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    MTSS Practice Tier 1 - Core Instruction Interventions and Learning Supports' Strategies

    Teachers, how many of you have a perfect Multi-Tiered System of Supports/RTI triangle in your classroom, wherein at least 80% of your students’ needs can be met by Tier 1, core instruction, 10-15% need Tier 2 interventions, and 5% will need additional Tier 3 support?

    I’m guessing not many of you have classes like this. But, aren’t we only able to provide interventions for up to 20% of our population? We certainly don’t have the time and resources to intervene more! And if we do have more than 20% of students in need of intervention, aren’t we supposed to enhance the core? 

    As the classroom teacher, you’re ultimately responsible for the core instruction occurring in your classroom, but when you’re facing a large population of students needing additional support beyond what your typical core instruction and intervention model would provide, you’ll have a different instructional approach. To help, I’ve pulled together a list of the top 3 best practices for supporting intervention plans through core instruction:

    • Collaborative problem solving
    • Differentiation
    • Engagement

    Collaborative Problem Solving

    It is ever more important for teachers to share the heavy load of students’ needs for interventions as standards get tougher and we face new challenges. The importance of teacher collaboration isn’t new, but when it comes to the Multi-Tiered System of Supports and meeting the needs of all of our students, it’s necessary to highlight how collaborative processes help leverage our limited precious resources of teachers’ time and expertise (including yourself).

    Collaborating with colleagues means strategically working together to problem solve and share the load. In my teaching teams and as a building vice principal and principal, we developed the notion that they (the students) were ALL of ours. That is, we grouped together by grade level (or in smaller schools, two grade levels) and shared data and students. 

    Utilizing this teamed approach, we met bi-weekly to discuss students, the needs of our groups of students, and how we could best support them in acquiring the knowledge and skills of the standards we needed to teach. Specifically, we looked at the subskills delineated in the assessments, for instance, by the NWEA MAP subskills, and grouped students according to those. 

    (Utilizing Branching Minds, you can readily access the Cohort Assessment Performance Report and sort whole grade levels by subskills of various universal screener data to easily find which students ought to be grouped together.)


    In our case, we often had so many students needing similar interventions according to these subskill groupings that we determined that it would be much easier if we had a common time to share our students across the classrooms so that we could group them according to the needs discovered through the data we were analyzing. 

    We taught each other’s students based on the flexible subskill groupings across our classrooms. We also started inviting other “stakeholders” to the meetings realizing that they too were invested in our students' success. During this shared student time, they also began offering support for our subskill groups. 

    As we worked with our Reading and ELL specialists, we managed to level up collaboration to a point that we wanted/needed more of this collaborative energy and added in Special Education, Interventionists, Talented and Gifted Specialists, School Counselors, Speech Therapists, and even parent volunteers.

    The more we met, the more we became savvy with what the data were telling us about student needs. We learned to examine assessment data graphs and determine the rate of improvement and whether students were making adequate, inadequate, or uncertain growth and, thereby, whether to increase the groups’ intervention, cease the intervention, or change up the groups or methods of delivering the intervention. 

    The point is, you’re not alone once you start to get creative with how you access the positive intent and intellectual potential of collaborating with your colleagues. 



    When student needs indicate that more than 20% would benefit from intervention, learning support in the form of differentiation makes core instruction more accessible for all

    Differentiation is an approach to education in which teachers make changes to the curriculum and the way they teach to maximize the learning of every student in the class (IRIS Center, 2021). In essence, differentiation is a framework encompassing a large array of strategies applied to the content, product, or process of student learning. In planning, teachers:

    • Determine the most essential standards and required skills of the content and make adaptations to it based on students’ interests, age, academic readiness, and language proficiency level. 
    • Allow for differentiated processes through which students access the material through whole class, small flexible grouping, or individual manners. 
    • Finally, teachers can also differentiate the products—how students demonstrate mastery or proficiency. 

