Getting Students in & Out of Intervention: We can’t keep them forever

I want to start out this post by saying that I am a teacher like many of you. I spend my days as a Reading Recovery teacher and Academic Intervention Service provider. I face many of the same roadblocks that you face daily. I am saying this so that you know that I understand what many of you are up against. I understand that many times educators do not have control over particular decisions that impact when, who, and even how they teach. In spite of these challenges, I believe that each one of us can make a difference by making a conscious effort to work toward making positive changes in the way decisions are made about our reading Intervention services.  We start by setting some small manageable goals centered around having productive conversations in which we might question current practices.

Some students need more

If you read my last post regarding improving tier 1 classroom instruction you know that I have been reading Mary Howard’s book RTI From All Sides:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know.  Howard explains Response to Intervention in a way that just makes sense.  We know the importance of having high-quality tier 1 instruction in order to decrease the need for intervention and special education services.  What is important to keep in mind is that research says that even if we have high-quality tier 1 classroom instruction, approximately 20 percent of our students will continue to struggle. Being able to provide effective tier 2 and tier 3 reading intervention will be important for these students. Some people feel that tier 2 and tier 3 services delay a child from getting special education services that they need.  Properly utilized tier 2 and tier 3 services can help to make sure a student truly requires special education.  The sad fact is that many students receive a more supportive and intensive intervention in tier 3 services than what many of our schools are able to provide students in special education.

The ultimate goal of tier 2 and tier 3 intervention is to be able to return the child back to the general education setting in which they are now able to be successful.

A Story

As a reading interventionist, I develop really close relationships with my reading students. I love the chitter-chatter as we walk to my classroom together. Often they try to share as much as they can (as if they have been holding it all in for hours) before we get to the room and start our lesson. Even in the middle of a lesson I sometimes have students who share things with me (some of which keeps me up at night worrying about them).

One day, on the way to my room, one of my 2nd graders who had worked with me for 1-1/2 years was sharing with me that she was nervous but excited about going to 3rd grade (our 3rd grade is in a different building). She told me that one thing that was making her feel better was that I would still be her reading teacher at her new school. At first, I smiled and felt flattered that she would want me to follow her to her new school. Then I felt my smile fade as I thought to myself, “What have I done?” I wondered if I had unintentionally made my student dependent on me? Had I made my student think that she would be with a reading teacher all through their schooling? Had I been honest with my student about why she was meeting with me and what our goal was – not meeting with me? 

The differences between tier 2 & tier 3

We need to keep the goal of returning the child to their general education classroom foremost in our mind as we plan his/her intervention. It is helpful to sort out the difference between tier 2 and tier 3 in Response to Intervention (RTI)/Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS). The main difference between the tiers is that tier 3 increases the intensity of the intervention. We might increase the intensity by increasing the amount of time we meet with the student, increase the number of days we meet per week or decrease the group size. Tier 2 and tier 3 services should never replace the high-quality literacy learning these students receive in their classrooms.

Howard recommends that Tier 2 instruction last 8-12 weeks or an average of 40-60 sessions. We might decide that a student needs another round of Tier 2 instruction. Although tier 3 might last longer than tier 2 it is not meant to be a forever service.

Tier 3 has more frequent progress monitoring, but we can not let assessing get in the way of providing daily effective teaching.

Expert reading teachers are needed

The tier 2 interventionist might be the classroom teacher or a literacy interventionist. Howard discusses the practice of having instructional assistants and computer programs to provide tier 2 instruction.  Unfortunately, research does not support the use of either.

“If we cut corners in our attempt to equalize the instructional playing field, our students’ learning gap will widen and we will be responsible.”

Mary Howard, p. 69

Our tier 3 students are the 5-10% who are not responding to classroom instruction and are not able to accelerate their learning fast enough in tier 2 instruction.  It is paramount that these students receive “potent and effective”  instruction (p.80).  This instruction should be provided by an “expert reading teacher” (p.80).  In fact, Richard Allington writes in his book, What Really Matters in Response to Intervention that “an expert teacher should be seen as a non-negotiable requirement” (p.89).   He goes on to say that, “a large body of research indicates that paraprofessionals do little that actually improves a student’s reading achievement in classrooms of either remedial or special education programs” (p. 7).

When we have expert teachers, who are grounded in reading theory and therefore know how to work with struggling readers, providing intervention lessons they will be less likely to use highly scripted commercial programs.  Expert reading teachers will know how to create effective interventions on their own.  They will know the power of creating interventions guided by what they know about their students.  They will be resistant to programs because they know that manuals can not provide instruction that is informed by children’s responses.

Allington describes effective teachers as teachers who:

  • adapt the lesson to the student in front of them
  • teach something in a different way if it didn’t work as planned
  • engage their students in more reading and writing activities
  • Model strategies
  • Foster discussions about reading
  • limit work in test prep packages and workbooks
  • give choice with texts
  • give choice with topics written about (p. 117)

In a nutshell, tier 3 offers more intensive support than tier 2 interventions.  We can increase the intensity in both tiers by decreasing group size and/or increasing the amount of time students receive services.  If we are truly committed to students having successful interventions we will need expert teachers who can effectively plan powerful interventions that match each of their students.

I have been thinking hard about what my small manageable RTI goals might be.  I have started a list of possible goals that I have added to as I read and learn more.  What are your RTI goals for the next school year?

This is blog post number 2 of 4 inspired by Mary Howard’s book RTI From All Sides:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know.  Please follow Literacy Pages as we continue to explore the topic of getting kids in and out of intervention. 




Allington, Richard L.  What Really Matters in Response to Intervention:  Research-Based Designs.  Boston:  Pearson, 2009.  Print.

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


4 thoughts on “Getting Students in & Out of Intervention: We can’t keep them forever

  1. I love this!!! The who, what, where, when, why, and how are reviewed to give us the important reminders about the intended purpose for RTI/MTSS. Can’t wait to share with staff as we take a deep look at our RTI practices this year!


    1. Thank you, Jamie! I am excited for next week’s installment which will be focused more on being flexible when planning for a student’s Intervention. It makes us beyond happy that you have found our work helpful to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Expert Intervention Teachers: Money Well Spent – Literacy Pages

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s