We know educators strive to provide the appropriate level of instructional support each student needs to achieve at least grade-level mastery. We have all experienced students arriving to our classrooms with a wide range of knowledge, skills, experience and interest. It is quickly evident we cannot just charge through the curriculum lockstep and hope that every student gets what they need. Even when utilizing varied daily instruction to accommodate for students’ different learning needs, some students still require additional support to master new skills and content or catch up on missing skills from previous years’ standards.
In many of the school districts we work with across the country, the number of students needing intervention support can be overwhelming. Using small groups to support struggling students helps teachers address the needs of several students at the same time. The intent of small group intervention is to target the additional instruction, practice and feedback needed by particular students, instead of spending time on knowledge and skills they are not ready for, or have already mastered. Not only does this approach provide efficiency for educators, it is also more efficient and effective for learners. We know that students learn from one another and are often motivated by their peers to challenge themselves. The small group format also gives each student the opportunity to participate, receive specific instructional feedback from their teacher, and practice specific skills. Learning in small groups can also scaffold students to become more engaged in their whole class lessons and activities. In other words, it provides them with a safe and supported context for developing their learning skills that will help them succeed in the general classroom environment.
A school-wide multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) is designed to help educators determine which students would benefit from small group instruction and how these groups should be created. The MTSS framework can also be used to identify the goals and skills that should be addressed in the group and how to measure students’ progress over time. In this post we will go over some key considerations for educators when identifying students for intervention groups, designing effective intervention plans for groups, documenting their progress, managing group membership fluidity, and how Branching Minds can help.
Identifying Students for Intervention
We determine students in need of intervention by analyzing the school’s universal screener or common benchmark assessment data. These data (along with other data sources from the classroom) gives initial insight into which students need additional learning opportunities for mastery. Once the data has been analyzed skill by skill, we can begin to group students with common learning needs together for intervention. It is also important to understand what intensity (frequency and duration) of support those students are likely to need in order to master that skill. Most assessment authors have established “cut scores” by which each student’s level of risk for not mastering those skills is determined. The intensity of intervention required directly correlates to the risk level identified through student assessment. Once you have determined the 3-5 students who need the same skill support for the same intensity of intervention, it is time to create a shared plan.
Creating Effective Intervention Plans for Each Group
It is critical to have clear intentions when designing an intervention plan. A group intervention plan should include the following components (in this order):
A clearly stated SMART learning goal - remember, this intervention plan is specifically for a group of students who share the same learning goal. To be a SMART goal it must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound (the goal date should be selected based on best practices not team availability/schedule).
An assessment (progress monitor) – this allows us to determine if the student is making progress towards their goal and responding to the intervention and support being provided or moving forward in the skill acquisition continuum. It also provides insight for the educator on the impact of the intervention to meet the needs of the learner.
Intervention support and the intensity of delivery – these should be selected after determining the goal and assessment. Therefore, the intervention and implementation plan should align with the specific skill that the students are working towards improving. The more targeted the program, strategy, or approach, the better.
Documenting Progress and Goal Attainment for Each Student in the Group
To determine how effective an intervention was we must be able to review both the student's progress as measured by an assessment alongside any notes that reflect the fidelity of intervention support delivery. Only in knowing that the plan was delivered as intended (or documenting the reasons it was not), can we determine the true impact of the intervention. If an intervention was not implemented as originally planned, due to school closures or student absence, it is worth it to extend the plan for those students impacted to see if they are able to meet their original goals.
Students who met the goal established for the group should be moved on to their next learning goal. Students who are not progressing at a rate necessary to meet their goal should be placed in a different intervention group. Educators should spend some time evaluating why that particular group intervention is not working for the student and directly address those factors in a revised plan. It’s possible that the student should be focusing on a more foundational skill first, and revisiting their assessment data would be a helpful place to start. Other factors to look at include poor group dynamics or the time of day affecting student availability or engagement.
Small group intervention should occur outside of the time allotted for core instruction. This provides the additional time, practice, and feedback to occur that accelerates mastery – all with the goal of getting successful students back to core instruction with increased confidence and success.
Within groups students should be receiving active instruction simultaneously, rather than leveraging the time for one-on-one instruction with each student in the group, or engaging in independent student work.
We must keep in mind that intervention is urgent since we are working to enable the student(s) to be successful in core instruction.
Here’s How Branching Minds Supports Group Work!
Doing this work well still takes planning! However, with Branching Minds, educators no longer have to keep colored folders, google docs, post it notes, etc. We do not have to be in the same space or on a Zoom call with colleagues to collaborate around the interventions we need to provide for our small groups. Group intervention plans can be assigned to the individual who created the plan or to colleagues (although it is best to make sure everyone has a voice in that!). Once the work is allocated, assignments are automatically organized in a weekly To Do list.
Branching Minds keeps us organized, sending weekly reminders to staff members. It takes the progress monitoring data that is entered as support is being delivered to create clear visuals that assist educators in making timely decisions about next steps.
It is easy to create groups, to keep group membership fluid, to create group plans, to document the work for groups, and to see how students are doing within a group--creating a real time visual that helps teacher teams make decisions about the adequacy of support each student is receiving, at a glance – in one graph.
The work of personalizing learning for each student has never been easy, but it can be much more efficient and effective! Branching Minds leverages technology to support all the elements of creating, maintaining and thriving within a strong Multi Tiered System of Support. This makes it possible for educators to reach their goal of providing students with the optimal level of support; allowing them to achieve desired results much more quickly and frequently than before using Branching
Interested in learning how Branching Minds can help?
Request a demo to learn about how Branching Minds can help you streamline identifying students who are struggling with similar skills or content, assign interventions and monitor delivery and student progress
Karen is Executive Director of Professional Learning at Branching Minds, where she leads a team of education consultants to provide guidance and support to schools and districts, as they implement Branching Minds and improve their MTSS practice. Prior to Branching Minds, Karen spent 12 years building a national professional development program for Amplify Education, a leading company in the education technology space. Prior to her work in the edtech space, Karen served as curriculum director, principal, and teacher for several school districts in the North Texas area for 23 years. Karen holds an M.Ed. from the University of North Texas and a Superintendent’s Certification from the University of Texas at Arlington.