Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bullying: A Life and Death Situation

I shall remember forever and will never forget
Monday: my money was taken.
Tuesday: names were called.
Wednesday: my uniform torn.
Thursday: my body pouring with blood.
Friday: it's ended.
Saturday: freedom.

This was the final diary entry of thirteen-year-old Vijay Singh. He was found hanging from the banister rail at home on Sunday (Coloroso. The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander. 2008).

Bullying is a community problem; a society problem; a problem for our entire culture. Adults sometimes minimize, trivialize, or even deny it. Schools develop policies to combat it, but it continues. In the meantime, the bullied refuse to go to school and often spend so much time thinking of ways to avoid being a target that little energy is left for school. People who witness a bullying situation (sometimes called bystanders) are often considered  to neither experience any consequences nor have an active role in breaking the cycle of violence. The truth is breaking the cycle of violence involves more than identifying and stopping the bully. Examination of why a child becomes a bully or a target of a bully (or at times both) as well as the role of the bystander in perpetuating the cycle.  The first piece of information in breaking the cycle is to understand that the language we use to identify the people involved in any violent situation can be a part of the problem. Any time we label a type of person (such a person with a learning disability we call a learning disabled child or a person with diabetes we call a diabetic) that label can encourage behavior based on the label. We unintentionally focus on the person rather than the behavior. We believe if we get rid of the bully we stop the problem. According to Coloroso in The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander (2008) the tragedy of bullying must be rewritten, new roles must be created, the plot must be changed, and the stage must be reset. The approach in re-writing any story is to know and understand the original. There is nothing simple about re-writing this tragedy. There is no single contributor to the problem. Rather it is an accumulation of factors that has promoted the situation we are now in as a society.

The next several articles in the series will include a focus on Iowa law regarding bullying, the reporting requirements, the commonalities between the bully and the victim, how to approach your child if he/she is reflecting bully behaviors, how to best support your child if he/she is a victim of bullying, and the cultural responsibilities of adults.

Bullying is an epidemic, and the dynamics of this epidemic must be addressed by adults if we expect our children to change the current direction in their interactions. Victims must be empowered. Bullies must be educated about their behaviors, and parents must recognize their own role in the tradegy. Schools must do a better job of working to prevent situations where bullying is likely to occur.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Last Dropout

The Last Dropout: Stop the Epidemic is a book by Bill Milliken, Founder of Communities in Schools. This is a book I ran across while browsing in the bookstore recently. I have always been drawn to students who struggle in school for whatever reason.  I used to think the students who struggled were those who came from a specific family dynamic or were children with special needs or were just unmotivated to try in school. What I have found over the last twenty years in education is that all students struggle in school for any number of reasons at various times during their education.  I discovered along my own educational journey that very intelligent and capable people struggled in school. According to various Internet websites:
*Thomas Edison got a late start in his schooling following an illness, and, as a result, his mind often wandered, prompting one of his teachers to call him "addled." He dropped out after only three months of formal education.
*Benjamin Franklin was the fifteenth child and youngest son in a family of 20. He spent two years at the Boston Latin School before dropping out at age ten and going to work for his father, and then his brother, as a printer.
*Two months before his high school graduation, history's first recorded billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., dropped out to take business courses at Folsom Mercantile College.
*Charles Dickens, author of numerous classics including Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and A Christmas Carol, attended elementary school until his life took a twist of its own when his father was imprisoned for debt. At age 12, he left school and began working ten-hour days in a boot-blacking factory.
*The late Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, attended West Heath Girls' School where she was regarded as an academically below-average student, having failed all of her O-level examinations (exams given to 16-year-old students in the UK to determine their education level). At age 16, she left West Heath and briefly attended a finishing school in Switzerland before dropping out from there as well.
While this list is not exhaustive, it does present a picture of what a possible drop out looks like. Or does it? A primary lesson I learned from reading this book (so far as I am not done yet) is that the drop out epidemic is a national problem and it is not, again not, a youth problem; it is an adult problem.  Durant High School’s list of students who don’t make it every year is sad but not much different than Wilton, Tipton, West Branch, or Davenport. This epidemic has been the focus on television shows such as Oprah and Dr. Phil. We have tuned in to Iowa Public Television to watch documentaries on this epidemic. National magazines, such as Time, have done cover stories on this crisis.  The focus of most debates seems to be on numbers: is there some moral advantage to losing 1 out of 5 students as opposed to 1 out of 3. The lower our numbers are the greater sensation of success we seem to feel.  Bill Gates said, “When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education, and we look at the damaging impact that has on their lives, we came to a painful conclusion: America’s high schools are obsolete” (The Last Dropout: 2007, introduction). The question that permeates the book is “can we stop the drop out epidemic?”  The answer is that we can, but not until we realize that adults have to stop the problem. The answers come through focusing on kids, not programs or curriculum to change kids, recognizing the role community plays in educational success, and coming to grips that real change will have to come by holding each other accountable and being transparent in our policies and procedures established by local and state school boards, state departments of education and state and national legislators. The key is, though, that real change begins at home, in our own local communities. Focusing on relationships with students is the place to start. Making connections to those students we serve is a must. There is no quick fix. But it can be done. Our graduation rates can be 100%, legitimately, without cutting corners or manipulating grading practices, or dumbing down expectations. This book is a must read for everyone, especially those in education. After all, as Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over the same way and expecting different results.” The face of education must change. Let it begin with me recommending this book.

