Right now, we are in the process (the very slow, tedious process) of shifting our name from Pressing Onward to The Responsive Classroom. I’m so excited about the change, and I know that the name is much more descriptive of what our passion is.
When we were brainstorming the name change, the term ‘clarity’ came to mind again, and it was such a fitting reminder of how clarity brings focus and understanding – and ultimately success.
As you know, education system has lost its clarity lately, and we want to help teachers get it back! Our mission is to equip teachers to be able to reach all students, and while situations and circumstances have changed, kids are kids, and learning is learning. If we can help teachers to meet students where they are (yes, many are bringing more trauma and academics gap to the table, but teachers have grit), and then provide supports and an environment to move them where they need to be, that’s where the magic happens. There is an unknown difficulty that many teachers face, however. If they don’t know exactly where the students should be, it’s really hard to put in the right supports to get them there! We are seeing equity gaps continue to grow, not because kids can’t learn, but because there is not a clear target with a laid out success path for them to take to get there.
Teachers are the experts. They don’t need us to do everything for them. They need guidance on where the path needs to be, as well as a clear finish line! Here is where clarity comes into play.
Clarity answers these questions:
- What do the students need to learn?
- How will I know if they’ve learned it?
- What will we do if they don’t learn it?
And then to add one question to that…
4. Knowing my students’ needs, what academic and environmental supports can I add to my instruction to help more students master the learning in the first teach.
If teachers can answer these questions, their students will experience success. Period.
The professional development and coaching that we offer equips teachers to answer these questions. The foundation of knowing their students, and understanding and using the culture and perspective of the students in instruction is the foundational piece of being culturally responsive. When teachers understand the difference between the collectivist and individualist deep cultures, can recognize the difference between a dependent and independent learner, can identify some key parts of what promotes and prevents the brain from learning, and can understand some key components of language acquisition, they are much more equipped to reach the needs of their students. This is culturally responsive education.
We teach 3 pillars of being culturally responsive: building an alliance, creating a culturally responsive and language rich environment, and planning and implementing differentiated, scaffolded, aligned instruction (also known as clarity).
I want to quickly go over each of the components we support teachers in with our 8-mont Clarity resource. Even if you don’t purchase the source, focusing on these components with your teachers will bring students success.
Stage I – Alignment
Learning Objectives – when teachers and students both know exactly what they are supposed to learn during that class period, it focuses instruction, questions and dialogue from the teachers, and it focuses the students’ brains to pick up on the instruction that moves them into the learning. When teachers can start the lesson with, “Before you leave this class today, you will be able to describe why ……”, and then check at the end that the students can “describe why…” both the teacher and the students are aware of the learning. ***The learning objective should either be aligned to the state standard, or should be leading up to mastery of the state standard. If the learning objective is not aligned to the state standard, make sure that the following lessons move students into the higher level of learning.
Formative assessments – this is just a fancy way to say “check for understanding”. Once the learning objective is super clear to teachers and students, it makes it very easy for teachers to check if the students learned the objective or not. This can be on an exit ticket, white board, technology, or any other way that the teacher is able to check for understanding and gather data quickly. It’s important the formative assessments are aligned to the learning objective, done individually (we don’t want to use group work to determine where each student’s understanding of the learning is) and eventually without support if they are going to be required to be assessed without supports (if they can use their notes on the formative assessment, are we checking their understanding of the concept or their notes?).
Aligned questions and tasks – Once the teacher can answer “what do I want to students to learn?” and “how will I know how they learned it?”, now they are ready to plan their questions and student tasks. Will the questions move students into the thinking needed to answer the formative assessment? Will the task lead the students into the learning needed?
Stage II – Consider Your Students
How do the students you have impact instruction? – What are their language proficiency levels? How does this impact the instruction you are planning? What are their reading levels? How does this impact the instruction you are planning? Are they from a collectivist or individualist deep culture? How does this impact the instruction? These questions and more help your teachers not only look at their students, but also bridge what they know about them to the instruction they are planning.
Scaffolds and Accommodations – Once your teachers know who their students are, they can to support them on the first teach with scaffolds and accommodations. The goal of this is to make the grade-level content accessible, even if the student is behind. For example, if the class is reading, could the reading be chunked? Could the vocabulary be pre-taught. Could there be processing times built in? If the student is being required to write, could there be sentence frames provided? Are visuals available to help cue the students’ memory?
Stage III – Student-Centered Instruction
Differentiation – This can be a really big concept, but it’s important to remember that differentiation is for all students, not just the struggling ones. When we can differentiate the context for relevancy, the learning process to make sure the student is receiving the content in the way that makes the most sense to them, and then the output to ensure the student can show their learning in different ways, learning in optimized!
Literacy – Bottom line: if students graduate and can’t read and write, what they learned in school will be close to all they will learn. If they are literate, learning never stops and their opportunities are endless. Literacy has to be a focus, and can’t be compromised just because the student is behind. There should be opportunities to build and use literacy in every content area.
Debrief – Like anything, teachers need the opportunity and understanding on how to debrief lessons. Here’s the important part: debriefing is not passing a judgment on the teacher (or the students). It’s simply asking, “Did the way that the information was presented and the tasks the students did bring the learning I wanted them to get?” If not, the lesson gets tweaked moving forward and teachers can shift instruction moving forward. A master teacher knows that every lesson won’t work 100%, and he or she knows the power of debriefing and shifting.
I know it seems like a lot, but when these components become the habitual in the way a teacher plans, students learn!
If you’d like for us to help your teachers on this journey, just click here, and we’ll get information to you!
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