By Jon Lyons, LCHS Assistant Principal
I’m going to say something that is no way shocking to anyone who has ever sat in a classroom. Students learn differently. This basic fact has been the core of most educational theory for the past 20 years. Educators have been trying to unlock the secret to the most effective ways to impart skills and content to students for ages. But the simple fact remains that students engage with information in their own unique ways and timetables. For some students, certain subjects come easily while for others, even basic mastery of some content is a chore. There are a plethora of reasons for this. Students struggle at times because of a lack of engagement with the material, or due to a cognitive block in their understanding or even a lack of interest in the method of delivery. Even the best teachers on their best day with a dynamic lesson will still have about 1/3 of their students not understand the content or the skill being taught at first blush. So what do we as a school do about this? What techniques can we use to try to increase mastery and ensure student success? This is where we can utilize a systematic Response to Intervention (RTI).
Traditionally, RTI has been designed to reinforce basic skills that were not mastered at the primary level. If you search for RTI strategies, you will find a plethora of methods to re-teach basic math, writing, and spelling strategies. The biggest misnomer is that only younger students can benefit from intervention and re-teaching. As more research is done, the more it is apparent that RTI can benefit secondary students as well. This can also apply to all levels of instruction from general education to Advanced Placement courses. We often forget that even at the highest levels of instruction, there are still students who struggle to gain an understanding of complex material at first blush. But what does RTI look like in a setting with a high level of rigor such as La Canada High School?
The application of RTI begins with an understanding of what is being taught each and every day. Students in the secondary levels of education see education as a type of contract between student and teacher. Time becomes a much more valuable resource and students want to know what the overall objective of the class they are in will be and how it will impact their overall understanding of the course material. This is why a daily lesson objective can be a valuable form of intervention. “Correctly designed lesson objectives produce great lessons where you know what is being taught and students know exactly what they are learning.” When students understand what the goals for the day are, they are more likely to see a correlation between the day’s classroom activities and how it can benefit them attaining mastery of the content or skill.
For many students, basic interventions like lesson objectives and or authentic checking for understanding unlock the skills and content in even the hardest of classes. But for some, there may be a greater need for intervention in the form of a Student Study Team (SST). An SST is a process by which a student’s teachers and counselor review student progress to identify why a student may be struggling and what interventions might be useful in all classes. Barbara J. Ehren, Ed.D. states in her article on Secondary RTI Implementation, “The unique learner and setting characteristics have to be considered in designing appropriate assessment and instructional approaches at secondary levels.”). In some cases, this may be codified in an official 504 plan or even a referral for Special Education Services, but for most students who are identified for the SST process, the opportunity to add new interventions can be extremely useful. These can range from a new seating assignment in class to a reduction in the number of steps a student is given during a long-term project. Visual aids, guided notes or auditory aides can also be beneficial forms of intervention. The key to any successful SST process is to give a strategy time to be embedded into instruction and for the student to feel confident in using the accommodation(s) on a regular basis.
The process of finding a successful pathway into the curriculum is a journey that is unique to each student’s learning style. Successful interventions are intentional and systematic in nature.