On Feb. 3, Dominican University hosted a lecture by Donald Dreshler, PhD. The title, “Raising the Bar … Closing the Gap,” seemed very apropos in its timing. Supt. Attila Weninger at the high school is well acquainted with Dreshler and his outstanding work and sent some of his staff to the lecture. Dreshler and his associates at the University of Kansas have educated over 400,000 teachers in the strategies and instruction developed and validated by their Center for Research on Learning. However, with expectations changing so often and the demand to provide something different for every student, teachers sometimes just tune out.
The subject of the lecture reinforced the idea that even those most at risk can succeed-if all the pieces are in place. The problem can become very daunting. If a student is reading at a fifth-grade level as a freshman in high school, he has to gain almost two-plus grade years, each year to be reading at grade level by graduation. There aren’t any “magic bullets” available to accomplish this.
Dreshler mentioned that in his experience there is no more demanding vocation, physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, than teaching. He said teachers need to think more about themselves on regular basis. As Stephen Covey alluded to in Seven Habits, they need to “sharpen the saw,” pause and review and reflect.
His solutions are probably what we all know but in this day and age are often difficult to implement.
First of all, everyone in the school-everyone-has to be committed to the goal. Maybe it isn’t test scores, but it’s literacy scores, followed by math scores. There is that core curriculum that every student should be able to handle. That is the goal.
The elements needed to reach that goal are:
Manage behavior effectively. This is the building block and without it, the goal can’t be reached.
Understand the content-a year-long plan in place that helps the student to answer the key questions and concepts.
Use effective teaching practices. If the first two are working and the student isn’t getting it, review the teaching practices.
Do a formative assessment of the results. If behavior is under control, review content, etc. Do we change and when do we change?
Dreshler made a very clear point, by way of example, that we often don’t understand the student’s agony when they can’t perform as their peers do. The frustration may result in poor behavior, when the student could really be looking for sensitive assistance.
He showed one chart that he said we should all memorize. In their research, they found the student was the problem about 12-13 percent of the time. The school was the problem 25 percent of the time. The teacher was the problem 62 percent of the time. “Teacher” includes both administration and, in some cases, the parents.
The potential is there. We need to go back to the elements to help them succeed.
The total education system is based on a continuum with Literacy Language as the base. To “close the gap,” some students need enhanced content instruction, using all the best teaching strategies. This instruction could be very intense and in some cases involve expanded time. The entire staff needs to buy in, pool their talents, and all have the same goal.
In their research, Dreshler’s group also discovered that most teachers spend the majority of class time in lecture, which they felt was correct. After lecture, however, a huge majority of teachers failed to use the instructional strategies that would enhance the students’ understanding of the subject matter, in favor of lower impact activities. This was even more noticeable in the special education classes.
Some of his final points suggested that sometimes the best answer is, “Now is not the right time for a change.” Teachers often hit the dysfunctional area, when too many things are piled on their plate-new program, attempt, abandon; new program, attempt, abandon, etc. Instruction needs to be unrelenting on core curriculum.
The reason Dr. Dreshler was at Dominican is that it’s celebrating 30 years of offering degrees in special education. There were about 200 people in attendance, which I felt was a shame. It would have been a great renewal and “heads up” for every teacher and school administrator. I understand that educators are blanketed with new and old information almost every day, but as was suggested, we all need to pause and “sharpen the saw.”