Guest post by Clint Williams
Every day at Skyridge Middle School ends with an hour we call FLEX. Parents and students always ask, “What is FLEX?” My answer to that question often starts with a chuckle as I think about the best way to answer it. Essentially, FLEX is flexible time built into our schedule that allows us to meet the needs of our students.
During the last seven years, the FLEX program has morphed from a completely exploratory hour to an intervention period. Our first attempts at creating this period, while well intentioned, were not very successful. Our idea was to use a universal screener to identify students deficient in reading or math and put them into a six- to eight-week class with direct instruction curriculum. Those students who did not need the intervention remained in their regular classes and explored topics of their choice. However, this time felt more like a jail sentence than a helpful intervention. Students viewed FLEX as a punishment. They were locked in remedial classes that they struggled in for a specific time period while their friends were in the gym playing basketball or outside launching bottle rockets.
Now in the 2015–16 school year, FLEX is an important and valuable intervention. Each year we have made adjustments to improve the program. FLEX looks slightly different at each grade level, but the bottom line is that our interventions are timely and fluid. Teachers use quick, formative assessments on a daily basis to check for understanding and determine which students need help. Those students who need support go to the teacher’s classroom during FLEX time to receive assistance. Students only work with a teacher as long as necessary to show proficiency. Once they demonstrate that and have learned the concept or skill, they are done and can move on.
The rest of the students attend “Base Camp” to work on their homework. The best part of this time is that students now take responsibility for their own learning and ask to meet with teachers. It gives our very busy students a chance to get homework done when there is teacher support if they have questions.
FLEX has been a journey and will continue to evolve. When we first made changes, there was talk about ending the program and adding that time back to core classes. As administrators, we fought hard to keep FLEX because we realized the importance of dedicated intervention time built into the schedule. Teaching a large group of students for longer was not the answer. We still have work to do with this model, but I am proud of the progress we have made. The time that we have built into the schedule is invaluable as we work to best meet the needs of our students.
How do you make time, outside of classes, for students to meet with teachers to get more individualized instruction? What happens when your core instruction is not working for every student?
Clint Williams is the newly appointed principal at Skyridge Middle School in Camas, WA. He was the 2016 Washington Assistant Principal of the Year while serving as the Associate Principal at Skyridge.