So Each May Learn:  A Thoughtful Approach to RTI

Response to Intervention, or RTI, has been compared to a medical triage model in which instructional resources are matched to student needs. The three tiers of intervention in the RTI model help schools and teachers maximize their efforts in instruction and assessment so that the students who need the most help not only get it, but benefit from it. At the same time, an effective RTI model ensures that all students - not just struggling and at-risk learners - develop the background knowledge, understanding, skills, and habits of mind they'll need to succeed as citizens and workers of the 21st Century. The ultimate goal of RTI then, is to help us realize the dream and promise of American education by giving every student an equal opportunity for meaningful learning.

So Each May Learn is the title of a bestselling book we wrote at the very beginning of the 21st Century - 2001 to be specific. In that book, we synthesized the work we have been doing in schools for over 35 years. At the heart of this work has been a commitment to "make students as important as standards" by helping schools develop teaching and learning practices that are research-based, academically rigorous, and engaging for all students. Since then, we have continued to refine this approach in light of what we learn from the teachers, administrators, and students we work with every day. More specifically, over the last 18 months, we have been collaborating with schools across the country to apply the concepts and strategies we developed in So Each May Learn to the three-tier model of RTI. This approach to RTI is outlined below.

Tier 1: Strategic Instruction for All Students
Tier 1 is the foundation of any RTI initiative. It represents the great majority of what happens in the classroom, and the success of the entire RTI model depends on it: "Remember, the quality of Tier 1 instruction and interventions will determine the success or failure of the RTI initiative. If high-quality Tier 1 instruction and interventions do not address 80-90% of student learning needs, then Tiers 2 and 3 will be overwhelmed" (Howell, Patton, & Deiotte, 2008, p. 60).

Being effective at Tier 1 means designing and delivering high-quality instruction to all students, instruction that addresses the root causes of underachievement. At Silver Strong & Associates, we believe that this kind of instruction must be strategic; we have a long legacy of helping teachers master a variety of research-based instructional strategies, and we demonstrate how teachers can use these strategies to raise student achievement by:

  • building student' background knowledge and academic vocabularies
  • developing students' thinking, learning, and study skills
  • teaching to all students' learning styles
  • designing lessons and units that motivate and inspire students to do their best work.

Building teachers' repertoires of research-based instructional strategies is one of our greatest strengths as professional development providers. Our expertise in instructional strategies is highlighted in two bestselling texts: The Strategic Teacher: Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson (2007) and Tools for Promoting Active, In-Depth Learning (2001).

In addition, we have adapted our work in strategic instruction to the specific challenges associated with teaching mathematics and developing students' literacy skills - RTI's two core academic areas. This approach to strategic mathematics and literacy instruction is described in our books Math Tools: 64 Ways to Differentiate Instruction and Increase Student Engagement (2008) and Reading for Academic Success: Differentiated Strategies for Struggling, Average, and Advanced Readers (2008).

Tier 2: Targeted Interventions for Struggling Students
Tier 2 interventions are designed for the roughly 10%-15% of students who need extra support beyond the strategic instruction provided in Tier 1. To this end, we help teachers and schools design easy-to-implement formative assessment techniques to identify students' misconceptions, gaps in their background knowledge, and underdeveloped skills that plague their learning efforts. But we have also found that without an understanding of how struggling students learn, the interventions we design are less than likely to be effective. The best Tier 2 interventions are targeted and customized to the students' unique set of interests, needs, and abilities. To help schools customize their Tier 2 interventions, we offer The Learning Style Inventory for Students, the most valid, reliable, and effective tool for identifying each student's unique learning style profile. We show teachers how to interpret the learning profile, how to use it to make better instructional decisions, and how to make it part of the conversation about learning with the student and with parents. Best of all, we provide teachers with specific, style-based interventions geared to each struggling student's unique learning style profile.

Tier 3: Intensive Intervention Using a Force Field Analysis
Tier 3 interventions are designed for roughly 5% of all students, or students with significant learning challenges who require the highest level of instructional support. These students are often identified as special needs students. Tier 3 interventions are intensive and highly individualized. In working with these students and their teachers, we have developed an individualized assessment-and-intervention process known as a force field analysis. A force field analysis entails:

  • The identification of a specific challenge faced by a specific student
  • A thorough assessment of the student's background knowledge and skills
  • A detailed description of the students' learning behaviors
  • The development of a learning style profile using the Learning Style Inventory for Students
  • An analysis of the forces working for the student and the forces working against the student
  • The formulation of specific and attainable goals for the student
  • The creation of an Individualized Education Plan that will help the student achieve the goals by tapping into the student's strengths (forces working for the student) and developing areas of weakness (forces working against the student).