Saturday, October 22, 2011

Response to Intervention Q&A

Is RTI only for reading?
No, RTI can be used for other academic subjects, such as mathematics, or for behavior problems, such as bullying. It is mainly used for reading intervention because reading is the biggest academic problem in the United States. However, you should think of RTI as a framework that can be applied to any subject. For example, RTI for behavior is sometimes called Positive Behavior Support (PBS) - a model for preventing and discontinuing unwanted behaviors.

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Why would one school, class, or teacher decide or want to do RTI, and another would not?

-Many teachers have the perceived sense that Response to Intervention requires a lot of extra work and documentation on their part, which they do not want to add to their already busy schedules. They might also think that it would be difficult to implement if they do not have any classroom assistance.
-Also, veteran teachers might not want to implement RTI in their classrooms because they feel that they would have to change their teaching style or classroom routines too much.

However, it is important for teachers to understand that RTI, while requiring some additional work, is well worth the small amount of extra effort that must be applied. Also, the amount of additional effort is probably much less than is perceived by teachers who do not currently use RTI. With a small amount of professional development, RTI might seem more manageable to teachers who have doubts about using it.

RTI seems to require a lot more staff. Does this hold it back?
Once again, this is a perception that some people have about RTI. They might think that extra staff is required for doing assessments, or that each tier requires specific interventionists. While this can be the case, RTI does not necessarily require more staff. It can be implemented in a classroom with just one teacher.

How much more teacher training is needed to understand RTI?
First of all, many teachers are already doing RTI without any training, and perhaps without knowing it! By spending a little more time on intense RTI training, these teachers could use RTI in their classrooms even more effectively. Once a teacher starts using RTI, it gets easier to implement and understand. It is also helpful to have multiple professionals collaborating in their use of RTI because it provides a support system for teachers who are newer to using the model.
In addition to a small amount of professional development focused on RTI, it is helpful for teachers to have an understanding of their state's special education law (Article 7 in Indiana) as well as further training on how to use RTI assessments, such as the curriculum-based measurement specific to their school.

Are the tiers used differently in each state, or are they the basic principles of all RTI?
The tiers are a basic principle of Response to Intervention. However, each state chooses exactly how RTI will look in their schools; they choose the number of tiers and exactly how to distribute students among them. Some states choose to have four, or even five tiers, instead of the standard three.

How much data is collected to decide which students are in which tier?
The process of placing students in tiers for RTI begins with CBM to see where each student is with a certain skill. The data from this CBM is backed by other data, such as observations by the teacher or other professionals who regularly work with the child. If a first assessment shows that a student is struggling with a concept, no more preliminary assessments are necessary. This struggling student would be placed in the second or third tier, depending on the severity of their difficulty, and he or she would receive the necessary interventions. Once a child is receiving extra assistance, he or she would be assessed more frequently to track progress and determine if or when a change to another tier should occur.

How does RTI differ from tracking?
Unlike RTI, tracking is a constant practice. A school decides that a certain type of student should be placed in classes of a certain difficulty, and the student stays in this track throughout their school career. This is a type of segregation; tracking keeps students in one type of education. RTI, on the other hand, strives to help students improve. Students are placed in tiers for the amount of time necessary for them to improve their skills in a certain area; if an intervention helps a student in tier two improve, he or she will be moved to tier one. Also, with an RTI model, a student could be in different tiers for different academic subjects: a student might be in tier one for literacy, but in tier three for math. Once again, these are subject to change as necessary. Tracking places a student in one track level for all subjects for all of school.

If RTI is a practice, why doesn't the government fund it?
RTI is an "unfunded mandate" - it is a best practice, but it is not funded entirely by the government. The government supports RTI, and the level of support may vary from state to state, but it does not provide all the necessary funding. This is because the government is not in the practice of providing an excellent or the best education; it is in the business of providing free and appropriate education, meeting the basic needs of students in general. Therefore, RTI, which means providing the best possible education for every student, is not something the government funds completely.

Do parents get open access to their students' records?
YES. Schools which implement RTI well, send weekly or biweekly progress reports, including graphs of data, home to students' families. Teachers should schedule conferences to meet with parents of students who need extra assistance in the classroom to talk about ways in which the teacher can collaborate with the family to help the child improve, and to make sure families understand the interventions their child is receiving.

