Coaching Role in Core Curriculum and Instruction

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    In this column I discuss some of the roles and challenges for coaches in the implementation of a strong core instruction — the foundation on which Tier 2 and 3 supports are built. There are several roles for RTI coaches in supporting the use of evidenced-based practices across the tiers, including assisting in the selection of evidenced-based practices, facilitating the problem-solving process, and ensuring that instruction is delivered with fidelity.

    The first challenge is to ensure that the curricula being used are evidenced based. Schools either have an evidenced-based core curriculum or they don't.  In early literacy, selecting a core curriculum has become much easier since most of the major publishers of basal reading series have revised their curricula to follow the findings of the National Reading Panel released in 2000.  There are some schools that do not have a basal curriculum and literacy coaching is even more important in these schools, since everything rests on the strength of the teacher.  A strong teacher is always important but in the absence of a core curriculum, it is paramount for student success.  Due to the concern that a struggling student may be paired with a struggling teacher, adopting a basal is an important consideration.  When large numbers of students are not meeting proficiency targets, examining the core curriculum and instruction is the place to begin problem solving.   An RTI coach can help organize this effort.  Finding core math curricula with strong evidence is more challenging, but with the release of the National Math Panel results this past spring, it is anticipated that there will be many new, improved curricula from which to choose in the next few years.


    A second challenge is using a specific process for identifying specific student needs. To determine subskill area weaknesses in a subject area, it is recommended that schools examine all their data for patterns and similarities.  The problem solving process is a key strategy for accomplishing this task.  The coach can work with the building RTI team to complete problem identification — what is the problem for our students.  Once it is known what skill deficits students are exhibiting, then the team can focus on problem analysis.  This would include an examination of the curriculum, instruction, the school environment (such as how orderly classrooms are), and finally characteristics unique to the learners. One or all of these areas may be contributing to the identified concern.

    Here’s an example:  you may have a strong research-based core curriculum and may also have good instruction occurring across your classrooms with a few exceptions.  But your core, while evidenced based, may not be meeting the needs of your unique student population.  A good example of this would be a school with large numbers of English Language Learners.  These students may need more vocabulary instruction than the core provides including multiple exemplars and more practice opportunities.  Since most schools are not in a position to go out and purchase a new core curriculum, then the next step is to design lessons that address these gaps in the curriculum. If the core appears sufficient upon review, then there is a different problem.  Is it being taught as it was intended to be taught?


    The third challenge, ensuring that instruction is delivered with integrity, is one of the most important aspects of RTI.  This, also, is a thorny issue for a number of reasons:


    • who is going to determine whether the instruction was delivered with integrity
    • how will the integrity data be collected?
    • what kinds of data will be used to determine if the instruction was delivered with  fidelity?
    • how accepting are staff of an integrity check?


    When the integrity checks indicate concerns that the core isn’t being delivered as intended, the solution ranges from feedback to professional development.  An RTI coach could be a person involved in collecting integrity data, but more likely the coach would provide a structure and tools for doing so and team members would collect this information and provide feedback. Integrity check information across the building should be collected by the building RTI team, however, so it can be determined if implementation issues are widespread, and therefore a more systematic solution would be generated such as ongoing professional development related to the area of need.


    In this article I’ve discussed issues related to core instruction that need coaches' attention.  In the next blog entry, I will discuss coaching issues as they relate to the selection and implementation of interventions for Tier 2 and Tier 3.

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