School Name: Lake City Secondary-Columneetza
School District: SD#27 Cariboo-Chilcotin
Inquiry Team Members:Nara Riplinger: email@example.com, Jennifer Clark: firstname.lastname@example.org, Michael Bird: email@example.com, Hattie Darney: firstname.lastname@example.org, Jacqui Ferguson: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOII (focus on core competencies, OECD learning principles, etc.)
Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Matahematics / Numeracy
Focus Addressed: Flexible learning, Social and emotional learning, Transitions
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Identifying and supporting students with very low literacy and math skills
Scanning: We have had discussions with Grade 7 teachers about the literacy skills of students in their classes. We also noticed that many of our students with low literacy skills come with no provincial categorization therefore no IEP.
Some students have been assessed using the online STAR program (part of Accelerated Reader) or ELL testing and have been identified as having reading skills below Grade 4. We are going to try to identify all of the students in our school who are reading many grades below grade level and who may need extra reading support.
Once all of our students (Grades 7-9) have been identified, we will sample some of them with the Spirals questions. It might be interesting to use these questions later in the year as well.
We also will be looking at other middle schools throughout the province to investigate other models that support learners. We would like to eventually have more district supports in place for this campus (SLP, Transitions, Behavioral).
Focus: We have had 50% of our grade 7 teachers leave each year for different teaching positions. Experienced teachers are frustrated at the extremely wide range of literacy skills of the students in their classrooms and have observed even with adaptations, students are not able to meet curricular expectations.
Mike Bird started a pull-out literacy program for some Grade 7 students. He noticed that students exhibited relatively high engagement and they were not embarrassed to read ‘easy-reader’ books when they were being taught in a small class configuration. We questioned how many other students have literacy levels significantly below grade level and how we can support them within our school.
Hunch: The reconfiguration of Columneetza to a middle school occurred a number of years ago. The programs in place for a high school were simply carried on to the middle school model. The support needs for students in middle school are very different for those in a high school. Some of the issues we are facing are due to the programming issues at our school. This inquiry will hopefully explore some alternate models that may better serve our students with low literacy skills.
New Professional Learning: We explored Reading Recovery and Late Literacy programs that can be implemented in the middle school model. We are hoping to train some staff in working closely with students with low literacy skills.
Taking Action: After collecting quantifiable data, we developed immediate plans/programs within our school to support students and teachers. Four programs were implemented: Early and Late Literacy and Early and Late Maths. Students were placed in the various programs depending on the initial testing as well as the compatibility with their existing timetable. Support teachers, an administrator, an ELL teacher, a teacher librarian, a PLC teacher, as well as an extra 0.5FTE teacher worked as the support teachers to provide intervention programs.
There was no set curriculum for the support programs; teachers assessed the students placed in their group and designed lessons and activities to meet the students’ needs. There were multiple movements during the first few weeks as support teachers observed the students more closely. Some students were moved from Early to Late Literacy and Math. One student was moved to a more individualized program with an EA due to behavior issues.
The support programs were suspended in June to allow students to return to their classrooms to participate in all of the end-of-year activities. Some teachers still accessed the existing support room and teachers into June.
June was spent re-testing all Grade 7 and 8 students using STAR (online reading/ comprehension assessment) to ensure supports could be in place for September. Math testing for all Grade 7 students was conducted for the same reason.
No comparisons can be drawn from the data for a number of reasons. Students were only in the support program for 3 months. Many students in the Early Literacy and Math programs had inconsistent attendance therefore did not receive the full benefits of the program. Initial reading assessments were conducted between September and November; the baseline times were not consistent therefore comparing the results would be inaccurate. The content taught varied between the support teachers; some focused on basic skills and others focused on supporting classroom curriculum.
Checking: The intervention programs were not implemented until February of 2018 mainly due to disruptions in September (lack of teachers) and the resultant change of PLC focus as well as the need to collect baseline data. Given the late start, the results were promising.
In personal interviews, most students accessing the support programs revealed that they felt challenged in their support classes and felt that they were receiving the help they needed. They also felt fairly connected with their support teacher and they believed that their support teacher thought they would be a success in life. However, it is interesting to note that most students still wait for feedback from the teacher to tell them how they have done instead of self-reflecting (refer to interview summaries). It would be interesting to compare the students receiving support with the rest of the student population.
The classroom teachers also felt that the programs were successful as the students who needed more individual support were receiving it. One teacher also commented that she was now able to focus on the rest of the class (refer to interview summaries). Teachers would like more valuable communication from the support teachers to allow them to communicate with parents.
The support teachers found that they needed to support their students in multiple ways. Curriculum, reading, math were taught but soft skills were also emphasized. Students were continuously reminded to bring their supplies, to stay focused, to ask for help when needed, and to take risks. While most Grade 7 teachers also emphasize these skills, the smaller groups that support blocks offer allow the teacher to really focus on each individual student. Students in smaller groups are not able to ‘hide’ as they would in a larger classroom.
One concern was the possible lack of connection between the student and their regular classroom. As the support program did not begin until February, students had ample time to connect with their main teacher and their peers. Furthermore, most students were only out of class for a 41 minute support class. Other students who needed more intensive intervention were in a support class for 82 minutes (1/4 of the day).
Reflections/Advice: We learned that a large percentage of our students are working well below grade level. We also learned that some teacher fatigue and frustration is due to trying to design and implement multiple programs within a class. We also learned that many of these struggling students have the ability to do better but due to other factors such as attendance, changing schools, and family support, they have developed skills to help them hide in a classroom. Most support teachers found that the students were pleasant but lacked confidence, motivation, and work ethic to move forward. The support teachers focused on these soft skills as well as the curriculum.
It would be beneficial to gather baseline information through some standardized test early in the year (September). The STAR program is excellent as the test is administered online, multiple students can be tested at once, there is no extra marking for teachers, and most importantly, data can be summarized quickly and efficiently. We are currently looking for a similar math program to facilitate data collection.
It would also be beneficial to have a rough estimate of the number of students who may need support in September so the support classes can be built into the school master timetable in June. We have added English 8 Essentials, Math 8 Essentials, English 9 Essentials and Math 9 Essentials to the current schedule. We are currently investigating ways to add structured support classes to the Grade 7 schedule.
The driving philosophy behind the addition of intensive support programs was inclusive education. Middle school students who are many grades below grade level seem to be disengaged. If they are not able to participate in a specific lesson or activity as it is too difficult, we need to meet that student where they are at. This may mean an intensive pull-out program. Many of these students do not ask for help in a regular classroom and would not feel comfortable reading a Grade 2 book in front of their peers. One teacher also noted that her math group was very reluctant to use manipulatives even though it is what they needed to learn the concept. If the school as a whole is inclusive, every learner should be able to be successful. This may mean developing structures that support students both within and outside of the classroom.