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How to Approach RTI Behavior Interventions for Each of the Three Tiers

6 Min Read
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Response to Intervention (RTI) is a well-known program that is used by many public school districts in the United States. Originally developed to identify and assist students who struggle with their academics, RTI was introduced to government legislation in 2004 through the U.S. Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

However, an often forgotten aspect of RTI is that it was also developed to provide treatment for students’ behavioral issues. These issues can derail students’ academic progress, and if their actions are not remedied as early as possible, it could lead to more long-term issues throughout the student’s life.  

How Does RTI Work for Student Behavior?

Just like with RTI for academics, the RTI process for behavior is essentially comprised of four steps.

  • Identify the students who are struggling. For most schools, this would probably entail discussing students’ behavior with their teachers, lunch staff, recess supervisors, and guidance counselors. In addition, as there are plenty of students who conduct themselves well at school but struggle once leaving school grounds, a questionnaire could be sent home and filled out privately by family members who are concerned with their child’s behavior. 
  • Use the multi-tier RTI program for behavior to identify key problems and make improvements across the board. This entails using strategies, activities, and various approaches to address and resolve the relevant issues. 
  • Monitor the progress of the behavior interventions and determine what is working and what needs to be adjusted. 
  • Make data-driven decisions. Discussing issues with teachers, therapists and counselors, and the students’ family members will help to determine the path forward. 

RTI Behavior Tiers

Tier 1

Tier 1 encompasses the entire classroom of students. On average, clear rules and expectations established by the teacher will reinforce all of the behavior management that 80% of the students will need. So long the classroom rules are clearly stated, students will usually adjust any behavior that does not correspond with the guidelines that have been put into place. Of course, sometimes you will need to help encourage students to follow the rules, and if they do not, then either positive or negative reinforcement can be applied. 

For instance, warnings may be issued when there is misbehavior, and if that doesn’t correct the situation, recess time can be taken away or family members can be brought in for a discussion. Or, perhaps the teacher will opt for a different strategy by rewarding students who are following the rules. Then, the students who are having conduct issues will likely choose to follow them as well. 

Each individual student’s progress is different. What might work for some won’t work for all. It’s impossible to know right from the start which interventions will make a difference in behavior. One of the key aspects of RTI for behavior is that most of the strategies and activities that are put into place are positive reinforcement approaches. It is amazing how recognizing positive student behavior can influence the whole class. If students do not respond well to Tier 1 tactics, and the teacher needs assistance in rectifying a student’s behavior, the child may be recommended for Tier 2 interventions. 

Tier 2

Tier 2 behavioral interventions are carefully designed for individual students and small groups of students. In addition to the Tier 1 classroom instruction, Tier 2 approaches will be carried out in smaller groups and are meant for students who have more frequent or serious behavioral issues. The central concern is that these behavioral issues could worsen over time, so it is best to provide positive support early on in order to prevent later, more severe problems. 

While the strategies and activities that are used for Tier 2 interventions will generally be decided upon by a small group of educators and behavioral specialists, here are a few of the more popular approaches: 

  • Work in small groups with the students and develop alternative approaches to the behavior that is getting them in trouble. For example, if they feel that they are about to disrupt the class, they can count to ten and take a deep breath or take a quick break and get a drink of water.
  • If the student is having problems with certain classmates or peers, keep them separated as often as possible. If needed, rearrange the classroom seating to eliminate the possibility of further issues arising. 
  • Reward exemplary behavior exhibited by the student.
  • Ask the student to sign a behavior contract that holds them accountable for any issues.

After a few weeks, the group that monitors RTI behavior problems with these students should reassess and determine if these Tier 2 interventions have made a positive difference. Ask to speak with teachers, family members, and any school staff members who witness the students’ behavior on a daily basis. 

At this time, it’s important to determine if Tier 2 interventions are still right for the student, and if so, whether new Tier 2 interventions should be established. If the student needs more intensive assistance, however, it may be necessary to move towards Tier 3.

Tier 3

In most schools, only an extremely small percentage of students will need Tier 3 behavior interventions. Typically, this may only be two students out of 100. Most of the time, Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions will be enough. 

The process of considering a student for Tier 3 should be undertaken with the utmost care, as it will likely change the student’s day-to-day school experience. First, there should be a meeting held with family members, administrators, the teacher, and the behavior group that makes the decisions pertaining to the RTI process. 

A detailed plan should be developed to determine how the Tier 3 interventions will take place and what the desired outcomes should be. A thorough description of the student’s specific behavioral issues needs to be documented. Determine if there is a pattern involved that provokes such negative behavior from the child. 

Consider outside specialists who are qualified to help with the process. This may include therapists, counselors, and other behavioral experts. It may be determined that the student is in need of an entirely different type of school day without a typical classroom setting. A complete schedule can be put into place with learning time, break time, lunchtime, and bathroom breaks planned ahead of time. Such an individualized approach could be needed to get the desired outcome. 

Modify When Needed

As is the case with RTI for academics, no two RTI behavioral programs will be exactly alike. School districts will ultimately need to create programs that work best for them. In addition, there are plenty of districts that choose to use RTI for academics while choosing not to use RTI for behavioral issues at all. 

Overall, students are highly capable of modifying their behavior if the right concerns are brought to the surface and treated with the necessary degree of attention. No child should be neglected or pushed to the side, regardless of how poorly they are behaving. All they may need is a different approach and the right support system to help guide their way.

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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