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The Vital Signs of Learning

Health professionals follow a well-established routine or protocol in working with their patients, including a systematic checking of the “vital signs” to identify an individual’s status in relation to expectations and then determining a course of action for restoring, maintaining, or advancing the individual’s quest for wellness.  For them, prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.  They typically test, then treat, then test again.

Professional teachers also are expected to assist all students in achieving academic content and performance standards, but they typically prescribe or assign treatments with no systematic understanding of students’ abilities or backgrounds in relation to the teachers’ goals or expectations.  Teachers tend to treat, then test, then treat again, assuming that all students begin a class with “grade-level skills and needs.”  Meanwhile, the achievement gap grows. 

A protocol is an established set of procedures or guidelines that aim to standardize practice, raise the quality of decision-making, reduce risk of mishap, and provide accountability for effectiveness.   Failure to follow an established and accepted protocol increases liability and places a practitioner at risk of a “malpractice” claim.  A typical professional protocol involves data-gathering, comparing data to expectations to determine needs, exploring options, selecting potential solutions, implementing a solution, and then monitoring and adjusting to achieve optimal results. The following links provide tools to help teachers develop a professional protocol that can lead to better treatments for students' individual learning needs.

We have identified five vital signs of learning, meaning that each is essential to a fully functioning learning process.  The goal is to informally and formally teach in ways that strengthen the vital signs.  If any one of the Vital Signs of Learning is exceptionally weak or impaired or if they are not functioning together effectively, the experience of learning can be more difficult.  Therefore, checking the Vital Signs of Learning must be done systematically and strategically lest we assume that all is well when it isn’t.  

 Check out our tutorial presentation about what the Vital Signs are.

You can also view the slideshow below that introduces students to the Vital Signs.

Intro to VSOL for students Intro to VSOL for students (103 KB)
This slideshow is designed to be shown to students who are about to take the Vital Signs of Learning survey and presents the rationale behind the survey.

Click here to learn about the Brain, Mind, and Education.

 If you would like to invite your students to check their Vital Signs of Learning, click here

Finally the 17-page packet below gives teachers details on ways to activate the Vital Signs.

Vital Signs of Learning & Key Strategies Resource Packet Vital Signs of Learning & Key Strategies Resource Packet (604 KB)
Includes guides for activating the Vital Signs, a scoring guide for checking the Vital Signs, and forms of differentiation for adjusting instruction to increase learning successes.