We’re in it, folks. The thick of it. The months of January through March are the middle of our school year and the real meat and potatoes of what we do. In the fall, our task is to set up expectations, introduce curriculum, and then the students leave for a long vacation. Once April hits, the weather starts to warm up and we prepare our students to move on. January through March is where the real shift starts to take place.
This time of year also means that we start to notice students who aren’t making the progress we hoped they would be making by now. One of the trickiest parts of teaching is figuring out what didn’t work. Was it the method of teaching? Was it a bad day? Is the student struggling to make progress in all content areas or one specific are? Looking into data and asking thoughtful questions is certainly the first step. Then, it is time for some intervention.
If you are like me, sometimes intervention is a huge success and sometimes it feels like a miss. Using a system, such as response to intervention (RTI), you can increase the level of intervention provided to students in order to accelerate the rate of learning. Intervention works best when it is structured and systematic.
In my class, we break up our intervention into three parts: whole group, small group, and individual.
Sometimes the need for intervention is because of something I haven’t quite gone over enough. Or maybe I need to address it in a different way. Or perhaps there was a misconception I never noticed. Looking at formative and summative assessments, when I notice a trend in a large set of data, it means I need to intervene for the whole class. A good example of this can be seen in our latest data on sight words. We tried a new strategy this year to help students learn their sight words. At our last assessment, however, we noticed that the strategy helped with short term memorization of sight words but that students weren’t holding on to that information long term. Now it is our job to find a way to intervene for the whole class so they can learn their sight words. We are in the process of looking at what went wrong with that strategy, what worked, and what we need to do next.
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Another example of this is letter sounds. More than half the class struggled with remembering letter sounds in the fall so we decided to do some whole group interventions. We used letter sounds to transition students, we played letter sound games in centers, and we used letter sounds in our morning meeting. We noticed in our last assessment that there was great improvement in student knowledge of letter sounds. Intervention success!
After our last round of assessments, we noticed a group of 5 students who really struggled with one particular concept – more and less – in math. However, the rest of the class showed an understanding of this concept. We really needed to zoom in on those 5 students and offer them something else. Now, we meet with them on a daily basis for about 15 minutes. We provide targeted instruction to help students understand the concept they struggled with – in this case the idea of more and less. In a couple of weeks we will reassess to see if they have made progress.
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Every once in a while there is a student who, despite the other levels of intervention, still really struggles to make progress. Finding time to meet an individual child’s needs can often be the hardest. I try to find short snippets of time to help these students. Maybe it is 5 – 10 minutes in the morning as the other children are coming in the room. Maybe it is while other students are packing up. We also have trained tutors from our 4th grade who come and help students one-on-one with concepts that could use reviewing. When all these interventions haven’t worked, we meet with our student support team to look at next steps for that particular student.
Helping kids make progress is a challenging part of our job as teachers. By looking at our interventions in a tiered way, we can zoom in on what causes our students to struggle and help them in a structured, systematic way.
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About the Author:
Meg Howe is an elementary school teacher at a charter school in Boston, MA. She has been a teacher for 14 years spanning grades K – 5. Meg has spent time teaching in public, private, and charter schools in Bellingham, WA, Rome, Italy, Los Angeles, CA, Buffalo, NY, and Boston, MA. Meg also runs her own blog at AliceEverAfter.com that features her thoughts on children’s literature. She has a passion for picture books and middle-grade books and hopes one day Kate DiCamillo can be her new best friend.