Structuring Tier Two Intervention Periods in a Professional Learning Community

Simple Radical Truth: The best part about writing for Solution Tree is learning alongside some of the brightest folks in the #edusphere.  During my track-out sessions, I get the chance to hang out with PLC experts like Rick and Becky DuFour, assessment experts like Cassie Erkens, Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic, and school leadership experts like Ken Williams.

One of my favorite Solution Tree minds is RTI expert Mike Mattos.  Over the course of the past several years, Mike has become both a mentor and a friend:

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I had the chance to sit in on one of Mike’s sessions on Tier Two Intervention Periods in a Professional Learning Community this week at a Solution Tree PLC Institute in Charlotte.

Figuring that some of all y’all are probably struggling with just what Tier Two Intervention periods should look like, I thought I’d share four important takeaways that I learned in Mike’s session:

Tier Two Intervention periods should be used to provide supplemental  instruction to struggling students.

Mike argued that when schools are trying to decide who needs to be served during Tier Two Intervention periods, they should ask one simple question:  Who needs supplemental instruction in order to master content that was recently covered in class?

In Mike’s school, learning teams met once a week to generate lists of students that were in need of supplemental instruction for concepts covered in class in the past week or two.  While that meant student groups for Mike’s intervention period were constantly changing, assigning kids to the same learning groups for longer periods of time was unproductive because it wasted the time of students who mastered concepts quickly and created management and planning challenges for teachers who were still working with struggling students.

Perhaps most importantly, teachers in Mike’s school were not looking for students who were two or three grade levels behind in their mastery of core content when determining their intervention periods. His Tier Two Intervention period was designed to provide supplemental — not intensive — instruction to struggling students.

Kids who were several grade levels behind needed significantly more help than their Tier Two Intervention period was designed to provide.  Supporting those students happened during Tier Three Intervention periods — which were built into the schedules of just the students who needed significant and extensive help in order to get back on grade level in basic subjects like math and reading.

Tier Two Intervention periods can be used to provide extra time to students who missed key lessons or who have the skill — but not the will — to learn required content.

One of the greatest challenges that most teachers face is finding time to get individual students caught up.  In my science class, for example, every time that a child misses school on the day that we have a lab, I’m forced into an uncomfortable pickle:  I can either pull all the lab materials out during my lunch period or after school so that child can access the experiment or I can exempt them from the task completely.

Mike argues that neither of those choices is acceptable.  If a learning experience was important enough to share with my students, it should be delivered to every child — including those who were absent.

But asking teachers to give up their lunch periods to deliver make-up lessons is unfair — and it leads to uncomfortable situations in schools where students get different learning experiences depending on who their teachers are.  While some teachers will readily give up personal time to provide additional opportunities for kids, others can’t because of family responsibilities.

Another challenge that most teachers face is finding time to hold talented kids who have the skill to complete tasks accountable for turning in missing assignments.  That, too, creates uncomfortable situations in my science classroom.  I’ve always got a ton of students with missing work — but the only time that I have to get on their case about that missing work is during my lunch period.  Sometimes, I just decide to exempt the task rather than give up personal time in order to squeeze assignments out of kids.

Tier Two Intervention periods in Mike’s school are used to serve these students too.  Students with the skill but not the will to learn are assigned to homework clubs and study halls staffed by caring adults who work beyond the classroom.  Students who missed meaningful learning experiences because of absences are assigned to rooms with teachers who are delivering those experiences again.

This is all brilliantly simple, right?  By using Tier Two Intervention periods to tackle two of the most common challenges that teachers face in serving their students, schools help to ensure that they are delivering a guaranteed curriculum to every student.

What’s more, by using Tier Two Intervention periods to tackle two of the most common challenges that teachers face in serving their students, Mike built momentum for interventions in his teaching staff.  When his teachers saw that the time being stolen from their regular class periods was actually saving them time that has always been stolen from their lunches or their planning periods, they were far more likely to get on the proverbial bus.

Tier Two Intervention periods should be as long as they need to be — and not a minute longer.

