Response to Intervention (RTI) is a way of identifying children early in their academic careers who may be at risk for learning difficulties. Early detection of learning difficulties allows the issue to be addressed before the student has fallen too far behind his or her classmates. RTI follows a three-tiered system aimed at gauging a student’s responsiveness to various instructional methods.

By understanding the RTI process, educators can better equip themselves to identify the optimal instructional strategies for different students. Not all students learn the same way, and RTI strategies are beneficial not only for determining whether or not a student may have a learning disability, but also for targeting the best instructional strategies for certain students.

The Three Tiers of RTI

RTI offers a multi-tier approach that provides struggling students with interventions at increasing levels of intensity. It can be used with equal effectiveness to address both behavioral and academic performance issues. In this case, we will adapt the strategies of RTI to those students who are struggling academically.

The First Tier

While the vast majority of students will respond positively to quality instruction, a small percentage (10-20 percent) will not. Those students who are falling behind in their academic performance should be targeted specifically during the first tier of RTI. The universal interventions of the first tier can be administered by the teacher in small, flexible groups to students who have been identified as struggling. The Mentoring Minds Response to Intervention Strategies flipchart provides numerous first-tier strategies that teachers can employ. These include, but are not limited to, engaging kinesthetic learners through movement, using multi-sensory presentation techniques, and breaking assignments into smaller chunks. These intervention strategies are routinely used when students are experiencing difficulty with core instruction. A set amount of time, about six to eight weeks, could be used to gauge the students’ response to the academic interventions.

The students who have successfully acquired the core curriculum as a result of first-tier interventions most likely require select instructional strategies but do not have a disability. Teachers should utilize what worked in the first tier of intervention in their general instruction. Those students who did not successfully develop proficiency in the core curriculum after the first tier of intervention should move to the second tier.

The Second Tier

Second-tier intervention strategies address underperforming students in small groups. Part of this small group instruction may involve targeted individual interventions to isolate the instructional strategies that work best for particular students. The length of this tier is longer, usually around one grading period, and students who respond positively to certain interventions may return to general instruction with continued monitoring. For example, if a teacher determines that a student acquires information very well through graphic organizers, then future instruction for that student should make use of graphic organizers. Other students may need to remain at the second tier to receive another round of supplemental instruction.

The Third Tier

Students who continue to significantly underperform after the second tier of interventions should move on to the third tier, which involves highly individualized instruction on specific skills by trained staff. Such instruction is more intensive and of longer duration. Additional diagnostic assessments are administered to determine the targeted interventions needed to address the specific skill deficits. If a student fails to learn or show proficiency in the core curriculum even after this highly specific tier of instruction, then the student may be referred to a specialist or to other district options to determine if a learning disability exists and if a specialized program is needed.

While this is the process for adapting RTI to identify learning disabilities, the basic form of interventions (combined with response measurement) can be adapted to address behavioral issues as well. The RTI approach is useful because it is able to identify struggling learners early and to intervene with effective instructional intervention through increased individualization. A learning difficulty that is identified early can be addressed quickly before the student falls too far behind.