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The Preview: Education

RTI: Easy tips for implementing Tiers 2 and 3 in reading interventions

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a hot topic in education today—teachers across the country are using its multi-tiered approach to help struggling readers before they fail.

Group of children

Schools have spent significant resources and personnel to ensure Tier 1 of RTI, which includes universal screening and high-quality instruction for all students, is thoroughly implemented. But many teachers—pressed for time and resources—aren't as comfortable implementing RTI for struggling readers in need of targeted interventions (Tier 2) or for high-risk readers in need of intensive interventions (Tier 3).

But Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions can be easier to put in place than you might imagine. With a little effort and guidance from leading specialists, teachers can overcome common obstacles that may stand in the way of implementing RTI.

"I don't have the time"

Teachers tend to worry about the amount of time they would have to spend on targeted interventions. But a few strategies incorporated into the regular school day could make all the difference for students in need of intervention.

In Teaching Students with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia, Virginia Berninger and Beverly Wolf advise teachers to take advantage of teachable moments during the day to develop oral vocabulary, listening skills, and language concepts. The suggest you do this by

  • encouraging conversation
  • teaching the importance of maintaining eye contact with the members of the class
  • reminding students to speak loudly and articulate clearly
  • and ensuring that instructional language is clear.

Teachers might also wonder how much time they'll need to spend with at-risk students to improve their literacy skills. In Interventions for Reading Success, authors Diane Haager, Joseph Dimino, and Michelle Windmueller recommend no more than 20 to 30 minutes of supplemental instruction, provided in small-group or one-to-one sessions before or after the normal classroom reading program. (You could use the small-group time you usually set aside during language arts classes, for instance.) Sample activities like these help teachers make the most of that time:

Rhyming: Improve phonological awareness by having students learn a new poem where the verses rhyme, and then have them sing it together. When they get to the parts that repeat, have them raise their voices. Try it with The Ants Go Marching rhyming activity from Interventions for Reading Success.

Hand-clapping game: Using a large alphabet card of one letter at a time, review the name and sound of each letter, and teach students a jingle to help them remember the sound for each letter. Here is a hand-clapping game you can use from Road to the Code by Benita Blachman, Eileen Wynne Ball, Rochella Black, and Darlene Tangel.

Review words: Build accuracy and fluency by having students take turns reading phonetically regular words and a few high frequency words, gradually increasing the number and complexity of words as they progress. See a sample word-review lesson from Road to Reading by Benita Blachman and Darlene Tangel.

"My students hate drill and kill instruction"

Jokes, puns and riddles are great teaching tools for teachers working with struggling readers. Children love them, and they're a fast and effective way to conduct supplemental instruction. Start with a joke such as this one:

Q: What do baby birds call their parents?

A: Mother and Feather.

Now ask the students what word in the answer makes the joke funny and what the real word is. Ask them to explain why they think the funny word was used. These steps improve students' phonological awareness, comprehension, and spelling skills. Try this phonological humor activity from Sounds Like Fun by Cecile Cyrul Spector to help students see how a letter sound can change the meaning of a word in a humorous way.

"I'm not sure how to teach students with learning differences"

Students with dyslexia and other learning differences have trouble with decoding, word reading, and spelling and need highly structured, explicit instruction.

While this may sound intimidating, you can provide that instruction with easy and engaging activities. For example, have students close their eyes and hold up the number of fingers for the number of syllables they hear when you say a word. Then have them open their eyes and count the number of phonemes in each syllable, using colored discs you have given them.

One way to make this activity more fun for children is to use unusual words, such as those in the poem "Jabberwocky" from "Alice in Wonderland." See how it works in this words and word parts activity from Helping Students with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia Make Connections by Virginia Berninger and Beverly Wolf.

Because of challenges with attention and working memory, students with learning differences often stop responding to instruction sooner than their peers. Teachers should vary activities frequently to keep students engaged and learning.

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Despite the pressures of time, Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions are easier to incorporate into classroom instruction than most teachers might believe. In fact, teachers across the country are already applying these research-based interventions with great results.

To read what other teachers have to say about their successes and challenges in implementing RTI, visit the RTI Action Network.

This article features downloads from the following books:

Road to the Code: A Phonological Awareness Program for Young Children

Road to Reading: A Program for Preventing and Remediating Reading Difficulties

Sounds Like Fun: Activities for Developing Phonological Awareness, Revised Edition

Helping Students with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia Make Connections: Differentiated Instruction Lesson Plans in Reading and Writing

Interventions for Reading Success

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