A to Z adheres to the direct instruction model of teaching. This style of teaching focuses on intensive, systematic instruction; frequent assessment; tutor modeling; and constant student repetition and feedback. Research has shown time and time again that direct instruction is an effective instructional method. But while A to Z implements direct instruction, its unique one-on-one or small-group format allows for individualized modification depending upon the needs and learning mode of each student. A to Z tutors always take into consideration the learning style of each student, and incorporate that into lessons as much as possible. While direct instruction includes tutor input and modeling of skills, tutors incorporate additional materials when applicable, such as flashcards, games, word sorts, children's literature, organizational charts or manipulatives to enhance the instruction, guided practice, and/or assessment during a lesson.
Our reading instructional program aligns to the National Reading Panel's five dimensions of reading: phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, phonics instruction, and comprehension. Some examples of reading strategies utilized by our tutors are word segmentation, rhyming, phonological recoding and decoding, word sorts, and story retelling. The most important component of the implementation of these strategies is the constant feedback of both tutor and student throughout, enabled by our one-on-one or small group structure.
Mathematics content and lessons include number sense, measurement, geometry and spatial sense, algebraic thinking, and data analysis and probability. Our math lessons emphasize conceptual understanding and expand the range of mathematical concepts beyond arithmetic drills. As a result, students are able to learn and demonstrate the five mathematical process standards put out by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and make the connections necessary to fully understand math concepts and how they relate.
The lessons and materials utilized by A to Z are all aligned to state content standards and include supplementary materials that aim to support and enhance the skills being taught in the classroom, provide explicit instruction via a direct instruction-based model, and gauge understanding through applicable assessment.
In many states, A to Z utilizes Curriculum Associates' Strategies to Achieve Reading Success (STARS) and Strategies to Achieve Mathematics Success (STAMS). These research-based curricula focus on 6-12 reading and math strategies, depending on the grade level. Each lesson includes five parts: 1) think about the strategy, 2) learn about the strategy, 3) check your understanding, 4) learn more about the strategy, and 5) prepare for a test. The STARS reading curriculum incorporates graphic organizers to communicate information, which have been shown to help students comprehend and retain textually important information. Theme-based instruction is also used, which helps create meaningful learning experiences for students. The STAMS math program incorporates metacognitive training. One study showed that students who received metacognitive training outperformed students who did not receive this training in mathematical exercises. It also incorporates mathematical reasoning and math language instruction, which provide students with the background knowledge necessary to understand mathematical processes. The following key components are present in the STARS and STAMS lessons to aid in meeting the special needs a student may have: opportunities to activate prior knowledge before beginning instruction; a step-by-step approach to build clear understanding of strategies; repetition of skills in key instructional practices; frequent reviews and restatements of concepts; allowances for students to work at their own pace; opportunities to build and reinforce self-esteem; allowances for students to do small numbers of problems at a time; groupings of problems by strategy used; metacognition and on-target self-assessment; and visual aids to address different learning styles.
A to Z also utilizes BASIC/Not Boring curriculum and testing materials published by Incentive Publications. Prior to the development of the BASIC/Not Boring series, a careful met-analysis was done of the current research regarding effective skill practice for elementary students and standards required by all fifty states. Content comparisons and correlations were done using other well-known valid assessments and state standardized tests to ensure content validity of basic skills. The curriculum was also tested in the classroom both for effectiveness and student appeal. A to Z supplies tutors with provider-created direct instruction lessons that incorporate these BASIC/Not Boring materials as well. These lessons also incorporate high interest literature, materials to do reader's theaters with students, word and number games, flashcards, and various manipulatives. These materials, geared heavily towards our younger students, aim to provide a hands on learning experience.