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The Missing Piece in Those Boxed Curriculums-Strategies for Closing Learning Gaps

closing learning gaps

The Dance of Data: Why Closing Learning Gaps Should Happen in the Now, but Usually Happen in the Later

In How Learning Works (2023), the authors note that practice designed to help students master certain skills “must be coupled with feedback that explicitly communicates about some aspect(s) of students’ performance relative to specific target criteria, provides information to help students progress in meeting those criteria, and is given at a time and frequency that allows it to be useful” (Lovett, et. al, 2023).

However, herein lies the problem. While pre-packaged curriculum geared toward the Tier 1 classroom offers a clear roadmap for learning, it has also limited teachers’ ability to modify curriculum, adapt instruction and address student needs in real-time through appropriate feedback.

The Pitfalls of the Traditional Tier 1 Curriculum

Tier 1 instruction, whether intended or not, usually reflects a linear progression. Teachers deliver content to 20+ students, “assess” understanding while circulating the room and provide feedback while students are working, and then (hopefully) address any gaps before moving on. However, this approach has limitations:

  • Feedback vs. Targeted Feedback: Circulating the room and providing feedback is not the same as providing targeted feedback. While students are working, teacher feedback tends to be based on what the student is working on at that moment. On the other hand, targeted feedback is grounded in a skill or content-gap. The teacher pulls a group or meets strategically with students and can focus on the learning gap, not so much the single problem or question the student is currently working on.

  • Limited Differentiation: Waiting for a summative (or even formative) assessment to identify gaps makes it difficult to know what students need before moving on to new material. 

  • Missed Opportunities: The most opportune time to address misconceptions is when they first arise. Delaying intervention allows the gap to widen and progression toward proficiency to be hindered. 

Curriculum Haves and Have Nots

Curriculums typically provide a clear sequence of content, aligned with learning objectives, and most likely include embedded assessments, perhaps throughout the unit and most definitely, at the end. 

However, curriculums often lack a crucial element – the package of assessment and immediate response based on that assessment within a lesson. While curriculums may include a clear sequence of content and assessment opportunities to measure understanding, they often do not include the second half of the package- how to address the learning gaps they reveal.

data-driven instruction

Benefits of Closing Gaps in the Moment

  • Deeper Understanding: By addressing misconceptions immediately, students build upon a solid foundation, avoiding the pitfalls of building knowledge on shaky ground.

  • Increased Engagement: Providing immediate targeted support keeps students engaged and motivated. They don't feel lost or overwhelmed, allowing them to actively participate in the learning process.

  • Boosted Confidence: Overcoming challenges and solidifying understanding fosters a sense of accomplishment and boosts student confidence. Students are more likely to embrace new concepts when they feel successful in mastering previous ones.

  • More Efficient Use of Time: Addressing learning gaps in the moment eliminates the need for extensive remediation later, allowing teachers to optimize classroom time and ensure all students are progressing.

teaching cycle

Supporting Teachers in the Recursive Dance

So, how can leaders empower teachers to close learning gaps in the moment instead of waiting? Here are a few ideas:

  • Provide informal, ongoing feedback: Foster a culture of informal feedback loops, where teachers receive timely insights not only on assessment outcomes, but also on their immediate response within the curriculum. This approach encourages continuous improvement and responsiveness to student needs in real-time.

  • Collaboratively plan during PLC’s: Facilitate collaborative discussions among teachers during PLC meetings, providing dedicated time for analyzing student work, sharing insights and developing next steps. By engaging in dialogue focused on immediate responses to student progress, teachers can refine their instructional approaches and support one another's professional growth.

  • Modify curriculum:  Train teachers to embed immediate response mechanisms within the curriculum, facilitating timely adjustments based on ongoing feedback. Whether through formative assessment checkpoints or adaptive teaching strategies, this integration ensures that learning gaps are addressed as they emerge.

For school leaders seeking to elevate their curriculum and empower teachers, consider this Done-for-You Professional Development package focused on embedding Check-For-Understanding (CFU) strategies within any curriculum for any subject and for any grade.

This 40-60 minute training equips educators with the skills to seamlessly integrate CFU into their existing curriculum, aligning perfectly with your initiative to modify curriculum for timely adjustments. Participants will learn to:

  • Master the Art of Check-For-Understanding: Discover effective strategies to identify student understanding throughout a lesson, catching knowledge gaps as they arise.

  • Embed Check-For-Understanding into Curriculum: Learn how to integrate frequent check-ins into existing curriculum materials, maximizing their impact and facilitating timely adjustments based on ongoing feedback.

  • Provide Immediate Targeted Responses: Develop the skills to tailor instruction and support based on individual student needs, ensuring no student falls behind.

By training teachers to embed CFU strategies, the inclusion of the immediate response within the curriculum allows teachers to move beyond a scripted approach and become responsive facilitators.

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