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The Best Intervention is a Targeted Intervention


There are only a few areas in which to target reading interventions – but we must TARGET reading interventions:

1.Phonemic awareness

2.Multisensory reading supports

3.Simple phonics

4.Advanced phonics



And they each have resources and/or programs. The Florida Center for Reading Research is a gold mine. Headed by Joseph Torgeson, an expert on the Mount Rushmore of reading gurus, the Center provides free, research-based resources to meet all student needs in all reading domains. While the resources are organized into K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 grade bands, please don’t let that dissuade you from using the 4-5 resources with students at-risk in the area of reading in grades 6-12. The resources apply and are totally appropriate; we’ve used them very successfully in middle and high schools.

The Center’s resources, while outstanding, are not the same as a program that is compete, scoped-and-sequenced, and accompanied by extensive supports for interventionists. There are, in the areas of reading, dozens of research-based interventions with which we have had success and that are reasonably priced. One note: We love the idea of computer-based supports to meet student needs. Given their current costs and the necessary technologies (devices and infrastructure) needed to make them work, we find ourselves typically using and recommend print-based solutions. That does not mean that computer-based interventions are not appropriate, although we do favor an adult working with a small group, a trained educators who is able to frequently check for a specific student’s understanding and provide immediate corrective feedback. Here are a few programs in the domains listed above that work:

1.Phonemic Awareness

•Early Reading Intervention (Pearson-Scott Foreman)

•SIPPS Beginning Level, 3rd Ed. (Collaborative Classroom)

2.Multisensory reading supports



3.Simple Phonics

•Read Well (Sopris Learning)

•SIPPS Extension Level, 3rd Ed. (Collaborative Classroom)

4.Advanced Phonics

•REWARDS (Sopris Learning)

•SIPPS Challenge Level, 3rd Ed. (Collaborative Classroom)


•Read Naturally

•Six Minute Solution (Sopris Learning) 


•Making Connections K-6(EPS-School Specialty)

•Making Connections Intervention (MCI) 6-12 (EPS-School Specialty)

Programs don’t teach students; educators do. But, students with significant reading needs, and the educators who serve them (and probably have multiple other responsibility throughout the day), deserve a research-based program, particularly when they are relatively cost-effective.


Demystifying Diagnosing of Reading Needs


We’ve made diagnosing student needs way too complicated. Or equally troubling, we have not attempted to diagnose student needs, instead providing a one size fits all set of supports when intervening. The best intervention is a targeted intervention.

We’re focusing on reading. Please do not provide a “reading” intervention when students are identified as having a significant deficit in reading. Instead, listen to students read to you, and based on that interaction, target supports in one of the areas described in the section below.

What does listening to students read look like and sound like? Here’s a process that is free, efficient, and marvelously effective.

First, provide students at-risk with a text they can read. In other words, do not give them a text that at their grade level. You know that they cannot read at grade level; screening has reveled that fact and that’s why you’re reading with him to diagnose needs now. So, find a passage that’s below grade level (there are several free online options). There’s a chance the assessment used to screen your students provided Lexile levels or grade level equivalents. Choose a page that matches the student at-risk’s Lexile or GLE.

Then, listen to the student read and take “running records.” What does that mean?  Use a guide like the one below to record errors, identify error patterns, and evaluate expressiveness.



Listen to the student read for 60 seconds.


Record errors using the school’s agreed upon running records format.


Note the student’s words correct per minute.


Note the number of student errors.


Note any pattern of errors (long vowels, multi-syllabic words, etc.)


Note the prosody/expression with which the student read

1 = reading is labored, slow, and disfluent

2 = reading is somewhat slow and choppy

3 = reading includes poor phrasing and intonation, but is at a reasonable pace

4 = reading is fairly fluent, with good pace, fairly good intonation, and some phrasing

5 = reading is fluent and smooth with longer phrasing, good intonation and varied expression


While listening to the student read, note the amount of the passage that the student has read after 60 seconds. This will allow you to calculate the words correct per minute at which the student reads, a valuable piece of data when determining which specific reading support that the students reads first.

Lastly, ask the students a few comprehension questions, questions with answers that can be explicitly found within the text and questions that require inferences to be made. Ideally, the texts that you used come with their own questions. Our favorite low-cost (not free, but nearly) option is the Qualitative Reading Inventory (QRI). 

And we’re done. After 5-10 minutes of listening to a student read and asking a few questions about what they’ve read, we’re ready to assign them to a Tier 3 intervention groups that specifically targets the most immediate area of need.

If the student at-risk reads fluently and accurately, you can deduce that they need a comprehension invention even before asking the comprehension questions. The student was, after all, screened to be at-risk

If the student reads accurately but without expressiveness, or solely, or with lots of stops and starts and repetitions, then they need a fluency support.

If the student reads inaccurately, then they need a phonics support first. Does the student make errors with simple, single-syllable words? Then, the student needs a simple phonics support. Does the student proficiently decode single-syllable words but guess, skip, or misread bigger, multi-syllable words? Then, the student needs an advanced phonics support.


That’s it. We must provide the most targeted support possible, so we must diagnose. But, diagnosing student needs need not be time-intensive, expensive, or complicated.

What’s actually the purpose of universal screening?

Universal screening is a popular RTI term. What does it mean? Screeners filter those students who are at desperate risk of failure unless they receive immediate, intensive supports. If it’s predictable, it’s preventable. We can predict who these students are—they scored in the lowest performance band on the state test; they scored in the 6th percentile on a norm-referenced test; they were suspended for 12 days last year. A strong RTI approach is predicated on the notion of prevention as opposed to the historical approach of waiting until a student fails and then launching a rescue mission. RTI does not rely on special education as the only intervention, but provides supports immediately upon the first hint of difficulty. All students are screened to identify any individuals who, despite a strong core instructional program (Tier 1), are still in danger of failure. To ensure that students do not fall farther and farther behind, students must have access to immediate help. When RTI is implemented well, all students undergo academic and behavior screening. Those determined to be at risk for experiencing significant difficulties receive targeted, evidence-based interventions as soon as is practical.

So here’s what we do: 

We screen, first and foremost and perhaps only, to identify students most at-risk. How we hack screening? We would ask why we’re assessing all students 3 times a year. Because someone told us to? Because we read about it? We can make a somewhat compelling case for screening times a year, but our recommendation would be lukewarm. If we screen to identify students most at-risk, we would only screen all students at the end of the year, to prepare proactive supports for next year. We would have a plan in place to screen students who are newly enrolling in our school and we would visit feeder schools to screen students who will be transitioning to a new school.

What would we use to screen? Do we need to buy a new and administer a new test? We recommend that schools use the loads of testing data that they already gather (much of it at the end of the year) to identify who is so far behind that they will simply not catch up in the absence of intensive Tier 3 support, provided as quickly as possible.

What could that look like in the area of reading? Most schools are using a three-times-year benchmark to establish student’s current levels of readiness. Most of these benchmarks are computer-based and adaptive and many are quite good. Screening is these instances is simple; establish an initial criteria (e.g., students scoring in the 30th percentile or below or reading two or more grade levels behind) for the reading portion of the test. Students scoring below are highly likely to have a significant deficit in reading that requires immediate Tier 3 support (in addition to a highly differentiated and scaffolded set of Tier 1 supports). 

But, what if those types of benchmark tests are not available. While a grade of F may not accurately identify why a student did not pass a subject area or class, an F should serve to immediately screen as a likely candidate for more intensive supports, probably in the areas of reading or behavioral skills such as self-regulation, executive functioning, organization, or time management. An F in reading in elementary grades, or an F in an English class in middle and high schools, or multiple Fs in any grade level should lead to us asking questions about students’ reading skills. All grade levels and all subject areas require that a student read at or close to grade level to be successful, even when teacher teams provide scaffolded access to content.

Or, systematically gather teachers’ specific feedback on students’ significant reading needs. Teachers spend an entire year or course with a student. If a significant deficit in the foundational skill areas of reading, numeracy, writing, or behavior exist, then they student will need intensive Tier 3 interventions and supports at the very beginning of the next year. Period. They ought to already be receiving these supports, but whether they are or are not, students are “screened” to be a strong candidate of Tier 3 supports if their current year teacher identifies them as such at the conclusion of the year. No other documentation or testing should be required to get them on the “watch list.” We have used a table such as the one below, complete within Excel or Google Sheets and preloaded with student and teacher names.

