Before becoming a professional development consultant with Branching Minds, I spent 34 years in the roles of teacher, interventionist, and instructional specialist; and I’m currently supporting a school district as they continue to improve their MTSS system. My roles allow me to spend time with teachers and administrators from all over the country. And while fall has everyone drinking, eating, and smelling all things pumpkin...for those in education, this season also ushers in a time of data and stress.
With the arrival of fall comes the arrival of student scores from the Beginning of Year administration of Universal Screeners. Universal Screeners are the assessment tool for targeting students who struggle to learn when provided a scientific, evidence-based general education core curriculum (Jenkins, Hudson, & Johnson, 2007). Typically these assessments are administered three times per year during the beginning, middle, and end of year to all students.
After administering the universal screener to students, we as educators would expect/hope to see 80% of students in Tier 1, indicating that students are meeting grade-level expectations; 10% to 15% in Tier 2, indicating student performance below grade-level expectations; and 5% to 10% of students in Tier 3, indicating students are well below grade level expectations.
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 seeks 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.
Every year I head to my doctor's appointment for my annual check-up. This year, I thought about all the screeners that the doctor used to determine my overall health, as well as the conversation we had in her office as we sat at the table reviewing my results.
School leaders and teachers have a tendency to rush to implement behavior or academic interventions plans for struggling students, without first taking the time to problem solve why students are struggling in the first place. I witnessed this firsthand in my nearly ten years as a high school assistant principal.
As a first-year high school teacher, it was almost instinctual to pull a struggling learner (often an English Language Learner or a student well below grade level) out of the classroom and work with them individually. Wasn’t this one-on-one attention precisely what this student needed? Wasn’t I helping them by teaching them at their level? They didn’t have to sit through a lesson feeling lost and frustrated, and I didn’t have to worry about them feeling lost in this environment. Instead, I could work with them individually and get them caught up.
While I intended to help, I did not realize I was causing more harm than good, which was evident by my student’s lack of progress by the end of the year. At the time, I didn’t understand the importance of a strong, frequently revised Tier 1 curriculum, differentiated for all learners, and the importance of using interventions as supplemental instruction for struggling learners.
As busy educators, it’s hard to find time to read, let alone sift through the thousands of different resources available, to get the most out of the reading time we do have. At Branching Minds, we try to stay as current as possible with the literature and best practices in the field, so you don’t have to. We compiled a list of what we believe to be the most useful books for your MTSS practice. What’s even better: all of these books are relatively quick to read, include many case studies or real-life examples, and are easily broken down by chapter. If you can’t read a whole book at once, narrowing it down to one component can be easily done with these resources. We love these books and hope you find one in the list below that will be helpful to you.
For reference to key MTSS terms, check out this blog: Demystifying the MTSS Mystery.
Long before the pandemic shuttered our nation’s schools in mid-March 2020, many districts across the country had been working to transition to MTSS (Multi-Tiered Student Support System). Schools started to let go of traditional models to evaluate students for special education and instead began moving towards a Whole Child approach to consider the needs of all students. Many chose to transition to MTSS because it uses a multi-tiered support foundation that wraps around a school’s entire student body and uses data-driven problem-solving to address academic and non-academic (attendance, social-emotional, etc.) needs. Schools and districts making this shift found that they improved education for all students, gained efficiencies, and prevented students from “slipping through the cracks.”
The Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) framework has engaged educators in using data-driven approaches to support students in gaining the skills they need to succeed in academics. More recently, with the emerging growth of social and emotional learning (SEL) coming into focus, schools and districts are aiming to incorporate SEL in the same context to prepare students for lifelong success.
All students (and adults) have strengths and weaknesses. In K-12 education, student weaknesses and areas of concern are sometimes more apparent, while strengths can fade into the background. Over the past decade, there has been a movement in education to be more explicit in addressing student strengths and encouraging the use of instructional practices to promote growth in areas that might need improvement. The MTSS framework provides an excellent opportunity for educators to shift their instruction, problem-solving, and planning to include student strengths in addition to areas of needed support. Below we outline the difference between the strengths and deficit lens, how focusing on strengths benefits all key stakeholders in education, and specific guidance on using a strengths-based approach in MTSS.
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.
Below, we outline 6 Research-Based Writing Interventions for RTI/MTSS. We include various supports, ranging from free strategies to paid programs to address each school and student’s wide variety of needs. These RTI/MTSS Writing Interventions are available in the Branching Minds Library, the most robust library of evidence-based learning supports and interventions across academics, behavior, and SEL.