Karen Kowaleski, special education teacher •
Beal Early Childhood Center • Shrewsbury, MA
Recipe for Response: One School’s Strategy For Responding to Struggling Learners
Public Schools are striving to meet the needs of a far more diverse learning population. As funds dwindle each year, teachers need to find creative ways of providing meaningful, effective supports to students who are not meeting educational benchmarks. Educators struggle to maximize time spent on learning, as well as provide needed repetition of skills. This “recipe” for response encourages creative use of educational staff to streamline the process for effective response to intervention. I am a special education teacher, but also collaborate with the literacy tutors to monitor the progress of struggling learners who receive intervention through regular education. I work in an Early Childhood Center, mainly consisting of the district’s half-day and full-day kindergarten classrooms. This article will describe a school-wide collaborative effort to respond to our most challenged learners, and provide a model of action that may be replicated at any grade level.
The idea of creating a literacy “intervention kit” began in response to a pattern of skill deficits in our literacy challenged population. The kit would address key phonemic awareness and phonics skills, as well as address automatic recognition of sight words through a systematic series of activities. With the principal’s approval, the district’s assistant superintendent was approached with the idea of offering a graduate level project-based course. Administration generously offered participants 3 in-district graduate credits AND 30 PDPs at no cost, as enticement to participate. The course filled within 24 hours of being posted.
Teachers met over a 12 week period to work on this graduate project. As a group, we first determined the umbrella categories to target- alphabetic knowledge, rhyme and alliteration, syllabication, segmenting and blending, and sight word identification. This was an important initial step as it prioritized the literacy skills to target and shaped the organization of the kit. Once the main categories were determined we discussed individual activities within each category. It was an opportunity for the group to share lessons that were already working well, and research the internet for new activities. The group sequenced the skill categories, as well as individual activities from easiest to most advanced. Each category was numbered and color-coded to facilitate tracking student progress and to make locating corresponding materials efficient for the interventionist. The kit included “anchor activity” multi-sensory materials that could be used across activities to increase the kit’s capacity to reach alternative learners (e.g. playdoh, stikki wix, etc).
Project funding was secured from a combination of grant money and PTO donations. The schedule allowed for 6 hours of class time to be spent on creating activities for each category however, participants spent countless hours of their own time as well. We also enlisted additional assistance from several school volunteers. Kits were created for each classroom. This would provide for the most rapid access to activities and ensure that intervention was happening during any and all available teachable moments. The activities were created in their entirety, so that interventionists could pull an activity from the kit, along with its directions and materials. With everything at hand, it is easier to find small pockets of time to provide intervention. By creating a kit for each classroom, teachers can now enlist the help of classroom aides, parent volunteers, and a variety of other school personnel, to provide intervention with students. More importantly, the consistency of activities across classrooms allows teachers to focus their attention on all of their students, as a result of increased independence of interventionists.
Teachers report an ability to provide consistent intervention with the intervention kit activities. It is not the intervention kit itself that holds the key to our building’s intervention success. It is the process that was followed to create it. As a team we prioritized the foundational skills needed to become a successful reader and writer. We then sought out the best quality research-based activities to create. As a building, we now have common vocabulary and a sequential intervention process for remediating with our challenged population. Our teaching staff feels empowered to intervene with students in an effective, efficient manner. Although this project was created for young learners, the theory of an “intervention kit” applies to all grade levels and subject areas. It is not the actual activities created that are the magic bullet of intervention- it is the process!