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Implementing RTI With English Learners

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Learn why response to intervention is the ideal framework for supporting English learners. Find clear guidelines for distinguishing between lack of language proficiency and learning disability. Follow the application and effectiveness of RTI through the stories of four representative students of varying ages, nationalities, and language proficiency levels. Throughout the book, the authors illustrate the benefits of implementing RTI in a professional learning community.

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6 Chapters

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Chapter 1: Success With English Learners: It All Comes Down to Language

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IT’S THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. Kindergartners—hair neatly combed, brand-new school uniforms, shirts tucked in—arrive, holding their parents’ hands. The parents leave their children with their new teacher in the lunch court with a few last words of encouragement and go off to their various responsibilities for the day. The few parents who linger to watch the start of the first day of school stand unobtrusively in the shadows so they won’t distract their child or precipitate another round of tears.

Carol, a literacy coach at the school, helps the new kindergartners pick up their breakfast from the cafeteria. “Hola, Diana! ¿Qué quieres comer?” (What do you want to eat?) “¿Huevos o cereal con leche?” (Eggs or cereal with milk?) Reading from the nametags hung around the students’ necks, she shows them the breakfast choices, queries each student, and directs them to the next cart to pick up their juice. With the students who don’t speak English or Spanish, she asks them in English while she points to their choices.

 

Chapter 2: Tier 1: An Opportunity to Learn

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“IF STUDENTS HAVE EQUAL opportunities to learn, doesn’t that mean they have equal access?”

“Isn’t effective instruction for English learners really just good teaching that works for all students?”

“Aren’t instructional strategies for English learners the same ones we use for students with disabilities?”

“I never received ESOL, and I learned English. Shouldn’t students now be able to do the same thing?”

Ask a group of educators to answer these questions, and you will surely hear affirmative and negative responses to each. It seems that everyone has an opinion about teaching students whose native language is not English, as well as about where to draw the line between the school’s responsibility and that of the student and family. The mere mention of teaching English learners can evoke strong emotional responses, especially in an era of high-stakes testing and accountability for all students. These questions are at the very heart of the definition of opportunity to learn. If we were to answer yes to all of them, then the next logical step would be to bypass Tier 1 altogether for English learners and jump immediately to Tier 2 supplemental intervention, or even to Tier 3 intensive intervention. If schools with large English learner populations followed this approach, the RTI wedge that we presented in chapter 1 (page 18) would be reversed and might look something like the one in Figure 2.1 (page 24). But this would result in an inefficient, costly, and discriminatory way of educating children who are learning English.

 

Chapter 3: Using Data to Rally Resources

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LOOKING AT HER DATA CHART, middle school educator Ms. Jacobs wonders aloud, “I’m not sure what to make of this.” The PLC meeting hasn’t started yet, but Ms. Jacobs is clearly puzzled. She turns to Mr. Andrews, pointing to her data, and adds, “I have to go first.”

When the grade-level meeting starts, Ms. Jacobs raises her hand. “I’d like to start. Okay with everyone?” Her peers nod in agreement, and Ms. Jacobs continues. “When I screened their writing, several of my students had big-time spelling problems. It seemed like half the class needed Tier 2 intervention. But now look at the data. They’re getting it! I only have a couple of students who need that level of support anymore. The rest are doing fine, so I can focus on other things now.”

Mr. Andrews, congratulating Ms. Jacobs on her data, asks, “So, what happened? Why’d it work so well this year?”

Ms. Jacobs, pausing to give this some thought, finally answers, “I guess it’s because I asked for help earlier this year. The screening data really alarmed me, so I went right to Ms. Sawyer [reading specialist] and Ms. Armento [bilingual special educator] and begged them to spend every minute they could in my room. Together, we went after the needs. And it’s working! I’m really proud of my kids.”

 

Chapter 4: Tier 2: Supplemental Interventions That Build Language and Content Knowledge

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NINTH-GRADE STUDENT MINH rushes to her next class. It’s English with Ms. McLean, and even though the content of the course stresses her quite a bit, she knows she also benefits from the extra support she receives. Minh has made limited progress in her English language proficiency, and despite being in US schools for seven years, she is still at level 3 (intermediate or developing), according to her eighth-grade state language assessment. However, Minh is at a new school that has a strong RTI component that is used to address the needs of its many English learners.

Mihn’s English teacher has organized a unit of instruction on the essential question “Does age matter?” Every day the class listens to a passage from the target text, Peter Pan (Barrie, 1902/2003), and Ms. McLean uses this to teach lessons on literary devices. In addition, all the students in the class select related books from an extensive list of novels and informational texts about young and old characters facing challenges. Ms. McLean explains that this approach allows her to differentiate instruction (Tier 1) to accommodate student interests, background knowledge, and reading levels. Minh has chosen Hattie Big Sky (Larson, 2006) because, as she shares, “I like story about girls who must live alone in strange place.” Minh and several other students who are reading the same book meet three times a week to discuss the text, and sometimes the English teacher joins their group.

 

Chapter 5: Tier 3: Intensive Interventions and Decisions About Learning Language Versus Learning Disability

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WHEN WE LEFT EDUARDO, he was making progress. It seemed that the supplemental interventions were taking hold and that his performance was improving to the point that he might not need interventions at all. But midyear, that changed. Eduardo stopped making progress, and the teachers at his grade level noticed it within a week, thanks to their progress monitoring.

During their team meeting, Eduardo’s English teacher, Ms. Jacobs, is emphatic. “I don’t believe in plateaus,” she says. “Students just don’t do that. There has to be something getting in the way of Eduardo’s learning. Let’s review his data graphs and see what we can do to get him back on track.”

As is her habit, Ms. Sawyer, the reading specialist, is quick to display student achievement charts on the interactive whiteboard. As the group of teachers begin their review process, Ms. Sawyer says, “Let’s just pause a minute and remember where he came from. Look back at the screening data we had from August; he’s grown a lot. Yes, there’s still a ways to go, but we’ve had a very positive impact on him.”

 

Chapter 6: Commitment to RTI: A Framework for Success

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THE SUCCESS OF ANY response to intervention model rests on two key factors: accurate assessments and effective instruction and intervention. Of course, clear definitions of these terms, and staff members who understand these definitions in the same way, are integral to success as well. In this book, we have defined effective instruction for EL students and offered a model of instruction that encompasses Tier 1 core curriculum, Tier 2 supplemental instruction, and Tier 3 intensive intervention. We have proposed a process for assessment that can be used to determine the student’s response to instruction and intervention and to inform instructional planning. Finally, we have discussed the ways a special education system dovetails with other supports in the school.

The common vocabulary that comes from a focused, schoolwide RTI system has benefits that extend beyond English learners. Our work with elementary, middle, and high schools that have implemented this model has demonstrated to us that supporting students with diverse learning needs is possible. It does, however, require that the school be committed to identifying and meeting those needs—that it be “responsive to intervention.” While most schools have mission statements declaring this commitment, practical concerns get in the way of full implementation.

 



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