How can parents collaborate with teachers to make RTI happen?
Teachers can provide parents with resources about the interventions their child is receiving in school, as well as materials and ideas for how these interventions can be extended for home use. (e.g. Teachers might give families flashcards, games, or other activities that relate to the child's difficulties.) Teachers can do home visits, which allow them to observe and understand a child's home environment, as well as share information with RTI directly with parents. Teachers can also distribute an RTI newsletter to parents, explaining how RTI is used in the classroom, and how families can support this at home.

Families can collaborate with teachers by being open and honest about home practices. They should also feel comfortable sharing with teachers if they feel that their child might be struggling. Families can also be aware of RTI practices and be ready to advocate for their child's education at the school or in the district. Parents can have a strong voice with a school board if they are passionate about an issue such as RTI.

Basically, the best way for teachers and parents to collaborate is for all parties to be entirely invested and involved in the child's best possible education.

Applying the Roadmap to Pre-K RTI

This post includes a summary of the "Roadmap to Pre-K RTI: Applying Response to Intervention in Preschool Settings," as well as my thoughts on applying the ideas addressed in this article to my current preschool field placement classroom.

The article begins by describing preschool RTI and its functions. In preschool, RTI can be used to stop early delays from later becoming learning disabilities (Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009). RTI uses three tiers of instruction to meet the needs of all students in the best way possible for each individual. The first tier uses a curriculum proven with evidence to be effective; the second tier uses more focused and intense instruction for students who are identified to be behind their peers in learning; the third tier uses even more intense intervention for students who are still having trouble (Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009). The research on the use of RTI is still in its primary stages, but the rest of this report details how it can be implemented. The basic framework of RTI fits well with many early childhood care practices, but some aspects of RTI must be slightly adapted to be developmentally-appropriate for younger children. Pre-K RTI should especially focus on using positive language and applying practices in a manner that fits with early childhood beliefs (Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009).

The major components of Pre-K RTI include:
-screening children for developmental delays
-assessing children’s strengths and challenges in all learning areas
-monitoring progress to track children’s improvement or lack thereof
-using curriculum and instruction that are appropriate for young children
-putting practices in place in the way intended
-using collaboration between teachers, other professionals, and parents/families
-involving parents and families in every step (Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009)

The article provides five examples of RTI implementation in pre-kindergarten settings. The first example, Recognition and Response (R&R), is a tiered framework designed for preschool use. It includes recognition - screening of all children to identify difficulties, response - instructional interventions for those children who are struggling, and collaborative problem-solving among teachers, parents, and professionals to assess the child’s progress and plan for the next steps (Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009). R&R could be a useful tool for Dual-Language Learners (DLLs). The second example, The Literacy Partnership, is a tiered RTI model used to language difficulties in all children. The partnership assesses and addresses vocabulary and phonological awareness and provides intense support to those children who need it (Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009). The third program, Center for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood (CRTIEC), with the goal of having more pre-k children be kindergarten-ready, especially in language and early literacy abilities. CRTIEC also has the goal of promoting their information and methods throughout the country and creating a national network of early childhood professionals. The fourth example, Rockford Early Childhood Program, is working on transitioning RTI into their preschools, especially focusing on both academic and social-emotional learning needs. The fifth example, the Colorado State Department of Education, uses a three-tiered model of Pre-K RTI and has used RTI in grades K-12 for years. They emphasize family involvement and are working on using RTI for behavioral supports as well as academic (Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009).

The article concludes by listing some recommendations from the National Center for Learning Disabilities. These suggestions include: remaining flexible to program needs and practices, supporting professional development to better prepare educators for use of RTI, promoting universal screening of all children, and authorizing funding for Pre-K RTI ( (Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009).

Following are five RTI principles/methods/procedures/activities that I feel could be implemented in my field experience classroom:

-I feel that my Head Start classroom should incorporate instruction and assessment of alphabetic principle, because currently there are four-year-old students who do not know more than one or two letters. Although the children write their names each day, some of the children who are able to write all the letters in their names do not know the names of those letters. The teachers could implement this instruction by pointing out letters in the environment or assigning a “letter of the day” until the whole alphabet has been addressed. They also need to assess individuals’ understanding in order to see what needs to be emphasized; this could be done with flashcards.

