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Flooding: A systematic approach to helping students

| March 24, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Pat Quinn

Imagine a school where all of the adults work together to help the students succeed.

Imagine a school where everyone takes ownership for the learning progress of each student, and where individual teachers do not have territories or domains. Schools around the world are having success like this with a systematic approach to giving students the extra help that they need. This model is often called ‘flooding’, because at certain times of the day we will ‘flood’ a classroom with extra instructors. This approach radically changes the student-to-teacher ratio and allows for a great deal of personalised learning.

I first heard about the flooding model from Susan Hall, author of the book Implementing Response to Intervention: A Principal’s Guide.1 The model fitted well with my simplified approach to offering help to students in a systematic manner. Every school can use my simple three-step approach to utilising all of the instructors in your school to deliver extra help to the students who need it in a fast and organised way.

Three steps to success

The first step in the process is to identify student skill deficiencies. In early reading instruction, this may be where the student is on the path to fluency. Later, it may be identifying comprehension issues. In maths instruction, this may be identifying the key skill the student is lacking. Schools will often implement a ‘universal screener’ or test of all students early in the school year to identify these skill deficiencies.

The second step is to organise groups of students based on their skill deficiencies. To successfully accomplish this step, there should be a hierarchy of skills, or sequence of skills determined. Students should be placed in groups based on the first skill they are missing, or their most important skill deficiency. Additional instruction will be delivered to students in these groups when we ‘flood’ the room with extra adults.

The third step in our process is to monitor the progress of the students as they receive this additional instruction. I recommend weekly progress monitoring of the skill that is being addressed in the small group. This means that you will need multiple versions of an assessment measuring each skill being addressed. Data from these assessments will allow us to transition students between groups when they have acquired a specific skill.

Not traditional tutoring

As you can see, this is a ‘skill-based’ model of small groups. A group of students is formed because they all lack a specific skill. Instruction is given to that small group of students addressing that specific skill. Regular progress monitoring measures this specific skill. It’s all about the skill.

This is a different model than the traditional ‘tutoring’ or ‘extra help’ model, where students are grouped together because they are ‘behind’, and the instruction can vary widely from day to day. Students might get help on an assignment, studying for a test, or on other study skills. Although this model can be beneficial, our skill-based model will show measurable results in specific areas in a relatively short period of time.

Some schools using a skill-based model will have all students go into small groups for additional instruction at the same time during the school day. Often called ‘flex time’ or an ‘intervention block’, the school builds into its schedule a 20- or 30-minute block specifically for additional instruction or interventions. At this time, the entire school stops its regular schedule. Students who are not in intervention groups go to the gym, the cafeteria or a study hall and are supervised. Every teacher in the school leads a small group intervention.

Schools like this model because the additional instructional time is not stolen from other classes. The weakness of this model is that it does not really change the ratio of instructors to students. The flooding model will be much more successful in getting each teacher together with a small group of students.


This flooding model is similar in some ways to the intervention block model, but instead of the entire school having ‘intervention time’ at the same time, individual grade levels or individual classes, groups or individuals take turns having intervention time. During this time, the grade level is ‘flooded’ with additional personnel. Let’s look at an example: At a school that I visited recently, the first grade classrooms went into intervention time from 09:00-09:30.

During this time, seven additional adults moved into that area to lead groups. Who were the adults? One counsellor, one reading specialist, one administrator, one special education teacher, two instructional aides and one parent volunteer. These seven adults joined the two classroom teachers to form nine separate small groups. There were a total of 53 students in the two Grade 1 classes, making the average group size around six students. (Of course, some of the more advanced groups were larger, and some students with more intense needs were in much smaller groups, but the average size was six.)

Students worked in these small groups for 30 minutes on intense reading interventions targeted to their specific needs. Progress monitoring was done weekly. Groups were juggled and reformed every six weeks, based on student growth and progress.

At 09:30, the ‘flood’ of adults moved on to second grade, and from 09:40-10:10 those classes went into intervention time.

The ‘flood’ team worked its way through the grade levels throughout the day.

This example had all students in small groups. Other schools leave 25 of the most advanced students in a large class setting with one of the classroom teachers, and just have some of the students (those who are struggling) go into groups. This would either make your groups smaller or lower the number of extra adults necessary to implement this model.

Remember: You do not need to implement this at all grade levels. As a matter of fact, schools that have successfully implemented this model usually start with just one grade level (kindergarten or first grade, usually) and then add one grade to the model each year. This helps the rotating team of extra adults adjust to their new roles over time.

Now, you might be thinking that your school does not have seven extra adults. Very few schools do! The first thing you should know is that you don’t have to wait until you find seven ‘extra’ adults to do this model. If you have just two or three extra adults you could add them to one class to ‘flood’ it with instructional small groups.

The second thing to be aware of is that these adults are probably already in your school, doing other jobs. They may be aides assigned to specific classrooms, they may be other personnel who work in offices – such as a counsellor, specialist or administrator. During this part of the day, they will move from those set locations to rotate around the school with the flooding team.

Most schools that I work with begin with the belief that they do not have enough people on staff to use this model. After observing other schools and hearing how they formed ‘flooding teams’, these same schools often re-evaluate their existing personnel and decide they can do it!

Common mistakes

There are some simple mistakes that you should be careful to avoid. Each of these mistakes will take a good model and make it less effective.

No data to form groups:

The mistake that some schools make is a lack of screening or progress monitoring data to use when forming groups. This causes students to be misplaced in groups. Nothing slows instructional growth faster in a small group setting than misplaced students. Every teacher I talk to has had the experience of having one misplaced student in a class or a group who has stopped all instruction from moving forward. Use solid data to form your groups. Not skill-based: If your groups are not formed around specific skill deficiencies, you will not know what skill to monitor and you will never know when to move a student to the next group. Don’t just form groups based on ‘how far behind’ students are. Instead, form groups based on a specific common skill a group of students lack. Then you will know exactly what to teach that group and exactly what skill to monitor.

Never changing groups:

Groups should be shuffled based on progress monitoring data on a regular basis, usually every four to six weeks. If you don’t do this, you are simply ‘tracking’ or forming ability groups. Research does not support this. We know that students learn new skills at different rates.

Random assignment of instructors:

You must be smart when choosing which adults should lead which groups. Put your most qualified instructors with your groups in the most need. If you have instructors with a background as a reading specialist or special education, they will often lead your neediest reading groups. Instructional aides and trained parent volunteers will often lead the highest groups. Be smart about this rather than being random!

Be savvy

The flooding model can be an important part of your instruction. It will allow you to differentiate the instruction that students receive, and can greatly lower the student to teacher ratio during this instruction. It allows you to accomplish these two important goals without costing extra money. You don’t hire more staff. You simply change how you are using your current staff during a small part of your day. Working together like this can help you achieve increased learning and progress.

1. Hall, S.L. (2007) Implementing Response to Intervention: A Principal’s Guide. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.
2. Quinn, P. (2012) Maximum Tier One: Improving Full Class Instruction. New York: Julian John Publishers.

Category: Autumn 2015

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