Classroom teachers everywhere are facing challenges related to academic skill gaps, as well as an increased number of students needing social/emotional/behavioral support (Office for Civil Rights, 2021). The narrative to which teachers ascribe, and the approach they take to providing supports, may be critical to their own feelings of competence and confidence (i.e. teacher efficacy is clearly identified as a major factor in student achievement). When teachers feel this burden alone, overwhelm and burnout can be the result. Hence, highly functioning teams can result in high levels of collective teacher efficacy (Visible Learning, n.d.), and even greater outcomes for students.
Consider the following questions, perhaps jotting down a few initial thoughts of your own before clicking on each to read more.
How can we align and view everything we do in our classrooms through an instructional lens, be it Math, Behavior, Reading, Social Skills, Attendance, etc.?
A significant amount of time and research has focused on the “merger” of Response to Intervention (RtI) and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), into what has now become better known as Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (McIntosh & Goodman, 2016). In a nutshell, this framework allows us to look at anything through the lens of – what do ALL need; what do SOME need; and what do FEW need? Approaching our class, school, division, and even state work in this way, makes it more do-able, and more efficient. Here is a quick summary of how we look at core instruction and tiered supports at the classroom level.
Tier 1 refers to the written, taught and tested curriculum provided by the school division and typically accompanied by pacing guides, with performance measured by universal assessments. This curriculum should include explicit instruction in all academic areas, explicit behavioral expectations (PBIS), and also address Social Emotional Learning standards. ALL students should have access to Tier 1, often referred to as core instruction. Typically we would expect 80% of all of our students to achieve grade level or content standards, given high quality Tier 1 instruction. It is important to look at this 80% by student subgroups as well, in order to identify any groups of students for whom the current curriculum and instructional practices may not be working. For example, if 80% of the students in the class as a collective are meeting standards, but students with disabilities, or students who are socio-econmically disadvantaged, are only 46% and 54% respectively meeting standards, then we could consider that a Tier 1 content or instructional problem. We often say, you cannot intervene your way out of a Tier 1 problem, so it is critical to assess the health of the core instruction first.
How can I take a tiered approach to providing support within my classroom?
Tier 2 refers to structured supports that are put into place and implemented with fidelity as designed. These are provided in addition to core instruction and should not impede or reduce access to core instruction. The important thing about Tier 2 supports is that the support is provided to identified groups of students BEFORE we look at designing supports for individual students:
Additional instruction on skills (prosocial, emotional, academic)
Providing additional, differentiated instruction often comes naturally to high performing teachers. Small group instruction is a much more efficient method to provide additional instruction than immediately going to provide one on one instruction. Using data to identify specific skill needs that can be addressed in small group instruction is essential. Additional instruction may also be targeted computer based instruction, or perhaps targeted skill instruction provided to small groups by other personnel, such as a Title 1 Specialist, Professional School Counselor, Reading Interventionist, etc.
Increased performance feedback
Students receive more frequent feedback on their skill acquisition. For example, a group of students struggling with subtraction, or algebraic equations, may receive feedback (and support as needed) after each practice problem is completed. As the students find success with the skill, that support is faded to three problems, and eventually those students return to receiving the amount of feedback all students typically receive. Students needing additional behavior support may be enrolled in a schoolwide Check In Check Out program where they receive feedback on their behavior goals each class period throughout the day, collected on a Daily Progress Report. Teachers can take a similar approach within their own classroom using a behavior chart with a small number of students needing that additional support.
Increased structures & prompts
Providing increased structures and prompts can be something as simple as providing premade study guides to identified students who struggle with effective note taking and study skills. Additional strategies might include providing visual cues, manipulatives, graphic organizers, Touch Math or other multisensory approaches to math or reading instruction, anchor charts, or a cue the teacher and/or identified students can use to reset behavior.
Increased intensity of data collection
Teachers are increasing intensity of data collection for behavioral/social skills as described above when they utilize Check In Check Out Daily Progress Reports as a tiered support. Increased data collection for small groups around academic skill acquisition can be as simple as conducting weekly fluency probes in math or reading, running records for struggling readers, or collecting the “warm up” in Calculus class for identified students to provide additional feedback on their responses when you meet with them in a small group, beyond what may have been covered in the review with the whole class. Intentional and embedded use of technology to gather student responses is also another way to increase data collection.
Increased Family Engagement
Beyond the communication with all families around instruction and student progress, making families aware of their students’ needs for additional instructional support is critical. Families involved in assisting with the provision of those supports can exponentially increase students’ opportunity to find success. This increased opportunity for family engagement can include sharing progress on the Daily Progress Report, sharing student’s own weekly progress monitoring of their performance on identified goals, such as letter sounds, reading fluency, etc. Using parent friendly language when sharing this information is an important factor to consider, as educational data is often rich in technical terms. When possible, try to avoid “alphabet soup,” i.e. acronyms, and help ensure the information is presented in a way that is meaningful to families. Consider opportunities to include student voice (e.g. student led conferences) as another possible way of sharing student progress and enhancing the level of family engagement.
