Teaching with RTI: Math Tier 2 and Tier 3 Strategies

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Schools have been increasingly using data to analyze student progress and adjust instruction accordingly. The use of data allows teachers to identify areas where students may be struggling and provide targeted support to address those needs. This approach is particularly important for students who require more focused attention. That’s where Response to Intervention (RTI) comes in, providing a systematic approach to early intervention and prevention to support striving learners who would otherwise fall behind, or who are already behind, in grade-level standards. With RTI, teachers can use data to identify at-risk students, provide targeted interventions, and continuously check progress to ensure that students receive the support they need to succeed.

What Is RTI?

RTI is a multi-tiered approach to intervention that was designed to be delivered in the general education classroom to help teachers support students by providing timely academic interventions based on screening and progress monitoring. RTI was first introduced in an amendment to the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) to identify students with disabilities, but is available to students regardless of their abilities. RTI is one for segmenting student supports into tiers and can be considered part of the umbrella framework of MTSS, or Multi-Tiered System of Supports.

All students in a general education classroom receive evidence-based instruction in Tier 1, or the primary level of RTI. Students who are identified as at-risk through screening or progress monitoring will also receive Tier 2 support, or small-group, focused instruction on specific skills. A smaller portion of students will also need intensive intervention (Tier 3). Tier 3 intervention is likely to be administered at a one-to-one level and be specific to the learner’s strengths and needs. Students can move through the RTI tiers as needed based on progress monitoring and other data.

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What Is RTI in Math?

According to the RTI Action Network, effective math instruction “logically builds on existing skills and periodically returns to previously mastered skills,” but students have varying needs when it comes to the intensity of instruction and frequency of skills practice. Early identification and prevention are crucial to successful learning outcomes.

To ensure success for all students, interventions should be built into all math classrooms. Many effective teachers set aside daily differentiation time or include flex days to deliver small-group or individual intervention for learners who are struggling with the content, along with enrichment activities for students who are proficient in the skills emphasized in the unit.

If it is possible, schools should enlist support staff to take part in interventions to reduce teacher-student ratios and create smaller groups. This will allow for more individualized student attention. Don’t forget to leverage adaptive learning technology, such as Waggle or Math 180, as an additional tool to provide individualized intervention and to gather student data for progress monitoring.

Role of RTI Math Progress Monitoring Assessments

Using Progress Monitoring to Inform Instruction

The most effective interventions include a clear process for progress monitoring, which is the regular use of assessments to track students’ learning and identify areas of need. Note that our Waggle and Math 180 programs both include a Program Activity Report that shows usage, performance, and growth at both a class and student level. No matter what programs you use, however, use progress monitoring data to guide decisions about how to adjust interventions to meet the needs of individual students.

Students identified as at-risk during an initial screening should be provided with targeted small-group intervention (Tier 2). Typically, then a smaller portion of students will need more intensive intervention based on individual learning or behavior needs (Tier 3). These interventions can take place in a dedicated intervention classroom or as part of core classroom instruction. Continue to assess students in order to collect data, identify their learning needs, and help them achieve successful outcomes.

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Assessment in RTI

Several types of assessments can be used in progress monitoring, including diagnostic assessments, curriculum-based assessments, and formative assessments. While curriculum-based assessments measure progress toward grade-level standards, diagnostic assessments can be used to identify specific areas of need. Use formative assessments to monitor student learning during instruction and provide immediate feedback.

Tier 2 Math Intervention Strategies List

Overall, Tier 2 supplemental instruction strategies aim to provide targeted support to students. With Tier 2 math intervention, students who have not yet demonstrated proficiency in a given unit are provided more instructional time and differentiated supports. This instruction is typically delivered in small homogeneous groups based on specific learning needs. Here are some strategies you can use to provide small-group intervention:

Explicit Instruction

Explicit instruction, or teaching the content in a direct, structured way with clear modeling, such as verbalizing your thought process while problem-solving, can be a lifeline for students who struggle to grasp the content. This type of instruction helps students develop conceptual understanding and content knowledge. Students must also be given opportunities to practice these new skills and communicate their understanding while receiving timely feedback.

Some ways to use explicit instruction in Tier 2 intervention:

  • Solve Related Problems: Model multiple problems of varying difficulty to help students understand how to apply different strategies in different contexts.
  • Have Students Teach Each Other: Curate collaborative problem-solving activities that directly match instruction. Assign students a partner or place them in small groups so they can hear each other’s thinking and share their own problem-solving strategies.
  • Reteach Previous Concepts: Provide regular cumulative review to reinforce previously learned concepts and strategies and make connections between old and new material.

Schema-Based Instruction

Schema-based instruction is an evidence-based strategy that can be used to help students recognize patterns in word problems. All teachers have had students who struggle to understand what a word problem is asking. To overcome this challenge, introduce students to a schema, or an underlying structure that can be used to illustrate problems and adapt new word problems to the same schema.

