Sunday, July 01, 2012

Response to Intervention: One Success Story

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Our RTI scores demonstrated that we had a group of students on the edge of reading development.  The children scored right on the line between meeting proficiency and not meeting proficiency. They demonstrated these characteristics:
  • consistent reluctance towards independent reading.
  • low focus and attention.
  • the ability to make quick connections.
  • a love of discussion.
  • low vocabulary.
  • minimal at-home academic support.  
  • cultures that are less represented in the school.
  • enthusiasm and energy.
What were we to do with these students?  How could we motivate their academic success in the areas of reading and writing?

We decided to put the children in one small group led by a veteran teacher. The teacher began the process by creating paper/pencil mental maps with the students.  The teacher modeled making a simple mental map with the categories of culture, family, strengths/interests, challenges and dreams. As the teacher watched the children make the mental maps, she realized that the categories she thought the children fit neatly into weren't true. The cultural categories were far more specific than she imagined and she never realized that the students had the interests they had.

Making mental maps with the small group built understanding for themselves, with each other and the teacher.  It also gave the teacher collective areas of interest to match with literature and reading/writing activities.  The group gained trust and learning began.

Sadly, we didn't identify this group until the end of the year with only a few weeks to go. Yet, in those few weeks the students made progress and engaged in a number of meaningful learning events.  The teacher also found that it was difficult to manage that group while tending to the care and learning of about 15 other students in various activities at the same time. An active, enthusiastic group like this needs the single-minded focus of the instructor. Also this group needed extra time in the day, before or after school to make up for the fact that their homes were unable to support academic work for a variety of reasons.

In the past we would try to reform learners like this by putting most of our energy into managing their behavior rather than looking for ways to empower and engage them.  RTI gives us the chance to meet learners where they are and respond to their specific learning challenges and strengths. The use of mental maps to start this process can serve to build strong relationships within the group and with the teacher which leads to more productive and responsive teaching.

Online Mental Map Tool: SpicyNodes (I want to try this)

Related Article: Reading and Short Attention Spans