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When the pyramid of the RAI model ends up upside down

Marie-Ève Gagnon, project manager for the deployment of the Digital Action Plan, presents her team's experience in developing teachers' digital skills. This is inspired by the Response to Intervention (RAI) model.
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The response to intervention model (RAI) is an approach intended to counter the phenomenon of late intervention with students in difficulty, as reported by the RIRE thematic dossier.

By Marie-Ève Gagnon
Director - project manager for the deployment of the PAN
Navigators School Board

Short summary of the RAI model

This approach has been used for several years now and is based on various components such as effective teaching, early intervention, screening and monitoring, intensification of intervention and problem solving. 

Whether in terms of learning or behavior, the pyramid that illustrates this model aims to describe the strategies, means and interventions that best meet the needs of students and promote their success. 

  • Level 1, the base of the pyramid, wants to meet about 80% of needs. These are universal measures to be put in place to ensure the progress of each student.
  • Level 2, the central part wishes to offer targeted education according to more specific needs not met by the universal measures put in place beforehand. About 15% of students have this type of need.
  • Level 3, the top of the pyramid, aims to put in place directed and intensive measures, adapted to the persistent needs of approximately 5% of the pupils.

In short, this approach implies that for all students, we start from the base of the pyramid, from the implementation of universal methods to promote success, and that, if the student is making little or no progress, we climbs to the top, planning specific and adapted measures.

The RAI model and the development of digital competence for teachers

As project manager for the deployment of the Digital Action Plan in Education, two theoretical frameworks mainly guided me to think about the support of the exploratory project with teachers. 

  • First, the Coherence framework proposed by Fullan and Quinn which presents the effective drivers to be put into action for effective change in education.
  • My second reference was from the start to try to stick to the RAI model. On the other hand, if the coherence framework could be transposed practically as it is, this second referent had to be explored, tested, rethought and finally reversed 180 degrees. Let me explain…

The exploratory project carried out with a network of primary and secondary schools (a 2nd cycle secondary school and all primary and secondary schools that share the same client base), during the 2018-2019 school year allowed explore the best avenues to support teachers in integrating digital technology into their teaching. It was before the arrival of the Reference framework for digital competence. So, in addition to seeking to develop the ease of using the various tools technically, we sought to identify, my team of pedagogical advisers and I, the best avenues of intervention to support both the development of this technical skill while putting this know-how for the benefit of teaching practice (added value). 

We wanted to explore avenues of intervention and we had the RAI model as a watermark. Our goal was to find the most universal measures possible, those that would be able to help the greatest number of teachers to put digital technology at the service of their students' success.

The observation, after the first year of the project, was that to act in universal measures, in an area where the gaps are so enormous between individuals, amounts to throwing a sword in the water. The realities are so different from one school to another and even between classes in the same environment that by offering training that is too broad, in premises that are not laid out like classes, without the students, it is difficult to explicitly model facilitating strategies. In a real context, in the school and even the class, we get much closer to the daily life of the teacher and the modeling becomes easier to reproduce.

As we want digital technology to be a vector of added value in daily teaching, the strategy for the new school year has been to "turn the RAI pyramid upside down" and to first support teachers in directed measures based on their individual needs, one goal at a time.

Rotate the RAI pyramid 180 degrees!

Although new technological tools have been appearing in schools for several years, they have increased tenfold with the launch of the Ministerial digital action plan and especially with the measure of digital combos. This enabled schools to acquire various tools for the start of the 2018 school year. 

To draw a summary portrait of the teachers in the networks we support, we can say that we end up with an inverted version of the RAI model that we know:

  • 80% teachers express the need to be supported to develop their technical ease and integrate new tools into their teaching;
  • 15% of teachers have a fairly developed level of technical mastery, sometimes need a little support, but also need help to plan the integration of digital technology in the service of student learning;
  • 5% teachers have a high level of technical proficiency or are comfortable in self-training. They need to receive information on new features, self-training offered or sometimes, for more advanced features of the tools.

Following this observation, to be facilitators in the appropriation of this equipment, it is necessary to find a coherent, benevolent and adapted way of supporting each teacher in his professional development in connection with his digital competence. To do this, we must start by personalizing our approach, while respecting guidelines common to all.

Our professional development portfolio (to be published in the winter 2020 issue of École branchée) that we have implemented is a good tool to keep the focus on the personal objectives pursued. 

The common guidelines that all the schools in the exploratory project apply for the 2019-2020 school year: 

  • the Coherence Framework;
  • the ministerial digital action plan and more particularly the 3 orientations;
  • the Digital Competence Reference Framework;
  • the Outline of the digital school action plan which respects the 3 orientations of the MÉES;
  • the fact that digital technology must support what is already being done very well in the teaching practice of each teacher.

How does one manage to apply the inverted pyramid?

The above mentioned guidelines must first be presented to the supported teams and they must be constantly referred to. For our part, this is done once per cycle, during community of practice (CoP) meetings for which two teacher leaders from each school supported are released. They then develop with the team of educational advisers (Squad Network-TIC) two aspects related to their role: the development of their leadership and the different dimensions of their digital competence. They become our allies (or tentacles) in their school to support their colleagues. The pineapple charter used in several of the schools also makes it possible to share the expertise of internal staff.

It is necessary to plan to visit each school on a frequent basis by offering flexible support methods to teachers. One visit per two weeks is planned per school. We have chosen to set aside traditional front-end training to offer more support in meaningful situations (in school or even in the classroom) and thus promote reinvestment. This is how competence develops.

The keys to the success of such a strategy are essential. First, effective communication channels must be established and collaboration facilitated (collection of needs, type of support desired, physical and material organization, etc.). In addition, pedagogical advisers (PAs) must themselves change their posture and demonstrate agility, flexibility and be in problem-solving mode. New Referential for competent action in educational counseling was a good resource to define the role of the PNs in this project.

Very often, an accompaniment will start with a technical part, the teacher wants to know how to use the new tool. Then, a discussion will follow to clarify the pedagogical intention, to make a link with the progression of learning and the disciplinary notions in the program. All of this requires a lot of customization and modeling. Ideally, we meet a few teachers from the same school together (by degree, cycle, interest, with the leader, etc.) so that they can then help each other. 

We may believe that these individualized or sub-group accompaniments are not profitable, since we do not see a large mass of people at the same time. We claim the opposite.

Starting from real contexts and expressed needs, support is much more meaningful, because it applies directly to the planning or even to the conduct of a class activity. With the recurrence of the practice, people will have developed their ease in integrating digital technology into their daily lives, and thus, the proportion of 80% teachers needing technical support will tend to decrease. 

In the end, by adopting this strategy, reversing the pyramid and starting by offering support in the form of measures directed according to the needs and realities of teachers, the integration of new tools is done in a much more harmonious way. While very general training, of the universal measurement type at level 1 of the traditional pyramid, is rarely reinvested, because it is too far from everyone's reality, "tailor-made" training makes it possible to include, in existing practice, the use digital resources for teaching and learning. 

Digital level 3 makes it easier for us to support teachers in order to create real added value!

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