David A. Sousa states in How the Brain Learns, “Educators are not neuroscientists, but they are members of the only profession whose job is to change the human brain every day”. The classroom is the educator’s laboratory. This is where it is necessary for them to “problem solve” and endeavor to “discover” what it takes to reach and teach every student.
The typical classroom is composed of a number of students who have varying ability levels. This means that teachers are required to be more flexible in order to accommodate the different needs of the individuals within their classroom. Not only does this include students with disabilities, but students from various cultures, languages, and family environments.
Teachers play a vital role and are the key player in helping students with varying abilities to be successful. They make important decisions about what and how to teach. They must constantly access and assess the data for each student, in order to make appropriate decisions on the next steps to take in helping students make progress.
It is an interesting comparison to think of it in terms of how a doctor practices medicine. Doctors apply the knowledge they have acquired through years of training. They “problem solve” or make a diagnosis based on the symptoms (data) they collect. The doctor will prescribe what he/she believes is the best remedy for the problem. If it works, then the patient recovers. If it doesn’t, then the doctor will typically try another avenue to address the problem.
Similarly, lawyers receive years of training in order to practice law. With each case, they are challenged to develop a strategy that will help their client to win in court. The lawyer will look at the facts (data) of the case and “problem solve” to come up with the best plan of action to defend their client’s position. If they are successful, then their client wins. If not, then the lawyer will “problem solve” or endeavor to come up with a different strategy to help their client’s case.
In this same manner of logic, teachers are trained to practice education. They are professionals who are prepared for the responsibility of educating all students. They are expected to be 100% successful and show growth with each and every child. As with the example of the doctors and lawyers, it too becomes necessary for teachers to “problem solve” in order to be able to reach and teach every child.
Problem solving for doctors, lawyers, and teachers involves looking at all the facts (data) and coming up with a game plan that they believe will work for that individual. Sometimes, it will be successful. Other times, it will not. Sometimes, it may take collaborating with other professionals, peers, or specialists to gain further insight and understanding in how to solve the problem.
This type of problem solving involves time, effort, and patience. The bottom line for all these professionals is to find the right solution to the problem and help the patient/client/ student to be successful. The “pay off” is in knowing that you have made a difference in someone’s life! You have helped them to overcome the problem they could not overcome on their own. You have helped them to be successful and make progress.
When it comes to problem solving, a word that has become the “buzz word” in our society is the word “intervention.” It is a word that is used in almost every profession. The entertainment industry has even developed a television program by that name. It is a program where they endeavor to implement interventions in helping people with addictions.
This term “intervention” has been part of the terminology in the educational field and practice for many years. Even so, there has become more of a focus on teachers implementing “interventions” due to federal mandates. These mandates are not referring to just any type of “interventions.” They must be “researched based interventions,” also referred to as “scientific, researched based interventions”, or “evidenced based interventions.”
Laws, such as No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA) are requiring teachers to implement “researched based interventions” in order to help students who are experiencing some type of difficulty in school. Therefore, as teachers go into their “classroom laboratory” to “change the human brain” it has become necessary to incorporate and utilize documented “research based interventions” as part of the educational process.
In addition to the “researched based interventions” terminology, the federal mandates have also introduced other language such as “progress monitoring”, “response to intervention (RtI)”, “improvement” and “accountability.” What do these terms mean to the classroom teacher? How do they impact what the classroom teacher is doing? In a very practical sense, how do these terms play out in the classroom in working with students?
The bottom line is that there needs to be a focus on early intervening services for students having academic and/or behavioral difficulties. Further, appropriate support via “researched based interventions” need to be provided to support those students in general educational settings. By doing these things, struggling students should be receiving the targeted services to help them progress. This should also minimize over-identification and unnecessary referrals to special education, particularly for minority students.
The challenge is to provide teachers with the professional development to give them the needed tools to be able to implement these mandates. As teachers become more familiar with “researched based interventions” and build their repertoire, then they will be better able to address the learning needs and problems that their students exhibit.
In Graham's next article he will delve further into this timely topic to help provide insight and resources that should be helpful to all teachers and interested parents.