New system moves students at the speed of learning
A new system of teaching at the Woodbine Community School District (WCSD) is already seeing success in focusing in on the help students need, providing challenges for those who advance more rapidly and helping students who have lost some learning to catch up.
It’s called Tiger Learning – Moving at the Speed of Student Learning.
“It’s changing the system. It’s changing how we have taught kids for 100 years,” said Justin
Wagner, superintendent of the school district. “It’s essentially taking where students are academically and moving them at the speed of their learning instead of moving at the speed of system comfort.”
At the September school board meeting, Wagner reported that in two kindergarten classrooms, 98% percent of the students who took a pre-assessment already knew the standard on which they were assessed.
The old education system developed in the late 19th century, which still exists in many schools today, focuses on students learning all at the same time and in the same way, Wagner explained.
“We believe the similarities amongst students stops at the date they were born,” he continued. “Just because students were born in the same town or in the same year does not mean they are the same. There are so many factors which influence who they are or how they learn, that we must be responsive and look at learning differently.
“We now have the tools to create the system where this can happen,” Wagner concluded.
“In the past, we would have spent two weeks teaching that standard, whether the students knew it or not, and we would have gone at the speed of the system,” he explained.
“That was just a great example right out of the chute because they (the students) were able to move on to the next standard and save two weeks of time,” he continued.
Eventually that is going to bump students into standards of learning associated with higher grades, even though the students stay with their same-aged peers.
“We know that socially and emotionally, students need to be in with their grade level peers.
We’ve created provisions in our schedule for that,” said Wagner.
He pointed to another example of how Tiger Learning is working. A middle school teacher asked her students if they enjoyed the new system of learning. She said every hand went up in a class of 17.
“This is a big shift for them, too. That means it’s harder, too, because students have to own their own learning,” said Wagner.
He explained how the system works in practice.
“What we do is we focus on the essential standards, which are broken down into learning targets and ‘I Can’ statements. That makes it easy to know if the students are showing proficiency on the objectives.
“One of the most powerful things we’ve done is to make sure all kids get a pre-assessment on every standard. That basically tells us if they know the standard. I know it seems simple, but a lot of schools nationwide don’t do a pre-assessment. They roll into the same chapter at the same time and in the same way. Our system was not built to adapt to some students already knowing the standard while others in the same class were two standards behind, for example. That is until now.”
The Tiger Learning concept was studied extensively last year by the WCSD staff. Wagner said the best research-based strategies were reviewed, analyzed and implemented this fall.
“There are things we’re going to be learning on the run and adapting to, but already, even at a basic level, moving at the speed of student learning has already gained us time, it’s gained us
student engagement and lowered certain behaviors,” he said, “because the kids are focused on the fact that if they work harder, they get to move to the next standard, whereas before if they worked hard, they had to wait for everybody else to get done with the standard.
“We’re seeing some really good early returns on academics, attendance and behavior. There’s still a long way to go, but that’s encouraging.”
Wagner said perhaps the proudest point he has had with the change to Tiger Learning is the staff’s willingness to challenge the old system of learning.
“It’s the system we all grew up in,” Wagner explained. “So within a year’s time frame we have taken the best researched-based practices and are transforming the system to focus on student learning.
“The staff has been absolutely incredible because they now have to manage multiple centers within their classroom, and really making the system fit the kids, not the kids fit the system.”
Wagner offered an example of the Tiger Learning model.
“Eventually the kindergarten students that have moved through the kindergarten essential standards will move into the first grade essential standards. That will mean getting first-grade expertise to the students. That also means finding that break point with the kindergarten teacher, how far they can go with their knowledge and expertise.
“Some kindergarten teachers can go through first grade and beyond. But in some instances it will be engaging students with that next level of educators.”
He said the schedule has built-in intervention times throughout the school day where the students who are more advanced have a 30- or 45-minute block of time in which, for example, the first grade teacher can come into the kindergarten classroom to give those students targeted interventions they need.
“Kindergarten teachers typically can handle most of the kindergarten and higher standards. That’s just an example of how the teacher will come to the classroom so the students stay with their same-aged peers socially but academically they’re getting challenged,” Wagner explained.
In practice. it may not be a first-grade teacher that comes into a kindergarten class or a second grade teacher that comes into a first grade class, and so on, to help those students who are advancing more rapidly.
From a human resource perspective, the WCSD looks at teachers as smart in many areas and this model maximizing this skill set through assistance across grade spans.
“We’ve actually done it by content. Each one of our teachers has said what their skill set is and the academic background they are comfortable with,” Wagner said. “We’ve broken it down into math and literacy.
“Of our kindergarten through fourth grade teachers, there’s either a math or literacy expert. Sometimes you might have a fourth grade teacher who is our math expert helping first graders because we are going by content rather than by grade. It’s really going to help advance student knowledge in those two fundamental areas,” he continued. “While we are not there yet in practice, this reworks the system in terms of how we can support students, when their age does not limit how fast and how far they can learn.”
Wagner said the Tiger Learning system is designed to limit lost learning moments.
“It helps the students who are advancing more rapidly but it also helps students, for example, who are at a third grade level who have lost some learning over the past year. The pre-assessments will allow us to zero in on prescriptive pieces of teaching,” Wagner explained.
“In each unit there are multiple standards and in each standard there are learning targets,” he continued.
“A student might understand three of the essential standards of the five in a unit, but this pre-assessment allows us to get prescriptive, to drill down to which part of the standard the student is struggling with and give them that help. The prescriptive part is important for those students who have lost some learning.”
“We also know this is a significant change for parents and students as well,” Wagner added. “We understand it took us a long time to get to this point in education, so it won’t be changed overnight.”
Wagner said recently that he asked a student what they thought about Tiger Learning. The student
stated, “I don’t like it…because it makes me think.”
Wagner is looking forward to hearing more success stories about the Tiger Learning system.
“We really believe this is changing the educational system.” he said.
The District Leadership Team and specifically Jill Ridder and Scott Breyfogle have been instrumental in this change, Wagner said.
“Districts don’t thrive without good principals, and we sure are blessed to have two good ones in Woodbine!” he said.
Wagner added, “The teachers and staff have done an amazing job of adapting, growing, leading and focusing on student learning even though it is and will continue to be hard. This is certainly a work in progress and we are looking for small daily wins as we rebuild what the system for learning should look like…truly focused on kids!”