-Parent and family involvement seems like a crucial part of RTI, especially in preschool. Several of the examples programs in the article emphasized the importance of parent involvement for the success of RTI. Although parents are required to volunteer for a certain number of hours and there is information about the children available to parents, I think there should be a more proactive method of involving parents in their children’s school achievements. This might be accomplished by having parent meetings about early literacy development to educate parents about how their child will learn at school, and how families can extend this learning at home. Also, parents should be provided specific, visual data on their children’s progress at least bi-monthly.

-The Recognition and Response model and the Literacy Partnership describe collaborative problem-solving approaches to professional development. I am not sure exactly how often teachers meet with other professionals to monitor progress of students, but I feel that this should be done frequently. Meetings should be held between teachers, assistants, literacy specialists, and therapists or other professionals at least weekly. This focus on the needs of all and individual children would help all the professionals who interact with the children in my Head Start class be on the same page with each child’s current needs.

-I feel that my Head Start classroom would benefit from CBM testing focusing on alphabetic principle and phonemic awareness. These are skills that I do not see being explicitly taught or encouraged, and I think CBM assessments would give the teachers an idea of where students are in their learning of these concepts. This would allow the teachers to design activities to more specifically meet the needs of the children in these areas because they are very important skills to develop in preparation for kindergarten. Also, we know that students who do not acquire these basic early skills are at more risk for learning disabilities later in elementary school, so I think the teachers should be more directly concerned with helping these children develop necessary skills for reading.

-The Rockford Early Childhood Program “addresses social-emotional aspects of learning” in addition to academics (Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009). I think this would be extremely beneficial in my field experience classroom because there are several children who have difficulty with self-regulation, especially when they are angry. Using teams of professionals as support systems for planning to address these challenges would help the teachers implement consistent, successful classroom management strategies. Once this is in place, I think the classroom could be far more successful in academic instruction and activities.

Work Cited
Coleman, M. R., Roth, R. P., & West, T. (2009). Roadmap to Pre-K RTI: Applying Response to Intervention in Preschool Settings. National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc.

Roadmap to Pre-K RTI

The link below is to a document called "Roadmap to Pre-K RTI: Applying Response to Intervention in Preschool Settings" by Mary Ruth Coleman, Ph.D., Tracey West, Ph.D., and Froma Roth, Ph.D. In the article, the authors outline the key components of RTI and how they can be used in preschool classrooms. They also provide five examples of preschool programs which are implementing RTI in different ways.

CBM - Why use it?

What is CBM?
As the previous post explained, curriculum-based measurement (CBM) is a quick and easy form of standardized assessment in which teachers conduct individual assessments with students to determine each student's literacy skills. If CBM data show that a child has difficulty with a particular skill, teachers can give that students extra support in that area. The data is used to place students in tiers for RTI within a classroom.

So why should teachers use curriculum-based measurement?
Teachers should use CBM because it is efficient, useful, and well-aligned with the curriculum. Teachers can easily assess an entire class in 30-45 minutes because each assessment lasts about one minute. Also, teachers are in control of CBM in their own classrooms, and they can change the way they use it to fit their needs in instruction as well as the needs of their students. The results of CBM can be used to quickly implement changes in lesson plans for children who are struggling. Teachers will better understand exactly what skills students need to improve by using curriculum-based measurements.

Curriculum-Based Measurement

Curriculum-based measurement (CBM) is a simple, quick, and practical type of assessment done through brief, timed exercises, which last between one and five minutes. CBM is the generic term for these assessments; some specific names are NWEA and DIBELS. Different schools use different programs, and the state of Indiana pays for Indiana schools to use DIBELS. CBMs identify the existence of a problem; they do not identify what a problem is. Once teachers know a problem exists, they are able to do more assessments to figure out what the problem is and how it should be addressed. Assessments are used frequently and repeatedly to monitor progress, especially for those students who are found to be struggling in some area. Using this process on the whole class allows teachers to see where students lie in the tiers for RTI. CBMs for a whole class can be done in a very short time because they last about a minute, and a teacher can easily assess many students in a row.

