In my first year of teaching, I had a 2nd-grade student named Colton1 who under-performed on both the beginning and middle of the year universal screener assessments. He was deemed at risk of falling behind his grade-level peers.
Throughout 2021, Branching Minds’ partner schools accessed hundreds of interventions in the Branching Minds’ intervention library—providing targeted, research-based support for struggling students.
The three-tiered support structure of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) provides efficient and effective support for all students. This support begins at the core level, also known as Tier 1. At Tier 1, all students receive differentiated instruction that is scaffolded with research-based learning supports, tailored to meet the needs of all students.
Ah, intervention plans. They are fun, aren’t they? All that data and planning and resources, only to take a look at a student’s progress monitoring scores and realize that those stubborn scores haven’t budged at all. Why? We may scream internally, watching our tediously placed trend lines flat-line. But we worked so hard on this skill! It is a true horror story of education—well, maybe not horror, but the frustration is definitely there.
Edward Munch, “The Scream”
As the bedrock of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), intervention plans are crucial in aiding all students to master grade-level content. While universal screeners and benchmarks can help identify which students require additional support beyond core instruction, intervention plans are the vehicle that delivers that support. Let’s take a moment to review the essential components of an MTSS intervention plan, then jump into the nitty-gritty of what to do if a plan is showing no growth.
A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework uses a problem-solving cycle to monitor and adjust instruction and intervention at three tiers:
An optimal MTSS framework follows the 80-15-5 model, suggesting that our core instruction should meet 80% of our learners' needs. With strong core instruction, 80% of students will not require additional intervention. However, core instruction should be targeted to support all students through the use of differentiation and research-based learning supports. This means Tier 1 targets 100% of students, not just 80% of our students.
However, we can't negate that even with the most effective, evidence-based, validated core instruction, some learners will continue to need targeted and intensive interventions and support plans for some of their needs. When this happens, it's important we identify the student's goal, select an appropriate intervention, develop a support plan, and set frequency and type of monitoring for progress.
One of the most common questions I’ve received over the years has been, "How do I know the intervention I selected will help my student meet the goal?" How do I select the proper intervention once I've set the SMART goal for my student? In other words, you've identified the difference between what was expected of the student (skill) and what is happening, but now what?
The Fuchs Research Group of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University has created hundreds of peer-reviewed articles that help teachers select the best interventions for students. With all that's on your to-do list these days, I wanted to share the top five guidelines from Fuchs' research that will help you align your SMART goals and interventions to optimize student success. A little tip, the more guidelines the intervention meets, the more likely it will maximize student success.
There is a learning curve for all educators working through the Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) to help identify students’ needs. As a former school psychologist, I was often able to make recommendations on effective ways to support students in school and on following MTSS processes.
I’ve heard it said that many school psychologists, case managers, and other student support team members have fallen into the position of reviewing student interventions that were tried but were not “evidence-based.” Or perhaps, having to explain to a colleague that there wasn’t sufficient data to qualify moving a student between tiers, much less qualify for special education.
In my experience, I found that utilizing MTSS processes ensured that before a student is ever evaluated for special education, the continuum of support based upon the student's identified needs has already been provided, documented, and it was already determined if the prior interventions were working.
That being said, it may not be easy for any school team member to remind a colleague to follow a process, and reiterating to my colleagues the critical need to follow the MTSS processes was one of the essential parts of my role. This discussion provided the opportunity for me to help teachers understand the process for supporting growth and meeting the needs of all students.
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.
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.
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.
Anyone who works in education knows that teachers, administrators, and other school staff love to use acronyms. But for those new to teaching (as well as parents/guardians/community members), it can be challenging to keep up with the vast amount of different terms. This is especially true in the world of behavior and social-emotional learning, as acronyms sometimes get thrown around without much description or context. Educators need to understand what each acronym stands for and what components it should include to set up effective behavior plans within MTSS.
Below, we outline the most commonly used acronyms when addressing student behavior within an MTSS framework, break down what they mean, and how to use them effectively.
A few months ago, Branching Minds did a deep dive into our 5 Most Common MTSS Reading Programs Used in 2020. Many of these programs have associated writing supports embedded into their platforms, but these primarily target reading intervention.
When creating a comprehensive MTSS support or intervention plan, it’s important to note that literacy interventions need to incorporate both reading and writing. Reading skills help develop a student’s ability to comprehend ideas communicated by another writer, while the act of writing allows a student to develop and communicate his/her own thoughts. While these are two very different skills they each impact the growth of the other, and intervention plans will need to account for both reading and writing support.
A few weeks ago, we posted a blog outlining how to support students’ mental health in an MTSS framework. An important part of this work includes using evidence-based programs and practices that effectively promote students’ sense of well-being.
This week, we are spotlighting three school-based programs that have extensive research supporting their impact on students’ social, emotional, and academic outcomes. If your district or school is looking to implement a mental health prevention program, we recommend reviewing this list to see if any of the following interventions meet the needs of your students and staff.