End-of-Year or Grade-to-Grade Transition Guides

  • Student Name
  • Former Teacher(s)
  • Reading Concerns
  • Reading Effective Strategies
  • Numeracy Concerns
  • Numeracy Effective Strategies
  • Writing Concerns
  • Writing Effective Strategies
  • Behavior Concerns
  • Behavior Effective Strategies

We do not foresee a situation in which schools need to purchase yet another test for the purposes of screening. Use the data that you have and systematically gather the expert feedback from this year’s teachers. Screening is a process, not a test. The reason we screen is to as-immediately-as-possible begin providing intensive supports to students most in-need. First, need to know why they are so significantly at-risk and determine their most immediate area of need.

Essential Behavioral Skills for Students

Educators are making a renewed commitment to defining a viable academic curriculum within a grade level or course that all students will master. In some respects, next-generation standards in states and provinces are providing the motivation and opportunity for these endeavors. Depth is favored over breadth; quality over quality, mastery over coverage. Educators are prioritizing standards, ensuring that adequate time and attention is devoted to the most critical learning that students must possess. Teams are ever-more clearly defining what mastery of prioritized content and skills looks like and sounds like. When articulated horizontally and vertically, this collaboration allows for collective professional preparation and ensures that all students are optimally prepared for the next grade level or course. These processes are not new. From Understanding by Design (Wiggins, McTighe, Kiernan, & Frost, 1998) to Curriculum Mapping (Hayes Jacobs, 2004) to Rigorous Curriculum Design, (Ainsworth, 2010), schools have long recognized that a Guaranteed, Viable Curriculum (Marzano, 2001) is one of the most critical factors contributing to high levels of student learning; in light of next-generation standards, the collaborative staff process of scoping and sequencing prioritized learning outcomes is more important than ever.

Student engagement through problem solving and critical thinking, within academic and behavioral domains, is further enhanced through instructional strategies. According to Hattie (2009), a teacher's ability to: identify essential representations of the subject; guide learning through classroom interactions; monitor learning and provide feedback; attend to affective attributes; and influence student outcomes; each had an effect size of 1.00. Educators are utilizing a range of instructional strategies that require critical thinking, serving as a model learner, offering constructive assistance, and employing strategies, materials, and technological tools to maximize learning. 

This section is simple: We must apply this very same thinking, and complete this very same work, for the pro-social and pro-functional behaviors that we want all students to exhibit. These behaviors are critical to the establishment of physically and emotionally safe learning environments. We must collaboratively identify, describe and define, and scope and sequence these behaviors in our teams and with all staff across the school. In fact, defining and teaching behaviors will require more consistency and collaboration than even defining and teaching academics; expectations for student behavior apply no matter the student’s grade, no matter the staff member with which the student is working, and no matter the environment within the school.

A simple process is provided below for identifying key behaviors that staff believes are most critical and relevant. We also provide tools for defining and describing what these behaviors look like and sound like. First, we offer a suggestion for behavioral skills that schools may prioritize. 

The suggestion for behavioral priorities that follow is a suggestion only; we strongly recommend that staffs analyze their students’ needs and the essential behaviors that they feel will best prepare students for the next year of schooling and for life. 

We have categorized behavioral priorities into pro-social and pro-functional behaviors. Pro-social behaviors are those expectations that have historically been the focus of schoolwide behavioral plans. We introduce a second category, pro-functional behaviors, to distinguish “learning behaviors” that have less often been a priority of plans from the more common pro-social behaviors. We certainly recognize that there is much in common between these two behavioral categories. We use pro-functional to represent the skills that encompass behaviors variously known as self-regulation, executive functioning, social-emotional learning, 21st century skills, soft skills, non-cognitive skills, or academic behaviors. Like pro-social behaviors, pro-functional behaviors are critical across all grade levels and content areas; student success at learning and applying these behaviors will be greatly enhanced by consistency across all staff members. Pro-functional behaviors focus on those skills that more directly relate to the tools students must employ to monitor and regulate their learning. This hidden curriculum is critical to success in K-12, at university, and in life, and yet it’s been too often missing from our schools. 


Pro-Social Behaviors


Behavioral Priority

Misbehavior Associated with the Priority

Brief Description







Interacting within learning environments and with others positively; collaborating responsibly with others in diverse teams



Social respect




Complying with expectations; managing relationships; guiding and leading others awareness of emotions



Physical respect




Demonstrating care and concern for the physical being and space of others



Verbal respect


Inappropriate language


Using kind, positive and supportive words; communicating clearly and persuasively







Ability to control oneself physically and verbally; responsible decision making







Physical, cognitive, and emotional presence at school





Lying/ cheating/ stealing


Truthfulness in relationships and learning





Emotional fragility


Techniques for regulating responses to situations; reflecting upon reasons of success or failure and seeking help; adapting to change; flexibility





Harassment/ bullying


Consideration of others’ situations; conscientiousness; awareness of social situations


Pro-Functional Behaviors


Behavioral Priority

Misbehavior Associated with the Priority

Brief Description



Metacognitive practices





Knowledge and beliefs about thinking; problem solving; thinking creatively and critically;; self-awareness



Growth mindset and positive self-concept


Fixed mindset and negative self-talk


Viewing learning as continuous and intelligence as malleable; optimism; belief in oneself



Self-monitoring/ internal locus of control

External loci of control

Ability to plan, prepare, and proceed; analyzing and evaluating findings and viewpoints; monitoring progress and confirming the precision of work



Engagement/ motivation


Ability to maintain interest and drive; setting short-term and long-term goals; focusing on an interest or career pathway or major



Strategy creation

and use

Passive learning

Employing techniques for construction, organization, and memorization of knowledge; utilizing memorization techniques, study skills, technology skills, and problem-solving strategies



Volition & perseverance




Efforts needed to stay motivated; managing progress toward goals, projects, effort, and time; self-directed learning; working independently







Ability to focus, even when presented with distractors



The behavioral priorities that teams select are not as important as the selection of a viable quantity of priorities and the commitment of staff, students, and stakeholders fully and purposefully define, model, teach, and track them.

What’s the Bartle Test and how does it apply to education? 

(Hint: think computer gaming and differentiation)

The Bartle Test is used by the creators of online games to categorize players based in preferences. Based on a 1996 paper by Richard Bartle and created in 1999 by Erwin Andreasen and Brandon Downey, the test produces a score known as the "Bartle Quotient" that assigns relative weights on gamer preferences in four categories:

  • Achievers’ goals are to beat the game and any and all opponents with whom they are competing. 
  • Explorers prefer the challenge of discovering, creating, and learning and prefer to play at their own pace. 
  • Socializers enjoy the communities that are formed in some games, joining in-game groups and out-of-game groups which relate to the game. Adding to friend-lists and collaborating toward completion of a task appeal to Socializers.
  • Killers seek to destroy and create mayhem and often assume (both positive and negative) leadership roles within games.

Game makers use these categories in two primary ways: They design and market specific games to appeal to specific categories or they strive to appeal to all categories within a single game.

These gamer categories are analogous to learning styles. Consider one example: VARK.

  • Visual learners prefer use of images, maps, and graphic organizers to access and make meaning.
  • Auditory learners prefer listening and speaking and benefit from repetition and mnemonics.
  • Read and write learners prefer learning through words, take copious notes and read voluminously; they translate concepts into words and summarize key concepts from texts
  • Kinesthetic learners prefer tactile interactions and movement, acting out concepts and constructing models.

I reject the notion that learning styles and preferences have no place in designing differentiated teaching and learning experiences. I equally reject the notion that a singular learning style should and can be employed on behalf of supporting a student. I enthusiastically embrace the notion that learning styles, modalities, and preferences have a role to play within whole group lessons and in promoting agency and offering choice within individualized and personalized tasks.

Game designers strive to incorporate elements that appeal to Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers within their products. Learning experience designers (aka teachers) should strive to incorporate elements of VARK within whole group and small group lessons.

In order to design learning experiences that incorporate elements of VARK or any other characteristic of a student, we must know students. Knowing students takes time and a commitment to establish and nurture relationships.

We recommend that educators embrace the art of “interviews” with students, and use the information that we glean to differentiate learning experiences. “Interviews” may take the form of:

  • Written interest surveys at the beginning of the year.
  • Paragraphs that students regularly write about their lives (or weekends, or families).
  • Writing conferences designed to learn about the student as a writer, and that can also allow us to learn about the student as a person.
  • Reading conferences designed to learn about the student as a reader, and that can also allow us to learn about the student as a person.
  • Classroom meetings during which pro-social and pro-functional behaviors are reviewed, practiced, and modeled.

A precious and priceless knowledge of social and learning preferences can help educators better create and improve learning experiences for all students and for specific students, when:

  • Facilitating whole group and small group instruction.
  • Creating and assigning tasks.
  • Collecting and assigning texts.
  • Shaping the options from which students can choose.
  • Informing the ways in which prior knowledge is activated.

Ensuring high levels of learning for all students is more important than ensuring student success on an online games. Designing engaging and customized experiences within schools is more important than designing engaging and customized games.


