Sunday, August 8, 2021

RTI and Personalization: A Dynamic Duo

Recently I was working with the leadership team at Moanalua Middle School (MMS) in Hawaii.  One of the coaching topics that came up was how to improve the Response to Intervention (RTI) process as a means to support learners.  It represents a multi-tiered process to identify the behavior and learning needs of struggling students early on and then provide specific support in the form of interventions.  Below is a quick summary of the RTI components:

  • Tier 1 – Teacher provides research-based instruction to the entire class using extensive checks for understanding as a means of formative assessment. This data and that collected through routine benchmarking are utilized to determine what supports are needed in Tier 2.  Behavior screenings are implemented as well.
  • Tier 2 – Targeted supports using the data collected from the Tier 1 interventions are used to provide small group instruction that focuses on specific learning and behavioral needs. 
  • Tier 3 – At this level, the most at-risk students are provided individualized support, typically in a one-on-one setting. 

In the past, Chris Weber provided a series of guest posts on the topic that I encourage you to take a look at as each contains a host of ideas and resources.  I can’t overstate the wealth of information Chris shared. He is my go-to thought leader on anything related to RTI and emphasizes the need for scaffolding, differentiation, and collaboration throughout the process.  

As we dove into the different tiers of support at MMS, I quickly made a connection to the essential elements and strategies inherent in personalization.  In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms I emphasized that the driving premise of personalized learning is a focus on student needs and interests to develop a greater sense of ownership of learning.  Core elements include making instruction, pedagogy, and curriculum personal for students, which aids in alleviating many behavioral issues that arise.  The use of data is also prevalent as a means to address individual weaknesses as well as build upon strengths.  Successful personalization hinges on the use of high-agency strategies such as voice, choice, path, pace, and place throughout a lesson or unit of study.  

Below I have taken the traditional RTI pyramid of supports and added how personalized learning strategies could be implemented to ensure better learners are getting what they need.

Tier 1 (Large group instruction with voice and choice)

While emphasizing the critical elements outlined at the beginning of this post, the teacher makes learning more personal through student voice. Digital tools or individual whiteboards are used so that each child can respond to various checks for understanding, which can also screen students to begin to determine Tier 2 supports.  Choice is provided by allowing students different ways to respond to questions to amplify strengths.  Benchmark assessments are provided at routine intervals to collect data for further screening. This can be done with or without technology.

Tier 2 (Targeted instruction, differentiation, and pacing via station rotation)

Data collected during Tier 1 is used to group students accordingly so the teacher can maximize available time to address both learning gaps and behavior issues in a station rotation model.  While the tasks in the other rotations can vary, in an RTI model, an adaptive learning tool should be used in one of them to address weaknesses while allowing other students to move ahead at their own pace and path.  If there is in-class support, a targeted support rotation could be established to either provide greater assistance or screening.

Tier 3 (1:1 intensive support while rest of students work on differentiated choice activities or playlists)

The use of choice boards, must-do/may-do activities, and playlists free up valuable time for the teacher to work with individual students. Data collected and the subsequent screening during Tiers 1 and 2 help identify the learners who need the most support.  As the teacher works with one student, the rest of the class progresses through activities at their own pace along a path that is aligned to both ability and interests.  

RTI has long been embraced as a strategy for students who either learn differently or have behavioral challenges that are stymying growth.  By taking a more personalized approach, empowerment, and ownership of learning help to alleviate many behavioral issues.  Additionally, a more pragmatic approach is taken to collect, analyze, and use data in ways to better screen and establish needed interventions.  Consistent check-ins on behavioral patterns and learner progress help to ensure no student falls through the cracks while personalization enhances and amplifies interventions.  Hence, RTI and personalized learning are a dynamic duo.

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