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Welcome to Practice Notes

Finally! The All Learners Project (and now the All Learners Network!) is online.

And, beside all the tools and support materials we’ve posted online, there is also this blog – Practice Notes. The intention with these publications is to bring new understandings to the whole network about teaching experiments, district initiatives, new tools, and new resources. Practice Notes will be a resource to support the ALP Rapid Cycle of Inquiry – our practice of trying out new instructional techniques or resources and reporting back to the group.

As we report this fall, you should stayed tuned for pieces from Network members on:

  • The new Middle School HLCs and assessments

  • Templates for a 30-minute intervention block

  • The use of the Rekenrek as an alternative intervention model to 10 frames

  • Techniques for choosing low-floor-high-ceiling tasks for Main Lesson

  • Supporting students with challenges for inclusion in the Main Lesson

  • Menu for Middle School

  • Using HLAs for Clinical Interviews

  • Getting teachers onboard with differentiation

For the first post, I want to articulate the critical elements of All Learners. For people new to our work, this will help (I think). For those of you who’ve been onboard for a while, this may add some clarification. We’ve included a version of these elements on the website.

The All Learners Project began life as an attempt to walk the talk of, “All students can learn.” Coaches in the Franklin West Supervisory Union did all the groundbreaking work on this idea in the spring of 2016. The idea was further fleshed out through work with the Worcester County Schools in Worcester, Maryland and the Mount Desert Island School District in Maine. (Why these places? It’s a long story. The short version is that I was working with these folks and the leaders in these districts were people with vision and skill. They made it happen)

Within the first year, we saw very positive results – some measurable, some more qualitative. As a rapid cycle of inquiry is part of our essential elements, we learned a great deal (and continue to learn) about how to support our students in increasingly effective ways. As math leaders and teachers began to see the results a hope that all kids could learn math became a belief that they could. When faced with a difficult challenge – such as including a student who was three years behind the class in a Main Lesson – our motto became, “all means all.” One of my favorite Special educators said of our effort, “Just because we don’t know how to do it now, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We’ll figure it out.”

The All Learner Project relies on the following components to do its work:

  • High Leverage Concepts (What matters most, the most effect for the effort)

  • All Learners Lesson Structure (inclusion AND differentiation)

  • A Systems Approach that Starts with Math Leaders (and relies on professional learning communities)

  • A Rapid Cycle of Inquiry (We “try things out” and reflect on their effectiveness)

  • Formative Assessment (Understanding student thinking leads to good instruction)

1. High Leverage Concepts

High Leverage Concepts (HLC) are key mathematical understandings that students will need to be successful in the following year of school. For example, all students need to demonstrate understanding of the HLC in first grade – adding and subtracting numbers to 120 – to be successful in second grade where they will be adding and subtracting numbers within 1,000. HLCs are the focus of most/all remedial efforts at a particular grade level.

2. All Learners Lesson Structure

The All Learners Project makes use of a workshop-style approach to lessons in order to leverage both inclusion and differentiation for student learning. Instruction in the All Learners Project is focused on the use of conceptual models to facilitate individual student understanding. Multiple ways to solve (and understand) problems are encouraged. The elements of the All Learners Lessons include:

Launch (often a Number Talk or short problem)

Main Lesson (focused on heterogeneous problem solving and student discourse)

Menu (a differentiated part of the lesson used for remediation and the presentation of “just right” practice and reflection)

Closure (a time for sharing, reflection, and formative assessment)

3. The Use of Instructional Leaders to Facilitate Instructional Growth

Instructional coaches and teacher-leaders are the key participants in the All Learners Project. Through tools made available in ALP instructional leaders support teachers to develop their pedagogical skill, interpret and use assessment data, and support learners who struggle with math.

4. A Rapid Cycle of Inquiry

The instructional leaders who have participated in the All Learners Project are concerned primarily with what works. That is, they are focused on instructional practices that support all learners to demonstrate understanding of High Leverage Concepts before the end of the year. ALP coaches are constantly trying new practices, revising instruments (like the High Leverage Assessment), learning and revising techniques (like clinical interviews). As teachers and coaches in the field find success, their results are reported throughout the ALP network so others can validate or revise these new practices.

5. Formative Assessment Informs Instruction

The All Learners Project is focused on the success of every child. We believe that children can only be successful at mathematics if they construct their own understanding from experience. Since each learner has unique qualities, a big focus of our work is on understanding how students think in order to provide them with the kinds of experiences that will deepen their conceptual understanding or make it more efficient. We use Formative Probes, Clinical Interviews, Collaborative Studies – specific coaching tools to help teachers and leaders get good information on student understanding and plan accordingly.

I hope you’ve found this introduction to the All Learners Project helpful, or at least informative. We’re happy that you found your way here and hope that we can engage you in our rich conversation as we find ways to help every student be successful with mathematics.

John Tapper

Winooski, Vermont

Published: September 4, 2018