Want the Right Kind of Thinking About RTI? Ask the Right Questions!

(This blog is a crosspost from the Solution Tree Blog)

A few years ago, we wrote an article that appeared in Educational Leadership called “The Why Behind RTI.” In this article, we asserted that many schools were struggling with RTI because they had asked the wrong questions to guide and shape their thinking. Questions like “How do we raise our test scores?” which all too often leads to a singular focus on the “bubble kids”; “How do we implement RTI?” which reduces this life-saving process to a checklist of actions to accomplish; and “How do we stay legal?” which often leads to byzantine paperwork and mere compliance.

We then suggested a different set of questions to guide a school’s or district’s thinking: What is the fundamental purpose of this school? What knowledge and skills will our children need to be successful adults? What must we do to make this a reality for every student? These questions focused more on the why of RTI than the what and the how. In our latest book, It’s About Time (elementary and secondary versions), we have suggested questions to guide a school’s thinking about RTI that deal more with the what and the how.

Once schools are clear on the moral imperative behind this work, we suggest the following questions be asked and answered, because achieving high levels of learning for all students will require more than a new bell schedule:

  • How do we successfully use this time to support student learning?
  • How do we determine what interventions to offer?
  • How do we assign staff?
  • How do we transition students to the correct help sessions?
  • How do we hold students accountable to attend?
  • How do we move beyond a study hall approach and actually provide targeted instruction?
  • How do we efficiently monitor student progress?
  • What do we do with students who don’t need extra help?
  • How do we provide intensive interventions to students who lack the foundational skills of reading, writing, number sense, or the English language and still give them access to grade-level curriculum?
  • What if students need help in multiple academic areas?
  • What if students’ needs are not academic, but motivational?
  • How do we keep the process from becoming a paperwork nightmare? If we shave minutes off regular classes, how will teachers be able to cover the required curriculum?
  • How can we achieve these outcomes with our current resources and without asking teachers to work beyond their contractual obligations?
  • Where does special education fit into this process?

The good news for schools and districts is the old Chinese proverb that says, “To understand the road ahead, ask those coming back.” Our new anthologies provide answers to all of these questions from 24 contributors. It’s About Time: Planning Interventions and Extensions in Elementary School provides the reader with 12 different examples from 12 different elementary schools. It’s About Time: Planning Interventions and Extensions in Secondary School does the same with 12 different examples from 12 different secondary schools. Best of all, almost every example in both anthologies was achieved with the school’s existing resources, in accordance with teacher contractual agreements, and in compliance with district, state, and federal regulations. While you many not be able to recreate the exact interventions described in each chapter, you can recreate the process, tailoring these examples to your unique resources and needs.


Amber Wesson

WOW! You're right! It seems like I was asking the wrong questions. My district has also made RTI the main focus this year. It seemed to be strenuous and just another task to complete, however once I started implementing it (with fidelity) I was able to see the benefit of RTI. I do believe it is alot for the teachers to handle all of the RTI instruction, data collections, and meetings. How do we balance te responsibility of RTI? Do all of these responnsibilties fall soley on the teacher? Wheeeew! If so there should be a better system of managing the responsibilities.

Posted on

jamie johnson

I really enjoyed reading the additional question list provided in this article. There are many powerful things that can happen as a result of one asking the "right" questions. Specifically, I feel that my district, in particular, my school site could benefit from the "how" questions. Many teachers I work with feel overworked and underpaid. I know we didn't get into teacher for the money, but it doesn't help when you feel taken advantage of either. Asking, "How can we give our students what we need with out working ourselves to the bone?" is a question I would love to gain insight on. I see the value in RTI and I am a fan of this model. This year my district is using a "push in" model in place of our students out sourcing to other teachers for intervention they stay in our classroom. The supposed model means that an intervention teacher comes to me, but mine went out on maternity leave and me and my scholars have been left to fend for ourselves with very little support. I feel that this has not been detrimental to my classroom, because I have so many "high" students who can work alone and follow rules, procedures and expectations. I enjoy having the RTI push in model because I have more control over what my students are doing! I will definitely bring some of these "how" questions up at my next PLC and see if me and my grade level can test out some possibilities.

Posted on

katelyn weiner

I appreciated this article, My school is in its first year of implementing RTI and I have many questions, I feel like I am questioning myself each week, am I doing the right things? I try and do centers but I feel like I am running around like a crazy woman. Then I do whole group but all of my students need different skills. I plan to write down and answer these questions that you have listed. Thank you!

Posted on

Jaime Ramirez

In the past I have felt like RTi referred more to our "Bubble students." They were the ones that we always said needed a little "boost" to become proficient. However, since the RTI model came out a couple of years ago, or at least that is when I was introduced to it, my school has tried to ask better questions but we still are not quite there. I do like and understand the idea of asking what and how questions as opposed to why questions, because the what and how questions can be more directed and focused on specific target groups.
This year my school has focused more on "prevention" than intervention and we are allocating more of our resources towards the lower grade students. We are also doing the "push in" model so the resource teachers are working with a group in the classroom or hallway for part of the RTI time and then working with another group the other part of the time and the teacher is able to do the same thing. However, you have to have really good classroom management or else the students who are not working with a teacher can get out of control.

Posted on

Ashley Chase

RtI has become THE focus in my district this year and I have no clue what I am doing. We had a specialist come in and unfortunately he didn't make things a whole lot clearer. I look forward to reading your book and hopefully gaining more of an understanding of WHAT RtI is, WHY it is worth doing, and HOW to do it in the first place.

Posted on

Rick Repicky

Approaching change from a "WHY" standpoint & using questions like the ones in this post are important. When change is proposed through a WHAT lens, people are more skeptical and often perceive the change as "something to be swallowed." The WHY approach gives them the chance to see change as "something we can build." Simon Sinek does an amazing Ted Talk on the importance of WHY.

Posted on