One of the most common questions we hear in regard to Response to Intervention is, “When can we find the time to provide students support?” One possible set of solutions is provided below, but first remember: These structures will not be effective unless there is a culture that enthusiastically embraces the fact that all students can learn at high levels, and universally (all staff members for all students) demonstrates a willingness to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
Supports can and should be provided within Tier 1, Tier 2 , and Tier 3.
• Differentiated core instruction within the 60-90 block of Tier 1 instruction, with a focus on essential standards, including daily 10-15 minute small group supports to more-homogenously groups of students based on need.
• More time and differentiated supports to students who have not mastered the essentials, as measured by regular (twice monthly?) common formative assessments.
• May include the teaching of immediate prerequisite supports.
• May be provided during daily 30 minute flex time (SMART time).
• Students are grouped more homogeneously during this time.
• Students who have not yet mastered essentials receive support in a smaller group from the teacher who has had the most success, as measured by common formative assessments.
• Other staff may join the grade level teachers to reduce the teacher-student ratio during this flex time.
• To make optimal use of additional staff, schools may chose to stagger the times during which each grade level has flex time.
• For students who have not responded to Tier 1 and 2 support…
• For students who have been screened to be multiple grade levels behind their peers in foundational prerequisite skills.
• Intensive supports may need to be provided in addition to Tier 1 and 2 supports.
• These supports should be as targeted as possible, e.g., on phonemic awareness, single-syllable phonics, multi-syllabic phonics.
• Given the constraints of the school’s schedule and the immediacy and severity of student needs, Tier 3 supports may need to be provided, temporarily, in place of another important content, other than literacy and mathematics.
o Schools can creatively schedule these supports…
• …Providing them when students would otherwise be working independently during workshop, center, or Daily 5 time.
• …Alternating what content that students miss from week to week.
• Providing these supports when students are not receiving literacy and mathematics instruction in the essentials of the grade level.
o It is lamentable that students will not, temporarily, have access to content; however, their most immediate literacy and numeracy needs mandate that intensive supports be provided with a sense of urgency. Students with IEPs and school dropouts do not typically experience the rich options available to students as they progress through school.
• Tier 3 supports should not be rigidly designed to last 30 minutes or be provided in groups with a 5:1 student:teacher ratio.
o The support should be adjusted to match student needs and revised until the student is adequately responding to intervention.
Schools will undoubtedly find that the vast majority of students determined to need Tier 3 supports have needs in the area of reading. Given limited human, material, and temporal resources, they may, wisely, elect to focus their supports to the area of reading.
Assuming that Tier 1 and 2 supports have been provided intelligently and assuming that there is evidence that Tier 1 and 2 supports are working for a majority of other students, then Tier 3 supports must be targeted, they must be diagnostically determined, and they must involve the use of different strategies and approaches.
For students who have not yet cracked the code, for whom phonemic awareness and phonics are a concern, and who are not fluently able to read connected text at even a pre-primer level, traditional approaches to remediating deficits may not suffice. There may be an auditory deficit that traditional forms of early reading instruction will not satisfactorily address.
One exceptionally sound (scientifically-designed and scientifically-based) solution for which I have evidence of success is Fast ForWord from Scientific Learning. It approaches early reading uniquely and engagingly, focusing on brain behaviors that students need to possess to read. In addition to reinforcing the phonological reading and language skills of students, Fast ForWord builds students’ abilities in memory and attention, and their capacities at processing and sequencing. Fast ForWord approaches early reading differently, and different is what students most at-risk need.
Reading purists often live in ideological camps that persuade them to discourage certain approaches to reading. I respect their expertise, but I do not believe that we can afford to ignore any and all possible solutions. Students who cannot read are dramatically at-risk. Every day they do not fluently, frequently, and successfully for comprehension and enjoyment represents lost time and lost opportunities to build vocabulary and employ skills and strategies necessary to make meaning of passages through metacognitive interactions. They cannot afford for us to argue about the best ideological approach, and we cannot wait to intensely support them with solutions for which we have evidence of high degrees of success.
Fast ForWord represents a successful and viable option for students in early grades who have not yet cracked the code. The sooner students crack the code, the sooner they can begin reading for meaning and the more likely they will develop a lifelong love of interacting with text.