The RTI Trap: Avoid This Common Mistake
Response to Intervention & Instruction (RTI) is an educational concept that has captured the imagination of teachers and thought leaders in many schools, districts and jurisdictions. In this blog post, I will discuss a key pitfall to avoid when implementing this approach.
In terms of a model, I really like RTI. It is a common sense tiered framework that clearly outlines how we can best support all of our learners:
- Tier 1: All students receive high quality, differentiated instruction.
- Tier 2: Some students need and receive a second learning experience and extra attention.
- Tier 3: Very few students need and receive an intensive learning experience – in addition to previous learning experiences in Tier 1 & 2.
This makes a lot of sense to me.
However, for some reason, the strategies, programs, and approaches that excite educators, correlate almost entirely with the Tier 2 & 3 rungs on the framework.
This attraction is a problem, and can doom RTI as an approach. The magic of RTI does not happen in Tier 2 or 3, but at Tier 1. It is at Tier 1 that our teaching tactics and techniques must have the most impact. That is where we focus our professional development time, dollars, and collaboration. If we can more effectively teach all of our students, then fewer and fewer will need supports at Tier 2 & 3.
Unfortunately, changing how we teach, in order to increase Tier 1 effectiveness in the classroom, is no easy task. This is evident in the rush to adopt RTI as a “fix all” solution for students with lagging skills. Too many students are categorized as struggling, and then placed in Tier 2 and 3 interventions, divorcing the classroom learning environment from the student and placing the learning elsewhere.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Our system needs to improve Tier 1 instruction through explicit teaching and high quality lesson design. High quality lesson design is not a new concept. Madeline Hunter created an effective approach to lesson design in the 70’s – and educators still reference the tenants of her approach as best practice today. A generally accepted practice used present day follows a Connect, Process, Transform & Reflect sequence. I personally subscribe to:
- Prepare – Set a purpose, make connections, ask questions
- Learning Sequence – Break the lesson into progressions, building towards the authentic application/task
- Authentic Application – The student demonstration of learning
- New Thinking – Reflection.
The design thinking process (found in ADST curriculum) also reflects high quality Tier 1 lesson design (see graphic below). High quality instruction = engagement.
There is a quick test to figure out whether you fall into the RTI trap.
When a colleague offers to take a group of students out of your classroom to work on missed concepts, what is your response?
- “Sounds great! Thank you for the help.”
- “This is not a good time. Can you come back when we are doing something else?”
- “We can’t afford to have these students miss the learning that is happening in the class. You are welcome to join us during that time and help.”
Of course, “C” is the response that shows that you have passed the test and not fallen into the “trap”.
RTI will truly be successful when teachers, using high quality lesson plan processes, transform student achievement by taking classroom practice and engagement to the next level.