What Every Teacher Needs to Know About RTI in the Math Classroom – Part 1

One of the most powerful lessons I learned as a teacher was found in a story about a fly. This fly buzzed into a room one day through an open window. After exploring the room he came back to the window ready to leave. Only now the window was shut tight. Desperate to escape, the fly banged its little body against the window repeatedly. It was no use. Eventually, the fly dropped dead from exhaustion.

If only it had turned around and seen the open door on the other side of the room.

As teachers, we’re all that poor fly sometimes. We have the best intentions to help our students succeed. When a method isn’t working, we’ll try harder, putting in more time and resources to solve the problem. Sometimes, though, we need to try smarter instead of trying harder.

That, in a nutshell, is what RTI is all about. For years teachers saw students struggling, but didn’t have an effective system for evaluating and assisting those students.

RTI is that elusive system. It’s a roadmap for assessing students’ skills and then using the data to choose the proper interventions.

What is RTI?

RTI stands for Response to Intervention. Throughout the process, the students are evaluated based on how they respond to the teacher’s interventions. The term became widespread starting in 2004 when IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) was reauthorized. The goal was two-fold:

  • Make sure that students weren’t diagnosed with learning disabilities before having a fair chance with appropriate teaching best practices.
  • Identify and address weak students before they fell so far behind that they needed special ed services.

Is RTI effective? According to famous researcher John Hattie, the answer is a resounding yes! Hattie’s research concluded that when teachers implement RTI properly students can advance by 2 to 3 grade levels in just one year!

Three RTI Tiered System

The RTI Model has three tiers of instruction:
1. Tier 1 is the strong, core teaching that every student should receive. In this tier, students are assessed two or three times a year to find weaknesses. Within this tier, a teacher will provide differentiated instruction to groups of students with particular gaps. If that strategy doesn’t work within 8 weeks or so, Tier 2 is introduced.

2. Tier 2 is specialized instruction that students receive in small groups a few times a week. Extra help is provided during enrichment activities or electives. That way, they don’t miss out on core instruction. We assess students in Tier 2 approximately every other week to track their progress. By the end of a grading period, a student should either be ready to go back to Tier 1 or moved into Tier 3.

3. Tier 3 is the highest level of intervention. Students receive data based individualized instruction targeted to their weaknesses. These children may be assessed weekly or even daily to make sure that they’re meeting their goals. If a student doesn’t show improvement the next step is an educational evaluation to facilitate movement into the special education framework.

These tiers should be fluid. Sometimes process needs to give way to common sense or parent/teacher intuition. A parent or teacher can ask for a special ed eval for a student at any time.

The Benefits of RTI

Why have educators jumped on the RTI bandwagon? Because it works!

Teachers who use RTI see multiple benefits:

  • Early intervention means that fewer students enter the special education system. This saves the precious special education resources for the kids who truly need them.
  • Students who need help can still receive their core instruction in the general education classroom.
  • A child can get help before they fall so far behind that they need to attend summer school or repeat a grade.
  • If a child is referred for special education services, there’s already lots of documentation about the child’s needs.

Pages and pages of research are available on all aspects of RTI. (If you like data, statistics and meta-analyses, check out rtinetwork.org.) Teachers can use RTI to improve outcomes in reading, math, behavior and more.

How to Implement RTI for Math Instruction

So far, we’ve been talking about RTI theory and concepts.

Now it’s time to get down in the trenches. In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, we’ll be looking at hands-on, practical tips for math-focused RTI.

The success of RTI is directly tied to the quality of the screenings and assessments you use. That’s why Part 2 will be packed with practical information on the materials you need for the RTI process. Look out for tips on how to find the best teacher-tested assessments to monitor and track your students.

Part 3 will focus on another crucial part of RTI: data tracking. We’ll cover the hows and whys. You’ll learn proven tips and best practices. You’ll see how to use your data to get top results for your students and collaborate with your administration and parents.

Stay tuned for more. Sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Pinterest to make sure you don’t miss out on the rest of this series.

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