Source: Milliken, Bill. The Last Dropout: Stop the Epidemic! Hay House Incorporated Publishing. 2007.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Value of the Written Intervention

We know Response to Intervention (RtI) is not a special kind of program or book. We know it is a process in which all students can benefit through interventions that begin in the general education classroom. We also know the goal of RtI is to prevent failure and make opportunities so all can succeed as learners. And we know that the RtI process is "tiered" or "leveled" with more intensive services implemented at each tier/level. Each tier/level requires regular monitoring and the student is determined to respond or not respond to the various interventions. So now what? Knowing the basics is very empowering, but don't stop there. The value of a written intervention plan, which not required, can provide additional support in understanding and insuring follow through for all parties. It is a great way for parents to be fully involved in the RtI process. A written plan is especially helpful at Tier 2 and Tier 3. A written plan might include the following:
*specific area(s) of concern
*information to support the concern(s) such as test scores or work samples
*a descriptor of the specific interventions
*the length of time that will be allowed for each intervention such as 7 days or 10 days
*the number of minutes per day the intervention will be implemented
*the person responsible for the intervention
*the location of the intervention
*the factors that will be used to determine the success of the intervention
*a description of the monitoring strategy
*a monitoring schedule
*reporting out of the frequency an intervention was used
Of course the instructional interventions that will be implemented should be done by a high qualified teacher or other specialist. Please note that an intervention plan is not the same as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that is written for a student determined to be eligible for special education services. A sample case study may help you see how the RtI works from start to finish. The complete case study can be found on the website of the National Center for Learning Disabilities at www.LD.org and is included in the document titled A Parent's Guide to Response to Intervention (RtI).

Case Study (Highlights)
Susan is in 1st grade. When school began, her mom reported her concern regarding Susan's difficulty with her beginning reading skills.
Tier I: universal screening reflected Susan's struggle in reading; Mom was notified of her performance on the universal screening; Susan was placed in a small group with others who had been identified as "at risk" and received additional instruction; her performance was monitored for several weeks. At the end of the intervention time, Susan's progress monitoring showed her performance below the identifying mark that would indicate a positive reponse to the intervention. Susan was considered unresponsive and placed on Tier II.
Tier II: a face-to-face meeting with Mom was held and school talked with Mom about the decision to move Susan to Tier II with more intensive interventions in reading. Susan's mother asked for information and materials so she could support Susan at home and reinforce the interventions; school gave Mom a written plan and a kit of materials to use at home; Mom began to work with Susan for 20 minutes each evening at home. In addition Susan received reading interventions 45 minutes each time, four times each week, for 8 weeks; progress monitoring was done and data was collected weekly; Mom was given data each week to show her Susan's performance. Susan's lack of response over that 8 week period of time encouraged the team to move to Tier III. The school team suspected a disability and met with Mom to discuss this suspicion. Mom was asked by and gave the school written consent to conduct an evaluation to gain further insights into Susan's struggles with reading. Information from Tier I and Tier II, classroom observation, and a parent interview was used in movement to Tier III.
Tier III: information  from the evaluation and other data points reflected a learning disability in reading; Susan was found eligible for special education services; a team of people met, including Mom, to develop an IEP for Susan; Mom provided written consent for special education services and Susan entered a Tier III intense intervention which was delivered by a special education teacher. This teacher worked with Susan one-on-one each day for an hour and supplemented the hour each day with another half-hour of small-group tutoring with one other student. Progress was monitored twice a week; Mom received a report every grading period; progress was made; other interventions were tried to improve progress even more and included assistive technology. The additional services started to close the gap and Susan was continuously monitored. Special education services would be provided until Susan was back on track with her peers.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Progress Monitoring in Response to Intervention

Since the goal of Tier I in the Response to Intervention (RtI) is to rule out lack of appropriate instruction as the reason for inadequate progress, monitoring progress during the intervention is critical. Progress monitoring must be ongoing and is used to determine whether students are responding     to the instructional approach being implemented. Collecting data on a particular strategy is a 6 to 8 week commitment and is done periodically during this time frame. If little to no change is noted over that period of time students may be recommended for additional intervention and placed on Tier 2 in the RtI process. This time frame is important to allow for a student to adjust to the intended strategy and achieve some consistency in progress or lack thereof. The two most common methods for monitoring progress are through “robust indicators” or “curriculum sampling”.  A robust indicator measures an academic skill this is closely associated with performance on student outcomes.  An example of a robust indicator in reading would be a one-minute sample of oral reading fluency.  A curriculum sample data point would be an actual task completed in goal-level material. An example of curriculum sampling would be monitoring performance on samples of items that represent the most critical curricular skills to be mastered by the end of the academic year. Consider the scenario on Jesse:

Jesse is in the second grade and his reading is very deliberate and labor intensive. He has been consistently well below recommended second grade rates on every oral reading fluency probe for the first two months of the school year. His teacher and the child study team decided to have him join two other students who are also poor readers to receive instruction in a small group setting in addition to the general education class instruction (this is Tier 2 intervention). The three students are to work with the reading specialist and use repeated reading to improve fluency. Jesse’s progress will be monitored so that more intensive intervention can be planned if he does not respond to this small group instructional model or if his fluency increases to the level of his peers in the general education classroom setting. If Jesse’s improvement puts him back on peer level, he will return to Tier 1 intervention.

Note that just because Jesse’s Tier 2 intervention is removed, he does not cease getting Tier 1 intervention support in the classroom. That Tier 1 support could include differentiating lessons for Jesse or having a classroom associate work with him in the general education classroom. The key is documenting the data to reflect the success of the interventions. Tier I strategies are used in the general education classroom to support the learning of all students. Additional strategies are then explored depending on the observations made by the teacher about the respective student’s learning challenges.

The primary benefit of RTI is that it eliminates the “wait to fail” situation because students get the help quickly in the general education setting.   It is important for parents to work with the school to support the implementation of strategies in the RTI process. It is also important to note that during the process of RTI, parents do not give up any authority to act on their child’s behalf, and, at any time during the RTI process, parents can request a special education eligibility evaluation.