One of the activities I did during August, Connected Educator Month, was take part in a free Response to Intervention (RTI) workshop by eLearning Innovation, Struggling Readers, Differentiated Instruction and RTI. RTI is one of those things that we hear about but that I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is. Sure, I can answer the question, “what is RTI?” But I wasn’t really sure how to do it. The part that I was missing in understanding RTI was differentiation. By differentiating instruction, content, and assessment we can better meet the needs of all our students. Yes, I know that, but that differentiation is one part of RTI.
The RTI pyramid is widely used to represent the philosophy of RTI. At the bottom are practices that are used for all students. Moving up the pyramid are practices needed for those whom the bottom practices are not sufficient. Moving up to the top of the pyramid are the practices needed for a small percentage of students for whom nothing else seems to be working.
I see how differentiation fits into the RTI model but I learned that in order for RTI to be successful it has to be a school-wide effort. One teacher alone can only do so much and in the secondary setting we have even less influence as we see so many students each day and they have so many teachers. In my school our RTI focuses on student behaviors. In middle school we find that student behavior is sometimes more important for learning than instruction or content. If we can get our kids to engage with the content or instruction then they will learn. It’s mostly misbehaving and lack of motivation and engagement that drives our students away from learning.
I’ve written a few posts about student motivation. It’s what I struggle with on a daily basis, how to engage more of my students to love learning and do so even in school!
My principal uses a pyramid similar to the one in the document for dealing with behavior issues. For 80% or most of our students, the bottom section of the pyramid, our normal rules and procedures work just fine. Much like a first tier. For 15% of students more is needed and they do not respond to regular interventions so they are moved to the second tier. Students who don’t respond even to those interventions make up about 5% and they need more help and support.
For us in middle school academic success is tied to behavior. The kids who succeed manage to behave in ways that allow themselves and others to be successful. Those that struggle academically misbehave the most. Differentiation, in theory because I haven’t been entirely successful with all my students yet, will provide enough supports for struggling students that they will experience success and thereby not misbehave. Engaging struggling students is key and in my experience there are students, the 5%, who by middle school, resist all attempts to succeed. No matter how engaging or how many supports are in place they will resist. Not all the time but enough to cause problems for everyone during a school year.
I find that in schools we the teachers need more support than just a special education program. Access to mental health services is very important to help struggling students see that they can be successful and that school can work for them. All schools should have mental health services available for their students.
Another resource to help students with the skills they lack to be successful and engage in learning in school is the Ross Greene’s book Lost at School. A Canadian teacher, Joe Bower, has some great resources and examples for using Lost at School to help kids.