Here's what the Advanced Learning page says about ALOs:
- that it is for any student that has been identified by either the district or teacher who "demonstrate skills and readiness for participation in an accelerated, rigorous and enriched curriculum"
- service delivery is usually through an "inclusive" approach with an emphasis on differentiated instruction and flexible grouping"
- Site-based (meaning any school could have one)
- "systematic and formalized way to identifying and addressing the learning needs of students who need differentiation and enrichment of the general education curriculum"
- curriculum is based on Spectrum curricular guidelines
- students are expect to (a) demonstrate mastery of grade level expectations in all areas and (b) work towards mastery beyond grade level in reading and math (typically one grade level above in reading and math based on Spectrum guidelines)
- rigorous curriculum,
- accelerated reading and math curriculum,
- differentiated instruction within heterogeneous inclusive classroom settings
- teachers familiar with needs of advanced learners.
What Do Each of These Look Like?
Plain and simple, there's no real way of knowing. The issue with both ALOs and differentiated teaching is that (1) each school does it differently and probably even each teacher as well, and (2) we don't know how many teachers have training in understanding advanced learners, how to differentiate teaching and curriculum and how much training any given teacher may have had. It's a real problem for parents who want some kind of assurance about what is happening in their child's classroom.
Reading the district's description of ALOs is certainly confusing. On the one hand, they talk about inclusive and heterogenous classroomes and then they talk about Spectrum and sorting out kids which is the opposite. They also talk about "mastery at all areas" but then the ALOs are only about reading and math.
I think one of key issues is that ALL parents would like rigor and enrichment in their child's classroom. There should be. But the advanced learning issue is also about readiness and acceleration. Advanced learning students may be further ahead and ready to go faster and deeper. I'd have to have a conversation with the head of advanced learning, Bob Vaughn, about whether ALOs are really about acceleration or rigor/enrichment.
Here's what Charlie had to say (elsewhere):
"Some ALOs have a specific delivery model (pull out, skill level grouping, push in, do the hokey-pokey and turn yourself around, etc.) but most of them are nothing more that a restatement of the intention to differentiate instruction and a few additional worksheets."
From the National Center on accessible Instructional Materials, here's what differentiated teaching may look like:
Teachers may conduct whole-class introductory discussions of content big ideas followed by small group or paired work. Student groups may be coached from within or by the teacher to complete assigned tasks. Grouping of students is not fixed. As one of the foundations of differentiated instruction, grouping and regrouping must be a dynamic process, changing with the content, project, and on-going evaluations.
Assessments may be formal or informal, including interviews, surveys, performance assessments, and more formal evaluation procedures.
I think that phrase "grouping of students is not fixed" is really key. Every child should be assessed each year with the teacher keeping a watch out for changes. Some students pick up speed once they gain mastery of foundational knowledge.
What is exciting about differentiated teaching is that the use of computers makes it easier for teachers to give individual work and students can vary their pace/depth depending on how they are doing with a learning assignment.
Digital materials, unlike the conventional pedagogical mainstays, speech, printed text, and printed images, have an inherent flexibility. They can be modified in a host of ways, depending on the needs of the student. This flexibility makes it feasible to customize learning materials and methods to each individual.