Monday, July 7, 2014

Power Blocks - a way to meet ALL students needs

I have been in a teacher or administrator in multiple districts.  Each district has had a version of RtI.  Each version is slightly different.  Some meet as a school during the same time in the morning. Some meet by grade level throughout the day, depending on which time works best for their students and schedule.  Some involve the grade level teachers. Some involve additional staff members.  The one constant in all of these versions of RtI is the focus on the students who need extra support and assistance because they lack the skills or concepts at a given time of the school year.  But what about those students who already have learned the skills or concepts?  How are these versions meeting their needs?  Often, they are not.  These students are given more - more independent work (maybe at a higher level) or more reading (maybe at a higher level). This work often lacked the instruction or interaction of the teachers.

Then I encountered Power Blocks. We started Power Blocks this past school year in an attempt to meet ALL students' needs. The feedback we received was overwhelming positive.  So what made Power Blocks so powerful.  Below are some of the strengths of this version of RtI.

1.  Each grade is given 50 minutes throughout the day at different times. By having each grade have their Power Block at a different time throughout the day, we were able to utilize the expertise of many different adults in the building: special services teachers, recovery room interventionists, reading and math intervention specialist, social worker, counselor, instructional aides, and classroom teachers.  So how did we carve out 50 minutes?  We were already doing 30 minutes of intervention time each day.  We really just had to "find" an additional 20 minutes.  We asked classroom teachers to look at their schedules. Between restroom breaks and other down time throughout the day, we were able to add 20 minutes and create a 50 Power Block.  I would encourage your teachers to look at the efficiency of their day and see if their time was being maximized and utilized as best as it could be utilized.

2.  EVERY student receives instruction. Based on the data, students are placed in groups and meet with a staff member during their power blocks.  Some of the groups are remediation while some are enrichment. Our students who had IEPs met with their special services teachers during this time so they could essentailly "double dip" and receive instruction in the classroom and with their special services teachers.  No longer did the students who needed extra support leave the classroom while the rest of the class stayed together.  In this model, ALL students moved around from class to class to meet with their Power Block group.  EVERY student receives direct instruction from a staff member on his or her level!

3.  We were able to tap into teachers' strengths and interests. Grade level teachers identified the areas they are "experts" in and those "experts" worked with the students who needed the most support. We utilized our instructional aides and other staff members for enrichment groups but not remediation groups. Think of it this way, if you needed to have heart surgery, would you seek out the expert who had performed that surgery hundreds and hundreds of times or would you rather find someone who didn't have as much training or experience?  By utilizing the strengths of our staff, we were able to break the Power Blocks into 2 25-minute sessions.  This allowed ALL students to meet with a variety of teachers throughout the year.

4.  Collaboration is essential.  In order for this Power Block schedule to work, a high level of collaboration between the staff was imperative. Teachers were given time to analyze the data and create groups. Open lines of communication between the staff members were established to share reporting topics and best practices.  Every 6-8 weeks, we evaluated the data and students were moved groups based on their growth (or lack of growth).  We used Google Docs and Google Sheets to provide easy access to the groups and data for all staff members.  Below is a sample of how we used these tools.

5. There were extremely high levels of engagement and positive feedback.  Some students met in Behavior Power Blocks. Other students met in Study Skills Power Blocks.  Some students met in Basic Level Power Blocks.  Other students met in Enrichment Power Blocks (we had 5th graders who created a video series "News from the Nest" where they interviewed our Principal, edited the video, and produced weekly video updates of happenings in our school.)  The key is ALL students were engaged and actively working to meet their individual goals. The feedback we received from the parents was exceptional. Parents appreciated the individual needs of their students being met. Most importantly, students felt their individual needs were met as measured by our annual survey.

Where do we go from here?  We realize this model is not perfect. We reflected on the year and have some key takeaways which we will address in the 2014-15 school year. We will constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the groupings and work to provide meaningful, targeted interventions for ALL students. I do know the Power Blocks allowed us to meet needs which had not been met in previous years.  We look forward to further developing these Power Blocks to meet ALL of our students' needs!

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