District tries new method to support students

Nanaimo school district is taking a new approach to support all students this year.

Nanaimo school district is taking a new approach to support all students this year.

The district is transitioning to a teaching strategy which aims to provide support to struggling learners at an earlier stage – before they fail to succeed in class.

Key to it all is collaboration amongst professionals to address the individual learning needs of each student, said Bob Esliger, assistant superintendent of learning services.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all model,” he said. “It’s not a deficit model and we don’t wait for kids to fail before we respond. This is much more proactive.”

In the past, extra support often hinged on the paperwork needed to get students designated with an official special need, with students waiting while a form was processed. This model puts support in place simply at the teacher’s request, with no official designations required, said Esliger.

Four multi-disciplinary teams, each one headed by one of the district’s four assistant superintendents, are responsible for helping teachers who request support. Teams consist of instructional coordinators – teachers with expertise in different instructional practices – and other specialists, such as psychologists and speech language pathologists.

Teachers can request help with an individual student, group of students, the whole class or with a new teaching method – and team members will work with the teacher to determine what is most effective to support student learning, said Esliger.

“It’s all staff working together, it’s the collaboration that’s critical,” he said.

Darlene Crane, one of the district’s nine instructional coordinators, said the duration of the support varies as does what team members get involved – it is all based on individual circumstances.

“The critical part is never give up,” she said. “If we’re not really closing those gaps with student achievement, you keep trying, you try something else. We want collective teams working together as opposed to teachers feeling they have to carry the load themselves.”

Esliger said the idea is to try to keep students in their regular classroom environments as much as possible – officials believe in the past, some students may have been spending more time outside the classroom, in small groups or in the school’s learning centre, than they needed to be.

The model, called response to intervention, includes three tiers of intervention. Tier one is support in the regular classroom that enhances the achievement of all students in that class; tier two is targeted intervention and support that can include small group instruction, sensory tools, computer-assisted instruction or behavioural strategies; and tier three is intensive support, often addressing significant deficits in students’ academic or behavioural development.

Esliger hasn’t tallied up the number of requests the teams received from teachers since they started work in September, but all have kept busy.

“They’ve been really well received, nobody’s idle,” he said. “We have seen classes turned around, we have been thanked by classroom teachers.”

Justin Green, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said lots of collaboration already occurred amongst teaching staff prior to the implementation of this model, but not on the same level or organization.

The union is surveying members to determine if the model is working and the results will be available next month, he said.

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