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What Is the Response to Intervention Method?

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The response to intervention method (RTI) is a tiered approach to ensuring students with behavior and learning needs receive the right support. Instructors use research-informed teaching methods in the classroom, coupled with interventions that help kids who are struggling to learn. 

The approach is designed to help identify students with learning needs. It also ensures that a school has an action plan in place so struggling learners can receive support that will keep them on track if necessary.

How Response to Intervention Works

RTI education is built on a few key components:

  • High-quality, research-based instruction from qualified teachers
  • A schoolwide system of tiered instruction and interventions for struggling students
  • Ongoing, data-based evaluation of student learning and needs

Regular, classroom-wide screening programs and progress evaluations help teachers compare students’ progress against their classmates, as well as themselves. Data from assessments are used to determine whether kids need interventions. State- or district-wide tests may also be consulted, as they provide additional feedback on whether or not the current learning approach is working for a given student.

There are three different tiers in the RTI framework. By default, students begin at the first level. If interventions and instruction at one level aren’t enough for a student’s ability to improve, they will be moved up to the next. There, they’ll receive more individualized, targeted support.

Tier 1

This level includes classroom-wide interventions and the most commonly used teaching methods. Students who are struggling may receive additional instruction during the school day. Their progress will be closely monitored. If this extra instruction helps them improve in the area they’re struggling in, they’ll return to a normal schedule. If this isn’t enough to help them make better progress, they’ll be moved up to tier 2.

At this tier, instruction may need to be differentiated to be successful. For example, a third-grade classroom may have a mix of nonreaders, typical readers and those who are learning at an accelerated rate. Instructors will need to consider this full range of abilities while creating lesson plans.

Tier 2 

This is the secondary level of prevention. Tier 2 usually consists of targeted interventions focused on small groups of students who weren’t improving in tier 1. Tier 2 services are provided in addition to tier 1 instruction. In early grades, interventions at this level are usually limited to reading and math, but they may receive assistance with different materials at higher grade levels.

Students who continue to make little progress at this level will be pushed up to tier 3. 

Tier 3

This level features individualized assistance, either one-on-one or in small groups. Typically, one or two students will need help in this tier. Students will be placed in research-based remedial or replacement programs that provide them instruction with a specialist.

If tier 3 interventions don’t help students make progress, instructors will refer them for a comprehensive evaluation for a specific learning disability (SLD). Parents and teachers might consider special education services for the student as well. Data on their academic performance collected in tiers 1, 2 and 3 can be used to help administrators decide whether that child should be eligible for special education programs and resources.

There aren’t hard-and-fast standards for when a student should be moved to a higher tier. Instead, teachers need to create a process for determining when this should happen. Some instructors will use methods like curriculum-based measurement to make these decisions.

How Teachers Can Help Struggling Students

Discussion of RTI education often focuses on tiers 2 and 3 — how to help students with one-on-one support or specialized learning techniques. A successful application of RTI, however, requires interventions at the first tier, in the classroom.

These interventions may be as simple as identifying students with different learning styles and providing opportunities for them to learn in a way that makes the most sense to them. 

Identifying which components of tier 1 instruction are working well — and which ones aren’t — can also be a big help. The RTI Action Network, for example, recommends that schools keep instructional routines consistent from classroom to classroom. Teachers should also provide explicit instruction and adjust the pace of lessons to meet student needs. 

For the framework to be useful, instructors also need to ensure students have multiple opportunities for response and feedback. These regular check-ins can be an opportunity to see if students are active and engaged in learning. If they are withdrawing or disengaging, it could be a sign that the standard lesson plan isn’t effective. In a case like this, instructors may need to employ a different approach or consider tier 2 interventions, if their school uses the RTI framework.

How Response to Intervention Can Support Students

RTI education, when implemented well, can be a powerful method for ensuring all students receive the support they need. Tiered interventions and ongoing screening provide resources to children who struggle to learn from the typical approach. 

Teachers can provide extra help to students in the classroom, even without supplemental or remedial resources. Simple adjustments to lesson plans and teaching techniques, like accounting for different learning styles, can go a long way in helping students learn.

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Category: Education

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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.