It won’t be easy, but differentiation based knowledge of student preferences gained through robust and nurtured relationships with students is worth the work – and more critical than ever.

Dr. Shanker and Pre-Cognitive Self-Regulation

Dr. Stuart Shanker is committed to identifying and addressing the roots of students’ difficulties. He has become the leading authority on the topic of self-regulation, particularly the pre-cognitive self-regulatory skills with which many vulnerable require support. 

It’s clear that educators are committed to ensuring that all students succeed at high levels.  What’s less clear is the recognition that for some students, there are obstacles to achieving this success. Too many students seem to have difficulty accessing content and benefitting from instruction within the core, Tier 1 environment.

Before we can accurately and adequately support students’ mastery of academic content, we may need to explore the antecedents or causes of difficulties. Said another way, some students may lack behavioral prerequisites for learning. The success of some students is compromised by deficits in cognitive self-regulation strategies, such as metacognition, executive functioning, and social-emotional learning. These are critical strategies for all students. They must be planned, taught, modeled, and reinforced. 

Cognitive self-regulation strategies can be thought of the roots of learning academic content. There are also roots to cognitive self-regulation, what Dr. Shanker calls psycho-physiological skills – we may think of these skills as pre-cognitive self-regulation. Psycho-physiological skills represent coping strategies for stressors that, when lacking, will impede students success. Educators have not historically been trained or expected to know about cognitive or pre-cognitive self-regulation. Consequently and understandably, we may not even recognize deficits in most basic and critical of foundations – psycho-physiological skills.

All students will benefit from developing strategies to set themselves up for success and to recognize, anticipate, and successfully navigate stressors within multiple environments. For our most vulnerable students, these stressors are simply much more present. For these vulnerable students, an insufficient catalogue of pre-cognitive self-regulatory strategies, or psycho-physiological skills, may be significantly contributing to their difficulties. One of the major signposts of EFIB is integration, self-regulation, is clearly not an isolated skill; we must integrate the teaching and nurturing of these skills into the fabric of the all supports we provide students. Children must translate what they experience into information they can use to regulate thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

The unfortunate response of some educators is that there’s something wrong with students, that their parents are to blame, that their parents must do more, and that until the situation is improved, we cannot help these students. We are the answer we’ve been waiting for. We can count on no one else to serve these students. We can equip ourselves with tools to nurture the requisite skills within students. 

Although Dr. Shanker notes that there are over 446 definitions of self-regulation. The “correct” definition is complex and multi-faceted. Let’s start by defining what self-regulation is not, although each of these elements plays a role within self-regulation: 

  • It is not simply self-control or effortful control (the ability to inhibit one’s impulses or ignore distraction).
  • It is not simply Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS).
  • It is not simply social-emotional learning.
  • It is not simply metacognitive practices.
  • It is not a panacea to “change” student behaviors.
  • It is not a “program” designed to fix students who are not making a sufficient effort.

Dr. Shanker describes 5 domains of pre-cognitive self-regulation, domains that are grounded in the most exhaustive and pragmatic of research. Before describing these domains, let’s define what self-regulation is:

  • Teaching teachers how to read, reframe, and redefine misbehaviors.
  • Assuming that every student has the capacity to change.
  • Teaching, modeling, and nurturing appropriate behaviors as a preventative endeavor.
  • Helping students recognize stressors.
  • Guiding students to master the steps involved in self-awareness.
  • Ameliorating causes of high stress.
  • Reframing misbehaviors as stress-behaviors.

As noted, pre-cognitive self-regulation can be defined through five domains, that collectively represent the ability to stay calmly focused and alert, which involve:

  • The biological – Attaining, maintaining, regulating, and changing one’s level of arousal appropriately for a task or situation, impacted by health, nutrition, sleep, exercise, sensory inputs, and one’s ability to process inputs.
  • The emotional – Controlling, modulating, monitoring, and modifying one’s emotions and emotional responses.
  • The cognitive – Formulating a goal for a task, monitoring goal-progress, and adjusting one’s behaviors while sustaining and switching attention and responding appropriately, all the while sequencing thoughts, inhibiting impulses, and dealing with frustrations, delays, and distractions.
  • The social – Managing social interactions, co-regulating with others in an empathetic manner, and developing pro-social skills
  • The educational – Awareness of one’s academic strengths and weaknesses, with a repertoire of strategies to tackle day-to-day challenges of academic tasks and robust reflective thinking skills.

Each domain is inter-related and inter-dependent, and therefore, self-regulation is best viewed through a dynamic systems theory. Each element is critical to a school’s, a classroom’s, and a student’s success. Implementation in isolation will not suffice – the effect of any domain within each setting is dependent on the rest of the system, making all factors potentially interdependent and mutually constraining.


The challenges for educators, and the promise of self-regulation, is identifying the pre-cognitive stressors that lead to cognitive stressors, which may be observed as academic or behavioral difficulties. Our problem-solving on behalf of students sometimes ends in blame or feelings of hopelessness. At times, problem solving ends in the analysis of causes within the domains of cognitive self-regulation – metacognition, executive functioning, and social-emotional learning – let’s strive to identify and address the roots of the roots.

A Comprehensive System for Personalized, Highly Specialized Supports

As we seek to differentiate, individualize, and personalization teaching and learning, we would like to transparently share a few realities that we acknowledge exist (and that may result in objections):

  • There will be less time for core instruction: When we commit to providing more or individualized supports for all students (as described in Chapter 5) and highly-specialized or personalized supports for all students (as described in this chapter) we will logically have less time for core instruction (as described in Chapter 4). We do not, in any way, consider this to represent a loss of instructional time; it simply represents shifts in how we allocate instructional time. Nonetheless, we know from experience that these shifts may be met with resistance. Core + customization will necessitate that we change how we utilize the time we have for core instruction, recognizing that the more instruction described in Chapter 4 will also allow us to engage students with the academic and behavioral priorities of the grade level or course. If we seek to effect changes in student outcomes, we will need to make changes to our practices. Core + customization is good for students.
  • The role of all educators will evolve. General and special educators will increasingly need to operate interdependently. Some teachers may teach larger groups of students for a period of time (during core supports) so their colleagues can teach a smaller group (more supports and specialized supports) at the same time or so that they can do so at other times of the day. Assignments may change fluidly from week to week or unit to unit. Again, if we seek to effect changes in student outcomes, we will need to make changes to how we do our jobs, and what those jobs are. We may serve as core teachers and more teachers and highly-specific teachers, based on our expertise and availabilities.
  • We will not be able to cover as much content. As we noted and validated explicitly in Chapter 1 and throughout this book, the most illogical way to ensure that students learn deeply and develop future-ready skills is to teach more content. Given that there will be less time for core instruction, we must focus on prioritized academic and behavioral outcomes. We must focus more on skills, and less than we historically have on such a wide breadth of content. We must better integrate connected prioritized skills and content into cohesive units. Given the historically shallow nature of our teaching and learning, “teach less, learn more” will be a necessity. Given the need to structure individualized and personalized supports to complement the core, it is an imperative.
  • This sure seems like a lot of work. We are reminded of Richard Elmore’s reflection upon improving student learning: 

There are only three ways to improve student learning at scale: You can raise the level of the content that students are taught. You can increase the skills and knowledge that teachers bring to the teaching of the content. And you can increase the level of students’ active learning of the content. That’s it…Schools don’t improve through political and managerial incantation; they improve through the complex and demanding work of teaching and learning

Richard Elmore, 2008, p. 1.

This most important work in the world is complex and demanding; communities, schools, educators, and students need a collaborative system of support. We believe that a few clichés apply here: Let’s work smarter, not harder; Work hard to sow seeds now, and reap a rich harvest later; and Pay now, or pay later. We believe that all apply. The changes necessary to transform our schools will initially require more work, but we argue that, going forward, the role of the educator will require different, not more, work. Moreover, we have a motto: Adults should not do what students can do. If we want students to take more ownership over their learning journeys, we must give them the opportunities to do so. Consider the examples within this chapter. Students can and should take a much more significant role in their learning. One last point: As we have emphasized throughout this book, collaboration is key. We cannot make the significant and necessary improvements to our profession in the absence of collaboration; together, we will exceed all expectations.


We are firmly committed to transforming schools to ensure that students are future ready. The principles and practices of collaborative systems of support are research-based and evidence-based. We also acknowledge that these changes will take time and will require that staffs collectively study and patiently persist. We strongly recommend that staffs implement slowly and steadily. 

Posted by on in All Means All

Culture and RTI

The systems, structures, and resources within RTI are essential, but in the absence of a culture that takes the success of every student personally, collaborative systems of support will not be successful. When the attitude of schools is that high levels of learning is an inevitability, nothing is impossible. In the absence of these cultures, we do not recommend that you bother expending the psychological and fiscal energies to develop the principles and practices described.

