Visible Learning reports that response to intervention has an effective size that places this schoolwide support system in the top 5 practices in which schools can be engaged, out of over 200 such practices (Hattie, 2015). Of course, the research of Benjamin Bloom (Bloom, 1968, 1974, 1984), dating from the 1960s, validated the efficacy of response to intervention; Tom Guskey (2010) has interpreted Bloom’s work for the modern educator. Reading experts Richard Allington (2011) and Robert Slavin (2018) have both highlighted the effectiveness of response to intervention and have noted that we’re not doing it as well as we can. My research and practice, with Austin Buffum, Mike Mattos, and Tom Hierck (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015), also confirm the transformative impacts of designing and implementing systems of supports that proactively prepare for students’ anticipated needs. These systems of supports are among the most-research-based initiatives with which educators can engage (Burns & Symington, 2002; Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000; Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, Linan-Thompson, et al., 2009a; Gersten, Beckmann, Clarke, Foegen, Marsh, Star, et al., 2009b; Hattie, 2012; Swanson & Sachse-Lee, 2000; VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Gilbertson, 2007).
The common sense aspects of response described here are matched by decades of research and my personal experiences that response is a worthwhile, and very necessary endeavor in which to engage.
RTI is common sense in action. The tiers of supports that represent RTI are schools’ systematic approaches to addressing a common sense reality: If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.
Anticipating that some students will need additional supports is predictable.
Anticipating that students will be become frustrated and will fall farther behind in the absence of proactively planned supports is predictable.
An outcome of frustrated students who fall farther and farther behind is preventable.
If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.
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We need to regularly ask, “What student needs can we anticipate?” For what supports can we proactively plan and prepare?” PLC teams must continuously ask, “To what extent are students responding to instruction and intervention?”
Designing and implementing systems of supports for students is common sense.
- We can predict that students will bring different learning styles, interests, and readiness levels to core learning environments; let’s prevent frustration and the wasting of time by being ready with differentiated supports, particularly scaffolded supports so that highly vulnerable students can successfully access priorities.
- We can predict that some students will need more time to master core priorities and that other students will benefit from enrichment within and toward the conclusion of units of instruction; we can predict that not all students will learn on our timetables or in response to our first, best instruction; let’s prevent students from falling behind and other students from missing opportunities to reach greater depths of learning by embedding time for supports into our unit plans.
- We can predict that some students coming to us at the beginning of each new school year will have significant deficits in foundational skills; let’s prevent continued failure and frustration by providing students with immediate, intensive, and targeted supports that explicitly address these needs.
The three scenarios represented above are realities for which we can be prepared and situations that should not cause surprise. RTI does not have three tiers because some wise sage dictated from on high that three tiers was best. There are three tiers because there are three predictable types of supports that we can anticipate students will need. The situations above describe what we do, and the reason for doing it, at each tier.
It’s common sense. And yet, as we often do, I fear we’ve overly complicated RTI. One straightforward way of describing the three tiers of supports, whether applied to academic or behavioral skills, is using the terms proactive, targeted, and organized.
We gather evidence, we collaboratively analyze evidence, and we collectively design supports in response to this evidence to meet student needs. In other words, we check for understanding, whether formally or informally, so that we can intervene – no matter the type of need, no matter the tier of support.