How Will We Respond When Students Don’t Learn?

It is essential to implement both professional learning communities (PLC) and response to intervention (RTI) because these complementary processes are considered research-based best practices to improve student learning.

Response to intervention (RTI) is based upon the assumption that schools cannot wait for struggling students to fall far enough below grade level to "qualify" for help. Instead, schools should develop a systematic, schoolwide process in which struggling students receive targeted, research-based interventions at the first sign of difficulties. These interventions can be provided by special education and/or regular education resources. Yet for a school implementing PLC practices, this approach to helping students at risk should not be a new concept, as this process is identical to a PLC’s "pyramid of interventions."

While RTI and a pyramid of interventions (POI) have essentially the same outcome, we would contend that effectively implementing RTI practices is not possible and should not be pursued until a school effectively begins implementing the three "Big Ideas" of a PLC-a focus on learning, a collaborative culture, and a focus on results. These first steps create the foundation needed to more effectively respond when students don’t learn. To skip these vital steps and move directly into creating a RTI/POI program would be disastrous. How can a school be expected to create powerful interventions if the staff has not built a culture that believes all students can learn, has not identified what they want their students to learn, and has not created a timely assessment system that can accurately identify which students need additional help? A school or district would be putting the proverbial "cart before the horse" by requiring teacher teams to use their meeting time to discuss individual student needs, while delaying or neglecting other important, prerequisite team tasks.

Remember that the fundamental mission of collaborative time in a PLC is to focus on student learning. As a school embraces the idea that RTI and PLC are not two distinct "programs," but instead ongoing processes that strive toward this same outcome, the more a school will view their collaborative time as not "PLC time" or "RTI time," but "learning time." In other words, we hope that the lines between RTI and POI continue to "blur" to the point where they are indistinguishable.


AllThingsPLC » Blog Archive » Resource Roundup: PLCs and Intervention

[...] How Will We Respond When Students Don’t Learn (blog post)?Austin Buffum and Mike Mattos explain how RTI and PLCs are complementary practices that when [...]

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I am the new principal of a large, inner-city elementary school. 20% of current grade 3-5 students = prof./adv. leaving 80% basic and below. We are developing vision, misson - most teachers still assign blame outside our locus of control! Teachers are meeting in action teams (2 Tues. afternoons during contract day) and working on essential writing skills and goals. Some grade levels are doing well, while others are not. We still have 80% of students below proficiency - most at BB and FBB! I have worked to build trust - still building. Do I wait until the 3 BIG pyramids are in place to start working on RTI and POI? Some of the above is District/school focused and already in place. We have spent last year reviewing components of reading and math programs. Introduced working w/ manipulatives this year. Where do I start? This process is not linear, but am I to wait? Need help in LA

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There are a lot of simple interventions that can be put in place to help students not fall through the cracks. I feel if we wait for all teachers to be "on board" with PLC strategies we may never have the opportunity to put simple effective ideas into place. Holding students accountable for completing their work, giving them opportunities to seek help, improve or make up tests and seek tutoring during the school day can significantly stop a great number of students from failing. As far a identify students--- a classroom teacher and counselor can have a conversation and spur additional interventions that are available. I would love to have 100% commitment to our collaborative educational community. But waiting to have the perfect environment and plan before trying anything could prove to be detrimental to many students in my opinion.

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Our school is in the initial phases of interventions. For the students that are only failing one class, they seem to work OK. Our problem tends to be with the students that don't care about failing, and added time in a classroom setting (as opposed to free time/social time) is not an incentive to work harder. How do we reach students like this? We know what we want them to do, many of them know what they should do, and are capable of doing it. How do we get them to actually do the work, and care enough to put effort into testing?

We have limited staff, money, space as well.

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Jeff Tousley

When we have a child that is not learning, we take that child's name to our child study team or CST. We meet monthly to discuss various students. At that meeting, the classroom teacher is present along with the CST members. We have a series of steps to see what interventions are now in place and what is working and what is not working for that child. We then brainstorm addtional interventions. We put new interventions in place and then meet the next month to review. At that time other options are discussed if child is not progressing...504 plan or special education referral.

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Very interesting comment about putting into practice the three "Big Ideas" before jumping into POI. I think this was the mistake we made and it has back-fired. The POI is not being followed and teachers are losing interest in PLC's. Hope we can get folks back on the wagon next fall when we try, try again.

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Christie L-L

When we have a child who is not learning, we take their case to a building RTI meeting before school with a team of qualified teachers and teachers who have had the child. Then we brainstorm and come up with a plan to help the child. After trying x, y, z and if the child isn't improving, then we take the child's case to a Child Study meeting with the special education team members, the parent(s), and the principal. Again we review academic progress, social/emotional progress, and view Interventions that have been done to date. Then this group recommends another action plan. The classroom teacher implements the plan with special education consultant input and monitoring. Hopefully that plan will work. If after several tiers of Interventions, if progress is still not being made, then there may be further testing and a full scale evaluation may need to be done.

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