Culture and ownership are inextricably linked. When staffs, students, and all other stakeholders feel intimately connected to this most important work, we will succeed. When these stakeholders have an authentic voice, cultures of commitment and collective responsibility will prevail.

In our practice, we have implemented both sustaining and disruptive innovations (Christensen, 2003). We accept that we must have revolutionary goals, also known Big Hairy Audacious Goals (Collins, 2001), that are introduced and implemented in a more evolutionary manner. But we will be patiently persistent, challenging the status quo, always striving to improve.

One of the most significant obstacles to progress is the idea of seat time and the ways in which time is allocated within traditional daily schedules. If we continue to view whole group instruction, and not smaller group and more targeted supports, as the only time during which legitimate teaching (and hopefully, learning) is taking place, we will not fulfill the promise of core, more, and specialized supports. 

In California, home of 1 in 8 US students, students in grades 9-12 are required to sit in classes for specific amounts of time (64,800 minutes a year or 360 minutes a day). These time constraints can inhibit schools’ abilities to customize learning experiences for students within a collaborative system of supports. Other US states, such as Michigan and New Hampshire, are loosening these constraints, in the interest of better preparing students for college and career.

In the past, policy officials have indicated that more and specialized supports do not count as seat-time, and yet they are most definitely connected to both curricular priorities and readiness for careers. Until we break through the status quo regarding topics such as seat time, our abilities to truly transform teaching and learning and students’ educational experiences will be greatly constrained. 

We often hear educators express concerns about the amount of time it will take to manage students’ personalized learning plans, both for vulnerable students receiving specific supports that address deficits in foundational skills and for students engaged in highly-specific supports that allow them to pursue their passions. While we can and must do a better job of formatively assessing, and providing feedback to students, regarding progress, educators need not be the only stakeholder who assumes this responsibility, and the practice need not be extremely time-intensive.

Student self-assessment is the single most effective practice in which schools can engage (Hattie, 2009, 2012). We will be wise to increasingly involve students in reflecting upon and developing improvement plans for their learning. Students’ peers should also be partners in the continuous improvement process. Lastly, we must re-examine educators’ roles in grading; we don’t need to have all the answers; instead, we should partner with students to ask the right questions that promote both learning and increased student ownership.

A critical element of school culture, and a common concern we hear expressed by our colleagues, is how our most vulnerable students and their parents will feel when we “single them out” with intensive interventions. Our antidotes to these legitimate concerns are:

  • Be honest with students about their current status and their chances for success in careers and to be future ready in the absence of targeted supports.
  • Involve students in their learning path, as described earlier in this chapter; we need not and should not dictate terms to students; we must insist on the supports that will best serve students, with their authentic input.
  • Prioritize relationships. Students who feel successful in schools are almost always connected to a course and staff member, at least in part because they have experienced success in that staff member’s course. Illiteracy, innumeracy, and a lack of pro-social and pro-functional skills will condemn a student to a frustrating adult life, so we must advocate fiercely for the supports that will ameliorate these deficits. When we demonstrate repeatedly and powerfully that we believe in them and will partner with them to ensure progress, connectivity to school will increase. Relationships matter and are a research-based “intervention” (Brophy, 1985; Crosnoe, Johnson, & Elder, 2004; Hamre, & Pianta, 2001; Lynch, & Cicchetti, 1997; Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989; Hattie, 2009). 

The goals and focus of collaborative teams should be universal and clear – to ensure that all students gain deeper mastery of the outcomes that the teachers, school, and communities most value. The specific pathways may change, but the goals and focus must not. Let’s not allow perfection to be the enemy of progress as we establish cultures of innovation and provide exceptional service to students in our schools.

School teams are ready but are too often frustrated by a lack a clarity on desired outcomes and a lack of direction on the processes and resources that must guide the work. We hope we have provided clarity, processes, and resources, but more importantly, we hope we have clarified the outcomes for which teams must strive: We must commit to making intentional changes to our practices so that all students develop the skills to succeed in careers and life.


We firmly believe, and research validates, that collaborative systems of support offer the most promising whole-school, comprehensive approach for educators and students to reach their full potential. We firmly believe that a system of core, more, and specialized supports for all students is the most promising and practical manner in which to proceed. We want to contribute to a revolution in teaching and learning, and know that students need and deserve a transformed and transformative educational experience. We also appreciate and recognize that we need to proceed in an evolutionary manner.

“Diagnosing” student needs – It’s critical – It need not be complicated


The best intervention – the best support – is a targeted intervention. Particularly for students with significant deficits in foundational skills, worksheet completion and broad-based reviews of a subject area are simply neither effective nor efficient. We have had dramatically impactful successes closing gaps quickly when we have focused on specific skill deficits. We’ve been able to provide these focused supports because we have conducted simple diagnoses.

Diagnosing the antecedents, causes, and explanations behind a student’s difficulty is a fundamental task of collaborative systems of support. It is unproductive to over-simplistically conclude that students perform poorly because they cannot read, and unproductive to then provide them with hours of daily reading intervention that focus on all domains of literacy. Diagnosing gets to the why. Perhaps the student reads fluently, with accuracy, prosody, and expression, but derives little meaning from the text. Or perhaps the student comprehends text quite well in spite of labored, error-filled, and disfluent reading. Determining the why behind student difficulties allows us to target supports.

We often hear from colleagues that they do not feel qualified to conduct diagnoses – that only trained specialized using validated instruments can adequately. We say poppy-cock! I’m a former mathematics secondary teacher and was an elementary school principal. The most common need amongst students with significant deficits is typically related to reading. Thus, as a lead leader, I committed to assist in determining the why behind students’ reading challenges. Through interviews and conversations, using simple protocols that we often created, we not only accurately determined the primary causes to a reading challenge; we were able to match a specific support to the identified cause and start the student on the road to reading improvement (all in about 15 minutes…true story).

We have developed “interviews” with our staffs, available online, that are intended to make diagnosing student needs more efficient, and to make regular educators like us more confident and successful (Hierck and Weber; 2015a; 2015b). 

Like screening, diagnosing is much more a process than an event (e.g., a test). While we hope that these resources assist in your efforts to serve our most vulnerable students, we are conscientious of too much assessment. We lament that some schools administer assessments of this depth to all students; we do not believe that this is necessary. We conduct these in-depth diagnoses to learn about the causes of student difficulties so that we can provide specific and focused support.

We must determine the why; students are counting on it. It cannot be overly burdensome or time-consuming. We must act. My colleagues and I can help…

3 significant RTI steps over 3 awesome days in a school district

I was honored to spend three very full days with the incredible communities, educators, and students of Coast Mountains School District in Northern British Columbia, a district serving a very representative North American population of students – students with great assets and significant needs.

We talked nuts and bolts: How can the principles and practices of RTI transform teaching and learning. Among many breakthroughs, three significant accomplishments stood out:

  1. At Cassie Hall Elementary School, staff courageously reimagined the ways in which time and staff could be used to serve all student needs through: differentiated tier 1, intervention and enrichment to provide students more opportunities with core priorities within Tier 2; and immediate and intensive supports for students with significant deficits in the foundational skills of academics and behaviors. We also determined how this System of Supports would be systematically coordinated. Cassie Hall staff spent hours planning for research-based practices that they will employ upon the very beginning of the school year.
  2. Staff from Skeena Middle School and Caledonia High School identified two specific ways in which collaboration between the two schools will be terrifically enhanced. Content-alike teams from each school will be vertically articulating the most essential academic and behavioral skills that students in grades 7-12 must possess. They will also share the most effective instructional practices that lead to the greatest student engagement and student learning. The second important commitment that staffs from the two schools made related to the smooth and successful movement of students from the middle to the high school. The schools will be striving more than ever to ensure a productive social-emotional and academic transitions, through a greater knowledge of every student’s strengths and needs and superior supports and scaffolds for incoming high school students.
  3. Finally, this from a middle school math teacher, describing how she has transformed the mindsets and achievements of students in her class: She shared her strategies and practices and how she has established a positive classroom climate for learning. As she recently praised the class for their improvements and their attitudes, one student raised her hand and said, “Well you know why…it’s because of RTI.” True story.

The principles and practices of RTI are amongst the very most research-based in education. We know what to do; we must close the knowing-doing gap. Coast Mountains School District is leading the way.

