RTI for Adults

I want to preface this post with a few things I believe to be true about RTI (Response to Intervention):

  • Some students need small group instructional time for intervention.
  • Some students enjoy their RTI classes because they like their RTI teacher and feel successful on the work they do during that time.
  • The RTI structure was originally designed for Kindergarten and 1st Grade students.

Understanding these things, sadly this is what I also believe to be true about RTI:

  • Pulling students out of class for Tier 2 and 3 instruction negatively impacts how they view themselves as learners.
  • The current system negatively impacts the way we talk about students, pushing educators to refer to students as a number.
  • After 2nd grade, the majority of students become “stuck” in a tier forever.

Questions I continuously ask myself about RTI are:

  • Why RTI?
  • If we focused our attention on differentiation during core instruction (Tier 1) would this be as necessary?
  • Does the current RTI structure lay blame on the student’s ability to learn as if their learning was not impacted by prior learning experiences?
  • Can we pretend that students aren’t impacted by pulling them out of their regular classroom for intervention classes?
  • How does a student who is labeled as “working on grade level” and not being pulled for “enrichment”during RTI time feel? Do they feel as if they aren’t capable of that work? How does that impact their future educational decisions?
  • How do we fix this?

And the questions that intrigue me most right now:

What if we treated teachers like we treat students?  

Would thinking in those terms give us a clearer lens in which to look at RTI?

I love that our school is currently looking at ways in which to improve this structure. I truly believe that every single teacher has the best interest of students at heart when designing this intervention structure however, I don’t know if we consider all of its implications in terms of a student’s confidence and perception of themselves as learners. I think we all want them to be successful but at what expense?

My colleague, Brandi, and I had a long conversation around all of these questions and ultimately ended thinking about the question, “What would happen if we treated adults in this way? Should we expect children’s view of themselves as learners differ from a teacher’s view of themselves at teachers?”

Our conversation inspired her to write a mock lesson plan for how a principal could run a faculty meeting that would offer teachers insight as to what being pulled for RTI would feel like. I loved it so much, I had to ask her to share. While this is a lesson plan for teachers, I believe all people involved in education policy and decision-making such as principals, district office personnel, board members, state and national legislators would benefit from this activity.

Lesson Plan for the Principal: Treating Teachers as Students

Start the staff meeting announcing that he or she has decided to make the meetings more productive by splitting the staff into three groups.

  • Exemplary teachers: the teachers who are at the top of their game and need to be challenged
  • Average teachers: the teachers who are doing a good job but who still have room for improvement
  • Teachers in need of extra support: the teachers who need more support than others.

It is important to remember to be positive when telling the extra support teachers which group they are in, because if this is done positively and said nicely, they will understand that there are always people who do well and always people who struggle and the strugglers should be willing to accept help.

Announce who falls in each group in front of the entire staff. The extra support teachers (~15%) report to the principal’s office for intensive instructional strategies for behavior management and/or content professional development to improve their classroom instruction. The average teachers (~75) will remain in the cafeteria with either the reading or math specialist for an extension of the work they are currently doing in class, nothing too exciting, but is on their current working level of teaching. The exemplary teachers report to the assistant principal’s office for new, exciting technology initiatives or content extensions that are above and beyond what they are currently doing in class. 

Wait. (Prediction: people should be murmuring and making little grimacing faces).

Ask if anyone has any thoughts on this process. Hopefully everyone will have figured out by now this isn’t really happening — BUT that it is exactly what we do to kids each day.

That KNOT in your stomach as you worried you would be pulled into the “needs help” room – the fear that your name would be called and you would have to get up and leave.

The ANXIETY over which of the three groups you fell into. The greater ANXIETY over knowing where everyone else fell.

The ANGER over the potential to be Average when you had a really great lesson last week and nobody saw it!

The ANNOYANCE that someone has judged you and you don’t know what they based their information on.

Discussion. Before even knowing which group they had been placed in, I imagine most teachers would have gone through this range of emotions. Most teachers would prefer not to have anyone know if they were being placed in the extra support group, just as they would not want anyone to know if they were on an Improvement Plan or Expectations. But are we taking equal care of 6,7, 8, 9 and 10 year olds feelings the same way?