A simple way to think of curriculum-based measurement is to compare it to taking temperature with a thermometer. This quick assessment tells us whether or not there is a "fever," or a problem with a child's literacy skills. If there is a problem, teachers will plan interventions to help the child improve on the specific skill. In the temperature analogy, the higher the fever, the more often a parent or doctor would check to see if the fever has gone down. Similarly, the more intense the literacy problem, the more frequently the teacher would reassess with CBMs, until the problem has been resolved.

An example of a curriculum-based measurement for reading fluency is having a student read a passage out loud for one minute, keeping track of correctly and incorrectly read words. At the end of the minute, the teacher can quickly see how many words a child read correctly in one minute. During this time, they also observe the child's intonation and smoothness of reading.

Five Essential Reading Skills for Early Elementary Students

The article "What K-3 Teachers Need to Know About Assessing Children's Reading" by Scott G. Paris, Ph.D., outlines five skills which should be taught and assessed in the primary grades. The following post is my summary of these reading skills, as well as ideas for teaching and assessing students' abilities with them.

Alphabetic Principle
Alphabetic principle is identification of written upper and lowercase letters and the knowledge of the sounds associated with each letter. This is important because it is the most basic building block to reading and writing. Children must have an automatic connection between letter recognition and letter sounds in order to learn to read. Teachers assess the alphabetic principle by watching children name letters and listening to them say letter sounds. Children should be able to name written letters shown to them and choose a letter said to them from a written list.

Alphabetic principle can be taught through flashcards, alphabet songs and books, and letter manipulatives. A lesson plan entirely centered on the alphabet could include forming letters out of different materials such as string, beans, or grass, or writing letters in different substances, such as sand or shaving cream. In my Head Start field experience, the children write their names every day; however, I think there needs to be more of a focus on naming the letters and knowing their sounds. One four-year-old boy, who I have worked with for a literacy project, knows how to write his name, but he only knows the name of the letter "P." He named the rest of the letters in his name by describing their shapes: "a straight-down line with a dot" for the letter "i." This is a concern for me because it is very important for him to learn the names of letters as preparation for kindergarten and learning to read.

Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the knowledge of letter sounds. It encompasses the ability to distinguish sounds within words as well as to blend sounds to create words. Phonemic awareness is important because it allows children to move toward independent reading. Once children know and understand the way letter sounds work, they will be able to sound out words in their own reading. Teachers assess phonemic awareness by listening to children say, blend, and differentiate letters sounds. This can be done through formal assessments or simply by listening to children speak or say rhymes throughout the day - for example, during a class singing time or recitation of a short, rhyming poem.

Phonemic awareness can be taught by using letter sounds in speech, song, and reading. A teacher could focus on a specific letter sound each day or week. The students could be challenged to use the letter sound of the day as much as possible, and many activities might go along with this, such as saying words containing the letter sound, finding objects whose names contain the letter sound, preparing and eating food starting with the letter, and singing songs or reading poems containing the letter sound. During my senior year of high school, I was a cadet teacher in a kindergarten classroom, where the teacher taught and reinforced letter sounds using hand signs. She used these signs while reading short poems out loud to the class and in work with individual students to remind them of letter sounds. I think this is a great idea because it attaches a physical motion with each sound, helping children remember them more easily.

Oral Reading Fluency
Fluency is reading correctly, quickly, and smoothly; it also means a child uses intonation while reading out loud. Fluency is important because when children are fluent readers, they can decode words automatically, which allows them to focus more on comprehension, another important reading skill. Teachers assess reading fluency by listening to children read out loud; they listen for correct pronunciation and intonation in addition to rapid pace. Reading rate is another type of fluency assessment, in which teachers count the number of words a child reads in a certain amount of time. This is useful for assessing decoding skills, but in a full assessment of a child's reading ability, the teacher should also focus on comprehension and vocabulary.

One instructional strategy for oral reading fluency is choral reading. The teacher could read a book out loud to the class and then have the children read along. This would give children a model of how fluent reading sounds. Another idea for teaching fluency would be to have children write their own stories and read them out loud for the whole class or small groups. This would hopefully encourage them to think about how sentences sound while writing, as well as while reading out loud.

Comprehension is a child's understanding of what he or she has read. This is an important skill to develop, because we use it every time we read anything. Children must develop the ability to decode words fluently while taking in the meaning of the words and sentences they read. Teachers assess comprehension informally by asking students questions about what they have read, or asking students to retell stories. They can assess more formally by giving tests after reading chapters or whole books. Comprehension is also assessed in standardized tests, by having children read short selections and answer questions.