Efficient system for access and delivery of interventions
In the classroom system, providing access and delivery of interventions can occur in a variety of ways, whether through whole group instruction that embeds increased opportunities for feedback and student responses, or through differentiated instruction during small group that targets the needed skills and concepts. Lesson plans that incorporate the “I Do, We Do, You Do” format of instruction can allow opportunities for students to receive a clear model, followed by guided practice, and then by the opportunity for small group or individual practice. Teachers are then able to take the information gained from these practice opportunities to inform their next instructional steps. Station teaching is also a model to deliver additional support that allows staff to break students into smaller groups for direct explicit instruction and remediation of skills. Ensuring that lesson plans include a structure for delivering these interventions is critical to the success of tiered supports in the classroom setting.
How can I lead, or work with, my grade level or content team, to ensure that we are using data to make informed decisions, and that we are collaborating to provide the best we have to offer collectively?
Did you know that teacher’s make over 1500 decisions per day on average? A recent Ed Week article (Klein, 2021) states that this equates to about three decisions per minute. Given the amount of choices made daily, it is important that instructional decisions be objective and rooted in data analysis. Data Informed Decision Making is a critical component of MTSS and is frequently a process that teachers use, often without even realizing it.
The following examples are commonly used data collection methods that can help teams collectively analyze student performance:
- Formative assessment strategies (e.g. thumbs up thumbs down, kahoot, dry erase boards, exit tickets, etc.) guide teachers to decide whether they need to continue teaching or provide additional support and information to ensure student understanding and learning. Teacher teams using formative assessments allow for more efficient and effective decision making that aligns needed supports to groups of identified students.
- Summative assessments (universal screeners, unit tests, benchmark assessments, SOL assessments, etc.) are measures teachers, and teams, use to compare student performance across standards and norms in order to make decisions about the “health” and needs within Tier 1, or core, curriculum and instruction.
As a classroom teacher, it will be important to determine what data is available to your team. For example, do you collect exit tickets or written feedback from students following instruction? Does your core curriculum provide curriculum based measures to assess learning throughout instruction, and/or is there a summative assessment conducted at the end of a unit? Does your school require universal screening? Another key question to consider is if you have access to all of the pertinent data systems or if you will need support to obtain relevant data . All of this information can help teams make decisions about what students need. Both the teacher and team roles are critical in the collection and availability of the data to drive the discussions and inform decision making. Collaboration among classroom and school teams is essential in this process.
Another important consideration, once the data sources are identified, is how this information is organized and available to the team, and to you as a teacher? Is data readily accessible, in an easy to use format, and is there a standard protocol, or set criteria, used for considerations and decision making?
How do we monitor progress of all, some and few?
Perhaps one of the most important elements of implementing tiered systems of support successfully, is the process in which schools, teams, and classroom teachers monitor student progress. This consideration stems from the question “how do we know what we are doing is having the desired effect on student performance?”
Virginia’s accountability system plays a large role in how schools monitor progress of all students; however, classroom teachers and staff have an important role in monitoring the progress of small groups and individual students, especially as it pertains to tiered supports. Some intervention tools such as CICO, or computer based intervention programs for reading and math have internal systems for progress monitoring. These systems include graphs and charts that provide a descriptive overview of students’ performance and progress toward their identified goal(s) or target(s).
In the event that these types of interventions are not available within your school or classroom, teachers have the ability to progress monitor student performance in a variety of other ways. Data walls in the classroom (think bulletin boards with plots and charts with non-identifying class data) can spotlight skills like reading or math fluency using weekly probe data. Tally sheets can be used to capture the frequency of which a behavior occurs on a daily basis which can then be reviewed weekly to look for patterns and trends, hopefully resulting in a reduction in frequency if the intervention is working. Individual student binders for data collection around work samples, comprehension checks, math minutes, etc. are also common ways that teachers can create progress monitoring systems.
In summary, implementing a multi-tiered system of support at a classroom level begins with each teacher’s commitment to providing high quality instruction of the core (Tier 1) curriculum using evidence based instructional practices. Through this iterative process, teachers use data to identify students in need of additional support, usually referred to as Tier 2 supports. It is essential that Tier 2 supports be evidence based, provided with fidelity, and measured for effectiveness of the intervention and students’ progress. It is worth remembering at this point that we tier supports, not students, therefore some students should be moving freely in and out of receiving tiered supports. In the event that this process is not sufficient to meet the needs of a few individual students, teachers can now consider moving toward more intensive individualized support, better known as Tier 3 supports. As teachers build their skills and capacity with using a multi-tiered approach, they are ultimately able to more efficiently and effectively meet the needs of all learners.
Klein, A. (2021, December 6) 1,500 Decisions a Day (At Least!): How Teachers Cope With a Dizzying Array of Questions. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/1-500-decisions-a-day-at-least-how-teachers-cope-with-a-dizzying-array-of-questions/2021/12
McIntosh, K, Goodman, S. (2002). Integrated Multi-Tiered Systems of Support: Blending RTI and PBIS. The Guilford Press.
Office of Civil Rights. (2021, June). Education in a Pandemic. US Department of Education.
Visible Learning. (n.d.). Visible Learning. https://visible-leearning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie/