Decrease the Need for Intervention: Strengthen Classroom Instruction

The stronger we make our tier 1 classroom instruction the less likely our students will need tier 2 or tier 3 intervention supports.  In RTI From All Sides, author Mary Howard writes, “You are the most powerful teacher’s guide if you are willing to use your knowledge about literacy and students to drive your teaching” (p. 43).  We need to ensure that our students are immersed in authentic literacy experiences throughout their school day.  We need to advocate for increased spending on books and increased professional knowledge.

Access Professional development, be a responsive teacher, seek knowledge

Research supports the importance of providing our students with many opportunities to read volumes of easy texts (Cunningham & Allington, p. 82).  Although it is a good start, simply reading to students and allowing our students time to read won’t be enough for all of our students.  We need to take part in on-going professional development that will deepen our understanding of the reading process and stay on top of what current research says about best practices in reading instruction.

We also need to be responsive to our students’ needs and not blindly follow any laid out sequence of teaching. We must fight for our right as expert teachers to make decisions about our students rather than simply follow a script.

Professional development can provide us with the knowledge we need to be able to differentiate for all of our students.  Howard writes,

“Insist on maintaining responsibility for your own students for tier 1 instruction.  Deep understanding of students’ needs comes from spending all day with them.  Do you want another classroom teacher to provide thirty minutes of instruction down the hall, or do you want to embed your own expertise into the six hours of instruction you provide them every day, five days a week?” (p. 41).

We need to know how to observe our students and hypothesize about what the roadblocks might be.

We need to always seek to know more!  It is up to us to investigate the literacy topics we are curious about, have rich reading and writing lives, collaborate and learn alongside our colleagues,  be active in online networks learning from others around the world, and pose questions in regard to our own teaching and research the answers.

Non-negotiable literacy experiences

During my years of teaching and learning I have developed a list of non-negotiable literacy activities that happen daily in my classroom.  I start by having a dedicated block of time for literacy learning so that reading and writing learning is cohesive and not fragmented.  Although I have this dedicated literacy block, I also bring reading and writing in naturally throughout the day during math, social studies, and science.  Throughout the day my students engage in meaningful discussions and I intentionally teach about the reciprocity between reading and writing.

Read Alouds

It is necessary that we have multiple read-aloud times daily.  Sometimes our read-alouds will include accountable talk and other times we might simply read aloud purely for the joy of it.  We can invite others into our class to read to our students.  Allison Stout and Jill Ramig recently wrote an inspiring post about transforming the reading culture of a k-8 building.  They discuss read-alouds as well as how they created a school environment rich in literacy experiences.  We should provide our students with time to write about their thinking in ways that we have explicitly taught.

Shared reading & writing

Students of all ages should participate in shared reading and writing activities.  Shared reading and writing are extremely beneficial for English as a Second Language students.  Shared reading experiences are a great way to improve fluency and build community.  Shared reading can be done using a variety of materials, not just big books.  Older students can read poetry, reader’s theater, speeches, enlarged versions of any regular texts.  At the primary level, our shared reading pieces often became favorites that my students could later read independently.  Regarding the power of shared writing, Regie Routman, writes in her book Literacy Essentials: Engage, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners, “Regardless of the grade or content area we are teaching, using shared writing is one of the most effective ways to ensure literacy success for all students” (p. 142).

Reading & Writing Workshop

The reading/writing workshop model in which there is a mini-lesson, reading/writing time, and sharing, is powerful for teaching students a variety of things such as how to select books/writing topics, goal setting, book/writing genres, thinking strategies, etc.  Students should have access to high-quality culturally diverse literature in which they can choose from to read during their independent reading time.  I believe that the classroom library should be set up to mimic the local public library.  Books should be organized by topics, themes, authors, etc.  In my experience, writing is an area that is often shortchanged and cut when more time is needed.  Writing is so valuable to our students’ learning that we do them a great injustice by not making writing a priority in our classrooms.  One-to-one conferences, small group reading, and guided writing are essential times needed in which we can meet the various needs of all of the students in our classroom.

Phonics/Spelling Instruction

Although I believe that much of phonics and spelling learning can be embedded in authentic reading and writing activities, I also believe that there should be some time directly teaching phonics/spelling.  I feel most effective when I am able to teach these skills in small groups.

Question any isolated skills practices

When my students participate in literacy center work it needs to look like reading and writing activities.  I see no value in meaningless worksheets such as crossword puzzles, “color the high-frequency words particular colors” sheets, word searches, etc.  My favorite literacy stations are independent reading, buddy reading, browsing boxes, listening center, writing center, reader’s theater, and science exploration.  When thinking about literacy centers I ask myself the following questions, “Is this a purposeful meaningful authentic task?  Will this inspire my students to become life-long learners?  Will this promote a love of reading?”

We need to provide authentic reading and writing experiences throughout the day.  We need to be involved in high-quality professional development that helps us to teach and differentiate for all of our students.  We need to prioritize our non-negotiables.  We need to seek knowledge and use it to be responsive to our students’ strengths and needs.  If we do all of these things we can greatly reduce our students’ need for more intensive intervention services.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post on tier 1 instruction inspired by Mary Howard’s book RTI From All Sides:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know.  Please follow Literacy Pages so that you won’t miss our future posts as we tackle topics around tier 2 and tier 3 intervention services. 



Cunningham, Patricia M., and Allington, Richard L.  Classrooms That Work:  They Can All Read and Write.  New York:  Longman, 1999.  Print.

Howard, Mary.  RTI From All Sides:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know.  Portsmouth:  Heinemann, 2009.  Print.

Routman, Regie.  Literacy Essentials:  Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners.  Portland:  Stenhouse Publishers, 2018.  Print.







5 thoughts on “Decrease the Need for Intervention: Strengthen Classroom Instruction

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