Simplifying Response to Intervention: Four Essential Guiding Principles

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The sequel to Pyramid Response to Intervention advocates that a successful RTI model begins by asking the right questions to create a fundamentally effective learning environment for every student. RTI is not a series of implementation steps, but rather a way of thinking. Understand why bureaucratic, paperwork-heavy, compliance-oriented, test-score-driven approaches fail. Then learn how to create a focused RTI model that works.

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Chapter 1: A New Way of Thinking

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CHAPTER 1

A New Way of Thinking

What worked yesterday is the gilded cage of tomorrow.

—PETER BLOCK

Gone are the days when hard work and elbow grease were enough for the average person to make a living. To prepare for successful adult life in a competitive global marketplace, today’s students must learn more than the three Rs; they must also master the higher-level thinking skills required to continue to learn beyond high school. Those who do will find numerous paths to success. In stark contrast, many students who fail in school will go on to adult lives characterized by poverty, welfare, and incarceration, as we saw in the preface. With such high stakes, today’s educators are like tightrope walkers without a safety net—responsible for meeting the needs of every child, with very little room for error.

We know one thing for certain: we are never going to get there doing what we have always done. Our traditional school system was created in a time when the typical educator worked in a one-room schoolhouse and served as the only teacher for an entire town. Today it is virtually impossible for a single teacher to possess all the skills and knowledge necessary to meet the unique needs of every child in the classroom. But even the one-room schoolteacher was not expected to achieve that outcome, as throughout most of the 20th century fewer than 20 percent of all jobs required even a high school diploma (Hagenbaugh, 2002).

 

Chapter 2: Collective Responsibility: Why Are We Here?

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CHAPTER 2

Collective Responsibility: Why Are We Here?

Collective responsibility: A shared belief that the primary responsibility of each member of the organization is to ensure high levels of learning for every child. Thinking is guided by the question, Why are we here?

A successful journey does not begin with taking a first step, but with facing the right direction. Likewise, transforming a school or district does not start with implementing a sequence of tasks, but with creating clarity on the organization’s direction: its fundamental purpose. In his book Transforming School Culture, Anthony Muhammad describes this difference in terms of “technical changes” and “cultural changes.” Technical changes are made to tools such as a school’s master schedule, instructional materials, and policies. Cultural changes are shifts in the norms, values, assumptions, and collective beliefs of an organization. Substantial cultural change must precede technical change, he argues, “for while technical changes are necessary to improve our schools, they produce few positive results when the people using them do not believe in the intended outcome of the change” (Muhammad, 2009, p. 15).

 

Chapter 3: Building Structures for Collaboration

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CHAPTER 3

Building Structures for Collaboration

Fulfilling the obligations of collective responsibility requires more than the belief that all students can learn at high levels—it also requires collaborative structures and tools to achieve this goal.

Let us go back to what it takes for all kids to learn:

Targeted Instruction + Time = Learning

What is the likelihood that an individual teacher can target every lesson to meet the individual learning needs of each child in every class? Can a teacher teach to every child’s learning style in the same lesson? Can a teacher give every student unlimited time to learn each standard? Obviously not. There is no way an individual teacher has all the time, all the skills, and all the knowledge necessary to meet the individual needs of every child. Applying the formula for learning as an individual is nearly impossible. But collectively, the combined knowledge and skills of an entire staff can meet the learning needs of every child. Teachers must move beyond viewing students as “my kids” and “your kids” and instead regard all the students as “our kids.” This need for a collective effort is why we believe that RTI must be built upon professional learning community practices; the only way a school staff can achieve the mission of learning for all students is by working together (DuFour et al., 2010).

 

Chapter 4: Concentrated Instruction: Where Do We Need to Go?

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CHAPTER 4

Concentrated Instruction: Where Do We Need to Go?

Concentrated instruction: A systematic process of identifying essential knowledge and skills that all students must master to learn at high levels, and determining the specific learning needs for each child to get there. Thinking is guided by the question, Where do we need to go?

Once a school has created a sense of collective responsibility to ensure that all students learn at high levels, the next step is to engage its teachers in a dialogue to help answer the question, if all students are to learn, exactly what is it they must learn?

After synthesizing more than 800 meta-analyses involving many millions of students, John Hattie (2009) identified six “signposts” that point toward excellence in education. One of these signposts from his book Visible Learning reads as follows:

Teachers need to know the learning intentions and success criteria of their lessons, know how well they are attaining these criteria, and know where to go next in light of the criteria of: “Where are you going?” “How are you going?” and “Where to next?” (Hattie, 2009, p. 239)

 

Chapter 5: Convergent Assessment: Where Are We Now?

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CHAPTER 5

Convergent Assessment: Where Are We Now?

Convergent assessment: An ongoing process of collectively analyzing targeted evidence to determine the specific learning needs of each child and the effectiveness of the instruction the child receives in meeting these needs. Thinking is guided by the question, Where are we now?

Once a school has created a collaborative culture focused on collective responsibility for student learning and identified the learning goals all children must reach to be successful in school and in life, it should next gather the evidence necessary to determine where each child is in his or her learning relative to the goal. This evidence, gathered through convergent assessment, answers the question, Where are we now?

Convergent assessment ensures that interventions and enrichments are both timely and targeted. Instruction must target specific skills or knowledge in a timely sequence that proceeds toward a known learning destination. If we don’t know exactly where each student is and what he or she needs to succeed, our interventions and enrichments will be well-intentioned “shotgun blasts” of strategies aimed at a plethora of skills in hopes that something will “hit.”

 

Chapter 7: Certain Access: How Do We Get Every Child There?

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CHAPTER 7

Certain Access: How Do We Get Every Child There?

Certain access: A systematic process that guarantees every student will receive the time and support needed to learn at high levels. Thinking is guided by the question, How do we get every child there?

A school can have noble intentions, a collaborative culture, a clear and viable curriculum, effective instructional practices, targeted interventions, and timely assessment processes, but if it does not implement them systematically, then these best practices will be meaningless for students who struggle after core instruction. The purpose of RTI is to ensure that every child receives time and support to learn at high levels.

Certain access is how a school demonstrates its belief that all kids can learn—it is where the rubber hits the road! Collective responsibility creates the culture and structures of collaboration necessary to ensure that all students succeed. Concentrated instruction defines with laser-like focus what all students must learn, and convergent assessment guides instruction, evaluates teaching effectiveness, and identifies specifically which students are struggling and where they need help. Certain access is how we provide every child the time and support needed to achieve.

 

Epilogue: A New Vision of Special Education

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EPILOGUE

A New Vision of Special Education

The previous chapters provided a detailed vision of how the four essential guiding principles of pyramid RTI, the four Cs, can create the culture and structures necessary to ensure high levels of learning for every child. In this vision, collaborative teacher teams design unit teaching cycles that embed differentiation and flexible time into initial instruction. The school has a systematic process to identify students who require supplemental instruction, determine their specific learning needs, and provide effective, targeted interventions to achieve the desired learning outcomes. For the very small number of students for whom this supplemental support is not enough, the schoolwide intervention team, representing different areas of educational expertise, determines the intensive support necessary to meet the child’s learning needs. By this point, almost all of the school’s students are succeeding. But what does the school do when these three tiers of support do not meet a child’s unique needs?

 

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