven learning and assessment is tricky and complex, but essential for identifying successful educational strategies. Data based on evidence helps schools stretch tight budgets and manage large class sizes, by informing more efficient ways to educate students. Educators increasingly apply digital- and cloud-based technology to enhance assessments and learner profiling. The goal is to build better pedagogies, empower students to take an active part in learning, target at-risk populations, and assess factors affecting completion and students success.
    • Strengthen assessment models by combining formative with summative assessments so they are highly individualized and student‐centered, driving stronger student and educator supports
    • Develop complete student portfolios capturing aspects of personalized learning: test scores, students’ independence and self-confidence ratings, engagement metrics, evidence of critical thinking and applied learning skills, and feedback from teachers and other stakeholders
    • Ensure educator professional learning systems explicitly address the unique mindsets and skills required for teachers to address every student’s entry, benchmarking, gateway measurements, and exit exams
    • Engage administrators in effective improvement planning so they can use advanced assessment data to set goals and evaluate progress against these goals
  4. Keep blending and flipping. Flipped and blended learning are mainstream approaches helping the most struggling students make the gains they need to succeed, reduce failure rates, and diminish disciplinary actions.

    Flipped classrooms focus on collaboration, real-time classroom feedback, individual assistance, and hands-on learning—as opposed to the solitary task of completing homework outside of class. Students spend time after school reading about the next day’s topics and watching videos or interacting with content online.

    • Construct more elaborate in-class activities that stimulate collaboration among students, and allow concentration on more difficult materials
    • Embrace and encourage digital literacy skills so students understand how to research and utilize online reading and learning
    • Hold each student accountable for dealing with questions posed—end each at-home lesson with a question for contemplation, compelling students to arrive ready with thoughts or notes for sharing
    • Deploy devices equipped with digitized learning materials leveraging modular, contextual, and bite-sized instructional design

    Blended learning affords a hybrid supervised/self-paced approach, allowing teachers to personalize learning in an easier and less time-consuming way. Schools are combining the best of face-to-face instruction with online learning to create new learning environments and sequences. According to Speak Up, 45% of district administrators say their implementation of blended learning is achieving positive results.