    These are not by any way limiting constraints to what differentiation is or can be, though. Simply, they are the defining attributes of differentiation. There are many, many ways to differentiate in the classroom. Below are just some of the forms of differentiation that will benefit students in need of additional support:

    • Flexible small-group instruction 
    • Student choice 
    • Student-led discovery/constructivist approach 
    • Performance and student self-assessments 
    • Use of manipulatives
    • Culturally responsive pedagogy
    • High ratio of interactions
    • Learning scaffolds such as sheltered instruction 
    • Explicit vocabulary instruction/front-loading vocabulary 
    • Sentence frames
    • Movement
    • Songs
    • Visual representations 
    • Multi-modal representations (kinesthetic, spatial, musical, visual, auditory) 
    • Discussion protocols
    • Real-life scenarios



    Sadly, one can collaborate and differentiate all one wants, but if students are struggling and aren’t engaged in the content and processes in the classroom, little learning will occur. Engagement isn’t just about moving or even talking necessarily; it is about interacting with the material in thought-provoking or meaningful ways

    According to The Glossary of Education Reform, student engagement “refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” 

    Forms of student engagement in schools can be further understood when defined as intellectual, emotional, behavioral, physical, and social. Intellectual engagement stimulates students’ curiosity and interests, while emotional engagement taps into supporting students’ sense of emotional well-being and safety within the learning environment. Behavioral engagement involves creating processes and structures in the classroom that are conducive to learning. Physical engagement is, as it sounds, the physical processing of the content, usually through kinesthetic practices. 

    Providing varied opportunities for independent and social engagement activities allow for various learning styles to flourish. Cultural engagement ensures that the experiences in schools are relevant and meaningful for the population of those students. Regardless of the type of engagement teachers are aiming to enhance, you can see there is some overlap with differentiation here. 

    Teachers can increase student interest and investment in their learning by increasing their time on task or exposure and feedback. For instance, when planning lessons, ensure students will have high rates of opportunities to respond, ample time to practice skills, and will be provided prompt corrective feedback. However, to get students revved up and thirsty to learn, consider these high-leverage student engagement strategies.

    Four Ways To Increase Student Engagement:

    1. Nurture relationships
    2. Create meaningful work
    3. Foster autonomy and collaboration
    4. Increase self-efficacy and competency

    Nurture Relationships

    Building and maintaining meaningful relationships with and among students creates a sense of community and safety. When students trust and feel valued, they are more open to exploring new topics and taking risks in their learning. When teachers truly know their students, they are better adept at selecting and providing the types of experiences they’ll want to engage in. 

    Create Meaningful Work

    Simply put; students will engage in work that feels meaningful to them. By knowing your students and their interests, you’ll be able to present content and opportunities to engage with it in meaningful ways. Students often want to know why they need to learn something to engage fully. 

    Foster Autonomy and Collaboration

    Providing a variety of ways for students to engage in their learning will also benefit how well students learn. For example, some learning is most suitable for independent learning, while other opportunities to engage in learning with a partner or in groups will be beneficial. Furthermore, providing students with the choice of how they demonstrate mastery allows for varied learning styles to flourish in the classroom. 

    Increase Self-Efficacy and Competency

    Students who believe they can and will succeed, tend to do so. Teachers who believe and exude that students can and will succeed, actually create that reality. Indeed, student and collective teacher efficacy have an effect size of 0.90 and 1.57, respectively! That is, John Hattie’s research on the effect size of increasing self and teacher efficacy concludes these alone will positively impact student achievement overall.

    ➡️ Related Resource: Giving Students Agency With a Seat at the MTSS Table

    Working Together is Key 

    With the many challenges our students face, it is no wonder that many students are struggling to meet grade-level standards. It may seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb when faced with such a large number of students in need of intervention plans. But, when teachers can work together and collaboratively problem solve to create a whole class or group plans, we can start to find strategies for providing additional support within the core curriculum. Working together, we can pull from multitudes of differentiation and engagement strategies to make the content more accessible for all students.



    If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of students needing intervention please consider the following:

    1. Lean on your colleagues through collaborative problem-solving.
    2. Employ differentiation strategies throughout all lessons.
    3. Engage students in enticing and meaningful learning experiences.





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    Tagged: MTSS Practice, Tier 1 - Core Instruction, Interventions and Learning Supports' Strategies

    November 15, 2022

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