Tier III instruction is the most intensive level of prevention in the three-tier instructional framework. Tier III instruction, like Tier I and Tier II instruction, must incorporate evidence-based instructional practices. However, Tier III instruction should be even more explicit and systematic with additional modeling and focused opportunities for practice with feedback.
Tier III is for students who, following sustained Tier II intervention, “continue to show marked difficulty in acquiring necessary reading [or literacy] skills. These students require [Tier III] instruction that is more explicit, more intensive, and specifically designed to meet their individual needs” (Vaughn, Wanzek, Woodruff, & Linan-Thompson, 2007, pp. 19).
Tier III instruction is the most intensive. Although it’s implemented similarly to Tier II, Tier III increases the intensity of key variables: amount of time spent in the intervention per week, the duration of the intervention over time, the frequency and precision of focus for progress monitoring, and the instructional and curricular adaptations required to individualize and intensify support. Let’s look at each of these variables in the context of Tier III intervention.
First, the instructional time in Tier III is substantially longer and more frequent than in Tier II. Students identified for Tier III receive additional daily literacy instruction for 40 to 60 minutes (Gersten et al., 2009; Vaughn et al., 2007). It is essential that this instruction remain highly explicit and systematic.
To effectively implement Tier III, your administrators should ensure that daily time is allocated within the master schedule for Tier III intervention, making sure it doesn’t overlap or interfere with Tier I. The scheduling of Tier III is based on student need and school resources. Additional information about building multitiered schedules can be found in Lesson E3—Tier II intervention.
Gersten and colleagues (2009) recommend multiple and extended daily Tier III sessions or a “double dose” of intensive instruction. For example, students receive Tier III instruction twice a day, but in the second session, they don’t receive more of the same kind of instruction as in the first. Instead, the lessons are broken into manageable chunks with each session containing different steps toward a learning goal.
A second variable that distinguishes Tier III from Tier II is the length or duration of the intervention. Research has not identified an optimal duration for effective Tier III instruction. However, we do know that Tier III needs to be longer than the other tiers of intervention and can last for several semesters, or even several years, depending on the individual student’s needs and the response to instruction (Gersten et al., 2009).
Student-to-teacher ratios are smaller in Tier III than in Tier II. In Tier III, the groups are much smaller, with a recommended teacher-student ratio of 1:3, 1:2, or 1:1, depending on student need (Gersten et al., 2009; Vaughn et al., 2007).
Student progress is measured more frequently in Tier III than in Tier II—at least once a week. More data points permit you to more precisely identify student response and the effectiveness of the Tier III instruction, allowing for immediate adjustments (e.g., grouping, materials, and instructional time), if necessary, to accelerate student learning (Gersten et al., 2009; Vaughn et al., 2007).
Additionally, Tier III, like Tier II, consists of carefully designed and implemented instruction that is data informed, as well as tailored to individual student needs. In Tier III, you should use diagnostic assessments to individualize instruction by pinpointing specific student deficits in critical literacy areas such as phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (Gersten et al., 2009; Hall, 2011).
Qualified Tier III intervention providers who specialize in designing and providing individualized interventions should be identified. These might be special education teachers or reading specialists. Some schools use paraprofessionals, community volunteers, or computer programs to provide additional services to struggling students, but keep in mind that this type of additional practice should complement and supplement what has already been taught by a qualified teacher or interventionist. Additional practice should not be random student-selected literacy activities or computer games (Gersten et al., 2009).
“Many schools use a program for Tier III, but it is important that instruction is provided by a skilled teacher who can individualize within the program” (Hall, 2008, p. 69).
Because students receiving Tier III services have been unable to reach grade-level targets in Tiers I and II, interventionists must make additional curricular and instructional adaptations and adjustments to individualize and intensify each intervention lesson.
Ways to intensify intervention instruction include
- making learning visible by explicitly modeling and thinking aloud;
- scaffolding learning by using, and then fading, prompts and cues and breaking down tasks into even smaller steps;
- providing repeated opportunities for practice and review; and
- incorporating additional opportunities for correction and feedback.
“Students with intensive reading needs require substantial supports during the initial stages of learning. As students progress in their understanding and knowledge, these supports are gradually withdrawn so that students begin to apply skills and strategies independently” (Gersten et al., 2009, p. 28).
Tier III is characterized by extraordinary intensity and focus. Compared to Tier II, it is even more systematic and slower paced and incorporates more practice cycles for a given concept (Hall, 2008, p. 69). Therefore, lessons should include an increased amount of time on task when students are actively engaged in literacy instruction and increased time for drill repetition and cumulative practice and review (Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, 2005). Researchers have found that students receiving Tier III services often require 10 to 30 times as many practice opportunities as their peers to reach mastery (Gersten et al., 2009).
The TSLP requires you and your staff to monitor students’ responses to Tier III intervention instruction. Interventionists need to be fluent with their materials and instructional routines to provide maximum levels of engagement throughout each Tier III lesson. The “Intervention Observation Checklist” provided as a resource in Lesson E3 can also be utilized with this Action Step.
Your campus-based leadership team should identify professional development that is needed for various aspects of this component. For example, as you reflect on Action Step E4, your team may decide to target the characteristics of high-quality Tier III instruction and curricula; progress monitoring; and collaboration across tiers as focuses for professional development.
TO LEARN MORE: Use the resources below to gain a better understanding of Tier III literacy instruction.
The “Building Capacity for Response to Intervention Implementation Project” at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk contains links to resources that pertain to all aspects of RTI.
“Best Practice for RTI: Small Group Instruction for Students Making Minimal Progress (Tier 3)” on the Reading Rockets website provides a summary of the specific features of evidence-based Tier III instruction as recommended by the Institute of Education Sciences in their practice guide “Assisting Students Struggling with Reading: Response to Intervention and Multi-tier Intervention for Reading in the Primary Grades.”