Getting to the WHY of student difficulties

As we relentlessly strive to find the right support for students in need – supports that will lead to positive responses to intervention – we are guided by several factors:

  • We are seeking causes of student difficulties. We must look beneath the symptoms and determine the why. For example, when striving to determine to appropriate behavioral support when a student is behaving, we look beneath the symptom (perhaps inattentiveness) to identify the function, purpose, or cause of the symptom: Why is the student misbehaving? We then do our very best to match a support to the cause.
  • The more precise and focused we can be in making this match, the more immediate the positive response. Research has continually validated this targeted approach  (Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, & Linan-Thompson, 2009).
  • As we will note below, in addition to the learning benefits (students respond more quickly to interventions), there are logistical benefits. When focusing on targeted causes, we can effect a significant change in 30 minutes per day. If we instead provide broad, unfocused supports that do not address the underlying causes of difficulties, much more time per day will likely be required. Again, this is validated by the research (Burns & Gibbons, 2008; Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice, 2008). We (schools, staffs, and students) simply do not have time within the school to spare. And, students surely do not have time within their learning journeys; gaps must be addressed, ameliorated, and /or sustainable work-around plans must be identified and practiced immediately.

If we find that students are not responding to the interventions that we are using, we suggest that we do not simply seek a new intervention; we may need to better identify the causes of student difficulties and better match a support to the diagnosed antecedent skill. This process may be iterative and we will not always be right the first time. But we never give up. In fact, we expect that we will learn quite a bit about the underlying causes of student difficulties through the very act of prescribing and providing an intervention.

A few more notes on prescribing targeted interventions: Several colleagues have lamented that they cannot provide all of the supports to meet all of the deficits in foundational skills with which a student may currently be working to overcome. We get it. The constraints on time (not to mention staff) will make providing multiple, intensive, highly-specialized supports in a day difficult if not impossible. However, here’s a contrarian point of view to consider: We may not need to provide multiple intensive supports. Instead, let’s identify the students most immediate area of need and intensively focus on that area:

  • Students who experience more academic success behave better.
  • Students who develop more positive and productive behavioral skills are better prepared to learn academic skills.
  • Students who read more accurately and fluently comprehend better.
  • Students who comprehend better and make better meaning of what they read tend to perform better in all academic areas: mathematics, social studies, sciences, and writing.

Secondly, our colleagues often lament that they do not have the right resources to provide interventions. We will address this further later in the chapter; a few resources that we have created and found to be productive for a very common and critical area of need, comprehension, is available online.

We cannot express this point often enough: The best intervention is a targeted intervention. We believe that interventions would dramatically and immediately improve if educators focused with laser-like intensity on specific foundational skills, because those skills were deemed to be the underlying causes that explain the symptomatic difficulties that the students were experiencing and that staffs were observing.


We never give up; we never stop providing intensive supports for our most vulnerable students – not until we have found the right support, until the student is adequately responding, and until we have ultimately closed the gap. Even if and when an eligibility determination is made, and the student receives special education supports, we continue to provide and adjust intervention supports until success is achieved. It’s inevitable.

Specialized Supports for ALL Students

We knew that a growth mindset was becoming a powerful force in our school when Melissa, a student identified through a formal assessment battery as gifted, came to our administrative team and asked when she and her peers would have the opportunity to be pulled from class to receive highly specialized supports; this actually happened. Our first grateful reflection was that it seemed that students viewed these “pullouts” positively. We were fairly certain that students with significant deficits in foundational skills, who received intensive and targeted interventions designed to ameliorate these deficits, increasingly viewed these supports positively. We formed positive, encouraging relationship with these students. They knew we believed in them and in their abilities to learn at the very highest levels. We involved them in this critically important journey. We had definite proof that these intensive supports for vulnerable students was making a significant impact on student success with specific foundational skills, and importantly, within core environments. Our most vulnerable students’ increased confidence and competence was changing these students, the staff, and the school. And given Melissa’s comment, other students were noticing and they viewed these interventions positively.

We next acknowledged Melissa’s more important point: we needed to provide highly specialized, personalized supports for all students. Like many schools, we were only providing these supports (typically known as Tier 3) for our most vulnerable students. Melissa reminded us that all students deserved and would greatly benefit from these supports.

Serendipitously, making the commitment to providing highly specialized supports for all students resolved a scheduling dilemma – highly vulnerable students receiving these supports would miss something. By providing these supports to all students within the instructional day within a dedicated block of time, this logistical challenge was resolved. But committing to highly individualized supports to meet all students’ at the forward edge of their zones of proximal development represented a much more powerful innovation in our schools.

Why specialized supports for students at, above, and identified as high achieving or gifted? Because all students, including students like Melissa, will better experience school and be better prepared for life with personalized supports for which they see a purpose and that represents their passion

Posted by on in All Means All

All staff for all students


All staff must assume responsibility for all students. We must support students based on their needs, not a label. And staff must support students based on the staff members’ availabilities and expertise, not their job title or funding source. When any staff member, from tenured teachers to paraprofessional, receives the continuous support and resources needed to serve students, then they must be systematically and specifically deployed to meet students’ needs.

We all lament that there are not more staff to serve students and recognize that students would greatly benefit from additional staff. In our leadership roles, we have all reallocated the expenditures of fiscal resources to increase, even slightly, the number of educators providing direct supports to students. In the end, however, we must create successful systems of supports with the staff we have. When planning for which staff members will mentor, facilitate, and monitor student learning, we follow these principles:

  • We commit to using staff in innovate ways (to complement the innovative ways that we utilize times, as described in the previous section. 
  • Staff may need to work with multi-age groups.
  • Staff may need to work with larger groups of students during a given period of time so that they or their colleagues can work with smaller groups of students.
  • General education staff must serve all students in fully inclusive environments.
  • Special education staff must serve all students, regardless of label or the funding sources to which a student’s label or staff member’s funding source may be tied – as long as the students to whom these special education staff are primarily assigned are receiving exceptional service.
  • Staff must change the what, how, and why of grading – if we continue to evaluate students on the number of points they earn, and not on what they learn, staff will be overwhelmed and reluctant to innovate; if we do not involve students in self-assessment, staff will be overwhelmed and reluctant to innovate; if we do view learning as continuous and require (not simply allow) students to recomplete work and assessments that they have missed or for which they have not demonstrated adequate levels of mastery, the inculcation of continuous improvement and growth mindsets will not be achieved.

We can deploy staff in innovative ways that allow for staff to better meet student needs. It’s far more a matter of will than skill. We use the follow process to uncover new and creative ways in which staff can be made available to provide highly-specialized and personalized supports to smaller groups of students, all while respecting contractual agreements. We…

  • List all staff (admin, teachers, paraprofessionals)
  • List times (e.g., 8:00-8:30) or periods (e.g., Period 1, Period 2) across the top of the table
  • Have ALL staff record their specific duties during each time span (e.g., making copies, providing phonics support, teaching biology)
  • And analyze…

…Identify times during which staff can provide supplemental supports.

…Identify staff that can re-prioritize their duties so that they, or others, can provide supplemental supports during the prescribed time period.

…Engage in dialogue that will result in using staff more efficiently AND in allowing staff providing more and highly-specialized supports to more students.

When staff’s time is analyzed, and when staffs collaboratively and flexibly determine new ways to organize themselves on behalf of students, students with significant deficits in foundational skills will receive the highly-specialized supports they need to be successful by dedicated educators. And students who are currently meeting and exceeding the school’s expectations will be guided by dedicated educators within opportunities to exercise choice over the what and how in pursuing the passions into which they will dive deeply.

It may be temporarily uncomfortable when staffs’ days and duties to be different than they’ve been. Ongoing supports will be required and we must determine the efficacy of our changes and make adjustments as necessary, but there is simply no way we can provide superior and more personalized supports to students if we do not reconsider the ways in which staff is deployed to serve student needs.


When engaged in the challenging work of re-allocating your precious human resources to provide more direct and impactful supports to students, don’t forget one of the most under-utilized and research-based assets on your campus: the students themselves. Peer tutoring, particularly when students receive coaching and structures to support them in the role, serves all students – both the tutor and the tutee (Hattie, 2009, Wiliam, 2016).

8 common sense approaches to evolving schools

We have been lucky to be teachers, senior district level administrators, and most rewardingly, principals of schools serving vulnerable students – schools that had worked very hard but that had not yet experienced successes with historically underserved students and communities. For example, we led an incredible school in southern California, Richard Henry Dana Elementary. The school had made virtually no student achievement gains, as measured by state assessments, in four years. Less than twenty percent of students were scoring proficient and advanced on these assessments and the gap between the highest and lowest achievers was vast. Three years later (with no additional monies and the same staff, students, or curricular resources), nearly four times as many students were scoring proficient and advanced and the school had been named a Title 1 Achieving School, a California Distinguished School, and a National Blue Ribbon School. No students were scoring in the lowest achievement band, proficient students were increasingly scoring advanced, and the gap between the highest and lowest achieving students was cut by a factor of four.

