8 Questions to Bring Student Growth

As you can probably guess, one of the main aspects of being a responsive educator is knowing your students, and then planning instruction accordingly – but what exactly does this mean?

As I work with teachers, after we go through alignment (you can catch that on the next blog), the next question I ask is about their students. Most teachers know the basic information about their students – which is no small feat, especially as a secondary teacher. They know who their emergent bilingual students are, who their students with special education accommodations are, who their students are who are behind, often even which students have hard things going on in their lives that may affect their learning.

The question that often gets missed, however, is “What does this mean for the lesson I am planning?” This question is so crucial for student growth.

The state of education has been in a very reactive place for the past 3 years – from the top down. Laws and policies are being passed as a response to COVID. New positions are being formed as a reaction to inclusion and equity. New initiatives are being brought into campuses in response to new needs. And a large amount of instruction seems to be split between intervention and reteaching.

This is causing teacher burn out and stalling student growth.

If you are familiar with RTI (Response to Intervention), you are familiar with the Tiered system. Tier 3 is intense intervention where students are typically pulled from the classroom and work with an intervention teacher. Tier 2 is primarily reteaching and even pre-teaching of concepts and vocabulary for upcoming content. Tier 1 is the first-teach – the instruction that every student receives. There is some confusion as to what this should look like. Some believe that the Tier 1 instruction is just the bottom line content – this is what you need to learn. Then, if students don’t get it, a reteach or intervention is done. This is not actually true. The goal of Tier 1 teaching is to pull as many students into learning as possible – emergent bilingual students, special ed students, students who aren’t reading on grade level, students who have different learning modality preferences – the more proactively we can plan for our students during Tier 1 instruction, the more learning will occur in the first teach.

In other words – show me a teacher who has stellar Tier 1 instruction, and I’ll put money on the fact that he or she has the highest test scores. More academic growth will happen in responsive Tier 1 teaching than it will in intervention any day of the week.

So before I jump into the 8 questions, I want to talk generally about Tier 1 instruction. Focusing on vocabulary in meaningful ways, engaging students cognitively, providing visual support, scaffolding to provide support and move students up, and differentiating the context (making it relevant), the content (how they are learning it), and the output (how they practice and then show you their learning) are some key ways to plan for super effective Tier 1 Instruction. These are some of the primary components (along with alignment) that we go through in Responsive Classroom Academy, and by focusing on these areas, we’ve seen huge student growth!

By taking this instruction a step further and getting really responsive about the students in your class – this is where the learning magic will happen! I want to give you 8 questions to ask yourself, or ask in your planning meetings – about your students as you are designing your lesson. You can download a free chart with these questions here: Student Questions for Growth Chart

  1. What are my students’ language proficiency levels?
  2. What are my students’ SPED accommodations or modifications?
  3. Are any of my students showing literacy gaps?
  4. Are any of my students showing vocabulary gaps or difficulties grasping new vocabulary?
  5. Is there a learning modality that seems to bring the most learning (auditory, visual, kinesthetic)?
  6. Are my students primarily from a collectivist or individualist background?
  7. What background information are they bringing to the table or will they need to know?

And after each of these questions, the big question – “What does this mean for the lesson I’m planning?” – is of course where the growth happens.

Let’s briefly go over each question.

  1. What are my students’ language proficiency levels? When speaking about emergent bilingual students, most teachers can identify who these students are. Understanding their proficiency levels is a different story, however. This is really the key to moving students forward in language development. This allows the teacher to know where they are currently, and more importantly, where to take them. (Check out our mini-course, Language is Power, if you want a step-by-step explanation and easy implementation plan for growing language). Once a teacher is intentional about planning for the domains of language (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) and scaffolding for the proficiency levels, huge growth will follow!
  2. What are my students’ SPED accommodations or modifications? Again, most teachers can identify who their students with special needs or learning disabilities are, but the intentionality of their accommodations may be a different story. I often see one of two things happening – little to no accommodations or over accommodating. For example, if I have 4 students in my class who have IEPs, and 2 of them have oral read aloud as an accommodation, and I have 6 emergent bilingual students (2 are intermediate, 4 are advanced), I may be tempted to read everything out loud to the class. The last thing the emergent bilingual students and 2 students who do NOT have oral read aloud – not to mention the rest of the students in the class – need is to never have the opportunity to grow their language or skill in reading! It ends up doing more harm and stalling growth than actually helping. This is why it’s so important to know your students. If I’m answering the question, “What does this mean for this lesson?”, then I will want to plan to chunk the reading, pre-teach vocabulary or any multi-meaning or difficult words ahead of time. I may set a purpose for reading – “When you read this section, I want you to look for…..” I may even choral read the opening sentence or an important paragraph with the entire class. There are so many other options than just reading aloud.
  3. This leads us to our next question: Are any of my students showing literacy gaps? With this question, I want teachers to think about the students who are not necessarily coded as SPED or EL. Just students who are behind. Again, simply reading aloud will not be helpful to these students. I am a firm believer that if students graduate without being literate, not much else that they learned in school is going to be relevant. But there are so many other ways to build literacy – yes, even in a math or science class – than just to read everything to the students.
  4. Are any of my students showing vocabulary gaps or difficulties grasping new vocabulary? Understanding vocabulary is a key indicator of student growth. Being proactive in teaching vocabulary is huge, but also the way it is taught is important. If you know you have students who are behind in vocabulary, simply having them copy down definitions is probably not going to bring the most growth. Plan for this! Use the vocabulary authentically, facilitate students using it in conversation, have it visual in the class, play games! Check to see if the way you are having them learn vocabulary is actually bringing learning. This is such an important part of learning.
  5. Is there a learning modality that seems to bring the most learning (auditory, visual, kinesthetic)? If you know you did an activity where students showed a lot of learning, assess what type of learning modality (or combination of modalities) was used and plan more in that direction! For example, if you show short videos every other day about your concept, but students are not able to pull learning out them, stop wasting time! But let’s say you use a graphic organizer to help students have conversations, and as you are walking around, you are hearing the conversations you want – do that more! That’s being responsive!
  6. Are my students primarily from a collectivist or individualist background? I’m not going to go into this here, but students from different deep cultures tend to learn and respond differently. Understanding this can be really helpful as teachers plan – especially if the teacher and students come from different deep cultures.
  7. What background information are they bringing to the table or will they need to know? Understanding the students’ past learning and experiences brings a huge amount of growth during Tier 1 instruction. When the teacher can capitalize on what students have already learned or experienced and then fill in gaps before jumping into the content, connections are made and learning is cemented much quicker.

This conversation occurs 4th, right after the Teacher Clarity phase of Responsive Classroom Academy. We’ve only gone over each of these briefly, but more in depth and ongoing conversations surrounding these questions will bring so much learning to your students!

If you are interested in the Responsive Classroom Academy (formerly Coaching Clarity), it is available before December 16th. That will be the last time it is offered this school year so that teachers can implement it in the spring. Check out our current Cyber Monday Sale going on now through December 16th and get info on the Responsive Classroom Academy here. And remember, if you’d like the free Student Questions for Growth Chart, click here.

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