Introducing ALIGNS: Aligning Levels of Instruction with Goals and the Needs of Students

Jason Silberstein
Yue-Yi Hwa
Michelle Kaffenberger

What makes the difference between programmes that succeed in cultivating children’s learning and the many others that fail? Research from the RISE Programme shows that successful programmes are coherent with both learning goals and children’s learning levels.

Four ALIGNS principles

In a new RISE Insight Note, we identify and explore four principles that underlie many effective educational approaches in low- and middle-income countries. These principles are:

  1. Set clear goals for children’s learning progress in line with current learning levels.
  2. Align instruction to be coherent with both current learning levels and targeted learning progress.
  3. Provide effective and coherent support to teachers and instructors.
  4. Tailor implementation to the opportunities and constraints of the context.

Collectively, we call these principles “ALIGNS”, or Aligning Levels of Instruction with Goals and the Needs of Students.

Figure 1: Aligning Levels of Instruction with Goals and the Needs of Students (ALIGNS)

Infographic with 4 boxes naming the principles that have been identified in the paragraph above and named collectively as ALIGNS (Aligning Levels of Instruction with the Goals and Needs of Students).

In the Insight Note, we explore three cases that exemplify the ALIGNS principles, and that produced large gains in learning outcomes at scale in developing countries. We chose these because they showcase the range of variation in a much longer list of related programmes. Though they are not typically grouped together, we show how they have important features in common, each reflecting the four ALIGNS principles, as summarised in Figure 2.

Figure 2: How seemingly different approaches all meet the ALIGNS principles to improve learning

  Tanzania: 3Rs Curriculum Reform Kenya: Tusome Literacy Programme Multi-country: Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL)
Principle 1: Set learning goals based on current learning levels National KPIs focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic (3Rs) in the early grades, including an annual 3Rs assessment in Grade 2 Following low learning levels in Uwezo and EGRA tests, Tusome specified foundational reading fluency benchmarks for Grades 1-3. Clear goals for student mastery of foundational reading and maths skills based on what each individual child can currently do.
Principle 2: Align instruction to be coherent with current learning levels and targeted learning progress Streamlined overburdened curriculum standards to focus 80 percent of instructional time on foundational 3Rs. Comprehensive changes to the prescribed scope, level, and sequence of classroom lessons; new teacher guides and student books; regular student assessment Instructional groupings based on diagnostic assessments; level-appropriate books and activities; and frequent formative assessment to enable rapid advancement to the next level.
Principle 3: Support teachers to implement changes to instruction Schools where at least one teacher received training in the new curriculum experienced student test score gains that were nearly twice as large. High-frequency classroom observations and coaching by local government officials to support adoption of new instructional practice. Coaches acquire practical experience leading TaRL classes, and then conduct regular observations and give feedback focused on TaRL pedagogy.
Principle 4: Tailor implementation to context English-language lessons were shifted to later primary grades, thus prioritising monther-tongue literacy in Kiswahili in the early grades. Multi-year piloting process to test and tailor programme design (i.e. decision to include teachers' guides and student books in reform). Two rigorously evaluated, scalable delivery models: intensive "learning camps" led by civil society, and timetabled in-school lessons led by teachers.

We believe that all four ALIGNS principles matter for improving instructional quality. But we certainly aren’t claiming that these principles are original. Quite the contrary. As we show, there is a long-established body of research from a range of academic disciplines to support these principles. Moreover, at least a dozen programmes in low- and middle-income countries, spanning varied country contexts, delivery models, and design parameters, have all independently and successfully implemented the principles that we are calling “ALIGNS”.

Why are these principles so crucial?

Bringing levels of instruction in line with goals and the needs of students is key to solving the learning crisis. ALIGNS principles are even more important as education systems grapple with the likely unprecedented learning losses due to COVID-19, as illustrated in our COVID-19 data visualisations. Due to the pandemic, resources are even more constrained than before, and children’s learning levels likely to be even more heterogeneous and inequitable than in recent years. So we join with others, including the World Bank and the Save Our Future campaign, in calling for education systems to assess children’s learning levels once schools reopen and to align instruction to children’s actual levels rather than moving in lockstep with the pre-existing curriculum. For primary schools in low- and middle-income countries, this means focusing on the foundations of basic literacy and numeracy.

In this Insight Note, we offer four principles for aligning instruction to serve children’s needs.  When situated under this umbrella, many seemingly disparate programmes—and their success in increasing student learning—are revealed to have a lot in common. We hope that ALIGNS will be a conceptual tool to help others recognise and prioritise these key principles, and to design programs and policies to implement these principles in ways that are adapted to their respective contexts. ALIGNS approaches can help children to cultivate the learning that they need and deserve.

RISE blog posts reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation or our funders.