Our approach was simple:

  1. We screened students frequently – not to label them or justify their underperformance, but to identify students who needed immediate, intensive, and targeted interventions in addition to (not instead of) core instruction.
  2. We provided these interventions and students responded – their deficits in foundational skills were ameliorated and their mastery of grade level priorities improved.
  3. We had frequent and multiple measures to validate this effectiveness, and as noted, end-of-the-year, high-stakes assessments confirmed these gains.
  4. We embraced the “teach less, learn more” approach to core instruction. We focused on depth, not breadth; on mastery, not coverage.
  5. We acknowledged that not all students would master core priorities at the same rate or in response to the same first, best instruction, and so we proactively and regularly provided more time and alternative supports for all students to reach greater levels of mastery.
  6. We vigilantly checked to ensure students were responding to core instruction and targeted interventions, and when they weren’t, we made timely and focused adjustments.
  7. We supported teachers by providing high quality professional learning in differentiated instruction, learning models, high leverage strategies, and collaborative practices. 
  8. Most importantly, we expected – we firmly believed – that learning for ALL was inevitable; we just needed to determine the right approach. We supported students based on their needs, not a label (English learner, specific learning disability); staff supported students based on the staff members’ availabilities and expertise, not their job title or funding source. We have replicated these successes across large school districts; hundreds of our colleagues around the world have had similar successes. 

We have written over a dozen books, chapters, and articles describing these experiences and have collaborated with thousands of fellow educators, face-to-face and virtually, in our ongoing commitment to improve teaching and learning. Success at Richard Henry Dana Elementary School, and at the dozens of other schools and districts in which we have served, was the result of organized systems of supports, in addition, of cultures of belief and high expectations. These systems can be scaled and replicated; they have been.

Collaborative systems of support cannot be and should not be solely defined by bell schedules, programs, interventionists, assessments, cut-points, or tiers. Instead, our version and vision of collaborative systems of support is defined by attitudes of excellence, collaborative problem-solving, and the requisite, collective actions on behalf of students. Systems are not rigid. As we have written previously, a system is not a noun, it’s a verb. It might be hard, understandably hard, to capture these “verb” variables in a research study, but the processes and practices they represent have been validated by research (Hattie, 2009; 2012).

One of the keys to improving schools is to ensure teachers know the learning intentions and success criteria of their lessons, know how well they are attaining these criteria for all their students, and know where to go next in light of the gap between students’ current knowledge and understanding and the success criteria; this can be maximized in a safe and collaborative environment where teacher talk to each other about teaching.

Hattie, 2009, p. 239

Structures and systems are critical, and for the record, we’re geeks about them. Collaborative systems work when they become the foundation of a school’s culture. These systems include:

  • Teaching and learning to mastery and depth of behavioral and academic priorities for all (often known as Tier 1)
  • Timely and targeted supports for greater levels student mastery of academic and behavioral that students don’t fall behind (or further behind) and so students can reach greater depths of understanding (often known as Tier 2)
  • Highly individualized supports to meet students’ at, and nudge them from, their zones of proximal development – intensive supports to ameliorate significant deficits in foundational skills AND opportunities for students to dive deep into a passion (often known as Tier 3)

Collaborative systems of support and the related sets of principle and practices that they subsume (e.g., Response to Intervention, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, Professional Learning Communities, Universal Design for Learning) work and are amongst the most research-based practices ever studied, in the history of education (Hattie, 2009, 2012). 

In order to raise student achievement, schools must use diagnostic assessments to measure student’ knowledge and skills at the beginning of each curriculum unit, on-the-spot assessment to check for understanding during instruction, and end-of-unit assessments and interim assessments to see how well student learned. All of these enable teacher to make mid-course corrections and to get students into intervention earlier.

Odden, 2009, p. 23

Let’s make collaborative systems of support the initiative, or one of the key initiatives, to which we dedicate ourselves.


Innovation and collaborative systems of support are necessarily complementary processes – a collaborative system of supports is action research in practice – in others words, we make adjustments to evidence regarding the extent to which students are responding to instruction and intervention. We must continue to push for innovation in our approach to collaborative systems of support instead of settling for dogmatic compliance to rigid protocols. Innovation requires us to consistently ask why, how, what, and when, and relentlessly elicit feedback to push us forward. If we are to create collaborative systems of support that transform, systems that will create the most optimal learning conditions, we must nurture positive and collaborative spaces that inspire dialogue and feedback. 

Intensive Interventions, Progress Monitoring and Self-Assessment

We acknowledge that, for students with significant deficits in foundational skills, the personalized nature of these intensive, highly-specific Tier 3 supports may feel enforced. These vulnerable students may feel as they though have neither the ability to exercise agency nor voice and choice in regard to these interventions that are targeting a specific need within their zone of proximal development.

We understand and we have been there. Several orientations and strategies have proven to successfully persuade students and parents to partner with us in this crucial endeavor: 

1.This is the right thing to do – If a significant deficit exists within the foundational skills of literacy, numeracy, or behavior, the chances of happiness and success in school and life are limited. We believe that advocating for these supports is a moral imperative.

2.Transparency – We feel that honesty about current levels of readiness and necessary levels of mastery vis-à-vis foundational skills with students and parents is a must. We don’t blame, we’re objective, and we establish…

3.Positive relationships – we often hear that vulnerable students with deficits in foundational skills often already don’t like school. Singling them out for intensive supports will only exacerbate that antipathy toward learning. We contend that there are two other possible explanations for students lack of engagement in, and enjoyment with, school: they may not have a positive relationship with an adult on campus and they more than likely do not feel successful in most academic classes. We can influence both issues. 

4.Get students involved – While we will argue that all students deserve a personalized learning plan, this is particularly true for vulnerable students. We involve students in self-assessing their needs, their progress, and in establishing goals.

5.Agency, voice, and choice – We are committed to partnering with the student to close gaps that may exist; how we do so can be varied. Therefore, we strive to provide options and involve the student in their learning.

6.Five days a week of intensive supports for our most vulnerable students in better than four; however, a few schools set aside one day a week for the type of enrichment opportunities that we will describe below for all students.

We view progress monitoring as a logical task with which to meaningfully involve students. In other words, progress monitoring can help motivate the intervention process. Progress-monitoring assessments measure the extent to which students are responding to supplemental interventions. Progress monitoring is feedback:

7.Feedback for educators: How well have we matched the support to the diagnosed need?

8.Feedback for students: How much growth am I making? Where are my strengths and where do I still have needs? What are my next goals? What can I do? What support do I need?

They also ensure that the right interventions have been chosen for a student or a group of students. Assessments used to measure student mastery of core essentials and progress-monitoring assessments share quite a few attributes. While assessments used to measure student mastery of core essentials determine all students’ responses to core instruction, and in alternative forms, students’ responses to more interventions, progress-monitoring assessments determine the responses of at-risk students to the most intensive interventions. Teachers collect student performance data from progress monitoring on a regular basis, and plot results over time. Drawing a line of best fit through student scores provides an indication of the rate of improvement, or lack of improvement, that the student is making toward achieving mastery of specific skills.

Progress monitoring is an essential tool within a well-defined collaborative system of support. It assesses the adequacy of school supports as well as students’ responses to these supports. Information can lead a team to conclude that a student needs a more intense level of support or decide that a student has responded to interventions and may be successful with a less intensive level of support. Fuchs and Fuchs (2008) summarized the need for progress monitoring within RTI:

9.To determine whether primary prevention (i.e., the core instructional program) is working for a given student. 

10.To distinguish adequate from inadequate response to intervention and thereby identify students likely to have a disability. 

11.To inductively inform individualized instruction programs, by determining what does not work as well as to optimize learning for students likely to have learning disabilities. 

12.To determine when the student’s response to intervention indicates that a return to less intensive supports is possible. 

Progress monitoring ensures that students receive the intensity of supports that they need to succeed. It also provides the evidence to justify removing supports when progress indicates that skill deficits have been ameliorated, so that students receive supports in the least restrictive levels of support. 

Students with significant deficits in foundational skills need support desperately and they need it now. They can be successful; they can catch up. They will. They must.

Once and for all: Behaviors are as important as academics


“Behavior is a form of communication 

providing clues about what is missing 

in a young person’s life.”


John Seita (p. 29)


If we truly commit to ALL students learning at high levels, we must commit to providing any and all supports necessary to ensure we achieve this lofty and essential goal. These supports will include behaviors and non-cognitive skills. 

