The Teacher’s Response to Intervention (RTI) Guide: Tiers, Strategies and MoreAll Posts
What Is RTI?
Feel free to skip this section if you’re familiar with the definition of RTI.If you aren’t familiar or want a refresher, RTI focuses on early and continuous identification, assessment and assistance of students who have learning and behaviour needs. Although the term is widely used across North America, other regions have similar approaches and standards under different names. Regardless, the intervention process should be ingrained in each classroom management plan. That’s because it starts with you delivering high-quality instruction and monitoring how each student processes it.Those who perform poorly or display concerning classroom habits are candidates for small-group or individual interventions. These are typically aimed at addressing trouble spots and building underdeveloped prerequisite skills to accelerate learning. Depending on the intensity of intervention, and your school’s resources, special educators and dedicated interventionists may involve themselves. You may also have to inform a student’s parents in extreme cases, offering updates about progress and the methods you’re using. There isn’t a universal RTI process, but most schools and districts divide it into three stages. You can learn about these stages below, or skip to tier-based strategies.
The Three RTI Tiers
Tier 1: High-Quality Instruction and Proactive AssessmentThink of the first RTI tier as everyday teaching. It’s consistently delivering differentiated and scientifically-based instruction. This helps ensure that student struggles aren’t a result of improper teaching methods. If you don’t already use them, some popular practices include:
- Incorporating diverse technologies
- Inquiry-based learning
- Game-based learning
- Cooperative learning
- Experiential learning
- Problem-based learning
- Active learning
Tier 2: Targeted Intervention
Maintaining the first tier’s style of classroom instruction, the next stage uses rigorous supplementary exercises and lessons targeted to a student’s specific needs.Normally, you would deliver these exercises and lessons in small-group settings outside of core class time. This allows students with common issues to work together, contextualizing and reinforcing concepts while building prerequisite skills.You can objectively identify candidates for targeted intervention through:
- Mid-Unit Evaluations: At the middle of each unit, deliver a surprise quiz or in-class task that covers all core skills and concepts you’ve covered thus far.
- Formal Evaluations: After marking tests and assignments, it’ll be clear who’s struggling. Your school may have specific criteria, but targeted intervention candidates are typically students who receive failing grades or come close.
- Group size
- Nature of the exercises
Tier 3: Intensive Intervention and Evaluation
Working one-on-one with you or a dedicated interventionist, students in the final tier receive intensive lessons that target their unique trouble spots and knowledge gaps. In the United States, 5% of children need this kind of help, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.Based on the student’s learning style and needs, as well as underdeveloped skills, third tier intervention sessions can include:
- Talking with the child about his or her specific issues, discussing strategies to overcome them
- Sharing positive and corrective feedback whenever possible
- Providing diverse media to help process content
- Revisiting lessons from past units or years
- Setting achievement plans and goals
- Modeling problem-solving steps
Teaching Strategies for Each RTI TierRTI probably seems like a daunting process. It can be. But there are many ways you can help and empower students to succeed in each stage. Consider using some of these 15 intervention strategies, many of which are interchangeable between tiers:
Tier 1 Strategies1. Watch for Impostor Syndrome
It’s easy for a student to nod his or her head, then bury it in a book without asking questions to create an illusion of comprehension. That’s why you have to watch for impostor syndrome. Proactively looking for students who feign understanding, filling their knowledge gaps, can prevent disappointing surprises when marking tests or assignments. You can spot imposter syndrome by regularly:
- Asking Students for Their Own Words -- Instead of repeating concepts verbatim, ask students to explain specific ideas using their own words. This will not only help them process content, but reveal how well they understand it.
- Using Exit Tickets -- Save 10 minutes at the end of class, allowing students to write about what they learned. They’ll prepare for tomorrow’s lesson, whereas you’ll see who’s grasping content.
