Category Archives: RTI

Kicking off the 2016/2017 School Year!

Ah, I am so excited to dust off the blog and get started with the new school year! There are so many exciting changes in our structures for RTI that I just cannot wait to get going! After some really honest conversations at the end of last year on how we were grouping and pulling students for interventions with minimal to no impact, we decided to completely change the way we do RTI, starting with the name. From this point on, we call it WIN, What I Need, time…because, you know, we needed another acronym!;) However, changing the name means nothing without blowing up the structure itself and that is exactly what Erin, the reading specialist, and I intend to do. We spent A LOT of time this summer brainstorming what the new WIN time could look like and imagining how we can use our time with teachers during Learning Labs to support this work. There are so many details and logistics that would make this post way too long, so let’s just start with the first month.

Typically, during the first month, students would be given content screeners used to group them into tiers. These screeners set a terrible tone for how students view the learning they will be doing during the school year (as Tracy blogged about here). The content on the screeners was across so many areas and there were no conversations about the math that, instructionally you got little to no information about what the students actually knew. Not to mention, for the students who had previously been in a tier, they knew this screener would put them right back where they were last year. So, this year, we are starting with getting to know our students in a way that can truly guide our planning and instruction and set a tone of how learning will happen this year!

Since our new WIN time will involve a lot of small group work, Erin and I designed a “First Month of School Plan” for everyone to help guide our future planning conversations. This plan could definitely be adapted by the teachers, but we wanted to give examples, or plan for those that wanted it, of ways to get to know your students and provide opportunities to develop a community of learners.

Without all of the details, it basically looks like this:

Week of September 6th: Talking Points.

Week of September 12th: Ask students what they need as learners. Do Norm-setting.

Week of September 19th: Read Last Stop on Market Street and do activities.

Week of September 26th: Read What Do You Do With A Problem? and do activities.

(If you want more info, the break down of all of this is in our first Learning Letter of the school year.)

For our very first Learning Lab this year, we have asked teachers to come with a formative assessment of what students know about their upcoming content work in October. Using this information we are going to work together to dig into the content and design small groups to help support students where they are. This design could be an extension of the content or address misunderstandings, all with a focus on what the students KNOW, not solely what they don’t.

I am sure it will be a bumpy ride for teachers, Erin and I, but when something needs to change, a bumpy ride is better than the same old crappy way of doing things. I will keep you posted and look forward to sharing our work!

One Hundred Hungry Ants – 4th Grade

Next year, we are restructuring our RTI block to be a time when students are working in small groups in their classrooms. This is a really exciting change from our previous model in which students were pulled from their classroom for intervention. This change will shift our Learning Lab focus to planning small group activities, however the first, REALLY important, piece we need to focus on is how small groups work in the classroom. I think the K-1 teachers have a much better sense of how centers work within the classroom, although we still want to move from the current centers to more strategically planned small groups. So, with only a week and a half left of school, Erin and I are playing around with some ideas in the classrooms as a part of our planning! Fun!

Erin and I planned for a 4th grade class today where we were going to test out a small group scenario. We started in a way I imagine everyone could kick off the year next year, involving students in the process. We asked them what they needed in order to learn in small groups. Below are all of their great responses, most of which were accompanied by an example of something they had experienced during small group work.

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I launched the small group task by reading One Hundred Hungry Ants aloud, pausing occasionally to ask for predictions. After the reading, I didn’t preview the task, but instead sent them off to work in their small groups. This was for two reasons: to see if the wording of the task was clear enough for students to follow independently and to see how they worked as a small group. We choose to give everyone the same task today to see how it went but we are trying different small group tasks tomorrow.

Each group had a journal, storyboard, and this task card:

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They worked for about half an hour and had some great conversations. I especially liked the conversation sparked by the third question because number choice is something I find so interesting. They also had to do some serious negotiating to decide which number they would do as a group since everyone had different reasons. In one group a student wanted to pick 2 because they would “get there faster,” another wanted 75 because “it could make a lot of combinations, but be less than 100 so they could still make it in time.” In another group, a student was saying he didn’t want any prime numbers because you could only do two lines with them.

This one was great because they changed the storyline from finding a picnic to getting to Dairy Queen, but when they get there they had forgotten their money so they still got no food. Different story, same ending.

This one was so interesting because, unlike the book, they used the commutative property, seeing the arrangements as different situations, which the book did not do:

This group saw a lot of doubling going on in their arrangements when they chose 50 instead of the 100 in the book:

We came back together and talked about the patterns they saw.


While the math conversation was interesting and I can definitely see some great generalizations stemming from this work, tonight I am thinking more about the questions I am left with about small group work…

  • Could a teacher work with primarily with one group, realistically, without continuously checking in on the others?
  • How can we structure the work so everyone in the group is working on the recording at the same time and can see what is being written? We saw a lot of the journal or storyboard sitting in front of one student. Not that the others weren’t contributing, but they all couldn’t see what was being written. I think dry erase boards can work well here.
  • What type of formative checkin can we do with each group that doesn’t add to an already growing pile of papers to be graded or give feedback?
  • How do we control the noise? The students were not being purposely disruptive or off-task, they were just loud and began talking louder to hear one another.
  • What does this look like at other grade levels?
  • How can we keep this interesting for students to do every day while not making it a planning nightmare?
  • How can we embed more student choice in the task?

More to come tomorrow when we tackle these tasks:

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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.