Some ideas for schema-based instruction:

  • Additive: Use bar models for word problems involving unknown addends or sums so that students can visualize the relative sizes of the quantities and see how they are related.
  • Multiplicative: Use schema for word problems that are setups for multiplication and division. For example, using the schema “Total ÷ Groups = Number per Group,” students can solve partitive division problems by filling in the values they know and solving for the unknown value.

A non-example might be circling values and underlining the question. While circling numbers and underlining the key words might help some students, note that it does not help many students recognize patterns and relationships for organizing and connecting information across different word problems.

Visual Representations

While using multiple representations helps all students, those who need targeted instruction benefit most from special attention given to visual representations. Having students find connections among visual representations can help them uncover the structure in the math and make generalizations.

Some examples of visual representations:

  • Physical or Virtual Manipulatives: Teach student groups how to use virtual or physical manipulatives, such as base ten blocks, fraction bars, geometric shapes, and algebra tiles to model and solve problems.
  • Pictures and Drawings: Provide explicit instruction to student groups on how to accurately draw area models, graphs, diagrams, and charts to represent mathematical situations.

Tier 3 Math Intervention Strategies List

Students who have not responded to Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions will need intensive, often individualized Tier 3 intervention. This usually requires significant support in foundational skills like arithmetic. Be sure supports are driven by diagnostic and progress monitoring data and provided in addition to Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction. Continue to adjust the level of support to match the students’ needs to ensure that students are adequately responding to intervention.

While Tier 3 intervention is often in dedicated intervention classrooms, both Tier 2 and Tier 3 support can take place as part of core classroom instruction. In particular, we have expanded Math 180 into a streamlined offering that provides adaptive support to students in core classrooms who are more than one year behind in achieving grade-level standards. Regardless of implementation, here are some strategies you can use for more individualized intervention:

Practice Fact Retrieval

Students in Tier 3 intervention may become frustrated with more complex tasks due to struggling with fact retrieval. According to the Institute of Education Sciences, setting aside around 10 minutes per day for building fluent retrieval of basic arithmetic facts can improve confidence and competency beyond fact fluency.

Students can practice fact retrieval using different methods:

  • Fact Fluency Games: Play interactive games that can be adapted or tailored to different skill levels.
  • Multiplication Chart: Show students how the commutative property works on a multiplication chart so they see that flipping the factors in a multiplication fact results in the same math fact.
  • Flashcards: Study the cards regularly, flipping them over and answering the question on the reverse side.
  • Copy-Cover-Compare: Copy math facts or equations from a template, cover up the original, and then compare the students’ responses on the copy to the original to identify errors.
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Peer Tutoring

Peer tutoring can be particularly effective for improving academic outcomes for struggling students, leading to improved academic achievement, increased engagement, improved social skills, and increased self-esteem, provided the tutor understands the content well enough to help a classmate. Effective peer tutoring is dependent on a variety of factors, including the characteristics of the students, level of supervision, and experience of the tutors. This strategy should be used in concert with other intervention strategies to provide comprehensive support for students who are struggling in math.

Some examples of peer tutoring activities:

  • Math Games: Provide fun math games for two students to play together. This can include board games, card games, or digital games that reinforce math skills and concepts. The tutor leads the game and helps the other player check work along the way.
  • Flashcards and Quizzes: One student (the tutor) reviews flashcards or reads quiz questions to a peer. The cards or questions should reinforce math concepts, such as multiplication tables or algebraic equations, and the tutor can help work through places where the peer is stuck.
  • One-on-One Instruction: Ask students who are currently performing with greater proficiency to work individually with struggling peers to provide direct instruction and support.

Growth Mindset Strategies

It is important for all students to think critically about their own mathematical thinking in order to address a mindset that may be impacting their understanding of math concepts. Research has shown that metacognitive strategies can be effective in helping students grow their understanding. Teachers can encourage students to tell their own math stories and reflect on how they feel about math. Addressing mindset is not only an academic support but also a social and emotional support, making it both an RTI strategy and a broader MTSS Tier 3 strategy.

How to use growth mindset strategies as a Tier 3 intervention:

  • Embrace Failure: Teach students how to approach learning with a growth mindset and embrace mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • Combat Negative Thinking about Math: Present ways students can combat their negative thinking about math, such as taking a break, asking for help, or brainstorming different ways to solve a problem.
  • Share Thinking with Others: Model ways students can listen to the perspectives of their peers and build on each other’s ideas.
  • Ask for Help: Students are not supposed to know everything! Encourage students to ask others for help when they don’t understand something.

Aiming for Successful Outcomes

While many of the strategies listed above are useful for all students, they are particularly beneficial when used as interventions for students who need additional support. RTI math interventions can help students go from struggling to succeeding in math. By implementing Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions, monitoring progress regularly, and adjusting interventions as needed, teachers can provide targeted support to students and help them achieve their full potential.


Looking to unlock mathematical learning in the students who need it most? Explore our math intervention programs for students in Grades 3–12.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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