The success of any RTI initiative will rest largely on the ability of the teachers to select appropriate instructional activities based on the diagnostic evidence each student provides at the onset and throughout the intervention.
Richard Allington in No Quick Fix
You cannot have a learning organization without a shared vision . . . A shared vision provides a compass to keep learning on course when stress develops.
I can find myself feeling a bit cynical with each new mandate, not always giving new ideas a fair chance. Many of these waves in education feel like distractions, taking us off course. As I continue in this profession, I am learning to embrace change, drop some of my cynical ways, and reflect on how each new initiative fits within my belief system and the overall collective vision of our school.
Response to Intervention (RTI) is the current initiative at our door. It’s our job as educators to learn as much as we can about RTI and figure out how it fits within established practices within our schools. My biggest question is, How can it enhance instruction for all students?
I was recently rereading one of my favorite books, This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman. This I Believe is an invitation to examine the core principles that guide your life. It is a throwback to Ed Murrow’s radio series from the 1950s.
A few years ago, JoAnn Portalupi invited me to be part of a panel which presented at NCTE in which each participant shared an educational I Believe statement. This experience made me realize we need to listen, learn, and connect our core beliefs to any new initiative like RTI. It is through this reflection process that we can figure out how and if new programs fit within our existing belief systems.
How do we do this? Jay Allison writes in This I Believe, “Understanding your own beliefs, and those of others, comes through focused thought and discussion.” (p. 6) I think the first thing we can do with any initiative such as RTI is learn as much as we can about it.
In my district we’ve been reflecting, taking time to learn more about RTI, talking with colleagues, and figuring out how this initiative fits within existing literacy frameworks. We ask ourselves, what do we believe about learning, and how can we connect these beliefs to RTI?
We are working to incorporate an RTI tiered model of intervention within our school system. I am embarrassed but willing to admit that we have struggled over the last two years as we have worked to collaborate and integrate RTI into our existing literacy infrastructure.
There was pressure to move forward in implementing RTI at a slightly faster pace then we were ready for, since it is an expectation that all schools in our state will have full implementation of RTI as a pre-referral procedure by July 1, 2010. Although RTI is nothing new, it has taken on new significance with the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Improvement Act.
Because of the RTI initiative, we have found ourselves immersed in collaborative conversations between regular and special education teachers. We have a renewed commitment as we talk about how we can support all students. We’ve been reflecting upon our current educational practices, literacy beliefs, and literacy assessment system.
It has been a paradigm shift from sorting and shifting students between regular education, Title 1, and special education services, to working together as a team looking at how we can move towards supporting all students. It has been a time to ask questions and redefine our positions and work as literacy specialists, coaches, and special education teachers within our schools. We may not have the answers, but we certainly are working through lots of questions.
Reflective Questions We Are Asking Ourselves As We Develop a Tiered Model of Intervention:
- How do we support all students in our school?
- How can Title 1 support the tiered intervention model of RTI and work as seamless support for students?
- What assessments are used to determine if students are achieving grade-level expectations?
- What are the best universal screening tools for the primary grades?
- How do we go about implementing the universal screening tools and prepare teachers to administer them to students?
- How do we monitor and document student progress over the year?
- What do we do when certain assessments tell us the same information?
- How do we work together in looking at student data throughout the year?
- What effective resources do we already have within the school to support students struggling in literacy?
- How might we reorganize existing support systems within regular education and special education to maximize our capacity and reach more students?
- How do we ensure that we stay focused on students, not programs?
- How do we communicate to teachers that they are at the center of this initiative?
- Who identifies the students at risk? How can we work together as teams?
- How can new positions such as a system RTI coordinator be incorporated into existing literacy infrastructures, ensuring that all teachers working with students are communicating and working together toward the same goals?
- How do we harness the full potential of the screening tools and move beyond reading rates at the intermediate grades?
- How do we analyze the plethora of literacy data that we collect from students to inform our instruction?
- Where does the referral process fit within the RTI model?
We have raised lots of questions, and we may be far from having all the answers. Yet as a result of our two-year process of researching RTI, collaborative conversations among professionals around RTI, and the partial implementation of RTI, we have come to a shared understanding:
RTI is Not . . .
- placing all students in special education for interventions;
- sticking students on computer programs;
- placing all students below a benchmark score into the same reading program;
- “fixing” all students with one program;
- shuffling students between regular educational programming, Title 1 programming, and special educational programming;Â
- tossing students thoughtlessly through a tiered intervention system for the sole purpose of a referral;
- over-emphasizing oral reading fluency at the expense of comprehension and other essential components of reading.
RTI is . . .
- an organizational framework (tiered model) of how interventions can be strategically planned for a struggling reader;
- a model that incorporates universal screening tools as part of overall assessment systems that are used to identify students that would benefit from additional literacy support;
- driven by general classroom teachers;
- about targeted, expert instruction, tailored to support student needs;
- data-driven, to look at how students are responding to interventions;
- a monitoring tool to ensure students are making continued growth throughout the year;
- about establishing a collaborative partnership (a marriage of sorts) between regular education teachers and special education teachers.
Did you know that historically the lowest achieving students have gotten the least coordinated instruction? Allington and Walmsley write in No Quick Fix, “Low-Achieving readers are more likely to be asked to read aloud than silently, to have their attention focused on word recognition rather than comprehension, to spend more time working alone on low-level work sheets than on reading authentic texts, and to experience more fragmentation in their instructional activities.” I believe that RTI gives us a chance to rethink how we can best support our most fragile readers. The renewed emphasis on RTI pushes us to reflect on how we are using data to tailor coordinated instruction – not just to struggling students, but to all learners.
Have we made mistakes within our district throughout the process of implementing RTI? Absolutely! But good things are happening. We are breaking down barriers between regular education and special education and beginning to speak the same language. The reality is that we are all responsible for the students we work with within a school day. I see a bright future, one where regular classroom teachers, Title 1 teachers, and special education teachers are all working together, keeping students at the heart of our conversations.
When we look back years from now at this time, we might just find that the three-lettered acronym RTI is responsible for nudging us toward unification between classroom instruction and support services.