As Lesson E1 explains, RTI is an instructional framework that integrates the systematic use of assessment data into a multitiered approach to help educators intervene and target students’ learning needs.
Tier I, the primary prevention level, is the core literacy instruction delivered to all students in general education classrooms. For this reason, Tier I serves as the foundation for student learning. When effectively delivered, it should meet the majority of your students’ needs (Vaughn, Wanzek, Woodruff, & Linan-Thompson, 2007).
“Without sufficient initial instruction, the percentage of students in need of intervention support will likely be larger than the capacity of the schools to respond adequately” (Burns, Sorto, & Pettersson, n.d.).
To achieve the greatest success at the Tier I level, you will need to establish expectations for instructional practices that are high quality and evidence based. Many of the expectations for quality instruction are delineated in the teacher evaluation system used in your district, but your campus-based leadership team will need to ensure that expectations specific to literacy instruction are communicated, supported, and monitored across your campus.
One of the evidence-based practices that your campus-based leadership team may identify as an expectation is explicit instruction. Explicit instruction involves modeling and explaining concepts and skills in ways that are concrete and visible, using clear language and many examples. These explicit procedures need to be predictable, and they need to include clear and consistent instructions and clearly stated expectations. Explicit instruction “does not leave anything to chance and does not make assumptions about skills and knowledge that children will acquire on their own” (Torgesen, 2004, p. 363).
Explicit instruction incorporates the I Do, We Do, You Do cycle of instruction. The first stage, I Do, encompasses explicit teacher modeling and thinking aloud. This means teachers show students what it is they are expected to think about, say, and do (Archer & Hughes, 2011).
I Do: As one step in teaching students to use and understand subordinating conjunctions, a seventh-grade teacher shows students how to analyze and break apart model sentences from a text they have been reading. He displays the following sentence: “Although caring for her horses is a lot of work, Judith doesn’t mind it because she loves her horses like family.” He tells students, “Writers can express multiple ideas in a sentence by using conjunctions to show the connections between ideas. In this sentence, the writer connects three ideas.” The teacher underlines the first part of the sentence and says, “The first idea is that caring for her horses is a lot of work.” He then underlines the next part in a different color and says, “The second idea is that Judith doesn’t mind it.” He underlines the last part of the sentence in another color and explains, “The final idea is that Judith loves her horses like family.” He then circles the words although and because. He explains that the subordinating conjunctions although and because show the relationships among the three ideas. He rewrites the three ideas as separate sentences and explains that the conjunctions allow him to combine shorter ideas to make longer sentences.
This type of explicit instruction includes scaffolding. Scaffolding refers to instructional supports that help students learn with assistance what would otherwise be inaccessible without this support. Content, activities, materials, and delivery procedures or routines are all types of scaffolds that can be adjusted and extended to meet the diverse range of learners in a Tier I classroom.
The I Do, We Do, You Do cycle is one form of procedural scaffolding. Support is gradually withdrawn as you move through the stages. During We Do, students immediately try the task or skill along with teacher support.
During the We Do phase of the lesson, it is important that students practice the same skill at the same level of difficulty that was modeled by the teacher. A common misapplication of the I Do, We Do, You Do cycle is for a teacher to model the first part of a task and then release students to finish the remaining steps of a task or activity in groups or on their own. However, when done correctly, as seen in the following example, the teacher supports students in performing the same task at the same level of rigor.
We Do: The teacher continues by saying, “Now we are going to analyze and break apart a model sentence together.” He displays and reads the following sentence: “While his mother was making dinner, Liam baked a chocolate cake because he was in the mood for dessert.” The teacher calls on volunteers to identify the three separate ideas and come to the front to underline them in different colors on the display and to circle the connecting words (conjunctions). The teacher provides corrective feedback as needed. Next, he tells students to rewrite the sentence as three smaller sentences and randomly calls on students to share their work.
During the You Do stage, students are given multiple opportunities for practice with corrective and positive feedback.
You Do: The teacher then says, “Now it's your turn. I am going to distribute sentences from the text we have been reading. With a partner, break the sentence apart into three separate sentences and write each smaller sentence on a sentence strip and identify the conjunctions.” As students work, the teacher circulates around the classroom to answer questions and provide corrective feedback. Students share their work with the class. In a follow-up lesson, the teacher will repeat the I Do, We Do, You Do cycle to show students how to combine shorter sentences to vary the sentence length in their writing.
Keep in mind that the I Do, We Do, You Do cycle is similar to a feedback loop. If students are having difficulty during any of the stages, you can circle back to model another I Do, practice another We Do or You Do, or perform any combination or all three again (Archer & Hughes, 2011).
Quality Tier I instruction also employs practices that increase student engagement and motivation. To accomplish this somewhat daunting task, teachers need to purposefully plan how students can be actively engaged during literacy lessons. Lessons should be planned with the goal of connecting with students’ prior knowledge, interests, and culture. During instruction, increasing engagement often requires an increase in the number of times students respond and practice skills and concepts. Every student should be spending each minute during instruction participating, whether it’s thinking, discussing, completing hands-on activities, reading, or writing. For example, you may need to help your teachers plan and implement interactive response routines, such as think-pair-share, that involve all students.
Always keep in mind that Tier I literacy instruction goes beyond the dedicated English or reading block and includes the building of discipline-specific literacy skills. To facilitate instructional literacy experiences across content areas, your team and your staff may need more information and opportunities to build capacity in this area. You can find additional information about disciplinary literacy in To Learn More at the end of this section and in the Standards-Based Instruction module of the TSLP online course, which includes specific information about literacy instruction that can help guide work on Tier I instruction, including English language arts and reading and discipline-specific reading and writing instruction.
Your campus-based leadership team may also need to identify strengths and specific areas for growth in your current Tier I instructional practices. As discussed previously, analyzing student data from screening assessments and ongoing progress monitoring can help determine the effectiveness of Tier I and identify classroom or grade-level problems. More information on using data to determine Tier I effectiveness can be found in Part 2 of Lesson E1—Data to inform instruction, as well as in the Assessment component of the TSLP.
As you learn about the Effective Instructional Framework component, keep in mind that the Action Steps overlap. Although steps will be presented separately, it may not be possible to implement them one at a time. The Implementation Indicators for each Action Step will help you reflect on the professional development your staff may need to ensure successful RTI implementation.
Your campus-based leadership team may identify professional development that is needed for several aspects of this component. For example, as you reflect on Action Step E2, your team may decide to target the characteristics of high-quality Tier I instruction, differentiated instruction, and flexible grouping practices as focuses for professional development. Remember to provide opportunities for professional development in many formats, not just on traditional staff development days.
TO LEARN MORE: The resources below will help you gain a better understanding of Tier I literacy instruction.
The Building Capacity for Response to Intervention Implementation Project at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk contains links to resources on all aspects of RTI.
“Disciplinary Literacy: Why It Matters and What We Should Do About It,” a presentation by Elizabeth Birr Moje, offers an introduction to the concept of disciplinary literacy and suggestions for educators seeking to strengthen disciplinary literacy on their secondary campuses.
Academic Literacy Instruction for Adolescents: A Guidance Document from the Center on Instruction provides comprehensive recommendations for improving literacy instruction in grades 4–12. It includes sections such as explicit instruction, increasing student motivation and engagement, working with English language learners, and content-based literacy instruction.
Online Course: Bringing Literacy Strategies into Content Instruction: Professional Learning for Secondary-Level Teachers helps participants learn more about evidence-based practices for improving literacy instruction in the content areas.