Critical Needs Elementary

Theme - Instructional Programs, Practices, and Arrangements

Best Practices

  • Instruction is student-centered, hands on in flexible groupings, and differentiated to meet the needs of every student.
  • Teachers make connections, build on student strengths, and fill gaps in background knowledge, often through technology.
  • Approaches are consistent across classrooms and collaboration between teachers and specialists is ongoing.

With a “no excuses” attitude, educators in the higher-performing schools do “whatever it takes” to find the right instructional approach to enable a student to succeed. Instruction is differentiated to make this possible, and mainstream classroom teachers actively seek out the knowledge and expertise of specialists to address particular needs. Arrangements for students classified for special education services are as inclusionary as possible and often involve coteaching. Whether ESL instruction is push in or pull out, language acquisition for ELs is supported in the regular classroom.

Some differences between higher- and average-performing schools

Differentiation of instruction is prevalent across all the higher-performing schools. Instruction is student centered and connected to the real world and students’ prior knowledge. Teachers use cooperative learning, learning centers, and a mix of instructional arrangements – whole group, small group, individual – and styles – direct instruction, hands-on application, technology – to engage students and scaffold their learning. Balanced literacy approaches are used in blocks of 90 minutes or more, which integrate skills instruction and workshops.

Many of the average-performing schools have begun or are moving toward using practices similar to those in the higher-performing schools, but those practices may not be as well established or consistently in use across all grades and classrooms. Educators in the average performers express frustration with what they characterize as limitations (e.g., emotional problems, various physical or mental disabilities, lack of support from home, language background) they feel they cannot impact.

Selected Evidence

Educators at Lincoln attribute their lack of an achievement gap in ELA to a variety of factors related to programs, instruction, collaboration, and other best practices in the school.

Maybrook teachers, who use the Literacy Collaborative's balanced literacy approach, have put together packets that explain what literacy instruction in their school looks like. Excerpts from the Writing Workshop packet show clearly how teachers focus on students' individual interests and needs.

In Port Chester-Rye, whose literacy program is based on the approach of LitLife, lesson plans provide for flexibility, are language rich, and make connections to students' lives and/or prior knowledge.

At Columbus, where a large majority of students are Hispanic, all teachers are expected to pay attention to content and language in every lesson, following the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model. An agenda from staff development on SIOP models interactive instruction.

In Roosevelt, a variety of tools support consistency in curriculum and instruction across schools. These include a standard Lesson Plan Guide, guidance on language teaching strategies to use in any classroom, a monthly Curriculum News calendar that helps specialists know what is being covered in ELA, math, and science, and a form developed by an ESL teacher asking teachers what concepts and vocabulary will be covered in the core subjects during the month.