July 22, 2008

On Learning New Jargon and Forming Uneducated Opinions

Differentiated instruction is the jargon flavor of my week as I've been attending a conference here in Las Vegas. I can't think of any DI language I haven't been hearing for...uhm...long enough that I should know what to do with it!

So in the spirit of conversations buzzing around this week at Mrs. T's casa and NYC Educator, I'd like to add an acronym new to me:


Examples of usage I heard during presentations.

"Doesn't this technique really lend itself to uses with RTI?"

"With RTI coming down the pike, this will be useful for that, too."

Great! RTI. Yet more jargon. Wait! What do you mean coming down the pike? Is this a bandwagon I'm going to be given a ticket to ride? Uhm, what is RTI anyway? Nothing like feeling like an "early-readiness" student...

I saw a book during the course of the day that was labeled as having something to do with Response To Intervention. For those of you, like me, who are not familiar with this term, do you feel completely enlightened now?

I mean, it seems so obvious, right? Responding to Interventions. Probably for the students. Wait. Why are we responding? Who provided the intervention? This sounds like the title of a government report, like A Nation at Risk or something.

When I arrived home, I googled the term, but the first few things I found under the acronym were clear as mud. I saw RTI was affiliated with IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and I thought of Miss Donna. She's the only one I've ever heard throw that acronym around much (probably from her stint as a district director of special services), so I called to pick her brain about RTI.

She explained how she's heard the term used by telling me that school are supposed to have a RTI team made up of an administrator, a special education teacher, and a few other teachers. When a classroom teacher has a student who might be in need of special services but may not be a candidate for special education services--we all know those kids who fall through the cracks because there isn't a system to deal with them--that teacher tries every intervention possible to help the student. After those interventions prove to be ineffective, the teacher goes before the intervention team and they do a little investigation of the situation and offer suggestions for the teacher. The teacher then tries what is suggested and reports back. The teacher might meet back with the team several times.

Miss Donna indicated that communicating with the student's other teachers often proved to be one of the greatest helps a teacher could have. Boy, that sounds something that could benefit from Planned Learning Communities! And, of course, I could certainly see where myriad of techniques under the DI umbrella could very well play into interventions a teacher might try.

That team sounded little familiar, but it still seemed new. I had a few questions after hearing about the RTI team:
  1. Why did the context in which the presenters used the term indicate that it was a concept coming to a school near me--perhaps the next educational push?
  2. What kind of training do teachers get in coming up with interventions for students before going to the team?
No, I'm not begging for some teacher in-services of the topic of RTI, but it just seems to me that that intervention team might be pretty busy. Common sense tells me that all I would probably have the tools in my teaching belt to help troubleshoot an at-risk kid--at least for a good number of months--but I wasn't equipped with those tools when I walked into the classroom.

I looked around a little more and found a website with this explanation of RTI on the front page at the National Center on Response to Intervention:

Response to intervention integrates assessment and intervention within a multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement and to reduce behavior problems. With RTI, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness, and identify students with learning disabilities.
Well now, that's just loaded with jargon!

After poking around the website for a few minutes, it appears that RTI has to do mostly with students with learning disabilities, and it might include ELL students and students with behavioral problems. I don't have many students who fall into those categories, although I plan to have a stack of them this fall when I teach Fundamentals of Reading to my night school students.

Do I ever have students who have learning difficulties? Sure. In every class. Sure, my students' problems may not be as severe as others. I do have bilinguals students who are no longer considered ELL, but they still need time for the translators to work in their heads. I have boys who are so wiggly that they are a detriment to themselves and who have never had anyone give them interventions to help them cope with being in a classroom. I have many students, the Bubble Kids, who fall just below the line of proficiency and the source of their difficulties run the gamut from more tangible readiness/maturity issues to more intangible social/socio-economic/cultural issues to reasons I can't ever figure out. Most of my methods of helping them learn are research-based, things I've learned at countless trainings and by reading books, but some of them are gut-based. Shhh! Don't tell.

I don't want to judge this RTI stuff without truly knowing what I'm talking about, but I hope it's not coming to a school near me. I'd like to think we already have it--perhaps under different terms. Although I welcome new strategies to perfect my craft, I don't need than more than I have now. Seriously. If I open up the box of tools I've been collecting over the years, I think I will find that I have all the tools I need--I simply need to use them. I don't need more tools that have the same function as some of my old tools. That's clutter.

(If you want to see a physical manifestations of this clutter, visit the shelves of a teacher who has been teaching 20 years.)

Update: Anthony Rebora over at Teacher Magazine's Blogboard linked to this post and directs readers to an Edweek story on "Embracing Response to Intervention." Check it out for more food for thought!

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