Friday, September 09, 2005

Tracking? No. It's called Targeted Instruction

So I was pretty much bragging about all that had been going down at school the last few years -- worst to first, hitting the 700 API mark -- and in response to a how-we-did-it question, I spoke about how focused our Language Arts department (the gateway skills) is in targeting and delivering instruction to exactly the point where students are.

"So you track them?" All grossed out.

"No. No. Not at all." Indignant.

Tracking as it is understood in all its myriad implications involves a locking-in of student trajectory, forever on the college track, the gifted track, the remedial track, the special ed track. Kids do not move, there is no flexibility, no upward or, hell, downward mobility. This is not what we do. Kids are constantly assessed and schedules and placements constantly tweaked to ensure the greatest fit. A young person is ready to bypass one of the intervention levels and head right to another, or into the on-grade-level program? Then they do so. A young person has similarily not demonstrated the ability to handle increased difficulty at the next level, they continue working at the appropriate level until they are ready to move into an area in which they can experience success.

And here's the thing. We're a 7 & 8 school with ability levels ranging from two words of English to moderate high school ability. Would any sane person suggest that children are best served by coexisting in the same class when their academic needs are so divergent? Should we truly ask teachers to simultaneously teach BICS to one group and literary analysis of grade level text to another? That's what occurs in the elementary schools and teachers, locked in to a mandatory scripted curriculum, are unable to meet students where they are and bring them up. That's why we keep getting kids so painfully behind, so bereft of academic success.

This is why our targeted instruction model is good:

1) I know EXACTLY who my kids are, academically. The sophistication we are able to bring to this task, knowing that a High Point A student comes in three flavors -- 1) low-ELL recent immigrant 2) Special Education / learner with difficulty also ELL 3) Self-inihibiting behavior who has been tragically undertaught -- is powerful and a necessary foundation. I almost don't need to diagnose, once they are appropriately placed; I know the weaknesses and it's time to roll. I can't really properly articulate to how valuable that level of focus can be.

2) I know EXACTLY what my kids need, academically. I won't be throwing jelly against a wall to see what sticks. I know that reading strategies are critical, coupled with a renewed phonics base, wrapped up with high-level analysis made possible with ability-leveled text. No wasting time, let's just go. Standards are made accessible to every single kid, not just those able to decode the textbook. I also know exactly what supplemental material is necessary to bridge the gaps in the intervention curriculum.

3) My time is put to better use. Literary circle are nice. So are centers. What's even nicer is delivering a powerful lesson that reaches every student by virtue of a pre-determined assessment of need. Here, look, none of you know this, you all need it, and I've tailored the lesson almost to each of you personally, because while you are five years behind, you are ALL five years behind.

4) We fucking move em. Teachers at my school are committed to this movement. It's the Holy Grail of instruction. Push em up, push em up. No one wants an 8th grader hanging out in High Point A doing 3rd grade work unless it is absolutely critical to their success. At the same time, no one wants a HOLT class full of kids with no chance of reading a single selection. Our kids get it done, do their time in the intervention classes building their skill sets and their re-committment to their success and then they move forward. And they'll talk about it with you. "What do I need to do to get to HOLT?" "How can I get to High Point C by the end of year?" They focus on it, internalize it, seek it out.

5) Numbers don't lie. We're the most -improved school in the county for two consecutive years and the highest middle school in the district for many reasons. This is one of them.

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