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Response to Intervention (RTI) Strategies for Each Intervention Tier

8 Min Read
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Teaching students with diverse needs and competencies can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. By teaching them according to their abilities and providing support with interventions as needed, you create an environment where all students can succeed. This is the approach known as Response to Intervention (RTI).

What Is RTI?

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a preventive educational intervention framework that helps schools support students’ academic success. When RTI principles are applied in the classroom, teachers have a framework to assess student achievement. When used consistently, RTI principles help identify struggling learners and provide strategies for intervention.

These intervention strategies can be administered by the classroom teacher or other specialists based on ongoing assessments of individual progress. And because RTI is designed to support students in both general education and special education classrooms, it provides a framework for individualizing instruction without the need for disruptions to their learning.

As a practical matter, the implementation of RTI in the school and classroom requires four main components to deliver results consistently. First, the entire program must be rooted in high-quality, pedagogically sound teaching practices. Assessment of student performance must be ongoing so that it can inform the effectiveness of teaching methods.

The actual practice of RTI may look different from school to school. Still, each program must identify at least three tiers of interventions, with clear criteria for measuring success and opportunities to improve. Finally, family buy-in is critical. Frequent and open communication with parents and caregivers about how their students are doing helps to keep everyone on the same team.

Most schools follow an RTI education model with multi-tier approach. Let’s look at each tier and discuss strategies you can use in your classroom to support students within each one.

The Three RTI Tiers

Tier 1: High-quality instruction and proactive assessment

Tier 1 instruction represents the baseline of our teaching practice. It’s what we do every day. It is well-planned, differentiated, and pedagogically sound instruction that is designed to meet a diversity of learning needs.

This high-quality instruction meets the needs of most learners and makes use of best practices in teaching and learning. RTI Tier 1 strategies include a variety of common instructional approaches, such as:

  • Experiential learning
  • Inquiry-based learning
  • Cooperative learning
  • Active learning
  • Problem-based learning

If a student is not showing signs of improvement after continual Tier 1 instruction, you should then consider Tier 2 interventions.

Tier 2: Targeted intervention

Building on the best teaching practices in Tier 1, Tier 2 instruction targets specific learning needs. Through supplementary activities and remedial education, teachers can help students address gaps in their learning and develop the skills they need to succeed.

Your interventions can be adjusted in the following ways to meet the diverse needs of your students:

  • Frequency: Develop a plan that offers flexibility in the frequency of your interventions. For example, some students may benefit from a weekly small-group activity during recess, while others may benefit from daily homework help after school.
  • Group Size: Teachers can harness the power of social learning through small groups or provide one-on-one help for students who struggle with social anxiety.
  • Activity Type: By paying close attention to how students respond to formal and informal assessments, you can better understand how to deliver instruction and assess mastery in ways that promote achievement while removing the fear of failure.

The student may remain at a Tier 2 level for some time and return to a Tier 1 level once they have met their objectives. However, if the student still appears to be struggling after repeated Tier 2 interventions, it is time to consider a move to Tier 3 interventions.

Tier 3: Intensive intervention and evaluation

While most students can succeed with Tier 1 or Tier 2 support, in most schools, a small percentage of students require Tier 3 interventions. Trained specialists handle Tier 3 interventions to provide the intensive support that is required to address more challenging needs.

It is essential to collect as much data as possible during Tier 3 interventions. This allows you to measure their effectiveness and will provide insights that can inform future approaches. RTI specialists collect this data by engaging with the student one-on-one; providing constructive, corrective feedback where needed; and evaluating the student’s response to the interventions.

RTI Strategies By Intervention Tier

RTI interventions can add a new layer of complexity to the classroom, but they are an important element of ensuring that all students have the chance to succeed. Let’s look at some examples of RTI strategies to use in the classroom.

Tier 1 RTI strategies

Confirm understanding

It requires extra effort to check students for comprehension before they take a test. Some students may be prone to stay quiet, keep their hands down, and disengage while their classmates stay involved in classroom discussions.

You can check students for understanding by asking them to recall what they learned in their own words. When you ask students to do this, you are asking them not to repeat back what they have heard, but instead to talk about that subject in a way that shows their level of understanding. As a result, the learning that occurs is deeper and better retained.

Debriefs at the end of class can also reveal insights into student learning. Ask students to write about what they learned that day. Reviewing these short summaries will show you which students seem to have mastered the material and which students may need more help.

Use an expectation-based grading scheme

Not every assignment or activity needs a letter or numerical grade. For struggling students, the pressure of achieving a perfect score can impede learning and cause considerable stress.

Using formative assessments that focus on meeting vs. not meeting expectations can reframe these activities as low-stakes opportunities to learn and grow.

Differentiate approaches

Students benefit from the use of a variety of instructional approaches and appreciate the use of individual, small-group, and classroom-wide activities.

Since RTI requires ongoing individual assessment, working one-on-one with students is an important instructional technique. Remember that we teach students, not classrooms, and all students have their own strengths and challenges. Therefore, take time to periodically check in with individual students to assess their levels of confidence and understanding.

Small- and large-group activities help to reinforce learning through socialization with peers. These communal experiences allow students to practice new skills and build a community of learners.

Offer options for projects

It’s not always possible to design assessments that are perfectly suited for all learners. That’s why letting students choose how they show mastery can be so powerful.

Include projects and activities in your curriculum that offer students flexibility. By letting students have options, you empower them to take ownership of their learning. This can also give you deeper insight into how each of your students process and retain information.

Tier 2 RTI strategies

RTI Tier 2 strategies are designed to close learning gaps and mitigate barriers to learning.

Define learning goals

Since Tier 2 interventions are intended to guide students back to Tier 1, the instruction must be based on well-defined learning goals that are both measurable and measured. You should begin with the end in mind and develop an intervention plan that serves as a roadmap to get the student caught up. This plan should ultimately empower them with the skills and strategies they need to succeed in the classroom.

Be a model teacher

It’s not enough to simply tell students how to perform a task. To fully engage students and reinforce positive behaviors, you must be a positive role model. This modeling should teach not just correct behaviors, but also healthy approaches to challenges and strategies for solving problems.

Tier 3 RTI strategies

RTI Tier 3 strategies are designed to address more pervasive performance deficiencies through intensive, specialized support.

Positive peer pressure

K–12 students are deeply invested in their relationships with peers, and these interactions are an important part of their social and emotional development. Students might be more likely to listen to the advice of a peer than an adult. For this reason, pairing students who are struggling with more high-performing peers can be a powerful way to motivate students.

Motivate students using gamification strategies

Gamification of education, such as embedded storytelling, avatars, or badges, can help to motivate learners and track progress toward learning goals. Look for ways to leverage what makes gaming so engaging for students in the lessons and activities your students do.

Remember that implementing an RTI program requires a systemic approach, so don’t try to go it alone. Instead, when you cultivate a culture of collaboration and teamwork among students, teachers, administrators, and parents, you can create a community that inspires and empowers all learners.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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