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Chapter Three: Building Teacher Background Knowledge

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

Being student-centered also means connecting learning to students’ lives, using the student’s own culture, strengths (intelligences), interests, goals, and dreams as the beginning point for learning.

—Bonnie Benard

To begin the shift in beliefs and instructional practices necessary to differentiate instruction, we need to examine our own background knowledge and experience. This is especially true for the majority of us who are part of the dominant culture. The first step in our model is to build teachers’ background knowledge in order to expand the perspective provided by that culture. This is critical if we are to understand the needs of students from poverty and diverse cultures. As a way of examining our background knowledge as teachers, let’s look first at two competing value systems.

Well-documented studies have verified that two ways of thinking, or value systems—individualist and collectivist—have an impact on what teachers reward and punish in schools (Williams, 2003; Greenfield, 1994; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Our value system—collectivist or individualist—is grounded in our culture and determines how we view achievement and value social knowledge. These factors affect our relationships with parents and the community, our approach to classroom management and organization, and our approach to curriculum, instruction, and assessment—the key processes in education that define our work.

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Chapter Six: Differentiating Content and Product

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

Eighty percent of students who are recommended for special education placement are below grade level in reading.

Sixty-three percent of African American fourth grade students are below grade level in reading.

Seventy-four million Americans read below the eighth grade level.

Eighty-five percent of juveniles coming before the courts are functionally illiterate.

Seventy percent of prison inmates are illiterate.

—Jawanza Kunjufu

In this chapter we will discuss the differentiation of content and product—two major pieces of the teaching and learning process. Our emphasis here is on content, because without quality and meaningful content, product does not matter. Content should lead to innovative and quality products that reflect understanding of the subject matter.

You may not think that you have much say about the content you teach in your classroom. After all, we live in an age of scrutiny in which we must teach to standards and prove that they have been taught. In this chapter, we will examine several ways that you can differentiate content to meet the unique needs of your students, yet still meet the expectations of standards. We will view content differentiation by looking at three key aspects of content in the classroom: relevance, rigor, and relationships, with our primary focus on relevance.

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4 Closing the Gap at Tier 1

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

A basic goal of any RTI program is prevention and early support for learning problems revealed in universal screenings. Schools prevent learning problems by making sure that all children are taught by highly qualified teachers who know and use best practices, know how to modify instruction for culture and poverty, and use research-based practices and materials. Teachers provide early supports by gathering and analyzing student screening data and then making changes in instruction at the first sign that current methods are not working. This core preventative curriculum is typically called Tier 1 in the RTI model. It requires regular screening for academic and behavior issues, differentiated instruction that addresses those issues, and regular progress monitoring to ensure that the differentiated instruction is meeting all needs.

Tier 1 is sometimes referred to as the universal level. Tier 1 screening combines resources from the staffs of general education, special education, and Title I to gather data (through testing and observations) about the achievement of every student, based on identified benchmarks for subjects and grade levels. Included are state and local benchmarks for both academics and behaviors. Key questions include: Are students making the academic and behavioral progress expected for this grade or subject? Are students making adequate yearly progress? If not, what skills do students need, and how can teachers modify instruction so that students can succeed? Differentiated instruction should be part of the daily teaching and learning process in whole-class and small-group instruction. If educators spend adequate time and attention on solving problems at the planning stage, then they will have identified best practices that will be needed to ensure students’ success and embedded those into the teaching process. This chapter will explore how educators can ensure their Tier 1 RTI program is implemented to ensure the success of all students—to close the gap from the outset.

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3 Planning for RTI Implementation

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

As chapter 1 showed, both RTI and NCLB require that all students are guaranteed a high-quality education with highly qualified teachers and a curriculum that is rooted in scientific, research-based methods. The premise behind these promises is that students succeed in school because of the strength of the educational system. We know, however, that we will still have many students, especially in poor areas, who will not have certified teachers or teachers who know best instructional practices. Add to that the changing demographics of schools and the fact that so many teachers have not been trained on how to understand the impact of poverty and culture, much less how to modify instructional strategies for those factors, and we have a system that is still not ready to meet student needs.

Although RTI is a major step in ensuring that all children learn to high standards, it will be only as good as the planning and research that go into developing individual school plans. If a school’s intervention process does not follow the basic principles of RTI—if the school does not have highly qualified teachers who know and use best practices—and if teachers do not modify instruction to address issues related to culture and poverty, then the school cannot expect to change anything by implementing RTI. Therefore, the most important step in creating and implementing RTI is planning. This chapter will explore forming the exploration and implementation team, the two planning phases, and pitfalls to be aware of in planning.

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1 Understanding the Importance of RTI

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

As educators and researchers have learned more about how students learn and the instructional practices that have the greatest positive effect on learning, laws have been modified to reflect those perceived best practices. The quest for higher achievement and fewer gaps among groups of students has led legislatures to look for alternatives to the procedures used in the past for identifying children with learning disabilities. Let’s examine some of the legislation affecting response to intervention and the policy shifts that have led to the creation of RTI models.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, Public Law 89-10) was enacted in 1965, and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA, Public Law 94-142) was passed in 1975. As the introduction noted, prior to that time, students with disabilities were often turned away from enrolling in public schools under the excuse that schools were not prepared to teach them. These laws gave all children the opportunity to a free and appropriate education and put the burden of providing appropriate modifications on the schools. Over the years, the intent of these laws has been clarified through reauthorization and new legislation, in particular the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004).

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