Continuous improvement (CI) is a process through which people can make incremental changes that adjust how tasks are accomplished. Thorugh the process, the system improves upon itself, creating efficiency, increasing productivity, and improving performance. In a school, this means that the processes of teaching and learning are refined and that student outcomes, such as grades or achievement rise. The continuous improvement process is cyclical and requires evidence, or data, to refine practices. The most common symbol or tool used within CI is the Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle. Below is a graphic from Byrnes and Baxter's book, There is Another Way! from 2005.
This infographic shows a circle divided into four sections. The sections are titled Plan, Do, Study, and Act. In the "Plan" section, teachers focus on creating a successful climate in the classroom by writing a mission statement, vision statement and goals with the students. The teachers then gather data such as last year's test results and curriculum documents to plan what and how to teach students in each unit. The second section is called "Do." Here, teachers put the plan into action with good teaching practices. with a focus on Tier 1 instruction. They are encouraged to listen and observe student behavior and gather feedback on how students respond to the teaching. The third section is called "Study." After completing a unit or series of lessons, teachers should look at academic results and ask students to identify positive aspects of the lesson. The students should also describe how they can improve the learning the next time. The teacher writes these in a chart called a Plus-Delta. This information is used for the final part of the cycle, the "Act" portion. Teachers and students may be able to celebrate reaching academic goals or they may take the time to brainstorm ideas on how to improve classroom procedures that will lead them to successful outcomes.
Why do we practice Continuous Improvement?
Continuous improvement has many benefits at all levels of education. Studies have found that schools that practice CI techniques show increases in homework completion, Advanced Placement Exam participation, kindergarten readiness, and college enrollments. These districts also demonstrated higher levels of teacher effectiveness and student engagement, two elements tied to student academic achievement.
Continuous improvement also lets students know that their ideas are important. A core component of CI is the concept that any person can suggest changes within the system. Effective CI practitioners encourage student voices through a variety of tools like Affinity Diagrams, Plus-Delta Charts, and Cause and Effect Diagrams. In the classroom, students have a say in what and how they learn. Many teachers include a review process after a lesson or unit, where students look at individual and class results and consider how they could improve, both as a student and as a group. Below is an example of a self-assessment that students might complete to help them set goals and evaluate performance.
Weekly Personal Goals and Action Plans
This week I put about _________% effort into my learning. I scored a ___________ on the test.
The skills I need to work on are:
My action plan for improving and mastering these skills is:
Later in the week/the following week, students complete this section:
This week I put ________% effort into my learning. I scored a _______ on the test/retest.
My action plan (circle one): worked partially worked didn't work