Targeted programming meets individual needs one student at a time
CASTLE ROCK-- Natasha Straayer, Douglas County School District’s Director of Educational Programming, says personalized learning is a bit like a building renovation project. Construction workers often place scaffolding around areas that need support, as well as places that are structurally sound where expansion is planned.
As a student develops their strengths, teachers can provide scaffolding that opens opportunities and access a student might need. They can also strengthen areas that might be a relative weakness.
As discussed earlier this month in the article One size fits all? Not in Douglas County, DCSD is committed to universally providing its students with a World Class Education, which consists of a Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum, Quality Assessments and Sustainable Learning. Through the successful implementation of these elements, DCSD students will be empowered and engaged in their learning and teachers have the flexibility to customize the lessons to meet the differing needs of each student.
This sets the stage for more intensive personalized learning, when needed. Teachers can pinpoint what unique needs students may have that may require more targeted intervention.
Straayer and the Personalized Learning staff works to tailor layers of support, beginning with targeted supports, and then more intensive options can be applied if needed.
“Targeted typically means exactly what it says: targeted to meet a specific need for a short period of time. That might be in a smaller group setting,” Straayer said. “Providing those layers of support can change over time in different areas. It may change by time of day.”
“For example, let’s say a student is gifted in mathematics. She might need some targeted interventions to make sure she is receiving instruction and learning opportunities, commensurate with her ability, engagement or interest, to learn something new. She may not need the same kind of intervention or targeted instruction in another part of her day.”
Providing resources to teachers
Straayer’s Educational Programming team primarily focuses on students who are gifted, English language learners or need literacy support, looking for ways to meet those needs.
“I do what I do because I get to problem solve every day to create solutions to help unlock the door for students to become who they want to be—to hook into their passions and their learning”
Working with schools, her team builds a network of area experts, as well as frameworks and professional development for typical classroom teachers.
“There is a lot of autonomy to be able to deliver this programming in an effective way that also fits within the systems and structures that are already built into a school,” Straayer said. “You may see a literacy interventionist co-teaching with a first grade teacher. The students may be working in small groups within the classroom or they may be pulled out for a short time to work with the interventionist who is providing that more targeted instruction on a specific, common need that has been identified.”
Gifted learners aren’t just gifted at 10:20 am on TuesdayThis customization is important because each student is different.
Straayer says her team often sees nuanced situations. For instance, a student is extremely gifted in one area, but struggling with a learning disability in another.
“I think it's a misconception – that a student is one thing in one box. Gifted learners aren’t just gifted at 10:20 a.m. on Tuesday,” Straayer said. “Students are unique and have unique needs. We are not going to clump everyone into one program and say, here is your program option and here is how we’re going to meet your needs. We are going to work collaboratively with the classroom teachers and the specialists in the building to make sure we are creating a continuum of programming services to meet a wide spectrum of need students might have.”
Working closely with Special Education, Health and Wellness, and other groups in the Personalized Learning Department, which are providing similar MTSS supports in their areas of expertise, the team is able to meet a diverse array of needs, whether they are academic or social/emotional in nature.
“We are continually finding ways to leverage our resources, oftentimes combining them, to meet the needs of students,” Straayer said.
What should you do if your child needs support?
An entire network of experts, inside and outside our schools, are working to support Douglas County students. If you believe your student needs assistance the best place to start is your child’s teacher.
“You always want to start by connecting with the person closest to your student first, Straayer said. “We have support staff in all of our areas in every building.”
Straayer says that support options are carefully considered and parents, teachers and students are involved in the conversations.
“We use a whole body of evidence to make programming decisions for students,” Straayer said. “Student voice is very, very important in these decisions.”
What happens if targeted support isn’t enough?
Sometimes students require more support than can be provided in a regular school environment.
“Typically, we can pinpoint some direct, targeted instruction or opportunities to meet those needs,” Straayer said. “If we get to the point where support is really required all day, every day in order to meet that child’s needs, then that requires intensive programming.”
Our focus next week will be exploring the Intensive Support options offered by DCSD, including the Discovery Program for gifted elementary students, Ready Recovery for literacy intervention and Plum Creek Academy, which supports special education students.