I’ve been thinking about this a great deal so now I’m putting the thoughts into a blog. I’m so concerned that we are overdosing our students on interventions as an antidote for poor core instruction. We’ve made the assumption that the core instruction they have received is solid, effective, and of high quality. With the push for Response to Intervention and Multi-tiered Systems of Support, we have to be careful that we don’t forget to work on the most important part of that pyramid we all know too well, and that’s tier one core instruction.
What might happen if we refocused our efforts, time, energy, resources, and feedback on improving core instruction? What if we not only developed school or district wide instructional anchors, but made it our business to see that those anchors were being honored in every classroom every day? What if we focused on the fidelity of instructional practices that we know are necessary for optimal learning?
•having a clear learning objective that is referred to throughout the lesson and that students can articulate when asked what is it they should know and be able to do by the end of the lesson
•checking for understanding throughout the lesson to identify misconceptions and provide clarifying and corrective feedback while the opportunity to course correct is present
•ensuring the use of a lesson structure that is best for learning: direct instruction and modeling/guided practice with feedback/ independent practice
Mastering the foundations of teaching takes so much practice. We must be sure we are not approaching the concept of intervention as a bandaid for poor teaching quality, and that we don’t see it as a way to intervene on the behalf of poor instruction. Quality matters at the tier one level, and perhaps even more.
For years now, I’ve seen schools and districts mandate intervention periods, purchase massive intervention materials, and push that students receive intervention on a regular basis. That in and of itself is counterintuitive to the word intervention. Here’s how Webster defines it: the action taken to improve a situation. What I am fearful of is that in our schools and districts across the country, intervention has become the response to poor instruction. There is a difference.
I’m convinced that if we were to give our attention to improve core instruction the massive overdose of interventions on our children who are struggling to learn might subside. The very concept of intervention is designed to help our students who have truly had the opportunity to learn. That means they had access to quality instruction and still were unable to achieve mastery. Some scholars define opportunity to learn as follows:
“One of the factors which may influence scores on an achievement examination is whether or not students have had an opportunity to study a particular topic or learn how to solve a particular type of problem presented by the test.” (Hussen, 1967b, pp. 162–163)
This means we must focus on making sure that the instruction our students receive is adequately aligned to the standards, appropriately rigorous, and that mastery is the aim. We must make sure that the assessments we are using to determine if students are learning are also aligned and rigorous as they should be, and if they are not, we work on those things before over prescribing intervention to our students. This must be a focus and receive as much of our energy and effort as possible. Intervention is a last step, not a first one.
To make it clear, allow me to provide an analogy. Imagine that you went to the doctor to talk with him about your unfruitful efforts to lose weight. According to you, you’ve tried everything-eating healthy, exercising, reducing your caloric intake. The doctor, immediately applies an intervention and prescribes a thyroid medication that will induce your thyroid regularly which in turn will rev up your metabolism and cause your body to burn more calories. You start the medication, but the truth is you’ve made absolutely no change in your diet and you don’t exercise. To top it off you now feel free to eat whatever you like since you have your new medication that’s going to help you lose weight. When you return to the doctor, you haven’t gained any weight, but you haven’t lost any.
While I’m no medical expert, I don’t think this is what a doctor would do at all. I’m guessing the doctor would start by asking you a few questions about your diet and exercise habits and may elect to give you a blood test. In the interim, while he is waiting on the results, he’s going to probably prescribe what should be your core activity to take care of your health: eat a healthy and balanced diet, exercise regularly, and drink plenty of water. He’ll ask you to return in six months to see how you’ve fared. If your blood test comes back with all things in the normal range, he will continue working with you on the core.
I’m hopeful that the market for intervention programs and products won’t be the driver of our teaching and learning efforts with children. Obviously, there are some children who we know need specialized instruction, but if we aren’t careful, intervention can become the primary mechanism for meeting the learning needs of most of our students, when it should be only prescribed if our students have had an opportunity to learn in a classroom that is anchored in evidence-based instructional practices. A focus on the core and improving it is essential and at the heart of continuous improvement. Let’s get to work on the foundation and make it as strong as possible.
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder.