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Curriculum & Instruction at RPA

Direct Instruction

The academic program at RPA relies heavily on the research-validated  Direct Instruction (DI) model.  DI is a model for teaching that emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks. It is based on the theory that clear instruction eliminating misinterpretations can greatly improve and accelerate learning.   Its creators, Siegfried Engelmann and Dr. Wesley Becker, and their colleagues believe and have proved, that correctly applied DI can improve academic performance as well as certain affective behaviors. It is currently in use in thousands of schools across the nation as well as in Canada, the UK, and Australia. Schools using DI accept a vision that actually delivers many outcomes only promised by other models.

DI operates on five key philosophical principles:

  1. All children can be taught.

  2. All children can improve academically and in terms of self-image.

  3. All teachers can succeed if provided with adequate training and materials.

  4. Low performers and disadvantaged learners must be taught at a faster rate than typically occurs if  they are to catch up to their higher-performing peers.

  5. All details of instruction must be controlled to minimize the chance of students' misinterpreting the information being taught and to maximize the reinforcing effect of instruction.

Why does DI work?

There are three main features of DI that ensure students learn faster and more efficiently than any other program or technique available:

  1. The program’s structure is designed to ensure mastery of the content.
    The program is organized so that skills are introduced gradually, giving children a chance to learn those skills and apply them before being required to learn another new set of skills. Only 10% of each lesson is new material. The remaining 90% of each lesson’s content is review and application of skills students have already learned but need practice with in order to master. Skills and concepts are taught in isolation and then integrated with other skills into more sophisticated, higher-level applications. All details of the instruction are controlled to minimize the chance of students' misinterpreting the information being taught and to maximize the reinforcing effect of instruction.

  2. Instruction is modified to accommodate each student’s rate of learning.   A particularly wonderful part about DI is that students are retaught or accelerated at the rate at which they learn. If they need more practice with a specific skill, teachers can provide additional instruction within the program to ensure students master the skill. Conversely, if a student is easily acquiring the new skills and needs to advance to the next level, students can be moved to a new placement so that they may continue adding to the skills they already possess.

  3. Programs are field-tested and revised before publication.  DI programs are very unique in the way they are written and revised before publication. All DI programs are field-tested with real students and revised based on those tests before they are ever published. This means that the program your student is receiving has already been proven to work.

 

Reading

We believe that all children can learn to read beginning in kindergarten. The main purpose of reading is to understand. Yet, to understand, all readers must be able to easily and quickly translate words in a printed alphabetic code into understandable speech. This process of deciphering printed words is often the source of children’s reading difficulty.

The most recent research indicates that the best way to approach this problem is directly, explicitly, and systematically. This involves strengthening a child’s sensitivity and skills with speech sounds and linking these sounds to the printed words. This is phonics.  Making this connection must become automatic so a child can focus more on understanding what is read. If a child has to spend a lot of effort simply translating print to speech, he or she will be less able to understand what is read.

Reading Mastery is a reading program that uses the Direct Instruction method to help students master essential decoding and comprehension skills. The program places particular emphasis on teaching thinking skills and helping students acquire background knowledge. Program materials include fully scripted lessons to guide teachers through carefully constructed instructional steps - modeling new content, providing guided practice, offering individualized practice, and applying skills. Signals and group responses are used to keep students involved, help them stay on task, and help with lesson pacing.

Teachers assess student performance throughout the program, and struggling students receive practice through remedial exercises. Each level of the program typically spans one academic year. A typical lesson includes seven to nine short activities encompassing multiple strands of content including:

  • Phonemic Awareness

  • Letter-Sound Correspondence

  • Sounding Out of Words

  • Word Recognition

  • Vocabulary

  • Oral Reading Fluency

  • Comprehension

Language Arts

RPA students receive reading and language instruction in small, skill-based groups using the Direct Instruction Reading Mastery curriculum. This research-based curriculum emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around sequenced learning increments and clearly defined lessons. Students also build their skills in English Language Arts (including reading, writing, research, listening, and speaking) through standards-based lessons directly aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

 

Mathematics

Learning math can be tedious.  Teachers disagree on how best to teach math. Some believe it best to let students “discover” math skills such as the number system or basic math operations. Under this theory, children are given word problems and then learn the computation skills necessary in order to solve them. This approach is considered a “constructionist” or “discovery” approach.

RPA takes a different approach using a program called Connecting Math Concepts (CMC). Children learn skills first. Then they are taught why the skill works. Finally, the children apply the skill to solve a word problem. Our three-step approach is skill, understanding, and application--not the reverse.

CMC provides a very logical and reasonable approach to teaching math. Computation skills are taught sequentially and directly, without sacrificing understanding and application. As a result, children gain a firm foundation and can learn and perform math at all levels in future grades.  In addition to CMC, all grades utilize the Rocket Math curriculum. Rocket Math is a worksheet-based, supplemental, math facts practice curriculum that uses worksheets, oral practice, and timed assessments for sequential practice and mastery of facts.

Spelling

Spelling Mastery is a six-level Direct Instruction series that teaches students dependable spelling skills by blending three approaches: the phonemic approach, the whole-word approach, and the morphemic approach.  The whole-word approach focuses on memorization. The phonemic approach is used for letter-sound correspondences that are predictable. The morphemic approach is used for combing the roots, bases, prefixes, and suffixes into words.

Additional Readings on Direct Instruction

Direct Instruction Meets the Moment: Intervention at the Scale of Learning Loss

Clear Teaching by Shepard Barbash

Direct Instruction: The Rodney Dangerfield of Curriculum by Robert Pondiscio

Project Follow Through

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