    • Apply blended learning to improve instructional delivery in intervention and special education for students who are struggling or may need more guidance by allowing flexibility in pace and place
    • Use it to increase equity and help develop enhanced critical thinking and problem solving skills for English Language Learners (ELLs) and other disadvantaged students
    • Use federal funding to select among a number of emerging technologies, applications, tools, software, and devices that can be applied to enhancing learning experiences
  5. Gamify learning. Engagement is a huge challenge facing educators today. Incorporating experiential, game-based lessons is a curriculum approach that delivers core and intervention content, using interactive activities to increase interest, improve engagement, and ensure that learning sticks. Game-based learning keeps learners highly engaged in practicing behaviors and thought processes that can bridge from the simulated environment to real life, and helps students with collaboration and experimentation. It lifts problem-solving skills, raises IQ levels and elevates the application of the concepts within math or science. When learning is enhanced with rewards, interaction, and feedback, learning retention can reach 90 percent or more.
    • Adopt evidence-based programs that include games and hands-on activities to help struggling learners master math skills and ideas that elude understanding when content is taught abstractly
    • Apply gamification as non-digital, play‐based learning to benefit cognitive development and increase students’ attention spans
    • Leverage the games kids play at home, like World of Warcraft and Minecraft, to help students learn in a way that feels familiar and natural
    • Allow students to create their own games and gameplay, to become more involved in their own learning
    • Integrate play-based learning concepts into games, to help students explore career opportunities
  6. Try project-based learning. It’s a rare classroom these days that isn’t applying project-based learning (PBL). Student-centered projects help kids problem-solve and understand the interconnectedness of subjects. In turn, they develop skills, strategies and experience with generating solutions. PBL develops the skills required both by state standards, and the four primary abilities that 21st-century employers seek: inquiry-based, problem-solving, creative thinking, and collaborative. One proponent, the Alliance for Excellent Education, describes PBL as “the delivery of rich core content to students in innovative ways that allow them to learn and then apply what they have learned.” This fluid, yet real-world approach to curriculum makes standards come alive for students by connecting learning to real-world issues and needs.
    • Use project-based learning as an academically rigorous approach that includes learning expeditions, case studies, projects, fieldwork, and service learning to inspire students to think and work as professionals
    • Create distinct physical spaces for project-based learning curriculum and instructional units, to reach a diverse set of learners, including those with special needs
    • Drive student empowerment by giving students greater control over assignments and activities so they take more ownership and apply talents and interests
    • Apply immersive Problem-Based Learning allowing learners to take control of how they engage with a subject and to brainstorm and implement solutions to pressing local and global problems
    • Try Expeditionary learning (EL) for active, inquiry-based pedagogy focused around a compelling topic that culminates in an expedition—oftentimes to museums, colleges, work-sites and natural environments—and a final presentation of findings and lessons learned
  7. Mobilize to optimize. More of you than care to admit remember when overhead projectors instead of digital white boards displayed test-worthy facts, and mimeographs instead of the school intranet, published school news. Now, Generation Z is the cohort of digital-native students who live and breathe technology, at all ability levels. Next-gen learning is from anywhere—a 24/7 activity enabled by the widespread adoption of education resources available via smart phones, tablets, adaptive learning tools, virtual reality platforms, and video games. Rich technology, connected learning, and personalized programs and apps are changing how students learn, and how teachers teach.
    • Employ new technologies to extend the meaning of anytime, anywhere learning, allowing them to participate in genuine learning experiences throughout their day
      • Instead of lectures and notes, use a smartboard for interactive engagement
      • Replace paper quizzes with online ones
      • Poll students over their smartphones
      • Share students’ screens over the classroom projector or flat panel display
      • Allow students to video conference with a class from another country for project-based learning
    • Transform learning for special needs students using assistive technology and digital accessibility—create in-depth plans to support students with disabilities, and assimilate them seamlessly into traditional classrooms
    • Consider adding mobile learning by operating your school under a BYOD (bring your own device) system, supported by high-performance, secure wi-fi systems and networks
    • Increase educator technology proficiency by requiring professional development to help teachers implement mobile learning and other classroom technologies as part of a holistic educational plan
    • Dedicate resources to the government’s E-rate application process to leverage funding for technology infrastructure projects
  8. Gather STEAM. Tomorrow’s workforce will need to be stronger creators of digital content, knowledge and designs. Learning-by- doing is gaining velocity in many regular and special classrooms—engaging students to think more critically, better retain learning, and work better in teams. Adding the “arts” to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) to become STEAM reflects the growing emphasis of employers on hiring workers who can think creatively, to complement their technical skillsets. Schools and educators are incorporating curricula that enhances math, technical and scientific expertise with creativity, critical thinking, and digital literacy. STEAM not only prepares students for high-stakes testing, but allows them to be inventors, scientists, artists and mathematicians today.
    • Develop instructional methodology to bring new tools, experiences, and learning opportunities into classrooms—including low-cost, flexible, creative, and powerful materials as building blocks to bring electronics, programming, and computational mathematics together in meaningful ways
    • Embed design thinking into classrooms to emphasize making, inventing, and creativity—use resources like the Design Thinking Toolkit to involve stakeholders in redesigning curricula
    • Embrace new tools and technology such as 3D printing, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computing, e-textiles, “smart” materials, and programming languages
    • Embrace the maker movement to transform classrooms into innovative learning laboratories–experimenting, inventing and tinkering is beneficial for students with learning disabilities, including dyslexia
    • Host a School Maker Faire as an event featuring creative invention and to generate student excitement

The ideas you choose for curriculum or pedagogical approaches will vary by the aims and outcomes on your district’s radar. Any or all of these eight can contribute to addressing diverse student populations and driving sustainable and positive outcomes for academically, linguistically and socio-economically challenged students.

Along the way, keep exploring curriculum innovations and don’t forget about allowing for continuous, personalized professional improvement aligned to your district’s and personal career goals. Take advantage of your colleagues’ knowledge. Last, collaborate within professional learning communities and tune into crowd-accelerated innovation to improve instructional practice and raise student achievement.

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Posts from the McGraw-Hill Education Social Media & Content team.

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