First, if a student has a significant deficit in reading – if they are functionally illiterate or on the road to being so – there is nothing that occurs within their day that is more important than an intensive intervention in reading. Are we afraid of hurting their feelings? Not being able to find a job will hurt more. Do we lament that they may temporarily miss an activity or subject area that they love? We do, but do you know who doesn’t get to take a lot of electives? School dropouts. We must have the courage to intervene with students most at-risk immediately. Let’s build relationships with these students and their parents (as well as all other stakeholders) and communities the following: “We firmly believe that you will be successful, but we’re not there right now. We’re not there yet. Let’s work together and we’ll get there. We won’t give up. We’re here for you.”
Once we have a commitment to intervening immediately to improve the reading of students in-need, and once we firmly collectively believe in high expectations and levels of learning for all, we can talk about which staff can provide the supports and when the support can be provided.
Who? Consider these options:
- Use special education staff to provide small group supports to a group of students without IEPs or a mixed group of students, some with and some without IEPs. The reauthorization of IDEA doesn’t allow it, it’s encouraged.
- In elementary schools with more than 3 teachers in a grade level, 1 teacher doesn’t teach social students (or science, etc.). Instead, this 1 teacher provides intensive Tier 3 supports from all teachers to the students with a significant need. The other students are deployed between the other teachers. Make sure this teacher has the resources and training necessary.
- Repurpose instructional assistants and assign them to provide direct supports for students with a significant need. Again, make sure this assistant has the resources and training necessary, and regularly observed but a credentialed teacher. We get it – the best educator to provide intensive supports to students most at-risk is the most highly trained and credentialed teacher. We agree. But, we will use any and all staff (with the appropriate training, resources, and supports) to serve students.
- Dedicate one section (0.2 FTE) to provide intensive Tier 3 reading supports. A cost-benefit analysis will show that dedicating a section of a highly-qualified secondary teacher’s day to provide intensive Tier 3 reading supports pays for itself. Structure the use of time in these sections and ensure the intentional, purposeful, and intensive practices are employed, and a section of a teacher’s day will change lives.
When? Consider these options:
- In place of courses or subject areas other than core mathematics and English-language arts …creatively. Perhaps students miss the second half of the period of instruction (the last 25 minutes of a 55 minute period). This is an adequate period of time to provide targeted, intensive intervention. And/or, change the course or subject area that the student “misses” regularly, perhaps every moth. Month 1, the student misses science; month 2, the student misses social studies; month 3, the student misses art.
- Revise your bell schedule to insert an additional period. For students with a significant reading need, they receive an intensive Tier 3 intervention during this additional period. For other students, they have another opportunity for elective, PBL, maker experiences, etc.
- Repurpose zero periods. At secondary schools, zero periods are often dedicated to allowing accelerated students with an extra period in the day to take a desired course. For example, a student with one period, eligible for an elective wants to be involved in a foreign language and student government. Consider prioritizing these periods for Tier 3 supports.
- Strategically and consistently schedule Tier 3 supports during times when students would otherwise be working on independent tasks…not with a teacher in a large or small group. This will require that teachers are disciplined in the use of time, but the payoff is great.
We can and must solve the Who and When challenges. We are unlikely to get more staff or a longer school day. Other schools have creatively purposed their use of time and staff. It’s a matter of will.