By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
A new way to learn
Program aims to meet needs of each student
4 New Way Learning pic 3
Kilough Elementary teacher Teresa Conowal conducts a daily writing workshop about story plots and how they are used. Conowal teaches her second-graders that they are all authors, an approach that builds confidence and helps each student become an independent writer. - photo by Photo/Elizabeth Hamilton

Teresa Conowal says her job has changed drastically over the past four to five years.


“I spend time getting to know my students, so that I better understand the way that they obtain information,” said Conowal, a second grade teacher at Kilough Elementary School. “I view myself as their guide rather than just the person charged with delivering information.”


Three years into the program, Dawson County teachers are pleased with the results of an intervention-based curriculum designed to meet the learning needs of each student in a classroom.


“Different children learn in different ways,” said Lonnie Trahan-Dikowski, director of special education.


Trahan-Dikowski added that this curriculum aims to see that all students get the best education possible, one that is unique to their way of learning.


Conowal said she has come to understand that “good test scores are not by accident, but are always intentional.”


“I share my expectations with students, show them what we will be learning in the next few weeks and revisit it daily to make sure that they know when we get to the end.”


Known as the Georgia Student Achievement Pyramid of Interventions, the curriculum is based on state performance standards and provides expectations for assessment, instruction and student work for each grade level and subject area.


Lois Zangara, principal at Kilough Elementary, said the intervention pyramid is “designed to determine the performance levels of students for the teacher to decide how to meet each student’s needs to maximize achievement for all students in the classroom.”


As an example, a teacher assesses her students to determine where each one is performing before beginning a math unit.


The teacher then divides the students into groups, based on how they fared.


From there, she uses different materials to monitor her students as they master a concept, such as money.


“Some of my students could not identify coins, some could tell the value but couldn’t make change, and some could do all,” Conowal said. 


She went on to say that by using small group instruction with appropriate materials for the learning level of each group, she could better monitor the progress of each student in her class.


Zangara gave an example of a kindergarten class where 15 of 19 students are reading, another student is reading at a second-grade level and the the other three cannot read or are struggling to do so.


“This intervention program allows us to meet the needs of the student reading at a second-grade level by providing material that will continue to challenge the student, as well as provide extra help for the students who need help with reading to be brought up to meet the performance standards with the rest of the class,” Zangara said.


Extra help is worked into the school day, as well as specific scheduled times before and after school hours during the week.


“We have 50 kids in our after-school intervention program, and we have about 25 to 30 during the morning intervention time,” said Roxanne Fausett, principal at Robinson Elementary.


Fausett said the classes before and after school are for students struggling to meet standards in any subject area.


According to Fausett, the morning intervention class has 25 to 30 students who spend about 30 minutes in the computer lab.


“Study Island is an online, Web-based program that helps students struggling with reading and math,” Fausett said. “They are playing games, but they are learning and the games help them with mastering specific skills.”


Julia Mashburn, principal at Black’s Mill Elementary, said the curriculum approach has been “a huge initiative, as well as a big learning curve.”


“Gone are the days where students sit in a row with instruction being delivered in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model by the teacher,” she said.


Mashburn said instruction is now planned more at the student’s individual level and there are flexible groupings within the class or grade.


Conowal said the new system is a departure from the quality core curriculum, which “felt like you were on a train, zooming as fast as you could to get to the end of the hundreds of things that were required to teach the students in one year.”


She said the old approach touched only on information and skills, with little time for students to apply what they knew to new situations. The new format allows students at all levels to get the skills they need to excel.


E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton