Scaling and Sharing:
The Basics of Phase 5
What is the purpose of this phase?
You and your team will understand when and how to scale a successful improvement test.
When should this happen?
After you have run two or more PDSA cycles and you have a change idea that is ready to be tested across broader contexts.
Who is involved?The improvement team leader and all team members.
What will you do?
Determine a strategy for scaling your work, such as creating a narrative or shareable document.
You’re ready for Phase 5 when you have:
created a driver diagram
completed a minimum of two PDSA tests and reflected on them using the Post-Test Reflection
completed the Choosing Measures for Improvement activity in Phase 4
identified a change idea that has led to success with students at the initial small scale
The deliberate scaling up of a change idea.
Slowing down scaling to refine the change idea within a context or group of users it has been introduced to.
Expanding a change idea beyond your improvement team.
Scaling and Sharing:
Summary of the ConceptsToo often in education, a new idea is identified, lionized, frantically implemented on a large scale, then abandoned when it fails to meet the particular and varied needs of students and schools. In Learning to Improve, Bryk et al. call this the “chronic problem of promising reform.” Improvement science embraces a more effective approach. 1. We identify a successful change idea as a first step in understanding how to make that improvement happen consistently and effectively across contexts. 2. We focus on low-stakes testing, regularly accessible evidence, and the inevitability of setbacks and dead ends, which allows us to introduce a change idea to new and varied contexts and slowly build expertise as we go. Our movement to scale is defined by deliberation; widespread adoption is the result of widespread adaptation, with teams continuing to tweak and refine their change ideas to work across classrooms, grades, and schools.
Overview of the Tools
90 minutesWhat is it? A “pre-mortem” assessment of your scaling ideas and a list of action steps for avoiding pitfalls and maximizing success. What does it do? Helps team members plan for and mitigate possible issues with scaling efforts. Why use it? To predict the factors that could lead to both a successful and failed scaling effort; to help visualize action steps to guide work in the future months. When should we use it? When you have a change idea that has been successfully developed through testing and shows clear promise OR when you are planning to take that change idea from its early testing ground and expand it across your community.
- you’ve hit a plateau;
- you want to renew team members’ engagement;
- you’ve learned new information or developed new questions about the work.
PDSA Testing Ramps: Four Keys to Progress
- Perfect the small scale first. Each change idea should be tested on a small scale, e.g., one or two students or a single class. Collected evidence should yield consistent results before scaling.
- Move up the ramp incrementally. Identify a change idea that is reliable in one context and expand it into new contexts and user populations.
- Gain expertise by expanding into varied conditions. Increasing the number of users affected by the change idea or trying it in new contexts increases your team’s practical understanding of the problem. Capture your learning by updating your driver diagram so it remains a living, relevant document.
- Strategically involve new collaborators to implement your changes. Use the process of refining your idea to slowly bring new school community members into your team’s work. Be sure to give them time with the change idea on a small scale before they fully adopt it.
PDSA Testing Ramps in Practice
PDSA Testing Ramp Example: Increasing Math Persistence
A teacher team explores why students freeze up when they encounter challenging math problems. Their idea: provide in-class time for students to make revisions on their quizzes using problem-solving strategies to persist through challenging math problems.
- 1st PDSA test
One teacher offers 15 minutes to three students. The students are grateful; they review quiz feedback but don’t make corrections.
- 2nd PDSA test
Teacher clarifies that the 15 minutes is to complete the revisions and shares explicit steps to follow. The number of revisions increases from zero to three.
- 3rd PDSA test
Test is run to monitor and polish how teachers support students during revisions. Revision rate increases from three to four per student, and students start to use the practiced strategy in other classwork. Time to scale up!
Small-scale tests like this typically look at qualitative data (counting the number of revisions made) to see how the change idea works.
Team decides to ramp up by increasing the number of students from three to nine.
- 1st test
Test is run with nine students in the same 15 minutes. Teachers realize a third of students need significant coaching to make the revisions, and without that coaching, they rarely revise the questions with the most important skills.
- The team updates the change idea to include more targeted guidance: instead of offering students general feedback, the teacher will offer three pieces of skill-based feedback to create more focus.
In medium-scale tests like this, teams often pay more attention to the differences between students or contexts, trying to understand for whom and under what condition the change works.
Team refines the change idea to deal with unexpected results and give more targeted feedback.
- 1st test (cycle)
Leads to improvement in the quality of revisions, especially after one teacher gives her student the answer to a particularly hard word problem, asking her to focus just on the strategy and thereby helping the student overcome her anxiety and look at the task differently.
- 2nd and 3rd tests
Team makes revealing the answers to word problems a standard part of the revision process (based on student interest) and starts encouraging students to find multiple strategies that lead to correct answers.
An improvised solution to a challenge faced by a student—for whom the change was not working—became a powerful insight that drives further tweaks and refinements.
The team ramps up and introduces the change idea to the whole class. The expertise they’ve gained has prepared them for the modeling and differentiation they’ll need for the larger group.
- By the 2nd test
20 out of 24 students are completing “high-quality” revisions and over half the class is showing improvement on Exit Tickets and subsequent quizzes.
In large-scale tests like this, teams are typically looking for evidence of effectiveness, trying to collect slightly more rigorous measures to demonstrate the impact of the change.
- Working at scale
After success at scale, the team further optimizes the change idea for the whole class by providing aligned practice problems for students who either finish early or don’t need as many revisions.
Working at scale also provides the opportunity to test the hunch that adding a few minutes, or pair-sharing or group discussion, might reinforce the students’ focus on strategies. The two tests are met with mixed results, unfortunately. The sharing isn’t consistently high quality and is demanding on the teacher.
The team is convinced scaling by subtraction is wiser than adding yet another moving part to a successful strategy, so they pare the practice back to its essential elements and declare this change a success.
The team demonstrated they could use revisions to help students apply strategies to persist through and solve difficult problems, and, most importantly, that dedicating time to this skill has a real, positive effect on their students’ learning.
This is the end of the story of the team’s ramp, but not the end of their improvement journey.
After you ramp up, you can:
- return to the theory of improvement and choose a complimentary change idea to test.
- use something you learned along the way to spark new investigation into the problem and generate a new change idea.
- continue to ramp up the change idea by spreading it into a new context.
Envisioning Your Way Up a PDSA Ramp:
Three Dimensions of Successful Scaling
a) simplify the changes for efficient understanding and learning. “Scale by subtraction” to determine the ideas that are nonnegotiable and the ones that can be adapted for new contexts.
b) delegate responsibilities and enlarge your focus to include the necessary learning of the new people implementing the change. The spread of a change idea can never outpace the expertise in carrying it out! Be sure to provide the time and support to your colleagues.
c) document your learning through narrative. Stories are the quickest and most memorable way to share your successful practice. Collect them as they happen so you have a powerful tool for spreading your success.