The most common question asked in Mike’s session was, “How long should our Tier Two Interventions be?  And how many days a week should we offer them?”

Mike’s answer was awesome.  He said, “The general rule of thumb is that Tier Two Intervention periods should be as long as they need to be and not a minute longer.  Remember that you’re stealing minutes from core classes to create intervention periods.  If you steal more than you need in order to provide supplemental instruction, you are wasting valuable class time.”

Mike went on to explain that in the high poverty elementary school he worked in, Tier Two Intervention periods were scheduled every day simply because there were a ton of students who needed supplemental instruction in the core concepts being introduced in class.  Scheduling interventions less than 5 days a week would have resulted in kids falling further behind faster.

But in the upper-middle class middle school that he worked in, Tier Two Intervention periods were scheduled for two days a week.  With fewer students in need of supplemental instruction, five days a week would have been more time than teachers really needed in order to reteach core concepts or to reach students struggling to get work turned in on time.

Intervention periods in both of Mike’s buildings lasted for 30 minutes.  That’s because Mike’s teachers decided that reteaching a concept to small groups of students in need of supplemental — not intensive — instruction only took about 20-25 minutes.  The extra 5-10 minutes was set aside for students to transition from their core classes to their Tier Two Intervention classroom.

Students not in need of supplemental instruction or extra time for completing assigned tasks choose from a set of learning-centered options during Tier Two Intervention periods.

One conceptual challenge that I’ve always had with Tier Two Intervention periods has been figuring out just what to do with students who aren’t in need of supplemental instruction or extra time to complete missing work.  In Mike’s school, these students earned the right to choose where they were going to go during intervention time.

Three choices were the most popular in his building:  Sustained silent reading offered in the auditorium, quiet research time offered in the library, and time for starting on homework assignments offered in the cafeteria.  Staffed by administrators and other non-credentialed school staffers, these spaces combined would absorb 300-400 of the students in his middle school that weren’t assigned to specific spaces during intervention time.

The remaining students could choose from a list of “Open Sessions” that — depending on the week — could range from meeting with a science teacher to review for an upcoming test, working in Writer’s Workshops on individual pieces with a language arts teacher, or studying current events with a social studies teacher.

The only rules that Mike had for open sessions was that they could not (1). introduce new essential skills from the curricula or (2). be perceived as play time.  Introducing new essential skills during open sessions would mean students receiving supplemental instruction would fall further behind in class; and creating sessions that were perceived as play time would make the Tier Two Intervention period seem like a punishment to some kids and a reward to others.

No joke, y’all: I learned a TON of other things about structuring Tier Two Intervention periods from Mike.  If you’ve got any individual questions, drop ’em in the comment section and I’ll write a follow-up post with answers.

#hopethishelps

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Related Radical Reads:

Grouping Students for Successful Learning in a PLC

Interventions are NOT Optional

Make Like an Obstetrician and Deliver

 

3 comments

  1. Rod Broadhead

    I totally get what tier two looks like in secondary. I worked at a school for 5 years that copied exactly what mike did at pioneer junior high in OC. We became a nationally recognized PLC school and my former principal now works for solution tree on the side.
    My big question now is how does it look on the elementary level? I am now a VP at the elementary level. What or where would the kids who already get it go durning this time? At mikes junior high school they went to the library and places like that. Where do they go in elementary? I would love to see an effective elementary model.

  2. Elaine Klauer

    I was fortunate enough to see Mike Mattos this summer as well! My question is, How do you create a culture where this concept is embraced? I do not want this to be something forced on teachers…

    • Bill Ferriter

      Hey Elaine,

      Great question — and I’ll be sure to answer it in my follow-up post. My quick response is that teachers are more likely to embrace something when they see it as a time-saver for them. In my particular situation, I’m already providing time for kids to get extra help — either because they are struggling with core classroom concepts or because they were absent from school. The hitch is that time always comes out of my lunch period or after school. If I were in Mike’s school, that work would happen on the clock.

      That makes it way easier to embrace!

      More later…
      Bill