A commitment to ensuring students possess the behaviors necessary for readiness in college, a skilled career, and life cannot be fully achieved by providing interventions for students who do not come to school with a mastery of behaviors. Transformation in the teaching and learning of behavior skills require more than a mission statement, high expectations, and behavior programs. Teachers need tools within a flexible framework that will enable them to empower students to learn and grow while thriving as collaborative, caring, and engaged members of society. We must define, teach, model, and measure mastery of the behavioral skills to ALL students as part of the core curriculum, both as a distinct and critical part of Tier 1 and integrated into the academic instruction that has far too long represented the totality of a student’s school experience. This chapter will address behavior concepts within the Response to Intervention (RTI) Tier 1 support level.

Imagine this scenario…

Billy is struggling in mathematics with division problems that focus on dividing three-digit numbers by two-digit numbers. The teacher notices this struggle and tells Billy that he has one more chance to demonstrate his ability to solve the problem. Billy is no further in his capacity to solve the problem after this additional chance and continues to struggle. The teacher tells Billy he has run out of opportunities and will now need to receive a punishment or negative consequence as a result of his difficulty dividing multi-digit numbers. 

You undoubtedly note the absurdity of this situation. You’re thinking that Billy needs to be taught (or re-taught) strategies to solve this problem. You might recognize that Billy would benefit from Tier 2 support – more time and alternative strategies to master this essential mathematical skill. You might even predict that Billy’s difficulties with division stem from deficits in foundational mathematics skills – difficulties with number sense or difficulties with basic computation – which will require Tier 3 supports. Yet if the same scenario was attached to a behavioral challenge, many of those same voices would be muted, and others would suggest the outcome described for Billy was reasonable. We too often, and inappropriately, view behavioral struggles differently than academic struggles, and it is this very dichotomy that we believe requires our full attention. Behavior and academics are inextricably linked and the teaching, learning, assessing, and differentiated support of behavioral skills and academics skills must be processed identically.

We have not encountered many students with challenges in mastering academic skills for whom behavioral difficulties are not a contributing factor to these challenges. We have conversely not encountered many students whose misbehaviors are not significantly impacted by years of academic frustration and failure. Behavioral and academic skills are not only complementary, but also dependent on each other. We must commit to defining, teaching, modeling, and measuring behaviors – by all staff and for all students.

Schools will make great progress when we stop focusing on THIS


One of the most significant obstacles to progress is the idea of seat time and the ways in which time is allocated within traditional daily schedules. If we continue to view whole group instruction, and not smaller group and more targeted supports, as the only time during which legitimate teaching (and hopefully, learning) is taking place, we will not fulfill the promise of core, more, and specialized supports.

As in most states, in the state of California in the US, home of 1 in 8 US students, students in grades 9-12 are required to sit in classes for specific amounts of time (64,800 minutes a year or 360 minutes a day). These time constraints can inhibit schools’ abilities to customize learning experiences for students within a collaborative system of supports. Other US states, such as Michigan and New Hampshire, are loosening these constraints, in the interest of better preparing students for college and career.

In the sample schedules below, the amount of yearly time devoted to supporting students within secondary schools is 64,800 minutes within an 180 day school year; however, only half of the those minutes are dedicated to core support, with the other half dedicated to more and specialized supports. In the past, policy officials have indicated that more and specialized supports do not count as seat-time, and yet they are most definitely connected to both curricular priorities and readiness for careers. Until we break through the status quo regarding topics such as seat time, our abilities to truly transform teaching and learning and students’ educational experiences will be greatly constrained.

Our colleagues around the world have designed innovative daily schedules, such as these below, that provide staff and students with the flexibility to experience differentiated, individualized, and personalized supports.

Possible Secondary Block Scheduling (Alternating days)


Period 1/2



Core – 60 minutes

5 minute passing

More – 25 minutes

5 minute passing

Specialized – 25 minutes


Period 3/4



Core – 60 minutes

5 minute passing

More – 25 minutes

5 minute passing

Specialized – 25 minutes







Period 5/6



Core – 60 minutes

5 minute passing

More – 25 minutes

5 minute passing

Specialized – 25 minutes


Possible Elementary Scheduling




 Core Supports

Literature, Informational Text (science and social studies)




 More Supports




 Specialized Supports







  Specials (or electives) and Teacher Collaboration Time





 Core Supports

Narrative, Informational, Opinion (science and social studies)




 More Supports or  Specialized Supports






  Math and     science

 Core Supports

A focus on habits of mind and mathematical practices



  Math and     science

 More Supports




  Specialized Supports



In guiding schools’ blended learning practices, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has described the similarities and differences between differentiated, individualized, and personalized instruction. Their descriptions are remarkably similar to Tiers 1, 2, and 3, and are applicable and beneficial to our application of collaborative systems of support (Grant & Basye, 2014):

  • Differentiation: A teacher responds to a student’s unique learning needs by making adjustments to process, content, and product, based on a student’s interests, learning profile, and readiness levels (we have traditionally known this type of support as Tier 1; we call this core supports).
  • Individualization: If differentiation is the how, then individualization is the when. Student learning progresses at different speeds; some students may need to review previously covered material, while others may be ready to immerse themselves in a certain topic (we recognize this type of support as intervention and enrichment at Tier 2; we are suggesting more supports).
  • Personalization: Extending the metaphor, if differentiation is the how and individualization is the when, the personalization is the where – as in, where are students in their learning journey. Students who are not yet performing at expected levels, due to significant deficits in foundational skills, receive targeted and intensive supports at the leading edge of their zone of proximal development to close the gap. Other students’ experiences are tailored to preferences and interests and support is paced to students’ unique needs. Students are involved in the creation and monitoring of their learning path (we recognize this type of support at Tier 3; we suggest specialized supports).

Within a System of Supports, my colleagues and I have organized our schools around the following types of supports…each provided to all students:

  • Core Supports: Differentiated Teaching and Learning for All: The need for, and the tools for, designing teaching and learning cycles for grade level and course-specific of behavioral and academic priorities for all will be described in detail. These supports have traditionally been described as Tier 1. 
  • More Supports – Individualized, Timely, and Targeted: The need for, and the tools for, designing timely and targeted supports for greater levels student mastery of academic and behavioral priorities, so that students don’t fall behind (or further behind) and so students can achieve reach greater depths of understanding, will be described in detail. These supports have traditionally been described as Tier 2. 
  • Specialized Supports: Highly Personalized and Proximal: The need for, and the tools for, designing supports to meet students’ at their zones of proximal development The need for, and the tools for, designing highly individualized supports to meet students’ at their zones of proximal development will be described in detail. These supports have traditionally been described as Tier 3. 


Achieving this level of customized supports for all students will require shifts in long-held practices and policies. Core + customization will also require a system. The teams, coordination, and communication required to integrate the essential elements of professional learning communities, response to intervention, multi-tiered systems of supports, and other popular and proven practices must be organized within a System of Support.

3 reasons why we must provide highly specialized supports for vulnerable students

This question may seem unnecessary. Do we really need to justify providing immediate, targeted, and intensive supports for students who, through no fault of their own, are functionally illiterate and innumerate and lacking the foundational behavioral skills so important to access opportunities? One would think and hope not, but we remain surprised how infrequently these supports are in fact provided, for any and all students, regardless of label.

We commit to supporting vulnerable students’ most immediate area of need proactively, immediately, and with intensity. We will strive to target the antecedent or causal factors that are most contributing to difficulties and vulnerabilities and that lead to significant deficits in foundational skills. All students will learn at high levels, but when a significant deficit in a foundational skill is present, the frustrations and challenges highly compromised learning. While the significant deficit exists, or until we have identified and empowered the student to employ sustainable coping mechanisms, the student’s chances of success in school, career, and life are significantly at risk. We will not defer or delay in providing these supports.

The most critical, customized, highly specific support for a vulnerable student will undoubtedly involve addressing foundational skills. Foundational skills represent the most basic elements required for success in any subject area, at any grade, for the mastery of any skill. Without these foundational skills, meaningful experiences with, and mastery of, the 4 Cs and other 21st century skills will be compromised. These skills are foundational to motivation, self-efficacy, and access.

We define foundational skills as:

  1. 1.Literacy – If students cannot access content and participate in learning opportunities (the majority of which are presented in textual form), they will perpetually experience significant difficulties in any course. If students struggle to demonstrate their understanding of content and mastery of skills (the majority of these demonstrations will require written expression), they will perpetually experience significant difficulties in any course.
  2. 2.Numeracy – Skills associated with pre-computational numeracy impact a student’s ability to succeed in all subject areas, not only mathematics. A “sense of number” impacts a student’s ability to identity and interpret part-whole relationships, to sequence, to understand and interpret timelines and graphs, in addition to more obvious connections to mathematics and the sciences.
  3. 3.Behaviors – Respect, responsibility, and safety are completely appropriate behavioral goals to establish for students; and, there are many other critical pro-social and pro-functional skills that are foundational to success. When a student has a significant deficit in behavior due to social, emotional, or cognitive factors (e.g., traumas) that result in a severely angry, withdrawn, inattentive child or young adult with few coping mechanisms, self-regulatory strategies, or executive functioning skills, little learning will take place. More immediately, students with significant deficits in behavioral skills are truly at-risk in their right to be a healthy human.

