Problem Solving: Connecting Effective Instructional Strategies with Student Concerns

by Donni Stickney, M.Ed.

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has established Instructional Support Teams (IST) at elementary and middle schools in each of Virginia's superintendents' regions. Through this initiative teachers learn a problem-solving process designed to enhance, increase, and improve student and staff performance (Gravois & Gickling, 2003). This process begins when a teacher requests assistance from the school's IST. One IST member volunteers to consult with the requesting teacher, and the two teachers start working shoulder-to-shoulder to address the student's presenting academic problem.

Instead of jumping immediately to identifying solutions, the IST process requires that the two teachers first conduct an instructional assessment at the student's instructional level. The instructional level is the point at which the student has the prerequisite skills to enter the classroom curriculum and benefit maximally from instruction (Rosenfield, 1987). If the student's presenting problem is in reading, for example, the teachers probe the dimensions of reading to determine what the student knows, what the student can do, how the student thinks, and how the student approaches material about which he or she is unsure. The dimensions of reading addressed by IST in Virginia include the student's language and prior knowledge of concepts; skill in providing answers orally, in writing, or other forms; word recognition, word study strategies; fluency; comprehension; and metacognitive strategies (Gravois & Gickling, 2003).

Once the two teachers have determined the reading dimension(s) in which the student needs immediate support, they begin to design interventions. Aligning assessment results with appropriate instructional strategies is an important step to ensure student progress. The teachers work together over a period of time to set student goals, gather additional data, and monitor student progress. The IST process is a comprehensive and effective way to address teachers' academic concerns for their students.

The chart entitled Instructional Strategies to Address Deficits Identified Through Authentic Assessment in Reading [pdf] defines the domains of reading, provides diagnostic questions designed to reveal a student's strengths and deficits, and offers instructional strategies aligned with each dimension. Read these strategies described in detail. This user-friendly site allows the teacher to click on a strategy title to see complete details of how to implement the strategy, as well as the research that supports its use. Once reading dimensions requiring instructional support have been identified and appropriate strategies have been selected, the teacher is equipped to design an instructional intervention plan.

For additional information on conducting an instructional assessment in reading and writing, view the Considerations Packet "Instructional Assessment: An Essential Tool for Designing Effective Instruction." The VDOE has awarded model site status to several IST schools. A visit to these schools and other IST sites allows visitors to see the problem-solving process first hand.

IST school contact information


Gravois, T., & Gickling, E. (2003). Instructional consultation team manual. College Park: University of Maryland.

Rosenfield, S. (1987). Instructional consultation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Date: May/June 2007