Two of the most frequent words that we use when sharing the collaborative response model with educators are “structure” and “process”. School cultures that effectively identify and then support students need well-developed structures and processes that are continuously refined over time. One vital structure that keeps our focus on students and, as well as visually document our response to their identified needs, is the development of a visual team board for the collaborative team meetings.
Whether physically constructed (view some samples) or digitally produced through software (such as the WeCollab system or Dossier’s CRM module), it is important to understand the difference between student entry levels and intervention tiers in the development and utilization of these boards.
Often when first introduced to the concept of visual boards, teachers get excited. They like how the boards help to identify individual students, often putting faces to the real children that we are targeting for support. They quickly want to take their class list and “slot” students where they feel they should be. Imagine this thought process…
“Maryanne and Douglas are definitely my two weakest students that need lots of support – they must be tier 4. Next would come Rahim, Ester and Calem – tier 3. My group including Marcus, Randi, Mutambo, Chase and Joyce come next at tier 2 with the rest of the students who are progressing well falling into Tier 1.”
On the surface, this makes sense. We have grouped students for instruction for a long time – is this just new language for clustering kids for instruction? However, this line of thinking is counterproductive to the effective use of a team board to guide and document response. It is important to recognize that the tier placement for students is really indicative of the supports we’ve intentionally put in place for students. The entry level is determined by our assessment of their skills, based on our area of focus.
Student Entry Level
The student entry level is simply the current assessment of a student based on criteria. When first establishing, this “criteria” may simply be a teacher’s observational assessment of their skill set. We often promote a simple four level criteria:
- Not Yet Meeting Expectations
- Approaching Expectations
- Meeting Expectations
- Exceeding Expectations
As shown in the sample team board above, these levels are shown by the colour of the student card. In time, schools can (and should) develop a clearly understood criteria for what each of these levels look like for students (i.e. what exactly is “approaching expectations” for a grade six student?), utilizing assessment information to help make that determination.
Let’s take a look at some examples in action:
On this team board, students have “cards” (post-its) with four colours (using similar criteria as shared above), but with each student have an entry level for literacy, numeracy and behavior (the columns on the tri-fold board).
On this team board utilizing the WeCollab software, students have entry levels indicated by the coloured bar on their student card and the user can change the focus area as desired. A child may be blue (“Exceeding Expectations”) in regards to their academics, but red (“Not Yet Meeting Expectations”) in relation to social/emotional success.
Here is an example of school that created their entry level criteria for each grade level based on their end of year literacy assessment (click on it for PDF Copy)
Are you frequently changing the entry level (the colour of the card) as new student data is made available?
No. A solid process to consider is completing the student entry level once a year, as students prepare to transition grades. For example, the grade four team, during a final collaborative team meeting in June (when talking about “so what are we going to do?” may not be as valuable with only a few weeks of school left), may look at the student data that they have and make a collective decision of the entry level for students as they leave grade four to enter grade five. They take Brandon’s yellow card, that showed he came into grade four “Approaching Expectations” and, using their grade level criteria that they’ve created, determine he is leaving grade four now “Meeting Expectations”. This is a powerful transition exercise that then “prepares” the team board for the next grade level (with the student card, now a new colour, returning to the tier they were last on – more about that shortly). It is also a process that in time should be effectively informed by student assessment data but still reliant on teacher synthesis of that information.
We have worked with a high school that made changes to the student’s entry level each semester, looking at their course success rate, attendance and literacy screen data as the key indicators to inform the determination of entry levels.
If the student entry level (or colour of the student card) demonstrates a current level of achievement as a student enters a new grade or semester, their placement in tiers on the board is solely determined by the type of supports we have put in place for them.
For a full explanation of a four tier model, please see a previous posting. In addition, a posting regarding the development of an “intervention menu” will also be incredibly helpful, as well as a posting sharing a number of support or intervention menu examples.
If, in our school’s pyramid of intervention or continuum of supports, we have identified a certain support as being “tier 3”, when we put that support in place for a student, we move their card to Tier 3. This indicates this student currently requires Tier 3 level supports for success AND we can clearly identify what those supports are, once a support or intervention menu is established. No longer do we slide a student into Tier 4 because “they are weak”. We shift them to Tier 4 when they currently require supports from outside the school for their success.
When a student moves up a tier, do we stop accessing supports at the lower tier?
Absolutely not! When a classroom teacher has put in a number of tier 2 level supports in the classroom and is still finding the student needing additional support from outside of the classroom (a key identifier of a tier 3 support), they don’t stop doing what works in the classroom. They are just adding to the supports in place. It should be expected that while all students have access to impactful Tier 1 universal instruction, many students will need additional tier 2 supports in place while then also needing to examine tier 3 and 4 as well for success. The placement on the team board is determined by the highest level of support currently being accessed for the student.
No more labeling (“Ben’s NOT a Tier 4 student”)
This structure also supports a fully inclusive mindset in schools. Ben is no longer labeled as a “Tier 4 Student”. Rather, he is a student currently needing tier 4 level supports for success. During a student’s time in schools, it is expected that they will need shifting levels of support, from classroom, school and external levels, in order to experience success.
We love this meme shared from a school in Lacombe, Alberta (thanks to James S McCormick School for sharing).
Why are colours effective for entry levels and tiers?
Utilizing colours can help to visually flag students we should maybe be examining further. When we see a red card (indicating a student who had been determined by their last set of teachers as Not Yet Meeting Expectations) sitting in a green Tier 1 (meaning they are receiving nothing more than class instruction for their success), that may be a prompt for a conversation about what we’re doing to support the student. It also clearly illustrates that even our highest achieving students (shown in the first board example as the blue cards) will need Tier 3 and 4 level supports from time to time.
Essentially the team boards, depicting student entry levels (determined by assessment data) and drawing attention to our current response in relation to card placement on intervention tiers, can be a structure that truly reflects an inclusive mindset to supporting and responding to the needs of all students. It can be the structure that effectively influences sound process when collaboratively determining the best possible response for students in our classrooms and schools.