By Jana Echevarria
With the current emphasis on high academic standards and college and career preparedness, it has never been more essential to have safeguards in place for those students who struggle to learn, those who are not yet proficient in English, and those who need a boost in skill development. Response to Intervention (RTI) is just such a safeguard and, when implemented well, offers support to learners who need it.
The intent of RTI , also referred to as a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS), is to identify at-risk learners e early and provide them with appropriate instructional support services which typically include small group, focused teaching (commonly referred to as Tier 2 or Tier 3 intervention). These services increase in intensity, duration and frequency depending on the student’s need. The RTI or MTSS process is promising for English learners because of its emphasis on the individual learner; for too long English learners have been lumped together as a group without regard to their individual differences. An effective RTI process documents the academic progress of each student and puts in place programs to advance each student’s achievement. Rather than looking at the struggling student as having an inherent problem, schools search for instructional solutions and provide the needed supports.
It is widely acknowledged that the first step in a multi-tiered system of support is ensuring that instruction in the general education classroom (Tier 1) is effective. This is all the more true for English learners who need ample exposure to high-quality language and literacy in English. While Tier 2 intervention is important for some English learners, screening and diagnostic data often indicate that nearly all English learners demonstrate some level of difficulty with a particular aspect of language and literacy. Since these are students who are acquiring a new language, English learners likely will not perform at grade level. The What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide (2014) recommends that typical academic issues (e.g., grade-level reading comprehension) are best addressed through Tier 1 classroom instruction and only those English learners who demonstrate persistent struggles with some aspect of language and literacy should receive Tier 2 intervention (emphasis added). More significant learning challenges are addressed in Tier 3.
The SIOP Model is an instructional framework that has been shown to improve the achievement of English learners and is widely used for Tier 1 classroom teaching. It offers teachers a guide for lesson planning and delivery and is useful for students because it makes the lesson’s content comprehensible and provides opportunities for active participation and practice using academic English. One benefit for RTI purposes is that the SIOP protocol can be used for teacher reflection and/or to document observation of lessons. The results provide valuable information about the quality of instruction for meeting the needs of English learners in Tier 1. Students must be given an opportunity to learn before being labeled as a struggling student and are referred to intervention. Recently a colleague who teaches in a program that trains future speech and language pathologists commented that if more general education teachers implemented the SIOP Model, we would have fewer students referred for special education. She emphasized the idea that some students just need the right instruction to become successful learners. To learn more about using a multi-tiered system of support to help English learners – and all students – become successful learners, please attend the session, RTI and English Learners: Using the SIOP Model at the SIOP National Conference.