Teachers can use specific comprehension instructional strategies, such as stopping children to summarize parts of reading in their own words, or having them reread parts to make sure they understood. In preparation for standardized tests, comprehension can be taught and practiced by giving students sample questions after reading. A basic lesson plan that could be used to work on comprehension would be writing a book report. In the kindergarten class where I was a cadet teacher, even the kindergartners wrote short book reports, in which they wrote the title, author, basic plot, and something they liked, along with an illustration.

Vocabulary is the knowledge and understanding of definitions and meanings of words that children read. They need to be able to use words in sentences and their own speech in order for those words to truly be a part of their vocabulary. Vocabulary is important for comprehension; children need to understand individual words in order for those words to truly be part of their vocabulary. Vocabulary is important for comprehension; children need to understand individual words in order to comprehend entire sections of reading. Teachers assess vocabulary by asking children to use vocabulary words in their own writing. They could also assess by giving vocabulary quizzes, or playing games in which children identify definitions of new words.

Teachers can teach vocabulary by providing age-appropriate definitions, using a word wall, or talking about synonyms with their students. A lesson plan about vocabulary might focus on a specific topic which can be described with many different words. For example, a lesson about the ocean might include many words that mean large, since the ocean is large: vast, enormous, immense, huge, mammoth, etc.

Traditional Teaching vs. Response to Intervention

One of the main goals of RTI is to meet the needs of all students inclusively, and I think this is a much more productive way to teach than the traditional method. In the traditional approach to teaching, teachers usually use the same method of instruction for the whole class, and those students who are consistently unsuccessful are often removed from the general education classroom. This assumes that there is one "right" way to learn, and teaches children that if they are not able to fit into expectations, then they are different from their classmates, and they have failed in some way. Using RTI means that teachers review each student's progress and adapt their future lessons to meet the needs of each student. Students who need a little extra help receive it without being removed from their general education classroom entirely.
Another great reason to choose RTI over the traditional teaching method is that it creates a team among all the teachers and staff who come in contact with the students of one class. In the traditional method of instruction, general education teachers analyze their observations and make decisions about teaching their class on their own. In RTI, teachers meet to share observations, data, and ideas for better serving individual students. This gives students more continuity throughout their school day, and keeps all teachers on the same page so that they know exactly what each student needs. It also holds all teachers accountable by giving them specific goals to work toward for specific students. Also, the constant documentation and informal assessment practices of RTI help teachers make informed decisions about which students might benefit from a different style of learning or interaction. Overall, RTI benefits all students and teachers by maintaining continuity, creating a sense of community throughout the school, and educating each individual in the best way possible.

Teaching Late Bloomers - Part 3

Many people believe that students who struggle in early elementary school are "late bloomers" and they will catch up with their peers in the next few years. Based on the definitions provided in the previous two posts, here is my response to the concept of "late bloomers," as well as ideas for intervention that would hopefully help a struggling student improve their reading skills.

Research does not support the idea of “late bloomers.” Several studies show that children who are behind in reading in first grade tend to still be poor readers by fourth grade. Also, children develop reading skills quickly in early elementary school, but beyond sixth grade, students tend not to improve their reading abilities. In order to improve reading skills in struggling readers, teachers need to intervene as soon as possible. Based on this information, I would reason that a vast majority of students are not “late bloomers;” therefore, this struggling first grader should be provided more intense, individualized reading instruction right away.

I would start giving this student individualized reading instruction in addition to regular class lessons as soon as I identified him or her as a struggling reader. Since most poor readers have difficulty with phonemic awareness, I would begin by teaching or reinforcing letter sounds with this student. Before the student would be able to read, he or she would need to have a basic understanding of how each letter sounds and how these sounds fit together. I could teach this through flash cards or repetition and matching games. Once the child had a good understanding of letter sounds, I would be able to begin phonics instruction, because the child would understand that sounds blend together to make words. Reading words out loud would reinforce the idea that words are made up of letters, which each make their own sound. Throughout my instruction, I would constantly assess the student’s understanding and document his or her progress. This would help guide my instruction to fit with the student’s pace of learning. Hopefully this direct, intense phonemic awareness and phonics instruction would help this struggling student improve his or her reading skills.