Morningside Academy Summer School Institute (July 2010)

In 2010,  I applied for a place on the Summer School Institute (SSI) to study The Morningside Model of Generative Instruction and to gain practice in teaching using their methods. The Morningside Academy (Seattle, USA) is a world-renowned example of evidence-based teaching. I was lucky enough to be granted a place on the three-week course.

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In the Summer School children, aged between 5 -14 years, enrol on the four week programme. Morningside Academy build on existing academic skills, and tailor individualized and small-group instruction to meet each student’s needs. This is achieved through the combination of various evidence-based approaches: two of the main ones of which are adhering to the principles of effective instructional design, and the use of Precision Teaching methodologies to measure learning for each individual child.

Precision Teaching is a system that builds fluency and helps teachers ensure that every child in a class maintains rapid and successful learning. This approach has had considerable success across a number of educational settings and subject areas. Combined with regular teaching it represents a powerful accelerated learning approach. Precision teaching is a general approach that can determining whether an instructional method is achieving its aims. It is not, as the name implies, a method of teaching. It would be more accurately described as Precision Measurement, or Precision Learning because it is primarily a sensitive measurement and navigation tool for learning. The value of precision teaching lies in identifying a subject area in which the child is failing to progress, followed by a daily session of teaching, fluency building, monitoring and evaluating progress in order to optimise learning (Lindsley, 1992). Some key methodological characteristics of PT are: component/composite analysis, fluency training, time probes, tailoring practice materials to the progress of individual children based on learning pictures and the use of a standardised graphical display (referred to as the Standard Celeration Chart [SCC]).

Component-composite analysis. This refers to conducting an analysis of each composite (or complex) task in terms of what pre-skills or components are needed to complete that task. Precision teachers believe that children start to experience problems in learning when they are not fluent at some of the basic prerequisite skills that are required to effectively complete a task. For example, a child who is not fluent at simple multiplication or the times tables would likely experience difficulties when encountering maths problems that required them to use times tables in order to complete a more complex task (e.g., long division sums). Another example, if a child is confusing the numbers ‘6’ and ‘9’ because of the similarity in the two numbers, he or she will likely find solving maths problems that contain these numbers more difficult and if a child were confusing the letters ‘d’ and ‘b’, he or she would likely find reading more difficult as in the previous example. Similarly, if a child is not fluent at decoding some of the basic sounds of the alphabet, they will likely experience problems when they come to read words that contain those components. The issue of basic components skills sets extends across all curriculum activities.

Fluency training is a method used to develop speed and accuracy on component skills (Binder, 1991). It is also known as “automatic”, “effortless”, “smooth” and “second nature” (Kubina & Morrison, 2000). It is important because speed is a significant indicator of expertise (Binder, 2003; Chiesa & Robertson, 2000). For example, two children might score the same in a mathematics exercise, but one of the children might have taken five minutes to complete the task and the other thirty minutes. The child who completed the exercise in the shorter time can be viewed as more accomplished. Fluency training cannot only much improve the performance of composite skills, but can improve the learning of new skills (Binder, 1996). It is obvious why: if a child who performs at a slow rate on basic mathematical skills is taught a new and more advanced skill, the child’s learning will be hampered in comparison with a child whose component skills are more fluent. The objective of mastery learning at each stage in the curriculum sequence is “fluency”. Once a behaviour or skill reaches an established aim for fluency particular learning outcomes are expected.

Fluency is usually sufficient to ensure retention and application of skills and knowledge even in the absence of instruction (Binder, 1991). The PT approach concentrates on building fluency in basic skills by giving children plenty of opportunities to practice, until the skill becomes fluent (preformed with ease and without hesitation). This approach is common in other areas of learning: more notably learning to play a musical instrument, martial arts, and sports in general. Precisions teachers believe that this approach is also beneficial to other areas of learning, such as numeracy and literacy.

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More information about precision teaching can be found at, for example, http://precisionteaching.pbworks.com/ and http://celeration.org/

Whilst in Seattle, I worked in the classroom with children as well as attending lectures and workshops to improve my skills in Precision Teaching. Whilst working with the children I had the opportunity to further develop the skills I have been acquiring during work on my PhD in Evidence Based Educational Methods at Bangor University. During the last week of the School we had guest lectures from Carl Binder (http://fluency.org), Michael Fabrizio (http://o4rl.com/), TV Joe Layng (http://headsprout.com/), and Marilyn Gilbert; these lecturers are world-renowned within the  field.

This trip was invaluable for both my personal development within my PhD and for the development of the year three module that I teach at Bangor. I have now seen and experienced first-hand many of the techniques that I had only learned about from textbooks and journal articles. This trip  allowed me to deepen my understanding of a complex and fascinating subject area and as a result of this, in partnership with my mentor and PhD supervisor Dr. J Carl. Hughes, delivered a free teacher-training event on Thursday 2nd September, 2010 in North Wales. This training event’s focus was to  introduce these methods to teachers currently working in schools, so they were able to use them with their future teaching.

References

Binder, C. (1991). Marketing measurably effective instructional methods. Journal of Behavioral Education, 1(3), 317-328. Retrieved from http://www.fluency.org/

Binder, C. (2003). Doesn’t everybody need fluency? Performance Improvement Quarterly, 42(3), 14-20.

Chiesa, M., & Robertson, A. (2000). Precision teaching and fluency training: Making maths easier for pupils and teachers. Educational Psychology in Practice, 16(3), 297-310.

Kubina, R. M., & Morrison, R. S. (2000). Fluency in education. Behavior and Social Issues, 10, 83-99.

Lindsley, O. R. (1992). Precision teaching: Discoveries and effects. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25(1), 51-57.

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