Like the last strategy, use this one to identify if and how students are struggling before formal evaluations.At the middle of each unit, run a fun classwide activity that doesn’t introduce key skills or concepts. This gives you a chance to pull each student away for a few minutes to:
- Review results
- Note trouble spots
- Receive input about questions and problems
Giving choices for projects is another differentiation strategy that fits into the first intervention tier. Instead of assigning an inflexible project, provide a list of ideas. This allows students to choose one that lets them best demonstrate their knowledge. Be sure to include a rubric for each project, setting clear expectations.By enticing and challenging students, this approach encourages them to:
- Work and learn at their own paces
- Process content in ways that appeal to them
- Showcase their knowledge and skill mastery as effectively as possible
Tier 2 Strategies6. Set Measurable Goals
Setting clearly-defined objectives will define an explicit route to graduate from intervention. Addressing a given student’s challenges and trouble spots, objectives should take the form of learning and behaviour goals. Learning goals focus on the student understanding concepts and developing skills. For example, “I, student’s name, will complete 10 additional questions about fractions, as provided by my math teacher, each weeknight for the next two weeks.”Behaviour goals require the student to concentrate and work efficiently. For example, “I, student’s name, will not interrupt any of my teachers while they’re speaking. Instead, I will raise my hand to ask questions.”Notice how the goals are measureable? If the student interrupts a teacher even once or only completes nine questions each night, he or she doesn’t meet them. To reinforce the importance of these goals, review progress at each targeted intervention session.7. Add a Twist to Mixed-Ability Groups Grouping high performers with struggling classmates for in-class activities is common, but needs a twist as a second tier intervention strategy. That’s because underperforming students sometimes don’t actively participate in these groups. Instead, they rely on group members. Here’s the twist: Run activities that require students to write down their thoughts or findings, but give each student a different colour pen. You’ll likely notice the struggling students don’t write down as much. If this is the case, tell them they’ll present their groups’ thoughts or findings to the class. This way, they must process the content to prepare. Improved understanding of content, better presentation skills.8. Use EdTech that Adjusts to Each Student
Some educational technologies use adaptive learning principles, detecting student trouble spots and helping them build skills to overcome them. For example, Prodigy is a math video game that adjusts content to help students address skill deficits and knowledge gaps. It also offers feedback to help them solve specific mistakes, as they answer questions that use words, charts, pictures and numbers. Currently used by more than a million teachers, the game is aligned with curricula across Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.Create and sign into your free teacher account here:
9. Model Everything and Use Role-PlaysTo supplement explanations, demonstrating proper practices will give struggling students clear examples and reference points. Let’s say you’re running a think-pair-share activity. To clarify, this involves students individually thinking about a problem, pairing together to discuss their answers and presenting their ideas to the class. After giving instructions, you could act out a:
- Partner conversation, reaching conclusions by asking each other questions
- Brief presentation about answers, modeling what students should say about their ideas and problem-solving processes
Teaching problem-solving skills in targeted interventions can give students the confidence to answer challenging problems, reaching comprehensive answers.This is especially important for those who understand a topic’s underlying concepts, but struggle to apply or articulate them. One of the most popular resources is A Problem Solving Approach to Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers. The authors describe four steps you should encourage students to follow, which work for most subjects. The steps are:
- Understanding the Problem -- Students should rewrite it in their own words, noting helpful information it reveals and indicates a need for.
- Devising a Plan -- Students should use information they gleaned to make notes, tables, diagrams, equations and anything else that creates a path to solving the problem.
- Carrying out the Plan -- Students should follow this path, reviewing each step along the way and making changes as needed.
- Looking Back -- Students should double-check each step after reaching their answers. Then, it’s best to look at the “big picture.” Does the solution make sense when applied to the original problem? Is there a different, logical way of reaching the same solution? If not, they should re-visit their approaches.
Tier 3 Strategies11. Gamify a Personal Learning Plan [caption id="attachment_583" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Click to expand.[/caption] Motivating students in the final RTI tier is typically a challenge in of itself. Gamifying learning plans can engage and incentivize them, empowering them to move back in the middle tier. Whether you’re in charge of this intervention stage or not, you can still apply video game elements in your classroom for these and other students. Consider gamification strategies such as:
- Adjusting Your Scoring System -- Give traditional scores and experience points (XP) on tests and assignments, setting a goal for the student to reach a certain amount of XP per unit. For example, if a student scores 60% on a quiz, give him or her 6,000 XP. You can also award XP for completing extra assignments, participating in class or anything else that shows effort to learn.
- Using Stages -- Call topics and units stages. These terms have clear connotations for you, but students may not see how they fit together. If they’re gamers, they’ll understand that reaching the next stage requires overcoming precursory challenges. Emphasize this by framing certain tasks as prerequisites to reach that next learning stage.
- Past years
- Previous units
- Current classes
- Different subjects
Pairing struggling students with top-performers can yield benefits, according to peer teaching studies. For example, “students generally identify more easily with peer helpers than with adult authority figures,” according to an influential study. This means they may be more willing to ask questions and for feedback. What’s more, an Ohio University pilot study determined that students who read and discuss story passages with peers recall more content and score higher on assessments. Peer tutoring is a nuanced pedagogy in its own right, but easy-to-run activities include:
- Think-pair-share exercises, which were discussed in the section about second tier strategies
- Peer editing exercises, which rely on tutors giving targeted feedback about a tutee’s written work
- Jigsaw exercises, which involve dividing an ambitious task into subtopics and having a tutor-tutee pair research the same subtopic together
- Guiding the tutee through the problem-solving process
- Giving the tutee praise and feedback while working through exercises
- Reviewing content together, asking each other questions and finding answers
- Fellow teachers for insight about the students you’re helping
- Consider how to incorporate student assessments into report card comments
- Learning support specialists for tips and to share responsibilities
- Administrators and your principal to provide updates and access data, especially if it seems a student needs special education services and parent involvement is required