Picture of students learningIncluding an intervention block in the master schedule is one thing, but using it for Tier II intervention is quite another. One middle school principal decided to launch Tier II research-based learning strategy instruction by piloting a program with special education teachers. The pilot worked well, and the role of the principal was key.

As school opened last year, we were in a situation that might seem familiar: Due to low student reading levels and recently enhanced rigor on the state assessment for reading, our school struggled with meeting state accreditation. Our middle school serves 870 students in grades six through eight who reside in our small industrial city; slightly more than 70 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. This year, as a brand new Title I school-accredited with a warning label from the state department-we developed a laser-like focus to implement a data-driven student Tier II intervention period that included effective progress monitoring. Here’s how we did it.

Identify Opportunities

In our school improvement discussions over the years, we had discussed numerous ways to transform our intervention period into a more successful student achievement program. For a few years, our master schedule had included a daily 30-minute intervention block used for Tier I remediation. We knew we had capacity in our strong special education teachers; they were more than capable of leading Tier II targeted intervention groups. The challenge was that our decade-long focus on Tier I co-teaching strategies had not provided the special edu­cation teachers with professional development related to the learning strategies that our students needed. We knew we could overcome this obstacle, since we had the schedule and the resources; we just needed to make a plan.

There was never going to be a “right” time to put the Tier II learning strategies into place. We had our hands full with Tier I: high-yield student engagement strategies, guided reading (our first year implementing a guided reading program), curriculum revision, and the implementation of more effective formative assessment. The tipping point came when the assistant principals overseeing language arts, math, and special education realized that our current data pointed to struggling learners engaging (or not engaging) in self-regulated strategy development (SRSD). Our conversations had touched on learner self-efficacy, motivation, and initiation many times, and our ongoing exploration of evidence-based strategies underscored the need for high-yield methods such as learning strategy instruction. It was time to make an instructional decision. We decided to pilot SRSD as soon as possible.

Start with Data

Since we don’t do things by half-measures here, one of our assistant principals spent a weekend reading Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities, a practical SRSD research review. In a leadership meeting the following week, she shared how our benchmark and classroom walkthrough data indicated a need to focus on a handful of learning strat­egies. Some of the strategies could be learned by teachers and implemented with a minimum of outside support; others, such as the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) Learning Strategies, would need more extensive training and follow-up.

Plan High-Quality Professional Development

First, we knew that we needed high-quality professional development, so our special education teachers would be supported in not just learning, but also in implementing the learning strategies. We knew from experience that one-shot professional development didn’t work.

After reviewing our data, we selected three research-based SIM Learning Strategies. The professional develop­ment process for SIM would take time, but since SIM Learning Strategies followed the SRSD model and required teachers to be trained to implement with fidelity, we felt it was a good decision. Our state professional developer agreed to coordinate materials and contact the regional SIM Learning Strategies trainer. We offered to host regional workshops on SIM Learning Strategies over the next few months so that our teachers would be guaranteed spots. With that in the works, we focused on what we could do in-house.
Having selected several SRSD strategies from Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities, we decided we needed the state professional developer to create a fidelity checklist for SRSD, to be on-call when we had questions, and to check in with the special educators. She prepared materials to get the special educators started, offered them time to ask questions and get answers, and ran practice sessions as part of the coaching process.

Provide Teacher Support and Check for Fidelity

In addition to ensuring high-quality professional development for the special educators, we knew that we needed to do three things as an administrative team. First, we needed to set reasonable expectations for the special education teachers providing the Tier II learning strategy interventions. Second, we needed to ensure that they had the materials they needed and that they were allotted meeting time for professional development. Finally, we needed to be present and inter­ested, checking on the implementation of the selected strategies.

After the assistant principal performed research and selected strat­egies based on current Tier I data, the administrative team determined which special education teachers to ask to teach each one. The principal personally contacted each teacher, in some cases meeting with them individually to talk through expectations and recognize their current contributions. During after-school meetings, administrators and special educators collaborated to review targeted screener data and make thoughtful and informed decisions based on the likelihood of each student benefiting from a specific intervention. We kept the group size small (about 10) to ensure that students received timely and specific feedback.

For math interventions, the lead math coach facilitated targeted screeners. She, the principal, and the state professional developer worked with the special education teachers to review all of the data, select groups for the pilot, and prepare for the first week.

For the other interventions, the administrative team pulled the special education teachers together as a pilot team during two work sessions after school and provided them with the SRSD book and draft materials for teaching a Tier II learning strategy. The administrative team asked the teachers to review, revise, and practice the strategy.

Celebrate, Reflect, and Revise

During the pilot, we provided learning strategies instruction to about 60 students with disabilities who we identified as struggling. We knew within two weeks that students were making progress in the SRSD process, and most had mastered the strategy by the end of the six weeks of instruction.

What was the most important part of this experience? We walked away with a fresh appreciation for how our special educators took ownership of the process of reviewing data, teaching the strategies, and monitored student progress.

We can say that involvement in the process from start to finish has been a positive step. We used the screener data to identify and prioritize groups of students for future six-week intervention cycles with an expanded group of special educators teaching a broader range of strategies. So it is a work in progress. We have built fidelity walkthroughs into the school calendar (two per intervention cycle) to make sure we are following the research-based SRSD steps and providing teachers with support to keep the focus and intensity.

Our students have mastered skills they would not have had without explicit SRSD instruction. You’ll need to reflect on your own context, but chances are a pilot will pay off for you, too.

J. Shannon Royster is the principal of Carter G. Woodson Middle School in Hopewell, VA. Susanne Croasdaile is a program specialist in curriculum and instruction at the Virginia Department of Education’s Training and Technical Assistance Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA.

Sidebar: PL Pointers

  1. Don’t wait-just start small. Run a pilot, ask your teachers to work with you to sort out the problems, and capitalize on what’s going well.
  2. Make a connection by personally asking teachers to participate.
  3. Be on the same page as an administrative team. Ask all administrators to participate in the first meetings and recognize the selected teachers for their efforts. Record who will do what by when. This accountability helps make sure things get done.
  4. Involve the selected teachers in collecting and reviewing the data. This capacity-building activity helps teachers see the big picture; also, their input is invaluable.

  5. Create a year-long professional development calendar. This reduces uncertainty and facilitates communication between the teachers, administrators, and professional developers.