Ask anyone if they would feel PROUD to be pulled into the extra support room – whether they can admit to needing it or not. Ask them how frustrating it would be to work hard and collaborate in that room, put together an exemplary lesson, and then pull it off in class only to be pulled back into the principal’s office at the next staff meeting with nobody having seen it or realizing you had improved.

End lesson plan.

I wonder if people would take a different stance on RTI (or tracking in general) after engaging in this activity? Like I stated previously, I know some students need extra support, but I just wonder if we can find a way for that support to happen in the classroom with the student?

Could working with teachers on ways to support students who may struggle while at the same time challenging those who are finished quickly be more effective and less damaging to students?

Could this work with teachers lessen the number of students who need extra support year after year and truly help us identify those with learning disabilities so we can appropriately address those needs?

I never like complaining about a problem if I haven’t thought about a solution and although I do not have a complete answer here, I do believe we can do better. I believe we can take responsibility as teachers to try and best meet all students where they are, as impossible as that may seem. Through collaborative content professional development and managing small group work in the classroom we can improve the current structure.

I know we are all trying to do our best by the students, but I think we can take better care of our students’ views of themselves as learners and would love to hear ways in which others are doing just this.


19 thoughts on “RTI for Adults

  1. Nomadic Teacher

    Yes! I have been struggling with this same issue. While the intention is to support students, I am seeing us build a wider gap between students. As a 6th grade teacher (in elementary) it kills me that we are taking 1 hour of our day to regroup students for intervention/enrichment. I did the math and due to that hour, we are losing 25 instructional days each year for Tier 1 learning. That doesn’t seem right. I’m looking at restructuring our schedule to larger blocks of time, so within that larger block I can have students working on a project for a part of the time while I target needs, but flexibly. I see so much growth in students when they are given respectful and open assignments. It never holds students back and some students thrive and propel forward. Keep us posted what you try. I need to look at the info about how RTI was originally designed for K and 1…didn’t know that. Thank you for your thoughts.


  2. Agi

    I am very interested in this topic as I see the same exact problems as you do. Thank you for your great analogy with the teacher meeting! 🙂 I’ve been trying to brainstorm better ways to help the struggling students especially in math, but don’t have anything magical yet. One specific program that I think would really help in closing the gap in math and helping kids feel successful is Dreambox Learning. Unfortunately that is mostly a funding issue for many schools. I will be looking forward to hearing how others may have come up with great solutions to this logistical problem.


  3. Jamie Duncan

    This is the part of my math instruction that I never feel satisfied with. Glad to know I’m not the only one! I have an inclusive classroom with about 8 students (some more severe than others) with special needs, 8 out of 22 students. I have an hour and twenty minutes for math. The first 10-15 is for number sense – number talks, estimation tasks, etc. The next 20 minutes is for procedural fluency (the bulk of the class works independently) then I pull flexible groups (this is like the “almost group”) to work on whatever it is they need, then there is another group of kiddos who struggle, but more severely. My inclusion specialist (special ed) teacher pulls them. She used to stay in the room, but lately has been taking them out causing them to miss some Tier 1.
    😦 We just talked about this so hopefully it doesn’t happen anymore. Really, what I would like would be to just keep these kiddos with me. (Not sure if I really can due to IEP minutes, etc.) It’s hard because many teachers who specialize in special education don’t take the time to specialize in math. Then, the last 45-50 minutes is for our task which I try to open up as much as possible to give all students access, or at least as many as possible. I’m always trying to figure this out.


  4. Jill buecking

    I know strong universal instruction while adapting to each students needs is essential. It’s difficult to see needs not being met within the classroom but I also know how difficult it is to teach and how many years it takes to learn how to adapt and scaffold for each child. Your post has me thinking…


