Capistrano Unified engages students in meaningful, challenging and innovative learning


By Cindy Arora

From Kindergarten to high school, teachers at Capistrano Unified School District are implementing Great First Instruction (GFI) practices into daily teachings with the desired goal to engage students meaningfully.

But what does Great First Instruction look like from the outside?

It’s students raising their thumbs up in the air so the teacher can find out how many kids understand a new educational concept.

It’s a noisy classroom where students are working in teams on projects, allowing them to learn about problem-solving, critical thinking skills and working with others.

It’s also computer time, when students can slip on their headphones and log onto their tablets for a session on the i-Ready online program. While this appears fun for students, the online program allows teachers to assess students in reading and mathematics and find out where they may need extra help.

“Teachers are using strategies that engage students, meaningfully and clearly, but also following state standards,” said Cary Johnson, Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum, and Instruction. “Teachers aren’t just teaching, and students aren’t just taking notes, not anymore. It’s all about student directed learning now.”

The Great First Instruction is part of the district wide Multi-Tiered System of Support program which has been a foothold at Capistrano Unified for several years. Their most recent push of MTSS programs continues to explore the different ways students learn, and how teachers and staff can help engage all students and create a plan of action that will bring all students to the same level.

District officials seek meaningful, challenging, and innovative educational experiences, that focus on mastering foundational skills for students, creating plenty of experiences that involve interaction, discussion, and collaboration.

As well as creating experiences in the classroom that promote critical thinking, problem solving and real-life application.  These Great First Instruction goals begin in elementary school and continue through high school graduation.

For students, extra support from Great First Instruction can include additional small group instruction, to help fill in the learning gaps. Extra tutorial time for students to reteach content, working with a specialist, and attending summer bridge programs to prevent summer educational loss.

“We seek rigorous and robust educational strategies that help students. What we want to know is, if you the student didn’t get it with the first instruction, then how can we fill in the gaps for them, so they do. Our teachers are frequently assessing to see if kids have learned the content,” said Johnson. “We want ALL students to get the help they need to succeed.”

Families interested in learning more about the MTSS framework can go to the Capistrano Unified School District MTSS website.

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