Archive for the ‘RTI’ Tag

Universal Design, Technology, and RtI

Last summer, I had the privilege of participating on a panel of national experts on universal design for learning (UDL) and the integration of technology in education. The occasion was the annual project directors’ meeting of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education. A theme of the 3-day meeting was promising models for implementing Response to Intervention (RtI) frameworks in our nation’s schools. On the particular panel that I served, our focus was how UDL and technology complement RtI, and, in fact, how they should be integrated into any school initiative to implement an RtI framework.

RtI originates in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 04), which is the reauthorization of the original IDEA (IDEA 97). Per IDEA 04, schools will “not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability …” (Section 1414(b)). The “discrepancy” model is traditionally used to determine a student’s eligibility for special education services. While well-intentioned, one of the unintended consequences of this model is that a student must often fail before being provided with the accommodations or modifications needed to receive an equitable education. It’s a reactive approach.

RtI, on the other hand, is a proactive framework for providing interventions and supports, designed to prevent students from failing. Although written into special education law, RtI is an “all education” initiative. And, not unlike universal design, the implementation of a successful school RtI program will result in improved instruction for all students.

Although not prescribed, RtI is typically described as a framework of three tiers, with Tiers 2 and 3 designed to deliver increasingly strategic and intense interventions. Tier 1 is delivered in the general education classroom, which is why RtI is led by general educators. Tier 1 means “providing high quality instruction/intervention matched to student needs that has been demonstrated through scientific research and practice to produce high learning rates for most students” (NASDSE, 2008 – Blueprint Series). The RtI model works by ensuring that general education teachers have the skills and knowledge necessary to support the achievement of the widest possible number of learners. Once it is confirmed that a student is struggling for reasons beyond the quality of the curriculum, Tier 2 interventions to support that student are identified and implemented, followed by Tier 3 strategies, if necessary.

Aside from its systematic nature, the concept and approaches behind RtI are consistent with existing school initiatives, including differentiated instruction, data-driven instruction, formative assessment, best practices for integrating content and pedagogy, and student progress monitoring. Its intersection with UDL can’t be denied. Both are:

  • Led by general education
  • Research-based
  • Integrated across professional development priorities
  • Models of prevention and data-based decisionmaking
  • Models of continuous improvement for both teaching and learning
  • Designed to be flexible and fluid to support varied student readiness levels (e.g., moving among the tiers of instruction)

Technology is another critical partner of successful RtI implementation. With support from their local school districts and the MLTI, increasing numbers of Maine educators are learning how to use technology to more successfully meet the needs of diverse learners. Our teachers and students now have more tools and resources available than ever before, and many have witnessed firsthand how the use of teaching and learning technologies contributes to student motivation, individualized and learner-controlled instruction, positive attitudes, collaborative behavior, and active learning experiences. The more ways that students can independently access the curriculum, the more likely they are to be fully engaged and successful learners.

So, as your district and school implement an RtI framework, consider the intersection with universal design and technology.

To learn more about RtI:

Maine’s “parking lot” of links to policies, models, and resources

RTI Action Network

RTI: New Ways to Identify Specific Learning Disabilities

International Reading Association: Focus on RTI

PLCs on RTI… Do I see UD?

The MLTI staff has been delivering leadership meetings across several regions of the state for the last two weeks (remaining destinations are Farmington tomorrow and Aroostook County in early November). A running joke has been the continuous spewing of 2-, 3- and 4-letter abbreviations during these sessions (we’ve even come to debate whether any given combination of letters technically constitutes an abbreviation or acronym…or is it an initialization??).

A PLC (I believe that’s an abbreviation) has been called upon as a model of how leadership teams might continue their work beyond the regional meeting. PLC stands for “Professional Learning Community,” and we’re promoting it as a way for leadership teams to return to their schools with a structured approach for moving forward with effective and meaningful initiatives that impact student learning. The term PLC is often used to describe any number of ways that teams of educators come together to problem solve, but a true PLC differs from a committee, workgroup, and even a Community of Practice (CoP – I believe that’s an acronym).

A PLC is grounded in student learning. That may not sound profound, in fact it may appear downright obvious. But when we really think about the roads that we go down when we meet as groups of educators within a building, we realize how often the focus diverges from student learning and winds it way to more indirect topics and priorities. Those topics and priorities are important, but if your group’s work is not immersed in student learning, you’re not in a PLC. In fact, it can be argued that discussions of teacher practice, without being centered on an artifact of student learning, don’t belong in a PLC. Again, discussions of best practice are important, but the purpose of a PLC is to uncover how and why specific kids are or are not learning.

One last critical characteristic of PLCs that make them unique is the necessity of consensus-building. Members of traditional groups often agree to disagree in a way that stifles a compromise and disables progress. You know you’re in a PLC when – after all voices have been heard – the will of the group is recognized and each member, even those most opposed, agrees that the group move forward in a common direction.

In the MLTI’s leadership sessions, the TPCK and SAMR models have provided the context of the need for PLCs. Indeed, looking at student work (yet another abbreviation – LASW) through these lenses can be highly revealing – “Is there evidence that the student has learned what was intended? If so, what is the combination of Technology, Pedagogy and Content (TPCK model) that promoted it? At what level (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, or Redefinition – SAMR model) is technology being used to make this learning possible?”

Although not introduced in our MLTI meetings, I’d like to suggest that a broader framework for a PLC to adopt is RTI (that’s an abbreviation). RTI stands for “Response to Intervention.” I’ll continue a discussion of RTI in my next post, but I’ll say here that the RTI framework is a perfect complement for a PLC because, in and of itself, it forces the focus on student learning. The determination of whether or not students are learning is the paramount purpose. Please understand that “students are learning” refers to the outcomes of general education – content area – teaching. RTI is rooted in student learning within general education. So, the second question becomes, “What is or is not working in the core instructional practices in the classroom?” This brings us full circle to UD (that’s an abbreviation, too): Is the disability within the learner or is it within the curriculum?