How Not To Implement RtI (Response to Intervention)

A recent tweet of mine got several favorites/retweets.  It was, like many of my tweets, a sudden off-the-cuff remark sparked by something I heard.

not_rti“Tier I – Talk. Tier II – Talk louder. Tier III – ID as special ed. That’s NOT how RtI is supposed to work, folks.”

My suggestions for implementing Response to Intervention in a way that will actually benefit kids:

  • Don’t use RtI as an excuse to homogenize Tier I.  Tier II is not an excuse not to implement universal design in Tier I.  The more kids you let fall into Tier II, the more difficult you are making it.
  • Tier II is not “Tier I again, a little slower and a little louder.”  If Tier I instruction wasn’t sufficient, there should be formative assessment data that shows where the deficiency exists, so that a targeted intervention can be implemented.  Not all kids “didn’t get it” for the same reason, and the same intervention won’t work for all.
  • Tier III is not the “gateway to special ed”.  Just because a student is identified as being in need of Tier III instruction in an RtI model does not mean they have some disability.  It means the attempts at instruction so far have been unsuccessful, and a larger barrier exists that must be addressed.
  • Tier III does not allow you to delay special education referral and identification.  “States and LEAs [Local Educational Agencies] have an obligation to ensure that evaluations of children suspected of having a disability are not delayed or denied because of implementation of an RtI strategy.” (OSEP Memo, 1-21-2011.)  In other words, “Well, we think Johnny might have a disability, but we’re doing RtI with him.  If Johnny gets to Tier III, then we’ll set up an evaluation.” is a violation of Johnny’s civil rights.
  • Response to Intervention isn’t something you only do with your special education or “at-risk” population.
  • Tier III shouldn’t be a final and unchangeable designation for any student.  If a certain student is always in Tier III, there’s a problem somewhere in Tier I and Tier II.

In short, Response to Intervention is not a sorting mechanism, or a panacea for student achievement gaps.  It only works when a teacher uses it as feedback for how well their instruction is doing its job, and changes how they teach based on what helps their students learn best.

 

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Learning: Motivation and Mechanics

A Challenge

My friends do something very important for me.  They make me think.

Beyond that, they challenge me to formalize my thoughts into coherent messages.  This is what happened on Monday, March 10, during the weekly #OHEdChat twitter chat.

Scott Kinkopf asked me to write more about a comment I made.

We were discussing “learning”.  Yes, that’s right, “learning”.  Sean Wheeler (teachinghumans.com) made an excellent observation about learning being sparked by a) utility, b) curiosity, and/or c) whimsy.  My graduate school friends would say that means we learn through what is useful, unexplored, and/or interesting.

I thoroughly agree with that observation, but it does just tell one side of the story.  These sparks can tell us a lot about the motivation to learn, but that is not where the journey ends.  It is not enough to want to learn.  The resources to support learning must be accessible.

“Presuming Competence”

Professor Douglas Biklin won the UNESCO/Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Prize to promote Quality Education for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in 2012.  His work focuses on providing equitable access for all students, regardless of labels such as socio-economic status and disability.

Can you explain the concept of “presuming competence” and how it relates to inclusive education?

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan
By Family member of Thaxter P. Spencer, now part of the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. See Press Release [1] for more information. (New England Historic Genealogical Society) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When Anne Sullivan first worked with Helen Keller, she approached her with the presumption that she was competent, that Helen’s problem emanated from her not having an effective means of communication.   Even before Anne began to work with Helen, there was evidence of her desire to communicate—she used pantomime to show her interest in making ice cream or wanting toast with butter.  But it was Anne’s introduction of spelling and words that proved liberating for Helen.The principle of “presuming competence,” is simply to act as Anne Sullivan did.  Assume that a child has intellectual ability, provide opportunities to be exposed to learning, assume the child wants to learn and assert him or herself in the world. To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world.  Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators. It is a framework that says, approach each child as wanting to be fully included, wanting acceptance and appreciation, wanting to learn, wanting to be heard, wanting to contribute.  By presuming competence, educators place the burden on themselves to come up with ever more creative, innovative ways for individuals to learn.  The question is no longer who can be included or who can learn, but how can we achieve inclusive education.  We begin by presuming competence.

interview with Dr. Douglas Biklen

Every educator realizes at some point that it is not enough to merely want all students to learn.  It is likewise not enough to believe that every student wants to learn.  Students must have available the necessary resources, tools, and skills to facilitate the mechanics of learning.

Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

Motivation to learn must be paired with competency in the mechanics of learning.  The student who is competent in the mechanics but has no motivation is bored and disconnected from education.  The student who has the motivation but lacks important skills (e.g., decoding text, comprehending text, organizing thoughts) will become increasingly frustrated, like the fox who found he could not jump high enough to reach the grapes and concludes the grapes are sour anyway.

Problem is, our foxes are being tested on how many grapes they’ve eaten.  And instead of putting the grapes where the fox can get them, we conclude that if the fox were hungry enough, he’d find a way to get the grapes on his own.

Lifelong learners have both a strong motivation to learn and a firm grasp on the mechanics of acquiring and applying new information.  They have both the spark and the fuel that results in a roaring fire for learning.

If we hope to produce lifelong learners, we must attend to both of these essential factors.  We must protect and develop each student’s innate curiosity and desire to learn, and we must foster and support the development of appropriate, practical skills for all students to access the general curriculum.

If the next Helen Keller registered for your class tomorrow, could she learn there?  She has the motivation.  Are you supporting her in developing the mechanics?

Big thanks to Scott Kinkopf, Sean Wheeler, and Mike Thayer for taking me down this road!

#OETCx Encienda

That title makes no sense to most of you.  I’ll parse it out a little.

#OETCx – OETC is the Ohio Educational Technology Conference.  An official “Alt Conference” happens during one day of the event.  This “AltConference” is titled OETCx.

Encienda –  Spanish translation of “Ignite“.  The official description: “Join us for a refreshing twist on the traditional conference session. OETCx participants will offer a series of “lightning presentations.” Each presenter will have 5 minutes to share an idea, broken down into 20 slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds.”

I had the great privilege of being one of the presenters for this session.  My five-minute presentation was titled “Three Big Fat Lies that Technology Coordinators Tell.”

Central idea: What really matters in educational technology is not whether it helps us get things done easier, quicker, or more efficiently.  What matters is if it is engaging (fun).  That’s when ed tech implementation “sticks”.

 

“Five Rules of Design Thinking” – Early Childhood Version

On Friday, March 21, 2014, I will be conducting my “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” workshop at Hopewell Center [5350 West New Market Road, Hillsboro, OH].  This one will have a little different twist to it… all of the activities are being geared towards those who work with students Pre-K through 3rd grade!

This workshop is being offered free of charge, but space is limited and pre-registration is required.  There is no charge to attend.

The day will begin with registration from 8:00-8:30, and the workshop will take place from 8:30-3:30.  Lunch will be provided.

Designing Education dot org.Our primary audience is educators in Ohio Region 14 (Adams, Brown, Clinton, Fayette, and Highland Counties).  Registration is available via STARS.  If you have any difficulty with the STARS system, you can call Hopewell Center at 937-393-1904 and ask for “workshop registration”.  They’ll get you lined up!

More information about “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” is available at designingeducation.org.

Reflections on #EdCampCbus 2014

On Saturday, March 1, 2014, I attended my second EdCamp Columbus, at Clark Hall in Gahanna, Ohio.  Clark Hall is a magnificent facility in Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools, and a great example of what a learning space can be when it doesn’t have to be what it’s always been!

The final agenda was full of great sessions and ideas!

I tried to pay special attention to Toby Fischer as the day began.  If #EdCampDubC (10/4/14, at Wilmington College) is going to be a success, I knew I should learn as much as I can about starting ‘the right way’ as possible.  Toby has done a fantastic job getting EdCamp Columbus to where it is today, and he also does a good job of deflecting praise to those who have pitched in lots of support along the way as well.

Storify archive of #edCampCbus tweets from 3/1/14.

The sessions I attended:

Group discussion, collaboration.
“How do we get students to change their mindsets to take on challenges?”

1) “How do we get students to change their mindsets to take on challenges?” – This discussion was a great way to start the day. It combined two themes: student engagement, and student accomplishment.  Sometimes, we can focus on one and lose ground on the other.  This session drew examples from a wide range of grade levels and content areas, but it all pointed to one overarching mission in education – Give students the resources and opportunities they need to become lifelong learners.

