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Saturday / October 21

Informed Instruction is Improved Instruction

Simpson County School District in Mississippi began implementation of informed instruction toward essential early learning outcomes in 2008-09. Using the Essential Skill Inventories, staff learned to:

  1. Clearly identify essential learning outcomes
  2. Use systematic measurement to determine the readiness levels of your students in relation to essential outcomes
  3. Offer informed instruction and carefully monitor progress until these skills/objectives are deeply understood (competency)
  4. Allow students to move on to more advanced learning as soon as they are ready

For example, in kindergarten math there are four crucial skills for which every student should achieve competency. Instruction should include “coverage” of many interesting math topics, projects, and activities. But these four skills are the crucial outcomes that can be well tracked toward competency, and which are great predictors for future success.

Kindergarten Numeracy Essential Skills

• Demonstrates counting to 100

• Has one-to-one correspondence for numbers 1-30

• Understands combinations to 10 (adding and subtracting using manipulatives to 10)

• Recognizes number groups without counting (2 to 10)

With the recognition that certain skills are essential, the staff has learned to be more effective assessing progress, planning instruction, differentiating instruction, and responding to the development of the whole child. The Simpson County teachers using the Essential Skill Inventories (Pre-K to Grade 3) with fidelity report significant improvements in teaching skills and behaviors associated with early learning success, including systematic assessment, instructional design, differentiated instruction, understanding the whole child, and building relationships with students.

Systematic Measurement of Progress

Teachers described significant improvements in their skills and behaviors supporting systematic assessment, with the largest gain reported in their ability to embed assessment into the design of instruction. Many teachers in this project reported that they have had to learn or relearn how to use observational assessment and to embed assessment into the design of instruction.

ESI with fidelity: effect on systematic measurement of progress

Use of ESI with fidelity: effect on systematic measurement of progress

High Quality Instructional Design

Teachers described significant improvements in their skills and behaviors supporting high quality instructional design, with the largest gains reported in giving some students more time to learn essential skills and re-teaching essential skills until students reach deep understanding. Scripted and rigidly paced instruction usually does not allow sufficient time for re-teaching, or for the additional learning time or practice time some students need to develop deep understanding of essential content or skills. By clarifying crucial learning outcomes, both teachers and students have a clear goal for learning.

ESI with fidelity: effect on high quality instructional design

Use of ESI with fidelity: effect on high quality instructional design

Differentiated instruction

Teachers described significant improvements in their skills and behaviors supporting differentiated instruction, with an almost two point improvement on all measures. Having the data which comes from systematic measurement of progress supported the need to try new strategies if a student had not yet responded to instruction by developing skill proficiency.  Teachers reported using a more diverse set of strategies to achieve student learning outcomes.

 ESI with fidelity: effect on differentiated instruction

Use of ESI with fidelity: effect on differentiated instruction

Understanding the Whole Child

Teachers described significant improvements in their ability to understand the whole child. The largest gains were in understanding why students need each essential skill, and in the relationship between the developmental domains. While understanding and teaching the whole child are among the educational jargon often used in educational discussions, the prevailing teaching systems usually leave little time for understanding how language, motor skills, social skills, and academic development are inter-connected.

ESI with fidelity: effect on understanding the whole child

Use of ESI with fidelity: effect on understanding the whole child

Teacher perception of changes in their skills and behaviors is supported by changes in student outcomes at Simpson Central School. The percentage of third grade students scoring proficient and above in Language Arts has more than doubled.  More than 80% of students are fully proficient or better in Mathematics.

Using systematic measurement of progress leads to improved capacity for informed instruction, which allows teachers to give students the instruction they need to develop competency in crucial early learning skills. 

For more information, please see the first two posts in this series:

How to Create Low-Skill Workers in America: Just Look Around

Coverage is Not Enough: How to Build Competency

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Written by

Bob Sornson is an award-winning author and presenter, calling for programs and practices which support competency based learning and early learning success. He works internationally with school districts, universities, and parent organizations. His many books include Over-Tested and Under-Prepared: Using Competency-Based Learning to Transform Our Schools (Routledge), Fanatically Formative (Corwin Press), and Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning about Empathy (Love and Logic Press). Contact Bob@earlylearningfoundation.com.

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