Planning and implementing MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) can appear as a monumental task, especially in today’s world, where our teachers’ tasks are exponentially growing. It’s widely accepted that vast numbers of students will struggle this year, and they will need more support than ever before.
Accelerated learning pushes teachers to incorporate grade-level content with students who have spent over a year in an abnormal learning environment. To accomplish this feat, core instruction requires a strong platform built upon support and interventions. The burden of locating these supports and interventions lies on the already burdened shoulders of our teachers.
The Branching Minds team and platform seek to alleviate that burden, making the road to MTSS smoother and less rocky—so we can all have a bit more time for self-care without compromising student success. The Branching Minds support library comprises thousands of research-based supports and interventions, cutting down the time teachers need to find their own effective resources.
The Quest to Understand MTSS Terminology
Terminology can be a pesky obstacle, leading to added frustrations when we can’t find what we need. Between “learning supports,” “interventions,” and “accommodations,” it’s easy to get confused as to what resource is needed during the MTSS cycle.
It’s important to note that regardless of the term, these resources all have the same goal— helping all students to achieve academic success. Generally speaking, the use of differentiated support can be applied more broadly to the work you are doing to help a student, such as during Tier 1 core instruction for all students. This fills in learning gaps and facilitates accelerated learning.
Learning Supports vs Interventions vs Accommodations
Supports become interventions when used in an intensive setting to meet grade-level expectations. Supports become accommodations when they remove a particular barrier a student may have to learn/demonstrate content.
Below, we’ve outlined these definitions more in-depth, as well as when/how they’re typically used. Keep in mind that these definitions are fluid, and many educational resources do not fit into one definition.
When it comes to categorizing a resource, you must also account for how and why it is being utilized. The same resource can often be used as a learning support and an intervention, depending on its application and the student’s needs.
What Are Learning Supports?
A learning support is a research-based resource used during Tier 1 core instruction for all students. As a support, these resources are meant to complement an existing curriculum by providing additional practice, strategies, tools, and explanations. Examples of learning supports include graphic organizers, guided readings, and strategies in the Strategic Instruction Model.
These supports are especially useful during accelerated learning, where the whole of Tier 1 may be missing a critical learning component, and additional supports are needed to help students master grade-level content. They can be ongoing throughout the year and are often reused to assist in different points of the curriculum.
Many intervention databases are commonly viewed as only pertaining to interventions, such asIntervention Central, but also contain strategies and tools that can be used as learning supports. These resources can be used in a whole-class setting for additional practice or differentiation, providing an additional layer of core learning beyond teacher-led instruction.
An intervention is evidence-based instruction targeting a specific skill or learning gap. These are resources employed at Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels with systematic data collection and progress monitoring.
Interventions are delivered during a defined period of time, with special considerations given for the level of need for each student. These are resources aimed at supplementing a robust core curriculum where learning supports have not allowed students to achieve grade-level mastery.
Interventions can manifest in various ways, ranging from strategies and tools to comprehensive, individualized learning programs. They differ from learning supports in how they are applied.
Guided reading can be used as a learning support when used in a Tier 1 setting to provide additional practice in reading. It becomes an intervention when data collected from universal screeners shows a deficit in a student’s reading ability, and specialized instruction is required to help this student achieve grade-level proficiency.
Implementation of an intervention occurs after a need was documented through a universal screener and an interventionist, team, or teacher has selected a specific skill to target for a planned period of time.
An accommodation is an amendment to teaching or testing that has effectively removed a barrier preventing a student from demonstrating content mastery. These resources allow a student to have equal access to learning regardless of a documented deficit.
Often, accommodations are used in coordination with an IEP or 504 plan, where the specific accommodation is clearly outlined for a classroom or testing setting. An example of an accommodation could be allowing a student with motor control difficulties to verbally state answers to a test as opposed to writing the answers down.
While the world of MTSS can often appear very term-heavy, it is important to note how each of these resources is used. Teachers could spend hours researching different supports and interventions, but this deters time away from the hundreds of other tasks already on their plate.
The Branching Minds Library helps teachers by designating our resources as either a “support” or “intervention.” For resources that can fit both definitions, we categorize them based on how the resource is most often used and how a specific program organizes its content. We evaluate each of our resources to meet ESSA’s standards of evidence to provide a robust and comprehensive library for our partner districts.
Our resource library includes a variety of interventions and learning supports to help teachers utilize high-quality, instructional materials that meet the needs of all of their students—without asking teachers to give up their Sunday evening.
The most comprehensive and instructive library of evidence-based learning supports of any MTSS platform
Branching Minds has the most comprehensive and instructive library of evidence-based learning supports of any MTSS platform. Our supports include hundreds of paid evidence-based intervention programs, as well as nearly a thousand free evidence-based strategies, activities, and resources. For each of these supports, BRM helps educators understand what the support is, why and for whom it should be used, how it should be delivered, and connects them to the supporting research and additional material.
Our learning science team has curated these resources from the most trusted and respected hubs of evidence-based supports, including the Florida Center for Reading Research, What Works Clearinghouse, Evidence for ESSA, Intervention Central, the IRIS Center from Vanderbilt University, Harmony SEL; and, each one has been reviewed and categorized based on the ESSA tiers of evidence guidelines.
Mollie Breese is the former Content Manager at Branching Minds. She helped streamline the support library, so schools can identify and access the interventions they need to support student success. She researched the newest strategies, activities, and programs to add to the robust library, providing a wealth of resources for partner schools. Prior to joining Branching Minds, Mollie worked in the classroom as an English teacher, Reading teacher, and ESL instructor. Mollie earned her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Missouri, and her M.A. in English Literature from the University of Glasgow.