I am currently reading Best Practices at Tier One: Daily Differentiation for Effective Instruction by Gayle Gregory, Martha Kaufeldt and Mike Mattos. In the introduction, the authors highlight that Response to Intervention or RtI ranks second in the most effective influences, inside or outside of school that can increase student performance according to Hattie (2012) meta-analysis (p. 1). The authors go on to point out that the entire RTI framework and process is founded upon effective, grade-level core instruction- or in other words Tier 1 instruction. Continuing on, they make the point that the most common reason that schools struggle to successfully implement RTI goes back to having (or not having) effective core instruction.
If we continue this train of thought then we need to acknowledge that effective core instruction should successfully meet the learning needs of the majority of the students most of the time. If this is not occurring, then curriculum and instructional practices need to be examined. However, when the core instruction leaves a few students struggling the RTI process needs to begin with an assessment of the students’ core instruction. However, in many places the first place that is examined is the student- their abilities, habits and background are viewed as the cause of the struggle (p. 4).
In a climate where we now understand that we need to look at learning to determine effectiveness of teaching a professional learning community is the way to successfully implement meaningful RTI. The first step is to examine instructional practices through the lens of the four PLC questions:
- What do we expect students to learn?
- How do we know they are learning it?
- How do we respond when they do not learn?
- How do we respond when they have already learned?
So to start with, clarity on “the what” for learning is necessary before criteria for success and means to demonstrate learning can be articulated. Once this is established then the process of differentiation commences as educators start to address what to do with students struggling, as well as, students who are not challenged by current work. Differentiation does not mean automatically move to tier 2 or 3! Rather differentiation means that we, as teachers, apply what we know about our students and our content to provide good teaching. In the book mentioned above, good teaching is defined as a convergence of three critical factors: (p. 5)
- The science of teaching- what we know from research about “pedagogies and methodogies that have the best chance of helping students learn at high levels” (p. 5)
- The art of teaching- “good teaching goes beyond the cognitive experience….. must take into account relationships, motivation, nurturing , constructive conflict , and mutual respect” (p. 6)
- Differentiation for individual student needs- recognition that all students don’t learn in the same way at the same pace
The introduction concludes “good teaching requires every teacher to have knowledge and skill in the most effective teaching practices, the empowerment to practice the art of teaching, and a deep understanding of daily differentiation to meet each student’s individual learning needs” (p. 7). With strong core instruction at Tier One, PLC approach to examine teaching and learning and solid interventions and systems for RTI, we can improve outcomes for students. It is good teaching.