Students should not fail a class because of a deficit in a foundational skill. Students in an Algebra class who lack fluency with computation must receive intensive, highly specialized support to ameliorate this significant deficit (as described in this chapter); they should not, however, fail Algebra; teachers can and must scaffold instruction so that these students can still access and master algebraic concepts. We maintain that all students can think critically and problem solve. They’re “smart.” They simply need our support – intensively, immediately, and specifically. Similarly, students who cannot decode text at a grade nine level must receive intensive, highly specialized support to ameliorate this significant deficit; however, they should not fail the grade nine English class; teachers can and must scaffold instruction so that these students can still access and master the comprehension-based concepts that are the likely the priories of the course. A significant deficit in a specific skill area must not limit a student’s ability to access core learning. We must differentiate to ensure success in the core and provide intensive, highly-specialized supports that address the significant need.




Assessment as evidence-gathering


Assessment has become perhaps the most controversial issue within schools. We understand – the resistance exhibited by frustrated educators was inevitable when:

  • The content, critical thinking, and problem solving that we strive to include within our classrooms is not matched in assessments.
  • The ways in which we expect students to demonstrate mastery in the classroom is not matched in assessments.
  • The roll-out of new assessments from national, state, and district leaders has been less than respectful, collaborative, inclusive, or clearly explained.
  • Assessments are used for high-stakes purposes (student and staff evaluation) that are supported by neither research nor common sense.

And yet, we must assess student progress. We must gather evidence regarding the efficacy of our efforts, we must use evidence to inform future teaching and learning, and students must be involved in assessing their performance and take increased ownership over their learning. 

Effective use of formative assessment, developed through teacher learning communities, promises not only the largest potential gains in students’ achievement but also a process for affordable teacher professional development.

Wiliam & Thompson, 2007, p. 57

Evidence is the engine that drives learning. We must take-back and take control of assessment. Evidence gathering must be a central element of collaborative systems of support.

Reviews of accountability data from hundreds of schools reveal the schools with the greatest gains in achievement consistently employ common assessments, nonfiction writing, and collaborative scoring by faculty.

Reeves, 2004

It’s not enough for staff to simply assess and gather evidence as individuals. Common assessments, used to inform teaching and learning must be our goal. 

Assessment for learning…when done well…is one of the most powerful, high-leverage strategies for improving student learning that we know of. Educators collectively at the district and school levels become more skilled and focused at assessing, disaggregating, and using student achievement as a tool for ongoing improvement.

Fullan, 2005, p. 71

If we do not have common evidence gathering opportunities scheduled at common times, we cannot:

  • Collaboratively design effective tasks
  • Collectively analyze student work to determine students and staffs’ relative strengths and needs
  • Ensure continuity of expectations, both horizontally within a grade level or course and vertically within adjacent grade levels and courses

We propose a new model of education, in which teaching and learning cycles are iteratively informed by frequent evidence gathering opportunities – cycles in which both teachers and students play an active role. We acknowledge that we all struggle with a perplexing paradox: there is a perception that we assess too much and a simultaneous desire for more information to strategically inform supports for students. To resolve this paradox, we recommend that we commit to the following:

  • Evidence that emerges from any and all assessments that are administered is used by teachers (and ideally, students) to inform future learning. We do not administer assessments solely to determine a grade, to earn points, or to rank and sort (teachers or students). This is necessitate the timely availability of evidence.
  • We inventory the tests and assessments that we administer to check for gaps and redundancies in the following areas (with a commitment to add or subtract as appropriate):
    • We frequently, proactively, and efficiently screen to identify students with significant deficits in the foundational areas of literacy, numeracy, and behavior so that intensive, ameliorative interventions can be provided.
    • We assess student mastery of the prioritized skills of a grade level or course at depth, so that we can provide feedback, we can provide more time and alternative strategies when students have not yet demonstrated mastery, and we can provide opportunities involving more depth and complexity when students have demonstrated mastery.
    • We diagnose students’ specific needs when difficulties are identified.
    • We frequently monitor the progress of vulnerable students who are receiving targeted supplemental supports. 

Well-designed assessment practices are an absolutely integral element of a collaborative system of support. 

Studies have demonstrated assessments for learning rivals one-on-one tutoring in its effectiveness and that the use of assessment particularly benefits low-achieving students.

Stiggins, 2004, p. 27

Simply stated, we cannot fulfill our professional obligations in the absence of evidence. Only by frequently, accurately, and efficiently checking for understanding can we meet all students’ needs and ensure that they are future-ready. 

One mark of schools that make headway on the achievement gap appears to be their propensity to promote and organize conversations based on evidence of student progress.

Little, 2006, p. 10

Collaborative systems of support will not be sustained or successful if we do not collectively determine the extent to which all students are responding to instruction and intervention. We must design organized systems of gathering, analyzing, and employing evidence to drive teaching and learning.



Posted by on in All Means All

Two Mistakes We Must Avoid

Reject Ideologies and Make connections

Throughout our educational careers, two mistakes have been consistency made. More frustrating still, these two mistakes are relatively easy to avoid when egos are set aside and when the very real and very unique needs are different students are considered.

First, we must embrace the genius of AND and avoid the tyranny of OR (Collins, 2005). Ideological opinions can be productive elements of collaborative dialogues within the best systems of support for a student and for all students, but the diverse needs of students within a group, a classroom, a school, and a district will demand a more balanced approach. Rigid ideologies aren’t good for kids.

The following are critically important examples of how we too often settle for OR instead of designing AND solutions that will best meet the needs of all students:

·      Access to core instruction OR targeted intervention (instead of access to core instruction AND targeted intervention

·      Phonics-based approaches to teaching literacy OR whole language approaches to teaching literacy (instead of phonics-based approaches to teaching literacy AND whole language approaches to teaching literacy)

·      Procedurally-based approaches to teaching mathematics OR conceptually-based approaches to teaching mathematics (instead of procedurally-based approaches to teaching mathematics AND conceptually-based approaches to teaching mathematics)

·      Direct instruction pedagogies OR inquiry-based pedagogies (instead of direct instruction pedagogies AND inquiry-based pedagogies)

·      Writer’s workshop environments OR structured scaffolds to producing writing (instead of writer’s workshop environments OR structured scaffolds to producing writing)

·      Strategies to ensure students learning English (or the primary language of instruction) can positively and successfully learn all grade level and course content OR systematic and structured English language development based focused on forms and functions (instead of strategies to ensure students learning English (or the primary language of instruction) can positively and successfully learn all grade level and course content AND systematic and structured English language development based focused on forms and functions)

·      Play-based Kindergarten OR high expectations for Kindergartener’s cognitively-based learning (instead of play-based Kindergarten AND high expectations for Kindergartener’s cognitively-based learning)

There are many examples of where strongly-held opinions about what worked for other students, or past students, or this group of students rule out a more balanced approach that leverages various research-based pedagogies, strategies, and practices on behalf of any and all student needs. We believe that AND not OR represents a foundation of a collaborative system of support. In fact, an OR approach violates a systemic approach; the system is doomed to be incomplete.

There exists a second frustrating habit that erodes any hopes of systematic and coordinated approaches to serving students. As noted elsewhere in this chapter, initiative fatigue – the condition in which a school and staff lose their way and struggle to implement any one effort well – plagues our schools. Frustratingly, we miss a powerful opportunity to powerfully enhance a collaborative system of support when we do not make connections between potentially effective sets of practices, that when introduced and implemented separately risk more than simply failing to deliver optimal results; the risk is that they will individually and spectacularly fail.

For example, we passionately believe that the following research-based initiatives and practices with which we have had success must be strategically combined within a collaboratively system of supports that benefits students and the educators who serve them.

Collaborative Systems of Supports combine the best principles and practices of:

·      Response to instruction and intervention

·      Multi-tiered systems of support

·      Professional learning communities

·      Positive behavior interventions and supports

·      Universal design for learning

·      Common formative assessments

·      Blended learning

·      Differentiation

·      Understanding by design (and similarly strategic curriculum planning)

We must design and commit to implementing a system that coordinates these potentially interdependent and powerful practices. The solution represented by a collaborative system of support can be greater than the sum of its parts when we proactively and explicitly make connections – student outcomes will be dramatically improved and improvements will be expanded and sustained.

© 2016. Chris Weber Education. Design by Cleverbirds.