2) “Redesigning the School Day: Successes and Lessons Learned” – This was another example of someone who had a question, and simply wanted to gather some minds to hear what others had tried and what they had learned.  Some had come to that session because they had the same question and wanted to hear suggestions.  Others came to the session because they had some successes and were happy to talk about them.  The clear consensus within the room was that there is great value in having time set aside during a routine school day/week for a teacher to do something besides instruction for a classroom of students.  Time for observing peers and meeting as a PLC (Professional Learning Community), whether along common subject or common student population, were identified as extremely useful, and worth making time for within the school day.  This is also the session where Ryan MacRaild threw down the gauntlet about each participant in a PLC having a personal responsibility not to let it become “that kind of meeting” that never accomplishes anything.  At the time it happened, I wasn’t at all sure yet whether that would be a highlight of the day or not.  Stay tuned….

Lunch.  SmashBurger.  My first time ever at one of these.  Props to Mikayla for helping me navigate the choices when I told her I was a “newbie”.  The mushroom swiss burger (with lettuce and tomato) and Smash Fries was fantastic!  And I couldn’t pass up the chance to have a Mello Yello from the fountain!

3) “Resources for Interventions (Special Ed and RTI)” – This session turned into something of a laid-back version of a SmackDown.  Not everyone in the room was an Intervention Specialist, which was a big plus.  Also a big plus, having Bobby Dodd to sit next to during the session, taking pictures of me while I wrote on the whiteboard!  We generated a list of useful tech tools, and described the situations where we had found them to be useful [part 1] [part 2] [part 3].  This is also the session where I got a few glares for saying “You mean you can do something other than put recipes on that?” when someone mentioned the value of Pinterest.  Where was @pporto when I needed her?

(By the way, I do know something about the educational value of Pinterest!  I have some Pinterest boards for my Five Rules of Design Thinking workshop, as well as a few of my own!)

4) “If my class were like a video game…” – This was my contribution to the big board for the day.  I had stumbled across a twitter conversation Friday evening, 2/28/14, on “Power-ups in Education“.  The hashtag was #LevelUpEd.  I found the whole conversation and the analogies it generated more than just interesting.  It was fascinating.  “Gamification” is a big deal in education these days.  The whole reason seems to point back to something teachers have been noticing since the Atari 2600: “The kids will play video games for hours upon hours, but they don’t want to do anything in class.”  I had typed out a few little prompts that I intended to use to poke the conversation along if needed.  I was a little disappointed that Sean Wheeler (in another session) and Ryan Collins (early departure) weren’t going to be around for this conversation, but the session attracted a spectacular group of minds to discuss the issues.  Definitions and analogies for things like “power ups”, “cheat codes”, and “high scores” were tossed back and forth around the room.  Changes in the design of video games over the years (from Space Invaders “three lives and your done” to Mario Brothers “there’s still a score but nobody cares about it” to Minecraft “the objective is whatever you decide it is”) reflect not only the growth in what the technology can do, but also what engages the mind of the participant and gets them to keep trying.  Material generated from this session is taking shape and will (hopefully) go into a teachers activity on the subject of “gamification”.  Just because something makes your classroom feel more like a video game doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  “The Class of 2013 grew up playing video games  and received feedback that was immediate, specific, and brutal – they won or else died at the end of each game.  For them, the purpose of feedback is not to calculate an average or score a final exam, but to inform them about how they can improve on their next attempt to rule the universe.” (“Remaking the Grade, From A to D“, by Doug Reeves, The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 18, 2009).

The SmackDown – At the end of the day, everyone gathered where we had started for some answers to the question “What did you learn today that will impact your practice going forward?”  Taking the time to formulate and formalize this into a thirty-second statement is a powerful exercise, and part of what makes this part of the day so important.  My favorite comment during this time was a teacher I recognized from the second session I attended (on Redesigning the School Day) have the boldness to stand up and say there were things that needed to change in his school and in his PLC, and that he is going to be the change he wants to see.

Be the change we want to see.  No matter what we came to learn, that is always the challenge to every one of us when we have the opportunity to learn and grow.