  5. Jill buecking

    And this paragraph from the rtinetwork.org really pisses me off: “Curriculum-based measurement (CBM) probes of basic (e.g., sums to 12, subtraction 0–20, fact families) and advanced computation skills (e.g., finding least common denominator, multidigit multiplication with regrouping, converting numbers to percentages, solving equations) are empirically supported for screening (VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Naquin, 2003; VanDerHeyden & Witt, 2005). These measures have been found to yield reliable scores over time that correlate moderately with other more comprehensive measures of mathematics performance. Research indicates that the use of computation-only assessment and intervention has demonstrated value for early identification of children who are likely to struggle with advanced problem solving in mathematics. Because these probes can be administered to an entire class at one time and require only two minutes of the student’s time, they are currently the measures of choice for screening in mathematics. To identify the screening task, the RTI consultant should print out the state standards for mathematics, review the computation-oriented objectives in sequence, and consult with teachers at a grade-level meeting to determine where students are in the instructional program (i.e., what students are expected to know how to do at that time of year to benefit from continued mathematics instruction). CBM probes can be purchased from a variety of sources (e.g.,Sopris West Educational Services) or built for free using online tools (e.g., Intervention Central) or using inexpensive software (such as those on the Schoolhouse Technologies Web site).”

    Probes like these continue to value fact recall above all else. Students and teachers end up thinking that math is about knowing your facts.


  6. Jo

    I am an Australian mature age graduate and found this post very insightful. I wonder if flipping the classroom or using platforms such as GOOGLE CHAT rooms would help eliminate RTI’s? Time set outside the classroom (using the Internet) to approach the teacher without fear of judgement from other is something I would of liked to be able to access when I was at school.


  7. Christy S

    I teach 2nd grade and we do pull out EIP. I do not have any “gifted” in my class so do not have that issue but have a good sized group of kids that get pulled out. It’s a pain as a teacher (especially math on days they get pulled for reading) but my kids absolutely love going. We have the best EIP teachers ever and our kids don’t know they are going because they are not performing well. That may change in older grades or if our kids didn’t love their teachers. One of my top SLO scores from last week was a reading EIP kid that is now reading on grade level. For us, at my school, the process works amazingly. At the other 2 schools I worked at it was a disaster and I could definitely see it being a problem if their peers new their labels or older grades though.


  8. Elisa Waingort

    Thanks for putting this out there. The research is pretty clear about what you write here. I always refer to Dick Allington’s study about this and the importance of specialist teachers not only pushing in to students’ classrooms, but also that they plan and teach in a collaborative manner with the classroom teacher. You’d think this would be part of the repertoire teachers get during their teacher preparation or in PD events. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. I know I would feel nervous if I was in the RTI for teachers faculty meeting.


  9. surfingtosuccess

    Our school found that pulling kids out of core instruction for intervention wasn’t working. We had a lot of similar concerns to the ones you mentioned here. We took a serious look at our intervention plan and my position was created. I work with students for 1-3 weeks at a time. I see students across the spectrum. Sometimes teachers choose students that struggle. Sometimes they choose a group that is right ‘on the bubble’. Sometimes, I get a group of high students. We created a school culture where “Surf Lessons” (my intervention) is a fun place to go and meet a short term goal, not a long term sentence to be tracked forever. I blogged about it here (http://surfingtosuccess.org/2015/06/how-to-create-successful-school-wide.html) I wish more schools had a system for targeted short term intervention.


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  11. robertkaplinsky

    I know I’m late to the party here, but this post is brilliant. It is amazing to me how different it felt to view the experience through the lens of a student. I wonder how doing this activity might cause teachers to reflect on their own Tier 1 instruction. My district is currently in big talks about RTI so I will be sure to bring this up. Thanks!


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  13. Laura Wagenman

    Hello! This post was recommended for The Best of the Math Teacher Blogs 2016: a collection of people’s favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts at the end of the year and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via http://goo.gl/forms/LLURZ4GOsQ whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.


  14. Ruth

    I am right there with you. Your staff meeting analogy is perfect. I have always struggled with this as a grade 6 teacher and fought having my sixth graders pulled out any time but the first 30 minutes as buses trickle in. The year I had full push in with a special ed support staff was a year of the largest student gains amongst my lowest learners and everyone else!


  15. Matt Vaudrey

    Oh, this is good.

    In my mind, the admin sends a video announcement a week before about what’s coming, but “we’re still working out who goes into each group.”

    Then share some of the email responses from staff as examples of the feelings mentioned in this post.

    Saving this for later.


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